April 30, 2010

I Carried it in my Pocket

It was a little book of poems that I found on the bottom shelf in the poetry section of Half Price Books. It was the little part that appealed to me, because it could fit in my pocket and because it was a book I could read it in a day ... or an hour.

Now I don't like Cats, the musical. I thought it was silly and a waste of my money. I should be clear that I also don't like cats - the animals - either. I am a dog person. Cats don't do anything. And I am allergic to them. Cats have caused me hospital visits before. I tend not to be overly fond of "cat people" either. Dogs are it.

This little book was fun. I enjoyed it with my boys after school. We read the book out loud. We took turns with the poems. I think T.S. Eliot would have liked how his little book inspired us.

April 29, 2010

Do you know that it is poem in your pocket day?

I suggest not only putting a poem in your pocket but a whole book of poems.

Or make copies of a poem and hand them out to your friends.

Of course you must read the poem. Out Loud.

To you kids!

I Laughed All Day

Bill Bryson makes me laugh. I was sitting at the Ford dealership and a restaurant yesterday ... laughing out loud. People kept giving me funny looks. Only one person asked me what I was reading and said The Mother Tongue sounded like a good book. When I offered her my copy (I happen to have two) she said it was probably too long for her and she didn't have enough time to read.

I didn't bother telling her that this was my 13th book in as many days. I didn't want to make her feel bad.

If you haven't read Bryson, by all means run out and pick up some of his books. The Mother Tongue is a great one, but my all time favorite is A Short History of Nearly Everything ... everything you ever needed to know about science in 560 pages.

The best part of the book is my new favorite word ... sluberdegullion. I can find many uses for a word that means a worthless or slovenly fellow. I even used it yesterday.

April 28, 2010

Ruined by Reading

I didn't think I was going to make it yesterday.

We had a crazy morning around here. We barely made it to school on time. The dog got sick (he is fine now). I went to Whole Foods with a friend. Doesn't sound like a big deal except that Whole Foods is 45 minutes from my house.

We went to lunch.

On the way home we had to make an hour pit stop on the not so good side of town while we waited for the tow truck.

Then I actually had to cook some of that great food and grass fed beef on our brand new grill. Yesterday was our only family night for meals. I finally blogged about Monday's book and then it was 8:00 PM. I hadn't even begun a book.

After a quick check of my shelves I spied this small tome. I think I have read it before. I didn't care (I didn't remember it anyway). It was a perfect book for the crazy day.

Reading ... does offer a delectable exercise for the mind .... Like the bodies of dancers or athletes, the minds of readers are genuinely happy and self-possessed only when cavorting around, doing their stretches and leaps and jumps to the tune of words.

I like this little book. It wasn't really as much about reading as it was a note or a letter to the author's books thanking them for their importance in her life.

It started -- my reading, that is -- innocently enough, and then it infiltrated. It didn't replace living, it infused it, till the two became inextricable, like molecules of hydrogen and oxygen in a bead of water.

My favorite passage was this ... it seemed so appropriate after the hours my husband and I spent this weekend trying to put the grill together.

Incidentally, living by the word, by organized series of words, which is narrative, is a handicap when it comes to operating modern electronic devices like telephone answering machines or VCRs. (Or reading directions for putting a grill together.) Such ineptness is not due, as laughing children suppose, to quaintness or premature senility. It is simply that readers are accustomed to receiving information in the narrative mode.

April 27, 2010

Baseball, Book 2

Mudville is the second of the books I am reading as possible "Bookclub for Boys" summer reading books. I just don't know if I like this one or not. Well, I know that I didn't like it, but I wonder if my boys will like it. I used to be much, much better at picking out books for them.

There is enough about baseball. The main character is a boy. But there is almost too much about curses and girlfriends and dysfunctional families. It just isn't what I wanted.

What I want are some great recommendations for baseball books.

April 26, 2010

Texas Bluebonnets

We spent the day out in the Hill Country yesterday. I have never seen Bluebonnets like these. You could even smell them.

(By the way ... this is straight out of my new camera!)

Baseball, Book 1

I am hosting a summer "Bookclub for Boys." I have great plans for this club. It is open to any boy at the elementary school my kids attend. There are no restriction on age or grade. I don't even care if they can read. Their parents can read to them.

We are going to read baseball books, watch baseball movies and learn to keep score. At the end of the summer we will all attend a game together and use our new baseball skills to really enjoy the game.

I saw this book and loved the title. The Girl Who Threw Butterflies. It just sounded like a good book. It sounded like a fun read. It was. Not to melodramatic. Enough plot to keep me going. Fun characters. People in a community coming together.

The problem. The main character is a girl. A girl who plays baseball mind you. But she is still a girl. While I will have my boys read it, I don't think it will make the book club list.

April 25, 2010

Help for the Summer Homeschool

I grabbed this book from the new book shelf at the library as I was walking out the other day, hoping I could use it as we prepare for our summer "homeschool." You know the museums, art classes, and history programs that I stuff the kids with over the summer to make up for the deficiencies of our (really good, by the way) public elementary school.

If your kids have never been to a museum or never taken an art class, then this is a great choice. While I really like the book, it was a little too "elementary" for us.

But it is a book, and it is number 9 of 15.

April 24, 2010

A Journey Back to Thailand

I bought yesterday's book, Touch the Dragon, 5 years ago on a family vacation to Thailand. We were in Chaing Mai and I walked into a little expat bookstore and asked for a book on the country. I didn't want a picture book or a travel guide. I wanted a book about life in Thailand. The proprietor did a great job with this recommendation.

It has been said of this book that it is "as if I had been lifted all the way to Thailand without ever booking passage." I think I have to agree. While I can't speak to what life with the Thai people is like, I can say that my memories of the trip mesh perfectly of her descriptions of the country. Vivid color. That is what I remember and that is what she describes. I don't think I have ever been anywhere as colorful as Thailand.

The blues seem bluer. And there are more shades of blue in the Andaman sea than anywhere else. ...

There is more gold and red.

Sometimes you begin to think that every part of the country is covered in color.

Even the elephants can paint.

And while I can't speak to life in Thailand, I understand the loneliness of living in a place where you just don't belong. We were able to travel so easily to Thailand because we were living as expats in Korea. Talk about not fitting in. Talk about not understanding a culture and a people. While we did make some friends in Korea, we never truly felt like we were part of their lives. We were always on the outside.

I should have read this book while I was in Thailand, but I am kind of glad I waited. I had a wonderful time yesterday looking through my old photos and remembering our trip.

April 23, 2010

7 of 15 ... but I am Tired

Oh, I am not tired of reading. This challenge has kept me going through some very difficult days. In order to read, I have had to clear my mind. But I am tired. I am frustrated.

I was told of the loss of a really good person this week. I haven't even been able to get my head around the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico yet. I know BP drillers. I know Transocean contractors. One of my Cub Scouts' dad worked on that platform. I haven't heard if he was on rotation. I don't want to call in case he was.

I am not good (on a good day) with stupidity and incompetence. When I meet them on a bad day, things spiral downhill. I have run into a brick wall of stupidity, incompetence and downright deceitfulness over the last week as I have tried to refinance my mortgage. I can't even begin to write about that or I will lose all focus for the rest of the day.

I am tired and I am sad. I want to crawl into a hole. At least I can take a book with me.

Yesterday I took Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis into my hole. How I love Lewis. I never understand why so many people find him so difficult to read. I find him so approachable. Reading his books seems like having a conversation with a good friend.

If you didn't know, Mere Christianity began as a series of radio talks Lewis gave during some of the darkest moments of WWII. His voice lifted a nation and helped many individuals get through trying times. Maybe that is why this is even more like a conversation ... it was. It was a conversation with England.

It was a blessing to the people then and it was a blessing to me yesterday.

Reality in fact is something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is not a religion you could have guessed.

And that is precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor's shop. We are the statues and there is a rumour going round the shop that some of us are some day going to come to life.

He knows all about it. You are one of the the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner that that) He will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one.

Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

April 22, 2010

With the Old Breed

This is Adam Brown. Adam is a Navy SEAL who was killed in combat on March 18, 2010. I didn't know Adam personally, but his life has touched mine on the fringes.

I was told of this tragic loss yesterday as I was reading the 6th of 15 books in the 15/15/15 challenge, With the Old Breed by E. B. Sledge. It is Sledge's account of his time with the Marines on Peleliu and Okinawa in WWII. It is one of the most profoundly moving books that I have ever read.

Sledge addresses the big picture: the war, the battle, and the Marines. But he also manages to make his experience more personal. He brings us into the action with a personal side and human stories.

The personal bodily filth imposed upon the combat infantryman by living conditions on the battlefield was difficult for me to tolerate. It bothered almost everyone I knew....To be anything less than neat and sharp was considered a negative reflection on the Marine Corps and wasn't tolerated....In combat cleanliness for the infantryman was all but impossible....It has always puzzled me that this important factor in our daily lives has received so little attention.

I have been fortunate enough to have spent time on Guam and in The Philippines. We have built close personal relationships with men who fought there. My husband stood with them as they honored their fallen comrades on the crest of Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima. They are heroes whose name will never appear in any history book or on any television series.

Mr. Sledge brought the stories that I have heard them tell me to life. I understand now that when Ed was telling me a gruesome story of a friend of his who was killed on Iwo, he was leaving much out. He was sparing me the most bloody details. He wanted me to understand the war, but he did not want me to know the war.

Mr. Sledge brought me closer to the battle than I would ever want to be.

To me, artillery was an invention of hell. The onrushing whistle and scream of the big steel package of destruction was the pinnacle of violent fury and the embodiment of pent-up evil. It was the essence of violence and of man's inhumanity to man.

During prolonged shelling, I often had to restrain myself and fight back a wild, inexorable urge to scream, to sob, and to cry. As Peleliu dragged on, I feared that if I ever lost control of myself under shell fire my mind would be shattered. I hated shells as much for their damage to the mind as to the body.

I hope I will never know war. I hope I will never lose a husband or a son.

I hope that the lives of the men who died in battle in WWII or Korea or The Iraq War will never be forgotten.

I hope that Adam's wife and two young children will know that there are people out there who appreciate their sacrifice and his.

I hope you will take a moment to say a prayer for them.

War is brutish, inglorious and a terrible waste. Combat leaves an indelible mark on those who are forced to endure it. The only redeeming factors were my comrades' incredible bravery and their devotion to each other.

If you have the way or the means in these trying times, I hope you might consider Adam's family.

Adam Brown Memorial Fund
Navy Federal Credit Union
Body 200 Dam Neck
Virginia Beach, Virginia 23461

April 21, 2010

A Word of Explanation

You might be wondering why so many book reviews. Well, I decided to participate in Girl Detective's 15 Books in 15 Day challenge. The reviews you are reading daily are the result of that. I have also unplugged the T.V. for 5 days, so I can't comment on politics or the world I know nothing about. I have immersed myself in books rather than other forms of media. The result so far is that I feel much calmer. I don't hear as many voices in my head. They are quieting and allowing my own thoughts to come through. I like it.

A Little Book for A Day with Little Time

I knew yesterday would be crazy. I subbed at the school for my favorite teacher (she also happens to have M. in her class so I got to spend the day with my son). And I chased boys from 7 AM (running club and choir) to well into the night (baseball practice). I picked up a slim volume that I knew would be easy, The Emperor's Code. This is Book 8 in the The 39 Clues series developed by Rick Riordan but with a different author for each book in the series.

The books are fine. J. loves them, but he also loves the on-line game aspect that comes with them. He likes collecting the cards and figuring out the clues. As a marketing plan the books are genius. As a series, they are just o.k.

To be honest, I expected more from the likes of Riordan, Gordan Korman, and Jude Watson. They have all produced better work.

I do like that they manage (if the kids care enough to check it out) to teach a little history, a little geography and a little of the liberal arts. I also like that the heros are kids ... a theme that always draws me to Children's and YA literature (i.e. Nick of Time and Percy Jackson).

Do you have a struggling reader? These would be great! Amazon says they are for kids ages 9-12. I think a twelve year-old would be bored, but a struggling 8 or 9 year-old would probably find them easy enough to get through but interesting enough to hold his (or her) attention. My advanced 7 year-old has no trouble with them.

April 20, 2010

A How-To Book I Needed

If Graphic Novels count in the 15/15/15 challenge, then so does my entry for today. It is a "how-to" for my new camera. And boy, did I need David Busch's Nikon D90: Guide to Digital SLR Photography. I only skimmed chapters 4 to 9, but I read in great detail every word and instruction in chapters 1 to 3. The detailed reading of the latter chapters will come as I hone my skills. Well, it will come after I develop some skills. This is a serious camera. I bought it for our upcoming trip to Glacier National Pack, and I want to know what to do with it.

Of course every book says the same thing ... take lots of photos. But you kind of have to know what all those buttons do first. This is going to take some time, but I have a pretty good start.

Are you interested in a new camera? Do you have questions? Are you looking for reviews? Before I bought my new D90 I read www.KenRockwell.com over and over for months until I finally made up my mind. He also has some great user guides and info sheets.

April 19, 2010

Think for Yourself

TV turnoff week starts today. Can you do it? Can you turn off the T.V. and limit your non-work screen time? Can you get off Facebook and stop Twittering for a week?

I challenge you to keep the T.V. off for a whole week.

I dare you not to load Facebook for a week.

Turn it off.

Read a book. Even a bad one is probably better than T.V. (But if you are just going to read Twilight then you might as well just turn the T.V. back on.)

Do you feel lost without Facebook? Have lunch with a friend. Call your dad on the phone.

Play a board game.

Make pizza from scratch.

Go to a baseball game.

Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality. Here's the other problem with Facebook and Twitter and even The New York Times. When you expose yourself to those things, especially in the constant way that people do now--older people as well as younger people--you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people's thoughts....You are creating a cacophony in which it is impossible to hear your own voice.

William Dersiewicz in The American Scholar

Lessons on Leadership

My reading yesterday was a huge departure from the previous two days. My husband will be teaching a course on "leadership," and while we were searching rows and rows of books at bookstores and libraries for reading on the subject (I think he should write his own book, by the way), I came across John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage.

The 1955 Pulitzer Prize winner, Kennedy's book presents a mini-biography of eight extraordinary senators who committed acts requiring courage that changed the men and sometimes the course of history. The book introduced new characters to me and gave me broader perspective on those I had heard of. It definitely illustrated, if it did not define, "leadership."

In a book I read earlier in the month that reminds me of this one, David McCullough said, "We have not had a president of the United States with a sense of history since John Kennedy." I believe that to be true, unless you consider that they have a sense of their own history. He suggests that we should have a history requirement for the presidency ... I think we should at least require that all members of Congress read Kennedy's book.

April 18, 2010

Two For the Channel Islands

Did you even know there were Channel Islands? If you read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I reviewed yesterday, you were introduced to them.

I have to admit I was ignorant of them until I read Ted Bell's first book for children, Nick of Time. I fell in love with the islands and all of the characters he created. The proud Lord Hawke (who happens to be the main character in Ted Bell's series of books for adults and I imagine is very good-looking), the curmudgeonly Gunner, and the courageous Nick McGiver were engaging and appealing. The story was exciting and interesting. The book was educational while being a great read. Best of all, I love that it shows how a 12 year-old can be a hero ... and so can his little sister.

Regardless of what you think of Glenn Beck, you have to appreciate his love for a great story. Here is his interview with Ted Bell:

Could the second book, The Time Pirate, compare to the first? Would Nick's Tempus Machina save him and the world again? I had one day to find out.

"Aye, Matey!" It was as good as the first. The murderous enemy Billy Blood was just as evil and tracherous. The people of the islands were more resolute in the defense of good. Nick McGiver ... well I won't tell. Not a word about what he does.

This book again takes us back to the Channel Islands during WWII; but, instead of going further back in time to help the British Lord Nelson, Nick finds himself face to face with George Washington. Will the British boy help out the American General? You'll have to read it to find out. I promise the journey with Nick will be worth it.

Just a note: one of our favorite ways to enjoy a good book is in the car as we rush from place to place. We have found some wonderful books on tape - it is how we were first introduced to Percy Jackson. I only managed to keep this book from the boys because I promised them we would listen to it together. Every time we get in the car we turn on The Time Pirate, even if it is just the 5 minute trip to school. The narrator of both this book and the first one, John Shea, masterfully brings the story to life. Tired of bad music and talk radio. Listen to this instead!

April 17, 2010

Oh, But I Didn't Want to Like It

My first book in the "15 Books in 15 Days" journey seems highly appropriate. I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society because Mrs. M-mv said it was good, and I trust her opinion. She has rarely steered me wrong. She said she read it because Girl Detective said it was worthwhile. It came from the library, off the wait list, the day before yesterday so I picked it up and began.

I didn't want to like it. I am just like that. I have found that I don't often like those books that are in fashion, The Help or The Life of Pi for example. At least I finished Pi, I coulen't get past the first twenty pages of The Help. Maybe it is my non-conformist nature. Maybe I just don't like people telling me what to do. I was determined not to like this book.

But I did. I did like it. It gives me reason to scoff at those people I know who say the uneducated can't understand great literature. It gives me reason to believe that anyone, at any point in their life, can become a reader. You just have to be in the right place and have the right inspiration.

It was an easy read - perfect for this challenge. It was a beautiful little book. But I didn't want to like it.

Stay tuned for more on the Channel Islands tomorrow. I am not kidding. Two books on a before little known part of the world.

April 1, 2010

This is not a fashion blog

I don't usually write about fashion. I don't usually care about fashion. However, after a very bad start to my day yesterday, I was privileged to be a guest at the Houston Chronicle's 10 Best Dressed Women of Houston luncheon.

(Before you get all snippy on me about useless women who have nothing better to do than parade around in very expensive clothes, this event raised over $350,000 yesterday for the March of Dimes and has raised over $5.6 million in 26 years for the same organization.)

I don't care much for fashion ... like I don't care much for cars. Yet, just as I can appreciate an antique English roadster for its quality and lines, I can appreciate truly beautiful clothing when I see it.

The show started with this.

The cut of this coat was amazing. I could see from my seat in the third row that anyone would look good in something like this. Later in the runway show came this.

You can't tell from the photo, but the detail on this dress was wonderful. I thought it might be one of my favorites, but then this dress came out.

It was deceivingly beautiful ... on the runway you had to look twice before you noticed the sequins. And talk about sequins.

The movement of this dress was wonderful. You wouldn't believe that a dress with so much weight to it could flow like water. However, my favorite dress of the day was this one. I don't have anywhere to where it, but I might just put it in a frame on my wall. It was like a work of art.

Anyone have a couple of thousand dollars to loan me so I can own it?