Monday, March 31, 2008

Best Books Read in 2002

I read a lot of books in 2002, but it wasn't a great year for great reads. The bottom four books listed are a series of books about time travel, that I found interesting. They have a lot of history in them (obviously), but also lots of romance, etc. They were quite entertaining.
My favorite book of 2002 is the first book listed. I have enjoyed all of Louise Erdrich's books that I have read, but this was my favorite. I highly recommend it! I think that the first 6 books listed were all very good (some I even rated as excellent). So here they are:

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse-Louise Erdrich
Mother of My Mother-Hope Edelman
The Home-Richard McKenzie
The Net of Dreams-Julie Salamon
More Than You Know-Beth Gutcheon
In The Country of the Young-Lisa Carey

Dragonfly In Amber-Diana Gabaldon: good
Voyager-Diana Gabaldon: good
The Fiery Cross-Diana Gabaldon: excellent
Outlander-Diana Gabaldon: good
If you have read any of these, let me know what you thought of them!

In Defense of Food

I have seen several references to In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan in several different magazines that I read. It has been a highly recommended and quoted book. It is 205 pages of science and facts about food. To save you the trouble of trying to read it, I have listed what I thought were the main points of the book (all in one page!). My comments are in bold.

-Don’t use food products containing ingredients that a) you have never heard of, b) you can’t pronounce, c) that have more than 5 in number, or d) that include high -fructose corn syrup. (For fun, see how many food products you can find that have 5 or fewer ingredients-you will be amazed).

-Don’t use food products that make health claims. (So those that don’t make health claims are ok? Hooray for candy bars!)

-Shop the outside aisles of the supermarket and stay out of the middle. (What about soap, toilet paper, cereal?)

-Don’t go to the supermarket whenever possible (use farmer markets).

-Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.

-Pay more, eat less
-Eat meals
-Do all your eating at a table
-Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does (other than milk or water)
-Try not to eat alone
-Consult your gut (listen for the sigh)
-Eat slowly
-Cook and, if you can, plant a garden

Well, not much new there, is there? I was certainly glad that I got this book from the library. I would have been really mad at myself if I had bought it! All in all, the main points that I got from the book are certainly valid, important points and do follow Intuitive Eating, mindful eating, etc. But to say all that in over 200 pages? Yikes!
If, after reading my ramblings, you think that you might want to read the whole book, here is an address to a good review of the book to check:

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Stolen Child

The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue is a story inspired by the poem of the same name written by W. B. Yeats. This book should become a classic. It is an adult version of a fairy tale and would make a great movie. It is a powerfully moving story about family, childhood, love and loss. I did not want this book to end!

This is taken from the first page of the first chapter: “Or better yet, I am a changeling-a word that describes within its own name what we are bound and intended to do. We kidnap a human child and replace him or her with one of our own. The hobgoblin becomes that child, and the child becomes a hobgoblin. Not any boy or girl will do, but only those rare souls baffled by either their young lives or attuned to the weeping troubles of this world. The changelings select carefully, for such opportunities might come along only once a decade or so. A child who becomes part our society might have to wait a century before his turn in the cycle arrives, when he can become a changeling and reenter the human world.”

This pretty much sums up the premise of the book. It is a double story, one of Henry Day, who is kidnapped in 1949, and of the changeling who replaced him. Henry is seven years old when he is taken and is renamed Aniday by the changelings. The changeling who took Henry’s place in the human world begins to be haunted by vague memories of his past human life (before he became a changeling), which is very confusing for him. The book is alternately narrated by Henry and Aniday, as each attempt to discover who they really are/were.

This is an amazing book. And it is the writer’s first novel. I am so amazed at the depth and character development in some of the first novel’s that I have read. Oh, to be able to write like that!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Reading for Children

Easter was yesterday and my grandchildren all received books from the Easter Bunny. I was so impressed that my daughters did that. I used to wonder if I was just a complete nerd because I would give my children books as gifts for any holiday at all. But apparently somewhere through the years, they must have appreciated it, because now they seem to be doing the same with their children. It is fun to see my daughter’s be excited about their children learning to read. What a great experience that is! All of my kids have grown up to be readers and I consider it one of our greatest gifts to them that we encouraged their reading.

I have begun to think back at the different ways I tried to encourage them to read, some successful, some not! Until just a few years ago, we always had Book Night a few days after Christmas. It came about because I wanted to give them books for Christmas, but knew that they would be lost among all the other gifts, and not really appreciated on Christmas morning. So a few days after Christmas, would be Book Night and each of us (Mom and Dad too) would get a book, wrapped up to open. It was such fun for me to try to find the perfect book for that year. Some years I did better than others! I do remember the kids really looking forward to it, however.

I always took the kids to the library often. We were lucky enough to live just a few blocks away from a small library branch (McClure branch) and so we were constantly walking over there, usually with one in a stroller, to check out books, or go to story time. I think it was one of the best advantages that we had of living in the city. As the kids got older, they were able to ride their bikes there.

It was always fun going to the main library downtown. They have a great children’s area, and the kids were always excited about going there to look around at everything and to choose some books.

I also tried some things that may not have encouraged reading like I hoped, but perhaps my kids would say differently. At least for one summer, I had the girls do book reports on what they had read. They didn’t seem to care for that (imagine!). I think that one year I also had a list of books that I thought they should read. Again, didn’t work out so well! But perhaps somewhere in their minds, it re-enforced that seed that reading is important. At least it didn’t seem to kill the reading spirit in them! But I kind of don’t think it encouraged it, either!

I also used to always drag the kids into bookstores whenever I would come across one. I don’t think that doing so was helpful in encouraging them to read. I would get too involved in looking and they soon began to dread going to bookstores with me, because I would be in there so long. Maybe if there had been stores like Barnes and Noble and Borders with great kid areas, it would have seemed more like a treat to them!

In our new home, we have a small area off the dining area that we weren’t sure what to do with. Early on after we had moved in, I had my great idea of making it a reading area. My husband built a beautiful oak bookcase that goes from wall to wall, ceiling to floor for all of my books. The most accessible bottom shelf is filled with children’s books, so that even the youngest of the grandchildren is able to crawl over and pull out a book. Then I shopped until I found the perfect chair and ottoman for the corner of the area. The chair is just the right size for an adult and a child to sit in, so that they can read a book together. It is one of my very favorite areas of our home. It turned out to be an excellent feature of the house.

Of course, I have a shelf in my kitchen cabinets for cookbooks. I have a bookcase in my study for my genealogy books. I have an above-the-bed wall-hung bookcase in the bedroom. My new stamping area includes bookshelves, and my plans for the family room in the basement include bookcases. I just can’t have enough space for books!

Certainly, I think that children seeing books in a home gives the message that reading is important to that family.

I would love to hear what others have done to encourage their children to read!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Gravedigger's Daughter

The Gravedigger’s Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates is a fascinating book. The story is about the life of Rebecca Schwart, the youngest and only daughter of the three children of the small upstate New York town’s gravedigger. The theme through-out the book comes from the words her father, Jacob Schwart, often spoke to her: “In animal life the weak are quickly disposed of. You must hide your weakness, Rebecca.”

Her parents had escaped from Nazi Germany. Rebecca had been born on the ship in the harbor after they arrived, making her the only one of the family born in the United States, which her father thought would keep her safe. After arriving in the United States, Jacob, who had been a teacher in Germany, begged the town for the position of gravedigger, desperate to have a job to support his family. He remained angry and frightened throughout his life at his position in life and what the family had endured in Germany before their escape. Although, I don’t think that it was ever stated in the book that her family was Jewish, they were terrified that anyone in the US would learn that they were. Rebecca grew up poor and isolated until she was 13 years old, when her world exploded and another life began.

The book examines different types of family relationships and dynamics that existed as Rebecca moved throughout her life.

She grew up in a home where her father was quite abusive to his wife and children. His anger and fear permeated and engulfed everyone with whom he came in contact. The relationship with her mother seemed rather undeveloped in the book, and I think that was due to the largeness of presence of the father. Her brothers left home early, leaving Rebecca living alone with her parents. Following a tragic event at age 13, Rebecca went to live with a spinster in town, and began to learn of a different way to live. Eventually, she went out on her own and lived with a couple of girlfriends, until she became involved with Niles Tygnor, a charming, but abusive man. She had a child with him, and eventually realized that she needed to escape. And as her father had earlier, she left, changed her name, and began a new life with her son. After a period of time, she met Chet Gallagher, who appeared to love her and her son unconditionally. So then “Hazel Jones”, which is who she had become by then, had to learn how to live with yet another kind of relationship.

The book is long, but kept my interest throughout. I was rather frustrated with the lack of past family history from Germany, but that might just be attributed to my passion for genealogy. However, the last few pages of the book began to vaguely address past family. It was a sad story, but ended well. It is definitely a story that has remained with me and I will read this book again at some point.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

The God of Animals

The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle
This is the debut novel of my very oldest friend's daughter! (just to be clear-I don't mean oldest in terms of age, but that our mothers were best friends and I have known Lynn since I was born, since she is about 5 weeks older than I am). I only knew Ayrn as a young child, since the family moved to Colorado when she was young. But I have followed her life through correspondence with Lynn. How amazing is it that she wrote this great novel? And I don't say that because I know her mother! It is truly a great read! I was taken away with her use of words. Really an excellent writer, and I will share just the briefest quote taken from the book at the end of this post.

The book is about a young 12 year old girl, Alice Winston, and how she deals with the disappointment and frustrations that come with her life. Her mother appears to be severly clinically depressed, not leaving her bedroom, and leaving the family to basically grow by themselves. Alice's older sister runs off with a rodeo cowboy to escape the situation. Alice's father seems out of touch with what is happening financially to the horse farm. Alice is left to try to save the horse farm, with her father relying on her help to attract business by giving riding lessons, and stabling horses. Meanwhile, one of Alice's schoolmates is found dead in a canal. With both the loss of her sister and the death of the schoolmate, Alice begins to fantasize about a friendship with the dead girl, and about a relationship with her English teacher. The only real friendship that Alice does seem to have is with one of their riding students.

It is a very well written novel of family dysfunction and lonliness. Alice does not seem whiney or sorry for herself; she continues on with what she has to deal with and is by far, the strongest character in the book.

Here's a brief example of the writing in this book:
"This is the part of the story that I have never told my sister, the part I have never told anyone. This part of the story, I have kept for myself-the way they stood together over the body, sharing for a moment the huge unnameable grief of all the things that had come to pass, all the choices made, all the words unspoken. And in that moment, I saw them not as my mother and father, but as the people they were to each other after so many years of life intertwined, the people they had become: the woman who would forever be a child, the man who would forever carry her."

I loved the writing in this book! Her use of words is magically!

And here's the big news: Ayrn is going to be at the bookstore I Know You Like A Book in Peoria Heights signing books this week, on March 19th beginning at 6pm. I strongly encourage you to come, buy the book if you don't already have it and meet her! Maggie and I are meeting for dinner before if anyone is interested in joining us. Just let me know!

By the way, I noticed the other day, that the newest edition of the paperback also has a book club reading guide!


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

My Best Reads of 2001

Well, 2001 was a good year for finding excellent books to read. As a matter of fact, it was so good, that I have to mark 2 books as my absolute favorites! I can’t choose between them!

Below is a list of the best of the books that I read in 2001. I have *** the best, with *** being my absolute favorite books read that year.

The Red Tent-Anita Diamant ***

Drowning Ruth-Christina Schwarz ***

Red Grass River-James Carlos Blake

This One and Magic Life-Anne Carroll George

In The Fall-Jeffrey Lent

Queen-Alex Haley & David

Plantation Trilogy-Gwen Bristow

Fall On Your Knees-Ann-Marie McDonald ***

As I continue to list my best reads of each year, you may notice some duplicates. There are a few books that I have found so good that I have re-read them in following years. Drowning Ruth is one of those. It is just an excellent story. Fall on Your Knees is actually a rather similar book, in that it is such a great women’s story.

Both of my favorite books from 2001 reflect my life’s career choice, working with women and their stories. It isn’t surprising to me that these books touched something in me, since I hear these kind of stories every day. The authors do an excellent job expressing the stories that my clients try to tell each day, as they struggle for recovery.Interestingly enough, as I look at the whole list, most of them are about strong women, trying to survive. Seems to be a theme here…..