Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Month of Short Stories: Day 1

Last night I curled up and got to read the humorous short stories collection I got in yesterday's haul.  I only read two, but I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading these stories and then analyzing to no end.  So without further ado, here are my reviews of the two short stories I read last night.
From Barnes and Noble website

1.) The Little Frenchman and His Water Lots by George Pope Morris

I had never read anything by George Pope Morris and this was the first story in the book, so I quickly picked it to read.  The story reminded me of a children's fable, with a bit of a moralizing tone.

The editor writes of this story in the introduction, "'The Little Frenchman and His Water Lots', the first story in the present volume, is selected not because Morris was especially prominent in the field of short story or humorous prose but because of this single story's representative character."  I'm not sure I'd say this story is worthy of being in a book of best American humorous short stories.  At best, the story was silly, at worst, flat-out racist and classist.  Monsieur Poopoo (yes, that is his name) spends all his money that the saved from running a toyshop for years on a piece of property.  He attains this property from a swindling man who sells him a piece of property that is now covered in water.  At the end of the story, he stomps home to France, bankrupt because he spent all of his money.  The opening quote says, "Look into those they call unfortunate, And closer view'd, you'll find they are unwise.-Young".

I went back and forth with this story for quite a while.  Should I take this at face value, assuming that we are to laugh at the silly Frenchman (he does have the condescending "little" at the front of his name)? Or is Morris making a commentary about how French people were treated and the myth that all poor people are poor because they are incompetent?  After read and thinking for awhile, I have come to the sad conclusion that we are to take this at face value.  The story, I think, is meant to be a mild and silly story about a stupid Frenchman.  One of the first things that tipped me off to this was the way the Frenchman's broken English was played up.  Part of the reason that this was so difficult for me to analyze was that I don't know the author at all.  Apparently he was best known as a publisher and poet and didn't do much short story writing.  For instance, if this was written by Mark Twain, I would know in an instant that this story was sarcastic commentary.

For any of you who have read this, what did you think of it?

2.) The Angel of the Odd by Edgar Allen Poe

This story was actually really enjoyable.  In the beginning, a pompous, very drunk man sits reading the paper.  He reads of an odd mishap in which a man sucks a needle down his throat and dies.  He scoffs at the idea of mishaps and strangely unlucky events, when, all of a sudden, the Angel of the Odd descends.

Yet again, we come across awful accents and broken English-this time German.  But this time, I really wasn't offended by it.  I'm not sure why.  The Angel of the Odd is very offended that our nameless protagonist really does not believe in odd accidents.  After an argument with this angel in which the angel becomes thoroughly angry, our protagonist is subjected to a semi-lucid night of mishaps, involving having his clothes stolen, being stuck in a hot air balloon that has had the balloon cut off, and falling off of a ladder, to name a few.  At the end of the night, our protagonist acknowledges that odd mishaps and misfortunes really do happen.

This humor reminded me of P.G. Wodehouse in many ways-a strong sense of the ridiculous and silly, humor in the most ludicrous of situations, and a little bit of sarcasm.  So fun to read after the not-so-wonderful previous short story.  I laughed and laughed through this book and definitely want to look for some more of Poe's humorous short stories (apparently he wrote quite a few).  This is a new side of Poe-and one I enjoyed reading!

So that was my short story reading for today.  I'm really excited about this and look forward to hearing from my readers about their short story experiences.  If there are any of you who would be interested in challenging yourselves to read more short stories, feel free to join in!  I'll be reading and reviewing short stories all through the month of June.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Library Haul

(Linking up with The Captive Reader's Library Loot event.)

I got a fantastic haul at the library!  This morning I decided I was going to the library and not leaving until I found at least a few books that I would actually read and enjoy.  After sulking through the fiction section and feeling sorry for myself because I couldn't find anything, I went to the nonfiction section on a whim, namely, the literature section.  And that was where I fell upon short stories and a bunch of other fascinating stuff.

I have always blown off short stories for some strange reason, but I have remedied that now.  Here's my list from this week:

1.) Scout, Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird, Compiled by Mary McDonagh Murphy

2.) The Best American Essays from 2011, edited by Edwidge Danticat

3.) The Oxford book of American Short Stories, edited by Joyce Carol Oates

4.) The Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories from 2012, edited by Laura Furman

5.) The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, compiled by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland-Just looked fascinating

6.) The Best American Humorous Short Stories, edited by Alexander Jessup

7.) 1491: New Revelations of the Americans Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann-Just a book that looked fascinating.

Whew!  So this month is officially short story month for me.  I'll be posting reviews of some favorite specific short stories, as well as the books that they come from throughout the month of June.  I'm really looking forward to it!


Friday, May 29, 2015

What They Don't Tell New Bloggers

I feel that I now have permission to write this post, since I've been blogging for over a year now.  However, I'd love hear what more veteran bloggers think, as well.  

I've been going through a blogging dry patch and, through it, I've had lots of thoughts about writing, particularly blogging.  This has corresponded with my reading this fabulous book, which I really loved.  The more I read and thought, the more I realized that this needed to be a blog post.  So, if you are starting out on this blogging journey, or have been blogging for far longer than I, here are my thoughts on what they don't tell bloggers just starting out.
The dining room!  The painting is done and, if I do say so myself, it
looks lovely.  Now all I have to do is put in a light fixture and
new light switch covers and clean up all the paint
that managed to avoid the drop cloth.  

1.) When you first start out, you will have about 8,000 post ideas a day.  You may have to work very hard to refrain from posting twice (or thrice) daily and you will dreamily imagine spending every morning in a coffee shop with your elegant, non-dented laptop, writing about the stack of beautiful books (all advance copies of course) sitting by your side.  Your loving readers will eagerly flock to hear your witty, sage advice and opinions on every topic under the sun.  
Note the mess on the table.  These pictures were taken 5 days ago and it's still not
cleaned up.  Sigh.

2.) But, somewhere along your blogging journey, you will encounter writers' block.  But this isn't the ordinary case of writers' block.  Oh no.  See, now you have people that are expecting blog posts.  You know because, you're expecting their blog posts in return.  You will frantically wrack your brains for post ideas and may resort to posting old pictures of winter scenery in spring (because you've also abandoned your camera).  This is also okay.  Everybody recovers from even the most virulent case of writers' block.  

3.) There will be months when you have only written 3 posts.  And that's okay.  It doesn't make you a bad writer (or person).  It happens to most of us.  

4.)  There really is unbloggable material.  Like that time I read a total of 15 cookbooks in a week, cover to cover (yes, I have a cookbook reading problem, frequently documented on this blog).  I knew nobody wanted to hear about 15 cookbooks over 5 days, so I let it go and had nothing to show for it.
The first of my roses is blooming!  Strangely enough, when it got exposed
to the ashes, part of it reverted back to its parent plant (it was a hybrid),
so now half is red and half is yellow.  They both smell lovely!

5.) (This piece of advice is strictly for book bloggers.)  Sometimes, you may not be reading very much. Gasp!  Maybe you have a good stack of magazines.  Or you're gone every night.  Or everybody in your house got stomach flu so bad you couldn't even imagine reading.  Or (double gasp) maybe you're just in the mood to watch Netflix. 

6.) Blogger is great.  It's a wonderful writing platform; it's free, and it has some amazing settings.  But don't for a second be surprised when it freezes up and loses a post for the 10,000 time in a week.

7.) Every time you click "publish" on a post, you are going to feel an incredible sense of satisfaction and pleasure knowing that you just created something entirely your own and shared it with an (albeit small) percentage of the world.  And when you read comments of kind strangers whom you have never spoken a word to, all the writers block and and computer glitches in the world seem worth it.

So, weigh in-What advice/tips would you give to a new (book or non-book) blogger?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

A Reading Stack

I know, I know, my posting has been severely lacking.  Of course, I have all kinds of excellent excuses (don't we all?), but the best is various mouth procedures, namely, a complicated capping.  This, of course, left me quite crabby and in need of some bookish refreshment.  Luckily, before I let for my appointment in the morning, I put out a stack of books that I wanted to read.  The following is my list:

1. Mary Lou: A Story of Divine Corners by Faith Baldwin-A charming, old-smelling book.  According to GoodReads, it's the third in a series and I know absolutely nothing about it.  Google searches keep coming up empty.  You know you're reading an obscure book when the internet is incapable of turning up anything.  So I'm very curious to see what this book ends up being about-and if it's any good.

2. Pat of Silver Bush by L.M. Montgomery-I know this one is going to be a treat!  It's an L.M. Montgomery book I've never read.  So I'm guaranteed that it's going to be good.

3. Four-Party Line by Dorothy Gilman Butters-I got this book from a pile of old books at a church library sale. It's titled, "A Junior Novel", so I think this must be the precursor to YA fiction.  It's about four teenaged girls who get jobs working as operators for a telephone company.  The story covers the four girls' struggles and triumphs as they navigate their life both at work and at home.  I started this book and it is a really fun read.

So that's what's on my book stack!  Tell me, what shall I read first?


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Recent Book Duds

As I was reading thorough my archives, I realized that I don't write about the book disappointments very much.  Often, I have nothing more to say then, "Meh.  It was fine."  Or else, "Ugh.  An awful book."  In the case of the latter, there are only so many things you can say about a bad book.  But I was thinking, isn't this kind of like the bloggers who only write about the great things and only post pretty pictures of their lives?  Every book blogger will tell you that she has had her fair share of bad, nay, awful books.  In this post, I'm going to tip you off to a few books that I have read recently and was not a fan of.

1. Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel Fattah-This book was sitting on a table at the library and I idly glanced at it and thought it looked good enough to take home.  It's a YA book about a Muslim girl in Australia, dealing with cultural identity and discrimination in an immediately post-9/11 world.  I thought it sounded like a fascinating read.  I think the premise would have been fascinating as adult-level fiction, but, written for YA, it was too annoying.  Our heroine whined far too much, complained about school for probably a combined total of 50 pages, and had a mortifying crush that went on for too long without resolution.  In other words, the book was a stereotypical YA book, with the exception that there was some interesting commentary from the author on race and culture in our world today.  I will say, the book was very funny at parts. Still, not worth reading unless you love YA.

2. The Look of Love by Sarah Jio-Another idly-grabbed-off-the-bookshelf read.  I thought this one had potential.  Sarah Jio is a New York Times bestselling author with a lot of critical acclaim and I've heard good things about her books.  But this one….ooof.  This heroine was far too pathetic and I kept wanting to reach into the book and smack her.  Her sad, lonely, woe-is-me life just irritated me instead of making me feel any kind of sympathy.  That said, the premise of the story-a young woman who has the ability to see love is given the task of identifying the six types of love before the full moon after her 30th birthday; then, of course, falls in love-sounded kind of fun to read.  I'm going to keep pressing on, because, who knows, maybe I will be surprised.  If I end up liking the book, I'll let you know.

3. Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bill Bryson-Now this was actually a great book.  At least, theoretically, I know that.  For whatever reason, it just didn't click with me.  I'd read a couple of pages, then wander over to a bookshelf or the library book box to see what else I had to read.  That said, I know that this is a good book and, when my mood is right, I'll pick it up again.  Still, I'm counting it as a dud because I can't review it if I haven't made myself read it.

That's not a terribly long list of duds.  But these are all books read (or started) just throughout the month of May.  I do think that I go on cycles of getting heaps of great books and then dry spells where I can't find anything to read.  Discouraging, but the good cycles where I have lots of books do make up for the times when I don't.  Tell me, readers, does this happen to anybody else?

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Good Housekeeping Housekeeping Book

It's been stickily hot all day today, so, after a morning spent painting trim (I'm about halfway through with the dining room!), I retreated to the couch with a sweating glass of iced tea and a fascinating book I found in my collection.  I have no recollection of where it came from, but it's a very fascinating read!

Published in 1947, this book really should be used as a historical primary source.  It's such a glimpse into the world of post-war American homemakers.  With more clothes and re-modeled/new houses and that fancy new washing machine comes a lot more housekeeping.  And so the editors of Good Housekeeping decided to put together a definitive book full of advice on keeping a house spic-and-span.

There's a chapter on moving day made easier, removal of household pests (we're entering the era of liberally poisoning every living creature in sight...there actually is a section on obtaining the right kind of DDT), how to care for books properly, doing laundry, must-have cleaning utensils for the new housewife, and how to thoroughly clean every room in a house (let me just say that the editors of Good Housekeeping would have a heart attack if they walked into my house).

The house cleaning chapter particularly fascinated me and, after much musing, I've decided to follow their housekeeping calendar for a week and see if it's actually feasible today or whether I will end up rolling my eyes over the amount of time those women spent making sure that their houses were immaculate.  I suspect that I will find the latter true (really, who cleans their kitchens three times a day?), but maybe I will surprise myself.

As I write this, I realize this isn't so much a book review as a reflection on an era.  I find this book so fascinating because, with the vantage point that I have, I can see how these new standards are going to lead insane standards of domestic perfection and, ultimately, boredom for women everywhere.  Because this kind of housecleaning is not true homemaking, but just keeping a house clean.  The kind of homemaking that people like the editors of Good Housekeeping were rejecting-doing good, creative, challenging work in the home-got shuffled aside in favor of shiny houses and ridiculous levels of perfection.

When I look at this book, I get chills thinking of the women that, in just a short ten years will finally start speaking up about the intense loneliness and meaninglessness that was a part of their lives as they followed the strict rules of the likes of Good Housekeeping.  I want to go back to these editors and shriek, "No!  No!  Stop right this instant.  These standards and rules are going to take you nowhere good."

No history textbook can paint a picture quite as well as a book written at that period of history can.  And that is how, on a hot Monday afternoon, I found myself taking a history lesson.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Re-Creations

One of my many projects recently has been fixing up the dining room.  I'm conflicted about what to call this project.  "Renovating" or "remodeling" sounds far too serious and like it should involve load-bearing walls and ripping-back-to-studs.  "Re-decorating" or "re-doing", on the other hand don't sound serious enough. After pondering this as I ripped out the light socket covers, I hit upon a name-Re-Creations.  This is a reference to a lovely book that I read many years ago and am currently re-reading, called Re-Creations.  It was written in the 1920s by the mildly well-known Christian author, Grace Livingston Hill.  Now, normally, I gag and read no further than page 1 with Grace Livingston Hill books.  She is smarmier than any author I've ever met, endlessly preaches, and writes unbelievable characters.  But, if you write as many books as she did (197, according to Good Reads), you have to hit on at least one successful story idea.  And Re-Creations was that lucky book.
The dining room, before any kind of fixing-up.  Note the chandelier and the stencils.


"Paint, white paint, had done a great deal toward making another place of the dreary little house.  The kitchen was spotless white enamel everywhere, and enough old marble slabs had been discovered to cover the kitchen table and the top of the kitchen dresser, and to put up shelves around the sink and under the windows...."-From Re-Creations, Chapter 12

The previous owner of our house was into stencils in a big way.  Squiggles and hearts, pineapples and flowers and every other stencil image you can imagine.  She put them around the living room wainscoting and the bathroom ledges, the dining room ceiling, and the entry-way.  She also adored eccentric lighting and the chandelier in the dining room was, I thought, truly awful.  Unfortunately, it all just became part of the scenery and we never really bothered to mess with it.  However, as I stood in the dining room one beautiful spring day, I realized that I was in the mood to do some house fixing up.  So, I went to the little local hardware store and got this lovely paint color from Benjamin Moore and a snowy white trim color and started painting.  It will be subtle and fresh, and much better than whatever was there before.
This is an awful picture, but it's fitting, because the chandelier is awful.

"The dining room had gradually become a place of rest and refreshment for the eyes as well as the palate.  Soft green was the prevailing color of furniture and floor, with an old grass rug scrubbed back to almost its original color....The curtains were white with a green border of stenciling.  The dingy old paper had been scraped from the walls, which had been painted with many coats of white; and a gay green border had been stenciled at the ceiling."-Re-Creations, Chapter 12

In the story of Re-Creations, Cornelia is a young college girl, whose family calls her home urgently because their family is falling apart.  Her mother is in the hospital, father is close to a breakdown, and the children are generally going to rack and ruin.  So Cornelia steps in to the dingy little apartment in the bad part of the city that her parents purchased and moved into without telling her (without telling her?? This part was unbelievable, to me) and begins to put the house to rights.  Since she was studying interior decorating at school, one of her first jobs is to redecorate the house, the proceedings of which are described in lovely detail.
After mudding and a coat of primer.

 "Cornelia awoke with a great zeal for work upon her....The set [bedroom set] in her mother's rom was a cheap one; and that she would paint gray with decorations of little pink buds and trailing vines.  The set in her own room should be ivory-white with sepia shadows....Cheap felt-paper of pale gray or pearl or cream for the bedrooms, and corn-color for the living room...And Carey's room should be painted white, walls and ceiling and all.  She would set him at it as soon as he finished the fireplace, and then she would stencil little birds... around the top of the walls for a border, in the same blue as the curtains...and an unbleached muslin bedspread and pillow roll also stenciled in blue."-Re-Creations Chapter 10

Cornelia, like our previous owner, adored stencils.  And, if I had 1920s stencils around the wall (and bluebirds...can you think of a more charming stencil?  1920s eggshell blue bluebirds), I probably wouldn't have been as hung-ho to prime over them as I was over some hideous 1980s stencils.  Oh, and the trim color currently in the dining room?  This bizarre brown with a lot of yellow and green in it.  Not mustard per se, but definitely headed in that direction.
The window and painted-shut door.  I'm not looking forward to all the prying
taping I'm going to have to do.


I'm in the mudding/priming stage right now.  Yesterday was day one and I spent all afternoon mudding over the drywall piece that had been added to move a door and over the cracks that have developed in the plaster of our old farmhouse.  I've added a heavy coat of primer and today I plan to add more, as well as sand and probably re-apply more mud.  So far, the process is gloriously fun and I'm looking forward to having a pretty dining room.

I love this final quote from Re-Creations:

"The first evening it was all complete the family just sat down and enjoyed themselves in it, talking over each achievement of cushion of curtain or wall as a great connoisseur might have looked over his newly acquired collection and gloated over each specimen with delight."-Re-Creations, Chapter 12.

Reading Re-Creations makes me want to get to work on the dining roomwith an even greater zeal.  I well know that feeling of satisfaction after the completion of a home re-creations spurt and I can't wait to have that with this dining room.  When it's all painted, I'll be sure to post pictures!  Oh, and, if you can get your hands on a copy, read Re-Creations.  It's a lovely book.