Book Review: Life Is Meals: A Food Lover's Book of Days

Life Is Meals: A Food Lover's Book of DaysLife Is Meals: A Food Lover's Book of Days by James Salter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wish I could give this book a hundred and five stars. Cover to cover, it was one of my favorite books. First, you can't go wrong with the subject: food. The authors are married, adorably in love and very knowledgeable about meals. The book reads in short spurts, one or two passages for each day of the year. Some days cover history, others recipes and yet other personal anecdotes. Every day, every month, is a delight to read. It made me interested in wine for the first time in my life. The book also contains a thorough index and lovely illustrations.

This is a book that I would definitely want to have in my personal library. The only downside to this book is that I was constantly hungry. Even so, I found myself more inspired to explore, make and share food.

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Book Review: The Paris Wife

The Paris WifeThe Paris Wife by Paula McLain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Love stories aren't really my thing. Love stories that have a tragic ending are totally my thing. This book lands right in the middle of those two distinctions. This book was a fictional portrayal of Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley. As she was depicted in this book, I really didn't love Hadley as the narrator and protagonist. At no point did I feel she was remarkable and therefor I found it hard to understand why someone like Hemingway would have have fallen so hard for her. Perhaps that was the author's intent? Yet, even though the love story wasn't really my thing and I felt Hadley was a bit of a lame-o jellyfish, I really liked this book.

The reading was easy; Paula McLain is a good writer. She really takes you on an amazing journey through the time of the Lost Generation and really got me interested in Hemingway as a person. Reading about Hemingway's struggle as a writer really hit home. After getting a peek at this struggle, I'd love to make Hemingway the next classic I read, specifically The Sun Also Rises. I also would be interested in reading a biography or memoir about him. Even though I am not interested in anything that he was - boxing, bullfighting, skiing, etc. - I was still very interested in the man. I think it'd be interesting to get into the head of someone that was so bold and arrogant. And obviously mental.

It was great reading about Paris, the Swiss Alps, the Riviera, and Pamploma. Life is short, so it's always such a treat when a book helps you see places in your imagination when you might not get to them in real life. The book really painted the picture of these locations well without going Lord-of-the-Rings overboard on the surroundings. This was really the first time I feel I got a good long look into the Lost Generation. I was having trouble wrapping my head around how the heck a new, struggling writer and his new, non-working wife could afford all this travel and vacation time. As I pondered this question, I realized that the answer was: have a bunch of rich buddies. Also, that it was a way, way different time. It's good to blast 90 years into the past.

This is the kind of book that makes me like fiction. It's a good story, told during an amazing time, with characters that revolve around writing. Even when I was reading something I didn't like or agree with (like all the unseemly relationships and arrangements that were rampant), I still was compelled to finish and was very happy that I did.

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You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding YourselfYou Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You're Deluding Yourself by David McRaney
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book. It took a lot of psychological concepts and put them into understandable terminology without being painfully boring. The authors tone is a bit condescending and he lets his atheist flag fly, but the book is still solid. I'd recommend this book for anyone that thinks life is not fair, thinks they are special, believes in magical coincidence or conspiracy theories, watches Fox News, feels they have original thoughts, thinks they make rational decisions based on information or at all thinks that they are operating on something more than a high-powered monkey brain. Good stuff and the first time psychology hasn't bored me to tears.

My notes:

page 28 "Punditry is an industry built on confirmation bias."
page 38"If any of this seems too amazing to be coincidence, too odd to be random, too similar to be chance, you are not so smart."
page 39 "With meaning, you overlook randomness, but meaning is a human construction."
page 49 "The stupid monkey part of your brain wants to gobble up candy bars and go deeply into debt."
page 127 Chapter 23 - Groupthink My favorite chapter by the end of the first sentence.
page 193 "You learn quickly to avoid that which may harm you and seek out that which makes you happy, just like an amoeba."
page 213 The embodied cognition chapter talks about how we translate the physical world into words and then we make ourselves believe and make decisions on the words we manifest. This made me think about the TED talk about how designers need to design with all the senses in mind. This chapter supports that talk.

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The Art of FieldingThe Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this book well enough, but I thought the end was sort of lazy and unrealistic. Actually, very unrealistic now that I think back on it. Also, there were a couple character interactions that I felt really didn't contribute to the story and felt forced. However, I did actually like most of the characters and the slippery plot they were involved with. The dialogue was good and this book really had a good mix of humor and darkness - all the ingredients for a good baseball story.

The story was set in a Midwestern college town in Wisconsin, so it was definitely a setting I enjoyed. It was also a tale told in the modern era, something that I'm not accustomed to in my fiction baseball readings. There were tales of heroes, forbidden love, casual love and, of course, baseball. There's a trip to Nationals and then the ending, which as I've mentioned, I wasn't crazy about. I didn't get through this book quickly, but I probably should have. The reading was quick and the chapters were short. The book was good, but not as good as most of my other baseball reads.

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Red Onion Relish

Normally I don't post recipes, yet this recipe is one of the most delicious additions to my kitchen and it is also one of the simplest to make. This relish is great to put on nearly anything, but my favorite is adding it to salads as a dressing, scrambled eggs or to any taco or burrito. I'm looking forward to having it on a shredded beef or pulled pork sandwich. I'm usually only making it for myself, so you can definitely double or triple the recipe depending on how much you plan to use it. Also, I'm told it has a nice shelf life, but mine get eaten too quick for me to be able to confirm that.

1/2 red onion
3 limes
salt to taste

Yeah, that's it. See? It's already great. You can chop the onion or cut it into longer strips (I prefer chopped.) Put your cut onion into a jar or Tupperware. Squeeze the juice of the limes on the onions. The juice should cover most of the onions. Salt to your liking, mix it up and chill in the fridge. Put it on everything.


Book Review: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave & Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
By Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs

Near the end of African American history month, February, I took a look around my library and found many posters of great African Americans. The library did a great job and it inspired me to read a few books about the African American experience. At that time, there was a lot of buzz surrounding the narrative turned movie 12 Years a Slave. I decided it was time to finally read Frederick Douglass's narrative. While there was a second narrative in all the copies at the library, I didn't start the book expecting to read Harriet Jacobs's story. Yet, both of these narratives were so compelling, so shocking, that I knew I had to finish both.

It was very clear very early in the book that this would be one of the most important historical books I'd ever read. Slavery has so many tragic and horrifying layers, but I think that sometimes the broad view of this period loses some of the mundane details of a slave's life - things we take for granted. As a slave, there was a chance your mother never really knew if you survived beyond a year old because of the systematic separation of slave families. Children born into slavery wouldn't know when their birth dates actually were. Most of the time they only had a ballpark number.

In the past, I've touched on how grateful I am to be able to read. These two narratives really reinvigorated that gratitude. Not only were all odds against these two people learning how to read and write, but their writing came to be spectacular. It just comes to show how great writing survives through the decades for us to learn from.

In Douglass's narrative, something reminded me of that Duck Dynasty creep, who said that when he was a kid, black people in the South were happy and singing all the time. Slaves didn't sing because they were happy, Douglass said. Oftentimes slave owners mistook their singing for joy and would spread propaganda that slaves LOVED slavery. Douglas wrote, "Slaves sing most when they are most unhappy. The songs of the slave represent the sorrows of his heart; and he is relieved by them, only as an aching heart is relieved by its tears. At least, such is my experience."

There were two other quotes in the Douglass narrative that really spoke to me:
"I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence." (42)
"The silver trumpet of freedom had aroused my soul to the eternal wakefulness." (50)
Also learned that a dearborn was a vehicle, a kind of light four-wheeled wagon used in country district parts of the United States. Who knew? Not I.

I didn't take any notes on the Jacobs because I hadn't expected to read it. Yet once I did, I read it quickly and in pretty big chunks. My reading slowed a bit toward the end, but I powered through it. The struggle for freedom and equality is one with incredible people woven into it. These are both very important narratives. All Americans should read this part of our country's history. It wasn't that long ago.


Book Review: Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Rich Dad Poor Dad
by Robert T. Kiyosaki

My friend bought this book for me and has been begging me to read it so we can talk about it. I finally picked it up and found it to read very quickly and I was done in two sittings. It can definitely be done in one. 

This book has been on my radar a long time because of my working at the library. Kiyosaki's book is very accessible, which I'm sure is a large reason why the book appears on high school summer reading lists. My opinion on this book is very mixed. I think in the end I liked it, but had some general discontents.

  • Reads like a sales book, but that's to be expected.
  • Sort of reminded me of The 4-hour Workweek, which I really didn't like and lost interest within a chapter or two. It sort of has that "Get Rich Quick" feel. I hate that crap.
  • Poorly written. The quality is that of Twilight. OK, maybe not that bad, but Kiyosaki admits in the book that he is no writing wiz. It gets repetitive, too, which is probably why it reads so quick.
  • Kiyosaki really, really simplifies getting rich. I mean, he makes it sound like any old hobo off the street can get a book about investing and grow their asset column. Yet, I'm probably the cynic that he talks about in the book. 
Which brings me to why I think in the end I liked Rich Dad Poor Dad. Throughout the whole book, he clearly talks about the differences in mindset, attitude and decision-making between rich and poor. He always talks about education, constant learning and financial literacy. The book stays vague enough so he can write more books and get more rich. Yet, I think Kiyosaki really loves making money and I appreciate how honest he is. His tone seems genuine. In the end, I was reminded of old lessons and got some inspiration to learn more about the science of money, as he puts it.

Because it was a fast read, I only jotted down two passages from the book. Their simplicity, message and style are a good representation of the book. 

"Before I finally learned to ride a bike, I first fell down many times. I've never met a golfer who has never lost a golf ball. I've never met people who have fallen in love who have never had there heartbroken. And I've never met someone rich has never lost money." p. 133
"I'm always shocked at people who buy stocks or real estate, but never invest in their greatest asset, their mind." p. 153


New edition Malamud's 'The Natural' and the lessons still apply

Spring training has begun and baseball is in the air. This weekend was one of organizing my reading list and one of my tasks was to select at least one baseball book to enjoy. As I combed through my many lists, I found that a new edition of The Natural is coming out. This book, though quite dark, is a great, great baseball story. 

Here's the NPR story that talks about how the book is still relevant today.

Here my review from back when I read it.


Book Review: American Gods

American Gods
By Neil Gaiman

This turned out to be more of an obligatory read than an enjoyable one. Many people in Library Land love them some Neil Gaiman. Dang do they love him! As for myself, I'm not particularly impressed with my first taste. I might have picked the wrong book of his. Of course, I'd give Gaiman another shot, but for me this book was choppy, unspectacular and even boring sometimes. The end of the book was like the last 20 seconds of a tied college hoops game - an eternity. I don't mean to say I hated, because I didn't, but it was just not my cup of tea. That's my two cents as it appears on the internet.

I realize I was probably not quite smart enough for this book. Most of the folklore behind the characters were foreign to me, except a couple. There were too many characters and the main ones were dull. The Egyptians in the funeral parlor were my favorite, though. I learned a lot and looked a lot of stuff up, because that's how I roll. In the end, I didn't think they wove into a cool plot.

The book jumped around and didn't engage me, but rather pacified me. Maybe even distracted me. I'm not super sweet with metaphors and a couple reviews on Goodreads made it seem like if you didn't like it, you just didn't "get it" and see it on some significant philosophical level. Listen, reading Nietzsche in college made me realize that I don't want to feel like reading someone's work is a trick and you're ALWAYS supposed to be reading it some secret way. That is some bullshit. Sometimes I just want a good story without intellectual baggage.

Something that struck me immediately about this book was how much it reminded me of Stephen King's Dark Tower series, which I did not finish. I continued reading American Gods because the build up was intriguing and the story was one that I was not used to reading. Unfortunately, much like the Dark Tower series, the great build up ended as "meh, some other stuff happened until the book ended." I think that's why I don't go for the dark, paranormal, horror stuff too often. It seems like too much unimaginative, nightmarish streams of consciousness that end in ways that don't speak to me. I think that's a little too harsh to apply to American Gods, but I do hope my next Gaiman read is a bit better than this one.


Dealing with death in the last months of my twenties

The following was written by me on April 1, 2012, but I never got to publishing it. For me, 2012 was one of the worst ever. My family experienced some pretty serious deaths by that point - my grandmother at the beginning of the year and then my wonderful niece just two weeks after her third birthday. 

As I went through my some writing drafts on the first of this new year, I found this piece of writing and it inspired me. I'm so happy that I took down my feelings and my thoughts after a number of pretty awful events, because even though I didn't feel I was thinking clearly then, I wrote a few things that were quite clear. I'm so glad that I made a plan on how to focus my sadness. I didn't accomplish everything below, but that's the beauty of writing it down. I can rediscover it and continue on a path to being better.

April 1, 2012 
Dealing with death is not exactly how I expected to spend the last months of my twenties. Two of the most amazing people I've ever known I've lost this year, my Babcia Wanda and my little niece Audrey. I don't think I can get much on the page right now that makes too much sense, but I do want to get something down.

First, the deaths of Babcia and Audrey have made me want to live life to the very fullest, whether I have a week to live or another five decades. And it has made me so much more keenly aware that my time to spend with other people maybe shortened because they're time is limited on earth. So what if I live to be a 100 and don't have great experiences with every person I can? It is not that I haven't given it my all in the past, but I haven't been a positive force on those around me. Negativity has had a way of controlling me in the past and I want to live better each day.

I want to write more. I want to write about my family more and about my husband. I want to write about libraries and in support of them. I want to respond to foolishness with the written word. I want to write poetry. I want to write foolishness and make people laugh. 
I want to read, because the only way to get better at writing is to read it first. I really want to make the hour of 10-11pm my reading hour. I want to turn off all the screen in my life and read. I want to read so I can write. I want to volunteer to read books to children and help illiterate adults learn to read.

I want to serve. It is important to enjoy and take care of myself, but I have been fortunate and I need to give back in many ways. I'm still feeling out how to do this, but Audrey's passing has given me focus on pediatrics and children.