Posts By: Louise

Cooking for Geeks
by Jeff Potter

December 23, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0

Potter_CookingforGeeks


★ ★ ★ ★

Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Cooks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter | July 2010 | O’Reilly Media | EPUB (Barnes & Noble Nook) $38.99

Why, exactly, do we cook the way we do? Are you curious about the science behind what happens to food as it cooks? Are you the innovative type, used to expressing your creativity instead of just following recipes? Do you want to learn how to become a better cook?

When you step into the kitchen, you’re unwittingly turned into a physicist and a chemist. This excellent and intriguing resource is for inquisitive people who want to increase their knowledge and ability to cook.

Please note: This review is for the FIRST edition of this title. There is now a 2nd edition, which incl. an additional 150 pages of new content!

This book includes an interesting combination of super basic recipes (hard boiled eggs, no-knead bread) and complicated or time-intensive recipes (duck confit sugo, 48-hour brisket). The focus in all the recipes, regardless of required skill/interest level, is how the cooking techniques work.

For example, Potter doesn’t just tell you that the “shock and awe” method of hard boiling eggs produces better-tasting eggs with shells that are easier to peel off; he walks you through the thermal gradient of the egg and what the shock of hot/cold water will do to the insides as well as the shell.

That being said, I have to confess that I have not actually tried any of the recipes in this book yet (no, not even the supposedly super-scientific perfect eggs). I hesitate to “review” a cookbook without having tried the recipes, but here’s why I went ahead and did it anyway:

1. Cooking for Geeks isn’t just a collection of recipes. It includes interviews, lots of tips for beginners, kitchen organization + equipment advice, and all kinds of science-y info on topics like taste, heat conduction methods, and food safety.

2. I just wanted to finish my last review for both my TBR Pile Challenge and Foodies Read goals.

Since reason number 2 is boring, let’s talk some more about reason number 1.

– – –

I especially liked the sections on tastes (like bitter, sweet, sour, etc.) and the kitchen organization + equipment info. These are not topics that most “cookbooks” delve into but they’re still very important to successful cooking. I would recommend this book to beginner cooks, despite some of the more complicated recipes, simply because these sections are so dang helpful.

Potter encourages experimentation. There’s a lot of “What happens if we… ?” and “Try X, Y, or Z instead and see how it turns out!” going on here. That’s cool with me, but if you’re looking for extremely precise or strict recipes (and some people do prefer that!) you’ll just want to be aware that this is more of an experiment-friendly book.

The recipes themselves aren’t even written in the traditional cooking time | ingredients list | steps | notes kind of way, nor will you find a lot of big glossy photos of pretty dishes. The focus is all on figuring out how stuff works and how you can make it work even better.

(That said, I love cookbooks with pretty pictures and would have appreciated some more illustrations/photos. Still, since I was reading this on my Nook + phone, I wouldn’t have been able to fully appreciate them anyway!)

– – –

Also, keep in mind that a lot of the “geek” references are geared more towards developer/hacker types. Like, if you think of yourself as a geek or nerd or whatever because you read a lot of comics and play tabletop RPGs, cool, let’s be friends, but also you might miss out on some of the references meant for the more computer-y species of geek.

Despite those geek species-specific references, this book covers a lot of science and techniques that you don’t have to know anything about coding to get. I’m saying that with a background in the natural sciences so basic household chemistry doesn’t scare me anyway, but I truly think that as long as you have an interest in the subject of kitchen science you’ll be able to understand all or most of the topics in this book.


Links:

So, what do you think? I’m open to recommendations for other geek-friendly cookery books!


Publication information: Potter, Jeff. Cooking for Geeks. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2010. EPUB.
Source: Purchased from Barnes & Noble.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


100 Million Years of Food
by Stephen Le

December 22, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0

Le_100MillYearsofFood

★ ★ ★ ★

100 Million Years of Food: What Our Ancestors Ate and Why It Matters Today by Stephen Le | February 2016 | Picador | Hardcover $26

There are few areas of modern life that are burdened by as much information and advice, often contradictory, as our diet and health: eat a lot of meat, eat no meat; whole-grains are healthy, whole-grains are a disaster; eat everything in moderation; eat only certain foods–and on and on. In One Hundred Million Years of Food biological anthropologist Stephen Le explains how cuisines of different cultures are a result of centuries of evolution, finely tuned to our biology and surroundings.

This book is due out in February of 2016. This review is based on an e-ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss.

This is an ambitious summary of what we know about traditional cuisines and how various common (or not-so-common) foods can affect the human body, told in part by way of the author’s memories of travelling around the world in search of new food experiences.

The author’s main focus, other than the whirlwind tour through world cuisines and modern hypotheses concerning human evolution, is this:

The robustness of meat-eaters and the long lives of meat-abstainers are two sides of the same biological coin. It all depends on how you define ‘healthy’. Does healthy mean being in a great mood and being fertile and stronger at a younger age, or does healthy mean delaying cancer for a couple of years and hanging out with your great-grandchildren?

I did learn a few intriguing new-to-me factoids. For example:

As a result of losing the ability to manufacture uricase [the enzyme that helps dispose of uric acid, by-product of purine and fructose from food], humans have uric acid levels three to ten times higher than other mammals and unfortunately a greater predisposition to gout and possibly hypertension. The loss of uricase over millions of years of evolution is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in the evolution of the human diet. 

The author goes on to explain various hypotheses that have been proposed for this seemingly maladaptive quirk of human evolution. Everything from protection against brain damage to more effective fat storage on a fruit-heavy diet has been proposed, but each hypothesis has its problems. Le prefers the idea that this uric acid problem is merely an accidental side effect of the body’s need for protective antioxidants in the absence of dietary or self-synthesized vitamin C. This is because uric acid mimics some of the effects of vitamin C, and in fact higher levels of vitamin C in the body correlate with lower levels of uric acid.

Though I found this topic fascinating, I won’t try to summarize or quote the entire chapter for you — the little teaser above might be enough to get you to try this book, if you’re interested in this sort of thing.

– – –

The book touches briefly on the history of human consumption of almost every type of food, from lard to milk to insects, as well as their associated health effects, both good and bad. It’s a bit of a whirlwind, but the upshot is this: whether any given food is “healthy” often depends entirely on how you consume it and how you want to interpret its typical results.

This is, I think, something most people with an ounce of common sense + basic knowledge of nutrition can intuitively understand, but it’s nice to see it spelled out with lots of examples. Le is careful not to promote one type of diet over another, except of course for his point that traditional diets are generally better suited to our bodies’ needs than the typical “industrialized” diet of the modern American.

– – –

I’m sure Stephen Le’s adventures were quite exciting and I might be interested in reading his travel-focused memoirs, but I found myself getting a little impatient over his little side trips down memory lane at some points. These experiences were usually used as jumping off points for essays on particular foods or cultural traditions, though, so at least they weren’t entirely out of place.

There was also a pretty heavy focus on east/southeast Asian foods — which is entirely understandable given the author’s cultural background and his choice of countries to visit, but I did hope to see a little more info about other cultures, like maybe more details about Native American or Australian Aborigine cuisine history.

– – –

Overall I think this book offers a good summary of what scientists + historians currently understand about traditional foodways and how modern dietary choices/habits impact the human body. Definitely recommend it for anyone interested in diet-based health improvement or historical cuisines.


Links:


Publication information: Le, Stephen. 100 Million Years of Food: What Our Ancestors Ate & Why It Matters Today. London: Picador, 2016. EPUB.
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Adventures & Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

December 15, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0

Doyle_SherlockHolmes

★ ★ ★

The Adventures & Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle | 1892, original publication; 2004, this edition | Sterling Publishing | Hardcover $14.95

It’s elementary — there’s no more intriguing detective than Sherlock Holmes, with his unequalled powers of deduction, and no better mysteries than the tricky ones that only he can solve. Here are some of the finest Holmes stories, recounted by his trusty friend and assistant, Dr. Watson.

Only 3 stars for Sherlock Holmes! What are you, some kind of bonkers philistine with a puddle of cheese for brains? Your opinions are bad and you should feel bad.


That’s what you’re thinking right now, isn’t it?

Look, as it turns out, this whole Sherlock thing is not my thing. Holmes is not my homie.

It isn’t that these stories are bad! They’re not. A 3 star rating is nothing to sneeze at. I can still appreciate these stories for what they are — classic mysteries featuring unique, witty characters that have inspired a billion adaptations and reinterpretations.

I didn’t outright dislike this book. I was just kind of bored after the first couple of stories, TBH. Every story follows a formula: someone brings a case to Holmes, Holmes sees a bunch of details and clues that everyone else misses, some kind of small crisis or adventure happens, and Watson writes it all down from his own point of view. The end. Some of the mysteries were fairly interesting, but after a while they all started to blend together.

– – –

Beyond that, my main complaint is that Doyle relies on a lot of slight-of-hand storytelling devices. For example, take the overused “My dear Watson, didn’t you notice the X?” scenario where X is a thing that the reader, seeing things from Watson’s point of view, would also be unaware of until it was suddenly important. There’s also a lot of telling instead of showing, which I don’t think would fly if these books were written for modern mystery readers — somewhat ironically, as Doyle essentially popularized the genre single-handedly.

However, it isn’t entirely fair to judge the classics by my modern standards, is it? Especially since the mystery genre is not something I usually go for. Dunno why, I just am often bored with mystery books. Which further complicates my thoughts on rating this book, because how can I fairly rate a book if I rarely even read other comparable stories?

– – –

What I did like about this book, though, are the characters of Holmes and Watson themselves. It makes sense to me now why I enjoy most movies and TV shows based on these stories. Their personalities do shine through and develop over time despite the repetitiveness of the actual mysteries, and that’s what kept me reading until the end.So there it is, my dumb but honest opinion of this classic book. Please refrain from throwing all your rotten tomatoes at me….


Links:


Publication information: Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Adventures and Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2004. Print.
Source: Owned, original source unknown.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Birth of the Pill
by Jonathan Eig

December 14, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0

Eig_BirthofthePill

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan Eig | October 2014 | W. W. Norton & Co. | Paperback $16.95

Spanning the years from Margaret Sanger’s heady Greenwich Village days in the early twentieth century to trial tests in Puerto Rico in the 1950s to the cusp of the sexual revolution in the 1960s, this is a grand story of radical feminist politics, scientific ingenuity, establishment opposition, and, ultimately, a sea change in social attitudes. Brilliantly researched and briskly written, The Birth of the Pill is gripping social, cultural, and scientific history.

I absolutely devoured this book, but I’ve had a hard time writing a decent review for it. I’m having a hard time because I get pretty passionate about some of the issues discussed in this book, but this space is not — or shouldn’t be — a platform for my political views. IMHO, mixing hobby stuff and political stuff is probably not a great recipe for a blog. Hobbies and politics are not two great tastes that taste great together.

But. Every once in a while, these things do get mixed. It’s unavoidable, if you’re reading and enjoying a book about a contentious topic and you happen to keep a blog where you share your opinions on the books you’ve read. The topic of a book and one’s opinion of that book are necessarily entwined. So, fair warning: this review gets a little political.

– – –

The Birth of the Pill is about, well, just that: the development of the first pharmaceutically produced hormonal birth control method, and its impact on society.

Now, the Pill in and of itself might not seem like a particularly controversial thing to modern readers. After all, it and other forms of hormonal contraception have been in use since my grandmothers were my own age. Obviously the Catholic church has its objections, as do a handful of smaller groups (don’t even get me started on the Quiverfull movement), but overall the Pill has been a common fixture in household medicine cabinets for well over half a century.

The controversies are more apparent when we consider the events and people involved in the making of the Pill. Questionable treatment of experimental subjects? Potentially serious side effects brushed under the rug? A major backer involved with the eugenics movement? Ties to an organization that was (and still is) the most prominent abortion provider in the country? Check, check, check, and check.

– – –

I had to read this book chapter by chapter, breaking it up with other less rage-inducing books or activities. From the male doctors and researchers failing to take their patients’ concerns/needs/side effects seriously to the male, celibate priests of the Catholic church presuming to tell women how sex and babies should work, to the refusal of so many policymakers to allow even discussion of contraception much less development/distribution of it, to the lives damaged or lost to botched home-induced abortions and unwanted pregnancies resulting in dangerous, deadly births. . . there is no shortage of issues to rage about in this book.

Overall I think the author does a fine job of presenting the facts as they are, even when they might not be particularly palatable — and in this case, there are plenty of unpalatable facts to choose from regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum. In the end, though, this story is a great reminder that history is not made by people who back down from controversy. Nor can the history of something that has had a profound impact on the world be tied up in a neat little bow without ignoring the knots and messiness that were part of its story as well.

– – –

I think this book is also a great reminder of how hard women had to fight — not that long ago! — for even basic forms of equality, and how important it is that women be allowed to control their own bodies in order for that equality to continue/grow.

It’s hard to imagine my doctor refusing to provide contraception because it isn’t curative medicine (and if you don’t want kids, too bad, you’re a married lady and have a duty to your husband — and if you’re not married, you’re a whore), or not being allowed to even discuss contraceptive options with me without breaking the law and possibly losing his/her (though let’s be real, it would have been his) license. And yet, these are things women — our own great-grandmothers! — were having to deal with less than a century ago. It’s just so hard to fathom and I’ve never been more grateful to be living in the 21st century than I was after finishing this book.

And yet, there are still people in this day and age who make women pawns in their political games, who make very real health needs collateral damage in their efforts to win votes — and even more frighteningly, there are still people who will go to any lengths to punish people who don’t step in line with their own beliefs about what women are allowed to do. The day after I finished reading this, a domestic terrorist shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, killing 3 people because he thought he was somehow saving babies.

This is why I couldn’t just write a cute little “Good book! 5 stars!” review for this title on Goodreads and leave it at that. If you’re a woman (or partner of a woman) who uses modern contraceptives, you need to read this book. You need to appreciate the small miracle that is the Pill.


Links:


Publication information: Eig, Jonathan. The Birth of the Pill. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2014. Print.
ource: Owned, self purchased.&
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The most wonderful time of the year?

December 11, 2015 Books 0

I have mixed feelings about Christmas. I don’t want to get into it.

I do, however, want to talk about a few of my favorite Christmas books. Except that they aren’t all necessarily “Christmas” books, just books that I tend to get a hankerin’ for around the holidays.

You know how it is… the chilly* weather, the cozy decorations and soothing music, the veritable flood of hot chocolate. Just makes you want to curl up with a good comfort book, right?

(* By “chilly” I mean in the mid-60’s-70’s. I live on the Texas Gulf Coast, sorry-not-sorry.)

– – –

Anyway, here are a few of the books I’m mostly likely to pick up for some cozy reading around this time of year . . . .

Baum_Santa

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum

“In all this world there is nothing so beautiful as a happy child,” says L. Frank Baum’s delightful Santa Claus. These words also expressed the credo of the wonderfully imaginative creator of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Taking the beloved symbol of a merry Christmas out of his conventional trappings and into the world of imaginative folklore. Baum gave Santa Claus an exciting life that evokes all the charm, warmth, and fantasy that made his Oz stories American classic. 

Here’s a real classic that I wish more people were familiar with. I think a lot of people are familiar with the 1985 stop-motion TV special by Rankin/Bass, the same studio that brought us the stop-motion versions of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town (another Santa origin story, which confused the heck out of me as a little kid). It is, as you would expect from the author of The Wizard of Oz, a fun and beautiful children’s book that has stood the test of time.

– – –

Pratchett_Hogfather

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

There are those who believe and those who don’t. Through the ages, superstition has had its uses. Nowhere more so than in the Discworld where it’s helped to maintain the status quo. Anything that undermines superstition has to be viewed with some caution. There may be consequences, particularly on the last night of the year when the time is turning. When those consequences turn out to be the end of the world, you need to be prepared. You might even want more standing between you and oblivion than a mere slip of a girl – even if she has looked Death in the face on numerous occasions….

There are a great many Pratchett books that I love — and none that I haven’t at least liked a bit — but this one in particular is a staple for me around Christmastime. Everything about it is damn near perfect. The characters, the plot, the humor, and the meaning behind it all… I don’t think I’ve ever read a better “Christmas” (but not really Christmas) book.

– – –

Rowling_HP

Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy. He lives with his Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia and cousin Dudley, who are mean to him and make him sleep in a cupboard under the stairs. (Dudley, however, has two bedrooms, one to sleep in and one for all his toys and games.) Then Harry starts receiving mysterious letters and his life is changed forever. He is whisked away by a beetle-eyed giant of a man and enrolled at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. 

I grew up with Harry. I was 11 when the first book came out and Harry was 11, too. I actually remember buying the first book — we were in an airport somewhere (I don’t actually remember the trip at all) and my mother let me get something from the bookshop near our terminal. I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone because my best friend had recommended it to me. This series will always be a part of my life.

– – –

Lewis_Narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis

When Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy took their first steps into the world behind the magic wardrobe, little do they realise what adventures are about to unfold. And as the story of Narnia begins to unfold, so to does a classic tale that has enchanted readers of all ages for over half a century.

I must have read this series at least once a year when I was in elementary and middle school. I can probably tell you all the stories by heart. But my feelings about some aspects of these books have changed as I’ve aged and gone through some personal philosophical revolutions. I still have a special place in my heart for this series and will read it again probably multiple times in the future, but I’m not quite ready to completely hash out my thoughts on these books at this point.

– – –

Perkins_MTLGTM

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie Perkins

“On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me….” This beautiful collection features twelve gorgeously romantic stories set during the festive period, by some of the most talented and exciting YA authors writing today. The stories are filled with the magic of first love and the magic of the holidays.

This book only came out last year — see my review here. I’ll be reading it again this holiday season, of course. Apparently a “companion” story collection called Summer Days and Summer Nights is due to be released in June 2016!

– – –

So, how about you? Do you have any favorite holiday season books that you like to cozy up with?


The final countdown….

December 1, 2015 Books 0

This last month of 2015 is now upon us! Time for a challenge check-in. How far away am I from my goals at this point?

TBR Pile Challenge:


How am I doing … ?
As of today, I’ve read 10 out of 12 books for this challenge. My 10th review will be posted soon. I’m currently reading 1 of the last 2 books on my list and I might be on track to have this all finished up by the end of the month. (If I can even find the last book, which seems to have been misplaced in the move.)

Will I try again next year … ?
Yes, definitely. This challenge as been a great way to force myself to actually read books that we already own, that I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. Unfortunately, Adam (Roof Beam Reader), the original host of this challenge, will not be able to host it again in 2016. So it looks like I might be flying solo for this one.


Foodies Read Challenge:


How am I doing … ?
I’ve read 5 out of 5 books for this challenge! The 5th review will be posted soon (yes, it’s a crossover book with the TBR Pile Challenge).

Will I try again next year … ?
Maybe? Although I enjoyed doing this challenge, there are some other challenges and projects that I want to work on next year as well. However, Foodies Read is being taken over by a new leader with new ideas (and a shiny new logo!) and I’m tempted to go along with it for at least one more year.


Classics Club:


How am I doing … ?
I’ve read 6 books out of 50 for this challenge. I read 2 of these in 2015, and I’m reading another one right now (a crossover with the TBR Pile Challenge). I obviously need to read more than 3 or 4 books a year if I want to make my goal by 2019!

Will I try again next year … ?
Of course. I’m going to try to read at least 15 of these this year. If I can’t, I’ll really have to scramble to catch up in 2017 and 2018!


Le Petit Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

November 20, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0

saintex_petitprince

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry | April 1943 (this edition 2000) | Reynal & Hitchcock (this edition Harcourt) | Paperback $11

Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.

What perfect, terrible timing for this book.

By now, everyone has had their say about those terrorist attacks in Paris this last weekend. There’s probably nothing I can add to the discussion that won’t sound too frivolous or political. I’m just terribly sad for all the people there who have to fear for the safety of their beautiful city, of their home.

I read The Little Prince in French along with an English translation. It took me quite a bit longer than it should have. My French is rusty from disuse. It’s been a decade since I went to Paris for a study abroad program. I’m ashamed to say I found even this small, simple book a challenge to read. But I’m glad I read it.

Le Petit Prince is the story of a man who is stranded for several days in a desert with a boy who claims to have come from a tiny asteroid. The boy — the little prince — describes his journeys and the people (mostly asinine adults) he’s met along the way. This sounds simplistic, but every part of the boy’s story is designed to reveal some facet of the author’s experiences or human nature in general.

I vaguely remember seeing the 1974 film version of this story ages ago as a child, and I don’t think I entirely understood the implications of the prince’s “going home” at the end. Even though it is often considered a children’s story — whether that’s because it’s so short and poetic, or because of the illustrations, or because it is about a child — I think that this is a book that you really get more out of as an adult, with some awareness of subtext and some experience of the world.

I was going to see if I could get a hold of a DVD copy of the animated/stop-motion film based on this book that came out just this past summer. Hearing about it is what prompted me to put Le Petit Prince on my TBR Pile Challenge list for 2015, after all, and the trailers I’ve seen look lovely. But it looks like I’ll have to wait for March next year for the US release!


Links:


Publication information: de Saint-Exupéry, Antoine. Le Petit Prince. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2000. Print.
Source: Owned, original source unknown.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Authors From My Home Town

November 11, 2015 Books 0

I grew up in San Angelo, a small city out in West Texas. I say “small” but really it’s more like mid-size; it’s just not on an Interstate so it feels like it’s smaller than it really is, being basically out in the middle of nowhere. I have mixed feeling about my home town, as many people do: it felt stifling and I couldn’t wait to get away, but now that I’ve actually been away for several years I can look back on it fondly (mostly).

I was inspired by another blogger, Heather (Based on a True Story) to try to find some books about famous people from my home town. Unfortunately, there aren’t all that many to choose from and almost none of them have books written about them. So I decided to switch it up and focus on writers from San Angelo instead.

So, without further ado….

– – –

The first and most obvious choice for this list is Elmer Kelton, prolific producer of many well-loved Western novels.

Kelton_DTCQKelton_GoodOldBoysKelton_TINR

Though Westerns as a popular genre have come and gone, if you’ve ever read even a single bonafide Western there’s a good chance it was one of Kelton’s. His books won several Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America, as well as many other accolades including the Lone Star Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Larry McMurtry Center at Midwestern State and a sidewalk star at the Fort Worth Stockyards. He even has a literary award named after him (see below). So, y’know, he was kind of a big deal.

I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve read only one of his books, and I don’t even remember which one it was. It was required reading for some high school class and I just wasn’t into it. Westerns have never interested me much. That said, a heavy wave of nostalgia has me thinking that I ought to at least give another Kelton book a try.

– – –

The second author I’d like to feature is Lucy A. Snyder, a SFF/Horror writer who grew up in San Angelo but now lives in Ohio where she currently serves as Mentor to students at Seton Hill University’s MFA program.

Snyder_SpellbentSnyder_ChimericMachinesShootingYourself

Snyder has won the Bram Stoker Award for several items, including a SFF poetry collection (I didn’t even know that such a thing existed and I’m delighted by the thought), and a Black Quill award for a Horror short story collection, among other awards and nominations.

It’s funny — I haven’t read any of Snyder’s works, either. And there are a lot to choose from! I’m interested in trying her Spellbent “dark urban fantasy” series (sarcasm quotes because I kind of hate the use of urban as a genre term), about an outlaw apprentice wizard who battles evil forces with a small fluffy/dangerous familiar and, apparently, a shotgun. Color me intrigued.

– – –

I was particularly delighted to discover the work of Jay Presson Allen, a screenwriter and playwright who was born in San Angelo in 1922. I hope it isn’t “cheating” that I’m including her on this list of authors, since she wasn’t really a novelist!

PressonAllen_CabaretPressonAllen_MarniePressonAllen_PrimeofMJB

She is perhaps best known for adapting Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie and Bib Fosse’s Cabaret for the silver screen. Most of her other works involved leading roles for women. She was also primarily concerned with adapting novels for the stage or screen, or adapting stage plays for movies.

Though I have seen the movie version of Cabaret, I don’t think I’ve seen any of Presson Allen’s other works. I do like Hitchcock films, though, so I think I’ll add Marnie to my to-watch list.

– – –

The last author I’ll highlight today is Patrick Dearen. He’s technically from Sterling City, a small town about 40 miles northwest of San Angelo, but he wrote for the San Angelo Standard-Times for a good while so I suppose I can claim him for this list.

Dearen_BigDriftDearen_RioPecosDearen_SaddlingUp

Dearen writes Westerns that are notable for their historical accuracy — no surprise, considering his dedicated attention to the details of West Texas history, including a big oral history project featuring the stories of actual 19th/early 20th century cowboys. His 2012 novel The Big Drift recently won a Spur Award. The same book also bagged an Elmer Kelton (there he is again!) Award from the Academy of Western Artists in 2014.

Yet again, I have to confess that I’m not familiar with any of the stuff this author has produced. It’s too bad really as I typically just love historical fiction that is actually accurate and well-researched. Even though his Westerns aren’t really my cup of tea, I’ll be looking to see if any of his nonfiction stuff is appealing. As a 7th generation Texan and family historian, I’m quite interested in any historical events that might have impacted the lives of my ancestors.

– – –

Edited after posting to add Jenny Lawson (a.k.a. The Bloggess) to this list! OK, it might be cheating a tiny little bit because she’s actually from Wall, a small town — extremely small — about 10 miles southeast of the city. But I don’t care. It’s close enough to home to count.

Lawson_LetsPretendLawson_FuriouslyHappy

Jenny Lawson is really known for her famously funny/insightful blog (see link above), but she’s written 2 memoirs about growing up in a quirky family and dealing with mental illness as an adult. She collects strange taxidermied animals and photos of celebrities collating paper, among other things.

I LOVED LOVED LOVED Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. It had me laughing so hard that I cried. It’s one of my all-time favorites and I recommend it to just about everyone. I haven’t read her newest book, Furiously Happy yet, but I plan to ask for it for Christmas.

– – –

Although I’m quite sure there are many other authors from or residing in San Angelo, these 4 5 are probably the most notable.

Have you read (or watched) any of their works?

Do you know of any famous writers from your own home town?

 


Women’s Classic Literature Event

November 8, 2015 Books 0

Y’all know how I’m doing that whole Classics Club thing?

Well, last month they announced a year-long challenge/celebration called the Women’s Classic Literature Event. And I’m joining in!

Here are my answers to their survey about this event:

1. Introduce yourself. Tell us what you are most looking forward to in this event.

I’m Louise, misanthropic librariosaur, and I’m really looking forward to purposefully reading more works by women! I don’t usually pay much attention to this sort of thing, so it will be an interesting exercise.

I consider myself a feminist, but I didn’t really think much about the representation of women authors when I was making my Classics Club list. Or authors of color, LGBTQ authors, authors with disabilities… I wasn’t really thinking about diversity or equal representation at all, which I regret. I don’t want to miss out on good stuff just because I didn’t bother to look far beyond the usual classic lit canon.

2. Have you read many classics by women? Why or why not?

So far I’ve only read 5 titles on my Classics Club list that were by women, and 2 of those were read a long time ago — I’m re-reading them and reviewing them for the challenge. Classics in general? Some, yes, but I’m struggling to think of very many… Harper Lee, Pearl S. Buck, Charlotte Brontë, and Madeleine L’Engle come to mind.

3. Pick a classic female writer you can’t wait to read for the event, & list her date of birth, her place of birth, and the title of one of her most famous works.

There are several on my list that I’m looking forward to reading, but I think the one that I’m most looking forward to is Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Can you believe I’ve never read anything by this author? I’m embarrassed.

Virginia Woolf was born in 1882 in England. She’s well known for several works, made all the more intriguing by her early 20th century feminism, lesbian themes, and struggle with mental illness. Other than my choice for this list, Orlando and A Room of One’s Own are quite popular.

Virginia Woolf Photo

4. Think of a female character who was represented in classic literature by a male writer. Does she seem to be a whole or complete woman? Why or why not? Tell us about her. (Without spoilers, please!)

The first character that came to my mind was Lorna, titular character of R. D. Blackmore’s 1869 “romance” Lorna Doone. Poor Lorna was nothing more than an object to be sought after in this story. Read my review here.

5. Favorite classic heroine? (Why? Who wrote her?)

It’s hard to say at this point, as I haven’t been particularly “grabbed” by any of the main female characters in any of the books on my Classics Club list I’ve read so far — although I really haven’t gotten very far through that list, so.

I do remember enjoying Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, though it’s been so long since I read it that I’m not sure if I really enjoyed her character in the book or if I’ve somehow confused the book character with the movie version. And Scarlett doesn’t quite fit the mold of heroine, does she? Perhaps that’s why I liked her.

Gone With the Wind Movie Poster

6. We’d love to help clubbers find great titles by classic female authors. Can you recommend any sources for building a list? (Just skip this question if you don’t have any at this point.)

7. Recommend three books by classic female writers to get people started in this event. (Again, skip over this if you prefer not to answer.)

This is tough to answer! Since I’d love to see more SFF love in the Classics Club, I’m going to recommend …

  • A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

(… no, that last one isn’t on my list, but I must have read it dozens of times as a kid).

8. Will you be joining us for this event immediately, or will you wait until the new year starts?

I’m waiting for the new year because I’m trying to wrap up a couple of other reading challenges right now. I really need to get back up to speed with my Classics Club challenge, so this seems like the perfect motivation!

9. Do you plan to read as inspiration pulls, or will you make out a preset list?

Both? I’m selecting specifically from titles from my main Classics Club list, but I haven’t made up my mind about which ones or how many yet.

Here, I’ve pulled out the works by women (that I haven’t reviewed for the challenge yet) on my current list:

  • Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
  • The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen
  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  • In the Shadow of Man by Jane Goodall
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  • The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
  • Passing by Nella Larsen
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  • The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

10. Are you pulling to any particular genres? (Letters, journals, biographies, short stories, novels, poems, essays, etc?)

The works by women on my list are fairly varied, but it seems like they’re mostly novels from the early to mid 20th century.

11. Are you pulling to a particular era or location in literature by women?

Again… not really, because I think have a decent variety to choose from, but about half seem to be from the past century or so by authors in America or Europe.

12. Do you hope to host an event or readalong for the group? No worries if you don’t have details. We’re just curious!

Nah. I’m not usually into big blog events or obligations. But if something strikes my fancy I might sign up as a participant.

13. Is there an author or title you’d love to read with a group or a buddy for this event? Sharing may inspire someone to offer.

Hm… that’s an interesting thought. I might be interested in reading Gone With the Wind along with someone, especially someone who hasn’t read it before. It would make for an interesting conversation, I think.

14. Share a quote you love by a classic female author — even if you haven’t read the book yet.

“But it is one thing to read about dragons and another to meet them.” – Ursula K. LeGuin, A Wizard of Earthsea

15. Finally, ask the question you wish this survey had asked, and then answer it.

I can’t really think of a question that I wish had been asked! Instead, I made a pie chart:

Women vs. Men Authors on Classics Club List Graph

That’s the author gender representation of my current Classics Club list. Only a third of the authors of my chosen books are women — not as bad as a feared, but not particularly close to fair either.

I hope lots of Classics Club folks participate in this event next year. It promises to be very interesting!


The Count of Monte Cristo
by Alexandre Dumas

November 7, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 2

dumas_count

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas | 1844-1846, serialized (this edition May 2003) | Penguin Classics | Paperback $16.00

Thrown in prison for a crime he has not committed, Edmond Dantès is confined to the grim Chateau d’If. There he learns of a great hoard of treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and he becomes determined not only to escape, but also to unearth the treasure and use it to plot the destruction of the three men responsible for his incarceration. Dumas’ epic tale of suffering and retribution, inspired by a real-life case of wrongful imprisonment, was a huge popular success when it was first serialised in the 1840s.

I have to confess, I was terribly nervous about this one. I kept putting it off, even though several people told me it was worth reading, because let’s face it … 1,270 pages of translated French from the 19th century is intimidating.

So, yes, I was pleasantly surprised. This book is not at all a chore to get through, nor is it a challenge to read (which I have come to expect and worry about with these older classics). This can no doubt be attributed partially to the skills of this edition’s translator, Robin Buss.

I had to stop and tweet about it at one point:

This story is so well known that I don’t think it is necessary to offer a summary, but if you need one: hit up Goodreads. (But if you want to avoid spoilers, don’t read the reviews. Not even this one.)

– – –

Highlights

Here are a few of my favorite bits (SPOILERS, obv) ….

  1. The grand escape from the prison. Even though I knew the basic storyline before reading — in fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen at least one movie, even if I don’t remember it/them at all — I was still surprised by the sheer thrill of Edmond’s daring escape plan and his unexpected plunge into the stormy ocean. (Although… didn’t the abbé tell Edmond to give him 12 drops of the potion after his 3rd seizure to attempt to revive him, yet the dumbass only gave him 10? Or was that a translation error in this edition? Because, uh, that’s not a minor detail.)
  2. One entire chapter was devoted just to a dude getting high on hashish and having some kind of epic wet dream.
  3. Albert just generally being a sweet summer child. He wants so badly to have a fling while travelling in Italy but can’t even manage it — until he falls head over heels for a notorious bandit’s lover and allows himself to be tricked into getting kidnapped. Then he somehow manages to fall asleep while being held for ransom with the promise of execution if it can’t be paid. All this after he declared that he didn’t even believe in bandits! And he loves his mamma so dang much. The precious boy will do anything to keep her happy, and in the end he has to sacrifice quite a lot in order to do so. Such a beautiful cinnamon roll.
  4. Everyone faints all the time. Every single named character faints or nearly faints at least once. Except for the butch lesbian.
  5. Speaking of the butch lesbian, yes, this novel involves lesbians. One of them dresses as a dude and somehow gets away with it… until she’s caught in bed with her lady lover/piano teacher… by her 2nd ex-fiancé, a con artist on the run from the law. Anyway, these ladies are 2 of only 6 characters to actually get a happy ending, if you don’t count the aforementioned slight embarrassment.
  6. Do I even need to tell you how satisfying the Count’s revenge was? Multiple counts of revenge, and happily guilty of every single one. Well, no, he wasn’t 100 % happy with certain events, and frankly this wishy-washy, “Does God approve of my avenging angel plans or nah???” nonsense got a bit tiresome. But for the most part the whole revenge thing was extremely satisfying.
  7. Don’t forget about all the funny little bits that make this more than just an overly long adventure novel. The book is a pleasure to read because Dumas makes the reader feel like you’re in on the plot and you know all the inside jokes. I don’t think he ever went so far as to have the characters flat-out break the fourth wall, but some passages are written in such a way that I could practically hear the author having a good chuckle about the whole thing.

– – –

Quotes

Just to give you a little of the flavor that I found so amusing ….

He did not perceive that his friend was in the slightest concerned. On the contrary, he was paying the meal the compliment that one would expect from a man who has been condemned for four or five months to suffer Italian cooking (which is among the worst in the world).

 

The Turks — so picturesque in the old days with their long, brightly coloured robes — are now hideous in their blue buttoned frock-coats and those Greek hats which make them look line wine bottles with red tops. Don’t you agree?

 

As the steward had said, the notary was waiting in the antechamber — a respectable-looking Parisian assistant solicitor elevated to the insurmountable dignity of a pettifogging suburban lawyer.

 

This was accepted in society, where it was attributed to the amount and gravity of the lawyer’s business — when it was, in reality, a deliberate arrogance, an extreme example of aristocratic contempt, in short, the application of the maxim: ‘Admire yourself and others will admire you’, a hundred times more useful in our days than the Greek one: ‘Know thyself’, which has now been replaced by the less demanding and more profitable art of knowing others.

 

Mlle Danglars was still the same: that is to say, beautiful, cold, and contemptuous. Not a single glance or sigh from Andrea escaped her, but they appeared to be deflected by the breastplate of Minerva, which philosophers sometimes say in fact covered the breast of Sappho.

 

Beauchamp was in an office which was dark and dusty, as newspaper offices are from the day they open for business.

 

‘Well, while we were sleeping, from twelve to one…’
‘Convicts taking a siesta! Poor creatures!’ said the abbé.
‘Dammit,’ said Caderousse. ‘No one can work all the time. We are not dogs.’
‘Fortunately for the dogs,’ said Monte Cristo.

 

‘All men are scoundrels and I am happy to be able to do more than hate them: now I despise them.’

 

Danglars thought for a moment. ‘I don’t understand,’ he said.
‘Possibly.’
‘Did the leader tell you to treat me this way?’
‘Yes.’
‘Why?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘But my money will run out.’
‘Probably.’

And let’s not forget the most delightful chapter title:

How to Rescue a Gardener From Dormice Who Are Eating His Peaches

– – –

Uh, except for this bullshit

There was only one thing that I somewhat disliked about The Count of Monte Cristo, though I’m inclined to partially forgive it as a mere reflection of the values of the time the book was written in. I’m talking about the supposedly loving or merciful way that the Count treats 2 particular women, which is clearly meant to make him seem kind and fair and righteous, but which — for me — only highlighted an outdated double standard made possible by the sort of infantilization/objectification of adult women that was a normal part of European culture at the time.

Mercédès, Edmond’s fiancée prior to his imprisonment, assumed he was dead or lost forever and she ended up marrying one of his enemies, whom she thought was a friend. The poor woman

  • lost the man she loved,
  • married a presumed friend only because society expected it of her,
  • lived a dull life with this man for many years and provided for him a son/heir like any good wife should,
  • discovered far too late that the man she loved had survived and blamed her for infidelity,
  • watched this man help ruin her husband’s admittedly ill-got fortune and her stability along with it,
  • had to beg her long lost lover not to kill her son,
  • and was ultimately driven back to near poverty in the town where she grew up,
  • with her son running off joining the military to atone for his father’s sins,
  • where she survived only by the mercy of a small amount of money provided by the count that was originally meant to have been a gift to her on their ruined wedding day,
  • while she prays to God to forgive her for being unfaithful.

And this is all seen as her just desserts because she didn’t pine away and die of sorrow while Edmond was in prison. That ain’t right. I stopped feeling sorry for the Count well before the end of the book, but I never stopped feeling sorry for Mercédès.

The other woman that I think gets the short end of the stick in this story is Haydée, the Count’s slave girl. That’s right, he has a slave girl. Who used to be a princess! In fact, the Count bought her as a child and practically raised her like a daughter… except for the whole “slave” thing. But wait, it gets even grosser, because:

The count felt his breast swell and his heart fill. He opened his arms and Haydée threw herself into them with a cry. ‘Oh, yes! Oh, yes I love you!’ she said. ‘I love you as one loves a father, a brother, a husband! I love you as one loves life, and loves God, for you are to me the most beautiful, the best and greatest of created beings!’

That’s right, this girl that has up until now thought of her owner as a father figure or older brother is now supposed to see him as a lover. Um, how about NO. That is not how the human brain works. That is gross. That is not allowed. Je refuse.

– – –

TL;DR

Anyway, other than the weird slut shaming of a super not-slutty character and the yucky pseudo-incest… I really liked this book! So much ridiculous melodrama!

I don’t have any other Dumas on my Classics Club reading list, so I’m trying to decide whether I want to go ahead and read some other stuff by this author anyway or if I ought to wait a while and stick some other Dumas titles on my next Classics Club list (if I ever do another one).

Have you read The Count of Monte Cristo — and if you have, did you like it as much as I did? What about other works by Alexandre Dumas?


Links:


Publication information: Dumas, Alexandre. The Count of Monte Cristo. New York: Penguin, 2003. Print.
Source: Owned, original source unknown.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.