Look like movie stars…

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Gentlemen vs. Ladies

When I last wrote about my summer reading I had reached 4000 minutes with 6 weeks to go.  As of today, I have reached 5600 minutes with 17 days left to solidify my status as a Reading Rockstar.

Most of the 1600 additional minutes were spent reading Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s. The Sirens of Titan, Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, Melanie Benjamin’s The Girls in the Picture, and John Connolly’s He.   This is probably the 20th time I’ve read Sirens: I routinely read most of Vonnegut’s catalog on an annual basis.  My only complaint with Little Fires Everywhere, which I thoroughly enjoyed, was that I wasn’t enjoying the story under an umbrella at the beach.

That leaves Girls and He, both of which deal with success, friendship, and love in the early days of Hollywood. The Girls in the Picture weaves the story of a lifelong friendship between ‘America’s Sweetheart’ Mary Pickford and screenwriter and film producer Frances Marion, both of whom were fascinating women way ahead of their time.  He slowly builds up to the moment when an arbitrary pairing on a movie set leads to the legendary comedic pairing and deep private friendship between Stan Laurel and Oliver ‘Babe’ Hardy.

I would never have guessed that two books with such similar subject matter could impact me so differently.  I was bored to tears by Girls and did not bother to even finish the book, while I stayed up way too long each night reading He.  The one thing I did enjoy about both books was how each author included Hollywood stars in bit roles throughout their stories  Unfortunately, because of this and a few paragraphs in He I may never be able to watch Curly and Mo in a Three Stooges short again.  An odd side note – both books have Charlie Chaplin playing an integral role to the plot in each.

Maybe I disliked Girls because it felt like a variation on a story  I’ve read hundreds of times before.  And maybe I liked He  because it was written in a voice that felt uniquely fresh and nuanced, and because so few books revolve around professional respect and platonic love between two individuals, and men at that. Or it could have been that Mary and Frances, who were so interesting in real life, came across as oddly one-dimensional while Stan and Babe were rendered in such detail I felt as if I had known each personally.  I the meantime, I’m going to try and catch some old Laurel & Hardy films to see if the magic I felt while reading He comes through on the silver screen.

How about you? Have you ready either of these books?  If so, what did you think of them? What are you reading now? I’d love to know…

*The Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time – Mickey Gilley

 

Celebrate summer with me….

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My next library haul

When I was little I spent a large part of every summer reading.  My sister and I would ride our bikes to the nearest library and load up our baskets with enough books for a week of reading.  We’d bike home, fight over the porch lounge chair or the hammock, and read our afternoons away. My children, who each had a library card within weeks of being born, also participated in summer reading programs until they reached high school and their assigned summer reading assignments took over.

I continue to be a huge library user and supporter and generally utilize the online search and hold services to assemble a week or two worth of reading material.  Imagine my surprise when I stopped by to pick up my book holds and realized that the summer reading club had started, featuring a club for children AND adults!

The program runs from May 14th through August 3rd and the goal is read 600 minutes. Not to brag, but I read 600 minutes in the first week, and am currently up to 4000 minutes and counting.  There are also incentives for posting on social media (check), reading to someone (check) and making a recipe from a cookbook (check, check and check).  I’ve already earned a mug and a $10 gift card and hope to have enough minutes to ‘win’ a book donation in my name when the program ends.  Here’s what I’ve read so far…

Feel Free – Zadie Smith  |  Sing Unburied Sing – Jesamyn Ward  |  God Bless You Mr. Kervorkian – Kurt Vonnegut  |  Miller’s Valley – Anna Quindlen  |  The Wife Between Us – Greer Hendricks  |  While Mortals Sleep – Kurt Vonnegut   |   Eternal Life: A Novel – Dora Horn  |  Green: A Novel – Sam Graham-Felsen   |  Lullaby Road: A Novel – James Anderson  |  The Nothing – Hanif Kureshi  |  The Queen’s Embroiderer: A True Story of Paris, Lovers, Swindlers, and the First Stock Market Crisis – Joan E. DeJoan  |  King Zero – Nathaniel Rich  |  Surprise Me: A Novel – Sophie Kinsella  |  The Interestings – Med Wolitzer  |  The Monk of Mokha – Dave Eggers

*Celebrate Summer  – Marc Bolan

Everywhere around the world…

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Being a voracious reader with almost no topic boundaries I am an indiscriminate reader of books from any country in the world.  It started many years ago with Russian and Spanish authors, before I branched out to include middle Europe, African and Asian writers, and in the last ten years Middle Eastern autobiographies and fiction.

Amazingly, I am drawn to the same sorts of ‘foreign’ as ‘American’ stories regardless of the author’s nationality: anything about the quest for freedom, education, family, and/or love keeps me engaged and invested in the plot. Turns out, these universal themes have persisted and prevailed over thousands of years, in fable, fiction and fact.

Along with comedy and music I believe books to be our greatest unifiers.  We really aren’t that different although the details of our individual experiences can be staggeringly unique.  On this, 2018 World Book Day (#worldbookday), do yourself a favor and pick up a book about someone in China, Ecuador, Iraq, Botswana, or one of the other 191 countries that make up humanity – you may be surprised at how much you have in common with someone on the other side of the world!

*Dancing in the Streets – David Bowie & Mick Jagger

In the library garden…

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Due by April 24th

How serendipitous that I scored ALL of these books from my local library yesterday, which coincidentally was also the first day of National Library Week!

I grew up in a house full of books and was reading before I entered first grade.  At age 7 I was given free rein to roam the reading rooms of Philadelphia’s Parkway Central Library while my dad explored the microfiche reels for his aviation research.  By 9 my sister and I were riding our bikes to the Ridley Park library to get our weekly reading stash, which we would devour during lazy summer afternoons after our chores were finished.

There were numerous trips to D.C. and the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum archives, where I helped my mom and dad research pre-WWII insignia (and once opened a drawer to find a logbook from Charles Lindbergh).  I worked as a help-desk clerk at the Baltimore County Public Library during my first year of college.  I even spent one year organizing bake sales, weekly Friday dances, and monthly Parent Night Out events to restock our local elementary school’s shelves with $12,000 of new books.  If all of that weren’t enough, my momma was a librarian for close to 30 years. So when I say my love for libraries runs deep I am truly speaking from the heart.

Think about it.  Anyone, of any age, color, sex, sexuality, income level, education level, or any other descriptor you care to identify with can access one of 119,487 US libraries and learn a new language, brush up on computer skills, watch a movie, take part in community activities, surf the web, vote, or even check out a book.  For free.  It’s really quite amazing!

Does your town have a library?  How often do you visit ?  If you haven’t been in awhile (or ever) take five minutes to check out what your library has to offer.  Get a card. Prowl around.  Discover all the great things just waiting for you to explore.  I guarantee – you will not be disappointed.

*Rubber Band – David Bowie

A patchwork quilt of life…

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“Little Sister’s Quilt” by Susan and Emily Holbert (1850-1860)

I can come up with clothing designs. I can draft patterns. I can sew at the couture level. I can embroider.  I can bead.  I can even applique.  What I can’t do, or can’t do yet, is quilt. For someone as experienced in the sewing arts as I am in you would think quilting would be an easy thing to master, and yet something has held me back from trying. For that reason, when I was asked to review Southern Quilts: Celebrating Traditions, History, and Designs by Mary W. Kerr I jumped at the opportunity to explore ‘all things quilting’… Continue reading “A patchwork quilt of life…”

It’s a very very very fine house…

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The Winter White House Postcard

For the past few days I’ve been doing a deep dive into Palm Beach and Boca Raton architecture as a by-product of reviewing Addison Mizner: The Architect Whose Genius Defined Palm Beach” by Stephen Perkins and James Caughman.  I was drawn to the subject having spent a number of years living in Coral Gables, Coconut Grove, and lower Miami Beach, where I was surrounded by the beautiful Mediterranean and Spanish Colonial-influenced homes you can only find in South Florida… Continue reading “It’s a very very very fine house…”

You can’t judge a book by the cover…

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Decisions, decisions…which book to read first

A belated Happy New Year to one and all.  My 2018 began just like my 2017 ended, with me driving thousands of miles to see loved ones spread far and wide. I’ve been wondering why I haven’t been as creative as I had hoped and then calculated between Thanksgiving and January 6th I drove just a tad over 7,000 miles. I guess that’s a good reason for not getting much done, huh?  Thank god for rental cars with heated seats and satellite radio along with kids I adore who had hours of far-ranging playlists and podcasts which combined to make those miles a pleasure to drive.

On the downside, so much driving meant a lack of time for any substantive reading.  I spent most of December lost in Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan, a story I really enjoyed and was sorry to finish.  When I reached over for my next read I realized my bedside stash had dwindled to a crisis level.  That’s why I was so excited by the nine books that Santa (aka my Momma) gave me for Christmas.  I always say the only present I really want is to spend time with my family but I will never say no to the gift of a book.

After I finish the two library books I am currently reading I can begin to get lost in my newest set of 9 (past ‘nines’ can be found here).  Have you read any of these books?  Which would you recommend I read first?  I’d love to know…

*You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover – Bo Diddley 

Simply the best…books of 2017

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While the exact number escapes me I have read a LOT of books this year.  I love our library system (believing it is one of the best ways our tax dollars are used) and typically check out 6-12 books each month, as well as buy or ‘inherit’ others, all of which total around 100 (give or take a few).  Going forward, I’ve decided to track my reading to determine an exact number, details of which I will share with you this time next year.

As for 2017, I can truly say that the five books pictured above were my absolute favorite reads of the year.  Each writer delivered a fresh perspective on love, loss, pain, yearning, and family.  I came to care about the main characters, hating some and loving others, always curious to see what was in store for each.  These books kept me reading late into the night in expectation of what would happen next and I was sorry when I finished the last page.  Even more astonishing, these books have stuck with me as I continue to reflect on issues as varied as as rape, slavery, abortion, crime, and religion – none of them light topics but all treated with respect and curiosity through the author’s engaging, dramatic, and unique story-telling.

How about you?  What were your favorite books of 2017?  Are you looking forward to reading anything special in 2018?  I’d love to know…

*Simply the Best – Tina Turner

Kids and Dogs…

 

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A short tale about a long dog

From the day my first child was born we read together every night.  When our second child arrived, he was instantly included in our reading ritual.  Our nightly routine began after bath-time, with me nestled between two sweet cuddly boys reading as many books as they wanted until all three of us were asleep.  We read hundreds of books each year and many of those were on repeat for weeks at a time.  I miss those days, and I miss having the opportunity to check out the latest in children’s literature.  That’s why I was thrilled to read an advance copy of The Very, Very Long Dog by Julia Patton.

Bartelby is a very, very long sausage dog who lives in a bookstore and (just like me) loves to read.  He has a group of loving friends who like to take him for his daily walks around town. Bartleby never knows what his back end is doing until he finds himself in trouble. His friends are always there to fix the problem, until one day they can’t. It is then that Bartleby realizes he is the problem. He becomes very depressed and refuses to leave the store.  His friends love him so much they create a noisy solution to his problem, so Bartleby always knows where he starts, and ends.

I loved this warm story about a group of friends who accept each other no matter what.  The illustrations are simple and sweet, utilizing pastel colors which are as warm as the story.  It’s such a lovely story that would be well-suited for babies through age 6.  The Very, Very Long Dog is available beginning December 5, and I will be purchasing a copy to give as a gift to a special little girl in my life.  I hope she enjoys the ‘tail’ of Bartleby and his loving friends as much as I did!

*Kids & Dogs The Perro Sessions – David Crosby & Jerry Garcia

When the bear would come to town…

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It’s a bear’s life

I spent the last two weeks helping my mom recover from some surgery complications.  If you’ve ever spent time sitting bedside, wishing someone you love back to good health, you can empathize with my need to periodically escape with a good book.  Beartown: A Novel, by Fredrik Backman, provided exactly the diversion I needed.

The book has been on my 2 B or Not 2 B Reads list for quite some time, so when I saw it on the library shelf I felt like I had just won the book lottery.  I got home only to find I needed to get to my mom’s side as quickly as possible. I threw some clothes and Beartown into my luggage, hoped a plane, and two nights later finally found time to start the first chapter, which consisted of two succinct sentences.  “Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else’s forehead, and pulled the trigger. This is the story of how we got there.” I was instantly transported, and hooked.

This is the second book by Mr. Backman that I have read and thoroughly enjoyed (read my thoughts on the first, A Man Called Ove, here).  He has a talent for creating fully realized, believable, and relatable characters.  In Beartown, Backman has fashioned an entire town of characters whose intermingling backstories and current relationships play out against the pursuit of a national hockey championship and a tragic crime that impacts every character along the way.

This book is sure to make my ‘Best Books of 2017’ list, and I am guessing it will make many other ‘best of’ lists too. Have you read Bear Town? Did you like it? Will it make your best of list?  I’d love to know… .

*Three Great Alabama Icons – Drive-By Truckers