Book review

Well, as you know, I've been pretty busy lately. Too busy to do much reading, unfortunately. I've been worrying about the fact that I haven't been able to post anything, you know, literary in quite a while. Finally, I hit upon the perfect solution: get someone else to write book reviews for me. So, without further ado, let me introduce my almost-10-year-old son Joey, who just finished Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke. Joey writes:
Inkheart is a wonderful book. It has no pictures, but it is so descriptive that I could see a picture in my mind for almost all of the situations in the story. It is about a girl -- Meggie -- whose father has a mysterious power to read actual people out of stories, but when he accidentally reads an evil villain out of the book "Inkheart" it's all up to Meggie. There isn't a single person in this book that was created just to liven up the story. There isn't a single sentence in this book that is out of place, and it has a very satisfying ending. It's a great combination of fantasy, mystery, and a little bit of suspense. On a scale of 1-10 it would be a 15.

Busy days

For an introvert like me, having social events five days in a row doesn't exactly sound enticing. But I had five really lovely days last week. Here they are:

Wednesday: I met blogger Melissa! She lives in another state, but her parents live nearby. She was visiting them for the holiday, so we met at Starbucks. Just the two of us, no kids. It was great. We chatted away like old friends until suddenly it was dark outside and her cell phone was ringing with the news that she needed to come home for dinner. She is so nice and sweet and funny, just like her blog. What a delight!

Thursday: Satiation shock, infra.

Friday: Spent the entire day with friends. Okay. Yes. I admit it. We spent the day tossing dice of many shapes and colors. If you don't get it, I'm not going to explain it. You already know I like games.

Saturday: Satiation shock part 2: Thanksgiving dinner with my husband's family. We did the whole thing all over again. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, yup. Two huge highlights of the dinner were the salad (mixed greens with roasted beets and this amazing mild creamy goat cheese) and the homemade ginger ice cream. Another highlight was the college freshman cousin who brought along his BANJO.

Sunday: A HUGE mommy moment -- Joey's first piano recital! My mom had serious reservations about taking him as a student because, being mostly retired, she couldn't provide the experience of regular recitals with a bunch of kids taking turns playing. So we decided we'd have to create opportunities, and what better opportunity than Thanksgiving vacation, with out-of-town relatives present. Joey was very nervous beforehand (Grandpa Bookworm and I responded, "Good! You're supposed to be nervous! You think Vladimir Horowitz never got nervous before a concert?" Reassuring, I know. But I was glad Joey took it seriously enough to be nervous.) And bless his heart, he played very well. And his little cousins were mostly quiet, though at one point Daniel commented quite loudly, "Oh my goodness!"

One of my mom's recital traditions is to begin with a student-teacher duet. Awww!


So that was my busy week. During all this, I also finished another blog design. And I've been reading Birds Without Wings (see sidebar), which I am LOVING. So far. I'm not even a hundred pages into it yet. But I'm loving it. It's very colorful, atmospheric, full of peasant superstition, aphorisms, Christianity vs. Islam, oh, just wonderful. It's got all the ingredients for a Julie's Favorite [rubbing hands gleefully in anticipation, and hoping for a bad back or mild cold to keep me in bed for a day or two . . . ]

Phrase of the day

When psychologists do experiments with lab rats, they deliberately keep them underfed because hungry rats learn faster. When the experiment is over, the psychologists let them eat as much as they want. Sometimes they gorge themselves so badly that they become prostrate and unresponsive. This state is called satiation shock.

Bet you can guess why I mention this on the morning after Thanksgiving! :)

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We had such a good time last night at my parents' house. The food was sooooo good, a mix of traditional and new, including our Thanksgiving sine qua non: Nana's cocktail. Nana was my great-grandmother; her cocktail is a lovingly-crafted homemade Bloody Mary mix. With or without vodka. Mmmmm!

Anyway, even better than the food was the family. The cousins played together nicely -- nicer than ever before, in fact, given the age range. The parents were able to pay attention to each other instead of the kids. It was great.

Best of all, we revived an old game. My family (my family of origin, that is) is very big on playing games. Board games, word games, guessing games. And we're also very big on inventing our own. My sister and I have a looooong history of playing made-up games. Mostly the object of our games is to laugh and be silly. One of my favorite games is one we play at the mall during the Christmas season. The name of the game is "Heavy or Light?" One sister points to some object, typically a Christmas decoration, but could be anything, and asks the other sister "heavy or light?" We both guess. Then we lift. Heaviness or lightness is relative, based solely on whether the object is heavier or lighter than our expectation of it. Is it metal . . . or just gold-painted papier-m√Ęche?? And there's the sneaky goofiness factor. Usually we're examining and lifting things that we have no business touching, such as the fake presents under a fake tree in a department store display. Oh ha ha!

But that's not the game we played last night. The game we played last night was invented many years ago, when my sister was away at college. She was on the phone with my mom, and my mom was trying to describe a new pair of earrings she had just bought. They were hard to describe. Finally, she suggested that Eva go get a piece of paper and a pencil, and my mom would give her instructions for drawing them. "Okay, draw a hexagon. Now inside the hexagon draw another smaller one, about halfway in. Now draw lines connecting the points of the inner hexagon to the outer hexagon . . . " Etc. Nowadays we'd probably just take a digital photo of the earrings and email it, but in the technologically-benighted late '80s this was a marvellously entertaining way of conveying information. So entertaining that we did it frequently, even when we were in the same room. We would take a jewelry catalog, choose a piece, give drawing instructions, and then compare the result with the original photo. Is this totally kooky or what?

Years passed, we forgot all about the game. Until last night. I think what brought it to mind was my mom's ridiculously large collection of costume jewelry. A lot of it, coincidentally, came to us from the Nana of cocktail fame. She keeps it readily available for grandkids to play with. They were playing with it, and . . . oh yeah, the earring-drawing game! So nothing would do except for my mom to go and get the original hexagon-shaped earrings and describe them to us. So we drew the hexagons, and about three more pairs after that. All to the tune of gut-busting laughter.

Now that's what I call a great Thanksgiving. Hope yours was wonderful too. : )

Another one of those quiz things

Finally, a quiz result I agree with, via Suzan:

The Movie Of Your Life Is An Indie Flick
You do things your own way - and it's made for colorful times.
Your life hasn't turned out how anyone expected, thank goodness!
Your best movie matches: Clerks, Garden State, Napoleon Dynamite

If Your Life Was a Movie, What Genre Would It Be?

Tooting my own horn

I guess false modesty is as bad as none at all. I have to confess I'm feeling pretty damn pleased with myself this evening. Did you see this?

Mad scramble

It's snowing! Not a lot, but enough. You can see it on the garage roof. And you know what that means, right? It means a mad scramble to the mall for boots and mittens as soon as the kids get home from school. I was born and raised right here in Michigan. You'd think for once I'd be ready.

* * *

Tonight's the annual neighborhood Cub Scout-sponsored PANCAKE SUPPER. My son is not a Cub Scout (what? wear that uniform? I don't THINK so!) and I unequivocally do NOT support their right-wing, homophobic values, but gosh the Pancake Supper is so much fun that I just can't say no. Everyone sits at long tables in the school gym, and uniformed cub scouts bring around pancakes and ham and cheese cubes and applesauce. And you feel like you're in the middle of the Vinyl Cafe, or a Norman Rockwell painting. The whole neighborhood turns out. You can hardly breathe because it's so hot and stuffy with all the people in there, and you know everyone, and they know you, and your kids spot their friends across the room and want to go eat with them instead of you, which is fine because everyone knows everyone anyway, and we all keep an eye out for each other. I'm going to have to go solo tonight because Steve has parent-teacher conferences, but I don't care. I wouldn't miss this event for the world!

* * *

I've been overwhelmed by the response to Mimilou's new blog design. Thank you all for the wonderful compliments! Not only that, but less than 24 hours after I installed it I got another commission! Stay tuned, because this one will be very different from my previous efforts, and it's going to be a lot of fun.


Wow, double my typical number of comments on that last post. I've gotten lots of good ideas for my must-read list. Thanks everyone!

I also was reminded of a few more for my own list:

Yes, of course, James Herriot! How could I forget? I have even been to visit his actual office in Yorkshire.

Susan Cooper: The Dark is Rising. My annual mid-winter re-read. Yes, annual.

P.G. Wodehouse: Blandings Castle books. If you like Gilbert & Sullivan you will love these. Do not eat or drink anything while reading these because it WILL come out your nose as you scream and snort and choke with laughter.

And the mention of mysteries. How could I forget Dorothy Sayers? I will never tire of Lord Peter and Harriet. Never.

“The rice pudding of literature”

At first I was going to respond to each comment individually, in the comments section, but it got too long, so I decided to do it this way instead. THANK YOU all for stopping by and bearing with me despite my long-ish absence!

1. Potty training: Hmmm, I probably should clarify. Perhaps "potty training" is too strong a phrase to describe where we're at now. All I'm really doing is making sure he spends some time naked every day. Some days all morning, some days only half an hour. He clearly has the physical control to be fully trained, but cognitively he's not even close. You'd think with two older sibs he'd get the idea of being a big boy, but he doesn't seem to. Ahava (welcome! I'm always honored to have a doula stop by!), he'll be two and a half at Christmas.

2. Rereading Robertson Davies: I don't believe this is a question of me getting older and wiser. I still think there is a LOT to be gleaned from his books and I'm sure I'll still be rereading them when I'm 80. Unlike, say, The Mists of Avalon -- which I adored when I was 20, but now, um, well. I'm just nit-picking about Davies, really. He IS delightfully wise and fascinating.

But you know? I don't think it's wrong to expect, or at least hope, a book will last forever. A book should have more to it than just plot. When I'm reading for the first time, all I can see, pretty much, is the plot. I have to read a book at least twice to appreciate the writer's craft: plot structure, foreshadowing, writing style. I'm a very fast reader, and I miss a lot the first time through (just ask my book club).

And of course there is the comfort factor of reading a well-loved book for the millionth time. What Crit calls the rice pudding of literature. Crit, you described it perfectly. Robertson Davies is -- still -- rice pudding for me. So is Patrick O'Brian, whose name I try to plug here at least once a month. Little Women. Yes, and Orson Scott Card. And the Narnia books and the Earthsea trilogy. And a couple of really cheesy ones that have stood the test of time for me: The Deed of Paksenarrion and Clan of the Cave Bear. Oh, you would not believe how many times I have read Clan of the Cave Bear.

What's your rice pudding?

I think I can actually see it now!

The light at the end of the tunnel, that is.

I've been away from my blog for more than week. During that time I was a single mom for a weekend while my husband went away for some much-needed and well-deserved relaxation with the guys in a rustic little cabin up north. And I finished a couple of desktop publishing projects and got hired for a couple more -- hurray! I might be able to put Daniel in daycare next year after all! -- which pleases me no end, but of course cuts into my blogging time. And novel-reading time.

The light at the end of the tunnel. It's very far off, but unmistakeably there:

1. Joey and Lena walk themselves home from school now. They've been walking themselves to school all along, but coming home is new. I thought I would miss seeing the other parents. I don't. It's great!

2. And even better, Daniel is potty training! That is to say, I've discovered that when he's naked he does not wet the floor. So we're spending a lot of time at home. Naked.

3. His language is getting more complex too. Now he sometimes uses the pronoun "I," as in "I want!" Speech is still not very clear, though. Yesterday he was excitedly pointing out the window and saying (we thought) "Monkey diaper! Monkey diaper!" Then we saw the motorcycle.

4. And when I ask him to do something, instead of grinning devilishly and doing the opposite, he says "Okay, Mama" and does it. About a quarter of the time.

Anyway. As I said, I haven't read anything much lately. Of course I have to read a few pages of something -- anything! -- before falling asleep, so I picked up What's Bred in the Bone. I love Robertson Davies very dearly, but the tenth reread is just not as good as the first time. Especially if you've read all his other novels about ten times as well. Davies only has one voice. Read a random paragraph from any book, and you wouldn't know which book, or which character, except by the plot. His one voice is delightful, of course. And wise, and fascinating. And that's fine in Fifth Business, where the middle-aged first-person narrator is telling his own life story. But the delightfully wise and fascinating voice doesn't work so well for the twenty-ish hero of Bone. If he's so delightfully wise and fascinating why did he fall in love with that dorky Ismay?

Or is it my fault for reading the same book so many times? Is it wrong to expect a book to "last" forever?

A couple more good things about Halloween

Well, okay. It is sort of fun to feel the excitement in the air as the witching hour approaches. And some of the kids are awfully cute. Especially (ahem!) these three:
And here's another treat, courtesy of my artistic brother-in-law, who carved front middle and it's frightened neighbor:

Overheard . . .

Trick-or-treating kid #1: "Look, Bush lies!"
Trick-or-treating kid #2: "Duh!"