A Little Catch Up

It is December 26th. I’d say that I’m not sure how it is December 26th already except I happen to know how very busy–or perhaps “full” is the better word–2018 has been. There’s been so much going on–bookish and otherwise–that I thought I’d play a little catch-up before my end-of-year and challenge sign-up posts start going up.

I could blame work of course, but other than a couple evening meetings (public meetings – Board of Zoning Appeals, interesting things those…if only they didn’t start so late!), work hours have been reasonable. Nope, it’s everything else keeping me busy–but fun busy.

Allen Art Museum Courtyard

There was the day trip to Oberlin to see the Allen Art Museum and the Weltzheimer/Johnson House (latter by Frank Lloyd Wright). The art museum is a true gem of a museum–part of Oberlin College, it’s completely free and has a little bit of everything–sculpture, painting, ceramics; Americas, Europe, Asia; ancient to contemporary. When I was there, the current exhibits included a digital media piece (projected on 4k TVs) and a series of hand-painted scrolls, both by Asian artists, that I found fascinating meditations on the human impact on our environment.

Fall Decor at Stan Hwyet

Another day trip, much later in the fall, to the Hocking Hills region. I’d never been there before, and although dismayed by the cavalier attitude of too many towards nature (let’s tromp all over the place in the name of the “perfect” picture for social media), it was a lovely day. And a lovely chance to continue to play with my camera’s manual settings. I keep looking over my photos and finding faults, but if you can’t find areas to improve in your own work, you never will get better. Of course, learning the manual settings on the camera leads to learning more about (and therefore spending time on) post-processing. Always something new to learn!

Hocking Hills Falls

And then there’s reading. I’ve been reading too much to write about anything, I’m afraid (although I did find one write-up in my drafts that needs posted). I’d still like to do proper write-ups for a couple, but some brief thoughts on some of the others:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – J.K. Rowling (1999, Britain) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – J.K. Rowling (2000, Britain)

I’ve been making my way through a reread of the Harry Potter series. (Currently in the middle of Order of the Phoenix, optimistically hoping to finish by year’s end.) I haven’t quite put my finger on why, but I do find much of the series comfort reads (well, not Order of the Phoenix–I despise Dolores Umbridge too much).

Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs With Any Camera – Bryan Peterson (4th Ed., 2016, US)

I’ve only been brave enough to dare to play with aperture/shutter speed because of this book. A coworker highly recommended it, and if you have a fancy camera and want to move past the “automatic” settings, I highly recommend it as well. (However, “any” is a bit of a misnomer – you do have to have manual mode!)

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think – Laura Vanderkam (2011, US), Great at Work: How Top Performers Work Less and Achieve More – Morten Hansen (2018, US), and Off the Clock – Laura Vanderkam (2018, US)

I spent a lot of time reading about time management and related issues this summer. I’ve spent a lot of time overwhelmed by the “to do” list this year, and hoped these would help. I would say…the Vanderkam books did. Mostly because her books are really about adjusting your outlook rather than trying to squeeze more time out of life. Really, when I stop and consider how much time I really have, and where it goes, I have LOTS of free time, I just need to use it well. Nothing wrong with the Hansen book, it just wasn’t that revealing to me. However, reading it in combination with Vanderkam was fascinating. Hansen organized very careful studies to discover what makes a great performer in the work environment. So the focus was on work (rather than all aspects of life) and, specifically, performance. And while he started from the observation that top performers don’t necessarily work tons of hours, he wasn’t focused on time management. Yet, his studies often came to the same or nearly same conclusions as Vanderkam does via her analysis of existing time-use surveys. Completely different approaches–and focuses–leading to some of the same thoughts.

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan (2013, US)

Saw the film, enjoyed the film, so I had to read the book. I was a bit surprised to discover how faithful to the book the film actually was (necessary simplification of characters and plot to keep it manageable aside.) So enjoyable, and frankly, it was a delight to read something lighter than so many of the other books I read this year. I was also delighted by the inclusion of so many words/phrases from other languages – apparently a representation of the “Singlish” spoken by many Singaporeans. I’m tentatively planning to read the other books in the series in the coming year.

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith [J.K. Rowling](2013, Britain)

I’ve been wanting to try out the Cormoran Strike books for a while and finally decided to stop waiting. I forget, sometimes, how much I enjoy a good mystery, and I did really enjoy this (err…as much as one should enjoy a murder mystery). I managed to fail to stop myself reading the end before I was halfway through, so I didn’t have the opportunity to guess the solution, but instead got to enjoy seeing how the groundwork was laid for Strike to arrive at the solution. My only complaint was that I would have liked to see more of the character of Robin–maybe in the later novels?

My Plain Jane – Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows (2018, US) and Shiver – Maggie Stiefvater (2009, US)

It’s funny, I never read any YA when I was that age…though I suppose there’s a lot more now than then. But I’m an equal-opportunity reader, so… My Plain Jane is a fluffy retelling of Jane Eyre – a retelling where Victorian England is plagued by ghosts and Jane Eyre happens to be one of the few who can see them. And a retelling where Charlotte Brontë is a character, not the author. Delightful and clearly written by a trio of women who love the original. (Now I kinda want to reread Jane Eyre myself, but I’m trying to focus on new-to-me books for the moment.) Shiver, on the other hand, was less delightful. It is definitely one of Stiefvater’s early novels, and not nearly as enjoyable for me as her more recent efforts. I think a case, in part, of not being the target audience for this one.

Hey, just like that, I’m feeling a bit more caught up! Always a good feeling.

Happy reading!

Week’s End Beginning Notes (8)

  • Well, this was meant to post yesterday but I forgot to take pictures. I think my brain has been on a mental organization break over the holidays. Time to whip it back into shape!
  • It rather seems to be the fashion just now to show off all our recent acquisitions. I’d hate to be the spoiler and buck convention…no, nix that, I actually don’t mind bucking convention, as long as it doing so doesn’t place me in the spotlight…but I’m just going to share anyways.
  • My family actually went a little counter-cultural and deliberately chose a small Christmas, so the only remotely bookish thing I received was the one book I most wanted:
Book: Sense and Sensibility
Sense and Sensibility, Annotated edition
  • However, it’s not the only book that’s come into my possession lately. I, err, may have taken advantage of and unexpected site visit for work that just so happened to pass right by a bookstore. This bit was on my own time, I hasten to add! Regardless, I walked out with two new books that I think will come in very handy in 2014:
Books: The Bluest Eye; The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories
The Bluest Eye
The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories
  • Russian Literature 2014, I have choices! (There are quite a few novellas in the Tolstoy)
  • But I’ve saved the best for last. Meet Rufus, my very own robot tea strainer. My brother knows me well–I told him he  “won” Christmas. Not that it’s a competition.
Rufus, the Robot Tea-Strainer
Rufus, the Robot Tea-Strainer
  • Rufus’s little arms/hands adjust to the tea cup/mug size. He works rather well, too, and oh so charming. 🙂
  • I can’t believe tomorrow is the last day of 2013! I’ve been seeing lots of year-end and best-of posts. Mine’s planned for tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll start 2014 right and actually have the end-of-2013 post up in 2013.
  • In the meantime, I really should try to finish up the book I’m reading that don’t really mesh with my 2014 plans. I think there’s still time…

An Afternoon Out

It was an unexpected snowfall.

Now, this may mean nothing more than I forgot to check the weather forecast. Regardless, I was surprised to wake to a sight unusually rare this winter: the ground and trees coated in fresh snow. I looked outside and thought that perhaps it would be an excellent day to curl up with a book and a cup of hot chocolate in front of the (gas) fire, the weather a perfect excuse for staying in.

Instead I went out. Despite the snow, the temperatures were above freezing, the roads fairly clear, and the bookstore beckoned.
The closest Barnes & Nobel is roughly 50 minutes away. With other options closer, I’ve never been in one, but the temptation to visit a new-to-me bookstore when opportunity arose overcame my inclination to spend the day in, and I was rewarded by finally—finally—finding a copy of Wives and Daughters. The War and Peace below is much more common but I’ve been eying it for a while. My venture out of doors was rewarded.

Of course, my sluggish reading pace this past week didn’t deserve reward. I’ve somehow managed to take to heart of late Douglas Adams’ statement, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

Only the library renewals have been acknowledged, and so I have a pile of books I need to would like to finish this week. As most of them are Shakespeare related, I would also need to post on them by Friday if I wish to include them for Allie’s readalong. I suppose I post this here as a warning, that if all goes to plan— although it most surely won’t, such is life—I may have an uncharacteristic number of posts this week. I will try, as this is Venice reading month, and I surely wish to return, in spirit if not person. (No, not person just now: it’s so cold this week the canals are beginning to freeze over.)

Best of reading to all; the books beckon.


Lazy Summer

Hi! I thought I should just check in to show you that I’m still among the living—if not yet the reading.

Actually, I’ve not been doing quite so terribly on the reading front of late—I finished two quick books earlier this month, which rate is, I believe, the best I’ve had all year. And this afternoon, overwhelmed by heat and fatigue I even thought that perhaps what I really wanted to do was read. Now unfortunately, I took this impulse and picked up The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice (yeah, that’s as exciting as it sounds) rather than something actually fun, but I feel this is a step in the right direction, after what has seemingly been the reading slump to beat all reading slumps. (OK, in fairness 2008 for me was much worse.)

I don’t really have much to say about the two books I read earlier this month—Aunt Dimity Goes West by Nancy Atherton and The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer. They’re lightweight reads—perfect for summer or for reading slumps, but otherwise unremarkable. I’ve decided that I wish to term books such as these “chocolate books”— very enjoyable, easy to digest, even if ultimately too much of them may not be such a good thing. (I have my doubts that one can ever have too much chocolate. So by correlation, one could never have too much of “chocolate books”…) Mmm…now I want some chocolate!

The Aunt Dimity (one of a dozen or so in the series) is a typical cozy—nothing too scary or sinister, but with a mystery and characters just engaging enough to keep you reading. Actually, I think it may be the characters that keep bringing me back to these. After a few books, you begin to “know” these people, almost as if you were a neighbor in their small town.

As far as the Meltzer goes, a fairly standard political thriller with a mental hospital patient thrown in for good measure. Although I do seem to have a weakness for Meltzer novels, what I liked best about this one were the behind the scenes looks at the National Archives. Perhaps it’s all the times I got to see the hidden corners of buildings at my old job (everything from utilitarian boiler rooms to courthouse sally ports), but I just love getting to see behind the scenes, the hidden areas that most people never see.

So yeah, not really much about the books themselves that I have to say. It would be nice to get back to reading books that have more about them to discuss. It was about this time a year ago that I was in the midst of a Divine Comedy RAL that really whetted my appetite for more substantial fare. Somehow I got sidetracked into other areas though. And I may get sidetracked again! I’ve been watching perhaps too much Masterpiece Mystery this summer, and now I’m thinking it’s time to go back to mysteries. The current series is set in Rome (which gives me the opportunity to Squee!—I’ve been there!—although last night it was actually—I fell down the stairs there! Long story.), and added to the my weakness for books set in Italy (it’s always a bonus to read a book where you can envision the setting because you’ve seen it first hand) I’m thinking I’d like to maybe read a series set there. Alas, no library in the system has any of the Aurelio Zen books (which the series is based on), so I’ll have to decide between ordering either a Donna Leon or an Andrea Camilleri. Either is available locally (aka quickly), but the latter gets bonus points for being by an actual Italian author, and since the only Italian authors I’ve read have been dead ±700 years, perhaps I should go this direction. Have you read any of these series? Thoughts, preferences? In the meantime, I believe I have a Sherlock Holmes that should be just right.

Completed: Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm
Kate Douglas Wiggin
US, 1903

Only two hours!” she sighed. “That will be half-past one; mother will be at Cousin Ann’s, the children at home will have had their dinner, and Hannah cleared all away. I have some lunch, because mother said it would be a bad beginning to get to the brick house hungry, and have Aunt Mirandy have to get me something to eat the first thing. It’s a good growing day, isn’t it?”

“It is, certain; too hot, most. Why don’t you put up your parasol?”

She extended her dress still farther over the article in question as she said: “Oh dear no! I never put it up when the sun shines. Pink fades awfully, you know; and I only carry it to meetin’ cloudy Sundays. Sometimes the sun comes out all of a sudden, and I have a dreadful time covering it up. It’s the dearest thing in life to me; but it’s an awful care.” (Chapter 1)

Rebecca Rowena Randall is charming. She is enthusiastic, eager to please, loyal, driven, able to captivate (most) all of those around her. Not quite an orphan—Rebecca’s mother is living, but with seven children is barely able to make ends meet—young Rebecca is sent to live with two spinster aunts who will raise her and see to her education. Rebecca enchants her driver as she makes her way from the train station to her new home in Riverboro, makes a lifelong best friend in Emma Jane, occasionally runs afoul of the hard-to-please Aunt Miranda, and manages to make loyal devotees of more than one adult resident. It is not hard to see many similarities with Anne of Green Gablesan orphan sent to live in a new home among strangers, who enchants those around her, gets into many scrapes, and has boundless enthusiasm. (Although the two are hardly identicalthere is no “Gilbert” in this book, for one.) Published five years after Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, it is tempting to compare Anne with Rebecca but to make the comparison may be unfair to the earlier novel.

I found Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm to be enjoyable reading, but a bit uneven. An early chapter made up entirely of Rebecca’s letters to her mother—although it is cute to see Rebecca’s childish misspellings, and works as a method of moving time forward—sticks out oddly in a largely narrated story. Had this method been used more consistently, it may not have seemed so odd to me. I was also disconcerted by the difficulty in determining the rate of the passage of time or Rebecca’s age throughout most of the novel. I can’t even say with certainty her age at the beginning (I believe it is ten), and the jumping from episode to episode was made without reference to how long Rebecca had been in Riverboro or how old she now was. This improved in the latter portion of the book, and once Rebecca left her local one-room schoolhouse for high school, it was always clear how old she was, which season it was, how much schooling she had left. Both Anne of Green Gables and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm are episodic, covering roughly the same number of years and ages of their protagonists, but in my editions, Anne is about 50 pages longer than Rebecca. Without actually rereading both to verify, I suspect that those 50 pages make the difference in the evenness of moving from event to event–Montgomery has just a bit more room to smooth the transitions.

As a children’s book, I understand why Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is not as well-known as Anne of Green Gables. Between the jumps in time and uneventful episodes such as a grammar lesson towards the beginning, I don’t think it would capture the attention of a child as well as Anne, although this is unfortunate as Rebecca herself is every bit as interesting as Anne. I also noticed little touches of subtle humor (my favorite: Rebecca’s father’s name was Lorenzo de Medici Randall and his twin brother Marquis de Lafayette Randall) that I’m pretty sure would go over the heads of most children (I certainly didn’t know who Lorenzo de Medici was at age 10).

Oh dear. I feel like I’ve been far more critical of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm than I intended to be, for I truly did enjoy reading it. I think it safe to say that if you have enjoyed reading Anne of Green Gables you would likely enjoy Rebecca. However, if I had to choose between the two, I would pick Anne. Which brings me to wonder—when is it fair to compare two books? I don’t wish to wander off into a lengthy tangent on this post, so I shall end here with a teaser for the next post (soon—it’s mostly written!) in which I shall discuss my opinions on comparisons. And hopefully justify those above … 😉