Saturday, July 31, 2010

Books Finished July 2010

12,000 Miles in the Nick of Time: A Semi-dysfunctional Family Circumnavigates the Globe
A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn
Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Gossamer by Lois Lowry
Heaven Bound by Lynn C. Jaynes
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Making Money Freelance Writing by Editors of Writer's Digest
Making the Perfect Pitch by Katherine Sands
Ruined by Reading by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
Sidetracked Home Executives by Pam Young and Peggy Jones
The 5,000 Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen
The Brothers by Chris Stewart
The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon
The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Infinite Atonement by Tad R. Callister
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Write that Book Already by Sam Barry and Kathi Kamen Goldmark
Writer's Market Guide to Getting Published by Editors of Writer's Digest
Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

*These are books that I have finished reading. This list does not include books that I have skimmed. The list does not include picture books that I have read to my children, nor does it show all the other reading I have done. These books were finished in this month, but some may have taken considerable time to read, bit by bit.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Author Highlight: David McCullough

You may be familiar with David McCullough because of his popular book 1776. This is a man that makes history come alive. Of his books I have read, my favorite is John Adams. Because of the amazing amount of research and care that McCullough puts into his books, I learned so much about this great man. I look up to John Adams so much, and admire his sacrifices for our country. I love the relationship that he and his wife, Abigail, had. And I owe this admiration and respect to David McCullough's work.

I never knew much about the Panama Canal, but I learned because of the research that McCullough did. He makes the people leap off the page and their circumstances unforgettable. His real skill is in showing the good and the bad, the truth unvarnished. He does this in such a way that I come away respecting the history he has displayed through his books.

McCullough's books are filled with information that is left out of brief histories and textbooks. His books are generally big, with lots of endnotes (very satisfactory for nerds like me) and details. These books are an investment of time and thought. But they are so worth it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Library Musing

At our library, each card can have five books on hold at once. The limit used to be ten, but last May (2009) the libraries in the area all changed this. All the libraries in the Treasure Valley are part of the hold system, so each patron has access to a much larger system. I can go online, log in to the library, and search for every book available in the system. (For some reason, the system is also linked to Twin Falls Library, but that is a tease. I am not allowed to put those books on hold.) Interlibrary loan is available through a different process.

When the book limit for holds dropped down to five books, I promptly helped my oldest child get a library card. This soon proved to be inadequate for our library needs, and my second child has also received a library card. Its working great. The kids do have books on hold, but most of the selections are for me. No one has questioned why my eight year old is checking out books that are clearly for more advanced readers.

Here's where it gets tricky. The library puts the hold books on a special shelf when they come in. They put the first four letters of the last name and the last four numbers of the library card on a slip of paper in the book. The hold books are then shelved alphabetically by last name. No big deal, right? Each member of my family has their own card number, and pretty soon I knew which was which. But husband got a card at our new branch. The last four numbers that the library uses to differentiate each person are the same as our oldest child's last four numbers. Its statistically improbable that this would occur, but we beat the odds. When I pick up the books on hold, I have to know which card each book belongs to. Not that hard really, because the library won't even let you check out a hold book on a different card.

Two of the librarians, however, have taken issue with the duplicate card numbers. They appear flustered and distressed every time I check out with books from the two cards. They say we must come in and get the problem fixed. Why are they so upset? We have it figured out. Its under control. The other librarians seem okay with it. It just doesn't seem like that big of a deal to us.

We have books to pick up at the library. I hope we get the right librarian.

Hold Update 4: The Help

I still have The Help on hold at the library. I am still quite a long way from receiving the book. In the last week, I have dropped down to number 253 in the list of people waiting for this book. I can expect the book in about fourteen and a half weeks.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Angry Housewives Eating BonBons

Isn't that a great title? I just loved it. The title alone made me want to pick up this book and see what it was about. In this book, Lorna Landvik has followed a group of women throughout the course of their adult lives. They are a book club, and this book is about them, the books they read, and the friendships they form in the club. With a bit of humor, this book manages to show several different personalities and life situations as well as the normal ups and downs of life. Friendships grow and change, and the women in the book are influenced by each other as well as the books they read and share.

I felt an affinity to these women because I have been a member of several book groups. I know how hard it can be to find or create a good one, and I was inspired by the length of time the book club existed. This is a good book for women who are in a book club, or for people unsure of what the benefits of a book club may be. This was an entertaining read, although it does deal with serious issues because it follows the women over the course of thirty years. This book also highlights a different book with each chapter, which might be a bonus for those looking for ideas of books to read.

Landvik was a new author for me. I will look for another book by her in the future.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter

This is a book about a woman who is as fanatical about knitting as I am about reading. When she began to talk about the "stash" of yarn in her house and all the hiding places for her yarn, it had a ring of familiarity. Only my stash isn't yarn. My stash is books. And I got some new ideas about where to hide books from reading where Stephanie Pearl-McPhee keeps her yarn.

If you like to knit, you will enjoy this book. You may also enjoy it if you have a passion that causes you to accumulate stuff. I thought this book was hilarious. It is a quick read.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hold Update 3: The Help

It has been another week. I am now #278 on hold for the book The Help. I figure this means that I will get the book in approximately 16 weeks. That is an estimated week and a half less than last week's calculated wait time. Sixteen weeks is about 4 months, so my wait time is shrinking.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Elizabeth walked off the pages and into my heart. Here is a heroine that seems real. She isn't perfect and her story doesn't end the way I wished, but I was changed. It is characters like Elizabeth that make fiction worthwhile. They give us strength to heal and courage to fight for justice. In fact, all the characters in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society have things to tell us about life.

The format of this book threw me off a bit at first, because it is a collection of letters. I wasn't expecting that, even though this book had been recommended to me several times. I am glad I continued on, because this is a great book. It is set in 1946 and revolves around an author and the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Guernsey was occupied by German troops during World War II, during which time the people of Guernsey were not allowed contact with the outside world. During this time of occupation, some of the people formed a literary society. Many of the members were not really readers, but they found that reading benefited them in unexpected ways.

I think this is a book for every adult. We all have times when courage and strength are needed. This book is fairly easy reading, once you get used to the fact that it is comprised of letters. The characters seem like real people, and the situation they find themselves in is based in historical fact. I gained a different view of WWII from reading this book. This is also a good book for book clubs, because there are a number of different topics and issues to discuss.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Poetry Appreciation

When I was in tenth grade, my English teacher spent about one half of the year on "poetry appreciation". If this had been my only experience with poetry, I am certain I would despise poetry. We were required to count the meter of the poetry and listen to our teacher's explanation of what the poem meant. We were not allowed to disagree with her explanation. Tests were given as essays in which we were expected to parrot back her explanation of the poems.

I objected to this analytical way to appreciate poetry. I loved poetry, and had dabbled in writing my own verse. I tended to read poems for the feel of them, allowing the pictures they painted to form in my mind. Unsurprisingly, there came a day when I disagreed with this teacher's explanation of a particular poem. I wanted to know if I was allowed to put my own interpretation of the poem on the test, should the poem be covered on the next exam. She accused me of cheating, because I must have seen the test. The test day came, and this poem was on the test. I wrote down my own interpretation of the poem, with supporting information. I failed that question.

I don't write this to put down English teachers. I had just the one bad English teacher experience. I am using this to illustrate how many people might think they don't enjoy poetry because of a similar negative experience. After an experience like this, poetry may never be approached again. But you probably have more experience with poetry that you like than you realize. Most songs are poems, and a good one will stick in your head for days.

Some good beginning poetry books include any of Shel Silverstein's poetry, A Child's Garden of Verses (not just for children), The 100 Best Poems of All Time, and Best Tales of the Yukon.

Here is another poem I have enjoyed by Emily Dickinson:

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry

This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

I gave another zombie book a try, and this time it was a success. Carrie Ryan has written this post-apocalyptic book in which there are many rules and constraints surrounding the small village in which the heroine, Mary, lives. The past is shrouded in mystery, and the present is filled with zombies. Mary struggles to find her place in her small village, but it is difficult. The book explores themes of love and belonging, truth and secrets. I haven't yet procured the sequel, but I am anxiously waiting for it.

This book is a good one for either light adult reading or teenagers. It is entertaining and thought provoking. It is more a book in which zombies happen to exist than a book about zombies, so this is a great read even for people who aren't into zombies. The book does leave some questions open at the end, but I am hopeful that the second book will answer them. Carrie Ryan is a good author, and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hold Update 2: The Help

It has been another week. I am now number 308 on the waiting list for the book The Help. Which means I can expect the book in about 17 and a half weeks. I am glad that the book seems to be having a quicker turnover than I originally anticipated, but this still seems like an awfully long time to wait for a book. Will it be worth the wait?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Beatrice and Virgil

Yann Martel has written another book about animals just as ground breaking as Life of Pi. Martel's new story, Beatrice and Virgil, centers around an author and a play-write/taxidermist working on a play about animals. The story has many layers. One of the underlying themes is the Holocaust. The animals demonstrate the drama of human pain and sorrow. Martel's ability to bring animals to life and shed light on the human experience through those animals is the magic that ties these two works together. However, Beatrice and Virgil is a very different story from Life of Pi.

I struggled with how to write this review because this book touched me in a profound way and I wanted to do it justice. I found myself moved by this book and its portrayal of the Holocaust. I have read a number of books on the Holocaust and have felt deep emotions about it in the past, but this book's unique approach helped me to come to the topic in a whole new way. I highly recommend this book. This is a great book for group discussion as well as solitary contemplation. I needed a box of tissues available when I got to the end. Don't miss this amazing, thought-provoking read!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Something Missing

Can a thief be likable? Matthew Dicks answers yes in this novel about a career criminal named Martin that refers to his victims as clients, stealing from them on numerous occasions over the course of years. What does he steal? Mostly, his haul reads like a grocery list. He steals food and household supplies. More expensive items are monitored over the course of months to be sure they won't be missed.

Martin is confronted with a dilemma. He begins to discover that his clients have problems that only he can fix, because he knows so much about their lives. He cares about his clients and he begins to help them, breaking many of the rules he lives by. These rules are one part OCD and one part smart crime, and they have kept Martin's criminal activity a secret for years.

This book is a quick, enjoyable read. Matthew Dicks offers insight into the lives of both thieves and individuals with OCD. I found it particularly amusing that Martin's friends and acquaintances believe he is a writer when he is actually a thief. Apparently, Matthew Dicks wanted to clarify that he is not personally a thief/writer, because he makes a point of saying he is not a thief in his bio at the end of the book. Though he does claim to be a writer.

I wouldn't have predicted that I would enjoy this book so much. A book about a benevolent thief is an unusual premise, after all. But it was quite entertaining and I found myself rather liking Martin. Read this book to find out what's missing for Martin.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Family Reading

My children and I read together. We have enjoyed hours with Harry Potter, Winnie the Pooh, and Percy Jackson. Roald Dahl is a favorite author and Charlotte's Web has been read several times. Michael Buckley's Sisters Grimm have delighted us and brought us classic fairy tales in a new way.

I find that reading together creates a connection beyond the time spent on the actual reading. Often, my children are inspired to play or act out parts of the books we read. They use the books as a beginning to their own adventures. Hailey Potter, the twin of the famous boy wizard, has been part of the make believe repertoire for at least four years. Narnia has been discovered in the back of a closet a few times. (Alas, no wardrobes at our house.) Golden Tickets to various events and activities have materialized.

Our books have created a secret family language. My children often refer to characters and situations that we have encountered in our readings. If someone feels sad they might say they feel like Eeyore. Wishing to be "like Matilda" is a desire for magic powers. When they compare a situation they are experiencing to one we have witnessed in a book, my children know they will be understood.

We have been able to discuss a wide variety of topics because we discovered them in books. Bullying, dating, death, disease, love, anger, fear...the list goes on. The books have given us an opening to talk about difficult topics. They have given us clear examples of these topics working in the lives of others. We can talk about these situations, weighing pros and cons, and follow them to their conclusion. Because the books help us learn from the experiences of others.

Reading to children isn't just for when they are tiny. Read a book with a child today.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hold Update: The Help

I still have the book The Help on hold at the library. No friendly book lenders have come forward with a copy for me to borrow. It has been a week since I put the book on hold and I am now the 335th person waiting for this book. According to my calculations, I should get the book in nineteen and a half weeks. On the plus side, I have eliminated one and a half weeks of estimated time in a week of actual time. On the down side, that is still quite a long time to wait.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Education of a Wandering Man

Louis L'amour wrote this book about educating himself through books. He quit school because he felt that school was holding him back from the education he wanted. He was not allowed to study higher sciences, even though he felt well prepared by the texts he read from the library. After leaving school, he traveled around the world for a number of years. During that time, he read consistently. In the back of the book, he lists all the books he read each year for several of his traveling years. It is a long and varied list.

I enjoyed Louis L'amour's thoughts on education. He believed that the books he read and the experiences he had traveling gave him a better education than the one he would have received at an institution. I liked learning about where he found the books he read and about the multitude of job experiences he had. His reading was varied by necessity; he read everything he could get his hands on. He never stole the books, but admits that he occasionally considered it.

Speaking of his reading life, Louis L'amour said, "I know that often I longed for someone with whom I could talk of books, writers, and things of the mind, but that was not to be for a long time, except here and there when I chanced on some other lost literary soul. Loneliness is of many kinds, and the mere presence and companionship of people does not suffice."

I had never read anything by Louis L'amour before. I know this is going to shock some people, because it seems like I will read anything. Evidently I am prejudiced against westerns. I have definitely been judging those books by their covers. However, I was delighted with this book, and it led me to consider reading his books.

You will enjoy this book if you like to read about what others are reading. You will benefit from it if you are interested in learning from the great books. If you love the writing of Louis L'amour, you may enjoy getting to know him better through this book.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Book Theft #2

Evidently, the theft of books is an old danger. This warning was written by a medieval German scribe:

This book belongs to none but me
For there's my name inside to see
To steal this book, if you should try,
Its by the throat that you'll hang high.
And ravens then will gather 'bout
To find your eyes and pull them out
And when you're screaming "Oh, oh, oh!"
Remember you deserved this woe.

I love this little poem. I am amazed at the ferocity of the scribe's response to his book possibly being stolen. But when I consider that it often took years to transcribe one book, it makes a bit more sense.

Beware all book thieves!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The 5000 Year Leap

Our Founding Fathers worked hard on the Constitution. They came from various walks of life, but they had studied ideas on politics and government. They came together to try a grand experiment. They created a government that was unique throughout history, drawing inspiration from the best ideas of the best minds. Our Constitution was crafted to withstand the test of time. Its main goal is to protect the right of the people.

In the book The 5000 Year Leap, W. Cleon Skousen outlines 28 principles that our government was founded upon. The two principles that intrigued me most were #15 and #26. (My understanding is that these principles are not necessarily listed in order of importance.) The 15th principle has to do with economics. This tied in nicely to the last book I wrote about, That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen. What intrigued me the most about this principle was that it was never carried out in the way the Founding Fathers intended. Skousen shows some ways that this has hindered our nation. The 26th principle has to do with recognizing and protecting the family as the core unit of society. This topic is near and dear to my heart, and I am always interested in strengthening families. Skousen points out that the ideal of strong family relationships fills many of the writings of the Founding Fathers. They considered it an underlying part of a strong society. These two principles stood out to me as I read this book for the second time.

I enjoyed this book. It takes a complicated subject and condenses it down into 28 recognizable and easy to understand principles. Learning more about the Founding Fathers and the Constitution increased my appreciation for the United States. Skousen uses quotes from the Founding Fathers and other sources, which helped illustrate the principles and gave me a taste of the actual thoughts of these men.

If you want a clear way to understand the ideas behind the Constitution, this book is a great choice. You will gain a greater appreciation for our Founding Fathers as you read their words and ideas.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen

In 1850, Frederic Bastiat wrote an essay/book about economics. He was a Frenchman, but much of what he had to say has bearing in today's world. He points out that a poor economist will only look at where government money is being spent, but that a good economist will look at where the money would have been spent if its use had been left in the hands of the public. He makes the point in several different ways--the money that goes to the government is depriving the individual who earned the money of something. Bastiat is not arguing for no taxes. He states that if something is of real utility to the public, then that may be sufficient cause to spend the money.

At one point, Bastiat offers this little question, "Which of the two is the most exacting parasite, the merchant or the official?" He then goes on to show that government involvement always costs more. He makes a case for keeping charities private and for the government to take a hands off approach to commerce. He demonstrates that frugality benefits a community more financially in the long run. This book is a fantastic read for every American. It can help us evaluate economic policies of our government.

My takeaway from this book: We must always look for the hidden result of any public or economic policy. We must use wisdom in government, just as we utilize wisdom in our private decisions. We must look at long term results not just short term benefits.

You can read That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen online here or you can purchase it in book form.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Books Finished June 2010

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
And the Skylark Sings with Me by David H. Albert
Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons by Lorna Landvik
Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon
Finding the Angel Within by Pamela H. Hansen
Goblin Quest by Jim C. Hines
God's Debris by Scott Adams
Lessons at Blackberry Inn by Karen Andreola
Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
Raising the Perfect Child through Guilt and Manipulation by Elizabeth Beckwith
Red Hot Internet Publicity by Penny C. Sansevieri
The Alliance by Gerald N. Lund
The Career Novelist by David Maass
The Freedom Factor by Gerald N. Lund
The Gaslight Effect by Robin Stern
The Mermaid's Madness by Jim C. Hines
The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer
The Ultimate Gift by Jim Stovall
This is Not the Story You Think It Is by Laura Munson

*These are books that I have finished reading. This list does not include books that I have skimmed. The list does not include picture books that I have read to my children, nor does it show all the other reading I have done. These books were finished in this month, but some may have taken considerable time to read, bit by bit.

A New Record: The Help

I have been hearing a lot about a book called The Help. You have probably seen it or heard of it. I decided to put it on hold at the library. I am now the 366th person waiting for this book. This is a new record high for me.

After I saw what number I was on the waiting list, I checked the number of copies in the library system--61. Most of the libraries in the system have a four week checkout, so I decided in a purely arbitrary decision to guess that a typical person will keep the book for three and a half weeks. So, if all goes well, I will have this book in my hands in approximately 21 weeks. That is almost six months!

Maybe someone I know has a copy that they would be willing to loan me?

Its true. I could purchase this book. But if I purchased every book I read, we wouldn't be able to pay the bills.