Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Language of God by Francis S. Collins

I read a really interesting nonfiction book recently.  I'm discovering something interesting about myself. My whole life, I've never really felt the need to read nonfiction.  Nonfiction just never spoke to my reading self.  However, recently, my reading tastes have broadened.  I am enjoying pretty much any nonfiction book.  In fact, my nonfiction reading tastes are much broader than my fiction reading tastes.  I credit my inner sociologist.  I have always been fascinated by people and why people do what they do and what they think and how they behave.  Nonfiction accounts of people's thoughts and inner workings perfectly feed that inner sociologist.

So anyway, my latest nonfiction book was The Language of God by Francis S. Collins.  It was recommended to me some time ago and I picked it up at the library the other week.  This book is written by the head of the Human Genome Project.  He also happens to be a devout Christian who was deeply inspired by C.S. Lewis's writings.  In fact, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis was what brought him to Christianity.

In this book, Collins argues that Christianity and science are actually compatible, that the two do not need to have the discordant relationship that they have historically had, particularly in regards to evolution.  He starts the book by giving his personal journey of faith.  He grew up with two hippie, back-to-the-land, adamantly atheist parents who homeschooled him and his brothers.  He went to college and studied physics, before eventually meandering over to the field of medicine.  After talking to a dying patient who asked him about what he believed, he began to rethink everything he'd ever been taught, culminating in his reading of Mere Christianity.

Collins goes on to talk about the arguments that scientists/atheists pose against Christianity, from the argument that so much wrong has been done in the name of Christianity, to the argument that Christianity is not "smart" or "logical".  All of the common arguments were addressed very well.

Next, he talks about the warring viewpoints- creationism, atheism/agnosticism, intelligent design, and his own viewpoint, which he calls biologos, or theistic evolution.  I think that this was probably my favorite section.

I'll leave the rest of the book for you to explore, though.  You really must read it for yourself to get a true idea of what this book is about.

I think that Collins's most powerful argument is that we weaken God when we argue that God would not be real to us if the earth was not created in a literal 7 days, etc.  He talks about how we place this ridiculously human limitations on God.  Collins makes the point that God can, indeed be the master over all areas of science, that science is yet another language of God.  I found this to be a beautiful and poignant message.

This is probably the most controversial book that I've ever reviewed and it feels a little funny writing about something that is a rather tense issue right now.  But, I enjoyed this book and found it to be a thought provoking piece of writing.   If you're interested in this, Collins has also headed up a whole organization/website called BioLogos, or faith and science in harmony.   Here's the link:
http://biologos.org.

This book is for anybody who has ever thought about the rather fraught with tension issue of science and faith.  I think that this book perfectly addressed this issue, if only as a presentation of another position.  I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

A couple months back, Girl with her Head in a Book reviewed the two books that have been written so far in the Jane Austen Project series.  She wrote quite favorably of Northanger Abbey (which I have on hold at the library), but was quite tepid about Sense and Sensibility.  Well, I ignored her wise advice and grabbed Sense and Sensibility on a whim, thinking, "What the heck.  How much can you mess up Sense and Sensibility?"
People, note the earbuds coming out of the sides of their heads.   

I must preface this review by saying that I don't really approve of Jane Austen re-writes.   I mean, come on people, just read the real thing!  Are we really so pathetic that we can't pick up and understand the originals?  That said, I like what the Jane Austen project is doing and I think that, in the right hands, these books have the potential to be an interesting offshoot of the Austenite movement.  But Joanna Trollope was not the right person to handle this book.

I started the book yesterday and at first quite enjoyed it.  It is definitely not deep writing.  It's rather chick-litish, but I stuck with it and read until about halfway through.  And then I stopped.  Here was the main problem- the story just wasn't believable and it wasn't just an unbelievable scenario, it was a poorly written unbelievable scenario.  And so I quit.

Trollope set this story in modern England. Elinor, Marianne, Margaret, their mother (named Belle in this version) are left penniless and homeless after their father/husband (but not really), Henry Dashwood, dies of asthma.  Their father's son-from-a-previous-marriage comes with his unbearably awful wife (I hate her in every version I have ever watched/read of this book) and claims their old house, since he is the rightful heir to his father's possessions.  See, Belle and Henry Dashwood never really got around to getting married, which, according to Trollope, means that Belle and her daughters couldn't inherit anything from Henry.  I have my doubts about this, but I'm not a lawyer, so we'll let that drop.  But really, Joanna?  It is 2014.

Marianne is the sensibility half and Elinor is the sense half.  Margaret is the rebellious little sister who, it appears, spends the whole book listening to her iPod.  Belle is drifty and incapable of getting anything done and Marianne has inherited her father's asthma and her mother's personality, so the two of them completely lean on Elinor, much as they did in the actual book by Jane Austen.  Of course, there are the love interests- Edward, the attractive, but obviously bad-choice John Willoughby, and whoever Marianne ends up with (I didn't finish the book, so I have no idea who it is).  I actually liked Edward in this book.  He was an attractively-written man and he was the only character that Trollope semi-successfully pulled into the 21st century.

The story was very poorly written.  Of course, there were the problems of settings and such, but some of the sentences were just laughably bad.   Take this quote, for example,
"Marianne was in her favorite playing chair by the window in her bedroom, her right foot on a small pile of books-a French dictionary and two volumes of Shakespeare's history plays came to just the right height-and the guitar resting comfortably across her thigh.  She was playing a song of Taylor Swift's that she had played a good deal since Dad died, even though-or maybe even because-everyone had told her that a player of her level could surely express themselves better with something more serious."  Isn't that just the oddest, most full of unnecessary detail paragraph that you ever read?

Now here was my main complaint about the book.  I felt like Trollope was completely incapable of pulling this into the 21st century successfully.  She basically re-wrote Sense and Sensibility by Austen with a little side-addition of some shocking drug-trading going on in the background and plenty of social media stirred in.   Seriously, the fact that everybody had an iPod and a Twitter account was the only way that you could tell that this was set nowadays.  Trollope very awkwardly kept drawing attention to the fact that, "See?  See?  Isn't this new and hip and relevant?  Everybody has an iPhone!  Didn't you just notice the fact that Marianne just played a song on her guitar by Taylor Swift??!!!!!"
It just didn't fit.

I think that, for this book to work, it needed to be completely rewritten in such a way that it only held very slight ties to the original.  If these books are supposed to be new and original re-imaginings of Austen's writing, then I'd like to see it.  Trollope just did not manage to do this.  And maybe part of the problem is this story line.  Maybe there are just too many archaic references and settings and plot lines to make this a successful modern story.

After I smacked this book shut, I pulled the Real Sense and Sensibility off the shelf.  Ahhh...what a breath of fresh air!  Nobody writes like Jane Austen and I kind of doubt that anybody ever will.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

Oh, readers.  I have fallen head over heels for this ice cream book.  Seriously.  I think it's the world's best ever ice cream book.  Ice cream books are definitely not a new phenomenon- from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop to People's Pops (a hipster ice cream/popsicle cookbook).  But this cookbook is brilliant in a different way.

The thing that stands out to me is the fact that every single recipe I see in this cookbook sounds delicious.  I would happily eat any of the (sometimes unexpected and strange) flavors of ice cream enclosed in this book.  But here's the thing, these recipes aren't just bizarre for the sake of being bizarre.  Oh, no.  You know those recipes that are written simply for the sake of shocking and grossing out a large portion of the population?  While this cookbook has some interesting combinations, they are well-thought out and inspired, not just weird.

This cookbook is written by Jeni Britton Bauer, who started a small collection of ice cream stores all across Ohio.  As the restaurants grew in fame, Bauer began trying more and more combinations of flavors and found that the public was actually thrilled with this new, inspired flavors.  Bauer is a strong supporter of the local food movement and so the recipes are very conveniently arranged by season.  So you're not going to be making a roasted strawberry ice cream in January.

The photography is breath-taking.  I am completely in awe of people who can photograph food well.  The pictures are all beautiful and well-lighted and make the food look even better than I ever could.  Now that I think about it, it's probably because they don't just shove the random bits of household junk to one side of the table and then forget to turn on any lights while they take a few dimly lit pictures of a bowl of food.  Ahem.  But back to the book.  Each recipe is accompanied by a beautiful picture of a spoon full of ice cream.

As I mentioned earlier, the flavors are genius- things that would never cross my head.  Take this list that I made of a few of the ice cream flavors in this book:
-Wild Berry Lavender Ice Cream
-Bangkok Peanut Ice Cream (peanut butter ice cream with cayenne pepper, coconut milk, and honey)
-Gucci Muu Muu (a chocolate ice cream with curry powder)
-Sweet Corn and Black Raspberry Ice Cream

I'm currently waiting for a small, 1-quart ice cream maker to come in the mail.  We have the big gallon crank that you pull out for family gatherings and make a whole bunch of vanilla ice cream.  But, honestly, you don't want a gallon of celery ice cream with candied ginger.  But if a family of four each gets a small bowlful?  Perfect!  So once that comes, I will be celebrating the end of summer with lots of ice cream.

I sat drooling over this ice cream.  You simply must read this.  It doesn't involve turning on an oven.  All you need is a pile of dairy products, a couple other ingredients and an ice cream crank.  I know that you'll like this book.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Library Loot- 9/12/14

I'm participating in Library Loot from The Captive Reader this week!
"Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries."

I haven't done a Library Loot post in a long time, but, unlike my recent library trips, I actually got a good pile of loot.  Yippee!

1. Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams At Home- This cookbook is one that I have heard rave reviews of and I think I'm going to love it.

2.  Adventures in Yarn Farming- Just a pretty book about raising sheep for wool.  Since we do this, this book holds a special interest.

3.  Longbourn by Jo Baker- A book about life downstairs of Longbourn, the fictional house of Jane Austen's Bennet family.

4.  Crossing on the Paris by Dana Gynther- The story of three women on board a ship in 1921.

5.  The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin- A woman's yearlong journey of returning home to create a warm, happy life with her family.

6.  The Language of God by Francis S. Collins- I think this book is going to be fascinating.  It's written by a scientist who's head of the Human Genome project.  He's also a serious Christian.  It's his defense of why Christianity and science need to have a harmonious relationship, and how they can go about that.

7. Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid- I have this on interlibrary loan right now, so I'm waiting for it to come to my library.  I'm including this, though, because it's practically on my library loot pile!  This book is part of a new project called The Austen Project.



What's on your library loot pile?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tales, Speeches, Essays, and Sketches by Mark Twain

My latest read was Tales, Speeches, Essays, and Sketches by Mark Twain.  Of course, I laughed my head off because it's dear Mark Twain.  I do love Mark Twain's writing style.  I'm in a bit of a dry spot, reading-wise and I've been aimlessly wandering around both my personal library and the public library feeling sorry for my book-less self.  Mark Twain stepped in and is helping me through this little bump and, oh, am I grateful to him.

This book is just a compilation of shorter writings that Twain wrote over the years.  In it is Letter from Carson City, A Dog's Tale, Story of the Bad Little Boy, and more.  The writings are contemplative, sarcastic, witty, biting...pretty much any descriptor that you could use for a book you could mention here.  And that's why his writing is so brilliant.  The skill of being able to effortlessly change tones and settings is something that few authors have mastered.

I have been reading Mark Twain since a little girl, but I never read this book.  Actually I was unfamiliar with a great number of the writings within this.  A lot of these writings are more obscure things that are not handed out to the average reader very frequently.  I felt like I got to know Twain in a new way as I read through this book.  My favorite was An Encounter with an Interviewer.  Twain managed to portray himself and the young interviewer in a sarcastic, hilariously funny light.  I have never read a piece of writing quite like this.  In this story, Twain is interview by a, "nervous, dapper,'peart' young man" who proceeds to assist him in holding a completely botched up interview.  I laughed and laughed and laughed.  Take this excerpt:

"Q. How old are you?
A. Nineteen, in June
Q. Indeed!  I would have taken you to be thirty-five or six.  Where were you born?
A. In Missouri.
Q. When did you begin to write?
A. In 1836.
Q. Why, how could that be, if you are only nineteen now?
A. I don't know.  It does seem curious somehow.
Q. It does, indeed.  Who do you consider the most remarkable man you ever met?
A. Aaron Burr.
Q. But you never could have met Aaron Burr, if you are only nineteen years-
A. Now, if you know more about me than I do, what do you ask me for?"

When you're done reading that (and have spent a good 5 minutes laughing), flip back a few pages and turn to The Story of a Bad Little Boy That Bore a Charmed Life.  And you will have had your amusement for the day.  I guarantee it.

Go read this book, dear readers.  You will quite enjoy it and you will be left feeling refreshed and ready to conquer any book.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Great Divorce

My latest read has been The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.  I grew up with C.S. Lewis (particularly the Chronicles of Narnia, but other things as well, such as Screwtape Letters), so his writing is not new to me, but for some reason I had skipped this book.

The Great Divorce refers to a book called The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.  C.S. Lewis is replying to the assertion that parts of Heaven and Hell should be combined to make earth and instead calls for "a great divorce between heaven and hell," a return to an either/or stance rather than a both/and stance.  The story is an allegory, a sort of reflection on the nature of heaven and hell and how people participate in both realms on earth.  The story starts when the narrator boards a bus in a strange land where it is always grey and drizzly.  He goes on an incredible journey through heaven and hell with his complaining, griping, unsatisfied fellow travelers.  Lewis sums up the moral of the story in the introduction, "If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven; if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell."

It is no secret that Lewis is a highly revered writer and thinker, but this was especially impressed upon me in this book.  The way that important truths are presented in an unassuming, yet poignant way is impressive.  And it isn't every writer that can write a pressing allegory without it become a diatribe or a long-winded sermon.  I was encourage in my own faith by this book, but I was also challenged and convicted by it.  I think it's a good idea to read a book that makes one ever so slightly uncomfortable (in a good, spurring-on kind of way, of course) every once in a while.

I'm going to include a quote from the introduction of the book (which really was a sort of interpretation for the whole allegory).

"You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind."

I really enjoyed this book.  As you long-time readers know, I read a lot of lighter-end fiction and so it was quite refreshing to get out of a bit of a reading grove.  This book also has the advantage of not being a tome-like book.  It's something that can be read over a quiet weekend and the reader will be left with a refreshed, thoughtful feeling.  Of course, this is a Christianity-geared book, however, if you are a thinker and enjoy contemplating, I would highly recommend this book.  I really liked it.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The 100 Foot Journey

I'm taking a little break from book blogging to write about a movie that I saw recently-The Hundred Foot Journey.  I really enjoyed it and I highly recommend it.  Oh!  And there's a book by the same name on which the movie was based, so I'm excited to look for that book.  As a basic summary, The Hundred Foot Journey is about an Indian family who runs a restaurant in Mumbai.  After a group storms through their village and sets fire to their restaurant, killing their mother, the 4 children and their father flee to Europe.  They end up in a small French village, where a young sous-chef takes them under her wing.  However, things become slightly tense when the family decides to buy a restaurant just 100 feet across the street from a Michelin-star-winning French restaurant run by the town matriarch, Madame Mallory.  Things become even more complicated when it turns out that Marguerite, the sous-chef, works at this restaurant.  Meanwhile, after much conflict, the Indian restaurant begins to draw people and it becomes apparent that the one son, Hassan, is a very gifted chef.  Of course, there is the requisite romance between Hassan and Marguerite, which I quite enjoyed, but the real focus of the movie was food.

As many of you know, I quite love food and I love cooking.  I am by no means at a chef-level of cooking, but I think I am fairly skilled in the kitchen.  When I saw this movie, I was completely inspired by the gorgeous scenes of knives flying across cutting boards full of onions, spices spread liberally, and perfect omelets concocted. There was also the side-interest of the gorgeous clothes and the beautiful French countryside was, of course, perfectly gorgeous.   Marguerite wore lovely dresses that I coveted and had a bob that I am seriously considering.  However, the main interest of the movie was the food.

Now here are the things that I scoffed at:


  • The produce-There are so many scenes where markets and people's tables are shown and they are, of course, beautiful.  But the produce obviously came from a California greenhouse and were shipped to some supermarket in a Sysco truck.  Since the feeling of the movie is supposed to be one of farm-to-table eating and uber localness, this was not a good move on the filmmakers' part.  The tomatoes were the fakest looking things and the peppers were all these huge, flawless, bright red bell peppers.  No heirloom produce there.
  • There was this side-story about this chest of Indian spices that were bequeathed to Hassan.  Now this is nit-picky, but spices that are at least 20 years old should not be put into a curry.  Actually, those spices shouldn't go anywhere.  Not even a very mild dish.  I'm sorry, Hassan, they may be Mama's old spices, but they need to be lovingly put in a trunk somewhere and then you can go out and get some new spices.  Trust me, your food's going to be soooo much more flavorful.
  • They could have talked more about food.  No, I think for the average viewer, the food focus was just about at capacity.  But I want to know more!  I want to know just exactly how he was making that gorgeous looking vegetable jalfrezzi.  Heck, I want that guy to come give me some cooking lessons.  
But, really, I was able to overlook these picky things.  The movie was beautiful and the filmmakers did a wonderful job.  The movie was one of those where you feel like you've been in a different place when you emerge blinking from the theater.  I was also inspired by a great many cooking details from the movie.  After seeing Madame Mallory make the world's most perfect omelet, I am determined to master that skill.  Also, in every cooking scene, there was a cup that was full of spoons.  The cooks all pulled out a clean spoon to taste at every step.  I'm going to look for some spoons at the thrift store and do this.  I think it's a great idea!  But the thing that most inspired me the fact that nobody cooked with a cookbook.  Now, I understand that these are chefs, not lay-cooks, but I was still impressed.  

After the movie, as we drove home, I contemplated food and realized that nothing else would please me except a big bowl of curry.  When I got home, I instinctively reached for a cookbook and then pulled back my hand.  No, I was going to make curry by taste.  I've always been too afraid of a complete cooking failure if I don't follow a recipe, but I finally did it!  And it was wonderful to smell the heavenly scent of curry and see the piles of steam and feel the ingredients in my hands after seeing all those things in a movie.  Here's the rough recipe of what I did:

Lamb Curry

I pulled out a 1 lb. packet of lamb cubes (we raise sheep and therefore always have a good supply of lamb in the freezer) and set that to defrost while I chopped onions and garlic and sauteed them in olive oil.  Then I added the lamb, cooked until brown, and then began to add the most important thing- the spices.  I found a little jar of curry paste at the back of the pantry and then I added garam masala, coriander, and I can't remember what else, just adding by taste and smell.  Next, I added a quart of tomatoes, half a can of coconut milk, about half of a container of yogurt, and cooked until thick.  I served it with yogurt swirled at the top and sprigs of cilantro on top of the whole thing.  And you know what?  It turned out fantastically!  I will definitely be cooking curry without a book again!  And I've become inspired to try more non-cookbook cooking, using smells and tastes to cook.  

So anyway, this is definitely a must-see if you like pretty movies or good food.  I really loved it and it was a huge inspiration.  

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen

This is a book that I have owned for years.  The title pretty much sums up what the book is about- letters that Jane Austen wrote throughout the years, most of them to her beloved sister, Cassandra.  Penelope Hughes-Hallett did a beautiful job of compiling these letters and introducing them.  Her voice comes through gently, without taking away anything from the beauty of Austen's writing.  So here, quickly, are some of my observations about this book:


  • I met Jane Austen in a new way while reading this book.  So often, we only read about Austen through somebody else's eyes.  Here, we can see Jane Austen herself, without any other author's interpretations or editing.  It's so refreshing!
  • The illustrations!  They are truly one of the highlights of the book.  I found that I am still a sucker for pretty pictures in books.  The illustrations are varied, from portraits that Cassandra, a budding artist drew, to little humorous sketches published in newspapers at the time to beautiful watercolor sketches done by famous people.  
  • The social rules fascinate me.  What accomplishments were expected of ladies, the proper way to accept a dance...the rules go on and on.  It's interesting, because Jane Austen, of course, accepts the rules as just the way things are.  So the reader picks up those social rules along the way through reading Austen's writing.
  • I am glad I don't have to wear regency dress.  I look at those pictures and hear Jane mention certain things about their clothes and I breathe a sigh of relief.  I am a dress-uppy kind of girl, but those teeny-tiny little plunging bodices and skirts that appear to be constantly sticking to ones legs does not sound pleasant.
  • For the first time, I got a very clear picture of the Austen family as a whole.  I have read biographies about Austen before, but this one is so interesting because it is Jane, herself, talking about her family and all of the little quirks that make up everybody.
  • Jane Austen was an observer, rather like me.  She writes to Cassandra all of her observations about people and the funny, strange, and interesting things that they do.  I think it's part of what makes her such a brilliant writer...that ability to observe something interesting, stow it away for future use, and then pull it out again and incorporate it into a novel.
This book was so wonderful, readers.  I think it was my favorite of my Austen in August reads.  I highly recommend it to any Austenites.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tea With Jane Austen

I'm finally getting around to doing some Austen in August posts.  On August 30th.  Oh well.  My Austen in August writing will probably go into September, but that's fine.

The first book that I picked up was Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson-a slim volume devoted to life in Jane Austen's day as it pertained to tea.  There were fascinating facts, quotes from letters Jane wrote, and all sorts of charming pictures and recipes.  I quite adored the book.  

The book was arranged throughout a day, starting with tea for breakfast and finishing with tea for dinner, with stops all along the way.  The author carefully went through the steps that were taken to make tea, depending on class, and argues that tea was something extremely important to Jane.  Wilson quotes liberally from the novels with loving descriptions of taking tea and discussing tea and judging people who don't take tea seriously.  

Wilson obviously cares very deeply about tea and wants all of her readers to care as deeply about it as she does.  Now I am not a devoted tea drinker, but I love history and I love Jane Austen, so this was a perfect book.  And, really, this book was just a sort of history of that time period, seen through the lens of tea.  

The writing was not breathtaking, however.  There were some awkward, stumbling sentences and things were quoted with no clear source.  I believe that this is Wilson's first writing and so we'll credit the mistakes with a not-very-great editor and inexperience.  

I think that this book could be read as a coffee-table book; flipping through the pages at the pretty pictures and reading the quotes at the side.  However, I sat down and read the thing cover to cover and was glad I did.  Halfway through reading, I got up and made a pan of apple (the first of our own apples!), sage, and cheddar scones. I rooted around in the cupboard for a pretty, non-earthenware mug and curled up, feeling perfectly content.  Readers, it was lovely.  In fact, I think a pre-requisite when reading this book should be having a nice teacup filled with a period-appropriate tea (I chose Oolong), and a little something to eat.

One of the best parts was the recipes.  Wilson would quote from a letter or a paragraph in one of Jane's books that mentioned a recipe and then Wilson modernized the recipes and included them in the book.  I copied several down before I returned this book to the library.

If you have ever enjoyed reading anything about Austen, then this is a book for you.  It's fun and interesting...the perfect weekend read.  I quite enjoyed it.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Shift from Amazon Affiliates

So remember how about a month ago I used to always have a link to amazon affiliates whenever I posted a book review?  Well, then you might have noticed that the links just disappeared.  I thought I would let you all know why I ended up deciding against it.
Breadsticks I made for supper one night this week.  Yes, they're completely unrelated.
They were delicious, though.  I wish I could pass you one through the computer screen.

1.  I felt bad about posting the new books for a variety of reasons- new books can be ridiculously pricey, and environmental, financial, and human resources are needed make a new book.  There are lots of nice books that are already out there.  It felt silly to be advocating buying new books when so many used books are looking for loving homes.  :)  I know, that sounded like I was talking about puppies from a shelter.  It also seems like a bad idea to buy new books simply for financial reasons.  I don't know who's reading this blog and I didn't like encouraging a financially struggling reader to spend exorbitant prices on a new book.  Of course there are exceptions to this rule-textbooks and books that have just been released, among other things.

2.  I just recently learned that Amazon is not the best of companies, ethically speaking.  I don't know why I was surprised.  They really are just a big-box store in online format.  And it's no new news that big box companies are almost never ethically sound.  I would rather support a smaller business, be it online or a local bookshop.  If that's what I believe, then it's talking out of both sides of my mouth to recommend that you buy something on Amazon that I've linked and then turn around and say that I prefer local businesses.  Of course, like in reason # 1, there are cases where Amazon really is the best, nay, the only, place to get something.  Then, I say go ahead.  But I don't think that it's a good default.

So anyway, that's why you aren't seeing those handy-dandy links from me anymore.  I do wish that places like Powell's and other little books companies like this and this would implement a book-linking service for bloggers.  I would gladly use it!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Liebster Award!

Goodness!  Another blog-tag of sorts!  The lovely Girl With Her Head in a Book nominated me for a Liebster Award and I was quite honored and set to work at once.  It's always fun for me to answer these kind of questions, so here goes:

1) How do you feel about print books versus e-books?  
I am a strictly print book girl.  I feel like screens are present in so much of our lives and we don't need to convert good old fashioned reading to a screen, too.  Okay, so that was harsh, but I do love that lovely scent of paper and ink.   Sigh...

2) Which words or plot points automatically make you decide not to read a book?
Hm...These are fabulous questions!  The old, old story of girl meets train-wrecked boy and proceeds to rescue him.  Ugh.  Oh! Oh!  And the still more annoying storyline of so-and-so is in a coma in the hospital and the people around him realize come to realize important truths about themselves.  Gah.  Actually, Hallmark-ey heartwarming stuff always makes me gag.
3) What is your first 'bookish' memory?
Sitting in a huge library with my dad.  I have no idea where my mom or my brother were, but we were sitting in front of a fish-tank reading...I can't remember what.

4) Do you find that you read books which are more by male or female authors?
I scanned my bookshelves and found that I tend to read books by female authors more than male authors.  I had no idea which I read more of until I saw this question.

5) Where's the strangest/most unusual place that you've ever read a book?
I read books in some pretty strange places.  I think the funniest is sitting with the car parked in the driveway, reading.  I have also read in a hot, unfinished attic in August (can't remember why).

6) Do you read in any other languages than English? How do you feel about translated fiction?
I read Spanish (took several years of it) in a halting way.  I have never attempted novels.  One day, I was in the library and picked up Amelia Bedelia in Spanish.  It was brilliant!  All of that word-play done with totally different words when translated to English!  I think that translated fiction has to be handled very gently, with plenty of poetic license on the part of the translator in order for the book to be enjoyable.

7) How do you feel about Reading Challenges eg. Goodreads challenges?
I love reading challenges!  They also make me feel good because I read such a copious amount of books.  I finish those challenges lickety-split.

8) Do you often read books that you feel you 'ought' to read rather than ones that youwant to read?
This is the reason I refuse to be in a serious book group.  I will read academic books because I feel that they are stuff I, you know, kinda need to read, but the majority of my reading is my choice.  Reading is, after all, a hobby and hobbies should never be about doing things you dislike.

9) If you could pick one fictional character to be your friend in real life, who would it be?
Oooo...Jo March from Little Women!  I think that she would be a good friend.   I am much more Meg March-ish in personality, but a great many of my friends are of the Jo March persuasion.  I think that more steady personality combined with a spunky, stubborn personality works very well.

10) Which author would you most like to meet and why?
Jane Austen.  There's a reading challenge currently going on called Austen in August.  I'm participating in it (in a disultry way) and after reading all this stuff about her, I really want to meet her!
11) What do you like best about blogging?
That daily act of sitting down and writing.  It's a rhythm that I love.  I also love all of the reading/bloggy connections that I have made in such a short amount of blogging time.  I can see why there are bloggers that write for years and years and never get tired of it.

I nominate:
1. EverydayHas@ http://everydayhas.wordpress.com/
2. countrygirlsread@ http://countrygirlsread.wordpress.com/
3. Desperate Reader @ http://desperatereader.blogspot.com/
4. Jennine G. @ http://livingawritinglife.blogspot.com
5. Michelle F. @ http://newhorizonreviews.blogspot.com
6. Books as Food @ http://booksasfood.blogspot.com

And here are my questions:

1.  What is the first book you remember reading?

2.  What is your favorite genre of reading?

3.  What book character do you think you are most like?

4.  Are you part of a book club/group?  How do you feel about book clubs?

5.  The most annoying book I ever read was…

6.  Did you like reading in school?

7.  Where is your favorite place to read

8.  If you could pick one fictional character to be your best friend, who would it be?

9.  Do you read seasonally?  That is, do you read lighter, beach-read books in summer and heavier books in winter?

10.  Can you listen to music while reading?  If so, what kind of music do you like to have as background noise?

Thanks for nominating me, Girl with Her Head in a Book!  I had fun writing this.  Any of you readers who I missed are welcome to chime in in the comments or on your own blog post.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Life Among the Savages

Life Among the Savages made me laugh until I cried.  This story is written by the famous Shirley Jackson who is most well-known for her short story The Lottery.  But after writing such dark stuff, she went on to write a memoir about raising her children in an old, rambling, New England farmhouse.

Shirley Jackson, along with her husband, raised 4 children, all of whom appear to have been spunky, rambunctious, hilariously funny children (although now that I think about it, isn't that the definition of most children?).  The story starts when Ms. Jackson and her husband are house hunting.  They have been kicked out of their apartment and they are looking at houses to raise their baby and toddler in.  After months of searching, a raggle-taggle farmhouse that is lacking in pretty much any modern convenience is secured and the family moves in.  From the story of Laurie heading off to school and returning a changed, swaggering man to the birth of Barry, their youngest son, when Jackson shouted at all of the nurses because of her pain medication, the stories are all captivating and enjoyable.

Each chapter (they're very long) is an essay-type story about one of her children's exploits.  My absolute favorite story was of the middle daughter, Joanne, who had a vivid imaginary life, with complicated relationships and many children, whom she could also become at times.  One day, they head to the department store (I do so want to step back in time to a 1940s department store) with Joanne and her imaginary family in tow.  The results are disastrous (and wildly funny).

Knowing Shirley Jackson's previous writing, I am in complete awe of how she manages to write in such a different tone.  The tone in these stories is one of warmth and love and humor, rather than dark bitterness.  It is a truly skilled author who can switch between such different writing styles.

This is one of those books that I could not put down.  I read and re-read each word, so as not to miss any little bit of Jackson's writing.  Her style is so captivating.  I laughed and laughed and then read aloud sections to my (sometimes) listening family members.  I was torn between gobbling up the whole book in one sitting and reading about 5 pages so as to make the book last.  Isn't that the best kind of book?

Some of the books I review, I end up saying, "Well, this is a book for (blank) type of person, but if you're not (blank) type of person, don't bother reading this."  This is not that type of book.  These witty, charming stories could be enjoyed by anybody.  If you have ever spent even half an hour with a child under the age of 12, you will instantly recognize so many of the experiences and adventures.  Please, please go read this, my dear readers.  I guarantee that you will thank me.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Canning Tomatoes-An Excerpt from The Melendys

Today is the beginning of the canning extravaganza-where every surface is covered in pulp and seeds and we all collapse on random kitchen chairs at 7 pm, wearily watching the last canner.  Every year that I do this, I wonder why I think this is a good idea, but when I see the beautiful ruby red jars full of tomatoes sitting in the basement, I feel completely gratified.  The other thing that always crosses my mind is the story of the Melendys, written by Elizabeth Enright.  The Melendys have all sorts of adventures (see this post, where I wrote about them), but here's an excerpt from their canning adventure, accompanied by pictures of our canning mess.   Enjoy!
Onions in the food processor, for pizza sauce.  (Note the clean kitchen.
It's the last time you're going to see a tomato-less surface for the rest of this post)

So in summary, Cuffy (the kindly housekeeper) has left to take care of her sister-with-a-broken-leg, widower Father is on some vague business trip (he frequently is), and that leaves the four children at home, the oldest of whom is fourteen.  You heard that right, fourteen!  It's August and the garden is, of course, overflowing.  Mona (the 14 year old) is completely enchanted with cooking and proposes that she and Randy (the 12 year old) can the produce-

""We eat tomatoes for every meal except breakfast now," Randy said.  "And the cucumbers are just getting boring."  "Maybe we could sell them," offered Oliver helpfully.  "Nix, small fry.  In a rural community like this it would be coals to Newcastle."  "Canning is the answer," Mona said.  "Oh, if only Cuffy were here!""

"A moment later she looked up, striking the table with her mixing spoon.  "We'll do it ourselves!  We'll surprise Cuffy."  "O-o-oh, no!"  said Rush.  "And have us all dead with bottling bacillus or whatever it is.  No, thank you."  "Botulinus bacillus," corrected Mona.  "Oh, Rush, don't be so stuffy.  I'll get a book about it and do everything just the way it says.  I'll only can safe things like the tomatoes and I'll make pickles of the cucumbers."

"Mona slept an uneasy sleep that night, and her dreams were long dull dreams about tomatoes.  She rose early the next morning, got breakfast with Randy, and studied her canning book.  By the time the boys and Willy began bringing the vegetables, she knew it almost by heart.  She and Rand were enthusiastic about the first bushel-basketful of tomatoes, it seemed a treasure trove: an abundance of sleek vermilion fruit, still beaded with dew.  The second bushel also looked very pretty, the third a little less so, and by the time the fourth one arrived she stared at it with an emotion of horror.  "There can't be that many, Rush!"  "You asked for it, pal.  There's the living evidence.  And in twenty four hours, there'll be this much over again." …."The kitchen was swamped with vegetables."

"It was a long, hot, clumsy business.  Mona dropped sterilized lids on the floor, and they had to be sterilized all over again; Randy cut herself with the paring knife; Mona half-scalded her fingers getting the first jar into the boiler.  Randy skidded and fell on a slippery tomato skin which had somehow landed on the kitchen floor.  They lost two jars of tomatoes from the first batch when they were taking them out of the boiler.  The first was dropped by Mona when she thoughtlessly took hold of it with her bare hands.  The second exploded like a bomb, all by itself.  "I guess there was something the matter with it," said Randy brilliantly.

"Her [Mona's] face was scarlet with exertion.  Her hair was tied up in a dish towel, and her apron was covered with tomato stains.  Randy looked worse if anything.  There were tomato seeds in her hair and an orange smear across one cheek.  She was wearing nothing but a faded old playsuit and an apron.  "Gee whiz," she said.   "You know how I feel?  I feel like an old, old woman about forty years old, with fallen arches."

I hear ya', Randy, I hear ya'.

Still, later…"They look sort of nice.  The tomatoes, I mean, not your arches.  Look, Ran."  They were nice.  Sixteen sealed jars of scarlet fruit, upside down on the kitchen table.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Reading Habits Tag

I was just recently tagged by Girl With Her Head in a Book to answer a series of questions about reading habits (you can see her answers at the above link).  Fun!  So here goes:


1. Do you have a certain place for reading at home?- Not really.  Well, I read all over the place.  My favorite places are stretched out longways on the sofa with the little lap dog curled up next to me or at the kitchen table in the morning.
2.  Do you use a bookmark or a random piece of paper?- Random shreds of paper.  The little tear-out ad cards in magazines work beautifully.  Sometimes I feel like I should have real bookmarks (see this post and this post), but for the most part, I use random shreds because I lose the real bookmarks so quickly.  They're like bobby-pins.  So loseable.
3.  Can you just stop reading or does it need to be at the end of a chapter or a certain number of pages?-Definitely at the end of a chapter.  I can never get back into a chapter that I've stopped halfway through with.  You know what else is weird?  People that read the first chapter of a book and then stick a bookmark in and walk away.   I have to read a least 5 chapters into a book before I stick a bookmark in it.
4.  Do you eat or drink while eating?- Well, I read at breakfast and lunch.  At dinner I tend not to because everybody's back from work and it's nice to sit and talk.  I would feel weirdly anti-social reading at dinner.  Sunday afternoons, when I have a huge glut of reading time, I'll often make some little treat to share and eat myself while reading.  My family has a tradition of eating sunflower seeds in the summer while reading novels.  I still carry that on.
5.  Do you read one book at a time or several at once?- Always several at once.  I like having something light, something tome-like, and something pretty to look at.
6.  Do you read out loud or silently in your head?- Huh!  I didn't know there were people who read out loud to themselves.  So yes, I read silently.  I can still remember the first day that I learned to do that in about 2nd grade.  I was so proud.
7.  Do you ever read ahead or skip pages?- *Ahem*.  Well, yes, I do.  I very often skip long, rhapsodizing descriptions of scenery or people.   If I see a whole string of sentences chock full of adjectives, let the skimming begin!  I must say, I am quite a skilled skimmer.  I read ahead if I suspect an author of writing a depressing ending.  If I find out that the outcome is not what I want, I slam the book shut and no harm done because I haven't gotten all invested with the characters.
8.  Breaking the spine or keeping it new?- Argh.  What a question.  I always want to crack the spines, but as soon as I do, I feel bad that the book has lost its newness.  I ask myself which I'm going to do every time I open a new book.
9.  Do you write in your books?- Depends.  Never in fiction, but from all my academic exposure over the years, I do write in nonfiction books.  I do think that writing in some books can have value.  I love finding old family members' books that were written in.  It's like a window into their minds.  So I'm not opposed to writing in books, I just don't do it frequently.
10.  What are you currently reading?- An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott, Eat and Make by Paul Lowe, Tea with Jane Austen, and The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen (the Austen books are for Austen in August).

Thanks so much to Girl With Her Head in a book for this fun challenge!  I can't wait to see what others say about these questions.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Mary Stewart Series: The Gabriel Hounds

On our very last vacation trip of the summer, I read only one book.  Now, to be fair, it was a loud, busy family visit that didn't allow for lots of time spent in thinking and reading.  But I'm a reader and a book blogger, so of course I couldn't go without at least one book.  I picked a Mary Stewart novel, naturally.  And that's the great thing about Mary Stewart.  She can be read on the road and in a loud, chaotic house and still be comprehended and enjoyed.  I read most of it on the way out, a bit one evening, and then the rest on the way home (when I wasn't napping).
Now I want a raspberry coat with a purple flower at my throat.

The Gabriel Hounds is, in my opinion, one of Mary Stewart's creepiest novels.  It's not like her magic-ey books, that are slightly reminiscent of her Merlin writing, full of spells and mild magic and other worldly experiences.  It's also not that wild-chase thriller theme that runs through so many of Stewart's books.

The Gabriel Hounds is the story of Christy Mansel, a young aristocrat who is traveling abroad in the Middle East.  While there, she runs into her handsome, impetuous, equally wealthy cousin who is also traveling.  They agree to go look up their eccentric Great-Aunt Harriet living in a palace called the Dar Ibrahim, a women well-known in Lebanon (or The Lebanon, as Mary Stewart archaicly calls it).  But they find that there are strange things afoot at the Dar Ibrahim, where sinister Arab servants (*cringe*...I know...) and a mysterious doctor minister to the demanding old lady.  Christy and her cousin (who is also the love-interest...surprise!) find that as difficult as it is to get into the old castle, it may be even more difficult to get out.

Throughout this book run sinister threads of drug overuse (particularly hashish) and cultural problems with the Middle East.  The natives in the book are treated with an extremely racist suspicion that feels kind of weird to read.  However, Mary Stewart's writing surpasses some of the awkward racist descriptions.

This was not my favorite Mary Stewart (Nine Coaches Waiting will always hold that special position in my heart), but it was definitely good.  The story was well crafted and I sat at the edge of my seat in the car, the seatbelt digging into my neck, skipping bathroom stops so I could find out what happened.  There was even one panicked moment where I realized I couldn't find my book and that it was stuck in the back of the trunk.  But I finally retrieved it and kept reading.  This was a great book!  If you are fond of Mary Stewart, this is a must-read.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

An Old-Fashioned Girl

I have always loved Louisa May Alcott's writing.  Like so many little girls, I was introduced to Little Women by my mother early on.  We read the book together and laughed over the adventures and felt sorry for Laurie and wept over Beth.  After that introduction, I adored everything by Alcott.  I went on to read Little Men and Jo's Boys and all of the lesser-known books, like Under the Lilac Bush and Hospital Sketches.  However, my favorite is An Old-Fashioned Girl.

An Old Fashioned Girl is the story of Polly, a shy, smart, highly spirited girl.  She goes to visit a friend, Fanny, who lives a cosseted life with her wild brother Tom, her whiny, spoiled little sister Maud, her distracted businessman father, her self-absorbed, hypochondriacal mother and her lonely grandmother who disapproves of the whole family.  Into this scene full of ennui and dissipation comes a breath of fresh air in the form of young Polly.  She, a country girl from a countercultural family that reminds me of the Marches,  is shocked by the city life so full of problems and trouble in spite of the wealth.  She is introduced to Polly's shallow friends and she begins to work change in the family and she begins to see the real sides of her hosts.

The book is spread over a time period of about 10 years.  By the end, there is a charming suitor, Mr. Sidney, and Polly has grown in wisdom and maturity and has become an even more well-rounded character.  Polly is living in a little apartment and keeping house for herself and giving music lessons to support her brother in college.  Then the unthinkable happens-Polly and her family lose all of their money in some banking crises.  And…well, you'll have to read this wonderful book to find out what happens!

The domestic descriptions are unbelievable cozy, particularly when Polly moves into her own house.  It's one of the lovely bonuses of this book.  I couldn't find the particular description that I love, so you'll just have to read the book and find it for yourself.
I sat down with a delicious slice of peach upside down cake made with roasted cornmeal,
hot peppermint tea, and An Old Fashioned Girl (rereading for the millionth time).
It was so pretty, I decided to take a picture-yes, I've become one of those bloggers who takes
pictures of her food.

Even though Polly is a Victorianly good character, there is nothing saccharine or fake about her goodness.  She has her struggles, very much like the March sisters of Little Women.  She has troubles and setbacks just like all of us, but she has a loving family base that is helping her along as she sees new, tempting, strange things.  The old-fashioned in the title is from when Fanny and her friends refer to Polly as "old-fashioned" and "little-girl-ish" because she doesn't behave the way Fanny and her friends do.

Polly's family is not portrayed as a demon-family, but simply one that has become distracted by worldly things and in the process has forgotten the family.  Polly is simply there to remind them of the importance of each other.  The books is not explicitly Christian, but there is that undertone, much like the undertone in Little Women.  I think that also has a lot to do with the way that Polly and her family behave.
Finished!  (Does anybody else prop their books against
their tea pot?  It makes the perfect hands-free reading!

Polly reminds me of Meg March is so many ways.  If L.M. Alcott were to write a story just about Meg on her own in a strange city, you would get this book.  I've always identified with Meg in Little Women.  I do not have that willful, passionate Jo March streak, goodness knows I'm not like saintly Beth and I hope to goodness I'm not like the spoiled, vain Amy.   Meg's calm, practical nature, in spite on her own personal temptations resonated with me, which is part of the reason I identified with Polly.  

The ultimate message of this story and the whole story in general are really timeless.  There is nothing archaic or old-fashioned about the writing or the story.  Louisa May Alcott did it again-she wrote another wonderful book about lovable characters that you are sure to remember for years after you read this book.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Great Marshmallow Experiment

Last night, on the spur of the moment, my family and I decided to have a little campfire in the back yard.  Some rummaging was done and graham crackers, chocolate, and a pack of hotdogs were found, but no marshmallows.  I turned to this trusty cookbook, of which I gave such a glowing review, and, sure enough, there was a homemade marshmallow recipe.  It's quite easy, just sugar and corn syrup (I'll talk about that later), vanilla, gelatin, and water.
I made them in squares, but there's no reason you couldn't cut them
into any pretty shape you wanted.


I heated up the sugar and water and went to find a bottle of corn syrup, you know, that white syrupy stuff that most cooks have a bottle of languishing in the back.  It's not that same thing as the demonic high fructose stuff, but as I pulled the bottle off of the shelf, I happened to glance at the back and saw that, sure enough, in regular corn syrup, there is high fructose corn syrup.  Cussing inwardly, I went back to the cupboard and wracked my brains for a suitable alternative.  I knew that honey would have way too strong of a flavor and I wasn't sure that maple syrup was thick enough.  Aha!  My eye fell on a bottle of agave syrup, this strange syrup that is a quite popular in health food stores these days.  I think it's from some kind of cactus in Mexico, but don't quote me on that.  There was a little bottle of it stuffed in the back of a cupboard.  I dumped that in and, surprisingly, it gave the marshmallows the most buttery, rich flavor.

I really recommend that you get Homemade Pantry, but if you refuse, here's how you make marshmallows:

Heat up your 3/4 cup of syrup (whatever you choose), 1/4 cup of sugar, and 1/2 cup of water.  Don't touch it, just stick a thermometer in and let the temperature come to 250 Fahrenheit.  Meanwhile, put a package of gelatin in the bottom of a stand mixer and pour another 1/2 cup of water over it and let sit.  when your sugar water has heated up to the right temperature, pour it over your gelatin and turn the mixer to the highest setting until the mixture turns shiny and white.  Pour it into a greased 9x13 pan and let sit until they're marshmallow consistency.  Then cut into squares when you're ready to eat and dust with coconut or powdered sugar.

People, these were so good!  They toast gorgeously and turn into this buttery, toasty pile of goodness on your graham cracker.   I will never buy another marshmallow again.  These are dead easy, the flavor far surpasses anything you could buy, and they have such a gorgeous texture!  So often, if you buy an organic marshmallow, they're weirdly dry and flat and chewy, while the jet-puffed ones taste like chemicals and who knows what's in them.  These are perfect in every way.  You must go make them!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Miss Manners

(Well, I came back for a blog post!  I missed sitting down and writing out my thoughts so much!)

I can't believe I've never mentioned these books.  I would probably name Miss Manners as one of the top 10 most influential writers in my life.  Her no-nonsense, bitingly witty, perfectly correct writing is brilliant.  I was first introduced to Miss Manners through my mother, who has all of her books and would sit, reading them and laughing uproariously.  Some time in early high school, I picked up one and fell in love.

Miss Manners has written a manners advice column in newspapers for years, starting, I think, some time in the 80s.  People write in with some manners question or problem and then she addresses it, usually with a few biting remarks.  However, I was introduced to her through the books, not the newspaper column.  Miss Manners, or Judith Martin, has written many compilations of various categories of questions and her responses to them as well as essays that she has written.  The topics of the books are wide-ranging from childrearing to manners in a digital age (written in the 90s, but still surprisingly applicable to us today...although maybe not the part about answering pagers).

Miss Manners advocates bringing Victorian manners back into the 21st century.  Things like carrying a nice hanky with you when you go out and the proper way to introduce elders to one's contemporaries are carefully covered.   However, Miss Manners is also quick to point out the errors of societal mistakes made in earlier generations.  I appreciate this willingness to bring back some earlier customs and manners, but not to be too hasty to bring everything back.

I often read Miss Manners when I'm between books.  They're the kind of thing that you can pick up, read 10 pages of, and then drop, at least theoretically.  What actually happens is that you tell yourself that you're only going to read 5 pages and then get on your work and 2 hours later, you've read half of the book and you're completely worn out from laughing out loud.

The books are also useful.  When I have completely forgotten the correct format for writing a really nice sympathy note or I have clean forgotten that rule about wearing white shoes (it's Memorial Day to Labor Day, readers), I know that I can turn to Miss Manners and she will give me the answer along with a pithy remark that makes me laugh.

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Blog Hiatus

Dear Readers,
I love fall, don't you?  I love the crisp weather, the burst in productiveness that comes with the cooler weather and the lack of canning jars and tomatoes lingering on every surface.  I love sweaters and boots and the leaves and the increase in work, which brings me to my point.  I've decided to take a bit of a bloggy hiatus.  While I love blogging and the act of sitting down every day to write something was rewarding and enjoyable, this fall it's going to become yet another thing to add to my plate.  This year I'm going to be even busier than in previous years, meaning that my posts would either be short (which translates to blurry pictures and no book reviews) or take time that I should be spending working on other projects.

This doesn't mean I'm never going to write here again.  I may eventually shift over to a weekly post on Sunday or something entirely different.  But I wanted to let you all know that my blogging won't be regular, like it has been (because I hate it when bloggers just drop off the face of the internet without a word of warning).

So I'll still be around and in all probability, posts will be added to this blog in the future, but for now I'm letting other things take the front seat and letting the blog slide for a bit.  I'm going to be off on some summer vacation and then before we know it, fall is going to be upon us (yipee!).

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Post about Young Adult Fiction

This is a post that has been in the works for months, I now realize.  Over these few blogging months, I've occasionally made reference to the fact that I don't exactly love young adult fiction.  I finally decied that it would be a good idea to write a whole post devoted to my thoughts on young adult writing.

So first of all, what is Young Adult writing?  The YA label gets thrown around a lot.  There's a YA section in the library, and YA writers are a huge category, "Young-adult fiction or young adult literature (often termed as "YA"),[1] is fiction written, published, or marketed to adolescents and young adults, although recent studies show that 45% of young-adult fiction is purchased by readers under 18 years of age. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen," says Wikipedia.  I found this to be very useful information.  

So there you have the basic explanation.  Here are some of my observations about Young Adult stuff.  First of all, it's a fairly recent invention.  It's been argued that books like Little Women and Tom Sawyer were seen as the YA fiction of their time.  However, I disagree.  Little Women and Tom Sawyer are books for all ages, books that can span all kinds of time and space and have the ability to charm a 7 year old or a 40 year old.  And here's the other thing: They were written about a certain age, they weren't written for a certain viewpoint and age.  In the 80s, books written specifically for an age span of about 6 years started to crop up.  Today you can't spit without hitting a young adult book.

My second problem with the whole young adult fiction category is that a lot of it is really poorly written.  There seem to be two genres:  the entirely too mature romance fiction with ridiculously improbable situations that set girls, particularly, ridiculous expectations.  Then there's the vampire, slashing, killing, also with a side of romance, equally improbable.  Expecting teens to read just these two genres for 6 whole years is quite strange, if you think about it.  Would we ever say, "Ok, the 40-47 year olds should read mysteries.  All novels for 40-47 year olds are going to be mysteries."  Of course not!  There would be a mass rebellion!  

Third, nobody likes to be talked down to.  In the few rare times that I have picked up a young adult book, there is this condescending tone of, "See?  I can write just like you silly little youngsters talk."  Okay, so that's an extreme exaggeration, but there is a definite tone that you get from reading these books that indicates that the author finds his/her audience slightly below him/her.  

And finally, I can see the value of teenagers moving up to adult fiction at some point.  When I was about 13, I remember going to my mom and asking if I could browse in the adult section in the library.  I was thoroughly bored with the children's section and that just felt like the next step.  There was awhile there where she would glance over the books before I checked out.  I discovered a lot of wonderful authors that I still enjoy today.  I think it's a shame to get stuck in this weird middle ground and miss out on some authors that can be enjoyed by younger ages.  

Now this isn't to say that I don't approve of any middle-grade writing.  There has to be something between the adult section and the very earliest of chapter books for early elementary.  That's where good books like Little Women and Tom Sawyer come in-books that are meaningful, well-written, and fun.  

There are also good Young Adult books.  The whole genre is not trash and I don't want to be too quick to throw away the whole thing.  I have picked up Young Adult things on occasion that are well written and meaningful and fun to read and are written in an interesting, non-condescending tone.  I just recently reviewed Code Name Verity, a new-ish young adult book that was very good, although dark. 

I'd love to hear what all of you think about this (and feel free to disagree with me) in the comments.