Wednesday, November 20, 2013

New Books for the Stacks

It began in the most predictable of ways: a mother walking into a book store on an errand for her child: to procure the next book in an engrossing series. Before  the object had been secured, her eager arms had begun to fill with Happy Thoughts (a book of poetry) and Lofty Ambitions (a compilation of short stories.) In a frantic rush to escape the tantalizing temptations, knowing they would soon become relics of wishful thinking, she managed to exit the store with a mere four books more than the one she had entered to find. 

Yeah, so, that was me today.  I don't hold much hope that I'll really be able to plow through that book of short stories (short stories often take me longer to read than long stories) any time soon...but I like to think I will.  The only one of the four I'd already been considering was Aimless Love, but then the fact that I've never read Hurston or Lewis seemed those book jumped into my arms too.

Who can resist cover art like that on Free Air?  I want some driving goggles!  I'm listening to Upton Sinclair's "Oil" on Audible, and somehow the idea of reading two different Sinclairs at the same time makes me happy.*

*My interest in Sinclairs might be due to that being my younger brother's middle name.  He is named after an author...but my mom can't seem to remember exactly which author.  Maybe after reading these two books I'll just decide!)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

For the Record: October 2013

I've noticed something...I've gotten to a point where I have begun to want to blog again.  My house design hours have not slimmed down or gotten less stressful, though they are getting to be a little simpler now that we are down to the details instead of big picture goals.  I've been so absent for the last few months, which happened to coincide with Google Reader disappearing, that I think I'll have to slowly re-find all your blogs so I can start visiting again.  That sounds almost like a light at the end of the tunnel!

7 Books Read in October: (71 year-to-date)

2 read aloud to my 9 year-old:
  - The Enchanted Wood, Enid Blyton (4.5) My first experience with Enid Blyton!  Oh that I had found her when I was young...My 9 year-old loves the innocence and joy of the older books, and loves the British element.  You can be sure there will be other Blyton titles in our future.
  - Black Horses for the King, Anne McCaffrey (3) I'm trying to challenge my daughters listening ability, but this book was a bit beyond even that.  If it hadn't been for the fact that she adores horses, this book would have been a total bust.  Since it was pretty much entirely to do with horses, it was only a partial bust.  Archaic writing style and names made it a frustrating read-aloud.

2 AudioBooks:
  - A Room With a View, E.M. Forster (3.5) This is a book I am supposed to like.  After all, I like Austen and Trollope and pretty much any British comedy of manners.  But this felt rather contrived.  Sort of like Little Women.  Like the author was writing to sell a book instead of being spurred by an inner-writing-demon.  I liked the movie okay, though I prefer the movie of Little Women to the book also.  Hm.  I have A Passage to India on my shelf, but I'm rethinking that after this experience.
  - Possession, A.S. Byatt (3.5) I'm probably also supposed to like this book.  But my demographic fails on two major accounts: I do not live and breathe poetry, and I am not from a culture of academia.  And so I found this book quite tiresome.  I read about 50 pages and set it down for quite a while.  Then I decided that if I were to get through it I'd have to listen to it.  Even with a good narrator, it was still pedantic.  Too bad/So sad for audiobooks this month—at least I can cross these two authors off my list.

1 for Book Club:
  - The Power of One, Bryce Courtenay (3) On a positive note, there were some incredibly memorable characters in this book - often minor characters that aren't around for long.  I could hear them as well as see them and they won't be forgotten soon.  As for the rest of the book, it bugged me.  Perhaps because the 'highly autobiographical' element led to a meandering pace that didn't seem to develop properly.  I didn't really care about anyone.  And don't even get me started on the ending.  My group had a good discussion about it though, which is one of my favoritest things ever, so I can't complain much.

2 Newly Purchased Books:
  - The Childhood of Jesus, J.M. Coetzee (3.5) This was an Indiespensable book (from Powell's books) and my first experience with Coetzee.  It was interesting to read two South African authors in one month (inc. Power of One) —they were both so different!  At first, I was intrigued by this book.  The writing style was unique and refreshing.  Then, upon finishing, I felt somewhat ambivalent about the book.  I don't really like allegories, and I didn't get it.  Let me tell you, though, that it keeps popping into my mind.  I can't say that I really know what it was saying, but I'm starting to figure out what it was saying to me.
  - Kindred, Octavia E. Butler (4) One year ago, my 17 year-old son asked me if I'd read this book, since his girlfriend was currently reading it for school.  I hadn't.  Shame.  Boatloads of Shame. (cue Avett Brothers)  So I have to say, I think this is a good choice for high school required reading.  It is fast paced and interesting, but really shows the difference between the 70s (when the book was written) and the antebellum South.  Admittedly, that means there is some rough content (how could there not be?) And, unfortunately, there is a blank spot in my brain when I try to think of this book (what book did I just read???) so that must say something, but enjoyable all the same.


3 Current Reads:
  - When She Woke, Hillary Jordan.  So different from Mudbound that I don't really know what to think.  The writing is good, the content has me a little unsure of what I'll think in the end.
  - Oil, Upton Sinclair.  I bought this on a whim at my local book store, having never seen There Will Be Blood (which is based on the book) and having never read anything of Upton Sinclair.  Then I got cold feet and started dreading it would be a slog, so I got the audio version.  I've only just begun listening to it, but I'm enjoying the style very much (and the narrator is fabulous.)
  - Pippi Goes on Board, Astrid Lindgren.  Current read-aloud to the little one.  A little kooky, but fun.


On My Nightstand:
The books that were previously on my nightstand got put back on my shelf.  I always dread that happening.  It feels so much harder to get books back on my nightstand than to put them on there in the first place.  This is what is there right now.

  - Les Miserables.  I really need to finish this before I get too far away from having read the first 500+ pages and I need to read it all over again.  I liked it...I just haven't had the focus.
  - The Lighthouse Road, Peter Geye.  I really enjoyed his first book (Safe From the Sea) and am looking forward to this one.
  - Breathing Lessons, Anne Tyler.  I enjoyed The Beginner's Goodbye so much last month that I needed to find another by the same author.  This one was a Pulitzer Prize winner, and I'm hoping to hold off on reading it so I can choose it for my next book club read.  It's about marriage.  That should make for good conversation.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Popular Words

Tonight my daughter discovered Google Books Ngram Viewer—what fun!  Have you seen this thing?  You can compare how often words/phrases occur in books, and end up with unending entertainment.  I could do this all night.

Monday, October 21, 2013

For the Record: September 2013

Thanks to a vacation at the end of September, I actually had a relatively decent reading month—although it was still light in comparison to the volume I had been used to a year ago.  One benefit to a long airplane ride is the opportunity to get some serious reading done!  I impulse-bought two novels at the airport (The Beginner's Goodbye and Prisoner of Heaven) so I didn't get through all the reading material I brought with me (when does that ever happen anyhow?) but it still felt quite rewarding.

So, my husband and I went to Mont Tremblant in Quebec first, for a business related conference, where all the mountains were ablaze with wondrous autumnal shades and the weather was chilly enough to warrant the constant use of scarves. (yay!)  Having lived in SoCal for the last 5 years, seasons are something I sorely miss.  When the conference finished, we flew on to Bordeaux, France.  We met up with my brother-in-law for a few days of European wine country (and—lovely though it was, especially being harvest time—we came away doubly appreciating our California wines) before getting in a series of planes once again to spend a few days with friends in Scotland before returning home.

We had a lovely time.  It was a bit of a shock to return to 85 degrees of sunshine after being huddled by the fireplace for days, and my kids (and my mom) were probably all ready to have mom and dad return to their regular responsibilities, but it ended up being a wonderful break from our building project if nothing else.  Obviously I didn't spend the time blogging; that will come with time.

6 Books Read in September: (64 year-to-date)

1 read aloud to my 9 year-old:
  - The Story of Doctor Doolittle, Hugh Lofting (3) I've had this book for so many years and finally got around to finding a kiddo to read it to.  Cute story (much cuter than the recent movie!)

2 from my Shelf:
  - Heat Lightning, Helen Hull (4) I believe Persephone has reprinted this book, although my copy is original from 1932 (either copy would be fabulous, but there is something filling about reading an book.)  At first blush, the story seems to be a simple family drama, but hang in for a little while and you'll soon realize that serious issues are discussed and considered.  Also extremely fascinating was the perspective - not what I expected from something written in 1932 in so many ways, but also a very 'eye-witness' sort of account of the state of the nation at such a critical point in American history.
  - Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, Tom Franklin (3.5) I was expecting something more...relational?  familial?  It was more murder-mystery than I'd expected, but a good book all the same.

3 recent purchases:
  - The Beginner's Goodbye, Anne Tyler (4.5) Bought at the airport and read on the first leg of my vacation.  This is the first I've read of Tyler's, and I found it refreshing and captivating.  I don't actually know why I liked it as much as did, except that I really enjoyed the writing and it kept me thinking.  And it was short (bonus points for short books these days!)
  - The Prisoner of Heaven, Carlos Ruiz Zafon (3.5) Apart from the bits of magical realism (which I'm slowly beginning to accept is just not my thing) my only complaint is how flat and simple all the female characters were.  This isn't something I'm sensitive to, so it must have been pretty extreme!  Interesting story set in Barcelona about 50 years ago.
  - Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell (5) After hearing rave reviews from two dissimilar people, and then seeing it on the reading list of Sonlight home-school curriculum, I decided I had to give this book a try.  I'm so glad I did!  The writing was clear, interesting, and well-organized (even though I'd have enjoyed a broader spectrum of more complex examples) and the things I learned were so much fun!  I wish I'd been able to read it when all my kiddos were a bit younger, but better late than never.  Educators and parents should all give it a go...and (why not) everyone else too.  Then come over to my house so we can talk about it!


Friday, September 13, 2013

For the Record: August 2013

This has definitely been a slump year for reading!  With an (almost) 13 year-old girl in the house, and a huge house project to manage (never mind homeschooling and keeping up with my traveling hubby) there have been many things that have fallen by the wayside.  Still, I'm enjoying what I've been reading (for the most part) and that's the main thing!

6 Books Read in August: (58 year-to-date)

1 read aloud to my 9 year-old:
  - Gib and the Gray Ghost, Zilpha Keatley Snyder (3) [Repetitive sentence structure and stereotypical characters, but the barn and the horses made up for that...for my daughter at least.  Not very fun to read aloud, but whatever.]

2 AudioBooks:
  - State of Wonder, Anne Patchett (4) [For some reason I though Patchett would be heavily poetic, so I dreaded reading it.  Of course, I was wrong.  I had some minor irritations with the book (mostly the unsatisfying ending) but overall it was good, solid, contemporary fiction.]
  - The Midwife of Hope River, Patricia Harman (2) [If I hadn't spent money on it, I wouldn't have finished it.  The characters, plot, pacing, and writing were all terribly done - and the narrator didn't help much either.  The birth scenes, of which there were many, were vividly described (not sure if that's a good thing - it was a little much even for me, and I love birth stories) but quite disconnected from the rest of the book and were rushed and overly dramatic. Plus, it was written in present tense.  And, I'm pretty sure they didn't say things like "That pisses me off" in the 1930s (a quick search shows it dates from 1946). Cheeseball.]

1 from my Shelf:
  - Mudbound, Hillary Jordan (4.5) [This is another book I avoided reading because I thought it would be too heavily poetic.  I was, again, wrong.  I really enjoyed it and thought it was quite well done - no wonder people were excited when her newer book, When She Woke, was released.]

2 'Group' reads:
  - Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? Lorrie Moore (4) [Read for Book Club]  There were some technical issues - time/location changes were confusing etc. - but for the most part I found this small book unique and enjoyable.  Great for those introspective readers that love a character study.
  - Fate is the Hunter, Ernest K. Gann (4) [Read with my husband, the pilot] A memoir written in 1961 about the crazy early days of commercial aviation.  Each chapter read more like a short story, so it took me a little while to get through, but the writing was engaging and the the stories were fascinating.


3 Current Reads:
  - Les Miserables, Victor Hugo.  I actually haven't read this in a while, but am hoping to finish it during my trip later this month.
  - Possession, A.S. Byatt.  My current audio book.  I enjoyed the movie years back, but found the book hard to get into.  It is better via audio, but still might take me a while.
  - Heat Lightning, Helen Hull.  With the start of school making everything crazy, I've only managed to read a page here and there, but should finish soon anyhow.  I have a copy from 1932, which makes it all the better.  Vintage fiction is where it's at - love it!


On My Nightstand:
I don't think I've picked up a new book in I'm not even sure what will come next, but these are what are actually (literally) on my nightstand.  They are all pretty slim, which is probably what I need right about now.

  - The Sufferings of Young Werther, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.
  - The Dog Stars, Peter Heller.
  - The Touchstone, Edith Wharton


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

For the Record: July 2013

Well okay, so if you saw my last post then you understand why I'm barely posting about July.  :)  With much time in airplanes, I did have some better reading time than I did in June.

The standout this month was Whose Names are Unknown by Sanora Babb.  This was actually a birthday gift from my dad (thanks dad!) based on a mutual admiration for Ken Burns' documentary: The Dust Bowl.  It is immediately apparent that this book was written out of a deep familiarity with the people, and I loved it for that.  The ending was abrupt, but that's a small complaint in light of the wonderful writing and complex characters.  If you have interest in the Dust Bowl, I high recommend this book.

8 Books Read in July: (52 year-to-date)

 1 for Book Club:
  - The Water is Wide, Pat Conroy (4) A memoir I enjoyed! Fancy that!  Of course, it has to do with education in the late '60s, so that might be part of it, but the writing was organized and enjoyable also.

2 Classics:
  - The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (3.5) I'm not sure how I escaped high school without reading this, but I've finally rectified the situation.  The journalistic/hyper-poetic combo didn't engage me much (the author seemed like an outsider looking in, as opposed to Babb's book below) and the ending?! Um, okay.
  - Whose Names are Unknown, Sanora Babb (4.5) Technically not a classic, as it was only recently published, but it was slated for release in 1939 (when The Grapes of Wrath stole its thunder) and therefore I think it counts.  Reading the two together provided great contrast, and I found this one to be much more personal with much more realistic characters.  There are some similarities in storyline, though these characters are displaced because of the dust rather than the economy alone.

1  Nonfiction:
  - Flapper, Joshua Zeitz (4) This was a nice, engaging social history of the era that has been captivating me recently.  After reading Last Call (political history) and The Worst Hard Time (physical history), not to mention numerous works of fiction, I feel this rounded out my view of the times.

2 Impulse Reads:
  - Mary Coin, Marisa Silver (3.5) A fiction book set in the 30s Dust Bowl - it was good and interesting, but sort of reading "lite" without greatly developed characters.
  - Bobcat and Other Stories, Rebecca Lee (3.5) Sent along with my Indiespensable package...good writing, entertaining stories, ultimately a hopeless feeling pervaded the collection, though, making it not quite as good in my opinion.

2 from my Shelf:
  - Coraline, Neil Gaiman (4) Such a good little read!  I thought the movie was scary, but this was more magical and creative.
  - A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini (4) What? I barely read this?  Yeah.  I'm afraid it suffered major delay due to massive hype.  It was quite good - the story was good enough to make up for somewhat average writing quality.


I'm skipping the "Current" section of this month's post since I'm so behind schedule, but I'm hoping to post about August soon and will include it there!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Craziest Summer Ever

This summer was supposed to be simple: one big European vacation with the kiddos to check that off the list, and then weeks and weeks of relaxation.  However, the summer went (as summers will) different than planned, and I have to say that I'm glad to be moving on—even though much of it was quite fun.

After school got out in mid-June, we had a week to make all final preparations for taking our four children on a European vacation involving planes, trains, and cruise ships.  The plan, actually, was to go with my brother-in-law, his wife, and their 16 year old son, but a fall from a bicycle landed Drew in the ICU, so they were unable to come after all. (Months later, after multiple major surgeries and tons and tons of prayer, he is back to [mostly] normal life.  It's such a treat to see him walk in my door again!)  It was hard to go without them, but couldn't get a refund so we went anyhow.

The day before we were scheduled to fly out of LA, our water heater collapsed and dumped its entire contents into our garage.  We are renting a house while we rebuild our home, so my garage wasn't as nearly well organized as it typically would be...which meant that the box of old photos I hadn't been able to find was—of course—right next to the water heater underneath everything else.  We were able to salvage most of them, thank goodness, but it was the really old ones that were damaged most.  We had thousands of dollars of damage (area rugs, photo albums, games/puzzles, office supplies etc) and a mildew laden garage to clean up upon returning from our trip.  What a way to start off the summer.

We flew into Paris, and spent three days eating crepes and visiting all the sites. My youngest, Audrey (9), most loved the Louvre, with the displays of all the things she had learned about in school this year: ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome.  Melinda (12) adored the Eiffel Tower, Andrew (14) liked the Arc de Triomphe, and Timothy (17) liked the crazy driving and interesting cars.

Audrey makes a serious face to match the immensity of
the display she's standing by.

Yep, it's for real!
Striking a pose outside of Versailles.

After Paris, we took a train to Barcelona (from where our cruise would be departing) and spent a few days shopping, basking in the sun, touring Gaudi's architecture, and eating the marvelous, delicious food.  I really wanted to bring an Iberican ham back with me.  Oh yum.  And the music!  I want to go back.

Gaudi created some beautiful, amazing structures!

Then we got on the gigantic cruise ship (Norwegian Epic) with stops in Sorrento/Pompeii, Rome, Florence, Marseille, and Palma, and tons of things to do on board besides.

Timothy and me in the ice bar on the ship - chilly!

Back home again: complete and utter exhaustion waiting for cab at LAX
to take us back home - the trip home took about 22 hours.
So then, back home again and we should be looking at weeks and weeks of relaxation, right?  Except that a few days after we returned, the kids joined grandma (Chris' mom) at a beach house, which then involved a lot of driving through SoCal freeways - definitely not relaxing.  While the kids were at the beach house, Chris and I took a trip up to Oregon for a  business meeting, taking the opportunity to reconnect with some friends we hadn't seen in years.  (Chris is a private pilot, so we flew up there - decidedly more enjoyable than driving.)

Europe, beach house, Oregon, and then right back into the plane (with everyone) to take Chris' mom (et al) to New Mexico, and from there the rest of us proceeded to Lake Tahoe (still aiming for miles of relaxation).  Even though travel can be exhausting in general, we got to see so many things we'd never seen that it made up for it.  Scottsdale AZ (nice, but HOT), Roswell NM (didn't see any aliens), Flagstaff AZ (beautiful alpine area), the Grand Canyon (so grand! and beautiful!), and then my real home: Tahoe.

A tiny portion of the Grand Canyon.

Of course, once we got to Tahoe, there were other things happening too.  My parents came up and camped at nearby Fallen Leaf Lake.  Audrey joined them for the entire time, the rest of us joined them during the day.  I had goals at our house there in Tahoe, so I kept busy (cleaning out the garage, under the house, and under the deck, as well as painting the girls' bedroom).  We had meant to stay in Tahoe for 2 weeks, but I desperately needed to see my chiropractor, so we stayed a week, came back to Long Beach for a week, and then went back up for another week...with a brief trip up to Portland, Oregon added into the mix. More travel = more exhaustion, but not enough to make me stay away from Tahoe!

Camping necessarily involves hot dogs and chips, which
means that it is quite difficult to take photos of people
when they aren't eating.  Oh well.

Fallen Leaf Lake - so calming and beautiful.

So, Europe, beach house, Oregon, New Mexico, Arizona, Grand Canyon, Tahoe, Long Beach, Tahoe, Oregon, Tahoe, Long Beach.  By this time I've completed multiple knitting projects, but summer isn't over yet.  We cram in a bunch of architect/contractor/house design meetings, and then set off for one final trip (well, more like "final" because it never seems to end) to spend some time with my brother and sister-in-law while they are still in California (they are moving to Qatar - from Korea - for a new teaching job, and visiting here in the meantime).  So we flew up to Northern California to pick them up, and then over to Park City, Utah for a quick stay. The next day we did an aerial tour of Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon before landing back in Long Beach.  Then, of course, back up north to drop them off.  Bryce Canyon was so impressive - all of Utah, actually, was incredibly beautiful in so many different ways.

Melinda reluctantly agrees to model my completed sweater.

Architect and contractor discuss the best way to hide
some steel plates that intrude on the corners of the gable windows.

Heber Valley/Park City Utah

A branch of the Grand Canyon

Bryce Canyon

I've begged off a couple of subsequent trips that my husband has taken to Vegas etc. - I have too much work preparing for school (I'm homeschooling two of my four again this year) and cramming in house design meetings before school starts.  Our house project is finally picking up speed a little bit, so it's time for me to make some final decisions and start purchasing materials.  I'm typically the slowest decision maker ever, but I'm thinking that this building project is helping me get better at it!  The house has nine bathrooms.  9.  NINE.  (I get faint every time I think about the cleaning involved.) and that's a whole lot of design decisions before we ever start talking about anything else.

Anyhow, though summer may be over, the craziness isn't.  School, house design, a birthday trip to Napa, and another big trip in a month all leave little time for blogging.  (obviously.)  I am still updating my GoodReads, though, so if you are there, please look me up (Melody Spano).  I'm looking forward to life returning to normal, but am thinking that won't happen until our house project is done.  Even then, "normal" is pretty busy, isn't it?