Thursday, August 4, 2016

For the Record: June and July 2016

I didn't post about my June reads; I was seriously considering discontinuing my blog. Instead I started journaling, and it dawned on me (yet again) how much the act of writing helps me be a well-adjusted, highly-functioning person. Not only that, but I actually like the introspection of looking back at my reading each month. So here I am again :)

5 Books Read in June
4 Books Read in July [45 books year-to-date]

1 Nonfiction:
  - Gratitude, Oliver Sacks (4)  This tiny reflection on life was easy to embrace. The mood of each of the four small essays is nothing if not open and honest. It didn't feel as introspective and impassioned as Elie Wiesel's Open Heart or Kent Haruf's final novel, Our Souls at Night, and so didn't touch me in quite the same way, but it did create a moment for me to stop and reflect.

2 Junior Fiction:
  - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling (5) I forgot how good this was!
  - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling (4) I never read past the first in the series, but after I started watching these movies with my 12yo, I decided it was time to branch out and read on.

6 Fiction:
  - The Saving Graces, Patricia Gaffney (3.5) Read for book club - I thought it would be sappy and irritating but ended up being a nice summer read.
  - I Will Send Rain, Rae Meadows (4) Read for LibraryThing's Early Reviewers. Books about the Dust Bowl often seem to hyper-focus on the hopelessness of the situation to such a degree that the characters no longer seem like real people: they've been reduced to caricatures representing a reality that remains unfathomable. This didn't happen for me with I Will Send Rain. The characters were just as unique as their situation, and just as much a part of the reason to keep reading. Each person coped with their lack of hope in a different way, and the reader is left with a sense of how it might actually have been to live in that situation.
  - Chasing the North Star, Robert Morgan (3) Read for LibraryThing's Early Reviewers. Disappointing quality of writing. Characters seemed disconnected from their own plight, which is a pretty big issue when the story is about slaves escaping the South. Not at all like Gap Creek.
  - Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi (5) Powell's Indiespensable selection. Probably the best book I've read that examines how we are connected to our ancestors without even realizing it. Bonus points for being a culture not my own and keeping me totally enthralled.
  - In a Dark, Dark, Wood, Ruth Ware (3.5) I hoping this would actually be a little scary - I was just in the mood to be diverted from daily life - but it wasn't at all. It was entertaining, though only somewhat suspenseful.
  - Barkskins, Annie Proulx (4) Powell's Indiespensable selection. The quality of writing carried me through this book, though my love of forests didn't hurt. The ending sort of rambled of into the sunset - a disappointing conclusion to 700+ page novel. The glimpse into French Canadian history was very enjoyable, and the tribute to the Native cultures was wonderful. But reading this on the tail of Homegoing made it pale in comparison. There isn't a strong enough sense of direction and the family trees were very confusing. After the two initial characters being painted rather vividly, many of the rest were rather shadowy structures.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Elie Wiesel and Holding Family Close

Open Heart
          Three short months after reading Elie Wiesel's Open Heart, I was saddened to hear of his passing. We know that death is inevitable, yet that doesn't make us any more comfortable with it. We tend to feel a sense of justice about it, as if we are owed a certain number of years, life experiences, or enough happy memories to make up for the bad ones, something - anything - to help lessen the sadness and help us understand.
          When faced with the prospect of our own deaths, we tend to idealize either a quick passing, or one in which we are somehow emotionally and spiritually ready to leave. It is this idea of readiness that Wiesel explores in Open Heart. He had expected, after all of his experiences in life, that all the effort he had put into love, into family, into honoring the ones who had not survived the Holocaust, and into helping others honor them as well, that he would feel he had done his part. Yet a feeling of readiness eluded him when confronted with doctors telling him he needed to be ready.
          Elie Wiesel's beautiful openness makes this small book incredibly valuable. Just having someone tell you, from experience, that you very well may not be ready when the end comes is a comfort. It is what we suspect, but don't want to admit; what we fear but can't imagine. Joining Wiesel's thoughts and emotional processing isn't depressing, it is like having a guardian angel. I can see myself rereading this many times in the future.

My four kiddos and two nieces at my birthday last month.
          I am thinking about this topic more this month, not only because of Elie Wiesel's death, but because I've lost two others this month (an uncle and a 17yo family friend). Two sudden losses in a row have a way of making it that much more important to connect with those you care about. We don't know how much time we are given, and the truth is that most of us won't be ready when the time comes to say goodbye. If there is someone that keeps popping into your mind, take the time to send them a message. You won't regret it.
My husband and I (on the right) with some good friends. Testing out the
camera timer on the iphone!

Regardless of how difficult it may be to travel the miles to see each other, or set aside the time for a dinner, or branch out and do a skype call, it is worth going out of your way to connect. I encourage you to embrace the awkwardness of not knowing what to say, the difficulty of finding a time to get away, and the embarrassment of a messy house. Those things pale in comparison to the bonds you build when you make the effort to connect.
My momma and daddy. Some of the best people on earth.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Homegoing and Going Home

       By far the best book I read in June was Yaa Gyasi's  Homegoing. I'll admit I was a little skeptical, because I received it through Powell's Indispensable subscription, and sometimes their picks have too much MFA squeak to them. My skepticism turned to full-blown dread when I opened the cover and saw a family tree, because that usually means that something is missing from the writing quality that makes all that extra information necessary.
       Fortunately, neither fear proved true. Gyasi's writing is smooth, practical and poetic, without becoming overly polished or predictably quirky. It wasn't so fraught with meaning that the story gets lost in the words, yet there were passages that made me stop and reread.
He had always said that the joining of a man and a woman was also the joining of two families. Ancestors, whole histories, came with the act, but so did sins and curses. The children were the embodiment of that unity, and they bore the brunt of it all.
       The structure of the book could have been its downfall: each chapter is told from a new point of view - switching between two familial lines in subsequent generations - and feels almost like an individual story. While I did have flip back to the family tree at the beginning of each section, it wasn't an irritating waste of time. It was a moment to pause and process before moving on to another generation. It was this very thing that ended up being one of the overarching strengths of the book, because it really lets you grasp how we are all individuals, yet unavoidably connected to the generations that came before.
       I loved how the voice changed with each new character, loved seeing old characters make reappearances, and mostly loved seeing those things that the characters themselves couldn't see. This is a beautiful tribute to family and a timely reminder of why America still has work to do in repairing race relations. Highly recommended.

Going Home
       I always relish the time I get to spend in Tahoe; the Sierra Nevadas are home to me, and the mountains and trees provide a restorative peace that doesn't exist for me in Southern California. I was only there for a long weekend, as I opted to leave before they start replacing the roof, but it wonderful just the same. Mostly I spend my time reading or quilting with the windows open, listening to the rustling leaves of the quaking aspens and the blissful absence of traffic and emergency vehicles. I did manage to get out of the house and hike to the creek, because I know I'll regret it if I don't! The sky is so extra gorgeous and the air so clean. I've traveled to many places, but there is truly no place like home.

Mountains near and far
Taking a walk in the evening provided us with many
beautiful views of the sun shining through the trees
My youngest daughter had to trek out into the meadow to
get a proper photo!
My home, and those quaking aspens
The night sky was so incredibly illuminated by the moon, we stood in the
driveway and looked at Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter, not to mention the stars.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

For the Record: May 2016

May was largely a reading-slump month for me. In the first three weeks I only managed to complete one audiobook. I think part of it is readathon backlash: maybe I'm a better reader when I stay on a regular pace rather than binge. I'm also in a serious rough patch with blogging—I thought that after my house rebuild was complete I'd be eager to jump back in to reconnecting with all the book bloggers I'd been missing but so far it hasn't been the respite I'd thought it would be. I have a lot of curriculum to write for next school year, and somehow that competes with blogging time. I'm going to try taking the mental pressure off (not feeling guilty for not keeping up with blogging) and see if that helps me get my groove back.

On the 20th, my oldest son turned 20 and got into a motorcycle accident when a car decided to do a last minute illegal u-turn in front of him. He was wearing a helmet and padded jacket, and managed to emerge with only a broken leg, a couple of broken toes, and a bunch of cuts, scrapes, and bruises. After a stressful weekend in the hospital, he's back in his apartment - bedridden but recovering. Though it could have been much worse, it is not an experience I recommend to anyone! Mothering makes me feel old.

5 Books Read in May [36 books year-to-date]

1 Nonfiction:
  - The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis (4.5) This small book is formatted as an interview, which made it feel somewhat disjointed for me, but the pope's message is such a good one that minor quibbles fall to the wayside. I love that Pope Francis takes the time to make his heart known. It's refreshing to hear of someone in such a powerful leadership position use that influence for good.

2 Junior Fiction:
  - A Stranger Came Ashore, Mollie Hunter (4) Our school studies for next year are incorporating mythology from different cultures, and this is a perfect slice of Scottish Celtic lore involving the sea and selkies.
  - Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor (3.5) This was a read-aloud for school, and was one of the few that I enjoyed more than my daughter. She did enjoy the characters, but was bored for most of the book. I enjoyed the writing and the characters, and felt that the story is socially and historically crucial.

2 Fiction:
  - Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng (4) I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. It isn't the kind that sticks with you for the beautifully poetic writing and nuggets of wisdom, but it is a so well told that it was a little addicting. It is a sad story, as you'll surmise from the first line of the book, but unabashedly frank about the things that drive us, for better or worse.
  - Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld (2.5) I listened to this on audio because: 1) I had enjoyed the same narrator while listening to Everything I Never told You, and 2) because it had been awhile since I'd read an Austen spin-off/rewrite and this was getting a lot of promotion. The narrator ended up annoying me, sadly enough, and I'm a little baffled as to why Random House is putting so much effort into this book because the quality just isn't there in my opinion. All the character & locations were duplicated with the modern spin of sperm donors, transgender discrimination, racism, and reality shows. It pushed all of my agenda-novel buttons and didn't fill any of my Austen yearnings.


Current Reads:
  - The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah. [Current audiobook] I think the key for audiobooks (for me) is to find books that are more about the plot and aren't too difficult to track. I'm enjoying this one so far, but haven't developed a connection to the characters or their story, so I'm hoping that happens soon.
  - In Search of the Source, Neil Anderson. [Current read-aloud] This will probably be the last read-aloud until September. I've read it before and enjoyed learning about Papua New Guinea. My daughter is enjoying it also.
  - Chasing the North Star, Robert Morgan. I haven't actually started this yet, but it is next up. It's a review copy from LibraryThing that I need to complete. I've liked Robert Morgan in the past, so I'm hoping this one is good too.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

For the Record: April 2016

It seems a little strange to me that I read so many books this month (even considering that they were mostly small quick reads) because I've been feeling a complete lack of focus for books lately. But a readathon always helps to boost the monthly book number. This time around I decided to focus on junior fiction, breaking it up with Ferrante - the book club book I needed to finish.

I hosted my book club at my home, it was so much fun to make such good use of my home library! I haven't found my reading chair yet, but even with temporary furniture the room felt pretty cozy.

10 Books Read in April [31 books year-to-date]

2 Nonfiction:
  - The Drifting Cowboy, Will James (4.5) I'm not sure this is exactly nonfiction, but since Will James is writing about his own life I've decided to classify it as such. This is the first of his I've read, though I inherited a couple from my husband's great grandmother. It was a delightful read! Part of its magnetism is due to the refreshingly unpolished nature of the writing style. It's as though he were sitting by you, telling you the story himself. The other thing I really enjoyed was the firsthand account of life on the range in an ever more modern era. Published in 1925, it is still full of appeal for today.
  - Little Britches, Ralph Moody (4) Similar to Will James in location, time, and focus, but more family centered. I read this aloud to my 11yo, and (as an equestrian) she loved the descriptions of the cowboys' maneuvers. It was my 3rd time through the book, but it still made a fun book to share.

5 Junior Fiction:
  - George's Marvellous Medicine, Roald Dahl (4.5) This is a very small book, even compared to others of Dahl's, so you get all of the magic in a condensed amount of space. A lot of fun.
  - A Bear Called Paddington, Michael Bond (3) This has been on my TBR for ages it seems, so I'm glad that the readathon helped me to finally get around to it. It was a little too bland for my tastes, though it has its charms to be sure. It would probably have been best if read aloud to a younger child.
  - Snow in Summer, Jan Yolen (3) This wasn't the most successful retelling of a fairytale I've ever come across, but it did make me reminisce about all the fairytales my dad read to me as a young child, which is a very happy thing. This is Snow depression era West Virginia. It seemed an odd mashup, especially with the cover art giving no clue to that, but what was even more odd was how the setting seemed as intangible as the plot.
  - Mr. Stink, David Walliams (4) With a zany cast of characters and illustrations by Quentin Blake, it is hard to resist a comparison to Roald Dahl. Certainly the reading experience was as much fun, even if the plot dealt with politics and homelessness.  Kind of a fun way to broach the subject, actually. My daughter will be reading this book for school next year, doing a comparison with a translation in Scots.
  - A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt, C. Coco DeYoung (3.5) Part of our history studies, this book gives a good look at what it was like to be a child during the Great Depression. The characters all feel very real, and the plot - though sad - isn't overly depressing as some set in the era are.

3 Fiction:
  - Salt, Isabel Zuber (3.5) I've owned this book for over a decade, charmed by the cover art and setting...I'm an easy sell for something that takes place in the mountains, especially the Appalachians as the vibe most closely matches the mountains I grew up in. I enjoyed the book, though I did find it to be depressing. The main male character was not a person I'd like to know, and some of the magical realism/poetic parts were a bit tiresome for me.
  - Saint Mazie, Jamie Attenberg (3) I listened to the audio version of this, and while the narrator did a very good job reading, the format in which the story was told made it difficult to get close to any of the characters. But at least I finally got through a whole audiobook!
  - My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante (4) My book club read this book, and while none of us happened to finish it by the time we met we had no shortage of things to discuss. Now that I've finished it I want to talk about all of it again! The characters and setting are so realistic, and I loved how the friendship was portrayed. It wasn't a super quick read, as I was easily distracted from reading it, but I think it's a series I'll actually continue on with, which is saying something!


Current Reads:
  - Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng. Current audiobook, perfect fit for audio for me. High interest :)
  - Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor. Current read-aloud.
  - A Stranger Came Ashore, Mollie Hunter. A tale of Scottish selkies that I'm prereading for school.


New Books This Month:
I ordered a bunch of books for school next year--new and used, mostly pertaining to the UK and Ireland in some way. I also got a couple of free books that I'm hoping to get to sooner rather than later: Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan (arc from the publisher/LibraryThing) and The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan (from my dad.)


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.