"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, September 30, 2021


Title: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri 

Book Beginnings quote (from "A Temporary Matter"):

The notice informed them that it was a temporary matter; for five days their electricity would be cut off for one hour, beginning at eight P.M.

Friday56 quote (from "Interpreter of Maladies"):

When he finished writing his address Mr. Kapasi handed her the paper, but as soon as he did he worried that he had either misspelled his name, or accidentally reverse the numbers of his postal code.

Summary: This 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner is a collection of nine stories set in India or whose characters are Indian but living in the US. Each story finds the characters seeking love and acceptance yet are often misunderstood or maligned.

Review: I've decided that I really like to read short stories, or, more specifically, well-written short stories of which this book is full. The thing about short stories that captivates me is how fast the reader has to jump into the action. There is no time for long descriptions, introductions, or frivolous details. For example, in the first story, "A Temporary Matter", the reader learns within the first few pages that a young couple have lost their way together after the stillborn death of their first child. Will their time together each night in the dark due to the power outage save or destroy their marriage? 

In the third story, "Interpreter of Maladies", Mr. Kapasi is moonlighting as a driver for tourists. His main job is to interpret the maladies spoken by patients which he then translates into English so the doctor can understand their symptoms. One of the tourists he is chauffeuring around misunderstands his job and doesn't think of him as a translator but as a person who can figure out what is wrong with people. Mr. Kapasi misinterprets her attention as something sexual just as she misunderstands his actual job. One is left wondering at the twist: an interpreter misinterpreting. 

In fact, each story ends thusly. The story is merely a chapter, a moment, and event, then it is over and the reader is left wondering at all the possible endings. I love that. Don't you? When I read, I love filling in some of the gaps and guessing what will happen next off the page.

Jhumpa Lahiri is an Indian-American, immigrating with her family of West Bengali descent when she was three years old. Her father was a librarian at the University of Rhode Island and was the model for the protagonist of last story in this collection, "The Third and Final Continent." Her parents always wanted Lahiri to appreciate her Bengali heritage and they often took her back to Calcutta (now Kolkata) to visit relatives. These experiences populate her stories. 

Two months ago I took a look on ranked lists of past Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winners to determine which of the 90+ books were the best of the best. (See the results of my research here.) Interpreter of Maladies was often in the top ten of the lists I consulted. I didn't know what I'd be getting from reading a bunch of short stories published over twenty years ago. But what I got was well worth the effort it took to find the book and to read the stories. I ended up liking or at least having compassion for each of the main characters and in the process learned a bit about Bengali culture and what it like being an immigrant living abroad. I highly recommend this book.

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.
e Friday56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56 to share. 

Visit these two websites to participate. Click on links to read quotes from books other people are reading. It is a great way to make blog friends and to get suggestions for new reading material.   


Monday, September 27, 2021

TTT: Books Others Seem to Love More Than ME

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Others Seem to Love More Than Me

I know everyone has different tastes, but as bloggers we often read books that other book bloggers recommend. I by in large read all of these books based on recommendations and then found myself not liking them as much as I expected to.

1. The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

The graphic novel that includes fairy tales from Southeast Asia. I liked the stories and found the similarities and differences with Western culture fairy tales fascinating. I just felt confused by the illustrations, not being able to clearly tell the differences between characters. My rating: 3.0. Goodreads rating average: 4.57.

2. Bird Box by Josh Malerman

The tension is palpable but the story moves along incredibly slowly. My rating: 3.0. Goodreads rating average: 4.02.

3. The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

I wanted to like this book more than I did. I just had no patience for it and found myself speed-reading great swaths of it. The last thirty pages were very sweet but I refuse to budge on my rating since I could barely make myself read the rest of it. My favorite parts were the few cultural references I gleaned from it. My rating: 2.5. Goodreads rating average: 4.31.

4. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Dimple and Rishi meet at computer camp and there is hardly any computer-related activities in this book. For some reason that really irritated me. My rating 2.75. Goodreads rating average: 3.69

5. We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

There was something so unbelievable in the way this story unfolded. I was in shock that it won awards. My rating: 3.0. Goodreads average rating: 3.94.

6. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2011 yet I had a lot of trouble with it giving it only a 3.0 rating.

7. We Begin At the End by Chris Whitaker

I had some issues with this piece of detective fiction. Many of issues revolved around the California setting being very un-California and some boo-boos that really stood out. I liked, not loved it. My rating 3.25. Goodreads average: 4.20

8. Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth

I love the Call the Midwife TV series. The book is just okay, not nearly as good as the show made from it. My rating: 3.0. Goodreads average rating: 4.13.

9. The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz

I am about 80% finished with this book. Unless things change dramatically in the last 20% I will admit to liking but not loving this book. My rating of it is lined up with Goodreads but not the reviews I've read from book bloggers who all seem to universally love it. Goodreads: 4.01

Update. After finishing this book I see what all the fuss is about and shouldn't have added it to this list. The plot twist is a shock you won't see coming.

10. Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

Another book I haven't finished. I decided to read it because so many bloggers love it. Yet I am not in love with it at all, in fact I am considering not finishing it. Goodreads rating: 4.12


Friday, September 24, 2021


Back in 1925 Virginia Woolf published a masterpiece of literature: Mrs Dalloway. It was very avant-garde for the time in the modernist style where time, perspective, and point-of-view are delivered in a non-linear format. Mrs. Dalloway, originally titled 'The Hours', is considered by many to be one of the best English-language novels ever written. And I haven't read it.

But I just finished The Hours by Michael Cunningham which takes the Mrs. Dalloway story, dusts it off, and gives it a modern (for the late 1990s) update. In the original, the action takes place in a 24-hour period. In the opening scene Woolf's main character, Clarissa Dalloway, is preparing to host a party that evening and she decides to go buy the flowers herself. In Cunningham's version, one of three main characters, Clarissa, is also planning a party and she also decides to buy some flowers. And so begins the similarities with the original novel.

The Hours is a story of three women: Clarissa Vaughan, preparing a party for a long-time friend who has just won a literary award; Laura Brown, who lives in a 1950s Los Angeles suburb and worries that she is going slowly mad; and Virginia Woolf, who is living with her husband in a London suburb after she had experienced a mental breakdown. It is here that she begins her work on Mrs. Dalloway. Eventually at the end of the book all three of the stories coalesce and intertwine in such a thoughtful and graceful way. It was a perfect ending after a rather depressing tale.

Author Michael Cunningham not only tells the Mrs. Dalloway story through his three characters but he also weaves factual aspects of Virginia Woolf's life into the story, starting with her suicide in 1941 and working backwards, showing both her brilliance and her tentative grasp on reality. Cunningham also imagines what must have been going through Woolf's mind as she created her masterpiece.

I decided to read The Hours now as part of my march to read past Pulitzer Prize winners. I'd long wanted to read it but kept putting it off since I hadn't read the original and felt I would miss something without it. Well, I may have missed something but it wasn't too noticeable as The Hours stands up fine by itself. Before starting this review, however, I did visit Shmoop and read through the introduction and summary of Mrs. Dalloway. Even with that short amount of homework I was able to see the similarities between the two and which secondary characters played which roles. That was fun. For example in The Hours, the man for which the party is being thrown is Richard. He is dying from AIDS and is just about withering away to nothing. In Mrs Dalloway a similar character named Septimus has returned from the war (WWI) and is shell-shocked, just a skeleten of his former self. Both men meet a similar fate. 

Of the six Pulitzer Prize winners I've read this year so far, The Hours is my favorite. I'd watched the movie starring Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, and Julieanne Moore several years ago and it seemed to run through my head as I read. Either the movie stuck to the book closely, or I only remembered highlights which kept shining through my memory. The book is also blessedly short, 226 pages. I am so tired of trudging through long tomes. It was like taking a vacation, reading such a short book.

Oddly I was not able to find a statement from the Pulitzer committee as to why they selected The Hours for the 1999 prize. One can only guess why they thought it was fabulous especially since one of the finalists that year was The Poisonwood Bible by Kingsolver.

I give The Hours 4.5 stars.


Thursday, September 23, 2021

Banned Books Week -- Sept. 26-Oct. 2


Banned Books Week

Sept. 26-Oct 2, 2021

Plan ahead!

Read a banned or censored book and blog about it.

Use these BBW promotional tools from the ALA on your social media page.

Make a list of your Top Ten favorite banned/challenged books. Post it someplace.

Play Banned Books Trivia with your friends, students, family. (You can download the questions for the game merely by inputting your name and email address.)

 Librarians: Use these "Shelf Talker" flyers. Have students help you fill them out and place them properly on the shelf above a previously banned or challenged book.

Book store owners: Do the same thing as above except have your employees help you fill out and place tags.

Print off and post Censorship by the Numbers. 

Attend live Banned Books Week Coalition events on Facebook. For details head over to the Banned Books Week Home Page, sponsored by The American Library Association. 

Check the Top Ten Most Challenged Books lists from previous years here. (The only two I haven't read on last year's list are: George by Alex Gino and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendon Kiely. time to add those to my reading list!)

Do your homework. Figure out why your favorite books have been challenged.

Ten of my favorite banned or challenged books are:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian / Alexie

To Kill a Mockingbird / Lee

Eleanor and Park / Rowell

Looking for Alaska / Green

The Hate U Give / Thomas 

The Harry Potter series / Rawling

The Holy Bible

The Kite Runner / Hosseini 

Bless Me, Ultima / Anaya

The Hunger Games / Collins 




Review and quotes: A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

Book Beginnings quote: 

It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel.

Friday56 quote: 

Mindy emits a single syllable of laughter -- the way his mother laughs when things have annoyed her to the point of absurdity.

Summary: The book uses interlocking narratives which circle around Bennie Salazar, an aging punk rocker and record executive, and Sasha, the passionate yet troubled young woman he employs. Although Bennie and Sasha never discover each other's secrets or very much about their pasts, the reader does, in intimate detail. Along the way readers also learn about the secret lives of a bunch of other characters whose lives intersect in some way with Sasha or Bennie or both. Their stories take us back and forth in time and to many locales: New York, San Francisco, Naples, and several locations in Africa. A Visit from the Goon Squad is about music and time, friendships and survival. It is also about the way people can influence each other, even after the most casual of touches. "In a breathtaking array of styles and tones ranging from tragedy to satire to PowerPoint, Egan captures the undertow of self-destruction that we all must either master or succumb to; the basic human hunger for redemption; and the universal tendency to reach for both-- and escape the merciless progress of time -- in the transporting realms of art and music" (book jacket).

Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad is the fifth Pulitzer Prize winner I've read this year so far. I'm on a quest to read as many of the past winners as possible and I find it next to impossible to not compare them to each other. Why, I ask myself, did A Visit from the Goon Squad win the 2011 Pulitzer? What makes it more special than other books written that year? Well, I answer for myself, for one thing part of the story was told through PowerPoint slides and anther part is crowded with abbreviated text messages (which I confess I have a hard time understanding). It certainly utilized a variety of styles and tones. If one wins an award for uniqueness, then Goon Squad deserved it. Though it was published just over ten years ago, technology has evolved a lot in that decade. I'm sure that the references to the technology of texting and email, etc. were much more novel back then, worthy of at least passing nod from the selection committee, don't you think?

The title of the book fascinated me, too. I think of a 'goon squad' as the tough guys who rough people up for mob bosses or union leaders. There was none of that in this story but people sure did seem to get roughed up for a lot of other reasons. A comment I found on-line answers my question about the title beautifully: "Goons were those thugs hired by management to beat up on workers fighting for their rights during the First Gilded Age. Egan uses a visit from the Goon Squad as a metaphor for time coming up on us unannounced and beating up on us, too" (Goodreads). Oh, yes, that is right. Since the stories circle around so much, the reader gets to see what happens to the characters as they age. With a few characters in particular what happens isn't pretty at all. The Pulitzer committee recognized the importance of time in their thoughts. They noted that the novel was an "inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed".

I was predisposed to 'like' A Visit From the Goon Squad. I love classic rock-n-roll, after all, and I am usually a fan of award books. But honestly I don't think 'like' is a term I'd use to describe my relationship with this book. In fact, at points along the way I'd probably be more inclined to use the word 'hate.' It was a tough book for me because of the inconsistency of tone by the different characters, many of whom were despicable, crass human beings. I hated the way sex was used both casually and exploitatively. Yuck. Gag! Yet. Yet, there was something about the reading experience that left me a little breathless, aware of the genius of author in the use of writing styles. Both the prose she used and the way that characters would come in and out of the story kept me alert during the whole reading experience.

I'm not sure if this review even counts as a recommendation. But there you have my thoughts. If you are intrigued, read the book jacket. I am not sure if I've ever read a more compelling book jacket synopsis of a book as this one. Read other reviews. I just took a look around the Internet at ranked lists of Pulitzers and Goon Squad isn't usually in the top thirty of anyone's list but I still think it is a worthy winner for the year it was crowned.

 Your thoughts?

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.
e Friday56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56 to share. 

Visit these two websites to participate. Click on links to read quotes from books other people are reading. It is a great way to make blog friends and to get suggestions for new reading material.   


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

20-Books of Summer Wrap-up

This summer I loosely participated in the 20-Books of Summer reading challenge. I say 'loosely' because all I did for it was keep track of the books I read and wrote reviews for them. 

This being the last day of summer (though the challenge ended on Sept. 6th, Labor Day, I believe) made me think I'd best wrap this thing up or else, what was the point? Ha!

I ultimately read 27 books (bully for me!) so exceeded the challenged goal. Back in the days before retirement from my job as a high school librarian I always attempted to read 30 books each summer ferreting out new books to recommend to my patrons. So 27 books is very close to that old goal and remarkable from the stand point that eight of them were over 400 pages long. I used those for another summer challenge with a similar name, The Big Book Summer Challenge.

The book reviews are hyperlinked. It appears I still have a bit of work to finish up the last of the reviews, three left to go. Not bad, even if I never get to them!

20-Books of Summer Reading Challenge

1. The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline
2. End of Watch by Stephen King
4. The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green 
5. The 100 Best Loved Poems of All Time edited by Leslie Pickell
8. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
9. We Are Not Free by Traci Chee
10. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
12. This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
13. Stitches by Anne Lamott
14. Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck
15. The Cold Millions by Jess Walters
16. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
17. One of Ours by Willa Cather
18. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
19. It Began With a Page by Kyo Maclear
21. The Tale of Kitty in Boots by Beatrix Potter
22. The Creator's Canvas by Steven Payne
23. The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
25. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
26. The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
27. Wade in the Waters: Poems by Tracy K. Smith

A few details about this bunch of books:

My favorite fiction title: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir.

My favorite nonfiction/essays: The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

The eight 400+ page books read: The Four Winds / We Are Not Free / The Night Watchman / One of Ours / End of Watch / Project Hail Mary / The Ministry of Utmost Happiness / This Tender Land

Four past and present Pulitzer Prize winners for fiction: Breathing Lessons / One of Ours / The Interpreter of Maladies / The Night Watchman

Favorite YA title: Everything Sad is Untrue (A True Story) by Daniel Nayeri

Most likely to reread: Pride and Prejudice or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Oddest selection: A Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck. I ordered this book last November from the library and the hold finally came through in July. It was a short children's book, completely unmemorable. I wonder what the hold up was? 

Book Club selections: The Exiles / Love and Other Consolation Prizes / The Ministry of Utmost Happiness / This Tender Land / The Cold Millions / The Tattooist of Auschwitz / The Night Watchman

Children's books: It Began with a Page / Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy / The Tale of Kitty on Boots / Christmas Day in the Morning

Poetry books: Wade in the Water / Why Storms are Named After People and Bullets Remain Nameless / 100 Best Loved Poems of All-Time

Books or Audiobooks I Own: The Anthropocene Reviewed / 100 Best Loved Poems of All-Time / The Creator's Canvas / The Interpreter of Maladies / The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe / Pride and Prejudice /The Night Watchman

Favorite review: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness or The Anthropocene Reviewed

Most popular blog post, based on page views: Breathing Lessons, 245.

And so I wrap up my summer reading projects and look toward the future with many new and old books in mind.


Poetry review: WADE IN THE WATER

Wade in the Water: Poems
by Tracy K. Smith is possibly one of the most creative yet alarming poetry collections I've ever read. Tracy K. Smith, a past Poet Laureate for the United States, uses letters and documents written by others and turns them into poems that cut and twist and bring full-frontal impact with their swing. As I read the poems I'd think about what I was reading and wonder at the spelling (misspelling) and odd topics, not really grasping what I was reading. At the end of the book are the author's notes which answered a few of my questions. 

For example, a relatively early poem in the collection, "Declaration", starts off with these words, 

He has

           sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people

He has plundered our --

                                      ravaged our--

                                                           destroyed the lives of our--

Who is "he?" Tracy K. Smith is a black poet, so I instantly think "our people" as Blacks, possibly slaves. The poem is disturbing at its core but more so when I learn that the poem is an erasure poem and what is being erased was the Declaration of Independence. Now I read the poem with different eyes and wonder at its double meaning. Poetry has the power of to cut right to the quick. (As an aside, I showed this poem to my husband who started reading it aloud. After the first two lines he said, "Why, this is taken from the Declaration of Independence." I guess you now know which one of us has read that great American document closely, and which one of us hasn't.)

Another poem called "I Will Tell You the Truth about This, I Will Tell You All about It" is composed entirely from letters and statements of African Americans enlisted in the Civil War, and those of their wives, widows, parents, and children. Smith wanted the their voices to command all the space within her poem. This letter written by Martin Lee to the head of the Freedman's Bureau in Georgia in 1866 begins, "Dear sir    I take the pleashure of writing you / A fue lins hoping that I will not ofende you." It was a loving, simple request to have the Freedman's Bureau help reunited his scattered family. It is heartbreaking.

The poem I've thought the most about since finishing this poetry book is "Watershed". It is a 'found poem' drawn from two sources: a New York Times Magazine article by Nathaniel Rich call the "The Lawyer Who Became Dupont's Worst Nightmare", and excerpts of the narratives of survivors of near-death experiences as cataloged on www.nderf.org. This impactful poem is about how Dupont bought land from farmers to dispose of their dangerous chemical PFOA. It leaked into the water and started poisoning cattle first, then people. Dupont turned a blind eye.

Clients called R to say they had received diagnoses of cancer
          or that a family member had died

               W who had cancer had died of a heart attack

         Two years later W's wife died of cancer

They knew this stuff was harmful
         and they put it in the water anyway

For days after reading this I walked around wondering how people working for Dupont, or any polluting company, could think this was going to work out for them. Don't they live on the Earth, too? Don't they and their family need to drink the water and breathe the air polluted by their own chemicals? Companies are not people. People had to make the decisions to dispose of the pollutants in such a way as to kill off whole communities. I was shocked to learn such details in a poetry book, but why not? With the poetry comes the emotional punch needed to stir me out of my stupor.

From my examples I am sure that you realize Wade in the Water is not an easy poetry book to read or to digest. But it is vital that we take the time to ponder hard and disquieting facts. The title comes from an old negro spiritual and was used by Harriet Tubman as a signal to escaping slaves to get in the water to throw the dogs slave-catchers used off the scent. "Wade in the water, wade in the water, children. Wade in the water. God's gonna trouble the water."

Sometimes we need to hop in the water, too, and let God, or poetry books, trouble us to action.


Monday, September 20, 2021

TTT: Books on my fall reading list (and how I did on my summer reading list)


Top Ten Tuesday: 
Books on my fall reading list. 
(Below the fold, check out how I did on my summer reading list.)

Book Club Selections: 

  1. The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates (October, Group #1)
  2. We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker (October, Group #2)
  3. The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (November, Group #1)
  4. The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeycutt by Annie Lyons (November/December, Group #2)
  5. Transcription by Kate Atkinson (December, Group #1)

Books I've recently placed on hold at the library:

  1. Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken
  2. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
  3. The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
  4. Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

Challenge Books:

  1. Past Pulitzer Prize winner: The Hours by Michael Cunningham (From this list)
  2. Past Pulitzer Prize winner
  3. Past Pulitzer Prize winner
  4. 2021 Printz Honor: Every Body Looking
  5. Classics club selection: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (From this list)
  6. Classics Club selection
  7. 2021 National Book Award winner any category. (TBA in November.)
  8. 2021 National Book Award winner any category.  
Preview and other books: 
  1. Preview: Sexual Justice by Alexandra Brodsky
  2. Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair
In June, when I created my summer reading list, I had a lot of ??? on my list.  I knew I'd be reading books but I wasn't sure of their titles. Those book titles are now identified by the color red. Titles are also hyperlinked so you can read my reviews if you care to learn more.

Book Club Selections: 6/6

  1. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (July, Group #1)
  2. This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger, (July, Group #2)
  3. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (August, Group #1)
  4. The Cold Millions by Jess Walter, August, Group #2
  5. This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel (September, Group #1, re-read)
  6. The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich, September, Group #3

Audiobooks/E-Books: 3/5

  1. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
  2. The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich (See above list)
  3. Break Shot: My First 21 Years by James Taylor
  4. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
  5. The Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

Challenge Books: 14/7 (some were duplicates because they are in more than one category)

  1. Current Pulitzer Prize winner: The Night Watchman by Erdrich
  2. Past Pulitzer Prize winner: Breathing Lessons by Tyler
  3. Past Pulitzer Prize winner: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Egan I actually read two more past winners, also: One of Ours and The Interpreter of Maladies.
  4. Printz Honor: Every Body Looking
  5. Printz Honor: We Are Not Free
  6. Big Book Summer: TBA but must be at least 400 pages in length. (I read eight books longer than 400 pages this summer: One of Ours; We Are Not Free; The Night Watchman; The Four Winds; The Ministry of Utmost Happiness; This Tender Land; Project Hail Mary; and End of Watch.)
  7. Classics club selection: One of Ours by Willa Cather

Looking over my summer reading progress I think I did very well on my list. Of the books placed on the list, I read 14 unique titles. Organizing my list this way really helped direct my reading choices. For example, I am more determined than ever to finish my Pulitzer Challenge and to work away on my Classics Club challenge based on those decisions. Based on my successes this summer I plan to map out my fall list in a similar fashion. 


Saturday, September 18, 2021

Sunday Salon -- Quarantine edition

Quarantine days: busy but separate.

Weather: a messy weather system full of wind and rain moved into our area on Friday. That night we lost power around 10:30 PM and it was out until 5:30 AM or so. The wasp nest was on the grass waiting for our close inspection the morning after the storm. Not sure where it was before it landed in our yard. Don attempted to pick it up, when a wasp emerged so he changed his plan and got a plastic bag to seal up the nest to avoid getting stung. We are assured the weather will improve this coming week.
Paper wasp nest

Quarantine: On Monday we learned that our young grandson, Jamie, had tested positive for COVID. We were with him and his family just the day before during church and afterwards at our house. We also had been with his family frequently the previous week as my sister and daughter were visiting for the double birthday party and other gatherings. A chain reaction of quarantine and testing followed:

  • It is likely that the disease came to my daughter's family via a cousin who attended the birthday party. He had a runny nose at the party and had relatives on his mother's side who had COVID, which we didn't know at the time of the party.
  • My daughter, a teacher, had to inform her school and get a substitute. She has since tested positive and will be out of school for at least ten days.
  • Daycare, where Jamie goes, had to close for two weeks. All the parents who have children there had to find alternative care for those two weeks.
  • Preschool, where brother Ian went on his first day of school, had to close. I'm not sure for how long. Ian also tested positive.
  • My sister tested negative, but worried that she had brought the virus home with her and transferred it to our mother, who is 92-years-old.
  • Our younger daughter, who traveled back to California after spending less than a week with us, also tested negative, but had to go through a big hassle to get the testing done.
  • Jamie was the only human not wearing a mask at church last Sunday. Several people sitting near us have tested. One couple let me know they tested negative. The pastor and another couple are still waiting for their results.
  • All the children and their parents who attended the double birthday party had to be informed and they had to start their own quarantine time awaiting testing results.
  • Don and I tested on Friday, five days after our last (but not first) exposure. In the meantime we have been quarantining. I had to cancel a dental appointment, reschedule book club, and we had to miss a concert we were looking forward to attending. We should get our results on Monday or Tuesday. Every cough, headache, or achy muscle becomes suspicious. Are we sick? So far, the answer is no.
  • After the bad news of Jamie's diagnosis, my daughter and her whole family have tested positive for COVID. The adults were vaccinated and the children had very mild symptoms. No one has been very sick or not for very long anyway. Thank goodness.
  • Jamie's other grandparents did get COVID, perhaps at the party or a few days before. But they seem to be on the road to recovery, thank goodness.

If you are unvaccinated and think it is no big deal if you don't get the vaccine, check out the list above. Look at all the ramifications and people affected by one little kid sent to a birthday party even though others in his family were positive for COVID. You are not an island unto yourself. Your decision to not vaccinate has and will cause a big hassle for dozens or hundreds of people, at best, and could cause serious illness or death at worst. Do it. Do it for your children's or grandchildren's friends and their families, if you are unwilling to do it for your family. Help by being part of the solution!

Quarantining means eating what we call "Covid meals." These are meals made from ingredients we already have around the house without a trip to the store, even if the meal components don't match.  Sometimes the meals end up delicious, like last night when I made a pot of soup from ingredients found in the cupboards and the fridge. It was a stormy night, just right for the first soup of the season.

Split Pea Soup with Indian Spices, Vegetarian
Ingredients: 1 bag split peas, rinsed; 4 cups vegetable broth; 1/2 onion, chopped; 1-2 cups carrots, scraped and sliced; 1/2 cup Basmati rice, uncooked; 1 T. curry; 1 tsp. cumin; 1/2 tsp. black pepper; 1-2 tsp. salt, to taste.

After rinsing split peas add them to 4 cups water and 4 cups broth in a large pot. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for a at least an hour or until split peas are soft. Stir occasionally. When soft, use a stick blender to blend the soup into a puree, or transfer a portion of the soup to a blender and puree it there. This is an optional step, the soup will taste the same if you don't do it. Soften the vegetables in a fry pan with a bit of butter or oil. Once they are nearly soft, add the curry to the pan. This allows for the aromatics in the curry to rise and it gives off a wonderful scent. Add the curried vegetables into the pureed soup and add other spices and the rice. Cover the pot and cook on simmer for an additional 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently. Adjust spices. Serve with a slice of naan or whatever you have on hand.

Shopping made easy: We actually did some grocery shopping on-line for pick up at the store this week. It was the first time we've shopped this way since the pandemic began and it was painless.

Anti-vaxxers: I was home all week and found myself jumping down rabbit holes of information about anti-vaxxers -- how to talk to them, why they do it, and a likely and sad outcome. Here are a few things I found to share:

  • "Changing Your Mind About Vaccines; People Can Do It, For a Number of Reasons" (Salon)
    • Why won't some people get the vaccine when it would help them and others?And is there anything we can say or do to help move them in the direction toward vaccines?

      The answer lies in psychology. Part of the problem is that people will contort logic in seemingly absurd ways to maintain a high opinion of themselves. According to cognitive dissonance theory, humans instinctively need their beliefs to be in harmony with one another, and will work to correct perceived "dissonance" (inconsistencies) in their beliefs. Since most prefer to avoid lowering their self-regard, people are more likely to come up with elaborate rationalizations to maintain a current position than acknowledge that view may be in error. This is especially true when the position is important to them, such as the millions of Americans who view being anti-vaccination as crucial to their identity. ../

      • Experts say that it is important to de-escalate the intense emotions that can arise during conversations about touchy subjects. When people are stressed, they are more likely to dig in their heels for neurological reasons. As neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor told Salon in June, "When we dig our heels into something that we are emphatic and passionate about, we are using our limbic system, our emotional system." To change someone's mind, you have to do so in a way that does not crash into these psychological impulses. "When trying to change the mind of someone who is stressed, we actually need to do one of two things: either reduce the stress hormone in the brain by making a connection and reducing negative emotion first or slow down the process delivering ideas in very short bursts that the brain can slowly process." This is why, quite often, the people who change their minds tell stories in which they did so at their own pace and in a supportive environment.
      • I found the whole article very helpful and recommend you read the whole thing. 

  • I also learned the stubborness with health directives we are experiencing is not new. Check out these two visuals. The first is from a newspaper printed during the 1918 Spanish Flu Epidemic. The second image relates to smallpox vaccine hesitancy in the 1930's, from a series called 'Health in Pictures'. (I checked for authenticity here and here.)

  • Sorry Anti-Vaxxer--- a website dedicated to education about the horrors of COVID infections. Many of the people listed on the site decided too late to get the covid vaccine and went to their graves sorry.
  • A student named Hillary put up a Tik Tok video and she did some quick calculations to show the value of getting vaccinated. Undoubtedly, it’s not perfect. It is simplified and nobody denies that.  However, it is reasonable and gives us a quick look and overview of the value of getting vaccinated. TikTok video. Watch it!

Quarantine days countdown: My daughter has to keep two young children happy and busy. She posts a quarantine day count every day with a photo or video of the day's activities. One day she and Ian played with a feature on her phone and made a little video. (See photo below) It makes me laugh every time I see it. They bake, do art projects, go for walks or bike rides. She also posts videos of Jamie and whatever he is doing or learning to do. The still shot is taken from a video of Jamie who has just learned to climb up on the couch crawling toward the remote control.

Goofing around with Mom

Learning a new skill: climbing onto couch.

Reading and blogging during quarantine: I've surprised myself at how little I feel like reading these days but I've caught up on quite a bit of blogging.

  • Finished this week:
    •  Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis. The second book in the Chronicles of Naria series.
    • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. A past Pulitzer Prize winner.
  • Currently reading:
    • We Begin At the End by Chris Whitaker. Audiobook. 10%. Potential book club selection.
    • The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. E-Book. 5%. Another potential book club option.
    • The Hours by Michael Cunningham. Print. 75%. A past Pulitzer Prize winner.

Random funny thoughts:

My sister sent me this because my dog has mastered 'the look.' In fact, he could be the model for it.

The hypocrisy is what gets me.


George posing in front of the TV again this week. Notice the cat art on the wall behind him. Fred must have been too busy inspecting the printer to stop and pose for a photo.

Unrelated to quarantine--Good news:

  • Listening to stories or music can synchronize the heart beats of the listeners. If you wonder if reading aloud to your children is important, here you go! (Good News Network)
  • Cows in Germany are being potty-trained to help save the planet. For real! (Good News Network)
  • I dare you not to laugh when you look at the finalists for the Comedy Wildlife Photos. I can't decide which one is the funniest. I think it is a toss-up between the racoon kids, the dragonfly, and the seal. which one do you like best?  (Goodnews Network)

Good News: It is Sunday Morning and my husband and I just heard from the lab. We both tested negative for COVID. Quarantine over!


Six Degrees of Separation: Hamnet to...

Six Degrees of Separation (from a past project): 

We begin with

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
The subtitle of this book is "A Novel of the Plague". 

Year of Wonders: a Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks
This one is easy. They have identical subtitles. It is also set in England in the 1500s and centers around an actual community in England that quarantined itself during the plague. A few people survived.


The Great Believers by Rebecca Makki
This book is about the AIDS epidemic from it's inception in the 1980s. Interestingly there is a relationship between those who survived the plague from the village outlined in The Year of Wonders and people who were "immune" to AIDS centuries later. 


Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel
The story of the survivors twenty years after a cataclysmic pandemic. We read this book in both of my book clubs. I liked it better the second time around.


The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Another book re-read for my second book club. I liked this one the second time around better also. Set in England. It is quite humorous. 

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
by Rachel Joyce
Full of British-y humor. Harold finds answers and peace as he walks.


Shakespeare: The World As Stage by Bill Bryson
Written by a very humorous author, this book answers a BIG question: Did William Shakespeare really write all those plays?

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
And we circle back to this wonderful story imagining what life was like for Shakespeare and his family.

I know. I am about eight or nine months late on this 6-degrees post. I keep forgetting to check on it every month and usually opt out if I haven't read the first book. I loved Hamnet and liked thinking about it and the connections to other books. I did find this time that I kept attempting to guide the connections but the books were having none of it. They crowded in and demanded that I add them next. If some of my connections seem odd, it isn't my fault. The books chose themselves!  Ha!

If you want to give this task a try, the October book is really a short story: "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson. Check this website for information about the meme:

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Review and quotes: THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

Book Beginnings quote: 

Once upon a time, Claude was born but first, Roo was born. Roosevelt Walsh-Adams.

Friday56 quote:  

Claude's picture was of the whole family, and Penn could not decide if it was wonderful or alarming that, assigned to draw himself, Claude drew them all...In front of them [his parents and grandmother], sitting criss-cross-applesauce all in a row in the grass, were five brothers...And small in the corner -- because he's run out of room? because he got lost in an overlarge family? because he felt insignificant in the face of the vastness of the universe? -- Claude had drawn himself in his tea-length dress with ruby slippers and wavy brown hair down to the ground...

Summary: Claude is the youngest of five brothers. He loves peanut butter sandwiches, playing dress-up, and when he grows up he wants to be a girl. His parents, Rosie and Penn, want him to be whatever he wants to be but mainly they want Claude to be happy. But keeping secrets is hard on families. One day everything seems to blow up. Will the family be able to put all the pieces together again? 

Laurie Frankel's This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever (Publisher).

Review: Back in 2017 one of my two book clubs selected to read and discuss This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. Later that year I added it as one of my favorite book club selections of 2017 but oddly this year I only remembered few details, only the outline of the book.  When my second club selected it this year I decided I'd better re-read it so I can participate in the discussion in a meaningful way. I am so glad I did, having forgotten enough of the story to make it feel fresh and new to me. My family and I listened to the audiobook when we were on a recent car trip. The trip started with my husband and I, then we added my sister who had to jump in mid-stream after a quick synopsis. Later we added my daughter who needed an even bigger synopsis but soon all four of us were together, hanging on every word.

As you can tell by the summary, and likely you know in person, keeping secrets can only last for a short time and often end in a disaster when revealed. That is what happened with the Walsh-Adams family when they tried to keep the secret that Claude (Poppy) wasn't born a girl. When it seems that the whole family is going to be torn apart at the seams, a trip to Thailand by Claude and his mother, Rosie, finally provides a perspective they couldn't get in the US. It also tended the internal wounds of fear and uncertainty giving the salve they needed to begin the healing process. The book doesn't take Poppy (Claude) through puberty, but the reader is left with the recognition that it is a process one cannot avoid and one which can now be considered.

The book is powerful and timely in its message. Frankel, who has a transgender child, knows what she is talking about and doesn't write about the spectacle of being 'trans' or raising a child  who is gender fluid. She writes about the challenges of raising children and the worry that all parents experience, wanting their children to ultimately be happy and successful. Isn't this the same for all parents, for every family? Isn't this how it always is?

I look forward to the book club discussion later this month. This Is How It Always Is will give us a lot to chew on. 

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.
e Friday56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56 to share. 

Visit these two websites to participate. Click on links to read quotes from books other people are reading. It is a great way to make blog friends and to get suggestions for new reading material.   

SOTH Book Club, September 2021