Category: Books

Beyond Board Books: a fun summer reading program just for moms!

Beyond Board Books: a fun summer reading program just for moms!

Hey moms! If you’ve ever secretly wished you could sign up for your kids’ summer reading program — and win cooler prizes! — I’ve created a summer reading program just for you. Beyond Board Books is a fun way to encourage moms to take time to read this summer, and I hope you’ll participate!

There’s no assigned reading list, no deadlines, no pressure. Just read any book you want and leave a comment on the reading log page telling me what you read and something about the book. Every book you read between June 15 – August 31 will give you a chance to win a great prize from one of our sponsors in the weekly prize drawing! All of the sponsors are moms who run an online shop or blog, and I’m continuing to line up more.

Beyond Board Books kicks off this Sunday, and if you help spread the word on social media, you can enter to win a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble (sponsored by me). If you’re a mom, go check it out! I’d love to have you join in the fun this summer!

books I want to read in 2014

books I want to read in 2014

For the first time ever, I’m starting the year with a stack of books I want to read. Not a list of books I want to borrow from the library — an actual physical stack of books. Of course, there are other books on my reading wish list, but these are the ones I’m definitely going to read this year.

Blog Inc. by Joy Deangdeelert Cho // This was on my Christmas wish list, and if you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that this is the book I’m reading first this year. My mother-in-law offered to stay with her littlest grandson while I went to have my van serviced, so I got to spend some time by myself reading and eating the only McFlurry McDonalds sold yesterday. Well, I don’t know that for sure, but I’m probably the only person who wanted to roll down her window and order ice cream when the temperature was in the single digits.

reading and eating alone!

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell // Tim and I own and have read all of his other books, so naturally I plan to read this one too.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout // I picked this one up at a used book sale a couple years ago, since my friend Brenda listed this among her favorites. I’ve started it several times, but 2014 is the year I’m going to start AND finish it.

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman and Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell // A colleague recommended these to me shortly before I got married and became a step-mother in 2010.

The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser // I read parts of this book for a seminary class I took years ago, and remember liking it.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown // From what I’ve heard and read by Brene Brown, and from what I know about my own perfectionism, I think I will benefit from reading this.

So that’s the stack. I gathered these books from various shelves in our house, and for now I’m keeping them visible (one of the keys to reaching my goals!) by placing them right on my desk shelf.

books I want to read in 2014

The current quote on my chalkboard — may all my work be praise — is from the lovely hymn “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need.” The beautiful calendar is actually a free printable from Shhh My Darling. I wasn’t familiar with the blog before, but based on January’s image, I can’t wait to see what the next 11 months will look like.

What’s on your reading list for 2014? I certainly hope to read more than seven books this year, so I’d be glad to hear what you plan to read — or what you’ve already read and loved.

Happier at Home

reading "Happier at Home" on the iPad

My littlest guy has been under the weather this week, and needed lots of snuggle time with Mama, so I spent some extra time on the couch reading a book on the iPad. I still prefer to read books on paper, but this summer I checked out a couple ebooks from the library that weren’t available otherwise… and I didn’t hate it.

A couple years ago I read “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin, and even though I wasn’t all that impressed with it, I decided to read her newest book, “Happier at Home,” this week. My opinions on the book are pretty neutral — I would neither encourage nor discourage someone who was considering reading it — but I did glean some quotes that were worth reading again. Maybe one of them will be meaningful to you too.

quotes from "Happier at Home" by Gretchen Rubin

“To be happy at home is the ultimate result of all ambition, the end to which every enterprise and labour tends.” [Samuel Johnson] (pg. 2)

“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” [William Butler Yeats] Research supports his observation: It’s not goal attainment, but the process of striving after goals — that is, growth — that brings happiness. (pg. 13)

I was made happier by my decision to bring paper plates, not home-baked muffins, to Eleanor’s start-of-school party, but “Keep it simple” wasn’t always the right response. Many things that boosted my happiness also added complexity to my life. Having children. Learning to post videos to my website. Going to an out-of-town wedding. Applied too broadly, my impulse to “Keep it simple” would impoverish me. (pg. 27)

I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature. (pg. 38)

Happiness is not having less; happiness is not having more; happiness is wanting what I have. (pg. 58)

In every area of my life, I dislike the feeling of uncertainty or unfamiliarity. I love mastery. (pg. 81)

“Well, you might never like to drive,” she pointed out. “But that’s not the same as being afraid to drive.” This was a revelation. I’d expected that my driving lessons would help me to enjoy driving. After all, a lot of people love to drive. I wanted to love to drive. But maybe it wasn’t in my nature to love driving. Okay, fine. I didn’t have to love driving; I just had to be able to do it. The driving didn’t make me happier, but successfully taking steps to conquer my fear made me very happy. (pg. 82)

“Each time of life has its own kind of love,” wrote Tolstoy, and each time of life has its own kind of happiness. I wanted to appreciate this time of life, with our young children at home; I didn’t want it to slip past me, unrecognized and unremembered. (pg. 103)

“Let every one mind his own business, and endeavor to be what he was made.” [Thoreau] (pg. 128)

I’m very self-disciplined, and it’s an exceedingly helpful quality to possess. But at the same time, I see the risks of self-discipline; I’m very good at making myself do things that I don’t want to do, but sometimes I’m better off not doing those things at all. (pg. 143)

We’re more likely to hit a target by aiming at it than by ignoring it, and happiness is no different. (pg. 186)

the journey

The journey is the reward.

At the library last week, I encouraged my two oldest kids to check out a biography as a way to expand their literary horizons just a bit. Their books on Tiger Woods and George Washington remain unread, but I finished reading Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different today over lunch. I’m not certain that these words originated with him, but in his commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005, he told the graduates that “The journey is the reward.”

And indeed it is. It is so easy to get caught up in my to-do list, or in preparing for upcoming activities, and fail to consciously enjoy everyday life. If I’m focusing too much on the future, whether that is this evening, next month, or two years from now, I won’t be able to fully embrace this moment. My life right now is something I have been looking forward to for a long time, and I want to be sure to enjoy the journey.

(Photo by me, Rachel Swartley)

Toys Go Out

Toys Go Out - a fun read-aloud book

I love reading books to my children, and this one is a new favorite of mine.

Toys Go Out” by Emily Jenkins is a delightful story about the adventures of a little girl’s toys — from the perspective of the toys. I discovered it recently when an acquaintance posted about the series on Facebook. I started reading it to my kids yesterday, and this afternoon we finished it. As I read, I actually laughed out loud a few times at what I was about to read, which made my kids very eager to hear what came next!

When we first meet the toys, they’re in a backpack that smells like a wet bathing suit, trying to figure out where they’re being taken. Their observations (and misunderstandings!) of the world they live in are amusing, and each of the toys have feelings and attitudes that children can identify with. Their conversation is clever and honest and just perfect for reading aloud.

Toys Go Out - a fun read-aloud book

Each of the six chapters has just one charming illustration by Paul Zelinsky. There are two other books in the series (“Toy Dance Party” and “Toys Come Home“), and today our children’s librarian happily ordered them at our request, since she doesn’t like having partial series of books. Aren’t libraries the best?!

My two oldest kids are in elementary school, and both of them enjoyed listening to “Toys Go Out.” What are your favorite read-aloud books? I’d love to hear your recommendations.

thirteen books

I think I spent more time reading blogs than books in 2012. Actually, I’m sure I did — and I’m sure that’s true every year. I love following along with my favorite bloggers, and I find them to be very interesting and inspiring.

Seven years ago, in December 2005, I realized I hadn’t been reading much more than the newspaper and the internet, so I made a New Year’s resolution to read one book a month in 2006. Throughout the year, I developed a list of the books I had read, and by the end of 2006, I had read 25 books — which far exceeded my original goal. Since then, I’ve been keeping track of the books I’ve read each year, and I’ve read at least 11 books each year… until 2012.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I only read five books this past year. Five! And only one of those is a book I would recommend. So as 2012 drew to a close and I started thinking about New Year’s resolutions, I made a resolution to read more.

2013 New Year's Resolution: read 13 books

In 2013, I will read thirteen books (or more!), and I’m excited to see what books will be on my list at the end of the year. Maybe I’ll even discover a new favorite. What are your favorites? I’d love to hear your recommendations.

The Creative Habit

During our vacation in Chincoteague last week, I finished reading a book that I started a month ago. “The Creative Habit” was highly recommended by a creative blogger who inspires me, but I didn’t think it was all that great. Still, I gleaned some interesting quotes from the book that I wanted to share with you.

“Skill gives you the wherewithal to execute whatever occurs to you. Without it, you are just a font of unfulfilled ideas. Skill is how you close the gap between what you can see in your mind’s eye and what you can produce.”

“Too many people practice what they’re already good at and neglect the skills that need more work.”

“I cannot overstate how much a generous spirit contributes to good luck. Look at the luckiest people around you, the ones you envy, the ones who seem to have destiny falling habitually into their laps. What are they doing that singles them out? It isn’t dumb luck if it happens repeatedly. If they’re anything like the fortunate people I know, they’re prepared, they’re always working at their craft, they’re alert, they involve their friends in their work, and they tend to make others feel lucky to be around them.”

“A rut is the consequence of sticking to tried and tested methods that don’t take into account how you or the world has changed.”

“We get into ruts when we run with the first idea that pops into our head, not the last one.”

{all quotes are from “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life” by Twyla Tharp}

The Element: a few quotes on creativity

I usually use an index card as a bookmark so I can scribble down the page number and a few words that really stand out to me as I read so I can go back later and write down the whole sentence or paragraph. I recently read “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything” by Ken Robinson, and these are some of the sections I wanted to remember and revisit.

“Imagination is not the same as creativity. Creativity takes the process of imagination to another level. My definition of creativity is ‘the process of having original ideas that have value.’ Imagination can be entirely internal. You could be imaginative all day long without anyone noticing. But you would never say that someone was creative if that person never did anything. To be creative you actually have to do something. It involves putting your imagination to work to make something new, to come up with new solutions to problems, even to think of new problems or questions. You can think of creativity as applied imagination.”

“Creativity involves several different processes that wind through each other. The first is generating new ideas, imagining different possibilities, considering alternative options. . . . The creative process also involves developing these ideas by judging which work best or feel right. . . . Overall, creative work is a delicate balance between generating ideas and sifting and refining them.”

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

“What we think of ourselves and of the world makes us who we are and what we can be.”

Perhaps these words captured my attention because I do more imagining than creating, even though I’m always more energized by creating than imagining. The internet provides endless inspiration and makes it easy for me to spend lots of time imagining, so I have lots of ideas swirling around in my head. But of course it’s only when I put those ideas into action that I actually create something. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve stockpiled plenty of inspiration and possibilities. Now it’s time to put my imagination to work.

What about you? Do you find yourself spending more time thinking rather than doing? What have you been imagining recently? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Just Checking

I know a book is a short, easy read when I start and finish the book in the same day AND reading is not the only thing I did that day. That day was today, and the book was “Just Checking: Scenes from the Life of an Obsessive-Compulsive” by Emily Colas.

Written by a woman with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, “Just Checking” is full of stories of how OCD manifested itself in her life and marriage. She has a wonderful sense of humor, and tells these short vignettes in an engaging, entertaining way. I bought the book last month at a used book sale at the Indian Valley Public Library, and since it was bag day and I bought 22 books for two bucks, it basically cost me about 10 cents. The book was enjoyable and even humorous, but given the topic, it was also kind of stressful, so I’m glad it didn’t take me long to read it!

Here are a few sentences that stood out to me that I jotted down as I read:

  • “I possess an endless capacity to keep a worry alive.” (pg. 33)
  • “When I can’t handle the world, I clean it.” (pg. 89)
  • “But the startling realization I made as I was coming to my senses [via medication] was that life’s kind of a drag. There didn’t seem to be much to it. And my rituals had been a nice diversion.” (pg. 138)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Last night at a half hour ’til midnight, I finished reading “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” by Mark Haddon. It was one of the most unusual books I’ve read, but it was a quick read and hard to put down.

The curious incident at the heart of the story was laid out within the first six lines of the book:

“It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shears’s house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead. There was a garden fork sticking out of the dog.”

Don’t worry — that’s as gory as it gets. The story of the dead dog, Wellington, is told by Christopher John Francis Boone, an autistic fifteen-year-old whose mind works in incredibly fascinating ways. Christopher leaves no details untold as he describes his quest to figure out who killed his neighbor’s dog… and discovers some surprises along the way.

When I read books, I often jot down some lines that stand out to me. Here are a few words that caught my attention.

  • “I like it when it rains hard. It sounds like white noise everywhere, which is like silence but not empty.” (pg. 103)
  • “And then I had to work out what to do. And I did this by thinking of all the things I could do and deciding whether they were the right decision or not.” (pg. 129)
  • “So I started walking, but Siobhan said I didn’t have to describe everything that happens, I just have to describe the things that were interesting.” (pg. 189) {Of course, the next ten lines were a big run-on sentence with completely unnecessary and highly detailed information.}

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” was one of the five bestsellers I happened to buy at a used book sale back in October, and so far, I’ve read four of the five books (as well as six other books during that time). But I’ve been buying books faster than I can read them, so I have plenty of other books on my shelf to choose from next. And… there’s another book sale today!

2 for 22

This morning I paid two dollars for twenty-two books.

Our local library often has used book sales, and today’s was a bag sale, which means that I could stuff a plastic shopping bag full of books and pay only two bucks for the whole thing. I came away with 22 books, and my bag wasn’t even completely full.

Ten of the books were children’s books, but the other twelve were not. Here is the stack I’m most excited about.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom – The author shares life lessons he learned from his former professor who is dying. I feel like the only person who hasn’t read this.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer – I read part of this at Barnes and Noble several years ago, and have been wanting to read the whole thing ever since. It’s the story of a well-to-do young man who hitchhiked to Alaska and died of starvation in the wilderness.

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott – I’ve never read anything by Anne Lamott, but every time I read or hear a quote by her, I want to read her books.

Girl Meets God by Lauren F. Winner – I’ve actually already read this book, but I wanted to own it. I’ve heard her speak before, and also own another of her books, and she’s just as compelling in person as she is in writing. From the back cover: “The child of a Jewish father and a lapsed Southern Baptist mother, Lauren F. winner chose to become an Orthodox Jew. But even as she was observing Sabbath rituals and studying Jewish law, Lauren was increasingly drawn to Christianity. Courageously leaving what she loved, she eventually converted. In Girl Meets God, this appealing woman takes us through a year in her Christian life as she attempts to reconcile both sides of her religious identity.”

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows – I know absolutely nothing about this book except that someone recommended it to me once upon a time. (Katie, was it you?) So, from the back cover again: “January 1946: Writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German Occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.”

Perplexing Lateral Thinking Puzzles by Paul Sloane & Des MacHale – A short description of a scenario is provided, and you have to figure out how to explain the missing details.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell – What’s worse than buying a book you’ve already read? Buying a book you already own! And I even knew that we already have it. I guess that shows just how much of a fan of Malcolm Gladwell I am. “The Tipping Point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” You’re welcome to borrow it; we have a spare copy.

Just Checking: Scenes from the Life of an Obsessive-Compulsive by Emily Colas – I just thought the title sounded interesting. When you’re shoving books in a bag for two bucks, the books start to feel like they’re free.

Marry Me! Courtships and Proposals of Legendary Couples by Wendy Goldberg and Betty Goodwin – The book tells the stories of 35 couples, including Martha Bernays & Sigmund Freud, Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz, Coretta Scott & Martin Luther King, Jr., Lisa Halaby & King Hussein I of Jordan, Hillary Rodham & Bill Clinton, and many others.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin – I followed the author’s blog for a short time several years ago while she was writing the book. Happiness seemed to be so unnatural for her, and she had to work so hard at being happy that she seemed stressed out by the pursuit of simple happiness. I didn’t find it inspiring at all, and stopped reading her blog. But recently I’ve happened to see a surprising number of positive responses to the book on the internet, so I thought I’d read at least some of it. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Food Made Fast: Weeknight by Williams-Sonoma – I don’t really need another cookbook, but I collect them like some people collect new music or whatever else inspires them. Lime shrimp with coconut rice? Yes, please.

Real Simple Solutions from the editors of Real Simple – Eye candy plus good ideas.

All that plus ten children’s books (including the pop-up book Dinner Time by Jan Pienkowski) for TWO BUCKS!

Children’s Book Week

This is my final post about Children’s Book Week 2011. Click here to read the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth posts.

Today is the last day of Children’s Book Week 2011, and I’ve had a very hard time deciding which children’s book to write about. It’s not because I can’t think of any more favorites — I’m struggling because there are so MANY!

Should I feature Curious George? Peter Rabbit? The Little Engine That Could?

Should I write about Caps for Sale? Henry’s Awful Mistake? Millions of Cats?

Should I honor Richard Scarry? Stan & Jan Berenstain? Shel Silverstein?

I couldn’t decide. So instead of reading another one of my favorite children’s books, I’ve decided to read YOURS.

What’s your favorite children’s book? Leave a comment on this post with up to three book titles, and I’ll read the first 50 books you recommend. Go!

Spectacles

This is the sixth in a series of posts about Children’s Book Week. Click here to read the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth posts.

Although I enjoyed reading the book “Spectacles” by Ellen Raskin long before I needed glasses, this is a delightful book for any child who has glasses, needs glasses, or hopes they never need glasses. In other words — anyone.

“Spectacles” is about a girl named Iris Fogel who had trouble seeing clearly.

One day a fire-breathing dragon knocked on her door.

Scary, huh?

Turns out the fire-breathing dragon was actually Great-aunt Fanny!

See the fire-breathing dragon?

Iris was sure she saw a horse in her house…

… but it was actually her baby-sitter.

After many instances of being confused about what she saw, Iris’ mother took her to a blue elephant.

Er, an eye doctor.

The blue elephant / eye doctor determined that Iris needed glasses. She resisted, but then realized she got to choose between glasses that made her look younger or older, sweeter or smarter, like a scholar or a movie star, adorable or intelligent. (This picture of Iris wearing six different pairs of glasses was always my favorite page.)

So Iris’ vision problems were solved… until she took off her glasses and thought her family Christmas celebration was a red rhinoceros with a tulip in its ear.

The book is from 1968, so the illustrations seem a bit dated, but in a charming sort of way. And don’t you just love that the girl with vision problems is named IRIS? Me too.

Dr. Seuss’s ABC

This is the fifth in a series of posts about Children’s Book Week. Click here to read the first, second, third, and fourth posts.

If you sat down and wrote a list of your favorite children’s books, chances are good that you would include at least one title by the beloved Dr. Seuss. But as charming as his fanciful, rhyming stories are, one of my favorite books is actually his book of ABCs that features alliteration more prominently than rhymes.

BIG A, little a, What begins with A?

Aunt Annie’s alligator, A a A…

BIG B, little b, What begins with B?

Barber
baby
bubbles
and a
bumblebee.

After a camel on the ceiling, a duck-dog, and an ear/egg/elephant, we arrive at F.

I always liked Lola Lopp.

I don’t know why, but N was always my favorite page when I was a kid.

Although most pages follow the pattern of “BIG X, little x, What begins with X?”, at just the right intervals, Dr. Seuss introduces some letters in a totally different way. It’s a refreshing break from the pattern, and yet it soon feels comforting to get back to the familiar rhythm.

W… w… W… Willy Waterloo washes Warren Wiggins who is washing Waldo Woo.

Are you wondering how he handled X? No worries.

BIG T, little t, What begins with T? THANK YOU, Dr. Seuss!

Me Too Iguana

This is the fourth in a series of posts about Children’s Book Week. Click here to read the first, second, and third posts.

I’m not sure why I only remember one of the 26 books in the Sweet Pickles series, but “Me Too Iguana” made a lasting impression on me when I was a child. (Maybe it was the only one we owned?)

“Me Too Iguana” is the story of an iguana who wasn’t content with who she was. She wanted to look like everyone else and be able to do the special things that only certain other animals could do.

Iguana wanted a trunk like Elephant, a mane like Lion’s, stripes like Zebra’s stripes, and feathers like the ones Goose had that were flapping in the breeze.

So she took the DIY route and made her own trunk, mane, stripes, and feathers.

When Iguana began to envy Stork’s ability to fly, her friends became worried for her safety. They realized that she was trying to be like them because she thought all of those features were better.

So Iguana’s friends invited her to a costume party — with strict instructions not to talk about the costumes in advance. Of course, Iguana wanted to wear what everyone else was wearing, but she couldn’t figure out what to wear. When she got to the park, she was confused, because all she saw were little flashes of green.

When Iguana realized that nobody was wearing a trunk, a mane, stripes, or feathers, she took hers off to fit in. And then she realized that all of her friends had come in an iguana costume — and she wasn’t wearing ANY costume.

After assuring Iguana that she was dressed perfectly, Stork presented the prize for the best iguana, and of course Iguana was the winner.

“You have the loveliest, greenest color,” smiled Stork. “You have the longest, bumpiest tail. Congratulations! We all think you’re wonderful just the way you are!”

“Yes,” said Iguana, very surprised, “I do too!”

Amelia Bedelia

This is the third in a series of posts about Children’s Book Week. You can read earlier posts here and here.

In spite of all the problems she causes, it’s hard not to love Amelia Bedelia. Her antics have been amusing children (and their parents) since 1963, when Peggy Parish wrote the original story of the well-meaning maid who often misunderstood what other people meant and created all kinds of problems.

When I opened the cover of the book to find the copyright date, I got such a kick out of the incredibly succinct Library of Congress summary: “A literal-minded housekeeper causes a ruckus in the household when she attempts to make sense of some instructions.”

Ruckus indeed.

On her first day of work as the housekeeper for Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, Amelia Bedelia diligently worked her way through the to-do list they left for her, but unfortunately, she took everything literally.

She changed the towels.

She dusted the living room (with dusting powder).

When she finished drawing the drapes, she followed instructions to “put the lights out when you finish in the living room.” So she unscrewed the light bulbs and aired them out. “Just like pillows and babies,” she concluded.

Not surprisingly, Mrs. Rogers was angry when she got home and discovered all the problems that her new housekeeper had caused. She had even dressed the chicken! (Aren’t those overalls funny?)

But before Mrs. Rogers could fire her for incompetence, Mr. Rogers stuffed a bite of Amelia Bedelia’s fresh lemon meringue pie into Mrs. Rogers’ mouth.

The pie was so good that they decided Amelia Bedelia could continue to work as their housekeeper.

I think it’s somewhat unfortunate that it’s a woman in a service role who is portrayed as lacking intelligence, but of course this story is about so many other themes — double meanings in the English language; communication and misunderstandings; grace, forgiveness, and second chances; compensating for skills you lack; and maybe even about food’s ability to short-circuit rational thinking. :)

There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon

This is the second in a series of posts about Children’s Book Week. You can read about the first book here.

One of the books I read to the kids tonight during bathtime was “There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon” by Jack Kent. I remember enjoying the book when I was a kid, so when I had an opportunity to buy it for twenty-five cents at a used book sale a couple weeks ago, I didn’t hesitate for a moment.

“There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon” is the story of a little boy, Billy Bixbee, who woke up one morning to find a small dragon in his bedroom.

The dragon was a friendly dragon, but his mother insisted over and over that there’s no such thing as a dragon.

At breakfast, the dragon sat on the table, and I love the logic that follows.

“This sort of thing was not usually permitted, but there wasn’t much Billy’s mother could do about it. She had already said there was no such thing as a dragon. And if there’s no such thing, you can’t tell it to get down off the table.”

Throughout the morning, the dragon got bigger and bigger until it filled the whole house.

But when the dragon smelled a bread truck, it ran off with the house on its back, leaving just the foundation and a confused Mr. Bixbee.

Finally, Mrs. Bixbee had to accept that there really was a big problem known as a dragon, and when they acknowledged this and Billy patted the dragon on the head, the dragon started getting smaller.

When the dragon was the size of a kitten again, the mother wondered why it had to grow so BIG.

“I’m not sure,” said Billy, “but I think it just wanted to be noticed.”

Of course, not all problems will go away when you pat them on the head, but it’s true that big problems can sometimes be avoided by dealing with them while they’re still small problems. Pretending that the problem doesn’t exist usually doesn’t make the problem go away.

If only all problems could be accompanied by such charming illustrations…

The Monster at the End of This Book

Children’s Book Week kicks off today, so I thought it was only fitting to read one of my favorite children’s books before tucking the kiddos into bed tonight.

“The Monster at the End of This Book” is a Little Golden Book by Jon Stone, and stars “lovable, furry old Grover.”

Grover is aware that there will be a monster at the end of the book and pleads with the reader to not turn pages. He tries tying the pages together, he tries nailing them together, and he even builds a brick wall, but each time, the young reader is able to turn the page — and Grover isn’t too happy about it.

After all, he’s scared of the monster.

Of course, when we reach the end of the book, we discover that the “monster” is just lovable, furry old Grover. And the furry blue guy suddenly pretends like HE was telling the READER not to be scared. On the very last page, he makes a confession that we can all identify with.

“Oh, I am so embarrassed…”

I love the way the book breaks the “fourth wall” between the story and the reader. The book becomes an object to be overcome, and the story becomes a conversation between Grover and the reader. Plus, it’s just a lot of fun to read it aloud with a great amount of expression!

two years of unread books

On the way home from the Philadelphia Sixers game we attended last week, Tim and I got to talking about books — what we read, why we read it, where we like to get our books, etc. Books aren’t an unusual topic of conversation for us, but this time, as we talked, I got to thinking about My Life List.

Item #4 on my list is to read 1000 books. When I wrote that on my list, I did some very quick mental math to figure out whether it’s even remotely feasible to read 1000 books during the remainder of my lifetime. Answer: it is, but I’m going to need to live a while.

If I live until I’m 85, I have another 54 years to enjoy reading. And if I’m going to read 1000 books during that time, I need to read 18.5 books a year, which comes out to one book every 19-20 days. Is that doable? Maybe.

Five years ago, I wasn’t reading very much, so at the beginning of 2006, I made a New Year’s resolution to read at least one book each month. By the end of the year, I had surprised myself by reading a total of 25 books. I haven’t read nearly as much in the years since then, and if you look at my track record for the past several years, it’s clear that I’m going to need to step up the pace a bit if I’m going to reach my new reading goal.

Here are the number of books I’ve read during each of the past five years (2010 figures are incomplete, of course).

2006 – 25
2007 – 14
2008 – 12
2009 – 12
2010 – 16 and counting

I’ve always taken a pretty haphazard approach to selecting books to read. Often I’ll just stumble across something that looks interesting either at the library or some kind of used book sale. Sometimes I’ll read a book that a friend recommended to me or that I’m generally familiar with due to its popularity. And of course, when I was in a book club, I read whatever we all agreed on.

There are tons of books that sound interesting that I’m sure I would enjoy reading. But as I think about my goal to read 1000 books during the remainder of my lifetime, it makes me realize that I have a finite amount of time in which to read a finite number of books. So while I’m not entirely sure what this will mean, I’ve decided to be a bit more mindful about the books I decide to read.

Currently, this means that I’m reading “Dreams from My Father” by Barack Obama, and soon I will also read his book “The Audacity of Hope.” I bought them for a few bucks at our local library’s used book sale this fall, but they’ve been sitting on one of our bookshelves for a few weeks, waiting for me to finish reading some other books.

Speaking of books on the bookshelf, while I was writing this, Tim walked into the room and found me kneeling on the floor in front of a bookshelf, pulling out books and putting them on a stack. I own an embarrassing number of books that have never read. And by embarrassing, I mean 36.

Half a dozen of those are ones I purchased new, but the other 30 books were bought for cheap at either a used book store/sale or the Green Valley Book Fair. Interestingly, I purchased 23 of the books within the past 15 months, so they definitely still have a good chance of being read, but I’m still embarrassed to realize that I’ve amassed so many unread books. If I start now, I could have them all finished by the beginning of 2013, but who likes to plan their entertainment two years in advance?!

However, I clearly need a little intervention, so I’m developing a few guidelines for myself while reserving the right to be spontaneous. Here are my guidelines:

1. Being mindful of the fact that I will read a finite number of books in my lifetime, choose wisely.

2. Check my “books I want to read” list more often.

3. Read the books I own before buying more!

(I don’t like that last guideline, but I’m going to try to stick to it. Boo.)

fist stick knife gun

I first heard of Geoffrey Canada as I was driving home to Virginia on a dark Sunday night earlier this year after visiting my then-fiance in Pennsylvania. I was listening to an old episode of This American Life from 1997 called “Guns.” The episode included a 10-minute segment in which a man named Geoffrey Canada talked about his experience growing up in the Bronx and read from his book “Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America.”

Right away, I knew I wanted to read the book, so when I got home, I opened up a little text document I keep on my computer called “Books I Want to Read” and typed in the title.

A month or so later, while driving across Pennsylvania on I-78 eastbound, I was listening to a much more recent episode of This American Life called “Going Big.” The entire first half of the show featured the work of the Harlem Children’s Zone and its president/CEO, Geoffrey Canada.

I soon logged on to Amazon.com and bought his book, but during the craziness of planning a wedding, quitting my job, and moving to Pennsylvania, I let the book sit on the shelf collecting dust for a number of months. I finally picked it up and started reading it back in September (you may remember seeing it in this post), but then became distracted by other fluffier books and temporarily set it aside. When I finished reading it last night, I found myself wishing that it were longer than 179 pages.

Canada spends the first nine chapters describing the codes of conduct that he lived by as a boy in the 1950s and 60s. He writes:

“When I was growing up in the South Bronx there were some natural checks on violent behavior. Most violence on the block was done with the fists in what we called a “fair one”: two people fought until one was too hurt to continue or quit in defeat. There were people around to ensure the dispute was settled according to the rules. No “dirty” fighting was allowed, no kicking or biting, no weapons. If someone violated the rules he might be attacked or ostracized by the group.”

But as times changed and guns became more prevalent, the rules of the streets and sidewalks of the South Bronx changed too.

Canada returned to New York City in 1983 after receiving a masters degree in education from Harvard, ready to make a difference in the lives of poor children in Harlem, along with their families and their neighborhood. “Fist Stick Knife Gun” is full of stories and insights surrounding situations of violence and potential violence, some of which ended quite positively due to the wise decision-making and peace-keeping efforts of Geoffrey Canada.

While violence isn’t something I’ve either studied or experienced in any significant way, the author brings an insider’s perspective that I found incredibly fascinating and valuable. The book is one that makes me wish I were much more gifted at writing a book review, because it’s a book I would highly recommend.

The Know-It-All (and other books I’ve recently read)

Last September, I started reading a book called “The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World.” I stumbled across it at the Green Valley Book Fair and thought it seemed interesting, so I bought it for four bucks and started reading it… until I soon set it aside, unfinished. A few weeks ago, I picked it back up again, but since I couldn’t remember what I had read the first time, I had to start all over at the beginning.

This evening, I finally finished it. To give you an idea of just how long it took me to get through it, I started reading it before Tim and I ever went on our first date — and we’ve been married almost four months. Of course, I read more than a dozen other books during that time, so it’s not that I gave up reading when I met Tim.

The cover of “The Know-It-All” claims that it’s a National Bestseller, and it’s written by A.J. Jacobs, who wrote the recently popular book “The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible,” but honestly, I struggled to get through it. It’s basically one man’s story of the year he spent reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica, and like the Britannica, the book is organized alphabetically by topic. (You can read an excerpt on the author’s website.) The book is full of interesting information, and he managed to weave in plenty of humor and personal stories, but nothing really compelled me to read further. I could have stopped at any point and not felt that I was going to miss anything — except the satisfaction of finishing what I started.

Perhaps the most interesting fact I gleaned is that the scoring system for the game of Boggle is actually the Fibonacci sequence. The Fibo-what, you ask? The Fibonacci sequence is a sequence of numbers that I learned about as a kid when I watched an episode of Mathnet on the PBS show Square One. It later came up in a high school math class. Each of the numbers is the sum of the two preceding numbers: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc. The Fibonacci numbers appear in both math and nature (check out the Wikipedia entry for details), but I love knowing that the Fibonacci sequence also shows up in Boggle.

So… while The Know-It-All was an interesting book, it isn’t necessarily one that I would recommend — although if you DO want to read it, I’d be happy to give you my copy.

Last month I set a goal of reading 1000 books during the remainder of my lifetime. I have no idea if that will really happen, but I’ve read four books so far. I already wrote about one of them, but the other two were “Sleepwalk with Me” by comedian Mike Birbiglia and “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents” by Julia Alvarez. I actually read an autographed copy of Mike Birbiglia’s book, since Tim and I each got one for “free” when we went to a performance by him back in October. (Are you reading this via a Google Alert, Mike? I hope so.)

So that’s the scoop. I haven’t decided yet what I’ll read next, but I have a stack of unread books that is probably as high as the stack of Britannica volumes would be, so I should probably pick one of those…

a stack of bestsellers

Our local library holds a used book sale a couple times a month, and even though I already own plenty of books that I haven’t read yet, I can’t resist the temptation to stop by each time and see whether I can find a good deal. My favorite discoveries so far are the Bon Appetit Cookbook that I bought for a dollar back in August and a copy of Where The Sidewalk Ends that I bought for Magen for 50 cents (or was it 75?).

After browsing at one of the recent book sales, I came home with a stack of five novels, as well as another book that I plan to give as a Christmas gift. (Hi Valerie!) When I showed them to Tim, I realized that each of the five books were emblazoned with words at the top of the cover that touted their status as some kind of bestseller.

See that stack? From top to bottom, they are A New York Times Bestseller, #1 New York Times Bestseller, National Bestseller, National Bestseller, and #1 New York Times Bestseller. I’ve never been one to read what everyone else is reading, just because it’s popular, so I was a bit surprised to see that I had picked out a bunch of bestsellers. A couple of them I had only heard of because they were recommended by someone in my bookclub in Virginia. (Was it you, Laura?)

One of the items on my life list is to read 1000 books, starting on the day that I went public with my unfinished list. I had already read one book from this stack of bestsellers prior to creating my life list, but since then, I’ve read one more — The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. I saw the movie with some friends a couple years ago because I didn’t expect to ever read the book, but even though I already knew the story, I still enjoyed the book.

So… 1 down, 999 to go.

a cook looks at books

Yesterday I bought a book. A classy, white, 792-page hardcover book. The Bon Appétit Cookbook.

If you bought it on Amazon.com, you’d spend $23.07 for it.

This is how much I paid for it.

That’s right — one dollar. And it’s in perfect condition! No stains, splashes, or even a wrinkle. Lucky, lucky me.

Reason #1 to love the Indian Valley Public Library: finding a great bargain at the used book sale. (I still feel giddy.)

__

In case you’re wondering about the title of this post, I’m not a professional chef or anything. I’m only a cook in the sense that I fit the Merriam Webster definition: “a person who prepares food for eating.”

101 Things I Learned in Culinary School

The book I have been eagerly awaiting has arrived!

“101 Things I Learned in Culinary School” is a small book written by Louis Eguaras with Matthew Frederick, published just last month by Hachette Book Group. I owe a special thanks to HBG’s associate web publicist, Anna Balasi, for sending me a free copy to review.

The book is a short, easy read, and I sat down and read it this evening in about an hour. That includes the amount of time I spent doing the “hand test for recognizing doneness in beef” (see #24) and walking out to the kitchen to use my newfound knowledge to interpret the numbers printed on my carton of eggs (see #86 on egg dating).

Each of the 101 items has its own two-page spread; the right side contains text and the left side features graphics to illustrate the point. The 101 things appear in fairly random order, and although there are no chapter breaks (or even an index), the lessons in the book can be roughly categorized as follows:

  • Ingredients (starch makes the potato, clarified butter)
  • Technique (shake hands with a knife, water your oven)
  • Process (food can get hotter after cooking, when and when not to add salt)
  • Presentation (eight ways to make a plate look better, what does a forkful look like)
  • Professionals (know why customers walk through the door, a chef’s routine is the customer’s special event)
  • Trivia (goats discovered coffee, the oldest cookbook)
  • Quotations (“Everything in moderation, including moderation.” –Julia Child)

Some of the tips are very practical (how to calibrate a thermometer, don’t marinate at room temperature), while others are just interesting bits of information that won’t impact my cooking (Hindu food practices, the kitchen brigade).

Although I enjoyed my first read through the book, I don’t think the contents of the book are going to transform my kitchen experience, and I’d certainly have to disagree with the claim on the back of the book that “It’s like getting a culinary school degree in 202 pages!” It’s definitely not a comprehensive overview of a culinary school education — at least not as I imagine it. However, I have learned some interesting things from this book (yes, even from #13 on how to boil water!), and I will enjoy exploring some of the ideas further and putting them into practice in my own culinary endeavors. AND… I’m looking forward to sharing what I learn with YOU!

Stay tuned!

No One Cares What You Had For Lunch: 100 Ideas for Your Blog

If you’re beginning to think that I’m obsessed with lists of 100 or 101, let me set the record straight.

I am.

First there was 101 Things in 1001 Days. One of those Things was this list of 101 Things That Bring Me Joy, which later inspired a list of 101 More Things That Bring Me Joy. More recently I’ve written about 100 Skills Everyone Should Master, as well as 101 Things I Learned in Culinary School. I’m even doing a photo countdown to my wedding which I decided to start at 101 days.

Can you handle one more list? I hope so.

This is one I’ve been wanting to blog about ever since my sister Valerie gave me the book that shares the title of this post. No One Cares What You Had For Lunch: 100 Ideas for Your Blog is pretty much what it sounds like — a book of 100 ideas for people who blog. The author, Margaret Mason, is the mighty blogger over at Mighty Girl, which is where I found the list of 100 Skills Everyone Should Master that I’m now working on. Coincidence? I think not.

I’m totally heading into geek territory with what I’m about to say, but I actually keep the book on my nightstand (along with my Bible and a rotation of other books) and occasionally pull it out and read a few pages before falling asleep. I wish I were kidding, but it’s true. The book is the perfect book to read for only a couple minutes at a time, because there’s obviously no plot or logical progression to follow, so I can read any page in any order and then let my ideas percolate while I drift off to sleep.

I always feel simultaneously sheepish and superior when a book I enjoy receives a bunch of negative reviews on Amazon. I feel embarrassed when I consider that maybe I just have poor taste in books, but then I feel better again when I realize that most of the naysayers are blaming the book for not being something it never claimed to be. The book isn’t called Blogging 101, or Designing a Snazzy Blog, or How to Make Blogging Your Full-time Gig.

Also, if you’re a blogger who writes about a specific topic — say, cooking or travel or mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia — this book is probably not for you. But if you’re a blogger like me, who writes about whatever she wants to, then you’re much more likely to be inspired by the creative suggestions (and examples!) found within the pages of the book.

Here are a few snippets:

Start your own virtual collection of items that are too unwieldy or expensive to collect in real life. (from #64 – Get dibs.)

What do you love that no one else loves? Defend the indefensible. (from #54 – Get defensive.)

Try writing the shortest story imaginable. Give yourself a hundred words to tell a complete narrative. (from #39 – Choose your words.)

All of us should just learn to tolerate stupid people. But what if we didn’t have to? If you ruled the world, things would be better, at least in a few small ways. (from #1 – Reign supreme.)

Now, we all know that there would be both entertaining ways and mind-numbingly boring ways to expand on these ideas. My goal is to be in that first category, but you might want to go ahead and cross your fingers.

I don’t expect to notify you every time I write something that was inspired by this book, nor do I expect to write about all 100 ideas, but as I go, I’ll be developing a little index over on my new Projects page.

If you think that page (and all the projects it represents!) seems a bit like overkill, keep this in mind. According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I’m an ESTJ. The dominant cognitive function of an ESTJ is that he/she “organizes and schedules ideas and the environment to ensure the efficient, productive pursuit of objectives.” (Source)

Are you at all surprised that I’m an ESTJ? :)

it never hurts to ask

While reading through a recent issue of Reader’s Digest, I tore out page 14 — “lists you can learn from.” The specific list that caught my eye was called “4 Things They Teach in Culinary School.”

I like seafood as much as the person who compiled the list apparently does, but it was actually item #4 that prompted me to save this list. “A cook knows how to make something; a chef knows why to make it that way.”

When Tim and I were creating our wedding registry, we wrote up a short list of some additional ideas for gifts that you can’t purchase at Target. One of the things on the list was a subscription to Cooks Illustrated. If you’re looking for a glossy cooking magazine jam-packed with recipes interspersed with tons of ads and coupons, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Cooks Illustrated is mostly black-and-white and has no advertising. Instead, they fill their pages with extensive recipe testing, product reviews, and articles about the best way to do almost anything in the kitchen.

A sampling of headlines from recent issues:

  • Building a Better Quiche
  • Reinventing Cherry Pie
  • Ultimate Banana Bread
  • Cleaning Wooden Utensils
  • Preventing Dairy from Boiling Over
  • Ensuring Perfectly Round Cookies

Although I wouldn’t call myself a great cook, I love learning about ways to improve even the most basic dishes. I’m intrigued by some of the science behind what I do in the kitchen — i.e., not just how to make something, but why to make it that way. I also have a secret desire to do my own obsessive recipe testing to discover the “perfect” recipe/technique for making anything from cornbread to cupcakes to shrimp scampi.

Enter “101 Things I Learned in Culinary School.”

If you scroll back up and read the small print on the magazine clipping, you’ll see that the list is a tiny subset of a much longer list in the form of a book. So the other night I googled the title of the book and found that the vast majority of the results were very recent book reviews and giveaways. Turns out it was just published in May. I clicked through to the publisher’s site and saw a blurb in the sidebar about requesting a complimentary review copy.

Yes, please!

So I wrote an email to the publisher with the information they requested, telling them a little bit about my blog and how much traffic it gets. I mentioned that I enjoy both cooking and reading, and that I occasionally post about those pursuits. But THEN I wrote: “I have a particular affinity for lists of 100 or 101, and enjoy writing about these lists of information. If I receive a complimentary copy of this book, I would not only write a review, but I would begin an ongoing series of posts demonstrating the various lessons that I learned from this book.”

I sent the email last evening, and this morning I received a reply saying they would be glad to send me a free copy of the book to review. Yay! Now I’m impatiently waiting for it to arrive so I can read it and start writing about it. I don’t expect to have something to say about all 101 things, of course, but I do plan to write about a lot of them. Stay tuned!

what I’m up to

I’m not Susan Sarandon, so what you are about to read might not seem very glamorous or interesting, but I thought I’d write my own version of Reader’s Digest’s “What I’m Up To” column. Sarandon’s answers appeared in the February 2010 edition. Mine appear below.

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WHAT SHE’S READING

My bookclub is preparing to discuss “The 19th Wife” by David Ebershoff, so I spent part of this evening curled up on the couch with a copy from the library. The book is historical fiction with a modern-day murder mystery thrown in, and not surprisingly, it’s about polygamous Mormons.

I was also reading it over lunchtime today, and it was hard to tear myself away to head back to the office!

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WHAT SHE’S LISTENING TO

I put almost 600 miles on my car every other weekend, so Tim gave me an old iPod to help pass the time. I especially enjoy listening to episodes of This American Life, but I also get a kick out of podcasts from How Stuff Works, which explain everything from contagious yawning to cannibalism to why toothpaste makes orange juice taste so terrible.

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WHAT SHE’S PLUGGING

I’m not a fan of anything that makes the trip to PA even 15 seconds longer than necessary, so a few weeks ago, I became the proud new owner of an EZ Pass transponder. It’s a white plastic device that sticks to my windshield with velcro, and it allows me to cruise right through the toll plazas without stopping. It’s hidden behind my rearview mirror, so I never even see it. The best part? Tim added my Subaru to his EZ Pass account, so now HE pays my tolls.

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WHAT SHE’S WATCHING

If you thought I was going to say LOST, guess again. I don’t really watch TV, so it’s a little hard to tell you what I’m watching. I think the last thing I watched on TV was The Daily Show… last week.

On my computer screen, however, just a few minutes ago I watched a TED Talk by Jane Chen on “A Warm Embrace That Saves Lives.” Chen describes a design for safe, portable, low-cost, life-saving incubators to be used for premature babies in the developing world. Her most intriguing comment: “As infant mortality is reduced, population sizes also decrease, because parents don’t need to anticipate that their babies are going to die.”

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WHERE SHE’S SURFING

I live practically in the shadow of the courthouse (OK, actually a few blocks away), so I like to stay current on what’s happening downtown by reading the Downtown Hburg blog. It’s a great way to find out about new restaurants and stores that are opening, as well as other events taking place downtown.

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Here Speeching American

One of the gifts I received for Christmas this past year was a book called “Here Speeching American: a Very Strange Guide to English as It Is Garbled Around the World.”

The authors describe the book as “an excursion into the twilight zone of perilously flawed English communication overseas,” and they claim that “all of the examples of fractured English are (most painfully!) true — plucked from actual hotel room signs, travel brochures, restaurant menus, advertisements, and more.”

Before I share some of my favorites with you, it’s important to include this note from the introduction: “We want to stress that language mangling is universal, and knows no specific country or culture. Native English speakers, of course, are guilty of the same egregious errors in foreign languages.”

So without further ado, here are some of my favorite instances of language mangling.

::

At the Cashier’s counter kindly note that personal cheese are not accepted. –helpful hint included in Imperial Samui Hotel guidebook, Thailand

If you wish, you may open the window. Do not open the Window. –sign on window, Westin Chosun Hotel, Seoul

Don’t Eat The Animals –sign at Phuket Zoo, Thailand

Pls. fall in line outside to avoid suffocation. Thank you for your cooperation. –sign outside public toilet, Philippines

LVNLTATLON
Mr. Cao Yong requests the horrour of your Presence at the Inouguration of the Painting Exhibition of himself. Beijing Artist Gallery. –invitation to art-gallery opening, Beijing

Water not potatoble. –sign on Italian train

You Want It, We Had It. –sign at Japanese electronics shop

Upon presenting this ad with a US $50 purchase. You will receive our complimentary gift package consisting of: 3 hand embroidered handkerchiefs, 2 hand embroidered guests towels and one embroidered hot roll. –ad in the Curacao Gazette

Seafood brought in by customers will not be entertained. –restaurant sign, Langkawi, Malaysia

For those of our customers who are vegetables, we are able to offer a plate of hot mixed vegetables. –from Italian restaurant menu, La Patata, Tokyo

Not to be used for the other use. –from Japanese food-processor instruction manual

bookclub: the first year

According to my calendar, my bookclub will be meeting again next Wednesday. According to the location of my bookmark, I’ve only read a couple pages of the book… which does not explain why I’m sitting here blogging instead of curling up on the couch with a good book.

At the end of 2008, I pulled together a few friends who were interested in joining a bookclub, and in January 2009, we met to discuss our first book. The group of a half dozen people we started out with dwindled to four as Bruce and Bess each made life transitions, but rumor has it that a few new people will be joining us next week.

When people find out I’m in a bookclub, they almost always ask what we’ve been reading… and somehow I can never seem to remember the most interesting books we’ve read. So in case you were on the verge of inquiring about our reading list, here’s a list of all of the books we read and discussed during the first year, along with very brief descriptions.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen – a novel about a young man who drops out of a veterinary program at Cornell and inadvertently joins a traveling circus.

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin – the story of Greg Mortenson, a mountain-climber turned humanitarian who built schools in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo – my first official bookclub FAIL. We were scheduled to discuss this during the busiest month of perhaps my entire life and I didn’t even START the book. Oops.

The Known World by Edward P. Jones – a historical novel set in Virginia that explores the lives of black slave-owners. (Most of us would have been content to give up on the book partway through.)

Life of Pi by Yann Martel – a novel – the story of a boy who is shipwrecked and then stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean for 227 days.

I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away by Bill Bryson – pretty much what the uber-long title says it is. A very humorous book!

Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose – a fascinating account of the semester that the author spent at Liberty University before returning to Brown University. ** Winner of the Rachel’s Favorite Book of 2009 Award **

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick – the story of an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station in Paris. It’s a 550-page novel, but I read in just one hour. Hint: it has a lot of pictures. Also, even though it’s technically a children’s book, our group loved it!

Ella Minnow Pea: a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable by Mark Dunn – takes place on the fictional island of Nollop, named after the man who supposedly created the pangram “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Letters are gradually omitted from the story as it progresses.

Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett – a novel about a pregnant, married young woman who decides to go to a home for unwed mothers.

brand new book club

As of this evening, I am officially a member of a book club.

One of the items on my list of “101 Things to Do in 1001 Days” is to participate in a book club / reading group. I couldn’t find an existing group to join, so a few weeks ago I decided to start my own group. I emailed a bunch of friends and also posted an open invitation here on my blog. I’m not sure what I would have done if tons of people had wanted to join, but fortunately only five people responded.

I hosted the first meeting of our brand new book club at my house this evening and had a delightful time. After much discussion, we finally decided on the first two books that we will read and discuss. Coming up in January: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. Can’t wait!