"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=========

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Sunday Salon -- and a frenzy, of sorts.

George to my daughter: "Going on a trip? Take me with you!"

Still very lovely. We hear that much hotter weather is on its way but it has been very comfortable and lovely this past week with high temperatures in the 70s.

Sunday we travel. Today I post: I've been on a frenzy, of sorts. Frantic about the state of our nation,  and world. Neo-Nazis up to no good. People blind to what is happening. The following topics on Emerson, Christian Nationalism, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer all spoke to me and helped me to process. Maybe they will help you, too. I hope so.

The great American poet-philosopher-abolitionist Ralph Waldo Emerson is credited with coining the popular truism. It applies to us today:

One aspect of this proverb is that it works both ways:

  • If you sow lots of benevolent/courageous/honest/just/wise thoughts — you will eventually reap a heroic, noble destiny.
  • But, if you sow lots of hateful/cowardly/fraudulent/lawless/ignorant thoughts — you will eventually reap a vile, miserable destiny.
Today's politics and rhetoric would sure seem to support this. It is frightening how mean-spirited the rhetoric and the actions of the MAGA crowd, starting at the top. 

Christians today often act very unloving towards others. Which is the opposite of what the Bible teaches. When examining the Ten Commandments, the basis of the Christian faith, the last five could be grouped together into one overarching commandment known as “Love your neighbor”.

6. Don’t murder.  7. Don’t cheat on your partner.  8. Don’t steal.  9. Don’t  deceive your neighbor.  10. Don’t covet things that don’t belong to you.  = LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF!

At the beginning, Emerson laid the foundation for his wisdom construct by appealing to us to “sow a kind thought” — yet many of us sow covetous thoughts that are fundamentally unkind. Today, we see many, many people believing and spreading lies, because their hearts are desperately coveting privileges that are solely based on their whiteness. Some graduate to fraud, intimidation, and violence, but the starting point for each perversion is always covetousness. Instead SOW A KIND THOUGHT TODAY. (DKos)

And yet kindness is what goes a long way...

Christian Nationalism: Know what it is?
survey published in October by Pew Research Center found that most American adults don't know what Christian nationalism is. One survey respondent described Christian nationalism as “patriotic Christians who believe in God, family and country, morality and kindness.” And I suspect that many people just think of Christian nationalists as patriotic white people who go to church.
But Christian nationalism isn’t merely “patriotic Christians” and it’s not Christianity, but rather, it can be understood as “an impostor Christianity that uses evangelical language to cloak ethnocentric and nationalist loyalties.” 
And DeSantis is a paragon among the impostors. His anti-woke crusade is a manifestation of the intolerance and battle-thirst of Christian nationalism, and Florida’s distortion of Black history and its attempt to rehabilitate the image of slavery is part of it. (Charles Blow, NYT)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer Explained How Stupidity Enables Tyranny:
In the 1930s, as many Germans were swept into an antisemitic fervor by the Nazis, while others stood by and did nothing, the Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer actively resisted Hitler’s genocide. In April 1943, the Gestapo arrested him. The authorities accused him of being a part of the July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Hitler. In April 1945, he was hanged by the Nazis, two weeks before WWII ended.

Few people have had a better view and a deeper understanding of the forces that caused so many unexceptional citizens to become cogs in the Nazi's death machine. At the end of 1942, Bonhoeffer dissected the causes of the Nazi rise to power in his essay “After Ten Years." In the piece, he reflected on the role of stupidity in enabling tyranny. He said: 

“Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease.”

“Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed — in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical — and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack.” 

“The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with a person, but with slogans, catchwords and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil.” (Bonhoeffer on stupidity)

Does this remind you of anyone or a full group of people?    

Democrats having a great summer.  Read this if you are feeling discouraged by all the nonsense you read/watch about in politics and the state of our world. This will help you feel more encouraged. (Rosenberg) As a tease, here is the opening paragraph:
Democrats are having a good summer. Inflation is down, growth is strong. Our recovery here is the best in the G7, inflation is much lower than Europe. Putin continues to struggle in Ukraine, the Western alliance has been revitalized and is expanding. The President’s big climate agenda has made America once a world leader in the existential fight to ensure the planet doesn’t warm, and his broader investment agenda is already bringing growth, investment and jobs across the US. The flow to the border has plummeted, murder rates are way down, the deficit is a fraction of what it was under Trump, and this year America will produce more oil than any year in history. (Rosenberg)
Heading out for a little summertime fun-in-the-sun family reunion in Oregon this coming week. But what will I be reading?
  • Possible audiobooks to listen to in the car for the trip there and back -- three people will need to agree, so there are options:
    • The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder by David Grann. This is the author of The Lost City of Z and Killers of the Flower Moon. I'd say this book has a high probability of being selected. 
    • The Loneliest Polar Bear: A True Story on the Edge of Survival and Peril On the Edge of a Warming World by Kate Williams. This is a book club selection for me. Not sure the rest of the travelers want to listen to it. If not I will eventually read or listen to it myself.
    • Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano. This is another book club selection. I think it is the least likely of the three to be chosen because it is over 15 hours of listening and the round trip time in the car will be less than 12 hours. No one wants to be left hanging on a story.
  • Likely print books I will carry in my bag to the pool:
    • Long Division by Kiese Laymon. Yet another book club selection. This one is two stories in one and it presents itself in a unique way -- read one story to the end, then turn the book upside down and start the second story. This is a high priority since it is for the August meeting.
    • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. As I was going through my book shelf this month for my Try It In July Challenge, I came upon two copies of this old classic. Every time the Classic Club hosts another SPIN, I put it on my list of twenty books as possible reads. Then the thought occurred to me, why not read it now? Not because it is a SPIN book, but because you want to! So I am.
    • The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler. I went to the library bookstore and purchased a few books for my mom who counts on me to supply her with new reading material. I bought this book for her, but decided to keep it for the time being, since I haven't read it either. If I finish it on vacation, I'll hand it to Mom, since we'll be together.
Currently reading/listening to:
  • I Have Some Questions For You by Rebecca Makkai. I loved the author's book The Great Believers. I hoped I would love this one, too. So far, the jury is out. 30% audiobook.
  • They Call Us Enemy by George Takei. A graphic memoir. 5% print.
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot. I decided to reorder my priorities and just jump in. I'm participating in a read-along for this famous classic. I'll be reading a chapter a day for almost three months. Send your positive energy my direction!
Recently finished:
  • Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery. Loved her book The Elegance of the Hedgehog. This is not a favorite, but has certainly given me food for thought. (Pun intended.) 3 stars.
Recent blog posts:
Is it an owl or is it Jamie?

A Bird Identification Story:
We're pretty obsessed with birds these days. It all started with the game Wingspan and evolved into trying to figure out which birds are singing outside. My daughter found an App called Merlin Bird ID. If you set it to record as birds are singing nearby, it will identify them or make a suggestion of what bird it might be. The other day, while we were babysitting our youngest grandson, we set up the app to record. We got a hit on the House Finch and the Chestnut-backed Chickadee, both frequent visitors to our backyard. Then we got an unusual hit -- A Great Horned Owl! Excitement was tempered with skepticism. When we played back the recording we could only hear our grandson in the background talking softly to himself. So no, it wasn't a Great Horned Owl but a grandson who has embraced his new persona and now goes around hooting!  When I told the story to Jamie's brother, Ian, he wanted to be a bird, too. We went out back just as the Black-Capped Chickadee was singing. Ian repeated the call and the bird answered. He fell in love. 𝅘𝅥𝅮𝅘𝅥𝅮𝅘𝅥𝅮𝅘𝅥𝅮 "Chick-a-dee-dee-dee." Love those boys!
A flock of bushtits mobbing our suet feeder.


Friday, July 28, 2023

Three short reviews -- a Gourmet; a Children's Book Author; and a Memoir of Australia

In an effort to clean off my books shelves I read all three of these book as part of my 'Try It in July' Challenge.

Gourmet Rhapsody
by Muriel Barbery, translated from the French by Alison Anderson (Europa Editions, 2009)

Back in 2009 I read a book that profoundly touched me at the very core of my existence: The Elegance of the Hedgehog. One of my friends, an artist and teacher, had unexpectedly died. I knew when I read this book that Deb was speaking to me about the importance and beauty of art. Art was so important to her. She oozed enthusiasm on the subject. Therefore, I treasured the book and memory of reading it, hearing my friend's voice in my heart the whole time. Two years later when Borders Books was going out of business (sob*) I was picking through the shelves looking for bargains and I found another book by the same author, Gourmet Rhapsody. Surely if I loved Hedgehog as much as I did, I'd love anything by the same author. I bought it, brought it home, stuck it on the bookshelf, and forgot it. Twelve years later I finally read it.

Pierre Arthens, a famous food critique, is dying. As he lays in his bed with family hovering nearby, he is desperately shuffling though memories in his mind of a singular flavor -- that divine something once sampled, never forgotten, a flavor par excellence. This self-absorbed man wishes for one last thing -- one last taste.

The book begins with an early food memory for Arthens. Alternating chapters are taken up with some asides/thoughts by family, friends, colleagues, even pets when they learn that Arthens is dying. It becomes very clear, very quickly that Arthens was not a nice person, especially to his wife and children. The contrast between his memories of mouth-watering food and their memories of neglect and abuse from him brings up a lot of food for thought. (Pun intended.)

By book's end, I didn't really care what happened to Arthens but I confess to enjoying his almost orgasmic descriptions of eating outstanding foods. Thankfully it was a quick read.

Rating - 3 stars.

In the Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown
by Amy Gary (Flatiron Books, 2017)

We've all read the popular children's books Goodnight Moon and the Runaway Bunny. This is a biography of Margaret Wise Brown, the author of those and many other children's books. "Margaret’s books have sold millions of copies all over the world, but few people know that she was at the center of a children’s book publishing revolution. Her whimsy and imagination fueled a steady stream of stories, book ideas, songs, and poems and she was renowned for her prolific writing and business savvy, as well as her stunning beauty and endless thirst for adventure." She started her career working on projects for the Bank Street School for Children, invested in changing curricula and creating stories which helped girls see themselves as equal to boys. Margaret lived an exuberant and alternative lifestyle, embracing action and whimsy. She often made comments about how she needed to grow up, wanting to write for adults but never succeeded on that desire.

Much of the book focuses on Margaret's love affairs with several men and a woman, Michael Strange, a poet and x-wife to John Barrymore. After Michael's death, Margaret fell in love with a younger man and had made plans to marry him but died due to complications from appendicitis at age 42.

In the Great Green Room was a fascinating book but unfortunately it wasn't very well written. It often felt uneven -- too much attention on the love affairs, not enough on the writing of her famous books. I'm guessing that Amy Gary had so much material to work with she couldn't decide what to include and what to leave out.

When my sister, another teacher, loaned me the book she mentioned that the writing wasn't very good so I should skim it. I did that in places but I did feel sucked into Margaret's story and wanted to linger over details in other spots.

If you are a fan of her work, read it, and you decide for yourself.

Rating - 4 stars.

Island Home: a Landscape Memoir by Tim Winton (Penguin Random House Australia, 2015)

An Australian friend gave me this book, Island Home by Tim Winton. We met when a group of Australian students came on a US Exchange. Clare was one of the chaperones and she and I got on famously. Several years later she and her husband came back for a visit, sans students. When she gave me the book I thought it was intended for my high school library but I wasn't able to find the cataloging details for the book so I decided to take it home and read it myself. That was seven years ago. Sigh*

Tim Winton is an Australian author who grew up and still lives in Western Australia (WA). As a fledgling writer he really struggled with finding his voice until he, out of sheer determination, decided to focus his writing on what he knew. That is what all writing coaches tell their students, right? Well, what Tim knew was Western Australia -- the land, the animals, the people, and the slang. This is where he placed his focus and he became, at a fairly young age, an accomplished Australian writer.

Island Home is more a memoir about place than about the author. Tim obviously loves the land, the sea, and the sky around his beloved home. His descriptions brought Western Australia into focus for me. It also made me realize that language is often very local. Tim used so many words I didn't know and ones I couldn't even understand in context. I often felt like he was speaking another language...I suppose he was. He was speaking Australian English and I speak American English. It is odd and embarrassing to admit. I did look up the geographic references he made, so I could at least picture where on the map he was referring. In fact at one point I was jolted because he said he lived in WA, an abbreviation we use in the US to mean the State of Washington (WA) which is a postal term. I had to look up what WA meant.

I loved the idea of the book more than the actual reading of the book -- it was so much work not to be completely confused the whole time. However, it has accomplished one thing -- I am more determined than ever to make a trip to Australia than ever before. But like the US,  Australia is a huge place so it is doubtful I will have a chance to see it all. Don't believe me? Check out the size of Australia compared to the US on the overlaid map.

Rating - 3 stars


MIDDLEMARCH ---Read-along

Nick @One Catholic Life is hosting a chapter-a-day read-along. All year he has been reading George Eliot. Adam Bede and Silas Marner read-alongs were conducted earlier in the year, but I didn't join in. Now it is time to embark on a chapter-a-day read-along of Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life. Nick’s introductory post provides all the details you need if you’d like to join in plus links to Benjamin McEvoy (from the Hardcore Literature Book Club) and his tips on how to read Middlemarch.

Yesterday, July 27th, was the first day and the read-along will finish on the 22nd October. Today, since I am starting a day late, I'll need to read the Prelude, Chapters One and Two.

With the reading of Middlemarch I'll be turning a new leaf on my reading. Long wanting to read Middlemarch  it has been a book I kept being put off. No more excuses for me. Reading a big book on a schedule seems like a good way to spur me on. Plus the bonus of being part of a community should help me over the finish line.

I found an e-book version at the library. It has a forward by Rebecca Mead. The library notes that this edition was published in connection and with a tie-in to the PBS six-part series of Middlemarch in 1994. I think I saw that series, but I am not positive. I'll see if I can find it again.

The Benjamin McEvoy ‘How to read Middlemarch’ video sounds like another good place to start for me. I understand McEvoy is very enthusiastic about the book and has high regard for George Eliot. To get the most out of my time with Middlemarch, I understand that taking notes will be helpful and will bring a higher level of understanding and enjoyment. I may find that I need to purchase my own copy of the book. I'll go with the e-book for a while and see how that goes. I may also explore the audiobook which is available at the library. A note at the end of the forward mentions that I might also get a lot out of an introduction by Rosemary Ashton. I'll look around and see if I can find that.

According to Brona at Brona's Books, McEvoy also recommends:

  1. Pay attention to the epigraphs for each chapter. They “contextualise and elevate” each chapter. Each chapter is like an essay or a thesis.
  2. Read around. Take notes of the names dropped by Eliot as well as her contemporaries (Dickens, Thackeray, Wordsworth especially his Lyrical Ballads and the “Romantic manifesto”). Think everything through with Eliot. Let it teach you.
  3. Take your time with the Prelude. It is the key to the whole book.
  4. Research. The story is set during the Age of Reform – a time when the English were wondering if change could happen without violence. Although Eliot was a liberal she was not for many of the Reforms.
  5. Read slowly, take your time. Read aloud.
  6. Research. What was your own family doing during 1871? What was going on in England when each section was published? Seasons? Politics? Current affairs?
  7. Let it “enlarge your sympathies.” Bring your whole self to the reading experience. Discuss it with others.

According to the forward by Rebecca Mead, Middlemarch was originally published in 8-novella sized volumes beginning in December of 1871. The readers would then get the a new volume every few months, completing the whole series within a year in bite-sized pieces. Once Mead attended an auction for rare books where a first edition of Middlemarch in its 8-novellas format. Afterwards she spoke to the rare-book dealer who purchased the book for over $45,000. Mead said she wished she had the money to buy it and the book dealer replied, "Oh you do have the money. You just have to reorder your priorities." His comment brought her up short and she has thought back on it often. The advice she shared next is perfect for me in this moment --

See. She is speaking to me. After delaying and deferring, I am finally reordering my priorities and will spend the next 3 months reading a chapter a day of Middlemarch by George Eliot. I shall attempt, but make no promises, to post a few updates along the way. I also can't make any promises about not whining. Big books are so daunting to me. I'll try to remind myself that I chose this. Here I go!

Dates for Read-along: 27 July - 22 October 2023

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Review and quotes: THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

Book Beginnings/First Line Friday Quote: 

(Part One: If You Answer the Door for Strangers...) You see it all the time on television. There's a knock at the front door. And, on the other side, someone is waiting to tell you the news that changes everything.

Friday56 quote: 
(These Are Not Your Friends) I go back into the house long enough to grab Owen's laptop. I'm not going to sit there thinking about what Grady said, and all the things he seemed to leave out, which was bothering me more.

Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.

As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.

Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they are also building a new future. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated. (Publisher)
Review: I've seen The Last Thing He Told You on a lot of bloggers' list the past two year, so when I bumped into a copy at the library book "store" I snatched it up for a $1. Only after my purchase did I notice a sticker on the book "Stream it on 🍎TV." Hmm.  "I guess this book really is popular," I thought, "if it is already serialized on TV."  As you know, sometimes that is good, but often that is bad. If the book's plot is so over-the-top and hyperactive, it won't be one I will like.

But I was pleasantly surprised. The Last Thing He Told Me is a mystery. Hannah recently married a man, Owen, who rarely reveals anything of his past. He has one daughter, Bailey, from his first marriage. When he suddenly disappears, Bailey is left alone with her step-mother and the two try to piece together the pieces. Who is Owen? Why did he run? Where is he? Why do the facts not add up? As the duo are left on their own, they find that the US Marshall's office and the FBI are both looking for Owen. This makes them realize that things are looking bad for Owen. Perhaps they can piece together the few comments he has made to find the answers and hopefully to find him before others do.

I liked the book, which was a fast read for me. But oddly when I decided to review the book today, I had to remind myself what the book was about. Having only finished it two weeks ago, it was surprising how much I'd forgotten. Now to be fair, that may say more about me than the book -- you know, aging brain and everything -- but it may be that I wasn't really emotionally invested in the book. Not sure. At any rate, if you want a quick read and enjoy mysteries, this book is for you. Then afterwards we can all figure out how to stream the series on our TVs.

My rating: 4 stars.

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City Reader. First Line Friday is hosted by Reading is My Super Power. Share the opening quote from current book.The 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, July 26, 2023

FRANKENSTEIN -- a confession and a short review

Frankenstein: Or A Modern Prometheus
by Mary Shelley, first published in 1818. Later republished in 1831 with some distinctive changes. I read the 1831 version, published by Signet in 2021.

Slowly, slowly, slowly I am making my way through a list of classic books everyone* says I should read before I die. Hopefully, I won't die when I get to the end of the list. More likely I'll never die since it seems like the list is never-ending. Whichever the case, I have finally finished Mary Shelley's famous novel Frankenstein and it was a shocking experience. Not shocking because it was so horrifying, after all Frankenstein is considered to be the very first Sci-Fi novel, but because I thought I knew the story, but I was wrong.

Several years ago I partnered with a high school AP English teacher as part of my role as the school's librarian. She wanted her students to read some classic novels. I suggested a book club within her class. Each student would be part of a small group of students who would all read the same book, discussing it together on intervals. She liked the idea and had me book-talk several classic novels which the library had in multiple copies: Wuthering Heights; As I Lay Dying; Jane Eyre; Brave New World; 1984: and Frankenstein, to name a few. The groups made their selections and off they went with a novel in hand. Several days later a boy came to the library from the class and asked to check out Frankenstein. He'd not been in class the day I conducted the book-talks and he looked none-too-happy to be reading Frankenstein and to be playing catch-up with the rest of his group. I assured him that the novel was a good one, a true horror novel. Then I made a comment which brought a real questioning look on his face. "At least you know about the plot and the characters already." Clearly, by his look, he didn't know either. So I gave him a quick summary: "Mad scientist follows in his father's footsteps, goes to Transylvania, digs up a dead corpse, uses lightening and other dark arts, and creates life from death. The only problem is the new guy looks like a monster."

Gene Wilder as Victor Frankenstein
Boris Karloff

I honestly thought that was the summary of the book. I hadn't read the book but I had seen the Mel Brooks movie, "Young Frankenstein." Oh boy, imagine the student's disappointment when he figured out that I'd sold him on a movie script not a book summary. Imagine my embarrassment as I make my confession to you right now, dear readers. I should have known that Mel Brooks would make a horror movie into a comic one by playing with the details. I've never seen the first Frankenstein movie made in 1931. But I have seen a photo of it's famous actor playing the role of the monster, Boris Karloff. Need I say more? I had not prepared well for my book talk that day, that's for sure!

Let's see if I can quickly set the record straight. First, Victor Frankenstein is not following in his father's scientific footsteps. He becomes interested in the dark arts -- looking for immortal life -- and soon becomes obsessed with trying them out for himself. When he goes off to university in Ingolstadt, Germany (not Transylvania like in Dracula) he spends his time in his own room/laboratory creating the monster. There is no evidence that he robs graves or steals brains from somewhere. When Victor Frankenstein is successful in bringing his creation to life he is horrified at his actions and runs away. Later, when he returns, the monster is gone. Frankenstein goes into a complete depressive funk finally returning home to Geneva, Switzerland in shame. Later when a family friend is killed in a gruesome way, Frankenstein suspects his creation it to blame. More depression and self-incrimination follows. But Frankenstein never tells anyone what he has done or what he suspects.

Later, the two meet -- The creator and the created; The scientist and the monster.  It is during this meeting that the monster, who is never given a name, tells Frankenstein what has happened to him since his inception and explains how he learned language. He also demands that Frankenstein create a female for him, as a companion, since no one else will interact with him. If Frankenstein doesn't comply bad things will happen (and do.) Harold Bloom, the famous literary critic, thinks of the monster and the creator as one being. The monster as the head/mind, and Frankenstein as the heart. So they are forever linked. The book ends on a sad note. No "Young Frankenstein" happy ending here.

And while I am making my true-confessions, I admit I didn't know who Prometheus was either until just days ago when I looked it up. According to Wikipedia (the font of all knowledge. Snark!) -- "Prometheus is best known for defying the Olympian gods by stealing fire from them and giving it to humanity in the form of technology, knowledge, and more generally, civilizationIn some versions of the myth, he is also credited with the creation of humanity from clay." So Frankenstein and Prometheus both created life, hence the subtitle "Or a Modern Prometheus." Got it.

There is a lot made of the differences between the original 1818 edition verses the 2nd edition from 1831 of Frankenstein. Apparently Shelley was pressured to tighten things up and clear up a few character qualities. I honestly didn't know which edition I read, being once again in the dark, since the book I was reading said it was published in 2021. I had to look it up and compare the changes in the plot with what I read. I read the 1831 edition, which is the most common version today.

Was I glad I read the book? Yes, if for no other reason than to set the record straight. And as a cautionary tale to other librarians doing book-talks -- do better research on the books than I did on Frankenstein by Mary Shelley! 


Tuesday, July 25, 2023

GIVE IT A TRY IN JULY -- The finale

The end of July is nearing. How did I do/what did I decide to do with the books on my GIVE IT A TRY IN JULY challenge?

This challenge gave me a chance to decide if I would keep and read on or discard and/or donate each book. As you see I kept going past the original ten books I thought I could manage in a month.

  1. Secrets of the Vine by Wilkinson-- This small book is about the size of my palm, it was very popular in the 1980s. I read the author's first book, The Prayer of Jabez, when it was first published. When I recently acquired this one I thought it wouldn't take much to read and digest. I've added it to my devotional books pile which I read from every morning. When finished, I'll donate it to someone in my Bible Study.
  2. The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea -- I was given this book as a gift. I want to read it but not in this format. I am reshelving it as a reminder to locate an audiobook version of it in the near future.
  3. The Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by David Eggers-- I had this title in the biography section of my high school library, entranced by both the title and the back story -- a young adult suddenly becomes "parent" to a younger sibling when both parents die within a year. Now I know what it was never checked out. I had no idea that the book was written in stream-of-consciousness style. After 52 pages of struggle, I set it aside. If I'm curious enough to finish this one it will have to be in audiobook form. Let someone else grapple with the pages of long paragraphs while I listen. In the meantime, I've set this aside to donate to the library for its book sales.
  4. The Great Green Room: The Brilliant and Bold Life of Margaret Wise Brown by Amy Gary -- My sister recently loaned me this book after reading it with her book club. She said all the women, retired teachers, liked the backstory of the author of the children's book Goodnight Moon, but didn't care for the writing. My sister's advice to me, skim it. After reading less than a quarter of the book, I see what she means. The writing just isn't very tight -- expanding on some details and completely skipping others. I finished this one, reading quickly, now will pass it along to my younger sister (who teaches pre-school and is certainly familiar with Margaret Wise Brown books.)
  5. Work Songs by Ivan Doig. I've owned both the print and audio version of this book by a favorite author for many years. When I started reading/listening to it I couldn't stop. Complete! This one is going in a box with other completed favorite books to keep.
  6. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach. I've owned this book for years and never got past the excellent dedication: For Woody. Ha! The book was published in 2008. It is now 2023. Honestly, I have to admit, I don't want to read it. However, since I do like Mary Roach's other books: Stiff, Gulp, and Grunt, I will search around and see if the library has an audio version I can borrow. Maybe that format will work and I can finally free myself from this print version.
  7. Tattoos on the Heart by Boyle. I picked this one up somewhere along the way thinking I would add it to my devotional readings. Though the account is one of deep faith and impressive service, I couldn't find my way in and abandoned the book before page 25. It felt dated. Donate or discard.
  8. Letter from Dachau by Wilsey. I'd forgotten, until I looked inside, this book was given to my husband by the co-author, Bob Welch, in 2020. We'd gone to Dachau in 2019 and Welch had wanted to use a photo my husband took for the cover. I think the reason neither of us read it when we received our free copy was the timing. In 2020 we weren't interested in reading anything depressing due to the depressing nature of our lives, all our lives, at that time. I finished it, read portions aloud to my husband and secured his permission to pass it on.
  9. 8 Minutes in the Morning by Cruse. Another book I purchased because I'd seen it on the shelf of my library and the title makes one think they'll be a new person if only they do a few certain things for only 8 minutes every morning. Upon closer inspection. it is just another dated exercise and diet book. Almost all the exercises need to be done on the floor. Since that is a problem, up and down to the floor, I immediately was turned off. This one will go into the library sale pile.
  10. The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter. I purchased a used library book copy. Every book I've read by Walter has been good. This one is getting moved to my bedside table. That way I will eventually start it some night when in want of reading material. It will then get passed on to my mother or back to the library so they can sell it again.
  11. The Writing Diet by Cameron. I picked this book up at a library used book sale and I'll be giving it back to the library. I realized that I don't actually want to get up in the morning an hour early to write about eating. I want to lose weight but I don't to obsess about it. I read less than 25 pages and had a fairly visceral reaction to the idea of the book. Ba-bye!
  12. Island Home: A Landscape Memoir by Winton. I was given this book by an Australian friend several years ago. It is about Australia. It is a quick read -- I read 25 pages in one short period of time -- and the pages have lots of white space on them. I will finish it as a nod to my friend and to learn more about Australia. The odd thing I learned is how many different words are specific to Australia, not used in the US. I often felt like I needed a dictionary. Skimmed but finished it.
  13. Rereadings: Seventeen Writer Revisit Books They Love, edited by Anne Fadiman -- I don't know how long I have had this book. Long enough for the orange spine of the cover to discolor and fade. I purchased it used for $10, the pencil markings inside the cover say. I'm sure I bought it because I read and loved Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman sometime in the late 2000s. I don't think I examined it very good before I bought it because I only recognize the titles of three books and one of the featured writers. However now that I've read two of the essays I've decided to relegate this book as bathroom reading. The book currently holding that spot has been on the back of the toilet too long. I'll eventually finish it, but it may take years.
  14. Bats Sing, Mice Giggle: The Surprising Science of Animals; Inner Lives by Shanor and Kanwal. Here is an example of why we, Don and I, are terrible people to give books to -- Don's cousin gave him this book in 2011 with a nice inscription, and it probably hasn't been touched since. It was a thoughtful gift that I'm sure he thought he would read someday, stuck it on the shelf, and forgot about it. I like reading books about animals, he doesn't. Shall I place this one in another bathroom, in hopes it will finally get read or toss it? I'll ask before I decide.
  15. Civil Rights Lawyers in the South...The Untold Story: Klan defeated, Schools Integrated, Segregation Abolished, but the Battle Against Discrimination Goes On! by Aschenbrenner. My mom gave me this book, written by a friend or a relative of a friend. She asks me about it. Why haven't I read it yet? Time's up. I skimmed the textbook-sounding thing and now will return it to her. Phew. Off my list.
  16. 52 Lessons from Les Miserables by Bob Welch. When my daughter moved out, I inherited some of her books. This is one of them. Bob Welch is a friend of my sister and since this is a signed copy I'm fairly sure my sister gave it to her niece as a gift. Now it is my book. Since I love the play and enjoyed the book by Victor Hugo, I will read through the 52 lessons. Then it will be offered to my other daughter, who is also a fan of the story.
  17. Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book: Disgruntled Tips and Activities Designed To Put a Frown on Your Face. Ha-ha. I think this is another book my daughter left behind. I read 20 pages. 20 Pages!! and I didn't smile once. I guess the book works. I decided I don't want to be grumpy. Heave-ho to this one.
  18. Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart D. Ehrman. Back in 2004/05 I became very concerned about people who were using Christianity and the Bible as weapons to clobber people they didn't like over their heads. I bought this book because I thought it would give me insights and ammunition with which to conduct a counter-offensive. Like other nonfiction books I purchased when I was working, these books hold less interest to me now that I am retired. After reading 20+ pages I've decided I'm just not that interested in the scholarly information that likely will change no one's life, including my own. Out it goes. The question, however, is whether it would fit into our church library or not, or should I just toss it? 
  19. Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery. I think I bought this book when Borders Bookstore was going out of business. It still has the bookstore tag on it. I loved the author's book The Elegance of the Hedgehog. So I assume I bought it to see if I loved everything the author wrote. I liked the book fine but didn't love it. Donation is in its future.
Color-coded legend:
  • Read and finished during 'Try It In July' Challenge. Total : 6
  • Read 25-50 pages, set aside to read later. Total: 4
  • Touched book, looked through it, decided to listen to it on audiobooks later. Total: 2
  • Read 25-50 pages (or less) and decided to not finish. Books donated to library for their book sale or taken to a used book store for resale. Total: 7!!!!!!
Success. I already feel lighter. The books I don't want have already been delivered to either the library or the book store, lightening my load by seven (plus others I found during the process.) I plan on distributing the books I did manage to read to friends, family, or the library. I have four books I am looking forward to reading soon, which will further lighten my load. I started with a goal to get through ten books and managed to cope with nineteen. Yay!

I should just carry on with my challenge, or do it again next July. Maybe in the future I won't need to do it at all. I'll only have books on my shelves that I want to keep. Wouldn't that be nice?


Monday, July 24, 2023

TTT: Books I Did Not Finish

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Did Not Finish

#1 and 10 -- Because they were ARC or self-published, too long, and needed the help of an editor.

#2, 3, and 11 -- Poetry books I didn't enjoy or understand.

#4, 5, 6, 7 -- I was reading these books as part of my role as a Round One Cybils judge. I had to read 65+ books in less than six weeks. I needed to read enough of each book to make a good judgment. Not finishing these four doesn't mean I didn't like them.

#8 -- A short story collection I couldn't relate to the first few stories I read so I stopped.

#9 -- I can't remember why I didn't finish this book other than it irritated me, for some reason.

I don't often NOT finish books but I am learning how to do it.


Sunday, July 23, 2023

Sunday Salon / What I Am Reading

Superheroes: Hard at Work! (Photo credit: their mother, R. Adams)

Weather: Lovely. We took a drive in the convertible yesterday ending up at a cidery, the Mill Haus Cider Company and ate our lunch outside, sitting in the shade. It would have been too hot in the sun.

T-Ball and headstands: One of our superheroes also plays T-Ball. We went to one of his games this week and enjoyed the antics of the five and six-year-olds on both teams. For example, a girl on the opposing team, decked out in baseball pants, orange T-shirt, and a pink batting helmet, would do a headstand at every base she stopped at. Serious T-baller!

Didn't do too much this week except read. So let's get to it:

Completed this week!
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (audio) I can finally say I've read it.
House of Light by Mary Oliver. Not my favorite poetry collection by Oliver, or was I just not in the mood?
Victory City by Salman Rushdie (audio) Don and I listened to this one together, my first Rushdie book.
Island Home by Tim Winton. A memoir to a place: Western Australia.
Letters from Dachau by Clarice Wilsey and Bob Welch. 

Currently reading.
I Have Some Questions for You by Rebecca Makkai (audio, 8%)
Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery (50%, reading as part of my Try it July Challenge)

Possible upcoming selections.
We are heading for a family vacation next Sunday and as per usual I am thinking about what I will read more than what I will wear.

Blog posts:
Sink clogged? Call the plumber or...

Our daughter sent us a message that her sink was clogged this week. I can see why.

A superhero has transformed into a helper. Watering with grandpa.


Friday, July 21, 2023


Victory City
is Salman Rushdie's sixteenth novel but the first of his I've read. Though I wanted to read something by Rushdie for a long time, I could never quite spur myself to action when it came to checking out one his many famous offerings and just dive in. Until now. Why not read his most recent? I confess that I was not quite prepared for his particular brand of history, fantasy, and magical realism. In fact at one point I turned to my husband, who was listening to the audiobook with me, and asked him what is going on.

"Well," he said, "as far as I can tell it is a creation story. And," he added, "a story about how religions come to exist, and..." Pretty soon both of us were finding different aspects of the story that made it both familiar and relatable. It was a feminist story, and one about the perils of colonialization, there was Mother Nature, and animals who could talk, and racism and caste systems show-up, at one point I even recognized the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale. The development of the Kama Sutra was explained and the polarizing effect religions can have is a running theme. It is the story about the value of education, and about the frivolous and petty lives lived by many royals. And, in the end, it is about history: who records it and how are people remembered. The words that are written down are all that remain.

Stone Chariot Monument, Hampi, India
Actually Victory City the novel is based on an actual city, Vijayanagar (which translates to Victory City), which dominated a Hindu region of what is now Southern India. It was destroyed in 1565 by a military defeat, though its remains are now called Hampi and are a UNESCO site. Another event happened during that time period: a mass suicide event where women threw themselves onto a huge fire and all burned to death in the 14th Century. (Mass suicide or Jauhar of Rajput women happened at the fort of Chittaur in Rajasthan, India in 1303. Wikipedia).

That event -- the mass suicide -- opens the book when a young nine-year-old girl witnesses her mother walking into the flames to her death. The girl survives and is inhabited by a goddess who not only prophesizes but also imbues the girl with special powers. Among her powers she is given the gift of creation. When she gives seeds to two cowherds, Hukka and Bukka, to plant, the seeds grow into the city of Vijayanagar. Then the girl whispers into the ears of her creation all the stories and memories that they need to start a great civilization. The girl, now a woman, is renamed as Pampa Kampana and recognized as their creator. She is tasked with overseeing her creation long past a normal lifetime. She lives for over 250 years until the city falls. For a time she is even exiled from her city. Near the end of her life she spends her time writing down her account of history in the form of an epic poem and hides it in a huge clay pot which she buries for safe keeping.
The world Pampa calls into being is one of peace, where men and women are equal and all faiths welcome, but the story Rushdie tells is about a state that forever fails to live up to its ideals. Hukka and Bukka say they want peace but make war on others to preserve it, and they can never quite conquer their land’s intolerance: a fundamentalist insistence on having the one right belief that works to undermine the pluralism of the city’s founding principles. (NYT)
I understand this is fundamental Rushdie. Start with an ideal and see where it goes naturally. Insist room exists for all in the world, even when history keeps telling us there isn't. 

Oddly, the ending of the book was very prescient. Near the end of the book Pampa Kampana has a falling out with yet another king and he orders her to be brutally blinded. We know that Salman Rushdie was attacked while at a literary event last summer by a knife-wielding foe and ended up losing sight in one of his eyes. Was he, like his heroine, able to gaze into the future or was it just a big coincidence? 

My husband and I listened to the audiobook together, expertly narrated by Sid Sagar. He did a great job, but boy, it would have been nice to see a print version as we listened. The spelling of so many names eluded us. Here is a sample of the audio version.

I've already spent a few minutes determining which of Rushdie's novels I should read next. Midnight's Children, his 1981 Booker Prize winner would probably be a great place to start. But I am very intrigued by The Ground Beneath Her Feet which someone described as the first great rock-n-roll novel ever written in English. We'll see where the reading muses lead me but let's hope it doesn't take me another 40 years to find my way back to Rushdie.


Thursday, July 20, 2023

Review and quotes: WORK SONG

Work Song by Ivan Doig

Book Beginnings/First Line Friday quote:
"Morgan, did you say your name is? Funny things, names."
Friday56 quote:
So, I set out from the boardinghouse that first morning with a sense of hope singing in me as always at the start of a new venture.
"If America was a melting pot, Butte would be its boiling point," observes Morrie Morgan, the itinerant teacher, walking encyclopedia, and inveterate charmer last seen leaving a one-room schoolhouse in Marias Coulee, the stage he stole in Ivan Doig's 2006 The Whistling Season. A decade later, Morrie is back in Montana, as the beguiling narrator of Work Song.

Lured like so many others by "the richest hill on earth," Morrie steps off the train in Butte, copper-mining capital of the world, in its jittery heyday of 1919. But while riches elude Morrie, once again a colorful cast of local characters-and their dramas-seek him a look-alike, sound-alike pair of retired Welsh miners; a streak-of-lightning waif so skinny that he is dubbed Russian Famine; a pair of mining company goons; a comely landlady propitiously named Grace; and an eccentric boss at the public library, his whispered nickname a source of inexplicable terror. When Morrie crosses paths with a lively former student, now engaged to a fiery young union leader, he is caught up in the mounting clash between the iron-fisted mining company, radical "outside agitators," and the beleaguered miners. And as tensions above ground and below reach the explosion point, Morrie finds a unique way to give a voice to those who truly need one.

Review: Whistling Season, the first book in the Morrie Morgan series of which Work Song is #2, is one of my top ten favorite books. I love it so much, I've read it three times. In that book Morrie Morgan arrives in a small community in Montana in the early 1900s and through a series of mishaps, ends up as the teacher of a one-room school house with no other qualifications than he is there. Yet, he is a master teacher conquering the hearts and minds of his students as well as the readers of the book. In the end he has to leave town, running from his past. Work Song starts ten years after Whistling Season ends when Morrie returns to Montana, this time in Butte. After a short stint working at a mortuary, he gets a job as a library assistant, a job he seems born to do. As a retired librarian I was taken by the quotes that demonstrate just how much Morrie loved books, learning, and the library. I couldn't resist sharing a few more quotes from the book.

I know exactly how Morrie felt about his library. After teaching for twenty-five years, I became a  school librarian and started my new role in the most lovely high school library in a brand new school. Every day I could pinch myself how lucky I felt to work in such a wonderful place.

I loved being a librarian. When I read this description of a librarian being a bartender of information, I knew exactly how Morrie felt. Isn't it a great description?

Page 275

Clearly, I homed in on the library quotes. But the story is really about how to strengthen the unions, whose members are trying to figure out an angle to get more support. Morrie decides they need a song!

I started out listening to Work Songs on audiobook and was delighted to be reacquainted with the same narrator from Whistling Season, Jonathan Hogan. Here is a sample of this audiobook. You'll hear a voice which reminds me of the voice of many men in the West. If you haven't read anything by Ivan Doig before, I highly recommend his writing and for a strong feel for what it was like, what it must have been like, to live in the West in the first half of the 20th Century. Every page is full of some witticism or another or just some little treasure hidden on the page. I will close with just one more quote. Thinking about the setting of this book -- 1919 right after WWI and The Influenza Pandemic-- it could be said about today just as easily as back then:

My rating: 5 stars. Interested? Read Whistling Season first.

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City Reader. First Line Friday is hosted by Reading is My Super Power. Share the opening quote from current book.The 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.