"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Audiobook review: Lincoln in the Baldo by George Saunders

Late in 2017 a fellow blogger analyzed all of the end-of-the-year-best-books lists. She gave each Lincoln in the Bardo earned the most points. In other words, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders ended up on more Best-Books-of-2017 lists than any other book. That alone made me want to read the book. In addition our book group members selected Lincoln in the Bardo as one of our book selections for 2018, guaranteeing that I would actually read it carefully in preparation for the group discussion.
book one point per list. In the end

George Saunders started the book with this premise: after the death of his son to typhoid fever in 1862, Abraham Lincoln visited Willie's crypt and held the dead boy in his arms at least two times. Saunders decided to explore Lincoln's deep grief. Up to this point Lincoln was so distraught by his cares related to the Civil War but after the death of his son he seems able to channel his sorrow into true and abiding empathy for all soldiers, on both sides, and for the people trapped in slavery. Saunders said in a NYT Book Review,
"It seemed to me that the empathy was somehow a byproduct of the sorrow — a burning-away of his hopes and dreams that resulted in a kind of naked seeing of things as they really were...I came to understand Lincoln as someone so beat down by sadness and loss that he developed a sort of crazy wisdom — as if, in sadness, all of the comforting bromides that normally keep us from the harsher truths were denied him. Empathy might even thrive best in this state, where the easy comforts are denied us." 
Saunders was able to give the reader an excellent feel for the time by including chapters for of quotes from letters, journals, and diaries written by individuals living during the period of time leading up to and right after Willie's death. One chapter, which comes to mind as I am searching my brain for an example, were all quotes about the moon on the night that Willie died. In true recollection fashion half the quotes said it was a moonless night, others said it was a full moon, while others talked about the pretty crescent moon. Each quote was read by a different narrator. (Listen to the YouTube video below for details about the audiobook experience.)

The other part of the book all takes place in the cemetery where Willie's body is laid to rest. Here he is met by ghosts (for lack of a better word) who are stuck in the bardo. "Bardo" is a Buddhist term used to describe the time between death and rebirth. All of the ghosts in the cemetery do not acknowledge that they are dead, referring to themselves as sick and their coffins as sick-boxes. But they do recognize that their existence is less than desirable and certainly not a place for a young child to hang out. Three of the ghost characters try with all their might to assist Willie in passing over, but his soul is stuck to the earth because his father, President Lincoln, hasn't let him go yet.

For a bit of literary fun, my husband noticed that the ghosts stuck in the bardo all seemed to have embraced one of the seven deadly sins while alive: greed, gluttony, lust, envy, sloth, wrath, and pride.
One, an old printer was just at the point where he would consummate his marriage when he died from a blow to his head, was naked with a throbbing member in the bardo (lust). Another, who was a pastor in life, couldn't get over that he hadn't gone to heaven after living such an exemplary life (pride). A third, who was a slave in life, couldn't let go of his desire for revenge toward his former owner (wrath). I am not sure I could name a character for each of the sins, but it was a fun exercise to try and identify each.

I listened to the audiobook of Lincoln in the Bardo and I have to say it was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had with this format. The producer actually utilized 166 voice actors/people to read the different parts. It was incredible to hear all the varieties in voices as they read the actual quotes from historical documents. The main characters were read by Nick Offerman as HANS VOLLMAN , David Sedaris as ROGER BEVINS III, George Saunders as THE REVEREND EVERLY THOMAS, and Cassandra Campbell as the NARRATOR. For a partial list of all the readers, check here. You will find names you know like Susan Sarandan, Ben Stiller, Julianne Moore, and Bill Hader. It was quite a cast and an amazing listening experience. Click on the YouTube video below of George Saunders talking about the making of the audiobook. The diversity of voices reflects the diversity of people in America at that time in history, using "both high diction, low diction, and some dialect". Some of the quotes and voices are shockingly crass. In case you are feeling a bit prudish today, I wanted to warn you not to be shocked.

I'm hoping that my book club friends will listen to at least a few excerpts of the audiobook. In addition, I found these discussion questions from Penguin Random House which should be useful in helping us dig deeper into the unique aspects of the book.

After a week or two of contemplation I amended my initial rating of the book from 4.25 stars to 5 stars. It is a such a unique book with both its historical quotes from letters and diaries written at the time and the ghosts in the cemetery, it really feels like one of those books that should be read (or listened to) widely.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Audiobook Review: True Grit by Charles Portis

Original 1968 Simon Schuster hardback cover
True Grit by Charles Portis was published in 1968 and became an instant classic. It was memorialized the very next year when it was made into a film starring John Wayne hit the big screen. High school classes started reading and analyzing it, which probably means that some people would think of it negatively, but that means that teachers recognized its brilliance. One reviewer, Donna Tartt, called True Grit an "American masterpiece" and compared it to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. What is more American than a good Old West story which has plenty of adventures, memorable characters, and wild open spaces?

The book begins with these memorable opening lines,
“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.” 
And so the reader meets Mattie Ross, a plucky girl, brave and strong beyond her fourteen years, who intends to hunt down and bring her father's murderer to justice. She engages the services of a an old, cone-eyed US Marshall, Rooster Cogburn, to help her accomplish this feat. Ross recounts her harrowing tale in retrospect, nearly fifty years after the events that so drastically altered her life, when she is a cranky old spinster.

Charles McGrath, writing for the New York Times, had a lot to say about True Grit's humor. At first glance the book doesn't seem to be that funny. Surely the topic isn't a funny one. McGrath refers to the humor of True Grit as "deadpan", written as if serious but containing a truly bizarre set of characters who all do and say oddly funny things.
"Mr. Portis evokes an eccentric, absurd world with a completely straight face. As a result there are not a lot of laugh-out-loud moments or explosive set pieces here. Instead of shooting off fireworks the books shimmer with a continuous comic glow."
Perhaps the humor is what sets True Grit apart, but I think it is the language that makes it really special. Mattie Ross as narrator is so authentic and unique. Her voice makes the book something really different. McGrath calls her narrative voice "a feat of historical ventriloquism." Truly Portis captured the language and tone of what I think people used to talk like in the 1800, much more formal and stiff. It was this use of language that really sold me on the book and elevated it, in my mind, to one of my top 50 books, one that readers, especially American readers, shouldn't miss.
"Mattie is lovable in her way, and though grit is what she admires in Rooster, she is hardly lacking in that department herself. But she is also humorless, righteous and utterly without either self-doubt or self-consciousness. She has no idea how she or her words come across on the page, nor would she care if she did" (McGrath).
As a Presbyterian myself, I couldn't help laughing at her references to her faith and her church (Presbyterian) especially when she quotes scripture or comes across as very pious, “ 'I will go further and say all cats are wicked, though often useful. Who has not seen Satan in their sly faces? Some preachers will say, well, that is superstitious ‘claptrap.’ My answer is this: Preacher, go to your Bible and read Luke 8: 26-33.'” 

My husband and I listened to the audiobook version of True Grit read by Donna Tartt. Tartt, a Southerner, is a true fan of True Grit and loves it for its uniquely American voice, too. She did a masterful job with the narration and I highly recommend this format to you.

Sometimes, not often, a book comes along which instantly becomes a classic, a new favorite, and a must-read. This is one of those books. Though it was written fifty years ago, it still deserves it place on our nightstands. Go to your library right now and request a copy. You will not be disappointed.

btw- Everything I read said that John Wayne's motion picture adaptation of "True Grit" isn't as good as the Coen Brothers 2010 remake starring Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Hailee Steinfield as Mattie Ross. Of course, read the book before you see the film.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday Quotes: True Grit

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
e Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest, or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now---

Title: True Grit by Charles Portis

Book Beginnings:
“People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day. I was just fourteen years of age when a coward going by the name Tom Chaney shot my father down in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and robbed him of his life and his horse and $150 in cash money plus two California gold pieces that he carried in his trouser band.” 
Friday 56:
“I bought some crackers and a piece of hoop cheese and an apple at a grocery store and sat on a nail keg by the stove and had a cheap yet nourishing lunch. You know what they say, "Enough is as good as a feast.” 
Comments: I am listening to the audiobook of this classic western story, True Grit. The story is told by Mattie Ross fifty years after she sought to revenge the murder of her father in 1875 by setting out in Choctaw Country with a US Marshall, Rooster Cogburn. The book was made famous by a John Wayne movie in the late 1960s. I am so captivated by the narrator's voice. As Mattie looks back on this event from earlier life, one is instantly transported back to a by-gone era in America. That is what I love about the second quote.

Monday, March 12, 2018

TTT: Books that surprised me

Top Ten Tuesday: Classic Books that pleasantly surprised me...in other words, I liked them better than I thought I would.

One has to admit that most classic novels are considered "classic" because they stand the test of time and, I would add, it is unlikely that a book would stand that test if no one liked them. Here are some classic books which just blew me away and I actually recommend them all.

1. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins--- this is an early mystery. Collins wrote this book in installments which were published in the newspaper. Because of this, each chapter ends on a cliffhanger of sorts. I was very invested in this story. Originally published in 1859.

2. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton--- set during the Golden Age in New York when society people were more afraid of scandal than of disease. Published in 1921. It won the Pulitzer Prize that year.

3. Persuasion by Jane Austen--- everyone knows about her most popular book, Pride and Prejudice, so I choose to mention this one, the last novel that Austen wrote. I love this peek at family life of the upper class in the early 1800s. It was published in 1817.

4. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh---set during the time between the first and second world wars. It is the story of the Marchmains family and the world that is disappearing for them. It gives the reader a lot to digest. Published in 1945.

5. Lolita by Vladimer Nababov---the topic---INCEST--- is so depraved, yet this book is such a beautifully written book, the most beautiful I've ever read. Published in 1955.

6. 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez---The extraordinary story of the Buendia family. This book is brilliant and is the quintessential book defining magical realism. I am not embarrassed to admit I read the Shmoop page as I listened to the audiobook. Published in 1967.

7. The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnon Rawlings--- a delightful and insightful coming-of-age tale set in Florida after the Civil War. In the opening Jody is a young boy who wants a pet, at the end we see a boy who is starting to view the world through adult eyes. Another Pulitzer Prize winner published in 1938.

8. A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O'Connor---I don't usually think of myself as a short story reader, but I really liked this collection of stories and have found myself thinking about them over and over again. First published in 1953.

9. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya--- this is another coming-of-age tale told through mythic legacy of Tony's family, guided by Ultima with a touch of magic. Another book that I read alongside Shmoop, but got so much out of it. Published in 1972.

10. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston---Janie Crawford is a black woman in the 1930s. This book is about her quest for idenity through three husbands and several relocations. An enlightening peek at life in the South in the 30s. It is written in vernacular so it is perfect audiobook selection. Published in 1937.

I hope I encouraged you, through this post, to read a classic book in 2018.

Sunday, er...Monday Salon

Mount Rainier at twilight 
Weather: Gorgeous. The temperatures yesterday were in the the mid 60s, perfect for working in the yard (which we did.)

Roses, hydrangeas, kale, and moss (oh my): 
  • Don and I spent a bit of time on both Saturday and Sunday pruning and mulching the roses. We were late on the pruning according to the old adage to prune by President's Day Weekend (mid-February) but earlier on the mulching than usual so I hope the net result is a good one. 
  • The rose bed was covered with moss, as is just about everything around here: our roof, driveway, all flower beds, even on flower pots. I have officially declared war on moss and will at least a few minutes every day this Spring de-mossing something. 
  • While moving from the front to the back yard I noticed that the large pot where I grew kale last year is full of a healthy crop. I don't remember throwing down any new seeds but perhaps I did last Fall hoping for one more crop before winter. Hmm...I think I will make a few green smoothies today using the kale.
  • Today's task in to deadhead the hydrangea bushes. Thankfully Carly, who is home for Spring break, has agreed to help me. This is another task I should have done a long time ago. Thank goodness for fine weather and daughters.
Jury duty: I am officially on jury duty this week, but didn't have to go in today. I don't know what that means for the rest of the week, however. I seem to have one of those lucky numbers because I get called for jury duty about once every two or three years, Don has only been called once in his life. Lucky me. Not.
Dad and his great grandson, Ian

Eugene: The weekend before last Daughter #1, Rita, and I took her son down to Eugene to visit his great-grandparents. My folks are aging (aren't we all?) to the point that many of their friends are dying for age related illnesses. The previous month they had experienced the death of two of their closest friends. I thought that a visit from little Ian would boost their moods and help shift their focus from looking back to looking forward. I know they were thrilled to spend a little time with our boy.  The photo above is of my dad and Ian. Isn't it sweet?
View of the Olympic Mountains looking across Lake Washington
Friends: I had a chance to spend time with two of my high school friends this past week: Mary Jo and Carol. Mary Jo drove over from her home on the Olympic Peninsula so we could talk about her upcoming trip to China. Carol and her husband Vijay, met Don and I for breakfast on Saturday so we could catch up and find out details of their trip to Costa Rica and plans for upcoming trips. I guess we are now in the age bracket where our friends are all traveling to exotic locations.  ☺

Carly is home for two weeks: She is home from New York for her "last" Spring break. While home she has scheduled a few informational interviews with genetic counselors in the area, putting out job feelers. I love having her home.

Aerial view of elephants by their shadows. Photo from the book: Endangers.

Books read since my last update:

  • Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems by Ursula LeGuin...not my favorite poetry collection but I recognize that poetry is a very personal thing. Print.
  • Endangered by Tim Flach...one of those huge coffee table sized books with fabulous photos of endangered animals. I sat at the library and read this one so I wouldn't have to lug it home. See photo above for a sample of the wonderful photos. Print.
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng... a book club selection. An interesting look at an American family along with cultural and ethical topics. Audio.
  • Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders...another book club selection. This book has won all kinds of awards. I really enjoyed it. Audio.
  • Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes...an award-winning children's book about a visit to the barber. I loved it. Print.
  • Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld...a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. Not nearly as good as the original. It still enjoyed it. Audio.
  • Harry Potter and Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling... a reread. Print.
Currently reading: 
  • Emma by Alexander McCall Smith...another modern retelling from the Austen Project. 57%. Audio.
  • Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy. I am enjoying this nonfiction book immensely. 33%. Print
  • Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver...I adore Oliver's poems but I am reading only a few poems every day so it will take me months to finish this large volume. 18%. Print.
  • True Grit by Charles Portis. I started this audiobook at the gym the other day but I will have to set it aside as another audiobook came in from the library.
A few other bookish things:
  • Pierce County Reads! selected the 3-volume set of graphic novels MARCH by John Lewis for this year's all-county read. I am delighted.
  • I've decided, now that I am retired and no longer have to feel "guilty" if I am not reading YA lit, that I can finish a few book series which I had set aside: The Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, The Flavia du Luce series by Alan Bradley, and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Maybe some others like several of Alexander McCall Smith's series. Yay!
Hydrangea flowers. Photo taken last summer.
Hydrangeas are calling.  Maybe next week I will actually get this posted on Sunday! Bye!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Friday Quotes: Emma---A Modern Retelling

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
e Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest, or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now---

Title: Emma: A Modern Retellings by Alexander McCall Smith

Book Beginnings:
"Emma Woodhouse's father was brought into this world, blinking and confused, on one of those final nail-biting days of the Cuban Missile Crisis."
Friday 56:
"Governesses, he thought, were perhaps on the same list of endangered species as butlers."
Comments: A Jane Austen fan, it is natural that I would want to read the modern retellings commissioned in 2011 by The Austen Project. This one, Emma, is written by a favorite author Alexander McCall Smith. He has such a good sense of humor. I enjoy his books so much. I like the book beginning because it gives some of the back story and answers a question that the original doesn't, namely why is Mr. Woodhouse such a worrier. I finished the retelling of Pride and Prejudice, Eligible, last week and thought it was quite fun. Neither are as good as the original. But they never are.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

TTT: Some of my favorite Jane Austen Quotes

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite quotes.

Since I've done this "assignment" before for TTT here, here, here, and here, I am modifying my list to just include  some favorite quotes from Jane Austen found in her books or her letters.

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” 
― Jane AustenNorthanger Abbey

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” 
― Jane AustenPride and Prejudice

“Angry people are not always wise.” 
― Jane AustenPride and Prejudice

“but for my own part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short.” 
― Jane Austen

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope...I have loved none but you.” 
― Jane AustenPersuasion

“My idea of good company...is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.' 
'You are mistaken,' said he gently, 'that is not good company, that is the best.” 
― Jane AustenPersuasion

“I have been used to consider poetry as "the food of love" said Darcy.

"Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is
strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I
am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.” 
― Jane AustenPride and Prejudice

“If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.” 
― Jane AustenEmma

“Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings.” 
― Jane AustenMansfield Park

“Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience- or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.” 
― Jane AustenSense and Sensibility

“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” 
― Jane AustenMansfield Park

“I will not say that your mulberry trees are dead; but I am afraid they're not alive. ” 
― Jane AustenJane Austen's Letters

“Oh! I am delighted with the book! I should like to spend my whole life in reading it.” 
― Jane AustenNorthanger Abbey

“What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.” 
― Jane Austen

“The Very first moment I beheld him, my heart was irrevocably gone” 
― Jane AustenLove and Friendship

Monday, March 5, 2018

It is Classics Club SPIN time again.

Yay! The Classics Club SPIN is back.

Make a list of 20 classic books you want to read and number them. On Friday, March 9th, the spin number will be announced. Check that number against your list. That is the book you will read and hopefully finish by April 30th.

I love participating in the SPINS. They force me to read these excellent classic books and link me with a community of people who are also reading a classic book.

To get started, create your list. If you have a blog or Facebook account, publish the list. Then stay tuned until the spin number is announced on Friday and get reading!

For more details, see The Classics Club link.

Here is my list. If you'd like to join me and read the same book, I'd love it.

Bastard Out of Carolina
Allison, Dorothy
Agnes Grey
Bronte, Anne
Butler, Octavia
If On a Winter's Night a Traveler
Calvino, Italo
Death Comes for the Archbishop
Cather, Willa
Moonstone, The
Collins, Wilkie
Tale of Two Cities, The
Dickens, Charles
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The
Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan
Name of the Rose, The
Eco, Umberto
Silas Marner
Eliot, George
Man's Search for Meaning
Frankel, Viktor
Gaskill, Elizabeth
Scarlet Letter, The
Hawthorne, Nathaniel
Stranger in a Strange Land
Heinlein, Robert
Herbert, Frank
Hershey, John
Talented Mr. Ripley, The
Highsmith, Patricia
Suite Fran├žaise
Nimerovsky, Irene
Wild Sargasso Sea
Rhys, Jean
Grapes of Wrath, The
Steinbeck, John

The titles in red are those I want to read the most right now and the ones in blue I want to read the least, which of course doesn't mean anything but I thought you might want to know! Ha!

And the spin # is.....

Drum roll, please...


I will be reading Kindred by Octavia Butler.

I've long heard about this book and this author, so I am excited to get started on it.