Thursday, February 28, 2013

Book Review - No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washingon, Condoleezza Rice

No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington


Condoleezza Rice

Category: nonfiction, memoir, Washington DC, politics, world

Date finished: 8 January 2013

Synopsis: Condoleezza Rice recounts her days as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State during the George W. Bush presidency.

Rating: ****

Comments: Wow. Whew. I made it. That’s a big book! For the first, I don’t know, 200-400 pages, I was disoriented, even a little resentful. This is boring! I thought. I hit my stride when I realized that this was not a memoir, it was not going to be personal, it was a recounting of her days as Secretary of State (and National Security Advisor), the nature of that job being tactfulness and diplomacy—and lack of personal opinion (at least stated personal opinions). It was like reading a world history book for the years 2001-2008. It was overwhelming, and I doubt that I’ll retain many of the facts that I read, but I’ll retain the ideas, and that’s enough for the future. For instance, I learned that Turkey wants to be considered European, but the Europeans will perhaps always see Turks as Easterners. Also, of course, I came away with a dire view of the Israel/Palestine conflict and the Middle East as a whole. Will peace be accomplished there in my lifetime and without a world war and much bloodshed? It seems hopeless. I admire and respect Condoleezza Rice. I did regret that there was no “memoir” here. In 740 pages, only a handful of times, and very briefly, did she get personal or talk about her family; I missed the warmth of her previous book. But I appreciate the experience that reading this book was. It will perhaps be obsolete in a few years, but perhaps not. It was a snapshot in time, and one that was ultimately worth the read. It also gives one an appreciation for the all-consuming nature of the Secretary of State position; on call at all hours, boarding a plane at a moment’s notice, juggling situations and personalities and cultures that conflict at all points. It takes a remarkable woman to be able to take on that job and survive it with grace. What a debt of gratitude we owe to these people.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Only if that friend is as much a nut about politics as I am.

My Book Review Rules

Book Reviewing Rules


1. I must read every word, every page.
2. Cookbooks count, as long as I read every recipe and instruction.
3. Poetry collections count, as long as I read every poem.
4. Children’s books (picture book) don’t count. Too short.
5. I must post the review shortly after reading it (next day preferred).
6. Reviews must be honest and fair.
7. Criticizing (or praising) any part of the book or its writing is fair game.

I use the stars system:
***** Perfect in every way.
**** Almost perfect in every way.
*** Average.
** Not good. Likely due to bad writing.
* Why did I read this?

Thursday, February 21, 2013

I Read 4 - Other

This is the final installment of get-to-know-me questions before we get to the good stuffthe book reviews!

Who are your favorite authors?
I’ll say what I say when folks ask what musical artists I like: I like the song first and foremost. Likewise, I like the book first and foremost. Still, there are authors that I enjoy so much I’d, as an old professor would say, “read their grocery list.” Some authors whose books I’m likely to snatch up when they come out: Anne Lamott (her nonfiction only), Shauna Niequist, Michael Perry, Kathleen Flinn, Elizabeth Gilbert, Haven Kimmel, Anna Quindlen, and Jane Austen.

Do books ever intimidate you?
I still look at a thick book and think that will take me forever.

Do you read a book as soon as it released?
You know, it didn’t even occur to me until probably last year that people do that. I almost never do that. I might buy a book when it comes out, but unless it’s a release I’ve been really looking forward to, I figure “books keep.” In other words, I only read the New York Times Best Sellers list to get ideas, not to form my reading list for the month.

What book/s have you read the most?
The Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, the Christian Science textbook.

What books have changed your life?
Okay so no one’s ever asked me this, but isn’t it the only question that matters when it comes to reading? Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird changed my life. She made it possible to be a writer. I haven’t reread it for years. Anne Richardson Roiphe’s Fruitful: Living the Contradictions: A Memoir of Modern Motherhood. I’m not sure I’d enjoy it if I reread it. I think my idea of womanhood, motherhood, and feminism has changed a great deal over the years, but I remember it really blowing my head off at the time. The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux confirmed my love of writing poetry and made me believe in my writing at a time when so few people understood why poetry mattered. Peter Walsh’s books, especially It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff, really got to the heart of simplifying—my home and my life. There are dozens of books that changed me in large and small ways, though.

What makes a book important?
Very simply—if it touches you, if it changes you, if it challenges you, if it leaves you better than it found you.

Are movies ever as good as the books they come from?
I’ve never understood why academics are always so down on movies made from books. Yes, I want a movie to be faithful to the book, but beyond that, I truly enjoy seeing the book come to life on the screen. Perhaps it has something to do with the different types of imaginations people have. Some can tolerate movies based on books and some can’t. 

Why do all the metaphors about reading have to do with food—“devour books”, “ravenous reader”, etc.?
Because reading is something we do to sustain, nourish, and grow. To those who do it regularly, it’s as essential as food.

Can you recommend some titles for me?
That’s really hard to do. I don’t really like people recommending books to me, because reading is so personal, so individual. If I know what you liked to read or what informs your life, I’d be happy to offer suggestions.

Why haven’t you written a book of your own?
Good question. I don’t feel like I have the energy at this point in my life. Also, I feel that my story is still unfolding, and it’s too early to set it to paper.

What book would someone have to read to understand you?
Wow, that’s a good question. Since my religion informs my every thought and action, I’d have to say Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. But to understand my sensibilities, you’d have to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. To understand my sense of humor, you’d have to read A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland Indiana by Haven Kimmel. To understand my writing aspirations, you’d have to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. I could go on and on.

Books you’re looking forward to reading?
Shauna Neiquest’s Bread and Wine and Glennon Melton’s Carry On, Warrior, both due out this spring.

Anything else?
I don’t trust people who don’t have books in their home.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Poem 36 - After Forty Years of Marriage, She Tries a New Recipe For Hamburger Hot Dish

First off, I apologize that this isn’t a “normal” love poem for Valentine’s Day. But love comes in all forms (you’ll see what I mean in a minute). I also apologize if you’re not from the Midwest and have no idea what a “Hamburger Hot Dish” is. Just think “casserole” containing pasta (rice is too exotic), a Campbell’s Cream of— soup, and nothing more to season it than salt and pepper. A lot of salt. A little pepper.

But I digress. These are the people I grew up with, men who worked hard and women who wanted just a little bit more just every now and then. I read recently that Chinese parents show love with their sacrifice rather than with words or physical affection. I venture the same goes for the man in this poem. I see him as a midwestern farmer, tired and not wanting to chat over supper. The scene played itself out at my childhood dinner table over and over.

Happy Valentine’s Day, all. May your Hamburger Hot Dish be a big hit.

After Forty Years of Marriage, She Tries a New Recipe For Hamburger Hot Dish
Leo Dangel

“How did you like it?” she asked.

“It’s all right,” he said.

“This is the third time I cooked it this way. Why can’t you ever say if you like something?”

“Well if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t eat it,” he said.

“You never can say anything I cook tastes good.”

“I don’t know why all the time you think I have to say it’s good. I eat it, don’t I?”

“I don’t think you have to say all the time it’s good, but once in awhile you could say you like it.”

“It’s all right,” he said.

Monday, February 11, 2013

I Read 3 - While Reading

How do you choose the books you read?
I vet all my books on Amazon before buying. I read an excerpt and customer reviews.

Do you stop reading a book if you don’t like it?
Rarely. I rarely encounter a book I don’t like at all, and I have this unconstructive quirk of finishing every bad book I start. (I’m that way with movies, too. But at least you can read through a bad movie….)

Where is your favorite place to read?
On our living room couch. The left side is my side, and I have two old couch pillows that I prop up against with my left arm over them, holding the book.

Do you do other things while you read?
Yes. I watch TV, I have conversations, I cook. Sometimes all four.

Do you keep a list of books you’ve read?
Indeed. I keep a list of everything!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Poem 35 - Opening the Mail

We all have dreams, don’t we? We all go to our 9-to-5 and occasionally daydream we were somewhere else, doing something we loved a little bit more than what we’re doing right now. So here’s to all you daydreaming-at-work folks out there.

Opening the Mail
Minnie Bruce Pratt

          for Kriste Grubbs at UIU

She used to work down in the copy center, and,
don’t get her wrong, she liked it, she did. The big
xerox engines purred, paper rolled out like money
and shot into slots like a casino payoff. But this job,
there’s something new every day, the letters come in,
hundreds, thousands, from all over the place, and she
gets to open every one. The message in a bottle, the note
slid into the cashier’s cage, the letter left on the bed
when she walked out the door, the handkerchief dropped
behind him during the game at recess. She slices each
open with her knife, logs it and routes it to the other girls.

But her dream is to get a camper and follow the NASCAR
races. Six days travel and on Sunday stand inside the final
circuit of sound, inside that belly. It’s not the same as on TV
where it seems like they are just going round and round. Not
the same at all, she says. Every moment counts, and the air
smells like burning oil. Any minute it could burst into flames.

from The American Poetry Review
November/December 2004

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I Read 2

Reading – Caring for & Collecting Books

Do you buy your books or borrow them from the library?
I buy my books. I used to borrow books from the public library, but I’d just end up buying the book after reading it anyway. I never pay publisher’s price for a book. I buy from Amazon, used bookstores, and thrift stores.

How many books do you own?
I currently own around 750 books.

Where do you put them all?
I have a little study (small spare bedroom) where I’ve lined the walls with as many shelves as I can. They were a housewarming present to myself when we moved into our new house.

Do you ever re-read your books?
The number two question I’m ever asked when people see my books (the first is “have you read all of these books?”). I haven’t done much re-reading in the past because I’d always rather read something new, but there are many books I’d like to re-read, so I plan to start putting some of those favorites into the rotation.

Do you ever get rid of books?
Yes. Periodically, my bookshelves get too full, so in order to add new books, I have to get rid of old books. I only get rid of books I know I’ll never read or books I’ve read and really didn’t enjoy.

Do you write in your books?
Only to circle errors. An inveterate editor, I can’t help but mark an error when I see one. Most books these days have at least one, by the way. It makes me very sad.

Do you lend your books to friends?
There’s nothing I want more than to share a good book with a friend, but I’m more apt to share the title with a friend than the actual book. I’m fastidious about the condition of my books, so I tend not to lend them. It saves me heartache.

Hardcover or paperback?
I prefer hardcover to paperback. I like the way the dust jacketed spines look all lined up—the soft curve to it. I also prefer to hold a hardcover book. Reading is serious business to me, and the hardcover is more serious.
   I had a friend once who preferred paperback. She liked how they lined up more squarely on the shelves. To each their own.

Do you ever judge a book by its cover?
Absolutely. I’m a visual person. Aesthetics matter. Sometimes I buy a paperback because I refer the cover to its hardback edition (why do they have different covers anyway?).

How do you feel about e-books and e-readers?
I hope they never completely take over the book industry. They’re convenient, I’m sure (I’ve never used one), and they save a lot of space (no bookcases) and money, but they do away with the romance of holding a book in your hands and reading. They distance you in some profound and important way. They are just not the same, and I don’t plan to start using e-readers to do my reading.

Monday, February 4, 2013

I Read

I love to read, and I read a lot. There is nothing about reading I don’t like. I love the feel of a new book in my hands. I love the thrill of reading that first page. I love the feeling of completion when I finish the last page. I love shopping for books, unboxing books I’ve ordered and putting them on my shelves. I love recommending books. I even love culling books I’ve outgrown or know I’ll never read. I wish I could read more. I wish I could read for a living.

So, I think it’s time to bring my love of books and reading to this space. I’ve created several sets of questions about reading that I’ll provide answers to. When this foundation has been set, I’ll chronicle my lists of books read in 2012. And moving forward, I plan to post individual reviews for each book I read in 2013.

I invite you to comment if you, too, are an avid reader—even if we don’t read the same kinds of books.

Reading – The Basics

When did you learn to read? / Were you read to as a child? / Did you love to read as a child?
I don’t remember learning to read, but to be sure, it was in first grade, not at home. I don’t remember ever being read to as a child. We had Little Golden Books and various other picture books that were gifts from grandparents and great aunts, but there weren’t many books in our home. We had two sets of outdated encyclopedias and my father had a few rows of books (mostly Reader’s Digest editions) he’d acquired when he was in the Navy, but there wasn’t much reading being done at home. My father read westerns later in life, and one of my brothers enjoys reading now, but I have never seen my mother or oldest brother read a book.
   I hated reading as a child. I could never find a book that was interesting to me. Ever. Had I known that nonfiction books existed, I’m sure I would have become a reader much earlier in life. As it was, I didn’t learn to enjoy reading until late high school or college. And I didn’t love it until I was living in a studio apartment post-college graduation and I discovered memoirs.

You were an English major—you must have read a lot of classics then, huh?
Sadly, no. Here is a list of the classics I’ve read, and beside each, whether I read it willingly or under duress, and if I remember the book or not:

Dubliners, James Joyce – for class, remember liking it a great deal, don’t remember the stories at all
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott – willingly, loved it, remember it
A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams – willingly, liked it, don’t really remember it
Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller – for class, thought it was okay, don’t remember it
The Stranger, Albert Camus – for class, hated it, don’t remember it
Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank – willingly, liked it, don’t really remember it
In Our Time, Ernest Hemingway – for class, liked it, don’t remember it at all
Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman – willingly?, liked it?, don’t remember it
The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger – willingly, don’t remember much of it
To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf – for class, enjoyed it, don’t remember it
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck – for class, loved it, sort of remember it
The Iliad, Homer – under duress, hated it, don’t remember it
The Odyssey, Homer – under duress, hated it, don’t remember it
The Aeneid, Virgil – under duress, hated it, don’t remember it
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce – for class, loved it, don’t really remember it
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen – willingly, loved it, even though I read it recently, I don’t remember it
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner – for class, loved it, sort of remember it
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee – for class, don’t remember the book, only the movie
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad – under duress, hated it, don’t remember it
The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane – under duress, hated it, don’t remember it
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte – willingly, loved it, don’t remember it
Hamlet, Shakespeare – for class, I don’t get Shakespeare, don’t remember it
Macbeth – for class, didn’t care for it, don’t remember it
A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare – for class, didn’t like it, don’t remember it
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison – for class, liked it at the time, barely remember it
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens – for class, loved it, don’t remember it

How many books do you read in a year?
I average for the past eight years has been 27. This past year I wanted to push myself, though, and set a goal of 50. I read 55.

My eight-year stats:
55 books – 2012
32 books – 2011
14 books – 2010
21 books – 2009
25 books – 2008
15 books – 2007
37 books – 2006
17 books – 2005

How many hours per day do you read?
I read about two hours per day: on my lunch break (45 minutes), on my afternoon break (20 minutes), and in the evening in front of the TV (one hour, plus).

How many books do you read at a time?
One. For me, reading just doesn’t seem like a good place to apply multitasking. I’d much rather give one book my whole attention for a few days than to divide my time among books.

Why do you read? Why do you read so much?
I read to make sense of the world and its people. I read for information and inspiration. I read so much because I like the feeling of opening myself up to change again and again.

What do you like to read?
I read memoirs and nonfiction, poetry, and the occasional Jane Austen novel. My favorite topics include:
families, marriage, womanhood, motherhood/parenting; faith, religions;  cooking, eating, gardening, farming, sustainability;  de-cluttering and downsizing; The Middle East, Asia, France; and books about books. I also enjoy cookbooks, home decorating books, and children’s picture books. I really enjoy “project” books where the author takes on a project and writes about completing it.

What would you never read?
I’ll (almost) never read fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, or children’s lit (except picture books). I shy away from books about murder, rape, child abuse, homosexuality, health modalities, and mental illness. 

Why don’t you like fiction?
Simply put, I don’t feel like I learn anything about human nature from fiction. There’s nothing there I can connect with. Everyone can make up a story, but I like real stories. I like to know what people think, how they live, why they do the things they do. Fiction isn’t close enough to real life for me. Plus, there is just a whole lot of bad fiction writing out there.