Tag: books

Reading: Born on a Blue Day

I read through several back issues of Pregnancy and FitPregnancy magazines that friends had given me, so that took up the bulk of my reading time this week.

Finished reading:

Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet – I vaguely remember flipping through a random book at Borders about synesthesia, a neurological condition where one sense is connected to another sense (okay – wikipedia says it much better: “a neurologically based phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway”). Daniel Tammet, in his memoir, allows us to enter his experience as someone with Asperger’s syndrome who because of his synesthesia is also a mathematical savant. Daniel describes his childhood and growing-up in a quiet, precise manner, and his story is inspirational because of how he learned to function and eventually exceed all expectations in his personal and professional life (one example: Daniel holds the European record for memorizing pi to over 22,500 digits).

With a bookmark:

(Books I just started reading, or books I’ve been “reading” for ages. Most recent first.)

  • The Simplicity Reader by Elaine St. James
  • Sacred Attitudes by Erica Ross-Krieger
  • Body, Soul, and Baby by Tracy Gaudet
  • What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, and Sandee Hathaway
  • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

In the library book box:

  • Who Lies Here? by Ellis Peters
  • The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D.
  • So That’s What They’re For! by Janet Tamero
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Reading: Back to Bujold, Plenty, more baby

Finished reading:

The Curse of Chalion, Paladin of Souls, and The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold – Without any library books, I turned to one of my favorite authors. These three books are set in the same “world.” The Curse of Chalion follows Cazaril, who becomes the tutor of a royal princess but finds himself caught up in physical, spiritual, and magical danger as he tries to break a curse that is on the royal family. The book is heavily “theological” in the sense that themes of free will, predestination, and supernatural interaction between humans and the five gods are explored through this fantasy. Paladin of Souls is a sequel, this time following Ista (the mother of the princess) on a spiritual pilgrimage that also ends up being very fantastically magical and spiritual. The Hallowed Hunt is set in a different country in the same world with completely different characters; Ingrey, sent to investigate the murder of a prince and to bring the murderess, Ijada, back for trial, also finds himself in the middle of something supernatural.

I love, love, love Bujold’s books for their depth and layers. Unlike the Vorkosigan books which have plenty of comedy thrown in, these three books are more somber in tone, but have the same wonderful “real” characterization and layer upon layer of plot that I love in all of her books. I enjoyed reading these again.

Plenty by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon – Remember how I’m a sucker for food books? I’m also a sucker for books about extreme life experiments (reference Not Buying It and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle). In this book, Alisa and James go on a year-long experiment to see if they can live on food that has been produced within 100 miles of their Vancouver-area apartment (and thus become the unwitting creators of the “100 mile diet”). Their ground rules include relaxing their diet when invited to friends’ houses or when traveling, but as the book progresses, they find that their experiment is becoming a lifestyle, and that their meals are more filling and taste better.

I’d categorize this along with Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but it’s more of a memoir and less of an informative “sell” the way Kingsolver’s book was.

Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg – This was in a short stack of books my friend handed over to me and came highly recommended. I mostly skimmed this book to get an overall idea of her approach and to see what things Steve and I could discuss. Tracy’s philosophy is in between the attachment parenting folks (pick up and soothe your baby at every cry or else you’re inflicting emotional damage on them, sleep with your baby, etc.) and the strict schedule parenting folks (make the baby fit into your life, live by the clock). She advocates having a basic routine of eat (feeding the baby), activity (time for the baby to stare at stuff, get changed, get a bath, etc.), sleep (putting the baby to sleep in their own bed), and you (time for you to take care of yourself) but encourages you to be flexible about when these things happen depending on the baby’s development.

Her main underlying philosophy is to respect the baby by treating it as a person — some specific examples are calling the baby by its name instead of referring to it as “the baby” and talking “with” the baby as you perform tasks like changing its diaper. Tracy also encourages that you really try to listen to your baby before reacting so that you get to understand the different types of cries and body language, which I also think is helpful advice. She gets quite specific in her book both with examples of how you can implement her suggestions and with plenty of real-life stories, all in a very British conversational tone with lots of “luvs” and “ducky” which makes the book fun to read.

Not having a real baby to try to practice these things on, I can’t tell you yet if her philosophy will work for us, but it’s definitely a good thing to talk to Steve and other parents about in the meantime!

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott – This memoir is in journal form, covering Anne’s first year as a single mother raising her son, Samuel. Anne is both religious and irreverent (I don’t recommend this book to nephews and nieces because of profanity) and always brutally honest about her feelings, thoughts, and reactions as she struggles to take care of her often colicky baby. There are some priceless quotes:

…I just can’t get over how much babies cry. I really had no idea what I was getting into. To tell you the truth, I thought it would be more like getting a cat…

…He falls asleep and I feel I could die of love when I watch him, and think to myself that he is what angels look like. Then I doze off, too, and it’s like heaven, but sometimes only twenty minutes later he wakes up and begins to make his gritchy rodent noises, scanning the room wildly. I look blearily over at him in the bassinet, and think, with great hostility, Oh, God, he’s raising his loathsome reptilian head again…

With a bookmark:

(Books I just started reading, or books I’ve been “reading” for ages. Most recent first.)

  • Sacred Attitudes by Erica Ross-Krieger
  • Body, Soul, and Baby by Tracy Gaudet
  • What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, and Sandee Hathaway
  • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

In the library book box:

  • The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D.
  • So That’s What They’re For! by Janet Tamero

Reading: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Finished Reading:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver – I wasn’t really “into” Kingsolver’s books that I’ve read before (The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Trees) but I saw this in the bookstore and was very intrigued. I’m a sucker for books that have to do with food. Luckily the book was available through my library system so I got to read it for free.

This book covers a year with Barbara, her husband, and two daughters, after a move from Tuscon, Arizona into the steep Appalachian hills of Virginia, as they attempt to go to a self-produced and locally-produced diet. Their journey includes planting tons (literally) of vegetables on 3,500 square feet of soil, developing relationships with local farmers and local food producers, learning to make their own cheese, discovering the mating secrets of turkeys, and thinking a lot about where food comes from and why that matters. One of the neat things about this book is that it’s a family-produced book; Barbara’s oldest daughter ends most chapters with a short essay from her perspective and some yummy-looking recipes, Barbara’s husband has sidebars scattered throughout with interesting stats, resources, and tips.

Some of the things that stood out to me:

  • With a non-farming background, I was surprised to learn that asparagus grow to become 3-4 foot plants. We eat the small shoots that come up in early spring.
  • Mass-produced veggies have drastically decreased the variety of foods that we could be eating. Some plant varieties — even whole species — are being lost. “According to Indian crop ecologist Vandana Shiva, humans have eaten some 80,000 plant species in our history. After recent precipitous changes, three-quarters of all human food now comes from just eight species, with the field quickly narrowing down to genetically modified corn, soy, and canola” (p. 49, in the chapter “Springing Forward”).
  • Organic foods have 50% more antioxidants than conventionally grown foods, because they have to work harder at surviving (without pesticides).
  • The chapter “The Birds and the Bees” has an awesome story about Barbara’s youngest daughter, Lily, and her egg venture, that made me laugh out loud.
  • Chapter 8, “Growing Trust,” has an interesting rant about our perception of grocery money. Why do we insist on “cheap food prices” and settle for sub-par quality produce, meat, and fast or convenient food, but spend billions on bottled drinking water? The sidebar in this chapter is especially interesting, addressing the complaint about how organic foods are more expensive. Truth be told, we pay billions in tax dollars, Farm Bill subsidies, and health and environmental costs for the production of “conventional” foods that don’t show up in the grocery aisle sticker prices. While there is something to be said for larger corporate organic producers who might be manipulating the growing popularity of “organic foods” (and who might be less than ethical in their commitments to providing truly organic foods), small organic farmers generally have to charge more because they put more labor into their work and also have a harder time distributing and marketing their goods.
  • Did you know that with some mail-order cultures and store-bought milk, you can make your own fresh mozzarella in 30 minutes? Let me add that on my “things to try to do someday” list!! It sounds like yogurt, cream cheese, and ricotta cheese are relatively easy to make at home as well; hard cheeses are a little harder. (Pardon the pun.) Barbara describes a cheese-making workshop she attended, which makes me very interested to see if anything similar is offered in my area as well.
  • Sounds like canning tomatoes in a water bath is the easiest way to start canning; the acidity keeps you from having to process the vegetable in a pressure canner. Another thing I’d want to try someday as well. (Note to self: Need garden with tomatoes first.)
  • Barbara’s adventures into raising — and breeding — turkeys is priceless.
  • The final results of their year-long experiment: Based on current organic food prices, Barbara’s family raised and harvested $4,410 worth of veggies and poultry. Supplemented with locally milled flour, locally produced pasta, organic grain for animal feed, etc., they spent a total of about $0.50 per person per meal.

Barbara pulls out all the stops unapologetically, using statistics, personal sketches of farmers, and humor, to make a compelling and sometimes convicting case for buying local produce and food, supporting local farmers, and overall becoming more aware of where your food comes from and your own role in the food production chain. Some may find her preachy; I found her passion inspiring without being judgmental. It helped that I was fascinated by the details she provided about things like canning and cheese-making (remember, I’m the one who reads the food bits of the Little House books for pleasure) and that I love food books in general (How to Read a French Fry, Salt, and Garlic and Sapphires immediately come to mind as recent foodie reads).

Personal impact of this book:

  • Recommitting to buying more of our groceries from the local food co-op (I got a bit lazy in the past few weeks)
  • Giving the farmer’s market another try (I get overwhelmed and lost when I go); actually try talking to the farmers if I’m brave
  • Future desires:
    • Learn how to make mozzarella
    • Learn to can stuff
    • Grow a garden

With a bookmark:

(Books I just started reading, or books I’ve been “reading” for ages. Most recent first.)

  • Confessions of a Tax Collector by Richard Yancey
  • Buying Your First Home by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder, and Marcia Stewart
  • Body, Soul, and Baby by Tracy Gaudet
  • What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, and Sandee Hathaway
  • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

In the library book box:

  • Dragonhaven by Patricia McKinley
  • A Good Dog by Jon Katz
  • Dog Days by Jon Katz
  • Evolution, Me, and Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande
  • The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith

Reading: Mary Poppins, White Noise, 4 Hour Workweek, Highly Effective Detective

Finished reading:

Mary Poppins Comes Back and Mary Poppins Opens the Door by P.L. Travers – I finished off my Mary Poppins book this week. Each book is a collection of short chapters, and reading the books all in a row reveal a distinctive pattern to the books. The first chapter is about Mary Poppins entering or re-entering the Banks family’s life in an unusual way. The last chapter is about Mary Poppins leaving in an equally unusual way. The other chapters, with a few exceptions, fit certain storylines: Jane and Michael meet one of Mary Poppins’ relatives; Jane and Michael find out what Mary Poppins does on her day out or evening out; Jane, Michael, and the whole town end up flying in one manner or another; one of the children is naughty, gets in some kind of magical trouble, and Mary Poppins comes to the rescue; an unusual visitor causes a whole lot of hullabaloo amongst the town inhabitants (who just don’t understand) and Mary Poppins sets things to rights. I use the term “magical” loosely; there aren’t incantations or spells, but lots of imaginative fun!

The 4 Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss – I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while but my library didn’t have a copy; then, Mike Rohde gave me a tip to request a review copy from the publisher, which arrived last week!

Ferriss is a pretty unusual character. He runs a product-based business on four hours of his time a week, makes tens of thousands of dollars each month, and uses the rest of his time to pursue his passions — learning new skills and traveling all over the world. How did he do this? By breaking the “rule” that you must work 9-5, by knocking out distractions, by outsourcing, and by creating an “income machine” that requires minimal management on his part. The 4 Hour Workweek draws from his own experience as well as others who have walked the same path of Definition (dreaming big and defining what you really want), Elimination (restricting the time spent on email, getting rid of interruptions, going on an information diet), Automation (creating a business that doesn’t require you to be there), and Liberation (separating your work from a specific location. While learning about the various aspects of Tim’s DEAL, you’ll also get a crash course in outsourcing, testing and developing a product, developing a business model that is pretty automated, and planning a vacation for your “mini-retirement.” There are tons of links and resources for each of these topics as well as an extensive recommended reading list in the back.

I don’t think I’m doing this book justice, so I’ll point you to Dave Seah’s excellent review (and recommend reading through the interesting comments, as well), and leave you with some of my initial personal application-type thoughts:

  • I don’t think I have the courage right now to attempt what Tim Ferriss has done.
  • Nonetheless, there are some awesome principles that I can apply to help streamline my current processes and help me make the best use of the time I have. I’ll be writing about these in detail in the next few days/weeks.
  • The foundational step in this whole thing is to define your dream and quantify it by cost, because that gives you a specific number to shoot for. And, Ferriss says, it’s best to dream BIG and to limit your timeline to 6 or 12 months. I think I tend to limit myself to practical “dreams” out of fear of failure. Luckily, he poses some guiding questions to help break out of your self-imposed limits and think about specific things you want to have, be, and do, so this is something I want to work through in the next few weeks as well.
  • Let me finally say that I don’t think Tim Ferriss is saying that we should all try to be like him; he acknowledges that not everyone wants to travel! This book is more for people who don’t want to be tied to jobs they hate, who want to live life to the full, and are willing to break societal expectations about work to do that. I think this book is also for anyone who wants to minimize the time they waste in order to spend more time on things that are important to them.

That’s all for now, but stay tuned for more detailed posts later as I explore some of the ideas from the book!

White Noise by Don DeLillo – Hmmm… why did I add this book to my “to read” list? Maybe Orson Scott Card recommended it in his blog? I don’t remember. Anyway, since then, I’ve learned that this is one of the hallmark books of postmodern literature, so I hoped that I could feel very smart while reading it. Unfortunately I’ve always been terrible at reading “literature” and understanding themes and things like that. But one of the obvious themes in the story of Jack Gladney and how his life changes when a “toxic airborne event” comes to town is thinking about mortality and facing one’s fear of death. The book jacket also helpfully informed me that the “white noise” is the constant bombardment of television, radio, sirens, and other waves that “both bewitch us and instill fear.” I thought it was cool how DeLillo artfully inserts “random” sentences about a phrase heard on the radio, a sentence spoken on the television, even about a piece of lint that was stuck on the TV screen; it really spoke volumes about how fractured and unfocused their lives were because of the white noise.

I think I appreciated the book a lot more when I was done with it; the process of reading it was not especially enjoyable as I had to keep backing up to re-read things I had simply skimmed over. I’m happy to have read a hallmark piece of literature but one time was good enough for me!

The Highly Effective Detective by Richard Yancey – I tend to like mysteries and pulled this one off the new book shelf because the title sounded interesting. This book follows Teddy Ruzak, who finally quits his job and follows his dream of becoming a detective after getting a bit of money from his mother’s passing. Teddy is overweight, a bit naive, and self-deprecating, but a very warm and likeable character. His first case is to hunt down the drive of a black SUV who mowed down a family of baby goslings. With his attractive but unfortunately unavailable secretary pushing him into action, Teddy seems to fumble around quite a bit, but ends up stumbling into multiple murders, and, of course, saving the day at the end while keeping his integrity intact. The book reads a bit slow at parts, but overall I’m looking forward to future books in this series and finding other books by the same author.

With a bookmark:

(Books I just started reading, or books I’ve been “reading” for ages. Most recent first.)

  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Body, Soul, and Baby by Tracy Gaudet
  • What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, and Sandee Hathaway
  • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

In the library book box: (This is pretty much my “reading stash.” If I don’t have anything in my library book box, I pull something off from the bookshelf that I’ve read before, or borrow something new from our housemates.)

  • Buying Your First Home by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder, and Marcia Stewart

Reading: Eclipse, Holly Black, and Mary Poppins

Finished reading:

Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer – The third book about a high school girl named Bella and her vampire boyfriend, Edward. They’re back together, but there are some strange murders going on in nearby Seattle which could have implications for Bella’s safety. Meanwhile, Bella, who has been wanting to become a vampire herself so that she and Edward can be together forever, gets several chances to consider the implications of her desire/decision. We get to get a bit more background on some of the members of Edward’s “family,” as well.

This is the last book for now; Meyer is working on one more sequel and another one that will retell Twilight from Edward’s point of view. While I’ve generally enjoyed these books, an email conversation with Britt enlightened me as to why I wouldn’t list the so-far-trilogy as among my “favorites.” The relationship between Bella and Edward, in my opinion, doesn’t seem to have much of a foundation; it’s obvious that Bella thinks Edward is gorgeous, but their relationship seems to mostly involve saving each other’s lives (at times) and kissing (most of the time), and it’s not entirely clear why Edward would want to be with Bella. In contrast, the books show Bella and Jacob’s friendship develop much more naturally and thoroughly.

Anyway. The books are a fun read, so don’t let my niggling criticisms keep you from reading them!

Tithe and Valiant by Holly Black – ClickerTrainer recommended Tithe in a comment. Not really knowing what to expect, I was, shall we say, not immediately enthralled by the book. Marketed as “young adult fantasy,” the subtitles of these books are “a modern faerie tale,” by which I take it to mean that pixies, fairies, monsters, trolls, etc. intersect subtly with the current modern world of cars, televisions, cell phones, etc. The world that these teenagers live in is harsh and edgy; fairyland is even harsher (although that’s not as much of a surprise). If this were a movie, I would rate these books “R” for language, sexual content, and other adult themes including drug use — so, I don’t recommend these to my nephews and nieces.

I think Tithe was a shock to my system and I really hated it for a few chapters but kept on reading. Valiant wasn’t as much of a shock and I liked it a bit better. (It’s best to read Tithe first, as you’ll understand some of the fairyland politics better in Valiant if you do so.) Both manage to be love stories by the end, but I was never able to fully relate with any of the characters or the poor lifestyle choices they made.

Both books have been very well acclaimed, however, even by some of my favorite authors, so it could just be that I have stiff sensibilities and you shouldn’t trust my taste. 🙂 (And ClickerTrainer – I’d love to hear your thoughts about why you liked Tithe; maybe it will help me appreciate it more!)

By the way — I’m always open to trying books that are recommended by others and I always appreciate the recommendation even if I don’t enjoy the book. So if you’ve read something recently that you liked, please feel welcome to leave a comment and tell me about the book and why you enjoyed it and I’ll see if my local library has it available!

Mary Poppins and Mary Poppins in the Park by P.L. Travers – I needed some wholesome fare after Holly Black and went to my bookshelf to start reading through the four Mary Poppins books that I have (yes, it was a book BEFORE the movie). The literary Mary Poppins is a lot more snobby, tart, and vain than Julie Andrews’ warm and friendly Disney rendition, but the stories are magical, and if you like the movie you’ll have fun picking out the different parts of the stories that went into the movie. Mary Poppins in the Park isn’t really a true sequel; it has different stories that supposedly happen during the course of the other three books, so if you’re uninitiated I would read that one last (after Mary Poppins Comes Back and Mary Poppins Opens the Door). These would be great read-aloud books for families… or people who are young at heart.

With a bookmark:

(Books I just started reading, or books I’ve been “reading” for ages. Most recent first.)

  • Body, Soul, and Baby by Tracy Gaudet
  • What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, and Sandee Hathaway
  • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

In the library book box:

  • White Noise by Don Delillo
  • The Highly Effective Detective by Richard Yancey

Reading: More L’Engle, Little House, and New Moon

Finished reading:

The Young Unicorns by Madeleine L’Engle – This short novel involves the Austin family, but for once it is not told in first-person by Vicky. Instead, the third-person narrative expands to include others outside of the Austin family in this story about good, evil, technology, and innocence.

The Austin family has made the move to New York for a year for the father to take part in a research project involving the “micro-ray,” a powerful laser that is being used to perform surgeries that previously could not be done. They are living in the same house (in an upstairs wing) as a young prodigious pianist, Emily, who was blinded under mysterious circumstances before the events of this book. Dave, a toughened reformed street hood, is Emily’s friend, but he doesn’t “get” the Austins who seem much too innocent and naive.

This book has a darker tone than previous Austin books, as Dave and the Austins realize that there is a growing threat brewing in the underground of New York City that comes to involve them and those closest to them.

A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle – One of my favorite books, again with Vicky Austin as the narrator and protagonist. After the crazy year in New York, Vicky and her family and spending the rest of the summer with her grandfather (in his cool converted stable) — because he has leukemia and is dying. Meanwhile, Vicky is dealing with three boys this summer; Zachary Gray, who reappears in her life and is his typical difficult self, Leo, the son of a good family friend who died, who would love to be “more than friends,” and the older and hard-to-read Adam (from The Arm of the Starfish) who introduces Vicky to dolphins as part of his research project.

This book is the most sci-fi/fantasy-ish of all the Austin books, as Vicky begins to explore telepathic communication with dolphins. All of this is wrapped up in Vicky’s personal struggles with thinking about her grandfather’s illness and the death and suffering she sees around her.

Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder – I don’t know how many times I’ve read the “Little House” series, but my paperback copies are well worn with the covers just about to fall off. I started reading Little House in the Big Woods this week when I was in between books and making breakfast sausage; I felt it was appropriate to read about “butchering time” and the process of taking a whole pig and using every part of it to make food. I love the detailed depiction of early American wilderness life, and as someone who loves to eat, I absolutely love reading her descriptions of food. In fact, I snacked on some cheese while I was reading about Laura’s mother making cheese. Since I was in a food mood, I of course had to then read Farmer Boy, which has even more food descriptions. Steve teased me because I kept on wanting to read the yummy parts out loud to him.

New Moon by Stephanie Meyer – Hooray! This sequel to Twilight got returned early enough for me to check it out from the library and read it before having to return the third book in the series, Eclipse. This book continues the story of Bella (human) and Edward (vampire) — except that Edward leaves Bella “for her own good,” plunging Bella into a several-month depression which finally lifts when she becomes better friends with Jacob Black. But then Jacob ends up having some significant changes of his own, and Bella finds that the choices she makes could have some deadly results.

I had read the preview chapter of this book already, and for some reason I wasn’t that excited to start it, but once I did, I was immediately drawn into the storyline and had to finish it!

With a bookmark:

(Books I just started reading, or books I’ve been “reading” for ages. Most recent first.)

  • Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer
  • Body, Soul, and Baby by Tracy Gaudet
  • What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff, Arlene Eisenberg, and Sandee Hathaway
  • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
  • A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

In the library book box:

  • Tithe by Holly Black
  • Valiant by Holly Black