Shelf Life: Reading Retrospective, Part 4

July was a challenging month for reading. Not the least because the languorous summer days hold so many other temptations. It was also because I had decided to read that brick, that tome, that substitute-for-a-doorstop that is entitled Vanity Fair. And no, I am not talking Condé Nast, I am talking Thackeray. It was a beast, but I got through it. Ever. So. Slowly.

It was a Penguin that saved me. I read most of my books via Kindle App or Audible, but my heart beats wildly for Penguin clothbound classics and I swear it was only the sweet powder-blue cover and satin ribbon bookmark that persuaded me to stay with the saga of the invidious (but unforgettable!) Becky Sharp. Oh Penguin, how I love you…that block on the far right is Thackeray’s opus, also known as the summer of my discontent:


Here are my reads for July and August:



Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier. Audiobook, narrated by Anna Massey. 416 pages, published 1938. I read this eons ago, but as it kept popping up on “the best of” lists, I decided to give it another go, this time via Audible. I think its meticulous construction may be what has endeared this novel to the heart of so many readers over the decades. Entertaining if not edifying. Recommended.

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. Hardcover. 809 pages, published 1848. I made a note at page 600, saying “I am finally starting to care about what happens to these people.” So it was a long haul. The irredeemable Becky Sharp is a timeless character and Thackeray’s social satire equally so, but so arcane are the customs and quirks and manners of early nineteenth century England that it required more study than I was willing to give it. Would have thrown it across the room if it wasn’t so heavy and might have injured a slumbering cat. Still, recommended. What can I say – it’s a classic.

The Night Manager by John LeCarre. Audiobook, narrated by David Case. Published 1993. There was so much buzz about my bae Hugh Laurie’s turn as Richard Roper, “the worst man in the world” that I wanted to read the book before I indulged myself in the miniseries. Le Carre is great at riddles wrapped in enigmas and this lifts his work above others in the spy fiction genre. Recommended.


Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. Kindle. 240 pages, published 2015. This is a puff piece paean to the crusty Supreme Court Justice. A glib but interesting read. It might surprise you to learn that she and Antonin Scalia were dear friends and opera buddies. The Kindle version does not include the clever graphics of the hardcover version.


The Voyage of the Narwhal: A Novel by Andrea Barrett. Kindle. 400 pages, published 1999. I have no idea where I came across this tale of a failed polar expedition. It is carefully researched and shadows the actual voyage of Sir John Franklin’s quest in 1845 to find a northwest passage. Not a fast read, but an engrossing one. The Narwhal sails from mid-nineteenth century Philadelphia to Greenland, where the ship and its crew are locked in for a winter by ice and immediate survival depends on eating larvae from caribou skins. The genius of the author is her uncanny ability to make the reader a fellow traveler. I read this in July but felt the polar chill of every page. Concurrent with the adventure is the telling of the expedition leader’s megalomaniacal quest for fame and fortune and the ways in which it plays havoc with the lives of those around him long after the survivors return from their journey. Recommended.




Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. Kindle. 336 pages, published 1927. The brilliant Willa Cather wrote this novel set in her beloved Southwest, based loosely on the life of missionary Jean-Baptiste Lamy, who traveled in 1850 to establish a Roman Catholic diocese in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is not my favorite of Cather’s exquisite novels, but it does include one of my favorite quotes: “Where there is great love there are always miracles”. As always, Cather explores the deep connection of the people to the land. In her prose, Shiprock and the Sandra mountains take on the sanctity of cathedrals. Highly recommended.


The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. Audiobook, read by Marisol Ramirez and Thom Rivera. 496 pages, published 1982. I wanted to love this book. I didn’t. Purportedly autobiographical, it is the generational story, infused with magic realism, of a family caught up in the cultural and political upheavals of an unnamed country that is almost certainly Allende’s native Chile. Critically acclaimed by pretty much everyone who can read, so who am I not to recommend it?

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. Kindle. 354 pages, published 1993. This was a re-read and although I was slightly less enchanted with it the second time around, Proulx’s characterization of the downtrodden Quoyle (so brilliantly played by Kevin Spacey in the film) and the bleak landscape of Newfoundland are ample reasons why this book was so well-deserving of the 1993 National Book Award and the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It is a story of brokenness that rings so true that the reader is astonished to find that hope also resides within. Highly recommended.

The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ by Andrew Klavan. Advance PDF copy. 264 pages, published 2016. I follow @andrewklavan on Twitter and signed up to receive an advance copy of this courageous memoir, which I reviewed but which I think I am going to read again because I find myself thinking about this book so often. The title pretty much says it all, but Klavan’s generosity in sharing personal experiences as well as thoughts about faith crafts a relatable read .  He is a gifted writer and a grounded, pragmatic thinker, which makes his conversion of faith all the more compelling. Recommended.


Just Kids by Patti Smith. Audiobook, narrated by the author. 320 pages, published 2010. Listening to Patti Smith narrate her National Book Award-winning memoir was a, if not the, highlight of my summer. The fact that I listened to much of it while on foot in New York City was a joyous bonus. Smith’s unflinching account of life and art in late ’60’s, early 70’s Manhattan is a loving remembrance of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, told against the backdrop of the Chelsea Hotel. Everything you expect is there – Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, drugs, sex and rock and roll, but there’s more: Rimbaud, Genet and Smith’s direct but gently luminous style. Highly, highly recommended.


And just like that, summer came to an end. Those long summer days wound down and fall began to stingily steal light from the sky. All the better for reading, I suppose.  I bid a reluctant farewell to Patti Smith but I cannot tell a lie – it was a relief to heft Becky Sharp and Thackeray back onto its shelf! You’re free to borrow it – indefinitely – if you’d like.

Onward to fall…















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Shelf Life: 2016 Reading Retrospective, Part 3

It was the fall of 1986 and we had driven from Paris to Dijon. I can’t imagine it now – no Google Maps, no TripAdvisor, no knowledge of the French language and no hotel or dining reservations. We were armed with nothing but wanderlust and enthusiasm and relative youth and that was apparently enough to move even a steely French innkeeper to take pity on us. He directed us to an unassuming-looking restaurant where he promised the finest meal we would ever eat. He was absolutely right. Eleven courses later, at least three of which were desserts, we surrendered in awe and gratitude.


My May and June reading comprised just such a feast, which is what made me remember that long-ago trip. One after another, the guilty pleasure of each course tasting better than the one before. Books, books and more books. Here is the menu:


Price of Fame: The Honorable Clare Booth Luce by Sylvia Jukes Morris. Kindle. 752 pages, published 2014. This is actually the second volume of a very fine biography, the first being Rage for Fame: The Ascent of Clare Booth Luce. Beautiful, talented,voraciously ambitious and deeply flawed, Luce was an accomplished author, Congresswoman and U.S. Ambassador to Italy. She was also selfishly reckless in her personal relationships, opportunistic, haunted by her humble beginnings and an early dabbler in LSD. You can’t make this stuff up – it’s a terrine composed of history, politics and gossip – a juicy read. Recommended.


Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Audiobook, narrated by the incandescent Ruby Dee. 180 pages, published 1937. If you are only ever going to listen to one audiobook, let it be this one. This book is exquisitely written and magnificently performed by Ms. Dee. It is the tale of Janie, born black and poor in “old” Florida. “Time makes everything old, so the kissing young darkness became a monstropolis old thing while Janie talked. Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf…dawn and doom was in the branches.”One of my favorite books of this or any year. Highly, ever so highly, recommended.


Vampires in the Lemon Grove: Stories by Karen Russell. 258 pages, published 2013. Oops – one bad apple in the reading feast. There was so much buzz about this collection of short stories by the author of Swamplandia! but it just didn’t work for me and I resented what seemed like an effort to compensate for undeveloped characters by adding a large helping of shock value. The common thread seemed to be mothers who are dead, dying, unemployed, depressed or checked out. Not recommended.

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. Kindle. 786 pages, published 2010. A novel and an homage to the author’s Jewish, Hungarian grandfather, whose life and dreams are catastrophically disrupted by the rise of Nazis and World War II.  For me the book started slowly, but staying with it brought great rewards. Recommended.

The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives Of Birds and what they Reveal about Being Human by Noah Strycker. Paperback. 263 pages, published 2014. This talented young author set a 2015 worldwide “Big Year” birding record so he knows his stuff. Here he writes breezily about hummingbirds, pigeons, starlings (did you know Mozart kept one as a pet?) turkey vultures (some of the details may be appetite-suppressing), snowy owls (which have been known to take a full-grown feral cat and tried to take a Yorkie still attached to its leash), flamingos (“terrible at keeping commitments, with a chart-topping divorce rate of 99%”)…and, oh yes, chickens! Heartily recommended.


On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Audiobook, narrated by Will Patton. 308 pages, published 1957. Another hurrah for the audiobook format – Will Patton’s performance of this iconic ode to hipsterism is tender and wondrous. I know, you’ve probably already read it, but have you listened to it? Kerouac and his motley clan, which included Neal Cassady,  Allen Ginsburg and William S. Burroughs, consume drugs and roam the continent. Denver, Chicago, San Francisco, Texas, Mexico, and, of course, New York City. Antic and brilliant and holds up over time thanks to Kerouac’s mastery of language. “…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” Highly recommended.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave by Frederick Douglass. Kindle. 126 pages, published 1845. Okay, so this is more of an “eat your vegetables” than a dessert course, but here’s to a balanced diet. Douglass was born into slavery, of a white father and a black mother from whom he was mostly separated. He speaks frankly of the ill-treatment of slaves by harsh masters and of his unflagging efforts to learn to read and write. He eventually escaped to the North, where he became a famed abolitionist and statesman. Worth reading.


Crooked Heart: A Novel by Lissa Evans. Kindle. 293 pages, published 2014. London, 1939-1941 is hardly a setting for an amusing tale, but Evans is a very clever writer and kind, too, as she allows Noel, her young protagonist, and Vera, his unlikely protector, to live happily ever after. An amuse-bouche for your reading menu.

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Audiobook, narrated by Simon Prebble. 258 pages, published 1989. Yes, I know you’ve seen the movie, but this book, oh, this book! So masterfully constructed, such an exercise in restraint, yet so deeply felt. Themes of dignity, duty and sacrifice are explored through the choices made by Ishiguro’s “unreliable narrator”, the butler, Mr. Stevens. Deserving winner of the 1989 Booker Prize. So highly recommended I can’t even begin to tell you…please just read it.



Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. Kindle, 352 pages published 2016. It used to be called “stick-to-it-iveness” but that wouldn’t cut it at a TED talk, which is where Duckworth and her study of “grit” got its buzz. The book was an instant best-seller, and definitely has some nuggets of wisdom, although I guess I would caution that there isn’t really anything new under the sun. Perseverance, tenacity, doggedness and a dollop of optimistic self-talk. Recommended if you are inclined toward the latest in the “self-help” genre.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Audiobook, narrated by William Hurt. 251 pages, published 1926. Pamplona. Bull-fighting. Champagne. (You can always count on Hemingway for the drinks menu) Trout-fishing. Bad behavior. Dissipation. Pretty much everything you need for a Hemingway masterpiece. Autobiographical, of course. I wasn’t 100% sold on Hurt’s interpretation; he may have intended world-weary but I heard cynical. Still, highly recommended.


The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. Audiobook, narrated by Colin Firth. 210 pages, published 1951. Graham Greene was popping up everywhere I turned last year so I decided to give him a listen. He is often referred to as a “Catholic” author, and faith and religion do play a central part in this book. Greene famously suffered from depression and so, I think, does this story. Love, jealousy and Jacob wrestling with the angel. On the fence as far as recommending this one.

The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I by Barbara Tuchman. Kindle. 511 pages, published 1962. Reading this book was a little like downing a large bowl of oatmeal. You know it’s good for you, but it is dense and extremely filling. The first month of World War I is covered in exemplary, and at moments, excruciating, detail. Won the 1963 Pulitzer Prize.  Recommended.


The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God by Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller. Kindle. 288 pages, published 2011. This was a re-read. I was asked to officiate a wedding, so I had marriage on my mind. Keller does not sugar coat the complexity of the journey: “Marriage is glorious but hard. It’s a burning joy and strength, and yet it is also blood, sweat, and tears, humbling defeats and exhausting victories.” All true!  Keller is the renowned founder and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC. His how-to for a successful marriage is biblically based: “Start here, Paul says. Do for your spouse what God did for you in Jesus, and the rest will follow.” Recommended.


The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Audiobook, narrated by Jake Gyllenhaal. 176 pages, published 1925. Another re-read, because even though Fitzgerald’s masterpiece doesn’t change, we change, and Tom and Daisy and Nick looked very different to me than when I first met them. Plus, I listened to much of it while I strolled around NYC and that was a big bonus. Jordan Baker: “I love New York on summer afternoons when everyone’s away. There’s something very sensuous about it, overripe, as if all sorts of funny fruits were going to fall into your hand.” Recommended, still and again.

There you have it: fifteen courses and nary a calorie among them. Reading is the most sumptuous of feasts; you can devour page after page, completely guilt-free. Although, truth be told,  I would give anything to find that little restaurant again in Dijon…


















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Shelf Life: 2016 Reading Retrospective, Part 2

I remember March and April of 2016 for the harsh glare of the California sun. In theory, endless days of sunshine sounds like a good thing, but amid our waning hopes for rain it felt like a dusty curse. Some years we get a “March miracle” storm, but it was not to be, and, caught in the grip of deepening drought, we grieved the loss of fruit trees in our orchard and pitied the sad moon crater that used to be our small neighborhood lake.

Fortunately, there were books, and the glorious coincidence of art intersecting life with one of my favorite reads of the year. An audio re-read of East of Eden during the parched month of April gave me comfort as John Steinbeck’s memories of historic drought in California’s Salinas Valley provided perspective. “…but there were dry years, too, and they put a terror on the valley.”


Steinbeck wrote East of Eden as a gift to his two sons, weaving the Steinbeck family history into his epic about the Trask and Hamilton families.  The book is filled with visual details of the Salinas Valley but was actually written in New York and I listened to the last chapter as I walked across Central Park to the Upper East Side to take a peek at the building on East 72nd Street where Steinbeck lived and sifted through old newspapers from Salinas to fuel his memories of California.


Of course, one cannot always duplicate the setting of a book. My March and April reads were set variously in Paris, Naples, Tunisia and Asteroid 325, but, you know, so many places and so little time and rocket fuel. Here is the list:


George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I by Miranda Carter. Kindle. 528 pages, published 2010. The three world leaders were variously related through Queen Victoria and all were more interested in shiny medals and what to wear for dinner than in ruling their respective countries, hence WWI. A bit of a slog, but recommended.

The Hotel on Place Vendome: Life, Death and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris by Tilar J. Mazzeo. Kindle. 323 pages, published 2014. A lighter and more entertaining but well-researched take on history as it unfolded at the Hôtel Ritz Paris. The hotel opened in 1898 but most of the action is focused around the years of World War II, when Coco Chanel did or did not collaborate with the Germans and Ernest Hemingway “liberated”the hotel bar.ritz-paris-exterior-windows-large

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. Kindle. 260 pages, published 2007. This was a re-read for a book club. Just as breathtakingly beautiful and austere as the first time. Highly recommended.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Audiobook, narrated by Hillary Huber. 331 pages, published 2012. Ferrante, as everyone now knows, is the pen name of translator Anita Raja and her pearl strand of “Neapolitan novels” have been wildly popular. I can’t say I loved this read, the first in the quartet, but its deeply evocative portrait of a complicated friendship in  post-WWII Naples has stayed with me. Recommended, maybe.

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Kindle. 306 pages, published 1920.  Sometimes I think that Fitzgerald’s work is too frothy or too self-loathing or just plain outdated, but then there are moments of sharp relevance. “Modern life,” began Amory again, “changes no longer century by century, but year by year, ten times faster than it ever has before — populations doubling, civilizations unified more closely with other civilizations, economic interdependence, racial questions…” Recommended, although The Great Gatsby is still the go-to.



And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie. Audiobook, narrated by Dan Stevens. 264 pages, published 1939. My first Agatha Christie and possibly my last because I could not bring myself to care whodunit. Not my cup of tea and thus, not recommended.

Burial Rites: A Novel by Hannah Kent. Kindle. 353 pages, published 2013. Based on a true story of a woman charged with murders in 19th century Iceland. The depiction of the harshness of the landscape was fascinating, the book overall somewhat less so. Neutral on the recommendation. There is an interesting photo essay on the book and its location that might pique your interest.


The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Audiobook, narrated by Humphrey Bower. 98 pages, published 1943. So embarrassed that I never read this classic, so I decided to listen to it. Big mistake. I think the meaning of the story must be inextricably linked to the illustrations because I thought it was a big dud and can’t recommend it, at least not the audio version.



Andrew Jackson by Robert V. Remini. Kindle. 225 pages, published 1969. Possibly not the most readable biography of Old Hickory, but I learned a lot. He was a teenaged POW in the Revolutionary War, a hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, known for the 1829-1837 Bank War, his temper, political incorrectness and being an all-around wild man. I recommend the story, if not the book.


Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson. Audiobook, narrated by Frances McDormand. 256 pages, published 1938. There are occasional stumbles in my quest to choose “listenable” books and this was one of them. Mildly clever but dated and just not that interesting. Not recommended.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Hardcover. 228 pages, published 2016. Diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in his early 30’s, Dr. Kalanithi used the precious months left to him to pen this heartbreaking memoir. Highly recommended.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Kindle. 288 pages, published 2013. This was a re-read of a book I didn’t like much the first time around, but apparently I am in the minority as it is very popular with book clubs. The mid-19th century social experiment of transporting children from New York City to the Midwest via “orphan trains ” was horrifically fascinating; this particular book less so. Anodyne, but not recommended.


Sarum: The Novel of England by Edward Rutherfurd. Kindle. 897 pages, published 1987. I am a sucker for Rutherford’s doorstop-length historical fiction. Sarum is the ancient name for the city of Salisbury, England. The ambitious Rutherfurd begins his story during the Ice Age and takes it all the way up to the twentieth century. Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral figure prominently. Recommended.


East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Audiobook, narrated by Richard Poe. 601 pages, published 1952. A book to be read and savored over and over again. So very highly recommended.

The Tremor of Forgery by Patricia Highsmith. Kindle. 292 pages, published 1969. Graham Greene and Francine Prose loved it. My note at the end was “What the hell was this about?” I was enthralled by the Tunisian setting but very unclear as to what Highsmith was trying to say. The ex-pat characters are uniformly brittle, cynical and unlikable. I guess I’m not smart enough to recommend or not recommend what Green called Highsmith’s “finest novel”.

That does it for the first quarter of 2016. Onward to spring reading…




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Shelf Life: 2016 Reading Retrospective, Part One.

“For everything there is a season” said wise Solomon in Ecclesiastes, “a time for every purpose under the sun.” In my world, that purpose is usually reading, because, really, what else matters? As Teddy Roosevelt so aptly put it “Reading with me is a disease.” One for which I am truly hopeful there is no cure.

Setting is an important element in literature, but I also find that my setting in place and time enriches the reading experience. For instance, I had the excellent luck of reading William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road some years back during a powerful winter rainstorm in California. Rain and dark skies are almost a prerequisite for those books. I wouldn’t bother to read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun anywhere but Rome. And since I’m in San Francisco right now, I should drop everything and download Jack London’s San Francisco Stories.

But first, the annual reading retrospective. We’ll start with January and February,  the deepest months of  winter, which, as Flaubert knew, are arguably the very best time of year to curl up with a book.


I love winter reading. The CE always starts an early evening fire when we are in California, a setting which basically demands that a book be opened. And when we are in NYC in February and the temperature is barely above zero and you can’t see out the window for the sleet and the snow, well, you’d better have a book to read. And I did:


Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Audiobook, narrated by Edoardo Ballerina. 337 pages, published 2012. If you judged a book by its cover, you might think, as I did, that this is a basically a beach read, but there’s more to it than that. Despite the fact that a boozy Richard Burton makes a rather surreal appearance among the fictional characters in a fictional Italian fishing village, the story goes beyond the shallows. Favorite quote: “The smaller the space between your desire and what is right, the happier you will be.” Recommended.


Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand. Paperback. 399 ages, published 1999. Well, better late than never, right? You’ve probably already read it, or at least seen the movie, but if not, it’s worth the read. Hillenbrand, also the author of Unbroken, knows how to champion the underdog, and there are many in this story, both of the equine and human variety. Recommended.

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler. Kindle. 272 pages. Published 1940. This book was at Number 8 on the Modern Library “100 best novel” list, and for good reason. It is simply brilliant and worth reading and re-reading. The setting is purposefully unstated but is assumed to be the Soviet Union during Stalin’s great purge. Highly recommended.


Why Did the Chicken Cross the World? The Epic Saga of the Bird that Powers Civilization by Andrew Lawler. Hardcover. 264 pages, published 2014. Well, I’ll bet you haven’t read this one! Thanks to my dear and thoughtful friend Nancy, this book is a prize addition to my chicken library. Everything you could possible want to or need to know about Gallus Gallus and so cogently written. Spoiler: the chicken does cross the road, as well as oceans and continents. Reviewed here.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo. Kindle. 496 pages, published 2001. Another party I was late to, and I also missed the mini-series. Fiction, not literature, but an enjoyable read. I intend to read Russo’s Nobody’s Fool and Everybody’s Fool at some point – he strikes me as a more hopeful Richard Ford, mining the frailties of his small-town characters, but with a folksy dash of optimism.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. Audiobook, narrated by Pablo Schreiber. 399 pages, published 1991. What was I thinking???? I was under the impression that this book is a modern classic, and I suppose, in a horrific way, it is. Schreiber, brother of actor Liev, does a terrific job with the narration, but I will never be able to un-see the things I heard while listening to this book. And I am not referring to the liberal sprinkling of (see what I did there?) references to Donald Trump. A classic, yes, but not for the faint of heart.


Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides by Adam Nicolson. Paperback. 375 pages, published 2001. Nicolson, the grandson of Vita Sackville-West and Sir Harold Nicolson, inherited a tiny, barren, inhospitable archipelago in the Outer Hebrides known as the Shiant Isles from his father, Nigel Nicolson. And then he wrote a lyrically beautiful book about them. Talk about setting. Wow. I was absolutely transported when I read this book. Hard to find a copy as I don’t believe it is currently in print, dog-eared paperback copies are available from various booksellers. Recommended. The photographs in the book are disappointingly small, but here is one I found on a blog called Footless Crow:


Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Audiobook, narrated by Dan Stevens. 166 pages, published 1818. I will never completely forgive Dan Stevens for leaving Downton Abbey and basically sacking his own career, but he partly redeems himself with a terrific narration of this classic novel. Best read in winter when the icy scenes on the Swiss glacier can be best appreciated. You think you already know everything about this book from popular culture, but you’re wrong.There is so much more. “You are my Creator but I am your master. Obey!” Read it. Highly recommended.

The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa. Kindle. 322 pages, published 1958. Widely considered to be one of the most important Italian novels ever written. Set in Sicily during the years of Italian Reunification. Old habits die hard, especially for the disenfranchised nobility. “The last Salina was himself. That fellow Garibaldi, that bearded Vulcan, had won after all.” Recommended.

The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. Audiobook, narrated by Jonathan Davis and Staci Snell. 340 pages, published 2007. Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize. There’s a just-out audio version of this terrific novel narrated by man-of-the-moment Lin-Manuel Miranda, but I had no complaints about the version I listened to, except for the fact that if you don’t have a pretty good grasp on the Spanish language and slang of the Dominican Republic, you’d be better off reading it in book form with a glossary at hand. Junot Diaz occupies a singular spot in the canon of Latin American literature.  “It’s like abuela says: every snake always thinks it’s biting into a rat, until the day it bites into a mongoose.”Recommended.

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald. Kindle. 300 pages, published 2014. This was a re-read for a book club. Good again the second time around although I found myself becoming a bit irritated with MacDonald’s self-absorption. The hawk may be a more stable character than the author. Recommended.


The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare. Kindle. Written between 1596-1598, published in first folio 1623. 224 pages. Let’s see. If I read one Shakespeare play every year I will finish in the year 2053. Guess I’d better step it up. This was a great place to begin. There’s more to Shylock than meets the pound of flesh. Highly recommended, of course.

This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff. Audiobook, narrated by Oliver Wyman. 304 pages, published  1989. Such a lovely read, and hauntingly auto-biographical. Recommended, as is his collection of short stories based on his Vietnam War experience, In Pharaoh’s Army.

Pax by Sarah Pennypacker. Hardcover. 276 pages, published 2016. There was so much buzz about this middle-grade children’s book that I decided to read it myself in hopes of passing it along to one of the grandkids. Such a great premise and so much promise, but ruined by the author’s heavy-handed intrusion into the story. The fox, Pax, is all good, but the apparently man-hating Pennypacker creates a generic war and a completely not-believable female “heroine” to school the young male protagonist on all the evil done by the adult males of the human species, who are (yawn) uniformly depicted as evil, weak and untrustworthy. Pennypacker needs to deal with some issues. I actually threw the book away after reading it, which was hard because Jon Klassen’s cover illustration was so lovely. Not recommended.


The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett. Audiobook, narrated by Cindy Hardin Killavey. 96 pages, serialized in the Atlantic Monthly in 1896. I have never been to Maine, but this sweet little read took me to the fictional town of Dunnet Landing, which is thought to be based on the towns of Martinsville and Port Clyde. It is really more of a series of loosely connected stories than a novel, perhaps a wispy novella at best, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is set in summer, so if I had it to do over again I would schedule this read for June or July.

Winter 2016 was thoroughly warmed by all these good reads. Next up, March and April…






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Family Album: Best Christmas Ever.

And I’ve got the snaps to prove it.

With twelve people in the house, we had some novel sleeping arrangements, but it all worked out:


Stripes were in:


So was fur:


Speaking of fur, Chloe was happy to see Taylor:


Gail and Angie:


Granny, Tina and some great-grands with a very merry Soho:


Gym rats:


Family moment:


Game on. Pie Face with Uncle Daniel:


And handstand contests:


Followed by general mayhem. The uncles were popular this year.


The Chicken Emperor does turkey:


And amazingly, no one was crabby. Well, except for Thomas:


James and I stole a few quiet moments with our neighborhood walks. Turns out you make friends if you carry carrots and apples with you:


And then, just like that, everyone left! Not a creature is stirring, not even the dust bunnies in the corner. “That’s okay”, says Chloe. “I’ll just sit outside and wait for them all to come back…


Thanks to all for making it such a great Christmas! xoxo



Posted in All Things Family, Big Fun, Holidays | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Family Album: He’s Going 70 in a 60 Zone.

It’s taken three months of celebrating to convince us all (especially him!) that the CE is really, truly 70 years old. Everyone knows he is a stubborn cuss, but who else gets away with refusing to age?

Here he is back in the day…


And more recently. Different bench, same handsome guy. (But still refusing to ask for directions.) Doesn’t look a day over 60.


Yesterday we interrupted Christmas briefly to throw a birthday party for him. Lots of happy tears as Tina rolled the amazing video she created in his honor. “It’s eighteen minutes long,” she said, “but it takes awhile to cover seventy years!” We’re already hearing Oscars buzz, and there’s a rumor that Aerosmith will appear to do a live performance of the soundtrack.

Truly amazing how the years fly by…



Didn’t have a chance to get many photos but so glad to have proof that all four kids and five grandkids were in attendance:



Many thanks to all who came from near and far to help celebrate!


And happy, happy 70th, dear CE and love of my life. xoxo



Posted in All Things Family, Big Fun, Holidays | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

And for you, a lump of coal.

Oh, I’ve got a list. And I’m checking it twice. But you may wish you weren’t on it. I promise to get merry somewhere along the line. And I’m even hoping for calm and bright. But right now, that whole “most wonderful time of the year” thing sounds a lot like fake news to me. And you are on my lump of coal list if:

You managed to sleep later than 2:30 a.m. today. You weren’t awake in a panic over not yet having even one sugarplum for the little one’s stockings? You’re dead to me.

You are one of those people I know who squeal excitedly about having finished their holiday shopping back in September. A pox upon you.

Speaking of the calendar, I’d like to have the name of the time thief who removed an entire week of December. I know for a fact that it was just December 3 a couple of days ago and yet the 17th keeps coming up on my phone calendar. What’s with that?

You, over there. The one I keep seeing at parties, sampling cheese puffs and chocolate truffles with abandon and never gaining an ounce. I looked at a pfeffernusse last week and there went another dress size…

Purveyors of gift-wrapping supplies. You, sirs, are Beelzebub incarnate. Shiny little roll of ribbon that costs $7 and then, unspooled, is just about long enough to wrap one and a half shirt boxes? Who do you think you’re kidding?

As long as we are talking about the devil, here’s a special shout-out to my L-2, 3, 4 and 5 vertebrae. That song of searing pain you were belting out all night long was not exactly music to my ears.

Oh, and that reminds me. Music. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating. Anyone who sings, plays or facilitates the dissemination of the song “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” should be hung upside down by their jingle bells.

To the Russians, who have clearly hacked my husband’s internal programming. Please return that nice man to me, because this Grinch with whom you have replaced him and who keeps telling me that people don’t give Christmas gifts anymore is not helping the situation.


To all the people who actually remembered to put stamps on their Christmas cards before you mailed them, just stop giving me that smug look. Like you’re smarter than me or something. Huh.

If you can assemble a Nordstrom box in under a half hour. Or, at all. I officially hate you. Or maybe I need to hire you, because I’ve got some pretty wonky looking boxes over here. What the heck IS a “gusset”, anyway?

If you are the idiot lame brain who decided it would be a good idea to plan a birthday party TWO DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Oh wait, that was me. Never mind…

And the most special ire of all, the contents of an entire coal mine, go to the guy who zoomed into  the sweet parking place for which I had patiently waited, the guy who almost ran me down as I walked across said parking lot AND to the clerk who stole my credit card number the other day. Hope you enjoyed the $150 dinner you charged on it, meaning, actually, that I hope you choked on it. Eight shopping days left and I am without a MasterCard. At least my husband is happy…









Posted in Annoyances of Life, Holidays | Tagged , , | 9 Comments