Category Archives: books

Soak It In

I am a Neil deGrasse Tyson buff.  I’ve read several of his books, follow his current podcast (Star Talk) and own a t-shirt with a NdGT quote and a bracelet that I saw on his website of the planets in order.  (I actually made my own bracelet based on his design and I added Pluto – he may be smart, but Pluto will always be one of my planets!)

One of the things that I admire most is his ability to take difficult concepts and to distill them down so that most of us can understand them.  I was re-listening to his description of how the tides actually work/exist and wondered what it would be like to take a class from him (an entry-level class of course – I’ve encountered some of his work that is NOT distilled down and it is way over my head).

My favorite classes in college were always lectures.  I don’t need any small discussion groups or multi-student projects – just let me sit in the presence of great professors while I soak up their knowledge.  Between Carleton and Metro State I took five Shakespeare courses from two different professors – fabulous.  There was a spellbinding Chinese Middle Kingdom class and the professor who taught my King Arthur in English and American Literature (yes, a real class for which I got credit) held my attention like no other.

But based on YA’s master’s program experience, the current trend in education is all about self-teaching, small group projects and collaboration (I detest this word).  Her description of every single class she took for her MBA made my skin crawl, so I guess I probably won’t be going back to school in my retirement.  I’ll have to remain self-taught in the areas that appeal to me.  I’m still doing my online Italian class; I’m almost at 900 days straight.  I’m still working my way through biographies of the English monarchs as well as the American presidents.  Banned books are high on my list of interests as well as reading on Black Lives Matter.  Science is also a love of mine although I would say I have a broad science curiosity  as opposed to a deep curiosity. 

If I were to take any classes, my first choice would be anything taught by Tyson; it’s possible he could do wonders from my understanding of physics.  Add a course covering the history plays of Shakespeare.  I’d like an economics class that specializes in the real world and does not discuss guns or butter.  Literature courses of just about any kind.  No math (I got through trigonometry by the skin of my teeth) and no classes where anything has to be cut up!  

What were your favorite and least favorite classes in school?   

Page Turning Pariah

As a voracious reader, I depend a great deal on other folks’ recommendations.    Ten years ago I added a column to my reading spreadsheet – Inspiration.  When a finished title gets added to the spreadsheet I notate where I got the idea for reading the book.  If it’s a specific person, I list their name.  If it’s a bookclub selection, BBC, Illiterati or MIA.  If I actually remember where I first encountered the title, I enter that (Scientific American, Goodreads, CNN).  If it’s book off one of my various lists, that gets written in (Monarchs, Presidents, Banned, Newbery, Caldecott).  And, if by the time I finish a book (that’s a whole new blog topic – my over-curated library account), I don’t remember where I got the idea any longer, then O&A, Out & About, is the label.

All of this to say that I do take book recommendations seriously.  I’m pretty sure that I’ve read 75% of the books we’ve talked about on this blog, not because, as Steve used to say “VS has read everything” but because when somebody mentions a book on the Trail, I write it down or go to my library account immediately. 

I have a friend in Indianapolis who reads as much as I do and although we don’t always gravitate to the same thing, I’ve found most of his recommendations fascinatingly good reads.  (For example, I would never have picked up Countdown Bin Laden by Wallace & Weiss of my own accord, but since he spoke highly of it, I gave it a shot.  It was excellent and is likely to make my top ten this year.)  When he suggested a title that I had heard of from a few other folks, I picked it up from the library.  That’s when I found out that the title is also an Oprah Pick and has either won or been a finalist for just about every literary award out there.  93% of folks who have reviewed on Amazon have given it one or two stars.  Just 1% rated it with only one star.  This is unprecedented so I was really looking forward to getting into it – I even suggested it to my other book club.

I didn’t like it.  I didn’t like it to the point that if it hadn’t been a book club title, I might not have finished it.  It was WAY too long; it’s really two stories, related but distinct enough for two separate treatments.  Then there was the jumping around in the timeline, which I didn’t find to be well-handled. Too much repetitiveness; probably could have trimmed 50 pages by leaving out all references to “collard greens”.  But the biggest problem was that there wasn’t one likeable character in the entire book; 400+ years of story and 900+ pages of book, that’s a LOT of unlikeable characters. They ran the gamut from heinous to slightly sickening, but really not one really decent person among the lot of them. 

But it’s really hard to dump on a book that appears to be universally loved and admired.  REALLY hard.  And because I like to think I’m a discerning reader, it has made me wonder what’s wrong with me. What have I missed. In fact, I’ve been writing and re-writing this blog post in my head for two weeks trying to decide whether to name the book or just ruminate on feeling so out of step with what feels like the whole of humanity.  I do feel out of step a fair amount.  I’m not interested in fashion. I think reality TV is an abomination. Much of what is generally valued by current culture leaves me “meh”.

That’s why I am extremely grateful that I have found niches where I feel like I fit in, with good friends who think a bit more like I do.  This is one of those places, of course.  Thanks for all of you in my life and on the Trail who leave a place for my quirky self at the table! 

Tell me about the last book that you DIDN’T like.  (And if you’ve read the book I’m talking about and liked it, that’s OK… you’re in good company!!)

Pushmepullyou

I have lumbar scoliosis, along with years of cruddy posture. I even slump when I drive. I had physical therapy several years ago, which really helped my lower back pain. Like many, I stopped doing my exercises after the pain went away.

A few months ago I started to have chronic sciatica in both legs, and got a referral for more physical therapy. My new therapist assessed the situation and told me that she was surprised I could even walk, since all the muscles in my lower back and hips that ought to hold me upright weren’t doing their job, and the hip flexor muscles in the front of my body were doing it instead. Sitting at a desk all day in a bad chair only made things worse. (The ergo guy at work ordered a really good office chair with great lumbar support for me last month, so that problem is solved.)

I am currently in a lot of pain all over my back and legs since, as my physical therapist told, all my muscles are mad at me as we are doing exercises to get the back muscles to do their job and the front muscles to do their job. I am also being very mindful of my posture, even when I drive, and that has also stirred up some muscle pushback. All of this has reminded me of the Pushmepullyou from Dr. Doolittle.

My mother constantly harrased me about my posture. Ok mom, you were right! I should have listened! I don’t remember ever liking the Dr. Doolittle books much. I found the writing kind of stuffy, but the plot was fun. I appreciate the tug of war concept with the Pushmepullyou. My hips can relate.

What animals would you like to talk to? Ever had physical therapy? What did you parents tell you that you should have listened to but didn’t.

Nonny & the Library

The Nonny Reading Program has been going swimmingly.  Using the suggestions from you all, I’ve been sending her books and she’s been gobbling them up.

There are only two problems.  The first (and most important) is that she has a VERY small condo with almost no bookshelf space, so the books are starting to pile up.  Secondly, she’s starting to complain about how much money I’m spending and wants to pay for the books (this is SO not happening).

I solved the first problem when I suggested she donate the books to her church; they have quite a robust food shelf/donations program and I said they should start a little free library.  Her church-mates ate this up.

The second problem was a little stickier.  A lot of people who know both my parents think that I got my stubborn streak from my dad; this is absolutely not true.  When Nonny digs in her heels she is all but immovable.   We talked about the library (the closest branch is quite close to her place) but she said that whenever she goes, she can’t find the books she wants.

I know that technology could help her but unfortunately Nonny and Technology are not friends.  And they are not likely to become friends.  Ever.  I suggested that I request the books she wants via the computer and when they came available, I would get the email and I would let her know and she could go get them.  She said this was fine but she never gave me her library card number so I could get everything set up, despite my asking her repeatedly.  I was starting to think this was her passive/aggressive way to telling me she didn’t want to do this.

I tackled the dragon in her den when we were there last weekend.  I asked her directly if she really wanted to do this.  Turns out that the library card issue was just Nonny forgetting about it as soon as we got off the phone.  We drove up to the library, I explained my plan to the librarian and within minutes it was all set up.  I can access her account from here and let her know when the books come in.  Easy peasy. 

I’m all set now and will be requesting the first couple of books this week.   No new suggestions needed right now but if this system works out, I may need some soon!

Have you ever lost or destroyed (accidentally of course) a library book?

Tomato Paradise

Bill mentioned a few days ago that his first little tomatoes had been swiped right off the vine.  Now I’m paranoid about my first ripening beauties.  There are 3 cherry tomatoes and 2 romas that are in various blushing states; I hope they survive until I pick them.

My cherry tomato plant is now taller than I am.  Granted, it has a 24” start since it is in a straw bales, but I’m thinking that even without the bale, it’s going to give me a run for the money. 

You all know that I started gardening in straw bales after someone here talked about Tomatoland by Barry Estabrook.  I hadn’t grown any veggies for years prior to that, but the book was horrifying enough that I started casting about for ways to raise my own tomatoes and that’s when I discovered straw bale gardening.  The rest is history. 

I have the book The $64 Tomato by William Alexander on hold at the library.  Actually it’s “paused” and I keep pushing the pause date back.  It’s subtitle is “How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden”.   But now I’m a little worried.   What if it makes me re-think my straw bale protocol?  What if it makes me do the math?

I’m hoping it’s just a fun read with some laughs.  Fingers crossed.

Have you ever had a book upend your plans?

Retiring? Who Me?

Photo credit:  Aaron Burden

The announcement about my retirement has finally been made (took my boss and her boss about three weeks to try to talk me out of it).

One of my co-workers, in a very serious tone said “but what are you going to do with all your time”.  She wasn’t joking (although I had assumed she was).  How could she not know me after working in the same department for 20 years together.

Without even a thought I rattled off:

    • Reading
    • Gardening
    • Cooking/Baking
    • Crafting
    • Walking the dog
    • Volunteering
    • Home improvement projects
    • Travel
    • Hang with friends

I put an app on my phone that is counting down for me.  Kinda fun.  Right now as I’m typing it’s: 1 month, 18 days, 15 hours, 53 minutes and 32 seconds.

Anything I’m missing on my list?

 

Jury Duty

Well, it has happened again. It seems that every other year I am called for jury duty, and I received another letter from the Clerk of Court while I was in Minnesota, telling me I am yet again in the pool of potential jurors for the Southwest District Court for the month of July.

I have never actually been seated on a jury panel. I haven’t even had to go to the court house while they choose jurors for cases, as the cases seem to be settled before the date of the hearing. I also can’t imagine any attorney would want me on a jury, especially if it is a criminal case. It is really hard in a small community to serve on a jury if one is a health care professional. If asked if I know a defendant, I have to say “I am prohibited by State and Federal law from answering that question unless ordered to do so by the court” if I know the person from the work at my agency. That statement is, of course, a tip off that I know them from my work, and everyone in town knows where I work, but that is what our legal department has told us to say.

I expect the same thing will happen this July, and I will wait for a letter from the Clerk of Court telling me that, yet again, I won’t be called for a jury panel in July and that I am still in the pool of potential jurors for the next round of cases if my name is picked at random. That is another problem living in a sparsely populated area-there really is a limited number of people to do things, so the chances of being picked for these typed of things are high.

Would you want to be a judge, a defense attorney, or a prosecutor? What are your favorite movies or books involving court hearings or lawyers?

Nap Time

Our grandson is 4, and is at that stage where, if he takes an afternoon nap, he can’t go to sleep for the night until after 10:00, and if he doesn’t nap, he is a real pill until bedtime.

When Son and his family visited over Memorial Day weekend, we put on a vinyl recording of Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester narrated by Meryl Streep, with music by The Chieftains, for grandson to listen to one afternoon. Son listened to the same recording when he was a small boy, usually at bedtime. I was tickled to find Son and Grandson sound asleep on the sofa shortly after starting the recording. They didn’t even get to the part where the Tailor sets free the mice that Simpkin, the naughty cat, had imprisoned under the tea cups, before they dozed off. I have always liked Simpkin. Grandson was so tired after traveling to us that the nap didn’t interfere with his usual bedtime.

What helps you sleep? Who is your favorite Beatix Potter character? What do you remember about naps as a child?

Large House Cats?

Last November there was a post that I clipped part of and have kept on my desktop.  I don’t remember what we were talking about but this string always intrigued me:

Part of the reason it has stuck with me is that it reminds me of two books.  My dad loved everything written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, especially the John Carter/Mars series, so I’ve read quite a few as well.  In the Gods of Mars series, the Therns have bamboozled another species, the Barsoomians, luring them with the promise of a journey to paradise, when in fact, they just get captured and eaten.  My father and I had some long conversations about this; he thought it was the best justification for being a vegetarian he had ever read.

The other book that our conversation reminds me of is The Sparrow by Maria Doria Russell.  Also science fiction and a similar scenario in which the traveling Earthman discovers that the dominant species eats the non-dominant, although to his eye, they are both sentient beings.  There is also a VERY disturbing sub-plot in which the Earthman is basically kept as a pet and from his (and the reader’s) perspective, abused and maimed, although his “owner” fairly easily deflects and explains those actions away.  And it was believable.  Way too believable.  It took me a few years to work up the nerve to read the next book in the series.

Even though all these memories got dredged up back in November, I still thought it was a funny exchange. Although I’m pretty sure I’m already the pet of my cat Nimue….

What’s the most exotic animal you’ve ever fantasized about getting as a pet?

Reading Affairs

I got Chris’ newsletter yesterday; he asks for pictures of people reading his book at the beach (or anywhere else for that matter).  It got me thinking about my current reading state of affairs.  March and April were a little discombobulated around here — too much work for a few weeks, then the stinky weather, more than one home project in the works.

Not surprisingly, my reading has been a little discombobulated as well.  You all know that I am usually in the middle of a few books at once but the past several weeks have been off the charts.  Instead of working my way through whatever I started, I would just pick up something that I thought suited my mood.  This means that right now, I’m in the middle of nine books.

Walking the Old Road by Staci Drouillard.  This is a “history” of Chippewa City and the Grand Marais Anishinaabe.  I want to like this book a lot more than I actually like it.  The author wanders all over and rambles with a lot of detail that is actually distracting from her topic.  Unfortunately I’m listening to it on CD and the author speaks v.e.r.y.  d.i.s.t.i.n.c.t.l.y and v.e.r.y s.l.o.w.l.y. so it’s taking much longer than if I had just plowed through the print.

Beautiful: the Life of Hedy Lamarr by Stephen Shearer.  Quite interesting.  Hedy Lamarr was incredibly intelligent and all we remember about her is how beautiful she was.  She was actually the co-inventor of a radio guidance system for the Navy.  Who knew?

Coyote vs Acme by Ian Frasier.  Re-reading this because we talked about the author a couple of weeks ago.  Funny.  Very funny.

Autumn Light by Iyer Pico.  This one keeps getting shuffled to the bottom of the pile. The writing is quite nice but it’s a memoir of a man helping his wife navigate the grief of losing her mother and whenever I start to pick it up I think “too sad”.

American Aristocracy by David Heymann.  I’m reading this because it’s a biography of Amy Powell (and her famous family).  She wrote the poem “Giver of Stars” which features in a JoJo Moyes story of the same name.  I’ve read the first half really quickly because I find I’m not all the interested in her family – just her.

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver.  I’m just in the beginning of this, so hard to give any kind of synopsis, but it’s Barbara Kingsolver, so I’m pretty sure I will end up liking it a lot.

My Fine Fellow by Jennieke Cohen.  This is an alternate history re-write of Pygmalion.  It’s an intriguing idea but unfortunately the author is sticking way to closely to the original story, just with different characters, so it’s not feeling as fresh or original as it should.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick.  I picked this up because I just recently actually watched Blade Runner (I don’t know why I waited so long – but I did).  It had such an ambiguous ending that I thought I’d see what the book was like.  I’m only a couple of chapters in… I’m not a big Philip K Dick fan, but I think I’ll make it through.

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans by Agatha Christie.  Re-reading this because I saw recently that Hugh Laurie is producing and directing another version of Christie’s work.  This isn’t actually Christie’s best work by a long shot but I’m still enjoying it.

I have a couple of other books from the library on the bedstand and Chris’ book AND the Sherlock Holmes book I bought while at his signing last month.  Maybe now that work has let up and the weather is improving, I can stick with just three or four and get some of them finished!

What are you reading right now?