Tag Archives: reading room

Quiet lately

Compared to the hustle of last week, last weekend wound things down.

Reading: The Buddha in the Attic, which is more a gorgeous lyrical long poem than a novella. (Recommended by my local bookseller, Alice.) It’s lovely. The writing is delicate and strong at the same time – like a spider web of words.

Recovering: The Drake Relays 1/2 marathon was this past weekend. I survived, then moved about the house on Saturday after the race with minimal bending of my knees. I am officially an old lady. Joe and I watched Beginners after the race and lots of episodes of United States of Tara on Netflix instant. I was grateful to be pretty much immobilized.

Admiring: Joe’s handiwork laying down the new patio path. He’s the kind of guy who plans and measures. I played in the garden planting our seedlings in the rain and all of my clothes are still in a big muddy pile at the back door.

Stitching: A project that I don’t have a pattern for. Just an idea, some fabric and needle and thread. I’m really hoping it comes together because I love the print and I’m attached to the vision. It’s going to be a present. I hope it turns out!

I love a quiet weekend at home.

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Filed under At home, movies/art

A baseball book

I finished “The Art of Fielding” on the flight home and had to let you all know, because it’s the first book in awhile that exceeded my expectations. Fielding is a debut novel that I wanted to read for book club (“The Marriage Plot” won, which was only meh) and that had a lot of buzz when it was first published. (Buzz has not equated with awesomeness in the last several much-fussed-over books I’ve read.) I bought it for the iPad, but I’m totally going to get a hard copy, too, because the script on the cover is so lovely, and because it’s one I’d like to be able to loan out to people.

I’m not a big baseball fan, but although the sport serves as the framework for the book, it’s not about baseball as much as it is exploring the idea of perfection, legacy and finding purpose. The writing was so good it made me want to go back and read passages over again just to roll them around in my brain, like when you taste something really delicious and want to relish it on your tongue.

There where no whys in a person’s life, and very few hows. In the end, in search of useful wisdom, you could only come back to the most hackneyed concepts, like kindness, forbearance, infinite patience. Solomon and Lincoln: This too shall pass. Damn right it will. Or Chekhov: Nothing passes. Equally true.

If you’re looking for a quality book, check it out. I’d have given this a 9 out of 10 at our book club rating session.

Also, this is only semi-related, but for longform journalism, I’ve really been digging the site Grantland lately. It’s a sports site, so again, this is weird for me, but they have some fantastic writers and connect the pieces to larger life themes a lot of times, so it’s more context than pure stats, if that makes sense.

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Filed under Books

Reading list, etc.

We hosted book club at our house tonight and it was nice enough out to bust out the fire pit for a rip-roaring discussion about diplomacy, sleeping around in 1930s Berlin and the essence of human nature, thanks to Erik Larson’s “In the Garden of Beasts.” (Larson will be in town this May for a free discussion as part of the DMPL AViD series.) Most of our group are big fans of “Devil in the White City,” but this book only garnered middling reviews. It’s interesting to learn about the leadup to World War II, but the consensus here was that the book is more of a slow burn that never really gets to a boiling point. Also, we were divided on whether it made us more or less likely to want to keep a detailed journal. Another of our nonfiction picks we thought would have been better as a long magazine article. (Like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.)

In addition to a bonfire and braunschweiger (gross), Joe made these delish German Chocolate Macaroons from a recipe in a back issue of Cuisine at Home.

German Chocolate Macaroons

I know it’s a shameless plug for the husband, but I must say that this spring’s “Fresh and Fabulous,” which should be out soon, is pretty awesome. Joe re-creates a lot of the recipes they’re working on and I was a big fan of everything he made.

Anyhow, back to the books. In our typical caucus decision fashion, we chose “Girlchild,” by Tupelo Hassman. I’m going to give you the synopsis, and you’re going to think I suggested this book, but it was really Joe! It was up against Hemingway, which I voted for because I’ve honestly never read any Hemingway and that seems wrong. But I do think I’ll love this book. I’m just a little nervous to discuss it because I think I’ll reeeaally love it and I expect a divided opinion.

Rory Hendrix is the least likely of Girl Scouts. She hasn’t got a troop or even a badge to call her own. But she’s checked the Handbook out from the elementary school library so many times that her name fills all the lines on the card, and she pores over its surreal advice (Uniforms, disposing of outgrown; The Right Use of Your Body; Finding Your Way When Lost) for tips to get off the Calle: that is, the Calle de las Flores, the Reno trailer park where she lives with her mother, Jo, the sweet-faced, hard-luck bartender at the Truck Stop.

Rory’s been told that she is one of the “third-generation bastards surely on the road to whoredom.” But she’s determined to prove the county and her own family wrong. Brash, sassy, vulnerable, wise, and terrified, she struggles with her mother’s habit of trusting the wrong men, and the mixed blessing of being too smart for her own good. From diary entries, social workers’ reports, half-recalled memories, arrest records, family lore, Supreme Court opinions, and her grandmother’s letters, Rory crafts a devastating collage that shows us her world even as she searches for the way out of it.

Synopsis via IndieBound.

I know. A main character with the name Rory AND Girl Scout references?

In other Des Moines Arts and Culture news, the next Civic Center season is going to be amazing. As soon as I got the announcement in my inbox, I forwarded it to my mom:

This amazing season, plus cheap flights starting this fall between Chicago and DSM? Who else can I lure here?


Filed under Books, I love Des Moines

It’s a birdhouse! It’s a treehouse for Borrowers! It’s a Tiny Library!

Delightful morsel of the day: This article on Little Free Libraries.

Barely bigger than a birdhouse, there’s a movement to install wee take-a-book, leave-a-book swapping spaces in yards all across America.

Is this not the cutest thing ever? Image via LittleFreeLibrary.org

I’m going to try to forget for a minute that our next house project should probably be sealing the basement and think about how awesome it would be to install one of these. We live on a boulevard that’s super popular for runners and walkers, so I imagine lots of people would use it! I’m always telling Joe how I want to put something weird in our yard so we’ll be “that house” that people use to give landmark directions. “Oh, we’re just a block east of that house with the weird tiny library in the front lawn!” (I bet you hooligans would put trash in it in two seconds, but I’ll try not to let my library fantasy dissolve.)

I imagine there are a bajillion different designs you could come up with, but the Little Free Library site offers some plans, too.

If you are a fan of miniature things, you have to check out the miniature barn museum in the Amana Colonies. It’s super weird.

What are you reading? I just started “In the Garden of Beasts,” by Erik Larson. Who, on the topic of libraries, is coming to Des Moines for the DMPL AViD series this May!

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Filed under At home

Missy G’s Sweet Potato Pound Cake and Colum McCann

Our rag-tag meet-when-we-can book club finally got together again, post-holidays for a discussion of “Let The Great World Spin,” by Colum McCann, and pound cake, which Michael made from my favorite cake cookbook, “All Cakes Considered.” <— Amazon lets you preview pretty much the entire thing, so you can find the recipe on page 45.

I was feeling pretty run-down, despite it being just the first night of the week, but I’m glad I picked myself up and spent a few hours in the world of tight-rope walkers and prostitutes. It’s tradition to go around the circle and rate the book 1-1o (10 being the highest) to kick off discussions, and LTGWS got pretty high marks. Lyrical writing and the interwoven stories that were sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking won us over.

The book opens with this quotation:

“All the lives we could live, all the people we will never know, never be, they are everywhere. That is what the world is.” — Aleksander Hemon, The Lazarus Project

Those words, which form the basis of this exploration of different disparate but interconnected lives focused around one day in 1974, when Philippe Petit tightropes between the World Trade Center towers. But I think it’s also an interesting lead-in to our next book club read, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” — a nonfiction account of how one cervical cancer patient’s tissue sample opened up boundless possibilities for medical research, and the ethical issues they raise.

On the topic of good reads, Joe and I both enjoyed this article on the science of human nature (to be a social animal). I read a lot of science-y articles about what makes a person happy, and this thesis made sense to me. There is a book club tie-in, because it does mention how being a part of a group that meets even just once a month elevates one’s sense of well-being.

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