Friday, June 26, 2015

The Living Room-Finished!

I flew through this project.  In just 5 days, I finished painting what I think was the world's ugliest living room.  In retrospect, the timing for this project was not fabulous, because I have been busy and gone so much of June, but the living room is so lovely now that I'm starting to forget the hassle and stress of repainting.

It took me forever to find the right color because the living room is dark with few windows and I kept choosing shades that were just too dark.  Then I came across a picture of a dark hallway painted with Benjamin Moore's Gray Owl and I instantly fell in love.  After waffling between trim colors (always the hardest part for me), I ended up going with Benjamin Moore's Cotton Balls.  It's the perfect color to go with the gray in a dark room.  It's got plenty of pure white to draw in lots of light, but it's got enough cream in it to keep from making the room look too stark.  Every time I walk into the living room now, I take a deep breath.  It is so soothing and relaxed.  But enough about it, see for yourself!

Deliberating on colors....

The chaos (and inconvenience) of a covered up, taped-off living room.
The amount of paint it took to cover this whole living room.
Cottonballs on left; Gray Owl on right
A lovely corner.

White and gray.

These pictures are from right after I finished.  I took a whole bunch of pictures
today and then realized my memory card wasn't fully in and so I
have no pictures of the rug and the other side of the room (which wasn't finished).

So tada!  There it is!  I can't believe the difference it's made on the whole house having these two rooms painted.  However, I'm definitely done with painting for the summer.  I always forget how much time and effort it takes.  Tell me, have you been working on any house projects recently?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Scout, Atticus, and Boo by Mary McDonagh Murphy

This ended up being such a lovely book.  I was a little afraid that it would be a gimmicky way for a writer to make money off of another wildly successful author, but it ended up being a wonderful idea.

This book (the full title is Scout, Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird) is a compilation of various famous people, mainly authors, writing about their experiences and memories of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Everybody from singer Roseanne Cash to Mary Badham (the actress who played Scout), to Jon Meacham was interviewed in this book.  There were moving stories and anecdotes, reflections from people who knew Harper Lee, and thoughts on why To Kill a Mockingbird has been such an influential, lasting book in so many people's lives.

Mary McDonagh Murphy, a director and writer, was heavily influenced by To Kill a Mockingbird and decided that having lots of people's reflections on what this book meant to them would be a good way to honor and celebrate this book. I think that she was successful.  

I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time when I was 12.  I don't remember how I got my hands on a copy, but I can still see the beaten up cover of that book from the library.  I remember that feeling of being absolutely sucked in and absorbed, so absorbed that I couldn't possibly go on living my normal life.  I did nothing but read that book.  I remember it was summer, which meant garden season, when I read it and, like it was yesterday, I remember carrying that book down to the garden to read while I weeded.  Once I came up for breath, I remember that empty feeling of realizing that I had just finished one of the best books I would ever read.  I couldn't bear to completely leave Scout and Atticus and Maycomb quite yet and so I just left the book out to thumb through it every once in a while and remember that glorious experience.

Since that day, I don't think I've ever read anything quite so enthralling.  Of course I went on to read many wonderful books that meant a lot to me and were very interesting, but nothing ever took the place of To Kill a Mockingbird.

I think that Scout, Atticus, and Boo succeeded in what its goal-to celebrate a wonderful book, while not stealing its thunder, to inspire people to think about their own experiences with this book.  This is definitely a book to seek out, if only to skim.  I read it cover to cover, however, and found it perfectly delightful.  

What are your memories of To Kill a Mockingbird?  Was it an influential book for you, or did it not make a big impact?  

Friday, June 12, 2015

Favorites This Friday

I missed a couple of weeks of this weekly feature (blame summer), but here's the post for today.  Here are my favorites this Friday, bookish and not-bookish:


1.) Gray Owl Paint by Benjamin Moore-Yes!  I'm embarking on painting the ugly living room next!  The walls are covered in various swatches of blue and gray, but I finally found the perfectly shade!  

2.) Iced Tea-Do I need to say more?  It's 90 degrees and my elbows are sticking to the computer as I type this. Pretty much any kind of tea, but sweet, black, and mint is always desirable.  I also had some iced raspberry green tea that I've been thinking about ever since I had it.  

3.) Now that April's There by Daisy Neumann-A historically, sociologically fascinating read set in England immediately post-war.  I'm hoping to post a review on Monday.

4.) Scott, Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird by Mary McDonagh Murphy-Another lovely current read that is making me want to read To Kill a Mockingbird again.  Speaking of which, what do you all think about the latest Harper Lee controversy around her soon-to-be-released book?  I, bad book blogger, hadn't even heard about this until somebody mentioned it at a family picnic.  
I must watch this soon!  Speaking of which, I just
recently learned that there is a King and I Broadway revival right now.  Interesting!

5.) Lots of old Broadway-I've been really into Broadway shows for awhile, particularly the classics and I've been listening to the music from them and watching the old movies quite a bit lately.  So, so lovely.

6.)  Shorthand-I've recently become interested in shorthand.  I can really see the value of having the skill, but we'll see if I actually get passed checking a book out of the library.  

So those are some of my favorites!  I'm going to be gone and busy most of June, so expect sporadic postings.  What are some of your favorites right now?  

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writer's Guide

I think this book might win my award as the most influential book this year.  It made me think about reading, writing, ethics, human communication, and politics in new ways and inspired me to keep up my own writing.

Telling True stories, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call, is a compilation of writings from award winning journalists and nonfiction writers about the work of writing truly good narrative nonfiction.  (Narrative nonfiction is simply nonfiction that is story-like in tone and styles as opposed to bare-bones reporting on the facts.)  These writings are gathered from Harvard's Nieman Conference, in which journalists and nonfiction writers get together to discuss writing and give advice.  This book compiles some of the best of these.   The book is directed mainly at journalists and secondarily at other nonfiction writers, but I really do think that any person interested in reading and writing would enjoy this book.  

Here are a few of the quotes that I wrote down and loved:

"If you give your readers characters who are as complex and flawed as they truly are, your readers are more likely to trust you on matters more important than character..."-Katherine Boo

"A place defines itself by its stories."-Jay Allison

"...we create stories by imposing narrative on the events that happen around us."-Nora Ephron

And, my very favorite quote that I have to keep forcing myself to remember is:

"No one, not even the greatest writers, creates good first drafts."-Mark Kramer and Wendy Call

In fact, this last quote addresses one of the challenges of blogging.  Much of what I put out on this blog is a first draft that I have just carefully edited for grammar and spelling mistakes or some awkward phrase or sentence.  I almost never completely rewrite a blog post.  Which makes me wonder, should I write multiple drafts of blog posts?  Or is the very nature of blogs such that this isn't something expected?

I had this many questions and thoughts and more with each essay I read.  Each one was perfectly written, with a distinctive voice and flawless imagery, smooth sentences and gripping passages.  The essays were diverse and full of wonderful advice and stories from the field, from a piece about writing investigative history to a fascinating essay about the ethics of writing about immigration and the fine line of when it is acceptable to step in and help one's subject and when this will simply mess with the story.  The book is divided into the following categories: Finding, Researching, and Reporting Topics; Name Your Subgenre; Constructing a Structure; Building Quality Into the Work; Ethics (my favorite set of essays); Editing; Narrative in the News Organization; Building a Career in Magazines and Books.  Each category was started with an introduction by the editors and then ten to fifteen essays written by writers and journalists, both practical advice and stories about working in the narrative nonfiction field.  

I took a long time getting through this book.  I'd read just a few pages every night, savoring the words and enjoying the process of thinking hard and analyzing each paragraph.  It was a long and lovely process.  Because I read so much fiction, I'm used to reading much faster.  Fiction does not require a very slow pace and so I can whizz through without necessarily having read every single word.  Nonfiction, particularly good nonfiction such as this, requires that you stop and truly read every word to fully understand the writer's point.  It was a good and refreshing exercise for me.  

I highly recommend this book.  It was influential and fascinating and wonderful, wonderful writing.  It made me realize that  I want to read more truly great writing as opposed to the mediocre fiction I come across so often in the library.  This is a book that you should definitely get your hands on, even if you are not a writer.  

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Month of Short Stories: Day 2

daThis morning I got to read two lovely short stories that I really enjoyed by two early American female authors.  I had heard of neither-a sad example of the general state of literary equality.  Both were so well written that I am definitely going to do some research on these authors and see what else they wrote.

Caroline M.S. Kirkland

The Schoolmaster's Progress by Caroline M.S. Kirkland

This story is set in the early 1800s in the "New Country" (meaning the West/Midwest of United States) and revolves around the mishaps and romantic entanglements of the new, local schoolmaster.  After finally gaining respect from the community, he begins to fall in love with a young woman who always wins the spelling bees.  When a woman with all kinds of airs and graces (and year-old French fashions, our author notes disdainfully) comes condescendingly to a spelling bee, she sees that it would be easy to trick the schoolmaster.  In a series of tricky ruses, she begins to write him letters, pretending to be the woman he admires, Ellen.  Of course, Ellen finds out about this and the the whole thing literally comes crashing down during the school's reenacting of David and Goliath.  That description of the fake letters falling down on David's head made me laugh out loud.  The two-Ellen and the Schoolmaster-live happily ever after, while the scheming city woman returns to the city.  

I wouldn't call this laugh out loud hilarious-it's better.  Kirkland's humor is the American west version of Austen.  It is nothing but sly, funny jabs and commentary.  The section on the bumbling, incompetent exam writers made me laugh out loud (apparently the ridiculous bureaucracy surrounding exams is older than I thought).

The other thing that impressed me about this story was the universality of it.  I was not alive in the American west in the 1800s, but I could perfectly understand, nay, recognize, those situations.  Yet Kirkland so perfectly wrote about these dramatic events that a reader today can still understand and empathize with the story.  That is a sign of excellent writing.  I also thought it was interesting how group dynamics and the kinds of people described here, the challenges and dramas they face, really haven't changed that much in the past 200 years.  
Eliza Leslie is most well-known as a cookbook writer.

The Watkinson Evening by Eliza Leslie

Another very funny story.  This one is about a snobbish widow and her son and daughter, who go to New York with letters of introduction (an interesting phenomenon I had not read about before) in the hopes of meeting all sorts of distinguished people.  They are first invited by a Mrs. Watkinson, who tells them that they must respond at once.  Of course they respond in the affirmative, feeling that they are very wise to go to so influential and wealthy a lady.  Minutes later, a woman whom they all instinctively like, invites them to her grand ball, full of famous people, including an ex-president.  With regret, they stick with their first invitation and come to the Watkinson's house to find it all dark and the family sitting dully in the cold drawing room.  The evening is disastrous and our main characters leave feeling very sorry for themselves.

This short story is of the type of humor that recounts a series of disastrous events to great effect.  I laughed and laughed (and cringed a bit, too) at the silly protagonists and their even more ridiculous hosts.

Both of these stories were fantastic.  I hope that you can find copies of them somewhere, because they are definitely worth a read.  

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Complete!

The dining room is finished!  After weeks of slogging through coat after coat of primer and, finally, paint and then cleaning the floor (I did not do a good floor covering job), I was done!  I have to admit, after finishing this room, I want to work on the even uglier living room.  Hoorah for finished projects and new projects to come!

Remember, this is what I started with.





Finished!

And that is the dining room project finished!  I'm still contemplating pictures and a few other things, but for the most part, I'm done!  Now on to that living room.

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.