Wednesday, May 6, 2015

An Update

Hello, dear readers.  This is just a quick note to let you know that I'm going to be absent from the blog until the end of next week due to a bunch of deadlines and work that needs to get done.  However, that doesn't mean that I'm not reading, and so you have lots of book reviews to look forward to in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, I'll leave you with my current reading list:

1. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

2. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

3. Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers' Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call (this is, by far, my favorite current read).

4.  The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder (same author who wrote Sophie's World, which I loved).

5. Frankenstein, for Classics Club

Happy Wednesday to you all!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes

And here it is!  The Don Quixote post!  In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have written as much about reading it as I did, because I probably set all you readers up for a good analytical post, when I definitely don't have that in me.  Still, here is a post about my thoughts on Don Quixote.

So, Don Quixote.  I'll admit that I had my doubts.  It was long and I wasn't in the mood for a tome when I started it, but it's one of those classics that I really wanted to approach again for Classics Club-a wonderful motivator for this kind of thing.

Most people know the basic plot of Don Quixote.  However, here it is.  Don Quixote is divided into two parts-the first one being tales of his escapades and stories of the people around him.  The second is, well, I didn't love it.  I'll say more later.  Don Quixote is a fairly wealthy man living in La Mancha.  He adores exciting adventure stories full of chivalrous deeds.  And this, according to our narrator, is his downfall.  The books, or so we are told, turn his brain to mush so that he sees everything as part of his fantastic stories.  So, he proceeds to try to live his life as much like a chivalrous knight-errant.  He helps all the poor and needy, tries to win his love (a woman he barely knows), and perform brave deeds.  He takes along his trusty steed (a frail horse) and his side-kick (Sancho).

This part of the book was so fun-adventures and thrills, dangerous quests.  And, through it all, I began to see his world as Don Quixote did.  This is the part of the book that includes the famous windmill story.  For the first 1/8 of the book, I laughed at Don Quixote, with his silly adventures and his delusions.  I identified with Sancho, although at times I wondered why he didn't just leave Don Quixote. And then, something clicked.  I realized why Don Quixote was doing what he was doing.  I started to see a method to his madness.

By the second part of the book, things start to change.  Sancho is now tricking and lying to Don Quixote (for reasons that confused me for awhile, but that became clear later) and there are a slimy Duke and Duchess in on it.  They have convinced Don Quixote that his love has been put under an enchantment and that only he can perform all kinds of deeds to save her.  And so they cruelly send him on task after ludicrous task, which he performs tirelessly.

His imagined events become more and more insane, but, strangely enough, that actually made me empathize with him even more.  His imagination is a reaction to the world in which he is living.

This is where I grew sick of the book and went from smiling complacently to close to outrage.  The tormenting, the joy that all the people around him were getting out of tormenting him sickened me.  The brutal behavior displayed by so many people made me ache for Don Quixote and, all at once, I realized something.

Now, I know that this is not a new statement and that plenty of people have made this observation before.  But, I still was so struck by it. Don Quixote is the one in the right.  In the first part of the book, we are the complacent villagers watching his insanity, wondering why he can't just settle down and do things like everybody else.  By the end of the book, we are supposed to have realized that Don Quixote  is demonstrating the need for, and lack of, chivalry.  His willingness to do anything to help people, however deluded those actions may be, is admirable.  And we, the readers, are supposed to empathize with that.  Cervantes is making the observation that, in his culture, chivalry was being lost.

In the final chapters, Don Quixote is alone, exhausted, and sick.  It is in these final moments that he realizes that chivalry is dead, that his efforts have been in vain.  And then, he dies, leaving the reader to be brought back to reality by the narrator.

While this book often gets labeled as comic, I definitely didn't see it that way.  Well, maybe for the first section, but after that, I was left feeling melancholic and slightly wrenched by Don Quixote's life events and his last moments.

And that, I think is the sign of a wonderful writer.  I have almost no knowledge of 1600s Spain. And yet, Don Quixote speaks to our human condition-our desire for chivalry and bravery, though none of us would say that we particularly are longing for those things.  Cervantes's use of words and poetry and imagery brought goosebumps to my arms multiple times.

The translation I had was fantastic and I think that made a huge difference.  If you're interested in getting a copy of Don Quixote, I highly recommend the one translated by Edith Grossman.  She did what all good translators do-kept her voice in the background and Cervantes's in the front, simply giving the reader the impression of an enhanced view of the original author.  And then she had all kinds of fascinating notes at the end, which I really appreciated.

Do, please go read this book, if you're in the mood for a long classic.  It was worth all those days spent slogging through chapter and after chapter.  Now, on to Frankenstein!


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book

Lately, my life has been nothing but a whirlwind of deadlines and stuff to do and, as you may have noticed, this is not good for my blog.  Today, I forced myself to take the afternoon off and spend it normally-weeding the soft fruit bushes, which were filled with grass, puttering around the sewing room, and then, finally, doing some recreational cooking.  My eye flitted over The Four and Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book and I knew that I had to make something out of it.

This beautiful cookbook is written by the two owners of a pie shop in Brooklyn.  It is of the modern style of cookbook that I think of as being heavily influenced by blogging.  Lots (and lots and lots) of beautiful pictures, styled within an inch of their lives.  If you look at old cookbooks, there might be a few diagrams, a few sparse pictures just for clarifications, but piles of pictures?  Goodness, no.  And, I have to say, while I am fond of old cookbooks, I appreciated lots of pictures.

The recipes have to be some of the best pie recipes I've ever seen-interesting pie crusts from a chocolate all-butter crust, a cornmeal crust, a pistachio coconut crust, an animal cracker crumb crust. And those are just a smidgen of the gorgeous pie crust recipes.  But wait, we haven't even delved into the pies themselves.  Chamomile Buttermilk Custard Pie, Apple Rose Pie, Concord Grape Pie (in a gorgeous design),  Cinnamon Apricot Pie with Vanilla Pouring Cream, Bourbon Pear Crumble Pie....

Pie is something that has a bit of a bad reputation.  It's viewed as something that is terrify and impossible to do, particularly the crust part.  This cookbook calms all these fears.  The writers of this cookbook seem to assume that, of course, it's easy to make a pie.  Of course, pie is not the easiest thing in the world, but it is not an unsurmountable task.  And these writers communicate this through their cheerful, confident approach to pies.  There is probably about 40 pages at the beginning of the book just going over the basics and I really recommend that everybody read those thoroughly, although I still maintain that the best way to learn to bake a pie is to look over an experienced pie baker's shoulder.  However, this is definitely the next best option.  I loved how carefully they covered everything from utensils to types of flour to using locally sourced ingredients, all accompanied, of course, by stunning pictures.  Who knew that a pile of winter kitchen scraps was so beautiful?

While I love a good basic peach or apple pie for everyday, I am an experimenter cook at heart and so I really appreciated this kind of cookbook.  However, I know lots of cooks who prefer to stay with the tried-and-true and perfect the basic recipes.  If you are that kind of cook, then I probably wouldn't recommend buying this book.  But everybody needs to at least check this out of the library.

Tonight, I will be serving a lovely Buttermilk Chess Pie made with a cornmeal crust.  What a treat!  Now, go out and get your hands on a copy of this cookbook and improve your pie baking skills.

Friday, April 24, 2015

My Favorites This Week: Week 1

Here is a new segment that I hope to do every week.  I could call it Friday Favorites, but I scoff at alliteration for the most part, so I will rebel and just call it My Favorites This Week.   In it, I'll list a couple of things that I have been enjoying over the week.  I'm expecting that the majority will be book-related, but who knows.  So here goes!

1. Chocolate Buckwheat Granola-This comes first because I'm eating a bowl of this as I write this post.  This recipe comes from the beautiful food blog, My New Roots.  It's been my go-to granola recipe for a couple of weeks now.  It is just decadent enough to be a little bit out of the ordinary, while still a responsible breakfast item.

2. This beautiful album, from Spotify (actually, I've just generally been enjoying Spotify).  This link is a preview from amazon.


3. Don Quixote-I'm just about finished!  It was slow at parts, but, overall, a very enjoyable book.  And, speaking of Don Quixote, here's a fascinating article about woven tapestries with images from Don Quixote.

4. Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food has been my cookbook of the week.  I've pored over it and drooled and so I'm planning on spending a good portion of my weekend in the kitchen with this cookbook.  It is interesting what Jamie thinks of as comfort food.  A lot of it isn't my comfort food, but it still looks delicious!

5.  On my interlibrary hold list (because I always have far too many books on the hold list):

  • Shakespeare:The World as a Stage by Bill Bryson
  • The Provincial Lady in America by E.M. Delafield
  • The Diary of Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith
  • The Solitaire Mystery by Jostein Gaarder (yes, the author of Sophie's World.  He's written a lot of books!)

6. Goodreads has introduced me to so much!  My TBR list has grown exponentially and all I can think about is the books that I want to read, particularly over the summer.  Tell me, do you have any books that I should have on my Goodreads TBR right now?



Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

Here's an interesting book that I just recently finished-and really enjoyed.  Philosophy is something to which I would devote copious amounts of time, if I could.  People endlessly debating?  Yes, please!  Probing theoretical questions that, pragmatically, aren't going to matter, yet give deep insight to what it means to be a human?  Of course!  I picked this book up about two years ago and it, along with so many other books, just never made it onto my current reads pile.  I ignored it and ignored it and let it drop to the very bottom of my list.  Then, in a fit of responsible readership, I decided I was going to pick something that had been on the bottom of my list for ages.  I book I felt sorry for, if you will.  And Sophie's World, it was.

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder is an interesting book.  It's very much a work of nonfiction, yet it also is a novel.  I think that it's technically a YA book, but it doesn't read that way at all.  Sophie's World is really an introduction to philosophy.  A Philosophy 101 course of sorts.  However, it's also an engrossing, well written novel.

Sophie is a fourteen year old girl who starts getting regular letters from a mysterious pen-pal, a philosopher.  The first letter asks, "Who are you?" and from there, the questions in the letters grow more and more complex, introducing all the great philosophers in Western culture along the way.  Sophie is instantly captivated.  But there is more mystery.  Sophie keeps getting mail written to a girl named Hilde-somebody that she's never heard of before.

I think that "charming" is really the best adjective for this book.  It is fresh and interesting and like no other book I have ever read.  Unlike so much young adult fiction, there weren't these dark, complicated layers.  No dramatic family situations.  No near-death incidents.  In so many ways, it read like a 50s novel, except that there was something more to it, a wiser sense that isn't present in so much of fiction from the 50s and earlier, a lack of naiveté.  Hard to explain, but enjoyable to read.

After musing on this for awhile, I think that this may be a perfect example of post-postmodernism, sometimes referred to as the New Sincerity movement.  Here's a very interesting article about it from The Atlantic.  And a useful Wikipedia article.  In summary, it is a rejection of cynicism and irony delivered in large amounts and a return to sincerity.  However, it differs from the modernism of the 50s and earlier in that it acknowledges the progress that we made in boycotting a lot of the problems of modernity-the patriarchy, the racism, the inability to question some things (I'm not saying that these things aren't a problem any more, but we at least have started to acknowledge them).  Post-post modernism takes the best of both modernity and post modernity.  In the Atlantic article I linked above, the author writes, "Across pop culture, it's become un-ironically cool to care about spirituality, family, neighbors, the environment, and the country."

And I think that, in some small way, that was what I saw in Sophie's World.  A new kind of sincerity, with nods to post-modernity and what it gave us, particularly in regards to the philosophical world.  Maybe I was completely reading into it because I happen to be interested in the idea of this new movement (although it really isn't that new).  At any rate, I have been bitten by the philosophy bug.

Jostein Gaarder is a good writer, too, which made this book even more enjoyable to read.  Writing the voice of a 14 year old girl must not be an easy feat and he very successfully writes in Sophie's voice.  I admit to devouring the book easily within 2 days.  In addition to this, this book definitely made me want to read Sartre and Aristotle and everything in between.  I do think that I am going to add some philosophy classics to my Classics Club list, though.

This is one of those truly good books.  A nourishing book.  I spent a good portion of the book taking plenty of notes and underlining because there were so many things to remember, but then I became so engrossed that I forgot to take notes.  All this to say, this is a book that is definitely worth your time.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Searching For Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

Last week, I went to hear Rachel Held Evans speak.  I had barely heard her name and knew her only as some kind of "theology-ish" person.  However, her topic-The church and its young people-sounded very interesting.  Still, I didn't have very high hopes.  I thought it might be kind of dumb, actually.  I feel very strongly that the church is far too obsessed with "getting young people" and that the current gimmicky trends are ridiculous.  I expected Evans's talk to be more of the frantic hand wringing, but I went anyway.  I am so thankful that I ended up going!  Sure, what she said was preaching to the choir, but it was still fascinating and inspiring and generally wonderful.  In addition to a wonderful talk, all the people in attendance were given signed copies of her new book.

I hurried home and stayed up till one in the morning ploughing through this book, thoroughly enjoying and agreeing all the way.  (Warning: In this post will be a lot of Christianese and pretty divisive topics currently in the church and I'm going to spout opinions left and right.  If this sounds boring to you, I understand.  You may leave now.  Okay, let's continue.)  Evans grew up in what she calls, "the buckle of the Bible belt", namely, Dayton Tennessee.  Dayton is also home to the famous Scope's Monkey Trial and hundreds up churches.  You can read all about her church-going story in her book, but, she grew up in a typically fundamentalist evangelical Christian home and church, only to realize that she was having all these doubts and questions, doubts that her church was unwilling to let her have.

After years of struggling to regain her faith, Evans now writes and talks about what the church is doing wrong-and right-particularly in regards to the Millennial generation.  It is no secret that many people under 35 aren't coming to church.  In response to this, churches wring their hands and get a praise band and a coffee shop in a frantic effort to become relevant.  Evans, in response to this, is writing about what the church really needs to do.  I fall in the Millennial generation myself and I did resonate so much with a lot of what she said.  She argues that the church needs to lose the fog machines and the coffee shops (if you've ever been to a church-wide convention, you know exactly what she's talking about) and regain its weird. Go back to doing the strange and the uncomfortable.  The foot washing and the confessions.  The communion and taking care of the sick and wounded.

She writes that Millennials are sick of having to choose between science and faith or feminism and faith, sick of people stirring politics into religion, the culture wars, rampant exclusivity.  Tired of having church be a place that prefers the pretty, everything-put-together people over the dirty, sick, lonely, wounded people, the very people that Jesus first called to follow him.  And, as encouragement, there are many examples throughout the book of churches that have taken this radical approach to their community.

The book is arranged around the seven sacraments, as named by traditional high churches-baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage.  There are stories Evans's journey towards reconciliation with the church, stories from other people, and beautiful, poignant reflections.  In addition to be a brilliant writer, though, Evans is hilarious.  I haven't laughed so hard in I don't know how long.  The topic is serious and there are heartbreaking stories, but through it all, Evans manages to maintain her humor.  And you all know how much I appreciate a funny writer.

There were so many other wonderful points made in this book, but I don't want to give the whole book away.  It's really something that I think every Christian needs to read.  Evans is unapologetically progressive (which I appreciated), but she is also a serious Christian.  She isn't the type of Christian progressive who breaks out in hives at the mere mention of the words "confession" or "sin".  Her fresh insight into our broken, but beautiful, church inspired me in so many ways-and made me want to have all kinds of discussions.

I can't even begin to recommend this book enough.  Heck, even if you're not a Christian, I think this book might be interesting (and definitely amusing).  Also, the book, while it talks about Millennials quite a bit, is definitely geared to anybody who has left the church, was annoyed by the church, or is just interested in somebody's thoughts on how our church needs to change.  Really, go read this.


Monday, April 20, 2015

After the Rain

After it came tumbling down
in fat, wet drops that made us sprint for the barn,
the rain stopped.





And we walked outside to see
the most beautiful rainbow 
arching across the pitch black sky.

Then I blinked, and it was gone,
leaving in its wake a sky,
turning blue with puffy clouds.



And the only signs that it had rained
were the rushing of the gutters
and the puddles on the soaked grass,

the muddy, wet feet,
the patch of sky in the puddle,
and the buzzard in the tree, drying his wings.

(This was a late afternoon poetry inspiration that came to me as I walked to the chickens.  A surprisingly unexpected post idea for me.  I think the beautiful day went to my head.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

TBR Tag

(Lory just joined in the TBR tag and invited her readers to join in as well)
I thought this would be an excellent tag, seeing as my TBR pile is always overflowing (A TBR pile is, for the non-book-bloggers, a To Be Read pile).  So here goes!

1. How do you keep track of your TBR pile?
The short answer?  I don't.  But that's not entirely true.  The whole contents of my TBR pile reside in my head.  However, the things that are on my "reading soon" TBR pile are in little piles all over the house.  By the sofa, the stove, on a kitchen window sill, in the summer, on the front porch or the picnic table.

2. Are your TRs mostly print or e-book?
Now this is an interesting topic!  And one that I don't think I have addressed before.  I am not an e-reader.  The few times I've tried, I get annoyed at the lack of physical book presence, the flick of pages, that old book smell.  So My TRs are all print.

3. How do you determine which book from your TBR pile to read?
I wouldn't say that I have any kind of method.  Often the pretty, fresh books get bumped to the top of the pile, meaning that there is quite a collection of sad, neglected books sitting way down at the bottom.

4. A book that's been on your TBR pile the longest?
Okay, let me go dig through the recesses of my brain and try to remember a very old TBR.  Oh!  Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens.  It was very enthusiastically recommended to me and I have been meaning and meaning and meaning to read that book and then it just slips from my mind.  This one is so old, I don't even remember when I put it on my TBR list.

5. A book you recently added to your TBR pile?
Well, any of my classics club list would fall under this heading.  But the thing that is the absolute newest is How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman.

6. A TBR on your list strictly because of its beautiful cover?
I don't have anything currently on my TBR list, but about a year back, I read Dragonwyck by Anya Seton.  I got it because it was cheap and the cover, while not beautiful, amused me endlessly.  It was a melodramatic Victorian cover drawn in the 50s.  But the book was truly awful.  A Jane Eyre knockoff so bad it made me laugh.

7. A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?
What?! This category confused me.  I am far too pragmatic to put something that I'm not going to read on my TBR list.

8. An unpublished book on your TBR that you're excited about?
The next Flavia de Luce, obviously!

9. A book on your TBR that basically everyone has read but you?
Gone with the Wind.  I know, I know.  I haven't read Gone with the Wind.  I don't even want to read this book, but I feel like everybody needs to read Gone with the Wind at least once in their lives.

10. A book on your TBR list that everyone recommends to you?
Hm...probably some kind of famous biography like I am Malala.  Oh!  The Princess Bride!  This could go under the "basically everyone has read but you," heading, too.

11. A book on your TBR that you're dying to read?
Actually, that How to Be a Victorian book!  The only thing keeping me back is all the current reads I have right now.  I will get to it, though!

12. How many books are on your TBR shelf at Goodreads?
Now I'm going to admit something.  Up until about 5 minutes ago, I didn't have Goodreads. I'm not quite sure why.  For some reason I was holding out.  But, inspired by this, I joined and started adding books like crazy.  Currently, there are 25 books on my TBR shelf.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler has to be one of my favorite actresses.  I have loved everything she has been in (at least that I have seen).  Parks and Recreation kept me from my huge reading stack more than once this past winter.  So when I saw a woman taking Yes Please from the new book shelf, I instantly wanted to get my hands on a copy.  After a couple of weeks of waiting on the hold list, I finally got a copy.

The book is arranged under the categories: Say Whatever You Want, Do Whatever You Like, and Be Whoever You Are.  Then under each category are a number of essays, not really in chronological order, but all more or less relating to the category.  I think I would say that I mildly enjoyed the book. I laughed out loud maybe four times and smiled maybe ten times. I'm afraid Amy just needs to stick to comedy through film and television.  I had pretty high hopes because, when I read Bossypants last year, I was impressed by Tina Fey and her writing skill and I expected that Poehler, with her similar style of humor would be able to pull of a book.

The writing was kind of awkward and just a little stilted.  I think Poehler tried to imitate her  (extremely talented and funny) voice on paper and was not successful.  There were some good moments.  Some important points made, the occasional good life advice, even some humor.  But I still expected more and ended up being pretty disappointed.

I have discussed the concept of an autobiography several times on this blog, but I never cease being struck by it.  In my mind, there are three kinds of autobiographies-The ones written by amazing people did fascinating things in their lives or had a very unique life experience (eg. Anne Frank, Benjamin Franklin).  Then there are the autobiographies written by people who haven't had the world's most interesting life, but are very talented writers and know how to make something ordinary interesting (these are the writers that I most admire).  Finally, there are the celebrity autobiographies.  These books aren't well written (since most of them aren't written by, you know, writers) and they aren't interesting because, honestly, celebrities actually aren't very interesting people for the most part.  These books get published because the people are famous.  Sadly, Yes Please fell in the final category.  

While I was thinking about this post, I also started writing a rant in my head.  Why, my brain fumed, does every Tom, Dick, and Harry/Harriet think he/she can write?  Nobody would for a minute consider giving an hour long piano performance if they'd had 2 years of piano lessons.  So why do so many people attempt (and, unfortunately, succeed in) publishing and writing a book?  Keeping a journal for future generations?  Of course!  Writing a blog?  Yes!  I'm all for it.  But why is book writing something that we, as a society, have decided anybody can do?  

But, my brain argued back, think of all the undiscovered talent that wouldn't be found if book writing was something that was only done by people with extensive training. I really am in favor of do-it-yourself in so many other areas of life, so why not extend that to the area of book writing? I'd love to hear what you think.  Is book writing something that should be attempted by anybody, or is that disrespectful to the professional writers out there?  Does it cheapen book writing, or enrich it?  

But back to Yes Please.  If you've barely heard of Amy Poehler, then I probably wouldn't bother reading Yes Please.  However, if you are a staunch Amy Poehler fan, I wouldn't turn you away from reading this book.  You might be nothing like me and really enjoy the book!  What about you, readers?   Did any of you read Yes Please?  Did you like it?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Classics Club Spin #9

I haven't forgotten about Classics Club, I promise.  It's just that I've become entrenched in Don Quixote.  I'm enjoying it, but it is a long process.  Anyway, I decided to add another book to my plate and join the Classics Club Spin last week, completely forgetting to blog about it (we're going to blame flu brain).  So aaanyway, this was the list I made:


1.) Paradise Lost
2.) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
3.) Don Quixote
4.) Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan
5.)  The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper
6.) Something by Emerson…haven't nailed that down yet
7.)  Something by Dickens that I haven't read…
8.) Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
9.) A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstencroft
10.)  Poems by Tennyson
11.)  One of Alcott's earliest writings that
12.) How Like an Angel Came I Down by Bronson Alcott
13.)  Brave New World by Alduous Huxley
14.) The Wind in the Willows (This is going to be my children's classic for the year)
15.)  North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
16.)  Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
17.)  Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
18.) Watership Down by Richard Adams
19.) The Frogs by Aristophanes
20.) Lady Susan by Jane Austen


So that's the list!  Number 2 was drawn (thank heavens.  I was praying I wouldn't get Paradise Lost).  So now I am embarking on Frankenstein as well.  I think that it'll be an interesting read.  I'm mostly posting this just to keep me accountable in my classics club challenge.  I'll be checking in May 15th with a post about Frankenstein and, hopefully before that, I'll have finished Don Quixote and written about it as well!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley

And here it is!  The long-awaited latest Flavia de Luce mystery.  It was eminently confusing, thrilling, shocking, and very strange.  I loved it.

(I recommend reading this post before you read this if you haven't read these books)

Flavia has been sent from her beloved Buckshaw (the name of her home) in England to the Canadian girls' boarding school that her mother attended.  Feeling rejected and lonely, Flavia sets off with the awful Rainsmiths, members of the school board, to her new school, Miss Bodycote's Female Academy.  However, there may still be hope for Flavia when, on her first night at school, a mummified body wrapped in a Union Jack falls out of the chimney.  Rather than the expected child's response of fear, she pockets some pieces of evidence to examine and sets to work solving the case.  But there's more-along with all of this runs the mystery of three missing girls who are never discussed.  In addition to this, she's making friends, constantly having run-ins with the strict headmistress, and taking private Chemistry lessons from the Chemistry teacher.  And Flavia is determined that she will be the one to solve both mysteries.

Parallel to all of this is an overarching mystery that has been growing throughout this entire series.  Flavia's mother, who died in Himalayas on a mission, was in some sort of secret spy organization, or so we gather, which Flavia is now expected to join.  It is only hinted at and pretty much all we know about it is its name-the Nide.  It begins to be revealed in this book that Miss Bodycote's is a cover for all sorts of work done by the Nide, something that some of the girls and teachers are in on.  Even in this book, things just grow more cloudy and confusing, but this just gives me hope of another book in the series.

Reading through this summary, I am struck by how ridiculous and formulaic these books could be. It's my own opinion that mysteries can veer off in that direction very easily and everything about these books could, if given the chance, scream "unbelievable and cheesy".  But, Alan Bradley never for a second even considers allowing that to happen.  The books are crisp and funny and exciting and, yes, even believable.  Flavia is a gem of a character, brilliantly written, and even made me interested in Chemistry (her specialty).  The supporting characters are no cardboard props, but 3-dimensional characters with interesting stories and unique personalities.  Even the villains aren't formulaic!

In reading people's reviews, I discovered that a lot of people objected to this book on the grounds that it was too confusing and that Flavia didn't end up with a clear ending or even direction.  I will agree with this objectors that this book did feel a bit like just setting the stage for the next book.  However, what I disagree with is the objection that Flavia didn't end up with a clear direction.  She is told that she "passed with flying colors" and, though we don't know what this means yet, we can understand that she clearly accomplished something.

If you've been reading the Flavia series, you really need to get your hands on a copy of this one.  If you haven't read any of them, well, you are in for a big treat, I think.  And if you have read this book, please chime in and let me know what you thought of it!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Where I've Been and My Reading List

Goodness, I left you in the lurch, didn't I, readers?  First, my family generously shared a head cold with me that left me sneezing and feverish for several days and then on Good Friday I was stricken with a nasty stomach bug, also generously shared by my family members.  So, basically, I've been lying on the couch whining all week.  That's where I've been.  Easter Sunday, I skipped church in favor of sleeping in, then, feeling 100% recovered, I went to the family Easter Dinner and had a lovely time.  On the way home, I started to feel myself crashing.  I came home and relapsed back into my stomach bug.  So here I am, the Monday after Easter feeling weak and still pretty whiney, but I'm at that stage where I have a very strange list of food I'm hungry for, including:
1. Pizza
2. Sushi, but the pickled ginger is what I'm really after
3. Vanilla Custard
4. Chocolate Ice Cream
5. White Rice with Soy Sauce

None of these are probably a good idea, but I did end up caving and eating White Rice and Soy Sauce for breakfast and, oh, did that taste delicious!

But enough about my aggravating viruses.  Because with all that sickness comes a lovely stack of books:
1. Great Quantities of Little Women
2. A bit of Don Quixote
3. Do Butlers Burgle Banks by P.G. Wodehouse
4. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley
This book was the very best medicine.

While the rest of the books were all very enjoyable, can we just focus a moment on that last title?  Do you know what that is??  It's the latest Flavia de Luce!  Squee!  This is the book that kept me alive through these last couple of days.  Those of you who have been reading for a while will remember that I dearly adore Flavia de Luce.  In general, I don't love mysteries.  They can be formulaic, gory, boring, unbelievable (what on earth is wrong with your supposedly charming small town that there's a crime every 2 weeks?), and/or drone-y.  But Flavia is the exception.  Everything about these books exudes charm and brilliant writing with just enough thrills to keep the books exciting.

I'm not going to give a full review today because I doubt I'd be coherent, but let me just say that it was everything I expected it to be and more.

And that is where I have been, plus what I read.  Tell me, dear readers, how were your Easters?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

This book is winning the "Best Book So Far in 2015" award.  My little library, always just about one step behind the rest of the big book world just got this book, which the rest of the world was talking about back in the early fall.  So forgive me for being just a little bit behind.

Lila is one of those books that leaves you blinking, as though emerging from a trance.  Set in Iowa during the 1930s, Lila is the story of a young woman, abandoned as a baby and then, later, stolen by a woman who was working with a band of migrant workers.  She spends all of her growing up years enduring hard working conditions, a frightening case of being abandoned by her caretaker and the group of migrant workers, then being rescued again.  After the caretaker dies, Lila is left to take care of herself.

One day, caught in a rainstorm in the little town of Gilead, Iowa, Lila steps into a church, little noticing that a church service in in motion.  Lila and the old preacher's eyes meet and, though Lila doesn't say it, they are immediately attracted.  For the next 60 pages or so, Lila plays a will she stay-won't she stay game with the preacher.  She slowly falls in love with him, beginning with planting and tending his garden.  But Lila, damaged as she is, is convinced that nobody could ever love her, that everybody is going to up and leave any minute.  Finally, Lila becomes Lila Ames and goes to live with "that old preacher", as she refers to him throughout the entire book.

This book is a prequel to Gilead, written maybe 10 years ago.  I started it and never finished it, so now I am determined to go read it.  While Gilead is the preacher telling his life story to his son, Lila is set much, much earlier.  I think I might have gotten more out of Lila, had I finished Gilead.

I'll admit that it took me a while to get into the book.  It's written in a fashion quite unlike anything I've read.  There is a present and many pasts, all told in Lila's voice.  So, for example, the book starts with Lila being rescued, then jumps to her, pregnant, sitting on the porch and waiting for her husband to get home from church, then jumps to an experience with the migrant workers when she was about eight.  This makes for very confusing reading at first, but, just like an accent in a movie, after a time you stop noticing it.  The other unconventional thing about this book was that there were no chapters.  This made an already wonderful book even harder to stop reading.  Where was I supposed to stop?  I couldn't end right at that exciting part!  And so I devoured this book very quickly.

The other thing about this book is that it is written solely and completely through Lila's point of view.  There is no telling what the Reverend is thinking, if the neighbors are really looking down their noses, and if Lila really is the terrible person she thinks she is.  All we see is Lila's shame and self-deprecation, only Lila's narrow view of herself and the world.  This makes for a fascinating reading experience and a new, fresh way to approach characters.

The themes throughout the book are very interesting.  One is the intense loneliness that both Lila and John Ames feel.  John Ames, from losing his first wife and baby in childbirth and Lila from her isolated life and the way that she feels that nobody respects her.  The other emotion that seems to dominate Lila's inner thoughts is shame-complete shame at having lived such a rackety life, full of bad experiences and bad decisions; shame that she, as she sees it, will never be as smart as the Reverend.  The other theme that appears over and over is Christianity and the conflict between traditional Christian views and Lila's life experience.

Robinson, herself, is a devout Calvinist who has written quite a few books on topics of Christianity and, in particular, John Calvin's teachings.  She definitely provides a unique view of how Christianity is good at-and falls very short of-addressing deep poverty.  John Ames is not just a preacher; he also is a philosopher.  That's really what brings Lila and John together.  After she steals a Bible from church and begins reading starting, of all places, with Lamentations, they start to discuss her questions about being a Christian, life after death, and more philosophical questions.

Lila and John Ames have a very interesting relationship.  He is 65 and she, though we never know her exact age, must be somewhere in her 30s.  And yet, they appear to have a marriage of equals.  I honestly still can't figure out why.  John is very educated, respected in the town, financially secure, and much, much older.  But there wasn't this creepy element of robbing the cradle that is so often in books about relationships like this.  I think that Lila's complete, blunt honesty is part of the reason that their marriage works.  Lila is so frank, so willing to point out John's own flaws that I think they can be viewed as equal.

Lila has a hard time learning to trust-both other people and herself.  She constantly tells herself that she is getting on the next train, even after she becomes pregnant.  She worries that John will decide that she is an embarrassment to him and send her off.  And she can't even begin to trust God.  But it is through some of the strangest parts of her Bible reading (Job, for instance) that she begins to have clarity, to realize that people love her and that she can begin to rest.

There were so many times where my heart just about broke, reading Lila's story.  First, when she is sitting on the steps of her family's house, crying because she has been locked outside again.  Then when she is left behind a second time.  But the worst?  Lila is sitting listening to a conversation between John Ames and his friend, a fellow minster.  The friend begins to talk about "lost souls in China" and, with a start, Lila realizes that all of her friends, her makeshift family, are "lost souls", the people who will never get into heaven, according to traditional Christianity.  She realizes with a start that she will never get to see her makeshift mother.  She tells John Ames this and, in his explanation, you can read Robinson's own conflict.  He tells her that, though the view of saving lost souls and hell are the traditional teachings of the church, he cannot reconcile this concept of hell with that of his understanding of the vast love and forgiveness of God.

It's interesting-I tend not to read either deeply spiritual books or books involving as much heartache and drama as Lila contained. And yet, this book has to be one of my favorites now.  Robinson's genius writing, combined with some truly believable and lovable characters has created a masterpiece that I hope will make it onto lists of must-read classics 100 years from now.

Dear readers, if you made it to the end of this (long winded) post, then please, please, please go read this book and tell me what you think.  Even if this book doesn't sound like your genre of choice, the beauty and pure genius of this book is enough to make you love it.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Rose Garden

This story begins when we bought our farm.  While the majority of the place was a bit dilapidated and run-down, there was one little bright spot-and that was the rose garden.  The previous owner had filled the little plot chock-full with all kinds of beautiful, highly scented roses.  Now, I am not a rose person by any means and I find them kind of fussy, but I did appreciate that beautiful little corner.  Well, several winters later, the roses were sulky and a couple had died.  The cause?  Ash from the wood stove being dumped in the garden (by certain parties who are going to remain nameless *ahem*).
The embarrassingly rackety, early spring condition of the flowerbed, pre-pruning.

See, the problem with ashes is that they're very alkaline on the pH scale.  And roses like very acidic soil.  So the poor dears were in very alkaline soil and they obviously were objecting.
After some tidying up and pruning the roses

While walking past the poor dejected dears a couple of weeks ago, I suddenly had a wild hair to fix that sad little garden.  It started with pH tests, phosphorus tests, potash tests, nitrate tests, and about a thousand more.  After realizing that that patch of soil was devoid of absolutely everything except for potash which, surprise, surprise, is derived from wood ashes, I got to work.  I dumped and dumped all kinds of manure-mainly sheep and horse because they're very acidic.  I got Miracid and about 10 other products.  Then, I heavily pruned all the rose bushes that were still alive.  And, ta da!  the bed looks much better.  Now, of course, this is a work in progress and it's going to take awhile to get the soil back to the way it was.  I still have a couple of tricks up my sleeve-dumping cheap, steeped coffee, fish heads for a nutrient blast, chicken manure (which is supposed to be the most acidic).

My last step was to order some new, old fashioned roses for the garden.  I picked four, all highly scented in a variety of colors, plus climbers that I'm going to plant to climb up the side of the little summer kitchen attached to the house.  The plants came yesterday and, oh, it looks so refreshing seeing that little bit of ground coming back.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Slices of Life: A Food Writer Cooks Through Many a Conundrum by Leah Eskin

I've mentioned a time or two how much I love reading about cooking and food.  I read cookbooks for fun, devour cooking memoirs, articles in magazines by chefs...I love pretty much any food writing I can get my hands on.  I spied this book on the new book shelf at the library and eagerly snagged it because, hey, it was a nice, thick, fun-looking book all about food.  I started it last night and sped through the rest of it this morning.  Overall, I really enjoyed the book.

Leah Eskin is a food writer for a variety of pretty big papers (Chicago Tribune, to name one).  She's also appeared in Saveur (one of the world's loveliest food magazines, I am convinced), Elle, Salon, and handful of other big-name magazines and newspapers.  She writes about food, but, particularly, cooking for her family.  Each article is an essay accompanied by a delicious-looking recipe.

I admit to being just a little underwhelmed by the writing.  The writing was, for the most part, good, but Eskin's writing tone and style wasn't my favorite.  She repeatedly used a present simple tense in the second person (yes, I did have to look that up), which I didn't love.  I think some of that is just my own stylistic taste, but I do think that the writing ended up coming out just a little bit awkward.  The tense and style changed with each article, but the majority were written as described above.

But, sometimes Eskin's writing would suddenly blossom, painting a perfect word image, or elegantly describing a scene.  For instance, when talking about decluttering for moving, she writes, "Gamely, you straighten up.  You square heaps of mail into stacks.  You crack apart the forty-eight pieces of Our Solar System and cram the universe into the black hole of the puzzle cupboard."  See?  Comparing the puzzle cupboard to a black hole?  Smart.  And funny.

Now, let's talk about the amazing food in this book.  I finished this book up this morning and I am convinced that I left several drool marks.  Delicious pasta dishes and salted caramel, brisket and pot roast, greens and beans and pistachio ice cream sandwiches, mushroom broth and walnut pesto crostini.  Oh dear, now I am so hungry.  Leah Eskin is obviously a very good cook, capable of dreaming up some delicious food.  In fact, this book made me want to go hunt down her kitchen and follow her around for a day.  But it also made me want to work in my own kitchen.  Try some of her recipes and maybe even dream up one of my own.  And isn't that the ultimate goal of all good food writers?  To inspire people to get into their own kitchens and create beautiful, delicious food.

So I would definitely pick up this book if you are a food reader like me.  Eskin's recipes all look delicious and her stories about her family are fun to read.  I don't think I would ever buy the book, but as a library read?  It was definitely worth it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Thatched Roof by Beverley Nichols

Beverley Nichols is an author much beloved by both my grandmother and my mother.  Many times over the years, I have been discussing books with them and they stop to gush a little over how witty and sharp and generally great Beverley Nichols is.  I would always smile and nod, but, for whatever reason, never followed through and read something.  The other day, I finally borrowed a Thatched Roof and commenced reading.

I wasn't surprised that I enjoyed the book.  I love to read about people's decorating and gardening adventures and so Nichols's books really are right up my alley.  The gist of this gardening/home improvement autobiography is this: In the 1920s, Nichols buys a completely run-down little cottage with great potential and makes it over, with plenty of advice and opinions from the quirky locals.  In addition to this, it has a lovely garden, which he also fixes up, written about in another book.

There is, of course, much drama involving the whole house being turned into a "ye olde" cottage, filled with fake Tudor pillows and fake Tudor walls, and, well, fake Tudor everything.  I laughed out loud so many times at Nichols's wrath.  There are adventures and problems galore and the descriptions of the house make it sound perfectly lovely once Nichols finishes it.

Another thing that completely impressed me in reading this book was how Nichols made the house really come alive.  I could imagine every room of the house, every color scheme, every bookshelf, every open window.  Often home decorating writers have a hard time trying to describe their project.  In an era before beautiful home improvement books full of more shiny, artistic photographs than text, a book had to rely on the writer's skill as opposed to the crutch of photographs, a refreshing change.

Now, there were some lovely, lovely illustrations done by Rex Whistler did bring the personality of both the house and the book to life.  I appreciated how the illustrations were an aid to the writing, yet did not take the place of the writing.  I've included a sample illustration below:
Credit: Found off of Pinterest.  Not very credible, I know, I know...
The book is also laugh-out-loud hilarious at many parts.  All of the adventures were just plain hilarious, from the trials Nichols underwent, getting a housekeeper, to the descriptions of the nosy neighbors, judging him on the previous owner's choice of lawn statuary.

That said, Nichols got on my nerves by the end of the book.  He strikes me as a waspish little man, never pleased with anything and constantly critical of everybody around him, as well as being a completely priss about his house.  This is funny for awhile, but I couldn't read that indefinitely.  Oh and his blatant dislike for every. single. female who crosses his path?  Also quite annoying.

So those are my thoughts on A Thatched Roof.  Would I read something else by Nichols?  Maybe.  I loved, loved, loved this book, but I think, at least for me, his writing can only be taken in very small doses.  Maybe in a year, when I'm feeling inspired about gardening next March, I'll pull out another of his books about his beautiful garden and have another go.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Little Women Read Along Chapters 9 and 10

(This read along is being hosted by the wonderful blog The Edge of the Precipice and I decided to join in with my own posts.  To find out more about this read along, you can go to her blog.)

Chapter 9-Meg Goes to Vanity Fair

Poor, poor Meg.  This is the chapter where all her vanity comes crashing down.  Meg is invited to spend a fortnight devoted to shopping and parties and dances and dressing with a wealthy friend of a friend.  What fun the Marches have, packing up dresses and ribbons and what little elegant clothes they have.  But when Meg gets there, she realizes that all is not as perfect as it seems.  All the girls (and their mother) are intent on pairing Meg with Laurie.  And when Laurie sends flowers, the following conversation occurs, "Mrs. M. has laid her plans, I dare say, and will play her cards well, early as it is.  The girl evidently doesn't think of it yet," said Mrs. Moffat.  "She told that fib about her mamma, as if she did know, and colored up when the flowers came, quite prettily..."  The fortnight ends with a party in which Meg agrees to wear an immodest dress and then proceeds to drink and flounce about and generally create a spectacle, quite shocking Laurie, who has attended the party.  Like many of the previous chapters, this one ends with a lovely sermon from Marmee.
Meg, 'fessing to Marmee-Credit: Project Gutenberg

Thoughts:

  • Here we see a very firm lesson on the dangers of vanity, as seen by L.M. Alcott, and Meg learns some very hard lessons.  She desperately wants to fit in with the elegant crowd, but can't for the life of her, seem to get rid of that little niggling conscience in the back of everything.  And, when she finally gives in to being "rigged up" and tries to enjoy herself, she sees that such pastimes can be very unpleasant.  Again, poor Meg.
  • I actually appreciated Mrs. March's lecture in this chapter.  Preachy?  Oh, yes.  But I still think that some of the things that she said in that little lecture are applicable to young women today.  The message of "better to be a happy old maid than unhappy wives, or unmaidenly girls, running about to find husbands," may sound archaic, but I still think that it's a message that might be valuable for many.
Questions:
Did you enjoy (enjoy is the wrong word...find interesting/valuable?) Marmee's lecture?  Do you agree?
Do you think you have some of Meg's fault?

Chapter 10-The P.C. and the P.O.

After many chapters of learning lessons and preaching, we finally come to an enjoyable chapter, full of fun and entertaining pursuits.  The Marches have a newsletter called the Pickwick Papers, based off of Dickens's book (which, as I mentioned in an earlier post, is in my reading stack).  I always laugh and laugh reading the copy of the paper included in the chapter.  And then, much to Meg and Amy's shock, it is revealed that Laurie wants to join their society.  Of course, he is admitted and more fun begins, starting with the installation of a mail box, set between the two houses.
Jo, leading the Pickwick Club-Credit: Project Gutenberg

Thoughts:
  • I had a similar paper when I was young and, in retrospect, I think it was inspired by the Marches, though I never really thought of it.  I love the work and joy they put into that paper and I think that this chapter paints such a lovely, clear picture of the March family and their happy, cozy little world.
  • I love this quote at the end of the chapter about the post office box.  "The P.O. was a capital little institution, and flourished wonderfully, for nearly as many queer things passed through it as through the real office.  Tragedies and cravats, poetry and pickles, garden seeds and long letters, music and gingerbread, rubbers, invitations, scoldings, and puppies.  The old gentleman liked the fun, and amused himself by sending odd bundles, mysterious messages, and funny telegrams; and his gardener, who was smitten with Hannah's charms, actually sent a love-letter to Jo's care.  How they laughed when the secret came out, never dreaming how many love-letters that little post-office would hold in the years to come!"  (Hint. Hint. Foreshadowing left and right.)
  • Reading this chapter has bumped The Pickwick Papers right up to the top of the list, so once I finish my latest book-a very funny book by Beverley Nichols that will get a review on Monday, Pickwick Papers will definitely be my next endeavor, thanks to the Marches.
Questions:
Have you read the Pickwick Papers?  If so, did you like it?  I think it looks much more promising than the other oft-mentioned book in Little Women-Pilgrim's Progress.
Did you ever have a paper you wrote?  What about a secret post office?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Little Women Read Along Chapters 7 and 8

(This read along is being hosted by the wonderful blog The Edge of the Precipice and I decided to join in with my own posts.  To find out more about this read along, you can go to her blog.)

Hello, dear readers!  I'm back with another long, Little Women-filled post.  I am having so much fun in this read along!  

Chapter 7-Amy's Valley of Humiliation

The chapter starts out with Amy asking Meg to lend her a little money to pay for the latest school fad-pickled limes.  Meg, being the doting big sister, agrees, little knowing all the trouble this simple gesture is about to start.  The foreshadowing of what is to come begins as Amy's friends start to cluster around her, knowing that she has a big package of limes.  We also know that Mr. Davis is in a heinous mood and has firmly outlawed all sharing of limes in school.  You can guess what happens next-Amy gets tattled on and is humiliated in front of her whole class.  The chapter ends with Mrs. March writing a firm letter to Mr. Davis and pulling Amy out of school for good.
Image Credit: Project Gutenberg's free online edition of Little Women

Thoughts:
  • I admit to having a very hard time sympathizing with Amy in this chapter.  While I had several unjust teachers whom I very strongly disliked, for some reason, Amy's plight with Mr. Davis does not stir me at all.  I have never sympathized with Amy's whiney, youngest-child, princess-like behavior and I especially don't in this chapter.  
  • This quote always makes me smile a little, "Just before school closed, Jo appeared, wearing a grim expression, as she stalked up to the desk, and delivered a letter from her mother; then collected Amy's property, and departed, carefully scraping the mud off her boots on the door-mat, as if she shook the dust of the place off her feet."  Dear Jo.  Even thought she and Amy have had their tiffs, she has true sisterly loyalty in Amy's time of need
Questions:
Do you sympathize with Amy in this chapter?
Have you ever had a Mr. Davis-esque teacher?

Chapter 8-Jo Meets Apollyon

Ooooh, this chapter.  The one that makes me ache and cringe and wish I didn't have to read it.  Meg and Jo are leaving for a play which Laurie invited them to, when Amy comes up and demands that they take her with them.  Jo is rather rude and says that Laurie wouldn't want Amy tagging along.  Enraged, Amy calls, "You'll be sorry for this, Jo March!"  And Jo is sorry, for when she returns home, she discovers that the little book that she had written just for father, and only had one nice copy of, was burnt by Amy.  She is, justifiably, horrified and angry and "shakes Amy until her teeth chattered."  Poor, poor Jo.  But then it gets worse.  Jo and Laurie go ice skating and Amy tags along.  She begs Jo to wait for her, but Jo, who is still very angry, ignores her and doesn't bother to let her know that the ice is rotten in the middle.  Amy falls in, Laurie and Jo rescue her, and the chapter closes with a sisterly kiss and a sermon from Marmee.  
Image Credit: Same as above

Thoughts:
  • Can you tell that I definitely side with Jo in this chapter?  What on earth possessed Amy to do such a thing?  And I think that Amy's temper is a lot worse than Jo's.  It just so happened that the time that Jo displayed her fault, it was nearly fatal and the time Amy displayed hers, she got lucky.  Had Amy's temper appeared in other circumstances,  I think the results would have been much worse.  So then why does Jo get the motherly, 2-page lecture with nothing for Amy?  Now, I understand that everybody was terrified and didn't have the heart to scold Amy after she nearly drowned, but she was just asking for a long lecture before the events surrounding the skating event happened.
  • Now, this is not to say that I don't think Jo has a fault in need of correcting!  No, indeed!  I just think that Amy would have benefitted from having a little more of a scolding and Jo would had benefitted from a little more sympathy.  In fact, I wonder if Jo would have been a little quicker to forgive and forget, had she felt that Amy had been called out for her temper and Jo's loss acknowledged.  I think some if it is the time period.  Jo's writing was seen as a cute project rather than something bigger. 
  • All that said, people are more important than the greatest piece of writing and Jo did deserve that sermon at the end.  
Questions:
Do you sympathize with Amy or Jo more in this chapter?
Have you ever lost something that you worked on for a long time and forgot to have a back up of?

And thus closes two of my least favorite chapters in Little Women.  I'll be back tomorrow with some thoughts on chapters 9 and 10 and then I'll be caught up!


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Little Women Read Along-Chapters 4, 5, and 6

(This read along is being hosted by the wonderful blog The Edge of the Precipice and I decided to join in with my own posts.  To find out more about this read along, you can go to her blog.)

Chapter 4-Burdens

Oh, this chapter!  You can just feel the whole mood of the book dropping from the high of Christmas excitement to the low of everyday work.  Meg has to work with some very spoiled children who make her wish for pretty things more than ever.  Jo has to go to her grumpy Aunt March's to be her assistant.  Beth must return to her daily housework and her shabby piano.  And Amy must go back to her school filled with richer girls and a mean teacher.  After a very trying day, they are refreshed as they all gather around Marmee as she comforts and inspires them with stories and just a wee bit of preaching.

Thoughts:
  • Alcott's preaching thinly veiled in the form of Marmee really doesn't bother me.  I know that it gets on some people's nerves (and I'm not very far into the book…perhaps I will dislike it later on).  In fact, there are plenty of times where I think that Alcott has very valuable things to say, even for today's readers.
  • "Meg was Amy's confidant and monitor, and by some strange attraction of opposites, Jo was gentle Beth's.  To Jo alone did the shy children tell her thoughts; and over her big, harum-scarum sister, Beth unconsciously exercised more influence than any one in the family."  I love this quote.  Especially because I have seen this phenomenon so many times in real life.  
  • And the quote that made me laugh the most in this post?  "'My only comfort', she said to Meg, with tears in her eyes, 'is that Mother doesn't take tucks in my dresses whenever I'm naughty, as Maria Parks' mother does.  My dear, it's really dreadful; for sometimes she is so bad, her frock is up to her knees, and she can't come to school.  When I think of this degerredation, I feel that I can bear even my flat nose and purple gown, with yellow sky-rockets on it.'"
Questions:
Whose burden do you think is the greatest to bear of the four sisters?  I must say that I really do pity Meg, but what do you think?

What did you think of Marmee/Alcott's preaching in this chapter?  Do you think it detracted from the story, or was it a useful addition?


Chapter 5-Being Neighborly

I dearly love this chapter.  We finally get a good look at Laurie and there is a nice little adventure in the middle of the chapter.  The story starts with Jo setting off on an adventure to try to talk to "The Laurence boy".  She succeeds and even gains entrance to the elegant house.  After a long, cozy chat with Laurie, who is recovering from a cold, she retires to the a lovely library, while Laurie has a doctor's appointment.  There, to her shock, she meets the stern, foreboding Mr. Laurence, Laurie's grandfather who Jo is just a little afraid of.  However, she makes a good impression on Laurie's grandfather, who likes her at once, and she stays to tea.  All in all, this has to be one of the happiest chapters in the book.

Thoughts:

  • There is quite a bit of girl-boy friendships discussions throughout the chapter.  I think it's quite obvious that Alcott knows that she is going to shock and ruffle feathers.  Laurie pays Jo a very nice compliment, which Jo does not even know is a compliment.  Afterwards, when Jo is telling about it, Meg says, "'I never saw such a girl!  You don't know a compliment when you get it, said Meg with an air of a young lady who knew all about the matter.  'I think they are great nonsense, and I'll thank you not to be silly and spoil my fun.  Laurie's a nice boy, and I like, him, and I won't have any sentimental stuff about compliments and such rubbish.  We'll all be good to him, because he hasn't got any mother, and he may come over and see us, mayn't he, Marmee?'"
  • "And, having pulled the boy's hair by way of a caress, Mr. Laurence walked on…"  I think it is very interesting that Alcott took note of this.  I'm quite sure that paternal interaction like this was the norm and I think it's very interesting that Alcott notices, and disapproves, of this.  
  • After reading about blanc mange in this chapter (and then reading the discussion in the comments on this blog), I decided to do some blanc mange research.  I didn't find a good blanc mange recipe, but I did make panna cotta, which is basically the same thing-cream, sugar, gelatin, and then other add-ins.  Basically a custard with gelatin.  And it was very delicious!  I made a grapefruit and vanilla bean panna cotta.
Questions:
Have you ever had blanc mange/something similar?  If so, did you like it?

Chapter 6-Beth Finds the Palace Beautiful
This is the chapter that alternately makes me melancholic knowing that this won't last and happily cooing over Beth and Mr. Laurence's relationship.  Beth discovers that there is a beautiful piano at the Laurence's, but she is far too timid to play it.  Mr. Laurence gets wind of this and comes over to quietly encourage her to come and play the piano, assuring her, through Marmee, who he is ostensibly talking to, that she will not have to cross paths with any people.  So Beth ventures over.  But then it gets sweeter.  Mr. Laurence actually gives Beth his dead little daughter's piano for her very own, a little bit of heartbreaking foreshadowing that only those of us who have read the book 8 million times will notice.  I almost wish I didn't know what was coming.  And the chapter closes with Beth and Mr. Laurence walking home hand in hand after Beth gives him her personal thanks.  *Sniff*  Excuse me while I leave to blow my nose.

Image from: Pinterest

Thoughts:
  • I often fall into the camp of people that think that Beth is terribly one-dimensional and too good for words.  And then I get to this chapter and I can't help but completely understand Beth in this chapter, though my personality has never been like hers.  I think this is the chapter that redeems Beth.  She has a problem, overcomes it, and makes a new friend, all in about ten pages.  What could be better?
  • I am really wishing I had the time to read through Pilgrim's Progress (or that I had the attention span to read through what I remember as being a very, very dry book).  The constant references are just a little bit confusing.  I mean, the references aren't bad enough that this book makes no sense without prior knowledge of PP, but I think it would be helpful.  Maybe some day…
Questions:
Do you think that this chapter makes Beth more understandable and easier to identify with?
Have any of you read Pilgrim's Progress and, if so, what did you think of it?

Whew!  And that closes one of my longest posts!  I'll be back tomorrow with more thoughts about Little Women.  I am enjoying this book so much!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

How I'm Writing These Days

Recently, I've undergone a bit of a blogging shift.  It all started when I read this article.  I instantly went back to the hours spent on handwriting books, my crooked 3rd grader cursive, the blister on my third finger from writing too much.
The handwriting method I learned.  I can't
believe how many memories it brings up looking at that book!

My handwriting through the years has become a pretty illegible scrawl.  It's kinda cursive-kinda print and to the point where it's almost a code that only I can read.  But somewhere in the back of my brain is the memory of how to write that neat, swirly cursive, mixed with some calligraphy that I learned years ago.  And so I've been writing in cursive like crazy.  All of my blog posts are written out by hand on a nice notepad now and I take satisfaction in the pages of posts and post ideas which are on paper.

The other reason that I really wanted to get back into remembering those early cursive days is that I've been reading that people have lost their ability to read the letters and other primary documents of generations earlier.  It makes me sad to think that we might lose that ability and so I'm more eager than ever to spend time honing that skill.  Because the best way to learn to read cursive, or so I've read, is to keep writing it.
Unrelated, but pretty.  A picture from a misty morning this week.

So here's how it works. I sit down most mornings, coffee cup in one hand, and a note pad and a nice ball point pen in the other, and think of post ideas and then write them out.  It might be something that flashed through my head and I thought would make a nice post, or it might be a review of the latest book I've been reading.  Then I outline general thoughts and ideas.  What is amazing me is the sheer number of ideas and observations I'm having that I really didn't notice before when I was just looking at the computer musing on what to say next.  I started doing it with the Little Women posts and I haven't looked back since.

It's also appeared to make my blog writing frequency better.  It's a lovely little early-morning ritual before work starts to sit down and just write and write.  I have such a pile of posts now, written so neatly that anybody who wants can easily read them.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Anniversary Post

Readers, it has been a year.  A whole year since I started blogging.  I kind of can't believe it.  I thought I would tell you the story of why I started blogging.
Just some chicken pictures.

I have been a voracious reader my whole life.  Books stick in my mind years after I read them and I have lived the majority of my life with many of them.  Funny books, sad books (but only occasionally), scary books, exciting books, how-to books, they all have a special place in my heart.  When a friend started blogging and told me how much fun it was, I was eager to start, but didn't really think that I had much to write about.  I have a pretty normal, quiet life.  Still, I had always noticed the minutiae around me and I thought it might be kind of fun to see if I could make an interesting blog out of it.  And then I thought about books.  I can still clearly remember-I was sitting on the couch, having just finished The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery, with my head in a whirl of thoughts and things to discuss about the book.  And I had a sudden revelation-I could write about books!  I certainly spent enough time reading and thinking about books to write a blog.

And so I started-with a basic blogger template and a bunch of ideas.  I wrote my first post and clicked "Publish" for the first time.  For the first couple of weeks, I carefully watched the statistics as people read the blog.  I found other book bloggers, far more experienced than I, who had been in the blogging business for years.

It turns out that blogging doesn't just involve words (although it does involve a lot of those), but also numbers.  So here are just a few of the numbers I've collected:
Number of posts written: 208
Number of comments made: 390
Number of times this blog was viewed: 12,645
Number of times I have said, "Wow, I love blogging!":1,000,000+


Finally, I want to thank all of my readers, the commenters and the non-commenters.  This blogging journey would not have been nearly as fun if all of you had not read my blog.  I especially want to thank all the family and friend readers, who gave me advice and opinions and shared the blog among each other (Grammy, chiefly, among them).  But also, my fellow bloggers who have participated with me in so many things, from book clubs to book tags to everything in between.

I'm looking forward to another year of blogging!  I'm sure there will be more of the same and maybe some new things, too.