“Caddie Woodlawn” by Carol Ryrie Brink

caddiecoverI remember, back in elementary school, that there was a time when all of our classes were reading books about the pioneers.  While I can’t remember what book my class read, I know that a lot of other classes were reading “Caddie Woodlawn” and that I wanted to read it, too, but for some reason I never did.  This doesn’t make sense to me, because I’ve always been a voracious reader and there was a period of time – thanks, probably, to the Kirsten doll of the American Girl collection – where I was really into pioneers.  Anyway, now that I’m a “grown-a$$ woman” I went and found a copy at Open Books, and I read it. Boom.

“Caddie Woodlawn” is, as I expected, a charming tale of quainter times on the Wisconsin prairie back in the good old days.  Tomboy Caddie is one of the seven Woodlawn children, the apple of her father’s eye and the rough-and-tumble bane of her mother’s.  Along with her brothers, she finds all sorts of outdoorsy and plucky fun in the untamed wilds of Civil-War-Era Wisconsin.  Caddie & Co. make friends with an Indian who lives by them, help stop a massacre that isn’t really going to be a massacre, hunt pigeons, and learn about the true value of home and loving where you live. Based on the real-life childhood adventures of Carol Rhyrie Brink’s grandmother, the book is adorable and heart-warming, and if you’re into the “Little House” series of books, this is right up your alley.

I’m happily checking this one off my “things I need to read” list.

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“The Art of Roughhousing” by Anthony T. DeBenedet and Lawrence J. Cohen

roughhouseBeing a parent in these days of hyper-media isn’t easy.  Not only do we have to deal with a gazillion internet articles all telling us how we’re doing it wrong, we also have constant access to articles and news about kids getting abducted or injured.  I’m sure these things were always happening, but the internet era has brought them all toe the forefront and they’re practically unavoidable.   Also, gym classes and recess are being cut from schools as a result of too much standardized testing and budget cuts.  All of these things have combined to create a world where kids are being kept indoors, in front of screens, and all of this is leading to kids having less time for physical play.  Free, physical play can certainly help stem the tide of childhood obesity, but it also has other mental and emotional/developmental benefits.

Basically – Our Kids need to unplug and play more.

Anthony T. DeBenedet, M.D.,  and Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D., are here to try and help.  Their book, “The Art of Roughhousing”, is a friendly instruction manual (of sorts) with true-life case studies, and a ton of suggestions for everything from throwing a pillow fight, to sliding down stairs on a mattress, to simply easy ways to get started if you’re not entirely comfortable with the idea of roughhousing – and many parents aren’t.

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Handy diagrams such as the one above give many ideas for getting started.  Safety is obviously a concern, as is respecting your kid’s boundaries, and all of these worries are addressed.  The idea is to have fun, not stress your kid (or yourself) out.

I’m a convert – and honestly, I’m probably the target market for this book.  As the Mom of a rambunctious little boy, I spent a great deal of time convinced my toddler is going to break his head open when he starts jumping on the couch or his bed, but that’s precisely what this book is about – and I think it helped me.  Last night, after I finished reading the book, my son and I had a riotous game of “Angry Birds” – throwing the plush characters (Yoda and Princess Leia, if you must know) at each other and through a hula hoop, with occasional mattress-jumping in between. 

This would be an awesome baby shower gift for new parents.  Combine it with Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods,” and you have a fantastic pair of works to encourage more play/outdoor time.

“The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness” by Brianna Karp

What does “memoir” actually mean?  In recent years, I can think of more than one example of someone writing a “memoir” and then, down the road, it coming out that the story told within the book wasn’t entirely true.  The events may not have been completely fabricated, but they were definitely enhanced – whether for the reader’s entertainment or the author’s ego/wallet, who knows?  Most recently, Greg Mortenson’s “Three Cups of Tea” painted him as a superbly good person, but it turns out his claims may have been largely to siphen donations to his own personal charity.

Maybe it’d be best to keep an open mind when reading a “memoir.”

girlsguideI ask this because I recently read Brianna Karp’s “The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness,” and found it an engrossing read, even if it did leave me with a few questions and a few moments of thinking, “No way that actually happened.” I bought it, though.  People’s lives and stories are their own and crazy things happen to everyone.   Her relationship with a guy named Matt, which takes over from the plot of her being “homeless”, may have immediately raised my ‘something ain’t right’ alarm, but people enter into dumb relationships with unstable people all the time. The book is published by Harlequin, so the fact that the final few chapters are the over-the-top of soap operas isn’t surprising. (No joke: Pregnant, Ms. Karp flies to the UK to surprise her “fiancee” – who is having a baby with another woman –  only to wind up sleeping in the snow at a train station for days, and thereby causes her own miscarriage yet winds up a tabloid sensation.  Mhmm. Also, how many homeless people do you know who can afford international airfare? Round-trip.  Multiple times.)

I’m not sure how I feel about this book, honestly.  I do not doubt Ms. Karp’s backstory – child of abuse and molestation, finds a job she loves and then gets laid off, and circumstances cause her to wind up living in a camping trailer in a WalMart parking lot.  That’s her life story.  I accept that as the book’s core.  What I take issue with is that nowhere in her book was there ever a sense of the actual danger that most homeless people live with day in and day out. Not having enough to eat is never a fear.  Freezing to death is never a fear.  I live near an area of Chicago with a rampant and real homeless problem, and I assure you that none of those people have a comfy trailer to sleep in, a car to drive, and the time and internet access to blog about their experiences.  We live in difficult times, and I’m sure homelessness has many faces, but it’s hard to accept how hard the whole thing is when shopping for vintage fashion is still a concern.

Post-reading, I took to the internet to see what happened to Ms. Karp in the months/years to follow the publication of the book.  It appears her blog has vanished, which is a shame – because it could have helped people in circumstances like hers, or even people who want to learn more about what the experience of being homeless is like.  She last tweeted in 2012. Per the one article I could dig up, she’s employed and at least has an apartment now. So good for her.

I don’t know what I just read.  Maybe it was an enhanced memoir.  Maybe I should take it as fiction.  Whatever it was, whatever happened, “The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness” was engrossing, and infuriating, and I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.

I’m back! — “Space” by James Michener

[Friends! I’m back – After a few months of trying to figure out how the Mom of an active/awesome/curious toddler can sustain a love of reading a lot, I might have figured it out – so hooray! Reading again!  What did I miss?!]

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James Michener is not someone you simply pick up and read in your spare time.  You have to commit.  You have to man up.  You have to want it. After putting in the time and enjoying his “Hawaii” and “Alaska,” I decided recently to tackle his “Space.” Having finished the book, I have to say it’s my favorite Michener novel I’ve yet encountered.

It’s still a challenging read.  The author likes to load his stories with huge casts of characters and tons of history, and the whole thing is sometimes overwhelming.  “Space” manages to be an enjoyable novel while, at the same time, teaching  us about the contributions of all the folks who helped America get to space – German scientists, Marines, American Politicians.  It’s the human stories that take the reader through the (occasionally daunting) history of man’s journey into space, and the whole thing is really smart.  It would be a good way to introduce someone to these events without a dry textbook.  I’m glad I took the time and read the book.

It seems “Space” was made into a mini-series starring James Garner? I might have to track it down.

 

 

Hiatus. Duh.

In case it’s not obvious by the lack of posts here recently, writing about what I’m reading isn’t my top priority right now. I’m still reading, but it’s infrequent and sometimes things aren’t worth writing about. So, I’m taking December off to celebrate the holidays and to examine if I’m going to continue this blog – as my other (more personal, family-centric) blog is proving a lot more fun and valuable to me at present.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Read things! Read all the things!

“Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” by Seth Grahame-Smith

abeHappy Halloween, Everyone!

October has passed in a flash – my son turned two, I traveled to my hometown for a weekend, and in between Halloween festivities I’ve also been sick for the last three weeks.  This has all conspired to equate to an October hardly full of scary reads.

However, I managed to get through one book that I think counts as seasonally appropriate — and I enjoyed it tremendously.

“Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” is not actually as stupid as you think it’s going to be.  That’s saying a lot, considering it came along at a time when every publisher in the world seemed to be going — “Ooh! Let’s put [insert horror monster/element here] together with [insert literary classic or historical figure here] and it’s sure to be a bestseller!”

This trend, of course, happened thanks to Seth Grahame-Smith, the author of the very book I’m discussing here.  Mr. Grahame-Smith, a writer of considerable talent and cleverness, had previously given the world an utter treat of a novel called “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies,” and it launched a million imitators. Some were okay. Most were not.

At the height of this craze, Mr. Grahame-Smith turned his attention and considerable writing skill to perhaps the most famous of presidents, our own axe-wielding Abe, and managed to create a tale that is not unlike Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”  Through the device of a modern writer given Abe’s Journal and papers, and historical records and speeches, we’re taken back in time to see the REAL history of slavery, The Civil War, and Lincoln’s enduring legacy — and this time, vampires have been added, and it’s pretty darn brilliant and totally works.

And there’s an appearance from a quite famous literary figure who fits right in. All I’m saying.

I enjoyed this book, and I didn’t really expect to. I’m also in love with the ending, which made me smile.

[Note: Nope. I’m not watching the movie. Don’t ask me.]

Have a safe and happy Halloween, friends!

 

Sicky McGee!

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Omigosh, you guys. I’m so sick.  It’s been a week of hacking cough, sleepless nights, cough drops, and now I have (literally and seriously) no voice left.  Like, I can’t even make a sound.  Only whispers.

Ugh.

BUT — on a bright note, I managed to get through a couple books while I’ve been down for the count. I’m not going to write lengthy things here, but thought I’d check in.

Melissa Gilbert’s memoir, “Prairie Tale,” about her life thanks to Little House on the Prairie, is a wonderful read – there’s celebrity gossip, candid confessions, and enough behind the Hollywood curtain secrets for four books. I devoured it.  Then I read just enough of Russel Brand’s “My Booky-Wook” to know I didn’t need to finish reading it.  I still don’t get his appeal.  Whatever. Then I read “Bread Givers” by Anzia Yezierska, which is a wonderful saga of an Orthodox rabbi and his daughters, all of whom get married off to men they don’t love in the name of tradition, and the youngest daughter who decides she’d rather try and make it on her own.  Superb book!

Excuse me, I’m going to go take some more medicine.

*Cough, cough*

“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” by Frederick Douglass

douglas(Hi! It’s been a while, I know. I’ve been around, enjoying the last days of summer. I’ve also been reading – but not books from my list. Recently, on a trip to my hometown, my Mom and I stopped in a used bookstore that we love – the only one in my hometown, mind you – and I got two amazing books, “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” and “Middlesex.” Both of these books are awesome and I devoured them. I also got Zadie Smith’s “On Beauty” and didn’t like it – so I donated it. Just sharing, so you know what’s up.)

I’m pretty sure every high school student in America reads “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” so I’m not sure how I missed it, but better late than never, right? I picked up my Dover Thrift Edition a few years ago, and it’s been on my bookcase ever since. Admittedly, I picked it up the other night because it’s short – only about 70 pages – and I wanted to get back into the swing of things. To my surprise, it’s a completely engrossing read and I finished it in one sitting.

As the title explains pretty darn clearly, Mr. Douglass lays out the story of his life from being born a slave to becoming a free man and fighting against slavery.  He talks about the cruelty of his masters and the facts of being a slave – you will go hungry, you will get beaten, and you can be traded away for any and every reason, never to see your family again.  Mr. Douglass rose up, found a way to learn to read and write, and stood up to his master and gained his freedom. It’s brutal to read at times, but inspiring.

I’d recommend this interesting and fast read to everyone – especially young people. It’s an uncomplicated look at a darker time in American History, and one we should learn from even today.

Three wonderful books…

Short and snappy – It’s summertime outside!

hedgehog“The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery

Once in a while a book comes along and effortlessly charms the reader. That’s this book.  It’s the story of a middle-aged concierge and a tween girl who work/live in a fancy French apartment building, and both pretend to be boring and dull when in reality they’re the most vibrant people in the whole place.  One day, a Japanese man moves into the building full of haughty tenants, and things begin to change.  It’s one of the smartest books I’ve ever read, and witty as can be at the same time.  It’s absolutely brilliant and I couldn’t put it down.

madding“Far from the Madding Crowd” by Thomas Hardy

When I began this “read all the books I own and have never read” project, this is exactly what I was hoping for – that somewhere in my collection would be a gem like this, a book I will probably love forever.  The adventures of Bathsheba and her lovers in the rural countryside make for a simple and fascinating portrait of a woman who has power in a world where most women don’t. Having never really encountered the works of Mr. Hardy before, I had no idea what to expect (and also, the summary on the back cover of my edition is REALLY not accurate) but I feel like I have a new favorite. I’m going to hunt down the movie adaptation pronto – apparently Julie Christie is in it?!

nobel“Beloved” by Toni Morrison

Maybe my reading of Ms. Morrison’s works is colored by the fact that, having heard her speak recently, I can hear her voice reading her words.  “Beloved” is a sensational piece of literature – an absolute masterpiece. Ms. Morrison never dumbs anything down, and expects a lot of her readers, and this book is no exception – things aren’t always spelled out clearly, and there’s a lot of things that happen that could be debated – but that’s the magic. Loved it.

Oh, and it won the Nobel Prize for Literature. So there’s that. 😉

Two books I didn’t love – “Extreme Encounters” by Greg Emmanuel and “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” by David Sedaris

exen“Extreme Encounters” by Greg Emmanuel

My tolerance for terrible things has gone significantly down since the birth of my son.  I used to love Law and Order: SVU, but now I can’t watch the show purely due to the sheer amounts of kids and parents that bad things happen to in the plots.  I tell you this, because it probably explains why I really didn’t enjoy “Extreme Encounters.”  While a clever idea for a book – and I’m always a big fan of Quirk Books’ releases – this one just isn’t for me. Greg Emmanuel has collected loads of information and relates first-hand accounts of what it would be like to be a part of The Running of the Bulls, get Frostbite, have a blow dryer dropped in the bathtub while you’re in it, and sink into quicksand – all of which sound terrible, as expected. If incredibly morbid non-fiction is your taste, go for it. It’s just not for me.

squirrel“Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” by David Sedaris

First, my confession; I’ve never read a book by David Sedaris, despite being a book nerd and being surrounded by people all the time who talk about how utterly amazing he is. So, when I found a first edition “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk” at a thrift store at the end of last year, I thought I’d stumbled upon a great find.

I just finished the book, though, and I’m not at all impressed.  This small collection of short stories of animals behaving like humans barely held my interest, and struck me as too cutesy and twee to even be finished.

Fortunately for Mr. Sedaris, the responses of my friends when I posted my disappointment with this work on Facebook were overwhelmingly along the lines of, “That’s my LEAST favorite of his books.  Read something else by him!  Really, he’s great! We promise!” There are two other Sedaris works on my bookcase to get through, so I’ll read those with an open mind.  “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk,” however, is going to get donated as quickly as I can get to Open Books.