Tag Archives: books

Women’s lib

This goes out to the ladies out there.

Fire up your Kindle, visit the library, dash over to Barnes & Noble, however you hook your ladyself up to a good read, and get The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted And Other Small Acts of Liberation, a collection of short stories by Elizabeth Berg.

You might know Elizabeth Berg. She’s written more than 20 books. Some years ago, my mother gave me a copy of What We Keep. I started reading it to a hospice patient and loved it. Well, I loved the first few chapters anyway. My patient passed before we finished and I’ve had trouble picking it back up.

While I was browsing in a bookstore with my sister-in-law this summer, The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted called to me from the shelf.

It’s not a diet book or a self-help book or even a poor-me chick book. It’s a rich collection of hilarious short stories, each funnier and more touching than the last. Not every chapter has to do with food, but Berg’s characters do a lot of living—for better or worse—at life’s table.

One chapter is simply a letter from a woman to her granddaughter, instructing the girl on “How to Make an Apple Pie.” The chapter is 12 pages long–and one of the most entertaining recipes I’ve ever read.

So what’s with the book title? Each chapter includes, implicitly or explicitly, one small act of liberation. You don’t always see it coming but, before you turn to the next chapter, a well whaddaya know, along with a sweet bite of inspiration, will pop. There’s even a section in the back for book club discussions.

Do pick up a copy. I promise you’ll find it delicious. And, if not, you’ll have yourself one peach of an apple pie recipe.

Gentlemen, join in the fun. You might even get a chuckle or two. Or rack up a few sensitivity points with your sweetie.

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Filed under Reading

100 proof pure poison

It doesn’t matter how often or how extensively we clean our house. We still uncover the oddest things and collections of things under the layers of dust that have been accumulating for 20 years.

Oh, the things we find in bags, bowls, bins, buckets and baskets.

Yesterday, I dared to peek into an old brass bin on a shelf above the basement stairs. Most of the contents were minute—paper clips, safety pins, tiny pieces of broken toys, a few rusty screws and a small paperback book entitled Jesse Helms “quoted”: 100 Proof Pure Old Jess.

I’m glad I have the opportunity to clean out my things before strangers come in to organize a sale of my so-called estate. This find would be hard to explain.

The source of this relic is a little fuzzy to me; It must have been a gag gift from someone who knew that neither my husband nor I was ever a big supporter of the late North Carolina senator. Quite possibly, it was a re-gift. No matter.

I looked the book up online to see if I could get a little background. I found only a used book site, where several owners were selling their copies. The site did tell me that, if I liked this book, I might also like 2000 Foreign Policy Overview and the President’s Fiscal Year 2001 Foreign Affairs Budget Request: Congress hearing. I think I’ll pass. Maybe I’ll wait for the movie.

For some reason, I expected to find humor in the 67 pages of the book that contain direct quotes from Sen. Helms, who lived from 1921 to 2008. If anyone who lived only during the last two decades of Helms’ life gazed upon these quotes, they’d be shocked—barely more than I was, though—to realize that such flagrant bigotry was expressed so freely and publicly in the late 20th century and into the 21st.

The last section of the book is devoted to political cartoons about the man, but these provided little relief for my sour stomach.

There was only one quote I found worthy to excerpt in this blog; it’s the first one printed in the book:

“Well there are a lot of number one problems in America. But let me boil it down to two…”

Don’t make me share the rest.

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Filed under Hearth and Home, Politics, Reading

By the book

About 10 years ago I realized that, as a society, we parents read way too many books about pregnancy and infancy and not enough about parenting. It was much longer ago that I marveled at the amount of energy and money we pour into infants, equipping ourselves and them with nursery furniture and fixtures, clothes and equipment, when everything is outgrown in the blink of an eye—and, in our case, occupies space in the attic for another 20 years.

As I glance at my bookcase, I count more than a dozen books about the first years of life. Were those really needed, when what we focused on at that stage was putting food in one end and cleaning up at the other? The loving came naturally.

By the time our children are adolescents, we are too busy pulling our hair out to read books. I did have one or two that helped in a pinch, but wouldn’t it have made better sense to read those in advance of onset?

Then came the dreaded Empty Nest Syndrome, for which I was completely unprepared—most likely because I was consumed with the here and now of the high school years. Then came the college years, during which parenting happens long distance. And then, the post college era.

Just weeks after our son graduated from college last spring, I struggled with identifying my role as a parent. You’d think your work is done, but isn’t your role just being redefined yet again? As the parent of an only child, I am the very model of the modern helicopter parent, always hovering. When is it time to fly out of the picture? How is my adult child going to navigate the adult world? Where are the books for this stage?

Well, it turns out there are plenty of books on parenting your adult child. I just never thought to look. I spent some time on Amazon.com this morning, when my son and his girlfriend went back to North Carolina after spending a week here, exploring possible relocation. Yes, we are inviting him back to the nest, so that he might have a better pad from which to launch the second year of his adult career. And I see there are nearly a dozen books on the subject.

Again, we contemplate our role as parents. We taught him what the cow says and where his nose is. Surely, 20 years later we can be of help in punching up a resume, crafting an elevator pitch, sharing advice on networking techniques, working up sample budgets and helping in the clarification of goals. But whose goals, his or ours?

I know the answer is this: we have an adult son who has matured into an outstanding man, caring and talented, in spite of us.

Now what?

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Filed under Family and Friends, Reading

A wicked good read

In December, I received the book Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West for my birthday. I had just seen the play and had heard the book upon which it was based was excellent.

It’s now March and I’m on page 28. At this rate, I’ll do well to finish the book before my next birthday.

This isn’t because I’m not enjoying Wicked. On the contrary, it’s because I am.

I like to read, but I don’t finish more than about two or three books a year. The better the book, the longer it takes me. Sure, I can polish off a Nora Roberts trilogy in one beach vacation. That’s like slurping up a triple scoop hot fudge sundae—no chewing involved, except for the crunchy sprinkles of guilty indulgence.

Newspapers, magazines and online news and opinion consume a healthy share of my reading.

Books are different. For me, a really good read isn’t always a page-turner. It’s not always a sundae. It’s a protracted dinner composed of superbly seasoned courses, savored slowly to appreciate each nuance. Like a good dish, a well-written sentence might hit the cranial taste buds with a burst of garlic, and leave a hint of smoked poblano on the back side.

The reason it’s taking me so long to read Wicked is that I am re-reading—and re-re-reading—each sentence. I enjoy each one so much that it pains me to move on.

To say author Gregory Maguire has a way with words is akin to saying Julia Child made a decent bowl of onion soup.

Let me feed you a few bites, just to whet your appetite:

“In the kitchen yard Malena floated gently, not with the normal gravity of pregnancy but as if inflated, a huge balloon trailing its strings through the dirt. She carried a skillet in one hand and a few eggs and the whiskery tips of autumn chives in the other.”

“In the minister’s lodge, Malena struggled with consciousness as a pair of midwives went in and out of focus before her. One was a fishwife, the other a palsied crone.”

“’Look, a rainbow,’ said the senior, bobbing her head. A sickly scarf of colored light hung on the sky.”

“After the double blow of the birth and his public embarrassment, he was not yet up to professional engagements and sat whittling praying beads out of oak, scoring and inscribing them with emblems of the Namelessness of God.”

“Malena, groggy from pinlobble leaves as usual, arched an eyebrow in confusion.”

Hungry?

Watch for a full review, likely around year’s end.

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Food, Reading

My mundane Valentine

What do dirty dishes, Chris Rock and Valentine’s Day have in common?

It seems that the release this week of Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage & Dirty Dishes, is timed to answer the practical person’s—or couple’s—Valentine’s Day gift dilemma.

Does your mate have an allergy to chocolate or a drawer already bursting with red silk delicates? Have you spent so many Valentine’s Days together that there isn’t a creative gift idea left to be hatched? Do you wish Cupid would swoop down and deposit just one practical solution for life’s daily grit?

Then it could be that Spousonomics is the treament for your it’s-the-Friday-before-the-holiday-and-there’s-nothing-left-on-the-shelves-and-besides-I’m-not-in-the-mood-anyway blues. Co-written by journalists Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson and recommended by Freakonomics co-authors Stephen D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Spousonomics applies economic principles to addressing the mundane challenges of marriage. Division of labor, incentives, trade-offs, moral hazard and, ahem, supply and demand are a few examples of the analogies the authors apply to the common conflicts facing the common couple. Dirty dishes, shoveling snow, dealing with the kids, it’s all in there. Oh boy!

The authors have also set up a blog, which might suit you if you’d like your advice in bite-sized pieces. Be forewarned. It includes a disgusting clip of Chris Rock’s take on the differences between men and women, which the blog could have done without. As a woman of taste, I recommend not clicking.

I confess, I’ve only read a few excerpts. There might really be something substantive there. But trust me, if you decide to buy this for your Valentine, you might want to have a box of Godiva truffles handy as a back-up.

Maybe tomorrow, I’ll let you in on some more fanciful gift ideas.

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Filed under Family and Friends, Hearth and Home, Holidays, Reading

Fill in the blank pages

Last fall, the electronic news organization Politico started a little parlor game in which people take turns predicting sentences from yet-to-be-released books. It started with Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars. At lunch one day, a table of Washington insiders took guesses at what snip-its about Administration officials might appear in the soon-to-be released book.

Vanity Fair joined the fun and put the question out to its online readers. Hilarity ensued. One reader submitted: “Biden had ducked behind the oversized leather chair where Bo had curled up to sleep. He rubbed the dog behind his ears as he put a manila folder in his mouth.”

Yesterday, crediting the game Politico had started, Vanity Fair kicked off another round, this time inviting readers to guess what sentences might appear in the forthcoming memoir by 20-year-old Bristol Palin, set to hit shelves in June.

Comments put forth so far include: “Going through something like that always makes me think of an old expression: ‘That was really hard—really hard—but I’m so much more of an adult now’” and my personal favorite,  “I was like, ‘Levi,’ and then he was like, ‘What?’”

That a 20-year-old would have lived enough life to fill 300 pages of memoir confounds me. Even having a mother making a controversial splash in the national spotlight, becoming a mother herself at 18, having an ex-boyfriend who posed for Playgirl and competing on Dancing with the Stars, that still leaves a couple of hundred pages to fill. For gosh sakes, I have sweaters older than Bristol Palin.

Amazon has just begun taking pre-orders for the book that is for now named “Untitled Bristol Palin Memoir.”

Use your imaginations and guess what might be in it. You can follow the comments Vanity Fair’s readers submit and contribute your own comments there. Otherwise, if you’d prefer to scratch your creative itch before a more limited audience, feel free to do it here. What sentences would you expect to read in the memoir?

I’ll start. “One morning I shot a caribou in my pajamas.” What he was doing in my pajamas I’ll never know.

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Filed under Movies, Television and Radio, News, Politics, Reading

Literary lunacy

I don’t read a lot of books. Maybe two a year, three at the most.

Don’t get me wrong. I love to read, but it takes me a long time to finish a book. For one thing, I read slowly and, when I am really enjoying a book, I go back and re-read sections, just to wallow in the setting or absorb the dialogue. I like to live in a book and, as with a good movie, I carry the story around with me a while before moving on to the next one.

Also, because I travel a good bit and don’t own a Kindle or a Nook, I find some books too bulky to carry on a plane.

This weekend, after three months, I finally finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It is her first novel, which is hard to believe, given the maturity of the story and the real-ness of the characters.

The story takes place in Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1960s. It is about a community of maids and the women they serve. The chapters are written from the perspectives of different characters, so it took some skill to make the technique work as beautifully as it did.

I won’t say anything more because I want you to read the book, but I would like to share two sentences I especially liked and returned to several times. The character is describing an error she made in a newsletter, which resulted in widespread negative consequences but had reflected her true feelings, as if perhaps she had done it deliberately.

“…it was like something cracked open inside of me, not unlike a watermelon, cool and soothing and sweet. I always thought insanity would be a dark, bitter feeling, but it is drenching and delicious if you really roll around in it.”

I am going to miss those women, but they’ve left me with a whole new outlook on insanity – why fight it?

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Filed under Reading, Travel