Shelf Life: Winter 2016-17

ShelfLife

We are in the throes of winter. Everything is snow- and ice-covered. It’s seldom above zero, much less above freezing. #Wyoming.

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I hope these guys are somewhere safe and warm.

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No matter how many times we shovel and salt our steps, they remain covered in ice.

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And this would be our street/yard/curb, well, everything. You can’t find any point of delineation, so everyone just drives down the middle and parks on the sides. The street is also a solid sheet of ice under that snow.

No surprise — I haven’t driven my car in a month. (Yes, parents, I’ve started it and it still runs.)

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On the bright side, this is Bella’s prime time. So much of the snow is packed solid, so she can walk on top without falling to her armpits, which she does *not* enjoy. Hard to tell here, but she’s prancing on about 8+ inches of snow.

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Sweet Snow ‘Stache.

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This is a pretty meager book list for my usual Winter quarter. We’ve been busy and ended up spending close to a month in Oklahoma over the holidays, where I maybe gained 30 pages in my book. I’m slowly getting through the books on my shelves, though, so I’m feeling pretty good about it.

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

1. Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl

Ruth Reichl is my spirit animal. Her love of food. Her jobs. The way she writes. It’s all glorious and I connect with it on a very deep level. I think the only one of her books I hadn’t yet read was this — her chronicle of being The New York Times‘ restaurant critic. Once she moved back to NYC from LA, Ruth quickly realizes that her picture is hanging in every kitchen; many wait staff, cooks, hosts, and dishwashers were told to keep their eyes out in case she came in. Some even were paid for information on where Ruth would dine. A Times review could make or break you. So Ruth did what she had to do: dine incognito, creating no less than six different characters that frequented all of NYC’s most-famous and most-expensive haunts. Her tales of both harsh and red-carpet treatment and mind-blowing and forgetful meals flow off the page. And the stories are peppered with recipes, because…it’s Ruth, who says “This book is going to have recipes instead of pictures because I want you to be able to taste what I am talking about.” At one point, Ruth’s husband is reminding her why she does this, and it perfectly sums up why I love her and why I connect with everything she says: “I remembered when you got into this it was almost a spiritual thing with you. You love to eat, you love to write, you love the generosity of cooks and what happens around the table when a great meal is served.” More than once (okay, maybe once a page) I thought how wonderful it would be to get paid to eat and write about it. But something tells me vegetarian food critics are not that desirable. Either way — Ruth is inspiring, hilarious, honest and her life exciting. I devoured every page and give it four stars.

2. The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty

I’ve loved Eudora Welty since high school–her characters and vivid descriptions of southern life leaping off the page and speaking to my Oklahoma heart. I have kept a beautiful copy of her collected stories on display in my living room for years. But I bet I haven’t read 75% of them! I’ve decided to plow through all 41 of them (totaling over 600 pages), one collection at a time. Arranged in chronological order, the first set is A Curtain of Green and Other Stories–a 17-story collection from 1941 that runs the gamut from the poignant to the profane. My favorites included Why I Live at the P.O. (which I had read before, but still love), A Memory, A Curtain of Green and Death of a Traveling Salesman. It might have been a little tough to stomach stories about the south written in the ’40s when watching the election coverage pour in, but still worth a dive into this unique perspective.

3. The Sweet Life in Paris, David Lebovitz

A few years ago, when I realized I only wanted to write about food (ha!), my aunt sent me a box of books from her shelves. Some were fiction, some were non-fiction, but all of them were about food. Garlic and Sapphires (see above) was one of them, and this was the last. I’m no stranger to David Lebovitz. I’ve read his stuff for years, which is why I saved this until all the other books from the box were gone. He wrote the bible on homemade ice cream, and everything he writes is educational and witty, and I eat it up. Sweet Life came out in 2009 and chronicles David’s move to France, where he still resides. I found his stories of cultural missteps so relatable to our own move to China in 2006. Except replace his croissants with chicken feet, and bad coffee with bad snakes. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same story of a fish out of water, desperately trying to find the way and not getting much help from the locals. He peppers his stories with recipes (which I always love), and, on a political note, had this to say about running into then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy on the street. Sound familiar?

“Although Sarkozy was accused of a number of things, from being anti-Semitic and a racist, to having a violent temper and a penchant for serial monogamy, he had one addiction that no one seemed to want to talk about: tanning. His face had a glowing orange tint, the exact same shade as the flesh of a lush, ripe cantaloupe.”

4. Downsizing the Family Home, Marni Jameson

You’re probably thinking this is an odd choice, but hear me out. For the past few years, my family has been working on cleaning out the home of my late great-aunt, who basically saved everything from her childhood through her 80s. And my mother’s house is filled not only with her and her husband’s own belongings, but boxes from her parent’s house in Houston and boxes from my childhood home. It fills me with a certain anxiety when I see it. Something she knows. And since I wasn’t there when we moved from my childhood home, or the home we lived in for four years before she remarried, I feel a very strong need to go through everything with her. I desperately want to sit down and open boxes sealed long ago and tell stories and laugh and maybe cry. But mostly, I want to clear it out and let her live in peace knowing she isn’t needing to protect every item from several people’s memories/childhoods. As the Baby Boomers age, this is going to a problem for many. And this book, to me, was very helpful and convincing on why downsizing should happen sooner than later. I wish I could gift everyone in my life with this book. It’s something everyone should read and consider, no matter your age.

5. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, Kim Edwards

When we were in Colorado this summer, our cabin had a bookshelf in one of the bedrooms with the invitation to take a book, leave a book. This book caught my eye. I had remembered hearing it was good when it came out years ago, but had never cracked it open. The story immediately begins with a doctor/father delivering his wife’s twins only to discover his daughter has down’s syndrome. In a split-second decision, he hands her to the nurse, instructs her to institutionalize the baby and, when his wife wakes up, tells her the baby girl has died. The rest is what spins from that fateful decision. While written beautifully, this story weighed on my heart. The character’s grief and torment was palpable and I was glad to see it end. It made for quite a downer during my Thanksgiving break!

6. Blu’s Hanging, Lois-Ann Yamanaka

I participated in a book exchange this summer where you send your favorite book to one person, and you would–ideally–get 36 sent to you, depending on the chain. I received a few, but all but one I had already read. This was the unknown title, sent to me without a note so I don’t even know who dubs this their *favorite* book, but…wow. No. I was very upset through its entire 260 pages. I hated almost everything about it, to the point that I thought maybe someone sent this as a joke. I’ve read plenty of depressing tales, but the blatant racism and stereotypes and graphic abuse against children proved to be too much. I recommend a hard pass on this one. For the record, my favorite book I sent was A Thousand Splendid Suns, which I wish I had just read again instead of picking this up.

7. The BFG, Roald Dahl

LiNo’s Libros strikes again! Click here to read all about it.

8. Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck

Steinbeck wrote one of my #1 books of all time. I love his style and perception, but I’ve only read a handful of his collected works. My brother wanted to read Travels with Charley, so I piggy-backed onto his idea so we could read it at the same time. And, of course, I loved it. What’s not to love about a guy jumping into a truck with his beloved dog to explore the country? It’s the ultimate road trip.

In 1960 Steinbeck was 58 and wanting to see the country he called home and the country of which he wrote so eloquently, though maybe not so confidently. You can see rough maps of his blazed trail that took him from his home in New York through New England, winter nipping at his wheels. Then through his awe-inspiring Montana, his childhood home in Salinas, California, the confusing land of Texas and the racially-charged South. When he set off, the country was divided in facing that year’s election between Nixon and Kennedy. Not too different than what a road trip through America this summer would have produced.

Here are some of my favorite observations–all sharp as a knife:

* On regional language changes: “I did not hear a truly local speech until I reached Montana. … The West Coast went back to packaged English. The Southwest kept a grasp but a slipping grasp on localness. Of course the deep south holds on by main strength of its regional expressions…but no region can hold out for long against the highway, the high-tension line, and the national television. What I’m mourning is perhaps not worth saving, but I regret its loss nonetheless.”

* Discussing scapegoats with a fellow traveler: “Those Russians got quite a load to carry. Man has a fight with this wife, he belts the Russians. ‘Maybe everybody needs Russians. I’ll bet even in Russia they need Russians. Maybe they call it Americans.'”

9. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

I would guess that 90% of high-school students read Great Expectations. I am part of the elite 10% who had never cracked its cover and only knew random character names to spurt off when cornered. But I should have known. I should have known I’d love it just as much as I did Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities (which I *did* read in high school), Miss Havisham replacing Madame Defarge as the crazy, creepy character I love to hate. I loved poor Pip, his adventures…his misadventures, and all the twists and turns. No surprise, but when all of your friends/family read this at least 15+ years ago, you don’t have a lot of people you can call when you get to a big twist and want to talk about the details. This has probably been sitting neglected on my shelf for as long as I’ve been out of high school and I’m happy to have finally immersed myself in its pages and now I pass it on to the next lucky person. Bonus: I’m 3 down, 2 to go on my Classics-I-Have-To-Read list! Now to watch Helena Bonham Carter transform herself into a wilted, jilted, haunted woman…

10. Scrappy Little Nobody, Anna Kendrick

I broke my no-library rule *JUST ONCE* this quarter to read this autobiography from my favorite Pitch Perfect star. Granted, we’ve been hashtag-blessed by hilarious leading ladies’ autobiographies, so maybe the bar is already to high, but this fell flat for me. You know how she plays a ragtag, jaded, sarcastic B in PP? Well, I think that’s just who she is. Which is fine, but I was hoping for a little more honesty or vulnerability in these pages. Or even humor. I’m not sure I even cracked a smile while reading. But you better believe I’ll be seeing Pitch Perfect 3 as soon as it comes out. Aca-disappointing, Beca!

11. Simplify, Joshua Becker

I read this 42-pager today on one of three planes to Miami. A minimalist life is really calling my name these days…expect my kitchen where I will swear up and down I need every tool, bowl, gadget and appliance. (Note to self: Read This.) You might remember that I mentioned Becker’s blog in my last Shelf Life. I’ve been following it ever since and bought this e-book over the Thanksgiving break when it was on sale for 50-cents or something. Well worth the pocket change and my time. Here are a few highlights:

* Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.

* “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris

* We were never meant to live life accumulating stuff. We were meant to live simply enjoying the experiences of life, the people of life and the journey of life—not the things of life.

* There is a life of simplicity that is calling out to you. It is inviting you to live the life you were born to live, not the life your neighbor is trying to achieve. It is inviting you to value the things that you want to value, not the values of billboards and advertisements. It is inviting you to remove the distractions in your life that are keeping you from truly living.

Next up in the queue:

The Fate of the Tearling, Erika Johansen (finally! reading this now)
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, Bob Spitz
Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty (keep reading)
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway (reread before reading Everyone Behaves Badly)

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# LiNo’s Libros: The BFG

This girl.

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She is extraordinary. She is smart and curious and empathetic and gracious and beautiful and funny. And, today, she is nine.

The last year of single digits. Even though she’s been growing up since the day she was born…it feels like she’s really, really growing up right now. One minute you’re here…

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…and the next minute you’re here.

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And while we have no idea how it happened so fast, we couldn’t be more proud or love her more than we do.

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Like last year, I’ll use this special day to tell you all about our latest adventure with LiNo’s Libros — a book club for two vivacious readers.

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It was Lily’s turn to pick a book and she chose Roald Dahl’s The BFG.

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I love all things Dahl, so I couldn’t have been more excited with her pick. My local library had this beautiful copy, too. #bellabomb

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With work/school, life/activities, it takes us a while to get through a book, but over the course of a few weeks we took turns reading to each other, reading some chapters on our own, and reviewing with questions and projects.

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Dahl does such an incredible job at describing the BFG that I had everyone draw their own based on his words.

Mine:

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Lily’s:

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Booh’s:

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Tim’s:

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The suitcases get me every time, especially Tim’s.

When we reached the end, we prepared five questions each, just like we did with the first LiNo’s Libros pick. Spoiler alert for anyone wanting to read this again!

NoNo’s Questions:

1 In the book, Dahl calls farts “whizzpoppers.” What would you call them?

L: NoNo! ….okay, whizzies

Booh: Farbunkles

N: I choose Brrrrumpscotches

2. Make up a dream that the BFG might catch.

L: A dragon comes to life at a Chinese wedding and we have to take cover. One person comes in late, usually me, and everyone in movie theater is hiding in the shadows and I say “What’s everybody doing?”

N: That sounds like a nightmare. Mine would have Bella in a garden of flowers and a butterfly can land on her nose. It can talk and tells her that there’s a wonderful world among the flowers. So Bella crawls in the flower bed and meets all the pretty flowers and nice bugs.

Booh: Sounds like the dog version of Alice in Wonderland.

3. Make up your own giant.

L: Instead of catching dreams, I’d catch air, no, I’d catch sand. I could put it in bedrooms and it would help clear out worries. It’s like dream sand, but it’s memory sand.

Booh: I’d only go to houses with more than one child and would eat all the siblings.

N: …what? Okay. I’d collect all the cookbooks in the house, bake treats to leave for them in the morning, but steal all of the cookbooks.

4. In the book, the giants visit certain countries based on what those living there taste like. What would we taste like in Oklahoma and Wyoming?

L: Oklahoma would taste like fried chicken.

N: Yeah, I was thinking bread-flavored with undertones of grass prairie.

Booh: Home Fries.

N: What about Wyoming?

L: Snow cones!

N: Yes! Or woodsy-flavored.

L: But no cocoa flavors because it always snows.

5. If you could change the ending, what would you change?

L: That he rode an elephant through the woods instead of writing the book.

N: I wanted Sophie to be adopted by the Queen and become royalty.

L: Sophie of Sofaness!

Lily’s Questions

1 How would you feel if you were taken from bed?

N: I’d be terrified, wouldn’t you?

L: A little scared, but kind of excited. You know when you can’t sleep at night and don’t have anything to do? It can be a bit boring.

2. What would your giant name be?

N: I’ll go with my description above and be the Bake Booker.

Booh: Sibling Snatcher!

L: BFGG – Big Friendly Girl Giant

Booh: Tim says he’d be the Big Fat Giant.

3. How would the story be different if the BFG caught something else?

N: What if he caught bugs, like frogs or spiders?

L: Frogs and spiders aren’t bugs.

Booh: What if he collected art from bedrooms? That would be cool.

4. If you could invite one character to dinner, who would you choose and why?

N: I’d choose Sophie since she’s an orphan and I’d have everyone over so she could experience a big family dinner.

L: I choose the Queen of England. I just think she’s really cool. But, no BFG. That’s a lot for mom to cook!

5. Use three words to describe this book.

N: silly, tender and fantastical

L: dangerous — for the men to capture the giant, cool — catching the dreams, and sad — missed England

Love you, Lil, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!

Next up for LiNo’s Libros: Nancy Drew and The Mystery at Lilac Inn!

Click here for last year’s LiNo’s Libros: The Indian in the Cupboard.