Monday, August 31, 2009

I couldn't find a picture of today's book - so I settled instead for a picture from a scene out of my favorite Barbara Stanwyck movie, Christmas in Connecticut. I love that movie - and every year when I watch it I ask myself that inevitable question, Why don't I decorate the Christmas tree while wearing an evening gown? There's really no excuse not to.

It's probably for the best that I couldn't find a picture of the book because the cover featured a picture of Barbara holding scissors and acting like she was about to stab someone - not exactly a feel-good kind of cover.

Today's book, "Orphaned at the age of four and shunted from one uncaring foster home to another, the tough little Ruby Stevens - later to rename herself Barbara Stanwyck - vowed never to be anything but the best. This intimate and revealing biography, based on extensive and exclusive interviews with those who have known her best, tells for the first time the full story of the legendary Barbara Stanwyck's tempestuous personal life and brilliant movie, television, and stage career."

Shallow thoughts:

  • I have mixed feelings about today's book. The story of Barbara Stanwyck's life was an interesting one, although far from original, but the biographer really annoyed me. Despite spending several pages detailing the physical abuse Stanwyck suffered at the hands of her first husband, and the affairs her second husband had, the author seems to blame Stanwyck solely for her marital troubles - even going so far as to imply that she ruined husband number # 1's life and career. Pardon me for having trouble having any sympathy for an abuser, but all I have to say in response to the author's claim is horsepuckey.

  • I do, however, agree with her claim that Stanwyck was a crappy mother - who adopted a baby in order to save her troubled marriage, saddled him with the name Dion, and then shipped him off to boarding school as soon as she was done using him for added publicity. That's the risk that I always run when reading a biography about someone from Hollywood's Golden Age - I want to know more, but I'm always worried that I'll have a hard time enjoying their movies without thoughts of what horrible people they were crashing in on me. But then I think of Gwyneth Paltrow and the movie Emma, and I realize that it's okay, because apparently someone can annoy the snot out of me and I can still enjoy their movies . . . well one of them anyway . . . and if Paltrow ever did a second decent movie I'm sure I could enjoy it as well.

  • While reading this book, I had the same feeling that I always have when reading a biography about an actor - that horror movie "Don't go into the basement" feeling, as I read about them doing one stupid thing after another with their lives. Sometimes it's exhausting to read about, although there's nothing like reading about someone else completely screwing up their own life to give me the delightful sense that my own life makes perfect sense - so all was not lost.

  • I was disappointed that the book didn't mention any fun behind-the-scenes information about Christmas in Connecticut. That happens nearly all of the time with celebrity autobiographies - the author focuses almost exclusively on their stupid reasons very getting married repeatedly, and the dissolution of those marriages, and doesn't focus nearly enough on their career. I wanted to hear some good dirt from the set of Christmas in Connecticut. I was also hoping for a color photograph because it's always bothered me that I don't know what color the couches in the living room are. But maybe I should be happy that I don't know. There was one special episode of Hazel that was in color and I discovered that the couch and curtains that I always imagined matched actually clashed in the most heinous way and now I've never been able to go back to imagining them matching. There are some bells you just can't un-ring.

All in all, it was an interesting book - but probably one that would only appeal to a die-hard Stanwyck fan who, nevertheless, has the ability to overlook her being a slightly awful person.

Shelf Life

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I was too busy today to do what I really wanted to do - go to a bookstore - so I decided to read about one instead. So I spent the day reading about someone who works in a bookstore, and throwing out all the crap that I refuse to drag with me into my 30s - ugly stationary, cookbooks for food that I've been allergic to for years, magazine articles I tore out because I was convinced I was going to read them one day - and all the while thinking What on God's green earth is wrong with me? Why do I have all of this junk in the first place?

Today's book, "To fill the time as she recovered from cancer and chemotherapy, Strempek Shea volunteered at a friend’s independent bookstore in Springfield, Mass. An accomplished novelist (Around Again; Lily of the Valley), Strempek Shea felt at first like a spy—"a farmer hanging around the dairy section"—as she observed customers in constant discovery of books. Despite the bleak reason for her new job, she embraced it with delight and here recounts her sojourn at Edwards Books with humor and passion."

Today's book was okay - not good, not great, but not terrible either - just okay. I wasn't bored out of my mind, but I wouldn't recommend you rush out and get a copy of this book either. And it didn't entirely center around working in a bookstore either - the beginning of the book centered more on the author's childhood experiences with book. Which naturally made me think of my own childhood experiences with books - because, well, everything makes me think about me. That's just the kind of person I am. But don't worry dear readers, I'm not going to force you to sit through the Book-It story again, or the endless stories of how the Little House books changed my life because you've already suffered enough. Instead I'm going to regale you with the fascinating tale of my first experience as a compulsive reader. It all started in first grade when the school librarian had some crazy rule about how we could only check out the short books - and I wanted to check out a book that was 200 pages. She was adamant that a child my age couldn't read a book that long in a week - so naturally I had to prove her wrong. I have a seriously unappealing stubborn streak that is activated whenever someone tells me I can't do something that I want to do. So I began my campaign to get the rule changed - which mostly involved whining to my first grade teacher about how the mean old librarian was trying to stop me from experiencing the joy of reading. My teacher agreed with me, and talked the librarian into changing the rule, who was muttering snide remarks under her breath about how "You'll never be able to finish," as she was checking the book out. Which naturally made me vow I will finish that book in a week if I have to give up eating and sleeping to do it. And then the really obnoxious part of my stubborn streak came out and I decided, No, I won't finish it in a week - I'm going to finish it in less than a week so I can wipe that smug smile right off her face. (Ahh, the innocence of childhood.) And, I did. I can't remember how long it took me - which really isn't all that surprising since I can't even remember what I ate for breakfast this morning - but I do remember bringing it back early and handing it to the librarian with a really snotty smile on my face. Then the librarian quizzed me because she didn't believe I had actually finished the book. Isn't it great when people try to instill a love of learning in children? And now that I've written out that entire story, I'm starting to think that I may have already told you that. But I'm too lazy to go back and erase it, so just pretend like you're visiting one of those relatives who tells the exact same story every time you visit. And don't tell me you don't have one of those relative dear readers, because everyone has one of those relatives.

The rest of the book - which does actually take place in a bookstore - was kind of slow but did make me want to go to a bookstore even more than I already did at the beginning of the day. Of course that's not saying much because there's never been a day in my life when I didn't want to go to a bookstore - a feeling which continues to baffle me in light of the to-read stack that still contains over 200 books. So essentially, I live in a bookstore - and yet, that's never enough for me.

Fun facts about bookstores and Mother's Day:

  • There are 24,738 bookstores in the United States. - This book was written in 2004, so I'm sure that number has fluctuated since then, but I'm feeling too lethargic, from the strain of throwing away all of my ugly, useless crap all day long, to go and look up that number. (I swear, I'm going to be much less lazy tomorrow dear readers.)

  • The founder of Mother's Day - Anna Jarvis - grew so disgusted with the commercialization of Mother's Day that she filed a lawsuit against the day in 1932, stating, "This is not what I intended. I wanted it to be a day of sentiment, not profit." - Personally, I think she was just bitter that she didn't buy stock in Hallmark before her idea really took off. Well, sorry Anna, you snooze, you lose.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Today's book was suggested by ABrunson.

Today I decided to be responsible, unlike last Saturday, and actually start reading the book before 4:30 in the afternoon. Crazy, I know. I was weirdly productive today - I managed to read a book that's almost 400 pages and made some serious progress on my "I Can't Turn 30 and Be This Disorganized" project (which is not the catchiest title in the world, but it's serviceable enough for now.)

Today's book, "Set in Cambridge and Marblehead, Mass., Howe's propulsive if derivative novel alternates between the 1991 story of college student Connie Goodwin and a group of 17th-century outcasts. After moving into her grandmother's crumbling house to get it in shape for sale, Connie comes across a small key and piece of paper reading only Deliverance Dane. The Salem witch trials, contemporary Wicca and women's roles in early American history figure prominently as Connie does her academic detective work. What follows is a breezy read in which Connie must uncover the mystery of a shadowy book written by the enigmatic Deliverance Dane."

Shallow thoughts:

  • I'll be honest with you dear readers, today's book was not one I would have ever chosen to read on my own - but it seems that being forced to read a book has a good effect on me, because this is the second Suggestion Saturday in a row where I have liked the book. So what I've learned from all of this is that I shouldn't be allowed to pick my own books. . . or music. . . or TV . . . or, well I'm too depressed to continue, let's just say I have bad taste and leave it at that.

  • I liked the flashback parts the best - despite how bleak they were - and I feel certain there must be a better phrase for it than "flashback scenes" but my brain only works in TV-speak and I'm too lazy to fight it and actually learn the correct terms for anything, so I'm just going with it. Although, it seems I have a very hard time staying in that time period - through no fault of the authors - and so right in the middle of the 17th century, the 21st century would come crashing in. First, at the beginning of the book, when a father brought his sick daughter steamed lentils and all I could think was Steamed lentils? How depressing to be sick and not even get to watch cartoons and eat chocolate pudding and Hostess cupcakes. Of course that could just be my childhood. I was raised by a woman who believes that food is love and sick children deserve extra love - in that case her love came in the form of Doritos, Kool-Aid, and Tollhouse cookies.

  • And then later, the 21st century crashed into the middle of a witch trial, because the author distracted me by throwing out a sentence like this, ". . . and the assembled populace burst into a rising twitter of commentary that continued for a full five minutes." I can assure you dear readers, I tried to fight the mental image that was forming in my brain of a bunch of people dressed in 17th century garb, twittering on their blackberries. But I just couldn't do it. But, alas, those poor people in the 17th century had to muddle through a Twitter-free existence. No Twitter and no Hostess products (not to mention no Dallas DVDs), the 17th century was bleak.

Educating Esme

Friday, August 28, 2009


What a relief that it's Friday - especially after a really hard half of a Back-to-School week (it's possible that looking at old back to school pictures has reinvigorating my penchant for melodrama.)

I've saved the most horrifying Back-to-School picture for last dear readers. I thought it would be best to work up to it, first show the ugly white tights, then move on to the hot pink sweat skirt, and then show you the worst back to school outfit ever:

A jean jumper with turquoise socks and Gidget hair. I'm really surprised to see that turquoise socks played such a large role in my childhood - I had no idea.

And I wish I could tell you why I have that look on my face, but I can't figure it out either. It's clearly not my best look - but, sadly enough, it wasn't the worst Back-to-School picture of me in the book so I had to go with this one.

And here's a picture that demonstrates my favorite thing about school: the chance to take my Little House obsession to whole new heights. When we had to make a shadowbox at school, I made one of a log cabin. When we had to carve a pumpkin, I made a pioneer pumpkin. And when we had to make a town out of Popsicle sticks, I made the town from Little House on the Prairie (the show, not the book.)

Today's book, "Esme Raji Codell has come to teach. And she's not going to let incompetent administrators, abusive parents, gang members, weary teachers, angry children, dim-witted principles, or her own insecurities get in the way of delivering the education her fifth-grade students deserve. Fresh-mouthed and mini skirted, Esme can be both pig-headed and generous, churlish and charming."

Shallow thoughts:

  • Today's book was my favorite of the three I've read for Back-to-School week. There are places in the book where Esme comes across as being kind of mean and I was about to warn you that you might not like the book because of it - but then I figured, what would you be doing reading my blog in the first place if you have a problem with that sort of thing. Personally, I prefer a narrator who is kind of mean over one who sugar coats everything - but I realize not everyone agrees with me on that point - so I leave it up to you decide whether this is a good book.

  • Here's an example of the meanness, in which Esme is discussing showing her class the movie The Miracle Worker, "The kids liked the part where Annie Sullivan and Helen are duking it out over the dinner table. I was jealous that Annie gets to smack her students and I have to be nice." - Okay, so I can see how a person might not care for that passage, but show me a person whose never even fantasized about slapping a kid and I'll show you a person whose never spent an hour in heavy traffic with an eight year-old who keeps taking their seat belt off every five minutes and chanting, "I hope we get in a car accident and I die cause dying sounds fun," while simultaneously trying to unhook his brother from his car seat so the baby can experience the thrill of death as well. I think even Mother Theresa might have a little fun in her imagination after that one.

  • My one problem with the book had nothing to do with the book itself, but rather the library copy that I was reading. Whoever read the book before me was oh so helpful and left little notes in the margins, explaining what certain words meant (and thank goodness too, or I would still be confused on what the word trepidation means), pointing out which parts of the book were funny (which ironically turned out to be the few parts of the book that weren't the slightest bit funny), underlining certain passages and putting the words "good idea" next to it. I shudder to think of what a horrifying reading experience I would have had today if there hadn't been someone there to point out to me all the places where I'm supposed to laugh, or tell me the meaning of the word karma.

Among Schoolchildren

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Welcome to the second installment of Back to School Week dear readers. Now that I've shared my slightly depressing Back to School memories, it's time to move on to happier (less neurotic) memories.

My favorite part of Back to School time was the shallowest part, the new clothes and the fun new pencils and notebooks. I used to plan out my outfits for the first two weeks, even going so far as to make a list of all the clothes I would wear and the shoes that would coordinate with those outfits. Then my Grandmother would come over and want to see all of our new school supplies. She was always really excited about it because she was still ever so slightly bitter about not having fun school supplies when she was a child. And then I would plan out the most important part of Back to School, my hair.

And yet, despite all of that planning, this is what I came up with for the first day of school:

Is there any way to make a better first impression than with big hair and bad 80s sweatpants? I just don't think so. And I see that I still hadn't reached the point where I was coordinating my coat and backpack to my first day of school outfit.

That picture was taken on my first day of 2nd grade. My sister started kindergarten that year, but her first day was later in the week, which meant that Mom would be taken another First-day-of-school picture, thereby giving me a chance to improve on my first-day-of-school look. But how do you improve on sweatpants that attractive, and hair that well styled?

With a hot pink sweat skirt and turquoise socks, of course. Until I found this picture in the photo album, I had forgotten that sweat skirts ever existed (the brain does tend to blot out painful details.)

And I see that I wisely went with hair up this time around (I was under the false impression that it made me look much more mature.)

Just looking at the picture with me holding that hideous lunchbox makes me smile, because it reminds me of the happy face napkins notes my Mother would always put in there. My Mother might very well have been the only Mother on earth who was genuinely sad when the school year started and her kids went back to school. She was always sad, and said how much she missed us - so she would leave napkin notes in our lunch box that had big happy faces on them with "Have a Happy Day" written in big letters on the top, or she would draw a stick person who had big tears falling down its face with the words "I Miss You," written on it. She did that every single time that I took a lunch to school.

Today's book, "Mrs. Zajac is feisty, funny, and tough. She likes to call herself an "old-lady schoolteacher." (She is thirty-four.) Mrs. Zajac spends her working life "among schoolchildren." To some it might seem a small world, a world of spelling and recess and endless papers to correct. But we soon realize that Mrs. Zajac's classroom is big enough to house much of human nature."

I didn't like today's book at all - and coming after yesterday's book, on such a similar subject, it was an even bigger disappointment. Despite the book description's claim that Mrs. Zajac is feisty (and by the way, I really hate that word) and fun - I just didn't see it. I didn't connect to her at all, or any of the people in the book, I didn't care what happens next and I spent most of the day looking forward to the last page. But, because I always feel guilty saying nothing but bad things about a book, I'm going to say something nice - I liked the cover.

There were a few random parts that were slightly less boring than the rest of the book (I can't quite make that leap to calling them interesting, and yet I'm still going to write about them here and bore you with it):

  • I was slightly less bored during the part that discussed Mrs. Zajac's childhood experience of being reprimanded for trying to write with her left hand. - I'm still bitter about my teachers trying to force me to write with just my right hand (I used to use both) because it would come in so handy now, I could keep writing long past the point when my hand gets tired . . . but nooooo, I had to have a teacher who was on a kick about how everyone had to write with only my right hand. About two years ago I attempted to learn to write with my left hand again - and it gave me a whole new respect for young children who are first learning to write. It was beyond frustrating, and I never got any better at it, and I finally gave up and decided that my time could be better used by watching reruns of The Brady Bunch. And, as I'm sure you all know, I'm all about not wasting time on pointless things that don't matter.

  • I also temporarily woke up from my literary-induced coma during the part that talked about Mrs. Zajac's childhood dream of driving a station wagon, "As a girl, Chris had imagined herself driving such a car, a station wagon equipped with children. She had foreseen a bigger one with wood on its sides, like the cars that mothers drove on the wholesome TV shows of her youth." - I can completely respect that part about the children, but a station wagon? Really? That's the saddest thing I've ever heard. It reminds me of that awful Leann Rimes song about a woman who dreamed about driving a mini-van. Every time I hear that song I think, That's what she dreamed about, driving a mini van? Some people need to get more interesting dreams. Station wagons and mini-vans are not something a person should dream about driving, that's like dreaming about living in a really small house, or having really unattractive kids and a husband who never does his fair share of the laundry. Station wagons and mini-vans are the kind of vehicle that you reluctantly end up driving because it's what people with kids do. If you're going to dream then have the decency to dream about something cool.

So, in conclusion, I definitely would not recommend reading this book. . . or dreaming about driving a mini-van or station wagon.

Inside Mrs. B's Classroom

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Before you start to worry that I have forgotten how the whole calendar system works - let me reassure you dear readers that I am aware that this is the middle of the week. But, Back to School week has always been a half week where I live - so it seemed appropriate to only do a half week here on the blog. I don't know what Back to School week is like where you live dear readers, but where I grew up Back t0 School week was always a half day on Wednesday (and don't think I wasn't tempted to only read half of the book today, followed by full days on Thursday and Friday. And then I would sink into the weekend and be really dramatic and walk around the house acting like I had put in a hard week at school and therefore had earned the reward of a weekend of doing nothing. Upon reflection I can see now why my Mother spent so much of my childhood rolling her eyes.

And now it's that special time again, when I force you to look at childhood pictures of me:

First, it's time to address the corners of the pictures - I have no idea what possessed me to do that, but when I was about 11 I came up with the spectacular idea to cut all of the corners off my pictures. I somehow had the idea that it would look good - and boy was I wrong about that. Oh well, live and learn.

Here I am on my first day of school. I am filled with chagrin over the fact that my backpack did not match my outfit (a problem I would have never let happen in later school years - but I was still a child then, and I didn't realize the importance of accessorizing to make a good impression - and don't even get me started on the white tights.)

I consider this picture my proof that I am not exaggerating about the number of picture my Mother has taken of us over the years. I often tell people that she likes to take a picture of us on the third step before then taking one of us on the fourth step - and as you can see, she really does take pictures of everything.

I've forgotten at least two-thirds of my life, which is really sad for a person who is as young and sober as I am, but I do have a very vivid memory of my first bus ride to school. I was sitting on the bus thinking about how my life was passing me by too quickly and pretty soon I was going to be dead (I'm really not kidding.) Yes, that's just the kind of kid I was, the fun never stopped. I just sat around having cheerful thoughts all the time. And for some reason I was always convinced that both of my parents were going to die before I got home from school, so every day when the bus would pull up in front of my house and I didn't see ambulances I would breathe a sigh of relief and think, "Thank God every one's still alive." I have no idea why I was so high strung - and even more perplexing was how I managed to have a really happy childhood in the middle of the vat of anxiety that I was permanently floating in, but somehow it happened.

End of the week count:


PAGES - 2,025

For the year so far:

CHAPTERS - 4,939

PAGES - 62,257

Today's book, "Chicago's public school system in the 1980s and '90s was a stark symbol of the nation's educational crisis. Veteran Chicago Sun-Times journalist Leslie Baldacci was an expert on the subject. She wrote regularly on the school system's woes, calling on the mayor or other city officials to save the decaying system. Then one day, she decided to do something about it. Baldacci traded in her press pass for a teaching certificate, and never looked back. With high ideals and great expectations, the author was soon teaching in one of Chicago's toughest South Side neighborhoods. . . "

Shallow thoughts:

  • Today's book is not the kind I would normally read, but I'm so glad that I did because I really liked it. The book surprised me in several ways. First, I thought that it would just blend with all of the other "I taught in a tough school" books and movies, and there seems to be quite a few of those - but, there was something fresh about today's book that made me feel like I wasn't just reading the same old book. Second, there were parts that were actually amusing, which I did not expect - I started reading this book expecting it to be totally bleak and yet there were unexpected moments of humor.

  • Not-so-fun fact about teaching: A third of new teachers quit after three years and half quit after five years. - I'm truly shocked by that number. I had no idea. And now, the next time I see my brother (who is a high school teacher and coach) I'm going to have something to say to him other than "Please, pass the salt." So I'm feeling pretty excited about that.

  • The part of the book where the author was complaining about the way children are encouraged in school to write in boring, formulaic way, really resonated with me. I always used to be amazed by how a person who loved to read and write as much as I do could dread English class so much. But it was one of the my least favorite classes (next to science, except for that one year when we had a student teacher for science class that spent the whole year talking about the affair she was having with one of the other science teachers - that was also the class where one of the students faked a pregnancy and a miscarriage. . . but that's a story for another time, and it's a damn good one too.) I spend every day of English class feeling like I was having the creativity slowly drained out of me (except for in Mrs. Wilson's class in elementary school - she was delightful.) If I had a dollar for every time I got an English paper back that said, "You stray to far from the main point," which always made me wonder Just what is the point of writing if we're not supposed to start from one point and make our way to some place we've never been before? And what exactly is the point of circling the airport for five pages and then ending up exactly where I started? So I channeled my frustration into making a list of all of the people who I was going to send a xerox copy of the cover of my first book to, with the words "HA HA" written across the top in red ink. I had originally planned to send them the whole book, but then I decided Why should they get a free book, they don't deserve that. I also added to the list every person who was mean to me, and every person who said, "You know, a lot of people want to write a book, but very few of them actually get something published." Yes, I've always been petty.

And now, I would like to hear about your happy (and depressing) back to school memories dear readers.


Monday, August 24, 2009

I'm feeling severely unmotivated about reading and blogging today. I haven't had a day like this in quite awhile, so I suppose it was only natural for it to happen again soon. About every 4-6 weeks I have a day where I'm just sick of the whole book-a-day thing - which I actually consider a really good number. At the beginning of the year I expected days like this to come at least once a week. I'm looking forward to next year when I'll be able to take one day of here and there to recharge and come back to reading with fresh eyes. Since that wasn't an option today, I had to go with the next best thing, pick a book that sounds fun and hope that will be enough to get me through the day.

Today's book, "When author Andrew D. Blechman's next-door neighbors suddenly pick up and move from a quaint New England town to a gated retirement community in Florida, he is bewildered by their decision. Their stories about "Florida's Friendliest Hometown," could hardly be believed. Larger than Manhattan, with a golf course for every day of the month, two downtowns, newspaper, radio and TV stations, The Villages is a city of nearly one hundred thousands (and growing) missing only one thing: children. More than twelve million Americans will soon live in such age-segregated communities, under restrictive covenants, and with limited local government. To get to the bottom of the trend, Blechman delves into life in the senior utopia and offers an entertaining first-hand report of all its peculiarities."

Shallow thoughts:

  • Today's book turned out to be the perfect book to read today. Not only was it fun and interesting, it was also a quick read which was a definite bonus on a day filled with a huge, boring to-do list. I really enjoyed the writing style of the book, which made me want to read anything else the author may have written. But, unfortunately the only other book he has written is about pigeons, and I have absolutely no interest in that subject. I do, however, have questions - such as, what would posses a person to want to write an entire book about pigeons. I'm tempted to e-mail the author and find out, but there's really no way to ask someone that question without it coming out sounding judgmental (which is basically is, so I should probably just own it and stop acting like I'm Little Mary Sunshine.)

  • The downside to today's book is that it severely tested my resolve to not mention TV on the blog (oops, I guess I just lost the game.) Well first there's the obvious parallel - how can I possibly read a book about senior citizens and not think about Golden Girls? It's just not possible. But I tried anyway - I tried to stand firm in my resolve - and then the author mentioned Leave it to Beaver. CRAAAAAAAP How on earth am I supposed to avoid talking, and thinking, about TV when I'm thinking of Golden Girls and the author is talking fancy to me about Leave it to Beaver. I'm afraid I'm just not that strong. So I caved and spent the day thinking about all of the episode of Golden Girls that mentioned Shady Pines, followed by several twenty minute sessions of wondering how June achieved such an odd hair shape (it's truly baffling.)

  • The author spends a great deal of time throughout the book being horrified by what he considers a fake, overly sanitized community. Excuse me Mr. Author, but what could you possibly have against fake and overly sanitized? Some of my favorite things in life are fake and overly sanitized, Brady Bunch; those ketchup commercials they used to play in the late 80s; Disney World, which the author attempts to make some comparisons to. I've often heard people argue against those things (well not the ketchup commercial, because I seem to be the only one who remembers that) by claiming that they are too fake/too happy/too sanitized/too unrealistic, completely ignoring that it's the fakeness (I'm fully aware that's not a word, but it's my blog, so I'm using it anyway) that makes it fun. Good grief, there are enough things in the world that are hideous, boring, unpleasant, and bleak - can't I just enjoy a few places in life that are clean, fake and happy. But, despite the author spending a lot of time in the book railing against my preferred fake lifestyle, I still really enjoyed the book, and I definitely recommend it.

Dream When You're Feeling Blue

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Today's book is one that I bought while on vacation - and I'm probably just imagining this but I think it actually smells like Mackinac Island. I detect the slightest hint of fudge and sea air. But I forced a few other people to smell the book, and they confirmed for me that I am in fact imagining things. I really should stop expecting other people to support my delusions because for some reason they just never want to go along with it.

Today's book, "A Rita Hayworth look-alike and her sister keep the home fires burning for young men going off to fight WWII in Berg's nostalgic tale of wartime romance and family sacrifice. Hoping her boyfriend, Julian, will propose before shipping out to the Pacific, beautiful redhead Kitty Heaney discovers not only is she not engaged, but she's enlisted as the delivery person for her sister Louise's engagement ring from Michael, her boyfriend, who has departed for the European front. Distance makes Louise's and Michael's hearts grow fonder while Kitty discovers independence through her job at a bomber factory."

Shallow thoughts:

  • I don't normally enjoy Elizabeth Berg novels - they are the kind of books that I really want to like but never do. Which begs the question, why did I buy this book? Well, there are two reasons: 1. I love the time period and 2. I buy stupid things that make no sense while on vacation. But, as it turns out this wasn't the stupidest thing I've ever bought on vacation because I enjoyed the book, for the most part anyway. About 95% of the book was good - much better than anything else of Berg's that I've read - and the other 5% was so bad that it made me cringe. I'm not really sure how it's possible for someone to write a book that's both the best and worst thing they've ever written - but I now know that it's possible.

  • Within the first five pages I became totally immersed in the time period, which reinvigorated my goal to figure out how to make my hair look like I'm in a movie from the 40s. I've wanted to do that for a long time, but whenever I attempt to find out more about how to do that (asking my Grandmother if she remembers how to do that, for instance) I get the response, "Why would you want to do something like that?" And, how can I answer that question when I don't know why I want to do that. So, I just added it to my list of "Things I Want to Do For Reasons Which Are Unclear Even to Me," and put it aside. And in case you're wondering dear readers, yes, I really do have a list with that written at the top of it. I've reached a point with my own weirdness where I don't even question why I want to do things, I just go with it.

  • The other thing reading this book did for me was convince me that allergies can be fun!!! Okay, so I don't actually completely believe that. But I've had an epiphany after reading through some old blog entries (I'm not really that self-involved, it was for a blogging contest that I was in) and I came to the realization that I spend entirely too much time on here whining about my allergies (feel free to breathe a sigh of relief now - I don't mind, you've earned it.) I need to find a new approach - and I've decided that will involve pretending like I don't really have allergies. Before all of my relatives respond with, "But you did that for most of your 20s," I can assure you, this time it's going to be different, I swear. And it's going to be different thanks to this line, "Kitty hated the eggless, milkless, butterless recipe so prevalent now." That line made me think two things: 1. From now on I'm going to force everyone to call me either Kit or Kitty and 2. rationing sounds just like my life, except for the part where they're sacrificing something for the greater good and I'm just doing it because allergy-eyes are not attractive on anyone. Yes, this has transformed my life. From now on I'm just going to pretend like it's the 40's, there's a World war going on, and I'm doing my part for Uncle Sam. I have a vivid enough imagination that I can pull this off, especially if I wear my 1940s apron while making my eggless, milkless, butterless cake. And now suddenly, boring allergies have become elegant (because everything is more elegant in the 40s.) So, for those dear readers who actually know me, all I ask of you is that you support my I-don't-have-allergies-there's-just-a-war-on delusion and remind me the next time I slip and start whining that I'm doing my part for my country and for humanity as a whole (you can skip that "humanity as a whole" part if you're too embarrassed to say something like that out loud, but I'd really like it if you tried because it heightens the sense of drama.) And to my dear readers who don't know me, feel free to spend the next few minutes thanking God that you don't know me and therefore will never end up getting cast as a supporting character in the never-ending drama that is my life.

The Ghost In The Little House

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Suggestion Saturday makes its triumphant return to the blog this week, with a book that was suggested by iv.

Today I learned a very important lesson about checking to see how long the book for the day is before sitting down to read it. I was under the impression that it was a short book, so I didn't even start reading the book until 4:30 in the afternoon (cause I'm a go-getter.) And that's when I discovered that the book is almost 400 pages long - so today I learned just how quickly I can read a long book. My average is a page a minute, but today I managed to read a page and a half a minute - which naturally led me to imagine just how much I could done during the day if I wasn't always flaking off. I have vowed that I will get tomorrows book read much faster than I have been lately. I may even try to get the blog entry up before midnight. It could happen - it's plausible - not likely, but plausible just the same.

Today's book,"Fans of the "Little House on the Prairie" series, which fictionalizes the life of the author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, may be disappointed to discover that her works were actually ghostwritten by her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968). Thus asserts this well-researched study by Holtz. Rose was a precocious girl with a flair for writing who found her mother to be puritanical and critical. This biography details Rose's forays into the world as she attempted to launch her own writing career. She experienced limited commercial success but often found herself financially and emotionally strained, especially in view of the demands of her parents. Rose injected her own populist ideas into her mother's work as she crafted her mother's rudimentary writings into the readable books that are still popular today. The tenuous relationship between mother and daughter offers additional interest in this book."

Shallow thoughts:

  • I have known about the Little House ghostwriting scandal for quite some time now - although I must admit, I was reluctant to believe it at first. I attempted to read some of Laura's pre-Little House columns as well as several of Rose's novels in what I told myself was an attempt at search for clues, but was really an attempt to prove what a great big liar Rose was. As it turns out, I may have been a little hasty in my original opinion of Rose. I wasn't too far off though, because it seems that Rose was a bit of a liar - but, oops, it turns out so was Laura. This book definitely paints a less than flattering portrait of both women. Laura comes off as a dishonest, controlling, martyr - and Rose as a dishonest, unbalanced, depressive. But hey, everyone's got problems, right?

  • I actually weirdly enjoyed the passive-aggressive, back-stabbing, catfights that Rose and Laura engaged in - mainly because literary catfights are so rare. And I think that needs to change - why should rock stars and actors get to have all the fun? I think today's authors should spend less time trying to write important pieces of literature and more time engaging in hostile exchanges in the mailbox section of Book magazine. But Laura and Rose didn't have Book magazine at their disposal - which is just a crying shame because they could have been the Candy and Tori Spelling of the literary world - although in reverse, with Laura being the spoiled brat who expects someone else to support her whiny, ungrateful butt and Rose playing the part of a crazy person off their meds. So they relied on dealing with their differences the way mothers and daughters have handled their problems for centuries, by desperately trying to be nice to each other in person and then complaining about one another to anyone who would stand still long enough to listen.

  • If you intend to read this book for yourself, and you want to unravel the mystery on your own, then skip this next part. The conclusion I have come to after reading this book is that both Laura and Rose exaggerated their own involvement, and underplayed the others contribution (boring, I know, I like there to be a clear villain at the end of a mystery.) In the end, I guess it doesn't really matter who wrote the majority of the Little House books - in fact, I'm kind of amazed by the way that none of Laura's pre-Little House columns (written without Rose's help) and Rose's pre and post-Little House novels (written without any input from Laura) were all that interesting - and yet, together they were able to achieve something magical.

The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought To You By Pop Culture

Friday, August 21, 2009

I had such good intentions of getting this blog entry up early tonight, but then I spent 2 1/2 hours talking to my sister and the plan fell by the wayside. But we had to have our sister time, because it had been 22 whole hours since the last time we spoke and so we had a lot to catch up on. Or we're just really self-involved people who never get tired of talking about ourselves. I'm pretty sure it was one of those two things.

Today's book, "As a child and teenager, Nathan Rabin viewed pop culture as a life-affirming form of escape. Today, pop culture is his life. For more than a decade, he's served as head writer for A.V. Club, the entertainment section of The Onion. In The Big Rewind, Rabin shares his too-strange-for-fiction life story. Using a specific song, album, book, film, or television show as a springboard to discuss a period in his life, Rabin recounts his life with biting wit."

I'm sure I don't even have to explain to any of my dear readers why this book appealed to me. But, me being me, I'm going to tell you anyway. I figured, a chance to talk about TV on my blog (as if I don't spend 80% of my time doing that anyway) - what could be better than that? Although I have made a goal for next week, to see how long I can go without mentioning TV on my blog (go ahead and place your guesses in the comments section about how long I will last - or go ahead and ignore my blatant attempts at inflating the number of comments I get - either one will work.)

Today's book turned out to be a lot darker than I had expected - but I really enjoyed it. I don't usually enjoy dark books - because I prefer my books to be like an episode of Brady Bunch, with a minor problem or two thrown in here and there but with everything ending happily. I also prefer my books to come with a laugh track, but I'm still waiting on that one. I think the problem is that when I read something I get totally lost in it (unless it's a completely boring book) and then I feel like I can't leave the mood of the book behind once I'm done - and so reading a dark books leaves me in a dark mood for hours - sometimes days - afterwards. But I'm glad that I pushed those concerns aside and read today's book anyway, because I really enjoyed it (despite it being vulgar, tacky, and incredibly bleak.) I also found it reassuring to find out that I'm not the only person in the world who sees the world through episodes of TV shows, or as I like to think of it "seeing the world through TV colored glasses."

I also really enjoyed the way the author was so honest about his own bad qualities - he didn't even bother trying to hide how self-involved he is - which is probably not a attribute I should admire in a person and yet I do. I have very little patience for people who pretend to be better than they really are. I prefer people who just throw all their bad qualities right out on the table from the beginning. I knew from the very beginning of today's book that the author was a member of the "throw your bad qualities right out there" club when he talked about how he always imagined his own funeral being an affair involving celebrities, a choir, and two days of festivities - because, as he puts it, "Not even death's sweet release can keep me from being self-indulgent and wasting every one's time."

Other favorite passage from the book include:

  • "At fourteen, I was a terrible excuse of a juvenile delinquent. I didn't drink. I didn't smoke. I didn't hot-wire cars or get girls pregnant or turn Grandma's life-support system into a bong. I had no prison record. All I ever did was ditch school, steal money from my dad, and treat authority figures abhorrently."

  • "I felt lost without my electronic best friend. I imagined that my television set would somehow sense my absence and embark on an Incredible Journey-like exodus to Arkham Asylum, hitching rides, hopping El trains, and dragging itself arduously across the concrete until it was finally reunited with its beloved owner."

The Importance of Being Kennedy

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I'm sure you'll all be relieved to know that the DVD remote has been located - and so now you won't have to hear about it anymore. I've called off the candlelight vigil and informed the TV crew that they can go home now. The remote wasn't the only thing I found while cleaning, I also found the paper that has the chapter and page count that I didn't post last week, books I didn't even know I had, and the remnants of a lost civilization which scientists are now calling Angiepeii.

Last weeks chapter and page count:

For the week:


PAGES - 2,069

For the year:

CHAPTERS - 4,628

PAGES - 58,305

And this week's count for the year:

CHAPTERS - 4,747

PAGES - 60,232

Today's book, "British author Graham takes on America’s royal family, as seen through the eyes of Nora Brennan, an Irish immigrant who becomes the Kennedy's’ nanny in 1917. Joe is a toddler and Jack is on the way when Nora arrives. By means of her chatty and insightful memoirs, Graham portrays this proud and prolific family until Kathleen Kennedy’s funeral in England in 1948. The reader is privy to the birth of each child, Mr. K’s philandering, Rose Kennedy’s frequent absences, and the lavish gifts she receives for ignoring his dalliances, including cars with drivers and Greenbrier vacations. Graham blends accurate historical detail with Nora’s outspoken and gossipy vernacular in this highly entertaining read."

Shallow thoughts:

  • I spent most of the day thinking Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap, how am I going to write about this book? Today's book was quite a challenge. Who would of thought that a family as dysfunctional as the Kennedy's would be hard to write about?

  • I have mixed feelings about this book. I enjoyed it, but only because I spent the whole book picturing the nanny as Hazel (the sassy, sarcastic maid from the show of the same title.) I love that show. Every time I watch it, I want to put on an apron, make a sarcastic remark to someone, and go clean something. But I'm lazy, so I generally restrict my Hazel-esque activities to making sarcastic remarks (which is obviously a huge stretch for me.) Picturing the nanny as Hazel hit a bit of a snag when I came to this line, "She had a face that would turn fresh milk." While I do enjoy that expression, and plan to use it the first chance I get, I just don't recall Hazel every saying anything quite like that. Hazel is sassy and sarcastic but, unlike me, she is never mean. And when the Hazel-image fell apart, the book started to get kind of boring. And then later in the book, when Nora stopped working for the Kennedy's, the book got really boring and I spent the rest of the day counting down the pages until it was over.

  • My overactive imagination managed to briefly rescue the book at one point - because whenever the 1940s are mentioned I start to hear Glen Miller music playing in my head and the book instantly becomes more glamorous. But then that started to fall apart as well because I started thinking about the movie The Glenn Miller Story - which has June Allyson in it, and so naturally I started thinking about those awful Depends ads she was in which led to me thinking about the tackiest SNL skit I've ever watched. I attempted to recapture that earlier moment by listening to some Glen Miller, which I just happen to have on my Ipod (because I'm a dork), but the moment was lost - my mind had slid so far down into the gutter that there was no coming back from it and I spent the rest of the day having really tacky thoughts. It happens.

  • Well, I guess I did have one brief moment of wholesomeness when I read this passage, ". . . our boy babies could be brought up Protestant and our girl babies can be Catholic, or something like that." And I started to think of that episode of Little House on the Prairie where Nellie and Percival have twins and decide to raise one Jewish and one as a Chrisitan (good episode, by the way), although it always annoyed me that they named one of those babies Jennifer. I remember watching that episode for the first time and thinking Jennifer? Really? What a totally appropriate prairie name. That name makes perfect sense for a show that's set in the 1880s - I bet there were tons ot Jennifers, Tiffanys and Ashleys out on the prairie. As you can see, I was a sarcastic child as well - or as my Mother used to put it, "She's a little difficult."

The Discomfort Zone

Wednesday, August 19, 2009
My computer has refused to post a picture of today's book - or any picture for that matter. It's going to take some time for us to work out our creative differences (my computer's a bit of a diva, and she refuses to work unless her demands for Evian, M&M's that have all of the red ones removed, and a humidifier in her dressing room, are met) so today's entry is going up without the picture. I did manage to convince her to post tonight's entry (well okay, I threatened to call my lawyers) and so we have at least come to a place of fragile peace. . . for now. But I have warned her that one more outburst like this and I'm going to replace her with someone with a better work ethic.

Since it's Wednesday, it's time for the end-of-the-week count, although I can't post the count for the year so far because I just discovered that I didn't put up an end-of-the-week count last week, and so I haven't yet figured out what the running tally is. What can I say, I run a tight ship around here. Professionalism and discretion, those are the guiding forces behind A Book a Day (I couldn't even type that with a straight face.)

For the week:


PAGES - 1,927

For the year so far:

CHAPTERS - Who the hell knows

PAGES - Your guess is as good as mine

Today's book, "As Jonathan Franzen tells it, he was the kind of boy who was afraid of spiders, school dances, urinals, music teachers, boomerangs, popular girls - and his parents. He has nothing against geeky kids except a desperate fear of being taken for one of them, a fate that would result in instant Social Death. The Discomfort Zone is Frazen's intimate memoir of growing up squirming in his own sensitive skin . . . "

Today's book just sort of wildly veered all over the place and there were places where I was sitting there wondering Why is he telling us this? (which I'm assuming is the same feeling all of my dear readers have when I start talking about bologna gum and inkless pens, so who am I to judge?) And yet, despite the weird, rambling bouts of inconsistency, I still liked the book. I'm not entirely sure why I liked it, but after reading several hundred really crappy books, I don't ask questions anymore.

Today's book avoided the fatal mistake that most books make, forgetting to mention the Wetzel name. That's right, I was just kicking back, reading the book, and then I spot my last name - and since I am endlessly fascinated by all things related to me, I instantly sat up and took notice. The horrible error of leaving the Wetzel name out of most books has been a source of great chagrin amongst the members of my family for quite some time now. Well, actually, it's just one family member who is troubled by this, my Uncle Andy who insists that the story of that fateful expedition to the Pacific coast and back was really known as "The Lewis and Clark and Wetzel Expedition," but you see the Wetzel's were cruelly cut out due to discrimination against Germans. From what I understand, he even used to tell that story on dates (cause he's a smooth operator), including on his first date with the woman who became his wife. Don't get me wrong, I do admire this approach - just throw your dorkiness right out there on the table from the beginning, and that way if the other person sticks around you know it's because they really care and not just because they're trying to cash in on the prestige of the Wetzel name - but, I am still amazed that it worked.

And then, because it's been several days since I've mentioned TV on my blog, it's time to discuss the way that today's book reminded me of a TV show. But let's make a fun little game out of it dear readers, I'm going to tell you the passage from the book that reminded me of a TV show and then you can guess what it reminded me of. I'll go ahead and reveal the answer in the blog entry, and we're just going to have to operate on the honor system as to whether any of you were right. Or it's entirely possible that you'll read this, think She's the dorkiest blogger ever and I'm not playing along with her dumb game, and totally ignore me. I can't say I would blame you. Here's the passage, "My father had found him a plum summer job with Sverdrup & Parcel." - Yes, that's right dear readers, that's you're only clue. And now it's time for a moment of silence so you can think about the answer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
If you guessed the episode of Brady Bunch where Greg works at his Dad's office in order to save up for a car, then you're correct. And if you couldn't come up with an answer, then congratulations, you are a completely normal human being whose brain hasn't been so fundamentally altered by thousands of hours of TV that all it takes is one line in a book that has absolutely nothing to do with TV in order to remember an entire episode (which wasn't even all that great of an episode, if you ask me.)

Favorite passage from the book, in which the author discusses his childhood guilt over everything, "I felt guilty for preferring my best shooter marbles, a solid red agate and a solid yellow agate, my kind and my queen, to marbles farther down my rigid marble hierarchy. I felt guilty about the board games that I didn't like to play - Uncle Wiggily, U.S. Presidential Elections, Game of the States - and sometimes, when my friends weren't around, I opened the boxes and examined the pieces in the hope of making the games feel less forgotten. I felt guilty about neglecting the stiff-limbed, scratchy-pelted Mr. Bear, who had no voice and didn't mix well with the other stuffed animals. To avoid feeling guilty about them, too, I slept with one of them per night, according to a strict schedule."

And now, it's time to continue with day four of trying to find my DVD remote. I'm dangerously close to holding a televised candlelight vigil in which I beg, plead, and pray for the remote's safe return.

Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Day 3 of what I have begun to call the "I Can't Turn 30 And Be This Disorganized" project (a.k.a. Operation Find The DVD Remote), and I have still yet to locate that stupid remote. But I am getting a lot more reading done, I've even read a little bit after I finished my book for the day. I've also begun to organize my list of books I'm going to read for the blog after this year is up and I'm not sticking to certain guidelines as far as the length of the book goes. That's right, I've firmly decided that I will continue with the blog after this year is up - I'm just not clear on exactly what the format is going to be like. There are some really wonderful books that I've been wanting to introduce to you, but they're too short to count for the A Book a Day project. So you'll just have to wait in suspense until January to find out what they are (I'm sure you're trembling with excitement.)

Today's book, "When Chelsea Handler needs to get a few things off her chest, she appeals to a higher power - vodka. In this hilarious, deliciously skewed collection, Chelsea mines her past for stories about her family, relationships, and career that are at once singular and ridiculous."

I read a review of today's book that described the book as uneven, and I definitely agree with that assessment. There were places in the book that were so funny I started to regret reading the book on a day when I am unable to move my head (long, boring story - all you need to know is that I haven't been able to move my head or neck for the last 14 hours) - laughter and an inability to move ones head apparently don't mix very well. However, there were just as many stories in the book that fell flat - stories that I'm sure I was supposed to be endlessly amused by, which, nevertheless, didn't even produce a single laugh. But overall the book was still enjoyable enough that I don't regret reading it.

My favorite line of the book, "My oldest is fourteen and my youngest is seventy-two months," she informed me." - I'm so glad to see that I am not the only person who finds that sort of thing completely absurd. Memo to the parents of the world: I think it's really cute and all that you can calculate your child's age down to the exact month even when he's in kindergarten. But when someone asks, "So how old is your child," they don't really care, they're just being polite and making small talk - and they definitely don't care enough to need to hear the age calculated down to the exact month. Just round up or down and let us all get on with our lives. What do you think dear readers, should I start telling people that I'm 359 months? I almost want to try that just to see the looks I would get. And while I'm on the subject of annoying things that parents say, I've prepared a little list of expression I never want to hear again, we're trying; baby bump; we're pregnant; push present; "We're feeling cranky" when you're really just talking about the baby; and most annoying of all, "He's was just overtired" when you're referring to behavior that could qualify your child as a participant on SuperNanny. During my Mary Poppins days I used to work for someone who did that - whether the child had climbed on the roof, taken a steak knife to his room, locked every member of the family out of the house, or decided to lie down in the parking lot of a restaurant for 20 minutes and refuse to get up, the response was always the same, "He was just overtired." Oh sure, that makes perfect sense. I know when I get overtired, I frequently like to have a good near death experience. Why would a kid be any different?

There was even one part of the book that almost made me cry. Yes that's right, about once every five years or so, I actually start to experience an emotion that isn't covered in so many layers of sarcasm that's it's barely recognizable. But, before you all run out and buy this book because you want to read something that will make you laugh and cry, I should warn you that the line that got me all choked up is one that probably would have the opposite effect on most people. And that line is, "just for shits and giggles." My Grandmother - who taught me everything I know about profanity - used that expression all the time. She had a lot of really tacky, vulgar expression that she used on a regular bases (WARNING SKIP IF YOU'RE OFFENDED BY PROFANITY: shit or get off the pot - oh you think that's funny, well I'll cram a feather up your ass and then we'll both be tickled - if you want to ride my ass so much, why don't you just climb in my trunk - she's acting like she's got a jet up her ass.) As a result of spending my childhood listening to my Grandmother talk like a drunken sailor, I am now unable to hear extremely vulgar expressions without missing her so much I start to cry. I heard someone screaming obscenities at a mall cop once and I was hit with a wave of nostalgia that made me feel like I was eight years old again.

And now dear readers, it's time for me to go and continue my search for the DVD remote. Wish me luck.

Marriage: A History

Monday, August 17, 2009
Today is my parents' 35th Anniversary, and so I'm going to force you to go on a scenic tour of their marriage (don't worry, I'm only going to post a few pictures.) This is actually my second attempt at writing a blog post - the first one involved me trying to express real emotion that isn't rooted in sarcasm. But, as it turns out, I'm not capable of that. So I'm going to have to fall back on the usual sarcasm and mocking - which, my Mother has informed me, I owe her a big and very sincere thank you for in the book version of "A Book a Day." She feels like she's earned it after letting me trash her for a solid year. I've agreed to her terms (although a sincere thank you is going to be difficult for me), but I do object to her use of the word "trash," I prefer to think of it as gentle mocking.

When my Grandparents celebrated their 60th Anniversary a few years ago, my siste r and I made a "60 Years of World & Wetzel News" timeline. I'll spare you the world news (but only because I'm too lazy to go and look that stuff us), and just go right to the 35 years of Wetzel News (please don't panic, this is going to be a short timeline, and I'm going to spare you all of the bad 80s hair pictures because, as my Mother put it, "Enough people had to look at that at the time.")

1974 - Mom and Dad get married, thereby setting into effect the chain of events that lead to you sitting here reading this blog (that's right, it's always all about me.)

Let me assure you dear readers, that is not a picture of their wedding. They had a real wedding with flowers and a veil and everything - but my Mother is still bitter about having Carol Brady hair on her wedding day, so I've agreed to not share that picture with the world (I'm such a good daughter.)

So they were married for a few years and did a bunch of boring married stuff, and then:

1977-1982 - We came along and made their lives fun and interesting.

I have no idea why we're sitting in a toy box in this picture. That's just the kind of crazy kids we were.

1984 - Dad begins wearing orange shoes (which will eventually become known in the family as "Dad's pumpkin shoes"), and Mom starts to wonder if the marriage can continue. She agreed to "For better or for worse," but she did not agree to appearing in public with a man who is wearing orange shoes.

1986 - Mom gets a really bad 80s perm - the marriage is severly tested as a result.

But they weathered the bad hair and clothing moments - and then came the 90s:

90s Things begin to stablize with both Mom and Dad's hair and clothes - mostly because my sister and I made a joint decision that we were putting a firm stop to the hideousness that was going on all around us. So Alissa began working to improve Mom's hair, and I convinced Dad that newscaster hair is not his best look.

2004 - Mom and Dad renew their wedding vows in Hawaii - and I learn that it is actually possible for me to attend a wedding that doesn't bore me senseless.

Today's book, "Marriage has never been more fragile. But the same things that have made it so have also made a good marriage more fulfilling than ever before. In this enlightening and hugely entertaining book, historian and marriage expert Stephanie Coontz takes readers from the marital intrigues of ancient Babylon to the sexual torments of Victorian couples to demonstrate how recent the idea of marrying for love is-and how absurd it would have seemed to most of our ancestors. It was only 200 years ago that marriage began to be about love and emotional commitment, and since then the very things that have strengthened marriage as a personal relationship have steadily weakened it as a social institution. Marriage, A History brings intelligence, wit, and some badly needed perspective to today's marital debates and dilemmas."

Fun facts about marriage:

  • In ancient China and Sudane, young people frequently entered into ghost marriages (also known as spirit marriages), in which they were given in marriage to the dead son or daughter of another family. - This naturally begs the question: What about ghost divorces? What happens when a woman just can't deal with the way her dead husband refuses to help out around the house? Or when a man just can't deal with his wife's lack of warmth anymore? (It's possible that last comment might have been tacky even for me.) But, sadly, the book does not address my most pressing questions about ghost marriages.

  • In some small-scale socities (such as among the Vanatinai of the South Pacific), a man and woman are considered married if they are seen eating together alone. - I think we can all share a collective sigh of relief that we don't live in the South Pacific (unless of course you do, in which case, I'm so international to have a reader in the South Pacific, how exciting!!) or we would all be stuck in some very bad marriages right now. But there are some places so dark that we really shouldn't visit them for long, so let us turn out thoughts to happier things.

  • In England in 1711 the average age of death was 32. By 1831 that figure had risen to 44, and by the end of the century it had reached the high fifties - therefore the average duration of marriage extended as well. - Well no wonder people got divorced less then. Why would you ever need to divorce your annoying husband if he's two steps away from death anyway. All you'd have to do is sit back and think, One outbreak of smallpox is all it's going to take and he's out of my hair for good. So one day your neighbors get quarantined and, Oops, you forget to tell your husband before he goes over to get the tool he let them borrow and . . . problem solved.

  • Margaret Mead once asked a New Guinea villager why the people in his village didn't marry inside of their own family (which doesn't seem like the kind of question you should have to ask someone, but maybe Margaret forgot to take her ginkgo that day and wasn't firing on all cylinders), and his response was, "Don't you realize that if you marry another man's sister and another man marries your sister, you'll have at least two brothers-in-law, while if you marry your own sister you will have none? With whom will you garden? Who will you go to visit?" - Yes, that's the exact reason why you shouldn't marry your own brother, forget the whole incest thing, and the disgusting factor, and the fact that your own mother would then be both your mother and your mother-in-law (which is a horrify thought, because I just know whoever my brother marries won't be good enough for her little golden boy, even if that person was me) - clearly the reason why you shouldn't marry your relatives is because you don't want to get stuck having to attend dinner parties at the exact same house every week.

  • Muskrat Love is the most annoying song in history. - Okay, so that's not really a fun fact about marriage, but the book does mention the song, which led to a few unpleasant hours of being haunted by it. Captain & Tenille owe me a huge apology right about now. After I finally got the song out of my head, I became fascinated by the idea of trying to figure out if they ever had a song that wasn't unbearably annoying. As of this moment, I would have to say that answer it definitely no.

The Inheritance

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My twitter page appears to be working again. Am I the only person who can't access their twitter page at least 50% of the time - because I keep noticing that other people are still updating their pages on the days when I am struggling to get anything to post?

If my twitter page is actually still working in the morning - and that seems to be a big if lately - then I'm going to be posting tomorrow's book over there in the morning. I'm going to start posting it over there from now on - but with my twitter page only working part of the time, I can't guarantee that the book will be posted every day.

Today's book, "Here at last is the book "Jo" wrote. Generations of fans have longed to plumb the romance, hinted at so captivatingly on the pages of Little Women, Alcott's autobiographical classic. Now, after nearly one hundred fifty years spent among archived family documents, Louisa May Alcott's debut novel finally reaches its eager public. Set in an English country manor, the story follows the turbulent fortunes of Edith Adelon, an impoverished Italian orphan whose loyalty and beauty win her the patronage of wealthy friends until a jealous rival contrives to rob her of her position."

Shallow thoughts:

  • I picked today's book because it was short - there I said it, I'm lazy and I wanted to read a short book. Actually it was so much that I wanted to read a short book, but that I needed to because I decided it was time to organize my entire life. In other words, I lost the DVD remote and it was either get more organized or spend the rest of my life living a Dallas-free existence - and who am I kidding, that second one isn't even a real option. As of this moment, eight hours into the organization attempt, I still have not located the remote. But I know it's just got to be there somewhere.

  • I got halfway through today's book and had one of those "Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap, I think I already read today's book" moments - resulting in a desperate search through my blog archives list to double check. I believe that's the second, or third, time that's happened this year. Common sense would probably tell a person, at this point, that maybe I should actually check the blog archives before I sit down to read a book - what a novel idea (I swear, I did not make that lame joke on purpose, I didn't even realize it until after I wrote it.) I actually did begin making a book schedule a few days ago, because I'm kind of tired of trying to figure out what I'm going to read on the day I'm reading it. I need to get more organized about this blogging thing (how sad that it took me 7 1/2 months to figure that out.)

  • I have a certain affection for all Louisa May Alcott books - even the ones whose plot I don't care for, like today's book - because it was Louisa May Alcott who filled my head with wonderful thoughts of what it would be like to get a book published. Well, to be fair, L.M. Montgomery helped in that department as well. But it was in a Louisa May Alcott book that I read a scene involving someone getting an acceptance letter in the mail, which led to me having some pretend time on the way to my own mail box. I knew, even a a child, that I wanted to be a writer - and so, from the age of 8 until about 13, I would practice getting my first acceptance letter. And when I say practice, I mean I would fold up a piece of paper, stick it in an envelope, put it in the mailbox and spend ridiculous amounts of time going to the mailbox and pretending to open that very exciting letter. And I'm afraid to have to tell you dear readers, that I didn't just discretely do this once and then be done with it. No, I would often spend an hour or more, going back and forth to the mailbox. I'm sure the neighbors were all looking outside thinking What the hell is she doing out there? But I didn't care what they thought, because I was too busy trying to decide whether I would respond with laughter or tears (I eventually settled on a mixture of both), walking slowly back to the house to tell people or running (I decided walking would be best, because even though the moment would be exciting, I wanted to think I would still handle it with grace and running just didn't convey that enough), and whether I would tell people in a quiet voice or yell out "I'm an author, I'm an author," like Jo March did in Little Women (definitely quiet voice, because I'm not crazy about the word author.) As you can see, I've always been just a little bit odd.

  • Despite my great affection for Louisa May Alcott, I didn't like today's book all that much. It was awful - but it lacked the warmth and charm that Little Women has, and I had a hard time getting in to the story. I also had some seriously issues with one of the main characters, Edith. I'm pretty sure I was supposed to be rooting for her, but she was such a doormat that I spent the whole book feeling like I wanted to slap her around a few times and tell her, "Grow a spine." I don't enjoy weak characters, not even the ones that I'm supposed to admire because they're so sweet and good (which is why I could never stand Mary Ingalls.) My recommendation would be to skip this book and read Little Women instead.

The Girls from Ames

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Obviously, since this is a special week, Suggestion Saturday is temporarily suspended - but it will be making its triumphant return next week.

I'm rather stunned that's its only seven o'clock and I'm already working on my blog entry. I decided, for once, to actually apply myself and get the book done early. Although I did take some time out of the day to talk to my sister a few times - one of those times being when she called me from a bookstore, which she reports is "like walking through your blog." Everywhere she turns she sees a book I have read. In fact, my obsessive reading has had the effect where she no longer asks me if I've read a book, but just assumes that I have, "How was A Year in Provence." That statement was followed by, "Do love how I didn't even have to ask if you had read the book, I just assumed that you had." For the record dear readers, I do love that.

Today's book, "Meet the Ames Girls: eleven childhood friends who formed a special bond growing up in Ames, Iowa. As young women, they moved to eight different states, yet managed to maintain an enduring friendship that would carry them through college and careers, marriage and motherhood, dating and divorce, a child’s illness and the mysterious death of one member of their group. Capturing their remarkable story, The Girls from Ames is a testament to the deep bonds of women as they experience life’s joys and challenges -- and the power of friendship to triumph over heartbreak and unexpected tragedy."

I've been hearing about today's book for quite some time now - and I've heard a lot of good things about it, so I had high expectations. Unfortunately, I didn't care for it all that much. I really don't care for the writing style of the book - there was an awkwardness to it that made me feel like I could never really get into the story. And I didn't care for the way the book jumped all over the place - I would have preferred a story that was told in chronological order.

It's seems impossible for me to read a book that talks about any one's childhood or adolescence without having a few flashbacks of my own:

  • The highlight story - which brought my biggest hair mistake of all time careening back into the foreground of my memory where it has been haunting me all day (note to self: really dark hair, with blond highlights is wrong and bad and should never be attempted under any circumstances, and I owe every person who had to look at me during that time a huge apology.)

  • The mention of slumber parties - I don't know why, but every slumber party I attended as a child ended with a huge 2 a.m. fight that wouldn't exactly be bad enough to qualify as a brawl, but was two short steps away from it. To this day, I can't even think about slumber parties without shuddering just a little bit.

  • The stories of the friends coming to each others' defense - This reminded me of what I call "The cafeteria incident" from junior high, in which someone was being mean to one of my friends and I started yelling at him and told him that I was going to make him a list of all the things he was going to do to make it up to her (which I was only half-way serious about anyway - okay, well maybe I wasn't half-serious since I did, in fact, write out a list.) To this day I'm still amazed that he actually did all of the things on the list. I'm also really annoyed that I didn't save the list because I think it would be entertaining to look at now. Let that be a lesson to you dear readers, annoy me and I will make you a list, because that's just the kind of petty person that I am.

So, overall I would say you're better off skipping this book. It just wasn't interest enough to hold my interest, and I probably wouldn't have finished it if I hadn't been reading it for the blog. Although I did enjoy the reference to Dallas and the "Who shot J.R." phenomenon. I always love a good reference to the kind of crappy TV I love to watch.