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In early July, I went to Borders to pick up a couple of birthday presents. While there, the salesperson convinced me that based on my previous purchasing history, it would probably save me money to buy the premium membership. I’d even get coupons that would make back the whole $20. I knew Borders was in trouble, but I’d just read in Publisher’s Weekly that there was an offer in for it, so I didn’t worry. Two weeks later, Borders was going out of business. I hiked right out to see what I could buy – mostly things for other people, but I picked out this one book for myself.

book coverThe Knitter’s Home Companion by Michelle Edwards. Edwards writes homey essays about the role knitting has played throughout her life – as a student, first married, a young mother, and now a mother of teens; knitting for herself, for babies, for ill or bereaved friends, and for charity. The essays are interspersed with recipes – suppers to let simmer on the stove while you knit, or cookies to nibble on while you knit alone or with friends. In between these are knitting patterns, mostly relatively simple, for baby blankets, mittens, socks and hats. The patterns are all knit from Lion Brand yarn (though I’ve usually seen their acrylic, she does thankfully use mostly their natural-fiber offerings) and are the kind of pattern that you can embellish or just crank out multiples without needing to think too much – good basic non-fussy patterns. All three – essays, recipes and patterns - are grouped up into sections of knitting for home, for gifts, and for the community. There are also little “read-alongs”, book reviews of books from picture book to novels and memoirs where knitting plays a part. This is a book to warm the knitter’s heart, one that will stay relevant even when fashions in knitwear change.

Cross-posted to and .
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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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book coverShelf Discovery by Lizzie Skurnik Here we have a book of beautifully witty book reports on the books that women my age read in their teen years. Somehow, Skurnik manages both to find depths in books that a) the average teenager probably didn’t notice and b) when old enough to appreciate said depths, one might not see a reason to go back to all those trashy-looking teen paperbacks. And yet, here they are – so many of the books I read as a teen: The Moon by Night and Harriet the Spy, Jacob Have I Loved and Clan of the Cave Bear. There are also chapters devoted to the books that I looked at and never read – the whole realistic teen fiction oeuvre of Judy Blume, the Lois Duncan and V.C. Andrews thrillers. I still don’t read books just to be scared. But still, Skurnik writes so enthusiastically about all of these books that I found myself reading numerous bits aloud. Madeleine L’Engle has a “vision of Christianity that an atheist devotee of the Flying Spaghetti Monster would find it hard to object to.” The sex scenes in this particular V.C. Andrews book are not really steamy enough, but still provide welcome relief between the scenes where the characters hit each other with back story like brickbats. Why has teen literature lost sight of the parents who truly deserve to die? Oh, yes, and some more well-known writers of chick lit contribute some book reports as well – Laura Lippmann, Meg Cabot, and others. But it’s mostly Skurnik, and she is delightful on her own. Go on, now. Get the book. Read a book report. I dare you to stop at just one. Me, I have some teen books to read.
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I read this trying to solve the mystery of why no one read it in the three years since I bought it. Then I gave it to a friend considering homeschooling.

Deconstructing Penguins by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone The Goldstones ran a kids’ book club at the library, starting with second grade and going up. They believe that kids need and deserve good literature, not just a quick read, and that giving them the tools to dive into their reading will pay off. In this manual, they go over the key parts of analyzing a book – figuring out which characters are protagonist and antagonist (even when it's not obvious), finding the climax, looking at the setting, determing the underlying message. For each of these aspects, they examine a couple of the works they’ve done with kids. They start with Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Charlotte’s Web, but include things like The Giver, The Call of the Wild and Animal Farm. They also go into some practical aspects of running a book club, like picking a time and how to get people to talk. I was a little disturbed at how their interpretations of books came out so final sounding, especially as they were talking about how literature can mean many things to many people. That may be a hazard of writing down a discussion as they do. Still, it’s good for its intended purpose, as well as talking about children’s classics and being a good overview of critical reading. Parents and teachers who want to pass on a love of reading take note.
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Monday I went to a big librarian get-together and met Nancy Pearl, one of the very few librarians who might qualify for celebrity status. She is, after all, the model for the librarian action figure. She talked all day, which was very impressive. I didn't buy the action figure, even though I could have had it autographed. I will not tell you about how to run a book club (unless you want to know), or about marketing older fiction, something my library does very poorly, but how in the world would we fit it in? Anyway.

She had very nice things to say about reader's advisory, which is librarian speak for being able to suggest books that a patron might like based on a couple minutes of chatting with them. Her basic formula is Mood Appeal point Motivation. Appeal is what allows most people to get into the book, and she says there are four major ways that books do this - Character, Story, Setting, and Language. Some books - she cited The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter as two - have all four appeals, and thus are popular with lots and lots of people. We all wrote down recent favorite titles, discussed all the aspects, and figured out what aspects were most important to us. It turns out that I am most attracted to character and setting. Fast stories often annoy me - I don't like to feel forced to stay up late to find out what happens next.

So, what appeals to you the most? Or, tell me 3-5 favorite books and one sentence about why you like them and I will try to figure it out.
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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!
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Here are two books about women who don’t fit in with the way society tells them to be – one who rejoices to be different, and one who desperately wants to fit in.

Bitch Goddess by Robert Rodi This book chronicles the career of Hollywood B movie icon Viola Chute. She’s had a long and colorful career, involving not only some gloriously bad acting but numerous scandals. Now (1997) she’s decided that it’s time to write her memoirs. But when she fires her ghostwriter, he decides to probe deeper into her secrets to write an unauthorized tell-all biography. Intriguingly, this book is told only through interview transcripts, articles and emails – no two-sided conversations, no narrative text. It’s as enjoyable, and requires not quite so much suspension of disbelief, as one of those notorious B movies.

For Matrimonial Purposes by Kavita Daswani Anju is dutiful Indian girl, on the Quest for the Perfect Indian Boy. She believes in arranged marriage, and that the boy intended for her has already been born – but how will she find him? Her search takes her from Bombay to New York and even Paris, as chick lit meets traditional Indian culture. One sad note: the best I can say about the audio version is that the narrator was really good at imitating a voice over the phone. Please, just read the book.

And one extra:
How to Get Your Child to Love Reading by Esme Raji Codell I talked about this book earlier on the board, and it’s even better now that I’ve finished it. More than just talking enthusiastically about books, “Madame Esme” gets down and dirty with hundreds of ways to have fun with kids, including the appropriate books. Yeah, they’ll probably gain some reading skills in the process – but the focus is on fun, and lots of it.


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