Oct 30, 2009

Growing Your Own Vegetables

Agriculture Information Bulletin 409
by the US Dept of Agriculture

When there's a change of seasons I get an itch to read gardening books. This slender volume is pretty packed with information. Growing Your Own Vegetables is a handbook containing articles by various professors of agriculture and other related fields, from different universities. Each short section is about a particular group of related plants: cucurbits, tomatoes and peppers, leafy salad vegetables, root crops, legumes, the onion family, herbs, etc. It gives advice on how to grow, care for and propagate the plants, recommends varieties and notes common problems that may be encountered (although not much on how to solve them beyond applying pesticides). The lists of plant diseases and pests dismayed me, but I found enough useful info to fill several pages of notes, and encouragement to try a few new plants in my garden next year. The book is a bit old- just over thirty years- but a lot of the information seems pertinent, and many of the vegetable varieties listed I recognized right away- Sweet 100 tomatoes, Detroit Dark Red beets, Longstanding Bloomsdale spinach, Fordhook Giant swiss chard- I guess the good ones stay around! I especially appreciated the chapter on asparagus and rhubarb- two perennial plants I want to establish in my own garden- and the one on uncommon vegetables, some I've never heard of (dasheen, chayote, sunchoke) and others I'd like to try growing when I'm feeling braver and a bit more experienced (peanuts, artichoke, soybeans).

One interesting thing about the book is that although its contents have over a dozen authors, the voice is very consistent. Only one seemed to break with straightforward informative writing and throw in a bit of friendly humor, which made it stand out. The chapter on herbs has a general recipe for making butter, vinager or jelly with various herbs. Throughout the book are several charts on plant spacing and how many feet of each type will feed a family of four (or calculate by the number of adults in the household)- very useful.

I found this book at a discard sale. The copyright page tells me it contains Part 2 of the 1977 Yearbook of Agriculture. I'm a bit curious what's in Part 1, but doubt I'll ever find out.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 244 pages, 1977

Oct 29, 2009

The Ecology of Stray Dogs

by Alan Beck

This brief little scientific book gives the results of a study done on free-roaming dogs in Baltimore. The author simply followed dogs about the city, observing their behavior and interactions with people. The study distinguishes between pet dogs that have simply got loose for a period and stray dogs that have no owners. It looks at how stray dogs have adapted to living in the city environment, and provides all kinds of general information such as how far they roam, where and how they find food, how densely they are distributed, their daily activities, what threats they pose to people- in the form of causing injury or spreading disease, how they can become a nuisance (noise and dog poo) what threats the dogs face from humans (animal control) and recommendations on what to do about controlling their numbers.

Aside from The Hidden Life of Dogs I've never read a book quite like this. The Ecology of Stray Dogs is far more focused and scientific, and draws some interesting conclusions- for example, it shows how stray dogs can blend in and avoid notice by behaving like pet dogs, even when they're actually very wary of humans. It demonstrates that despite the fear of dog bites, stray dogs actually pose little to no threat to people (most bites are from pet dogs). It sounds dry and boring but I was fascinated. There are so many books out there about studies of wild canines, or the antics of people's pets, or even fictional accounts of stray dogs' lives- I've read half a dozen- but this is the only scientific study on stray dogs I've ever come across. This little book is well worth the read, if you're interested in that kind of thing.

I read this book on interlibrary loan in San Francisco several years ago. I think I'd like to read it again, having since lived in Baltimore, it would now be easy to picture the places described. But it's hard to find.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 98 pages, 1973

Oct 28, 2009

The Egg and I

by Betty MacDonald

I only had a vague impression of this book going into it: city girl becomes the reluctant wife of a chicken rancher in the mountains and relates the struggles of her first year, in the 1920's. What I didn't know until I opened The Egg and I was its setting: the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. And that's why I fell in love with this book. My heart has roots that thread back to that locale. I grew up in Seattle, and my father's family lives around Grays Harbor, which is on the southern costal part of the Olympic Peninsula. So when Macdonald described the heavily forested mountains, the houses weathered grey with cedar shingle roofs, the damp and endless winter rain, the logging clearcuts full of wild blackberries, the choking underbrush of salaal, huckleberries and oregon grape, the smoked salmon and fresh-dug clams and little oysters- it was all dearly familiar to me. I could see it because I've been there.

Besides the familiarity of place, I loved this book because its writing is so frank and funny. The hardships MacDonald suffered were many- endless chores made difficult by lack of running water and a cranky old wood stove that failed to heat the house well; slovenly neighbors always begging for help and causing more problems; bears and cougars wandering near the house; hundreds of baby chicks demanding attention every few hours; etc etc- yet she never lost her sense of humor, although it gets kind of bitter at times. Her descriptions of the Native Americans who lived on the Peninsula are disparaging, but I was able to glide past that prejudice and enjoy the rest of the book. Her husband could come across as uncaring and demanding, yet at the same time he would haul water for her and assist in other ways while men around them just looked on and sneered at him for doing "women's work". Her neighbors are colorful: down one side of the mountain live the Kettles, lazy and shiftless with a yard cluttered with dead cars; on the other side the Hicks, neat as a pin and cooly cricital- both full of endless gossip. Anyhow, I won't go on and on. If you like memoirs about what life was like in the days of few conveniences, this one is a darn good read. I know I'm going to go looking now for some more of MacDonald's autobiographical writing. She also wrote the Miss Piggle-Wiggle books, which I read over and over from my gradeschool library as a kid.

My own copy of The Egg and I has a worn, dreary cover so I gave it a new face from my scrap file. Here's the result. (You can see some more covers I've redone on these two old posts.)



Rating: 4/5 ....... 287 pages, 1945

More opinions at:
Naked Without Books
Too Fond of Books
Bookmarks: A Literary Blog
A Book a Day
Puss Reboots

Oct 27, 2009

bookmark giveaway


win a free bat bookmark
In the spirit of the season I thought I'd give away a bookmark of a bat this week! It's one I made from scrap pictures out of a magazine, double-sided and laminated. If you'd like to have him, just leave a comment on this post for a chance to win. Name will be drawn next tuesday, 11/03. Open worldwide, as long as you have a postal address!

Oct 25, 2009

House of Stairs

by William Sleator

Five orphaned teens of widely differing personalities find themselves unwillingly involved in a behavioral experiment. They're all placed in a House of Stairs- an environment made up of staircases, small landings, occasional bridges- no walls, no floor, no place to feel safe. There's a small computer that flashes colors and dispenses food- but only in response to certain actions. Which they have to decipher by guesswork- and the results become more and more bizarre, until the kids are barely holding onto their sanity. I read this book a long time ago as a teen and it really made an impression on me. The characters are a bit flat and stereotypical, but the dynamics of their interactions and the different ways they respond to the challenges they face make it an interesting read. It really gave me the shivers back then, but now I want to read it just to pick apart what made some of the kids come out of it okay, and the others drive themselves to disintegration.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 166 pages, 1974

More opinions at:
Journeys with Books
books i done read
Reading is My Superpower
Opinions of a Wolf

Oct 24, 2009

Moon Called

by Patricia Briggs

I have been dragging and dragging my way through this book for the past several days, and just not getting anywhere. It might be the author's writing style, or perhaps werewolf books just aren't my thing (this is the first one I've tried). The premise was interesting- a female mechanic whose ancestors were Native American shamans has the ability to shape-shift into a coyote. She gets mixed up in a power struggle between two different werewolf packs. She's not as powerful as them, but can sense magic, identify people by their smell, see in the dark, etc. In her world (kind of like McKinley's Sunshine) magical beings live alongside but hidden from normal people- so there are vampires, witches and other fae on the fringes of the story. I liked reading the details about how their society worked, the social dynamics like a wolf pack, the "new" werewolves struggling against their animal instinct. But I wanted to read more about what it felt like to be in the animal form, I wasn't connecting to any of the characters, and the constant telling of backstory throughout the plot slowed it down for me. I made it about halfway through- 126 pages.

I grabbed Moon Called at a discard sale, because of a review at You Can Never Have Too Many Books that made me want to read it. I've seen it on many other blogs; see a few links below.

Abandoned ........ 288 pages, 2006

More opinions at:
Read Warbler
The Narrative Casuality
Blogging for a Good Book
Cat's Book Reviews
Danielle's Book Thoughts

Oct 22, 2009

Behind the Attic Wall

by Sylvia Cassedy

Lonely, sullen Maggie goes to live with her stern, elderly aunts in a big old spooky house that used to be an orphanage. Her aunts try to correct her recalcitrant behavior and introduce her to "suitable" friends, but Maggie pushes everyone away. She only has imaginary friends- a handful of unintelligent girls she secretly bosses around. Stirred by a dull curiosity, she wanders the empty rooms when she can escape her aunts' attention, poking into things and lecturing her string of dull, invisible followers. Then she begins to hear voices, and eventually stumbles upon a hidden room in the attic- where a pair of china dolls appears to have been waiting for her. In her initial shock she avoids the room, but then returns and soon finds herself going there day after day, keeping company with the prim doll couple and their little china dog, opening her heart to care for something, and at the same time solving a little mystery about the orphanage's past. I first read Behind the Attic Wall years and years ago, and went back to it many times. Even though Maggie isn't a very pleasant character at first, there's something about her that warms to the reader- her stubborn tenacity and slowly unfolding tenderness (rather like Mary in The Secret Garden, it now occurs to me). It's a solemn kind of story, and rather sad; one that's hard to forget.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 315 pages, 1983

Oct 20, 2009

blog award

A while back Jules gave me a blog award and I completely forgot to acknowledge it. Sorry this post is so late in coming, but I just wanted to say thank you, Jules, and pass the award on to some other wonderful book bloggers. This one is the Let's Be Friends Award.

"Blogs that receive the Let’s Be Friends Award are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers."

I'm beginning to have a hard time deciding who to pass awards on to, as I think you're all wonderful and friendly. But here's just a few I thought to recognize today:

The Zen Leaf ........................ A Sea of Books
Emily's Reading Room ..... Book-a-rama
Farm Lane Books ............... A Patchwork of Books
Carol's Notebook ................ Words by Annie

winners!

Random.org has chosen. The winners of the fall leaves bookmarks are #7 and #11-

Karen Beth of The Pink Bookmark

and Thomas from My Porch


Email your postal address to jeanenevarez AT gmail DOT com to claim your bookmark! If you didn't win, please visit again next tuesday. There's more bookmark giveaways coming up!

Oct 19, 2009

Way Out Here

Modern Life in Ice-Age Alaska
by Richard Leo

A contemplative memoir about life in rural Alaska. We're talking extremely rural. The author, Richard Leo, lived for fifteen years in an isolated cabin deep in the Susitna Valley. For most of the year the only way to and from his cabin is by dogsled, or hiking with a backpack. There are no roads. During breakup leaving the valley is impossible. Way Out Here is a collection of thoughts, observations and brief stories about what life is like in such a remote, cold place- its hardships and benefits. He talks about the irony of using modern conveniences (solar-powered electricity) alongside primitive means (outhouses, no tv, etc). One chapter is all about sled dogs, another about how the diverse, widely scattered community of the valley comes together to argue over issues of building resorts to encourage tourism, or leaving the land pristine. He talks about how living so remotely makes self-reliance and helping neighbors a necessity, something he instills in his sons (which took my mind back to Confessions of a Slacker Mom). He talks about the wide vistas and looming mountains, the brilliant still landscape of winter and madly active growth of summer; the eerie twilight when the sun sets for half the year, the disorientation when it never goes to bed for summer. There are mountain-climbing trips and walks on glaciers, hunts for moose and encounters with bears.

As my house is kind of cold right now- our furnace broke right after we returned from vacation!- it was easy for me to feel immersed in this book, to imagine myself tramping alongside Leo across snowfields, or balancing on the dogsled whizzing through turns. I've heard his previous book, Edges of the Earth, is even better so I'm anxious to read that one now, too. (I found this book at a library sale for twenty cents.)

Rating: 3/5 ........ 191 pages, 1996

Oct 16, 2009

Trail of an Artist Naturalist

by Ernest Thompson Seton

I happened across this volume in a used bookstore while on a recent trip, and snatched it up at once. I recognized the author's name from a book I read many times over as a child at the public library: Wild Animals I Have Known. Here, in Trail of an Artist Naturalist, is Ernest Thompson Seton's autobiography. Seton was the son of Scots immigrants who settled on a farm in the backwoods of Canada. The first half of the book describes his rough upbringing there, learning the craft of a woodsman and hankering after knowledge of wildlife, an interest none of his family shared. Determined to squelch his desires to become a naturalist, Seton's father pushed him into an artistic career. Seton turned this to his own bent, becoming one of the most renowned wildlife artists of his day. He studied art in London and Paris, worked as a freelance artist and writer in New York City, and when he felt the need to escape to natural haunts, spent time tramping around northern Canada and the American West. He worked on cattle ranches and remote prairie homesteads, taking any opportunity to roam through the wilderness and study with great scrutiny any wild animals he could find. His greatest interest was birds.

While Seton admired and was enthralled by the beauty of nature, he was also avid about collecting birds' eggs from nests, shooting specimens for their skins and dissecting them for study. While a student in London he would acquire dead dogs from the pound, dissect them to study and draw in his rented rooms, then puzzle over how to safely dispose of the remains when he was done- in one instance he almost got accused of a murder! He was very good at hunting animals, due to having studied their habits in depth, and in one famous incident (video here) rid an area of New Mexico of a wolf called Lobo, famed for its depredations on cattle. He had no qualms about pitting his wits against the wolf to exterminate it, but at the same time felt sympathy for the animals and hated to see poison used on them.

Seton knew and met many notable persons. Robert Henri was his fellow art student in Paris, and later in life he met Frederic Remington- two artists I have always admired. He was acquainted with James Barrie and Mark Twain, and his animal stories- sympathetic, novelistic writings based on true accounts and behavioral studies- inspired Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book stories. A man of surpassing energy and enthusiasm for his chosen work, Seton also faced his share of hardships. He suffered from debilitating childhood illnesses until in his twenties finally found a cure via surgery. He survived harsh weather and blizzards in the northern lands, once having to help dig out his own train on a journey from snowed-in tracks, another time nearly dying of malaria on a remote farm. His book - based on extensive journals he kept and full of sketches, drawings and plates of paintings - depicts a way of life in the late 1800's rougher and closer to the earth, and outlines one man's path to become a skillful artist and natural scientist. If I say any more about it, I'll be writing all night! I suppose his books are rather obscure now, but when first published they were very popular. You can read more about Seton here and here.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 412 pages, 1940

Oct 15, 2009

Meme- Weeding

This question comes from Booking Through Thursday, and it's rather long, so I've just included highlights here (or what I want to answer):

When’s the last time you weeded out your library? Do you regularly keep it pared down to your reading essentials? Or does it blossom into something out of control...?

Or do you simply not get rid of books? At all?

And–when you DO weed out books from your collection …what do you do with them? Throw them away (gasp)? Donate them to a charity or used bookstore? SELL them to a used bookstore? Trade them on Paperback Book Swap or some other exchange program?

The last (and pretty much only) time I seriously weeded my library was when we moved from California to Virginia. We had a volkswagon type van and filled it to the brim with all the stuff we could carry, and drove it across the country. There was little room (or weight capacity) for all my books. I left half of them behind (a few hundred). It really hurt to cull them all out! Once we found a permanent place here I settled all my books on the shelves, and after a while started missing many of those left behind. Over the past few years I've gradually found new copies of many of them. If I run out of shelf space I might start getting a little more picky, or ferret out those books I don't truly love, but for now I'm not putting a cap on it. Dangerous, I know!

Only two times ever have I thrown a book away. Both had come to me used. One had such an awful odor I felt sick every time I tried to read it. Trash can. The other had some pages stuck together with gum, no way I could get that apart and still read it. That book got composted into my garden.

Books that I don't want to keep- that I'm not enthralled with or don't see myself reading again- either get traded on Paperback Swap or Book Mooch. Sometimes I make up a box and send to Powell's for credit so I can buy more hard-to-find books I really want from them. (I used to trade books in for credit at used bookstores in person, but there aren't any close to where I live now). At my local community center they have a book trade every month, I take a lot of books there and look for new ones. And the last time I traveled to my in-laws I left a book behind that I read on the trip, decided not to keep and found someone who wanted to read it. One route or another, the books I don't want find their way into the hands of new readers.

What about you? Do you regularly cull through your book collection, or only (like me) in dire straits? What happens to the books you decide not to keep?

Amy's Eyes

by Richard Kennedy

Did you ever imagine as a child that your dolls could come to life, that your stuffed animal would one day talk to you? Well in Amy's Eyes they do, and more than that, the girl herself turns into a doll. When the story begins, Amy is a lonely orphan who finds comfort in her sailor doll, talking and reading to him constantly. One day she accidentally discovers the secret that will bring him to life, and being a sailor he (of course) goes off to sea. Amy pines away for him so much that when he returns, the sailor finds that Amy has herself become a doll. He takes her away with him on a pirate adventure, searching for gold treasure at the bottom of the ocean. Amy's Eyes is a wonderfully imaginative story, peopled with unforgettable characters. The ship's crew is made up of toy animals brought to life, with a few exceptions- one being the first mate Skivvy, who was a doll made of long underwear turned into a man. The animals were read Mother Goose in their bringing-to-life process, whereas Skivvy was read the Bible. So while the animals' heads are full of nursery rhymes, Skivvy contorts his mind over Book of Revelation prophecies and the arts of numerology. There's a lot of speculation in the story over the meaning of life and other deep questions. Add to that an enemy pirate ship, a witch aboard, threats of mutiny (from a rubber duck!) and a slowly-unraveling mystery, and you have one of the most engaging and entertaining stories I read in my entire childhood. It's beautifully written, too. I wish more people had heard of and read Amy's Eyes. Maybe you'll be the next one.

Rating: 5/5 ........ 437 pages, 1985

Have you written a blog post about this book? let me know and I'll add your link here

Oct 14, 2009

bookmarks giveaway

win a free autumn leaves bookmark!
My blog has been a bit neglected lately, as our daughter has a nasty little headcold. Nothing serious, but takes a more attention and care. So it completely escaped my notice that yesterday was tuesday- my giveaway day! Here we are. More fall colors. These bookmarks aren't as pretty as the last set, but there's something different about them- I made them from real leaves picked up off my lawn, arranged in a row, color xeroxed and laminated with ribbon. The green leaf at the end is from my blooming nasturtiums (which seem to love the cooler weather), the rest are from our trees. Each bookmark is unique, and there will be two winners this time. So leave a comment if you'd like one! Two names will be chosen at random next tuesday, 10/21.

Oct 13, 2009

Tales from Watership Down

by Richard Adams

I had no idea there was a companion novel to Watership Down until one day I saw this book in someone's storage closet. I was surprised and thrilled at first. I thought it was a sequel to Watership Down, but what I found rather disappointed me. Tales from Watership Down is mostly stories about El-ahrairah, the fabled rabbit hero that characters of the first novel talk about. About two-thirds of the book is short stories that make up the rabbits' mythology, the hero's deeds and exploits to foil his enemies and obtain advantages for his fellow rabbits. They are clever and amusing, but some are hard to make sense of and inconsistent with the style of the first book. There are also a handful of chapters that follow the original characters from Watership Down, extending the storyline a bit- but it doesn't even begin to approach the quality of the first book. It's a lot more lighthearted, not nearly as complex and detailed or plot-driven. If you've read and enjoyed Watership Down, you might like this one, but don't expect much.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 352 pages, 1996

More opinions at:
Things Mean a Lot
Fifty Books Project
Steve's Book Journal
anyone else?

Oct 9, 2009

A Dog's Life

by Ann Martin

This book was just okay for me. I was beginning to skim at the end. It's a novel for middle grade readers about the life of a stray dog. It begins with the dog's birth, following through her life as she learns how to scavenge for a living and wanders through countryside and towns. At first accompanied by her sibling, then another stray dog, often alone. Some people she meets are friendly, others ignorant or unkind. Some take her in for a while, but she is often abandoned once more. In the end she finds a loving home and has peace. It's a nice story that tells what stray dogs experience, but for me lacking in descriptions or feeling. I've read several other books describing the life of a stray dog that were far more interesting and emotional: Scruffy by Jack Stoneley, Nop's Trials by Donald McCraig, Fluke James Herbert, to name a few. Or even Dogsbody, by Diana Wynne Jones (not about a stray, but a very imaginative story from a dog's viewpoint). A Dog's Life just doesn't quite compare. However, I'm sure kids would like it just fine. Maybe I should really quit reading J Fiction, as I feel like it often just disappoints me nowadays. I'm in for more depth and complexity.

I picked up this book at a library sale. Incidentally, it's by the same author who wrote the Babysitters Club books.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 182 pages, 2005

More opinions at:
You've GOTTA Read This!
What is Mrs. Searles Reading?
Shamantika's Reflection: Being Human
anyone else?

Oct 8, 2009

Fire on the Mountain

by Edward Abbey

Back in June I read two books by Edward Abbey, one I really liked and the other was kinda lame. Here again in Fire on the Mountain I've found a book I really enjoyed. It's the story of an old man and his ranch in New Mexico, hard country where the cattle barely find enough to stay alive. But the old man loves the wild desert country, and the book is full of beautiful descriptions of fiery sunsets, heat-shimmering vistas, close encounters with rattlesnakes and glimpses of the mountain lion. His ranch isn't too prosperous, but he is content to live there in the solitude and open spaces until he dies. Until the government shoulders in, moving ranchers off the land to add it to the White Sands Missile Range, where rockets and bombs are tested. One by one neighboring ranchers cave in or are bought out, but the old man digs in his heels and refuses to leave, against all persuasion by the law and threats from jeeps of soldiers. What makes things more interesting is that it's all told from the viewpoint of the visiting grandson, a feisty kid who's soaked up all his grandpa's opinions and eager to be part of a siege in the old man's cabin. It's based on true incidents; I read another book a while back about horses that were abandoned on the land and got fenced into the missile range. I liked the contrast of reading about the same events in a fictional novel, a quickly-moving story with some suspense, fractious characters and vivid nature writing.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 181 pages, 1962

More opinions at:
Ten Pound Press
BF77008
anyone else?

Oct 7, 2009

winner!

Random.org has chosen #11.
The winner of my autumn leaves bookmark set is

Hazra of Advanced Booking

Congrats, Hazra! Email me your postal address
to claim your prize.

Happy reading, everyone.

Oct 6, 2009

Their Eyes Were Watching God

by Zora Neale Hurston

My week of reading banned books has kind of fizzled. I could not get into To the Lighthouse, and every time I picked up Schindler's List I kept remembering how much I cried at seeing the movie, and couldn't bring myself to read it yet. But I did finish Their Eyes Were Watching God. It was really interesting to read it in context with the two southern memoirs I've read recently- one about a poor white man growing up to prosperity, the second about a poor black man who was pretty much content his whole life, and now this one about a black woman moving through different social circles in each stage of her life, seeking for love.

This is actually the third time I've tried to read Their Eyes Were Watching God. The first two times I got bogged down on the use of language- the dialect all being written in vernacular, which can be a bit difficult to understand at first. This time I couldn't put the book down! It's a story of community and relationships, a story of one young woman's growth to adulthood and her dawning awareness of self and independence.

When Janie is sixteen, her grandmother wants to see her safely married, and Janie soon finds herself on sixty acres with a man who expects her to work just as much in the field as in the kitchen. Her amorous feelings for marriage cool pretty soon, and before long she runs off with another man who catches her fancy. Her second marriage isn't what she expected either; as her husband becomes more prosperous the distance between them grows. In her third marriage, Janie finally finds happiness and together they move to the Florida Everglades. Things there aren't quite what she expected either, but she is now more accepting of her husband's faults as well as outspoken for her own needs and desires. Janie goes from being a quiet figure in the background subservient to her husband's demands, to a strong woman who speaks up for herself.

I am not sure why this book was on the banned list. The ALA site says it was for "language and sexual explicitness". I'm guessing by language they meant the use of vernacular. And although some passages had sensual writing (describing nature or inner feelings) the actual lovemaking scenes were short and only hinted at. I wonder if it's partly because Janie was such an unconventional figure- a woman who went her own way against society's mores. A lot of the story has to do with how people were judging each other within the black community- and it surprised me to learn they often did so according to how dark or light a person's skin was. I didn't expect that. In all, it's a great story, one that give me another look at life in the South, and inside one woman's heart. I don't want to give anything away to those of you who haven't read it yet, but I just have to say the last few pages took me completely by surprise, and I almost cried.

Rating: 4/5 ....... 219 pages, 1937

More opinions at:
Things Mean a Lot
Vulpes Libres
Passion for the Page
A Striped Armchair
Trish's Reading Nook
Across the Page
Naked Without Books 
You've GOTTA Read This!

Oct 4, 2009

Life is So Good

by George Dawson and Richard Glaubman

This is another memoir about the South, but it has quite a different tone and theme from All Over but the Shoutin'. George Dawson's grandparents were slaves freed at the end of the Civil War. It took them ten more years to work off "debt" to their former master, before they could actually move off the plantation and have their own place. They were given a small homestead of forty acres and a mule. Dawson grew up helping on the family farm, then at the age of twelve began working for wages on another farm nearby. He experienced firsthand the stifling inequality of segregation laws, and learned at an early age -seeing a friend falsely accused and killed by a mob- to move quietly through the background of events, laying low and avoiding notice. When he wanted to see more of the world, he traveled north into Canada, and south into Mexico. Paying to ride on trains when he could, hopping aboard with the hobos when his pockets were empty. He was a working man most of his life, breaking horses, laying train tracks, building levees- and even after retirement age, still found jobs to do in his neighborhood.

Although he could not go to school when young, and didn't learn to read until he was in his nineties, Dawson was an intelligent man who picked up so many things simply by observation, and had a sharp memory. Time and time again his story shows that learning from books isn't everything; life experience can teach you just as much. Life is So Good is a book about one man's character and integrity. A hardworking, honest man who taught his children well and coached them through school even though he could not yet read himself. He was never judgmental of others, content with what he had, and didn't let things worry him. I think that's a great outlook on life, and probably why he lived so long and healthy! What an inspiring story.

Rating: 3/5 ......... 260 pages, 2000

More opinions at:
Bold Blue Adventure
The Broad Room
Twoderful Days
anyone else?

Oct 2, 2009

Confessions of a Slacker Mom

by Muffy Mead-Ferro

I first picked up this title just because it made me laugh. Slacker mom? I thought it was going to be a guilt confession of some mom selfishly ignoring her child, but instead what I got was a friendly, frank, down-to-earth discussion of how relaxing a bit more as a parent could be better for your kids. Parenting doesn't have to be a competition. Do kids really need all the lessons and coached sports, the prestigious preschools and packed schedules? Mead-Ferro points out they might do better learning how to think for themselves and come up with their own games once in a while. To learn from their own mistakes occasionally. Confessions of a Slacker Mom was right up my alley- I grew up in a family that often made do, not swamping me with the latest fad in lessons or gadgety toys. I remember spending hours playing outdoors with my sisters- one favorite activity was making mud spas for our barbie dolls in an old red ryder wagon. Talk about getting dirty! Some germs and hard knocks are okay, it helps kids be more resilient and self-reliant as they grow up. This book reaffirmed a lot of my own ideas on parenting, ones I need a reminder on from time to time. (My own daughter is pretty squeamish about getting her hands sticky, and I'm often over protective). I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's funny, thoughtful and brief enough to read in a few hours.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 137 pages, 2004

More opinions at:
Darn Good Books
A Few More Pages
The Bibliofiles

Oct 1, 2009

All Over but the Shoutin'

by Rick Bragg

In this touching memoir, a New York Times journalist reminisces about his childhood in the South. He grew up in a small community in the Alabama hills, his family struggling with abject poverty. His father was a Korean war veteran, an alcoholic tormented by memories. His mother was constantly abused or abandoned, but she never failed to step between her sons and their violent father, to do her best to give her children more than she had herself. She raised her three boys alone, picking cotton, taking in laundry and scrubbing floors to supplement the assistance welfare and family gave them. They always got by somehow, and while Bragg's brothers made lives for themselves working with their hands- at carpentry and in the local cotton mills- he found his vocation in writing stories. From small town papers all the way up to the Times, he was a man self-built on talent and hard work. He sought out the downtrodden people wherever he went to cover stories, winning awards for his heartfelt writing, eventually earning the Pulitzer prize. In the end he returned to his hometown, to give his mother one thing she had always longed for- a house of her own.

I've never been to the South or read much about it, so I can't really compare, but All Over but the Shoutin' really has a feel of place. The heat and dust, the Southern culture and close-knit communities. What it was like growing up in a family where men were expected to fight, and everyone looked the other way when they drank, then quietly stepped in to help each other out and pick up the pieces. It's a story with heartache, but also some sweet moments and dashes of humor. The author isn't afraid to admit people's failings- of his father, his colleagues, himself. His story is one of pain alongside determination, of unashamedly brushing the dirt off when you fall down and moving forward. It was an engrossing read.

I read this book for the Random Reading Challenge. It was #72 off my list.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 329 pages, 1997

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Oct reviews- DogEar Challenge

If you're taking part in my little DogEar Reading Challenge, here's the place to leave links for reviews of books you read in October. Put your name and the title in with a permalink for each specific review post, and we can all see what the other participants are reading.