Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Glass of Blessings

Finished A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym. A wonderfully funny book with Pym's usual cast of clergy, archaeologists and old maids. However, this one is told from the perspective of a married woman. Cameo appearances by characters from her previous novels take place, including one by Prudence from Jane and Prudence. I always look forward to my next Pym read.

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Finished Tiding of Comfort and Joy, this year's Christmas read, by Davis Bunn. It consists of two plot lines, one set in the U.S. in the present, the other set in an English village just after the end of World War II. In the present, fourteen year old Marissa is left with her grandmother to recuperate from a serious illness while the rest of her family vacations in Hawaii. Marissa is resentful of the situation and begins her visit on a very negative note. Her grandmother understands her completely though, and to help cheer her up she begins to tell her the story of the Christmas she lost just after the war. This is the English story line, where her grandmother, Emily, is a young woman who travels to London to marry her dashing fiancee, who sadly leaves her in the lurch. While trying to recover from this disappointment, Emily becomes involved in the village's effort to house and feed three hundred war orphans from all over Europe. This effort takes Emily out of her sorrow and helps her to form some of the most important relationships of her life. The English story line is by far the most interesting one. This was a cozy, comfortable holiday read.

The Language of Light

Finished The Language of Light by Meg Waite Clayton. Young widow and mother of two young sons, Nelly Grace, moves to the Maryland countryside into her father's family's former farm. A lost and disillusioned person, Nelly tries to rebuild her life in this new setting. She attempts to rekindle her dreams of being a photo journalist, like her father. She is influenced by her older, daring and beautiful neighbor Emma. As the story unfolds, Nelly discovers that her father and Emma were once lovers. While her friendships with Emma and Emma's son Dac grow, she fails to realize how controlling and manipulative Emma is of those around her. Vague references to infidelity and possible incest haunt Nelly and the reader as well. Some of these seem never to be quite proved or disproved. This was a good read with credible characters.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Five Children and It

Finished Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit. Originally published in 1902, it is the story of five children in England who find a sand fairy in a gravel pit who will grant them one wish a day. Each thing that they wish for somehow goes awry. Luckily the effects of these wishes only last until sundown. While perhaps charming in it's day, I found this book a bit tiresome. It has taken me quite a while to finish it. This was a surprise to me since I enjoyed Nesbit's The Railway Children so much when I read it.

The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Finished The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy. I've wanted to begin reading Russian literature, so starting with this novella seemed like a good idea. As the title suggests it's the story of a man's journey towards his own death. It begins with a simple physical accident and ends with an epiphany. Tolstoy's examination of this journey and it's stages is genuine and methodical. At times it reminded me of the film version of Wit, based on a play by Margaret Edson.

A Foreign Affair

Finished A Foreign Affair by Caro Peacock. I picked this up last month at Aunt Agatha's. It's the first book in a series based around the character of Liberty Lane. Set in Victorian England, this book was fun and fast paced. Liberty goes undercover as a governess in the house of a tyrant to help solve the mystery of her beloved father's death and uncovers a plot to unseat Young Queen Victoria from the throne. I very much look forward to reading more books in this series.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ella Minnow Pea

Finished Ella Minnow Pea: A Progressively Lipogrammatic Epistolary Fable by Mark Dunn. The island of Nollop is named for Nevin Nollop, the creator of the phrase "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," which employs all 26 letters of the alphabet. It's inhabitants are devoted to a love of language. Theirs is a quaint and peaceful world until one day when one of the letters of this famous phrase falls off of the statute of Nollop. Community leaders puzzle over the meaning of this occurrence and decide that it is a sign from Nollop himself that the letter should be omitted from daily use. The rule is strict and penalties are harsh. As more letters fall and a totalitarian government emerges, the novel becomes tense and even terrifying. Not only are these letters banned from use, they also disappear from the novel itself. There were moments when I was reminded of 1984 and Brave New World. A quick and deliciously clever read.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Finished The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. Was there ever a cartoon that scared the pants off you more when you were a kid than Disney's version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow? My nineteen year old daughter still grabs my arm when we watch it every Halloween. Surprisingly enough, Disney stayed pretty close to the text. The version I read was illustrated by Arthur Rackham which was of course, an added treat. The story originally appears in a collection entitled, The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, as did Rip Van Winkle

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Picture of Doian Gray

Finished The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. This was my Halloween read for this year. I wish Wilde had written other novels. His prose is such a delight. Dorian's friend Lord Henry Wotten, a.k.a. Harry, is the key to Dorian's demise. Throughout the novel I saw him as a representation of the devil himself, hence "Harry." Also, towards the end, when Dorian is turning over a new leaf, he tells Harry of a young village maid named Hetty who he had planned to run away with, but instead leaves untouched. This immediately made me think of Hetty in Adam Bebe.

The novel is funny, exciting and gruesome at points. I enjoyed it very much. There were times when it reminded me of Hawthorne's story Rappaccini's Daughter, since nearly everything the beautiful Dorian comes into contact with is destroyed.

Salting Roses

Finished Salting Roses by Lorelle Marinello. A young woman who was raised by her "uncle" after he finds her as a baby in a coal bucket on his front porch, learns that she is the kidnapped daughter of wealthy man and is now heiress to a fortune. She's not too happy about this turn of events. She struggles to grasp the idea that everything she believed about her family and origins is false.

Gracie is a twenty-five year old tomboy who works at the grocery store in her small hometown and looks after her uncles Ben and Artie and her Aunt Alice, all of whom raised her, and all of whom are growing old. The shock of learning the truth about her past sends Gracie into a tailspin, as does the handsome Northerner who acts as liaison between her and her various relatives who begin to arrive to influence her decision of whether or not to accept the fortune. Some of the regional southern dialog is amusing, as are many of the characters. A decent read if you enjoy chick lit.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Oriental Wife

Finished The Oriental Wife by Evelyn Toynton. The title may be a bit misleading until you garner it's relevance a little ways into the novel. In the end it makes complete sense. What does not is the summary on the inside jacket flap, which is also used as the description on Amazon,

"The Oriental Wife is the story of two assimilated Jewish children from Nuremberg who flee Hitler’s Germany and struggle to put down roots elsewhere. When they meet up again in New York, they fall in love both with each other and with America, believing they have found a permanent refuge. But just when it looks as though nothing can ever touch them again, their lives are shattered by a freakish accident and a betrayal that will reverberate into the life of their American daughter. In its portrait of the immigrant experience, and of the tragic gulf between generations, The Oriental Wife illuminates the collision of American ideals of freedom and happiness with certain sterner old world virtues."

The characters are not children when they leave Germany, nor do they flee, although their parents try to later. I don't see the thing that shatters their lives as a "freakish accident." This description seems ill informed and written in haste, as if gleaned from cliff notes. It does not begin to touch on the deep feeling of the characters, their very human flaws or the poignancy of this story. In essence I think it negates the weight and significance of the work.

That being said, the book is weighty with sorrow, but it's sorrow that needs to be known. One character, who emigrates to New York grieves daily of the small sorrows in the newspaper, a young mother of two who throws herself in front of a train, the death of a panda at the zoo. This is transference of grief that he cannot possibly express, for people he loved who were murdered in the Holocaust.

I was struck by how the main character Louisa, a German Jew, attended boarding school in Switzerland in the thirties, living amongst German, French, English and even Japanese girls her age, just a few years before World War II.

Ultimately this book is about misplaced loyalties and their consequences. A melancholy, but very rich read.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

South of Superior

Finished South of Superior by Ellen Airgood. I requested it from my local library and was number 82 on the list. I thought it would be months until I would have it in my hands, but it was only a few weeks. My library ordered 30 copies of it! Set in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, it is the story of several lost people who find a place for themselves in the tight knit town of McAllaster. Here the residents know everything about everyone. There is a very strong sense of community, and while one person may not like another, they'll be there to lend a hand if it's needed.

Madeline Stone moves from Chicago to McAllaster to live with two elderly sisters and to help take care of one of them. In this small place she uncovers her own past as a cast off child and her future as a painter and business owner. There are many quirky characters, which I always enjoy. These people exude stubbornness, thrift, wisdom and grit. The characters are far from typical and a real pleasure to know. I enjoyed this book.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Rip Van Winkle

While Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving is a short story, I have an illustrated edition with the art of Arthur Rackham. The story had come up in several other books I have read here and it was time to finally read it. The story itself is mysterious and fanciful and seems to point towards Rip's good karma amongst his neighbors releasing him from the iron rule of his wife, Dame Van Winkle, with a twenty year nap in the woods. I seem to have a misguided memory of this tale and Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow being shown together on TV one Saturday afternoon near Halloween some time before 1975, but I cannot identify the Rip Van Winkle portion of this memory. The Sleepy Hollow cartoon is Disney's, narrated by Bing Crosby. To this day it still spooks me.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Very Thought of You

Finished The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison. Set in England, mostly around World War II, it is the story of Ann Sands, a young girl who is evacuated with other children from London to a large estate in Yorkshire. Things seem strange to Anna at first, but after time she grows to love her life there. The couple hosting the evacuees have been married for ten years and are still childless. The disintegration of the couple's relationship becomes a catalyst for tragic events that shape Anna's future. This book reminded me a lot of L. P. Hartley's The Go-Between and Ian McEwan's Atonement. There is deep sadness in this book, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Brave New World

Finished Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, originally published in 1932. I read 1984 in high school, and We by Eugene Zamiatin in grad school, but somehow was not required to read Huxley's dystopic novel. At various turns I was reminded of Wells' The Time Machine and the television series, The Prisoner. References to the works of William Shakespeare and Henry Ford added brilliance to the obvious cleverness of the book. I enjoyed it much more than I expected to. Again, I think this is the type of book which is fed to high schoolers before they are mature enough to truly grasp it's implications. I'm glad I read it for the first time while in my forties.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Murder at the Vicarage

Finished Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie. This is the first novel in her Miss Marple series. Miss Marple seems like such a minor, secondary character, that an uninformed reader might be surprised to learn that a whole series is based around her. There is a lot of eye rolling by the police and others about busybody old ladies, but Miss Marple out-thinks them all. This book is full of English village life and plenty of surprising twists. I love a good cozy.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Adam Bede

Finished Adam Bede by George Eliot, this summer's pastoral read. Adam is a kind, hard working, god fearing carpenter who is in love with Hetty Sorrel who works in the neighboring buttery. Hetty is uncommonly pretty, young, innocent and vain. She longs for pretty trinkets and fine dresses. Hetty falls in love with the local squire, Arthur Donnithorne, a handsome, kindly, good humored young man, and boyhood friend of Adam. Hetty and Arthur's secret love affair is discovered by Adam, who at first reacts violently, then repents and begs Arthur to renounce Hetty. Arthur does so and leaves the country with his regiment. As time passes Adam and Hetty begin to keep company and decide to marry. When Hetty finally admits to herself that she is pregnant with Arthur's child, she runs away and tries to find him. Enduring much hardship and unhappiness, Hetty has her baby with the help of a kind woman who takes her in. Frightened and unsure what to do, Hetty sneaks away with her baby and leaves it in the woods, hoping someone will find it. The child dies and Hetty is tried for murder. In the midst of all this, Hetty's cousin Dinah, a saintly Methodist preacher, comes to the aid and solace of both Adam and Hetty.

At times Hetty's character reminded me of Hester Prynne, at others Tess Durbeyfield. Hawthorne's novel was published first, in 1850, Eliot's in 1859 and Hardy's in 1891. Hetty wears a red cloak, Tess wears a red woolen cravat and Hester her scarlet A.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Blind Contessa's New Machine

Finished The Blind Contessa's New Machine by Carey Wallace. I loved this book. Carolina, a young woman in 19th century Italy, is slowly going blind. No one believes her accept her friend Turri. He is an eccentric inventor who devises a typewriting machine so that she can write to people once she is blind. This book is like a fairy tale. Carolina is blind in her waking world, but can see is her dreams. In her dreams she can also fly. This is an intricate tale of romance and the development of secondary senses. I often found myself reminded of Chagall's paintings while reading this book.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The House on Salt Hay Road

Finished The House on Salt Hay Road by Carin Clevidence. Like the last book I read, Rules of Civility, this book is set in 1937-38. Set on Long Island, it's the story of a family weathering the storm of changing times as well as the literal storm of the 1938 Hurricane. The characters are intricately drawn, with very credible foibles. One character is forever haunted by his actions as a child. This reminded me of of Ian McEwan's Atonement. I'd recommend this novel to anyone interested in a serious character study and/or nature.

Friday, September 9, 2011

All the Dogs of My Life

Finished All the Dogs of My Life by Elizabeth von Arnim. Another of von Arnim's memoirs, this one focuses on the fourteen different dogs she owned throughout her lifetime. There is of course great humor here, but confessions of ignorance, guilt and failure as a dog owner abound as well. A charming book that you can pick up and put down often, without losing the thread of the narrative.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rules of Civility

Finished Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. This book is STUNNING. It has a Jay Gatsby meets Kitty Foyle feel to it. Rarely have I read an author with such a keen sense of character development. To say more would let the book's nuances begin to seep out of my consciousness, and I am loath to do that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tarzan of the Apes

Finished Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It is the first of 26 Tarzan novels written by Burroughs. It is simply the most fantastical and far fetched book I have ever read. And yet, I really liked it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Art of Racing in the Rain

Finished The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. This novel is narrated by a dog named Enzo. He chronicles his life with his owner Denny, an amateur race car driver who is very skilled at driving on a wet track. Enzo's life with Denny goes through many changes including marriage, birth of a child, terminal illness and legal battles. Enzo's observations of what happens around him help him to hone his own humanness. His one wish in life is to return to earth in the next life as a man. His story is frankly told with humor and tenderness. A good book for anyone who owns a dog and needs a reminder of what life alone in the house is like.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology

Finished The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology by Jack Kornfield. I've been reading this book for a long time, just a small section each morning, as I start my day. It's filled with many marvelous insights and examples of people struggling with life and finding help via Buddhist psychology and meditation. I have managed to work a number of practices into my daily life and feel far better for them. I would recommend this book to anyone who wishes to retrain their their response to stress and/or anxiety. This is not a religious book or approach. Its benefits are accessible to everyone.

Jack Kornfield has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and trained as a Buddhist monk in Thailand, Burma and India.

Joy School

Finished Joy School by Elizabeth Berg. It is the second book in her Katie Nash trilogy. I read the first book, Durable Goods last year. Katie is thirteen and at a new school after she and her father move to Missouri for his new military post. Katie experiences love for the first time when she falls for a twenty-three year old gas station attendant who helps her after she falls through the ice while skating on a nearby pond. This is a gorgeously painful first love, which Berg portrays so well it hurts when you read it. Another great coming of age novel. I look forward to reading the sequel next year.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Less Than Angels

Finished Less Than Angels, Barbara Pym's fourth novel, published in 1955. This time spinsters and clergy take a back seat to anthropologists. It's a wonderfully ironic work, where students and professors of anthropology, who spend their days studying the social culture of other societies, constantly find themselves unsure of how to act or respond in their own. Mildred Lathbury of Excellent Women is again mentioned as being married to anthropologist Everard Bone.

Pym is always a delight, "It is often supposed that those who live and work in academic circles are above the petty disputes that vex the rest of us, but it does sometimes seem as if the exalted nature of their work makes it necessary for them to descend occasionally and to refresh themselves, as it were, by squabbling about trivialities." Hence the author as anthropologist.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Red Is for Murder

Finished Red Is for Murder by Phyllis A. Whitney. This is Whitney's first adult suspense novel, published in 1943. It's set in a Chicago department store. Linell Wynn works in the window display department of Cunningham's on State Street. Murder and various mysterious events take place in the store and Linell is caught in the middle of them. Whitney does a good job of concealing the identity of the murderer until the very end.

Whitney was a favorite summer suspense author for me when I was in my late teens and early 20s. I stopped reading her somewhere in the early 90s. The covers of her new books looked too much like Danielle Steel books, which was a huge turn off. I remember her novels being displayed in the romance section of bookstores, but romance was always secondary to the plot. There was a time when Phyllis A. Whitney was the President of The Mystery Writers of America. I plan to read/reread all of her adult suspense fiction in chronological order.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Don't Tell Alfred

Finished Don't Tell Alfred by Nancy Mitford, the third book in a trilogy that includes The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. Twenty years have passed since we last heard from Fanny, the narrator. She is the wife of an Oxford theology don and mother to four sons. Her husband Alfred is unexpectedly appointed as Britain's ambassador to France. Life in her new role is hectic and filled with surprises. As usual there is a varied cast of quirky characters, including Uncle Matthew. This book was hilarious and delightful.

The Beach Club

Finished The Beach Club by Elin Hilderbrand. As a fan on all things Nantucket, I thought it was high time I started reading Hilderbrand. This is her first novel, published in 2000. It spoke to me in particular since it deals with an area of the island that I am very familiar with. It's a wonderful character study and an engrossing read. I look forward to reading all of her novels.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

About a Boy

Finished About a Boy by Nick Hornby. After much thought, I've decided that this is a coming of age novel, not for twelve year old Marcus, but for thirty-six year old Will. A funny and satisfying read. I like the way the chapters alternated between Marcus' and Will's perspective. The film adaptation is pretty faithful to the book until three quarters of the way through, then it veers off in a different direction. I think I'd like to read more of Hornby's work.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Anne of Ingleside

Finished Anne of Ingleside, the sixth book in Lucy Maude Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series. Anne with an "e" now has six children: Jem, Walter, Shirley (it was a boy's name back then), Rilla, and because twins seem to be her lot in life, twin girls Diana and Nan. I'm a little surprised that she did not choose Matthew as the name for one of her boys. This makes me a bit sad really.

Anne, Gilbert, Susan and the children now live at Ingleside, a large house adjacent to Rainbow Valley. This book focuses mostly on the adventures of Anne's children with occasional chapters focusing on Anne and Gilbert's marriage. It's a happy book, especially after the sadness of Anne's House of Dreams. What will I do when I run out of Anne books to read?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Grapes of Wrath

Finished The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940. It's the story of the Joad family and their odyssey from Oklahoma to California in search of work, wages and a new home. The book is harsh, gritty and true. Steinbeck wrote a series of articles about migrant workers who had to leave their homes and farms in the Dust Bowl and look for work in California, to them a land of plenty. Much like Dickens writing about poverty and the resulting living conditions in Victorian England, Steinbeck's seemingly post apocalyptic tale was meant to raise awareness of the dire conditions that the migrant workers experienced, "I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this." This book was hard to read at first. It's bleakness was troubling, but once I got to know the characters, the story became more and more compelling and difficult to put down.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Around the World in Eighty Days

Finished Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne, another fun and exciting adventure book. On a wager of 20,000 pounds, Phileas Fogg of London and his newly hired French valet, Passepartout, embark on a journey to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days. They meet with many snags and dangers and participate in various rescues of themselves and others. Fogg's trademark calm in all types of crises is both frustrating and admirable. Passepartout's unexpected valiance is heroic and sometimes hilarious. They travel by train, steamer, elephant and sled. At one point the possibility of utilizing a hot air balloon is briefly mentioned, but never actually takes place. I found this amusing since so many book covers feature a hot air balloon. This concept seems to have been introduced with Mike Todd's 1956 film adaptation of the novel. Interesting that publishers don't always read what they print.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Help

Finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Every year there are one or two books that stand out as the very best reads. Last year it was The Secret Life of Bees and Mariana. This year, so far, it's The Help. I could not put this book down.

Set in Mississippi in the early 1960s, it's told from the perspective of three different characters and focuses on the lives of black women who work as maids and their interactions with the white women who employ them. I don't want to give away any single bit of this deeply satisfying book. I just want you to read it.

Such a Pretty Fat

Finished Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster. This time Lancaster's memoir is about her efforts to lose weight. Trying to do the same, I thought it would be a useful read and it was. Aside from being hilarious, this book highlights moments when the author realizes that she's capable of so much more than she thought. An encouraging and honest read.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Adventures of Pinocchio

Finished The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, originally published in 1883. This book is second only to the Oz books in its wackiness. A bizarre, yet enjoyable read.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Finished The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is the first collection of Holmes short stories, each originally published in the Strand Magazine, then published in book form in 1892. I'm not usually a fan of short stories, but because these deal with the same two characters it's more like a collection of sketches. The stories were fun to read and while often predictable, suspenseful nonetheless. When the client in "The Adventure of the Engineer's Thumb" is trapped inside the terrible stamping machine it reminded me of the hero in The Phantom of the Opera being trapped in the same sort of situation. In several stories Holmes mentions the menace that lies in wait in the quiet country hamlets, spoiling Watson's enjoyment of the scenery while they rush through the countryside by train. It seems funny to me that Holmes eventually retires to the country to keep bees when he seems to have such a horror of it.

Daniel Boone

Finished Daniel Boone written and illustrated by James Daugherty. It won the Newbery Medal in 1940. This book joins The Story of Mankind as one of my least favorite Newbery Medalists. In it's telling of Boone's adventures on the American frontier, it portrays the brutality and prejudice of the time all too vividly. Boone is a hero fighting for freedom and land. Native Americans are depicted as blood-thirsty savages. I found this perspective puzzling after having read some of the preceding Newbery Medalists, in particular Calico Bush and Caddie Woodlawn, where settlers learn to live peaceably with neighboring tribes.

Daugherty was trained as a painter. His illustrations for the book are lurid, disturbing, and while skillfully rendered, difficult to appreciate.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lady Audley's Secret

Finished Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Originally published in 1862, it is a sensational novel involving murder, bigamy and madness. Braddon wrote many stories of this sort that were serialized in penny dreadfuls for the entertainment of the lower classes. This made me think of Louisa May Alcott's sensational fiction of the same period.

The prose is very straightforward and accessible. The pace is fast and the story compelling. In some ways I think the use of travel by railroad and message by telegraph increased the pace even more. Robert Audley's fondness for his missing friend George Tallboys and his attraction to George's sister Clara, in whose face he sees George, reminded me of Charles Rider's attraction to the Marchmain family in Brideshead Revisted. The story itself also reminded me of Wilke Collins' The Woman in White.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mindful Eating

Finished Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food by Jan Chozen Bays, M.D. I noticed it in a local book store and thought it might be a good guide to changing my eating habits on the path to better health. Having read The Mindful Way Through Depression last year, I was already familiar with the basic concepts of mindfulness. I think there are times when all of us eat without being in the moment. Wait, I just ate three pieces of pizza? I don't even remember doing that. This book helps you to cultivate a mindful eating practice and to recognize which of the seven types of hunger is distracting you during the day. I found this book interesting and full of easy to employ suggestions.

Jan Chozen Bays is a pediatrician and co-founder of the Great Vow Zen Monastery of Clatskanie, Oregon.

Friday, April 1, 2011

My Senator and Me: A Dog's-Eye View of Washington, D.C.

I recently read My Senator and Me: A Dog's-Eye View of Washington, D.C., written by Senator Ted Kennedy and illustrated by David Small. The book is about Splash, Kennedy's Portugese water dog, who went to work with his master every day. I first learned about this book when I read the New York Times article My Life as a Dog, by Colin H. P. Buckley back in February. Buckley writes about his experience as an intern answering letters and e-mails written to Splash by children who read the book. The book itself is charming, as are Small's illustrations. The cover image of Kennedy bears such a strong resemblance to the late senator that it made me smile. Small won the 2001 Caldecott Medal for his illustrations in So You Want to Be President? and the 1998 Caldecott Honor Medal for illustrating The Gardener.

My Day: The Best of Eleanor Roosevelt's Acclaimed Newspaper Columns, 1936-1962

Finished My Day: The Best of Eleanor Roosevelt's Acclaimed Newspaper Columns, 1936-1962. I took my time with this, reading two or three entries at breakfast on work days. I learned more about 20th century history from this book than any I read in school or after. It offers everything that Roosevelt's autobiography does not, her perspective, her opinions and her passions. An interesting and excellent read. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest

Finished Green Mansions by W. H. Hudson, originally published in 1904. Set in the wilds of South America, it is the story of a Venezuelan man, Abel, who flees his home after participating in an unsuccessful revolution and takes to the forest for refuge. He lives among the Indians there and cultivates a slacker existance until one day he happens upon a forest where none of his Indian companions dares to go. He is teased and led on adventures there by the warbling of an unseen sprite. This sprite is Rima the Bird Girl.

Raised in this wilderness, Rima is one with the forest and all it's creatures. She hates the Indians who hunt and kill the animals of her forest family. The Indians in turn fear her, calling her the Daughter of the Didi. Abel is fascinated by Rima and eventually falls in love with her. Just as his life regains meaning and promise all hope is dashed and he descends into a fearsome tumult of destruction and revenge. Afterwords, his guilt and grief turn him savage. His existence becomes so base that I cringed at his desperate state.

This is a very strange book. I don't want to say more in terms of the plot for fear of spoiling it for anyone. Hudson was a naturalist, born in Argentina and later settling in England. The book was made into comic books as well as film. It appeared on the summer reading list for my high school. Intrigued by the title, I tried to read it back then, but found it uninteresting. It seemed an easy read this time, but again, a very strange book. I'll let you form your own opinions of Hudson's use of the name Abel.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The New Chronicles of Rebecca

Finished The New Chronicles of Rebecca by Kate Douglas Wiggin. Published in 1907, it's her sequel to Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Rebecca's adventures continue in Riverboro, Maine. This book spans from age thirteen to eighteen. Rebecca gets into scrapes of course, but she also uses her generous spirit to improve the lives of many people around her. Like Jo March, Laura Ingalls, Betsy Ray and Anne Shirley, Rebecca Rowena Randall dreams of becoming a writer.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Calico Bush

Finished Calico Bush by Rachel Field. It won the Newbery Honor Medal in 1932. It's the story of Margaurite, a girl who travels from France with her grandmother and uncle to start a new life in the American colonies. Unfortunately her uncle dies on the ship as they travel to the colonies and her grandmother dies soon after their arrival. Margaurite is alone in a strange new world. She is placed with a family as a bound-out girl. The family will house, feed and clothe her until she is 19. During that time she must work for them to help with household duties and childcare. The family she is bound-out to decides to move from Marblehead, MA to the wild and largely unpopulated coast of Maine. When they arrive they find that their house has been burned and that Indians in the area remain hostile towards settlers.

During her time with her host family Margaurite is treated fairly by the adults and younger children, although the mother, Dolly, is critical of her as a foreigner and a Catholic. The oldest son teases her often and criticizes the French for siding with the Indians against settlers. Margaurite bears many slights of this kind. She engages in numerous feats of bravery to protect the children and animals of her new family. It is not until the end of the story that she is fully appreciated for these acts.

This is the third book that I have read from this period which describes a female child being severely burned and then dying. What was it that prompted writers to include this in stories of the time?

Calico Bush is another name for Mountain Laurel. Field won the Newbery Medal in 1930 for Hitty: Her First Hundred Years.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Captains Courageous

Finished Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling. Spoiled 15 year old Harvey Cheney falls overboard from the luxury liner he and his mother are traveling to Europe on. Luckily he is spotted and pulled inside the dorey of a Portuguese fisherman named Manuel. Manuel takes him back to the schooner he works on. When Harvey has regained himself he demands to be taken to New York where his wealthy father will pay handsomely for his safe return. The Captain of the ship, Disko Troop, explains to him that that is impossible in the middle of their cod fishing voyage. Harvey behaves very badly and Troop socks him in the nose. From then on he realizes that he cannot get away with being a selfish trouble-making lay-about anymore.

Harvey is befriended by Troop's son Dan who is about the same age. Dan teaches Harvey all about life on the boat, how they fish, salt and store what they catch and what to do in the off hours. Harvey works along with Dan and feels a sense of purpose for the first time in his life. He begins to feel like a member of the community on the boat and works very hard.

This is a terrific coming of age book, laced with many good tales of the sea told by other characters. An excellent adventure.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Fields

Finished The Fields, the second novel in Conrad Richter's The Awakening Land Trilogy. It continues the story of Sayward Luckett, now married to lawyer Portius Wheeler. This book picks up right where The Trees left off. Sayward clears more of the forest around her improvement, converting it to farmland. Other members of the settlement try to master the land and the wildlife upon it in all the wrong ways. Sayward and Portius have many children and open a meeting house and a school on their land. As a family saga, this story is compelling. As a chronicle of the settling of the Ohio territory it's a bit heartbreaking.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Custom of the Country

Finished The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. What a selfish cow Undine Spragg is. And oh the irony.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Betsy Was a Junior

Finished Betsy Was a Junior by Maud Hart Lovelace. This is the seventh book in her Betsy-Tacy series. Betsy and Tacy are now juniors at Deep Valley High School. Their old friend Tib has moved back from Milwaukee and the three begin a somewhat foolish year reunited. Betsy learns a number of lessons about growing up and it's responsibilities. In mimicking her older sister Julia, who has begun college, Betsy and her friends decide to form a sorority. Boys from "The Crowd" follow suit and form their own fraternity. These lead to resentment and exclusion that cause hurt feelings and lost opportunities. Happily, Betsy and her friends realize this during their second semester and disband their Greek Societies.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bitter is the New Black

Finished Bitter is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office by Jen Lancaster. Not my usual cup of tea reading-wise, but very entertaining. This is a cautionary tale of a successful young woman whose life changes drastically after she is laid off. For those who think they are indispensable in the work place and that "it cold never happen to me," think again. While her situation becomes more and more dire, Lancaster approaches the challenges with determination, creativity and tremendous humor. I really enjoyed this book.