Thursday, March 5, 2015

For the Record: February 2015

I thought I was going to be able to squeeze one more book into February, but it didn't happen.  Still, it was a pretty rewarding reading month for me. Since I've been so busy with house design, I feel like more time is passing than really is—I keep thinking it's almost June.  SoCal weather is absolutely no help in this regard.  While the rest of the Continental US is suffering through another terrible winter, we're still sunny mid-70s. It could be any month of the year, honestly. That's definitely one of the factors urging me to read messed up conception of time.

Since I'm getting anxious to move back into our house, I thought I'd give you guys a little peak at what we've been working on for the last two years.

One of the [way too many] bathrooms - not complete yet
but I love how the tile and stone work together.

We have a lot of walnut in the house (floors, closets etc.)
This is a half flight of stairs leading to kitchen.

My laundry room is going to be so gorgeous! Alder cabinets and a mahogany
counter. Can't wait to see them after the wood is sealed.

This is a little private courtyard off the master suite where a lot of our
exterior materials converge: cedar, teak, andesite.

7 Books (1,858 pages) Read in February: 
[17 books (5,084 pages) year-to-date]

2 Nonfiction:
  - Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen (3.5) I liked the topics (American History and how it is taught in public schools) but the tone was somewhat alarmist which isn't my jam. Most of the stuff I already knew, whether through my own reading or by virtue of homeschooling, (not via traditional textbooks,) so what was most interesting to me was his brief comments on how little continuing education most history teachers do. That, to me, seems to be a large part of the problem. It's always easier to learn a subject if your teacher is enthusiastic about the topic.
  - The Light and the Glory (for Young Readers), Peter Marshall & David Manuel (2.5) I was disappointed to find much less usable text in this book as compared with its sequel. Most frustrating was the coverage on Columbus, who was presented as very rose-colored two-dimensional character. Almost as irritating was the general lack of organization in the writing.  Maybe I was just in a bad mood when I read it!

2 Junior/Teen Fiction:
  - Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson (4.5) Woodson did a beautiful job writing about her childhood, really giving a full picture of her family members and the locations they lived. Recommended! [counts towards the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: YA Novel]
  - When Mystical Creatures Attack, Kathleen Founds (3.5/4) This was fantastic to flip through, and I loved the first half or so, but as the story went on it got more and more depressing.  I kept hoping that there would be a sparkle of hope that would bubble up and infiltrate the various emotional problems and mental illnesses, but no such luck. [counts towards the Book Riot Read harder Challenge: Something Recommended to you]

2 Adult Fiction:
  - Still Alice, Lisa Genova (4) Read for my book club...actually listened to, since I did this one on audio.  It was read by the author, and I had a bit of a hard time deciding if it was just read poorly or if it was also written poorly.  I ended up forgiving the writing quality because I appreciate the author's goal of using the novel as a way to illuminate the intricacies of a disease.  This was about early onset Alzheimer's, and provided good discussion for our group. [counts towards the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Audiobook]
  - We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson (5) I thought this story was just about perfect. Well written, atmospheric, creepy, so wonderful.

1 Classic:
  - Cakes and Ale, W. Somerset Maugham (4) Almost more of a fictionalized essay than a proper novel...though there was indeed an interesting story to be had.  The main characters are authors, who are giving their thoughts about publishing and literature, so that's always fun.  And a commentary on society as well, done in a humorous manner. [counts towards the Book Riot Reader Harder Challenge: by an author of a different gender than yours]


1 Current Reads:
I'm kind of in between books today. I have a couple of books I'm reading aloud to my 10yo, but those will be on hold next week because I'll be out of town. I got sucked into the audio version of The Girl on the Train and didn't pick up any books in print in the meantime.

  - The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, Rachel Joyce. From LibraryThing's Early Reviewers. I loved Harold Fry and am hoping to love Miss Queenie also.

On My Nightstand:
I read all my new books from last month except The Magnificent Ambersons and Wolf Winter, so I'll be taking those on my trip next week...maybe I'll also take my new book club pick: The Light Between Oceans.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Inbox: New Books in Jan/Feb

I decided to keep track of the books I purchase this year, just because I'm curious. I'm not trying to change any habits, except for trying to buy as many of my books from my local independent book shop as possible. The store is pretty small, so it isn't the easiest place for an impulse purchase, (they just don't have the inventory,) but if I know I want a book I'll order it from them.

Typically, I like to own my books...though I have no problem getting rid of them either.  A book does have to merit space shelf—usually that means I'd reread it, loan it, or it's collectable for some reason. With the exception of the history books I bought from Sonlight, all books in Jan./Feb. were purchased from my local shop, except for my Powell's Indiespensable shipment of course. I didn't think I'd bought so many until seeing them all spread out in this post!


I ordered some school books from Sonlight Curriculum. We'd been working through early modern history in our homeschool but I got too frustrated with the program we were using (History Odyssey) and decided to bail mid-year. I'm excited to be moving onto American History a bit early. The new edition of Landmark looks wonderful, as does the DK history. I pre-read the two others and found the first (The Light & the Glory) too intent on pursuing the Providential view to maintain logical and cohesive organization in the stories. From Sea to Shining Sea, on the other hand, was written in a way that makes it easy to use the stories and have open discussion about the people and facts.


On the more Classic side, (of some sort...all were written more than 50 years ago,) I have some books I'm excited about.  The Belknap Press annotated editions of the classics are incredible, and I can't wait to learn new things while rereading Northanger Abbey. The Shirley Jackson was wonderful...more on that in my monthly roundup. I have to wait another month or so to read The Edge of Sadness, as this is a book with a purpose—my husband told me that the first book I read in our newly remodeled home should be a book from the time it was originally built, so I chose the 1962 Pulitzer prize winner. The intro was completely fascinating and I can't wait to dive in...just a couple more months. The Magnificent Ambersons caught my eye off the Pulitzer list too.  Since I loved Main Street so much, it seemed logical to give this one a shot also.


Some current fiction also found its way into my house these last couple months. I stalled out in Ruby right before it was announced as an Oprah book; I loved the writing and was interested in the story, but was having a hard time with the spiritual component. When Mystical Creatures Attack! was a fun one, but a bit of a downer in the end. I haven't yet picked up Fourth of July Creek or the newest Indiespensable: Wolf Winter.


On the more NonFiction side, Woodson's memoir sort of thing was well deserving of all those medals on its cover. The First Time We Saw Him was in one of Book Riot's posts or round-ups or something, and I was hoping that it would truly put the gospels in a different light, but nothing so intriguing so far.  In Flour Water Salt Yeast, however, there is much to be captivated by, and I can't wait to get my new bread-making tools and experiment with the science of bread. Mmm.

I've been itching to order some more books, but have put it off so far.  I'm wanting the new Nick Hornby, and am running out of patience with Pioneer Girl (Laura Ingalls Wilder's autobiography) being so hard to get. I also want to read The Almost Nearly Perfect People - nonfiction about Nordic cultures. First, though, I have to get through a couple more of the ones listed above...that's motivation!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

For the Record: January 2015

For being a month of chaos, I've had some surprisingly rewarding reading.  Most of the chaos has to do with our house project...we found out that the landlord of the house we are renting does not want to extend our lease beyond the 2-year mark: March 15 (he wants it vacant in hopes of selling it's been on the market since October and not a single person has come to look at it, but so it goes.)  However, our new/old house won't quite be ready for us to move into.  And as if that weren't enough, we have a mandatory business trip March 11-15.  Fun, right? Thankfully, we were able to convince our landlord to give us to the end of the month, so that will help a bit. In the meantime, I'm packing and trying to make all the final design decisions and purchases while we try to figure out where to stay in April while our house gets buttoned up.  Sounds like reading is providing just the escape I need.

10 Books (3,226 pages) Read in January: 
[10 books (3,226 pages) year-to-date]

1 Nonfiction:
  - From Sea to Shining Sea (for Young Readers), Peter Marshall & David Manuel (3) I didn't realize when I bought this book (in preparation for beginning American History studies with my 10yo) that it was a continuation from The Light and the Glory—a book that I knew took a heavy providential view of the USA. Since I'm piecing together my own curriculum, I pre-read the book and found the expected as well as the unexpected.  The expected: Euro-centric focus, with the simplistic viewpoint that good/bad things happen because people are good/bad. The unexpected: a good mix of early American tales that help to show the variety of leaders and circumstances that helped to found the USA. Turns out, it'll be a good base to springboard from in combination with my other texts.

2 Junior/Teen Fiction:
  - Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O'Brien (5) What a wonderful book! I read this aloud to my 10yo and we didn't want it to end.  I loved the writing, the pacing, the mix of character development and plot.
  - Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren (4) Also read with my 10yo, this is re-re-read.  Pippi is always hilarious and a little ridiculous. We were amused to find that many of Pippi's comments sounded just like what a 7yo friend of ours would say. We are blessed with funny friends!

3 for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge:
  - The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt (4.5) I listened to the audio version (which I highly recommend) beginning sometime in December. While the drug use and some other slightly depressing topics made for heavy reading (listening) in the middle of the book, I found it very well done overall.  The writing was great, and the ending really brought the whole thing to a higher level. [A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade]
  - Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple (4...or maybe 3.5) I finally caved and bought this after pretty much everyone loved it, and I have to say that the quirkiness did win me over in the end.  The first half was a little strange to me—the tone was too light and irreverent for the subject matter somehow. By the end it seemed to open up and become a little more honest and enjoyable. I'm always a little afraid that I'll read something light and fluffy and it'll be the end of me somehow, so it's nice to find something that proves my fear unfounded. [A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure (Read, and then realize that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over)]
  - Bark, Lorrie Moore (3) My book club read Moore's Who Will Run the Frog Hospital last year, so I was looking forward to reading her new collection of short stories.  This is a short collection of eight stories that all seem to revolve around people in some sort of mid-life turning point. While her writing is quite good, every story left me depressed which only made me glad to finish the book. [A collection of short stories (either by one person or an anthology by many people)]

1 Classic:
  - Main Street, Sinclair Lewis (5) This is exactly my sort of book: humorous with serious themes, well-written, great character development and a little bit of history.  More here.

3 Others:
  - Texts from Jane Eyre, Mallory Ortberg (3) This was a really cute idea, and it was a lot of fun to flip through. Gone With the Wind was especially funny to me.  However, it doesn't hold up much past a casual browse. The conversations all start to sound the same and not many made me audibly chuckle.
  - The High Divide, Lin Enger (4) Received from the publisher via LibraryThing. I loved the time period (post-Civil War) and setting (Minnesota to Montana). The writing reminded me of Robert Morgan (Gap Creek) and the very great value of family.
  - The Salinger Contract, Adam Langer (3.5) From a Book Riot Quarterly box, this literary thriller is not something I'd pick up on my own but I found it enjoyable anyhow. Written in a unique style that made it feel more like a friend telling you a true story than as if you were reading a novel. Quick and interesting.


2 Current Reads:
  - Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen. My current audio book - no big shocks for me since I love history and I'm a renegade homeschooler ;) but still interesting to listen to. The tone is a little irritating—all scandal and condescension—but I've been trucking along anyhow.
  - Cakes and Ale, W. Somerset Maugham. What can I say...this won the First Line Contest when I was auditioning books to read next. I'm not much into it because I had a crazy busy weekend scrubbing floors and scouring stoves, but it'll be underway soon.


On My Nightstand:
What to read, What to read.  Well, I just ordered a bunch of new books from my local book shop, so who KNOWS what I'll jump into next.  It's gonna be one of these:


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

In recent years I've found great enjoyment from American fiction that was written from 1910-1930. Most notably, Willa Cather has been a favorite, but Edna Ferber's So Big was an enlightening view on the era, and Sinclair Lewis has been wonderful as well. I started with Free Air that I bought in a fit of Cover Love last year (the cover art was too adorable...fortunately the book was just as great) and followed up with Main Street.


I'm fascinated with the period in general—when Victorian ideals clashed with Modern sensibilities and no one yet knew which would win. With burgeoning advances in transportation and communication, people from rural areas started flooding into the cities for all the exciting opportunities they held for both the entrepreneur and the independent woman.  And yet, this is when Prohibition came in to being and women had yet to earn the right to vote, which illuminates the very great division in the beliefs of the American people. Flappers and Activists aside, though, how did life look for the relatively mainstream citizen? How did life look from within? These are the answers that fiction provides in a far more complete manner than nonfiction can manage.

In Main Street, a college educated girl tries to come to terms with small town living and finds that her visions of the perfectly cultured community are harder to realize than she'd dreamed. Even though her husband, Dr. Kennicott, is a kind and loving husband (generally speaking) Carol finds herself disillusioned and misunderstood.

As a window on the inner workings of marriage, we see the comparison of the husband's desire for a simple cozy home life contrasted with the wife's desire for stimulation and culture. While some might view Carol's schemes and obsessions as proof of a shallow, flighty nature, I thought it reflected more on the futility of being trained for a greatness with no hope of fulfillment.

As a commentary on small town life vs. big city life, I thought it was spot on.  Lewis didn't weigh in fully on one side or the other, but showed the good and bad in turns. In a time when small town life seemed idyllic, Carol's hope of finding the perfect small town didn't seem as absurd as it may now. Similar to many things in life, the good parts are more apparent when you can look at it from some distance.

The next book on my radar from this time period is Booth Tarkington's Pulitzer Prize winning The Magnificent Ambersons. Do you have any experience with Tarkington or Lewis?

Pass it on!