Wednesday, April 30, 2014

April 2014 Recap

April in Wisconsin is a schizophrenic thing. It comes in like a big snowy lion, teases you with a couple of “lamb” days, then goes out as a grumpy, rainy lion. This week, it’s been raining endlessly, and the temps are in the 40s. It’s better than snow, but what I wouldn’t give for a couple of warm, sunny days heading into May.

But, April was another great month for reading. I didn’t finish quite as many books as I did in March, but I did get through eight. Again, quite a range of topics, from studying a dog’s language acquisition to parenting, from poetry to decorating to English gardens, and even (gulp) science fiction. I’m still behind on posting reviews, so I’ll give you a one-word summary until I catch up. If I ever catch up.



Chaser, Dr. John W. Pilley, Hilary Hinzmann



Strings Attached, Joanne Lipman & Melanie Kupchynsky   



All Joy and No Fun, Jennifer Senior



Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life, Marta McDowell





Hunger Wide as Heaven, Max Garland





Fortunately, the Milk, Neil Gaiman




Science Fiction

The Martian, Andy Weir





My Passion for Design, Barbra Streisand




Currently Reading

The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown

Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers

I’m not very far into Mary Poppins, but I enjoyed Saving Mr. Banks so much, I thought I should read it.

I’m really enjoying The Boys in the Boat, too. I’m roughly halfway through. If you enjoyed Laura Hillenbrand’s books, Unbroken or Seabiscuit, or Empty Mansions, I think this is a must-read. It’s the kind of book that they make into a movie. Yes, that good.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (If you like...)

This week’s topic: Top Ten Books If You Like X tv show/movie/comic etc. (basically any sort of other entertainment)

It’s springtime. If ever there was a time to reinvent your life, it’s spring. Trees and flowers and birds are all coming back to life. And for those of us in the north, we’re slowing coming back, too. Now is a great time to reinvent your life, to change your routine or take on a creative project. One of the best movies about undertaking a project and reinventing a life is Julie & Julia, based on the book of the same name. Interested in how other authors changed their lives—and made a book out of it? Try these titles…

All My Life for Sale, John D. Freyer

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, Barbara Kingsolver

Dinner with Dad: How I Found My Way Back to the Family Table, Cameron Stracher

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India, and Indonesia, Elizabeth Gilbert

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, Gretchen Craft Rubin

Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks, Kathleen Flinn

The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, A.J. Jacobs

Friday, April 25, 2014

Daring Greatly, Brené Brown

Daring Greatly: How the Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead


Brené Brown

Category: Self-help

Synopsis: Shame and vulnerability researcher Brown discusses, well, shame and vulnerability.

Date finished: 27 March 2014

Rating: ***

I dislike reviewing self-help books because they’re so personal. What works for some folks won’t for others. Some end up being a lifeline for a person but will leave another reader cold. That’s my experience here. I’ve seen nothing but praise for Brené Brown’s books, and this one in particular. I went in with an open mind, but it didn’t take long to realize this wasn’t the book for me.

In my estimation, the book suffers from one thing: it’s completely unnecessary. Who needs a book to tell them shame feels bad, shaming is bad, and vulnerability is worth the initial pain? After 200-some pages, I still don’t have a good grasp on what “shame” is, in her definition. It seems to boil down to anything that makes you feel bad or less than. She defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”

The main problem of the book is that she seems perfectly satisfied with giving definitions, citing her interviews (research), and then going on to writing her next bestseller. She takes forever building her case and no time applying it practically. I took away almost nothing helpful.

And frankly, I found her voice annoying. She liked to brag about her TED talk going viral (mentioned more than once) and repeatedly pointed the reader to her website. She seems equally interested in empire-building as she is helping people. It turned me off.

Lastly, although I appreciate her motive (I do believe she comes from a place of kindness), when I seek to change a behavior or explore a hurt in my past or present, I don’t turn to secular books like this. Since she was being recommended by Christian women of all types, I assumed her work here would draw on Christian themes. I couldn’t have been more wrong. When faith came up at all it was a passing reference to a “faith community.”

This book might work for a secular person who doesn’t know where to start, but anyone who’s thought much about life, emotions, context, and how to set things right, won’t find much new here. Though they will find support in a narrow system of belief and understanding, it’s a way of seeing the world I just can’t agree with.

To each her own, I guess.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
I would not.

You might enjoy:
Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy
Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Underwater Dogs, Seth Casteel

Underwater Dogs


Seth Casteel

Category: Photography; Dogs

Synopsis: Casteel presents his collection of photographs of dogs taken underwater.

Date finished: 22 March 2014       

Rating: ****

I had to check out what this book was all about. It combines two of my favorite things: dogs and photography. The photographs are one part hilarious, one part grotesque, and two parts heart. Dogs look pretty weird moving underwater, especially if they’re on a retrieval mission. Their eyes bulge, their mouths distort, and their teeth look downright terrifying. But their fur and ears look angelic. Who knew water was such a perfect filter for capturing a portrait of man’s best friend? Seth Casteel did. 

I would have preferred a bit more text, something to show the dog’s personality “on land.” And there are a couple full-spread shots where the action is happening right in the gutter—where the pages come together—and you can’t see the dog. This was a heinous oversight in a photography book, if you ask me.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Fun for the whole family. There’s also an Underwater Dogs: Kids Edition.

You might also enjoy:
Maddie on Things

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Growing Up Duggar, Jana, Jill, Jessa, & Jinger Duggar

Growing Up Duggar: It’s All about Relationships


Jana, Jill, Jessa, & Jinger Duggar

Category: Parenting & Families; Faith

Synopsis: The oldest four Duggar girls, stars of the reality TV show “19 Kids and Counting,” discuss a young woman’s most important relationships, with a focus on faith and family.

Date finished: 20 March 2014

Rating: ****

It seems disrespectful to start off a book review with the words “this wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be,” but that might be my most honest reaction. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the Duggars, and while I wouldn’t make some of their lifestyle choices, I respect them. I’ve read both of the books by JimBob and Michelle, and this one, written by their oldest four daughters, reads much the same way. The prose is straightforward, easy to understand, non-judgmental, and friendly.

The book deals with a young woman’s relationships with herself, parents, siblings, friends, guys, culture, country, and world (a chapter for each). They talk about their family and personal convictions regarding modesty, dating, entertainment, and serving others. They touch on politics, personal study and careers, the importance of family, and their role in helping others. Everything is filtered through a faith-based lens, because that is how they structure their lives.

I speculate that the girls had some help in writing this book. It sounds very much like the writing in the previous Duggar family books and very little like what the girls sound like when they’re being interviewed on their reality show. That didn’t really bother me. They gave examples for the principles they shared, and when they got preachy, it was adorably so. Much of the book was a rehash of their parents parenting style, but these are young women, and they are naïve to much more than what they experience at home and on their mission trips. You take it all with a grain of salt.

The Duggar family has followers and haters, and a whole lot of people just shake their heads and wonder how they can live that way. A lot of folks put them up as a poster family for all conservatives. A lot of folks throw around the phrases “brainwashed” and “judgmental.” Personally, I think you’ll find in this family what you look for. If you look for a strong, loving, principled family, you’ll see it. If you look for a close-minded, judgmental, fanatical family, you’ll see that. Personally, I find the family inspiring. Though I interpret scripture differently from them, our core values are the same. I appreciate what they do to bring comfort to others throughout the world.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes. This would be perfect for a Christian girl from early teens through young adulthood.

You might also enjoy:
The Duggars: 20 and Counting!
A Love that Multiplies

Monday, April 21, 2014

Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption


Laura Hillenbrand

Category: Biography; History

Synopsis: Bombardier Louis Zamperini’s rescue plane goes down over the Pacific Ocean in WWII and he becomes a Prisoner of War in brutal Japanese camps.

Date finished: 19 March 2014

Rating: *****

And I thought Seabiscuit was good.

I bought this book when it came out several years ago, but I never wanted to commit myself to the inevitable emotional pain of reading it. It’s a traumatizing tale of brutality, bravery, and hope. There are times, though, when hope flags, and you are plunged, like Louis, into despair the likes of which most human beings never experience. Fortunately.

*I’ll try to give no spoilers, but my review does go beyond what the Amazon product description reveals.*

Olympic runner Louis Zamperini is a bombardier in the Pacific theatre in World War II. This is a time in history when planes are still relatively young. (Lindbergh made his historic flight in 1927; WWII is not even two decades beyond this.) The fighter planes of this era are new technology—each “B” plane an improvement over the one before, but each suffered design flaws. Many planes went down, and when a plane went down in the expanse of the Pacific Ocean, military rescue efforts, though quickly initiated, were seldom successful. Into this chaos steps Louis and his team, running a routine rescue mission for a downed plane and its crew. Their rattletrap plane goes down, killing all but three of the crewmen. The remaining men drift for 46 days on life rafts. They endure starvation, dehydration, and a shiver of sharks who seem to be waiting patiently for their demise. This was my “favorite” part of the book, which tells you something about what comes next.

The men are eventually “rescued” but Japanese seamen, who treat them well, before being turned over to a POW camp. This is where their awful journey turns horrific. The brutality of the camps—unlike any operated in the European theatre of the same war—is breathtaking. The starvation, forced labor, and constant beatings are almost too much to bear, even to the reader. And this goes on for years. The Japanese culture believes that surrender in war is a great dishonor, and any man who would allow himself to be captured should endure the harshest treatment because he is weak and lacks pride. A Japanese soldier would often rather kill himself than be captured.

But ultimately, this is a story of the human nature and the human spirit. The Japanese knew that humiliation would break a man sooner and more completely than any other treatment. Many men died. Many survived. Why would fill whole volumes. 

But even with the Japanese surrender and the liberation of the POW camps, the journey was not over for these young men. Many were unable to make the transition back to civilian life. Many fought addictions and found themselves tethered to painful memories, nightmares, and flashbacks. Louis Zamperini is one of the countless who fought the residual demons every day until he accepted God and found his way out. He then became a speaker to bring the story to the states, so it would not be forgotten.

There is so much going on here. So very much pain. I was left to marvel at two things: the darkness of human hearts and the buoyancy of the human spirit. These things have been a part of humankind since the beginning of time—WWII, of course, was not the be-all and end-all of human cruelty or human triumph. It makes you wonder just how long these stories have to be repeated before we finally get it.

Never before have I read a book that was equal parts heartbreaking and life-affirming. Hillenbrand tells the story with sensitivity, clarity, and mercy, but never glossing over the harsh realities.

I was recently talking to a friend about this book, and he told me that Angelina Jolie is directing a movie based on it. Apparently, she read the book and then went in search of Zamperini, who, it turns out, lived in her neighborhood. The film is set to be released on Christmas Day.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Everyone should read this book, lest we forget. Greatest generation, indeed.

You might also enjoy:

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?, Mo Willems

The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?


Mo Willems

Category: Children’s Picture Book

Synopsis: Duckling asks for—and receives—a cookie. What will Pigeon’s reaction be?

Rating: *** (3-star scale)

I love how Willems’ books often have tiny morals or behavioral lessons and often attach a surprise ending. This is one of the best in those respects. My husband even read it and liked it so much he wondered aloud who we might buy it for.

I have a soft spot for rowdy characters like Pigeon who rage off the deep end—and also for soft-spoken big-eyed characters like Duckling who always seem to be a step ahead because they’re so even-keeled and clearheaded. I think children (adults, too) see themselves in both.

Read this one. I think you’ll like it.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
Any of the other Pigeon books.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Year of Billy Miller, Kevin Henkes

The Year of Billy Miller


Kevin Henkes

Category: Children’s

Synopsis: Billy Miller is unsure if he’s ready for second grade, so his father pronounces it the year of Billy Miller

Date finished: 15 March 2014

Rating: ****

Something about this book made me take it home. I love Kevin Henkes’ picture books, so I wanted to try one of his books for readers. It was also just made a 2014 Newbery Honor book by the American Library Association. I appreciate Henkes for his gentle books for little kids.

This one was no different. While I haven’t read a book for second graders since I was in second grade, this seems just about right. No big words, but it didn’t talk down to the audience, either. Billy deals with an annoying little sister, a working mom, and a sometimes terse artist father. He has a best friend and also a classmate who makes life difficult. He has homework assignments and a teacher he likes. He worries about the bump on his head that he received at the end of summer vacation. He deals with disappointments (cancelled sleepover) and joy (hot dogs and ice cream). And his big plan is to stay up all night.  

I enjoyed this book very much. It wasn’t high on action, nor did it delve deeply into feelings. It was an uncomplicated read. I’m sure some will think it’s a little too “pure” and might prefer a bit more grit, but there is time enough for that. This is the kind of book I hope second graders all over America are reading.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
Any of Kevin Henkes’ other books.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Manage Your Day-to-Day, Jocelyn K. Glei (Ed.)

Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, & Sharpen Your Creative Mind


Jocelyn K. Glei (Ed.)

Category: Nonfiction

Synopsis: A collection of essays for those employed in a creative workplace.

Date finished: 15 March 2014

Rating: ***

Whenever you take an intellectual approach to creativity, you lose me. There are those who can analyze joy using a spreadsheet and still maintain my curiosity, but for me there is a line that, once crossed, it’s hard to get me re-engaged. That’s how I felt about this book.

I read this off and on as a secondary book. The essays are very short and lend themselves well to this sort of take-up-and-put-down reading. The writing is top-notch. And while there’s nothing banal included, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy, either. Topics include: maintaining focus, the importance of routines, the hindrance of technology, creativity, perfectionism, blocks, and self-renewal. The essays were written by top thinkers in the field. What field, you ask? I’m unsure. They seem to all be from the crossroads of where creativity meets technology. These aren’t artists, writers, and musicians. These are CEO-types who keep their toes in the creative side of life. I guess.

It sounds like I didn’t like the book. That’s not really the case. I just didn’t find it applicable to my life. I’m not tethered to an i-device, for instance. So great chunks of the book didn’t apply. But there were other gems that I picked up like learning to identify the block I’m experiencing in my work that might prove to be revolutionary. And the full-page quotes throughout were wonderful. Not the usual trite quotes that show up around high school graduation time. It’s an intelligent book with a presentation I appreciated—the layout is particularly striking.

I think with a book like this, you take what you can get. Not everything will apply to your circumstances. So, taken for what it was, I was happy.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
The right kind of creative slash mogul type will get more out of this than I did.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (bookish things on my wish list)

This week's topic: Top Ten Bookish Things (That Aren’t Books) That I’d Like To Own.
1. I’ve been on the search for the perfect bookmark for years. Years! It must be pretty but indestructible. Not too thick, not too thin. Not too big or too small. What do you all use?

2. I want this mug to go with my Carry On, Warriors books.

3. A notekeeping system. I take notes and excerpts from every book I read. So I have piles of 4x6 pages of notes. If I ever wanted to find anything, I’d have to remember the book and about when I read it. I’d like them transcribed into a cross-referenced database, but even writing that took too much out of me.

4. A journal practice that would be painless. I want to keep a journal, but it’s just too intimidating.

5. Science & Health on CD for times when it’s too hard to read it.

6. A job in which I get paid to read. I currently work one in which I get paid to buy books. I figure I’m halfway there!

7. The ability to read and understand Shakespeare.

8. The ability memorize poems and book passages.

9. Magic shelves that always have room for one more book.

10. More time to read.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Persuasion, Jane Austen



Jane Austen

Category: Fiction & Classics

Synopsis: Many years after refusing Captain Wentworth’s hand, Anne Elliot remains unattached. Will she accept him the second time?

Date finished: 13 March 2014

Rating: ****

Okay, I hate to say this because I really do love Jane Austen’s novels, but I’m coming to the conclusion that if you’ve read one, you’ve kind of read the others. I never come away with one remembering much about the characters or situations. They all blur together for me. But truthfully, that doesn’t bother me a bit. I read Austen for the feeling, for the language, for the slow stroll through romance.

I’ve seen many bloggers call Persuasion their favorite Austen novel. So, I hoped I’d like it as well as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Frankly, while I enjoyed it a great deal, it didn’t seem to have the depth of the others. It was short—my copy was a mere 200 pages—and it didn’t feel full enough. There wasn’t as much of Austen’s sparkling wit here, and I missed it. It had all the usual Austen characters: the proud, the dastardly, the passionate, the sensible, the naïve, plus a heroine to love and a captain to fall for. There were carriage rides, visits to Lyme, a family move to Bath, cousins marrying cousins. Alas, no grand balls in this one. And way too many characters named Charles.

It’s hard to give much of a critique without spoiling the plot. It you enjoy Austen, you’ll enjoy Persuasion. If you have never read Austen, read Pride and Prejudice first. I’ve read that was Austen’s favorite, and I’d have to agree.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Cooking Comically, Tyler Capps

Cooking Comically: Recipes So Easy You’ll Actually Make Them


Tyler Capps

Category: Cookbook; Comic Book

Synopsis: A cookbook with a comic book flair.

Date finished: 8 March 2014

Rating: ****

I can’t remember where I heard about Tyler Capp’s website, but as soon as I visited, I knew I had to buy his book when it came out. Now, I’m not into comic books. In fact, I’ve never read one. But his website was just too charming. The book is a compilation of his web recipe/comics.

First of all, the book lives up to its subtitle. These are recipes so easy you’ll actually make them. Capps offers a “difficulty meter” for each with notes such as “cook must be can-opener certified” and “must be able to operate a pot.” There are photos of ingredients and various steps as well as the finished product. And of course, there’s a comic man offering his asides throughout.

This is not a flashy cookbook. Capps uses old pots, pans, and utensils. He has red Formica countertops. The photos very much give the impression of a young bachelor cooking in his rental’s kitchen. In a day when recipes and cookbooks have become over-glamorized food-porn, it’s nice to see photos of how most of us get food to the table. No fancy La Cuisine cookware here. Amen.   

This would be a fabulous cookbook for college and high school (and I’d say younger, too) students. The recipes are accessible, using ingredients that you can find in any grocery store. Some use prepared items to save time. The steps are clear, and the recipes aren’t complicated. With the comic book approach, I think this might go a long ways toward getting reluctant boys in the kitchen. It would make a great high school graduation gift.

Now, before you buy this for younger cooks, I will caution about foul language. If this doesn’t bother you, fine. If it bothers you, perhaps you’d better pass. Personally, I thought the swears were in context, and I wasn’t offended. And I’m not big on foul-mouth speech.

One tiny peeve—the comic font used makes measurements look weird. I confess to spending way too long trying to figure out why he’d call for 11/4 cups of something before realizing it was supposed to read as 1¼ cups. (I did, however, find that I was still able to convert 11/4, so that made me proud-ish.)

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes. Especially guys.

Top Ten Tuesday (most unique reads)

This week's topic: Top Ten Most Unique Books I’ve Read

1. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, Amy Krouse Rosenthal
A memoir in encyclopedia form. I love this book.

2. Cooking Comically, Tyler Capps
A cookbook in comic book form.

3. Self-Help, Lorrie Moore
Short stories in second person. I adore second person narrative.

4. The Love, Loss, and What I Wore, Ilene Beckerman
Memoir as told through clothing and simple sketches. I’ve always wanted to make a list of which outfits I’d choose to represent my life.

5. Hungry Ear: Poems of Food and Drink, Kevin Young (Ed)
Poetry about food with special thought to arrangement. It’s one long feast!

6. Furnishing Forward: A Practical Guide to Furnishing for a Lifetime, Sheila Bridges, Anna Williams (photos)
I really don’t remember what Bridges says, but I remember interior design really clicking for me when I read this book. I came away with a confidence in my own decorating style.

7. Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy
My textbook for life. This is how I heal everything from migraines to marital tiffs.

8. The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin
I love a good project book (A.J. Jacobs was my introduction to them), but this one is different in its earnestness. She does a great deal of research and plotting of happiness. And it works for her.  

9. Press Here, Hervé Tullet
This was the first children’s book I read that is interactive. There are more now—and perhaps this wasn’t the first—but this was the first I’d read, and I found it so ingenious and refreshing.

10. Underwater Dogs, Seth Casteel
I love photography, and I love dogs. But these aren’t your average dog portraits. Plunging a playful dog underwater makes for a sometimes grotesque, sometimes graceful picture. I’m fascinated at how people come up with these ideas and then follow them through to completion.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Good Dog, Carl, Alexandra Day

Good Dog, Carl


Alexandra Day

Category: Children’s Picture Book

Synopsis: When Mother goes out, she leaves Baby in the care of their Rottweiler, Carl.

Rating: ** (3-star scale)

Okay, if you can get over the fact that Mother leaves Baby in the care of a Rottweiler, you’re good to go. If that scenario gives you pause, maybe the pictures will redeem things.

This is for all intents and purposes a wordless book. The lovely illustrations carry the plot. The adventures Baby and Carl have, the mess they make, and the way Carl takes care of things, are sweet. He is a Good Dog.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Anne Lamott


Category: Nonfiction; Writing

Synopsis: Lamott offers advice for writers.

Date finished: 7 March 2014

Rating: ****

I’m always afraid to re-read books that meant a great deal to me at one point in my life. What it they don’t stand the test of time? What if I find them insipid or boring? I’m not sure I can stand that kind of disillusionment.

So it was with some trepidation that I undertook Bird by Bird again. At one time—nearly 20 years ago—this book was my lifeline. It was encouragement—dare I say, proof—that I could be a writer. It was friendly and funny. It was the book that every creative writing major read. And even though I’d read numerous other books about writing and the writing life, this was the bible, the holy grail, of writing books. My novelist boyfriend bought it for me. I was a poet then. My copy was signed by the great Anne Lamott herself, after I’d introduced her at her lecture at my university.

In short, the book meant a lot to me.

So. Did it hold up? Yes and no. The book is pretty much how I remember it. The parts that made me laugh or were especially reassuring were still there. The thing is—I’ve changed. My writer-ly dreams then, my fears and insecurities as a poet then, my whole life then was different. I’ve been writing for nearly two decades since reading the book the first time. I’m much more confident and have much less need for a network of writers.

I’d forgotten that the book was very deliberately about fiction writing and didn’t really mention or bow to other forms of writing. I find it odd that I’d forgotten that—since I’ve never written fiction—and that she’d made that decision.

Is the advice still relevant? I suppose it’s timeless to a certain degree. She advocates daily writing, crappy first drafts, and short assignments. She’s almost annoyingly cheerful toward new aspiring writers. And she’s at her best when giving anecdotes and telling stories to drive her points home.

So, all in all, I enjoyed this romp back in time. It was like visiting a place you knew so well at one time and finding the walls were all there, and for the most part they were the same color as you recall, but it feels much smaller than you remember.

I’m glad I went back for a visit, but I’ve not lost my anxiety of re-reading books that serve as landmarks for my life. 

Would you recommend this to a friend?
How could I not?

You might also enjoy:
Any of Lamott’s nonfiction. (I’ve never read her fiction.)

Other books on writing from this era or earlier: Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, and William Stafford’s Writing the Australian Crawl.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (Gateway Books)

This week’s topic: Top Ten “Gateway” Books

These are in order of having read them—middle school up to the present.

1. Madame Curie, Eve Curie
The first biography I ever read. Possibly my first taste of nonfiction. I was enamored. I remember sitting in my middle school science lab wishing I was in the library reading Madame Curie.

2. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
A lady named Phyllis once gave me a copy of Little Women at her garage sale. She asked if I ever read it, and I told her I hadn’t. She said every little girl needed to read Little Women. I’m so glad she gave me that book. (Oddly, though, I never identified with Jo. Am I the only one?)

3. Hattie and the Wild Waves, Barbara Cooney
This is the book that got me interested in children’s picture books.

4. Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
I recently re-read this to see if it held up. I’ll post a review here soon.

5. Fruitful, Anne Roiphe
Just out of college, living in my efficiency apartment, just me, a couch, a TV that got two channels (poorly), and a lot of time to read. I headed to the public library every Saturday morning (my reward for doing the dishes). This is one of the first books I checked out there.

6. The Poet’s Companion, Kim Addonizio & Dorianne Laux
This was one of my very favorite books on poetry and writing. I thought every word of it was perfect. I have no idea what I’d think of it now.

7. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Anne Fadiman
It’s really hard to choose just one book to represent my years and years of reading little else but fiction. This one comes pretty close, I think. It’s especially important to me because I taught English to Hmong high schools for three summers post-college.

8. The Father, Sharon Olds
Likewise, it’s impossible to narrow down years of poetry-reading and study to one book, but this one meant a lot to me because all of the poems were about her father becoming sick. I read it as my father was beginning his journey with Parkinson’s disease.

9. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
This book opened the world of classics to me. Not that I’ve read many classics, other than Austen’s other work, since. I now have a feeling they won’t be so intimidating. Especially since I don’t have to read and analyze their images, metaphors, diction, etc.

10. No Higher Honor, Condoleezza Rice
This is the book that tore down the “fear of big books wall.” To date, it’s the biggest book I’ve read.