Reading Round-Up: November 2012

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 November, 2012…

Arcadia, by Lauren Groff – This novel traces the rise and decline of a hippie commune through the eyes of one of its littlest residents.  Bit is the child of two of the founding members of the Arcadia community.  He spends his childhood within the folds of community, but by his adolescence the group is showing strain.  As an adult, Bit tries to live by the values he learned in Arcadia, but he must contend with the external world he never knew as a child.  I really enjoyed Arcadia – and not just because I once considered running off to join a commune, but decided not to because I was pretty sure they didn’t like lawyers much.  (True story.)  Fully reviewed here.

Miss Clare Remembers, by Miss Read (Fairacre #4) – The Fairacre books are fun, light, sweet reads.  This interlude tells the life story of Miss Clare, the retired infants’ teacher and friend to Miss Read, and also sneaks in some commentary about rural socioeconomic issues of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.  It lacks the dry wit of the books told from Miss Read’s perspective, but it was nice to learn Miss Clare’s backstory and spend a little bit of time in the Fairacre of an even simpler time.

Over the Gate, by Miss Read (Fairacre #5) – This is almost more of a short story collection than a novel, as Miss Read recounts several local fables and legends related to her by Fairacre residents, over cups of lemonade and garden gates.  The story of Sally Gray is particularly amusing, and the tale of the Fairacre Ghost is heart-wrenching.

The Fairacre Festival, by Miss Read (Fairacre #7) – The sixth Fairacre novel is a slim volume (only 103 pages!) but packed full of action and tension.  A fall storm wreaks havoc on the town and, most distressing of all, severely damages the roof of St. Patrick’s Church.  When the repair estimates come in at nearly two thousand pounds, the town must band together to raise the funds to fix their beloved church.  The resulting Fairacre Festival is an example of the town at its best – everyone works together, from the schoolchildren to the local gentry, to gather the needed monies.  But will their efforts be enough, or will the church be forced to supplement by selling a cherished piece of church silver?  I read this little book in a day and enjoyed it very much.

Seating Arrangements, by Maggie Shipstead – This debut novel kind of reminded me of a modern Gatsby.  In a sense.  With a bit of Wendy Wasserstein’s The Elements of Style thrown in for good measure.  Winn Van Meter is preparing for his daughter Daphne’s wedding.  Or, to be more precise, Winn is trying to stay out of the way as Daphne and her mother Biddy prepare for the wedding.  But it’s easier said than done: Winn has a lot on his mind.  For one thing, the bride is pregnant.  For another, Winn’s younger daughter Livia has recently broken up with her boyfriend, the son of Winn’s old rival Jack Fenn, and Winn is convinced that the breakup is why his application to the Pequod Golf Club is languishing.  (Well, it could be that, or it could be that Winn once had a hand in preventing Fenn from joining a collegian eating club… or that Winn once dated Jack’s wife.)  Livia continues to pine for her ex even while she falls into a rebound fling with the best man, and Winn’s eyes stray toward one of the bridesmaids.  I felt a bit like a cultural anthropologist, watching Winn and Livia go off the rails and toss a social hand grenade into Daphne’s very correct (well, except for the baby bump), very WASP wedding plans.  Seating Arrangements read like chick lit, but a bit more complex.  I can see why it was the book of the summer.

Emily Davis, by Miss Read (Fairacre #8) – Another interlude in the Chronicles of Fairacre, this volume examines the long, full life of Emily Davis, headmistress of Springbourne School and lifelong friend to Miss Clare.  Although Emily is not a character in most of the other Fairacre books, it’s clear that she left her mark on the residents of Fairacre, and of Beech Green and Caxley too.  A sweet read with plenty of subtle lessons about how to live a good life.

Growing a Reader from Birth, by Diane McGuinness – This was an impulse buy at the Book Bank in Old Town Alexandria.  It caught my eye because I’ve been pondering Peanut’s language development recently.  My mom taught me how to read (she had an advantage; she was a first grade teacher) and I’ve always dreamed of teaching my own child how to read, too.  This was an interesting book that set forth research into babies’ and children’s path to language, included some hilarious anecdotes from the author’s own experience as a mother and, my favorite part, concluded each chapter with concrete strategies for parents to use while interacting with their infants, older babies, toddlers and preschoolers.  I’ve already started to put some of McGuinness’s suggestions for newborns into practice when I talk to Peanut, and I’m more inspired than ever to help her along the path to literacy.

Young House Love, by Sherry and John Petersik – I am a huge fan of the Petersiks’ blog, Young House Love – I can’t get enough of their fresh, modern decor projects and the heaping helping of house inspiration Sherry and John serve up on a daily basis.  So obviously I was pumped when they got their book deal and I pre-ordered ASAP.  Young House Love the BOOK is Sherry and John at their finest: more of the same dorky wit, cheerleading, and great ideas to spruce up your space that their blog readers have come to love… BUT none of the book projects have been featured before on their blog.  Yep, they secretly whipped up 243 never-before-seen projects and avoided falling into the “rehash of the blog” trap that other blogs-turned-books are prone to.  The ideas in YHL the book range from quick and easy craft projects that take an hour and cost ten bucks or less, to big room upgrades.  But whether the project is large or small, Sherry and John are encouraging and inspiring.  I’m going to be taking on a few of their ideas, adapting some others to make them my own, and I’m super-inspired to get back to putting my own stamp on my builder house (a plan which went off the rails when ye olde pregnancy test came up positive).  Highly recommend!

The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty – This one was rather hyped in the blogosphere a few months back, and I finally decided to reserve a copy at the library.  Usually when a book is hyped I’m at least a little disappointed, but I really wasn’t.  The Chaperone was wonderful!  I loved the period touches (most of the action takes place during the Roaring Twenties) and witnessing the character development of the main (and title) character, Cora Carlisle, who acts as a chaperone to a willful future starlet during one fateful summer in New York City.  Cora’s moral awakening is wonderful to watch.  She begins the book very set in her judgmental attitudes about everything from drinking to sexual orientation to birth control, and through her experiences in New York and then back home in Wichita, she comes to realize that not all is as it has always seemed to her and that there is much more ambiguity in life than her rigid moral code previously allowed.  Lovely writing and wonderful characters.

Tyler’s Row, by Miss Read (Fairacre #9) – Peter Hale, a soon-to-be retired schoolmaster from Caxley, is looking for a summer cottage with his wife Diana.  They discover Tyler’s Row, a house that has been converted into four cottages that have held some of the scrappiest citizens of Fairacre.  Two ne’er-do-well families, the Coggs and the Waites, have moved to council houses and left their cottages vacant, so Peter and Diana move in and begin renovating.  In the process of renovations, which are frustrating in and of themselves, they must deal with their two remaining neighbors, the loquacious Colonel Burnaby and the sour Mrs Fowler.  Peter and Diana’s trials and tribulations have only begun when they sign the deed!

Farther Afield, by Miss Read (Fairacre #11) – I think this might have been my favorite Fairacre book yet.  Miss Read, looking forward to a relaxing and productive summer vacation, is dismayed when she falls and breaks her arm.  But her old friend Amy steps in to nurse her back to health.  Later that summer, Amy asks Miss Read to accompany her on a trip to Crete while she ponders how to fix her failing marriage.  To be honest, I never understood why Miss Read was friends with Amy, who first appeared in Village Diary and who always struck me as a colossal pain in the neck.  But Farther Afield gives the reader a glimpse into Amy’s life and a better understanding of why Miss Read continues to socialize with Amy, who turns out to be a loving, caring friend.  The descriptions of Crete were luscious, too!

The Partly Cloudy Patriot, by Sarah Vowell – Something happens to me in November and I get this urge to read Sarah Vowell.  Last year it was The Wordy Shipmates, which I liked, and this year it was The Partly Cloudy Patriot, which I think I loved.  Vowell’s essays are smart, witty, funny and warm.  Her letter to President Clinton about how to structure his Presidential Library was slyly intelligent, and her essay “The Underground Lunchroom” was a stealthily informative hoot.  I don’t think I’ll be waiting for November, 2013 to pick up my next Sarah Vowell.

The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Harvey Karp, M.D. – I’d been meaning to get to this well-regarded book about how to calm a crying baby and promote good sleep, and when I finally did I found it well worth my time.  The book is primarily geared toward parents of infants with colic, which (thank goodness) Peanut does not seem to have.  I guess the baby gods figured they’d already dealt us a bad enough hand, what with the NICU and all, so we seem to have been spared colic.  Yay!  But even though Peanut is not a colicky baby, we still have found the Happiest Baby techniques useful for soothing her when she gets into her relatively mild fussy moods.  I’ve also used them to buy another hour or so of sleep during the night.  Intellectually, I found the book’s discussion of the more hands-on style of parenting in other cultures fascinating, too.  I’d definitely recommend this to parents of young babies, regardless of whether the babies are colicky.  And once Peanut gets older, I’ll be seeking out Dr. Karp’s other book, The Happiest Toddler on the Block.

Ummmmm, whaaaaaa?  That’s what I imagine you’re saying right now.  How on Earth did I manage to read thirteen books with an infant in the house?  I was sort of wondering that myself, until I looked back on exactly when I was doing most of my reading this month.  You see, Peanut is at a stage where she really only likes to nap on Mommy.  (She sleeps at night, thank goodness, but during the day she likes to be held.)  So we’ve spent most days this month lounging on the couch, Peanut napping in my arms while I lose myself (most of the time) in Fairacre.  These long afternoons of reading and cuddling are going to be one of my favorite memories of Peanut’s early childhood, I can already tell.  And there’s the fact that none of the books I read this month were particularly long or taxing.  But they were good!  I have been loving my time in Fairacre.  I just can’t get enough of Miss Read and the gang.  Other than the Fairacre books, I particularly enjoyed The Chaperone and The Partly Cloudy Patriot – both smart, fun reads.  A good month indeed!

3 thoughts on “Reading Round-Up: November 2012

  1. Ah, Fairacre. It’s heaven, and I’m so glad you’ve been enjoying it. I also loved The Chaperone. And now I’m inspired to pick up some Sarah Vowell!

  2. Pingback: Scholastic’s 2012 Kids and Family Reading Report is Here! « Covered In Flour

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