What I Read: December 2013

I read 4 books in December: 2 fiction, 2 non-fiction. 1 was a Kindle book and the rest were print. 1 was even on my long-neglected “Read It or Lose It” list (update coming in mid-January!).

The Last Night at the Ritz by Elizabeth Savage. I “picked” this up because it was one of Nancy Pearl’s book rediscoveries and I could “check it out” for free from the Kindle Lending Library (phrases in quotes because: e-book/not an actual library). I really enjoyed the narrator, and the picture it painted of early 1970s Boston, but the book never totally grabbed me. I read it in bits and chunks around other books. It took me 5 months in all to finish. Worth picking up if it sounds interesting, but not a Go Out of Your Way and Read This NOW book.

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley. This book has made it on to a few Best Books Lists, and I’m here to say that is well-deserved. It was one of my favorites too! It is a delight to read – perfect mix of food and memoir in graphic novel form. (Why aren’t there more graphic novels about food? Food is so visual!) I can’t wait to check out Knisley’s earlier book, French Milk.

Mastering the Art of French Eating: Lessons in Food and Love from a Year in Paris by Ann Mah. I wanted to love this book more. I mean, I loved the title. What a perfect play on Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. I could master eating way before I mastered cooking! In the book, Mah documents a year she lived alone in Paris, when her diplomat husband was transferred to the Baghdad office shortly after they arrived in Paris for what they thought would be a 3 year tour. In part to pass the time/deal with her (understandable) loneliness, Mah visits 10 regions in Frances and writes about their signature dishes. But she doesn’t seem to like many of them. The first non-Paris specialty she writes about is andouillete (an admittedly gross sounding sausage made from tripe), and she eats it ONCE in the whole chapter. She mostly avoids it. Which is fine, but then why include it in a book about French eating? This is perhaps just my own particular pet peeve. The book was good, well-written and interesting, but I just never loved it.

Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull. I usually love a Children’s fantasy novel, but I found this one darker and more melancholy than most. When Summer and Bird’s parents go missing, they follow them into Down to try and find them. Summer and Bird are separated early and must go through their own adventures. Summer is helped by an old man named Ben, while Bird makes her way to the Swan’s castle, where she is taken captive (though willingly) by the Puppeteer who promises her that she can be Queen of the Birds. By the end, I was glad I read it, but it took me a long time to get through, and I probably would have given it up, if I hadn’t received it as an Early Reviewer book. I think this is a case of Ranganathan’s “Every book it’s reader” law. I was not this book’s reader. I saw it described elsewhere as being similar to Neil Gaiman’s work, and that makes sense to me. If you like that sort of darker fantasy, this book will likely appeal to you.

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What I Read: December 2013

Life List #61. Visit the FDR Memorial.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is my favorite president. I am a fan of the Civilian Conservation Corps (and in particular all the work they did in our National Parks creating trails). I love the Works Projects/Progress Administration (and especially the work they did recording our American history). I love that FDR thought big and tried to do good for the least among us, despite coming from incredible wealth. I love that he named the first woman to the Cabinet (Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor, worthy of her own gushing.). I even think he married well (Eleanor FTW!).

Despite all this (and more shamefully, despite living in DC for 13 years now, in relatively close proximity). I had never been to his Memorial. So on a beautiful day this Fall, I corrected that – walking over on my lunch break to check it out.

When you see pictures of the Memorial, you generally see this statute:

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I thought that was the full Memorial, but I was so wrong. Here is a little tour of the Memorial, but there is so much more. It is definitely worth checking out if you are in DC.

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The Memorial was dedicated in 1997, but the statue with FDR in a wheelchair was not added until 2001, following the protests of disability advocates. It’s a powerful addition to a great monument. You can read more about the monument here.

Life List #61. Visit the FDR Memorial.

Life List #38: Hire a (well paid, very appreciated) biweekly cleaning service.

Let me just start by saying that having the money to pay someone else to clean for you is a privilege, and I know it. Cleaning is hard work and like most “domestic” tasks (see also: child-rearing, caring for the eldery, etc) not much valued in our society (with either prestige or compensation).

My very first, non-babysitting job was cleaning my Dad’s office (he owned a small architecture firm). Every weekend, my dad would drive me over, and I would work, cleaning the bathroom and the little kitchen area, emptying the trash cans, vacuuming the floors. As the weeks wore on and the thrill of a paycheck wore off, I did an increasingly crappy job at the cleaning. I swore there, at the ripe old age of 14, that someday, when I was able, I would hire someone to clean my house.

That desire has never wavered. Cleaning has never grown on me, although I do appreciate cleanliness more than I used to. And this year, that day came! Jami and I looked at our house, looked at the hours in our day, looked at the struggle we had cleaning around Frances (both in terms of space and nap/bedtimes), looked at our budget, and decided that this was our year. And what a glorious year it has been. Every other Wednesday, Lupe comes and cleans our house. She is wonderful, she leaves our house sparkling and smelling amazing. She is worth every cent we pay her – and more. She makes our lives better.

And, while I feel a little awkward writing a post about how we pay someone to clean our house, her work and all the work of women and men who clean and care for our houses, our offices, and our public spaces, should be celebrated. I shouldn’t be over here pretending that I am doing it all. I’m not. I have help in so many ways, and this is one. Cleaning is hard work and it’s GOOD work. It’s important. Cleaners, janitors, and custodians make all our lives better. Lupe, in particular, improves mine!

Life List #38: Hire a (well paid, very appreciated) biweekly cleaning service.

What I Read: November 2013

*Update: Turns out I read 4 books in November. I somehow completely skipped the fact that I read the The Thirteenth Tale. Which was Really, Really good, so I have no idea how I did that. It has been added below.*

November was another not as light a reading month as I thought – I read 3  4 books, all fiction. 2 were in print, 1 was 2 were on the Kindle.

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer. After her twin brother dies of AIDS and her long-time partner, Nathan, leaves her, Greta Wells goes to electroconvulsive therapy to deal with her depression. After first session, Greta wakes up the next day in 1918, living the life of a parallel Greta Wells. The day after that she’s in 1941, and the book continues this way, switching between 1985 (the original Greta) and the other two years. Some aspects of her life are the same in each year, some are different, and all the Greta’s are struggling in some way (but it’s not depressing, just interesting). This has been one of my favorite books of the year. I recommend it.

Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear. The 9th book in the Maisie Dobbs series. In this one, Maisie investigates the death of a man she knew from her childhood in a poor London neighborhood. This is a really enjoyable mystery series for me.

Bluffton: My Summers with Buster Keaton by Matt Phelan. Matt Phelan is a phenomenal graphic novelist and so I was very excited to learn that I had one a review copy of his latest book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Unfortunately, it was not a finished copy of the book, which was a shame, mostly because I think if I had seen it in all it’s glory, it would have been a 5 star book. The review copy was uncolored and definitely looked unfinished – and since it’s a graphic novel, that has an effect in a way that is doesn’t when you are reading a straight print book. Still Phelan maintains his status as THE graphic novelist of historical fiction. He has a knack for finding the great story in “real” life, and this fictionalized look at the summers Buster Keaton and his fellow vaudevillians spent in Bluffton, MI is no exception. Definitely worth picking up if you like graphic novels at all.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. This has been on my To Read list forever, so when it was a Kindle Daily Deal earlier this year, I picked it up for cheap. Vida Winter, a bestselling but reclusive and mysterious novelist is dying and she has picked Margeret Lea, bookseller and amateur biographer, to finally reveal her life story too. This is an intriguing Gothic tale of family, madness, twins, and tragedy. And even though I don’t usually like dark stuff, I liked this! Definitely worth picking up.

What I Read: November 2013