Friday, July 24, 2015

Pages From the Past: My 2000 Reading Journal

As we get ready to head out of town on vacation, I'll leave you with another installment of my Pages From the Past Series. We're moving into the 21st century now...


Memorable Fiction:

Fortune's Rocks by Anita Shreve 
My favorite of her novels

Even better than Stones From the River

A Widow For One Year by John Irving
Irving was my most read author of 2000

Our "fun" summer book club selection

Tara Road by Maeve Binchy
Binchy was a favorite back then

The Saving Graces by Patricia Gaffney 
Beachy covers have always appealed to me

Read with an on-line book club... vivid Newfoundland setting

Memorable Nonfiction:

Home Town by Tracy Kidder 
a book club selection

Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol 1, 1884-1933 by Blanche Weisen Cook
It took some time, but I also made it through volume 2

Should Have Skipped:

A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks 
Sappy is the adjective which comes to mind

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene 
Who knew it would be a favorite on audio just over a decade later?

Incubus by Ann Arensberg
Don't even remember reading this, but my journal notations not favorable

Have you read any of these books? What were you reading in 2000?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
by Marie Kondo
Random House, 2014
226 pages
source: borrowed from the library

When your room is clean and uncluttered, you have no choice but to examine your inner state. You can see any issues you have been avoiding and are forced to deal with them. From the moment you start tidying, you will be compelled to reset your life. As a result, your life will start to change.

A tidy home will revolutionize your life, at least according to Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo. Her book offers a step-by-step approach (called KonMari) to declutter, pare down, and organize possessions until you are left only with items which "spark joy".  She claims this is the basis for a simpler, happier existence.

My friends and family will tell you that I'm already a very organized person and my house is generally tidy. So why would I read this book? Because if you open my closets, cupboards, or drawers, a beast is lurking. I wanted to see if the KonMari method could help me tame that beast... beginning with my own closet.

According to Kondo, effective tidying involves two essential actions: discarding and deciding where to store things. In addition, to tidy efficiently you must do it all at once, as quickly as possible, and nothing should be put away until the discarding is done.

Her basic ideas seem fundamentally sound and, to me, intuitive. She even offers subcategories, to be approached in a specific order, for those unable to tidy their closet in one fell swoop. There are also tips on how to fold and arrange items in a drawer. And all that is fine...

Until it gets to be a bit much. Talk to each of your possessions? Thank them for serving your needs? Be considerate of their feelings? Seriously?? That sounds a little crazy to me.

But I finished reading the book.

And then it was time to tackle my closet... in sections, not exactly in the prescribed order. I did consider the joy-inducing capabilities of each item individually. However, I did not  speak directly to any article of clothing.

Three days (and six bags) later, my closet was a joy to behold.

On the fourth day, I went shopping!

The kitchen cabinets and my husband's closet (with his assistance, of course) are next on the agenda. We'll see about purging books after that.

Much of this book seems like common sense, some of it is certainly over-the-top, and I remain skeptical of any "life-changing" claims. Its primary value seems to be as inspiration and motivation... which was exactly what I needed.

My rating:

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

Judging from the response on Instagram yesterday, I had to share this photo here:

My caption:
Look what I saw at B&N today! This could be the only way I'll ever read Proust. #instabooks #bookstagram

Click here for links to all of this week's Paris in July posts.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Tuesday Intro: Old Filth

The Donheads
He was spectacularly clean. You might say ostentatiously clean. His ancient fingernails were rimmed with purest white. The few still-gold hairs below his knuckles looked always freshly shampooed, as did his curly still-bronze hair. His shoes shone like conkers. His clothes were always freshly pressed. He had the elegance of the 1920s, for his garments, whatever they looked like off, always became him. Always a Victorian silk handkerchief in the breast pocket. Always yellow cotton or silk socks from Harrod's; and some still perfect from his old days in the East. His skin was clear and, in poor light, young.
Old Filth
by Jane Gardam

A couple of days ago I began reading Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen  by Mary Norris. It's a new hardcover from the library. As I've also developed a fondness for reading in the pool (on one of those comfy floating chairs), library books are an obvious contraindication.

I bought a paperback copy of Old Filth  at a library sale a year or two ago. In addition, I have an audio version, which I scored during a Buy One, Get One sale at audible.  I love that description of Old Filth {though I had to google conker - it's the seed of a horse chestnut} and look forward to getting to know him better. Think I'll get started later today.

Here is the goodreads summary:
Sir Edward Feathers has had a brilliant career, from his early days as a lawyer in Southeast Asia, where he earned the nickname Old Filth (FILTH being an acronym for Failed In London Try Hong Kong) to his final working days as a respected judge at the English bar. Yet through it all he has carried with him the wounds of a difficult and emotionally hollow childhood. Now an eighty-year-old widower living in comfortable seclusion in Dorset, Feathers is finally free from the regimen of work and the sentimental scaffolding that has sustained him throughout his life. He slips back into the past with ever mounting frequency and intensity, and on the tide of these vivid, lyrical musings, Feathers approaches a reckoning with his own history. Not all the old filth, it seems, can be cleaned away.
What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Monday, July 20, 2015

7/20/15: It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

Good morning and happy Monday! After another busy week, the final push is on for our library book sale which begins Friday... and my back is already complaining. Saturday afternoon, in an effort to relax those aching muscles, I floated around on a pool lounge and read for a couple of hours - a paperback, of course. The above photo was my view from the float.

My other project last week, influenced by The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up  by Marie Kondo, was cleaning out my closet. Many bags of clothing were discarded and I actually like my closet again. On the top shelf, way in the back, I found a box which was never unpacked when we moved in 25 years ago. It contained my journals from senior year of high school, college, my first job, and ended when I got engaged. That made for quite a trip down memory lane! I'll have a review of the book this week.

The journals made up the bulk of my reading last week, but I also finished//

The Lost Daughter  by Elena Ferrante

Current listening//

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope, narrated by Simon Vance
This started as a read/listen combination, but was mostly listening this week. 

Current reading//

Hardcover from the library... I'll also need to choose a paperback for pool reading.

On the blog//

Weekend Cooking: A Skinnytaste Kind of Week
Review: Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan
Tuesday Intro: The Lost Daughter  by Elena Ferrante

The week ahead//

Will be crazy... Our library book sale begins Friday, my birthday is Wednesday, and Sunday we're off on our Great Western Adventure. I plan to have a few posts ready this week, then a short break until early August.

How was your week? What are you reading today?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. While she is taking a break, check the hashtag #IMWAYR on twitter.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Skinnytaste Kind of Week

Do you know Skinnytaste? It's a blog, it's a cookbook, it's everywhere on social media ... it's Gina Homolka. She is known for slimmed down recipes which are generally easy to prepare and always made from natural, readily available ingredients. I've tried quite a few and they always  turn out well.

When she released a cookbook last year, I bought my daughter a copy for Christmas. And last spring I finally got a copy for myself, too. I've cooked from it sporadically since then, but this week turned out to be all Skinnytaste, all the time.

It began with Thai Coconut Mussels. Mussels are a relatively recent addition to my culinary repertoire, probably because I only began eating them a few years ago.  My husband and I got into the habit of splitting the mussels appetizer at our favorite (though, sadly, now closed) farm-to-table restaurant. I wanted to duplicate those dishes at home, so began experimenting with several recipes.

Mussels are generally steamed, and the cooking liquid seems to be the most important factor in flavoring the dish. I've tried various stocks/broths, beers, and wines. This recipe is unusual in that the liquid is light coconut milk. Adding diced tomatoes, scallions, red bell pepper, ginger, chiles, and cilantro imparted the Thai flavor.

We both thought it was a nice change of pace, but Ina Garten's (The Barefoot Contessa) Mussels in White Wine recipe remains my favorite.

Next up were the Make Ahead Western Omelet Muffins. That's right, omelet muffins. I've been skeptical of that whole concept for a long time, but finally got around to actually trying it and was pretty impressed. I used shredded taco cheese instead of swiss because that's what I had on hand and omitted the scallions.

These were amazing! The best part was having a delicious breakfast already made for the rest of the week. I learned from my friends on Instagram that they also freeze well. There will now be a batch of these "muffins" in my freezer at all times!

And finally,  Baked Chicken Parmesan... I can't even tell you how many recipes and methods I've tried over the years, but this is the best! Gina's lightened up version starts with baking breaded chicken cutlets at a very high temperature, then placing them in a pan with warmed marinara sauce, topping with mozzarella, and letting it melt. (Note: the linked recipe says to put it back in the oven, but that was changed for the cookbook) This is the only way I will prepare chicken parmesan from now on!

What is your favorite Skinnytaste recipe?

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

A strange melancholy pervades me to which I hesitate to give the grave and beautiful name of sorrow. The idea of sorrow has always appealed to me, but now I am almost ashamed of its complete egoism. I have known boredom, regret, and occasionally remorse, but never sorrow. Today it envelopes me like a silken web, enervating and soft, and sets me apart from everybody else.

From the opening paragraph I knew I was in for a treat, and that's exactly what this little gem delivered. The depth of our young narrator's self-understanding (and selfishness), an introspective tone, and engaging writing style drew me in right away and held me rapt through the final page.

A teenage girl, her philandering widowed father, his current girlfriend,  a strict but well-meaning friend of her late mother, and a summer rental on the French Riviera... just imagine the possibilities! And there's a cute guy with a sailboat just a few villas down, too.

Goodreads says: "Deceptively simple in structure, Bonjour Tristesse is a complex and beautifully composed portrait of casual amorality and a young woman's desperate attempt to understand and control the world around her."

I think it's also a cautionary tale of youthful schemes and their unintended consequences.

A near perfect summer read, it's hard to believe the author was only eighteen years old when she wrote this novella in 1954.

My rating:

Click here for links to all of this week's Paris in July posts.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Tuesday Intro: The Lost Daughter

I had been driving for less than an hour when I began to feel ill. The burning in my side came back, but at first I decided not to give it any importance. I became worried only when I realized that I no longer had the strength to hold onto the steering wheel. In the space of a few minutes my head became heavy, the headlights grew dimmer; soon I even forgot that I was driving. I had the impression, rather, of being at the sea, in the middle of the day. The beach was empty, the water was calm, but on a pole a few meters from shore a red flag was waving.  When I was a child, my mother had frightened me, saying, Leda, you must never go swimming if you see a red flag: it means the sea is rough and you might drown. That fear had endured through the years, and even now, although the water was a sheet of translucent paper stretching to the horizon, I didn't dare go in: I was anxious. I said to myself, go on, swim: they must have forgotten the flag, and meanwhile I stayed on the shore, cautiously testing the water with the tip of my toe. Only at intervals my mother appeared at the top of the dunes and shouted to me as if I were still a child: Leda, what are you doing, don't you see the red flag? 
In the hospital, when I opened my eyes, I saw myself again hesitating for a fraction of a second before the flat sea. Maybe that was why, later, I convinced myself that it wasn't a dream but a fantasy of alarm that lasted until I woke up in the hospital room. The doctors told me that my car had ended up against a guardrail but without critical consequences. The only serious injury was in my left side, an inexplicable lesion. 
My friends from Florence came, Bianca and Marta returned, and even Gianni. I said it was drowsiness that had sent me off the road. But I knew very well that drowsiness wasn't to blame. At the origin was a gesture of mine that made no sense, and which, precisely because it was senseless, I immediately decided not to speak of to anyone. The hardest things to talk about are the ones we ourselves can't understand.
The Lost Daughter
by Elena Ferrante

Since the final installment of Elena Ferrante's Neopolitan Novels will not be available until September, I decided to dive into her backlist while I wait. This is the entire first chapter from her 2006 novel, The Lost Daughter.  I posted the whole thing because I thought the final sentences were quite powerful. Here is the goodreads summary:
The Lost Daughter is Elena Ferrante's most compelling and perceptive meditation on womanhood and motherhood yet. Leda, a middle-aged divorce, is alone for the first time in years when her daughters leave home to live with their father. Her initial, unexpected sense of liberty turns to ferocious introspection following a seemingly trivial occurrence. Ferrante's language is as finely tuned and intense as ever, and she treats her theme with a fierce, candid tenacity. 
What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Weekly Update: July 12, 2015

Another Sunday and, for a change, an absolutely gorgeous summer weekend - it's about time! The week flew by. In addition to the routine activities, I had a couple of meetings, lots of book sorting (two weeks until the library sale), another car service appointment, and book club.

I finished reading//

Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan
Look for a Paris in July review later this week

It was good. I'll let you know if it was great after I tidy ;-)

Current reading//

The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante
If I have to wait until September for the final Neopolitan Novel, I might as well dive into her backlist.

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
I'm not loving this like Barchester Towers or Doctor Thorne, but still an enjoyable read.

On the blog//

Six in Six: 2015 Edition - a midyear survey, of sorts
The Horla by Guy de Maupassant
Tuesday Intro: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

New books//

Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip - Confessions of a Cynical Waiter by Steve Dublanica
A kindle daily deal and just the type of light nonfiction I find helpful for a reading slump. Thanfully, I don't need it at the moment.

Book club//
My book club met Friday morning to discuss I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron. I loved it when I listened a few years ago, but did not reread for the meeting.  I missed my book club most of the winter and the group took a brief hiatus this spring, so it was great to catch up with everyone... and we even discussed the book!

Next month we'll talk about The Sabbathday River by Jean Hanff Korelitz, an early novel from the author of Admission and You Should Have Known.

In the kitchen//

We lived off holiday leftovers for several days at the beginning of the week, but on one (of many) rainy evening, I pulled out an old favorite - Pan Seared Swordfish with Lemon and Wine Rosemary. We usually grill swordfish, but the weather has been uncooperative lately and this was a nice treat.

Later today//
Rest! My husband is running a 15k race this morning, so our afternoon and evening will be very low-key... reading on the patio, a nap for some, maybe a boat ride, and hamburgers on the grill.

How was your week? What are you reading today?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. While she is taking a break, check the hashtag #IMWAYR on twitter.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Six in Six: 2015 Edition

Jo at The Book Jotter  is running her Six in Six meme again this year. It's a fun way to summarize the first six months of your reading year by sorting books you've read into six different categories. Choose from the ones Jo suggests or feel free to create your own. The same book can obviously feature in more than one category.

I always enjoy this little exercise and participated in 2012 and 2013.  I could have sworn I played along last year, too, but can't seem to find the post.

Six new-to-me authors:
Emily St. John Mandel
Rabih Alameddine
Elena Ferrante
Paula Hawkins
Nickolas Butler
Atul Gawande

Six tried-and-true authors:
Dorothy Whipple
Stewart O'Nan
Anthony Trollope
Thomas Hardy
Theodore Dreiser
Lucy Knisley

Six classic novels:
Sister Carrie  by Theodore Dreiser
They Were Sisters  by Dorothy Whipple
Barchester Towers  by Anthony Trollope
Doctor Thorne  by Anthony Trollope
Far From the Madding Crowd  by Thomas Hardy
Bonjour Tristesse  by Françoise Sagan

Six Nonfiction titles:
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?  by Roz Chast
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading  by Nina Sankovitch
Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality  by Jacob Tomsky
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End  by Atul Gawande
On Immunity: An Inoculation  by Eula Biss
An Age of License: A Travelogue  by Lucy Knisley

Six in Translation:
My Brilliant Friend  by Elena Ferrante
The Story of a New Name  by Elena Ferrante
Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay  by Elena Ferrante
Bonjour Tristesse  by Françoise Sagan
An Unnecessary Woman  by Rabih Alameddine
The Horla  by Guy de Maupassant

Six Newer Novels:
Shotgun Lovesongs  by Nickolas Butler
Euphoria  by Lily King
Station Eleven  by Emily St. John Mandel
Enchanted August: A Novel  by Brenda Bowen
Bittersweet: A Novel  by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
The Girl on the Train  by Paula Hawkins

How is your year stacking up? Let me know if you decide to play along.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Horla by Guy de Maupassant

The Horla
by Guy de Maupassant
Fantasy and Horror Classics, 2013
35 pages
originally published, 1887
source: purchased

He is here... the...the...what is his name?...the... it seems as if he were shouting his name in my ear, and I cannot hear it... the...yes...he is shouting it... I am listening... I can't hear... again, tell me again... the...Horla... I heard...the Horla... it is he... the Horla... he is here!

What is the matter with me? It is he, he, the Horla, who is haunting me, filling, my head with these absurdities! He is in me, he has become my soul; I will kill him.

Guy de Maupassant, considered one of the fathers of the modern short story, is a personal favorite and has made several previous appearances on this blog:
It's been a couple of years since I last read his work, but  Paris in July inspired me to seek out another of his stories. The Horla, written in a journal format, chronicles one man's "descent into madness". Published shortly before de Maupassant himself was hospitalized for insanity, the story seems tame compared to today's psychological thrillers, but was considered ground-breaking at the time.

De Maupassant wrote and revised The Horla over a period of several years. An early draft was entitled Letter from a Madman, while a later reworking tells the same story from a doctor’s point of view.  The Melville House edition (part of their Art of the Novella series) includes both of these variations along with the final version. I would have been particularly interested in reading this story from the doctor's perspective.

I chose the above edition because I liked the cover. If I'd been a little more discerning, the Melville House edition would be on my shelf instead.

The Horla can be read in its entirely here.

Visit Thyme for Tea for links to all of this week's Paris in July posts.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tuesday Intro: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

In this book, I have summed up how to put your space in order in a way that will change your life forever. 
Impossible? A common response and not surprising, considering that almost everyone has experienced a rebound effect at least once, if not multiple times, after tidying. 
Have you ever tidied madly, only to find that all too soon your home or workspace is cluttered again? If so, let me share with you the secret of success. Start by discarding. Then organize your space, thoroughly, completely, in one go. If you adopt this approach - the KonMari Method - you'll never revert to clutter again.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
by Marie Kondo

I've always been organized and my house is usually pretty neat, but don't be fooled. If you open my cupboards, closets, or drawers, a beast is lurking. Lately, my social media feeds are full of friends embracing the KonMari Method. They are decluttering, paring down possession to include only items which bring them "joy"... and I am more than a little curious.

The local library's hold list is unbelievably long, so I had the brilliant idea of checking my Florida library for the ebook. It was checked out but, surprisingly, had no holds. I hopped right on it and was able to download the book last night. I'll start reading later this morning as I wait for my car to be serviced.

Here is the goodreads summary:
Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?  
Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).  
With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.
Could there be something to this? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Monday, July 6, 2015

July 6: It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

Whew, that was fun! The long holiday weekend meant a full house, hosting two parties, fireworks, boating, a parade, craft I need a day off!

Last week I read//

The Horla by Guy de Maupassant
For Paris in July, look for a post later this week.

Current reading//

Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
A read/listen combination

Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan
I'm loving this short book!

On the blog//
My thoughts on Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Paris in July Kick-off Post
Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Books of the Year So Far

In the Kitchen//

My kitchen was humming this week. Besides all the party prep, I tried one new recipe and granted two favorite dinner requests from the girls. This Classic Crab Cake recipe found on was a winner - their photo, not mine.

My oldest daughter asks for Spicy Shrimp with Lime and Cilantro every time she is home.The recipe is from Jenny Rosenstrach's book, Dinner: A Love Story, but I found it on Martha Stewart's website.

Twin A's favorite is Tortilla Pie, another recipe from Martha Stewart. Since stumbling upon this recipe, I use my springform pan more for dinners than for desserts!

Around the blogosphere//

That's all from me... How was your week? What are you reading today?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. While she is taking a break, check the hashtag #IMWAYR on twitter.


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