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Reading Round-Up Header

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby.  I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book.  Here are my reads for September, 2014

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent (Lady Trent #1), by Marie Brennan – This was a fun fantasy set in an alternate Europe in an alternate Victorian age.  Lady Trent starts her life as Isabella, a girl of aristocratic background with a decidedly unfeminine interest in natural history and particularly in dragons (which are very, very real in this world).  Isabella marries Jacob Camherst, a wealthy second son of another aristocratic family, who shares her interest in dragons, and quickly persuades him to join an expedition to the Eastern European-esque nation of Vystrana for the purpose of studying the creatures, and to let her tag along.  Adventure ensues!  I really enjoyed this.  I’m finding myself reading and enjoying more fantasy than I usually do, lately, and A Natural History of Dragons was a good addition to the list.  Isabella (she’s not yet Lady Trent at any point in this book) does some remarkably boneheaded things that endanger her traveling companions on multiple occasions, but if you keep in mind that the character is, at her eldest, nineteen, and that as a memoirist of much more advanced age she realizes she was an idiot back then, there’s a good possibility for character growth as the series goes on.  I’m looking forward to the next installments.

Shadow and Bone (The Grisha #1), by Leigh Bardugo – I kept hearing about this trilogy (I’d say “new” trilogy, but all three books are out – I’m late to the party as usual) and finally got around to picking up the first book.  WOW, it was creative.  I don’t want to say much about the plot, for fear of giving things away, because it really was so much fun to read.  Set in an alternate version of Imperial Russia called Ravka (what is it with me and these fantasy novels set in alternate, but recognizable, European countries this month?) Shadow and Bone follows Alina Starkov, an orphan girl who discovers a tremendous untapped power within her.  Swept into the world of “the Grisha,” an elite force of powerful sorcerer types, Alina is at first seduced by their glittering world, but soon discovers that all is not as it seems.  This was fun, as I said.  Read it!

The Mommy Diet, by Alison Sweeney – This was a re-read for me, just a quick one, but I felt like it was a good time to remind myself of Ali’s great tips for staying in shape and taking care of yourself as a mom.  Ali is the host of the long-running NBC weight loss show, “The Biggest Loser,” and she’s also a mom of two.  Her advice is down-to-earth and practical – and realistic, which is key – but supported by the many wellness experts she’s met in her “Biggest Loser” hosting career.  I love that Ali provides specific advice for each trimester of pregnancy and then broken down into segments thereafter.  There have been a few times, when I was pregnant with Peanut and after she was born, that I just read the chapter that pertained to me at the time, but I wanted to remind myself of Ali’s entire program for mama wellness, so I sat down and read the book cover to cover again.  As always, I loved Ali’s realness and the attainability of her suggestions.  The Mommy Diet is a must-read for all moms, whether you’re in your first trimester with your first baby, or you’re a seasoned mom with a rambunctious preschooler like mine.

As you can see, September was a light month, thanks to the reading slump I blogged about last week – ugh.  It’s just been hard for me to find the time and motivation to sit down and focus on a book.  I’m sure I’ll get my groove back eventually, but for now I’m just going easy on the books, since forcing myself to read a long tome when I’m not feeling it is certainly not going to snap me out of the readerly doldrums anytime soon.  I did enjoy the books I read this month, when I made myself read them!  I’m hoping for a better October, but if it ends up being another month that’s light on the reading, heavy on the unpacking and parenting, that’s okay too.  To everything there is a season.

My Fall TBR

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A little over a week ago, Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy suggested that we all “make Autumn Reading a thing” and shared a TBR list for fall.  Anne’s fall TBR contained some of my favorite books – L.M. Montgomery’s Emily series, for one, and I Capture the Castle for another – and some books that I’ve been wanting to read for awhile – Crossing to Safety being the big one; I need to read some Wallace Stegner.  I loved the idea, and making a fall TBR seems like a good way to get out of my current reading slump.  So here are ten books I’d like to take on this fall (oh, I won’t get to all of them, but I hope to cross at least a few off of this list):

anne of the island Anne of the Island, by L.M. Montgomery.  I love the Anne books, as you all surely know, and Anne of the Island is my favorite.  I think that this installment, in which Anne goes off to Redmond College, finds new girlfriends, learns to be independent, and ultimately falls in love, is the perfect book for back to school season.

great expectations Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens.  “Read some Dickens” is one of the items on my fall list, since there is a serious Dickens-shaped hole in my reading career thus far.  I’ve read Oliver Twist, like a million years ago, and A Christmas Carol a few times around the holidays, but nothing else.  I want to read it all, but let’s start with what I’ve always thought of as the Big Kahuna of the Dickens Bibliography.

village school Village School, by Miss Read.  It’s been too long since I’ve visited Fairacre, and a spell with my favorite fictional teacher-friends is in order.  Another great back to school season read, the first Fairacre novel introduces us to the charming village and all its eccentric residents.  I can’t wait to go back.

all the light we cannot see All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.  I just keep hearing fantastic things about this new release, and I think it’s time to pick it up.

lion in the valley Lion in the Valley (Amelia Peabody #4), by Elizabeth Peters.  Fall is also a good time to pick up a cozy mystery (I mean, the word “cozy” is part of the genre, for goodness’ sake) and the Amelia Peabody books are my current series.  I loved the first, liked the second, and really liked the third, so I’m excited to get back to my favorite indomitable Victorian Egyptologist.

miss buncle's book Miss Buncle’s Book, by D.E. Stevenson.  I bought this charming reissue of a 1930s comedic tale shortly before we moved.  The story of a woman who writes a book featuring the residents of her small English town, with ensuing hijinks, sounds like such fun, and perfect for reading on a chilly fall day with a cup of tea in my hand.

jane austen's england Jane Austen’s England, by Roy and Lesley Adkins.  Fall is back to school time, as I’ve already mentioned a few times in this post, which means it’s time to get our learn on!  With Jane Austen’s England I’ll immerse myself in Georgian England and, hopefully, pick up a bunch of new facts about my favorite author.

amy falls down Amy Falls Down, by Jincy Willet.  I read and loved the first novel featuring Amy Gallup, The Writing Class, and fall strikes me as the perfect season to visit with my favorite antisocial professor again.

what we see when we read What We See When We Read, by Peter Mendelsund.  More learning for fall, and I think this book looks crazy fascinating.

gilead Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson.  Added because it’s been on my TBR forever and a day, and it sounds like just the kind of compelling book that would make for perfect snuggling-under-blankets-and-getting-lost-in-words reading material.

I almost certainly won’t read all of these books this fall.  Life continues to be busy and crazy, and many of these choices are books I own but that are still packed in boxes with no hope of getting out anytime soon.  (I have to find the 2T hand-me-downs my BFF J sent for Peanut before I do anything else.  Then I have to organize my kitchen, find the rest of my work shoes, locate my slippers…)  But if I get the chance to sit and read at all this fall, I’m hoping it will be one of these books in my hands.

Are you making autumn reading a thing?  What’s on your fall TBR?

 

Slumping

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Sigh.

It happens to every reader, and I never thought I was immune, but it’s been years since I had to say that I’m in a reading slump, but… ugh, I think I’m in one right now.  It’s a strange kind of slump, because I’m reading – and really enjoying – Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade of Soaking in Great Books.  It’s a collection of columns that Hornby wrote about the books he was buying and reading over ten years, and it’s fan-freaking-tastic.  He can make me tear up in one sentence (the way the guy writes about his autistic son… so much love) and crack up in the next (the Polysyllabic Spree, the fifty-five or eighty-seven or sixteen rapturously intelligent and intelligently rapturous young men and women who run The Believer magazine… oh, dear, I want to meet them).  Every night, I’m reading one or two columns and loving them.

But that’s all I can manage.

LibrarySummer

I’m just… tired.  I started The Golem and the Jinni, which I’ve been wanting to read for ages now, and can’t seem to make myself pick it up.  And it’s great.  It’s fun, well-written, and crazy creative.  But I’m not really feeling any book at the moment, except a book like Ten Years in the Tub, which I can read in small snatches that don’t tax my attention for more than a few minutes.  I think that Library Summer may have just been too much – at least, when heaped on top of a crush of work deadlines, moving house, sickness (Peanut and I both have bad colds – thanks, preschool germs!) and all the other responsibilities for day-to-day life.  Now I’m down to only three books checked out and that feels good, but I’m having a hard time motivating myself to pick them up.

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Plus, there are too many other things to do.  The house is a disaster – a sea of boxes.  What would have taken me a week, maybe, to unpack before baby is stretching on into infinity now that I have a rambunctious toddler.  I can’t unpack when Peanut is awake, because if I turn my back on her for one second, she’s rummaging through the cleaning supplies under the kitchen sink.  (I have yet to find childproofing materials that fit my new cabinet doors.)  Or playing her favorite game, “Mommy go dis way!”, in which I have to follow her as she makes loops around the house (and she has a mini tantrum if I’m too slow about it).  I can’t unpack while she’s asleep, because the noise of boxes opening and newsprint crinkling wakes her instantly.  So I’m just trying to get a box here, a box there, done while she is occupied with a book of her own – but with all these still-packed boxes about, it’s hard to justify sitting down to read.  Even a magazine is a tall order these days; it took me three sittings to get through Everyday with Rachael Ray.

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I hate being in a reading slump.  I want nothing more than to stretch out on the couch – or in my backyard, even better, enjoying the last warm days before autumn chill really sets in – with a cup of tea and a fantastic, gripping book, and read the afternoon away.  But most of the comforting books I’m craving are still packed in boxes who-knows-where and I just can’t make myself open these library books for more than a few minutes at a time.  I’m burnt out on library books.  I’d rather be playing with Peanut or organizing my kitchen (or reorganizing it after the little hurricane has shuffled all of my spices again) or cooking up freezer meals to have on hand for these busy weeks.  There’s too much to do, too much I neglected when I was deep in Library Summer, and my deep list of tasks is stealing my focus away from my reading material.

I know… excuses, excuses.  The fact is, I just haven’t made time to sit down and read in the last few weeks.  That’s my problem.  But I do think that slumps happen to everyone eventually, and I was due.  So I’m going to weather this one by baking and unpacking and enjoying the fall weather with hubby and Peanut, and the books will be there when I’m ready for them (maybe on shelves, if the unpacking starts to pick up a little).  In the meantime, any recommendations for a great book to get me out of this slump?

Have you ever been in a reading slump?  How’d you get out of it?

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Back when Peanut was just a little baking nut, I shared my hopes for being a Reading Mom.  I confessed that I was worried about having enough time for my favorite hobby, and shared some of the reasons why I think it’s important that I keep reading no matter how busy life as a mom gets.  And one of those reasons was “to set an example.”  I explained:

This might be even more important. I want my baby to grow up surrounded by books, and to live in a world where stories and reading are a part of life. That’s the childhood that my own mom gave me, and that’s what I want to give my little girl. Along those lines, it’s going to be important for me both to read WITH the kiddo every day (stay tuned for our favorite bedtime stories to be featured on the blog), and for the kid to see ME reading to myself – to see that I make reading a priority in my own life. Whether that’s sitting with a book in my lap while I keep an eye on my offspring on the playground a few years from now, or picking out my own book when we motor by the library for story hour, I want the kid to understand that books can enrich her life – and what better way to get that message across than to embody it?

Yes, one of the most important reasons I wanted to make reading a priority even during long days of raising a baby was that I wanted Peanut to grow up with books.  I wanted books to be part of her “normal” – and that included both being read to and reading herself, and seeing me read too.  My hope was that she would grow to love books and become an avid reader herself.

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Two years in… mission accomplished?

Well, not quite yet.  Peanut can’t read yet (although sometimes I have my suspicions that she actually can and is just keeping it to herself) but so far, so good.  The kid definitely loves books.  No… she adores them.  And while I’m not quite ready to declare “success!” or claim that Peanut is a lifelong reader – she is, after all, only two – I think we’re off to an excellent start.  Peanut will happily sit quietly with a book.  She knows her favorites by heart and will entertain herself by “reading” out loud.  (Her teachers tell me she does this at school, too.)  She also loves being read to, of course, and will sit for hours snuggling in a lap listening to stories, if she can convince anyone to go on that long.  How am I making this happen?

  • By being very, very lucky.  Of course I’m doing everything I can to foster a love of books and reading in Peanut.  Of course I am.  But I think that she has a certain innate love of books and reading (her genes, perhaps?) and a large part of any “success” we’ve had in getting her to enjoy books has been pure luck.  It’s the old “nature v. nurture” debate.  I’m doing the best I can to nurture her love of reading, but a big part of it is just her nature.  And I just try to stay out of her way!
  • By patiently reading as much as she wants (within reason).  Peanut goes on jags like any toddler.  In her case, she goes on book jags where we have to read the same book umpteen times in a row.  Last week, it was Olivia Goes to Venice (which is hilarious, by the way).  This week, it’s Fancy Nancy: Halloween or Bust!  If Peanut is into a story and requesting that it be read over and over, I do my best to oblige, even if that means reading the same thirty pages eleven times straight.  I don’t sigh, act put-upon, read more quickly or neglect to do the voices after the tenth read-through.  I don’t want Peanut to ever get the impression that reading to her is a chore for me.  It’s not – it’s pure joy.  (Even if sometimes I wouldn’t mind diversifying… we have a lot of good books.)  Of course, I did say this is within reason.  If it’s a ploy to avoid bedtime… well, Peanut, I wasn’t born yesterday.
  • By respecting her desire to read to herself.  Sometimes Peanut likes to sit quietly with a book and get in some alone time.  I get that, because I do the same thing.  (Nana told me that when she was watching Peanut, Peanut would occasionally take a book into her play yard and sit there for a few minutes to get away – haha!)  If Peanut seems to want to read to herself, I don’t push in (although I will occasionally offer to read the book she’s perusing).  I want her to enjoy reading independently and let her direct herself.  (Now that she usually can do that without ripping pages, that is.)
  • By reading in front of her.  In my “Reading Mom” post I said I wanted Peanut to see me making books and reading a priority in my life too.  Now that she is old enough to play independently, I try to do that when I can.  It’s harder than I expected it to be, though; she’s so cute that I just want to sit and watch her play, not look down at my book!  But I have been trying, more and more, to sit with a book in the playroom while Peanut plays with her farm or tackles her stuffed animals.  (Or sits with a book of her own.)  I don’t know if she’s catching on yet to me making reading a priority, but I’m laying the groundwork.
  • By cycling in seasonal books.  We read fall books in the fall, Christmas books at Christmas, winter books in the winter… Mixing in seasonal books keeps Peanut’s shelves fresh and interesting, and also shows her that books can be something that contributes to the fun of a season or holiday.  Reading special books at special times has become part of our family tradition – as I knew it would – and I hope she looks forward to Christmas books all year the way I did when I was a kid.

We have a long way to go but I am already imagining Peanut as a ten-year-old, curled up with Anne of Green Gables (maybe for the first time) or telling me which of the Little Women she is.  I think that despite all of my plans for fostering a love of reading in Peanut – and as much as I work on that goal every day – a major part of her current bookish propensities is simply that that’s who she is.  I am still, of course, trying to encourage her love of books, but part of me wonders if she’d be a bookish baby no matter what I did or didn’t do.  What I didn’t take into account when I was sharing my goals for reading as a mom (and reading to my baby) was her personality.  Now, two years in, I’m balancing my continuing efforts to encourage her to read with thanking my lucky stars that she seems to be a born reader – with a very lucky mom.

Are you a born reader, or did someone encourage you… or both?

winnie the pooh animated GIF

We’ve been watching a lot of Winnie-the-Pooh around here.  Lately Peanut has turned into quite the Pooh fangirl and we’ve seen it all.  From the classic The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh to the “Mini Adventures” on YouTube and some of the newer cartoons, it seems like this is an all-Pooh-all-the-time house these days.  So much so that hubby and I have started to get a little punchy.  (And I love Pooh.)  So, as adults do, we have been entertaining ourselves while Peanut watches by brainstorming our dream inappropriate cast for a remake of The Many Adventures of Winnie-The-Pooh.  And because I think our list is too good to keep to myself, here it is:

Winnie-the-Pooh…     Alan Rickman (Professor Snape)

Tigger…     Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite, GOSH)

Rabbit…     Nick Offerman

Piglet…     Jim Carter (Carson, the butler at Downton Abbey)

Owl…     Matt LeBlanc (“I am pretty wisdomous.” ~Joey Tribbiani)

Eeyore…     Amy Poehler (rah rah Pawnee!)

Kanga…     Kim Kardashian

Roo…     James Earl Jones

Christopher Robin…     Frank Oz (Yoda… and Miss Piggie)

Narrator…      Samuel L. Jackson

What do you think of our cast?  We tried to think of the defining trait of the particular character and then cast the exact opposite.  Do you think we did a good job?  Who would you cast?

The Fall List

A bounty of apples.

A bounty of apples.

There are so many things I love about each and every season – the first buds of spring; summer’s long evenings; sparkling blankets of fresh snowfall on a winter morning – but fall is my favorite.  I love everything about fall.  I love the flavors – apple cider (hot and cold) and pie; pumpkin spice everything; cinnamon sugar donuts; candy corn at Halloween; turkey and cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving – and the colors of the leaves as they turn.  I love how the sky is always bluest in fall, over a patchwork of red and orange and yellow.  I love that it’s the start of hockey season.  (It’s also the start of my annual football widowhood, but that’s less burdensome now that I have a Peanut to play with while Daddy watches his games.)  I love dusting off my knitting needles – they may sit unused during summer’s heat, but the first cool evenings bring back a desire to knit… and to bake, craft, create things.  I love fall clothes – jeans and sweaters and scarves, but no coat, not yet.  I love Halloween and Thanksgiving and the beginnings of anticipating Christmas.

In honor of my favorite season, here’s my to-do list for fall.

  • Hike Zoar Valley.
  • Visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Greycliff – I wanted to get here over the summer, but I’m sure the house and grounds will look spectacular in autumn colors, too.
  • Re-read Anne of the Island, my favorite of the Anne books and a perfect read for back-to-school season.
  • Bake fall treats – apple coconut family cake, pumpkin bread, cinnamon scones, and cranberry-studded oatmeal cookies all sound good right now.
  • Visit Tifft Nature Preserve for our seasonal hike – this one will bring us full circle!
  • Knit a pair of warm socks.
  • Make a dent in some of the unpacking; living in a sea of boxes gets wearing.
  • Go to Maine for my brother’s wedding – the event I’m most looking forward to all season!
  • Make apple butter.  I’ve always wanted to try.
  • Find Peanut an adorable Halloween costume to wear to school.
  • Spend some time in Fairacre with my favorite teachers – Miss Read, Miss Clare, and Mrs. Annett.  And Amy, of course!
  • Discover a new local hike.
  • Take Peanut to visit Cornell, Mommy and Daddy’s (and her future) alma mater.  LET’S GO RED!
  • Drink hot apple cider as much as I can.  And make roasted pumpkin seeds.  My two favorite seasonal treats.
  • Run for fun – a few 5Ks and, of course, the turkey trot with my sisters-in-law.
  • Pick out a pattern and start working on Peanut’s Weasley Christmas sweater.
  • Read some Dickens.

What’s on your fall agenda?

BKR041

It’s that time again – Quarterly box time!  Wheeeeeeee!  The team over at Book Riot worked hard on this one, that much is clear.  Now that #BKR04 has been officially unveiled, I can show you what I got.

The first view of the box was immediately promising.  I set aside the cute little “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya” button (!!!) and the team’s summary of the contents of the box – I’d read it later, but I wanted to be surprised – and the first treat I exposed was an 8×10 Obvious State print (with a quote from Jorge Luis Borges) and a bonus postcard-sized second print.  I love Obvious State – I already own an 11×14 print with a quote from my favorite poet, e.e. cummings – so right away I was psyched.

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Under the prints I found a “Read Harder” water bottle, a cool “READ READ READ” bumper sticker (not sure where I’ll put that yet, but I’m sure I’ll find a use for it) and two books, both of which I had been wanting to read.

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The book offerings this quarter were The Salinger Contract, by Adam Langer (novel) and What We See When We Read, by Peter Mendelsund (non-fiction).  I’m particularly psyched for What We See When We Read.  I flipped through it briefly and it catapulted to the top of my to-read list, just as soon as I dispatch with the remaining books in my current library stack.  There was also a voucher for a free Michael Chabon ebook – winning.

As you might remember, #BKR03 – my first Quarterly box – was a bit of a mixed bag (errrr – box) for me.  I liked some of the selections, but others didn’t do much for me and one item was something I already owned.  This time, I’m glad to report, I loved everything in the box.  I can’t wait to read the books and find the perfect spots to hang the Obvious State prints, and I know the water bottle is going to get plenty of use.  Cheers to a Quarterly box winner!

Do you subscribe to the Book Riot Quarterly boxes?  What did you think of #BKR04?

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