Thursday, May 29, 2008
I don’t consider myself a reading snob. This kinda ties into my loathing for history snobs, which I sort of talk about here (I swear I've ranted about it elsewhere, but I can't find the post...basically, I took one grad class in history, and spent most of my time pissed off about the ivory tower, fiction and comic books aren't worthy of being read for history, attitude). If comics, or manga, or newspapers, or heck, cereal boxes, inspire someone to read, then I’m all for it. The only thing that I don’t consider to be part of this group is audio books, because I don’t equate listening to a story as reading. But I will confess that I’ve never listened to an audio book, because, well, I know my limitations. I’m a visual learner, not an auditory learner, and I just can’t concentrate well enough. It’s like music…I love listening to it, but ask me to sing along? Hah! That would mean I’d actually paid attention to the lyrics at some point. Besides, trust me, you don’t want to hear me sing.
Anyways, I’m off topic, as usual. Basically, if it involves words and eyeballs, then it’s reading. I think that with all of the variety out there, combined with the short attention span problem most people seem to suffer from these days (me included, unless I’m lost in a good book), you need to be creative to engage people in reading. But for me personally, I’ll be sticking with novels. Of course, if they throw a picture or illustration in there occasionally (like Apples are from Kazakhstan and Special Topics in Calamity Physics) that makes it even better.
And I don’t even want to get into the whole genre issue…be it lit-er-rah-chure, sci-fi, mystery, romance, whatever…it’s all good.
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Apples are from Kazakhstan
I'll confess, before I read this book I knew squat about Kazakhstan. I blame this on the fact that it wasn't a country until 1991, and I finished part one of college in 1992 (part two being the teaching credential the following year). Obviously, Kazakhstan existed long before 1991, but it wasn't really a key component of Cal Poly's history program. Chances are, it still isn't. And okay, I always loved European history best...I'll take some ownership for my ignorance.
Since I've been bringing this book up every few days (life is slow, I have nothing else to blog about), you'd be right in assuming that I liked it. Despite the bad weather and Soviet-era atrocities committed upon it, Kazakhstan comes off pretty well in the book. This passage at the end, where the author tells a Kazakh about his book, cracks me up:
I began to tell him more about what I intended to write, and although he
listened politely, he grew increasingly agitated.
"I don't understand you!" he said at last. "You have the chance to go
skiing, to visit remote beautiful mountains, national parks...we have better
scenery than New Zealand! But you go to look at apple orchards..."
"Wild apple orchards!"
"And then you go to ecological disasters! You go to Aral Sea which
breaks our hearts. You go to nuclear test ground! You go to
Gulag! Your book will make people think Kazakhstan is a big radioactive
prison camp with apples and Internet brides!"
He'd be pleased to know I don't think of Kazakhstan as a big radioactive prison camp with apples and Internet brides. In fact, for awhile I even wanted to visit. But then I read about winter and how far away from everything everything else is, and I got over it. Maybe if I was independently wealthy and had all sorts of time on my hands...then I'd add it to my list of places to go.
Also, I feel compelled to add I never saw Borat. I never wanted to, and I never plan. So there will be no Borat to book comparisons.
It is apparent that the author loves Kazakhstan. He takes a stab at objectivity at the very end, talking about the president and democracy, but still comes across as pro-Nazarbayev and pro-Kazakhstan. Although finding anything objective about Kazakhstan could be difficult, given that it used to be communist and is now considered a Muslim state. Which, you know, as far as America is concerned, makes it doubly suspect and consigned to the depths of hell (and somehow, I'm feeling like I should say hello to Homeland Security/those Patriot
Act dudes right about now). Anyways, the author is English, which may explain why he says nice things.
This is a great little book if you like travelogues and history and reading about remote places and dreaming about how you could be so lucky as to live the life of a writer and travel all over the world, except then you'd be the one eating sheep's head, and isn't that just gross.
So having said all that, if you've made it this far and would like to get your paws on my already read but still in damn good shape copy of this book, leave a comment. If there are multiple comments, I'll enter you in my "anti-Borat, who gives a damn about pissing off Homeland Security, someone needs to write a more coherent review of this book" book giveaway. One entry per person, open to US and Canadian residents, offer expires Thursday evening, apples not included.
Monday, May 26, 2008
You would think, after all the time and money I spent on them, that the groceries would have the courtesy to at least get out of the car and put themselves away in the cupboard after I bring them home from the store. Is it too much to ask?
Sunday, May 25, 2008
I spent eight hours in a car today. No wait...my brother was driving, so it was more like 7 hours. My mom, my big bro and I went down to Orange County (hi Lisa!) today, to visit family and celebrate my aunt's 70th birthday.
So 7 hours in a car. You'd think I could've gotten some prime reading time in. But no. My family doesn't really appreciate my desire to spend entire trips with my nose in a book. So I furtively try to read while keeping one ear tuned in to the conversation. However, the Oxnard/Camarillo stretch of the 101, along with the 405, is mighty bumpy these days, so even furtively, there wasn't a whole lotta reading going on. I read maybe 50 pages of my current book, Apples are from Kazakhstan. I'm still liking it, and today I learned something interesting about the Aral Sea. But I didn't read much this week, so I'm only about 1/2 way through.
The only other thing happening book-wise in my world this week was that I decided I would not be reading A New Earth. And judging from the comments on the post (by the way, you guys totally crack me up), the anti-Oprah movement is gaining speed.
I did buy a book...I Capture the Castle. It was my reward for not buying A New Earth. And I was so proud this morning, because I left the house with a book to pass on to my brother (some boring book about being a landlord that I didn't even realize we owned), 3 books for my mom (this one, this one, and this one), and 1 for my aunt (The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, because my aunt's name is Frankie). Getting rid of books is a good thing these days, because all the bookshelves in the house are full. However, my mom gave me two books. Tipping the Velvet and one I can't remember because it's still in my car and I'm too lazy to go get it. So really, there is no significant dent in the piles. Oh well, at least I tried.
My reading goal for this week is to finish Apples are from Kazakhstan. And to pass it on.
Friday, May 23, 2008
You know, I consider myself to be an open-minded person. I may not come across that way, but I have my moments. So when the Slow Travel reading group chose A New Earth as our June book, I was game. I knew it was an Oprah pick, and she had some website about it, but that's all I knew about it and hey, I'm open-minded. Right? So off I went to Barnes and Noble to investigate.
I asked the information person where I could find A New Earth. She walked about five steps to the shelf behind the cashiers and picked up a copy. Uh-oh, it's so popular it's got behind the cashier status.
I took the book up the escalator (yes, I ride the escalator at Barnes and Noble...it's the only one in San Luis Obispo County, and a person should indulge their inner kid - see, I can be enlightened) to the second floor and found a chair to settle in for further investigation of this book that everyone but me seemed to be aware of.
I came to the quick realization that this was a self-help book. And didn't I just write about how I feel about those? Okay, so the back cover classifies it as spirituality. Have I mentioned I don't do religion? But I'm open-minded, dammit. So I skimmed through sections of the book. And honestly, I had a hard time not laughing out loud. The book is full of jargon...and I don't want to have to stop to try to figure out what an author just wrote. It reminds me too much of college, in particular the mandatory philosophy class, which I passed with the help of Cliff (last name Notes).
I sat there for about 10 minutes having an internal conversation that went something like this... "Don't buy this book. You just stated to the internet that you don't read self-help books. But it's for our book discussion, and I should give it a chance. Maybe he has some good points. Hah! Did you not just read a sentence that talked about flowers being the enlightenment of plants? And is indwelling really a word? Oh, and look, he uses capitals all over the place and you know that's a pet peeve of yours...get this: "birds are the temporary manifestations of the underlying one Life, one Consciousness." WTF? Oooh, maybe I should buy the book so I can mock. WHAT?? Do not spend your money on this. You will regret it, and you do not want to give that man (aka the author, Eckhart Tolle) any of your money. But...NO!"
So yeah, the nos and my self respect won. I had to go to Amazon and read the excerpt to find examples similar to those I raised my eyebrows at in the bookstore. And then I entertained myself further by reading the one-star reviews. So much for being open-minded.
So tell me...have you read the book? Am I missing something? Have you lost all respect for me?
Thursday, May 22, 2008
So not only is Kazakhstan (and boy is that an awkward word to type) the mother ship for apples, it's also the birthplace of tulips. And Trotsky (you know, Lenin's Comrade, then not-Comrade...he also had really big hair...although that has nothing to do with his historical significance...I just happened to get sidetracked looking at pictures on Wikipedia and it's hard not to notice the hair...go ahead, go look) spent a year in exile in Almaty, and he seemed to find it delightful. And speaking of Almaty (a city in south-eastern Kazakhstan), it's the Kazakh word for appleness. How cute is that?
Needless to say, I'm enjoying the book. It's kind of cute, too. It's small (bigger than a paperback, smaller than a trade paperback) and has little pencil illustrations scattered throughout. And while not every page is riveting, it's an entertaining read, full of odd little bits of trivia and Kazakh characters. I may just be giving this one away, so stay tuned.
Monday, May 19, 2008
Last night I stated that I would be reading this book this week. Well, I was wrong. I read it today, in about 3 hours.
Adele and Nora are cousins growing up in Cuba in the 1950s. After Castro takes power, Nora's family decides to leave for the US, while Adele and her parents stay behind. Although Nora is the main character, and the story follows her throughout her life, we also receive glimpses of Adele, as the girls exchange infrequent letters. Nora knows that things are rough in Cuba, and she misses her homeland desperately, but she believes, out of respect for her parents, that she will never return as long as Castro is in power. She continues to adapt to life in America and although she knows Adele's life is different, she never fully understands the sacrifices Adele has made for her family until she decides to return to Cuba. Once in Cuba, Nora is shocked at how much has changed, including Adele. Despite the 20 year separation, the cousins instantly reconnect. At the risk of destroying her relationship with her husband and her parents, Nora delays her return home to help Adele and her daughter Lucinda. The books ends with a devastating act of bravery (actually multiple acts of bravery), but I won't give them away.
Cecilia Samartin was 9 months old when her parents fled Cuba, and she grew up on tales of the family's homeland. This book shines with love for Cuba. It also is filled with vitriol against Castro. The book also touches on other immigrant themes...the struggle to assimilate, battles between generations over the ways of the homeland vs. life in America and the longing for one's country. It also questions whether you really can go home again.
One last note...because the revolution is depicted through the eyes of a young Nora, the book doesn't really give much insight into Cuba's history. Actually, it doesn't give any insight. Nora and Adele's families are part of the upper-middle class, and although they would like to see change, they are horrified at the Communist's rise to power. And that's about all you get because that's not the focus of the book.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
What I love most is the warmth, how it reaches in and spreads out to the tips of my fingers and toes until it fells like I'm part of the sun, like it's growing inside me. Have you ever seen the ocean turn smooth as a sheet of glass or curl upon the shore with a sigh? If you knew my country then you'd know that the sea can be many things; faithful and blue as the sky one moment and the next a shimmering turquoise so brilliant, you'd swear the sun was shining from beneath the waves.
I'm going to borrow the barnesandnoble.com synopsis:
Everyone has secrets. Some we keep to protect ourselves, others to protect those we love.
A devoted city dweller, Cornelia Brown surprised herself when she was gripped by the sudden desire to head for an idyllic suburb. Though she knows she's made the right move, she approaches her new life with trepidation and struggles to forge friendships. Cornelia's mettle is quickly tested by judgmental neighbor Piper Truitt, the embodiment of everything Cornelia feared she would find in suburbia. A saving grace soon appears in the form of Lake, and Cornelia develops an instant bond with this warm yet elusive woman.
As their individual stories unfold, the women become entangled in a web of trust, betrayal, love and loss that challenges them in ways they never imagined, and that ultimately teaches them what it means for one human being to belong to another.
Synopses (just what is the plural of synopsis, anyway?) never quite do a book justice. Or they do too much justice. This one is pretty bare bones. Belong to Me brings back characters from Love Walked In, and introduces new ones. Piper, in particular. I love her Stepford wife persona. It's also fun to see Cornelia and Teo again, and to watch them evolve. I still can't quite figure out what appeals to me so in these books...but Belong to Me joins Love Walked In as one of my favorites.
And ta-da! I'm now all caught up with the book reviews. Whew!
This was our choice for this month's Slow Travel Concentric Reading Circle, and we discussed the book today. Not my normal choice of reading, and I struggled with the book. In fact, I skimmed quite a bit of the first half. Consensus at today's chat was that the book needed a good editor.
In 1993, Greg Mortenson attempted to climb K2. He was unable to make it to the summit, and on his descent he got lost. Rescued by local villagers, he pledged to return and build a school for the girls of the village. Mortenson returned home, and living out of his car, struggled to save every penny in order to return and fulfill his promise. He sent hundreds of letters in an attempt to raise money, but didn't get very far. Finally, a former climber pledged $12,000, what Mortenson estimated it would cost to build one school. He finally built the school and went on to found the Central Asian Institute, whose goal is to promote peace and provide better opportunities for the children of remote villages by building schools. Today, due to Mortenson's perseverance and the generosity of thousands, the CAI is going strong.
Three Cups of Tea chronicles Mortenson's struggles and unwavering determination to make his dream a reality. It's a fantastic story and an even more fantastic achievement, but gawd, is the book ever boring. Okay, there were a few interesting parts, especially the post 9/11 segments. But overall? Boring.
Kate, here is your birthday cake. I know it doesn't look like much, but I promise it tastes good. If you like chocolate-orange stuff, which you said you do. And no comments on the photo.
Mexican Chocolate Loaf Cake
1 cup butter, soft
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tbsp instant coffee*
3/4 cup water*
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
zest of one orange
Preheat oven to 350F. Butter or grease a 9×5x3.5-inch loaf pan and dust with cocoa powder, knocking out the excess. Line 4 muffin cups with paper liners.
In a large, microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter. Whisk in cocoa powder until smooth, then add in instant coffee and water, whisking until dissolved. Stir in sugar, followed by the eggs, buttermilk, vanilla extract and orange zest, mixing well after each addition.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Gradually add to cocoa mixture, stirring until just combined.
Using a 1/4 cup measure, fill the four cupcake liners about 3/4 full with batter. Pour the remaining batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake the cupcakes for 18-22 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Bake the cake for 55-65 minutes (or longer, if you're my oven), until a tester comes out clean or with only a few crumbs. Cool in the pans for about 15 minutes, then turn out cupcakes and loaf cake onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes 1 loaf cake and 4 cupcakes. Serves 10-12, plus cupcakes for the cook.
*Note: You can omit the instant coffee and use 1/2 cup water with 1/4 cup coffee instead, as the original recipe calls for, if you don’t have instant.
I found this recipe at a blog called Baking Bites, which is full of incredible looking desserts (and other things, but I'm in love with the desserts). I made this cake a few weeks ago and took it to work, and it was gone before noon, which I interpret to mean it tasted good. Either that or everyone was exceptionally hungry that morning.
I also made banana bread. Not for Kate, but for Hamburger.
I have no idea what the banana bread tastes like. I had a few really ripe bananas staring at me, and I figured since I already had made a mess of the kitchen, and Hamburger loves banana muffins/bread/pudding, I might as well go all out and bake two things in one day.
Saturday, May 17, 2008
Friday, May 16, 2008
The Geographer's Library
I read this book in Savannah. Which is ironic, because I didn't take it with me. It was on the bookshelf in the cottage that I was staying in. But I'm almost positive I have this book on my bookshelf, too. I think I bought it a few years ago, yet never read it. Which now means I have an unread book that I've read.
Normally, I like books like this. Mystical artifacts, faraway places, tales of past times and present times all in one book. But I found The Geographer's Library hard to follow. The description of the mystical items was very hard to follow, and I was never 100% sure what they all combined to do. And I found the trips into the past a little flat. I did like the modern characters, though.
I also like this description from barnesandnoble.com:
Jon Fasman's dizzyingly plotted intellectual thriller suggests a marriage between Dan Brown and Donna Tartt. When reporter Paul Tomm is assigned to investigate the mysterious death of a reclusive academic, he finds himself pursuing leads that date back to the twelfth century and the theft of alchemical instruments from the geographer of the Sicilian court. Now someone is trying to retrieve them. Interspersed with the present action are the stories of the men and women who came to possess those charmed-and sometimes cursed-artifacts, which have powers that go well beyond the transmutation of lead into gold. Deftly combining history, magic, suspense, and romance-and as handsomely illustrated as an ancient incunabulum-The Geographer's Library is irresistible.Not that agree with the irresistible tag, but I like the use of the words "dizzingly plotted." Maybe that's why I was confused.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
I've been a bad book blogger and fallen behind on my book reviews. Or what pass for book reviews in my world. My goal this weekend is to get caught up, but I need to remember what all I've been reading. So before I forget, here's the list:
The Geographer's Library - I read this in Savannah, that's how behind I am
Belong to Me - I can't believe I haven't raved about this one yet
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks - two thumbs up
Ink Exchange - a disappointing follow-up to Wicked Lovely
The Virgin of Small Plains - another two thumbs up
My Best Friend's Girl - okay, still reading, but I should be done soon
Due to yet another work trip, I had to work on Monday, so I have tomorrow off, as well as Monday, my regular flex day. Which means I get a four day weekend. Yippee!! Plenty of time to get these write-ups done. Maybe. I also need to read Three Cups of Tea in time for the Sunday Slow Travel Concentric Circles reading group discussion. Uh-oh, better get crackin'.
Tomorrow I've got a hot (because we're in the middle of a freakin' heat wave here on the Central Coast!) date with my mom to see Prince Caspian. Which is appropriate, because I seem to be on a YA lit kick lately. I think I'm regressing.
Scenario: You’ve just bought some complicated gadget home . . . do you read the
accompanying documentation? Or not?
Do you ever read manuals?
Anything at all?
Friday, May 09, 2008
My SlowTravel friend Eden posted a wonderful joke today on her blog. But you have to click through to her blog to read it. If you're a reader, I highly recommend going over there and checking out.
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Writing guides, grammar books, punctuation how-tos . . . do you read them? Not read them? How many writing books, grammar books, dictionaries–if any–do you have in your library?
I have a few, although obviously I don't use them (really, for the same reason I don't keep track of unknown words...I'm lazy). Unless Hamburger and I are playing Scrabble and someone puts down an unbelievable word. Then I'll go get the dictionary, because I hate to lose at Scrabble. And yes, it's me that goes and gets it, because he doesn't know where it is. Hamburger is in charge of all the tools, though, so it's a fair trade.
I have two dictionaries, one is a two-part set that I've had since I was a kid. I don't know where it came from, but I love it, because it has historical people in it and charts in the back that show all the kings and queens of England. But it's outdated, so I also have another dictionary that I bought two years ago during my brief foray into grad school. At that time I also had to buy an MLA or something like that guide, because for the life of me I couldn't remember how to cite anything. Come to think of it, I can't remember now, either, and I don't care. I also have a thesaurus, another remnant from high school. And I have a grammar book somewhere that I bought in a misguided attempt to educate myself. Now I'm like chartroose, and I embrace my inner ungrammatically correct self.
I also have a little dictionary at work, which comes in handy when no one in the row of cubicles I live in can even get close enough to spelling a word correctly so that spell check will help us out. And my buddy across the aisle has the thesaurus for when we need to find another way to say something...so together, we're covered here at work. As far as grammar goes, we've been known to argue with the grammar checker. I don't trust it, because once I typed in something and it put the nasty green squiggle underneath. So I changed it to what it suggested, and the green squiggle re-appeared with the suggested correction being my original phrase. It was a vicious circle for awhile until I slapped my computer upside the head and gave up.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Aislinn sees fairies. Beautiful, frightening, mischievous and mean, she sees them all. And she's doing a good job of not letting on that she sees them. That is until the Summer King starts stalking her. Aislinn isn't too sure why Keenan has taken a fancy to her, but she's determined to ignore him. Until he starts to convince her that she could be his Summer Queen.
Although the characters and the stories are very different, this book reminded me of Stephenie Meyers' Twilight series. Maybe it's the teenagers. And the romance between Aislinn and Seth. Both books are really intended for teens, but appeal equally to adults. At least this adult.
Anyways...I liked this book (although not as much as the Twilight series, if I'm being honest). I especially liked the first half. The second half...well, I think it could have been tighter. Seth kind of got forgotten at the end. Oh, he's there, I just would have liked more info on how he fits into the whole faerie world. And Donia...without giving too much away, how did she get picked? And Aislinn...how is she handling high school now? So yeah, weak ending.
But the ending didn't detract that much from my overall enjoyment of the book. And I'll still be reading the next one, Ink Exchange.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
A Box of Matches
I found this book in a used bookstore in Savannah. The name of the shop was The Book Lady, and I couldn't resist going in and checking it out. It was a tiny little place, crammed full of shelves of books, with boxes of books crammed into the corners. I found this one out of place, propped up on a shelf that was not the fiction section, even though it is a fiction book. The cover caught my eye. Then I opened it up and the quirky first line of one of the chapters sucked me in:
"Good morning, it's 4:52 a.m., and I'm very glad to be conscious when no one else is conscious."
All of the chapters start this way...Good morning, it's 4 something a.m.. For some reason I never quite figured out, the narrator has decided to get up early every morning, make coffee and light the fire (all in the dark) and sit and contemplate things. This quirky little book is entirely comprised of his morning reflections on mundane things such as the family duck, the shape of his beard, how he met his wife, his briefcase, the kids, peeing at night while sitting down, his job, and whatever else happens to flit through his mind at 4 a.m. Each morning he lights the fire with a match from a box of matches. When the box is empty, the book ends. There's really no plot, no story to resolve...just a series of short recollections by an ordinary man.
I actually liked the book, probably because it was quirky and different from what I usually read. Although I wouldn't go quite so far as to say it is "virtuoso writing, idiosyncratic, brilliant, hilarious and touching," like the over the top quote on the cover claims. Idiosyncratic I'll agree with. Brilliant and virtuoso I won't.
Saturday, May 03, 2008
It's May already? How can that be? It doesn't feel like May (maybe because the green is already fading from the hills). It really doesn't feel like prom season...not that I'm into that, but I went to get a pedicure today (the toes are now Russian Navy, in case you were wondering) and it was super busy because of prom. To me, prom means the end of the school year is approaching and summer is around the corner. How can it be that time of year already?!?
Humph, I guess I'll just have to accept it. But I'm really not all that into May right now. I have to travel to places I don't want to go this month. First, an overnight trip to Ontario for a work meeting. Then a down and back in one day trip to Orange County for my aunt's 70th birthday. And later that same week another down and back in one day trip, this time to Solvang for a work conference. And like my recent trip to Sacramento, none of these trips are alone. Not that I don't like my travel buddies, it's just way too much time (especially in a car) with other people. I'm actually travelled-out at the moment, an almost unheard of state for me. I just want to hibernate at home with my books. Which is probably why I'm not feeling all May-like. I'm in more of a January mood.
Which might explain why my toes are currently blue.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
And, no, you did NOT have time to grab your bookbag, or the book next to your bed. You were . . . grocery shopping when you got the call and have nothing with you but your wallet and your passport (which you fortuitously brought with you in case they asked for ID in the ethnic food aisle). This is hypothetical, remember….
Then I called Hamburger on my cell phone and woke him up and made him feel sorry for me because I had nothing to read.