Saturday, January 31, 2009

What I'm Reading Now-The Tinker God

The Tinker God by Don F. Nichols-Okay, little disclaimer here: I know the author of this book, not well, he's just a friend of a friend whom I've met once or twice, but that is what prompted me to pick it up in the first place.

I really liked the first half of this book, but I'm not sure if that's because I really liked the book or because I really liked the fact that it took place in places that I have visited and am familiar with. Nichols goes back and forth between Albuquerque and the Jemez Mountain area, a relatively unknown area outside of Albuquerque, in his book; it's not like he's writing about New York City where everyone and their brother either lives there or has been there (except me!) and can go, "Ooh, I've been there!" So, that was kind of neat for me to be able to relate to the area he was talking about and the things his characters were doing. The plot development at this point was kind of slow, but I thought he was doing a good job of bringing in all the characters and letting us see who they were.

The second half of the book picks up the pace as far as plot goes, but I got a little frustrated with some of the side stories that were going on. The main story revolves around the retired Director of the Lab, Bob Wilson, and his granddaughter who is kidnapped in order to get Wilson to cooperate with a project the Lab is working on. The Lab is never named, but it's a pretty safe bet that it is based on Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, NM. Then there is a side story of love and romance between two characters and a lot of talk about God and faith and an I-found-Jesus! moment, and while not entirely out of place in a story about people who have essentially created technology that would allow them to play God, I felt like the I-found-Jesus! moment was a bit too convenient and unrealistic. That could just be me being cynical though. Maybe that's how these things really work; I don't know.

The ending also felt a bit unfinished to me. I wasn't sure if the author was leaving room for a sequel or just didn't want to tie things up too neatly, but I just found myself trying to turn the page several more times at the end only to find that there was nothing else there every time.

Speaking of turning pages, I read this on my Kindle (since that appears to be the only available format at this time), and there was a lot of odd formatting. I don't know if this is consistent with what a print copy would look like or if there is something wonky that happens when you try to put a book into e-book format. There were also a lot of typos; again I'm not sure if this is due to a lack of editing pre-Kindle or something that happens in Kindle transition. I don't really know how that process works.

Overall, I thought this was a good book, especially for a first-time author. I thought Nichols did a great job of giving all of his characters unique voices, from the 5-year-old Otis to the British pre-school teacher to 15-year-old Beth. I would recommend this if you are looking for a quick, easy read over the weekend, on the beach, or on vacation. Unfortunately, you have to have a Kindle to read it at this time, but perhaps it will be available in book format soon. Also, as of this review, it only costs $2.40, and for $2.40, I definitely think it's worth the read!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-03

This week's Weekly Geeks assignment deals with the classics, which for our purposes, we are defining as anything written over 100 years ago and still in print.  The Classic Literature Library was referenced for anyone having trouble remembering anything that was written before The Davinci Code.  We are asked to choose at least 2 of the following questions:

1)How do you feel about classic literature? Are you intimidated by it?  Love it?  Not sure because you never actually tried it?  Don't get why anyone reads anything else?  Which classics, if any, have you truly loved?  Which would you recommend for someone who has very little experience reading older books?  Go all out, sell us on it!

I love classic literature!  Well...ok, I love the idea of classic literature!  I would love to love classic literature, but I just don't think I have it in me to love it unconditionally.  I am a little intimidated by it, but I've also read enough to know that I can do it.  I think the most difficult thing is often language.  Either the actual language-many classics were not originally written in English-or the vernacular of the time.  Of course translations overcome the first problem in most cases; but English is not always the same as American, and there really isn't much in the way for books that have been translated from English to (American) English!  The second problem, vernacular, I think provides the biggest challenge.  The way people spoke, the colloquialisms of the day, popular references of the time, all of these can be challenging.  I think of all the things I've read, Shakespeare provides the best example of this.  We read plenty of Shakespeare in high school, but without the little notes and explanations provided in many of the scholastic texts, I would have had no idea what was going on.

So far, I have a very love/hate relationship when it comes to the classics.  By this, I mean I haven't yet found an author that I love.  Strike that.  So far, I really like Charles Dickensbut I realize that he may not be everybody's cup of tea.  His novels are intimidating from a size standpoint, but they're fairly easy reading once you get into them.  For almost every other  classic that I have enjoyed though, I have read something else by that same author that I couldn't stand.  For example**:

Author-Loved it!/Hated it!

Victor Hugo- L'Homme Qui Rit (The Man Who Laughs)/Notre-Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame).  Here's that language thing I was talking about.  I took 3 years of French in high school, and it was still painful for me to work through all the street names and place names in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  (I read the English versions, BTW, in case you were wondering!)  If any of you decide to read The Man Who Laughs, when you get to the unbelievably tedious part about how many Dukes are in a kingdom and how many emeralds are in each of their crowns unless there is a ruby in one of their crowns in which case 2 of the emeralds may be replaced by a ducat and a fox pelt but only if the fox was killed on the land belonging to the king in the region of one of the Duke's twelve Lords, each Lord of which is allowed to own 4 dogs, the lineage of which may consist see where this is going right?  Well, if I remember correctly, there is about 4 solid pages of this.  Skip it.  It's mind-numbing, and as far as I can recall, totally irrelevant to the rest of the story.  Other than that, I loved the book!

Nathaniel HawthorneThe Scarlet Letter/The House of the Seven Gables.  I read both in high school, The Scarlet Letter for class, the other on my own.  Maybe I just needed a teacher to explain the second one to me.

The Bronte Sisters-Jane Eyre/Wuthering Heights.  Okay, I know this one isn't quite fair since I'm comparing two different sisters-Charlotte and Emily, respectively, but still.  I just don't get Wuthering Heights.  I'm sorry.  I know there are so many of you out there who do and who luuuuuuurv it, but I think I just never felt any sympathy for any of the characters.  I would have to go back and read it again or watch the movie again to tell you for sure, but the thought of doing either makes me want to dig my eyes out with a spoon).  

I enjoyed Dostoevsky'sCrime and Punishment, but I haven't read anything else by him. I tried to get through The Brothers Karamazov, but I never made it.  I didn't dislike it, I just didn't have time to sit through any one reading long enough for anything to stick.

I think perhaps the best place to start for someone with no experience reading older books would be with a story that she is already familiar with.  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, A Christmas Carol, these are stories most of us are familiar with and whose origins lie in the classics.  This might be a less intimidating way to jump in.  Also, anything that has been made into a movie that you are familiar with-Frankenstein, The Three Musketeers,Pride and Prejudice, or (it kills me to say this) Wuthering Heights.  Once you have tackled something familiar, you might be ready to jump into something more challenging. 

Another good place to start might be with a modern book that references the classics, like The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel, Mister Pip, or The Dante Club: A Novel.  I made a point of reading Jane Eyre before I read the Eyre Affair, and I really enjoyed it, especially when I understood all the references in The Eyre Affair later!  I loved Great Expectations, and after reading Mr. Pip I really wanted to go back and read it again.  The Dante Club was a little bit of work for me to get through, but the characters' love for and the plot's dependence on Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy (The Inferno, The Purgatorio, and The Paradiso)made me want to read it.  I haven't quite mustered up the guts to tackle it yet though! 

2)  A challenge, should you choose to accept it:  Read at least one chapter of a classic novel, preferably by an author you're not familiar with.  Did you know you can find lots of classics in the public domain on the web?  check out The Popular Classic Book Corner, for example.  Write a mini-review based on this chapter:  what are your first impressions?  Would you read further?  (For a larger selection of authors, try The Complete Classic Literature Library).

I just checked out The Count of Monte Cristo, so hopefully I can come back and do this soon.  My library hiatus is at an end.  I stayed away as long as I could in an attempt to read my own books, but I just couldn't do it anymore!  

**Updated 1/31/09 6:45PM-I have just finished the first chapter, and while I'm not dying to find out what happens next, I'm not uninterested either.  I can already see a dirty rotten character in the making, our apparent hero has just returned from sea and is off to see his betrothed, Monte Cristo has been mentioned casually in conversation, and I am only 11 pages in.  So far, it seems promising!

3)  Let's say you're vacationing with your dear cousin Myrtle, and she forgot to bring a book.  The two of you venture into the hip independent bookstore around the corner, where she primly announces that she only reads classic literature.  If you don't find her a book, she'll never let you get any reading done!  What contemporary book/s with classic appeal would you pull off the shelf for her?

Why am I vacationing with this woman?  Have I done something wrong?  Oooh, this is actually a tough one.  I think I would recommend that she go talk to the bookstore owner while I browse whatever non-classic books are holding my interest at the moment.  :)  

4)  As you explore the other Weekly Geeks posts:  Did any inspire you to want to read a book you've never read before-or reread one to give it another chance?  Tell us all about it, including a link to the post or posts that sparked your interest.  If you end up reading the book, be sure to include a link to your post about it in a future Weekly Geeks post!

I've only visited a few so far, but already Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise has convinced me to check out The Mystery of a Hansom Cab and The Holistic Knitter (who I assume is Lynda?) at Lynda's Book Blog has me interested in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  Thanks, ladies!  My TBR list wasn't long enough already!  ;)

**You may notice that most of my links go to the Barnes & Noble Classics versions of the relevant titles.  As I was filtering through the myriad results that come up when you search for classic titles, I ran across these, which seemed like they might be good for a classics beginner or anyone, really, who just wants to learn a little more about their subject.  Also, by having as many of the titles as I could from the B&N Classics, I hope this provides a little bit of continuity of style as you jump from one book description to the next.  

What I'm Reading Now-The Reincarnationist

The Reincarnationistby M.J. Rose-Meh. For me, this book was just a series of extremely telegraphed events, and I never reached that point where I just couldn't put the book down. I'm okay with telegraphed, but it has to be intriguing. Sometimes you know what's going to happen, but you still can't wait to see if you're right because if you are, it's going to be really funny or super sad or totally awesome and you want to see it play out. Not so much with this book.

So, quick rundown: Josh is living in present day NYC, but he was injured a few years ago, and ever since he's been having what seem to be memories of a past-life; but they are more than just memories, they're more like lurches from the present into the past. The Phoenix Foundation works with children who are experiencing similar episodes, but they normally don't work with adults. Josh, of course, is the exception. In Rome a major archeological find has been unearthed; a tomb of one of the Vestal Virgins has been discovered and in this tomb is a box that is rumored to contain the legendary Memory Stones. These stones are supposed to be able to help with past-life regressions, and if they exist they are worth a lot to different people for different reasons. Someone breaks in, the stones are stolen, and chaos ensues. Also, the woman in the tomb was probably the love of Josh's life around 390 A.D., but is she really? Why was she buried alive? Did she really have the stones? Who has them now? Why are they killing people and kidnapping children? See? This should be intriguing, right? That's what I thought too. I'm not saying this book was terrible; it was interesting, I just wasn't ever on the edge of my seat.

The one thing about this book that I did find fascinating was the quote from Rudyard Kipling at the beginning of Chapter 1 (that's Location 158-65 for those of you following along on your Kindle readers in the second-smallest font. For the rest of you, I would assume this is somewhere near page 1. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, you can go here). Anyway, here's the quote:

They will come back, come back again,
As long as the red earth rolls.
He never wasted a leaf or a tree.
Do you think he would squander souls?

Ooh, doesn't that just give you goosebumps (or chicken skin for those of you in Hawaii)? Reincarnation is one of those things that I certainly don't think is impossible, but it's also a pretty big stretch to say, "Yup. That's the way it works. I'm certain," but those last two lines right there make a lot of sense to me. That brings up a whole new quandry though.

What are we right now, about 6,000,000,000 people worldwide, give or take a few hundred million? Ok. Well, what happens when we get to 7,000,000,000? Where do those extra billion souls come from? Are those the souls that have finally evolved (devolved?) enough to be human? What did they evolve or devolve from? I don't know if evolve is quite the right word, but you all know what I mean, right? Does a super-courageous rescue dog who has saved many lives finally get to come into the world as somebody's beloved baby girl? Does an elephant that went on a rampage and killed her baby have to come back as an amputee beggar in the streets of India? (Because, you know, elephants are the physical manifestation of Nirvana. I'm pretty sure.)

Did the world start out with one soul, and has it just been stretched thinner and thinner as each new person comes into the world? Do we all get souls? What if there is only a set number, and some of us have them and some of us don't? Does it change throughout your lifetime? Can you lose your soul? Gain a soul? This reminds me of the questions that were brought up in Unwind, by Neal Shusterman.

Okay, I'll stop now. I'm sure if there are any religious scholars reading this, they A) stopped reading a long time ago or B) continued reading but have made a notation in their wills to have their graves dug extra wide so that they will have plenty of room to roll over in them when they finally get there.

If anybody has any thoughts on reincarnation, I'd love to hear it.

Other people who have reviewed this book:

If you have read this book and want me to add your review here, please let me know!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I swear I don't know how this got in my car!

I think somebody must have broken into my car and left this there while I was in Long's buying toilet paper.  I know that it wasn't there when I went into Long's (neither were the two that I found in the back seat).  Then, I went into Long's and all I bought was toilet paper.  I swear.  $64.73 worth of toilet paper.  I don't know where the orchids came from.  

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day-January

I am really excited about this month's blooms! I have been documenting the progression of two of my plants, and it's been fascinating for me. First up, though, is this guy (gal?).  Notice the bee hanging out on the leaf right under the little hangy-down piece?  =)

I believe this is a white spider lily; sorry I can't be more specific. I inherited this from a friend who was moving to Korea about 3 years ago. It sat terribly neglected in my front yard for about a year (in a garbage bag if I remember correctly-*cringes*-it was tucked away under a tree, nobody walking by could see it!) and finally found a home in its current pot on my sidewalk; this is the first time it's ever bloomed! Yay! I was afraid it was going to continue to get big and sprawly and never bloom, and I'm terribly happy to have been wrong.

Next up, I have my red amaryllis. I'm afraid the tag doesn't provide any more useful information than that. I broke down and bought this at the grocery store around December 22, and this is only the 2nd houseplant that I have purchased IN SEVEN YEARS. Seeing as how I live in Hawaii, you might be wondering, WHAT???? Fair enough. The thing is we have ants out here like crazy, and almost any plant you buy at a nursery is going to have ants in it, and I have been loathe to start a new ant colony in my house. I hemmed and hawed over this beauty, but in the end, it came from a grocery store, not a garden center, and the potting soil seemed to be pretty ant-free. And it was just so pretty! Up until December 31, it was just a flower bud atop a stem that was growing up, up, up like crazy. On January 1, I got my first glimpse of the blooms!

January 1, 2009

January 2, 2009

January 5, 2009-Notice how much growth there has been? See how the leaves are dark on the tip and lighter on the bottom? The darker parts are all that were above ground when I bought it, a mere two weeks earlier. That second stem was nothing more than a bud just barely peeking out of the dirt as well.

Janauary 10, 2009-Interesting note here-I had to untie the rafia so that I could attach the second stem to the support dowel. During all of this, the blooms at the top were getting shaken around a bit, and several droplets of red liquid came flying out from the dying bloom. I had a horrified moment when they landed on the white shirt I had soaking in the sink, but luckily they rinsed right out. I've never seen a flower bleed before!

January 13, 2009-For the record, there has been 2 feet of growth in just 3 weeks! This may be old news to some of you seasoned amaryllis growers, but this is blowing my mind! Also, sorry about the unflattering bathroom background, but that's where the plant is. What can I say?

January 15, 2009

Next up is my Purple Leafy Plant.  I'm pretty sure that's it's official name, but I could be wrong.  If anyone has any other suggestions, please feel free to let me know.  I was fascinated by what appeared to be the growth mechanism on this plant-the little kidney-bean shaped lump on the stem-I've never seen anything quite like this before, and I wanted to see how it unfolded, literally.  This one is a slow-mover, especially compared to my amaryllis.

November 21, 2008

December 28, 2008-It's been over a month, but finally!  Something is happening!  Sorry the image is blurry-I couldn't figure out how to get my auto-focus to focus where I wanted it.  The kidney bean has split down the middle and each side is peeling back to reveal a dark mass of tiny leaves inside. 

December 29, 2008

December 29, 2009-Close-up.  You can see the stem starting to stand up and unfurl.

December 31, 2008-Fully emerged.

January 1, 2009-A bird's-eye view, and it kind of looks like a bird right now!

January 8, 2009-Completely emerged, all pretty and shiny and purple, ready to duplicate the whole process again with a brand new kidney bean already in place. 

Thanks for stopping by!  I can't wait to see what's blooming in everyone else's gardens on this Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day over at May Dreams Gardens.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Weekly Geeks 2009-01

From the Weekly Geeks web site:

"In the spirit of the amazing community building that Dewey was so good at, tell us about your favorite blogs, the ones you have bookmarked or subscribe to in your Google Reader, that you visit on a regular basis.  Tell us what it is about these blogs that you love, that inspire or educate you or make you laugh.  Be sure to link to them so we can find them too."

While I enjoy my regular visits to all the wonderful book blogs in my Google Reader-there's always something informative, entertaining, and/or inspirational-I think all of the book bloggers that I follow are pretty well aware of each other, so I am going to take this opportunity to highlight some non-book blogs that I enjoy.

Dealing in Subterfuges was the very first blog I started reading, way back in 2006.  As it turns out, even though Jordan Baker is not a book blogger, the post that turned me on to her was book-related and has great potential for discussion.  Her posts now tend to focus on baseball and recaps of shows like Top Chef and Project Runway, but she throws other stuff in there too.  Also, she cracks me up.

Laurie Perry is the author of the book Drunk, Divorced, and Covered in Cat Hair as well as her blog, Crazy Aunt Purl.  I discovered her when one of my loved-ones was going through a divorce; I was Googling something or other and found Laurie's blog.  She has an entire divorce section on her blog, as she was going through one when she started her blog.  I read through all of those entries, hoping to find something helpful, and I just ended up reading more and more of her blog.  I think the entry that resonated the most with me and with my loved-one was this one...which I can't seem to link to directly.  It's the April 1, 2005 entry in the "d-i-v-o-r-c-e" category which I have managed to link to.  Also, she cracks me up.

Margaret and Helen run a blog by the same name.  These feisty octogenarians sound off on whatever they feel needs sounding off on, though since the election ended, they've been pretty quiet.  Whether it's Thanksgiving etiquette, breast feeding, or the presidential candidates, you can be sure they won't hold back on their opinions.  Also, they crack me up.  (Hmmm, are you seeing a trend here?)

Walking the Amazon Blog is one man's record of his journey from one end of the Amazon to the other in an effort to promote environmental awareness and educate people about the Amazon and the people and animals who live there.  Ed Stafford began his journey in April, 2008, and is currently in Peru, approximately 1/3 of the way through his adventure.  You can follow Ed's progress on this map.  His traveling partner Luke left the expedition unexpectedly about 3 months into their travels.  Ed has guides and other support team members in place, so he is not traveling alone, but it was still a definite morale buster.  He is soldiering on though, and between demonic donkeys, villagers who fear that Ed might eat their babies, and wasp attacks, it's always an interesting journey. Also, I think he would really appreciate any encouraging words anyone could send his way.     

And, finally, Upside Down Dogs is a collection of pictures of dogs lying on their backs with their faces all squished up and looking silly.  They add new pictures on a regular basis; it's quick, there's not much to read, and it will brighten up your day.  Also, this may come as a surprise, but those dogs crack me up.   

Embrace Your Inner Hamster

Toyota has recently unveiled its 2010 Prius, and it's got a lot of nifty new features like a solar roof which powers a fan to help keep the interior of your car cool by circulating air from the outside. I know it's the dead of winter and some of you may be thinking how glorious it would be to step into a 125º car right now; but you know as well as I do that when it's 100º outside, the last thing you want to do is get into your 125º car. I imagine this is even worse if you have small children. I haven't met a kid yet who likes being hot, sweaty, tired AND strapped into a car seat. There is also a button on the key fob that will activate the A/C from 30 feet away. How cool is that? Now, I'm not sure if this solar fan thing works no matter what or if there is a way to disable this feature in the winter, but I would imagine that the Toyota folks have thought of that.

So, I'm loving the new features on the Prius. It has also been redesigned to be slightly sportier looking, nothing big, it still looks like a Prius, but a Prius that's trying to look less like a hamster. This is where I am conflicted. You may recall that one of the things that I like about the Prius is that it's cute, but, well, it's no Mustang.  It appears the Toyota people read my blog and tried to address this issue (What? You don't know that they didn't.), but here's the thing:  If you're going to make a car that looks like a hamster, then embrace that and make it as hamster-y cute as you can. The Prius still looks like a hamster, but now it looks like a hamster that is trying to look sporty, maybe more like a jack rabbit. If you're going to make a sporty car, then make it sporty, but don't make a sporty hamster.

What do you guys think?  You can open the links below in separate windows and compare them side-by-side.  
Here is the 2009 Prius, embracing its inner hamster.
Here is the 2010 Prius, trying to make you forget that it looks like a hamster. 
Also, just because I like to bring it up, here is the Tesla Roadster, looking nothing like a hamster but also costing $109,000 AND, as I have just discovered, listed in the #2 spot on Time's Best Inventions of 2008 list .  

Monday, January 12, 2009

Young @ Heart

My husband and I watched this movie this weekend, and we loved it!  I figured after my last downer post, I would give you something uplifting.  Some of these people probably lived through the Depression and/or the Dust Bowl, and look how well they turned out!

I'm not gonna lie to you, there's some heart break in this movie, but ultimately it is fun and uplifting.  I would encourage you to check out the Young at Heart Chorus at their web site and support them in any way you can.  They are a non-profit, and what a great organization!  

2008 Reading Roundup?

Not exactly.

Everyone else has done their end-of-year roundups, and I've enjoyed visiting everyone's blogs and seeing what everyone enjoyed reading and, of course, adding to my TBR list, which is now up to 417 items!  Thanks, guys!  ;)

Instead of a "best of" list though, I wanted to highlight a couple of books that I have thought about more and more as the year has gone on and on and that I would highly recommend reading given the current economic situation.  One is The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan.  The other is The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan, which I reviewed  here and here.  As well as being interesting reads, I think these two books do a great job of illustrating how we screw things up when we try to manipulate them too much and how well things can work if we would just let them do what they are supposed to do.  

At first glance, the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl may seem like completely separate, sadly coincidental events, but their relation to one another is strong.  For years, YEARS I tell you, Native Americans took advantage of the animals and the plants that were naturally occurring in North America.  Americans of the non-Native variety, encouraged mightily by their government, decided that the best way to move forward and prosper would be to kill off all those pesky buffalo, dig up all that stupid grass that they eat and grow wheat and cows instead.  Great idea.  Hey, I know, after we've done that, let's go to the desert, pull out those pesky cacti, kill off all the rabbits and instead we'll raise fish and bananas!  Huh.  The bananas and the fish are all dried up, and the coyotes are eyeballing our children.  Why isn't this working??

To give the people credit, these were the true pioneers of our nation.  These were the people who were brave enough to leave their homes behind and venture out to places like Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico and other wide open places where they could stake out hundreds, even thousands, of acres for themselves and try to make a life for themselves and their families.  These people had a lot of faith and determination and, for that, I admire them.

At first, things looked good.  People were making lots of money selling wheat, farmers were riding around in their Prada saddles, wearing their Gucci cowboy boots; driving their BMW tractors, you know, the ones with the gold rims and the diamond-tipped plows; women were decorating their houses in the latest Martha-Stewart-approved styles; and the kids all had their own iPhones. (It's been a while since I read the book, but that was the general feel of things if I remember correctly.)  Then the Depression hit.  And then.  THEN the Dust Bowl hit.  Y'all.  I had NO IDEA.  I can't believe I had never heard more about this other than, "and then the Dust Bowl hit and farmers had a really hard time."  (No, I haven't read The Grapes of Wrath, why do you ask?)  Clouds like giant, rolling thunderheads of dirt would sweep over entire states.  People in New York were getting hit with dust from Kansas.  Cars were buried.  Seriously.  I had no idea.  People looked up and saw this coming at them:    

I don't know about you, but that would scare the crap out of me.  I found this picture of a "black blizzard" over Prowers, CO, around 1937 at this web site.  Please go check out their other pictures.  

So, anyway, farmers are sitting high on the hog, growing tons of wheat, so they decide, this is great!  I'm going to plow up another 1,000 acres next year and plant some more!  Well, eventually everyone's thinking the same thing and the market is flooded with wheat.  Oh, also, Wall Street fails.  Prices start to drop, so the next year, the farmers have to plow up 2,000 acres because now they're only getting $.03/ton instead of $.27/ton (my prices could be off, but come on, everything cost like $.03 in 1931.  Inflation's a bitch.)  Eventually, millions of acres have been plowed and planted, then the drought hits, crops die, the top soil dries up and blows away, now there is no good land and no water.  What's a farmer to do?  Try to plant more next year.  Except next year's even worse.  Eventually, millions of acres of land have been plowed under in an attempt to get even a few acres of crops to market.  The worse the storms, the worse the crops; the worse the crops, the more land has to be plowed, the more land that is plowed, the worse the dust storms.  America is in the throes of the Great Depression, nobody has any money to spend on groceries, and nobody can grow anything to feed themselves.  This is a bad situation.  This timeline from the 1930s seems eerily familiar-read a little bit about the events leading up to the Depression and see if they don't strike a little too close to home right now.  (Thanks to PBS for the timeline-they have a lot of other information that you can link to on their site regarding the Depression and the Dust Bowl).

Cut to The Omnivore's Dilemma, present day (roughly).  Pollan examines some of the agricultural standards that are in practice today and contrasts and compares them.  Of course, when it comes to feeding the masses, corn-fed beef on a giant feedlot seems like the best solution, but what happens if all of your corn crops are wiped out?  What happens if a particularly deadly virus sweeps through your cattle who are already relying on all kinds of supplements and antibiotics to keep them alive?  What if this year's batch of vaccinations is contaminated?  What happens if there's a fire at the plant that manufactures all of your synthetic fertilizers?  Enter the small organic farmer who raises chickens, rabbits, pigs, and cows who are allowed to roam free and graze on climate-appropriate grasses that their systems are naturally adept at digesting.  These grasses are rotated with other crops and replenished by the animals' manure as they wander amongst the fields-no synthetic fertilizers are needed.  On a one-to-one basis, there's no way the small farm can feed as many people as the big industrial farm, but the potential for loss is also less.  If all your corn is wiped out one year, hopefully you will still have wheat, beans, and onions to sell.  If all your chickens take ill, hopefully the cows will remain unaffected and another small farmer nearby will be able to give you a couple of his chickens.  If, heaven forbid, your farm should go out of business, hundreds of other people will not be out of their jobs.  

Between these two books, there are lessons to be learned, I'm sure of it.   

I know this sounds like a bunch of doom and gloom, but the intent of this post isn't to scare anybody or convince anyone that the sky is falling.  I think this is a good chance to take a good look at the past and try to prepare for what might be coming.  I think things are going to get worse before they get better.  I don't think we are anywhere near the end of this financial debacle that we seem to have gotten ourselves into, but I think this is a good opportunity for everyone to start thinking about the little things.  

There has been a lot of talk about reviving the vegetable garden a la the Victory Gardens of the 1940s-is it ok to have a vegetable garden in your yard?  (Thanks to Garden Rant for that link!)  Will the neighbors think you're a hillbilly?  Is it worth it financially?  Nutritionally?  Socially??  Can it make a difference on a national level if we are all growing our own tomatoes instead of having them shipped all over the country? Is Obama going to have a vegetable garden at the White House and will it be organic?  Will it be just big enough to feed his family or will it supply food banks and local schools?  In what direction will that one seemingly small decision lead our country?  Maybe no where, maybe to great places.  Who knows?  

If you have reviewed either of these books, or if you have any other thoughts about this post, please leave me a  comment!      

What I'm Reading Now-The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and Some Additional Thoughts on My Kindle

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel Well, it seems it has taken me about 5 months to read this book, but not because I didn't like it and not because it's so long. I blame it on my Kindle (and my library). I love my Kindle (and my library!), but I've found that I tend to ignore my Kindle items and read whatever I have from the library because the library hates me and my notions of an acceptable amount of time to have a book checked out and regularly charges me for my nonsense. and I have a simple agreement. I pay them about $10 up front, and they let me keep a book on my Kindle as long as I want, and they never bother me about it again. All in all, it ends up being about the same either way since my library won't charge more than $7.50 for an item but they cast guilt and shame my way and threaten to send me to collections from time to time.

Also, if any of you have been paying rapt attention to my sidebar, you will notice that I have removed my "What's on my kindle" widget. I realized that I have a ton of things that are on my Kindle that I either A) read a year or more ago and have no intention of reviewing here, B) only have samples of, or C) am never going to get around to reading (see paragraph above). Since you have to have a minimum of 6 items in order to have a fancy carousel widget, I ended up using those old titles or sample titles, and that just seems like cheating. Also, since the titles I am reading are always on the back burner, the widget doesn't change much. So, whatever I have in my current reading pile, whether it is an actual, physical book or a Kindle download, it will now show up in my "What I'm reading now OR What I will soon be paying late fees on at the library" widget. And if any of this mattered to anyone in the least, you, whoever you are, need to promise yourself some time off from reading blogs for a while!

So, Edgar Sawtelle: First of all, you're not going to get much actual plot summary from me, so I suggest you click on the link above and check out the summaries at if you're not familiar with the general synopsis. I started reading this book in August, got a little over half-way through and then left off for a few months, so I didn't read the whole thing all together. I don't know if this matters, but I'm just disclosing. I know I had to spend some time going back and rereading things that I had totally forgotten about, so the story as a whole probably suffered a little bit because of this.

This brings me to a critique that I have of the Kindle (a critique that was not covered here). While it has a pretty good search feature and allows for fairly easy maneuvering throughout the downloaded material, I like to physically be able to go back and look for something in a book because I usually have a good idea of where to look. For example, I know whether to look on the top left-hand side of the book or about half-way down the right-hand side, but I probably don't have any idea, specifically, what chapter it was in or what page it was on. That might just be a weird thing about me, but there you go. You can't physically search a Kindle. You have one screen, and you have to sort through various search results to find what you're looking for. Now, if you know ahead of time that you will want to go back and reference something, you can bookmark it, but this doesn't help when you're three chapters down the road going, "What the heck happened in that one scene in the barn with the puppies?" In this instance, a search for either "barn" or "puppies" will turn up A LOT of results. You can also specify a location that you want to jump to, but unless you know that the quote you are looking for is at location 4378, this isn't very helpful either.

Anyway, back to the story-I really liked it. It seems like this was one of those books that people either really loved or couldn't stand.* I didn't REALLY LOVE IT! but I did like it a lot. I thought that Edgar's ability to train his dogs so precisely was fascinating. He is mute and a kid and is able to work wonders with the dogs. I am a grown-up, not mute, and, well, I have not been able to work wonders with my dogs. Let's just leave it at that.

That is not your chair. Get down!

*Sigh* That is not your chair either, but thank you for getting out of the other chair.

This book has been compared to Hamlet, and I can see where the comparisons come in; there are definitely some similar themes and plot lines running through this story. I've also heard that it's supposed to be all literary and cerebral. I don't know about that. Maybe it was and I just missed it, or maybe it's because if you can recognize the similarities to Hamlet that makes you all brainy or something. Whatever. I read it because I thought it would be an interesting story, and I liked it.

I loved the writing in this book. It was simple and clear and, I thought, to-the-point. There are others who will probably argue that at 576 pages there was nothing to-the-point about this book but I found it to be a quick and easy read, even though it took me 5 months to read it! I do think the Kindle might have had something to do with this. As you may recall from my previous review, there are no page numbers on the Kindle; instead there are "locations" and a progress bar. Even though I had seen The Story of Edgar Sawtelle on the shelves in bookstores, I had forgotten how large it was. I was truly shocked when I read a recent review that mentioned its 576-page length. When you are not hefting around an actual book, there are no page numbers, and you're enjoying the story, it's easy to think that a book is smaller than it is. Seriously, I remember thinking, Wow, this is a pretty short book-it's going really fast. Was it the book? Was it the Kindle? I don't know. Something to think about though if you're thinking of tackling a big book.

Some other reviews of Edgar Sawtelle:

Loved It! (Or at least liked it)
Michael at Books on the Nightstand mentions this a couple times, but I can't seem to find a full review anywhere. That's a shame since I think it was his glowing early review that got me interested in the first place.

Hated It! (Or maybe just not so much with the liking)

*Ha! I thought I had a bunch of other reviews to link to, but it turns out I was just thinking about all the comments that people have made on other blogs about how much they think they'll like or dislike the book based on other reviews and the fact that Oprah recommended it. So, if you have a review that you'd like me to link to, let me know, and I'll add it.

**3/31/09-Yay! Thanks to this week's Weekly Geeks project, I have been able to add additional reviews to the 4 I originally had.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dear Bank of America

Dear Bank of America,

I tried protecting your anonymity here, when I mentioned the two times you accidentally charged us $150 for Overdraft Protection that we didn't need, but I no longer care.  We have a checking account and a credit card with you.  We have overdraft protection set up so that if our checking account is ever overdrawn, it will pull from the credit card to cover the overage.  You decided to randomly charge $150 to our credit card (twice!) in the name of "Overdraft Protection" even though our checking account was never even anywhere close to being overdrawn.  The second time you charged us a late fee on the $150 that you inappropriately charged to our account-fair enough.  We probably should have contacted you sooner about this mysterious $150 charge.  After about 8 hours on the phone with your various minions, you agreed that an error had been made and that this situation would be corrected.  This resulted in a $4.19 credit to our account, for which you sent us two (2) checks, each in the amount of $4.19.  We deposited the first check and decided that the second check must have been an error and never tried to deposit it.  Silly us!  It must have been the first check that was the error because, guess what!  It has been returned unpaid due to a stop payment order.  So, now not only do we not get the $4.19 that you owe us, but we now owe our (non-BofA) bank a $5.00 returned-item fee.  Thank you.  No, really.  This is AWESOME.  

Considering moving all of our accounts to another bank

Seriously, am I out of line for expecting more from a financial institution that just received millions of dollars in bailout money?  I know the bailout money doesn't really have anything to do with me and my little situation one way or the other, but come on!  Can't they do a little better job with all that money than this??

The first check was issued on December 1, the second on December 4.  It is now January 6, and at no time during the past month have we received any correspondence from BofA saying, hey, our bad, we sent you two checks.  Please don't cash one of them; if you have already cashed it and it has somehow resulted in fines or penalties we would be happy to take care of those for you.  We value you as a customer and apologize for the inconvenience.  

Oh yeah, also, we got a nice little notice from the credit bureau folks indicating that our credit report had changed.  You want to guess why?  I will give the BofA folks credit for at least jumping on that little fire and putting it out.  They sent a letter to the credit reporting agency immediately stating that we have a zero balance on our account and that it is not, in fact, past due.  So.  At least there's that.  

Wish my husband luck as he spends another 4 hours on the phone trying to straighten out this matter about the checks.  Is it worth it, or should we just suck up the $9.19?  Honestly, it's not worth the time it's going to take to fix it, but it's the principal of the thing, dammit.        

Thursday, January 1, 2009

What I'm Reading Now-Rebecca

Rebeccaby Daphne Du Maurier-This is a book that I kept seeing referenced, especially around Halloween, and I thought I would give it a shot. I'm glad I did! I thought that it was going to be a scary ghost story, but I was wrong. It wasn't scary and there wasn't a ghost, but it was still a good story about a woman who is haunted by the reputation and her own assumptions about her husband's late wife, the infamous Rebecca.

Our narrator is the new Mrs. de Winter, and we never learn her actual name, which seems appropriate as she never seems to know exactly who she is either; all she does seem to know is that she is the new Mrs. de Winter, and she is definitely NOT Rebecca. She is reminded of her lack of Rebecca-ness all the time, visitors to Manderley, her new home and Mr. de Winter's famed estate, remark upon it; the family brings it up; the servants make it obvious; and she berates herself constantly about her inability to live up to Rebecca. Rebecca was the most beautiful woman anyone had ever seen, Rebecca was witty, Rebecca used to throw the most wonderful parties. Mrs. de Winter always used to put the flowers on that table, Madam; Mrs. de Winter's habit was to take care of all her correspondence after breakfast, Madam; would you like me to show you where she kept the stationery? Then there's Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper who seems to take particular joy in pointing out how not-Rebecca the new Mrs. de Winter is. She is her own brand of evil, but I also found her oddly sympathetic.

As the new Mrs. de Winter struggled to find her own identity I was simultaneously fed up with her and extremely sympathetic to her. As a young new bride to a recently-widowed older man who is clearly above her station in life, she is trying to fit into a world that is completely alien to her-she's never been the head of anything, let alone an estate! Everyone clearly loved Rebecca, her new husband is still clearly distraught over her loss, the staff are all very accommodating to her every request, but clearly they despise her for her sad attempts at filling Rebecca's shoes. Even the dogs know what the routine is supposed to be and, clearly, she does not. She's not as pretty, she gets tongue-tied in front of guests, she doesn't enjoy hunting. How can she compete? What was she thinking marrying this man? Why is Mrs. Danvers so evil?? At several points throughout the book, I just wished she'd man-up and say, "Look here, I'm sorry for your loss, I know you all still miss Rebecca, but, dammit, I'm not her and I never will be," and at the same time, how could she?

Ah! But then there is a twist! Things are revealed! Other things come to light! Were there suspicious circumstances surrounding Rebecca's death at sea? Was she the woman that everyone thought she was? Who IS that icky fellow that the new Mrs. de Winter finds lurking about Manderley with Mrs. Danvers? Is Mr. de Winter a visitor from another planet? And Manderley, beautiful, beloved Manderley, what will become of it? Does it involve Elvis? (Not all of these questions will be answered in the book, but you will have to read it to find out which ones!)

I think, for the average reader, It's always a crap shoot going back to read the "classics." What was considered witty at the time of writing may be missed entirely today, what was horrifying back then is lame now, the prose can be difficult, the language awkward, etc. I am happy to report that I did not find any of these to be issues with Rebecca unless there was a lot of funny stuff that I missed, but then I wouldn't really know it anyway. The themes of love, loss, feelings of inadequacy, fear, loneliness are all things that are still relevant today, and I thought the story moved along quite well.

Have you read Rebecca? What did you think of it? Has anyone read anything else by Daphne Du Maurier? What did you think?

Check out Nymeth's review at Things Mean a Lot I think her review was the one that finally convinced me that I needed to read this book, and she's got lots of links to other reviews too!

**updated 3/30/09-Maree at Just Add Books loved Rebecca!