Monday, July 25, 2016

What I'm reading this week (7/25/16)

Last week I finished:

Considering how many hours I watched the RNC last week, it's amazing I got any night reading done at all, but I did finish three books.

Waylon! One Awesome Thing was a great middle-grade reader. Pennypacker's Clementine series and this book are similar in that she deals with real-kid issues like exclusion and "picking teams" and learning to work together. They're not preachy, though, and she strikes a fine balance without being saccharine, judgmental, or otherwise heavy-handed. I just feel good when I finish one of her books. My rating: 4 stars

I'm sad to have finished 50 Paintings You Should Know. Not only did a learn about paintings I was familiar with, but I found some gems I'd never encountered before. A sampling of the more famous works discussed: Girl with a Pearl Earring, American Gothic, Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 (aka Whistler’s Mother), Campbell’s Soup Cans, Mona Lisa, The Creation of Adam, Night Hawks, The Birth of Venus, The Starry Night, The Skating Minister, The Scream, The Kiss, etc. The collection is arranged chronologically with a timeline at the top of each page to put the artwork in societal context. I can't speak for the choices made, not being a student of art, but from the casual observer of art, I believe it was a good representation of the different eras, styles, and artists of the world. More famous artists would have an extra piece or two in addition to the featured piece. I found the short expository page explaining each painting informative and even-handed in the discussion not only of technique and mastery but also interpretation of the meaning behind the pieces that weren't straightforward (like Dali). My one gripe (other than the tiny font and several typographical errors) is that there was no introduction, index, or postscript explaining the credentials of those who chose the 50 paintings, the criteria for choosing the pieces they did, or the process of putting the book together. It just started and ended, and that was that. Still, a fine collection that I thoroughly enjoyed. My rating: 4.5 stars

With the violence, pain, and uncertainty in a world that at present seems to be falling down around our ears, this is not the time to be reading about presidential assassination, yet I've read about the assassination of Lincoln, Kennedy (twice), and the attempted assassination of Reagan in the last seven months. With the completion of Killing Reagan, I'm closing the door on assassination stories for awhile. I did come away from my re-read with a better understanding of the things that complicated his presidency, but I still have reservations about the book's motive. Still, well-written and engaging. My rating: 4 stars

What I finished this weekend:

Last week, Modern Mrs. Darcy presented a list of 25 books to read when you feel like the world is falling apart. And Gone with the Wind was on that list. The world falls apart slowly and over and over again in this book, and after 959 pages and several weeks, coming up for air only to hear the news of more police officers gunned down, more terrorism abroad, and another government coup, plus my own migraines and my husband's back injury, I'm drained of every emotion. I'm a limp dishrag of a reader, completely spent.

   But I digress. What did I think of this classic, award-winning tome? First, as I said last week, I was fascinated at how it was put together. I was amazed that I could want to stay with a book whose main characters were so violently unlikeable. I feel like it's been a long time since I've encountered such complex characters and such sweeping plot. I'd say Middlemarch was the last book with such wonderfully complicated characters. (Even Scarlett's shallowness was complicated!) I love books that take you deep into the setting and history of the time, and this is something Gone with the Wind does brilliantly. You are in Atlanta, you feel the soil of Tara, you cannot escape the Civil War and starvation and desperation and grief anymore than Scarlett and Melanie can. I loved that.
   I didn't love that the book didn't end well. I'm not convinced that Scarlett grew at all as a person, and that's disappointing after so much emotional investment. Rhett ends up being some kind of tragic love hero, but I don't buy it. His behavior and words throughout the book don't sinc up with his assertions at the end of the book. Also, my favorite character dies.
   The book, in the end is about how people deal with tragedy, adversity, change. Some fall apart and can't seem to make a life in a new world (such as post-Civil War Georgia). Some grow fearless and lose a great deal of their humanity (Scarlett). Some cut a bewildered pathway and build a life (many of the Atlanta women Scarlett knows). Some hold steadfastly to the charms of the past and are unable to navigate the future that way (Ashley). Some take advantage of the misfortune of others and become greedy and closed off (Rhett). I wish Margaret Mitchell herself would have written a sequel (the way it ends seems to me to beg for a sequel), because the book as well as Scarlett don't seem finished. My rating: 4 stars   

I've thoroughly enjoyed Kevin Young's Dear Darkness. It was a nice companion to Gone with the Wind in that he writes a lot of poems about his people, Southern blacks. He writes a lot of odes to southern foods, lots of blues poems (which would likely be much better heard than read), and there's a strong sense of connectedness and hopefulness and fun to his poems. Like I said before, they are accessible and relatable (even to a white Northern girl). Although I didn't find many poems or individual lines to mark, the collection as a whole is very enjoyable. My rating: 4 stars

And my love affair with For the Love will come to an end this week as well. Like most Christian women, I'm often guarded about books by Christian women because they can miss their mark in so very many ways. I need a way out of my guilt, not another 200 pages of it. Also, I don't want to read a mushy love-letter to God, because, to be honest, that's not where I am right now. Plus, reading other people's love letters feels too intimate and creepy. But this book, this book spoke to me. By the time I got to the last section of the book about church and church people, I was already hooked, and this section put me over the top. As you may know from previous posts, my relationship with church has been complicated in the last couple of years, and I'm still struggling through the hard feelings and emotions of church and church people. There are so many reasons to quit church (Hatmaker says the church loses 50,000 people each week!), and there are so many reasons to stay. The bottom line is that when church is the place where the spiritual does its battle, things are bound to be messy. And hard. And occasionally heartbreaking. Hatmaker, a church worker for most all her life, knows this better than anyone, and she writes openly about how churches are failing their people and what people need to do to strengthen their churches. I highly recommend this book for anyone struggling with faith or womanhood or motherhood. There's a lot here to uplift and encourage. Plus, she can be funny as heck. My rating: 4.5 stars
Last week I started:

I don't know what I was thinking deciding to read Farmer Boy with all the other books I am reading this month. Where did I think I was going to find the time?! I didn't start it until now, and I'm having trouble finding time to pick it up. I think I'm finding Wilder's books just too simple for my tastes. Much has changed in the world of children's lit since this was written in 1933! I'll continue with it and hopefully finish it by August, but I'm not sure I'll continue with the series.

I was at a loss as to what audio to pick up next. I'd intended to listen to Tarzan of the Apes this month, but with the new Tarzan movie, there's not a copy to be found in my whole library system. And my hard copy has such small print, I'm loathe to begin it. So I've put it off, and I picked up Death Comes to Pemberley instead. This is a "continuation" of the Elizabeth Bennett/Mr. Darcy story from Pride and Prejudice. I thought a nice British-y book would sound soothing, but I'm finding it a bit more of a mental exercise than I'd hoped for. I'm not far into it, but I don't feel it has anywhere near the heart of Jane Austen's work. Still, I have hopes that once I get reacquainted with all the characters and the plot unfurls, I'll be sucked in.

Whew, that was a lot of words. I think I'll go and work on my August reading list now, filling it with all the uplifting, girly, yummy fare I can find.


Monday, July 18, 2016

What I'm reading this week (7/18/16)

I didn't finish anything last week, because my main read is quite long.

This week, I'll continue my way through:

I'm about 750 pages into Gone with the Wind (about 200 pages left). It took me 300-400 pages to really feel fully engaged, which sounds ridiculous, but with such a long book, I think it's to be expected. Pacing and character development in a book of this size moves at a different speed. I find it kind of fascinating. (I'm always geeking over how stories are put together, and this is a fascinating study.) When you have 950 pages to play with, you can use subtlety in a way you can't in a 300-page novel, or even a 500-page novel. It's also quite interesting to me that I can so dislike the main character (Scarlett) and also the main male character (Rhett) and still be enthralled with the story. It really is a fine novel, worth its numerous lauds (Pulitzer prize, anyone?) over the years.

I also continue with:

I'm still very much enjoying 50 Paintings You Should Know. While it's not art-class-in-depth, it's close enough for a casual learner of art. I can't wait to check out the other books in the series. Last week we examined Girl with a Pearl Earring. While I've seen a number of these works before, to sit down with them and really look at them has been a highlight of my day. Oh to see some of them in person!

Last week, I began:

My reading tastes at the moment seem to be for lots and lots of variety all at the same time. I started three books last week to round out my reading and have something from a number of categories. At night, I go systematically from one to the next, reading from each until I've had my fill of that taste. It's like a six-course meal every night. I go to bed sated.

I love being surprised by a book--especially a book that I wasn't sure I would like, had even decided not to read, then picked up and absolutely loved. Lately, I've been in the mood for some nonfiction essays by women who graduated high school when I did, if you know what I mean. Glennon Melton and Shauna Niequist have books coming out very soon, but I needed something now, so I turned to Jen Hatmaker. I'd read her book 7 awhile ago, and I really liked it, but after certain comments made on her blog, I sort of wrote her off. Hatmaker is an ardent progressive Christian (my term, not hers), and I'm not exactly in line with that agenda. To each her own. Live and let love. But something made me pick up her latest, For the Love, and I feel that it's been written for me. She's quite witty, straightforward, and she continually puts her finger on the things that plague most women. Although she writes a great deal about motherhood, which I don't particularly relate to, I appreciate what she has to say. And the fact that she calls maxi skirts "crotchless yoga pants" really endears her to me. I'm about halfway through the book, and I recommend it to folks who are too mature for the Mindy Kalings of the book world. If you know what I mean.

Sara Pennypacker released her last Clementine book recently, and I believe she's replacing the series with a new series about a boy named Waylon. I picked up Waylon! One Awesome Thing last week even though it wasn't on my reading list, and I was hooked at the first page. Although the book isn't hilarious like the Clementine books (Clementine is in the book, though as a classmate of Waylon's.), it has the heart of the Clementine books, and that's wonderful. I recommend Waylon! for the young middle-grade readers, especially boys in this age group who have trouble finding good books.

And because I can't seem to function without having a poetry book nearby, I started Kevin Young's Dear Darkness. I've read two brilliant anthologies by Young, one full of food poems, and one of grief poems, and I've wanted to check out his poetry for awhile now. I have not been disappointed. Young's poems are approachable and domestic. Most of what I've read so far in the collection has been poems based on memories, which are about number one on the relatable poetry scale. 

My audiobook:

I should finish my re-read of Killing Reagan this week, and I'll be glad. Not that I'm disliking the book, but because the audio version is so problematic. I think whoever set up the tracks has never listened to an andiobook--a 30-minute track followed by a one-minute track? Who does that? Terrible. But as for the content, I'd taken on the re-read as a way of answering the question, "What did I miss the first time?" and I'm not really getting an answer to that. I still think the portrait of Reagan, full as it is of negative assertions about the president and first lady, is agenda-based. I'm unsure what to believe about Reagan's diminished mental capacity as early as his first term, nor the idea that Nancy ran the White House, had the exclusive rights to Reagan's schedule, and managed his cabinet. Could all be true, but I don't know. Seems too negative to be believed.


Monday, July 11, 2016

What I've been reading lately (7/11/16)

Sorry I've been MIA lately. The last of June I was off work for a week helping my husband recuperate after an accident. Frankly, it was a fantastic week together. My husband and I spend a lot of time together anyway, but that week of undivided attention and the ability to put work and even house chores aside, was really rejuvenating for our marriage. Just wish my husband would have felt better. :) And I wish the basement hadn't flooded due, I think, to a washing machine problem that I have yet to identify. I tell you, I did not relish being the man of the house that night!

So, I spent the last week digging out of that week off--both at work and at home. I desperately need to weed my garden. It's looking pretty shameful.

I've been able to keep up with my reading, which has been all over the place lately. I'll try to catch you up on all the things I've finished and started lately.

I've finished:

In June, I finished These High, Green Hills, the third Mitford novel by Jan Karon. I enjoyed it as much as the first, and I enjoyed the audio a great deal. These books are fun to read, but they're equally entertaining to listen to, because the narrator is very, very good.

I also finished First Women, by the author of The Residence. I have to say I was a teeny bit disappointed. The organization--organizing according to topics--of the book is the same as her previous book, and while it didn't bother me so much in The Residence, it bothered me here. I would have preferred this one to be organized by first lady. While I imagine Andersen Brower had good reasons for not using the traditional format, I come away from this book with a muddled mess of facts, many of which I'm having trouble parceling out to the individual first ladies. Going into this book with little knowledge of Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, and Rosalynn Carter, the lives and facts got all mixed up. This was a disappointment. Another disappointment was the scant information on the Bush first ladies, Barbara and Laura. I was really hoping for more on them. Still, I enjoyed the book for what I got from it, marked a million citations, and this leaves me open to re-reading and re-discovering the first ladies again sometime.

And I finished the third book in Sara Pennypacker's Clementine series, Clementine's Letter. I was a little nervous to read this book, anticipating the third book to be trite and old hat, but it wasn't. Clementine was as thoughtful and confused and witty as in the others. I can't recommend these books highly enough. They're hilarious, and I'm not ashamed to say so.  


I finished Easy Chinese Recipes, and I was very happy overall. I mentioned that it was poorly edited, and at times it seemed a little self-aggrandizing and condescending. She talks about most American-made Chinese food as little better than eating garbage, which irritated me. For the most part, though, the recipes and ingredients seemed straightforward, the photos were good, and there were many dishes I'd try.

I thoroughly enjoyed Living with What You Love. This is the book that was on my Books to Buy list three times, and I was right thinking I'd like it. I had to kind of rush through it, so I'd like to go back and savor the photos more. I'd picked it up to find ideas of ways to display a part of my massive portrait collection, and I think I came away with the thought you have to just jump in a do it. I live in fear of putting that first nail hole in the wall. I've always been careful to make sure my home doesn't look like a model home with Crate & Barrel accessories on the shelves with the price tags still on them. My style has always gravitated toward antiques and things with history and patina. But I struggle a big bringing it all together. This book helped a little. I highly recommend this book to anyone who collects anything and wants ideas (or the freedom) to display items gracefully.

I saved Dear Cary for the last of my June reads. I always like to end a month of reading with something a little fluffier if I can. This one was a quick read, and it was quite well done for a celebrity memoir. Still, I was disappointed to learn that Cannon and Grant were only married for a few years, and she was the fourth of his five wives. I was kind of assuming she was his last wife, and their marriage was his last. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this book. There marriage was troubled and dark from the start, and things don't resolve well in their lives or the book.

The last book I finished in June as The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate, and I am over the moon with it. This is much better than the average middle-grade reader. Calpurnia is a young teen at the start of the last century who has ambitions for education and science. It seems apparent that there will be more Calpurnia books, and I'm glad of it. Not only does it show a girl enamored of science, but I love historical fiction. Highly recommend.

I was so excited to sit down with Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems, and I wasn't disappointed nor wowed. I will say I was surprised to learn there were only 21 poems, and the English translations only took 65 pages. These were followed by the original, Spanish, versions, then notes, and there were copies of the handwritten manuscripts throughout. The whole, short, experience felt oddly voyeuristic to me. I know I have stacks of poems stashed away that I never tried to publish because I didn't feel there were ready, but here, more than 40 years after Neruda's death, publishers have decided that his "lost" poems were meant to be published. Perhaps they weren't "lost" at all, but buried on purpose. Two of the poems end in commas, a strong indication to me that they were not finished and ready to print. It made me uncomfortable reading something I wasn't sure the author ever intended me to read. I didn't find a lot there that set me on fire, but I did like poem 7 (the poems are numbered, not titled) from which the title of the book takes its name.

I'm currently reading:

I am about 400 pages into Gone with the Wind, and Atlanta has just fallen to the Yankees while Melanie is in labor with her baby. I watched the movie at a sleepover in high school, and if I remember correctly, none of us liked it. I remember almost nothing of the plot from that viewing. I anticipate that Scarlet will have a personality change (please God), and perhaps Rhett, too, but so far they are both insufferable and they frankly deserve each other. I'm reminded again and again of Jane Austen's books while reading this, specifically the strict social norms and restrictions on love affairs, also the silly characters and boorish men. Has anyone else felt that way?

I challenged myself to learn something about art this year, and I settled on 50 Paintings You Should Know as my "text." I'm now about 50 pages in, and I think I've made a good choice. So far the paintings chosen have been just the right mix of paintings I know (Mona Lisa, The Creation of Adam) and things I'd never seen before. They always include a couple more paintings to show additional work or an artist's range, and the accompanying text is academic and informative but not biased or heavy. It's a good book in that it assumes a certain amount of education from the reader, though I must admit that I know a great deal has gone over my head. I am just not classically trained. This book is part of a series of books, and I think I'll read others when I'm done with this one.

I've stalled out on:

I realized in mid-June that I wasn't going to finish The 50 States anytime soon, and I was reading seven books at one point, so I had to let it slide. I hope to pick it up again when I slim down the reading pile a bit this month.

My new audiobook:

One of my goals for the year was to re-read a book within a year of first reading it. I chose Killing Reagan (on audio) for this. Since reading it last fall, I've heard so many comments about what a compelling story it was and how much respect readers gained for Reagan. Now, in some circles Reagan is lionized, and I've always loved Reagan myself, and frankly, I lost a little respect for the man. I found the book sort of cruel--possible written to disavow some conservatives of their high regard for Reagan. I'm now revisiting the book with an eye toward getting a more complete picture of the man. Anyone who's read Reagan's memoir will wonder which book is a more accurate portrayal of his life.

I have to say that the audio is maddening. The tracks are so long--some are 25 to 30 minutes long--that there's no good stopping spot. If I need to stop listening after 10 minutes, I either have to listen to those 10 minutes again next time I listen, or I need to skip the last 20 minutes of a track. I really wish there was more consistency in audiobook production.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

July 2016 Reading List

Well, it's finally here, the month I set aside to read Gone with the Wind. We'll see how much of the rest of my July list I finish, because finishing GwtW will be my main goal this month. While I generally try to read at least 50 pages of my main book each weekday, I may only be able to eek out 40 pages of GwtW before needing to move on to other reads.

To accompany my July tome, I chose two shorter nonfiction books, one I've been meaning to read for awhile (That's Not English) and the other something I just bought (For the Love). I also plan to read Farmer Boy, the second Little House book. I hope to finish The 50 States, but I'm in a major stall with it. I've chose two books of poetry, Then Come Back: The Lost Neruda Poems and Kevin Young's Dead Darkness. Gone with the Wind and Farmer Boy both tick off items from my 2016 Goals, and so does 50 Paintings You Should Know. Likewise for my July audiobooks, Killing Reagan and Tarzan of the Apes.