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.

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