Sunday, July 19, 2015

For the Record: June 2015 (better late than never!)

Wow this post is late! June was the month we finally moved back into our home, so I got little reading done once that happened. It's incredible to be finally reaching the end of what was starting to feel like a never-ending journey. We still have people working here every day, finishing up the basement and other odds and ends, but it is so wonderful to be home.  Most of our stuff is still in storage since our garage is currently a woodworking shop, but little by little everything is in its place.

3 Books Read in June: [41 books year-to-date]

1 Nonfiction:
  - Secrets From the Eating Lab, Traci Mann (4) Rather than being simply another diet book, this is a scientific look at the results of studies done on dieting issues. I enjoyed the psychology and behavioral studies, and the impartial view of dieting companies.

1 for Book Club:
  - Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks (4) My mom was able to join my book club for this book, along with many moms and daughters of the other girls in my group, and it was the perfect book for a multigenerational group. I forgot how well Brooks writes for one thing, so that was enjoyable, but what really made discussion interesting was the depth of focus on faith and women's role in society throughout history. The setting (Harvard in the Colonial days) was vivid and captivating.

1 Classic (kinda):
  - The Edge of Sadness, Edwin O'Connor (5+) I don't know how to express how much I loved this book. I found it when looking through Pulitzer Prize winners from the early 1960s and read it as a way to celebrate moving back into our mid-century modern home. The historical aspect was interesting, the characters were top notch: flawed, real, love 'em/hate 'em folk, the writing was impeccable. For me, with little experience with the Catholic church, the fact that the main character is a priest was no hindrance. It was contemplative and merciful; the depth of honesty about the struggles that make us essentially human is something I've rarely found.


I have another whole slew of books to write about soon, but here's a few photos of my house in the meantime. I couldn't resist. So many parts of the house feel so much like it used to, only made fresh and new, that it's a little surreal to walk through the house and contemplate the last 2 1/2 years of work! We still have odds and ends being finished up, but it is so so good to be back home. These photos show a similar part of the entryway of the house.  Our house is situated on a corner lot, so the driveway leads to the lower entrance on the left, while the front door/main entrance is half a level up on the right.

BEFORE: This hidden door leads to the guest bedroom (front door is
on the right,  but is not shown). The art on the wall is original to the house
and has been relocated to the [as yet incomplete] library.

MID-CONSTRUCTION: Digging for the basement. It looked similar to this
for a very long while.

AFTER: The cedar siding has been replaced (as has pretty much everything else)
and the wall now sports new lighting sculptures made from Japanese paper by an
artisan in Los Angeles. Now this huge entry way no longer suffers from the
dungeon effect at night. Simple in design, yet so beautiful from every angle.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

For the Record: May 2015

Somehow, even though I've felt all month as if I haven't read anything, I ended up reading more books than last month...not to mention that I've read much more this year than I had last year at this point.  Maybe living out of a suitcase will do that to you! After 2+ months of living in hotels and short term rentals, we will be moving into our home on June 10th. It won't be quite done, but it's close.

8 Books Read in May: [38 books year-to-date]

2 Nonfiction:
  - The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo (4.5) I had almost decided against reading this book, but I'm glad I went for it. Not only does it have some good advice for putting your life in order, but it's a fantastic little peek into Japanese culture.  The author is a little nuts (I read the sock portion aloud to many people) and the book is somewhat light on content, but it made me laugh multiple times, and actually changed how I fold my I giggle every time I fold my clothes.
  - Between You & Me, Mary Norris (2) This book felt judgmental and elitist to me; it actually made me angry! It just reaffirmed that I'm a creative type: don't fence me in. It reminded me why I don't like memoirs, why I do like the ambiguity of the English language, and made me decide to never try to publish anything. Blah. I left the book at one of the rentals we lived in this month—maybe it'll find a new owner who loves rules and is in awe of those who make them.

2 Classics:
  - Mary Barton, Elizabeth Gaskell (5) This was Gaskell's first book, and was written to illuminate the plight of the poor. Gaskell has her quirks and this one felt very characteristic of those, making me appreciate it all the more. The characters reminded me of Lark Rise to Candleford for some reason, which probably added to the attachment I felt.
  - Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury (3) I feel kind of bad for not loving this one - my 14yo daughter loved it more than I did - but it's simply a matter of target audience.  I get worn out of dystopian fiction just thinking about it, and symbolism wears me out as well.  The story was fascinating, and the language was often quite beautiful.

4 Fiction:
  - Our Endless Numbered Days, Claire Fuller (3) I'd say this book was written well, even though I had issues with the pacing. The language was slow and descriptive but the plot was suspenseful; those two qualities worked against each other in my opinion. And the subject matter was just depressing. And the plot twist wasn't twisty.
  - Euphoria, Lily King (4) There was more relationship drama in this book than I typically like, but it pulled me in & made for a good beach read. I thought it did a good job of showing the mindless fury of initial attraction, but not such a great job with the aftermath.
  - The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters (4) This was the first book I've read by Sarah Waters, and the technical parts were lacking...if I'd read it myself instead of listening to the incredibly talented Juliet Stevenson read it, I surely wouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much. There were plot issues and character issues, but I loved the time period and, again, the drama made for good escapism.
  - Circling the Sun, Paula McLain (4) I'd guess that most people who read this book will probably do so because they read The Paris Wife, which I haven't, so I can't compare them for you.  I did love Beryl Markham's autobiography (read it years ago) and thought this made for an interesting companion novel.  There's not much about aviation, actually, so that was a let down, but the real focus of this story was her personal life and how she struggled through an era of female oppression. Her life didn't seem to be a happy one, but she kept fighting to find joy and ended up with many successes despite the accompanying tragedies.


2 Current Reads:

  - Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks. My pick for our next book club. Just started, but looks to be a good one - I forgot how well she can write.
  - Fourth of July Creek, Smith Henderson. I'm 20% through this audiobook and I'm still not invested. Sometimes I like it, sometimes the swearing and narrator switch throw me off. I wonder if reading the paper copy would be a better experience, but it's growing on me.


On My Nightstand:
I have had so many different nightstands this month that I'm not even sure what's on it! I started House of Earth but it isn't capturing me. The house we're staying in has a copy of The Traitor's Wife (a.k.a. The Wolves of Andover) so I might read that if I finish Caleb's Crossing soon.  I'm planning on starting The Edge of Sadness as soon as I move back home, as a tribute to the early '60s. I'm looking forward to that one!


Sunday, May 3, 2015

For the Record: April 2015

April has been a very strange month.  We moved out of the rental we'd been living in for the last two years, moved the majority of our belongings into storage, and have been living in a vacation rental all month...trying desperately to get our house finished and signed off so that we can move in before we are actually homeless.  It has been an odd combination of stressful and relaxing. We are living out of suitcases. We are driving farther to work and school every day. We don't have our cat with us (not allowed in the rental).  And yet, we are right by the beach (wonderful regardless of my general feelings about the ocean) which makes for a terrific excuse to relax and read.  We should be able to move back home before the end of May, and regardless of how nice the beach is, home will be infinitely nicer.

6 Books Read in April: [30 books year-to-date]

3 Nonfiction:
  - Organizing From the Inside Out, Julie Morgenstern (3.5) This was an enjoyable, yet fairly standard, approach to organizing.  I'm a pretty organized person but have trouble keeping everything picked up, so the suggestion I appreciated most was to work with your habits rather than trying to change your habits.
  - The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson (5) What an incredible book. I feel like this filled in so many holes in my knowledge of American History, and expanded my understanding of race relations. Growing up in an area and family where race wasn't an issue, I have some catching up to do.
  - The Almost Nearly Perfect People, Michael Booth (4) Half travel memoir and half social history, this was a fantastic way to get an overview of the different Nordic cultures. I was disappointed that it was light on Norway, which is where my dad's family is from, but otherwise loved the book.

1 Classic:
  - The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner (3) Read this for book club, which is a good thing because I wouldn't have finished it otherwise. I paused after 100 pages to read the SparkNotes, which made the rest of the book much more enjoyable.  I can see why it was innovative, but didn't enjoy it.

2 Adult Fiction:
  - Funny Girl, Nick Hornby (4) So different from other Nick Hornby books I've read, and yet I still enjoyed it so much. I can't say I liked the characters, but I liked that Hornby let them be who they were, and enjoyed how he told a story that could have been so two-dimensional.
  - The New and Improved Romie Futch, Julia Elliott (4) Review copy from Powell's Books/Tin House, this was like nothing I've read before. Irreverent, Southern, modern, and so entertaining.


2 Current Reads:

  - Our Endless Numbered Days, Claire Fuller. Powell's Indiespensable selection...trying to be responsible and get them read instead of letting them pile up like last year. 100+ pages in and it is just beginning to grab my attention.
  - Mary Barton, Elizabeth Gaskell. Still working on this one...about 2/3 through. Enjoyable so far, very Gaskell. :)


On My Nightstand:
I'm still wanting to read Wolf Winter, and have added even another Nordic-centric book to my nightstand: My Struggle (Book One)...can't get enough of Scandinavia right now for some strange reason.  I seem to be on a nonfiction swell also, and have Between You & Me on my shortlist.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Inbox: New Books in March/April

I didn't buy/receive a single book in March.  It was the month of major packing and moving, so I just couldn't justify it. After getting installed into our next rental house, though, life slowed down a bit and in came some books! Typically it's the times that leave me little time to read that I end up splurging on books...I feel like I ended up doing pretty good this time around considering the size of my splurge urge!

These three are books that have been calling my name. Funny Girl I read immediately and enjoyed thoroughly. Ragtime was the first book my book club read (a year or two before I joined them back in '98/'99) and I thought it would be a good place to begin filling in some holes. The Knausgaard books seem to keep popping up, and I've got Nordic countries on the brain, so let's see what the fuss is about.

Our Endless Numbered Days and The New and Improved Romie Futch were both part of the latest Indiespensable shipment from Powell's Books. I got sucked into Romie's crazy life, and am now venturing into a much different world in Claire Fuller's book. The Dream Lover was sent to me from the publisher through LibraryThing, and will most likely be next in the queue.

These three all have special circumstances. The Warriors book is for my 10yo. The Sound and the Fury was my book club book, and The Eyre Affair I purchased as a potential book club selection since it was my turn to pick next.  Not only did I end up not picking it (I picked Caleb's Crossing instead) but I'm starting to think I may already have a copy in storage.  Oops.

Continuing with my nonfiction cravings, I read the very interesting travel memoir/social history of the major Nordic countries: The Almost Nearly Perfect People. I heard about that on NPR I think? The other three here I realized I have an almost Guilty Pleasure attitude about. Spending time or money on them feels indulgent for some reason (like I should be doing it, not reading about it)...which kind of only makes me want to do it more often. I was totally going to resist the Kondo book because I feel like I've read the entire contents in summary, but then I added it to my most recent order at my local book shop anyhow (and to be honest I'm excited to get it!) Organizing and language: strange subjects for guilty pleasures perhaps, but there you have it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

That Cover, Though

I've been known to be guilty of judging a book by its cover. It has been a while, especially since I don't impulse buy as much as I used to, but while browsing the Barnes & Noble stacks for a good option to pick for my book club, this old habit reared its head in a major way.

Back when The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman was released, I was on the fence about whether I'd enjoy it. From reviews it sounded like it would be a little too dramatic and I'd get bored. The topic didn't intrigue me. But the cover was interesting and it got a lot of attention, so I bought it.

It remained on my TBR shelf for the next couple years. I'd pull it out occasionally and flip through, ultimately setting it back on the shelf and choosing a different book instead. I've never read Hoffman before (argument for reading it already) but all the women and all the drama (argument for putting it back on the shelf) and so it goes. Until I saw a new cover at B&N. And now I'm thinking my hunch was right. I may just get rid of the book now. I don't know.  I realize now it's a tie-in, which explains even further why I don't like it, but it really caught me off guard. Have you read it? Have you seen this cover?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

For the Record: March 2015

March was a month for the record books. Not, unfortunately, for how much I read, but rather for how much I did.  It was a crazy one. Between birthday parties, goodbye parties, out-of-country business trips, packing and moving out of our rental into a hotel (first) and a vacation rental (next)...the focus has really been on trying to get our house project complete enough to move into. We are currently living out of suitcases (albeit in a beautiful place steps from the beach—which certainly helps make up for the chaos!) and have suspended home school in favor of getting our house done and picking back up with summer school. Whew. Still and all, a girl has to read. So here's the fun stuff:

7 Books Read in March: [24 books year-to-date]

3 Nonfiction:
  - The First Time We Saw Him, Matt Mikalatos (3.5) For a book that looked to describe stories from the gospels in a fresh, modern light, I expected a little more creativity. This book was half retellings and half commentary on life application.  It was better than other Christian Nonfiction I've read, but still pretty light reading.
  - The Lexicographer's Dilemma, Jack Lynch (4.5) I did this one on audio, but enjoyed it so much I'm buying a paper copy to reread in bits and pieces. It could be subtitled "A History of the Grammar Nazi" since it basically shows the history of English prescriptivists vs. descriptionists (or, should a dictionary indicate how we should use language, or how we do use language?) I loved the history of our crazy language, and seeing how far back this debate developed. Written in a lively, organized fashion without heavy bias.
  - That's Not English, Erin Moore (3.5) I must have been on a language kick! This was sent to me by the publisher through LibraryThing, and it was a lighthearted cultural look at how British English is different from American English. It was enjoyable, but I did have some issues.  The fact that I read it after The Lexicographer's Dilemma probably didn't help, as the details of history weren't Moore's strong suit. Neither was organization, though she certainly did try (her chapters were organized, but the text in each chapter was lacking a solid arc.) I found it difficult to not be irritated by her huge generalizations, and was a bit confused regarding the target audience. Still, her experiences on both sides of the pond were fun to read about. This was light and fun enough that it would make a good vacation read - not something that can often be said for nonfiction!

1 Junior/Teen Fiction:
  - The Birchbark House, Louise Erdrich (4) I read this aloud to my kiddos a few years back, and didn't like it so well as I did this time. I remember the kids liked it, but I had to do a lot of explanation about Native American culture—words and beliefs that were confusing—which makes me think now that it was more a matter of timing. For the child that is able to comprehend those more abstract concepts of religion etc., this book offers wonderful insight into daily life of the Native people. It was almost like Little House on the Prairie from the Ojibwe perspective.

3 Adult Fiction:
  - The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins (3.5) Not my usual fare, but I was in the mood for something light and entertaining and the audio was fun to listen to.
  - The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, Rachel Joyce (3) I loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry so much that I jumped on the chance to review this book (another ARC through LibraryThing). As with many sequels, (and the reason I don't often read a whole series,) this just wasn't as good. I enjoyed reading more about the characters, but it just didn't seem as if there was enough story to merit a whole other book. Many portions seemed drawn out, without enough at stake to actually hold the suspense.
  - The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman (4) Read for my book club. This was a captivating story. I'm not really sure why I kept avoiding reading it. (??) I enjoyed the location and time period, and all the different looks at marriage and motherhood.


2 Current Reads:

  - The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson. This was an impulse buy at the airport (why does that always happen?) but it had been on my radar for quite a long time. It is incredibly good reading; I'm adoring it.
  - Mary Barton, Elizabeth Gaskell. I've been having a hard time taking the time to focus on classics, so I thought I'd attempt the audio. The narrator (Juliet Stevenson) is perfect and the story is just as enjoyable as Gaskells others.


On My Nightstand:
My next book club pick is The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, so I probably need to start on that one next. I'm still itching to read Wolf Winter too though, and some more nonfiction, so we'll see how it goes.

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