Valentine’s Day post on a heartbreaking novel

I was only a few chapters into The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter when I knew it would break my heart. I just didn’t know how.

The book was building towards something. But what? What horrible thing will happen?

And to who?

I knew it wasn’t going to end well. But I kept reading. Continue reading


My bookcases and my 40 years

When I turned 40 earlier this month, I set a goal for myself: I will read 40 books in the next year.
Thanks to a good friend who suggested this may be too ambitious for my particular situation, I have revised this goal: I will read 40books OUT OF MY OWN BOOKCASES in…however long it takes me.
First, let me talk about my beautiful bookcases.
When we were house hunting, it came down to two houses. One had a three-car garage, was on a lake, and had built-in bookcases. The other, which we now live in, didn’t have these particular things, but was great in other ways.
Poor Jeremy gave up his dreams of fishing out of his back yard and keeping all his trailers and boats on-site (Ok there still wouldn’t have been enough room for all of these!!).
And I thought I was giving up my bookcases.
Until he suggested: Why don’t you just have some bookcases built in “that room”? That room, which would have otherwise had no true purpose except making me feel like I needed another couch, is now my library. Thanks to my uncle Don, cousin Aaron and Monarch Cabinets (family business plug), I soon had my very own bookcases built wall to wall.
This was my dream come true because I definitely had the books to fill them.
However, truth be told many of these books I have not yet read. I am constantly collecting books to read “someday.”
So this year, instead of clicking “buy” on Amazon, hitting another used bookstore, or grabbing a book at the library, I will be book shopping from my own bookcases. If I run out of “new” books, I will re-read some favorites.
As I am set to finish the first book of this endeavor, the bar has been set very high. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks is the type of book that reminds me why I fill my bookcases with books.

Every night I have looked forward to going to bed so I can read it. As the pages wind down, I am filled with excitement and sorrow, as this journey will soon be over.
This is the type of book that makes me want to go click “buy” on everything else Faulks has written, so I can add them all to my bookcases to be read “someday.”
But I won’t…for now…instead, I will look foward to what other surprises await me right here.

Dr. Suess and the power of a gift

Beyond the immense power of words and themes, a gifted book carries even more emotional weight.

Dr. Suess’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go was a gift from my fifth grade teacher; he brought it to my high school graduation. He brought this and a roll of toilet paper, signed by my fifth grade class, but that’s a whole other story.
The years are long between fifth and twelfth grades. As different as we were in some ways, my family and this teacher had a special connection that remained through all those years. 
After high school, this book sat in my bookcases across states and houses, and I always considered it a symbol of someone who believed in me. This teacher was one of my first champions. Perhaps a stronger one than I ever knew. 
I admit this book hasn’t been out of its decorative sleeve much in the past 20 plus years until recently when my kids found it and consequently accused me of hiding a “kids book” in my room. The nerve!
So, we enjoyed reading it several times during the next few days. And during these recent readings, I found myself somewhat reflective (being forced to consider where have I gone exactly?). 
A few days after our Dr. Suess reading marathon, I learned my teacher had passed away. During the week I had been reading this story to my kids and reflecting upon it, he was in his last days of hospice. 
I was planning my next journey while he was facing his.
For the rest of my life, when I look at this book, I will be thankful for this teacher and feel him believing in me. 
“Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!” – Dr. Suess

The Atlantic: My new favorite magazine

Before leaving my house one day, my dad left a copy of The Atlantic on my coffee table and said I should read an article on such and such. (He didn’t say such and such but this is how I heard it at the time as I was busy doing something.)
So I took the magazine on our 10+ hour summer vacation road trip.
I was quickly sucked in by “The Gigolo” where the author invites the star of a reality series over for a party with her friends to be interviewed about the growing male escort service. Ok, this definitely wasn’t the article my dad was referring to, but it was fascinating. 
Then “Spolier Alert” noted that the average American family throws out $1,500 worth of food each year, but equally or even more important, “food waste is responsible for emitting the equivalent of 3.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually” and “if food waste was a country it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter on the planet.” Though the article focused more on technologies to help indicate food’s freshness, it actually inspired me to get (my husband) working on our new composting system.
Article after article I learned more and more, about Minecraft, infertility, craft distilling. I learned that clown fish can change sex; I won’t share here, though I have already told in some social situations, how this fact would change Finding Nemo
Then I came across the cover story, about the moral debt America accrued from slavery and the history of “white flight.” Yes, this is a likely suspect, I thought. This may well have been the article he thought I should read. And I was glad I did. But I still wasn’t sure.
After that was another feature story, “Fire on the Mountain” about the 19 Firefighters who died near Yarnell, Arizona last year. The story, which reconstructed their final hours and bravery, was one I was thankful to read. 
Story after enjoyable story, I wondered if that article was “the one” I was supposed to read.
But at some point I decided it didn’t really matter anymore which one I was supposed to read because I enjoyed them all, and further, I didn’t even want to know anymore! 
Then I reached the end, “How the Novel Made the Modern World,” a history of the American novel. Yes, I had to admit, this was probably it, the one he had intended for me.  Even so, I had already read the whole magazine enjoying other stories just as much. 
Eventually I couldn’t stand it.
“Dad, that Atlantic you gave me…which article was it you wanted me to read?” 
“I can’t remember,” he said.
The Atlantic. June 2014.

Tips and tricks for drinking in Ulysses

I drafted this to present at the annual Bloomsday celebration…

 As Leopold Bloom notes early on,


“Good puzzle would be cross Dublin without passing a pub,” (Joyce Ulysses, 48),
so I put together some Tips and tricks for drinking in Ulysses, or 1904 Dublin:
1.      For a quiet mid-day drink, try Davy Byrne’s, and make sure to claim your free drink every four years. Known as a “moral pub,” the barman Byrne doesn’t chat much but

stands a drink now and then. But in a leapyear once in four” (140).

2.      However, before ordering a drink, DO NOT check the time because Nosey Flynn, who has been sitting in the same nook since Dubliners’ “Counterparts,” will gab about it later:
God Almighty couldn’t make [Bloom] drunk. Didn’t you see him look at his watch? Ah, you weren’t there. If you ask him to have a drink first thing he does he outs with the watch to see what he ought to imbibe. Declare to God he does” (146).
3.      Also, DO NOT order water or gingerpop in front of other patrons. Even if you have dyspepsia or are attempting sobriety, real Irishmen like Paddy Leonard still expect to buy a round:
“Paddy Leonard eyed his alemates. Lord love a duck, he said. Look at what I’m standing drinks to! Cold water and gingerpop! Two fellows that would suck whisky off a sore leg” (146).
4.      So, most importantly, DO NOT refuse a drink. Temperate behavior for any reason will arouse great suspicion and will be mocked incessantly by a nameless narrator:
“Bloom saying he wouldn’t and he couldn’t and excuse him no offence and all to that and then he said well he’d just take a cigar. Gob, he’s a prudent member and no mistake” (249).
5.      Instead, always adhere to the accepted “treating behavior” – buy and accept drinks in somewhat equal quantities – and when someone at Barney Kiernan’s asks you:
“Can you make a hole in another pint?”
regardless of how many pints you’ve already had, just answer
“Could a swim duck?” [sic] (257).
Joyce, James. Ulysses. Ed. Hans Walter Gabler. New York: Random House, 1986.


Emma and my love of the Norton Critical Edition

Once upon a time I did not read literary criticism. My internal contemplations, profound or not, were enough.

Returning to this mindset during a recent reading of Jane Austen’s Emma, I indulged myself in some (not so) deep thoughts:   
Wow, these people do nothing but sit around and talk, talk, talk. Mostly about marriage.
Austen’s physical descriptions are telling me nothing! Really – who is supposed to be more attractive here – Emma or Jane Fairfax? Elton, Frank Churchill, or Knightly?   
Seriously, how does everyone put up with Mr. Woodhouse??
Wow, Emma is a b-i-t-c-h!! Ok, I forgive her. 
Admittedly, it is enjoyable and stress-free to keep my analysis around this level.
However, most of the time, this isn’t enough anymore. During grad school, I had to read book after book, to write paper after paper in which I was required to research and incorporate what people who are smarter than me have written about all these books for the past decades/centuries.
Admittedly this seems painful, but at some point I got used to it, and now I find myself craving it.    
So after I finished Emma last week, I could have “moved on.” But instead, the following night I was excited to curl up with the essays in the back of the Norton Critical Edition.  
Much of the criticism was similar to my own thoughts yet in more elegant prose. Other articles definitely added insight into the setting and the author’s intentions and talents. Another (Reginald Farrer) claims that although a first reading seem “dense, slow, and obscure,” subsequent readings open up a “widening sum of delights.”
It’s unlikely I will re-read Emma (which I found a sometimes tedious but still enjoyable read) anytime soon if ever to know if Farrer is correct. Having now completed my experience, I have too many other books, or critical editions, to move on to.  
Austen, Jane. Emma. A Norton Critical Edition. Ed. George Justice. 2012.

The library cookbook I didn’t want to return

The only books I check out of the library – for myself – are “walk-by grabs.” This means I grab the book off the shelf while chasing two preschoolers to the kids’ section.  

Using this admittedly precarious selection method, I recently ended up with a cookbook titled Skinny Italian.

I was amused to realize the book was written by one of the Real Housewives (of New Jersey), Teresa Giudice. Trust me, I had no idea who this woman is and still don’t know any of her history on this show. Further, I generally wouldn’t blog about a cookbook but have to give it credit: After a couple of renewals, I still wasn’t ready to return it so I purchased it for myself (a used copy on Amazon runs $4 including shipping!).

This cookbook, which actually reads more like a book with some recipes thrown in, promotes the “cornerstones” of Italian cooking, many of which I have already implemented into my routines with little effort:  

·         No more bottled (chemical filled) salad dressing. Well, my husband is still using it sometimes…but I have chosen to get used to simple olive oil and balsamic vinegar with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

·         Speaking of Parmigiano-Reggiano, now I splurge on a block to grate myself, aged 24 months or more. It’s worth it!!

·         Less butter, more olive oil. I am a butter addict, but lately I have been using olive oil when I would have traditionally used butter. Teresa explains why extra-virgin olive oil is the best and debunks the confusing label claims on olive oil products.

·         No more alfredo. I’ve always loved it, but Teresa claims there is no such thing in Italy. Instead, she shares a lighter “white sauce” recipe that is delicious.

Other tidbits of interest:

·         Teresa admits using store-bought over homemade pasta most of the time because she says making her own is generally not worth the extra effort; she urges spending the time, instead, on homemade sauce, and gives a couple of easy versions to make.

·         She defends pasta to no-carb enthusiasts…emphasizing portion control.

Still on my to-do list:

·         Her homemade pizza dough recipe

·         Canning tomatoes during our next growing season (she devotes a whole chapter to this).

All of the recipes I’ve implemented into my routine have been husband and kid approved. It’s truly one of the most useful “cookbooks” I’ve ever owned.


Rebecca and its perennials

I don’t want to spill the secrets of Rebecca, billed as “the classic tale of romantic suspense” to anyone who has not yet read it, so I won’t focus on the plot here. Instead, I’ll just note the story reminds us that situations, and people, aren’t always what they seem, and, as the narrator learns, we shouldn’t waste our time “building up false pictures in our mind” to sit before and obsess over. 

As one who until recently was still reading for coursework, I find myself instinctually identifying possibly “paper topics” when I read a good book.

In Rebecca, the “paper topic” that kept presenting itself to me revolved around the floral imagery. The setting of Manderley and the book itself is mostly dark, sinister, and mysterious, but the floral vegetation at Manderley is bright, aromatic, and intoxicating. When I think of Manderley, I don’t picture the creepy halls of the mansion’s “west wing,” I picture the crimson rhododendrons.  

Mr. de Winter describes the effects of the estate’s vegetation: “His sister who was a hard, rather practical person, used to complain that there were too many scents at Manderley, they made her drunk. He did not care. It was the only form of intoxication that appealed to him. His earliest recollection was of great branches of lilac, standing in white jars, and they filled the house with a wistful, poignant smell.”

The only flowers Mr. de Winter prefers to look at in vases rather than their natural outdoor state are roses. He says, “A bowl of roses in a drawing room had a depth of colour and a scent they had not possessed in the open. There was something rather blosy about roses in full bloom, something shallow and raucous, like women with untidy hair. In the house, they became mysterious and subtle.”

More dramatic than the roses are Manderley’s 50-foot high “blood red” rhododendrons. The narrator is shocked by these “monsters, rearing to the sky, massed like a battalion, too beautiful…,too powerful, they were not plants at all.”

Later, the newly blooming hydrangeas, though beautiful, are noted as “somber…blue monotonous, like spectators lined up in a street to watch us pass.”

The flowers, therefore, serve as additional characters in the novel.  

If I were still in graduate classes, I would go on to make a case for how exactly these different flowers are characterized and how they serve what goals of the author in 12-15 pages (double-spaced). Instead, today I just get to share some red rhododendrons and recommend you read this book if you haven’t.  


Du Maurier, Daphne. Rebecca. New York: HarperCollins, 1938.