Saturday, June 30, 2007

Pop Quiz

It's a warm, muggy Saturday afternoon.
Both kids are napping in their cribs.
Husband is napping on the couch.

Do I . . .

A. clean up the bowls, forks, glasses, napkins, and cartons from the leftover-Chinese-food lunch

B. mop the kitchen floor because it really needs doing

C. go lay in bed right now and read The Magnificent Ambersons

D. sit here at the computer for a little longer and play with my blog, even though I just cleared all the bolds off my Bloglines list and added a few more feeds (hi Kookiejar, Book Chase, and dovegreyreader scribbles.)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Books! I Bought Some

Coming from Amazon:

Stick Kid by Peter Holwitz
saw this on Hidden Side of a Leaf and had to have it

Uncommon Carriers by John McPhee
I'm a huge John McPhee fan and this just came out in paperback

Gone to New York: Adventures in the City by Ian Frazier
I love creative nonfiction (see above) and I'm an Ian Frazier fan, too. So I thought this one would be good for the Armchair Traveler Challenge.

See You in 100 Years: Four Seasons in Forgotten America by Logan Ward
This is a local writer-he's a member of the writers' organization for which I am the bookkeeper. I thought it might qualify for the Armchair Traveler Challenge and also I like to read the locals' work.

Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick
To read along with the Slaves of Golconda.

Bought yesterday at my favorite used bookstore:

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
I've been hearing great things about this from other book bloggers. I love YA books and I used to be a big vampire-book reader so there you go.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Again, heard good things from book bloggers.

Bought at Borders last week:

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
I've never read Sarah Waters--thought I'd rectify that situation

Friday, June 22, 2007

The Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge

I have finally assembled a list for this challenge which I must take part in because it's hosted by the illustrious Lesley at A Life in Books. How could I refuse? Some of these may be stretches, but maybe not.

by Ian Frazier
Reason for reading: Ian Frazier is one of my favorite literary nonfiction writers and my sister just moved to Astoria, Queens.

The Historian (Eastern Europe)
by Elizabeth Kostova
Reason for reading: I bought it a long time ago and it's one of those TBRs that's been hanging out under the night table.

Blue Latitudes (world exploration)
by Tony Horwitz
Reason for reading: Although I hated Confederates in the Attic, I still like the genre of literary nonfiction and if there were ever a travel-themed book, here it is.

Uncommon Carriers (transcontinental US, Canada, Europe)
by John McPhee

Reason for reading: Although this book is about freight transportation and shipping it's also about travel because travel is an intrinsic part of shipping and freight. McPhee travels with cargo from Nova Scotia to Kentucky, New England, France, and the Illinois River.

by Logan Ward

Reason for reading: The main concept of this book is along the lines of those PBS House series where a group of people lives in the setting of a specific time period in history to experience it firsthand. Yet there is a strong sense of place in it as well since the family has relocated from NYC to a small community in western Virginia which becomes a huge part of their lives.

by Heather Lende

Wide Sargasso Sea (Caribbean)
by Jean Rhys

Tropic of Cancer (Paris)
Henry Miller

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pulitzer Project: Book 1

His Family by Ernest Poole. Won in 1918.

This is what they wore:

This is what they drove.

This was their New York.

Trinity Church in lower Manhattan. Basically this would be a picture of Ground Zero now, except the church is OK.

His Family is a portrait of a middle class New York family headed by a widowed father trying to make sense of his changing family within the context of a changing world and an evolving New York. Roger Gale is the father of three daughters--Edith, a traditional stay-home mom to five children; Deborah, a radical social reformer heavily involved in the public school system and improving life in the tenements for the city's growing immigrant population; and Laura, the youngest, a party girl with expensive taste and no social conscience.

It's not an action-packed novel, but more a comment on the times. World War I was beginning, cars and buses were becoming ubiquitous, the immigrant population was rapidly growing, skyscrapers and high-rises were going up every day. Grand Central Terminal opened on Feb. 2, 1913. Women suffragists were hard at work and would win the right to vote in six years. It was a time of great change and everyone was trying to adapt and keep up. Yet, the book is also about continuity and how times evolve and generations come one after the other, creating what we have in the present. Throughout the book, Roger is either stressed about the troubles his kids are creating all around him, or reflecting nostalgically back on his childhood in the mountains of New Hampshire and how it was early in his marriage when he first moved to New York. A recurring theme is that as we go through life, we always feel young, like we're just starting out with something, and don't really notice that time is moving on and on until something momentous happens, like a new grandchild or the death of a close relative.

Ernest Poole was not known for this novel, but for The Harbor, a novel with a "strong socialist message." It was interesting to see the changing views by and about women at the time and how things were so similar to today despite the "old-fashioned" setting. There was the issue of stay-home mom vs. a working mom and about helping the poor vs. helping your family first, and there was a lot of family drama.

"To throw someone over" was one antiquated phrase I hadn't heard before. It means "to break up with someone." Otherwise, the language and everyday phrases really haven't changed much in 100 years.

I'm excited to keep going with this project because it's almost like going back in time and then coming back to the present year by year, stopping once a year for a glimpse into everyday life.

I've already started The Magnificent Ambersons which won in 1919, but I'm taking a break from it already to read The Mermaids Singing for The Written Word.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I'm Back

A new batch of chefs has graduated. Tall white hats were flying. My sister was valedictorian and won two awards, one of which was the same award Sara Moulton won when she graduated there in 1977.

Our hotel was directly across from the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt so we visited there, too.

Blogger doesn't feel like uploading photos right now (or I don't feel like waiting long enough) so I'll post some later. I have a picture of FDR's library.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Mini Vacation!

See ya, folks. I'm off to upstate New York for my sister's graduation from The Culinary Institute of America. My sister will officially be a chef. I'll only be gone until Saturday--it's a mini-trip because I can't leave Zen Baby (Thanks, Liesl!) for too long.

I really and truly need this break. It'll just be my parents and me going. I think I need some uninterrupted sleep, some time to be me, and some space to clear my mind a little bit. Because I'm absolutely addled. Here are some of the things I've done in the past week alone:

  • trimmed 8 of my 10 fingernails and didn't notice for days
  • took out the kitchen garbage and never put a new garbage bag in--when M. went to take it out on garbage day, it was full and NASTY with leftovers, eggs, green pepper cores and tomato scraps, coffee grounds, etc.
  • tried to get Little Guy to leave the house without shoes on, again
  • walked right past my car after leaving Borders and tried to get into someone else's with my key (I think that one disturbed Little Guy a little)
  • my friend just told me her cell phone number and I wrote it down. Then got in the car and tried to call it, but got it one number off and called her husband instead. When I met her I told her she had given me the wrong number. When I got home, I saw that I had written down the correct one.
  • put Zen Baby (in her carrier) in the car without strapping her in--luckily I noticed before I drove away
  • continuously forget to buy things at the store
  • I think there was one more but I forgot it.

Plus I was up last night from 2 am to 5 am with Zen Baby.

I have 60 pages to go on His Family. So I'll work on that tonight and on the plane (short flight to Newark) and I'll bring The Magnificent Ambersons to start there. After I finish that, it'll probably be July and I can start in on the Book Awards Challenge.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Book Awards Reading Challenge

Here is my challenge list after days of deliberation. I'm so excited about this challenge. I've decided to use it to branch myself out into genres I don't usually read and to expose myself to new authors I haven't encountered yet. I've also selfishly included some Pulitzer-prize winners to further my own personal goal of working my way through all of those. But I kept the number down to three to keep the spirit of a challenge.

1. On Beauty by Zadie Smith (Orange)
I've been wanting to read this for awhile and recently bought White Teeth, which I haven't read yet, either.

2. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin (Nebula)
Having recently finished the Earthsea books, I am a renewed fan of LeGuin's. (I remember liking her as a kid after reading the first Earthsea book.) I'm curious about her other works.

3. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (Pulitzer)
This is the third Pulitzer winner. I'm planning on having finished the first two in June.

4. Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington (Pulitzer)
This the fourth Pulitzer winner. Again, to pursue the completion of my personal goal.

5. The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (Newbery)
I like YA and children's novels. I'm curious about the most recent winner.

6. Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins (Newbery)
If you read the most recent winner, you might as well read the next to most recent winner. You never know when you'll want to finish that list, too, one day.

7. Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear (Agatha)
I never read mysteries so this is a genre I wanted to represent in this challenge. I checked through the Edgar winners but they looked too scary for me (probably why I tend to shy away from mysteries). But on the Malice Domestic website Agatha winners are described as "...mysteries that contain no explicit sex, excessive gore, or gratuitous violence; usually featuring an amateur detective, they have a confined setting and characters who know one another." Sounds like my cup of tea.

I'll read Maisie Dobbs first so I'm all caught up.

8. Possession by A.S. Byatt (Man Booker)
I recently bought this at the used bookstore. Thought I'd throw in a few TBRs.

9. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon (Costa/Whitbread)
My brother and his fiancée read this in Iraq while they were stationed in Fallujah and they liked it. I've been wanting to read it for awhile.

10. Spin by Robert Charles Wilson (Hugo)
Branching out into science fiction

11. Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia A. McKillip (World Fantasy)
Further explorations into the fantasy genre

12. The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton by Jane Smiley (Spur)
Definitely new territory for me, the western-set novels. Plus I started Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel but have never read any of Jane Smiley's fiction.


1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (Man Booker)
own it-TBR
2. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (Nebula)
3. American Gods by Neil Gaiman (Nebula)
I keep hearing about Neil Gaiman from other book bloggers.
4. Dune by Frank Herbert (Nebula)
I think I remember my dad reading this in the early 80s. I never had an interest but now I'm curious.
5. Sophie's Choice by William Styron (National Book Award)
6. One of Ours by Willa Cather (Pulitzer)
Pulitzer goal; 5th winner

Friday, June 08, 2007

Reader In Training

It turns out you no longer have to be able to write your own name to get a library card. At least that was the rule when I was little.

We went to sign up for the library's summer reading program this year and every person has to have a library card. So Little Guy signed up and now he has his very own card! Needless to say, it was a proud moment. (And then he stuck the sticker to the kitchen table.)

We didn't sign up last year because I felt he was too young, turning 2. Of course we read him books all the time, but I didn't see a need to have him be in the program. But now that he's almost a pre-schooler (turning three in August), why not? It also turns out that newborns are eligible. Is that silly? I guess if it encourages people to read to their kids, then all the better. But Baby Sister will not be joining the Summer Reading Program this year. Instead, this summer she will focus on yoga, most specifically the modified Cobra pose.

State of the Night Table

Danielle recently asked if anyone was willing to share a picture of their night table's book piles and I happened to have one already on the computer, so here it is.

Actually, this picture was taken on 7/19/05, so just about two years ago and the funny thing is, it looks almost exactly the same. The main difference is that the big pile on the floor is now two piles on the shelf under the table. A few of those books I've read like Confederates in the Attic, Bel Canto, The Known World, and The History of Love and are still sitting there. But some I still haven't gotten to yet like The Historian, Blue Latitudes, and PrairyErth.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

For You

This rainbow is for Nattie from Nattie Writes.

Reading Quote from His Family

This is said by a librarian who was a poor immigrant when he came to New York while he's giving a tour of his small public library.

"They read all, all!" cried Isadore. "Look at this Darwin on my desk. In a year so many have read this book it is a case for the board of health. And look at this shelf of economics. I place it next to astronomy. And I say to these people, 'Yes, read about jobs and your hours and wages. Yes, you must strike, you must have better lives. But you must read also about the stars--and about the big spaces--silent--not one single little sound for many, many million years. To be free you must grow as big as that--inside of your head, inside of your soul. It is not enough to be free of a czar, a kaiser or a sweatshop boss. What will you do when they are gone? My fine people, how will you run the world? You are deaf and blind, you must be free to open your own ears and eyes, to look into the books and see what is there--great thoughts and feelings, great ideas! And when you have seen, then you must think--you must think it all out every time! That is freedom!" He stopped abruptly. Again on his dark features came a huge and winning smile, and with an apologetic shrug, "But I talk too much of my books," he said. "Come. Shall we go to my cafe?"

Momentary SAHM Blues, or No, I Don't Want to Go In the Playroom Right Now!

I think I need to join a real-life book club or writer's workshop. Something for which I'll have to get out of the house at least once a month. When I was teaching Wilton cake decorating classes, I was guaranteed to get out once a week (two at first). And when I quit, M. said he'll definitely help me get out of the house for a "me" night once a week. But I stopped teaching in December, and have I had any "me" nights? No. Of course, this is just as much my fault. I could make it happen and I should. It's like teaching school. You'd much rather go to school than take the day off because getting ready for a sub is so much work. So it's just easier to go to work yourself. It's the same with being a SAHM/house manager. For me, at least. I'm sure some dads have it all under control and the kids don't bat an eye if the mom steps out.

I guess it's just with M. building the shed in the backyard with only the help of his dad, my dad (sometimes), and a friend, I've been a single mom since the middle of May. And it's a big shed. A car could fit in there and it has a second story. So when he's not working late, he's outside after work doing the shed and working on it all weekend until after kids are in bed. So it's all kids, all the time. And, well, I didn't want to kvetch, but since I am already... The other night, Baby Sister was still wide awake at 11:30 pm. (I had let her take a very late nap that day.) This was after Little Guy had been up until 12 am the night before with a stomachache and then I had to get up at 6 that morning with Baby. So I was tired that night, and, of course, had been with the kids all day, but Baby was still going strong. So I'm carrying her around and M. is lying on the couch watching TV. Then at about 11:45, he starts asking me about Fahrenheit 451. At last, adult conversation!! About books!! So I answer his questions, he takes the book upstairs and goes to bed! This is a man who reads maybe 2 books a year, if that. (Yes, I married a non-reader.) Leaving me to stay up until 12:30 or 1, when Baby finally fell asleep. I was so jealous of his free reading time and his going-to-bed-whenever-I-want attitude.

OK, I'm done. If I had labels for this blog, this one would be boring kvetching.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Arco Iris

October 10, 2005--Outer Banks

Biggest one I've ever seen.

Liriodendron tulipifera

I love scientific names. It was my favorite part of 7th grade biology.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Mr. Bradbury, It's Happening Already!

Saw this article at Danielle's and thought it apropos in light (no pun intended) of my recent posts.

And yes, it does seem like a tricky way to sell books. But what it sounds like to me is that the bookstore owner just got really frustrated that he couldn't get rid of his books the way he originally wanted to and needed to take out his aggression.

Either way, it's an awfully dramatic move.

And it's true. It's hard to say much more without being judgmental.

See comments for more discussion.

More Thoughts on Fahrenheit

So I already knew I might not read Children of Men right now and now I definitely know in my gut that it's not my time to read The Road. That's the hard part about challenges. Reading is an organic process, I think, for most people, and often I can't just plan out what I will read ahead of time and stick with it. I never know what I really want to read next until I finish the current book. Anyway, this challenge goes until November 6 so I'll probably pick up my last two books this fall.

Dewey kindly pointed me toward an extremely interesting article about Ray Bradbury's intentions with Fahrenheit 451. (Thanks so much, Dewey!) It's not about banned books or government censorship as so many people seem to think. And, if you read the book, you will see that there are pages of explanation by one of the characters telling how the book burning came about. It was society's choice. Books began to be shortened little by little and anything contentious was eliminated until the point where books were little more than footnotes. By "anything contentious" I mean anything that could possibly offend anyone. And that brings me back to my fascination with Ray Bradbury's insights into the society of the future. Not only did he foresee the prevalence of television and the disconnect between nature and human society, but he also predicted hyper-political correctness.

"You must understand that our civilization is so vast that we can't have our minorities upset and stirred. Ask yourself, What do we want in this country, above all? People want to be happy, isn't that right? Haven't you heard it all your life? I want to be happy, people say. Well, aren't they? Don't we keep them moving, don't we give them fun? That's all we live for, isn't it? For pleasure, for titillation? And you must admit our culture provides plenty of these."

"Colored people don't like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don't feel good about Uncle Tom's Cabin. Burn it. Someone's written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. "

"Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, topheavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals . . . Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of 'facts' they feel stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. . . . Don't give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy."

I just finished this book and already I want to read it again.

Here is Ray Bradbury's website. There are video clips of him explaining, among other things, how he feels about television, censorship, and Fahrenheit 451.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Cake Pending

I have to make a Shrek cake for my nephew's 7th birthday in a few weeks. Here's the cake I made for him last year.

That's a buttercream transfer. I'm going to have to probably do this year's the same way with a Shrek picture.

Baby Sister Sleeps

Dare I say it? I think I see a schedule forming. Baby Sister (I still need a blog name for her) is starting to go down regularly for a morning nap about 10 am. Then an afternoon nap, still fuzzy, but around 3:30 or 5ish. And then last feeding between 8 and 10 pm. Then she's down for the night until 7 am or sometimes gets up for a bottle around 4 or 5 am. But then goes back to sleep. She's just a better sleeper all around than Little Guy was, but he was suffering from eczema and must have been so itchy the first 5 months of his life. And, of course, there's the bottle vs. breast thing. But also, I think it's just her personality. Already she seems more laid back than he was/is. And she was born into a noisy house. When it was just Little Guy and I, it was pretty quiet around here so he was used to sleeping in quiet. She can sleep through tantrums, the vacuum, toy drums, etc. She'll be three months old tomorrow so maybe the grandmothers are right; three months really is the magic number.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Pulitzer Number One: His Family: 1918

First of all, my obnoxious plan to read all the Pulitzers does not merit the lovely comments I received on my last post about it. But the comments were lovely, indeed. Who knows how far I'll get with this, but I know I won't get very far this summer. I'll try, though. It may take me years. I may just quit.

So I'm just beginning His Family by Ernest Poole. It won the first Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. No award was given in 1917. It's takes place in New York City at the turn of the century. It's about a widower who is struggling to get to know his three grown daughters better before he dies. He sees how "modern" they are and how times are changing. He's most aware,though, of the changes in the city. He notices and dwells upon the city's evolution, from the stories told to him by people of his parents' generation, to how it was when he first moved there as a young man (horse-drawn carriages in the streets), to what it's becoming at the time the story takes place. Highrises are going up in his neighborhood, minority populations are growing (and by minority he means Italians and Jews), and his daughters go out dancing at night. It should be interesting to see where this goes.

Fahrenheit 451: Fourth Book for Dystopian Challenge

I know I had read this book before, but I didn't remember a thing about it. Also, I had it mixed up in my head with a short story from The Martian Chronicles. (The one where the last person in the town hears the phone ring and tries to figure out where it's coming from. That's all I remember.)

So Fahrenheit 451 is about a fireman named Montag. You can't call him the politically correct firefighter because he does exactly the opposite. He starts fires. Firemen, in Bradbury's "future" society, set fire to homes for which they've gotten the alarm or a tip-off that there are books on the premises. Montag, at first, enjoys his job. His wife stays home, drugs herself, and watches TV all day, except that the TV is huge and takes up whole walls and you can interact with it. After Montag meets a strange and different teenager on his block, he begins to see things in a different light and realizes that there is more to life than what his society has become.

I agree that this book has earned its status as a classic. But what truly amazes me is Ray Bradbury's extremely insightful portrayal of the future. For instance, the book was published in 1953. TV had only really gotten off the ground 5 or 6 years before. I think only about half of the American population even had TVs in 1953, and 1953 was also the first year that color television was available. I think it's just amazing how he was able to foresee the power and influence that TV would gain over the years. Of course, we don't have TVs on all four walls in a room BUT-- we do have ever-increasingly larger screens available, some people do spend all day with it, some people are obsessed with certain shows or actors. It's a big part of almost everyone's lives.

The people in the book are so out of touch with the natural world, human emotion, art, or any kind of deep thought. Everything is supposed to be vacuous and fun. In a conversation between two of Montag's wife's friends about how their children are, one of them says she has no children and the other says she had two by Cesarean even though her doctor told her she didn't need to. She said something along of the lines of it being easier to have had the surgery. (Then she puts the kids in front of the TV when they're not at school.) Again, in light of the current issue of unnecessary C-sections, Ray Bradbury was spot on.

Our society is not like the one in Fahrenheit (although the book takes place sometime in the 90s.) But it could be. So everyone, keep reading! Love your books and keep them alive.