Saturday, April 23, 2016

It's a Readathon Day!

Last October I participated in Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon for the first time and found it to be so rewarding! I wasn't sure my schedule would accommodate the April date, but it turned out that my husband is out of town and it will be the perfect distraction. I've assembled my stack of books, so I'll have plenty of options to choose from.

Most of the junior fiction is pre-reading for my 11yo's reading list next year, and the other stuff is mostly driven by wanting to have a lot of shorter options. Priority is finishing My Brilliant Friend, since I have a book club meeting for that on Monday. In addition to reading, I'm planning on doing some cooking and baking throughout the day.

I started my day with plenty of coffee on the patio, and made myself read 75 pages of My Brilliant Friend before taking a break to make some waffles for my kiddos. I've been listening to Saint Mazie on audio, so even my break was book-filled. Now I'm moving on to some junior fiction before getting through another chunk of Ferrante and then back to audiobook/dinner-cooking.

I hope you are all having a lovely weekend, whether you are fitting in some time to read or not.

It's an incredible day in SoCal - blue skies and cool temps - making
my cat a bit peeved that she is confined to the indoors.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

I'm a Knitting Machine

It seems I've done so much knitting in the first part of this year! It helps me think, so I'm often knitting away whilst talking, typing, or reading.  Unfortunately, what ends up happening is that I'm occasionally in such a rush to begin a new project that I don't think it through thoroughly beforehand and I end up spending almost equal amounts of time ripping out and re-knitting as I do knitting in the first place.

This green cardigan made it to the halfway point (after many rips and re-knits) only for me to decide that I'd never wear a sweater in that color. It is currently being remade into a scarf.

Below is a picture of the second of two identical throw blankets I have made as gifts in the last year or so. The first I made for a friend that lives in Scotland, but then I gave it to my husband's grandmother instead so I ended up making another to send overseas. My husband's grandmother passed away recently, so I'm glad that I was able to give her something handmade while she was still here. The pattern is adapted from an old doily pattern. By working it up in thicker yarn, an old pattern gets a new lease on life, and becomes a more useful object in the process.

During the renovation of our home, I bought both books and yarn more  indiscriminately than I ever normally would. I was really needing an escape, but didn't have time to make use of my good intentions. When we put everything into storage last March and began our 3+month moving journey, I stopped accumulating. So by the time Christmas rolled around, all I wanted was books and yarn! My husband was kind enough to give me both. I used the assorted colors of Alpaca Silk yarn to create a lovely shawl/wrap. It's like a scarf but better, and it catapulted me into a shawl obsession.

The leftovers from my shawl were knit into a reversible hat. It looks like a deflated oblong ball, but fold one half into the other and it makes a pretty cozy hat...with options!

The next two projects I finished were both shawls.  The first used yarn that I repurposed from a sweater that never made it past the 1/3 mark. I like it much more in shawl form! The second used alpaca yarn that I've owned forever. I like how it worked up, but I only used half of what I have. I hate that. Now I have to figure out what to make with the rest of the remaining yarn.

The final picture is the first in a series of hats that I'm making for an Iceland trip we get to make in June. We are going with a group of friends and family, and I decided - since hand knits are a part of everyday life in Iceland - that we all needed a hand knit hat for the journey. One down, five to go!

In addition to my Iceland-hat-series, I need to do some knitting for my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew. They are moving from Qatar to Tasmania in June, and will certainly need some woolen wear to help them adjust to the change in climate! I have a little sweater planned for my nephew, but am still trying to decide what to send over for the adults. I love that knitting makes such usable objects.

My knitting projects are strewn around my house along with my books, as I always have multiples of each in the works at any given time. In some ways, my knitting is like a favorite reading chair—it is what makes my spot cozy and welcoming, wherever that spot may be.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

For the Record: March 2016

Although the month started off pretty parched of reading material, I somehow managed to make up for it in the end. Easter break certainly helped with that, as did some amazing small books.

For Spring break we took our kiddos up to Seattle (where it was sunny the entire time - go figure) and across to Bainbridge Island where we visited a wonderful independent bookstore: Eagle Harbor Book Co.  It was so refreshing to see a purposefully stocked and well run book shop (after seeing the demise of my local shop) that I may have teared up a little.

7 Books Read in March [21 books year-to-date]

3 Nonfiction:
  - Lady Constance Lytton, Lyndsey Jenkins (4.5) I was expecting to like this book mostly because it was written by a blogger friend, but was doubly pleased to find it stands on its own merit. Well-written and informative, I not only learned much more about the women's suffrage movement in England, but also felt like I knew Lady Constance. It was well organized and didn't bog down with excessive information. I'd recommend this to anyone looking for an approachable book about the era or the movement.
  - Open Heart, Elie Wiesel (4) This is a tiny little book, but—as you can probably guess based on the author—has a huge presence.  It is a reflection on his life when he finds himself facing what may be the end. The honesty with which he examines his lack of readiness for the end is absorbing and touching.
  - A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn (4.5) I finished it! I sure felt like an accomplishment. (Well, anything over 500 pages feels like quite an accomplishment to me.) I have heard criticism of this book for being far too liberal, but I felt like the author's perspective barely begins to balance the scales against the typical establishment-endorsed telling of American history. And honestly, there were only a couple times when I really felt a liberal push, and I'm agenda-sensitive. Mostly it felt compassionate, and was a really good way to contemplate the 2016 presidential elections.

2 Junior Fiction:
  - Caddie Woodlawn, Carol Ryrie Brink (4.5) My 11yo loved Caddie more than Laura and more than Almanzo. I loved the contrast between, Native American, New American, and English identities.
  - Hero Over Here, Kathleen Kudlinski (3) I appreciate that this book shows WWI and the Spanish Influenza from the perspective of a child in America, but it was altogether too underdeveloped to really be able to connect with.

2 Fiction:
  - Vinegar Girl, Anne Tyler (4) I received this from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers, and found it very easy and fun to read. It is a retelling of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. I enjoyed the characters and how the story was told. It was somewhat simplistic, but very enjoyable.
  - Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf (5) Wow, what a big little book, so full of heart and reflection that it near to brought me to tears. The characters in this book didn't feel like characters, they were just people. I think the author realized that, because he took the risk of breaking the fourth wall at one point, tying his readers' experience back to his other works of fiction. It was heartbreaking to see the ways that we hurt each other even as we love, and it was heartwarming to see the power we have to change someone's life for the better.


Current Reads:
  - Salt, Isabel Zuber. I've had this book for over a decade and I'm finally reading it. The writing is beautiful, the characters have depth, and the setting is one of my favorites - the post-Civil War mountains of North Carolina.
  - All That Is, James Salter. I am giving this a go on audio, even though I haven't had great luck with audiobooks lately. Wish me luck.
  - Little Britches, Ralph Moody. This is our current read-aloud for our home school. It is a memoir of the author's childhood on a ranch at the turn of the last century. My 11yo is a western equestrian, so the horse stories are fun.


New Books This Month:
The only new thing this month was the most recent selection from Powell's Indiespensable. I've been putting great effort into keeping up with reading these books immediately, otherwise I lose motivation. I have so many books from the years of my house rebuild that are still sitting unread that I'll need to just use some discipline to get through.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

For the Record: February 2016

I'm afraid I might be in a reading slump. It began with audio books. Unfortunately, it began with The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy that I started listening to for the sole purpose of hearing Alan Rickman's voice. In retrospect, maybe not the best idea. But I thought, hey! I'll get a classic read at the same time as I'm fan-girling over Rickman's voice! No. Not really.  More of a time to space out and have no idea what I just listened to for the last 20 minutes.

So then I tried the audio of Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash and The Green Road by Anne Enright and now The Bone Clocks by David what point do I throw in the towel? Maybe I need an audiobook break. Maybe I need to choose lighter listening.

I'm having a hard time picking out physical books too. I'll pull something off my shelf, read 20 pages, and put it back on my shelf. I feel like I want to read something substantial, but then I won't be able to focus on it. I may need to do what my 11yo daughter has been doing and force myself outside every day to focus on some reading.

Also depressing in the book department is a project I took on to help my former bookstore. There were around 800 books that they were unable to sell, return to the publisher, or find places to donate to. So I took the books, and have been finding new homes for them little by little. The problem is that almost all are obscure, outdated, or marked as a remainder from the publisher for good reason. It is more than plain why the store was struggling to stay open. They often spoke about the lack of capital to invest in current stock, and I now I understand why I'd walk into the store and not find a single thing of interest. Surely low stock would have been better than all this filler? It is disheartening.

7 Books Read in February [14 books year-to-date]

2 NonFiction:
  - My Struggle (Book One), Karl Ove Knausgard (4.5) I don't know that this is technically considered nonfiction as it is more of a memoir, but that's where I'm putting it. I'm not a big memoir fan because I'm worried they'll be shallow or pretentious. Knausgard goes almost the opposite direction. He is so introspective that it is easy to imagine a reader becoming impatient. While this wasn't compulsive reading for me, I did become consumed while reading. There were a couple of slower parts, but his deep observations made up for that. The first pages of the book immediately jump into a contemplation on death (a topic near at hand throughout much of the volume) which will give you a pretty quick idea whether you will enjoy his writing or not. If you've been considering reading this but aren't sure, spend a few minutes reading the first few pages and I think you'll know!
  - Fever at Dawn, Peter Gardos (4) This was sent as a review copy in my Powell's Indiespensable box, and is a beautiful tribute to the Hungarian film-maker's parents: survivors of the Holocaust who fight the odds to build a life together. It was simple and sweet, but also complex and sad.

2 Junior Fiction:
  - Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder (4.5) My entire memory of this as a childhood read was disappointment that Laura was nowhere to be found. I'm happy to say that this feeling was completely changed upon rereading it aloud to my daughter.
  - Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder (4.5) This is the book that started my infatuation with pioneers. I have to say that it didn't feel quite as magical re-reading it after re-reading Farmer Boy, but the nostalgia is real.

3 Fiction:
  - We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (4) I had such a strange experience with the first half of this book - coincidence upon coincidence piled up until I was almost sure that Fowler was a pseudonym for one of my friend's brothers: I was certain that the book was by him and about their family. Such a very odd experience. Aside from that, I found it very enjoyable. The family is quirky but the story is touching. There is some animal rights activism in the book, but I didn't find that it dominated the book—it wasn't condemning or accusatory but rather served as a way to add depth to the characters and help you understand their dynamics.
  - Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt (3.5) Very entertaining read selected by the team at Powell's Books for their Indiespensable program. I didn't find that it stuck with me very long or made me think very deeply, but it was well written and kept me turning pages.
  - Ready Player One, Ernest Cline (2) This was not my jam. I began reading it because it was my current book club pick and that ended up being the thing that kept me reading. My husband, a technology lover and gamer read it last year and wound up feeling ambivalence. (He's a fan of serious science fiction, and it bothered him that this story was completely implausible.) The [lack of] writing quality made it land securely in the lower-than-average zone for me. It felt like one long list of '80s references, which had me rolling my eyes, (partly because it isn't my favorite decade to begin with, partly because it wasn't done well,) but the hardest part for me was the feeling like my 17yo son was 5 again and talking endlessly about all the details of all the obscure video games he had been playing. I'd say a love of the 1980s is a prerequisite here, and an interest in video games or dystopias a definite plus. It would make a better movie than a book.


Current Reads:
  - A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn. I'm somewhat stalled out in the middle of this book, as it seems to be detailing strike after strike and I'm a little afraid to look ahead and see how many more pages will be more of the same. The writing has been pretty captivating and filled with many interesting facts, but I just need to give myself a kick with the virtual spurs to keep on keeping on.
  - The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell. I started this on audio because the narrator on the sample was impressive, and the physical book is on my physical shelf from a past Powell's Indispensable shipment and I thought this would be a good way to get it read. However.  This is a strange book. Maybe Mitchell is just like this? I'm having a hard time retaining interest in this one, and I've another 21 hours of listening left.
  - Lady Constance Lytton: Aristocrat, Suffragette, Martyr, Lyndsey Jenkins. I have been so excited to read this book, as Lyndsey was a book-blog-friend of mine and I love that her book has been well received in the UK. I'm enjoying it and feel that it is a perfect companion piece to the recent film Suffragette.


New Books This Month:
I honestly didn't think I'd purchase any books in February, but then my 17yo son needed a study guide for his AP US History class, and I needed a book to start writing my homeschool curriculum for next year. The next thing I know, it may as well be Christmas. I can't resist buying books for my kiddos.

For me: History of Britain and Ireland.
For my 17yo son: The Count of Monte Cristo and The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
For my 15yo daughter: The Iliad and the Odyssey.
For my 11yo daughter: the Percy Jackson series, the Hogwarts Library, and Jurassic Park.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

For the Record: January 2016 (plus New Orleans!)

Welcome to 2016! It sure seems like the year is off to a rough start, both with celebrity deaths, political shenanigans, and what not. I'm still holding out hope that 2015 just couldn't fit it all in and it's about to turn around.

On the personal side of life, January was a slog. My husband was gone most of the month, here and there for work and other things. My high school kiddos had semester finals, and my 11yo daughter's horse trainer announced she was moving out of state. Overshadowing all of that was the fog that comes when one big (huge) project is finishing (our remodel) and no new goals or projects have surfaced. So that's my February goal: find a new mission!

I did get to join my husband on one of his trips. He had a trade convention to attend in New Orleans, which is somewhere we've long wanted to visit. The food was good, the music was great, and the crowd was crazy. We saw a couple of Mardi Gras parades without much hassle, as we were staying in the French Quarter, and toured the Garden District before leaving. I was surprised how run-down the city was and  have been wondering if that is characteristic to the city historically, or if it is due to a slow recovery from Katrina? Anyone know? I was reminded of Ignatius from Confederacy of Dunces the whole trip. I might need to reread that book this year.

On the bookish front, January was a pretty good month. I've been writing more and blogging more, which feels great. I've been getting the urge to reorganize my bookshelves (already!) but have put my efforts towards cleaning up my LibraryThing records instead.

I love being able to see all my books, and have gone full-library-nerd and labeled my books if they were prize-winners or ones I need to read. Having them all on display means I don't keep many books cued up on my nightstand, and also that I don't have huge book-buying urges like I did when they were all packed away and I was too busy to read. There are so many great options on my shelves!

7 Books Read in January [7 books year-to-date]

1 NonFiction:
  - The Old West, Stephen Hyslop (4) My husband got me this lovely book for Christmas. It has tons of beautiful illustrations, and a good proportion of Indian history to white history. I loved all the little mini-biographies and read straight through the book, although it would be nearly as enjoyable to flip through and read bit by bit.

2 Junior Fiction:
  - Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, Jean Lee Latham (3.5) I was not expecting to like this biographical novel about one of America's most important navigators - oceans aren't my favorite thing - but I was pleasantly surprised.  I'm sure it was better because I read it aloud to my daughter (she enjoyed it) but overall it was both educating and entertaining.
  - Moccasin Trail, Eloise Jarvis McGraw (4) This is my second time reading this book and I just love it. I love how you get a picture of 19th century American life from the perspectives of the Indians, the trappers, as well as the settlers. Such an interesting contrast. Even better, there is a good look at why it is important to explore why we react as we do, and notice how our actions affect others.

1 Classic:
  - Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert (3.5) I picked this up on a whim - it was just so pretty sitting on my shelf. It was an interesting contrast/comparison to The Awakening by Kate Chopin, but in the end, as with The Awakening, I quickly tired of the shallow flightiness of the main character. Flaubert's writing, on the other hand, was enjoyable.

3 Fiction:
  - Smilla's Sense of Snow, Peter Hoeg (3) My book club pick was a novel in translation from the Danish, first published in 1992. There were some lovely poetic parts, though it ended up being too "action movie" for my tastes. We had some good discussion about whether the author succeeded in writing from a female point of view, and we all appreciated the look at Greenland, the native Greenlander's life, and the strained relationship between Greenland and Denmark.
  - The Girl You Left Behind, Jojo Moyes (4) This was the third book by Moyes that I've read (the other two were for book club: Me Before You and One Plus One) and I enjoyed this the most of the three. I bought it on a whim at the same time I purchased the first one, because the WWI topic was interesting. I thought the romance in this book was a little more natural, and the book overall felt less emotionally manipulative than her others. I liked the history aspect, and appreciated that her character introductions were a little less chaotic.
  - News of the World, Paulette Jiles (4.5) I actually blogged about this book! (Yay me!) This was certainly my favorite read of the month, and is one that has stuck with me since reading it. It's a small book, but super substantial as far as characters, setting, history, and language. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the old west.


Current Reads:
  - A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn. I've been on a US history kick. That's what we are studying in homeschool, and my son is in a AP US History class, so we have all kinds of great discussions. My dad is also a a US history buff so we have some great conversations. This one is definitely interesting, as it is written from the unpopular point of view: the poor and downtrodden, the underdog. It is, obviously, biased. But it's a perfect contrast to traditional history tellings and really helps to round out the perspective a bit.
  - Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder. I haven't read this since elementary school, but thought it might be a fun read now. As a girl, I only remember being frustrated that Laura wasn't in this, as she was who I was in love with. Reading it now, without that expectation, is a much better experience. It sure seems a lovely life!
  - We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler. I actually haven't read more than the first sentence, but this is what I'll be reading as soon as I find a free moment.


New Books This Month:
Here's what I saved from my local independent bookstore's closing sale, as well as another couple I found at Barnes and Noble when I went there to try to cheer myself up about Apostrophe Books. I don't think it helped, but I'm looking forward to the new adventures anyhow.


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