Sunday, November 30, 2008

Coming Soon: Book Stacks!

I couple of years ago, I came upon an article describing the wonderful idea of book stacks. (I wish I remembered when I originally found the link.) The general idea is that books are such wonderful, important, essential things to have in a home, it only makes sense to have a stack of them under the tree for each of your children on Christmas Day. Of course, this was a bandwagon made for me, and I jumped on. I told a couple of book-loving friends about it, too, and both of them immediately ran off to join the book stacking circus.

My friend Michelle has just started a book blog, Fond of Books, and her first entry is about the books stacks she made for her kids this year. As she notes, it's nice to learn of these ideas early enough to have time to do them. I will post our 2008 book stacks as soon as they are complete.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Readolutions #7 & #8

7. I will keep a "books purchased/received" list.

I started doing this in 2007, and I did pretty well with it that year, so I decided to continue. Well, I haven't done it at all this year. I really enjoyed keeping this list and looking back at it, so this readolution may reappear on my 2009 list.

8. I will keep my Amazon wish list updated.

I started an Amazon wish list in 2007, I believe, and it was really nice to have. I liked being able to look back at books I'd considered buying for whatever reason. I started gift idea lists, too -- it's really easy to do, and you can make several of them. I made one for my kids and one for extended family. I have just recently peeked at them again (the holiday season and all) and I'm making updates and resolving to again use these great Amazon features.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What I Read in 2007

1. The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (Helene Hanff)
2. Celebrations (Maya Angelou)
3. Suite Francaise (Irene Nemirovsky)
4. The Inimitable Jeeves (P.G. Wodehouse)
5. Fables #2: Animal Farm (Bill Willingham)
6. The Goose Girl (Shannon Hale)
7. Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day (Winnifred Watson)
8. Girls of Slender Means (Muriel Spark)
9. Housekeeping vs. the Dirt (Nick Hornby)
10. The Tent (Margaret Atwood)
11. Fables #3: Storybook Love (Bill Willingham)
12. Fun Home (Alison Bechdel)
13. Round Ireland with a Fridge (Tony Hawks)
14. Fables #4: March of the Wooden Soldiers (Bill Willingham)
15. Enna Burning (Shannon Hale)
16. The Sandman #1: Preludes and Nocturnes (Neil Gaiman)
17. Fables #5: The Mean Seasons (Bill Willingham)
18. Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone (J.K. Rowling)
19. Brain, Child magazine, Winter 2007 issue
20. River Secrets (Shannon Hale)
21. The Enchanted April (Elizabeth von Arnim)
22. The Yiddish Policeman's Union (Michael Chabon)
23. Nine Stories (J.D. Salinger)
24. Brain, Child magazine, Spring 2007 issue
25. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling)
26. Princess Academy (Shannon Hale)
27. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J.K. Rowling)
28. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J.K. Rowling)
29. Warriors: Into the Wild (Erin Hunter)
30. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J.K. Rowling)
31. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J.K. Rowling)
32. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J.K. Rowling)
33. Brain, Child magazine, Summer '07 issue
34. A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life (Dana Reinhardt)
35. Born on the Wrong Planet (Erika Hammerschmidt)
36. Mommy Tracked (Whitney Gaskell)
37. Kabul Beauty School (Deborah Rodriguez)
38. Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them (J.K. Rowling)
39. Harmless (Dana Reinhardt)
40. The Sandman #2: The Doll's House (Neil Gaiman)
41. Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Marisha Pessl)
42. Fables #6: Homelands (Bill Willingham)
43. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
44. A Great and Terrible Beauty (Libba Bray)
45. Forever... (Judy Blume)
46. Leap Days (Katherine Lanpher)
47. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Brian Selznick)
48. Scary Stories (three volumes) (Alvin Schwartz)
49. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou)
50. The Agony of Alice (Phyllis Reynolds Naylor)
51. Starting with Alice (Phyllis Reynolds Naylor)
52. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie)
53. Rebel Angels (Libba Bray)
54. The Higher Power of Lucky (Susan Patron)
55. The Basic Eight (Daniel Handler)
56. Adverbs (Daniel Handler)
57. Watch Your Mouth (Daniel Handler)
58. The Wide Window (Lemony Snicket)
59. Warriors: Fire and Ice (Erin Hunter)
60. The Miserable Mill (Lemony Snicket)
61. The Austere Academy (Lemony Snicket)
62. The Ersatz Elevator (Lemony Snicket)
63. The Right Attitude to Rain (Alexander McCall Smith)
64. Ella Enchanted (Gail Carson Levine)

What I Read in 2006

I started this blog in 2006, and for over two years, used it mainly to keep a running list in the sidebar of the books I read. Since my sidebar is getting unwieldly, I thought I'd turn my past year's lists into posts instead.

Here's what I read in 2006:

1. Akimbo and the Elephants (Alexander McCall Smith)
2. March (Geraldine Brooks)
3. The Bookseller of Kabul (Asne Seierstad)
4. Address Unknown (Kathrine Kressmann Taylor)
5. The Reptile Room (Lemony Snicket)
6. The Age of Innocence (Edith Wharton)
7. Thimble Summer (Elizabeth Enright)
8. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
9. Akimbo and the Lions (Alexander McCall Smith)
10. The Confessions of Max Tivoli (Andrew Sean Greer)
11. Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (Ayelet Waldman)
12. When the Emperor Was Divine (Julie Otsuko)
13. Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card)
14. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel Spark)
15. The Polysyllabic Spree (Nick Hornby)
16. The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows Of Josephine B. (Sandra Gulland)
17. Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi)
18. Postmark Paris (Leslie Jonath)
19. The Comforters (Muriel Spark)
20. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (J.K. Rowling)
21. Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)
22. The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon)
23. Bet Me (Jennifer Crusie)
24. The Masque of the Black Tulip (Lauren Willig)
25. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Lisa See)
26. Bye-Bye, Black Sheep (Ayelet Waldman)
27. Memento Mori (Muriel Spark)
28. Where Books Fall Open (Bascove, ed.)
29. Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg (Gail Carson Levine)
30. Gaudy Night (Dorothy L. Sayers)
31. Testing Kate (Whitney Gaskell)
32. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
33. Fables #01: Legends in Exile (Bill Willingham)
34. The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog (Dave Barry)
35. Unzipped (Lois Greiman)
36. A Christmas Memory (Truman Capote)
37. 84, Charing Cross Road (Helene Hanff)

Readolution #6

6. I will keep a TBR list.

I imagined that this year I would keep a running list (a "To Be Read" list) on the computer of all the books I'm interested in reading, maybe organized into categories and in priority order. Of course, I pictured this list being pages and pages long, including every book I'd read about or heard about that sounded vaguely interesting, and adding in my towering piles of shelf-sitters.

I think I intimidated myself into not even starting this project.

I have kept a list of books I'd like to get to each month, listed in the monthly section of my reading calendar. I do this each month, and try not to foresee what the next month will bring. This has been fun; I've learned a lot about my reading habits by setting these goals and seeing what happens with them. I started doing this in 2007, and although my lists started out as being very unrealistic (too many books, too many "I really should read..."s), I've noticed I'm better at predicting what I will want to and be able to read each month.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Felix recommends... (Winter '08)

(In this blog, my four-year-old son will be referred to as "Felix," after one of his favorite Rosemary Wells characters.)

Felix loves books. He loves it when anyone reads to him, and I often find him paging through books on his own. Here are a few of his favorites from last winter:

~ Anything Rosemary Wells. Particular favorites are the McDuff books, the Max and Ruby stories, and, as I mentioned above, Felix Feels Better.

~ Toot and Puddle, the first in the series by Holly Hobbie. These two little characters are lovely friends to get to know.

~ Maurice Sendak's Nutshell Library, especially Chicken Soup with Rice. Flashbacks to my childhood!

~ Lynley Dodd's Slinky Malinky and Hairy Maclary books. The rhymes and great illustrations make these extra-fun read alouds.

~ I Love My Little Storybook by Anita Jeram. Reading this one with him was a huge treat. He really connected with the theme: Books are wonderful company!

~ Baby Bear's Chairs and the How Do Dinosaurs... books by the prolific Jane Yolen. What a fun author to get to know.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Readolution #5

5. I will post on this blog regularly, perhaps weekly.

I think it's fairly obvious how I've been doing on this one. I'll spin it in a positive light: Since October, I've been doing pretty well. Ha.

I hope to continue posting on this blog regularly. I think the key is just doing a short post (like this one) when I have a moment. Because the more I blog, the more I want to blog, and the more time I find to do it.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Auntie Lois B., Part II: "My favorite was Rivka."

(My aunt died this September 30, of complications from cancer. This entry and the previous one are written for her.)

The second book we read was A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life, by Dana Reinhardt.

When Auntie Lois asked us who our favorite secondary character was in the book, we listed many different people: Simone’s parents, her younger brother Jake, her best friend Cleo, and her new friend, Zach.

After giving us all a chance to speak, Auntie Lois said, “My favorite was Rivka.”

“Oh, me too, me too!” we all shouted. “She wasn’t a secondary character! We would have said her, too!” We all laughed and then talked about all of the things we loved about Rivka.

Warning: There are spoilers ahead. If you want to read a really good book, and you don't like to know what is coming when you're reading, stop here and go get it. It's an Auntie Lois pick, and that's about the best endorsement a book can get. You'll love it.

A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life is a young adult novel about Simone, a teenager who was adopted when she was a baby. At the start of the book, she has no knowledge of her biological family’s history, and she has no interest in it; she’s been raised by wonderful parents and feels comfortable and confident with her place in the world.

At first, she is very resistent when her parents encourage her to meet her biological mother, Rivka, who calls and wants to connect with her. Slowly, she learns that Rivka grew up in a Hasidic Jewish family, became pregnant at a young age, and gave up her baby because there were no other real choices for her. She also learns that Rivka is fighting a losing battle with cancer.

As they grow to know each other, Simone is impressed by Rivka’s faith. Her adoptive parents are atheists, and Simone has never quite understood the draw of religion. Rivka shows her how her faith brings her strength in facing her illness.


I'd love to quote several scenes in this book, including a beautiful one where Simone's family celebrates Hanukah with Rivka. I want to be careful about copyright, though -- and I want to encourage people to read this lovely book for themselves, if you weren't yet convinced by my above spoiler warning. There is a very poignant moment where Simone discusses Rivka's illness with a Rabbi, and I think it's okay for me to share a bit of it here.

Simone is understandable upset and angry that her mother, who she's only recently been able to get to know and who is only thirty-three years old, is going to die. She expresses her feelings to Rabbi Klein, and though he isn't able to reassure her that he knows why this happens, he gives her some comfort with these words:

“For what it’s worth, Simone, I believe that you are giving Rivka the gift of an afterlife.”

“You mean by passing down her genes?”

“No. I mean by remembering her. I believe that is how we all live on after this life. By being remembered by those who knew and loved us. Every time you speak of Rivka after she’s gone, every time you tell a story about her, every time you think of her, imagine her, for that moment she is living on. It isn’t about genetics. If you had never come to know her, I wouldn’t be telling you this, even though her physical traits may be passed down to your children. We are made of much more than our genes. I would imagine, Simone, that you understand this better than most.”

If you've gotten this far and haven't yet picked up the book, go get it!


Dear Auntie Lois,

Thank you for all of the gifts you’ve given to me, particularly your love of the written word. I promise to keep reading and sharing with others the joy and comfort of books.

I miss you. I love you. I remember you.

Your loving niece,


Auntie Lois B., Part I: Dancing with the Limp

(My aunt died this September 30, of complications from cancer. My next two entries are written for her.)

..for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid pieces of paper unfolds world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet you or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of the things that you don't get in real life--wonderful, lyrical language, for instance. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I'm grateful for it the way I'm grateful for the ocean.

Anne Lamott wrote this in her book Bird by Bird, and I think my Auntie Lois B. felt the same way.


I always loved hearing about Auntie Lois’s book club which she organized and attended regularly in California for over twenty years. She once sent me a list of the books they’d read together, and put asterisks next to the ones she particularly recommended. Whenever she was here for a visit, we’d talk about what we were reading and share stories about the neat things we’d learned from books, the joy and comfort that reading brought to us.

I am so glad I was able to participate in a couple of her Minnesota family book clubs. I will always remember talking about books and life with my family, sitting in my other Auntie Lois’s beautiful gazebo, drinking tea and enjoying the excellent company.

I gathered some quotes from the books and authors that we read together, and put them together for others to enjoy. When I read these quotes, they bring Auntie Lois back to me for a moment: I remember her smiling eyes as she asked us to share our thoughts about a particular plot point or character, her strong voice as she read an exerpt to us from a review of the book we read, her gentle hands patting ours when she expressed a shared perspective or a differing opinion.


The first book we read was All New People, by one of Auntie Lois’s favorite authors, Anne Lamott (quoted above.) Here is a quote from All New People, which sounds a bit like a piece of advice my Gramma Caryl might give:

[My eccentric mother used to say] ‘Dwell in the solution,’ which was shorthand for something a Christian writer named Emmet Fox once said, which was, ‘Do not dwell in the problem, dwell in the solution; the solution is God.’

For this book club, we watched a video together about Anne Lamott, and remarked on her humor, her strength, and her eccentricities. We got a big kick out of her; we loved her originality and honesty, and her descriptions of the role of faith in her life. Here are a few more Lamott quotes (which I found online -- I hope that means they are okay to share here) that give you an idea of the person she is:

'No' is a complete sentence.

If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans. ~ Bird by Bird

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people.... I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it. ~ Bird by Bird

We all know we're going to die; what's important is the kind of men and women we are in the face of this. ~ Bird by Bird

Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you're going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are. ~ from her graduation commencement address to Berkeley

I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me--that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. ~ Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

Peace is joy at rest. Joy is peace on its feet. ~ quoting her pastor in Salon, April 25, 2003

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.

Sometimes grace works like water wings when you feel you are sinking. ~ Grace [Eventually]: Thoughts on Faith

I never had a particularly strong craving to procreate, except for earlier fantasies of wanting to be Marmee in Little Women.

Here are Anne Lamott’s rules for life, from Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith:

Rule 1: We are all family.
Rule 2: You reap exactly what you sow, that is, you cannot grow tulips from zucchini seeds.
Rule 3: Try to breathe every few minutes or so.
Rule 4: It helps beyond words to plant bulbs in the dark of winter.
Rule 5: It is immoral to hit first.

And here is one more quote from her about the importance of books in our lives:

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship. ~ Bird by Bird