Friday, January 4, 2019

Best of 2018


The week after Christmas always feels a little meh. To cheer myself up I decided to look back over my favorite reads of 2018. I couldn’t quite come up with enough titles to fill the “quirky” criteria, but each of these have their own quirks.

Circe by Madeline Miller

The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld

Beartown by Frederik Backman

Harmony Series by Philip Gulley

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Doc by Maria Doria Russell

Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

Friday, December 21, 2018

Callithumpian Activities


Pick up any women’s magazine this month and chances are there’s an article about how to handle the stress of Christmas. I always assumed this to be a modern phenomenon until I picked up The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum.

In it he writes, “The Ladies’ Home Journal actually published an article in 1897 that acknowledged [women experiencing stress at Christmas] as a cultural problem.” Although I couldn’t find the actual article, I did come across this gem from 1898 that reminded me the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Throughout the book, Nissenbaum also makes the case that a commercial Christmas is also not a product of modernity, but was an integral part of the transformation of Christmas from a rowdy, drunken celebration of the annual slaughter to a more domesticated affair that included women and children. As he writes, “there never was a time when Christmas existed as an unsullied domestic idyll, immune to the taint of commercialism…indeed, the domestic Christmas was itself a force in the spread of consumer capitalism.”

If you’re curious to read more about the origins of American Christmas traditions - Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and “personalized” mass-produced presents - add The Battle for Christmas to your list. You know you have one.

Friday, December 14, 2018

"She wishes for new stories to read"


Way back in September, this story caught my ear. It was about a group of librarians who ventured into the mountains of Kentucky to deliver books to families on horseback during the 1930s.  

Wanting to read more, I went to my local library (by car) and found three informative picture books, not only about those librarians in Kentucky, but about people all over the world dedicated to delivering books to those without easy access to a library.

My Librarian is a Camel: How Books are Brought to Children Around the World by Margriet Ruurs
From Australia to Zimbabwe, this 2005 book pairs photographs and maps with descriptions of books being delivered by boat, mail, bicycle, and elephant to remote areas.

That Book Woman by Heather Henson, pictures by David Small
Told from the perspective of an Appalachian teenager, this book shows how his attitude changes from cynical bemusement to gratitude for the passel of books the book lady brings.  

Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown, illustrations by John Parra
Also based on a true story, this book magically captures one little girl’s excitement when she sees two burros carrying “so many cuentos!” to her isolated village.

Friday, December 7, 2018

It's All Geek to Me


Last week NPR released its 2018 version of their book concierge app. I thought I’d use it to generate book recommendations that correspond to some of my favorite shows.

Here’s what I came up with:

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (searched for funny stuff, ladies first, no biz like show biz)
Just the Funny Parts by Nell Scovell
My Own Devices by Dessa
You’re on an Airplane by Parker Posey

The Great British Baking Show (searched for cookbooks and food, realistic fiction)
Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li
America is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo
The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

This is Us (searched for book club ideas, love stories, family matters)
To Be Honest by Maggie Ann Martin
If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi by Neel Patel
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

The West Wing (searched for the states we’re in, it’s all geek to me, eye opening reads)
Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg


Friday, November 30, 2018

Oh my, it’s fruitcake weather!


I wrote this post back in December of 2008. It’s still one of my favorite posts (and stories). 

With her Texas twang, my aunt does a perfect rendition of that line from Truman Capote's “A Christmas Memory.” After first watching the movie version at her house, several years later I encountered the audio version on a long car ride to Arkansas. It wasn’t until I bought a copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s at a church book sale that I read the print version. It’s always with a sense of delight tempered with melancholy that I turn to the story, sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, to follow Buddy and his friend as they buy whiskey from Mr. Ha Ha Jones, send fruitcakes to the White House, and craft homemade kites for Christmas morning.

Every year different details in the story stand out. The year my mom made homemade fruitcake, I could taste the citron as I read their recipe. Last year, when my daughter was infatuated with dolls, I could picture exactly the wicker buggy with wobbly wheels they use to haul pecans. This year, I noticed the prices of things in the Depression era story – two dollars for a quart of whiskey, fifty cents for a Christmas tree, a dime for a picture show. 

(As I reread this in 2018, my current pursuit of a theology degree drew my eye to Miss Sook’s reflections on seeing the Lord at the end of her life. As she says, “I’ll wager it never happens. I’ll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are…just what they’ve always seen, was seeing Him.”)

This story sates that yen you had for something rich and sweet and Christmasy, and like fruitcake, endures December after December. So after you've set up the Advent wreath, made the gingerbread cookies, and assembled some 15-odd nativity sets, it’s time to curl up with a hot mug of cider and “A Christmas Memory.”

Friday, November 23, 2018

There’s a Chef in My Family


Since we no longer live within driving distance of a family Thanksgiving gathering, we’ve had to develop some new traditions for a lunch for four.  

Last summer when my sister visited, she guided my son through the steps of the pastry dough recipe from his new cookbook Baking with Mary Berry.  So for Thanksgiving he decided to make pumpkin tarts on his own.  He made the dough, mixed the filling, and put them in the oven to bake. When they had cooled, he decided to sample one. It was then he realized there’s a difference in a ¼ teaspoon of salt (which the recipe calls for) and the 4 tablespoons of salt he had added. Scratch the tarts.

Undeterred, he went on to make Never-Enough Dinner Rolls from the children's cookbook There’s a Chef in My Family! by Emeril Lagasse. Although he did have to start over once on the rolls – mistaking the ingredients list for the directions and just throwing everything into a bowl – they turned out quite scrummy.  And, true to their name, there wasn't enough. 

Meanwhile, my daughter made Martha’s sweet potato casserole recipe, a fruit salad, and supervised the table setting. With my husband in charge of the slow cooker turkey, I just had to roast some Brussels sprouts and open the wine. 

And for that, I am truly thankful.

Friday, November 16, 2018

"There's no turkey in it"

Since I'm quite swamped with writing papers for my classes this week, I decided to dust off and repost this Thanksgiving recommendation from 2009. I'm very curious to ask what the now 13-year-old thinks of her four-year-old self. Although, I have to say she's still somewhat picky judicious in her reading material.


This was my four-year-old’s assessment after sitting down with the first Thanksgiving book in our stack - Nickommoh! - and flipping through the pictures. Then as soon as I began reading the first page (“Kautantawwitt, the Creator…”), my listener exclaimed, “English please!” After stumbling through the pronunciation of “Taqountikeeswush” and “Qunnekamuck” I too was thinking, “English please!”

Unfamiliar language aside, Jackie French Koller weaves together an intriguing story of a Narragansett harvest celebration. We watch as they build the lodge, prepare the nasaump pudding, swim in the river, and dress in paints for the singing and dancing in the Sacred Circle. The illustrations by Marcia Sewall are a pleasure to look at – from bold black lines outlining photorealistic features on one page to the rough figures sketched around a bonfire on another.

The other book we were able to procure from the library two days before Thanksgiving was Word Bird’s Thanksgiving Words by Jane Belk Moncure and illustrated by Chris McEwan. Despite the inclusion of a turkey, my (picky) listener decided this one is “not really cool because that turkey’s not cool.” Cool?

We decided to stick with this week’s Pre-K issue of the Weekly Reader for our Thanksgiving reading.

Gobble up some fun Thanksgiving Facts here.