Thursday, July 31, 2014

July 2014 Recap

While I didn't read a lot of books in July, the books I read were stellar. Everything from a hospital in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to the death of President Kennedy to life in North Korea to one of the best novels of the English language. It reminds me what my reading should be: quality over quantity.

One-word descriptions provided until real reviews are up.

Five Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink

Killing Kennedy, Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard

Relish, Lucy Knisley

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick
Going into August, I'm reading:

I'm still reading Bomb, not the best book for picking up and putting down. I'm losing the narrative thread, but I'm enjoying the information.
And Andre Agassi's autobiography. Wow. Am I ever glad I picked up this book! It's ten a hundred times better than your typical celebrity memoir, and I'm enjoying it SO much. You've got to read this book. It's about so much more than tennis or being a star. Agassi is a deep thinker, and the book explores personality and identity and search for self. Very, very good.
So, tell me, how did your July shape up? What were the books that will stay with you?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Top Ten Tuesdays (authors that appear most on my shelves)
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This week's topic: Ten Authors I Own the Most Books From

First, I put together a list off the top of my head, and then I checked my book inventory list. I was only right about a small handful when I tried to make the list without looking.

Mary Engelbreit (15 books)
I love me some Mary Engelbreit. I'm not as much into her art as I was 10 or 15 years ago, but I still love her decorating books--especially the ones that feature her various homes over the years.

Anne Lamott (12 books)
I own all of Lamott's nonfiction (including two copies of Bird by Bird) and at least half of her fiction books. They were almost all signed by her in person.

Mary Baker Eddy (11 books)
As a Christian Scientist (not to be confused with Scientologist), I own all of the books by Mary Baker Eddy. Many of them I own several copies of. I buy various editions whenever I find them in used book stores. I'm especially fond of the old leather-bound editions. But they aren't just for having, they're for studying.

Amy Tan (7-9 books)
I haven't read an Amy Tan book for years, but I have most of them, and most are signed. I own two copies of The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God's Wife.

Maya Angelou (7 books)
I own most of Angelou's autobiography/nonfiction repertoire. I adored I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, but I was so disgusted by what I learned about her life in the follow-up book that I haven't returned to the series.

Naomi Shihab Nye (7 books)
Nye is one of my favorite poets. There are still a couple volumes I don't own, though.

Agatha Christie (7 books)
Seven Christie's is a drop in the bucket when you consider how many books she wrote. I also own her autobiography, but I have yet to read it.

Jane Austen (6-11 books)
I own all of the Jane Austen books, of course, but I own several copies of several of them.

Sharon Olds (6 books)
Olds is another of my favorite poets. I should try harder to fill out my collection of her books.

Bill Bryson (6 books) / Billy Collins (6 books, editor of 3 of those)
And a tie goes to the Billys. I love Bill Bryson, but I haven't read most of the books I own by him. Billy Collins is probably my favorite poet. I only own three of his collections, plus another three that were edited by him.
So, there you have it. I guess it just proves that when I find a good thing, I just want to read and collect more of it.
Which author appears most on your shelves?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Fortunately, he reads

He did it! My eight-year-old grandson actually voluntarily turned off his video games and picked up a book. Not only that, he was so enthralled, he didn't put it down until he was finished.

Hoping this sort of thing would happen if he had books lying around, I bought him Fortunately, the Milk for Christmas. I didn't make a big deal about him reading it, didn't offer to read it with him, just told him I thought he might like the story.

And then it sat on his bookshelf for nearly six months until he picked it up.

This whole experience underscores three things for me:

1. Reading is relevant and fun, even in the video game generation.

2. If they have it, they might read it.

3. Books keep.

This has been a month of growth for him. At our house just a couple weeks ago, he learned to ride his bike in a single night. Now he rides like the wind.

And I am so blessed to have been a part of both things.

Does anyone have any ideas for other great books to add to his shelf?


Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Finds (July 25)
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Time to share another week's worth of intriguing titles. My TBR list is exploding, but as I always say: "Books keep." Too bad bookshelf space is finite, though.

Lots of nonfiction this week...

Elephant Company was released last week. It's the true story of a man who develops a kinship with Burmese elephants in the 1920s and uses them to carry out covert missions during World War II. This one has Hollywood film written all over it.

I love books that deal exhaustively with one small part of history. Liberty's Torch is one of those. It's the true story of how the Statue of Liberty was built and came to America. (Apparently the whole "gift from the French" story is a myth....)

One of my favorite books--and one of the first biographies I ever read--was Madame Curie. So I've finally added Marie Curie and Her Daughters to my TBR list.

Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight was released earlier this month. It's written by Armstrong's longtime friend and space journalist, Jay Barbree. In light of the controversy over The Mockingbird Next Door being, perhaps, not quite as "authorized" as the author suggests, I am skeptical of this one. Armstrong was a very private, unassuming man. Is Barbree exploiting their friendship writing this?
I've been bumping into The Good Nurse on Amazon for awhile now, and I finally checked it out. It sounds good and quite similar to Five Days at Memorial which I finished this month. It's the story of a nurse who murders hundreds of his patients and the investigators who bring him to justice.

As most readers, I love books about books. When I read about Raising a Reader on Sunlit Pages, I immediately added it to my list. (And I don't even have a reader to raise!) It's short, and I love that cover.

The Light between Oceans is a novel about a lighthouse caretaker and his wife who discover a dead man and live baby in a boat on their shore. The wife, who is having trouble bearing children begs her husband to keep the child to raise as their own. It's an intriguing plot, but I just hope it ends well.

And now for two "they wore me down" books. I've read dozens of reviews for The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry and Code Name Verity, and since I love books about books and books about WWII, I've added them to my list of books to read because everyone else is.

What did you add to your reading list this week?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Nice Little Place on the North Side, George F. Will

A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred


George F. Will

Category: Nonfiction: Sports; Baseball

Synopsis: Will presents the history of Chicago’s Wrigley Field and its ever-losing Chicago Cubs.

Date finished: 17 June 2014

Rating: *****

I love books that are full of trivia but aren’t trivial. A Nice Little Place on the North Side is the best of the best when it comes to that genre.

This book is a friendly little missive about Chicago baseball. With his dry humor and expansive mind, Will gives the history of Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs, and even Chicago itself. He touches on everything from Al Capone to Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, from Carl Sandburg to the chewing gum magnate William Wrigley to the ivy on the wall. And of course, the countless losing seasons of the Cubs.

I enjoyed this romp through history and baseball (and the history of baseball) immensely. Will is a wonderful storyteller, and I never knew what was coming next. I adore Chicago, and the first half or so of this book was a wonderful tour through the city with a native tour guide.

At first I thought it was kind of cute how Will good-naturedly disparaged the Cubs and their seeming inability to put together a winning season, much less make it to the World Series (their last trip was in 1945, and last win was over 100 years ago). And then I really thought about that. To be a fan who devotes his entire lifetime to cheering on an underdog that no one favors (probably even yourself, if you’re honest), is quite a fete. It takes quite a psyche to do this. Who wouldn’t just switch over to the American League and root for the White Sox? Will says cheering for the Cubs is a “lifelong tutorial in deferred gratification.” Which means he thinks gratification will one day come to Wrigley Field. For fans’ sakes, I hope it does.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
One Summer: American 1927

Monday, July 21, 2014

Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead


Sheryl Sandberg

Category: Nonfiction: Women’s Studies; Business

Synopsis: Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, explains how women hold themselves back in the workplace, and how this can change.

Date finished: 12 June 2014

Rating: ****

I’ve been circling the chair about writing this post for a long time. Where do I even start? I guess I could say that I had no interest in this book when it came out. I figured I wasn’t its target audience. Surely, nothing about my education or work experience made me the kind of woman Sandberg would be writing to. I had no interest in climbing a ladder or breaking a glass ceiling. Work, to me, is a vehicle for paying bills, not fulfillment. While I enjoy what I do, I don’t consider it a career.

I grew up in a town so small that there were no managers. No one was in a management position—men or women—unless you count farmers and night managers at the Kwik Trip. And I’m not trying to be flip here, but I just didn’t see examples of leadership until I was in college in 1990s. And upon graduation, I took a position at the same university I attended, so, in essence, my entire adult life has been spent in an academic environment. Which gives one a skewed view of life, yes, but at the same time, I saw just as many women in top positions (chairs, deans, directors, and associate chancellors) as I did men. I honestly didn’t think anything of it until I read this book.

So, from opposite points of view I come to Lean In.

I don’t imagine I have anything to add to the conversation because I’m coming to it so late. I didn’t follow the buzz or heated conversations upon the book’s release. But I do want to talk about the thing that struck me to most while reading the book. And that is Sandberg’s stance on women in the workplace, and especially, women in leadership roles in the workplace.

Sandberg admits to the same insecurities, emotions, and conflicts as any other woman. She discusses crying in the workplace, for instance. She talks about how important it might be to not separate work-life from home-life. She touches on difficulties of raising children while running a company. I didn’t give her enough credit going into the book. I assumed she’d be a hardnosed, put-all-your-eggs-in-the-career-basket type. Instead, I was relieved to see that she casts no aspersions on those women who decide to quit working to raise a family.

Sandberg encourages women to “sit at the table.” When I started my job in the university library, I was shocked the first time I attended an all-staff meeting that only men and academic staff sat at the table, while the others sat in the chairs around the periphery of the room. She talks about the same phenomenon. Will others hear our voices and consider our ideas if we cast ourselves aside?

There were, however, a few spots where I just flat out disagree with her. For instance: “study after study suggests that the pressure society places on women to stay home and do ‘what’s best for the child’ is based on emotion, not evidence.” I admit, I didn’t check her sources on that statement, but I maintain you can find a study to back up any position, and you will hold any position that will make you sleep at night. Perhaps women are evolving out of caregiver roles as society changes, but I honestly don’t think we’re there yet.

You’d think after a couple weeks to chew on the ideas presented in the book, I’d have a more coherent set of thoughts to share with you, but I think this is one of those books that will have me chewing for long after my review is posted. I’m so glad I finally read this book, because it opens up an internal dialogue that I’d long since thought was finished. It seems like every ten years or so I reevaluate what it means to be a feminist—and indeed, if I am one. This book is the catalyst for that redefinition this decade. Who knows what it will be next.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Every woman should probably read this book, regardless of the work she does. It’s short, concise, and personal, while giving you an overarching assessment of the business climate women face today.

And if nothing else, it has a few gems from Gloria Steinem that will make you smile.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Finds (July 18)
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Not as many this week as last week. Good thing, because my TBR list can't take much more!
First off, some presidents.
Destiny of the Republic was recommended this week by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness. It sounds perfect for me. It's safe to say I know nothing about James Garfield.
I believe I found His Excellency: George Washington while lurking around on someone's Goodreads pages (how creepy is that?). I'm a sucker for any book about a president with a painted portrait on the cover.

And now for some lighter fare.
I own both of William Alexander's books about food: The $64 Tomato and 52 Loaves. And for some reason, I haven't read either of them. His third book, Flirting with French, due out Sept. 16, is at least as intriguing as it covers another of my passions: language.
(I also find myself oddly attracted to books having to do with France.)
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. I haven't read anything by Alexander McCall Smith, but I've read such good things about this series, I thought I might try the first book. Someday.
Okay, don't laugh, but I love the movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I'm at least a generation removed from its intended audience, but something about that movie, those characters, really spoke to me. I figured the book would be a fun little romp.
And that's it. Just five books.
What have you added to your TBR list this week?


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Delancey, Molly Wizenberg

Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage


Molly Wizenberg

Category: Nonfiction: Memoir; Food & Cooking, Marriage

Synopsis: Wizenberg recounts the opening of Delancey, her husband’s dream-come-true pizza parlor.

Date finished: 9 June 2014

Rating: *****

I’ve read some lackluster memoirs this year, and I’ve never been able to get into Wisenberg’s blog Orangette, so I had low expectations for this one—even though the excerpt I read online was excellent. I remember having Wizenberg’s A Homemade Life on my bookshelves for a long time before donating it. I guess I lost interest. But after reading Delancey, I’ll be re-buying a copy.

I really enjoyed this book. Pure and simple. It surpassed my expectations. You know I love a good food memoir, but finding good books about regular marriages are hard to come by. I can’t think of more than a couple. This book brings the two together, and I was a happy girl.

Frankly, I’m unsure exactly why this was such a good read. There isn’t a whole lot of action, and there aren’t even a whole lot of personalities. The book basically just takes the reader through the process of establishing and running a pizzeria in Seattle. There are lots of ups and downs, (mostly downs) as you can imagine. And one of these is how Wizenberg’s marriage changes.

Wizenberg is a smart writer. Her spare style knows just what details to include to give the whole picture but not bog the reader down. Perhaps this comes from being a cook and knowing what spice to use and how much to enhance the dish instead of change it into something else entirely.

But as I alluded to, the part of the book that intrigued me the most was how their young marriage changed when their restaurant actually comes into being. Have you ever worked with your spouse on a major project only to find you really don’t work together well? Or one of you takes over? Or one of you gets jealous of the other’s time spent on said project? Yeah. I have. This wasn’t exactly the trouble for Wizenberg and her husband, Brandon, though. Her problem was the inability to fully commit to the restaurant, and when committed, still be who she thought she was. She writes: “Brandon has pointed out, and I agree, that we probably wouldn’t be married anymore if (1) I hadn’t worked at Delancey and (2) I hadn’t stopped working at Delancey.” This really hit home for me. As wives we want to be supportive and we want to be our best selves, but sometimes we have to let go of what isn’t working to be our best.

So, the book is a little more complex than the title suggests, and I appreciate that. If you like books about food and restaurants or memoirs about marriage, this one is definitely worth a read.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
Yes, Chef
Sous Chef (review forthcoming)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (80s & 90s sitcoms)
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This week’s topic: Let’s talk about other types of stories. Top Ten Favorite Movies or TV Shows!

My Top Ten Favorite 1980s-1990s Sitcoms

I love sitcoms. I’ve seen every episode of an embarrassing number of them. See, before I was a reader, I was a watcher. But these days, sitcoms have done away with the laugh track and are way too into shock value instead of family values. I think the trend will wear itself out and reverse itself soon, though.

So, hop a ride in the The Wayback Machine, because they don’t make ’em like the used to.

10. Blossom
Yessirree. Mayim Bialik before Big Bang Theory. (Plus Joey Lawrence. Whoa!) She was funny and so smart. I wanted to be Blossom. Funny thing is, I look exactly like her in this picture.
9. Who’s the Boss?
I’d forgotten how good this show was. I think Tony Danza is wonderful. After the show he went on to become a high school teacher.

And for my brother: “Alyssa Milano, she’s hot and her name is a cookie!”

8. The Nanny (& Reba)
I know. I know! Possibly the most annoying voice/character in TV history, but I loved Fran Drescher. I mean, she actually got the millionaire Broadway producer in the end.

(I did have Reba in this slot, but when I double-checked air dates, it missed the 1990s by a couple years. I was obsessed with Reba when she was a “just” a country music singer. I didn’t want to like the show, but I really fell for it.)


7. Friends
No 90s list would be complete without Friends. Just sayin.

6. Boy Meets World
Those Savage boys are great, aren’t they? Fred was in The Wonder Years, and Ben grew up in Boy Meets World. And now the Disney Channel is continuing his and Topanga's television life with Girl Meets World.

5. The Cosby Show
Okay, 1980s television pretty much meant The Cosby Show to me. That episode where the family dances and lip syncs for the grandparents’ anniversary? Hilarious.  


4. Frasier
Talk about a phenomenal cast of unique characters! And for conservative Kelsey Grammer to play the most liberal man in a sitcom (well, short of Michael Gross in Family Ties)—truly spectacular.

3. Everybody Loves Raymond

I got a little burned out on this show because it’s always on, but it’s definitely still a favorite. Great acting.

2. Mad About You
One of the best sitcoms about young marriage ever produced. I just loved Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt together.

1. The King of Queens
But the best pairing in television history is that of Kevin James and Leah Remini. Hubs and I own the complete set (the DVDs come in an IPS truck complete with a pallet), and we have almost all of the dialogue memorized—though I’m forbidden from speaking it along with the episodes. No show was funnier or had more heart.

Some that would have made the list if I could have listed move than ten:
Night Court, Full House, Facts of Life, Just the Ten of Us, Murphy Brown, The Bob Newhart Show (2)

What are your favorite sitcoms? I’d love to know!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Friday Finds (July 11)
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I'm back with another pile of Friday Finds. I actually had so many books to share with you this week I had to cut some out! Wild. So let's get to it, shall we?

33 Men is the story of the 2010 rescue of 33 Chilean minors, trapped for 69 days in a collapsed mine.
Continuing in the high drama vein, Flight 232 tells the story of an airplane going down over Sioux City, and 184 of the 296 passengers surviving.
I've owned Bill Bryson's At Home for awhile now. This week it was finally added to my "To Read" shelf.

I'm not sure how I stumbled upon All Four Stars (perhaps a Goodreads e-newsletter?). It's a middle-grade book about a precocious little girl (the best kind) who wants to be a chef, but after a blowtorch-crème-brulee attempt that goes awry, she's banned from the kitchen by her parents. But soon she becomes a restaurant critic--though no one knows she's a little girl. Adorable, no?

I'm always on the lookout for fiction that appeals to my picky tastes. Girl in Translation looks like something right up my alley. It's about growing up Chinese-American. I assume it's autobiographical.
Over the July 4th weekend, my husband and I took in two movies. Both of them showed a preview for the movie The Hundred-Foot Journey starring Helen Mirren. It's based on a novel about an Indian family that opens a restaurant across the street from a fancy-pants French restaurant. I'm all in!
(The movie is out Aug. 8.)

And now for some memoirs.
Bento Box in the Heartland is about growing up Japanese in Ohio. It focuses mainly on cooking authentic Japanese meals, though ingredients are scarce.
Andi at Estella's Revenge is currently reading Handling the Truth. I love memoirs, and I love books about writing, so this sounds fabulous to me.
Confession: I've had a crush on Jay Leno since about 1997 when I'd come home from my summer job as a carhop and watch The Tonight Show while I counted my tips. I'm a Leno girl all the way. So this book that dishes on Jay and his guests is high on my To Read list. (It was released yesterday.)

And now for a couple nonfiction books that deal with authors.
Bookmammal recently wrote about My Salinger Year. It sounds like a wonderful memoir about coming of age and books.
The Mockingbird Next Door is a biography about the reclusive Harper Lee, author of the beloved To Kill a Mockingbird. Mills was given rare access by the author. This will be released July 15.

Honestly, this one has been on my To Buy list for months. I love the Young House Love website, and I'm a home decorating junkie. But I'm not a DIY-er. I want to buy the book to support their work. If you haven't seen their website, you're in for a treat. They're a young couple (with two young kids and a Chihuahua named Burger); their work is professional, and their posts are often hilarious. They have a new book coming out next year.
 Whew, quite a pile! So, what new book is burning you down this week?