Posts Tagged ‘summer reading’

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.


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.


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.

Summer Reading List 2009

May 26, 2009

I haven’t yet heard whether my usual summer reading club is going to happen this year, but I decided to make a list anyway. Especially since I have reread no less than four novels in the past two weeks–novels that I practically know by heart. I love to reread books, but there comes a point when I feel like I’m wasting my brain.

So…this year’s list. Last year was heavy on the nonfiction, which is unusual for me. And led to lots of unread books, unfortunately. (I FINALLY finished Word Mysteries and Histories last week.) To combat that problem, I have a much more varied list for 2009:

  1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I started reading this and The Bell Jar in a bookstore in Germany but, unlike The Bell Jar, I never finished it.
  2. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I just finished What Are Little Girls Made Of?: A Guide to Female Role Models in Children’s Literature (by Marjorie Allen), which mentioned Harriet as a strong but mixed female protagonist. I had of course heard of the book, but I have not ever read it. A children’s novel, but still.
  3. My Secret Diary by Giovanni Guareschi. Giovanni Guareschi is one of my very favorite authors–he of the Don Camillo books–and I have had this memoir of his time in a German prison camp for years. Finally I will read it!
  4. Cookwise by Shirley O. Corriher. A Christmas gift from my honey. Lots of lovely food science, which is just my cup of tea.
  5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. Another children’s novel that I never got around to reading. It always sounded appealing to me–a sort of fantasy life, living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art AND being independent from parents.
  6. In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. Written by the author of Omnivore’s Dilemma, which was marvelous. It’s been collecting dust on my shelf for at least a year.
  7. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris. David Sedaris is a contributer to This American Life on NPR, which I adore. He is so funny, yet I’ve never read any of his books. A collection of autobiographical essays and memories, like My Secret Diary, but, well, not set in a prison camp.
  8. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. Another classic I never touched. After visiting the Gulliver Park in Valencia this spring, my daughter talks about Gulliver all the time. Plus, references to the book keep cropping up. I thought I’d take the hint.

I have two children’s novels, two that are straight-up nonfiction, two memoirs and two classics. I’d also like to add a new, challenging author, but that depends on my post-partum brain. For now, I’ll stick with these eight.

One last note: because I do tend to get stuck in a cycle of rereading old favorites, I resolve to read at least one of THESE books before rereading anything else. In other words, I will read one new book for each book I reread. Wish me luck.

Summer reading #11

September 16, 2008

Poplollies and Bellibones: A Celebration of Lost Words by Susan Kelz Sperling

Published 1977    ~   ISBN #0-517-530791    ~   113 pages    ~   Challenge book # 7

The author of this book, Susan Kelz Sperling, is/was an English teacher with a passion for obscure verbiage. I thought at first that it would be like a dictionary, albeit with fewer entries. The outdated word, an explanation, its setting…and thou.

However, it is not so predictable as that. The book is divided into several short chapters. For the majority of them, Sperling uses a literary device called a round. So the first paragraph asks, “What is Obscurity A?” Then answers the question with a goodly description, ending with a final sentence that includes Obscurity B. The next paragraph begins, “What is Obscurity B?” And, of course, answers the question with a definition that includes yet another unknown word. And so on and so forth until the final word and definition that includes Obscurity A. Thus, a round.

I do like the method of a round. Unfortunately, the non-round chapters were mostly short stories, and they were rather labor-intensive to read. She had an exhaustive index, but still. It isn’t fun to read a story when you have to look up every third word.

But there were a lot of gems unearthed, including:

  1. condog: to agree, a pun formed from concur
  2. merry-go-down: strong ale
  3. eyebite: to bewitch
  4. lip-clap: kissing
  5. bellibone: a pretty girl, from the French belle et bonne

and my favorite (remember The Dark Crystal?)…

  1. fizgig: a frivolous person, fireworks in the shape of a dragon

Summer reading #10

September 8, 2008

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

Published 1995    ~    ISBN #0-06-105691-X    ~    358 pages

Terry Pratchett is one of my favorite authors. His books are smart, hilarious and completely unexpected. They are set, for the most part, in a fictional alternate universe called Discword. My favorites are about the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, followed by Death. But the Lancre witches also have their fine points, many of which arise in Maskerade–a novel about opera.

Maskerade is sort of a murder-mystery that plays off of The Phantom of the Opera, with witches and X-rated cookery thrown in for good measure. The main character is Agnes Nitt, a.k.a. Perdita X, a girl from rural Lancre who comes to the big city for two reasons: 1. to escape her image as a fat girl with a wonderful personality, and 2. to avoid being drafted into the Lancre coven. The Lancre coven, comprising Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, follows her to Ankh-Morpork for two reasons of their own: 1. to collect royalties on Nanny’s best-selling cookbook, and 2. to look out for one of their own (in other words, Agnes).

As it happens, Agnes has subconsciously channeled all of her magical gifts into her singing voice. She can sing in harmony with herself. Her vocal range starts too low for human ears and ends too high for human ears. She can imitate anyone’s voice. And she can throw her own voice, mid-aria, across the room.

While the totality of these gifts result in her job with the opera, it’s the last talent that lands Agnes onstage her first night. She sings from the chorus, while the more picturesque (and brainless, talentless, etc.) Christine lip-synchs downstage. If only dead bodies would stop turning up, everything would be ALMOST perfect.

Summer reading #9

August 25, 2008

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Published 1997    ~   ISBN #0-590-35340-3    ~   309 pages

Admittedly, I have read this before. But come on, who doesn’t love a great novel reread? Well, aside from my husband, who can hardly sit still long enough to read a novel once. But I digress.

I love reading the first Harry Potter because it has such an enormous sense of wonder throughout. I adore the entire series, of course; but the others simply do not convey the same awe. Harry, and we along with him, become desensitized to the amazing people, places and things he encounters every day.

Diagon Alley is a perfect example. In Sorcerer’s Stone, he can hardly gawk enough at the shops, brooms, potion ingredients, or wizards and witches. By book 4, he lets Mrs. Weasley do all of his back-to-school shopping while he goes to the Quidditch World Cup. Crazy.

Of course, Harry wouldn’t be able to function if he stayed agape all of the time. It makes sense that he would eventually become inured to the wonder of his world. But every once in awhile, I feel the need for a little more awe in my life, and that’s when I read Sorcerer’s Stone.

Summer reading #8

August 23, 2008

Growing your own mushrooms: Cultivating, Cooking and Preserving by Jo Mueller

Published 1976    ~    ISBN #0-88266-089-6    ~   169 pages    ~    Challenge book #6

Reading this book was a little like immersing myself in an alternate universe. Being the self-reliant type, I expected to read about growing mushrooms from a mostly how-to-do-this perspective. Perhaps some descriptions of different ways to raise mushrooms, discussion about different types of mushrooms, eloquence about the joys of raising and eating mushrooms, etc. As you might have guessed, that’s not exactly what I found.

The author, Jo Mueller, is a wife and mother who raises mushrooms in her basement. (At least, at the time of writing she was. That was 32 years ago.) She seems to have written this book because A) she enjoys raising and cooking her own mushrooms, and B) most people know squat about raising mushrooms. She is simply telling the reader about how she does things, not about all the possibilities.

Her way of doing things includes: one kind of mushroom (the ubiquitous white button), heavy use of pesticides (shudder) and lots of manure. She also mentions repeatedly how good mushrooms are for the dieter, because they are so low in calories. There are many other moments that bring home just how sexual politics stood in the 1970s: cooking the fish “your man” caught, lighter recipes for “the girls”, etc.

I was also fascinated by the continual reference to a “food budget”. (Does anyone keep one anymore?) In the recipe section, there is a whole chapter on cooking with “other meats” like chipped beef, tongue and liver. Her recipes also make wide use of American cheese. At times, it seems Jo only raised mushrooms because it was cheaper than buying them!

This book kept me engaged for the morning, but if it had been much longer, I probably would have lost interest.

Summer reading #7

August 12, 2008

Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver

Published 1993 ~ ISBN #0-06-109868-X ~ 436 pages

Can I just say that I LOVE Barbara Kingsolver? She is my hero, in so very many ways. First of all, she is a wife and a mom and a full-time writer, a grouping of roles that I aspire to. She also grows/raises much of her family’s food supply, which I also try to do. And she can write a happy ending that is not only lovely, but also believable. What an incredible woman.

Pigs in Heaven is the sequel to The Bean Trees, both of which are mostly about a young woman named Taylor Greer and her adopted daughter, Turtle. I have read this book before, but not recently, and it was nice to relax and reacquaint myself with characters that I like and admire. It also has some bearing on a story that I’m writing, so this seemed a good time to reread it.

As this story begins, Turtle is six years old, and she saves a man’s life. In the media hubbub that follows, a Cherokee lawyer named Annawake spots Turtle, recognizes her as Cherokee and becomes determined to return the girl to her people. Taylor, like any mother, does all she can to keep their little family together.

The last time I read this book, I was not a mother. That change in my life altered how I thought and felt about the events in this book. Before, my mind could relate, but now my heart can.

Barbara Kingsolver is an extremely gifted writer, and I urge anyone who has not read her books to do so immediately! Her characters are luminescent, and her writing brims over with words perfectly chosen to illustrate every situation.

Summer reading #6

August 6, 2008

Review #6: Eat the grapes downward: An uninhibited romp through the surprising world of food by Vernon Pizer

Published 1983    ~    ISBN #0-396-08203-3    ~   165 pages    ~    Challenge book #5

This book annoyed the heck out of me. The author was so caught up in his own eloquence that he couldn’t write a simple sentence to save his life. The worst was on the (several) occasions when Mr. Pizer was sure that his wordplay was far too clever for his readers to catch, so he had to add a second sentence to point out and explain how clever the first sentence was. Ick.

I’m also not too sure about some of his facts. He specifically mentions angulas as a popular Spanish snack food. I have eaten them. Spanish they may be, but in my experience, they are more along the lines of an entree than a snack. He also says salted grasshoppers are widely eaten in Japan, and I never saw them there. I will grant that I do not know everything, and I have not explored every inch of Spain or Japan. But Pizer implies that everyone eats these foods all the time, and that’s just not true.

This book was a huge disappointment to me. I only finished it so I could say I made it that much closer to my reading club challenge goal.

I’m a little behind in posting my book reviews. I just finished book #11, and I have ten reviews up on the reading club site. Unfortunately, I still have THREE books to go from my original list (the books borrowed from my mum’s library): Silent Spring, Headless Males Make Great Lovers, and Word Mysteries and Histories. I’ve started them all, but…school starts next week!