Saturday, February 6, 2016

For the Record: January 2016 (plus New Orleans!)

Welcome to 2016! It sure seems like the year is off to a rough start, both with celebrity deaths, political shenanigans, and what not. I'm still holding out hope that 2015 just couldn't fit it all in and it's about to turn around.

On the personal side of life, January was a slog. My husband was gone most of the month, here and there for work and other things. My high school kiddos had semester finals, and my 11yo daughter's horse trainer announced she was moving out of state. Overshadowing all of that was the fog that comes when one big (huge) project is finishing (our remodel) and no new goals or projects have surfaced. So that's my February goal: find a new mission!

I did get to join my husband on one of his trips. He had a trade convention to attend in New Orleans, which is somewhere we've long wanted to visit. The food was good, the music was great, and the crowd was crazy. We saw a couple of Mardi Gras parades without much hassle, as we were staying in the French Quarter, and toured the Garden District before leaving. I was surprised how run-down the city was and  have been wondering if that is characteristic to the city historically, or if it is due to a slow recovery from Katrina? Anyone know? I was reminded of Ignatius from Confederacy of Dunces the whole trip. I might need to reread that book this year.

On the bookish front, January was a pretty good month. I've been writing more and blogging more, which feels great. I've been getting the urge to reorganize my bookshelves (already!) but have put my efforts towards cleaning up my LibraryThing records instead.

I love being able to see all my books, and have gone full-library-nerd and labeled my books if they were prize-winners or ones I need to read. Having them all on display means I don't keep many books cued up on my nightstand, and also that I don't have huge book-buying urges like I did when they were all packed away and I was too busy to read. There are so many great options on my shelves!

7 Books Read in January [7 books year-to-date]

1 NonFiction:
  - The Old West, Stephen Hyslop (4) My husband got me this lovely book for Christmas. It has tons of beautiful illustrations, and a good proportion of Indian history to white history. I loved all the little mini-biographies and read straight through the book, although it would be nearly as enjoyable to flip through and read bit by bit.

2 Junior Fiction:
  - Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, Jean Lee Latham (3.5) I was not expecting to like this biographical novel about one of America's most important navigators - oceans aren't my favorite thing - but I was pleasantly surprised.  I'm sure it was better because I read it aloud to my daughter (she enjoyed it) but overall it was both educating and entertaining.
  - Moccasin Trail, Eloise Jarvis McGraw (4) This is my second time reading this book and I just love it. I love how you get a picture of 19th century American life from the perspectives of the Indians, the trappers, as well as the settlers. Such an interesting contrast. Even better, there is a good look at why it is important to explore why we react as we do, and notice how our actions affect others.

1 Classic:
  - Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert (3.5) I picked this up on a whim - it was just so pretty sitting on my shelf. It was an interesting contrast/comparison to The Awakening by Kate Chopin, but in the end, as with The Awakening, I quickly tired of the shallow flightiness of the main character. Flaubert's writing, on the other hand, was enjoyable.

3 Fiction:
  - Smilla's Sense of Snow, Peter Hoeg (3) My book club pick was a novel in translation from the Danish, first published in 1992. There were some lovely poetic parts, though it ended up being too "action movie" for my tastes. We had some good discussion about whether the author succeeded in writing from a female point of view, and we all appreciated the look at Greenland, the native Greenlander's life, and the strained relationship between Greenland and Denmark.
  - The Girl You Left Behind, Jojo Moyes (4) This was the third book by Moyes that I've read (the other two were for book club: Me Before You and One Plus One) and I enjoyed this the most of the three. I bought it on a whim at the same time I purchased the first one, because the WWI topic was interesting. I thought the romance in this book was a little more natural, and the book overall felt less emotionally manipulative than her others. I liked the history aspect, and appreciated that her character introductions were a little less chaotic.
  - News of the World, Paulette Jiles (4.5) I actually blogged about this book! (Yay me!) This was certainly my favorite read of the month, and is one that has stuck with me since reading it. It's a small book, but super substantial as far as characters, setting, history, and language. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the old west.


Current Reads:
  - A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn. I've been on a US history kick. That's what we are studying in homeschool, and my son is in a AP US History class, so we have all kinds of great discussions. My dad is also a a US history buff so we have some great conversations. This one is definitely interesting, as it is written from the unpopular point of view: the poor and downtrodden, the underdog. It is, obviously, biased. But it's a perfect contrast to traditional history tellings and really helps to round out the perspective a bit.
  - Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder. I haven't read this since elementary school, but thought it might be a fun read now. As a girl, I only remember being frustrated that Laura wasn't in this, as she was who I was in love with. Reading it now, without that expectation, is a much better experience. It sure seems a lovely life!
  - We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler. I actually haven't read more than the first sentence, but this is what I'll be reading as soon as I find a free moment.


New Books This Month:
Here's what I saved from my local independent bookstore's closing sale, as well as another couple I found at Barnes and Noble when I went there to try to cheer myself up about Apostrophe Books. I don't think it helped, but I'm looking forward to the new adventures anyhow.


Thursday, January 28, 2016

News of the World - Paulette Jiles

We tend to think of history in rather finite units, as if each event or crisis was limited to a number of years or physical location wholly independent of other events. As such, it is often the connections that astonish us: the realization that the 1890s saw not only Indian massacres (Wounded Knee) and a gold rush (Klondike) but also early automobiles and moving pictures: things from seemingly different times. Add to those events the thought that this was when Sherlock Holmes and The Time Machine were published, the Olympics were reinstated, and yet the American Civil War had ended a mere 25 years before.

Into some version of this post-Civil War America, Paulette Jiles has drawn a picture of Texas and how the advance of technology meets the Old West. With the wireless telegraph making international news closer than ever before, it might be tempting to think the world was a newly modern place as a whole. In many areas, however, news of the world may as well have been fairy tales for how fantastic it seemed.

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd makes his living by traveling through Texas, reading national and international news to a paying audience. He is feeling his age, and wants nothing more than to put war behind him and live a peaceful life. This is not to happen yet, however, as he soon finds himself faced with a challenge: transporting a young orphan girl to her relatives from whom she had been kidnapped by Kiowa raiders four years before. Ten-year-old Johanna has no interest in leaving her Indian family—she has no memory of life before the Kiowa—but she doesn't have a choice: the Kiowa have traded her in for some much needed supplies and the promise of peace.

I came to love Cpt. Kidd and the way he cared for Johanna. I loved how his mind would wander back to memories of his wife and thoughts of his daughters and forward to what his future might hold. I loved the sights and sounds of the Old West, a land fraught with tension and resentment and a severe lack of leadership. I loved the peek into the Kiowa approach to life and watching Johanna's strengths and weaknesses. I loved the writing. It was a perfect combination of action and introspection.
Loss of reputation and the regard of our fellow persons is in any society, from Iceland to Malaysia, a terrible blow to the spirit. It is worse than being penniless and more cutting than the blades of enemies.

In many ways I was reminded of True Grit while reading this. Every character was unique and vivid, and yet a certain spare, desolate quality permeated the landscape. Small in size but big in heart, this book is one to share and reread.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

it's a sad day in my book world

Two sad pieces of news hit my book world today. The first was a headline I read when opening my new app this morning about Alan Rickman. He will always be Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility to me (and Prof. Snape to my daughter). His voice was just something to bask in, wasn't it? Turns out, he recorded Thomas Hardy's Return of the Native, so that will be my next audio book. And Sense and Sensibility may just be the movie of the night.

The other piece of sad news hit my email inbox regarding my local independent bookshop. They've been struggling for quite some time, and apparently the holiday sales weren't enough of a boost to keep them rolling. (Neither were all of my book purchases apparently!) It saddens me that my city of nearly a half million people is unable to support a single independent bookstore. We have a couple used book stores and two branches of Barnes & Noble, but it just isn't quite the same. Some day I'd love to live in a literary city. For now, I'm in the process of deciding which neighboring store will be my new local/mail order store.

Sigh. Sad day.

Monday, January 4, 2016

2016 Goals and Ambitions

My main goal for 2016 is to begin writing again. Since that is a highly focused and creative process for me, it is something that fell by the wayside as my home remodel usurped more and more of my time in the last few years, and is something I'm keen to get back to.

I haven't stipulated what type of writing specifically I want to be doing, because at this point my goal is simply to write. At least five days a week. Even if it's something that no one else will ever see. However, it's only natural that one of my main outlets should be my blog. As such, I've done some preliminary thinking on some humble aspirations.

Continue with my monthly wrap-up posts.
     This kept me sane during my house remodel. Whatever else was happening, I at least had a brief time once a month when I could reflect on how I'd spent those rare free moments. When life was especially stressful and I was tempted to stop blogging altogether in order to eliminate something from my plate, I would remind myself: this is one thing I do for me.

Write at least one book review each month.
     I don't even remember the last book review I wrote, and that is one of the things that I loved about blogging from the beginning: the chance to really think through something I'd read and share it with others. It might be my favorite read of the month, or a book that provided especially stimulating thought and conversation, or a book that just needs a rant.

Quarterly Inbox posts.
    I had started this at the beginning of 2015, just as a way to see how many books I purchased and whether I read them immediately or not. I stopped mid-year after moving house a gazillion times and losing all my brain cells, but I think I'm emerging from the zombie zone and am going to give it another shot.

Quarterly Knitting posts.
     Often when I read, I'm also knitting (or have knitting nearby) and I thought it would be a fun thing to track every now and again. I also have a passion for quilting, but since that is also (in addition to writing) a highly focused and creative process, I find the time for it much less often than I do for knitting, which is more of a craft than an art for me.

In addition to these blog posts, I'm going to make a concentrated effort to visit all of your blogs and keep up with what is going on with you. I know that some of my old blogging friends have moved on to other things. While that saddens me, I also know that there are friends out there waiting to be found, and that's exciting.

On the reading front, I have set a goal of 75 books for 2016. I'd like at least 12 to be some sort of classic and 12 to be some sort of nonfiction. I'm also going to try to read from my shelves, since I finally have all my books on display and there are quite a few that are still waiting to be read and are calling to me.

I always want to add more goals at the beginning of the year, but I'm going to stop here since I know that even these will be a challenge. I do like a good deadline though! Happy reading to you all, hopefully we'll be chatting soon.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015: Year in Review

On one hand, I'm having a hard time believing this year is finally coming to an end. On the other hand, this year has felt like its been two or three times as long as usual so I'm eager to get on with a new year! My house project is finally done so maybe I can get back to whatever it was I used to do before we started. Blogging perhaps?

Biggest success this year?  Reading what I felt like, when I felt like. Letting go of most of my reading goals ended up being a good thing.

Biggest goal for 2016? Apart from being more involved in my blog, (I've resolved to write more this year in general,) I'd like to focus on reading titles from my shelves now that I finally have my books all in one place.

84 books read in 2015 - More than the last two years, color me surprised!

  • 21.5% NONFICTION (18 books) 4.5% up from 2014
  • 45% ADULT FICTION (38 books) 9% down from 2014
  • 21.5% JUNIOR/TEEN FICTION (18 books) 14.5% down from 2014
  • 12% CLASSICS (10 books) 3% up from 2014
9 "CHUNKSTERS" (450+ pages)

TOP FIVE of 2014:
Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (funny, complex characters and vivid setting)
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (wonderfully told history)
The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O'Connor (introspective and evocative of person and place)
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara (perfectly told Civil War history)
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (atmospheric and captivating)


5 stars:
  - The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson
  - Being Mortal, Atul Gawande
  - The Landmark History of the American People, Vol. I, Daniel Boorstin
4.5 stars:
  - The Lexicographer's Dilemma, Jack Lynch
  - The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo
  - Dead Wake, Erik Larson

5 stars:
  - Main Street, Sinclair Lewis
  - Mary Barton, Elizabeth Gaskell
4.5 stars:
  - The Optimist's Daughter, Eudora Welty

Adult Fiction:
5 stars:
  - We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
  - The Edge of Sadness, Edwin O'Connor
  - The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara
4.5 stars:
  - The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
  - Wolf Winter, Cecilia Eckback
  - The Martian, Andy Weir

Junior/Teen Fiction:
  - Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O'Brien
4.5 stars:
  - Tuesdays at the Castle, Jessica Day George

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

For the Record: December 2015

I thought I'd give this month a proper wrap-up before I start diving into the huge (and hugely fun) end-of-year stats. This December was more of a blur than usual, since the whole family had a terrible cold/flu for a couple weeks, as well as cramming in the final construction for our house before our epic housewarming party on the 12th. Boy am I glad that is behind me! Looking back through my month I realized I hadn't written down anything I read (highly unusual for me!) but I think I pieced it all together.

4 Books Read in December [83 books year-to-date]

2 for Home School:
  - The Landmark History of the American People Volume I, Daniel Boorstin (5) I didn't much like the older version of this book, but the new edition with its beautiful illustrations has been a wonderful resource to use with my 6th grader. One really gets a sense of how life was, why things developed as they did, and the sense of speed with which progress was made.
  - The Lewis and Clark Expedition, Richard L. Neuberger (3) Much more boring than it needed to be (it literally put multiple people to sleep). If I'd known, we would have watched the Ken Burns documentary instead.

1 for Book Club:
  - Lila, Marilynne Robinson (4) I liked this better than Gilead, though that may be partly because I had some history with the story. Touching and thoughtful, and masterfully crafted.

1 Other:
  - The Night Watch, Sarah Waters (3.5) Enjoyable, but not as much depth as I was hoping for. A little too much relied on the relationships rather than the characters themselves.


Current Reads:
  - Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett. I'm still enjoying my current audiobook, even though I'm not much for the explicit scenes. I like the time period and the story.
  - The Old West, Stephen G. Hyslop. The one book I got for Christmas. It's more of a coffee table book, with lots of illustrations and text divided into tidbits, but I'm enjoying it.
  - Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, Jean Lee Latham. Current read-aloud to my 11yo daughter to go along with our history studies.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

For the Record: November 2015

Here it is, nearly halfway through December and I haven't posted about November's reading.  It's that time of year: so much to do, so little time.

5 Books Read in November [79 books year-to-date]

3 Junior Fiction:
  - The Penderwicks, Jeanne Birdsall (3) Reviews of this books typically contain mass adoration and undying love, but it felt overthought and saccharine sweet to me. Very much a rehash of Little Women, which was a boring read for me too.
  - The Cabin Faced West, Jean Fritz (3.5) Sweet story about early Westward Expansion based on a true story. Somewhat forgettable due to the lower reading level.
  - Dreamland, Robert L. Anderson (2.5) New Junior Fiction that I read to preview for my 11yo who saw ads for it on YouTube. Unfortunately, the seemingly random insertions of language and guy/girl thought processes makes it a bit inappropriate for her age. My 15yo would be fine with that stuff but would be completely bored with the storyline. This was a flop.

2 Adult Fiction:
  - The Martian, Andy Weir (4.5) What a great audio book! Uniquely written (and published) and entertaining to the end. I need to see the movie now!
  - A Cup of Dust, Susie Finkbeiner (2) I requested this on LibraryThing's Early Reviewers, not knowing it was published by a Christian publisher.  Since I am a Christian, this should be a good thing, but I have too much experience with the lower quality expectations in the Christian market.  It's irritating that this is the case, because it really shouldn't matter, but this book was no exception. As with Christian music, it's typically immediately apparent that the quality isn't the main objective. My irritations aside, it wasn't preachy and the plot wasn't redemption based, which I appreciated. The plot wasn't overly Christian-y. Some of the turns of phrase were, though (like "I wonder why they held onto shame like that"). Anway. Whatever. It's been read. I didn't like it, but my mom did. To each her own. :)


Current Reads:
  - Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett. My current audiobook, and it's making for a good one. That's a relief since it's something like 40 hours long! It's definitely less focused on the writing and more focused on the plot than I'm used to, but entertaining.
  - My Struggle, Karl Ove Knausgard. I took a break from this because of holiday ADHD, but am enjoying enough that I already bought the second volume.
  - Lila, Marilynne Robinson. My book club pick...I didn't finish it in time but am enjoying it more than I did Gilead. I'm glad to have read Gilead, since having that background is probably partly the reason I'm enjoying it more.
  - The Night Watch, Sarah Waters. This is the book that I thought would take two days to read but reading time has been especially hard to find lately so I'm still working on it.  I like how Waters writes, but am not enjoying the storyline as much as The Paying's moving a little slower and focuses too much on love affairs. That could be because I'm taking too long to read it though. Some books are like that.
  - Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, Jean Lee Latham. Current read-aloud to my 11yo daughter to go along with our history studies.


On My Nightstand:
We've been putting the house through massive tidying in preparation for our housewarming party this weekend, so I haven't had much reading time and have ended up putting potential books back on my shelves. So there's actually nothing in the queue right now. I need to get through some of my current reads before I decide what is up next. End of year is always a bit of a free-for-all.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Giving Thanks

I adore our week of Thanksgiving. We gather family around us and cook like mad for days and days. Books and Kindles are strewn across every available surface and for once they are not all mine. Puzzles, old photographs, funny stories, cooking, cleaning, (and a touch of politics to spice it up,) make the act of remembering nearly synonymous with giving thanks. Being up in the mountains with snow flurries filling the sky doesn't hurt either.

And you, fellow book fiends: I am thankful for you as well.  Knowing there are like-minded folk out there gives me reason to be thankful every day. My thoughts are with you all today—I hope you are able to find a moment of peace and a kernel of joy. Happy November!

Friday, November 6, 2015

For the Record: October 2015

My readathon books
Probably the most exciting bookish news for me is that I participated in Dewey's 24-Hour Read-a-thon for the first time in October. My weekends are typically too busy to do much reading, so it was a treat to be able to take time out and push through some books.

No, wait...the most exciting bookish news for me is that I'm almost done setting up my library! What a dream come true—all of my books accessible and visible at long last. I have a bit more sorting to do and need to go find myself a reading chair, but pretty thrilling all the same. Pictures coming soon!

13 Books Read in October! [74 books year-to-date]

2 Classics:
  - Animal Farm, George Orwell (4) This was my first time reading this little guy. I assumed that I wouldn't like it much since it's one of those "required reading" books, but it wasn't at all heavy handed (a la Lord of the Flies). Even though it was obviously written with a political statement in mind, I found it entertaining and interesting.
  - Right Ho, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse (3.5) The humor was actually a bit tiresome for me, but then I was at the end of a readathon with a head cold really kicking in, so it could totally be a matter of timing.

2 NonFiction:
  - The Big Burn, Timothy Egan (3) I'd been meaning to read this for a long time, even more so since loving Egan's The Worst Hard Time. For whatever combination of reasons, I found this book very hard to focus on and continue reading. The parts with Teddy Roosevelt were great, but they were also few and far between.  This is actually more of a biography of the guy who spearheaded the National Forest Service, and whose name I've already forgotten.  Pinchot, I think. Not a bad book, just not suited for me at this time.
  - A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson (4) I listened to the audio version, and liked Bryson so much in that capacity that I may not read a physical copy of his book again. The story was enjoyable. As is typical for me, there were times when Bryson's soapbox aggravated me...not because of his views as much as his views contradict each other and he doesn't seem to realize it. It was interesting reading his comments on the National Forest Service after having just completed The Big Burn. Now I need to remember to watch the film adaptation!


4 Adult Fiction:
  - Wolf Winter, Cecilia Eckback (4.5) Wow wow wow, thank you Powell's Indiespensable for a wonderful selection! This book was somewhat dark and creepy, steeped in Nordic superstition at a time when witch hunts were not too unimaginable. This isn't the type of book I'd usually give 5 stars, but I enjoyed it that much. This isn't your typical historical fiction or mystery. (It's much better!)(Disclaimer: I like books that focus on characters more than plot, so it might be slow for other readers...though I didn't find it to be that way at all.)
  - Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline (3.5) I've read so many books recently that try to combine a modern story with an historical story and fail to make either fully fleshed out. This is kind of typical book club fare, but at least it was written better than the others. It made me decide that I do not like present tense writing as a general rule, but it was good for a quick read.
  - Did You Ever Have a Family, Bill Clegg (4.5) If you're up for a uniquely written book that sucks you in, this one's for you. Powell's Indiespensable selected another winner! If a changing point-of-view drives you batty, maybe think twice about reading this. Each section was a different perspective, and often it was one you had to figure out. It does tie together in the end, and paints a complex picture of life, love, and grief.
  - In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, Daniyal Mueenuddin (3.5) This collection of short stories centered in Pakistan was my book club pick. The writing quality and character development were good, but there was death, poverty, and depression in almost every story. While the enjoyment factor wasn't super high for me, I did appreciate the portraits painted of a society emerging from (or collapsing?) a caste system, attempting to develop a middle class.


5 Junior Fiction:
  - The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Elizabeth George Speare (4) I read this aloud to my 11yo for our American history studies and she looooved it. She couldn't get enough of it. The contrast of Puritan and Shaker philosophy was interested, but the romantic interests put it over the top. :)
  - Justin Morgan Had a Horse, Marguerite Henry (4) Another read-aloud...since we finished the last one ahead of schedule we fit another one in. Why not one about a horse? This is a sweet story, with more than your average horse/human bond: the history of the Morgan horse is the focus.
  - Little Shop of Hamsters, R.L. Stine (3.5) I never read R.L. Stine growing up, and I always wondered how the books could possibly manage keeping blood and horror at a PG rating. I was pretty impressed. The tone was lighthearted enough (plenty of exclamation marks will do that) that it never got truly frightening.
  - Poppy, Avi (3.5) This was recommended to me by a friend in my book club that loves reading this aloud to her class. I liked it, and can see how it would make a good read-aloud, but I wish that the characters and story had been developed more.
  - Tuesdays at the Castle, Jessica Day George (4.5) One of my favorite authors for Junior Fiction, Jessica Day George knocked it out the park again with this one. My 11yo read it and then made me read it. If you've ever loved a fairy tale, this will bring the kid out in you and have you loving them again.


Current Reads:
  - The Martian, Andy Weir. My current audiobook. The narrator and production on this one is top notch.
  - My Struggle, Karl Ove Knausgard. I've only just cracked the cover of this one, but I'm loving the introspection and philosophical thought.
  - Johnny Tremain, Esther Forbes. Current read-aloud to my 11yo daughter to go along with our history studies.


On My Nightstand:
Pretty much everything is on my figurative nightstand right now.  For the first time in a decade I have all of my books present and visible and I've got book-selection-ADD. I'm too excited to go about selecting my next books methodically!
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