The Devil In the White City

Saturday, January 31, 2009


Yes dear readers, it's that magical time again, Suggestion Saturday. Today's book was suggested by Danimal, who cruelly tricked me into reading a really creepy book. I feel so deceived. Okay, well maybe that was actually my fault for disregarding the word murder on the front of the book - and I really shouldn't unjustly accuse my readers of nefarious acts if I want them to come back and keep reading. Sorry Danimal, I didn't mean it.

Here's the description of today's book: "Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with such drama that readers may find themselves checking the book's categorization to be sure that The Devil in the White City is not, in fact, a highly imaginative novel. Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor. Burnham's challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous "White City" around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair's incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, and Thomas Edison. The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World's Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims. Combining the stories of an architect and a killer in one book, mostly in alternating chapters, seems like an odd choice but it works."

My sister is visiting this weekend, and I was a bit nervous about tackling a book that is almost four hundred pages while she was here - so, in order to avoid ignoring her all day, I challenged her to an old-fashioned read-off. It took me back to my elementary school days of competing in the Book It contests (for those who didn't experience the magic of Book It, it was a Pizza Hut sponsored reading contest for 1st and 2nd graders). Some kids competed so they could win the coupons for free pizza - but I was in it for the glory of winning. The win did not come easily - Tendy Chang and I were locked in a fierce competition for months - but he eventually relented. Sadly that was not the last time I attempted to crush the competition - I also engaged in a month long quest to be the top cookie-selling Girl Scout. I would sit in circle time, when they would make us sing that song about making new friends but keeping the old and think to myself, "Yeah right, I'm not here to make friends, I'm here to sell cookies." I would overhear other girls in the troop say they thought they were going to sell the most cookies that year, and I would mutter under my breath, "That's what you think." It's hard to believe that I was never awarded the kindness patch, isn't it?

I'd like to tell you dear readers that I have become less petty as an adult - but I can't bring myself to lie to you - I haven't. Every time my sister would have to get up to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water I would think to myself, "That's right, get a drink, and take your time while doing it." Okay, maybe I didn't so much think it as said it out loud in a sinister voice. In my defense dear readers - she started it. As you can see, I have not gotten more mature as the years have passed either. We were both inspired by the sinister tone of the book to make tacky, tasteless jokes all day about making the other person "mysteriously disappear" one another in order to win the reading contest. Clearly we have no sense of what's appropriate and what isn't. If only one more person had been here to make inappropriate jokes then it would have been acceptable, per my sisters motto, "Two wrongs don't make a right...but three do." Just so you won't be left in suspense, by mid-afternoon my sister was ahead by 35 pages, and that's when she began to get a little sleepy and she whispered the words, "You put something in my popcorn didn't you." Don't worry dear readers, she has recovered from her "special popcorn" and managed to stay a comfortable 15 pages ahead of me for most of the book - but I did eventually win, but it was a nail biter there for awhile.

The book was incredibly creepy, and if I really hope I don't end up having to sleep with the light on and an episode of Brady Bunch playing tonight - but I did like the book a lot. It was very well written. I also really appreciated the way that the author would always include after every discussion of how much something cost, the amount that it would cost today. It always bugs me when I read a book that doesn't do that because I always end up wasting a ridiculous amount of time on the Internet afterwards trying to figure it out. So thanks Erik for doing the hard work for me. I have no idea why I'm writing now as if the author is actually going to read this, I the blog might be turning me into an egomaniac - actually there's no "might" about it, it definitely is. I spend 20 minutes yesterday thinking, "Maybe I shouldn't have said such harsh things about Tori Spelling yesterday, what if I end up promoting this blog (after it gets turned into a book of course), and Tori's promoting her second book and we end up on the same talk show. That could be a very awkward conversation." The blog has made me delusional - or maybe this is what happens to a person when they no longer have a projects box to be delusional about. Maybe I should have kept that projects box after all - I was a much more normal person when I was only being delusional about making my own soap.

Random tidbits about the 1893 Chicago World's Fair:

  • It lasted for six months.
  • The total number of visitors was recorded as being 27.5 million. The population of the United States at the point was 65 million.
  • On it's best day the fair drew more than 700,000 visitors.
  • Cracker Jacks, Shredded Wheat (which no one thought would be around for long), Juicy Fruit gum, the first zipper, Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and the first all-electric kitchen were all introduced to the public for the first time at the fair.
  • The fair featured such novelties as: a locomotive made of spooled silk, a suspension bridge built out of soap, a giant map of the United States made out of pickles, and a sculpture of a knight on horseback made out of prunes.
  • The fair's Palace of Fine Arts was transformed into a permanent structure after the fair, and now houses the Museum of Science and Industry.

sTori Telling

Friday, January 30, 2009

Today was my most difficult blogging day so far. I woke up feeling like I just didn't want to read - plus I had a horrible headache which got worse as the day wore on. So I decided that I wasn't going to even attempt to read anything that requires actual thought or effort. Today was a day for shallow, mindless reading.

I'm sure you can all figure out what the book is about just by looking at it, but for those of you who don't visit on a daily basis as I do, I'll go ahead and include a description of the book: "sTORI Telling is Tori's chance to finally tell her side of the tabloid-worthy life she's led, and she talks about it all: her decadent childhood birthday parties, her nose job, her fairy-tale wedding to the wrong man, her so-called feud with her mother. Tori has already revealed her flair for brilliant, self-effacing satire on her VH1 show So NoTORIous and Oxygen's Tori & Dean: Inn Love, but her memoir goes deeper, into the real life behind the rumors: her complicated relationship with her parents; her struggles as an actress after 90210; her accident-prone love life; and, ultimately, her quest to define herself on her own terms."

I have absolutely appalling TV habits - so of course I've already watched Tori&Dean: Inn Love, all three seasons - and sadly enough, I've watched those seasons more than once. No matter how many times I watch those episodes I still can't seem to crack the mystery of: Why don't I despise these people. They have so many annoying qualities - they're self-absorbed, shallow, melodramatic, dishonest, whiny, immature, frivolous, vulgar, and not even all that interesting - and yet, somehow they don't annoy me. So I decided to read the book to see if they same thing would happen - and it did. I found myself cringing about 20 times while reading this book - and yet, I'd still watch a fourth season of their show if it ever aired, and I don't even find them repulsive the way I feel like I should. It makes no sense.

Random tidbits from the book:

  • When Tori was five, and again when she was ten, her father had snow machines brought in to give Tori a Winter Wonderland in their L.A backyard. - Didn't that same thing happen once on Full House? I think I'm crossing a line here - everything I read about is starting to remind me of stuff that I've watched on television.
  • At Tori's dad's funeral the minister wove the titles of the shows he had created/produced into the eulogy. Tori shared an excerpt from that eulogy, "If Aaron could see all his friends and family here today, it would mean so much to him. It would almost be like he was in... 7th Heaven. When Aaron started out, her met wonderful people and move up in the business, but when he met Candy he was on... The Love Boat. " - Wow, that's disturbing. It definitely puts to shame the eulogy from the last funeral I went to in which the minister rambled on for an hour and a half about how death was like a vineyard. Let that be a lesson to all of us, before any funeral you are planning have a stern talk with the minister, "No mention of television shows, no extended metaphors about vineyards, no mention of cartoon characters." - Okay, so that last part was from a wedding I went to and not a funeral, but it's still good solid advice - never let the minister wing it. Otherwise they could end up rambling about how marriage is like the cartoon character Garfield (oh, how I wish I was kidding dear readers) - or death is like eating a grape straight off the vine. The worst part of all is that neither metaphors were ever brought to a proper conclusion. That's so wrong to just throw out a sentence like, "Marriage is like the cartoon character Garfield," and then not tell us how. That wedding happened 12 years ago and I'm still annoyed that he never finished the metaphor.
  • Tori's husband Dean wants to open a resturant with Tori one day. I think I smell seasons four coming - and I'm sure if that ever happens, it will be the most dramatic resturant opening ever, which will put them on the verge of losing everything if it doesn't succeed. (If you've never watched the show then you probably have no idea why that last sentence is meant to be amusing - but if you have seen it, I think you know exactly what I'm talking about).

Be Happy or I'll Scream

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I was having a bit of a computer problem while trying to write this blog entry - which resulted in this entry going up later than I had planned, and in me yelling at the computer, "Come on you stupid piece of crap, I've got a blog entry to write." Well actually, in the interest of keeping this blog honest I must confess, that was actually the clean version of what I said.

Today's book: "Sherri Lynch works while her husband stays at home with their two children, but that doesn't squelch her desire to create a family like those on TV, with their touching moments and meaningful lessons. Thus she gives herself a year to transform her family."

The book begins with the author discussing how warped her views on family are after growing up watching so many sitcoms. She's got a point. Sitcoms do provide quite a few false ideas about family life - that there's no problem so big that it can't solved with a heart-to-heart and some soft music playing in the background, that babies spend 90% of their time sleeping quietly in their playpens, that your parents will always let your wacky friend spend the night if you ask them politely enough (even on a weeknight), and that the school bus will always honk when it pulls up and then politely wait for you to finish eating your eggs. That last one bugged my mother almost as much as seeing sitcom children eat their breakfast and head off to school without even stopping to brush their teeth first. Every time a scene like that would happen she would say, "How disgusting - I bet those kids had bad breath all day," to which I would reply, "Mom, it's a show. Those people aren't actually real."

Later in the book Lynch discusses her childhood beverage of choice, Tang. I was never a fan of Tang myself - I was a Kool-aid kid, especially after I discovered that my mother had been secretely only putting in half the amount of sugar, and I then got to experience the sheer joy of Kool-aid that's so sugary it made my teeth hurt. The only time I ever drank Tang was when I was sleeping over at my Grandmother's house. She would shake her head when we asked for orange juice and say, "I can't believe your Mom gives you orange juice to drink. Tang is so much healthier." I tried dear readers, really I did, because I didn't want to hurt her feelings - but, after the second sip I would start to choke and gag and I was forced into being honest. I would tell her, "Grandma, my throat feels like it's burning," and she would always reply with, "That'll get better in a few minutes. Just keep drinking."

Towards the end of the book Lynch describes a family RV trip. I was having trouble focusing during that part of the book because every time I hear the words "RV trip" it makes me want to watch The Long, Long Trailer. I love that movie. For those of you who don't watch old movies, The Long, Long Trailer is a movie starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. It's about newlyweds who buy a travel trailer and spend a year traveling across the United States in it. It was made in the 1950's, during a hiatus from I Love Lucy. Here are a few youtube videos of scenes from the movie:

Favorite line of the book: "I, on the other hand, suffered from a deranged and overactive imagination coupled with a complete inability to follow directions." - I'm directions-impaired as well, so that line really spoke to me. I can't seem to make it anywhere the first time without getting lost. The times when I have managed it have been so infrequent that when I tell people who know me well about it they either say, "That's great" in the same tone of voice they would use to applaud a toddler's art project, or they clap like I'm in an AA meeting and I've just announced I've been sober for the last six months. When I first learned how to drive I made about 5 desperate phone calls a week to my dad that went a little something like this, "I'm in Michigan, and I don't know how I got here or how to get back. Help." I even got lost once while using a GPS system. I didn't even think that was possible up to that point - and yet, I can assure you dear readers that it is. My direction-impairment problem extends to other things as well; following recipes (I always end up thinking, "I bet the author of this cookbook meant 1 tbsp of mustard and not two), playing board games, and of course those annoying worksheets in elementary school that have 20 directions on the front and then one direction on the back that says "Ignore all of the previous directions. Leave this paper blank." I have a long and sad history of being unable to follow directions of any kind.

Nancy Drew: The Secret of the Old Clock

Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Today marks the end of week 4, which means it's chapter and page count time -

For this week:


PAGES - 1,798

For the year so far:


PAGES - 7,622

After reading Girl Sleuth for Suggestion Saturday I decided that I wanted to read a Nancy Drew book - which is something I never did as a child because I was a Babysitters' Club kind of girl. So I summoned up my inner twelve year old and sat down to read. Well, my inner twelve year old enjoyed the book - and so did the rest of me. Now I feel kind of sad that I never read the books as a child because I think I would have loved them.

Even though today's book was short, I still had trouble getting through it because I had so much other stuff to do today. I can only imagine how late this entry would be going up if I had read the book I was originally going to read, which was about 150 pages longer. But Nancy Drew saved the day again. Is there anything she can't do?

I was unable to find the original Nancy Drew books, so I had to settle for the revised version, which I hear isn't as good. I was kind of disappointed because I love all things retro, and because I was looking forward to hearing about Nancy driving her roadster. I liked the cover to the original edition the best, so I went ahead and used it anyway. Isn't that a fetching hat Nancy's wearing on the cover?

For those of you who have never read the book, here's the description: "After aiding an injured child, Nancy accidentally stumbles upon the mystery of Josiah Crowley's missing will. While several of Crowley's impoverished relatives claim that he had included them in his will, his arrogant relatives, seem to possess the only copy, which leaves them in total possession of the deceased man's fortune. Nancy is intrigued by the situation and begins searching for Crowley's missing antique clock, an object that reportedly contains a clue to the will's location. During her investigation, she encounters a series of obstacles, one of which is the theft of the clock by thieves. "

Things I would normally be too lazy to look up, but did this time for the sake of the blog -

  • What is the difference between a convertible and a roadster? - Unlike a convertible, a roadster doesn't have a roof (or it has a detachable roof) - and it also doesn't have side or rear windows.
  • What is in apple pudding (a favorite dessert of Nancy's) ? That probably seems like a weird thing to wonder about, but all I can picture is Jell0 brand pudding in an apple flavor, and that sounds kind of disgusting. So here's a recipe for apple pudding that I found, and it turns out apple pudding is more like a cake:
  • What is a sunback dress? - I found a website that has vintage dress patterns, and here's a picture of a sunback dress:

I can see why so many people like Nancy Drew - the woman leads a charmed life. She's over 18 so she doesn't have to go to school, and she doesn't have a job so she just gets to spend all day shopping, going to lunch, and solving mysteries - and yet she still gets to drive a convertible (or a roadster, depending on what edition you read), wear really nice clothes and live in a big house. Nancy's got it made.

I was amused throughout the book by how formal Nancy is. She seems to call everyone by their first and last names, even people who are described as long-time friends. After reading that I kind of want to go around for the next few days and call people by their full names just to see what kind of reaction I would get. I'm guessing I would probably get the same reaction I got when I tried to bring the word amiable back in fashion.

A Nixon Man

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Before I get to today's book I want to welcome all of the new followers who have showed up over the last few days - as well as to all the new visitors who have come to the page to read it but aren't quite ready to make the follower commitement yet (What, are you waiting for me to play hard to get or something? Because if that's what it takes, I'll do it. I don't even care if you join or not. And if we were sitting in the same room right now I would pretend to ignore you while saying that.). Alright, so I'm kidding, I do care. I do appreciate everyone who has stopped by to read the blog, and I'm also glad to see that some of you have decided to stick around for awhile. I hope you enjoy your time here.

Today's book: "San Francisco, 1972. Richard Nixon has just won his second term in office. Jack Costello, a precocious eleven-year-old, is sure that the President will be around another four years; he's just not sure his family will last that long. Inspired by the Watergate hearings on TV, he buys a listening device and uncovers an adult world at least as confusing as his own."

Today's book presented the same challenge that all novels do for me, how to write about the book without giving away too much of the plot. I find it so much easier to write about non-fiction, which is the reason why I read so many non-fiction books and so few novels. But I think I need a challenge every now and then, so today I picked a novel. I'm going to try to force myself to read a novel every couple of books or so just to keep from getting into a rut - and also to keep from getting another phone call from my sister in which she says, "Are you aware that you've read nothing but non-fiction for the last seven days. I think the public might like it if you read a lighter book tomorrow."

Here's my favorite passage of the book: "With one ear on the phone and the other on the door, I listened closely. I was surprised and disappointed to find that they were not talking about me. Eavesdropping teaches humility." - It's so true. Wearing two different colored socks has the same effect. I spend the whole day trying to hide the socks so no one will notice, and then I come to the end of the day with just a hint of sadness while thinking, "Well it would have been nice if someone at least cared enough to notice that my socks don't match."

Random facts that probably won't be of any interest to anyone who isn't related to me:

  • Richard Nixon's father owned a grocery store, just like my father - a fact I was unaware of until my sister told me. I asked her if this means she will go on to become a President who has a horrible scandal, and she replied, "I think so."
  • Nixon resigned the same month my parents got married - another fact that I didn't know until Alissa told me (which just goes to show how little I paid attention in history class).

Normally when I have two or more things in common with someone famous I like to say, "We're so connected" and pretend like it means something. But I'm not sure that's a good thing in this case.

I was on page 100 of the book when the premise began to feel very familiar. Wire-tapping some one's own family, where have I heard about that before? I considered that maybe I have just read the book before and didn't realize it at the time I bought it (an event that sadly happens rather frequently) - but no, I think I would have remembered the cover. And then it hit me: there was an episode of the Brady Bunch where that happened. Peter decided to spy on his family members, and secretly tape what they said for his own nefarious purposes. I never liked that episode, mainly because of how it ends (which I will leave you in suspense of, just in case you develop of Brady Bunch habit one day - I don't want to ruin the surprise for you dear readers). After watching that episode it became so clear to me why my dad always says, "I always thought that Peter was a twerp," whenever the subject of Brady Bunch comes up (which happens surprisingly often).

I wasn't crazy about this book, and I wouldn't really recommend it. But if you disregard that and decide to read the book anyway - and you're really squeamish - I would skip over page 25 in which the author describes the main character (11 year old Jack) eating Milk-bones with his dog. I've heard relatives tell the "I ate dog food once when I was a baby" stories, and yet those never quite grossed me out the way reading about the sound the Milk-bone makes as a person is chewing on it did. Save yourself the awful mental image dear readers, and skip over that page. Or read it anyway and tell yourself he's just eating Chips Ahoy.

A Window Over the Kitchen Sink

Monday, January 26, 2009

I miss watching Dallas. There I said it. It's been too long since I've watched J.R. and Sue Ellen trade insults. So, to tide myself over in the meantime, I watched a few brief clips from youtube - and because I don't want you to be left out of the fun dear readers, here are some links to those clips:

Here's the theme song:

Doesn't that just make you want to watch an episode? Or maybe it's just me.

And here's a scene with J.R. and Ellen, so you can experience the magic as well:

The other thing I miss is reading more than one book at a time. My pre-blog reading habit was to read about 4 or 5 books at once, and I really miss that. I'm trying to adjust to only reading one book at a time, and to not having a book to read at night, but the adjustment is taking some time.

Today's book - I got this book from the library and there are smudges that are making it impossible for me to read the description on the back, which probably makes you wonder, "What kind of person would check out a book without knowing what it's about?" - unless of course you've already read my entry about the book Love is a Mix Tape, in which case you're probably not surprised and instead are thinking, "Will she ever learn her lesson?" I picked out today's book because the front said it was by the author who wrote the I Hate to Cook book - so I figured, hey why not, what's the worst that could happen. The book is basically a memoir where the author shares life stories that are all related to food. I promise dear readers, tomorrow's book will not be about food.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit, it was filled with gentle humor - and what I enjoyed the most were the titles to the chapters, which were so weird that it made me want to read the chapter that followed just so I could figure out what it was all about:

Ch. 2 - A Consideration of the Egg...or How They Broke up the Gangs at Public School # 1 in McKinleyville, Missouri

Ch. 8 - Of Copper Bowls and Kansas...and a Snapshot or Two from the Family Album

Ch. 11 - Mainly about My Aunt Liz Noah...or In One Ear and Half a Dozen of the Other

One of the anecdotes in the story makes reference to hard sauce, which is something I've always wondered about. What is hard sauce? Is it just how it sounds, a sauce that is hard? Or is it a sauce that contains hard liquor? I've always wondered (although not enough to actually look it up) - but for the sake of the blog I'm willing to go that extra step. I googled hard sauce and on the search page this popped up: - which was described on the search page as a "brief and straightforward guide to hard sauce." I don't know why, but the brief and straight forward comment amuses me. I'm clearly way too easily amused.

The author discusses an article she read once about how eggs were cooked by shepherds long ago. Here is the description, "The shepherds had a singular manner of cooking eggs without the aid of a fire: they placed them in a sling, which they turned so rapidly that the friction of the air heated them to the exact point required for use." She then attempts to test this theory out using a salad spinner. I'm tempted to scoff and think how ridiculous an idea that is, but after that ginger water incident from January 9th, I'm standing on shaky ground. Plus, let me be honest for a moment dear readers, the only thing standing between me and an attempt to try out this experiment is the fact that I don't actually own a salad spinner. The author is coy about the results of the experiment but does offer up this detail, "It was a learning experience and really not too hard to clean up." And now I really can't judge, because even after I've found out that it doesn't work, I still want to try it.

Random facts that may or may not be true:

  • Eggs that are stored in the refrigerator, but kept in the door are jostled too frequently from the door being opened and closed so much, which causes them to prematurely age. I have no idea how to tell if an egg has prematurely aged, so I can't verify that information. But I'm willing to take the author's word for it.
  • Scroddle is a ceramic term used to describe something that is mottled with different colors. I've looked that one up, and here is a picture of a ceramic item that has a scroddle design:
  • Digesting a hard-boiled egg requires more calories than the egg itself contains - 92 calories to digest vs. only 80 calories in the egg. That piece of information sounds too good to be true, so I did a little investigative research. I can confirm for you dear readers that a large eggs does contain 80 calories. But I was unable to find out how many calories it takes to digest an egg. However, in the process of looking that up I discovered that the commonly held belief about celery taking more calories to chew than it actually contains is a myth - and the same can be said about grapefruit. Now I have to find a way to break the news gently to my father (who loves the celery myth) before he reads about it here on the blog. Wish me luck dear readers, because this conversation is going to be unpleasant.

Finding Betty Crocker

Sunday, January 25, 2009

After yesterday's dark book I decided I needed a lighter book to read today.

Here's the description from the back cover, "While Betty Crocker is often associated with 1950's happy homemaking, she originally belonged to a different generation. Created in 1921 as a "friend to homemakers" for the Washburn Crosby Company (a forerunner to General Mills) in Minneapolis, her purpose was to answer consumer mail. "She" was actually the women of the Home Service Department who signed Betty's name. Eventually, Betty Crocker's local radio show on WCCO expanded, and audience's around the nation tuned her in, tried her money-saving recipes, and wrote Betty nearly 5,000 fan letters per day. In Finding Betty Crocker, Susan Marks offers an utterly unique look at the culinary and marketing history of America's First Lady of Food."

Fun facts from the book:

  • In 1945, Fortune magazine named Betty Crocker the second most popular American woman - second only to Eleanor Roosevelt - despite the fact that she didn't actually exist.
  • Refrigerated biscuits - the kind that come in a tube - have been around since the 1930's. I always thought they were a relatively recent innovation, but apparently not.
  • In the 1940's staffers at the Betty Crocker test kitchens were referred to as Crockettes. The book doesn't really specify if they are still called that today or not.
  • Betty Crocker once had several radio shows, and later several television shows - again, despite not actually existing.
  • Cake mixes were considered very controversial when they first came out. They were often viewed as "taking the easy way out" or a way for housewives to "shirk their responsibilities." General Mills dealt with this by removing the dried eggs that the mix contained, and marketing it to women as being practically homemade because you still had to add the eggs.
  • In the 1970's General Mills was sued by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Chapter of NOW. They charged that Betty Crocker's portrait was both sexist and racist because, according to their attorney, "Betty Crocker is an image that women are expected to live up to - a stereotyped image. She is not an image that many women can identify with."

My favorite parts of the book:

One of the features on Betty Crocker's radio show was having bachelors on to talk about what they were looking for in a wife. A football hero (the book doesn't tell his name) went on the Betty Crocker radio program and said he dreamed of an old-fashioned wife who would keep house like his mother - frugally and without any electrical appliances. The women of America were not amused, and they were quick to send letters in response. Here is an excerpt from one of the letters, "What a selfish, conceited football hero you chose to interview. Whew! Didn't like a thing about him. Made me cross all day just knowing he is alive..."

Betty's first all-cake recipe booklet contains a tale of two young brides who are both making birthday cakes for their husbands. The first bride insisted on using Gold Medal Flour and a Gold Medal "kitchen-tested" recipe. The second bride used another flour and a recipe that wasn't a Gold Medal recipe. The birthday cake made with Gold Medal Flour was a huge success, which resulted in the husband asking for a second piece of cake and declaring his wife, "the most wonderful little wife ever." The second bride was not so fortunate. Her cake turned out so badly that her husband couldn't even choke down an entire piece, which apparently "spoiled the day for both of them." - Let that be a lesson to you dear readers, cooking with anything other than Gold Medal flour and a "kitchen tested" recipe will not only ruin your day, but potentially your marriage as well. And now, I am left wondering, what must it be like to lead the kind of life in which a person's entire day can be ruined by a piece of cake.


Friday, January 23, 2009

As promised, today I read a light, fluffy, mindless book that has no merit whatsoever. And when I think of merit-less books I can't help but think of Danielle Steel.

Here's the description from the back: "Bill Thigpen, writer and producer of the No. 1 daytime TV drama, was so busy watching his career soar that he never noticed his marriage collapse. Now, nine years later, living alone in Hollywood, life is still reasonably sweet. Top-of-the-chart ratings, good-natured casual affairs, and special vacations with his two young sons. His life is in perfect balance. - Adrian Townsend thought she had everything: a job she liked as a TV production assistant and a handsome husband who was a rising star in his own field. It was an enviable life they'd worked hard for - the American Dream. Until she got pregnant. Suddenly all she had was chaos. And Steven's ultimatum. Him or the baby. The question was: did he mean it? - Bill Thigpen and Adrian Townsend collided in a supermarket. And the very sight of her suddenly made him want more in his life... a woman he really loved, a real family again. But did he need the heartache of another man's baby, another man's wife? Neither of them did. But they couldn't help it."


  • Is that the most ridiculous plot you've ever heard of? No really, that's a serious question dear readers. I challenge you to find a book with a more ridiculous plot than that - and if you manage it, please let me know what it was. Perhaps we can have a "Who can name the most ridiculous book plot" contest in the comments section.
  • I couldn't even make it all the way through the description of this book without laughing. Which is exactly why I knew I had to read it. Danielle Steel novels are the literary (and I use that word rather loosely here) equivalent of bad TV - TV that is so bad that I can't turn away. I start out watching it pretending like I'm watching in spite of the fact that it has no redeeming value - and then quickly come to realize that I'm watching it because it has no redeeming value. The plot of a Danielle Steel novel is guaranteed to be ridiculous, the writing is bad, the characters are annoying - and yet I can't turn away. I feel the same way when I watch Tori & Dean, and The Bachelor, and that one season of The Surreal Life I watched (which I think was my television low-point and the one bad TV show that almost made me feel ashamed for watching it). Well, actually it was two seasons - but I made a clean break of it after that.
  • The amusement with this book actually started before I read the description. It started when I was standing in the bookstore asking the woman who owns it where she keeps the Danielle Steel books and she said, "But those are so bad." I agree, they are so bad - so bad they almost loop back around and become good again.
  • So the book had already brought me a great deal of fun before I even sat down to read it, and then I turned to the inside cover, where the "Praise for this book" section and felt amused all over again. Some of the quotes were the typical, over-the-top, melodramatic stuff that all books contain - but then I notice the quotes from the two newspapers in Baton Rouge. Neither newspaper could even attempt a white-lie about how good the book was. Here is the "praise" from The Baton Rouge Sun, "One of the world's most popular authors." The Baton Rouge Advocate chimes in with, "Steel's loyal army of readers will welcome Heartbeat." They couldn't even muster up a simple, "Good effort from Danielle Steel" or "Steel's best work to date." Good for you Baton Rouge for holding on to your integrity. Sadly I cannot say the same about the Coalfield Progress which claims the book is, "A poignant, gently humorous novel." Allow me to channel Linda from SNL's Coffee Talk for a moment dear readers, "A book written by Danielle Steel is neither poignant, nor gently humorous, nor a novel. Discuss."
  • For those of you who have never read a Danielle Steel book, I'm going to give you a brief glimpse into her writing style. The book is filled with sentences like this: "And then she shook her head again, the long dark hair sailing around her like the dark wings of a fallen angel." (Every time I start to feel bad about making fun of this book on the blog, I think of that sentence and I no longer feel bad. Anyone who writes a sentence like that deserves to be mocked. They're just asking for it.)

And, so you can all enjoy the fun of a Danielle Steel novel, without having to wade through 400 pages of ridiculous plot points, here's Steel's wikipedia page - which reads like a condensed version of one of her books. I've you've ever read one of her books I think you'll agree.
And if you've never read one of her books - put down whatever boring, serious, worthwhile book you're reading right now and go buy one. I insist.

Growing Up King

Monday, January 19, 2009

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day I decided to read a book that was written by his son, about what it was like to grow up in the King family.

Here's the description from the back of the book:

"He was just seven years old and watching television in the family's den when a special news bulletin announced that his father had fallen to an assassin's bullet - a tragedy that would forever scar his adolescence. But as an adult, Dexter Scott King was determined to confront the past, discover the truth about his father's murder, and protect his father's legacy..."

Overall I thought the book was decent, but it sort of lacked focus. It kind of jumped all around and left me with literary whiplash. The redeeming part of the book was when King discusses what it was like to find out about his father's death. I couldn't make it through that part without crying. The book was pretty bleak overall, but I trudged through it.

After I was done reading I needed a pick-me-up, so I spent a few minutes engaging in some light-hearted mocking (I mocked with love, of course) of my sister for her desperate MLK-related phone calls that she makes to me about once a week. They go a little something like this:

Alissa: I'm doing nothing with my life.

Me: You have a law degree and two other degrees. Doesn't that count for something.

A: It's not enough. Martin Luther King was only 26 when he organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I'm 26 now. My life is meaningless.

M: Okay, so one person did more at your age. That doesn't mean your life is meaningless.

A: Jesus was only 33 when he died.

Then I spend a few minutes trying to console her (and trying to figure out how the Jesus trivia got randomly thrown in there) - which has absolutely no effect whatsoever, and then we move on and start talking about shallow things.

And to close out today's blog entry, here's a link to a video of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech:

Interesting fact about the speech that I learned from this book: The "I Have a Dream" part was not in the original speech. According to his son, "He had prepared his remarks but, moved by the passion of the crowd before him and the tremendous significance of that day in August 1963, his mind soared and led him to those immortal words."

Having Our Say

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Dad is having a little bit of trouble coming to terms with the parameters of the blog. I've discussed it with him twice over the last few weeks and the conversations went like this:

Conversation 1 -

Dad: What are you going to do on holidays?

Me: I'm going to read a slightly shorter book.

D: Oh good idea - like a Clifford book.

M: I'm not reading a Clifford book for the blog.

D: Why not?

M: It's a children's book that only has about 20 pages.

D: Oh. But who's gonna know.

M: Ummmm...the readers would know.

D: What about books on tape?

M: No, that's not reading a book, that's listening to a book.

D: Well wouldn't it be easier to just read a book every other day.

M: The project is called A Book a Day.

D: Well why couldn't you just change the name of your website to A Book Every Other Day.

I'm sorry to have to tell you dear readers, that the conversation just continued to slide downhill from there.

Conversation 2 -

D: It's too bad you read Marley & Me before watching the movie.

M: Well actually I like to read the book before watching the movie.

D: No I mean if you had watched the movie first then you wouldn't have had to bother reading the book. You could have cheated with the blog entry and no one would have ever known.

M: I like reading. I want to read all the books - that was the whole point of starting the blog in the first place. I'm not looking for ways to get out of reading the books.

D: Fine, have it your way.

I think for the duration of the year I'm going to restrict our conversations to talking about the weather.

Now for today's book:

" In this remarkable and charming oral history, two lively and perspicacious sisters, aged 101 and 103, reflect on their rich family life and their careers as pioneering African American professionals. Brief chapters capture Sadie's warm voice ("Now, I was a 'mama's child' ") and Bessie's fiestiness ("I'm alive out of sheer determination, honey!"). The unmarried sisters, who live together, tell of growing up on the campus of a black college in Raleigh, N.C., where their father was an Episcopal priest, and of being too independent for the men who courted them. With parental influence far stronger than that of Jim Crow, they joined professions--Sadie teaching domestic science, Bessie practicing dentistry. In 1920s Harlem they mixed with black activists and later were among the first to integrate the New York City suburb of Mount Vernon. While their account of the last 40 years is sketchy, their observations about everything from black identity to their yoga exercises make them worthwhile company."

My sister is visiting from out of town today, so I decided that if I was going to have to half-ignore her then I should at least do it while reading a book about sisters. We spent most of the day reading, and it was a strange feeling because I don't think I've ever been in the same room with her for that many hours before when the t.v. wasn't on. We're champion marathon t.v. watchers when we're together. We watched the entire series of S&TC when she was home for Christmas break one year - 2,790 minutes in 12 days. No one thought we could pull if off, but by cutting out a few hours of sleep and not moving for hours at a time we were able to prove them wrong.

Towards the end of the book Bessie has this to say, "I guess it will be a thousand years - probably never - before a colored person is elected president of the United States." The year she made that statement: 1993. It amazes me so much, that something is going to happen in less than 48 hours that some people never believed possible just 16 years ago. It also makes me feel very sad for the people who didn't live to see this moment.

Today's random fact that you can toss out at parties: In the early 1900's the Hershey company wouldn't hire African Americans to work at their companies, but Nestle's would. Shame on you Mr. Hershey.

Now to end the blog on a nice shallow note, I learned about something from reading this book that I've never heard of before: rent parties, in which people would turn their apartments into temporary nightclubs in order to raise money to pay the rent. Apparently they were all the rage in Harlem during the 1920's and early 30's.

Girl Sleuth

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Are you feeling the excitement of Suggestion Saturday dear readers? Because I am. Today's book was suggested by Allison. Thanks for the suggestion.

Back by popular demand (and by popular I mean two people said they liked it) :

Questions I've been asked once -

1. What's your favorite book so far? - Other than the Little House books, which are on my all-time favorites list, I would have to say that it's a tie between Leaving Church (because it really made me think about some things in a way I never had before) and Something from the Oven (because I love all things retro).

2. Are you reading other books besides the ones for the blog? - No. Although I have been tempted from time to time. I'm still getting used to not reading books in the evening. I kind of miss that, but I want to stick to just the book that I write about on the blog each day.

3. Do you ever read ahead? - No. That would feel too much like cheating. I don't start the book for the day until that morning.

Now for today's book: "In 1930 a plucky girl detective stepped out of her shiny blue roadster, dressed in a smart tweed suit, ready to restore a stolen inheritance to its rightful owner. Later, tied up by the villains, she manages to free herself and bring them to justice - all while wearing a pencil skirt and high heels. Eighty million books later, Nancy Drew has survived the depression, World War II, and the sixties (when she was taken up with a vengeance by women's libbers), and emerged as beloved by girls today as she was by their grandmothers. Now, in a narrative with all the fast-paced thrill of one of Nancy's adventures, Melanie Rehak solves a page-turning literary mystery: Who created Nancy Drew? And how did she go from pulp heroine to American icon?"

Shallow thoughts from today's book:

I went into reading today's book expecting to not like it - because I never read Nancy Drew books as a child. I was a Babysitters' Club kind of girl. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It was full of fun facts, and it really made me want to read through some of the juvenile books that I missed out on the first time around. I smell a Nancy Drew book in this blog's future.

Fun facts from the book:

  • Nancy Drew narrowly escaped being named Stella Strong - which kind of sounds like a stripper name. Other names that were under consideration: Diana Drew, Diana Dare, Nan Nelson, Nan Drew, and Helen Hale.
  • Wellesley didn't give out grades until the year 1912. - There's a nice useless piece of trivia that you can whip out at a party some time - provided you're at a party with people who are dorky enough to appreciate a pointless piece of information like that.
  • The University of Iowa, which started in 1855, was the first public institution in the U.S. to admit men and women on an equal basis. - Another useless fact you can use to impress people.

I'm endlessly amused by the quote from a writer (although it doesn't mention which writer, I hate it when books do that) who described the books being produced for children during the early part of the 20th century as, "an insidious narcotic with the habit-forming properties of opium." I guess this means I didn't have as wholesome of a childhood as I had originally thought - I was really just an addict looking for my next fix. It always makes me laugh when parents in old books complain about their children wasting time with unwholesome books - particularly in light of the fact that I spent the second half of my childhood reading unwholesome books and no one stopped to question it. They were so happy that I was reading that no one thought to investigate what kind of books they actually were. Adults would just nod their heads and say, "Oh isn't that nice, she's reading" or "Thank goodness she's reading and not wasting her time playing video games." And I would just smile and nod (they didn't need to know that I had a secret Superio Marios Brother's obsession as well). So, if yesterday's parents were horrified by an activity such as their children reading (the kind of activity that would fill today's parents with joy), does that mean that tomorrow's parents will be endlessly relieved to see how much their children enjoy television. Are parents 80 years from now going to look at their children who are parked in front of the television and say, "Thank goodness he's watching television."

If you have any suggestions for future Suggestion Saturdays, please leave them in the comments section dear readers. And if anyone is still having trouble getting their comments to go through e-mail me at

Candy Freak

Friday, January 16, 2009
Today's book: "Remember Caravelles, Choco-lites, Oopahs, and Marathons? Steve Almond does, but when he couldn't find many of his favorite childhood candies anymore, he embarked on a journey to find them... and discovered the last surviving little-guy candy producers - makers of the Twin Bing, the Idaho Spud, the Valomilk, and a dozen other quirky confections - in an industry now ruled by conglomerates."

I really enjoyed today's book, probably because it allowed me to goof off in between chapters and have conversations with people about shallow things like their favorite childhood candy. And all the while I could feel productive and tell myself, "I'm not wasting time talking about candy, I'm working. This is valuable research for the blog." As it turns out, people love to talk about the candy they enjoyed as children. When I ask them about it, their voices change and they start to wax poetic about the color of the candy wrapper, the store they bought the candy at, how they felt when they ate it, the ingredients it contained and how the candy somehow tasted better when they were kids than it does now. I used to think that last part was just something old people say - but I have recently experienced the disappointment of trying Razzles and thinking to myself, "Did these always taste like chalk?" - so either it isn't confined to old people or I've become old.

Fun facts from the book:

  • The three major chocolate manufacturers (Nestle, Hershey, and Mars) so closely guard their recipes that when outside workers are called in to repair machinery they are blindfolded, taken to the machine in question, and then blindfolded again on the way out.
  • There was once a pineapple flavored Mars bar.
  • In the 1920's there was a candy bar called Vegetable Sandwhich that contained dehydrated vegetable covered in chocolate. It was marketed as a healthy candy bar.

All throughout the book the author talks about his favorite, and least favorite childhood candy, which led to me making my own list.

I'll start with least favorite -

There's really only one thing on my list, a candy so bad that it deserved it's own category. A candy whose awful taste is so burned in my memory that I can't push it aside long enough to even think about the other kinds of candy I disliked. And that candy was bologna gum. Does anyone else remember bologna gum? It came in a package that looked exactly like a regular package of bologna only miniature. I'm guessing you probably don't because it was only on the market for a very short time (for obvious reasons). Well actually, I'm not even sure that it made it onto the market in the first place. My dad owns a grocery store, and every year he would go to the food show and bring home samples of things that we about to hit the market. And one year, when I was about 7, he brought home bologna gum. Common sense should have told me to hesitate about any candy that was patterning itself after a meat product, but I figured that grape gum doesn't actually taste like grapes and strawberry gum doesn't taste like strawberry, so why would bologna gum taste like bologna. But I'm afraid to tell you dear readers that it did taste like bologna - exactly like it. I feel a little sick to my stomach just thinking about it. But all was not lost with the food show samples, because he also brought home giant Oreos. There's nothing like the pure unadulterated joy of an Oreo that's so big you need two hands to hold onto it. The giant Oreo did present its challenges (it was too big to dunk into a glass of milk, and it wasn't a double stuff cookie so the filling to cookie ratio was off), but the upside (being able to say, "But Mom, I only ate one cookie today, why can't I have a second one.") clearly outweighed the disadvantages.

Now for the favorites:

Well, obviously, the aforementioned Razzles, but now that I've tried the "New and Improved" Razzles that love has been tainted.

Jolly Ranchers - The author talks about sucking on hard candy until it became so pliable that he could shape it into a candy retainer. I started to laugh and think to myself, "What a weirdo," until I remembered that I used to do the same thing with Jolly Ranchers. I would then practice talking with the candy retainer in. I wanted to be prepared, just in case I ever needed a real retainer one day.

Candy buttons - My Grandma used to buy those for me at the craft stores she would take me to (I think I may have just cracked the mystery of why I'm so obsessed with craft stores). I liked the taste, but I always found them to be way too much work for the tiny candy return I would get out of it - sort of the candy equivalent of chicken wings. But I still loved how they came on that long strip of paper, so I kept eating them anyway, despite my conviction that "Candy shouldn't be this much work."

Chocolate stars - Another childhood love that has been tainted. Every Friday night my dad would bring home chocolate stars and grape soda and we would eat that while watching TGIF. I think those Friday nights are among my happiest childhood memories. There's nothing more fun than having a dad who owns a grocery store - the junk food supply feels never ending, and sometimes for our birthdays he would take our friends up there and let us play Supermarket Sweep. But now, sadly, the candy has been "improved" and it tastes a bit too much like wax.

And then of course there are the classics: Reese's and Hershey bars. My mother equates food with love - you take that and combine it with a father who owns a grocery store and it produced a childhood that was such a parade of candy bars that it's a miracle my growth wasn't stunted. Although maybe it was - people did always expect me to end up taller than this. My mother handed out candy bars like they were daily vitamins. All we would have to do was say, "I'm kind of in the mood for some chocolate" and she would say, "I've got a Hershey bar, two Reese's, a Peppermint Patty, a Nestle Crunch, and a Dove bar."

So tell me dear readers, what were your favorites and least favorites from childhood?

Leaving Church

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Before I start with today's entry, I want to welcome all the new people who have come to the site in the last few days. I really appreciate you coming to check out the site, and I hope you enjoy your time here.

Now for today's entry:

I've been struggling with writing the blog over the last few days because I haven't been feeling well. But that's okay - I knew going into writing this blog that there were going to be challenges (holidays, busy work days, days when I don't feel well, days when I just don't feel like reading) . I'm trying (but not always succeeding) to welcome the challenges and not become totally frustrated by them, and to remember that if this was easy there would be no point in me writing about it. Who would want to read a blog about someone doing something really easy, or doing something difficult but doing it effortlessly? The challenges along the way are what will make the end result even more satisfying.

Here's the description of today's book: "After nine years on the staff of a big urban church in Atlanta, Barbara Brown Taylor arrives in rural Clarkesville, Georgie (population 1,500), following her dream to become the pastor of her own small congregation. The adjustment from city life to country dweller is something of a shock, but small town life offers many of its own unique joys. Taylor has five successful years that see significant growth in the church she serves, but ultimately she finds herself experiencing 'compassion fatigue' and wonders exactly what God has called her to do. She realizes that in order to keep her faith she may have to leave."

As I was typing that description up, the book slipped out of my hand and opened to the page that has the author's picture on it, and I'm feeling thrown by it. She looks nothing like how I pictured her in my mind. When the book is non-fiction I like to wait until I'm completely done with the book before I ever look at the picture because I like to imagine the author in my mind, and I don't like the real picture to get in the way. It's like when I read a book that was turned into a movie - I want to picture the person on my own before I ever see the movie because I don't want that image to interfere with my own idea of the characters. Is that weird? So tell me dear readers, am I the only one who does that?

I decided to read this book because I am always fascinated by people whose journey of faith takes a winding road. I just don't know how to relate to the stories that make it sound like an easy, straight path that takes no more effort than following the directions on a map. I supposed there are people who do genuinely experience that, but I suspect for the marjority of people the path is a bit more unpredictable than that. And I find the authors candor about that refreshing and very relatable. It's nice to read a book on the subject and find passages all throughout that make me think, "Yes, that's exactly how I feel" and "I'm so glad I'm not the only one who can't seem to figure this all out."

When Taylor describes her mothers reaction to her decision to go to seminary ("You will get over this") I was reminded of a similar conversation I had with my mother in high school. I wasn't raised within any organized religion, so in high school I became rather curious about all things related to religion, and I did a kind of reverse rebellion and started going to church with the neighbors. My mother was taken aback at first, but soon decided we should sit down and have one of her "mom talks" about it. My mother's mom talks are a far cry from the Olivia Walton/Caroline Ingalls/Claire Huxtable kind that you see on t.v. - there's no talk of being a better person or growing as an individual (I'm saying this with love of course). Her mom talks go a little something like this, "I know that the first day of junior high can be difficult, but the important thing to remember is that you should make friends with the ugly girls. That way, even when you're having a bad hair day or you're just not looking your best for some reason, you still get to be the pretty one." So we sat down to talk about my new interest and she said, "It's not that your father and I mind you trying to be a good person, it's just that we've decided it's not for us." Then my dad chimed in with, "That's right, we like being mean." So we struck up a deal, I wouldn't try to force her to go to church and she wouldn't try to talk me out of it - and that's when my brief streak of adolescent rebellion came to an end - well, with the exception of that hair-dying incident from 11th grade that made me look like Morticia Adams. I try to tell myself that the really dark hair made me look cute, like Snow White, but a second look at the pictures blows that delusion right out of the water.

Marley & Me

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I have become totally obsessed with keeping track of how many people have come to the blog from day to day. Every morning I wake up and tell myself, "Today, I'm not even going to check," but that ends up lasting for about 10 minutes and then I cave. I check the stats about every hour, which sounds bad, but I consider it real progress because I've cut back from every 15 minutes down to just once per hour. Maybe tomorrow I'll work up to an hour and 15 minutes. Maybe by July I'll have even worked up to going an entire day without checking. Oh, for those simple innocent days between January 1st and January 4th when I was still trying to figure out how to install the stat counter. It was a different then, and I was a different person. I think it's time now to move on today's book - but first dear readers, let me apologize for that last sentence. I have a bad habit of watching made for t.v. movies and occasionally I start talking (and writing) like I'm starring in one.

Now on to today's book:

I'm sure most of you already know what today's book is about, but just in case you haven't seen the commercials they play for the movie that come on about five times an hour: "Labrador retrievers are generally considered even-tempered, calm and reliable;and then there's Marley, the subject of this delightful tribute to one Lab who doesn't fit the mold. Grogan, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and his wife, Jenny, were newly married and living in West Palm Beach when they decided that owning a dog would give them a foretaste of the parenthood they anticipated. Marley was a sweet, affectionate puppy who grew into a lovably naughty, hyperactive dog."

After spending a few hours with Oliver yesterday, I decided it just seemed to fit to read Marley & Me today. Since reading it I've gained some perspective where Oliver is concerned - in fact, he's suddenly starting to look really well behaved. He's never pulled a table across a crowded restaurant in pursuit of another dog, dismantled his cage in an attempt to escape, destroyed the dry wall to any rooms, swallowed the covering to stereo equipment, or knocked over any friends or relatives. But then, he's only been in the family for a month, so perhaps he just hasn't had time yet to destroy any personal property yet.

Starting tomorrow I'm going to try to stop obsessing over the numbers, but before I do that I have a few more numbers to to discuss. It's time for the end of the week count:


PAGES - 1,970

Bringing the total so far for the whole year to:


PAGES - 3,871

I'm kind of surprised by the numbers. It really doesn't feel like I've read 3,871 pages. But maybe that's because my horrible memory has already wiped out all thoughts of the first 7 or 8 books that I've read.

Poker Face

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I picked today's book because I thought it would be a nice change of pace from the type of books I've been reading lately. But it was quite a let down. I found it kind of boring, and so I spent most of the day forcing myself through it - when I wasn't trying to keep the dog alive that is.

Here's the description of today's book:

"Katy Lederer grew up on the bucolic campus of an exclusive East Coast boarding school where her father taught English, her mother retreated into crosswords and scotch, and her much older siblings played "grown-up" games like gin rummy and chess. But Katy faced much more than the typical trials of childhood. Within the confines of the Lederer household an unlikely transformation was brewing, one that would turn this darkly intellectual and game-happy group into a family of professional gamblers."

The description made the book sound so much more intriguing than it actually was. And the only good part of reading this book was that all of the talk of card games reminded me of some happy childhood memories that involve going to my Grandparents' house. It's odd that a book about a dysfunctional, unhappy childhood would remind me of something happy - but, oh well, stranger things have happened while reading. I am reminded of childhood family gatherings in my Grandmother's kitchen. After the meal was over the adults would sit down to play cards. But they would never let the children play because they said we would slow them down, and there were never any good toys to play with, so we would amuse ourselves by playing a game we invented called "Count the Bad Words." Apparently we had put so much effort into inventing the game that we had no creativity left to come up with an interesting name. My relatives on that side of the family all talked like a bunch of drunken sailors, and they never censored themselves around us. So we passed the time by playing a game in which we kept track of who said the most bad words. We set up a make-shift announcers booth, borrowed a wooden spoon for a microphone, and began to keep score - and then we would narrate the game as if we were sportscasters. In between rounds we would go around the table and interview the relatives. I would walk up to Grandma and say, "So, Grandma, you're in the lead with 27 bad words. Tell me, how does that make you feel?" and then my aunt, "Aunt Becky, you're falling a bit behind with only 25 bad words. Do you have a strategy for how you're going to catch up in the next round, or are you just going to go out there and wing it?" I can't print her response because I'm trying to keep this blog wholesome, but I will tell you dear readers that her response resulted in her taking the lead from Grandma. My Grandmother was amused by this game, unlike my mother who felt it was "not an appropriate game for children to be playing," so she would indulge us and toss a few bad words out just for fun. It wasn't exactly the most wholesome way to pass the time, but we had fun.

Well, that's all I have to say on this subject dear readers. I'm just not feeling terribly inspired to write about this book since it was so dull. I'm off now to go find a book that will (hopefully) be much more interesting for tomorrow.


Before I do today's entry, I wanted to put up a picture of the reason why I almost didn't get today's book read. Today I was puppy-sitting for my parents' dog Oliver. And, well, Oliver likes to chew on things. So I spent the day trying to read, in between prying things away from him that he wasn't supposed to be chewing on - the couch, my shoes, the leaves from the plant, my pen, the book I was trying to read, the paper I was using to take notes on. While he was chewing on my paper I attempted to explain to him, "Oliver, no one is going to believe me if I tell them the dog ate my blogging notes." But, he was unmoved by my pleas and continued to chew on them anyway. Oliver also decided today that licking electrical outlets is a really fun way to pass the time - so I was a bit distracted by trying to keep him from electrocuting himself. It's a good thing I picked a short book today or I'd probably still be reading it. Today's entry will be up soon - in the meantime, I hope you enjoy the picture of Oliver.

The Red Leather Diary

Monday, January 12, 2009

When I was a child I loved the scenes from Little House where Laura or Mary were studying for a big test. There would always be a montage, set to prairie-style music, where they would be reading while doing their various chores: Mary reading while stirring the stew or dusting the house, or Laura reading while feeding the chickens or serving dinner - dinner that always bore a striking resemblance to Hamburger Helper.

I tried to do the same thing - reading while cleaning, playing, even making my bed. Although it's rather hard to pretend to be on the prairie while making a water bed, and I don't have any chickens to feed, and my mother wouldn't let me use the stove until I was 12 - but still, I persisted. I practiced making the bed while reading, walking up and down stairs while reading, feeding the dog while reading (which I tried to tell myself wasn't all that different from feeding chickens) - I even considered attempting to ride my bike while reading, but I knew that I'd never make it past my mother with that one. My family would look at me while I was doing this, shake their heads, and say, "You are so weird." But I always knew that one day the practice would pay off. And today I was vindicated. This morning I decided that I need to stop waiting until I've completely finished reading the book before getting household stuff done, so I tried doing both at the same time. I wasn't sure if I would still be good at both - but as it turns out, it's just like riding a bike (provided you're not trying to read while riding).

Today's book description was a refreshing break from the over-the-top descriptions from the last few days - no dramatic promises that we'll be changed forever by reading the book - just a simple description of the story:
"For more than half a century, the red leather diary lay silent, languishing inside a steamer trunk, it's worn cover crumbling into little flakes. When a cleaning sweep of a New York City apartment building brings the lost treasures to light, both the diary and it's owner are given a second life. Recovered by Lily Koppel, a young writer working at the New York Times, the journal paints a vivid picture of 1930's New York - horseback riding in Central Park, summer excursions to the Catskills, and an obsession with a famous avant-garde actress. From 1929 to 1934, not a single day's entry is skipped." - The description goes on for about 4 more paragraphs, so I'll just sum the rest of it up for you: The author goes to look for the woman who wrote the journal and discovers it was written by a woman named Florence Wolfson who starting writing the journal on her 14th birthday and ending right before she turned 19.

Here are my shallow thoughts for the day:

  • The five year journal that Florence wrote in contained only 4 lines per day. So right off the bat I was astounded that anyone could reduce a description of their day down to 4 lines, especially during the teenage years when everything feels more dramatic than it really is. I have journal entries from when I was a teenager that were 20-30 pages long - and I wrote that long of entries almost every day. There was no part of my life that I didn't bleed dry and try to use for creative purposes. But I do find myself cringing when I read a lot of the entries, and getting bored mid-way through, so maybe brevity would have been best.

  • Throughout this book I was trying to imagine what it would be like for someone to stumble across one of my journals when I'm old and actually read it. The thought really bothers me - so I'm very impressed with Florences' willingness to let her journal be published - it's kind of brave to put her younger self out there on display for everyone to see. I don't think I would have done the same in her shoes. But then I don't think I have to worry about that since I can't imagine anyone actually wanting to wade through my 106 journal volumes to prepare them for publication. And by the time I'm old there will be even more volumes for someone to have to deal with. I figured out once that if I live to be in my 70's, and I keep writing at this rate, I'll have over 700 volumes by then. Don't you feel sorry for whoever has to go through my stuff after I'm dead? I have a mental image of my grandchildren playing rock-paper-scissors to decide who gets stuck with having to sort through the journals. I think it'll go a little something like this, "That's not fair, I had to deal with her cookbooks and her apron collection, you're dealing with the journals. "

  • There was a point in the book when the author was discussing some of the most popular names from the year Florence was born (Alice, Lillian, Evelyn, Rose, Frances, and Florence) - so I decided to look for one of those websites that lists that most popular baby names for the last 100 years or so, and here's the most interesting one I found: It's really quite fascinating. It also made me think about how odd it's going to be in 60 or 70 years when every one's grandparents are named Addison and Cayden. But I'm sure there was a time when no one could imagine any one's grandmother being named Evelyn - so maybe it'll seem normal by then.

Two for the Road

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Blogging has begun to make me dramatic. Let me rephrase that, it's begun to make me more dramatic than usual. I've begun saying things like, "a blogger's job is never done" and "you just don't understand the artistic temperament." So far, everyone around me has indulged me in these little fits of drama, but I don't expect that to last much longer.

I've also reached a point where the books I've already read are starting to blur together. I was having a conversation about the blog yesterday and I was asked what books I've read so far that were good. I could only name 2 of them. I can only imagine how bad this problem will be by October. I have a horrible mental image of being asked a specific question about one of the books and not being able to remember anything about it. I'm quickly reaching the point where I'm going to have to read my own blog to refresh my memory.

Today's book:

"In this rollicking memoir, Jane and Michael Stern tell what it's like to eat everywhere across the U.S.A. Driving more than three million miles, eating twelve meals a day, they discover not only the pleasure of biscuits and gravy and cherry pie but also a world of cooks, customers, and fellow roadfood devotees for whom good food is one of life's essentials."

Today's thoughts:

  • I strongly disagree with the description of the book as "rollicking" - but that's becoming par for the course. The publishing companies always go one step too far in describing the book. The description sounds honest, the book sounds enjoyable, and then they start tossing around words like "rollicking" and "excruciatingly beautiful" and "breathtaking" - and they wreck it. It's starting to become a "boy who cried wolf" kind of thing for me now. One of these days I'm going to run across a book that truly is breathtaking or excruciatingly beautiful and I'm going to mutter under my breath, "yeah right, sell it somewhere else" and put it back on the bookstore shelf. Don't they know that we'll still read the book anyway even if they don't insist that it's "sheer perfection that will change your life forever."

  • Mid-way through the book I got bored and decided to make one of the recipes. I picked the recipe for stewed apples because it was the easiest one to alter to accommodate my allergies and because I've always wondered about stewed apples. Yep, that's right, that's the kind of boring crap I sit around thinking about all day, "I wonder what stewed apples taste like." But the recipe called for 2 tbsp of all-purpose flour, and since I'm allergic to wheat I had to substitute oat flour. I quickly discovered that when they say all-purpose flour, they mean business. My version never quite thickened, and so I am left with a mind that is still filled with boring thoughts like, "I wonder what stewed apples tastes like," along with stuff like, "I wonder what would happen if I microwaved fruit snacks" and "I wonder where the expression 'little miss round heels' originated." In other words, it's like a trip back to fourth grade in my brain.

  • I woke up this morning and I didn't feel like reading. I just wasn't in the mood, and I began to have whiny thoughts, "No fair. But I just read a book yesterday." So I procrastinated for a few minutes by looking up books on the Internet, and justified it by telling myself it was research, before sitting down and forcing myself to read today's book. It wasn't the most enjoyable reading experience I've ever had, but it wasn't the worst either. I muddled through the book - and there were even a few moments that I found enjoyable. Overall I wasn't crazy about the book, but that could just be my artistic temperament talking.

Something Borrowed

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Today kicks off Suggestion Saturday. Every Saturday I'm going to read one of the books that was suggested in the comments section. Today I've chosen a book that was suggested by Belvia because her suggestion was the first one I received. I'm going to read one of the books suggested by each person from the comments section, and I'm going in the order I received the suggestions. I run my blog like a preschool classroom - everyone gets a turn you just have to wait in line patiently. So, if you have any suggestions feel free to leave them in the comments section - and if you have more than one book to suggest go ahead and list those too. It's always nice to have several to choose from in case I have trouble finding one of the books. If you're one of the people who is having trouble leaving comments, e-mail me at and I'll try to help get the problem sorted out.

I'm also answering questions today. My sister wanted me to put up a FAQ section, but that seemed too melodramatic at this stage in the blog. I tried to explain to her that it doesn't count as frequently asked if I've only been asked the question one time. But she persisted. So, to appease her in the meantime:

Questions I've been asked once -

1. What is your criteria for choosing books? - I try to pick books that are between 200 and 450 pages. Anything less than 200 feels like cheating and 450 seems to be the limit of what I can read in one day. No coffee table books, or any other kind of book that has more pictures than words. And, of course, no scary books. Beyond that, I don't have any rules about subject or genre.

2. Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? - A little bit. But, I think that's only because I'm doing all the extra work for my job. I think this will get easier in February.

3. Do you think you'll actually make it through the whole year? - Yes. But I don't think that far ahead because it's kind of a daunting thought.

Now on to today's book. Here's the description:

"Meet Rachel White, a young attorney living and working in Manhattan. Rachel has always been the consummate good girl - until her thirtieth birthday, when her best friend Darcy throws her a party. That night, after too many drinks, Rachel ends up in bed with Darcy's fiance. Although she wakes up determined to put her one-night fling behind her, Rachel is horrified to discover that she has genuine feelings for the one guy she should run from."

My thoughts:

  • The main character Rachel referred to herself as middle aged because she had just turned 30 - the age that I will be in September. After reading that line I spent a few minutes (or maybe 20) trying to convince myself that middle aged is a term that should be taken literally and, since the average life expectancy for women is 79.5 (up 0.1 from last year), I don't even have to entertain the idea that I'm middle aged until I'm at least 39 1/2. And even then, I will just be entertaining the idea, it won't be official for another 3 months.

  • After reading about someone who celebrates their 30th birthday by having a party in a bar, getting drunk, and then betraying her best friend, all I can think is, "My 30th is going to be boring in comparison." I was thinking of having a theme party in which everyone has to dress up like it's the 1930's. It's not exactly a wild and crazy way to spend a birthday, but I've never been a wild and crazy kind of person so it works. But now I'm starting to wonder how I'm even going to have time for a party like that since I'll still be writing the blog then. An image just flashed through my mind of someone handing me a present and me saying, "Yeah thanks, I'll open it as soon as I'm done with this chapter."

  • I was really glad that I didn't have to hear the life story of every character in the book. There was still a bit more back story than I prefer for a book that isn't non-fiction - but it was a definite improvement over last weeks fluffy book. I really appreciated not having to read about the life story of the waitress who only appears once or the random girl on the subway.

  • The author has discreetly skipped over what I'm going to call (for the sake of keeping this blog wholesome) the love scenes. Most chick-lit books aren't that discreet, which always leaves me wondering: are authors like that embarrassed to face their grandmothers after writing that stuff. Or do they hand the book to Grandma and say, "You can only read this if you promise to skip over pages 223-225." But, who are we kidding, Grandma's going to read pages 223-225 either way. Maybe their family members all just sit around the Thanksgiving table pretending they didn't read those pages, while Aunt Helen looks over and thinks, "I bet I know what's going on in her filthy mind right now." and Grandpa shakes his head in disgust and thinks, "Why in my day people had tasteful thoughts." The author has wisely decided to avoid this quagmire of embarrassment by skipping over those kind of scenes.

Overall, I liked the book. It was a nice fluffy read. Thanks for suggesting it Belvia.

P.S. - I tried the ginger water, using a recipe that was left in the comments section yesterday. When it's made with the right measurements ginger water tastes like Gatorade but more pungent.

The Long Winter

Friday, January 9, 2009

My blogging-on-the-brain problem continues. I can't stop thinking about it. I was at the gas station this morning, feeling irritated because my gas card wasn't working, when I looked up and realized I was at the wrong gas station. I think it's time to institute a "no thinking about blogging or reading while I'm out of the house" rule so that I can avoid these unpleasant moments in the future. It seems that reading a book for 6-7 hours straight causes me to feel so immersed in it that thoughts of it follow me everywhere. So, the upside to this is that I feel more fully engaged with each book I read then I ever did in the past, and the downside is that I'm making an idiot of myself in public on an almost daily basis.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the book, here's a brief description, "Indian warning said the winter of 1880-81 would be a hard one in the Dakota territory so Pa moved his family from the claim into town. Blizzards soon snowed the little town under, cutting off all supplies from the outside."
Don't worry dear readers, I'm not going to read a Little House book every week. I promise. I decided to read The Long Winter today because I've reached the point of winter where I'm tempted to start whining about the weather. Whenever that happens, I know it's time to get out this book and regain perspective. It's so much harder to justify complaining about having to scrape the snow off my car so I can drive home to my well heated house with a fully stocked pantry after reading about people who lived on brown bread and potatoes through 7 months of almost continuous blizzards.
The book begins with the Ingalls family preparing for winter. Pa and Laura are out harvesting the hay and Ma sends out a pail of ginger water for them to drink. Ginger water is a concoction of water, sugar, ginger, and vinegar. It sounded disgusting, and yet my curiosity wouldn't let it rest, so I tried it. I wasn't sure how much of each ingredient to add because the book doesn't specify - so I tried 16 0z. water (I was clearly optimistic that this would taste really good), 1/4 cup sugar, 2 tsp vinegar, and 1/2 tsp ginger. It smelled awful, but I talked myself into trying it anyway by telling myself, "Maybe it'll taste like ginger ale." For the record, it didn't. Although, that could have been my fault for not knowing the correct measurements. It wasn't the worst thing I've ever tasted, but I'm afraid I just can't agree with Laura's assessment of it being "such a treat."
I'm kind of surprised that I never tried ginger water before. I think maybe I've just been gun shy all these years after the cup-a-cup-a-cup incident from when I was 11, in which I tried the recipe that was discussed in Steel Magnolias (a cup of flour, a cup of sugar, a cup of fruit cocktail with the juice, and you just mix and bake until golden and bubbly). I kept wandering through the whole movie, "Is that a real recipe?" Well dear readers, I'm going to end the suspense for you - it's not a real recipe. No matter how long I cooked it, it just wouldn't bake all the way. It ended up being a big wad of gooey dough. But, it seems that I still haven't learned my lesson, because all I can think about while writing this is, "I wonder what would have happened if I had just added an egg."
During the months of blizzards, the Ingalls' cow runs dry and they are left to eat nothing but plain bread and baked potatoes with salt. Curiosity took over again and I decided to try the baked potato with salt. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't great either. For the sake of authenticity, I tried drinking water with it, officially making it the most boring meal I've ever had. I cheated a little and used sea salt (my latest food obsession) - I'm not sure what kind of salt the Ingalls family used, but I think it's safe to say they didn't have organic sea salt on the prairie. I can't even imagine eating that day after day for months. No wonder the Ingalls were all cranky by February. I think I would have become cranky after the third potato.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

Thursday, January 8, 2009
After I posted yesterdays entry my mother informed me, with just a hint of disappointment in her voice, that I had failed to mention her all-time favorite 80's hit Lady In Red. Just to give you an idea of how far from cool we were then, just picture a powder blue mini van, driving 5 miles below the speed limit, with Lady In Red blasting on the radio. Whenever we pulled up to stop lights I would try to sink as far down into my seat as I could so I wouldn't have to risk accidentally making eye contact with the people in the car next to us. Then I would whine, "Moooooom, this is so embarrassing. I think they can hear your music," and she would say, "Oh, who cares if they can, those windows are tinted back there. Besides, those people over there aren't even attractive." So, now I've done my part for mom by throwing that little childhood anecdote out there and we can move on to today's business.

I think today I finally started to relax a little bit about this whole project, and stop rushing through every book. I spent the whole first week keeping such close tabs on how many pages I had left to read before I would be finished that I didn't feel like I was fully immersed in the book. Today I've begun to let go of that. The book will get read, the entry will get written, and I don't have to stress about it in order for it to get done. I want to enjoy this year, and that means enjoying each day and book as it comes, and not worrying about rushing to finish or thinking ahead to tomorrow's book. That may not seem like a big deal to some, but that's huge for me. I've never been a live-in-the-moment kind of person. I've always rushed through one thing so I could get to the next - and I've always been more focused on tomorrow or next week or month than I am on today. I stopped rushing today, and I enjoyed this book more than the previous books.

The title of this book gives a pretty clear idea of what it's about, but I'll go ahead and throw in the description from the back anyway. Here goes: "This is the story of Mr. and Mrs. Blandings, parents of two skeptical daughters, who answer a crisp real-estate advertisement, and fall sentimentally and uncritically in love with the ruin of a mountain farmhouse." The back cover also describes the book as "agonizingly funny," a claim I just can't agree with. I think the book is funny, but it's more of a gentle humor, the kind that will slowly wash over you. I love books with gentle humor, because I can be amused by reading them and still read them in public without looking like a idiot for laughing too hard. I'd really like to avoid a repeat of the laugh-until-I-cried-and-starting-coughing incident from when I read a David Sedaris book on a plane once. This book can be safely taken in public, and you will not humiliate yourself, or disturb those sitting near you, in the process of reading it.

It's a snowy, cold day here in Indiana - the kind of day that makes me want to watch an old movie. Since I didn't have time for that today I decided to settle for the closest thing, reading the book that one of my favorite old movies is based on. This has become my latest book buying venture - searching out the books my favorite movies were based on. Most of those books are out of print, so it's been quite a challenge. I've already read Father of the Bride, and Please Don't Eat the Daisies - and today I've decided to spend a little time with Mr. and Mrs. Blandings. Such a delightful couple, and they never overstay their welcome And by that I mean I didn't have to hear about their most traumatic childhood moments, or the people they dated when they were 17 - I got just enough back story to give a crap and not too much that I felt like yelling out, "Enough already."

Fun Fact: The average house price the year this book was published (1946) was $5,600.00. I looked this figure up a few minutes ago because I wanted to see how that compared to the price Mr. and Mrs. Blandings paid for their house ($11,500.00) in the beginning of the book. The author kept tossing that figure around in such a way that I felt like I was supposed to be impressed by how much the Blandings had spent. But I didn't really have a frame of reference for it, hence the research (a blogger's job is never done). I'm not going to tell you how much the final cost of the house was by the end. I want to leave you in suspense, just in case you decide to read the book at some point.

And now dear readers, I'm off to go look up more books that my favorite movies were based on. I should act like a responsible grown-up and get back to work - but, I've read an entire book today, so I've earned the right to goof off for a few minutes. Oh, I love having a crutch, I mean blog.

P.S. - I've heard from several people that they are either having problems commenting or they are making comments that aren't getting posted. I have published every comment that I've received - but for some reason I'm not receiving some of the comments. If you're having a problem with comments going through or getting posted after you have made them, send me an e-mail at and I'll try to help you get the problem sorted out.