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Growing up, reading aloud was what my family did together. Maybe some during the day when we were little, but always every evening after supper. Whoever was assigned to be the dishwasher of the evening could dictate the book, and everyone else would gather around to listen, doing crafts or artwork to keep the hands busy while the ears listened. After I went to bed, if I had nightmares, I would creep halfway down the stairs to listen to the comforting sound of my father’s voice, reading aloud to my mother. Though I know they read more, in my mind’s ear, it was always either Hornblower or the Dragonriders of Pern. As a family, though, the series we read over and over again were Swallows and Amazons, the Chronicles of Narnia, and the Lord of the Rings. The last, early enough that I experienced a brief burst in popularity with my fourth-grade classmates, when our teacher read Fellowship aloud to us and I was the only one who knew what happened next. Those memories are why I felt compelled to read this book.

book cover The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma This memoir comes from a young woman who made a promise with her father at about age 9: they would read together every night. At first, they planned to read for 100 nights, but as they reached that goal, they aimed for 1000 and then kept right on going. They read through Alice Ozma’s mother leaving, through her late high school drama evenings and her father’s larangytis, right through until she left for college. Alice Ozma (named, of course, for her father’s favorite storybook heroines) narrates the story. I’d heard a lot about this book, and was slightly disappointed that it spent more time talking about what was going on around the reading than discussing the books they read. There are quotes from the books heading the chapters, and a bibliography at the end, but this is more memoir than reading reflection. It’s enjoyable as a memoir, but I want you, Dear Reader, to be more prepared than I was for the actual content of this book. Ozma paints a glowing portrait of her father, so dedicated to reading to children that he would hide her in a sleeping bag under his desk at work if she claimed to be sick, so that he could still read to his classes at the school library where he worked. More heartbreaking was his early retirement, when his school board decided that library time should be mostly about learning to use computers, with not more than five to ten minutes spent being read to. I wish for every child to have as dedicated a read-toer as Ozma’s father.

Originally posted at .
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I feel a little guilty reviewing books on the bestseller list. After all, anyone can read the bestseller list; these books maybe don't need more people promoting them. But here it is. I read it, I loved it, and now I will share the love.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver with Steven L. Hopp, and Camille Kingsolver Kingsolver, her husband, and two children set out in this vivid nonfiction adventure to spend and document a year spent eating only locally produced food. After years spent living in suburban Arizona, the family moves to rural Appalachia, with the intent, Kingsolver says, of living in a place that contains more than one of the three basic necessities of life. Starting the year with the first asparagus and some trepidation, they head to the farmer's market to see what they can find. What they end up with is delicious bounty – different things at different times of the year, to be sure, and no bananas – but always good, varied food in the peak of flavor. Trying for the first time to raise enough to eat year-round rather than a small vegetable garden provides room for meditation on the loss of vegetable varieties and the fragility of farmers' livelihoods, while harvesting their turkeys and chickens brings up the issues of carnivory and the difficulties with both CAFOs and vegetarianism. An early autumn trip to Italy shows a culture where food and culture is still deeply connected to the land. As Kingsolver narrates the year, Hopp steps in as "Dr. Science", with factual sidebars, while teenaged Camille provides a week's worth of meals with recipes for each month. It can be a little preachy, but if you already believe that the earth and our diets are in need of some help, it's inspirational rather than disturbing. All the authors are clearly passionate in showing that eating locally is delicious and doable by anybody with a will and a local farmer's market or garden. After listening to the audiobook, with Kingsolver's gently twangy voice, [ profile] amnachaidh and I were both inspired – I to tomato canning, and he to trying home cheese making, as well as more frequent trips to the farmer's market. For anyone who cares about good food, this is an essential read.
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The No-Cry Discipline Solution by Elizabeth Pantley “No-cry” may sound radical, but this is a gentle and practical guide to parenting. Pantley starts out with a chapter devoted to parenting myths, such as, “If my kids don’t behave all the time, I must be doing something wrong.” Kids will misbehave, and you will do things you’ll wish you hadn’t. Then she covers a basic theory of discipline: understanding why children misbehave, looking at the long term to decide what’s important when dealing with younger children. She has chapters dealing with major everyday problems such as tantrums, whining and hitting. An important and unusual chapter deals with managing your own anger and frustration as a parent. These are the core of the book, but the second half or so is devoted to short sections on a multitude of common problems with targeted solutions, such as biting, trouble with daycare drop-offs and pick-ups, and so on. I don’t agree with her on everything – I’d wish for a more nuanced discussion of praise, for example. I do like the approach, starting with a discussion of each problem, how to prevent it from happening in the first place and what to do when it happens. In an analogy that stuck with me, Pantley says that having just one or two parenting techniques is like having a little sandwich baggy of solutions. If they don’t work, you’re out of luck. She aims instead to offer you a laundry bag full of techniques, for you to practice and find ones that work for you and your family. Pantley may not have any child-related degrees, but she knows what she’s talking about. In addition to four children of her own, ranging from primary school to college, she has done a lot of research, both of the reading and the hands-on variety. Her methods are tested with a couple hundred kids, from several countries, of many ages, and from many different types of families. They are aimed at raising loving, happy and functional adults, as well as maintaining peace and order now. This is an extremely useful and excellent book.
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1-2-3 Magic by Thomas W. Phelan I am always suspicious of parenting books that say, "If our method doesn't work for you, you're not following the instructions correctly." Different kids work very differently. At any rate, this is a punishment-based book. Your kids are out to get you, says Phelan, and you'd better punish them quickly before they get out of hand. Don't talk to them, because kids aren't capable of reasoning. The only punishment he offers is the time-out, a popular one to be sure, but ineffective for some kids, and emotionally difficult for others. This emphasis on instant obedience without understanding seems geared to produce adults who can say they're "just following orders". After you've gotten the worst of their bad behavior out of them, you can start using some rewards and praise to encourage good behavior, and then you might actually start to like your kids. The author appears to be a pediatrician who leaves most of the actual kid-rearing to his wife, and this book is based on his experience with patients who have followed his advice and come back and said that it works. There's a lot of research out there on discipline techniques and their effect on child behavior and psychology, but Phelan doesn't reference or appear to have read any of it. He is also very rigid, saying, for example, that there is no excuse for parents and children to be in the same bed together ever, even in cases of nightmares, illness, or thunderstorms.

This is an enormously popular book, though. It seems to me that the appeal is primarily that he offers one simple solution to the difficult problem of parenting. Also, the idea that kids are primarily savages with no naturally good impulses who need to suffer when they do something wrong is pretty deeply held in our society. Phelan's approach appeals to that by telling parents that they can be in control, even though their kids really are out to get them. The best I can say about it is that it is consistent and avoids yelling and hitting. From my own experience, the little of Phelan's style that has crept into my own since reading his book has made me less patient and everyone in our household less happy.
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Charmed Knits: Projects for Fans of Harry Potter by Alison Hansel When I first saw this book advertised, I thought that I wasn’t really a big enough Harry Potter fan to want a book like this. Then I actually saw it. I guess I’m a bigger fan than I thought. Now I’m longing to knit Mrs. Weasley’s initial sweaters, recreated in tweedy yarn with soft rolled edges, sized for children, adults, or Christmas ornaments. Her clock is made into an afghan, with the arrow conveniently pointing to “at home”. The striped scarves from the movies are included in both the wide stripes of the early movies and the narrower double barred versions from the later movies, with matching hats and mittens. A Hogwarts v-neck sweater with narrow stripes in house colors at the cuffs and waist is subtle enough to wear without any but other fans noticing, while only the most die-hard of movie buffs would recognize the (still nifty) zigzag cabled hat and mittens from Hermione’s trip to Hogsmeade in the fourth movie. Knit mismatched Dobby socks, including a pair with Snitches on one sock and broomsticks on the other, wand cozies, a miniature stuffed Errol, house elf hats for babies. The patterns look well crafted, the book is nicely put together, and there are projects for both the rabid and the shy Harry Potter fan.
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The Vegetarian Mother’s Cookbook by Cathe Olson This cookbook is full of yummy recipes aimed at the pregnant or nursing vegetarian mother. While that group may be small, the recipes are really good, with appeal well beyond the target audience. They are designed for maximum nutritional benefits, with balanced protein, fat, and whole grains, and includes nutritional profiles for all the recipes. (Adding vitamin-rich seaweed mix to nearly everything seemed strange at first, and then we discovered that seaweed is also one of the biggest natural sources of umame – the flavor that MSG recreates without the health benefits.) I was first impressed by the book when, after the usual trope on the importance of breakfast, she actually devoted a full third of the book to breakfast recipes designed to work for busy mornings, including porridges, whole-grain pancakes and waffles, granolas, and breakfasts on the go. Then there are recipes for dinners, snacks, teas, and baked goods and sorbets that will satisfy your cravings without throwing your blood sugar out of whack. The dinners especially include advice on which recipes freeze well and how to bake in small stages throughout the day around baby duties. This is the rare book that we actually bought, because there were so many recipes that looked really good, even to my carnivorous husband – better than beef stew, many variations on lasagna, nori rice balls, and more. And while meatless entrees might not be for everyone, the careful attention to sugar balance makes this an excellent choice for anyone who wants good food that doesn’t compromise on flavor or nutrition.


Jul. 28th, 2007 04:37 pm
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Did I mention I’ve been on a gardening kick lately? Here’s what I’ve been reading. You’ll note aspects of our yard as well as my interests in herbs and organic gardening. Every one of these books included “easy” as a keyword. My ideal garden is one where I do a little work in spring and maybe fall, and then don’t need to do much of anything the rest of the year.

Easy Care Shade Flowers by Patricia A. Taylor Don’t limit yourself to hostas and ferns in the shade! Taylor has some theory, profiles of outstanding public and private shady gardens, and lists of good plants by type (shrub, perennial, annual) and by region (given by regional experts). The only thing I felt was a little short was help planning your own garden.

Beautiful Easy Herbs by Laurence Sombke This is a book that I am still drooling over, even though most herbs want lots of sun, which I don’t have. The author first profiles one hundred easy-care herbs, with growing habits and uses. This was a little disappointing, as he doesn’t include medicinal uses at all. Since this information is easily available elsewhere, though, that’s not such a great loss. Where I really loved the book was the garden plans. He included lots of plans for different herb gardens, including colonial, culinary, tea, Mediterranean, flowering border, and bird and butterfly. Every design included a layout, which plants to buy from seed and which in pots, short descriptions of everything, and a first year and following years care guide. I was absolutely smitten. I’d be out in the garden with a shovel right now if it weren’t for that pesky sun issue.

Ann Lovejoy's Organic Garden Design School by Ann Lovejoy Organic gardening may be good for the planet, but Lovejoy gets into that only briefly in this comprehensive look at organic garden design. For her, the primary benefits of an organic garden are minimal care, plants that thrive without taking over, and gardens that tie into the surrounding landscapes. The pictures are beautiful, and the descriptions inspiring. The hitch, of course, is the amount of planning and research that goes into making these extremely site-specific gardens - though she give lots of suggestions, they seem mostly geared towards the western U.S. The book leads you through it all, though, concluding with a 30-pages workbook to help figure out what you want and how to get there. If you follow the steps and do the research, you’ll be rewarded with a garden that needs little more than annual compost to keep it beautiful.
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It’s been a while since I read a parenting book…

book coverThe Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D.
The Happiest Baby on the Block was a good book, though it was really aimed only at the first three months. What I’d heard most about this book (and what kept me from reading it for so long) was his technique for calming toddler tantrums. In a nutshell, he wants you to mirror your toddler’s frustration back at them, using short words and a strong, not soothing, tone of voice. For example, “Mr. FP not want eggs! Mr. FP want Spiderman! No, Daddy, no! Not stop Spiderman! Mommy not cook breakfast! No! No! No!” Read more... )
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<book coverGrace (Eventually) by Anne Lamott I really like Anne Lamott. She talks, as usual, about the messiness of life and the difficulty of acting the way you want to. About how when she's in the depths of despair she wants God to fix it right now, with big gestures and miracles. And instead the grace comes slowly, through friends and her own hard work, but is there nonetheless. Her stories are about teaching Sunday School, walking the dog, death, raising a teenager. Somehow, she manages to tell stories of herself at her worst and make herself sympathetic and so funny I could hardly keep myself from reading the whole thing alound to whomever happened to be around.
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Suddenly, I'm way behind, both in reading and in writing reviews. I often request new books, either before we get them or adding myself to a list of other fans. Last week, six books came in. That means two books a week to have them all back in on time. Several of them want to be read by both adults in the household. Wish us luck!

Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom
Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom by Christine Northrup Dr. Northrup, an OB/GYN, illuminates the tricky connection between mind and body in this superb book on women's health. She opens in a rather new-agey way which nonetheless struck close to home, as she talked about chakras and the diseases connected with them. For example, being required to fit into an extremely masculine environment is a second chakra issue which can cause uterus and cycle problems. Chakras are pretty new to me, but her descriptions closely fit my experiences. As a Western medicinal background, she advocates combining emotional therapies with traditional medicine, never saying, "Just get over yourself and the problem with go away."

The next section covers specific areas of women's health – cycle problems, childbirth, menopause, to name just a few. Each section includes potential problems and cures ranging from least to most invasive, nutritional therapy through surgery. Also included are the specific energy issues from the first section. All of them include both personal stories and research from studies, both of which I find very helpful.

After the health problems, she turns to how to create “vibrant health”, including diet, sex and exercise. Her diet recommendations were somewhat confusing to me, but included a lot on the dangers of carbohydrate addiction, and on the need to get calcium from more varied sources than just dairy. Mindfulness is key. I found her coverage of exercise particularly nice, since she acknowledged that she herself did not exercise when her children were small, and discussed how she made time for it and got her children to accept her exercising. I am now recommending this book to every woman I know, especially to those suffering from health problems that are difficult to identify or cure. It’s a tome, but you can easily skim the introduction and then flip to your specific problem. Unless you get sucked into it, as I did.


May. 19th, 2007 04:57 pm
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Trying to research Waldorf, and this book came in a grocery bag of Waldorf-related books. Interesting, though not really helpful for doing Waldorf with children.

Tapestries: Weaving Life’s Journey by Betty Staley People change around every seven years, says Staley, and they tend to go through similar challenges at about the same time. In this book, she talks about these challenges, and illustrates them with interviews from a dozen people around the world narrating that phase of their life. It had some really good insights, though it was not the easiest book to read.
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I think I'm posting like a maniac today, but I am still three books behind, so I'll continue.

Knitting Rules by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Would you believe that I had been reading The Yarn Harlot for maybe close to a year now, without reading any of her books? So I finally read one, the only one checked in at the library when I looked. She starts out with a nice description of the addiction, including things to tell people who comment on your stash and how to tell if you have a problem. (Hiding skeins behind books on the bookshelf does not count.) She moves on to some musings on technique, and has chapters with recipes for basic garments like hats and socks, with lists of reasons to knit them (or not.) The advice is straightforward and good – she knows her stuff – but the reason to read this book, even if you’re only a casual knitter, is that it is flat out hilarious. This book rates high on the overall comedy scale, not just the knitting comedy scale (where, alas, the competition is not quite so stiff.)
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Parenting without Punishment by John W. Maag, PhD This is a radical title, but the advice is based firmly in famous psychologist Erickson’s work. So, while the advice is different from most parenting books, it’s grounded in what will work to get a well-behaved child, rather than objecting to punishment from a philosophical standpoint. What seems to me to be the crux of his argument is this: punishment really only works if it is applied absolutely consistently every time, and there is nothing else reinforcing the behavior that makes it worthwhile to continue in the face of punishment. Using punishment to react to bad behavior puts children in control. And it’s important to recognize that changing behavior should mean increasing good behavior, not just eliminating bad behavior. He’s got lots of anecdotes and practical techniques for dealing with behavior problems ranging from the ordinary to the extreme – keeping in mind that every child and situation is unique and there isn’t going to be a magic bullet. The solutions seemed focused on children six and up, but some could be used for younger children as well. I particularly liked his tests for evaluating solutions: Could a stranger understand both problem and solution? Does your proposed new behavior make the old impossible? If a dead man could do what you’re asking your child to do, it’s probably not a realistic expectation for a real child. It’s a little on the dry side, but also pretty short, and summarized nicely in the epilogue.
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I’m just writing down my list of things to review. There are six, which is a lot. I’m sure not all of them will make it up at once. Hadn’t realized I was so far behind, but I guess that’s what happens when I both listen in the car and read fast books.

The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau. Read by Wendy Dillon “The City of Ember is the only point of light in a dark world” say the ancient texts, and this is literally true, since the only light in Ember’s sky comes from huge floodlights, and no one has been able to navigate the darkness of the Unknown Regions to see if there are other cities. On Assignment Day, all 12-year-olds in the City of Ember are randomly assigned jobs. On this day in the year 241, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow trade jobs. She will become a Messenger, carrying messages between the citizens of Ember, and he, a Pipeworker, repairing the ancient plumbing that takes water from the underground river and sends it to the people of Ember. Once there was plenty of everything – food, supplies, and light. Now supplies are running short, the greenhouses are beginning to fail and blackouts are becoming longer and more frequent. As Doon tries to repair the crumbling underside of the city, Lina finds cryptic, half-destroyed Instructions for Egress. Together they work to find the hidden way out before the generator stops for good. Wendy Dillon, as the narrator, made all the characters sound somewhat uncertain and cartoon-like, but did an excellent job of distinguishing all the characters and building suspense through the story.

I always feel that some spiritual reflection is in order during Lent, and with Anne Lamott, I know for sure I’m not going to find the “God and the Republicans will keep America a Christian nation and save it from the gays if we pray hard enough” kind of thinking or even the “God wants your life to be perfect – all you have to do is pray just right” kind of thinking, both of which I find really abhorrent.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott This is a journal of Lamott’s son’s first year, not really religious book. Lamott decides to keep an unplanned pregnancy, even though the father wants nothing to do with a baby, and even though she has been clean for only three years and couldn’t take care of a cat in her previous life. Despite differences in parenting and life styles, baby Sam’s story was instantly recognizable. If you’re a parent, you’ll remember being there yourself, and if you’re not, you’ll have a much better idea by the time you’re done (though I’d advise you not to expect a baby to sleep through the night at three months). Lamott’s wrestling with her faith and the difficulties of being a single parent and the sorrow as Lamott’s best friend and partner in parenting is diagnosed with terminal cancer are all described with merciless and irreverent humor. This is one to be careful about reading in public, as you are likely to need tissues and help to keep from falling out of your seat with laughter.

Another entry in my occasional series Kids Music That Won’t Require an Insulin Shot.

Mother Goose Rocks from Boffomedia This is just what it sounds like, classic Mother Goose rhymes set to rock music. This CD (first in a series of four or so) features “Rub-a-Dub-Dub” done to a tune that sounds suspiciously like the Spice Girls’ “Wanna” and “Pat-a-Cake” ala Alanis Morissette. It might be a little too close to the originals for the liner notes not to credit them, but that means more fun for you figuring out which artist they’re mimicking. I was rolling with laughter at the spoofs, and Mr. Froggie Pants was just rocking along with the music.

I sent a patron to get something at another library with just half an hour to go before that library's closing time, before they actually knew the item was on the shelf for them. Now the Mission Impossible theme is stuck in my head.
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Circle of Magic – the Circle Opens: Sandry’s Book, Tris’s Book, Daja’s Book, Briar’s Book by Tamora Pierce [ profile] amnachaidh and I listened to this whole series in the car (separately). The four short books go together nicely to form one main story arc. It’s something like an earth magic Hogwarts, with children of different backgrounds – noble, merchant, trader, thief - coming together at the monastery of Winding Circle, finding they have unique magical powers and learning how to use them. The plots are entertaining but fairly predictable – the heart of the books are the four young mages and the circle (formed in book one) that binds their magic together. The recordings are done by Full Cast Audio, each character with a different reader and narrated by the author. It took me a little while to get used to the slightly exaggerated enunciation that the producer apparently prefers, but once over this little hump, the full cast presentation works very well. I’m sad that only one book of the following quartet has been recorded, with no apparent plans to do the other three.

Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent As a teen, in an era when options for women were quite limited, Vincent’s parents told her to become a nurse, because she’d always have a job. And with her first OB rotation, Vincent was hooked on birth. In the era of Twilight Sleep, a patient refuses to lie down or take drugs. “Please lie down! What if the baby falls out?” Peggy pleads. “Well, darlin’, that’s the whole point, ain’t it?” the woman responds between contractions. She chronicles her path to becoming a Certified Nurse Midwife, working at the Bay Area’s most prestigious birth center and doing home births (then covered by insurance.) The meat of the book are the birth stories, beautiful, bizarre, and hilarious. From that first rebellious mother to births in lesbian communes and on board ship, barely-caught births and breech births, births in hospitals and at home, this is a heart-warming tale from a midwife passionate about birth and women’s right to birth choices. If you’re interested in birth, but less in scary medical facts like Born in the USA (or need to recover from reading it), this is the perfect book.
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Is the health of women and children a women’s issue, or a human issue? Either way, it’s hard to avoid be angry after reading this book. I don’t normally include subtitles here, but this one was too helpful in explaining the book to leave out.

Born in the USA: How a Broken Maternity System Must Be Fixed to Put Women and Children First by Marsden Wagner, M.D., M.S. It’s a little-known fact that the maternal mortality rate in the United States has been rising for the past 25 years, and both our maternal mortality and infant mortality rates are among the worst in the industrialized world. Wagner uses both hard scientific evidence* and lots of personal experience to wade through the tangles of modern obstetrical care. Doctors and scientists are in conflict, he says, because while a scientist must assume that everything is known, a doctor must assume that he or she knows what the problem is and how to treat it in order to get anywhere. A lack of oversight, love of technology, lack of knowledge of normal birth, and a fear of litigation combine to make hospital births downright dangerous for mother and child. ** After documenting these grim facts, Wagner goes on to paint a picture of an ideal maternity system, similar to those already existing in other countries, which have been established even without the approval of the obstetrical community. It seems like a long haul, but this book is a good start.

* For those interested in doing their own medical research, Wagner frequently cites the Cochrane Library, . This is a medical nonprofit working towards evidence-based medical practice. They synthesize and analyze medical studies, providing both their reports and the original studies in their on-line library.

** One blatant example of this is the continued use of Cytotec in inducing labor. Cytotec is a prostaglandin drug that was developed to treat stomach ulcers, and comes with a warning against use by pregnant women. When it first came out in the 1990s, OBs discovered that it could be used to induce labor, and use spread widely by word-of-mouth, with no safety studies being done. The high rates of induction on VBAC patients led to a marked increase in uterine rupture, with the effect that it is now nearly impossible for anyone to get a VBAC. But despite warnings from the manufacturer, Searle, and the FDA, against the use of Cytotec for inductions, its use for inductions continues. Over 100 women have died, many babies have died or suffered permanent brain injuries, and yet the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists continues to tell people that it is safe and to lobby the FDA to approve it for use inducing labor. While there has been some coverage of it in the news, most cases are settled with gag orders, so far effectively preventing knowledge of this drug from spreading.
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Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman In which our heroine Julie, a somewhat retiring high school student, shares her passion for Jane Austen with her best friend, Ashleigh, who does not do anything by halves. She sets them off on a quest to find Mr. Darcys, beginning by crashing the ball at the local prep school. Unfortunately, they both seem to fall for the same Mr. Darcy. The ending is a bit predictable – but the way there is both sweet and very funny. Although it’s geared towards teens, adult Austen fans would probably also enjoy it.

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd Jessie Sullivan thought she was happy with her life and in love with her husband, Hugh. She also thought that she had left Egret Island, her childhood home off the coast of South Carolina. But when her mother unexpectedly chops off her finger, Jessie goes back to help. She finds herself falling in love with the island again. Most unexpectedly, she also finds herself falling in love with a Benedictine monk. Even though reading about adultery like this is terrifying for me, Kidd possesses the uncanny ability to take freakish plot elements and turn them into a beautiful and profound story.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan The dilemma is this: If you can eat anything, what should you eat? How do you pick? This is particularly relevant today, when there are more options and fewer rules (or many more systems of rules) than ever before. Journalist Pollan traces four meals (fast food, big organic, small farm, and foraged) back to their sources. What he finds is unexpected and fascinating. It’s no surprise that fast food isn’t great for people or the world, but Whole Foods organic doesn’t fare too well either. I was daunted by starting this rather thick book, but found it to be fascinating and fast to read. And it contains enough trivia to fill the needs of trivia buffs for a good long while: How many ingredients in a chicken nugget come from corn?
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Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman This book, published all the way back in 1998, was loaned to me by my good friend Alison. It is a collection of essays about books and reading, every one of them just delightful. The first essay, “Marrying libraries” talks about how long it took for her and her husband to combine their libraries, and the difficulties of doing so. “Never do that to a book” talks about the difference between courtly lovers of books, who would never write in or otherwise mutilate their books, and carnal lovers of books, who do so as a matter of course. (My mother refuses to write even in pencil on photocopied music, definitely falls into the courtly camp. I have seen her write only penciled corrections in poorly edited books.) “The His’er Problem” talks about the difficulties of gender in language, where using non-gendered language is awkward and ungainly, but gendered language really does exclude people of the non-mentioned gender. And while “essay” sounds dull, every one of these had me laughing and reading bits aloud to whomever was unfortunate enough to be around. If you are reading this blog in the first place, it’s a fairly safe assumption that you like books. And if you like books, you’re missing out if you haven’t read this one.

And for my once-in-a-while series, Things That Look So Cool in the Review Magazine That You Need to Know, Even Though I Haven’t Laid Eyes on Them Yet,
Pegleg Tango by Captain Bogg and Salty from Scabbydisc Music ( This is a children’s CD full of, you guessed it, pirate music. Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, so hopefully we’ll get it here and I can listen to it myself. Order it now and have it in time for International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19!


Oct. 11th, 2004 03:46 pm
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Once again, I try to prove that I can think of things besides babies. So, two alternate reality fiction books, and escape by retail therapy.

The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde This is the third book (of four so far) in a series of literary science fiction starring our heroine, Thursday Next. The books are action-packed and hilariously funny, full of subtle and not-so-subtle references to classic literature. “Science fiction” here means alternate reality, not spaceships, as Thursday is from a 1980s England where history and the rules are just a little different. In this book, though, Thursday is hiding from the evil Goliath Corporation in the world of fiction – taking over the part of a character in an unpublished mystery, while continuing her apprenticeship with Miss Haversham of Great Expectations as a JurisFiction agent. Even here, though, it looks like someone is out to get her. Her husband was eradicated by Goliath in the previous books, and now she’s struggling to keep her enemy, Aornis, from erasing her memories of him as well. I’m afraid I’ve simplified things a great deal – Fforde seems to add another layer or two of complication to the world with each book in the series. If you’ve read the previous two books, you won’t want to miss this one, and it may even make sense. If you haven’t, avoid getting lost in this one by starting with the first one, Lost in a Good Book, in which Thursday sets out to rescue Jane Eyre, who has been kidnapped from her book.

Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling The year is 1998, and the world is our own. Mike Havel, a former Marine turned private pilot is flying a family to their cabin in Montana when his plane – and his watch, and their guns, and all the city lights around – stop working. Meanwhile, in Oregon, folk musician and coven leader Juniper MacKenzie is playing a tavern gig when the same thing happens (except she’s happily not in a plane.) The technology of the past couple hundred years has all stopped working, and only those who can adapt will survive. Yes, it requires a major leap of faith to believe that the principles that make our technology work could change overnight. This improbability is brought up several times over the course of the book, but it’s not the focus of the book. Instead, it focuses on what makes a society stripped down to the bare bones work. Our two heroes pick up a bunch of followers with useful skills – a Tolkein fan whose Legolas delusions are suddenly essential, rodeo hands, SCA members with knowledge of fighting and metal crafting. Besides practical skills, the book looks at the importance of myth and belief, as our heroes adjust to being treated as such, and the leader of a small coven suddenly finds her previously marginalized religion in demand. I enjoyed the characters, reflecting on the deeper issues, and was pulled in by the action. And yeah, as a Scadian, it’s pretty funny to read a book where SCA membership could be a life or death matter.

thepurplebook by Hillary Mendelsohn And for a complete change of pace – shopping. Ok, you might think, as I generally do, that a guide to internet shopping is pretty superfluous when you have Google. But if you do shop – or want to shop – on-line, this book is pretty darn useful. It’s divided by major shopping categories, and gives brief one or two sentence reviews of different on-line retailers, along with telling what they sell and icons saying how expensive shipping is, how easy the site is to use, etc. I do wish that her icons included general price ranges for the store, not just shipping, but this is a relatively small quibble, as one can generally tell from the reviews how high-brow a store will be. While some of the retailers were familiar to me, many of them were not – whole worlds of cool sites to browse opened up! I don’t plan to buy it for myself, especially as they come out with a new edition every year, but it’s definitely worth checking out at the library.
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This time, only books I enjoyed. Really. And they're all recent, though I couldn't get my hand on Jennifer Crusie's latest. Otherwise, these books don't have much in common.

The Kalahari Typing School for Men by R.A. Smith McCall. Here it is, the promised third mystery, this one the second book in its series. It’s another village, though now the village is in Botswana. The story moves along at a relaxing pace. Mma Precious Ramotswe, owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, takes some cases and contemplates life. Her assistant, Mma Makutsi, opens a new business, the Kalahari Typing School for Men. The book is full of old-fashioned African wit and common sense, somewhat alien to modern sensibilities: When a rival detective agency opens, there is some discussion of whether male toughness or female attention to detail make for a better detective. There is no argument over the characteristics themselves. Still, I very much enjoyed this book, particularly on CD with the musical African accents brought to life.

Queer Eye for the Straight Guy by The Fab Five. You love the show – now there’s the book, too. Each of the Fab Five presents a section on his particular area of expertise – food, grooming, interior design, fashion and culture. The advice is presented with their characteristic humor, plus lots of gorgeous full-page photographs featuring the subjects and the Fab Five. The advice is sound, and brief – perfect for short coverage on these important areas. Of course, highly slanted towards men – but isn’t it about time?

Crazy for You by Jennifer Crusie. To be honest, most of my friends would rather be caught dead than caught reading a romance novel. Here’s a book to tempt you. Jennifer Crusie writes hip modern romances that blur the boundary between traditional romance and chick lit, with heroines who have more than fluff in their brains and are not at all inclined to swooning. When Quinn’s long-term live-in boyfriend refuses to let her keep the dog she’s fallen in love with, she realizes that he has always tried to run her life, and she has had enough, both of him and of boring predictability. And why is she just now noticing how hot her best friend Nick is? This fast-paced story has suspense, Fleetwood Mac, and of course, lots of romance and good sex.


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