Posts Tagged ‘book’

Summer reading #2

July 27, 2009

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

This was the second book I finished this summer, and so far, the one that made me laugh the hardest. I’ve listened to David Sedaris’s essays before, as he frequently contributes to This American Life on NPR. So I knew going in that the book would be funny.

What I didn’t know was that the book is mostly about his family, in all its dysfunctional glory. And that some of the stories would make me laugh and cry at the same time. That I would feel sick to my stomach at how a nine-year-old girl can treat a grown man. That Sedaris is closer to my parents’ ages than mine. That sometimes I would abhor him, sometimes I would pity him, and sometimes I would feel as if he were writing about my life instead of his own.

My favorite story, I think, is about his brother, Paul, and the arrival of Paul’s baby daughter. Of course, to enjoy it as much as I did, first you have to read the essay introducing Paul, a foul-mouthed, self-assured redneck who owns his own business–as compared to the rest of the Sedaris siblings, who are artsy, neurotic and existing on some kind of fringe. Just so you know where he’s coming from.

I love that this man, so unlike me and so unlike his older brother, could nevertheless be transformed into an awestruck daddy, wrapped around his little girl’s finger. I love that, despite his rather sexist ways, he stood up for his wife when the doctor-with-no-bedside manner told her she couldn’t have any more kids. I love that Paul calls his big brother every day so he can hear the baby cry and coo and sing–despite naming David “Uncle Faggot”. So many acts and perspectives I despise, juxtaposed against heartwarming acts of love.

This is why I loved Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. We are all a mass of contradictions. Sometimes we just need to remember it.

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2009 Summer reading status

July 22, 2009

I had forgotten how quickly I finish books when I have a nursing infant. Unfortunately, I had also forgotten how hard it is to type with only one hand. So reading is ahead of schedule, while posting is sadly behind.

Status?

Completed: 2 1/2 books from the summer ’09 list, one from summer ’08 and one from no list at all. And I read Coming Home again. (The shame!)

  1. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
  2. In Defense of Food
  3. My Secret Diary
  4. The Red and the Black
  5. Dark Lord of Derkholm

In hand: 2 1/2 books from the summer ’09 list and three library books checked out when I discovered The Great Gatsby and From the MixedUp Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler were both unavailable.

  1. My Secret Diary
  2. Cookwise
  3. The Great Gatsby (thank heavens I still have access to my mum’s library)
  4. Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone
  5. The Fruit Hunters
  6. Home Cheese Making

Not currently completed, in hand or available at the public library: three books, two of which are considered classics.

  1. Harriet the Spy
  2. From the MixedUp Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
  3. Gulliver’s Travels

2009 Summer Reading #1

July 18, 2009

In a manner completely typical of me, my first completed read of the summer was not on my posted reading list. A friend lent me a copy of Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones, and I proceeded to complete it within two days, despite the partially finished copy of In Defense of Food on my nightstand. Again, typical.

Upon handing it to me, K warned, “Ignore the cover; it isn’t a straightforward fantasy novel.” (Actually, he said typical, but I didn’t want to use the same word three times in four sentences.) Well warned. Fantasy is okay, but I tend to like books that are a little more…complex isn’t exactly the right word. Let’s just say that I prefer books that aren’t predictable, and genre fiction tends to follow an easily recognized path.

Which is why I adore Terry Pratchett.

Anyway. I loved Dark Lord. It is set in a different world, as most fantasy novels are, and the main characters are magicians and bards and griffins and dragons. However, their concerns are so totally…familiar. They were easy to relate to. For example, on their first appearance, Derk and his son Blade are arguing about Blade’s desire to go to wizard school. Another character has a drinking problem. A married man is worried that his wife is going to leave him. Even the dragons have personalities I recognize.

The premise is this: for forty years, Derk’s world has served as a sort of theme park for visitors from another world. These visitors, or pilgrims, come in six-week tours orchestrated by Mr. Roland Chesney. Everyone in Derk’s world is forced to masquerade as “good” or “evil” wizards, kings, soldiers, etc. They fight wars, kidnap pilgrims, devastate lands…it’s sort of a perverse, large-scale ren faire in which people really die.

After forty years, the people of Derk’s world have had enough. They want an end to the tours. But a powerful demon enforces Mr. Chesney’s will, and no one knows how to get around THAT. In the midst of this, Derk–a wizard whose specialty is creating new plants and animals–is appointed Dark Lord. With the help of his five griffin and two human children, Derk must act as the main force of evil and ensure the tours run smoothly when no one wants them to anymore.

I loved this story because it was rich with so many well-developed characters. Omniscient with some characters, but not all..but, then, you didn’t need the omniscience to understand what the characters were thinking or feeling.

There are also a lot of insights into how people react to oppression: collaboration, cooperation, active rebellion, passive-agressive rebellion, etc. And some nice theology, which I always appreciate. And, really, who can pass up a villain whose name is only one letter off from our villainous ex-veep?

The only thing I didn’t like was how the young lovers speak to each other, because it was just so sappy. Granted, young lovers are prone to sappiness, but this was along the lines of Rose and Jack in Titanic. Gag. Fortunately, the young lovers rarely have much dialog, so it isn’t enough to ruin the story.

A second friend, mutual to K and I, asked if I liked the book. I said yes. She warned me, “Watch out. He’ll lend you the sequel. And then the third one.” In reality, there’s only one follow-up. But I wouldn’t mind reading it.

Three goal update

May 17, 2009

Hm. Here it is, day three of my three-day challenge. How have I done?

I finished the Vs in Word Mysteries. Which means I have X, Y and Z…about twenty pages. On the plus side, I’m subbing at my mum’s school tomorrow, so I can finish and return it then.

I (we) washed three loads of laundry. Unfortunately, at least three remain.

I bought another 1 1/4 pounds of rhubarb, after discovering that I didn’t have enough to even third the recipe. Of course, after eating a huge slice of very green rhubarb pie after church, the urgency has gone out of my desire for the cobbler. Perhaps I’ll go stare at the recipe and photos again.

Three days, three goals

May 14, 2009

1. Finish reading Word Mysteries & Histories: From Quiche to Humble Pie…the last of last summer’s reading list.

2. Wash every piece of dirty clothing in the house.

3. Make rhubarb cobbler before my gorgeous ruby-red stalks of rhubarb dry up and blow away.

Summer reading #5

August 1, 2008

Review #5: Promised the Moon: the Untold Story of the First Women in the Space Race by Stephanie Nolen

Published 2002 ~ ISBN #1-56858-275-7 ~ 331 pages ~ Challenge book #4

“All men are bastards.” –Kate (French Kiss)

Reading this book was a lot like watching Titanic. You knew how it was going to end. No matter how much you loved the characters, no matter how good things looked, no matter how it SHOULD have been…that ship was going down.

Of course, I didn’t really like the characters in Titanic. I did like the women in Promised the Moon. For the most part.

In essence, this book was about thirteen extraordinary women pilots. Some were married; others were single. The oldest was a forty-year-old senator’s wife, who had given birth to eight children. Some were WASPs during World War II. Two were twin sisters. One worked as a cropduster. Several taught flying lessons. Many owned their own airplanes and businesses. On average, they had 4,500 flight hours.

They were trailblazers before the Space Race, and when it began, they stepped forward to serve their country. They gave up time, jobs, husbands and sweethearts in order to undergo astronaut testing. For many of them, becoming an astronaut began as an unexpected invitation and became an obsession.

The lady astronaut program was the whim of two male scientists. Sputnik was already circling the earth, and the United States was trying desperately to send a man into space. But the spacecraft were too heavy. What if, the scientists thought, the United States sent WOMEN into space? Women were lighter, smaller and used less oxygen. But could they endure the physical trials of space travel?

Dr. Randolf Lovelace decided to find out. He recruited Jerrie Cobb to undergo the same trials that the Mercury Seven confronted. No one really knew what spaceflight would be like, so they ran potential astronauts through all kinds of tests. Jerrie passed them all with flying colors–in many cases with better results than the Mercury Seven.

So the field was expanded. Dr. Lovelace and Jerrie recruited other women to undergo the tests. Another, older woman pilot named Jackie Cochran also suggested candidates…and suggested that she run the program.

Jackie was accustomed to leading advancements of women in aviation. She was married to a millionaire, and she had many high-level political connections. She founded and ran the WASPs during WWII. She was a pioneer, and in her eyes, these younger women pilots should defer to her. Since she was too old (and her health was too poor) to undergo astronaut testing herself, Jackie felt she should at least run the program.

It didn’t hurt that she was one of Dr. Lovelace’s biggest financial supporters.

If I write much more, I’ll give the whole story away. I’ll end with this: this is an amazing story of several extraordinary women who achieved tremendous things over the course of their lives. It is a shame that they had to live in a society where men were such…MEN.

I really, really dislike Lyndon B. Johnson and John Glenn. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive John Glenn for his second trip into space.

Summer Reading #3

July 18, 2008

Review #3: Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

Published 2003 ~ ISBN # 1-592-40087-6 ~ 204 pages ~ Challenge book #2

I don’t know how many times I have picked this book up in bookstores and libraries, contemplating its title and purpose before returning it to its shelf. Did I think a book on punctuation would be dull? Was I afraid of an effusion of bad puns? No, neither. I have considered copyediting as sheer-fun career, and puns (no matter how painful) set me to giggling. The truth is, I was worried that the author would not live up to my high standards for language usage.

It is somewhat embarrassing to admit that, but only because I have been conditioned to believe that grammar is not cool.

I shouldn’t have feared. Lynne Truss is a woman after my own heart. Not only does she lay out very clear and specific rules for punctuation, she also periodically indulges in just the type of rants I do. (Rants on topics such as: Two Weeks Notice. Remember this movie? Hugh Grant, Sandra Bullock, etc. Yeah, okay, the movie itself doesn’t matter. It’s the title! Two Weeks Notice, when it should be Two Weeks’ Notice. Ugh.)

This sweet little book also contains miscellany beyond my expectations: the history of several punctuation marks, the changing use and purpose of punctuation, and dozens of rhapsodic quotes about punctuation (some from well-known authors!). It was engaging and amusing, and I enjoyed it thoroughly–except when forced to scan through anecdotes in order to find the punctuation rules!

The Summer Book Club

July 6, 2008

I joined a summer reading club at the invitation of my dear friend Misch, who is a librarian by profession. The club is made up almost entirely of librarians and other folk who make a living from words or books, a category that occasionally includes me. This is the second summer I’ve participated, and it’s a lot of fun–even if it is entirely online. This is a club for people who looked forward to writing book reports in school. And HERE is my first entry:

Review #1: Early Pleasures: Tales from a Biologist’s Garden by Roger B. Swain

Published 1978 (mine is from 1981)    ~    ISBN # 0-684-166657-7    ~    188 pages    ~    Challenge book #1

I really liked this book. It has 21 short chapters, each devoted to a specific garden or wildlife phenomenon. Like parsnips.

The main worry I always have about nonfiction books is that they will be dry, boring, too-clinical, etc. This one struck the perfect balance between informative and entertaining, with lots of slightly folksy anecdotes and observations. Some chapters, like “White Life”, lean a little heavier on the biology aspect…which led me to read them slightly less attentively than the chapters with more personality. All, however, were enjoyable.

I liked the self-reliant tilt of “Time, Energy and Maple Syrup”, which also showed up in “The Attraction of Wild Bees” and “The Cultured Cabbage”. Making maple syrup is just the type of thing I would do, so I felt a kinship to Mr. Swain. He reminded me a bit of Barbara Kingsolver at times, as they both have writings that intertwine science with humanity.

In “Salting the Earth” and “The Squirrel and the Fruitcake”, Swain portrayed some challenges to agriculture and horticulture that are due (at least in part) to the choices of mankind. The possible solutions he suggests are both amusing and realistic.

The chapters of the book follow the cycle of nature, beginning in late winter/early spring and wrapping up just after the Christmas mistletoe. My favorite chapter of all was the final: “Ex Familia”. In this chapter, Swain looks with honesty at all the ecological challenges we face and presents his own optimistic point of view. I won’t spoil it, but…it made me feel better.