Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Looking forward to another year of great reads and gardening!

Although I may skip the canning this year. I had really big pile of tomatoes and only wound up with 4 pints of salsa! And for the first time ever, my strawberry jam didn't set completely! I accidentally bought liquid pectin (which I've never used), instead of powdered, and you do things in a slightly different order! Sigh. At least the dilly beans were fine, and as always, pretty darn easy!

I'll stick to reading in these cold months and always looking forward to your great ideas!

Have a great and safe night.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Happy Birthday, Julia!

I hope you get to spend some time today doing something fun and/or decadent!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Change is bad

Goodreads keeps making tweaks and "improvements" to its interface. Are these really better? I find it disconcerting to go there and suddenly find a different-looking page. Once I get over my shock, I don't see it as being particularly different, just rearranged. As a creature of habit, I find this upsetting! (Not to worry, I do manage to adapt despite my curmugeonly ways.)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanks for good books, good friends, and good discussions! Hope you all had enough pumpkin pie with lots of whipped cream.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Jane Austen & Baseball

You have to sit through some other fun "tip of my hat/wag of my finger" items to get to Jane Austen's connection with baseball but it's worth the wait:


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Happy Birthday, Jen!

I hope you have wild and crazy plans ready for the weekend, or maybe just a wonderful stack of books and a never-ending pot of coffee!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Most Dangerous Game

I just read The Hunger Games, in which the heroine is forced to participate in a fight-to-the-death competition. A group of 24 starts; only one can survive, and win. In that totalitarian world, all citizens are required to watch the entire broadcast, and rich patrons can donate gifts that can aid the contestants' survival.

On Monday I saw a review for a new reality TV series, Cha$e. 10 contestants must avoid a band of hunters for an hour, all the while getting updated by cellphone and perhaps receiving tools that can buy them some safety. Somewhat disturbing premise, right after reading the book, though at least viewing is optional for us.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Well, I'll be...

I was fascinated by an author's proposal to give away her first book on the eve (well, two week window) of her next novel's debut. I know JNJ and I have both read The Reincarnationist, but it seems now may be the time for anyone else to follow, as you could read it for free!

It turns out you can follow the instructions to either download it free to your computer or Kindle until Oct31. What a great marketing idea--and very twenty-first century.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Too current

I guess I shouldn't find this so jarring, but twice in the last few weeks I've been surprised by finding something that seemed overly current in the books I was reading, though on reflection neither was particularly new.

First was the advance reading copy of Cornelia Funke's Inkdeath. Before each chapter is an epigraph; they come from various sources, and one was from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Okay, okay, after my first feeling of surprise I realized that it has been more than 10 years (!) since the first in the series came out.

But then, on the first page of It Sucks to Be Me by Kimberly Pauley, there is a reference to Stephenie Meyer. Twilight was published in 2005, so it's hardly brand-new either, but it still seemed a jolt. Maybe it was the thought that these works are becoming (or have already become) so much a part of the cultural fabric. Or maybe they seemed more current because the last book in each series was published more recently? I'll have to ruminate upon this.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

What page # are you on?

Is it just me or does the page # tracking feature on Goodreads seem a little Big Brother-y? Do you really want to know that I am on page 114 of Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice? If so, please also realize that I will probably stay on that same page for a long while because I've been lured away by other more escapist fare.

I think I'm on page 53 of Stalin's Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith. However, should I change that number tomorrow when I'm on page 73 . . . or page 54? If I read 100 pages, am I a "good" reader or was I just procrastinating a whole lot?

Just asking.

I guess I love making lists but I'm not so big on counting.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

RIP: David Foster Wallace

What seems like a million years ago, I remember picking up a paperback copy of "The Broom of the System." I think it was 1988 or 1989. As I started to read, I remember laughing, laughing, and laughing some more. Though I don't remember any plot points of the novel (time to re-read, yes!), I remember loving its snarky humor and witty wordplay. "Who was this guy?" I thought. Later, as David Foster Wallace wrote more books--short story collections, essays, and one fricking huge novel called "Infinite Jest," I continued to read and chuckle. I remember his essays about playing tennis as a teen (hot, Southern Illinois wind) and his hysterical exploration of the culture of cruise ships (food, food, and more food). Before David Sedaris, for me, there was David Foster Wallace.

Over the last few years, however, I had not thought of Wallace much.

Then, driving home from Chicago on Sunday, I heard the news that he had died--committed suicide actually--on Friday. I was surprised at how strong my reaction was to the news. I didn't know him. I had only read him and heard him read once at an independent bookstore. Yet, I was sad and angry and curiously shocked.

There have been several tributes (appreciations) in the New York Times already but I like this one today by VERLYN KLINKENBORG, his colleague at Pomona College.

I like how it shows David, the man and teacher, and not just the writer, though I realize it is impossible to separate these roles in any one. Anyway, I just wanted to write something instead of kick the wall and curse loudly about the absence of one more offbeat, self-aware, funny, and wickedly smart man in the world.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Darius 2.0

Welcome, Darius 2.0!

Well, sort of. We had a new addition to the family this weekend... a little black kitten! He does have white socks and a white "bib", so not exactly like Darius. But he does knead!

Story in brief: my aunt lives on the edge of a small town. She always has wild cats coming and going. She's seen 3 or 4 litters this summer. A few weeks ago, a tiny kitten with its eyes matted shut was wandering around alone. They watched for a day, then intervened - Mama cat was obviously no where around. Long story short, my mother and aunt maneuvered to get my kids attached to this kitten! He's incredibly people oriented, especially for these wild kittens who are very skittish.

His name is Roscoe, and about 8 weeks old. The kids are having fun!

This has really nothing to do with books or gardens, but figured you'd all want to know anyway....

Calling all you YA Readers!

Very interesting show on Minnesota Public Radio this morning (I think their first foray away from the very interesting, but save for another post, coverage of the RNC) about books for teens - "Does Catcher in the Rye still resonate with teens?". The book list isn't there yet, but they assured us it'd be up soon. In the meantime, if you have time to listen to some of it, grab it as a podcast. I think you'd all really enjoy the conversation.

NY Times articles

There were a couple of articles in the NY Times on Tuesday that I thought you all might be interested in.

I had heard about a new series that Rick Riordan was going to sketch out, but would be written by a number of other authors. Scholastic, the publisher of the series, has had a lot of voice in how the plot plays out not only in the books but in Web-based games. It sounds like Scholastic is trying to manufacture a Harry Potter-like media event; it will be interesting to see if it gets the audience they hope for.

There was also a brief bit about Stephenie Meyer putting off indefinitely the publication of the final book in the Twilight series. Final book??? I thought Breaking Dawn was the final book!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

School Days

Happy Back to School to you professor types! I hope you have great classes this fall. The weather, still sultry this morning, gave way to beautiful cool, fall air after a huge storm system went through midday.

From the other side, we got S. moved in at the U last week and J. hits the high school this year as a freshman. I get a giggle out of having two freshman, the kids don't really find it as amusing.

And keeping it fertile, you should see the tomato plants. Full and heavy with round green tomatos. I almost dread the day (and you know it will be all at once) when they all turn ripe and I have to drop everything and can salsa for my dear hubby. Hmm. I guess I need a little of that warm summer air back.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

More books online

A fellow bibliophile recommended two websites... I haven't spent much time on them, but they look fun!

  • - enter a title or author to get suggestions of other books

  • - enter an author and get a display of writers' names with your pick in the center. lots of new ideas - !

John Kennedy Toole shows up closest to Michael Chabon, ok, but Katie Fforde showing up next to Laurie R. King? Not so sure about that! Anyone find any other interesting connections?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Another adaptation

The Sookie Stackhouse vampire mysteries are coming to the screen! The small screen, since they will be a series on Showtime starting in September. This, along with the enormous popularity of Stephenie Meyer's series, and the movie being made of Twilight, makes me wonder if there's something about vampires that captures the mood of the nation?

YA versus A

There was an interesting article by Margo Rabb in the NY Times Book Review (7/20/08) about how some novels get classified as YA.

I was surprised to find out that a number of the authors she mentions didn't originally intend for their books to be YA, but it confirms my suspicion that a young protagonist tends to put the book in YA territory, no matter what the complexity, theme, or tone are.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Oh deer

Deer have become a big problem in Swarthmore over the last few years. The college backs up to some woods that have always been a deer habitat, but their population has exploded recently. It has become more and more common to see deer not just in the twilight near the woods, but at all times and places - a family of 5 bounding through the field during a soccer clinic at 10:30 am, wandering on a street in the afternoon, etc. 3 years ago we had our first deer damage in our yard, and we considered ourselves lucky: we have some friends whose yards are overrun to such an extent that if something isn't fenced, it's eaten.

Last night they struck again.

Our little garden received a severe setback. A large, almost-ripe tomato with a bite out of it, and another big one (just turning red) broken off. ALL the little tomatoes eaten off another plant. The top of every cucumber plant sliced off, along with their tiny cucumbers. The butternut squash and eggplants were okay, but we're grieving for our little plants.

There has been much debate about how to manage the deer population, with lots of back-and-forth about the relative benefits of sterilizing them, airlifting them elsewhere (!), or culling the herd. The plan right now is to have some sharpshooters go in, but not until December. Right now, I'm feeling that the sooner it's done, the better.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Happy Birthday JNJ!

Good afternoon to my summer birthday friend! Hope you are having a glorious, summer day birthday at home with family and friends.
Just wanted you to know I was thinking of you, and bundt cakes.

Have a great day!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Back to Fiction

Well, sort of. I've read more Tudor history in the last few weeks than ever before. Yes, I've enjoyed it. No, I didn't read every word of those biographies. However, I think I will attempt to find them used to purchase and have on hand.

Although I am a history geek, I still can't read those biographies! I tried, really I did. I did make it through quite a bit of a bio on Anne Boleyn and a history of Henry's 6 wives.... just not all of it. And I desperately need to return to fiction!

Despite my disillusionment with historical fiction of late, I'll give it another chance. Anyone have suggestions?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Books everyone has read...right?

I just read Anne of Green Gables, prompted by Julia's shock that I had never read the Anne books. Now, there are plenty of things I haven't read, and plenty of things that I'm sure you wouldn't necessarily expect that I would have read. But aren't there certain books that you just assume that your friends have also read? E confessed that he has never read Hamlet. (He did finally read the Odyssey as a condition of our marriage.) I've never read the Bible. Any other confessions to add?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Dr. Horrible

Though this is not directly related to a book, I do think Joss Whedon is a writing god. Here is a little project that he and some friends are working on called Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog. Here is Joss's explanation of what this project is all about:

Once upon a time, all the writers in the forest got very mad with the Forest Kings and declared a work-stoppage. The forest creatures were all sad; the mushrooms did not dance, the elderberries gave no juice for the festival wines, and the Teamsters were kinda pissed. (They were very polite about it, though.) During this work-stoppage, many writers tried to form partnerships for outside funding to create new work that circumvented the Forest King system.

Frustrated with the lack of movement on that front, I finally decided to do something very ambitious, very exciting, very mid-life-crisisy. Aided only by everyone I had worked with, was related to or had ever met, I single-handedly created this unique little epic. A supervillain musical, of which, as we all know, there are far too few.

The idea was to make it on the fly, on the cheap – but to make it. To turn out a really thrilling, professionalish piece of entertainment specifically for the internet. To show how much could be done with very little. To show the world there is another way. To give the public (and in particular you guys) something for all your support and patience. And to make a lot of silly jokes. Actually, that sentence probably should have come first.

I know not everyone is a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, but how can you not like a "supervillain musical" that stars both Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion. I, for one, cannot wait.

P.S. I promise a more literary post soon . . . really soon.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

E's list

Here is E's list from the Swarthmorean. You could list up to five favorite books and five to read this summer; he chose to go for a less effusive style than I did.


The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Michael Chabon (F)
I could say it’s a murder mystery with chess, Esperanto, pie, and Jews in Alaska, but would that really help? The plot and characters are engaging, but it really shines in the richness of its descriptions of everyday things.

Leadership Without Easy Answers, Ronald Heifetz (NF)
A welcome reminder in this election year that being a leader is less about being in a position of authority than about persuading people to take on the hard work of change for themselves, and that we all have responsibility to lead in the ways we can.

Moss Gardening, George Schenk (NF)
Why fight the moss in your lawn? This book is a great guide for enjoying the lush green carpet that grows so naturally in our shady borough.

To read:

The Lady of the Snakes, Rachel Pastan (F)
The Country Under My Skin, Gioconda Belli (F)
The Book of Getting Even, Benjamin Taylor (F)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Summer Reading

Every summer, our local paper, the Swarthmorean, solicits lists from readers. They ask for your five favorite books of the year and five on your summer reading list. E and I received a personal request from the editor to submit ours, so we did. Having my reviews on Goodreads was helpful, but paring it down to five was hard...and of course there's the fact that this is a public announcement of my reading habits, so I felt somewhat constrained by that. How to look somewhat erudite without totally disowning the YA books? I included comments about each book because it drives me crazy that a lot of people just have lists of titles with no explanations.

My favorites:
The World to Come, Dara Horn (F)
This book starts with an awkward singles cocktail party at the Jewish Museum and Ben Ziskind’s unlikely theft of a small Chagall painting. The narrative spins out forward and backwards in time from there, both detailing the consequences of his action and slowly filling in the pieces to explain how it became a family heirloom. Horn repeatedly returns to the themes of memory, beliefs, and trust in relationships.

Away, Amy Bloom (F)
It is amazing how many vivid environments Amy Bloom manages to create in this fairly short novel. Lillian Leyb leaves Russia after her family is killed in the pogroms and settles in New York in the 1920s. As she says early in the novel, “Az me muz, ken men” (When one must, one can), which describes Lillian’s approach to her new life. On her cross-country quest to find her lost daughter, Sophie, she moves through the worlds of other marginal people, adapting to their rules.

Lady of the Snakes, Rachel Pastan (F)
We follow Jane Levitsky during her first year as an assistant professor, dealing with the grind of all-new preparations and the pressure to publish; in addition, she has a toddler and a husband in law school. Meanwhile, the subject of her research, the wife of a 19th century Russian writer, becomes more than the breakthrough that might make her academic career. Jane measures herself by the Masha she knows through her diaries, and the parallels between them exacerbate but also vindicate her feelings. As Jane’s tenuous balance between her career and family starts to slip, we feel Jane’s anguish and desperation as she keeps looking to her Russian alter ego for answers.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver (NF)
I love Barbara Kingsolver’s writing, and I am a firm believer in seeking out locally-produced food, so I was pretty sure that I’d like her account of her family’s attempt to live a year as true locavores, growing much of their own food and finding local producers of anything they couldn’t grow themselves. I especially enjoyed her anecdotal sections about her daughter Lily, who was 9 at the time, and her budding chicken farm; trying to figure out how to encourage her turkeys to have sex; and her trip to Italy. I came away from reading this book with a strong desire to can tomatoes and make my own cheese.

The True Meaning of Smekday, Adam Rex (F)
This is an account of an alien invasion of Earth, written by 11-year-old Gratuity “Tip” Tucci for a time capsule contest. Her journey across the country with an alien named J.Lo. in a car that is souped up with alien technology would be harrowing if it weren’t so funny. Adam Rex punctuates the story with drawings and drawn “photos.”

To Read:
Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark trilogy (F)
I read and re-read his Prydain chronicles when I was a kid, but I’ve never read these.

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery (F)
One of my best friends from college was appalled to learn that I’ve never read this, so I promised to read it this summer.

The Red Queen, Margaret Drabble (F)
Recommended by Rachel when I said how much I enjoyed The Commoner.

Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin (NF)
My token non-fiction for the summer, Penn’s One Read pick for this year.

Lavinia, Ursula K. Le Guin (F)
A reworking of Vergil’s Aeneid by a wonderful writer.

Friday, June 13, 2008


I spent 20+ hours in the car in the last week driving to and from Indiana. We saw lots of late spring/early summer plants along the roadside! I have to admit it is much prettier than all the grass they used to mow.

In Wisconsin, we saw tons of lupines - mostly purple - along the road. In Indiana, we saw a type of plant that the rangers couldn't identify.... so we tried, and we think we got it, although now I can't for the life of me remember what it was! Hopefully SDMoose will see this and respond...

As for my own gardens (since we are supposed to blog about gardens as well as books...), the lupines here were startling when we got home. I planted these last year, and this year they are gorgeous!! I doubt they'll be this nice again, so I thought I'd post a picture for posterity.

The lupines are on the edge of my expanded rain garden. This year, I planted swamp milkweed, turtlehead, monkeyflower, prairie smoke grass, side oats grama and a couple more. Most of this I found at the Friends School Plant Sale in May. I will post more pics as these plants establish themselves...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

1980s Help!

M is doing research for a summer school class called "Spinning Through the Decades." She has decided to interview me about the 80s. So, fellow Carls of the 80s, help me out!! Movies, music, tv shows, fads, popular pastimes, fashions, famous people, events.... Any favorites come to mind? I've got quite a bit, but could use your help!!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Judy Blume is 70!?

And she looks pretty darn good, too! But it was surprising to learn she was 70 and has preteen grandchildren. The story was in this weekend's Strib, link may show up here:$sectionName. I'm never sure about my linking abilities. Also neat to see she's beginning another four book series to reach yet another generation of kids.

I don't believe Margaret would be "nearly 40". In my own mind, if I were to guess her age, I'd put her a few years older than us, rather than younger, mostly because of certain markers in her book, namely sanitary belts. They were available, I believe, in the mid to late 70's, but certainly a thing of the past for my age group as far as usage. I also read somewhere that Are You There God... was updated at some point...S. was never interested in her books, so I never reread that one. I did have a lot of fun rediscovering the Fudge books with J, after Double Fudge debuted.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

New Technologies in Reading

OK, we are all confirmed read-a-holics, right? So the past few weeks have been interestingly loaded with brushes with new technologies in reading...

Kindle: My brother recently purchased this gadget, as he travels a TON and is also an avid reader. It got a bit cumbersome to lug books, and often difficult to keep something new with him. I haven't heard much from him on how this works, but I am curious. Ann Althouse, on the other hand, doesn't approve at all! Have any of you tried this?

Online Reading Tests: M's school rolled out a new standardized test last year - all online. As I am a web pusher, one would think I would be fond of this. Well, I'm not. After M came home from the test once, I asked how it was. "Mom, we had to read on the computer. How are we supposed to do that??" was the answer... I had the chance to see the sample test, then asked to see the real test. Not impressed. I do web reading usability/accessibilty testing for a living - and these screens would've failed big time. I have talked to the test developing company and the district test coordinator. They assure me the new version of the test for next year is better, but won't show me sample screen shots! grrrr. So, in the meantime, I am not putting much weight into the reading score for this test. What do you all think a:bout testing reading skills online?

Small Victory: As many of you know, M has a minor reading disability that makes it uncomfortable for her to read. We just got an official, on paper, accomodation that she can use audio books/materials in place of written! Our biggest ally is M's current teacher whose daughter has a visual impairment. She's been a huge help.

Phew.. that was long!

Friday, May 23, 2008

1001 Books

In today's New York Times, William Grimes writes about a new book, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. In short, he points out that any such list is flawed by the the compiler's biases, but it's irresistible to go through and see how you've done. Without putting my hands on the book, though, I gather that I would do very poorly; I've never heard of some of the authors he mentions (Maria Edgeworth, Henry WIlliamson, Barry Hines) and haven't read anything by the ones I have heard of (Thackeray, Nabokov, Don DeLillo). I'm not sure what I'd put on my list; as we discussed for our top books of 2008, some of our "bests" are not necessarily the best literature, but the books that stay lurking in our minds long after we're done reading them.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Prequel Mania

Since I know some of you are fans, I just thought I'd mention Once Upon a Time in the North the Pullman prequel to the Compass stories. It's sort of an adventure with our wily balloonist, Lee Scoresby and Iorek, a certain armoured bear. J. is enjoying it, I may not get to it this go-round from the library!

Then, I heard about Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson. It seems to be getting ok reviews, and has been issued/written in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Anne Books. I haven't reserved it yet at the library (a surprise there!), because I'm a bit ambivalent about reading more in depth about Anne's hard luck life before she got off the train and met Matthew.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


One of my two favorite professors types alluded to their book list and the coming summer. Now, I know you're still busy, but does your load lighten enough to regain that feeling anticipation about summer that we had as kids?

My mom would let me check out as many books as I could carry, although looking back, I don't know why she never gave me a tote or something. I could do my yearly re-reads of favorite series and discover new books in the stacks. I remember the summer my youth Fretz Park Library card was stamped "adult collection", so I could check out books from anywhere in the library.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Happy Birthday!

Wishes for a very happy birthday for SC! Sorry I didn't post this earlier - things got a little too busy at work today. If only you lived closer, I would bake you a Bundt cake. (I ordered the cake's on its way.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

More on Bundt

In an amazing combination of two of my favorite (and perhaps oddest) obsessions, Bundt pans and cephalopods, Nordicware now makes an octopus cake pan. I must get one!!

Friday, April 11, 2008


Tulips are starting to bloom around here - none in our yard yet, but I've seen a bunch of them around town.

We planted a whole bunch in our neighbor's yard a couple of years ago, but a lot fewer have come up this year. (Our neighbors are not much for gardening, and there are very few sunny spots in either of our yards, so when we asked them if we could put some flowers in the front of their yard, they enthusiastically agreed. Now we maintain their garden, and they take care of our cats when we're on vacation.) It's a tough spot because it's only about a foot and a half back from the road, so it gets snow, ice, and salt in the winter (not that we get a lot of any of those things around here). I've heard that tulip bulbs can "wear out," but this seems awfully fast.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Airport Reading

So, here I sit in O'Hare, on my way to Montreal. Jenny - can you come visit me?? :-) I'm stuck because of the American Airlines thing they are doing - guess you can't argue with inspecting planes, huh? Flight was still on schedule when I left Mpls, but by the time I landed in Chicago, they had canceled. I am rescheduled for a flight at 7:50, (landed here at 11:45) so I have a few moments to kill.

So, of course I head for the bookstore. One of my guilty pleasures is to buy magazines and a book or two when I fly. Picked up Real Simple, Dwell and Minneapolis/SaintPaul magazines. I was intrigued by a book, "Loving Frank." So, I bought it. Go to enter it into my Goodreads, and lo and behold, it's in my To Read shelf!!! Funny how that happens. I've got plenty of time to get started, I guess!

We'll see if I can come up with more witty blog postings while I'm sitting here... if my laptop battery holds.

At least it's sunny here in Chicago. we haven't seen sun in days. I do finally have crocuses blooming. I think they just got tired of waiting!

Oh - Montreal. Means I can get HP7 in French!!! As appealing as that sounds, it is not the primary reason for my travels. I'm going to a conference - Museums & the Web. A great conference full of geeky hip IT web people....

Monday, April 7, 2008

Library sale

It was the library book sale this weekend, and as usual I got there early on the first day to get in line. It seems like there are more book dealers every year, and now some of them have hand-held scanners that they use as they stand by the tables. This year there were fewer books than usual - I guess fewer donations. I bought a bunch of things for A and T, and only ended up with four things for me. Considering that I still have a pile of 10 books from the fall sale, I guess that's not too disappointing.

My purchases:

My Year of Meats, Ruth Ozeki
Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser
Tender at the Bone, Ruth Reichl
P.S. I Love You, Cecelia Ahern

Friday, March 21, 2008

Thank you, Jon Hassler

One of my favorite authors passed away yesterday.

I first read Jon Hassler's books sometime late in high school or in college. I no longer remember which one I started with, who suggested it, or why I read them. I expect it was Staggerford, but who knows. I do know that I quickly read as many as I could, and read new ones as soon as they came out.

At one point in my life, when I had time, I stalked used book stores. I had certain titles and authors I looked for - trying to get first editions or at least nice hardcovers. The more "versions" of a hard cover I could find, the better. Hassler's books were a prime candidates for these searches.... In the end, I think I have first editions of four of his titles and numerous copies of other titles.

I don't have any signed copies, though. Considering he lived only a few miles from our old house, and down the street from a friend, I'm surprised I never had a book signed by him.

Maybe his books appealed to me because they all (I think) take place in Minnesota. More than that, though, I think it's the characters. I especially adore the spunky Agatha McGee and how Hassler aged her gracefully through five of his books. His characters were vivid, almost caricatures of real people. That's what made them so readable. I always had that sinking sensation at the end of a book when I finished - I didn't want to leave them.

Hassler was quite ill the last years of his life. Amazingly, he continued to write until just a few weeks ago, finishing a novel shortly before his death. I look forward to one more Hassler novel to enjoy.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Cool Nerd Queen

Okay, I kept trying to post this from home but I couldn't because Mac Technology (or Safari) as an internet browser isn't cool or nerdy enough so I had to to at work where PCs and Microsoft rule: says I'm a Cool Nerd Queen.  What are you?  Click here!

Not surprisingly, I'm high on lit nerdiness but not so much on computer/math related nerdiness. Hmmmm. I'm a bit surprised about the sci-fi comic score but I do own Firefly on DVD (and will someday have the complete boxed set of Battlestar Gallactica--the new version--sitting right next to my complete boxed set of The Wire).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Okay, I'm back from vacation and caught up enough to get to the serious business of finding out my nerdiness factors.

I tied with S!

I am nerdier than 57% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to find out!

And for Version 2.0, my lit geek score is sky-high. I assume the fact that I can lay my hands on a copy of the Iliad within 15 seconds jacked up my score quite a bit. I think I got some nerd-cred from having Pokemon figures in my house, though I really can't claim credit for them. (I have some in my purse even as I type this.) says I'm an Uber Cool History / Lit Geek.  What are you?  Click here!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cool History / Lit Geek

Thanks to the Mistress of all Evil,
I hereby confess my nerd score:
I am nerdier than 57% of all people. Are you a nerd? Click here to find out!

Can anyone top this?

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Friday, March 14, 2008

In which Holdenj is wonderfully surprised

After being homebound for so many days, and flying through several books on my pile, I was struck by the habit of children's books to have chapter titles. There's a real table of contents in most children's books, and some great, descriptive chapter titles.

The Boy Who Lived
I Learn How to Grow Zombies
We'll Weather the Blast
Marilla Makes Up her Mind
Grover Gets a Lamborghini

Having to pause a moment in the story is kind of nice sometimes. The chapter titles are often a teaser, probably great for read-aloud momentum! I flew through an adult book, The Reincarnationist it had 70 chapters, some of them only a page or two long. Dickens has chapter titles, but of course, he was serialized. But why not Evanovich or Kinsella? Does it slow the process down too much in today's busy world--maybe these authors are always under the gun the finish contractual obligations? I'm sure there are some current adult books with "real" chapter titles, but the ones in kids books are so unique and fitting.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Unfairly maligned

I know that classics professors don't have a very hip reputation. Remember the part in "The Sure Thing" when Ione Skye says, "You know what I've always wanted to be?" and John Cusack, responding to her uptight, obsessive-compulsive personality, says, "A classics Professor?"

In two books I've read recently there have been peripheral characters who were classics professors. In Caucasia, the mother's patrician upbringing - upon which she has turned her back - is exemplified by her father. He sounds like he was a fairly nice guy, and it was only after his death that Sandy really rebelled and got involved in the Black Power movement. In A Company of Swans, however, Eva Ibbotson creates a real monster of a father: far more concerned with his position at Cambridge than anything else, he notices his daughter only to worry about how she might disgrace him. He is stuffy, judgmental, bigoted, close-minded; he educates Harriet in Greek and Latin, but will not allow her to go to school (this is at the end of the 19th century).

There are also a number of books in which classics students do bad things - Donna Tartt's The Secret History, Carol Goodman's books, and Pamela Dean's transplantation of the Tam Lin myth into the classics department of a small liberal arts college in Minnesota.

Erich Segal usually has a classicist in his books (he is one, after all), and they are fairly neutral. But I don't think I've come across a piece of literature in which there is a hip, exciting classics professor or student who isn't also a total lunatic.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What does your bookshelf say about you?

Here is a fun article from entitled "Bookshelf and Self" by Scot McLemee. Actually, as is typical in this online journal, the comments in response to the article are as much fun as the article itself.

Happy reading!

P.S. Here's the link to the article that outlines one reader's (geek's) bookshelf etiquette.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Not Quite What I Was Planning (or Six-Word Memoirs: Life Stories Distilled)

I was procrastinating this morning from a particularly dreaded writing task and I stumbled upon this NPR story that was featured on Talk of the Nation on February 7, 2008.

Basically, an online memoir magazine, Smith, asked readers to write the story of their lives in a sentence or more accurately, six words (no more, no less) and they gathered some of the reponses into a book called Not Quite What I was Planning. Some of the examples include:

After Harvard, had baby with crackhead.

70 years, few tears, hairy ears.

The psychic said I'd be richer.

There are many more funny and touching examples both in the article and in the 12 minute excerpt from Talk of Nation. In addition, you can look at ones people submitted to Smith magazine and to NPR.

You know where I'm going with this, don't you? If you could write a story of your life (or lives) in six words, what would it be? Feel free to come up with as many versions as you want. Here are the two I came up with on short notice:

Stories, water, roadtrips, too little time.

Significant other, lost in the mail

Now, it's your turn (and time for me to get back to work).

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I meant to post about a week ago to say that our snowdrops are up, and there are some crocus and daffodil leaves that are making optimistic appearances. This is very typical of our area - we get some really early warm weather (a few days in the 60s), the plants go wild, and then it gets cold again. (Not Minnesota or Illinois cold, but freezing temperatures.) We're supposed to get a few inches of snow turning into freezing rain and ice tomorrow, so I fear for our courageous little bulbs!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

More 2007

Well, if we all don't mind, I'll just add ten books as a post as well! It was very easy to go right on down the lists!

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Talk about a book that stays with you long after you read it. The moon is hit by an asteriod, altering it's path and creating havoc with weather and waves here on earth. It's the story of a teen and her family and how they endure what becomes an increasingly frightening long winter. I hear she's written/is writing another story about the same incident, but on the East Coast.

The $64 Tomato by William Alexander

It's a memoir of a man's multi-year battle with his garden, the surrounding wildlife, weather and insects. I really enjoyed it.

Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen

I know, we've probably all read it by now, but it is one I find myself recommending to folks who haven't. I'm just sorry I had waited so long to read it myself. I enjoyed all of Jacob's life.

Thursday Next: First Among Sequels by Jasper Fforde

If you haven't entered the bookworld, you may be better off with one of the earlier ones for the set-up, but moving into Thursday's future life and family was great, even with the possible ending of the Chronoguard.

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas

The story of a Japanese-American internment camp in Colorado during WWII. Very much a coming of age story for Rennie Stroud, a la To Kill a Mockingbird.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Because who would have thought I would have waited with such excitement for the last book in a series as an adult. Kudos to J.K. for bringing that feeling of anticipation back to reading.

No, I Don't Want to Join a Bookclub by Virginia Ironside

As Marie hits her 60th year, she prefers to go about her next life stage under her rules, not everyone elses. It proves that life doesn't end at retirement and old flames and new babies are sometimes the best part of life.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

Completely worthy of the Newberry Honor book award it received this year. Holling is a great young voice for YA lit. His Wednesday afternoons at first feel like a punishment, staying in the classroom reading Shakespeare with Mrs. Baker. But as the school year moves on, we find ourselves wishing that maybe, we could be reading and learning something from Shakespeare every Wednesday as well.

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

Izzy Spellman is in the family business, a chaotic world of private investigation.

Austenland by Shannon Hale

In a year with many choices about novels tied into Austen and P&P, I found Jane Hayes's trip to a resort in England to be very engaging. The trip is made possible after the death of her aunt and Pembrook Park allows her to live as an Austen character. She has spent her dating life comparing men to Mr. Darcy--will she find a real one at last?

2007 redux

Instead of appending my top 10 as a comment, I'm going to start a new post - hope that's okay. Every year for Christmas I create a list of book recommendations for my sisters-in-law, so I have my list ready-made. It's a bit imperfect, since I left out a few things that might otherwise have made the list because I knew that they had already read them, like Harry Potter 7 and Water for Elephants, or because I was worried about suggesting books with lots of sex (Tipping the Velvet, The Crimson Petal and the White). I also cheated a little bit by including some series, so there are more than 10. But I know if I agonize over it any more, I won't ever get around to sharing my list, so here it is (in no particular order):

The Confessions of Max Tivoli, Andrew Sean Greer
Max is born an old man in the late 1871, and as he ages, his physical appearance becomes younger. The novel is a first-person account by the older Max, whose body now looks like a child’s. There’s some common ground with The Time-Traveler’s Wife, with the sense of being displaced in time, and the bittersweetness of a love that is doomed, and yet seems somehow fated to be. I also enjoyed the glimpse of turn-of-the-century San Francisco, where it is set.

Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
This is both sweeping in scope – from early 20th century Turkey, through Detroit during the Prohibition and in the 70’s race riots, to present-day Berlin – and microscopic in its narrative of the genetic anomaly that gets passed through this Greek family to create Calliope (later Cal) Stephanides, a hermaphrodite.

The Ha-Ha, Dave King
The narrator and protagonist is a middle-aged man who was brain damaged during his very short stint in the Vietnam War. He can no longer speak, read, or write, but he has normal intelligence and hearing. The novel starts with a call from Sylvia, his ex-girlfriend, who needs him to take her son, Ryan, while she is in rehab. Despite the depressing setup, it is beautifully told and very affecting.

Bitten, Kelley Armstrong
Elena is living in Toronto, trying to distance herself from her werewolf family when she is summoned back to the Pack. Armstrong writes convincingly of a complicated, strong, believable character, whose supernatural strength and cool confidence shield her inner turmoil. Her relationship with her Pack is also compelling – it is her foster family, and she feels a deep connection and loyalty to it, but she also resents it because it symbolizes her separation from the human world. There is some fairly graphic violence.

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Patricia Wrede
This is a great series, set in a magical, fairy-tale world, in which all the inhabitants know the tropes of fairy-tales; they know, for instance, that youngest sons are most likely to succeed in quests, and princesses need to be rescued. In the first one, Dealing with Dragons, we meet Cimorene, a princess who runs away and ends up living amongst the dragons. The subsequent books continue her story and the inhabitants of her magical world.

The Wednesday Wars, Gary D. Schmidt
Holling Hoodhood is a 7th grader on Long Island in 1967 who ends up reading Shakespeare every Wednesday afternoon with his teacher. At first he feels it is torture, but Mrs. Baker turns out to be an amazing teacher, mother figure, and track coach; Holling learns to figure things out for himself and to become a good person. Holling’s voice is absolutely believable.

Gregor the Overlander series, Suzanne Collins
Gregor is an immensely likeable boy who, in the first book, follows his baby sister through a grating and into another world below NYC. There he and Boots meet the Underlanders, plus a number of non-human allies (giant bats, cockroaches) and enemies (giant rats), and he is believed to be the Warrior in the Underlanders’ prophecy. Each book brings more challenges both in the Underland and above ground; Collins develops nuanced characters, and eschews easy solutions.

The True Meaning of Smekday, Adam Rex
This is an account of an alien invasion of Earth, written by 11-year-old Gratuity “Tip” Tucci for a time capsule contest. Her journey across the country with an alien named J.Lo. in a car that is souped up with alien technology would be harrowing if it weren’t so funny. Adam Rex punctuates the story with drawings and drawn “photos.”

Summerland, Michael Chabon
Although this is categorized as a young adult novel, the only thing that really conforms to this categorization is that the protagonist is 11 and the plot follows a coming-of-age narrative. However, the story is too complex and sprawling to be described simply. Chabon borrows from Native American mythology to create an alternate world; he then grafts baseball on as the common currency across all the worlds.

Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse, Stephenie Meyer
Klutzy Bella moves from sunny Phoenix to tiny, rainy Forks on the Olympic Peninsula to live with her father. There she meets Edward, we know from the book jacket that he is a vampire, so some of his inexplicable actions are perfectly clear to the reader, but there are still mysteries to be cleared up. Despite some clunky writing, I was swept up in their star-crossed love story.

A Look Back at 2007

I meant to write this entry sometime in late December and/or early January but as usual, I’m running a bit behind schedule. However, I wanted to get this list down before 2008 turned into 2009. So, my challenge to you is this (I feel so like John Cusack in High Fidelity right now). What were your top ten favorite books in 2007? They don’t have to be the best books you read, the ones reeking of literary merit, but rather what were the top ten books that sucked you into their world, stuck with you long after you finished them, and/or were a sheer joy to read? Here’s mine . . . in no particular order . . . well, not quite.

Case Histories: Kate Atkinson
On the surface a detective novel, but really so much more.

Dies the Fire: S.M. Stirling
Though he is not the best writer ever, the “what-if” scenario Stirling sets up in this book is one that continues to haunt me.

The Wire in the Blood: Val McDermid
I came to this writer through the British TV series based on her books and though I’m a sucker for Robson Green (the actor playing Tony Hill), I’m an even bigger sucker for McDermid’s writing. I can’t say what it is about the way she makes Tony Hill and Carol Jordan come alive on the page, but I love it.

The Tin Roof Blow-Down: James Lee Burke
Read this book set in post-Katrina New Orleans, watch Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke, and get really, really angry.

Heart-Shaped Box: Joe Hill
A well-constructed horror novel that just hit the spot.

Territory: Emma Bull
Bull reimagines Tombstone (Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, etc) as involving sorcery of an elemental kind and the result is an intriguing, fast-paced novel that ends way too soon.

Bridge of Sighs: Richard Russo
Richard Russo's latest novel again centers on small town life in a layered, multigenerational way. At the center of the story lies the relationship between three friends--Louis C. Lynch (Lucy), Sarah Berg, and Bobby Marconi but that is the center from which many radiated stories are explored. You're in the hands of a master storyteller and it all goes down smoothly.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: J.K. Rowling
Do I even need to say anything here? This is the book that I anticipated with a growing impatience last spring and when I finally got it in my hot little hands last summer, I did the hermit thing—retreated to my house and didn’t stop reading until I had finished it.

Away: Amy Bloom
Amy Bloom's novel grabbed me from the very beginning and elicited a mixture of emotions including, "Damm. Why can't I write like this?" It's the story of Lillian Leyb's journey through many worlds in the United States of the 20's--the Yiddish theatre scene in New York, the back alleys of Seattle, an "Agrarian Work Center for Women," and the wilds of Alaska. In less than 250 pages, Bloom pulled me to places I won't easily forget and did so with a short story writer's economy and grace.

World War Z: Max Brooks
It’s hard to describe a book as your favorite if it gave you nightmares, but truly this book affected me the most of any I read this last year. It’s set up as an oral history, a series of interviews with a diverse group of people from all over the world, and it explores the events surrounding a zombie “epidemic” that much like SARS and the bird flu begins in China. With its pandemic and The Band Played On echoes, this book is just realistic enough to make you profoundly uneasy. Even if you doubt that a zombie disease could infect mankind, you might start wondering when we will see that 1917 flu resurface again.

Okay, now that I’ve weighed in, it’s your turn. Give me your lists.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

I don't choose books to fit in with the season, so I'm not taking a break from Yiddish Policeman's Union to read a romance. However, it did make me think a bit about reading the right book at the right time. Is it good to read a book set in a cold place (e.g., Alaska) when it's cold out, or would it be better escapism to read something set on a desert island? Conversely, does it put a damper on a beach vacation to read something set in a cold/wet/snowy clime?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Author bios

I think I'm noticing a trend. It seems that several books I've read lately have an author biography on the back inside cover that includes a list of that author's previous jobs, heavy on the quirkiness. For instance, Rosemary Clement-Moore, author of Prom Dates from Hell, specifies that she has a master's degree but also an eclectic resume: "telephone operator, Chuck E. Cheese costumed character, ranch hand, teacher, actress, stage-hand, director, playwright." Is this inspirational - yes, though you have a series of dead-end jobs, you too may become an author - or just too cutesy for words?

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Pride and Procrastination

I am attempting to watch tonight's presentation of "Pride and Prejudice" on PBS, as I am currently reading the book and "Lost in Austen" (very amusing, by the way). I fear I am unable to do it justice at this point - one just CANNOT enjoy Colin Firth appropriately when ones CHILDREN are watching it with you. I feel the fine points of the film are over their heads, thank goodness, and that they are merely using it to procrastinate for the inevitable bedtime. Alas, I fear I will not be able to focus appropriate attention to this film at this time and must return anon.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

I did it!

Yes, I took a reusable bag into Target today! I thought the cashier would kick me out...seriously, I had a plan what to do when they told me I couldn't use my Trader Joe's bag! I don't think I've ever seen anyone walk out of SuperTarget with a reusable bag. Geez, I got bag credits at the co-op. Nothing at Target. Target seems like the "anti-reusable bag" mentality if I've ever seen it. I've been planning this "coup" but always manage to forget my bag in the car. And once you're in Target, who'd want to go back out to the car? So, today I remembered, and even more amazing, didn't even fill up my tropical-themed bag.

OK, so this has nothing to do with books or gardens, but felt like such an achievement, I had to share!

RIP Rosemary

Every fall we dig our rosemary plant out of the ground and put it into a pot. Every year, around this time, it starts turning black from the roots up until it's all crispy and dead. This year is no exception, alas; we have killed another rosemary plant.

I don't use tons of fresh rosemary in my cooking, but it's really nice being able to grab a sprig for something once in a while. And I just don't understand why we can't keep it alive throughout the winter.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Rereading Revisited

The Hobbled Runner just sent me a link to an article he saw about rereading. We have discussed this before - this article has some interesting commentary on this phenomenon. The premise here is that some books don't hold up the same - books that, as children or younger adults, we held in fond memory, don't provide the same experience upon a reread, and leave us disappointed.

Yet, she points out some titles that have done exactly the opposite. I have just had such an experience. I just finished rereading Catcher in the Rye. I remember enjoying it as a late teen/early 20-something, when I first read it. It was, however, a far more powerful experience as a 42-year old with totally different life experience. Painful. Touching. And, frustrating - in that I wish I could shake some of the adults in Holden's life. Don't they see what's going on with this kid? Believe me - I didn't see it this way at all as a teenager.

To quote the article, who in turn is quoting Michael Chabon after he reread Anna Karenina, " turned out to be an entirely different book than the one he remembered reading as an undergraduate."

I'm not sure we want to revisit this discussion, but it was an interesting essay for me to read after just rereading a compelling title. Then again, I'm on the record as being an avid re-reader!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Capture the Flag

The game Capture the Flag has showed up in two books I've read recently. The thing that struck me about it was that both times, the participants had extraordinary powers. In Hero, by Perry Moore, it is a group of probationary superheroes; though they are supposed to be playing without using their powers, some of them use a little extra speed to get places. The other one is one of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson books. I can't remember which one it was, but the half-divine campers of Camp Halfblood play a pretty harsh game of Capture the Flag complete with swords, armor, arrows, etc.

Do normal people play Capture the Flag, in real life or in books? Or is it just people with supernatural powers?

Saturday, January 19, 2008


A just got a new set of Scholastic Book order forms in his backpack, and once again I'm struck by how little they appeal to me. A huge number of the books are movie tie-ins: High School Musical 2 and Hannah Montana loom large; there's also Alvin and the Chipmunks, and The Golden Compass in picture-book format, complete with replica alethiometer.

There are some books that I wouldn't mind buying, but they tend to be bundled with books that I either don't want or already own: Newbery Award winners, boxed sets of Artemis Fowl (I only need one more to have the set; I don't need #1-4!), etc.

At the risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon, back when I was a kid, there were tons of great choices. I don't remember non-books being an option, but there are tons of them now (an American Idol Event Planner, Bratz fashion design pack, Spymaster voice disguiser to name a few).

I want to encourage my kids to choose good books, but they are so few and far between that I don't think that this is the right venue.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Marking the spot

My friend K, (the one in NE that was so excited about goodreads but has yet to sign up as my friend!), dropped a book in the mail the day after we spoke. I'm reading Nineteen Minutes now, it was a previous book group pick from a few months ago. She had lent it to another friend before sending it to me.

Well, using my great skills of observation, it turns out one of them is a small fold in the corner dog-ear place marker and the other seems to be one of those folks who puts that corner all the way down on the line they stopped on.

I always use a bookmark of some sort. Always have. My guess is we're all one way or the other.....

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Happiness is...

I'm so happy.

When I was a kid, some of my favorite books were Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time plus the sequels, Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series, and Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain. (I had other books that I read and reread, but I would rank these three series as the top three, in no particular order.)

A. is a voracious reader, but isn't ready for the first two sets of books; I had gently pushed The Book of the Three on him a while ago, and he gently pushed it back. Last weekend, though, he picked it up again...and he loves it! He has been reading favorite parts out loud and asking me which characters I like. I have known Taran, Gurgi, and Fflewddur Fflam for such a long time; having A. meet them for the first time is like reliving a very important part of my childhood.

Lloyd Alexander did a book-signing in a little toy store in our town when A. was about 2 years old. He was fairly reticent - I read later that he was extremely shy - but when I asked him to sign a first-edition copy of The Book of Three and told him how much the series meant to me, he became quite animated. I remember telling him how much I was looking forward to sharing the books with my son - and now I am.

This is true happiness.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Made it to the plains

I've always heard that fads and fashions work their way into the center of the country from the coasts.

Well, just got off the phone with my friend Krissy, in Lincoln, NE (perhaps a little west of center, but getting there!), and she was all excited about something someone brought up at their bookclub last night. Yep,! She was surprised/not surpised I'd already heard of it, and I've duly sent her the link to be a friend. I don't know why I hadn't before, except of the ones I'd originally sent out back in Sept, only JTM signed up. So, I guess I just kind of stopped, and kept reading and posting!

Reading is such a solitary endeavor at times and this makes it so interesting. I hope she'll sign up and add a few of her own good ideas from the NE book club.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

2007 recap

164 books v. 685 loads of laundry.


I just don't know about this being a grown-up stuff. Seems like there should be more time for fun!

(before you think I'm completely crazy, the addition of a new front-loading washer started the whole tally marks in the laundry room craze).

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year's Resolutions

I've pretty much given up on making New Year's Resolutions since they're always the same - exercise more, lose weight, be more patient with the kids. It's hard to consider them binding when they've been my resolutions for...I don't even know how long.

I thought about resolving to read more challenging fiction, or at least set a ratio for myself. One serious work for every two young adult novels, or something like that. But what's the point of reading if it ends up being a chore? We've all talked about the pile on the bedside table and the lure of the new book shelf at the library. Why deprive myself?

Why, indeed. My resolution is to read whatever strikes my fancy, when it strikes my fancy, and to enjoy myself as I do so.

Happy New Year!