Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Happy Library Lovers Day!!

In honor of Library Lovers Day, I am simply posting photos of beautiful libraries.

St. Florian Monastery, Austria

















George Peabody Library, Johns Hopkins University, USA
Main Library, Salt Lake City, Utah (I've been here)
Abbey Library of St. Gallen, Switzerland
Library of Parliament, Ottawa, Canada
Library at Chateau de Groussay, France
Reading Room, National Library, Paris











































































































And here are some of my most well-loved libraries.

Smyrna Public Library, Delaware, in my hometown:





































Dover Public Library, Delaware:











Free Library of Philadelphia, Main Branch:

And finally, the Free Library of Philadelphia, Roxborough Branch, where my love of the library began:


Monday, February 12, 2018

Book 184: From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty (Audiobook)

Ever since I read her first book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, I've been fascinated with Caitlin Doughty's writing style and ability to both be respectful and poke fun at aspects of death at the very same time. For many years, Doughty - herself an undertaker - has been an advocate for respectful, interactive funeral arrangements and more family involvement in the American death experience as a way for us to mourn and remain connected with our loved ones long after they have gone.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death is one of the more interesting books I've read on the topic of death. In it, Doughty details her travels to learn about death traditions and how families care for their dead. She traveled to a remote island in Indonesia, where the beloved dead are mummified and kept in the family home for years after they've expired. In Colorado, she found a group that uses a mobile funeral pyre to burn a person's body down to ashes in front of his or her loved ones. In Bolivia, she found shrines full of skulls which bless the communities in which they reside. In Japan, she found a corpse hotel which infused technology and death traditions to create posthumous experiences for both the dead and their families.

In this book, Doughty shows us the American death tradition is just as weird as any other. I've long disliked the look of an embalmed body, so I've opted for cremation when my time comes. In fact, I even have a plan that both my kids know by heart: I want them to use whatever money I have to take a trip together and to scatter my in a beautiful part of the world I've never visited. (A little pinch will do - they don't have to fly an entire urn out to Africa and dump it.) Until I read Doughty's books I didn't realized I had an option as to how I'll be cremated. I could be burned on a funeral pyre or the kids could push the button to start the cremation process. There's something to be said for closure and being part of the final arrangements. It's about letting go in a way that's respectful, intimate, and personal.

I hope you'll pick up this book (read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes first) and love it as much as I did. Your skin might crawl a bit, but you'll learn a lot, too. Buy it here. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

"The Orange Tree" Mixed Media Painting

I painted this original watercolor on cold press paper with high quality watercolors. I added some depth with embossing  It's about 6" x 8" but it's presented in a 8" x 10" frame matted to 5" x 7".

I called this painting "The Orange Tree" because although it's abstract, you might see branches and fruit like I did.

I love the color orange, because it is a happy color.

Click here to see this item in my Etsy store. 

Thanks for checking it out!


Monday, January 15, 2018

Book 183: The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer (Review requested by Faber&Faber)

When I was asked by Kate Hamer's publicist to review an advanced copy of The Doll Funeral as part of an international book blog tour, I was psyched. I've never participated in a blog tour before, but it's brilliant publicity for Hamer, and I always try to support my fellow writers. One day I intend to publish my own book, and I hope to have the same support from my fellow bloggers.

Onto the review.

The Doll Funeral is written in two eras: the 1970s and the 1980s, and jumps back and forth between the two. It's set in England, in the Forest of Dean, which seems to me like a place that is real and not real at the same time. If it were a person, you might say the Forest has one foot in the grave.

The first story is that of Ruby, an orphan who - as the story opens - occupies her own living hell. She has an abusive foster father and a weak, enabling foster mother. When things begin to spin out of control, Ruby embarks on a journey that propels her toward her birth parents, for better or for worse. In the end, everything Ruby thought she knew about her life is turned upside down. She finally understands she is equipped with everything she needs to find her way home, which isn't what she expected, either.

It is also the story of Anna, an unwed pregnant teenager who decides to keep her child despite all her family's arguing for the contrary. She is plagued by problems of both the internal and external variety which lead to her demise. I'm only telling you this because anyone with an eye can see from the start that Anna's life is on a collision course with tragedy. And that's all I can tell you about Anna without ruining the story. 😉

The Doll Funeral was a little slow at first, but I knew Hamer was building up to something big. As soon as I realized there was a supernatural aspect to the story, I was hooked. I was invested in Ruby's fate. Shadow's every appearance piqued my curiosity. The strange characters of Crispin, Elizabeth, and Tom had me guessing about their importance to the plot of this story since they seemed to come out of nowhere. And by the way, I was confused for just about the entire book, but I knew Hamer intended to keep me that way as long as possible so that when she revealed the truth, I'd eat it up. And I did.

The Doll Funeral was a masterpiece of hidden suspense. I'm interested in reading it a second time to see what I missed the first time through. I'd definitely recommend it.

As most of my followers know, I'm more of a nonfiction gal, but I enjoyed The Doll Funeral and I look forward to reading more of Kate Hamer's stories. Follow @kate_hamer on Twitter or visit https://www.katehamer.co.uk/ to learn more about her work. You can buy The Doll Funeral on Amazon.

Great job, Kate!

❤❤❤

P.S. Here are the other bloggers slated to review The Doll Funeral in January 2018. Please visit each of them and enjoy!


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

"Alphalittlebit" by Es Curtis - Created Dec. 31, 2017

I called this "Alphalittlebit" because it just gives us just a little glimpse of some of the numbers and symbols that appear on the typical keyboard. 

I used a rubber stamp and embossing materials to give the cold press watercolor the appearance of an old document. Then I used a tan watercolor to make the paper look aged. Then I painted the letters, symbols, and numbers freehand using black and red watercolors. 

This was a new technique for me - I'd never tried mixing embossing and watercolor on the same page before. It turned out pretty cool. 

Click here to visit my Etsy listing. If you can't buy it, do me a favor and share it - someone else may fall in love with it!

Monday, January 1, 2018

Switching Gears for 2018.

"In Depth No. 1" given to a friend in 2017
Pen and ink on heavy paper
My goal for the second half of 2017 (after I finished my master's degree) was to read two books a week for the rest of the year. For the most part I achieved the goal but toward the end of the year it got tough to maintain the momentum with all the family functions and holiday celebrations. I just kept at it and did my best. I learned that I could manage quite a bit of reading if I simply made reading a priority and kept reading materials readily accessible.

The problem is that reading is not exactly a group activity, and my family was sort of wondering when I was going to eventually come up for air. So for 2018 I decided to focus on a goal that won't alienate others and might even engage my kids and family even more.

I have declared 2018 The Year of Creativity, to bring art back into my life in a big way. In the past few years I've been working on an art project here and there. It's been catch-as-catch-can, but I'm no novice. My parents are artists, so I was immersed in art classes from birth. One of my earliest memories was being in my dad's art studio in our Philadelphia house, taking in the mayhem of creativity, poking globs of clay, and smelling photo developer fluid. My mom is an Origami fiend and has taught classes for years at libraries and art centers alike.

So I started my Etsy shop - BrightEyedCrafts - to post and sell the things I create. Also, Mr. Fussypants is an accomplished photographer (see https://sailorstrek.com/) and he hasn't marketed his work quite as much as he should. I hope you'll come to visit my Etsy store and if something strikes your fantasy, please pick it up. Everything I post will be an Es Curtis or Mr. Fussypants original.

My newly cleaned desk and a few works in progress.
This is not the end of this blog. I still have a few books to finish - those authors have sent me - and I will finish reading, reviewing, or featuring their books on my blog. Also, reading is a huge part of my life, so I'll continue to read and post what I read, though not in such a rapid fire approach.

I appreciate all of your support in 2017, and hope you will continue to follow me as I switch gears and move into a new chapter of my life.

Thanks, all... and Happy New Year. May 2018 live up to all of our expectations.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Book 182: Looking for Jane by Judith Redline Coopey

x

I love the book club at the Smyrna Public Library, because each person recommends books they like or think are important. These folks have taught me to open up and try new things, and also remind me to be very deliberate about what I recommend for my own selections.

Because there was a woman in a bonnet and a guy on a horse on the cover, I honestly thought, Oh no, this is a western, a genre I wrote off a long time ago. (Yes, I judged this book by its cover.) Turns out, I am a dumbass. It was darn good historical fiction, set in a time I knew nothing about - the 1890s. And my curiosity was piqued.

I began reading this book and I immediately fell in love with the main character, Nell. She's an orphan with a cleft palate, newly freed from her convent upbringing, and convinced Calamity Jane is her long-lost mother. After leaving the convent, Nell embarks on a journey to Deadwood, South Dakota. I won't tell you all the details, but I do love dynamic characters, and Nell is forever changed by her journey. Her trek across half the U.S. doesn't end the way she expected, but she winds up better for it in the end. The plot was pretty good, and had some twists I hadn't anticipated.

The author Judith Redline Coopey is a history buff from Pennsylvania. I loved her style and her informed writing. From her bio online:


Historical fiction is my genre -- no bodice ripping romances for me -- just well researched interesting stories of those who've gone before. I write the kind of stories I like to read: of strong people facing the challenges life lays before them, following their inner light and living responsible lives. 

Anyway, thanks to the person that recommended this book, because I'll definitely be reading Coopey again. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Book 181: The Rooster Bar by John Grisham (Audiobook)

This review is late because my brother was in town and I was so crazy busy I did not have time to finish my books.

Although it was not my favorite John Grisham novel of all time (that honor is reserved for The Rainmaker), The Rooster Bar was a fun read. The plot was inventive and had twists and turns that I really loved.

D.C. law students Mark, Todd, Zola, and their friend Gordy find themselves in a no-win situation in their final year of school. They're all deep in debt, without any good job prospects, even though they've been promised by their law school that their ensuing careers will give them the edge they need to get ahead of the student loans and make bank. Three of the friends embark upon a journey that has all the promise of making them rich, or at least breaking even. In the end, the decisions they make lead them to an ending no one could have guessed. At least, I didn't.

As all of my readers already know, I finished my master's degree in 2017. Even with tuition assistance from my employer, I still owe more than $60,000 in student loans, so this aspect of this book was familiar territory, and I felt I could commiserate with the characters in The Rooster Bar. (Hey Congress, want to score points with voters? Forgive student loans.)

As I said, The Rooster Bar was not my favorite Grisham read, and here's the reason: I love John Grisham's ability to weave a complex, multi-dimensional story. The Rooster Bar was sort of like John Grisham Light. Maybe you'll disagree, but that was my impression.

Ari Fliakos did a great job on narration - I thought his voices were wonderful.

The Rooster Bar was another loan from my dear coworker, Sherry, who kept me supplied with excellent audio books throughout 2017. As soon as I finished one, she had another one on deck. It's always nice to have someone like that around.

😊😊😊

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Book 180: Beat This! Cookbook: Absolutely Unbeatable Knock'em Dead Recipes for the Very Best Dishes by Ann Hodgman

This is the best cookbook I have ever owned. Yes, I know it's old (published in 1999), but the other day I realized I would be remiss in blogging about other cookbooks without revealing my one true love sitting at home in my own library: Beat This! Cookbook by Ann Hodgman.

I have owned this cookbook for at least six years. In that time I've made everything in the book at least once. I have at least ten cookbooks, and this is the only one I refer to all the time. Of all the recipes, my absolute favorite is Hodgman's "Best Banana Bread" which is better than anything I've ever tasted, before or after I bought this book. And the book is funny! It's not just bland recipes; Hodgman infuses them with humor. You could read this book from cover to cover and have a few giggles.

I love this book and have bought copies for friends over the years, especially those who love cooking, or (like me) had a bit of a rocky start to baking. Although I'm a decent cook (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), my baking skills have never been good. Thankfully, Hodgman's collection of recipes are straightforward and simple, and so far, are impossible to screw up.

If you buy this book, I would make one recommendation, with regard to the banana bread recipe (of course): freeze your bananas for a few days before you make the banana bread. Then thaw them the night before you make it. They get super brown and mushy and are perfect for that recipe. You can literally squeeze the bananas right out of their skins.

If you only have one cookbook in your collection, make it this one. You won't regret it. Click here to get it on Amazon.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Book 179: Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur

In 2015, news correspondent Katy Tur of NBC was assigned to follow and report on Donald Trump and his presidential campaign. She accepted the assignment with mixed feelings - she knew it would be good for her career, but that the assignment might also wreak havoc on her personal life. She dedicated most of 2015 and all of 2016 to observing and reporting all the news that was fit to print - and some not so much - about the Trump campaign. It was the experience of a lifetime, but I doubt it's one she'd soon repeat.

In this book, Tur documented major developments in the presidential election from May 2015 through November 2016, when Trump was elected to office. Having lived every day of the nightmare that was the Trump campaign and later, the Trump presidency, nothing in this book surprised me. Still, while reading Tur's account, I felt a renewed disgust. She documented Trump's bullying, sexual impropriety, hatred, bigotry, and outright lies. She wrote about Trump hostility toward her and her fellow journalists, and his efforts to discredit both her and the main stream media. She wrote about the shock she felt when Trump called her out in the middle of a rally, effectively making her a target. After that, she had to travel with a security detail, because the "deplorables" saw her as a representative of "fake news," and she feared for her life.

As the saying goes, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it." I'm grateful that Tur wrote this book, if only to document the insanity that was (and remains) on display for the whole world to see. Hopefully, we as a country will learn from this experience. May we never forget how we got here.

Katy Tur: If ever I have the honor of meeting you, I'm buying you one big ass glass of wine. You earned it, lady.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Book 178: Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

I felt I had to read this book, if only to understand Fisher's life a little better. We all know her as Princess Leia from Star Wars, but she was so much more than that. 

Nearly a year ago, Fisher died at age 60 after having an apparent heart attack on a plane, and her mother Debbie Reynolds died the day after of a stroke. Her later autopsy showed that she had had a variety of drugs in her system. I found myself thinking how tragic this was, but also, how consistent with reality. 

In Wishful Drinking, Fisher wrote about how she had struggled with the lethal combination of mental health and drug addiction. After years of therapy, treatment, and institutionalization, she finally decided to try electroconvulsive therapy, and in the book she discussed what impact it had on her memory. The book was a short one (I finished it in a day) but in it Fisher delved into her relationship with her mother and father, "inbred" Hollywood, her husbands, her daughter, and her addiction to alcohol and drugs, which she used to bring herself "down" or "up" depending on her manic state. And damn it, she was funny. 

I wrote my thesis for my master's degree on dual diagnosis mental health and substance abuse, so for me, this book was equal parts disturbing and enlightening. It isn't often that someone with these issues has a platform from which to tell the world the weird, embarrassing, unpleasant truth of being truly messed up. I know now why people said Fisher was a beacon for mental health and substance abuse awareness. She didn't sugar coat the garbage roiling around inside her head; she talked about it. She told people. And that is very, very important.

Fisher's stream-of-consciousness writing style was difficult to follow at times, but it was also genuine. She wrote as she spoke, and it was easy to imagine her telling the stories of her life in her animated way. I'm glad I got to know her a little better through this book. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Book 177: I Hate Everyone Except You by Clinton Kelly

I like birds. I picked up this book because the cover had a bird on it. (That's true.) I kept reading this book because it was freaking hilarious. I laughed until Mr. Fussypants asked me to please stop, so he could hear his show. When I kept on, adapting my guffaws to Muttley-style huffing, he gave me the look. Luckily, I have insomnia due to some sort of throat ailment, so I finished it in private later on, chuckling quietly to myself in the den. 

Clinton Kelly was a co-host of What Not to Wear and is now on The Chew - two shows I never even heard of until I read this book. (Sorry, Clinton, but don't feel bad... I don't watch much TV.)  This book is a series of stories from his life, opinion pieces, and even a previously unpublished screenplay. He writes about his life as a co-host and talks about his working relationships, bitches about celebrities (Paula Deen, for one), and talks about his relationship with his family and his husband, Damon, who sounds like a saint.

Clinton Kelly is the king of snark. Every story from the theme park adventure as a child to the two hour forced commentary on salad was filled with wit and sarcasm that would give Joan Rivers a run for her money. Because I can visualize everything that happened in this book, I found it riotously funny.

I Hate Everyone, Except You was funny, but Kelly also injected a lot of truth about love and life into it. For example, the wishful-thinking "if I were president" piece in which Kelly says one of the first things he'd do is initiate a mandatory draft for food service - for everyone. As a former waitress, I could not agree more. I learned some of my most profound life lessons while serving others their food and drinks, and I often think some of the assholes I come across could do with a dose of humility that often comes along with the job.

I borrowed the digital copy of this book from the Delaware Library Catalog, but if you don't have access, you can buy it here.

I needed a good laugh, and this did it. Thanks, Clinton.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Book 176: Jennifer Brown's Journey by Angie Langley

The author, Angie Langley, asked me to read and review this book, and I was happy to oblige. I absolutely loved this book.

Jennifer Brown's Journey is the story of a young woman who found herself in a life she didn't like with a man that didn't want her. In no time, she was homeless, prevailing upon friends for room and board while she figured out how to begin anew. In the ensuing months she traveled, moved around, and changed careers, until the life she left behind was a distant memory, and she was a completely different person... a happy one.

This book was witty and fun and had twists and turns I didn't expect. The story felt genuine and the characters and settings were very real. When I contacted the author to tell her much I was enjoying it, she told me it was completely true. That made me love it even more. Then she killed me with three little words: To be continued. I can't wait to read rest of Jennifer Brown's journey, because this book was great.

I hope you'll pick up this book on Amazon and enjoy it as much as I did.

Friday, December 1, 2017

December is Read a New Book Month!

It's no surprise that December is "Read a New Book Month."
December = Christmas
Christmas = Gifts
Gifts = Books (Sometimes.)

According to Forbes, between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books are published each year in the United States. Of those, about half are self-published. A study by Stanford University found that fiction accounts for only 11% of books published in a given year. Almost 130 million books have been published (and reprinted) since the beginning of time. We've got thousands of choices at our fingertips, and more appear every day.

Sources for new book recommendations also change every day, but for me, some are tried and true. I always check the new book rack at my local Delaware library. It's usually front and center when you walk in. There's also a feature on the Delaware Library Catalog where you can view and request new books in both digital and print format.

My non-library sources for new books begin with NPR Books, which boasts a wide variety of books and reviews from authors I might never hear of otherwise. For situational awareness, I may check the New York Times Bestseller List, while repeating this mantra in my head: What is popular is not always good. (Like cars, cell phones, jobs, computers, and houses, "new" doesn't necessarily equate to "great." Duds are everywhere.) I also check Amazon New Releases, which is my best source for new books on sale. (There's also this fantastic feature on Amazon, where you can put together and publish your own public wish list and share it with friends and family. They can search for it, too.) I also like the Slate Audio Book Club.

Hopefully you'll get a fantastic book for Christmas, or a gift card with a huge balance on it, so that you can buy yourself a whole new collection of Mary Roach or Mark Kurlansky books that will blow your mind. (Hint, hint.) Who knows what December will bring?

My advice is to never stop reading. Whether it's given to you or you buy it, pick up a new book, wrap up in your favorite blanket, and enjoy the heck out of it.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Book 175: The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsay Fitzharris

Well folks, I apologize for this review coming so late, but I just could not seem to find the time between now and last Wednesday to sit down and bust this one out. And I loved it, so that's saying something.

Lindsay Fitzharris has written a book that is both grisly and disgusting but really, really good. It was well written, and she damn well did her research, as the final 50 pages of references attest. It made me squirm in discomfort and horror and I loved every page of it.

The Butchering Art is the heroic story of Joseph Lister, the man who introduced the use of antiseptics to the medical community in Edinburgh, Scotland, then to London, England, then to the world. As a child, Lister was fascinated with his father's microscope. Later, when he entered the [utterly insane] field of surgery, he used the microscope to identify microbes responsible for causing post-surgical infections that were literally killing entire hospital units full of patients. Lister experimented with a variety of chemical antiseptics, wound dressings, and stitching materials, and eventually revolutionized the world of medicine. The guy was a genius, and made every surgeon before him look like a complete idiot. They weren't too happy about that, but had to eventually adopt his practices because, quite simply, they worked.

This book is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. Fitzharris provides the most awful details about the most revolting surgical practices common in Victorian-era medicine. She tells you more than you ever wanted to know, and proves once again that truth is indeed stranger than fiction. This was better than any horror fiction ever written. (Sorry, Mr. King, but I still love ya.)

I was thoroughly disgusted and totally riveted, and I fully intend to make this book part of my permanent collection.

Lindsay, send me a signed copy! It would make my day!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Book 174: The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking

I wasn't totally in love with this book. Although I felt strongly that the lessons within it were worthwhile, the style is a little bit dry. Meik Wiking, the author, is an academic who studies happiness at the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. It sort of felt like a cross between a DIY book and an academic paper.

Despite the style, I learned quite a bit from The Little Book of Hygge about the Danish custom of sharing cozy spaces, warm lighting, comfort food, and comfortable furniture for one purpose: to enjoy each other's company. I didn't know that Danes will invest thousands in the right lamps to achieve Hygge in their cozy living rooms.

These days, with just over a month left in the year and complete my goal, I'll pick up any book that has "little" in the title. This book was just a hundred or so pages (I'm estimating this, since I read it on my Kindle) and went through the major points of Hygge (pronounced "hug-gah") and how to implement Hygge to improve your own quality of life. The author even included recipes to make some of the Danes' favorite comfort foods.

If you're into home decorating and entertaining, this is definitely the book for you.


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Plight of Women in America

All my life I've been drawn to stories of women like Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Dorothy Day, Clara Barton, and Queen Esther. These women didn't ask for permission to do what they needed to; instead, they broke rules and made history. They didn't conform to social norms. They did what they thought was right. I like that, and I always have. 

Not long ago, I realized that for every women who rose above the status quo, millions lived and died in horrific circumstances that destroyed their bodies and spirits for thousands of years before me. They lived through hell.

Women were once considered second-class citizens and the property of their fathers and husbands. Yes, that was here in the U.S. In fact, it was legal for a husband to beat his wife and children, and many suffered such extreme abuse that they never recovered. Women were beaten until they could not or would not stand up for themselves. Watch The Color Purple or The Stoning of Soraya M  and let yourself feel the pain of these characters, which reflect so many other true stories that will never be told. 

Until 200 years ago, women weren't permitted to attend any institutions of higher education. They were welcome to attend grammar school, but "were at a significant disadvantage in access to most forms of higher education." Academies for women were not much more than high schools, and were "restrictive and inferior when compared to the educational opportunities available to young men." In 1836, women were able to pursue their higher degrees at only two universities in the whole United States. Men had no such restrictions, and flourished. 

Women kept pushing to crack the glass ceiling and be elected to the U.S. Congress, despite losing election after election to male opponents. The first woman voted into Congress was Jeannette Rankin, a Republican from Montana, who served in the House of Representatives. One hundred years ago, she took her seat in the 65th Congress in 1917, a full 128 years after congress was established. (Because women couldn't vote, she couldn't even cast a vote for herself, but you know she damn well used her congressional vote to push through women's suffrage.) 

In the early 1900s, suffragettes fought to vote, a right that had been bestowed upon men in the U.S. Constitution, but had not been extended to women. In 1920, women won the battle, but not without being imprisoned, tortured, and some even killed for their activism. I still get chills thinking about the bravery of these women, and I'll always vote because of their sacrifices on my behalf. Watch Suffragette to better understand their struggles. 

The Women's Liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s - which I am so, so pissed that I missed - focused on the fact that women outnumbered men (51% of the American population) and still had nowhere near as many rights and opportunities. They focused on a variety of causes, including better pay, more higher education admissions, reproductive freedom, better employment opportunities, and among other things, dissolving the traditional gender roles so women weren't limited to domestic roles. The term "feminist" was used to describe these revolutionary women who spoke out for equality and absorbed every punch they were dealt. They are both revered and vilified by all manner of historians. 

Even now, in 2017, women are undervalued in the American workplace, and underrepresented in leadership roles, on boards, and in Congress. Women have to work twice as hard to gain the same success as their male counterparts even with superior education and experience. Look at the leadership of any Fortune 500 company and you'll see that most are overwhelmingly comprised of men, unless they are women-owned organizations. And the gender pay gap is another can of worms entirely; women still earn about 80% of what men earn to do the same jobs. And men are selected for promotions more often than women

Women have continued to push for equality because for hundreds of years our country has taken advantage of our strengths and all but ignored our contributions to its success. 

With the #NoMore movement, the feminism wave is rising again. Women are tired of being beat up, underrepresented, treated like doormats, and most of all, sick of being expected to continue to put up with it. And guess what? We really hate that we continue to be victims of sexual assault and abuse in this civilized day and age. Men should be able to control themselves and keep their hands to themselves, end of story.

Right now, many women who have chosen to speak out against sexual assault and abuse are being absolutely destroyed by the press and social media. They stay strong despite the onslaught of criticism, and I salute them for their bravery. Their voices will be the catalyst for positive change in our society, and I hope that even more will decide to come forward. Perhaps their voices will be the reason one abused woman will have the courage she needs to finally walk away.

Women: Assault and abuse and harassment leave deep wounds that never heal. A woman speaking out is reliving the most shameful moment of her life. She's ashamed because she was too scared or shocked to stop her assailant. She's ashamed because she's lived with this secret for her entire life and by keeping it a secret, she's protected the person who hurt her. Speaking out is the hardest thing she's ever done, and she's doing it for all of us - even those of you that choose not to believe her. One in five American women suffer assault, abuse, or harassment, so you could end up in her shoes. Wouldn't you want people to believe you if you had the guts to speak out? 

Men: Don't complain about the storm of allegations against news icons, movie stars, elected officials, and film directors. Women have been putting up with a lot of shit for a lot of years, and these guys have had it coming. If you're shocked, it only shows how ignorant you are of the horrors women have had to endure since the beginning of time. Don't act like this is something new. These guys represent the tip of the iceberg. Just support us as we get through it. The process is just like pulling weeds out of a flower bed. These stories need to be told so that we can get through this as a nation and be better as individuals.

We've been ignoring these problems for a long time, and now is not the time to strike these stories from the record and sweep them under the rug. Now is the time to listen.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Book 173: Salt Fat Acid Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat

I don't normally review cookbooks, but this was one I couldn't resist. I ran across an article in bon apetit magazine about this awesome new chef, Samin Nosrat, who is redefining the way people understand their ingredients.

Nosrat's book is not your standard run-of-the-mill cookbook. In each chapter, she focuses on the chemical properties of each element of cooking - salt, fat, acid, heat - to help her readers better understand how each impacts the texture and flavor of the food we prepare. At the end, she provides a number of simple and delicious recipes to try at home.

As an avid cook and an artist, this book was simply irresistible. Aside from the cooking advice, I loved Nosrat's writing style and ability to communicate complex chemical processes. And I loved the illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton, who put her heart and soul into each drawing. I borrowed this book from the library, but believe me, when I can afford it, the hard copy will be in my permanent collection.

It's difficult to read and absorb every page of this book in a few days. I would definitely recommend buying a copy (if only to keep the recipes at the back of the book handy) so that you have time to read and apply the tips in this book. I don't normally do this, but here's the link to the book on Amazon. I would not recommend the e-book version - get hard copy to see McNaughton's beautiful artwork for yourself.

I hope you check it out... it's one of the more unique books I've read this year.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A discussion of generations, libraries, and pride.

I'm in the process of doing my family tree, which is probably why I'm thinking about generations a lot lately. How are generations determined? Who determines them? What defines them? Who determines what defines them, and how is that determined? Why don't we know anything about any generations before Baby Boomers? I decided to dig a bit to learn more.

There are all sorts of conflicting definitions of which generations were born when, but NPR defines them like this:

  • GI Generation - Born 1901-1924 (THREE OF MY GRANDPARENTS)
  • Silent Generation - Both 1925-1942 (ONE GRANDPARENT)
  • Baby Boomers - Born 1943-1964 (MY PARENTS)
  • Generation X - Born 1965-1979 (ME)
  • Millennials - Born 1980-2000
  • Generation Z - Born 2001-Present (MY KIDS)
I'm a member of Generation X (GenX). I was born in 1979 and I always felt like I was the freshman of my GenX peers. I love NPR's definition of GenX, which I've never seen until now:
[GenXers] were originally called the baby busters because fertility rates fell after the boomers. As teenagers, they experienced the AIDs epidemic and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sometimes called the MTV Generation, the "X" in their name refers to this generation's desire not to be defined.

I like this definition much better than the one I heard about being called "Generation X" because we had nothing specific that would define us as a group. It's also much better than the definition a Baby Boomer once gave me when I was a teen: "Your generation is called Generation X because you have no ambition and no future." Needless to say, I didn't spend anymore time listening to whatever else that asshole had to say.

Sadly, GenXers are not known for their patronage of libraries. In fact, only 45% of GenXers and 43% of Baby Boomers visited a library in the past year. Maybe it's because I'm a GenXer and I don't want to be defined by numbers or labels, but 45%, seriously? Come on, people. Get it together. This is a matter of pride, which we certainly do not lack.

Thankfully, my mother was an exception to her own Baby Boomer generation and went to the library as often as most people get gas or go to the grocery store. Even now, she spends one day a week volunteering, helping to build programs at the public library in her new hometown of Crossville, Tennessee.

It's ironic: The defining GenX movie The Breakfast Club was set in a library, and the only reason those kids
were there was because they had detention.
But there is hope: Millennials seem to be turning the tide. Numbers published by The Pew Research Center showed that 53% of Millennials visited a public library or a bookmobile in person in the last year. And that data doesn't include university or college libraries - it's public libraries only. Nobody seems to like Millennials; they're criticized for being narcissistic and entitled, but at least they go to the library.

In a CNN article detailing the report's findings, journalist Jessica Suerth wrote that technology within libraries has a lot to do with the upsurge in their usage. Among other things she names digital loans, free internet access, 3D printers, and online account access as reasons the libraries draw more Millennials. American libraries' hard work in continuing to innovate has paid off. In my opinion, that's pretty great.

In a year when everyone seems weighed down by negativity, I thought I'd take a moment to offer some good news. Everything doesn't completely suck. Millennials go to the library.

If you're a GenXer or a Baby Boomer, maybe you should shoot over to your local library and check it out. Chances are, things have changed quite a bit and you might not even recognize it.

📖 📖 📖

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Book 172: The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband by David Finch (Audiobook read by the Author)

In his memoir The Journal of Best Practices, author David Finch gives his readers a firsthand account of someone who struggled for years to understand himself, his quirks, and how these quirks impact those around him. Finch's story of self-realization began when his wife Kristen walked him through a test to determine if he could have Asperger Syndrome. After all signs pointed to "yes," he decided to get an official diagnosis.

In this book, Finch described his life before and after his diagnosis. At the time of his diagnosis, he felt his marriage was failing and that he was losing not just his wife but his best friend. His diagnosis made him better understand he wasn't just an asshole, but he was a person who acted a certain way because of a condition. Finch took notes in his notebook to give himself prompts to improve his behavior and his relationship with his [sainted] wife and his kids, hence the title The Journal of Best Practices. Whenever he learned something new about himself or about his wife and kids, he wrote it down. He developed a new awareness of his own behaviors, his wife's patience and understanding, and how his Asperger Syndrome was impacting his children. People with Asperger's are not known for their introspective abilities, and Finch's wife Kristen was responsible in a large part for helping him discover himself.

If you've ever known or lived with someone who has Asperger's, you might want to pick up this book to better understand that person. If you suspect someone has Asperger's and isn't aware of it, you might also want to share this book with them.

My friend Honey sent me a copy of this book from Audible, which I was able to listen to for free. The audio version of the book was read by the author, which really brought the whole thing home for me. I would definitely recommend it.

💖💖💖

Monday, November 13, 2017

Book 171: What Happened by Hillary Clinton (Unfinished)

I wanted to finish this book, but I lost momentum halfway through, then my library loan ended, and I wasn't going to buy a $15 digital copy for my Kindle so I could finish it. Truth be told, this book is just too long to read in a few days, so I'm moving on.

Still, this is what I have to say about it.

Whether you love her or hate her, it's difficult to deny that Hillary Clinton has incredible resilience. No one wants to talk about their own failures (and some people ignore them completely), but through this book, Hillary explored her own to understand how and why they happened. She admitted her own shock and humiliation at losing the 2016 election and kept on going. She wrote about her mistakes before and during the campaign and the lessons she's learned because of them. She also wrote about what she did right. For her, I think writing this book was therapeutic. It was also very smart, because the book sold like crazy when it was published.

If you decide to pick this up, give yourself ample time to read it. You'll also need an open mind.




Friday, November 10, 2017

Book 170: The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

I read The Woman in Black because someone told me it was one of her favorite horror stories. I also picked it up because my book is taking forever to finish and this classic by Susan Hill was under 200 pages. Have I told you already that reading two books a week is not easy?

Arthur, the main character in this book, told the story of himself as a young lawyer in London sent to the coastal town of Crythin Grifford to settle the final affairs of his firm's client, Mrs. Drablow. He found himself on the receiving end of a haunting which changed his life forever, and he never had a chance.

As far as story lines go, The Woman in Black had a good one. I felt drawn in right away. The author's ability to describe landscapes was on point - the marshes and inn and Eel Marsh House were vivid. Her skill for building suspense was great. Still, I wasn't all that impressed with one character in the book who I felt would have certainly come forward with helpful information sooner had he actually had the relationship with Arthur that was described in the book. 

Although I liked the way the book was written (the Gothic style reminded me of Great Expectations by Dickens), the horror was a bit soft for me. The author's use of foreboding was fantastic, but I kept waiting for something new and terrible to emerge. Yeah, the end was bad, but I'm a seasoned horror junkie; I've read the worst of the worst, which has probably my shudder reflex and reduced my capability to feel real fear about ghosts. It's guts and gore and rabid dogs and real monsters that live among us that get me squirming. 

If you want a good story that will give you chills but you don't want to throw up, this would be the way to go. It's just creepy enough. 

😈😈😈

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Book 169: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman (Audiobook) narrated by Joan Walker

I think Fredrik Backman is my new favorite author. I fell in like with him when I read A Man Called Ove and now I'm completely, head-over-heels in love with this author.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry was an absolutely fascinating book. Like Ove, it uncovers each character slowly, without revealing each person completely until the end of the book. This style of writing is tantalizing to someone like me because I love suspense.

In this book, seven-year-old Elsa (who is almost eight) learns that not everything (or everyone) is at it seems. She has been surrounded by people her whole life, and until a difficult event brings them all together, she never realized she knew absolutely nothing about any of them. So she sets off on an adventure to unearth the secrets of her neighbors, friends, and family members, especially those of her quirky, independent grandmother.

This story was incredible. Backman is a master at creating characters that are both believable and unique. The characters just about jump out of the book. With Joan Walker's expert narration, the story was even more vivid. I haven't been this hooked on an audiobook in ages.

It was great. I loved it so, so much.

💌💌💌

Monday, November 6, 2017

No more. No more. No more.

In my box of treasured possessions there is a card from a woman I will surely never meet: the mother of Olivia Engel, who was a six-year-old student killed in the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012.

As a parent, Sandy Hook was the worst mass shooting tragedy I could have imagined. After the dust settled, I sent letters to every family that lost loved ones at Sandy Hook, and the school's administrators graciously delivered them to the families. I told them they were not alone in their grief. I never expected a response, but Olivia's mother sent a card with a photo of her beloved daughter, smiling, in a beautiful dress on a sunny day. It was weeks - maybe months - after the shootings so it took a minute before I realized what I had in my hand. Then I cried.  

One month ago, a dude with a lot of guns killed 58 people in Las Vegas, then he killed himself. Last week another dude entered a Wal-Mart in Denver and started shooting, killing three people. Then, yesterday, Nov. 5, yet another dude entered a Texas church and killed 26 people and wounded a lot more, then he killed himself. 

Yesterday, when I saw another mass shooting appear in my AP news alerts, I was not shocked. In fact, it barely registered, emotionally speaking. A full 24 hours later, it hit me: 26 people died in the Sandy Hook shootings in 2012, and 26 people died in the Sutherland Springs shootings five years later. To the second, I had almost no emotional reaction. I got a chill down the side of my face as this realization took hold.

And then I got mad. 

I got mad because although mass shootings are outrageous to me, my mind has been confronted with so many of these tragedies it believes they are part of normal everyday life. It's simple behavioral science: we cannot continue to be exposed to the same stimuli over and over again for years on end and expect to have equal reactions every time. I am not okay with this. I am ashamed. 

I got mad because all life is precious, and each life lost to these stupid losers and their stupid guns is a waste. 

I got mad because when I go to any public gathering, I find myself checking the rafters and making sure I know the closest exits and best hiding places. I am tired of feeling powerless to do anything to protect my family and myself. I feel like a sitting duck.

I got mad because we have state representatives, senators, and presidents that moan about gun policy and never do anything worth mentioning to reduce the number of automatic weapons in our communities. We can't even write and call our representatives to make a difference, because half of them get campaign contributions from the NRA, which, by the way, still doesn't pay any taxes because it's a nonprofit. 

I got mad because we - YES, WE - have allowed this one sentence written more than 200 years ago: a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, to mean a bunch of freaking psychos can buy unlimited numbers of automatic weapons and stockpile ammunition for these literal WAR MACHINES right in our communities. There is no other purpose for an automatic weapon but to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. 

I got mad because it seems like we as a country never learn. It has been FIVE YEARS since the Sandy Hook shooting, the death of Olivia Engel, 19 other elementary school kids, and six teachers and NOTHING HAS CHANGED. Heaven knows what kind of death could have been prevented had we done something, anything, about gun control 18 YEARS AGO after the Columbine High School shooting. 

Then I got mad because realized I have already forgotten so many tragedies and victims. This is a listing of all of the U.S. mass shootings since 1982 and number of fatalities compiled by Mother Jones and updated every five minutes. Like me, I'll bet you've never heard of most of these or, if you have, you've forgotten them already. Hopefully it will get your blood boiling again. Seeing it like this makes me sick. 

Finally, I got mad because I realized a lot of Americans - including those we've chosen to represent our interests in Washington, D.C. - care more about the right to bear arms than they do about our right to life.

We need to do something, and we need to do it now, because this problem is not going away. 

💔💔💔

Friday, November 3, 2017

Book 168: The Big Oyster: History on the Half-Shell by Mark Kurlansky

The history of the American oyster was not a topic I would have chosen to explore on my own, but The Big Oyster popped up in my Kindle recommendations, I simply couldn't resist. Turns out, the author Mark Kurlansky picked two topics I really love: food and its history.

This book leaves no stone unturned when it comes to explaining how the American oyster was harvested, shucked, eaten, consumed until nearly extinct, and finally, cultivated and grown. The story begins in pre-colonial New York, where the Hudson Bay was teeming with oysters growing in their beds and were harvested by Native Americans who threw the shells into piles called "middens," which are still being discovered to this day. I was utterly fascinated by the chapters on 19th century New York and its famed oyster shuckers. By a strange coincidence, I shucked oysters myself this year for the first time, and now I know why rapid fire oyster shucking is such a true test of dexterity.

Like most of these "explore the topic to the finest detail" books, they contain tidbits that contradict what you thought you knew about the topic all your life. I wasn't experienced on oysters at all before I read this book, but I was surprised to find that nobody else seems to know what they're talking about, either. Kurlansky did some serious debunking.

Not every one of his books is as riveting as this one, but I blame the topics, not the author's ability. For some reason, this book just hooked me from page one and I couldn't put it down. If you decide to pick it up, I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Check it out! I enjoyed it.

✌✌✌

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Book 167: The Palm Reading After the Toad's Garden by Michael Dickel

To be completely fair and totally transparent, I am no poetry buff. In fact, I can count on one hand the number of poetry books I have read cover to cover. So please, if you are looking for a seasoned, professional reviewer of poetry, keep on looking.

However, I am still The Ardent Reader (and not a newbie to this reading thing) and I believe poetry is one of the bravest forms of self-expression, because a poet can almost always guarantee that the majority of people won't understand what he or she is trying to convey with words or otherwise. For that reason I admire people who decide to try their hand at it.

That being said, Michael Dickel's collection entitled The Palm Reading after the Toad's Garden was not straight up poetry, nor was it prose. It was a series of stories - well, not really stories, either - more like encounters told from a variety of perspectives. It's sort of like art, made of words.

In the beginning, some of the language in Dickel's poems made me anxious, until I realized it may have been the author's intention to make me feel anxious. Further into the book I found poems that were simple and beautiful because they were about everyday stuff. I don't know why I liked those so much, but I think it's because I felt the moments were captured in a genuine way. Some were fun, such as Words and God's Pop Quiz (hilarious, reflective of reality, also sad) and some tackled hard stuff, like Final Destination. I found myself wondering how much of what Dickel wrote was taken from real life, and how much was conjured. I think when you can't tell the difference, that's a good thing.

The author, Michael Dickel, is one of my Twitter buddies (@MYDekel469). When we connected and I learned he was an author and had written a book, I said what I always say to authors, "Send me a copy and I'll review it on my blog." So he sent me a copy in the mail and inscribed it, too:

Es Curtis - 
I hope you find something here that sparks your creative fires.
Michael Dickel

I enjoyed reading Dickel's collection. It was almost like visiting someone you just met and peeking in on their knickknack cabinet, wondering what the story is behind each item... and dying to ask.

See, that was almost poetic, right?

❤❤❤

Today is National Family Literacy Day: Passing on A Legacy of Reading


Today, November 1, is National Family Literacy Day!

When I was a kid, my mom always had a book on her nightstand. She kept Reader's Digest or the novel she was currently reading in the bathroom so while my brothers played in the tub, she could catch up on her reading. She read in the car while my dad drove up and down the east coast on our family vacations. She borrowed books from the Roxborough branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia and always turned them in on time. She showed me reading was a priority. Sometimes she straight up ignored us while she was reading. My dad was good at that, too. He collects enormous art history books, which are stored in tortured-looking bookcases throughout their house.

Without even realizing it, many parents strive to keep members of our households occupied every waking hour of the day. We bounce from one activity to the next, never setting aside any time for ourselves until we crash in front of the TV. This is a terrible way to live and a poor example for our children, who will likely seek the same balance in the future that all of us wish we had today.

I try to emulate my mother's example for my own two kids to show them it's good to incorporate time into each day for reading, whether by themselves or alongside others. I want them to see that reading is something to be enjoyed, not endured. I want to catch my kids reading on their own, nestled in a blanket on the couch or sitting up in their tree fort. I hope they will cultivate their own lives through reading and encourage others - perhaps one day their own children - to do the same.

Today, sit down with your kids and read them a book. Or, if they say they're "too big" for reading together, take them to a book store (yes, a brick and mortar one) and let them pick out something new. Or, like me, you may decide to head to one of your local libraries to participate in a book club. My own favorite is meeting tomorrow at 6:30 at the Smyrna Public Library if you'd like to join!

❤❤❤

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Horror: My First True Literary Love and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

I was raised in Philadelphia in a conservative Christian family. We had a lot of rules, most of which I didn't like. Tuck in your shirt, don't curse, wear a belt, go to three different churches twelve times a week, iron your church clothes even if they are jeans and a t-shirt, do morning devotions, read your Bible, do nightly devotions, pray over every meal and before you go to bed, go to the bathroom before we leave, eat what's on your plate even if it's gross and/or might be freeze dried survival food, do what your father says, do what your mother says, and do what your grandmother says. (Those last three rules had an entire litany of sub-rules which could be created and implemented at whatever juncture seemed appropriate.) 

Some rules were created arbitrarily based on whether my grandmother considered something evil. For example, Santa Claus was evil because his existence (real or imagined) took the focus off of Jesus during Christmas. (This claim was further evidenced by the fact that the letters in his name could be rearranged to spell "Satan.") Wishing was evil, as was any form of alcohol, Madonna, evolution, daytime soap operas, Labrynth, the Rolling Stones, Fantasia, Max Headroom, Native American dream catchers, and inexplicably, E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial. (I do know the biblical reason for this, but it's way too complicated for this blog.) And finally, at the top of the heap of evil things was THE MOST EVIL THING OF ALL: HALLOWEEN. 

As kids, we lived half a block from a store that sold penny candy. We weren't rich, but damn, did we feel like it when we used our allowance to buy fifty cents of Swedish Fish. Candy was life, and that meant Halloween was impossible to ignore. Our parents tried to make us ignore it anyway, and every Oct. 31, we went into our house and our parents locked the doors and turned off the lights at the front of the house. All through dinner and our glum nightly devotional, we were interrupted by what seemed like hundreds of happy-go-lucky assholes whose parents not only encouraged them to dress up for Halloween but even went along with them. My dad would pause and wait silently until they gave up and went away. It was torture. One year, both parents were working on Halloween (but the rules still applied), so my brothers and I handed out potatoes and onions to those who appeared at our door. It was our own special "screw you" to kids who had it better than we did. 

Incidentally, the benefit to growing up in a family like ours was that you could always argue that something hadn't been explicitly identified as evil, so technically, it wasn't off limits when you decided to do it. It only became evil once you were caught and punished. The drawback to living like this is we grew up not knowing how to make decisions for ourselves, so when we got free, we went ape shit crazy. (Thankfully, only one of us ended up in jail, and it wasn't me.)

The one thing that wasn't evil, wasn't off limits, and had indescribable possibilities was the Free Library of Philadelphia. We could walk the 14 blocks there by ourselves, and my mom would even give us bus tokens if she had them. After age 12, I triumphantly explored the adult section, and I chose the most evil section: Horror. I went for the gusto, and chose Stephen King, known far and wide as the most evil writer of them all. Hell, he was so bad they even talked about him in church.

Sure, I borrowed mystery and history books (I loved Michael Crichton and anything about medical oddities) but I always checked out a Stephen King novel along with them. I'd sneak them into my room and read them under the covers, freaking myself out and staying up all night with the lights on to make sure I wasn't attacked by the undead creature that most certainly inhabited the five inches of space underneath my bed. 

The first King book I read was Pet Sematary, which scared the living beejeezus out of me. Then I read Misery. Then I read The Dead Zone. Then I read 'Salem's Lot. Then The Shining. Then Cujo. Then IT. I worked my way through the branch's King collection, then requested the rest through our librarian. I then discovered that King also wrote under the pen name of Richard Bachman, and read as many of those as I could get my hands on. I read many of the books he co-wrote with Peter Straub. I've read IT at least eight times, and I can never get through the month of June without at least thinking of reading it just one last time. And sometimes I give in. 

So, dear readers, this is how a good little church girl grew up to love the horror genre, the author Stephen King, and the monsters, demons, ax-wielding nurses, dead pets, possessed caretakers, ghouls, re-animated corpses, fantasy creatures, rabid dogs, and irreparably damaged child heroes King and his fellow writers brought to life. To this day, I can't walk past the fiction section without checking for a new King novel. It's just as impossible to ignore your first true literary love as it is to ignore Halloween.

Now, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I dress my two children in their costumes and take them out to trick-or-treat. We go to the scariest houses and face gruesome, horrifying ghouls. Sometimes we go to the American Legion's haunted house, which is so good and scary that we scream all the way through. Our fear overtakes us at the very end when we run from the place, chased by a chainsaw-wielding madman. We catch our breath in the parking lot, then pile into the car, our hearts still pounding. Then we laugh. And there's the tiniest possibility that I might have had more fun than my kids.

Happy Halloween! 

👻👻👻👻👻👻👻

P.S. My parents have lightened up quite a bit since then, and hopefully my mother won't disown me for this post. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Book 166: White Trash History by Nancy Isenberg (Unfinished)

The loftier the goal, the more dismal the failure. (My failure, not the author's.)

White Trash History was a book I desperately wanted to finish but couldn't because the library loan ended and the book was so damn long. And it's my own stupid fault - I broke my rule - I kept reading long after I should have given up. It didn't hook me in the first chapter, then the second, then the third, and still I went on. I was 35% of the way through the book when the digital loan expired, and I decided to post a partial review because the reading I did accomplish took real effort.

Nancy Isenberg's topic was fascinating, and she gets points for exploring it in such grave detail that I don't know if anyone would ever be able to best her research. I learned about the foundations of American society, slavery, a good deal about the civil war, and more than I ever could have imagined about Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Davy Crockett, Andrew Jackson, and a little bit about Jefferson Davis. (Most of them were two-faced scoundrels.) I learned about the clay eaters of North Carolina, the anti-slavery laws in Georgia, American Indians, land bequests, and the use of America as a dumping ground for England's poor. The book was filled with nuggets of history that I had never come across before. I don't regret trying to read it.

At some point I do expect to pick this up and finish it, but it won't be in this year. Reading two books a week greatly depends on a book's length and momentum, and this one was simply too long and mentally demanding to accomplish in such a short period of time.

Props to you, Nancy Isenberg, for stopping the Ardent Reader in her tracks!



Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Why I love my Kindle Paperwhite.

Insomnia or Nocturnal Awakening by George Grie
Before I moved in with Mr. Fussypants, I lived in my own apartment with my two kids. Every night after I got the kids in bed, I read myself to sleep. I go through phases of insomnia, and on sleepless nights, I would simply switch on the bedside light, read until I got tired again, switch off the light, and fall back asleep. It was a fool-proof insomnia solution.

After I moved in with Mr. Fussypants, I knew this routine was not going to work. Among other things, he is hypersensitive to light and sound while he's sleeping, and his insomnia is ten times worse than mine. My solution of switching on and off the light every few hours was a problem. Sigh.

For Christmas one year, he bought me a Kindle Fire to read at night if I wanted, which had low light and (we thought) wouldn't be bothersome. Unfortunately, the text on a Kindle Fire is backlit, so it's like staring at a computer screen in the darkness... not conducive to falling back asleep. In fact, it made me feel more awake. Also, he felt it was too bright, even on its lowest setting. It was not a good solution, and remains on its charger unless it's being used to watch the latest episode of The Walking Dead while I'm on the treadmill.

About a year ago, I spent $100 and bought myself a Kindle Paperwhite, and wow, life is so much better. I'm able to read myself to sleep before bed and read myself back to sleep in the middle of the night without disrupting His Royal Majesty's sleep. On this thing, the text is that digital ink, which can be adjusted to any size or font, and the text is lit from the front, so it doesn't wear on my eyes. And I don't have to wear my glasses to read on the PaperWhite, which I hate anyway, but hate them even more when I have to search for them in the dark.

I will never give up paper books, but having this thing has made it possible for me to deal with insomnia in a way that works for me, without causing more difficulty for my partner.
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