labwriter reads in 2013: thread #5

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labwriter reads in 2013: thread #5

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Editado: Dic 28, 2013, 2:16pm

Books Read in the Fourth Quarter--October, November, December


53. Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver, a 2001 novel. 3.5 stars

54. A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin. #2 in the series, A Song of Fire and Ice. Audiobook, read by Roy Dotrice. Somewhere between 3+ and 4 stars.

55. The Year of Decision 1846, by Bernard DeVoto. Published 1942. 4 stars


56. Unfortunately, my first book of November was The Circle, by Dave Eggers, a novel about social media. 1/2 star because I couldn't figure out how to give it less.

57. The Kennedy Half-Century, by Larry Sabato. 4.5 stars

58. Harvest, by Jim Crace. 3 stars

59. Back on Murder, by J. Mark Bertrand. 2.5 stars

60. Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn. 4 stars

61. Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn. 2 stars

62. Life Inside the Bubble: Why a Top-Ranked Secret Service Agent Walked Away from It All, by Dan Bongino. 3 stars


63. Sycamore Row, by John Grisham. 4.5 stars

64. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan.

65. Killing Jesus, by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard.

66. A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin. 3rd in the series. 4 stars

Editado: Oct 2, 2013, 2:35pm

My favorite reads for the third quarter were:

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, ed. by Janis Stout and Andrew Jewell.

Song of Ice and Fire, book 1 of A Game of Thrones, an audio book read by Roy Dotrice. I listen to this when I'm working around the house, and I'm now on Book 2. Love them!

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child & Avis DeVoto, ed. by Joan Reardon.

The Uneasy Chair, a biography of Bernard DeVoto by Wallace Stegner.

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel.

Oct 3, 2013, 7:29am

I'm enjoying your herb and dehydrating journey. Perhaps you could share a picture of a dish you've made with your vegetable powder?

Editado: Oct 4, 2013, 3:49pm

>3 countrylife:. Hi Cindy. OK, tomorrow I'm making white chili, using some of the chicken we smoked last weekend. I'm going to experiment a little bit with that recipe and add some of the vegetable powders I made. One of the issues I've always had with mr. lab is that he honestly doesn't care that much for vegetables that are cooked in things. He doesn't mind a side of asparagus, for example, but he doesn't like it when I throw vegetables into this white chili. So I didn't mention the carrot, green peppers, mushrooms, celery, and tomato powders that I put in the baked ziti I made on Monday, and he evidently didn't notice them. But he did say that it was the best ziti I'd made in awhile--"What did you do to it?" Oh, this and that. Ha. It occurs to me that those people who have kids to feed who are vegetable averse could use the same strategy.

Today is fruit drying day with my dehydrator. I'm doing bananas and apples, mainly, with a little bit of pineapple thrown in. I do fruits and vegetables separately because Mary Bell's Complete Dehydrator Cookbook says that fruits do best at 135F/57C and vegetables should be dried at 125F/52C. I don't know enough about this yet to know if the 10 degree temp difference really matters, but for now I'm drying vegetables and fruits separately.

Bananas are plentiful and relatively cheap in October, so I'm doing those. I used to eat dried banana chips until one day I looked at the label and saw they were hugely caloric/fat intensive. What's with that? Well, my new BFF Mary Bell told me why I should stay away from those commercially dried banana chips. Commercial banana chips are light in color and crisp in texture because they've been fried in either coconut or palm oil, then dipped in a blend of sugar/honey to which banana flavoring has been added. Good grief.

I'm also doing apples today, since the new crop of October apples is in. Fun. These dried apples are so good. I did a batch of them the other day, and they disappeared.

ETA. Those dehydrated bananas are so good. I did nothing to them but chop them into 1/4" pieces and dehydrate them. The taste reminds me of banana bread.

Editado: Oct 4, 2013, 3:47pm

Here are the vegetable powders I'm using today in my white chili recipe. I added a Tbsp. of each: tomato, green pepper, and carrot to my usual recipe. Essentially what it does is give the stock a more robust flavor. I'm so happy to have found this technique. You can see that the powders don't take up very much room. The tomato powder was made from about 10 small tomatoes; the carrots are made from two large bunches; and I think I used about five large green peppers for that 1/2 pint jar.

Making vegetable powder is a great way to process the produce from the garden--it takes up very little room on the shelf, compared to jars of canned vegetables. Thank you, Mary Bell!

Editado: Oct 4, 2013, 6:39pm

What a great idea in terms of feeding vegetables to those averse to the idea of them! My father loathes anything but potatoes, carrots, peas and corn -- no eggplant, zucchini, asparagus, etc. crossed my lips until I was in college as a result. The reason? My grandmother boiled anything she fed him until it was limp and utterly non-resistant, with all the taste and texture gone. To this day, he'll shove vegetables off to the corner of a plate in case they prove to have some contagious disease and infect the other stuff on the plate!

So, it's just taking the dehydrated veg & then running them through a blender or food processor? Do you have to vacuum seal the jars??

ETA: I have finally gotten into the Game of Thrones series, although not finding book #2 as compelling.

Oct 4, 2013, 11:25pm

My husband and I still delight in discovering veggies that we previously thought we hated - from back in the day when our mothers and grandmothers cooked them "until they were dead", as we say. I looked at the library's catalog for the Mary Bell book, but they don't have it. I've requested another dehydrating cookbook instead. I hope it is as inspirational as Mary Bell has been for you - I may end up putting a food dehydrator on my Christmas list this year.

Editado: Oct 6, 2013, 2:58pm

>6 Chatterbox:. So, it's just taking the dehydrated veg & then running them through a blender or food processor? Do you have to vacuum seal the jars??

Hi Suzanne. Yes, when I want to make vegetable powder out of something, then I run it through the dehydrator until it's something like a little rock of celery or carrot or whatever. You dehydrate it until it's crisp or hard. Then let it cool--and then put it into a blender until it's powder. I put this powder into Ball jars with seals and lids--although you just put this stuff into the jar and then add the seal and the lid. I don't know yet how long it will last, but I've found that this stuff has a heavenly odor of carrot or green pepper or celery--whatever it is. I'm using this stuff every day, and don't plan to let it sit around for very long.

>7 sjmccreary:. Sandy, you make me laugh. My mother used to do the same thing--cook vegetables until they were dead. The only onion she used came from a tiny foil package of dehydrated onion--tiny little pieces that she would rehydrate. I honestly think she was terrified of using any sort of fresh vegetables. Ha.

Editado: Oct 9, 2013, 1:48pm

I'm not reading much these days, since I'm working on some genealogy projects and teaching myself about food and herb dehydration. It takes a good bit of time to process the food and fill all the dehydrator trays--somewhere between 2-3 hours, depending on what I'm dehydrating.

Today is vegetable day, and I'm drying vegetables for a vegetable gorp recipe I found in Mary Bell's Complete Dehydrator Cookbook. Anyone who's done any sort of backpacking probably knows what gorp is--or even people who haven't, since it's sold pretty much everywhere. Don & I didn't have our kid until about 8 years into our marriage, so during that time (the 1970s) we spent a lot of time, just the two of us, backpacking in Colorado. Gorp was my absolute stand-by and go-to food on those hikes, although it consisted only of M&M's, peanuts, and raisins. It wasn't particularly nutritious, but a bag of that stuff could keep me hiking all day. Now I'm not only considerably more sedentary, but I'm also more health-conscious about what I eat. This vegetable gorp sounds like it's going to be great stuff to have around for snacking or "grazing" or whatever. The recipe is complicated and very time-intensive, so I'm hoping it works out.

An update on the dehydrated bananas (see post #4). You dry the banana slices until they're somewhat leathery and caramel-colored. I sliced mine into about 1/8" slices, and they took upwards of 10 hours to get to the leathery stage. I probably could have dried them longer. Oh my, these are so good! So far, they're my favorite of the fruits I dried. One benefit of the dried fruit, or at least I think it is, anyway, is that you're satisfied with less of the dried fruit than with fresh fruit. If you give a kid 1/2 of a banana, it's gone in a couple of bites. But if you give her 10 dried banana pieces, those can last for a good long while. That's just something I was thinking about today when I was eating same. I eat 2 or 3 slices, and I'm done, whereas I can eat a whole banana without any problem.

Reading--well, I'm making good progress on my nightly read, The Year of Decision: 1846, by Bernard DeVoto. The book was first published in 1942, and I'd say that popular historians like David McCullough have gone to school on DeVoto and improved on what he did. Still and all, this is a fascinating look at the issues that surrounded the year 1846--the war with Mexico, settling Oregon territory, emigration from East to West, etc. DeVoto also discusses issues that led up to the Civil War and how/why the whole obscene war could have been avoided if politicians had had the courage to act sooner. Recommended. I'm at 330/500, so it's going to be awhile before I'm finished with this thing.

Happy Wednesday!

Editado: Oct 10, 2013, 3:56pm

An average first frost in my area is 11 Oct - 20 Oct, so I'm trying to harvest my herbs before the first frost appears. Last spring I planted two little flat Italian parsley plants that I've been cutting from all season. These plants are thriving right now, and it would be dumb to let them freeze and lose them. Mary Bell's Complete Dehydrator Cookbook has directions for drying parsley in the dehydrator. I tried one tray of them some weeks past, and it turned out really well. This stuff is ridiculously expensive in the grocery store, so I hope to dry enough of it to last me until next season.

This morning I cut all of the basil from my garden that seemed to still be growing and viable. I'll let the plants do their thing until the cold weather gets them, but I'm not expecting much more at this point. I hugely enjoyed stringing up the plants and air-drying them. I have about six half-gallon jars of basil leaves, so I'm ready for Christmas giving or hostess gifts and also for my own soups and stews throughout the fall/winter/early spring.

Today I made some vegetable powders, using a food mill (a coffee grinder that I never use for coffee) and also my blender. The food mill works really well for grinding small pieces like dehydrated celery, etc. I use the blender for larger pieces that have a more leathery texture, like beets. I made beet powder today, and the smell is simply swoon-worthy. I can sneak this stuff into my stew/soup recipes, and Mr. lab will never know. I also made mushroom powder today using my blender. When I took off the top of my blender, I was sprayed with a cloud of mushroom powder--ha--Alice in Wonderland came to mind, which, by the way, is on my list to re-read before the end of the year.

Mary Bell seems to like dehydrating over canning. I would say that there is room in this world for both. Some recipes I love to can, particularly those from my favorite book, Canning for a New Generation, by Liana Krissoff. You can't beat her recipes for things like peach salsa and red pepper jelly. But sometimes you have "too much" of a harvest from the garden, and canning 120 quart jars of tomatoes doesn't make that much sense, when you can dehydrate the same amount and come up with about 5 quart jars of tomato powder. Dehydration and canning compliment each other, and I'm so happy to have discovered both methods.

Editado: Oct 11, 2013, 6:20pm

I'm listening to A Clash of Kings whenever I get the chance, Book Two of A Song of Ice and Fire. Why aren't there more books like these? I'm finding this series hugely satisfying to listen to, narrated by Roy Dotrice. I guess some people don't like his style, but I love listening to these books. This is what I listen to when I cook and clean up in the kitchen. Because I'm listening to this on my little Apple shuffle, I have no idea how far I'm into this book. That's OK, since I'm thinking of these as listening to one huge, long book.

I needed something to just relax my brain, so I'm taking a break from the DeVoto book and reading Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver. This segues nicely into what I'm doing with my genealogy work, since so many of my kin lived in Kentucky/Tennessee.

I need to post this: The daily Kindle deal is Armageddon, by Leon Uris. It's $1.99, so I put it on my Kindle so I won't have to re-read my old, old paperback version. This novel was first published in 1963. It may have been the first novel by Uris that I read, I don't really remember. From Wiki: "The novel starts in London during WWII, and goes through to the Four Power occupation of Berlin and the Soviet blockade by land of the city's western boroughs. The description of the Berlin Airlift is quite vivid as is the inter-action between people of the 5 nations involved as the 3 major Western Allies rub along with the Soviet occupiers of East Berlin and East Germany. The book finishes with the end of the airlift but sets the scene for the following 40 years of Cold War."

That Wiki description makes the book sound like a real yawn, but it's not. I love Uris's stuff.

Editado: Oct 14, 2013, 11:21pm

So today Don stayed home to put down all of the applications that I need for my new computer. OMG, I so hate this--when the old computer suddenly gives up the ghost, which mine did yesterday. Since he's taking a day off to help me out, I decided to make Julia Child's Zinfandel of Beef, from her wonderful book, The Way to Cook. This is one of her master recipes, and it's simply to die for. The bottom round was on sale, I bought a nice bottle of Zin that was also on sale, so I'm figuring this whole wonderful meal is something under $10. IMO, the best part of this meal is smelling it cooking all day. To Die For.

I also want to report on the book I'm reading, Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer. I've spent a good bit of time in NW (that should be NE) Tennessee, around the Roan Mountain area, and this book absolutely brings it all back. I love this one, and I think her writing is just stunning.

JENNIFER SCHUESSLER is the doofus at the NYT who reviewed this book--I'm thinking she's never been off a sidewalk: "the legions of fans primed on earlier books like ''Animal Dreams'' and ''The Bean Trees'' will find themselves back on familiar, well-cleared ground of plucky heroines, liberal politics and vivid descriptions of the natural world." Plucky? Stuff it, Jennifer. And then try going for a walk in the woods.

ETA. So Don just came downstairs to the kitchen and told me that the smell of this food is killing him--"When do we eat?" Dear heart, it's only 3:00 p.m. Ha.

Oct 14, 2013, 9:13pm

#12 What a sweetie your Don is! I hope dinner was as delicious as advertised.

Oct 14, 2013, 11:22pm

Hi Sandy. Yeah, he's a good guy. This new computer is causing me heartburn.

Oct 14, 2013, 11:55pm

I hate new computers. Nearly as much as old ones.

I was complaining about technology earlier this evening and Chris chided me that "hate" is a strong word. I told him that, although many things are faster and easier on the computer, when I did things the old fashioned manual way, at least I was the one in control!

Oct 15, 2013, 1:19pm

Sometimes "hate" is the only word that applies. Kudos to you, Sandy; I'd probably swat anyone who told me that hate was a strong word. Yes, it is, and that's probably why I used it!!

I have been listening to the Game of Thrones tomes, but have decided to take a break after listening to the first two back-to-back. Dotrice is very good in some voices, but not consistently, and there is a lack of affect in some cases that made it hard for me to follow. I did download book #3 from Audible, but given the reviews for #4 (apparently they were awful), I'll probably start reading them at that point. And I'll wait another week or two before returning to the tale. Lots of other stuff on the go that I want to read!

Editado: Oct 15, 2013, 6:22pm

Hello Both! I hate new computers too. I keep threatening to go back to a pencil and yellow tablet, but Don knows it's only a threat. I actually like the new version of Word that's on this machine--and don't ask me what version it is. It has a navigation bar that lets you work with the pages much the same as you can in a pdf document. I love that. I haven't found my email yet. Oh woe. But the scanner works--hooray. What a pain.

I'm listening to the second Game of Thrones, Suzanne, A Clash of Kings. There's something about Dotrice that I find very soothing while I'm working in the kitchen. I've heard the reviews for #4--they don't sound good. However, if I had to spend my reading time on these books, I'd never get through them. You've mentioned his lack of affect before, and I know what you mean, but somehow for me it seems to match these books. Anywho, I'm enjoying Book 2. I only wish I knew how far I am into this second one. Well, it doesn't really matter.

Oct 16, 2013, 10:54am

My nighttime read is still Prodigal Summer, by Barbara Kingsolver. I'm about 70% of the way through the book, and it seems like all of a sudden (maybe I wasn't paying attention before) this thing has turned very, very condescendingly preachy about the environment, interconnectedness of species, the value of predators, the evils of insecticides, smoking, fundamentalist Christianity, blue-hair ageism, etc. etc. Kingsolver's MESSAGE is very heavy-handed in this novel, which is a shame because I enjoyed the first half of the book quite a bit. Does she think her readers don't get it and are so dim-witted that they need to be knocked over the head with her socially "conscious" agenda? That's a rhetorical question, obviously. Holier-than-thou finger-wagging is always tedious.

I'm sure I'll finish this thing, but the plot lines are sadly predictable at this point. They didn't have to be if she'd worked on her story lines and dropped some of the blatant lecturing.

Editado: Oct 17, 2013, 10:21am

"In the forest, just stand, or sit on the ground, looking up under the trees, and you can see God." That's not a quotation from this book, as people who read Kingsolver will know. It comes from a little old lady who lives in my town who took the "path not taken" and went from being a secretary to attending forestry school. At the time, all of her classmates were male, and also about a decade younger than she was, but she said she didn't worry about that, she just focused on her studies. For young women today who think they are somehow being "held back"--{{rolls eyes}}--get over yourselves. Looking up at a tree from this viewpoint is one of my earliest memories. My mother said when I was about two years old, I would spend a lot of time doing just that. She said she worried about me a lot--ha. I think young children are very close to God.

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, first published 2001.

Overall, I liked this book very much. I liked the characters and the way she weaved their stories together. I was particularly intrigued about what she had to say about the American chestnut tree (that's a picture of a young one at the top of this post). When you read anything about the people who lived in the northeast or east 100 or 200 years ago, particularly in Appalachia, you realize how central that tree was to their lives. To think that something so pervasive and dominating was able to be wiped out is simply mind-boggling. Much like the buffalo, IMO. There are groups that are doing great work to bring back the chestnut, among them The American Chestnut Foundation.

I found myself exasperated with about 5% of Kingsolver's book, but that was not enough to spoil it overall. BK has some good things to say here and she's created an entertaining forum for saying them. However, considering the strident, one-sided tone that she often either wasn't able to contain or didn't care to try, the quotation on the home page of her website contains more than just a tinge of irony: "Literature is one of the few kinds of writing in the world that does not tell you what to buy, want, see, be, or believe. It's more like a conversation, raising new questions and moving you to answer them for yourself." A lot of people, particularly those on the left of the political spectrum, and I know I'll get "punished" for saying so here, but that's the way it goes, are very proud of their open-minded, politically correct, "green" views of the world; however, the truth is that they're open-minded only so long as they remain in their own little echo chamber where everyone agrees with them. This book is a good example of that--it's how many on the left view a "conversation"--"My views are correct and you hold the views you hold out of ignorance and if you were only smart enough then clearly you would see that everything I believe is correct." It's very hard to have a "conversation" with people like that. I find that very few people of the left persuasion on this group are ever willing to step out of their own comfort zone and read something that doesn't shore up their own tightly-held points of view. It's one of the most disappointing aspects that I've encountered with this group.

Having said that, my next Kingsolver read, I think, will be The Poisonwood Bible. A solid 3.5 stars for PS.

Happy Thursday.

ETA. I also want to read her memoir-ish book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in which she writes about her family's life of eating food "whose provenance we really knew"--their first year eating home-grown or locally produced food. If we all did this, we could change the world, literally. And obviously everyone can't do this, but more people could and probably would if they became aware of the issues and cost involved in having so much "choice" at the market. Frankly, I don't want avocados year-round from Mexico. I feel the same way about tomatoes, and I'm starting to have that conversation with myself more often now when I'm at the grocery store--"Where did these tomatoes come from and can I live without them?" If they weren't available year round, the idea of putting up 200 quarts of tomatoes in the summer would be more attractive. The Amish vegetable stands that spring up around here in the summer could keep me in tomatoes if I couldn't grow them myself (my small yard has huge trees all around, so patches of enough sun for vegetables are hard to come by, which is why I have only a small plot for my herbs).

Editado: Oct 17, 2013, 3:40pm

Today has been herb harvest day. I know frosty nights are coming soon, and if I don't get these herbs harvested, I'm going to be upset with myself. This has been my first year of growing herbs, and I've learned a lot.

One thing I've learned is that some herbs do just fine with benign neglect and some need to be fussed with pretty regularly. The pesto basil plant is the one that needed the most attention, but the results are so hugely worth it. Next year I will harvest basil throughout the growing season instead of waiting until the end of summer. My Italian flat leaf parsley is another one that I would harvest sooner and more regularly. My mistake with both of these plants was in waiting to cut from the plants until I needed the herb. I'll still cut the herbs as I need them, fresh from the plant, but I'll also harvest from the plant throughout the season. This will keep the plants healthier and will also increase the yield.

On the other hand, my oregano is a plant that is just fine with being ignored. I don't know what variety I planted, but this one grows low to the ground and spreads if it's given the space to do so. Maybe all oregano is like this--I dunno. Today I cut half a grocery sack full of leaves on the stems. Some herbs lend themselves easily to the dehydrator (like the parsley, which is flat). Others, like this one, have little leaves on stems that stick out in all directions. Tying these up and letting them air dry is the best strategy for this one, I think.

I also harvested sweet marjoram, thyme, and rosemary--lots of each. I put these all into separate paper bags marked with their names, since I'm still not all that familiar with the difference between some of them, especially when they're dry. I processed the oregano today, and I figure the rest of them can wait in their paper bags--nothing bad is going to happen to them while they wait.

This is time-intensive work, and I do it because I really enjoy using herbs that I've grown myself, not because I'm under some illusion that I'm saving money on those little store-bought jars. I find this work satisfying in the same way that I used to love to quilt--it's something to do with my hands that results in a product that you can't just run to the store and buy.

Next spring--new ideas! plus I'll continue to tweak what I learned this year.

ETA. I dragged out my one vegetable gardening book that isn't stuffed in a box: The Vegetable Gardener's Bible, by Edward C. Smith and shuffled through the herbs section. One thing that caught my eye: although my marjoram is a perennial, it can't tolerate the slightest bit of frost. So I put a piece of it into a pot and brought it inside. Historically, I have a poor record with houseplants, but I need to get over that. Today I also brought in my two best-looking geraniums to winter-over indoors. I don't usually do that, but my mother grew geraniums indoors all her life. She had plants that were beautiful that must have been over 20 years old. I'm trying to teach myself new tricks.

Oct 17, 2013, 2:38pm

Re "held back" -- I think young women today have more options, and then come to realize that some of them may be mutually exclusive. And my preteen niece is already voicing anxiety about this -- she has said she knows she is supposed to be very successful and have a career and also raise a family. But she sees how frazzled my sis-in-law (her mother) is about all this and that's difficult to reconcile. I do think that when we age, we get some degree of wisdom and a sense that tradeoffs aren't necessarily a bad thing. Above all, we learn to pursue what it is that we're passionate about vs what the rest of the world thinks it is that we should be doing (i.e. what will give us status among our peers).

It is an interesting evolution. In my mother's day (she is in her mid/late 70s), the only socially-acceptable option was wife/motherhood, or careers that she found boring and limited (secretary, nurse, etc.; my grandmother was a nurse.) I suspect that had she been born in my generation, my mother would have been a great HR or marketing executive. But in her era, while women did pursue these goals, they had to be very passionate about something specific: art, literature, law, medicine. And they had to be able to withstand social disapproval at a young age; to accept that they would be viewed as odd by their peers. Today, not wanting to have it all is what is seen as odd.

I will say that being a woman has definitely affected what it is that I have been able to do, careerwise. Not that it has meant that I have been held back from doing what I want to do, or building the career of my choice, but that it was just that bit harder. I was told that I wouldn't get a promotion unless I promised not to get pregnant; told that the reason I was underpaid relative to my male counterparts was because I wasn't a man and wasn't supporting children. When I stated an opinion forcefully, I was "over emotional", while a male colleague who was far more outspoken than I simply had "strong opinions". Was I "held back"? Not in the way my mother was, by any stretch of the imagination. Have their been times when my gender has unexpectedly arisen as an issue in terms of what I want to do? Yup. (I've also been sexually harassed by sources, especially in my 20s, and had male editors tell me to just find a way to deal with it -- an issue that men don't have.)

Sorry for the off-topic screed, but...

Wish I had space, time and energy for a real garden. I'd love to plant some classic English roses -- the really smelly ones!

Editado: Oct 17, 2013, 4:07pm

Hi Suzanne--no, I've very happy for your off-topic screed, as you call it. Women have their issues, certainly, and continue to do so today. For example, I feel very badly for the young woman across the street for me who evidently felt she had to HAVE IT ALL--now. Within 5 years of graduating from college, she had acquired a new job, a husband, a large house that she doesn't have time for and is overwhelmed by, and two little babies--ditto. I'm sure her marriage is about 10th on her list of priorities, as well, if that. A couple of weeks ago I found her crying in the vegetable section at the grocery store. She said she just didn't have time or energy to think about cooking anything and was mad at her husband because his idea of helping her was to order pizza. I feel sympathy for her, but she's a good example that demonstrates the concept that no, you really can't have it all. She lives directly across the street from me, so I can't help but see what goes on over there. Her two little babies are growing up so fast, and she's missing so much of it. And frankly, the babysitter doesn't treat them all that well. She keeps them from killing each other and from drinking bleach, I guess, but you can tell her heart isn't in it.

I guess the other thing I would add is that it isn't all a bed of roses for men these days, either. Don talks about how many of the women he works with dress--leaving about zero to the imagination when it comes to their "cleavage"--yet if the guys they work with happen to keep their eyes on the wrong place for "too long," then that's sexual harassment, all day long. And yet of course they want to be taken seriously in their jobs. Or how about the way young adult males are portrayed in sitcoms or commercials--bumbling idiots who must be rescued by the women around them. Meh.

I guess one of the signs of healthy aging is to reconcile ourselves with those doors we closed as we went through life. There are things I look back on with a certain amount of regret (like treating nursing as a job instead of as a career--and not being more intentional about the years I spent as a nurse, that's one of them), but I don't feel the sharp sting about such things that I used to feel.

Anywho, thanks for your post.

Editado: Oct 18, 2013, 10:58am

A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin. Second in the series, A Song of Ice and Fire.

To my great surprise, since I'm listening to this book on my Shuffle and I have no idea where I'm at in the book at any given time, I finished this one yesterday. I was thinking a day or two before that it was probably about time for this one to wrap up. I continued to enjoy Roy Dotrice's reading of the books in #2. Not everyone feels that way of course. Someone on Amazon called his reading "puppet show theater characterizations." Ouch.

Anywho, I plan to continue the project of audiobooking Martin's series (a fascinating new word that I came across today--honestly, I guess I need to get out more), so I will start #3, A Storm of Swords. I find that I've become very addicted to listening to these books while I work in the kitchen.

I honestly have no idea what rating to give this book. Somewhere between a 3+ and a 4, for what that's worth, and that's for Martin, not Dotrice.

Oct 18, 2013, 11:43am

I loved the off-topic conversation about the changing roles and expectations of women in our society. My mother was of the stay-at-home, teacher, secretary, or nurse generation. She was a secretary. At least until I was born, then she was more or less forced to stay home. She hated it. (I assume that wasn't my fault - I think she mostly liked me!) When I went to college and entered a previously all-male profession (and weren't they all?), I encountered a fair amount of discrimination. But who was I going to complain to? And what good would it have done? In hindsight, my entire career trajectory was changed because of it. It still upsets me if I think too much about it. But if that hadn't happened, I might never have gotten to my present wonderful situation.

But when I had children and continued to work, struggling in ways similar to Becky's young neighbor, Mom thought I had the best of both worlds and was very pleased for me. She just didn't quite understand. Later, when she had a young mom working with her who was wistfully imagining being able to stay home with her children, she gave her an earful about how THAT wasn't a bed of roses, either!

I don't know what the men experience, or how it has changed in the last generation. But I think being a woman has always had its difficulties. Raising children is hard. Being forced to choose between a career and a family was not fair. Having to be directed by men at every turn was frustrating - especially when they're idiots. (As though having a penis trumps having a brain and common sense.) Being a mom will always be hard. But, we no longer automatically have to answer to idiot male bosses. Sometimes we get idiot female bosses!

When I look at my daughter's generation doing anything they want to do, I think that they have no idea how hard it was for my generation of women, trying to break into new professions. But then I think of the women just older than me, who struggled to break into the workplace at all and who made it possible for me to even consider a profession. And my mom's generation, who simply couldn't. We are shaped by our difficulties into the wise mature women we are fortunate to become.

Editado: Oct 18, 2013, 1:18pm

Sandy, I still watch the rather long-in-the-tooth series, Grey's Anatomy (I think this is season 10 or something--good grief). I initially starting watching it because it was intelligently named for a textbook about human anatomy, written by Henry Gray and appropriately named Gray's Anatomy, and I thought that was quite clever. I also (perversely) enjoyed watching hospital shows--always have, don't know why. Anyway, I digress.

Last night the series had the two main female characters, long-time friends Meredith Grey and Cristina Yang, in a confrontation. The upshot was that when Meredith said that she was every bit as good a surgeon as her friend, Cristina rather shockingly said, "No you're not," and went on to explain that at some point, although they were once on the same path to both become outstanding surgeons, their paths had diverged, with Meredith choosing children and Cristina choosing no children. Cristina continues to do the work and put in the hours to further her career as an outstanding surgeon, while Meredith, conflicted about not wanting to become her mother, who was also a surgeon and who she felt neglected her, is spending more time with her children and less time on her career. Cristina points out that Meredith is a very good surgeon, that they both made choices along the way, and that's OK, the choices are valid. However, Meredith is not the surgeon that Cristina is--she can't be. I almost cheered when they had this exchange, because I think it's one of the first times in recent memory that I've seen this theme explored on TV in this way--you are not superwoman, you can't do it all, you can't have it all, you make choices, your choices, while valid, have consequences, and that's OK. Good for this show.

Editado: Oct 18, 2013, 1:16pm

So I'm sharing this, because I think this is an awesome idea. I tend to do this anyway, but this year I will be even more intentional about it. This whole idea converges with the "eat locally" campaign that has really got me thinking about the choices I make at the grocery store. It's all part of a larger whole.

Editado: Oct 23, 2013, 3:49pm

The Year of Decision 1846, by Bernard DeVoto

This book was first published in 1942. I've discussed it in several posts here. I hugely enjoyed this book. It's obvious that present-day historians like David McCullough have read DeVoto and used his strategies for writing popular histories. I found this book to be very useful because of my genealogical studies of pioneering families in the 1840s-1850s. 4 stars

I'm currently reading The Kennedy Half Century WHICH COMES UP WITH NO TOUCHSTONES? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

OK, so I'll try the LT touchstones again: The Kennedy Half Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy. Again, no results. Unbelievable. I need to go look at this in more detail.

Editado: Oct 23, 2013, 3:59pm

OK, let's try this: The Kennedy Half-Century. Yes, that works. The DASH isn't part of the title, but if it isn't included in the touchstone title, then the touchstone doesn't work. Good grief.

OK, so this is a fascinating book about JFK that won't be read by many on this thread because they'll be frightened away by the author, Larry Sabato, who occasionally appears on --{{horrors!!!}--Fox News. Sabato, for those who care, is a professor at UVA's Center for Politics.

Sabato doesn't try to solve the "murder of the century," which is, as he says, "one of the most tangled, tortuous, and intimidating political executions of all time."

This is a fascinating book. I'm at 160/427, although about 20% of the book is notes, so there's at least another 150 pages of notes to get through, which for those who care to read them take extra time.

Sabato's reason for writing this book seems to be to discuss the assassination: what do we know after 50 years?

This is a fascinating book.

Editado: Oct 23, 2013, 4:16pm

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Today I'm dehydrating two bushels of honeycrisp apples. To. Die. For. One thing that this dehydrating/canning thing does for me is to knock me out of my normal "denial" mode. Nope, honeycrisp apples won't be around forever, so I need to get them while they're available.

Oct 23, 2013, 4:15pm

How completely odd. The text for the above picture doesn't show up. Oh well.

Oct 23, 2013, 4:20pm

Who needs text? Those apples are beautiful. What are you going to do with them?

Editado: Oct 23, 2013, 4:44pm

Hi Sandy! Those are honeycrisp, and I'm dehydrating them. I elected to peel them this time (last time I left the peel on). They're so good.

Editado: Oct 26, 2013, 12:17am

Thoughts while reading The Kennedy Half-Century by Larry Sabato.

I'm old enough to remember JFK and the assassination (and funeral--what a funeral!), but I wasn't very much aware first-hand of Kennedy as a politician. Of course I've seen clips of his speeches, so many written by Ted Sorensen--with such great content as well as delivery. Sorensen died in 2010 at the age of 82. He wasn't just Kennedy's speech writer. The two of them were very close, and he became something of a Kennedy alter ego--or "conscience," if you will. One of the saddest things I've heard about the aftermath of the assassination was from Sorensen, that he never got over the death of JFK, that his future was stolen from him when Kennedy was shot: "Deep in my soul," he wrote, "I have not stopped weeping, whenever those events are recalled." If you've never heard Kennedy's speeches (or watched him during a news conference), he's really something to see, especially in comparison to what we are afflicted with today. The thing I remember most about JFK's news conferences (and I do remember them, even though I was just a kid), was that they were filled with laughter, both from the president and the reporters. Wow. Who could even imagine such a thing today. I would put my eyes out if I were currently a White House correspondent. How do they stand it?

What's difficult to reconcile about Kennedy is the idea that he seemed to be a man of genuine good character, in so many ways, and yet in his personal life he was a philandering fool. Those two sides of him are hard to reconcile. What I remember was his decency and character, since the press never reported on the other side of him. After the Bay of Pigs fiasco, Sabato writes:
Kennedy loyalists tried to pin the defeat on everyone but the president. Eisenhower served as a convenient scapegoat for a brief time. To his credit, JFK accepted full responsibility for the fiasco in short order. 'There's an old saying,' he told the press, 'that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan. . . I am the responsible officer of the government and that is quite obvious.'
How refreshing it would be to hear that today--from anyone. The finger-pointing and blaming in Washington is out of control, and beyond the pale.

Sometimes I think about John Kennedy and his wit and words when I watch Barack Obama drone his way through a news conference or a speech in front of a hand-picked, clapping, nodding, grinning crowd of props. Why doesn't he have better speech writers? Surely he could get people (almost anybody) to do a better job of writing his speeches than the people who write them. It almost seems as if he's unaware of how truly banal he sounds. Historians are going to be hard-pressed to find the memorable lines from the eight years of Obama's presidency. Love him or not, it's hard to argue with the fact that, in so many ways, he has been a wasted opportunity.

ETA. I just bought Sorensen's 2008 memoir, Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History.

Editado: Oct 26, 2013, 9:07am

Today over at The Circle group read, where we're in sort of a holding pattern until we get to the agreed-upon day for talking about the book, someone mentioned the Thursday Next series, by Jasper Fforde--which I guess are alternate history, fantasy, books about books. The first one in the series is The Eyre Affair. Has anyone read these?

One reason I joined this group read of The Circle is to force (OK, encourage, not force) myself to read something I wouldn't normally read. TC is by Dave Eggers, and people are over the moon about his other books and very anxious to read this one. I'm about 60% through the book, and I'm unimpressed, finding it very thin. I also find myself laughing (snorting) in places where I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to. That's pretty much how the reviews roll with this book--people either love it or hate it.

Oct 26, 2013, 10:07am

I'm a great fan of the Thursday Next books, well, at least the ones that I've read so far. The Eyre Affair was great, Lost in a Good Book was fine, and I'm currently reading The Well of Lost Plots. The books are very imaginative, the heroine (Thursday Next) is wonderful, and I find myself chuckling through passage after passage. So, I would say, go get 'em!

Karen O.

Editado: Oct 28, 2013, 9:57am

>35 klobrien2:. Karen, thanks for the post! I may try one sometime, although I'm not a big fan of fantasy/alternative history.

Lessons of history from The Kennedy Half-Century, by Larry Sabato. However one feels about Lyndon Johnson, he was a consummate politician, the real deal. I'm into the part of this book that's post-Kennedy, where LBJ has just taken over. Having read Robert Caro's multiple-volume biog of Johnson, especially book four, The Passage of Power, this is pretty familiar territory. Sabato makes an interesting point about the 1964 Civil Rights Act, passed the summer after Kennedy's assassination:
Even Lyndon Johnson's fiercest critics would admit that he was masterful in his maneuvering to secure this landmark legislation, long sought by African Americans and their allies. Johnson understood that such a massive change in the nation's culture would have to be backed by bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress, not just to ensure enactment but to achieve compliance, however grudging, especially in the South. . . . It was possible for a skilled president to assemble a coalition that bridged partisanship and calmed party fervor. Knowing all members of the Senate and many members of the House--their strengths as well as their flaws--Johnson went to work to stitch together what is arguably his greatest achievement.
The heartburn of ObamaCare is that half the country feels the law was jammed down their throats. "A massive change in the nation's culture" is exactly what we have with this healthcare law. And instead of bipartisanship, what we've had from this administration is, in the memorable words of Barack Obama himself, "Sit down, shut up, I won." It's from that quotation that the right has taken one of their nicknames for Mr. Obama: The Won. It's little wonder that there is so little bipartisan enthusiasm for this law.

Editado: Nov 1, 2013, 9:50am

The Circle, by Dave Eggers

Well, here I go again, I guess, but I haven't read a novel this bad since. . .oh, probably The Execution of Noa P. Singleton. That was another "Best Book of the Month" by Amazon. The Eggers book was the best book (or novel, or whatever) for Oct. 2013. I chose this book because of a discussion group here at LT, and that's the only reason I finished the thing.

This is supposedly a 1984-type book (don't get me started on the positive comparisons people have made between Eggers and Orwell) about social media and how it could affect our lives, if pushed to the extreme.

There are so many places where Eggers fails to deliver. To mention a few: The main premise of the book is absurd: that we will be better people if we are constantly being watched. If that's satire, then he could work with that, but Eggers never makes clear whether this is satire, camp, or what? The characters are cardboard cutouts; the protagonist is too wooden, shallow, and insipid even to dislike. The writing is juvenile. The sex scenes ditto (and laughable--and cringeworthy).

I think Eggers meant this for satire, but Eggers brags in an interview about having done no research for the book, and what he offers is too thin and facile for satire. Dystopian? How about just dopian? To add insult to injury, this thing is so long, tedious, preachy, and repetitious that it was simply painful to read.

Rated at half a star because I couldn't figure out how to give it less.

Eggers is supposedly thought of quite highly as a writer in some of his previous works: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, for example, or Zeitoun. But this book was my first impression of Eggers, and you only get one chance at a first impression. I'd have to be stranded on a 12-hour flight with nothing else to read for me to be induced to pick up one of his other books.

Editado: Nov 3, 2013, 4:51pm

I'm so enjoying the new LT group, One LibraryThing, One Group, where LT sponsors a reading group with a new book every month or so. The current book is The Circle, by Dave Eggers. The group is delightfully eclectic.

Someone suggested as a comparison/contrast to Eggers' book something by E.M. Forster--a novella, published in 1909, The Machine Stops. I'm halfway through this one and, as I said over in the other group, to my great unsurprise, this one is an excellent read.

Anywho, if anyone is interested, the group is here, and we will begin the actual discussions 18 November at 9 p.m. Eastern, so there's plenty of time to join and read the book.

Nov 3, 2013, 9:12pm

Becky, I was pretty disappointed with Eggers' previous book, A Hologram for the King. I decided to take a pass on The Circle, although I read that the cover is of excellent quality! Actually AHftK was a beautifully crafted book with a lovely embossed cover. Maybe his appeal is on the pretty outside rather than on the shallow inside. I can't trash him too much, though, as I really liked Zeitoun and What is the What.

Nov 3, 2013, 9:16pm

Becky, too bad The Circle was a bust for you. I was disappointed in his previous book, A Hologram for the King, so decided to pass up the new one. Good choice. I did like Zeitoun and What is the What so I won't give up on Eggers completely.

Thanks for the link to the new group. I'll keep an eye on what they will be reading next.

Nov 3, 2013, 11:23pm

Hi Donna. IMO, you won't be missing anything by passing up Eggers' most recent novel. However, there seem to be plenty of people in the group who like the book, so you might want to check out what other people say.

Editado: Nov 7, 2013, 8:02am

I'm working on a long genealogy article that involves research in a nearby Illinois county, so I don't have a lot of time for reading. For those who enjoy genealogy, you'll know what I'm talking about when I say that I've found a tiny gem of a library tucked away in a little town in the middle of nowhere. I'm writing an article about a family group that moved together from Kentucky to Illinois in the early 1800s, and I found the equivalent of the Rosetta Stone for these families when I tripped over a small book of transcribed church minutes: The Canteen Creek Predestinarian Baptist Church. Quite a mouthful.

Naturally, the church also had an attached cemetery, and during the years from the community's inception in about 1817 to around 1850, I'm quite sure that many people were buried there. Unfortunately, there's very little left of the cemetery except for a piece of barbed wire fence and a few broken stones. In 1967, people from the county historical society walked the cemetery and enumerated what was left of it, which even then wasn't much. Fortunately, we've gotten smarter about these old cemeteries, and people are working to save them before they get to the point of annihilation, like this one.

My current reads:

Harvest, by Jim Crace, a novel of pre-industrial England and a community of 60 souls. An ancient way of life is coming to an end. These people are seeing more change in three days than they've seen in three generations. The story is in the first person present through the eyes of one narrator--tricky, but I think in this case it's successful. This is a quiet read {for some, read boooring}, so definitely not for everyone.

The Kennedy Half-Century, by Larry J. Sabato. I'm about halfway through this one; the chapter I'm currently reading is titled "Tin Soldiers and Nixon Coming." You probably have to be of a "certain age" to get the reference, lyrics from Neil Young's 1970 song "Ohio" that ran through our heads at the time like an anthem. In the history of protest songs, that one was certainly one of the most topical and powerful. I was soon to be a freshman at the U of Colorado in Boulder, a very radical place, maybe second at that time only to Berkeley. My politics have certainly evolved from that point over the past 40-something years, to my current state, which is: a pox on all your houses, and to put my energy into local politics. I'm also reading (although I can't read too much of it at a time because it's so depressing) This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral Plus Plenty of Valet Parking in America's Gilded Capital, by Mark Liebovich. Washington, our nation's capital, is a nasty place. People can put their heads in the sand and pretend this stuff isn't happening--that's certainly what the Washington power elites hope everyone will do.

In the queue is Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History, a memoir by JFK's speechwriter, Ted Sorensen.

And also Back on Murder, by J. Mark Bertrand, a Roland March mystery, first in a series of 3 police procedurals, one of my favorite "entertainment read" genres.

ETA I forgot about my audio book, which I listen to mainly when I'm working in the kitchen: A Storm of Swords, by George R.R. Martin. Third in the series. I'm trying to decide whether I'll just continue on with the series when I'm finished with this one, or take a break. I've heard the narration for the fourth one is pretty awful, so I'm sort of 50/50 on it. However, I don't seem to have the problem with the narrator, Roy Dotrice, that some others do.

Nov 7, 2013, 8:48am

39: I decided to take a pass on The Circle, although I read that the cover is of excellent quality!
I like the cover of The Circle. This, alas, is where it ends. The group read is fun regardless, even in its current non-spoiler mode.

42: Canteen Creek Predestinarian Baptist Church
Huh. My Illinois ancestors, the ones linked to your Nihisers were here: .

Editado: Nov 7, 2013, 4:08pm

>43 qebo:. Yes, the "first impression" phase for this group read is lasting a little bit too long for my liking, although I'm enjoying the comments of the group. I also found comments about the cover to be rather heavy with irony and someone somewhat hilarious. Skin deep, right.

Oh, those images are to die for--I'm so envious! I'm trying to read these minutes from images that were scanned years ago, so they are grainy and difficult to read. I misspoke when I said the minutes were transcribed (that was another book), and while I enjoy seeing the eccentric spelling, etc., the poor scans are really a shame. Although the truth is that I was glad to find them, in any condition.

Church minutes can be one of the best ways of tracking ancestors, especially these early 1800's Midwestern pioneers, since the census images had only the names of the head of households. With the cemetery obliterated/destroyed, it would be very difficult to track these families without something like the minutes.

Editado: Nov 7, 2013, 5:28pm

I've declared today a Pajama Day. Big Guy has gone fishing for the next few days, so as I type this I'm still in my flannel PJ's, and I have no plans to cook, clean, do any sort of writing or research, take my car out of the driveway, or in any way do anything that I'm "supposed" to do. It's 3:17 p.m. Central time and I'm drinking wine. Soon I will order a pizza, to be delivered to my door. Right now I'm looking for a good movie to watch tonight. I haven't had a day like this in 'way too long. My plan is to read for the rest of the day until I start the movie. Wow. This sort of a day is a real gift.

Editado: Nov 8, 2013, 6:04am

My brother just posted this on facebook, captioned "Now what?" Some people never grow up--ha.

Editado: Nov 8, 2013, 6:21am

The Kennedy Half-Century by Larry Sabato

True to the its subtitle, the book covers the Kennedy presidency, assassination, and the legacy of JFK, particularly as it relates to the presidents who have come after him. This book is recommended for American political history wonks, naturally. However, I would also recommend it as an excellent overview of the past 50 years for anyone who would like to understand that period better, particularly as it relates to the American presidency.

There's an excellent website that's associated with the book.

Sabato has done a thorough job, and while of course not everyone will agree with all of his conclusions, fully one-fourth of the book is notes, many of which include further references to documents that can be accessed on the internet.

4.5 stars

Editado: Nov 9, 2013, 1:50pm

We're having one of those absolutely stunning/stellar fall days--sunny, sky-blue sky, 65 degrees. Just perfect. I spent the morning working on my (formerly) flower beds that I plan to turn into vegetable beds next spring/summer--tomatoes, basil, and all kinds of peppers. I'm so glad Big Guy took this weekend to go fishing. He sounds like he's having such a great time. He's a life-long fly-fisherman, strictly catch and release. He says it could only be a better weekend if I were with him, sitting on the bank of the river clapping when he catches a fish. Silly man. As much as I sometimes grouse about cell phones, sometimes they are vv nice to have.

I'm still reading Harvest, by Jim Crace. Next up is Back on Murder, by J. Mark Bertrand.

ETA. I just went to Amazon to buy the Bertrand book for my Kindle, and I found that today they are charging $0.00 for the book. How great is that?

Editado: Nov 18, 2013, 4:18pm

Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn. Her debut novel. The book I have has a red sticker on the front with a quotation from Stephen King: "relentlessly creepy." Exactly. Also haunting and dark. What does it mean for a girl/woman to be raised by a mother who is so pathologically self-involved that she doesn't know how to mother--and who is so self-unaware that she doesn't even know that she doesn't know how to nurture her child. Flynn's exploration of her protagonist's relationship with her mother is chilling.

Flynn obviously likes to play on the dark side. I particularly enjoyed her exploration of small-town mean girls. Mean girls do their thing in large towns or small (or these days we don't even need a town--don't we often see them at work today in virtual communities?), although small town mean girls must be the worst, since there's nowhere to go to get away from them. I was never any good at the piling-on group mean girl thing, which in Flynn's book and also in my own memory seems to be particularly bad in junior high, although it can be found in any age group. Is there anything more pathetic than a middle-aged group of mean girls?--ha--Flynn has a lot of fun with that. I never understood the behavior, and I never participated in it, and anyone who understands the concept knows that if you're not a participant, then you're very likely the mean girls' next target. I found the foursome of 13-year-old small town mean girls in Flynn's book to be particularly gruesome--haunting memories. Flynn doesn't pull any punches here.

I'm giving this four stars.

Nov 18, 2013, 5:20pm

49: I read Gone Girl and Dark Places earlier this year, and if I were inclined to stars, 4 would be about right. Sharp Objects looks from its description to be creepier. I have it in mind to get to someday, but with caution.

Nov 18, 2013, 6:40pm

Interesting points to ponder re Kennedy. I like the fact that we didn't get deluged in personal life details back then -- although Kennedy was really the first president to effectively use television and pioneered the idea that a president should be telegenic, which I'm not sure is all that great an idea. Would it have worked for Lincoln, or Washington? Kennedy was a human being who happened to be exceptionally bright in some ways and exceptionally dumb in others, but I do like the fact that he could make Washington work, to some extent and in some ways. Although we tend to forget that it was under LBJ that a lot of the landmark legislation was eventually passed. (Civil rights, etc.)

I'm reading Dallas 1963 right now, and it's eerie how the description the authors provide of the divided state of the south (i.e. Texas) and some of the rhetoric kind of mirrors what I hear today. It reminded me of what I thought to myself when Obama was first elected: that the two biggest risks were that he would be assassinated or that he would never be able to live up to the expectations that people had of him. The latter was clearly the bigger risk -- almost inevitable that it would come true -- but I still worry about the former, too.

Gillian Flynn -- loved Gone Girl but was very "meh" about Dark Places so haven't read Sharp Objects yet. Re Eggers, I wasn't all that impressed by Zeitoun, and have less than no interest in reading anything else by him. He's a popular phenomenon, but that doesn't always add up to someone being a great writer.

Editado: Nov 19, 2013, 7:11am

>50 qebo:. I felt the same caution about reading Sharp Objects, which is why it took me awhile to get to it. The "cutting" issue didn't bother me all that much because I wasn't engaged by it personally. The narcissistic mother--well, that hit me where I live. I appreciate Flynn's willingness to use a middle-of-the-country small-town setting, which has to be considered something of a risk.

>51 Chatterbox:. Yes, I think LBJ's Great Society would have looked different coming from a Kennedy administration.

About Mr. Obama and not living up to expectations: It's inexplicable to me that he's not attending today's 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Isn't this the same guy who, wrapping himself in Lincoln's aura, launched his 2008 campaign in Springfield, Illinois?

Woodrow Wilson showed up at the 50th (although by all accounts he didn't go willingly, but only after he became convinced that for not showing up there would be "recriminations"). FDR was there for the 75th. Lyndon Johnson, the grandson of a Confederate soldier, made what was called a "memorable and historic" speech as the vice president in 1963 for the 100th. Some called it an "answer" to Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I think it's a sad commentary on his presidency that Obama has chosen not to attend--another missed opportunity, one among many.

Editado: Dic 1, 2013, 8:56am

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

This is her second book, and I think it suffers from the "second book curse." I didn't like the book, and I found myself having to force myself to read it. I know that Flynn likes to explore dark characters, particularly female protagonists. I only hope that she has gotten a little of that out of her system with this book. I also hope she's learned that gratuitous gross-outs aren't a good strategy for developing a solid reader base.

I'm at 75% on my Kindle--too far to quit, not far enough to be happy to be almost finished.

I liked her first and her third books. Parts of this one are good, and I honestly feel that this book represents the growing pains of someone who is developing into a good writer.

Life Inside the Bubble: Why a Top-Ranked Secret Service Agent Walked Away from It All, by Dan Bongino.

This is a fascinating account of how the Secret Service works. The dedication of these people is extraordinary. As Bongino says, no one goes into the Secret Service thinking they're going to get rich. This is a service that transcends ideology. I really enjoyed the book. This guy definitely worked harder at his job than the top 1% of people working in any job today. When they're guarding someone in the president's family, they literally have no family life. Not to mention the fact that they have signed up to take a bullet for the people they guard. They're exceptional people who don't get the credit they deserve.

I just started reading John Grisham's newest novel, Sycamore Row. He's back! Grisham has gone back to Clanton, Mississippi, scene of his first (and my favorite) book, A Time to Kill. Good choice! I'm loving this one, and wishing I had more time to read. These days, the great majority of my "reading" time is dedicated to genealogy.

Dic 2, 2013, 8:55am

Books in the queue for December:

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell. He writes for the New Yorker. I loved his other book, The Tipping Point. He's a fascinating person, judging from the interviews I've seen of him. There's a lot of buzz about this book right now, as Gladwell does the interview circuit.

Society's Child: My Autobiography, by Janis Ian. Ian was one of my favorites in my long-ago hippy-dippy days at Boulder, Co. "At Seventeen" was almost an anthem. When I hear that song, I go straight back to those days.

A Country in the Mind, a book that examines the intertwined careers of Wallace Stegner and Bernard DeVoto.

The Annotated Alice, (the Lewis Carroll books), ed. by Martin Gardner. This edition has the original John Tenniel illustrations. I've been meaning to get to this book for--um, decades. I bought it for $3.95 in 1970.

The Wettest County in the World, by Matt Bondurant, the inspiration for the movie Lawless. "An engaging fable of bootlegging, revenge, and remorse"--these guys were moonshiners who ran liquor through Franklin County, Virginia, but they just as easily could have been my Campbell kin from Carter County, Tennessee. The writing has been compared to Cormac McCarthy.

That should keep me busy.

Dic 2, 2013, 10:23am

I'm way behind on checking threads. I loved your comments and review of Kennedy Half- Century, post #33! I was particularly in agreement with your assessment of Kennedy at press conferences and how he seemed to relate to the press. A few months ago I watched a dvd regarding Kennedy's political style of taking a stance which did not include war. Time and time again he did not choose war as an option. This particular segment focused on what if Kennedy had lived and if he would have led us into Viet Nam.

There were parts of the documentary that showed Kennedy in press conferences. He was so intelligent in the way in which he framed his words and the way in which his body language augmented his sentiments.

I marveled at his intelligence and remember telling my partner that we do not seem to have this degree of intelligence in the White House today.

I'll be sure to find the book and read it with enthusiasm.

Dic 2, 2013, 12:24pm

>55 Whisper1:. Linda, what a dear you are for stopping by. I so hope this means you're having a good day.

Dic 2, 2013, 2:20pm

I completely agree with you re Grisham -- excellent genre mystery, as opposed to the stuff that he has dialed in for so long. Had I realized it was going to be that good, I might have bought the novel instead of waiting to get it from the library.

I'm not sure I'd agree with Linda that we don't have the same degree of intelligence in the White House today. I would argue that the political context has changed out of all recognition, and demonstrating intelligence isn't seen as automatically a "good" thing in the same way that it was 50 years ago. Being v. intelligent is seen as elitist (you know, all these Harvard-educated snobs) and with everything being so instantly transmitted and interpreted and re-interpreted via all kinds of new media, communication is different, too. I'm also wondering about the degree of polarization -- it certainly feels that there is MUCH less common ground between the two extremes than there was even in the Reagan years, which was when I started keeping a closer eye on US politics. I think that in Clinton, we had someone who was intelligent but more importantly was smart -- he knew how to manoeuver and work the system, which is why today he has such a high status in spite of his stumbles in office. Bush 2, I think, is rather unintelligent (and deliberately so), but he's smart. Carter is neither, but has a good heart. Nixon probably was both smart and intelligent, but with a small, twisted heart. Anyway...

Just ramblings.

Dic 2, 2013, 11:28pm

>57 Chatterbox: Suzanne, an interesting take on things, as usual. I would say that the current White House occupant, who I suppose is intelligent, although maybe not quite so much as he thinks himself to be, surrounds himself with people who refuse to give him bad news, which has the effect of making him dumb.

Dic 4, 2013, 3:52pm

You have some wonderful insights Suz.

Dic 4, 2013, 9:48pm

#58 -- which goes, I think, to the point about intelligent vs smart. You have to be people-smart, not just book-smart. One of the things that concerns me is the extent to which this White House has clamped down so tightly on the control of information. On the surface, we get more information (because the speeches actually sound intelligent, especially in contrast to 8 years of Bush -- I got to the point where it was so physically painful for me to listen to GWB that I would turn off the radio) but the real degree of openness is very deceptive.

Editado: Dic 7, 2013, 1:29pm

>60 Chatterbox:. The speeches sound intelligent? Well, personally I run for the mute button every time Mr. Obama appears on the TV, droning on with yet another campaign speech, standing in front of his human wallpaper. You lost me at "I won," Mr. O. To each his/her own, Suzanne.

Dic 7, 2013, 1:07pm

Sycamore Row, by John Grisham

I loved this book, which reminded me so much of his first book from 1989, A Time to Kill. I found myself sneaking off to find time to read this thing when I should have been doing something else. That to me is the very definition of a good book. If you like legal thrillers, then this one is highly recommended.

Editado: Dic 8, 2013, 11:54am

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan.

To read Aslan as if he has no agenda is simply naïve. As he himself writes in his Introduction: "Scholars tend to see the Jesus they want to see. Too often they see themselves--their own reflection--in the image of Jesus they have constructed" (Kindle location 236)--and then Aslan goes on to do the very thing he complains of other scholars doing. He is hardly objective here.

On the plus side, the book is well-written and engagingly readable. However, and unfortunately, although he presents himself as a biblical historian in his interviews, one who has written a scholarly historical book, Aslan's book lacks any sort of professional historical apparatus, such as footnotes, that would allow the more curious reader to check a source for his many rather amazing assertions (examples: his specific dating of the Q material; the idea that Paul's letters make up "the bulk of the New Testament"--really?; for that matter, his whole take on Paul is curiously out-of-date. If he's read any of the current perspectives on Paul, they certainly don't make it into his book--try Paul: In Fresh Perspective, by N.T. Wright, for example, or Paula Eisenbaum's Paul Was Not a Christian). He does include narrative-type "endnotes" for each chapter where he generally explains his sources; however these are wholly inadequate for informing the reader on details of how the sources are used for his interpretations and claims that are certainly not the settled "facts" that he presents. Another expected scholarly apparatus he leaves out is any sort of bibliography.

In short, Aslan's thesis is a clever attempt to refute popularly held beliefs about the historical Jesus, but he makes no effort to prove his thesis of Jesus-as-violent-revolutionary. What are facts and what are Aslan's deductions? The reader is evidently just supposed to take him at his word--and probably many will. Some wag has labeled Aslan's book as "historical fiction in the spirit of Dan Brown." Or perhaps it could be viewed as closely aligned to the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar (a show I loved from the early 1970's--who wasn't in love with Ted Neeley?). Marketed like either of those, the book would have been much more acceptable--and more honest.

Considering his lack of scholarly professionalism, I can only assume that he's writing as a "subject matter expert" for a lay audience. Which is fine, up to a point, since there's much in the book that is of interest about the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth.

However, Aslan really doesn't give us anything new. Forty years ago, I read a book called The Passover Plot, by Hugh J. Schonfield, with the same Jesus-as-revolutionary thesis. I will grant, however, that if a reader comes to Aslan's book as a neophyte to the scholarship surrounding the historical Jesus, then this book will probably evince some of the same "gee whiz" moments I felt as an young 20-something reading Schonfield's book. In addition to which, much of the historical background was standard fare in my 15+ years of childhood Sunday school classes. For those who don't have that background, Aslan is a good source for the basic historical milieu.

When reading a book of non-fiction, I'm always curious about the writers' background. J.T. Schonfield was one of the original Dead Sea Scrolls team members and a self-styled "liberal Hebrew Christian"; Paula Eisenbaum is a Jewish professor of Biblical studies and Christian origins at Iliff School of Theology in Denver (MTS, Harvard Divinity School; PhD Columbia U); N.T. Wright is a retired Anglican bishop and leading New Testament Scholar and an important proponent of traditional theological views; Reza Aslan is an Islam convert to Christianity and re-convert to Islam, teaching creative writing at the U of California, Riverside (MTS Harvard Divinity School, MFA, Iowa, PhD in Sociology from U of California, Santa Barbara). Does a writer's background matter? To a thoughtful reader, how could it not?

Dic 10, 2013, 7:51am

Great review, labwriter! You should post it in reviews; it needs more chances to be read.

Any chance that we could talk you into joining us in Joplin next year?

Dic 10, 2013, 10:47am

>64 countrylife:. countrylife, how kind of you to ask me to go to Joplin, especially since I've been such a poop about attending in past years. Yes, I'll put it on my calendar and do my best to be there in 2014.

Thanks for your kind words about the review.

Editado: Dic 22, 2013, 5:01pm

Feliz Navidad, y'all!

Pretty much no entertainment or otherwise reading going on in my life these days, except that I'm reading two books simultaneously on my Kindle as my bedtime reading. I might get those finished before Christmas. Who knows?

Dic 23, 2013, 12:14am

Becky, are those reindeer treats from your kitchen?

Dic 23, 2013, 4:13pm

Ah, no, Sandy. I don't do very well with artistic or "cute" baking--it just never seems to come out right. I thought these were so cute. I did manage some pinwheel cookies this year, which was a real stretch for me. They came out well.

Dic 23, 2013, 10:29pm

I don't do "cute" baking either. Too much fussing. Cookies sound good, though. Right now, I'm stalling on going to the kitchen to make fudge. That usually turns out pretty well, too.

Merry Christmas to you and yours, Becky. Are you travelling or is your son coming to you?

Dic 23, 2013, 10:47pm

Just stopping by to wish you a Merry Christmas, Becky!

Dic 23, 2013, 11:10pm

Becky, I went into Zealot more hopefully than you did and came out with pretty much the same take. I also thought of The Passover Plot. Oh well.
Merry Christmas!!

Dic 24, 2013, 10:51am

Just wishing you a very happy Christmas and New Year!

Editado: Dic 24, 2013, 3:24pm

Thank you all for the Christmas wishes, and right back at you, wishing everyone a wonderful Christmas and New Year's! Or Happy Winter Solstice, if that's your thing. Or a Fun Festivus.

Here's something that's become a tradition in our house. I call it Christmas Eve Goulash, and friends & family know that they can come to the house any time Christmas Eve and share in a meal. I love it when people come after Christmas Eve mass. They always seem to be starving. Eat, drink, and have some good Christmas cheer!

So here's the recipe:

Christmas Eve Goulash

This serves a crowd. If you're not expecting a crowd, you can cut it down by thirds and have plenty of food for four.

1 lb. bacon, the kind that's naturally smoked, chopped
3 lbs. ground beef
4-5 medium onions, chopped
3 large cans of good tomatoes with juice, squeezed by hand into chunks if they're whole
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 cup green pepper, chopped
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder (or 4-5 cloves garlic, chopped)
salt, pepper to taste
1 lb. package noodles (I use a brand of Amish egg noodles)

Chop bacon into small pieces and cook until brown and crisp.

Remove bacon and--now this will scare some people, but remember, it's probably cold outside and the fat and calories will be welcome--cook the onions in ALL of the bacon grease. When lightly browned, add chopped celery and green peppers and cook another 2-3 minutes. Place onion/celery mixture in a bowl and set aside.

Return pan to heat and brown the ground beef. Drain most of the fat (if you must), add salt and pepper to taste, garlic, tomatoes with juice plus about a cup of water; include onion/celery/pepper mixture and reserved bacon pieces. Stir well and bring back to a simmer and let it cook while you prepare the noodles.

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and add immediately to goulash mixture. Stir to combine and continue simmering on a very low heat for about 30 minutes, adding a little extra water if it begins to stick.

You can eat it right away if you must, and it will be delicious. But trust me on this: if you can make it a day ahead and rewarm it slowly the next day it's even better!

Serve with crusty bread and a green salad. It's a humble feast.

Dic 24, 2013, 8:41pm

Happy Christmas, Becky.

Dic 24, 2013, 10:38pm

Oh yeah, that Christmas Eve goulash would hit the spot tonight…or any night. Thanks for sharing, Becky. What a lovely tradition. I've been following you around the threads tonight as you spread your holiday joy. Here's some for you and your husband to share.

There's even an elusive Missouri bluebird for you!

Editado: Dic 28, 2013, 2:50pm

>75 Donna828:. Thanks so much, Donna. And I hope you had a wonderful holiday season as well.

The year is winding down, so I thought I would also wind down this thread with an update of my recent books.

A Storm of Swords, 3rd in the series by George R.R. Martin. I'm listening to these books on my shuffle, mainly when I work in the kitchen. On the shuffle there's no way of telling how far I am into the book. However, by book three I was able to pretty much tell when Martin was pulling together the plot threads and getting ready for the ending. Listening to them this way, it's a lot like listening to one very, very long book. I hugely enjoy them, and plan to start #4, A Feast for Crows, sometime after the New Year.

I finished reading two books that I was reading together. It was an interesting juxtaposition to read them simultaneously.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan.

Killing Jesus, by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard.

If you're looking for a book about Jesus of Nazareth which highlights Jesus' "failure to establish God's reign on earth" (5% on my Kindle--no page no. given); or if you want to try to place your "preferred messianic candidate" into a "jumbled prophetic tradition" (15%); or wish to see Jesus presented as a "traveling miracle worker and professional exorcist roaming through Galilee performing tricks" (@35%), then this is a book worth reading. Resa Aslan's agenda is to present Jesus of Nazareth as just a guy, not a lot different from a lot of guys, wandering around Galilee c.30 C.E.

I didn't particularly think I would like the O'Reilly book. To my surprise, I found it to be very readable and interesting. The focus of the book is to show Jesus of Nazareth in an historical context. Interestingly, O'Reilly and Dugard include notes and a bibliography; Aslan includes only a bibliographic essay at the end of the book which discusses some of his sources, but the bridge from his sources to his conclusions is often missing.

I'm not going to give either one of them a star rating.

My current read is The Goldfinch, a novel by Donna Tartt. I'm at 213/775 on my Kindle, and I'm loving this book and finding young Theo Decker to be a very likeable character. Every night I've been staying up later than usual to read this thing. I know that people complain that it's too wordy, too depressing, etc. etc. I think it's beautifully written. And depressing? Well, a lot of life is depressing. If someone wants to understand what it means to be a serious introvert, this is a good book to read. With the caveat that I'm only 1/4 or so through the book, I'm thinking she's written a masterpiece--a Bildungsroman in the classic style, updated to reflect the complicated social world of our time.

I plan to read The Little Friend, her second novel (Goldfinch is her third) sometime soon.

Editado: Dic 28, 2013, 2:51pm

This time of year I always reread Tennyson's long poem, In Memoriam. This is ostensibly a requiem written for Tennyson's beloved friend, Arthur Henry Hallam, who died suddenly; however, that's just the jumping-off point. The poem is about personal grief, lamentation, questioning the soul's survival. Tennyson uses the poem to introduce recurrent Christmases, and chronicles his spiritual journey. For reasons that I won't go into, Christmas is not a particularly joyous time for me. In Memoriam is, above all, transformatively hopeful.

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

Ene 2, 2014, 1:13pm

That was my first time reading that poem. Powerful!