Saturday, June 22, 2013

Bookish Birthday Gifts and Bon Voyage

I'm heading out today for a two week vacation with my family - we get to see Paris and Barcelona for the first time, and then taking a cruise ship down the coast of Italy. I'm super excited to show my kiddos the coliseum and other historic goodies, and am hoping it'll be a good opportunity to dive into Les Miserables. 

In other news, it's my birthday! My friend made me the best bookish mug...I just had to share. Inspired by Austen's Persuasion, this will be sure to bring smiles to my morning. Find her on Esty ( and she'll make you a custom mug of your own!

Happy summer to all, I'll see you in a few. :)

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Worst Hard Time and The Dust Bowl

"All those short lives..."
-- my 8 year old's reaction to The Dust Bowl by Ken Burns

I've been on a big early-1900s kick lately, from Prohibition and the Great War to the Dust Bowl, the Jazz Age and the Great Depression.  It's been great fun so far - I'm learning so many things! I'm reading The Grapes of Wrath for the first time (no idea how that happened) and always keeping my eyes out for more must-read literature from the years around the 1920s.

One of the most accesible sources I've come across is the PBS documentary, The Dust Bowl.  Ken Burns did a wonderful job giving an intriguing and picturesque overview of the catastrophe.  It left me shocked and amazed, and hungry for more information...some of those pictures and videos are simply unbelievable.

The film wasn't enough for me, so I then read The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.  This book is about the people who stayed behind, the people who "hunkered down out of loyalty or stubbornness, who believed in tomorrow because it was all they had in the bank."  I have two sets of grandparents that lived through the Dust Bowl and came to reside in Northern California and Oregon, so the struggles described were rather personal for me.
"Nothing that you see or hear or read will be likely to exaggerate the physical discomfort or material losses due to these storms.  Less emphasis is usually given to the mental effect, the confusion of mind resulting from the overthrow of all our plans for improvement or normal farm work, and the difficulty of making other plans, even in a tentative way."
-Caroline Henderson, 1935
One thing that surprised me (for some reason) was the pervasive prejudice.  The book didn't dwell on it, but it's always surprising to me to learn how deep-rooted and equal-opportunity this prejudice is.  Was there ever a time when America was actually the embracing, welcoming, free country that I like to imagine it was?  The 1930s were full of spite for many different groups of people:
  • Black Americans (of course...signs in/near Oklahoma read "Black Men Don't Let the Sun Go Down on You Here") 
  • Native Americans (no surprise...the bison were exterminated "as a way to ensure that no Indian would ever wander the Texas Panhandle") 
  • Volga Germans (others tried to "pass an ordinance prohibiting the language from being spoken in the city limits") 
  • Jews (people said they were "to blame for the bad times - that they did not belong in this country") 
  • Italians ("the 'low grade races' of southern Europe" were a "threat to civilization")
  • Mexicans ("cities were shipping Hispanics out of the country") 
  • the People Who Stayed ("They are simply, by God's inscrutable will, inferior men" -H.L. Mencken)
  • the People Who Left ("Okies and Dogs Not Allowed Inside")
Surprisingly, I don't think the Irish or any Asian countries were mentioned...but then again, this was only one book.

I was impressed by how well The Worst Hard Time was organized.  Continuity and clarity are vital in nonfiction, and Egan does it well.  Not only that, but the people were easy to remember and follow, and the facts were interesting and well-presented.  It's hard to ask for more out of non-fiction!

There are too many interesting things to start talking about all of them (such as the dangers of wind-generated static electricity and dust pneumonia) so I'll just say that if you have a passing interest in the Dust Bowl, both Ken Burns and Timothy Egan have done a great job with such a dry topic. Next up for me (other than Grapes of Wrath) is Whose Names are Unknown by Sanora Babb - excellent reading so far!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

For the Record: May 2013

I read 11 books again in May!!  How crazy is that??  So much fun after months and months of little reading.  I was thrilled to look back at April's update and see that I'd actually made it through everything I had marked as "Currently Reading" and "On My Nightstand".  I don't think that's happened in quite some time.

While my reading has increased, my involvement in book blogging has decreased.  This is a little sad, because I miss the friends I've made, and a little happy, as I've had more freedom to do other things.  Sometimes (sad, but true) blogging books makes it harder to enjoy the books themselves.

I've definitely been on an early-20th-century kick lately.  Funny, because it seems others are many new books taking place in WWI & WWII eras.  I don't how long that will continue, or what era/topic will follow in its stead, but for now I am enjoying reading about Prohibition and the Great Depression like I never have before.

Summer reading!! It's time, isn't it?  In theme with this year's reading, I don't have any great plans for accomplishment.  I'm going to have to put some thought into it soon, since I'm going on a cruise later this month.  The last cruise I went on, I read War and Peace.  This cruise I'll have my kiddos along, so my reading time won't be as extended, but it would be fabulous to get through another chunkster.  Maybe Les Miserables.  Hmmm...I'll have to think on that.

11 Books Read in May: (40 year-to-date)

2 Read Aloud to my kiddo:
  - The Wheel on the School, Meindert Dejong (4.5) [Super sweet and funny, my 8yo and I loved it.]
  - Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren (4) [Good & humorous, though I'm glad it was quick!]

3 Classics:
  - My Mortal Enemy, Willa Cather (4.5) [Another step on my journey through Willa Cather's published works. Review here.]
  - Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle (4) [So much fun! It was supposed to be a read-along but I simply had to finish it quickly.]
  - The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis (4) [Reading Lewis is the perfect solution for my continuous need for deep thought - I should do this more often!]

2 from my shelf:
  - Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, Emma Straub (2.5) [ARC from last fall - not terrible reading material, but none of it made me care about, in the end, below average.]
  - Queen of the Big Time, Adriana Trigiani (4) [been on my shelf for AGES, but I'm so glad I finally read it.  Really a beautiful picture of dreams, marriage, and the things that matter in life.]

4 from my Wishlist:
  - Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Anne Fowler (3.5) [So so so sad.  Really makes me look at F.Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and the Jazz Age in a more serious light.]
  - An Unfinished Score, Elise Blackwell (3) [Read because of my past success with Unbridled Books and my love of music...this was Orchestra Overkill, and the plot was a little muddled.  Oh well.]
  - The Last Runaway, Tracy Chevalier (4) [The reading felt pretty light, but the characters were well drawn, and the angst truly felt.  I enjoyed it tons.]
  - The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan (5) [Absolutely brilliant, page-turning nonfiction. I basically underlined the whole book.]


5 Current Reads:
  - Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston.  Good history, all the more interesting in that it takes place in my home state, and is seldom spoken of.  Awkward-sauce.  Not as engaging as it could be. (update: this was a quick read, so I'm already done with it.  Somewhat emotionally detached, but otherwise interesting.)
  - The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck.  Can you believe I've never read this before?  How did that happen??
  - Eugene Onegin, Alexander Pushkin.  All I can say is that I enjoyed his prose (Tales of Belkin) more than his poetry, but I. Will. Survive.
  - The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness.  I looovvved A Monster Calls, and went after this one based on Andi's reaction.  (update: I've actually already finished it since drafting this post - must go out and find the others in the trilogy!)
  - Wild, Cheryl Strayed.  A book club book that I didn't quite finish in time for our meeting, but will push through anyhow.


On My Nightstand:
I had a wonderful trip to the bookstore and came back with so many things that I'm so excited to read.  I could use a read-a-thon weekend!

  - The Sufferings of Young Werther, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe.  Maybe I was secretly hoping that this one would get picked for the Classics Club Spin List?  I couldn't pass it up at the book store, and opted for a newer translation after comparing the two.
  - The Dog Stars, Peter Heller.  This has been on my radar since Crowe loved it, so it naturally jumped into my hands when I saw it.
  - The Great Crash 1929, John Galbraith.  Written in the '50s, which makes it all the more intriguing. I'm hoping to get a good overview of the '29 crash, as well as some historical perspective on finances.
  - Hard Times, Studs Terkel.  Impulse buy, since I was in the section of the store looking for more Great Depression non-fiction.  I was completely unaware of Studs Terkel, but turns out he's quite a guy.  His face looks familiar, so why did his name not sound familiar?  Maybe at some point in my life I'll finally feel up to speed with the times.
  - Mary Coin, Marisa Silver.  Another impulse buy based on the legendary photograph by Dorothea Lange that graces the cover.  (I should have searched out Whose Names are Unknown by Sanora Babb instead, because I'm a little worried that the quality of current fiction won't hold up to Steinbeck - which I'm currently reading - but whatever.  We'll give it a go.)