Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Vintage "Authors" Card Game

I had the best bookish surprise this week.  It felt like Christmas all over again!  I was giggling (fan-girl-style) and my kiddos were telling me to calm down.  But what a wonderful treat!  My dad sent me a small gift—something he'd stumbled across on eBay and decided to get for me instead of just telling me about it (like I probably would have done).

It's a tiny set of cards (less than 2"x3") that was made in 1935 and featuring twelve different authors.  Each author has four different books listed, and the game is played like Go Fish.  One of the things I love most is the viewpoint from the 30s.  I know most of the authors, but some I don't.  Interesting to see what is renowned at different points in time (assuming that was the reason these authors were picked).  I have to say that it made me add some new old books to my list!  This will be the perfect little treat to add to my bookshelves once our renovation is complete!

  1. Oliver W. Holmes (Over the Teacups, The Guardian Angel, Songs in Many Keys, Elsie Venner)
  2. R.L. Stevenson (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Treasure Island, Merry Men, Kidnapped)
  3. Joseph Conrad (Youth, Typhoon, Chance, Almayer's Folly)
  4. Rudyard Kipling (The Jungle Book, The Light that Failed, Just-So Stories, Soldiers Three)
  5. Charles Dickens (Dombey and Son, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist)
  6. H.W. Longfellow (The Golden Legend, Tales of a Wayside Inn, Evangeline, Hiawatha)
  7. Louisa M. Alcott (Little Women, Little Men, Eight Cousins, An Oldfashioned Girl)
  8. Sir J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan, Peter and Wendy, The Little Minister, A Window in Thrums)
  9. H.H. Jackson (Glimpses of California, Nelly's Silver Mine, Letters from a Cat, Ramona)
  10. T.W. Burgess (Lightfoot the Deer, Old Mother West Wind, Adventures of Reddy Fox, Mrs. Peter Rabbit)
  11. Cornelia Meigs (The Trade Winds, Rain on the Roof, Clearing Weather, The Crooked Apple Tree)
  12. Booth Tarkington (The Conquest of Canaan, Gentleman from Indiana, Monsieur Beaucaire, Penrod)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Revising My Goals

At the first of the new year, being full of grand hopes and resolutions, I was tempted to join challenges, publicly declare lofty goals, and was quick to renew my aim for reading 100 books in 2014.  I know myself well enough by now, however, to do myself the favor of forcing myself to let some time pass before jumping into too many things.  I'm glad I did!  I was able to really think through what I want this year to look like. Here's how I've decided to focus my reading life this year:

  • Since I've spent the last couple of years feeling like I haven't read enough nonfiction or classics, I decided to set myself a personal goal of reading 15 of each this year.  That's a few more than last year, but not a super crazy number. 
  • Related to the above, in order to ease off the pressure and encourage myself to read deeper, longer books, I've adjusted my GoodReads 2014 goal to 80 books instead of 100.  I hate seeing "You're 2 books behind" every time I finish a book...I get all anxious, which is pure silliness.  Who cares if I break 100?  Quality above quantity is the idea this year.
  • In keeping with my hope to get back into blogging, my goal is to post once a week.  So far, so good!  By going more informal, the pressure is off.  This is my time.
  • Since I've got a goal to read fifteen classics this year anyhow, I've decided to join in the Back to the Classics Challenge.  Go to Books and Chocolate to sign up before March 1st. At this point, I'm not planning on anything for the optional categories, but should have no problem with the others. Here's the scoop:
    • A 20th Century Classic -Death Comes to the Archbishop by Willa Cather
    • A 19th Century Classic -Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen
    • A Classic by a Woman Author -Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
    • A Classic in Translation -Les Miserables by Victory Hugo
    • A Classic About War -undecided
    • A Classic by an Author Who is New to You -Oil by Upton Sinclair
    • An American Classic [optional]
    • A Classic Mystery, Suspense, or Thriller [optional]
    • A Classic that has been adapted into a TV series or movie [optional]
    • A review of the above movie or TV series [optional]
A Classic About War...any suggestions?  Nothing is tickling my fancy for that one.  Maybe I'll re-read War and Peace. ;)

Monday, January 13, 2014


What really set the mood for last week was the death of my espresso machine.  We got back from Christmas break and found that someone had turned it on (possibly my eldest son but most probably the lady who came to clean house) and left it that way without any water in the boiler.  And now the boiler won't boil.  Hopefully it will be able to be repaired, but in the meantime, I need coffee.  I pulled a small coffeemaker out of my garage (I come with multiple back-up plans as far as coffee is concerned) and have proceeded to attempt to perfect drip coffee.  I think I've finally arrived, but it took me until the weekend.  It was a rough week!

I had a plan for the weekend, and it was a simple plan: finish reading my book on Saturday, blog about it on Sunday, and finish knitting a baby sweater in-between.  What actually happened was more like this: start catching up on blog posts about the renovation on Saturday, have a three-hour meeting about the electrical in the house on Sunday, and work on design decisions in-between.  Sigh.  I'm definitely ready to have the house done so I can have time to do other things.  While we have most of the decisions made, there is still a lot to do.  And I'm a slow decision maker (although I'm getting so much faster with all this practice) because I like to know all my options and really think things through.  Anyhow, the house absorbed all my lovely, cozy plans for the weekend.  The house will not be multi-tasked.

So I'm not done with The Lighthouse Road like I had hoped I would be.  It feels just as wonderful as his first (Safe From the Sea) which adds an element of I Don't Want It To Be Over Yet.  If you like historical fiction, but find that much of it feels contrived; if you like books with evocative settings, but don't want it to be overly poetic; if you don't mind a book that is happy/sad or a bit bleak; if you have connections to the Great Lakes or Norwegian immigrants; if any of these, then you may want to look into this book.  I love how simple and straightforward Geye's writing is—he is an author that simultaneously inspires me to write and makes me feel I'll never come close to good enough.  (As a sideline, if you are wondering how to pronounce his name, I found this entertaining interview that's well worth spending half a minute reading!)

Other Book-ish things this week?  I saw Catching Fire, which almost made me wish I'd read past the first book in the trilogy (sooo hard for me to do, generally speaking) since I enjoyed the movie so much.  And I saw the preview for Divergent, which I haven't read but do own.  I've been trying to convince my kiddos to read it with no luck.  (Oh! Last week I finally watched The Great Gatsby which I thought well done but for the fact that I was really hoping that the music would play a larger role in it than it did.)

There was something else I was going to mention but it completely slipped my mind.  :/  Maybe it'll pop back in by next weekend.  Until then, have a great reading week!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Short Stories and Retro Reads

I'm sitting by a fire in cozy socks, drinking Mexican hot chocolate in a hand-painted mug from Mexico (little things like that make me happy) and trying not to thinking about the fact that this coziness is all part of an elaborate attempt to recreate the effect of seasons in season-less land.  The truth of the matter is that earlier today I was barefoot with a tank-top on, complaining about the heat. SoCal is hard on a girl whose favorite season is winter!

Today I finished reading my first book of the year: Free Air by Sinclair Lewis.  Written in 1919, this was a novel about adventuring via automobiles—already an established American pasttime‐as well as a humorous look at the different social classes before the World Wars.  In some ways, it was a bizarre mash-up of F.Scott Fitzgerald and Willa Cather where socialites meet farmers.  I love how the literature of this era reflects the times, teaching so much about daily aggravations and expectations.  Driving back then, by the way, was a chore.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit, for all that it is apparently one of his lesser appreciated novels.  I liked his humor and his talent for highlighting human foibles.

The other thing I've been reading in bits and pieces is the latest Indiespensable selection: The Best of McSweeney's.  I had previously been entirely unaware of McSweeney's (soooo out of the loop in regards to literary journals!) but got pretty excited upon opening the package for a few reasons.  First, the paper quality is divine: a tactile delight!  Second, Powell's had six of the authors sign the inside of the book.  Third, the dust jacket is a poster in disguise.  And ultimately, all the writing has been wonderful thus far.  Most of the 600 pages is comprised of short stories, though there are letters, comics, and other goodies interspersed throughout.  It might take a little while to get through, but it will be worth it.

What are you starting your year out with?  Are you diving into challenges or taking it easy?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013: Full List and Stats

2013 was a crazy year, mostly due to having a 13yo daughter and being stuck in the middle of a major renovation, and I must admit that 2014 is already looking to be much better (both major items are making major progress).  Even with severe constraints on my time and mental capacity, I somehow managed to read more books than I thought I would.

Biggest success this year?  I read a lot more short stories than I ever have before.  Last year I made an [unsuccessful] attempt to love poetry, this year I focus on short stories and have really come to love them.  Yay!

Biggest goal for 2014? I'd really like to pull back into blogging, both for the social aspect and for how it lets me think through the books I read.  I miss you all—seeing what you are reading and talking about our observations and opinions.  I miss read-alongs.

I felt a lack of nonfiction and classics this year, but it looks like my nonfiction was on par—only my classics count was low.  My other stats are comparable to previous years, looking at the percentages, with one of the most interesting (to me) being the fact that my best reading months center around April, and my worst happen at the end of the year.  Makes sense, now that I think about it.

How many books read in 2013?
(16 less than 2012.  My goal is always to break 100, which I haven't done for the last couple of years, but it's still a good number!)

NONFICTION -  14% (11 books)  [15% in 2012, 14% in 2011]
FICTION -  86% (68 books)  [85% in 2012, 86% 2011]
  • CLASSICS - 15% (12 books) [18% in 2012, 30% in 2011 (novellas!)]
  • JUNIOR / TEEN - 19% (15 books) [21% in 2012, 20% in 2011]
  • ADULT FICTION - 52% (41 books) [46% in 2012, 36% 2011]

Male/Female authors?
FEMALE - 52% (41.5 books) [51% in 2012, 48% in 2011]
MALE - 48% (37.5 books) [49% in 2012, 52% in 2011]

OLDEST? Jane Austen's Persuasion, 1817
NEWEST? Guests on Earth by Lee Smith, late 2013
# WRITTEN BEFORE I WAS BORN? 28 [24 in 2012, 51 in 2011]
# WRITTEN THIS YEAR? 8 [9 in 2012, 20 in 2011]

Longest book read? Ireland by Frank Delaney @ 651pp
Shortest book read? Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl @ 81pp
Number of "chunksters" (450+ pages)? [12 in 2012, 10 in 2011]
Any in translation? 4 (2 modern, 2 classic)

Best/Worst Reading Month?
Best--April and May @ 11 books each [2011: March and April w/13 books each]
Worst--June, November, and December @ 4 books each [2011: September and October w/2 books each]

TOP FIVE of 2012: (I only had four 5-star books, and ten 4.5-star books, so this wasn't very difficult to figure out.  I didn't include Jane Austen's Persuasion, since it isn't new to me...it is an all-time favorite, though, a cherished reread that I highly recommend!)

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy (breathtakingly beautiful and imaginative)
The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan (wonderful, captivating nonfiction)
Whose Names are Unknown by Sanora Babb (better than Grapes of Wrath for sure)
My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather (real, intimate, honest, and simply complex)
The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler (quirky yet insightful)


and a comparison chart just for the fun of it--

Again, the most notable change in my reading in the last 5 years is the shift between Junior/Teen Fiction and Adult Fiction.  This is mostly because I'm homeschooling only one kiddo now.  The other [unfortunate] change is a decrease in classics and nonfiction.  I miss it dreadfully.  One of the side-effects of kiddos growing older is that they stay up later, thus infringing on my quality reading time (boo).  That is compounded by our house renovation that sucks time (and life) out of me.  (The good news is that our house should be complete by summertime.  Yay! THEN, I'll be able to unpack my books into their permanent home.  It'll be fabulous.)


Nonfiction: 14% (average rating 3.91)  [2012 average: 3.76, 2011 average: 3.56,2010 average: 3.74]
5 stars:
  - The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan
  - Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell
4.5 stars:
  - Below Stairs, Margaret Powell
4 stars:
  - The Famine Plot, Pat Coogan
  - The Water is Wide, Pat Conroy
  - Flapper, Joshua Zeitz
  - Fate is the Hunter, Ernest K. Gann
3.5 stars:
  - Two Guys Read Jane Austen, Chandler & Hill
  - Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston
  - Nelson Mandela: Portrait of an Extraordinary Man, Richard Stengel
2 stars:
  - Wild, Cheryl Strayed

Classics: 15% (average rating 3.96) [2012 average: 3.97, 2011 average: 3.74, 2010 average: 4.04]
5 stars:
  - Persuasion, Jane Austen
4.5 stars:
  - The Beautiful and Damned, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  - My Mortal Enemy, Willa Cather
  - The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
  - Whose Names are Unknown, Sanora Babb
4 stars:
  - The Professor's House, Willa Cather
  - The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis
3.5 stars:
  - Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw
  - The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  - A Room With a View, E.M. Forster
3 stars:
  - Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  - Eugene Onegin, Alexander Pushkin

Adult Fiction: 52% (average rating 3.64) [2012 average: 3.80, 2011 average: 3.81, 2010 average: 3.38]
5 stars:
  - The Illusion of Separateness, Simon Van Booy
4.5 stars:
  - River of Earth, James Still
  - Benediction, Kent Haruf
  - The Secret Lives of People in Love, Simon Van Booy
  - Mudbound, Hillary Jordan
  - The Beginner's Goodbye, Anne Tyler
4 stars:
  - The Death of Bees, Lisa O'Donnell
  - The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller
  - Some Tame Gazelle, Barbara Pym
  - The Heretic's Daughter, Kathleen Kent
  - The Last Runaway, Tracy Chevalier
  - Queen of the Big Time, Adriana Trigiani
  - A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
  - State of Wonder, Anne Patchett
  - Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? Lorrie Moore
  - Heat Lightning, Helen Hull
  - Kindred, Octavia E. Butler
  - Too Much Happiness, Alice Munro
3.5 stars:
  - Running the Rift, Naomi Benaron
  - Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver
  - Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie
  - Annie Dunne, Sebastian Barry
  - The Chaperone, Laura Moriarty
  - Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, Therese Anne Fowler
  - Bobcat and Other Stories, Rebecca Lee
  - Mary Coin, Marisa Silver
  - Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, Tom Franklin
  - The Prisoner of Heaven, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  - Possession, A.S. Byatt
  - The Childhood of Jesus, J.M. Coetzee
3 stars:
  - The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski
  - New Irish Short Stories, various authors
  - Ireland, Frank Delaney
  - Hikikomori and the Rental Sister, Jeff Backhaus
  - Follow the River, James Alexander Thom
  - An Unfinished Score, Elise Blackwell
  - When She Woke, Hillary Jordan
  - Guests on Earth, Lee Smith
2 stars:
  - Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures, Emma Straub
  - The Midwife of Hope River, Patricia Harman

Junior/Teen Fiction: 19% (average rating 3.83) [2012 average: 3.65, 2011: average rating 3.5, 2010: average 3.64]
4.5 stars:
  - The Wheel on the School, Meindert DeJong
  - The Enchanted Wood, Enid Blyton
4 stars:
  - Little Pear, Eleanor Francis Lattimore
  - Toothpaste Millionaire, Jean Merrill
  - Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren
  - The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
  - Coraline, Neil Gaiman
  - The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Roald Dahl
  - Pippi Goes on Board, Astrid Lindgren
  - Good Masters, Sweet Ladies, Laura Amy Schlitz
  - The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness
3.5 stars:
  - Emily's Runaway Imagination, Beverly Cleary
3 stars:
  - Gib and the Gray Ghost, Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  - The Story of Doctor Dolittle, Hugh Lofting
  - Black Horses for the King, Anne McCaffrey

For the Record: November and December 2013

Well, happy belated Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and happy New Year!  As years go, this has been a crazy one on many fronts, and Christmas snuck up on me more stealthily than it usually does, but I still managed to read a couple books (surprisingly!)  I'm technically on vacation, so I should be able to pull together my year-end posts here quite soon.  I must say that I'm antsy to get on with a new year. For now, though, here's how the last couple months have shaped up for me in the reading department.

4 Books Read in November &
4 Books Read in December: (79 total for 2013)

3 read aloud to my 9 year-old:
  - The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Roald Dahl (4) So much fun!  Now I know why my others kiddos loved the movie.  Of course, it is Roald Dahl, so I shouldn't be much surprised.
  - Pippi Goes on Board, Astrid Lindgren (3.5) I'm not much of a Pippi fan (she wears me out) but this one was more balanced than the first...which means that my 9yo didn't like it quite as much but I probably liked it more.  Still, Pippi exhausts me.
  - Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Laura Amy Schlitz (4) Not necessarily entertainment reading, but a fantastic addition to studies on Medieval times.

1 Nonfiction:
  - Nelson Mandela: Portrait of an Extraordinary Man, Richard Stengel (3.5) This book coincidentally arrived in my mailbox (from one of my book club friends that bought it on a trip to South Africa) on the same day that Nelson Mandela died, so I began reading it immediately.  It was a good introductory look at Mandela's life, arranged into an assortment of life lessons.  Good if you want a quick, cursory look; not the best choice if you are looking for an in-depth biography.

4 Others:
  - When She Woke, Hillary Jordan (3) My book club read Mudbound this month, which I read in August, so I read Jordan's newer book so that I would have more to contribute to the conversation. The two books are so opposite from each other!  My biggest complaint with When She Woke was that it didn't feel thoroughly thought-through...almost unfinished in some ways.  The first half of the book was intriguing, thoughtful, and promising, but the second half didn't deliver.  It seemed to transform into an action movie.  Weird.
  - Too Much Happiness, Alice Munro (4) While I was reading this, Munro won the Nobel Prize; a second happy literary coincidence!  My first experience with her, and another attempt to really appreciate the Short Story form.  A very good collection.  I think I like short stories after all
  - Guests on Earth, Lee Smith (3) I loved Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies, and I've been nearly obsessed with the 1920s and 1930s all year, but this book fell somewhat flat.  It was an alternate perspective on Zelda Fitzgerald, but ended up being more of a focus on the history of mental health care than anything else...and not even that in a very full sense.
  - The Ask and the Answer, Patrick Ness (4) I squeezed this book into the final minutes of the year - luckily it is a fast paced book that is easy to read in a crowd. (Very few books I read fall into this category!)  It is very well written teen dystopian fiction with intense action that spurs deeper thought.  It is also the second in a series...I rarely read the second in a series, but my 13yo daughter insisted I read on.  :)   I have a feeling I'll be reading the third (and final) book in the series sometime soon.


2 Current Reads:
  -  Oil, Upton Sinclair.  I'm about halfway through the audio and it has become a little slower in pace so my interest has slacked.  I don't get a whole lot of audio time, so this might last throughout January.
  - Free Air, Sinclair Lewis.  This is the first year in quite a while that I haven't begun my year with a Jane Austen book.  I forgot to bring my new (annotated, illustrated) copy of Sense & Sensibility on vacation with me, so that'll have to wait until I get home on Sunday.


On My Nightstand:
  - The Lighthouse Road, Peter Geye.
  - Breathing Lessons, Anne Tyler. My pick for our next book club read.  I'm looking forward to it!