Books

You know how I finally figured out that listening to an audiobook is the key to painlessly getting your yucky chores done? I know. I can’t believe it took me so long to get this through my skull. I normally prefer reading an actual book (I’m a visual person) but there is nothing like being read to to make the hours fly by (thank goodness for Harry Potter and Jim Dale or we would have killed each other on The Confederate Car Trip last summer). All that cleaning and organizing I talked about yesterday? I owe it all to Augustus McCrae.

 

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Yesterday as I was organizing my shoes I finally finished Lonesome Dove on audiobook. You guys. There are no words. My poor heart.  You just have to read this book. Or better still, listen to it. I know it was made into a miniseries a couple of decades ago but there is so much going on inside the characters heads that it seems a pity to only see the screen version. Lee Horseley (who used to be on this TV show called Matt Houston back in the day) is an excellent narrator. He does such an outstanding job giving the dozens of characters a voice.

This book had me gasping, it had me crying, it had me sitting perched on the edge of my bed holding a paper towel and a bottle of Windex for half an hour because I was so into it that I could barely move. I thought Lonesome Dove was just some cheesy Western and I was in the mood for something like that when I started. This ain’t no Louis L’Amour.  I mean, it won the Pulitzer Prize for pete’s sake! This book features some of the best characters of all time.

The book is 900 pages and the audiobook is 36 hours. Quite an investment of time. And honestly, the story starts off a little slowly. But I’m temped to start the audiobook all over again now that I understand the characters. It would mean so much more this time.

Lonesome Dove definitely earns it’s place into my top 10 books of all time.

I am a very visual person. If I want to understand or remember something I have to see it. I have never cared for being read to (at least not since I was a kid) because hearing something means so much less to me than reading something. Also, it takes about a million years longer to listen to a book than to read it yourself.

This summer during our Confederate Car Trip we brought along four Harry Potter books. My friend Connie assured me that these would make all the difference between murdering my children and coexisting with them peacefully for two weeks. So I took them, rolling my eyes, but by the time we hit Waco I had put on the first CD. We listened to them for most of the trip and were a very captive–but very willing–audience. We really loved listening to them. I read the first Harry Potter book when it had barely come out and nobody had the vaguest idea how to pronounce Hermione (but I did, being full of trivial, pointless knowledge as I am.)  I enjoyed it but then the books became horrendously popular and I didn’t want to read the rest solely because who wants to wait in line all night to buy a stupid book? I tend to not like things anymore once they’re popular; ditto for the movies. (I did see the very last movie but I had no idea what was happening or why it was a big deal.) The older kids were completely familiar with the entire Harry Potter oeuvre, but the younger ones weren’t.

Listening to the Harry Potter books was wonderful for me because I was completely new to them. All the kids are at a great age to listen to them and Connie was right; they made the 4000 miles fly by.

But still I like to have real live books in my hands.

Last week I saw a copy of the Lonesome Dove miniseries on my husbands shelf of DVDs and he reminded me again how it’s super good and that I really should watch it. But I hate, hate watching TV while my kids are at school because I can’t multitask while I do it (our only TV being in the playroom, away from the dirty floors that should be mopped or the bathrooms than need scrubbing). TV and movies are such a time suck. But maybe I could read the book Lonesome Dove (since reading is easier to do than watching a movie when you’re waiting for carpool kids or in a doctor’s office). But for some reason I ended up downloading the audio book. When am I going to listen to this? I thought. I barely am in the car for more than ten minutes at a time. Then it hit me–I can listen to this while I clean my house.

I know what you guys are thinking: you are the biggest dummy ever! How has this never occurred to you?

I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes, friends. But now that I’m about ten hours into Lonesome Dove, let me tell you that cleaning while you listen to an audiobook is the best. Although if you have little kids bugging you I imagine that it would put you in a mighty foul mood to be interrupted constantly (maybe during nap time?). I actually try to think of more things to clean so that I can keep listening. How crazy is that?

Due to the fact that there is an occasional swear and that prostitutes come up pretty often in the story, Lonesome Dove is not exactly kid-friendly. But I’m enjoying it heartily.*

I still have 25 hours to go before I finish this book, but I’m already thinking about my next read listen.  Do you listen while you putter around the house too? What are your favorite audio books? Anything I must listen to next? A book can be completely ruined by a bad narrator, so what are some good recommendations?

 

*To make things even better, I got the book from Audible.com and they have an app that makes each book the size of a couple of songs. It won’t take up your iTunes space like a bunch of CDs will. And if you go to www.audible.com/npr they’ll let you try a book for free. Also, our library also has a couple of audio-books-for-free services. Yours probably does too.

Tell Wolves Home Review

I first heard about the book Tell the Wolves I’m Home in the Costco magazine a few months ago but thought it sounded dumb and uninteresting. Then my friend Anna read it and said it was fantastic. So I figured it was worth a try. Plus Anna loaned it to me; no need to plunk down $15 for something I might not like. (Although the cover is so cute! I had high hopes.)

I hate reading the descriptions on the backs of books; either they spoil it (and I love a pleasant surprise) or they make the book sound completely ordinary; I can’t tell you how many books I’ve passed by because the blurb says something about the complicated relationships between sisters. Blah. Boring. Who cares. All I really want to know is if I’ll like the writing style and if the story is interesting.

I’m not going to bother with a description of this book because the synopsis, as I said before, will probably not want to make you read it.  But let me tell you that I cried a dozen times while reading it. And I am not a cryer. It is good and lovely and happy and sad; heartwarming and heartbreaking. It’s probably in my Top 5 books I’ve read this year. It was just so, so good.

Halfway through reading I had this amazing epiphany about something in my life that’s been bothering me for a couple of years. It had nothing at all to do with this book, but maybe because my heart was soft and quiet while I was reading, I finally could figure some things out and work though a few feelings. There were tears for that as well as tears for the book itself.

If you’re worrying about swearing and sex and stuff like that, there really isn’t any. It’s pretty clean. There is, of course, the subject matter about a teenage girl whose uncle dies of AIDS and the things that entails such as her uncle’s boyfriend. So there’s that. But it is not addressed in a sordid or creepy way.

If you’re looking for a satisfying, well-written book, I’d highly recommend Tell the Wolves I’m Home. It’s a compelling read that is hard to put down.  The characters are excellent and it is well done all the way around. Just make sure you’ve got some tissues handy. You can drop by Costco to see if they still have copies in stock or just get it here
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No, I’m not getting paid to write this review. Although I will get paid one meeellion dollars if you buy the book through my Amazon link.

I pretty much vanished for the last couple of weeks. Partly due to relatives in town (we know who loves us by how often they visit. Hint, hint, relatives.) Partly due to being the Relief Society President when half the ward decides to move at the exact moment the other half goes on vacation. I know you guys really love it when I complain about how busy I am and thus how exhausted I am. But I will spare you the details. Here are the highlights of the last two weeks:

My mom moved back to Utah after living here in Austin for two years. People always ask what it’s like having my mother live close by since she is rather . . . high maintenance. It  is a million times easier than having her come and stay with me for two or three weeks. When she stays with me for a long amount of time there are invariably fights; she and I, she and Mister and sadly Mister and I as well. There is stress involved for all parties (well, probably my mom isn’t stressed). She likes to have things just so and just so is always something very strange. Like half-drunk giant glasses of cocoa sitting around all day. Said cocoa must be drunk through a straw. And not just any straw. It must be a really fat straw that is also somewhat translucent so that she can see the cocoa going up. Not sure why, but that’s how it is. No doubt my mother will answer this question in her blog reply.

There is also her bizarre schedule of staying up late, sleeping in and various naps. Our family doesn’t really work that way and it gets complicated when she visits. But when she lives in her own place nearby she can sleep whenever she wants, leave strange beverages sitting on her counters and it makes no difference to us. She is one of those people who finds plenty to entertain herself and doesn’t come over all the time. She’ll drop by for dinner, have a nice time and go home. It’s lovely for all of us. So it makes me sad that we won’t be getting pleasant mini-doses of her any more. Instead she wanted to be near my sister in Utah who, with three small children, is in the part of her life when she really needs grandma Boppie around.

We spend last week packing boxes, throwing away as much of her junk prized possessions as we could get away with and loading up her moving van. She and my sister waved goodbye on Saturday morning and pulled in to Utah County last night.

Also, I spent days cleaning and organizing my house. If you have out-of-town guests and clean your entire house, except for one small part, that is the part that they will invariably see. So I cleaned everything including my huge messy closet. Here’s the flip side of that rule, though: if you clean something super well, nobody will see it.  I cleaned my closet and bathroom within an inch of their lives. And nobody ever went in there. But at least they’re still clean. I’ve been trying to stay on top of it and keep the rooms from turning into the trash barge of my house. They’re my favorite place to throw things when I have to do a stash and dash because company is coming.

My husband’s brother, his wife and their teenage daughter came from Portland for an entire week and we ate like pigs and did fun touristy stuff and it was great. They had to sleep in the boy’s bunk beds but it’s a lot nicer than making them stay in the guest room and share one lousy full-sized bed.

Probably the most exciting news around here is that it has rained! A lot! And often!  But because this is Texas it rains like crazy for a little while, the rain goes away and it’s sunny and warm. And then the next day it’s sunny and warm for a couple of hours, a storm rolls in and then it’s sunny and warm again. It’s really a lovely way to have rainy weather. None of those days of dreary, cold weather like in Oregon. Our relatives were very impressed.

A few days ago I went to a book signing by Alexandra Fuller whose books I recommended here a while back. In the tiny picture on her books she looks very pretty. But most female authors look relatively pretty. That’s kind of the point, I guess. Alexandra Fuller was, in real life, drop dead gorgeous. Model gorgeous. She’s also terribly clever and skinny so I felt utterly out of my league and didn’t say a single word to her as she signed my book.  I very rarely get tongue-tied, although I did ask if I could take a picture with her (I especially like the way my arms are twice the size of hers.)

 

AFuller and me

Also, my laptop is still broken. Mister has taken pity on me and given me a real computer with an actual monitor. It’s pretty lame. Laptops are way better. I hate being on a computer where I am trapped in one place. Due to my computer situation and all the other stuff I’ve done, I have read zero blogs. I feel really bad about this. So if I haven’t commented on your blog, I’m sorry. One day I will get my life back.

Somehow I managed to read a bunch of books in the last month even though I was crazy busy. There were a few duds but several that I liked a lot.

I read The The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure in the Fall (it was in my top five fave books of last year), but I just ordered it in paperback (I hate, hate hardcovers). When I got my paperback copy last month I read it again and liked it just as much the second time. This is a hilarious non-fictional account of Wendy McClure’s obsession with Little House on the Prairie. I was big into those books as a kid so I totally get where she’s coming from; mostly because I loved anything old-fashioned and the Little House books are as quaint as can be. In a way this book wasn’t just revisiting Little House but also my childhood as well. Wendy McClure is funny, wry and feels just like a best friend. I was so thrilled to see Wendy on her stop in Austin to promote her book. It was especially great because she passed out bonnets for the audience to wear and we got to churn butter. And I got Wendy to sign my book.

Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness and Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood are interesting books and here’s why: they are essentially the same stories told by the same author. Only in the first book (Don’t Let’s Go) the author’s mother is portrayed as very drunk and very crazy. (It’s the true story of a white family living in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe before and during the civil war/revolution. It’s alternately hysterically funny and incredibly tragic.) The second book is kind of apology to her mother who is still pretty furious about how terribly she comes off in her daughter’s book. So Alexandra Fuller, good daughter that she is, retells the family’s story from her mother’s viewpoint. There is much more compassion in this version, but it’s not quite as funny. As a writer with a crazy mother I get what Alexandra Fuller struggles with. So would I recommend reading both of these books? Probably not, unless you happen to love one and want to go on to the other (I did, but I also read them a couple of years apart which worked out well). Either way, these books are both very well written and the story is just incredible unreal and amazing. There are several stories that are unique to each book, but the big events can be found in both.  I love books that give me a real sense of actually living in a far-away place. If you like The Glass Castle these books have a similar feel but were quite a bit funnier. (That’s the crazy mother as a little girl holding the monkey’s hand.) There might be swears in these books. I can’t remember nor was I paying much attention to that sort of thing so read at your own peril.

 

Love Times Three: Our True Story of a Polygamous Marriage By Joe, Alina, Vicki and Valerie Darger. Who is not intrigued and perplexed by polygamy? While this book isn’t super well-written, it’s fascinating and engaging. Unlike all the other polygamy books, this one features a bunch of “normal” polygamists. Not the “french braid, tennis shoes with frumpy dresses” polygamists. These folks live in the suburbs and have a regularish life. Where things get interesting is that this is very much a book about how a family actually makes polygamy work. For example, who gets to sit in the front seat of the car with Joe (the husband), who goes on business trips with him? How do you keep from being jealous? How do holidays work?  Super interesting issues that I had never considered.  But I have to admit that I was pretty weirded out by this book. Joe married his first two wives on the same day. So crazy! And his third wife is his second wife’s twin sister. Also so crazy! Like most bizarre alternative lifestyle books this is kind of skeevy, but fascinating nontheless. It’s a must-read if you are a fan of Big Love or Sister Wives.

 

Can you tell I’ve been on a big non-fiction kick? I’ll try to read only fiction this next month to even things out.

 

All of these books link through to Amazon. You should buy them that way because then I make like 20¢.

It is time at our Elementary School for the semi-annual book fair. Which I hate. And not just because we are on a very limited budget and the last thing I want to be spending money on is the hardcover version of Super Diaper Baby. I’m just playing; Super Diaper Baby only comes in paperback. I’m serious about not liking the book fair.

I don’t get how Scholastic totally nails it with dandy cheap books in the book orders, but turns the book fair into a super deluxe full-priced book store (that they have the audacity to suggest I work at). Yeah, it’s some sort of fund raiser. I get it. At least this way we’ll have books to show for our contributions to the school and not vile cookie dough.

But this jumps to the conclusion that I want a hard-cover copy of Pinkalicious.  I don’t. I really don’t. I am extremely picky when it comes to the books my children read (my husband, not so much. Which explains why we actually own Super Diaper Baby. I made the foolish mistake of sending Jasper to the book fair with Daddy last year. And now said book is hidden because once Mister read it he was appalled that the title character actually battles a giant poop. I’m all, “Duh. What did you think it was going to be about? Tea parties?”)

There are some really great books at the book fair. I’m not knocking Scholastic. But unlike a book store or Amazon where I can pick out what I think is appropriate for my children, at the book fair they are dancing around with some sort of Poodle Princesses nonsense, begging and pleading and writhing on the floor that they will never be happy without this book.

But, as usual, I have to play mean witch stern mother and tell my kids no. “No, Ada, I just bought you two books for your birthday nine days ago.” That doesn’t matter because everybody has rich mothers who buy their children everything they want from the book fair. At least that’s what my children say. I’m so wretched I won’t even buy  the $5 Justin Bieber poster.

There is all this peer pressure to buy, buy, buy.

I am getting severely tired of this so I’ve taken matters into my own hands. Here are a couple of books that I “bought at the book fair”. I’m sure my kids will be thrilled!

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Is there anyone not completely fascinated with the Amish? Is it not the most interesting culture?  No electricity or cars or phones?  I’ll admit that there is part of me that always wished I were Amish. Not the part that likes to wear makeup, though. Or the part that enjoys being Mormon. Or the part that uses the internet 500 times a day. But there is something so wonderful about having such a simple life. Which is why I didn’t even hesitate to grab Growing Up Amish off the shelf when I saw it at my library.

It is, obviously, about a man who grew up in the Amish faith. He is in his mid-late 40′s now so I’m not sure how much has changed since he was a boy. From the looks of the Amish, not much.  It was fascinating to read a first-hand account of the different sects of Amish. I had no idea there were such things as Old Order, New Order (no, they do not listen to 80′s New Wave music), Nebraska (who don’t live in Nebraska, oddly enough), Schwartzentruber, Andy Weaver and Lancaster. These sects all differ in clothing, buggy styles, shunning practices and the ways they may incorporate “wordly things” (some sects allow a phone at the end of the driveway, some allow one in the area school, some don’t allow one in the community at all).  Most Amish sects don’t interact with each other. You can even be excommunicated if you decide to affiliate with a different Amish group than your own (depending on which sect it is). So fascinating!

The author, Ira Wagler, tells the story of how he joined and left the Amish church multiple times. Honestly it got kind of annoying how wishy-washy he is. But eventually he undergoes an actual conversion and finally joins a church that he is happy with.

While I though the author’s personal story was interesting, it was a little frustrating. Why did he keep leaving and then coming back? I had to guess at his motives. Ultimately I would have liked him to spend more time talking about the day to day activities. The world of Amish women isn’t really discussed since he’s a man and didn’t spend much time with women, obviously.

All in all, though, this is a super interesting book. I would highly recommend it to anybody who’s interested in the Amish lifestyle. You can get it here on Amazon as a book for about $10 or on your kindle for 3.99. Or check your library!

 

 

*If you buy this book through my link I’ll get filthy rich.

A Great Gift Book

December 15, 2011 · 1 comment

in Books, Funny, Good Things

Just got my big box o’ presents from Amazon. Both of my older boys put “Funny Books” on their Christmas lists and I think I hit the jackpot with this fantastic one by Terry Border called Bent Objects. It’s a hilarious book of little vignettes made of everyday objects with little metal hands and arms added. Sounds moronic, doesn’t it? I’m not a laugh-out-louder but I actually did several times while I read this. Terry has a blog called Bent Objects but most of the images in the book weren’t familiar to me.

Postcard From a Cat Box

This one is called “Postcard From a Cat Box”.   (Don’t freak out! I’m pretty sure they’re Tootsie Rolls.)

If you find these clever, or know someone who might, it’s not too late to get down to a bookstore or buy it here on Amazon. (About $18 in stores or $13 online).

I was an avid colorer growing up. I wasn’t a good enough artist to make up my own artwork, I much preferred coloring someone else’s drawings. But not all coloring books are created equal. Even as a 9 year-old I understood that. On the bottom rung were the cheap coloring books featuring manilla paper pages and big boring drawings. To me, the more detail the better. Coloring a big area–a giant Carebear, for example, was not only boring, but wasted a lot of one color of crayon. The best coloring books were from Dover Publishing. Their drawings had tons of details. Plus they assumed that I might have interests other than animated pets and Strawberry Shortcake.

I was totally thrilled to find that Dover still puts out wonderful coloring books. The paper quality is excellent and there are about a thousand different topics. They are all about $4.00 so they are pretty affordable. You can check out their huge selection here.

I bought this coloring books for Arabella because it’s a bunch of old-fashioned farm scenes (I am an armchair farmer and wanna-be Amish. Not for real. Just in my mind. ) Not only that, but the farm in this coloring book really exists in Dearborn, Michigan. I used to go there all the time as a little girl and pretend I really lived there a hundred years ago (see? I’ve always been slightly demented this way).

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The drawings are non-cartoony, full of detail, and feature all the aspects of old-fashioned farm life like feeding calfs:

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And . . . . . butchering a hog? Who wants to color the bloody entrails?
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I’m pretty sure Strawberry Shortcake never did that in a coloring book!


When I was a child, I would spend hours at the library (Sometimes with my friend Beth–not every friend likes to hang out at the library. Sometimes with my sister.*) My mother would drop us off at the really large three-story library in town and arrange to pick us up a few hours later.

In my earliest days of library freedom I hung out on the third floor where the childrens books were. I was particularly fond of tiny books. Beatrix Potter’s were the smallest, but I found the illustrations to be dull and there were too many boring words. As I got older I discovered the kids non-fiction section. There was a book about making dollhouse furniture from things around the house–again I loved small things (nearly every project involved matchbooks, which we never had on hand. I should have asked my friends whose parents smoked, but at the time I wasn’t clever enough to think of that). I must have checked that dollhouse book out a hundred times. Second on my list of favorites was a book about making really dreadful-looking Halloween make-up: mummies, monsters, that sort of thing. I tried a few ideas, but there are not very many occasions that call for wearing monster make-up. And it turns out that a face coated in dried oatmeal is extremely itchy.

When I hit the double digits I found the main floor of the library to be more my speed. This was the floor of magazines (always a huge weakness of mine) and fiction. What budding adolescent girl doesn’t love to get lost in novels? Many girls don’t move past novels, but after a while I got tired of reading about people who didn’t exist. I still find it a little frustrating to invest so much time and emotion in a fake person. Some fiction is so good that it doesn’t matter, but most fiction has never really floated my boat.

Thus I ended up on the first floor (technically the basement.)

Nonfiction. Mon amour.

I’m quite sure I read every book on that floor. I fell in love with Biographies and Memoirs (still my favorite genre).

I also discovered a whole section of floor plans. As in houses. I was charmed. Twitterpated. Hooked.

You see, I had been clipping house plans out of magazines since I saw my very first one in a Southern Living at my Grandma’s house back in fifth grade. I had accumulated a tidy little stack of them. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined whole books full of floor plans.

I would stare at them for hours, imagining what the rooms would be like; picturing myself walking through them; pondering the wisdom of putting a door here instead of there. It was my secret little passion. Most teenage girls dream of boys. I dreamed of those too, but mostly I dreamed of Dutch Colonials and Gothic Revivals.

It was only a matter of time until I started designing houses. I spent hours–hours!–thinking of rooms and façades and window placement and built-in closets. Strangely it never occurred to me that I might like to design houses for a living. I mentioned something of the sort to my father when I was in high school. He told me that architects must be very good at math. My fate was sealed. Math killed me. I have never understood it. Numbers in general just swim around my head and make no sense at all. I can barely even remember a phone number. So I crossed off “architect” from the list the guidance counselor gave me of possible future careers.

But I have continued to design houses. I can’t help it. It just happens. Me with my piles of graph paper. Designing houses requires lots of time walking through houses. Which I also adore. I love to tsk, tsk over a poorly-designed kitchen or absurdly-placed bathroom. Fortunately my sister spent many years as a realtor and all the houses in our city were open wide for our thorough inspection. Those were some good times.

Now I am getting to the point where my children will soon be gone all day and I am thinking of going back to school to become an architect. If it means I have to become good at math, then I will. But hopefully the computer will take care of all that nastiness. Don’t get me wrong; I like to write and I love to bake, but the thing that gets my engines firing is drawing up a house plan.**

I hope they have scholarships for housewives who are ready to wake their brains up again. If not, I guess you’ll be able to find me in the house plan section of the library.

*The only time I remember for sure that my sister was there was one day when I was about eleven and Arianne got a really awful bloody nose. The librarian came and got me. I don’t know what for. Was I supposed to provide bloody-nose expertise? Comfort my sister (ha!)? I just looked at my sister lying on a bench with tissues up her nose and shrugged. Then I went back to my stack of novels about the Holocaust, which was my favorite subject at the time.

**I have a firm belief that nobody except a stay-at-home mom should be designing houses. We understand them. We know what works and what doesn’t. We live in a house like nobody else.