Archive for the ‘books’ Category

My reading goals for 2016 are: mysteries and histories. 

I love mysteries so much, stand alone and those in a series. I want to catch-up with my favorite detectives and if that means a year of not-so guilty pleasures then so be it! Thanks to Hamilton the Musical I’m interested in learning more about American history, so those are on the list too. I think biographies and histories will be a bit more hit and miss. 

I kicked off January with “The Impossible Dead” by Ian Rankin. I’ve fallen big time for Rebus again, and I can tolerate Malcolm Fox. Actually, Fox is growing on me and I love what Rankin has done with Rebus-Clarke-Fox dynamic. It’s all good. 

The rest of January was spend on Ron Chernow’s 800 page tome on Alexander Hamilton. Dear god I love Alexander Hamilton. This is such a good book. It’s a cliche but history is ALIVE on those pages and I learnt so much. I was sad when I finished it. Sad not to be reading about Hamilton at my 5am “me” time slot. (Fresh from reading Hamilton I went to the UK to ready to proselytize and you know what Brits aren’t as interested in our founding fathers as I am. What gives?)

On the audiobook front I finally finished Diana Gabaldon ‘Written in my Own Hearts Blood’. Roller coaster of emotion and tied in nicely with Hamilton, and I need another Jamie and Claire hit. I squeezed in a quickie mystery with Jacqueline Winspear ‘Leaving Everything Most Loved’ – Maise Dobbs I have missed you! This was a transitional story for Dobbs and I was glad that some of the characters/storylines were finally being wound up and new things are on the horizon. 

Come February I was in the UK with Zoey and Nomi, and I had high hopes to read all of  ‘Team of Rivals’ BUT as gripping as Doris Kearns Goodwin book is I needed something lighter to get me through 5 weeks of solo parenting. So I threw myself into Agatha Christie’s ‘They Do It With Mirrors’, ‘Saints of the Shadow Bible’ by Rankin and started another Maisie Dobbs mystery. I barely listened to my audiobook in February, when I had a chance to listen to something I blasted out Hamilton because Brits you need to embrace Alexander. When I’m back next year I expect EVERYONE to be word perfect. 

Hoping March will be the month I dig in to Lincoln, and perhaps go back to Washington and Jefferson. 

This post could also be called: ‘I Finally Read a Book!!!’

I think I was so fatigued from 6 years of reading for school that this summer I’ve barely been able to pick up a book over the summer. Reading a few chapters of ‘The Mayo’s Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy’ or ‘The New Basics: A to Z of baby and childcare for the modern parent’ is about all I can manage. But, when we went up to Lime Rock Park for the weekend (about 12 lbs ago – I now measure time in weight gain) I sat very happily on our balcony and read the latest Maisie Dobbs mystery (A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear) in a day. I now understand why one of my friends says that she can’t read in NYC she can only get through books on vacation.

I’m hoping that as the weather starts and as I gain my final 10 lbs (*sigh* these are going to be good sized twins) that I’ll feel more like reading. There is something about the crispness of fall and a latte that makes me want to curl up with my iPad (or Kindle). I just need to read something sticky that pulls me back in. I really need to read as much as possible before the cylon invasion.

Right, back to ‘A Lesson in Secrets’ which is the 8th Maisie Dobbs mystery, and whilst I enjoyed it I have a feeling the series is starting to wrap things up. Which is no bad thing – it’s better to go out strong than keep pumping up books with a thinner and thinner plot (ahem Alexander McCall Smith!).

For a quick Maisie Dobbs recap she is an investigator and psychologist in 1930s London who at the start of the series was a young girl working as a house maid for Lord and Lady Compton. She was discovered at 3am trying to teach herself Latin before a day of hard graft. Her employers realized her potential and were somewhat progressive (she was sent to work as a maid in the country and be tutored so that she could apply for university when old enough). Maisie’s education at the University of Cambridge is interupted by the First World War, and she takes a sabbatical to train as a nurse and join the Woman’s Army. Post-WW1 and after she completes her studies she ends being mentored by one of the top investigators, and eventually sets out on her own. Phew!

In ‘A Lesson in Secrets’ Maisie is working with the British Secret Service and goes undercover at a small Cambridge college to investigate one of the lecturers and then finds herself  sucked into solving a murder. It’s a solid case, and there is enough character development to keep the reader enthralled. It’s hard to write about the plot of a mystery novel without giving too much away so I’ll stop here.

I’m very slowly getting back into reading over the summer. It always takes me a while to unwind post exams, and this summer I’m pretty consumed with research for the upcoming cylon invasion.

My first read was actually a re-read; something I’ve wanted to re-visit for a while – Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. An expose of sorts into the world of chefs and restaurants in New York. It’s over a decade old but still holds true, and very much worth a read. The chapters alternate between Bourdain’s journey as a chef (from summer jobs to the CIA to chefing his way through Manhattan – the good, the bad and the very ugly), and his thoughts on the restaurant industry and eating in general. Bourdain writes very well – snarky and no holds bars. It’s a fun read, and worth pairing with Medium Raw.

It’s funny but Kitchen Confidential is one of the few books I actually remember where I was when I first heard about it, and in many ways it’s Alex and I’s Eat Pray Love. It was 2000 and we were still living in London. We were having dinner with friends at Belgo (very 90s – early 00s dinner spot), and they were raving about the book. Little did we know that by the end of the year Alex would be off to work in New York, and then we’d be spending the next decade eating our way around Manhattan (including Les Halles which is a favorite steak and frites spot) and becoming obsessed with Top Chef.

There are only two purposes to most ‘Must Read’ book lists to make people either feel smug  or inadequate – dependent on how many you have read (or have pretended to read). At the weekend my twitter feed was full of re-tweets of the Guardian’s ‘The 100 Greatest Non-Fiction List’. I figured that I’d fair badly but this was a really mean list, and the comments seem to back it up. Samuel Pepys, Gertrude Stein, Herodotus, Samuel Johnson, Freud, Plato, Sun Tzu, and Stephen Hawking are not for the lay reader. Hell I’ve just finish a Classics degree and I’ve only read extracts of Herodotus (and as many of the commentators pointed out it was generous of the list builders to include him since he mixes a fair amount of fiction in his historiography) and Alex got through ‘A Brief History of Time’ because he majored in Physics. Out of 100 books only three books from the last decade. It’s not really an accessible or even a gateway list to promote reading more non-fiction which makes me sad. My thoughts on how to lift the list:

And what about the recent trend of histories of cities or objects? I think the Guardian Book dept. could have done better.

Another day another article on the sanitizing of Huck Finn, and when it is acceptable to read/teach it. Leaving aside the crass idiocy of switching out the “n-word” for the “s-word” the thing that surprised me the most about Twain-gate was learning that Huck Finn isn’t read until high school over here. Is that really true? Does no ones parents read it with them as a pre-teen? When I was growing up in London, in the apparently halcyon days of the 1980s and 1990s when young adults had unfettered access to “offensive” reading material, it was considered a young adult read. Therefore I read it when I was ten or eleven years old. For some this would appear to be too young but in my mind this is an ideal time to learn more about prejudice, equality and social history. For a comparison to the Huck Finn predicament, when I was thirteen we read Across the Barricades in school. This is a Romeo and Juliet style love between a Protestant and a Catholic in Northern Ireland during the civil war (or “troubles” as our then government like to refer to it as). Reading this book brought up discussions about mixed faith relationships, sectarian violence, and domestic terrorism whilst Northern Ireland was still very much in the process of tearing itself apart, and the IRA were still waging a brutal bombing campaign on the mainland. So I am afraid that I struggle to understand the issues around not teaching Twain (or other discussion provoking books) in schools when racism and intolerance is still very much a local and global issue.

So, seriously folks, what am I missing?

Is it that kids can’t understand the context that Twain was writing in and therefore it is offensive, or that it naturally leads to discuss about the “n-word”, slavery, the civil war and its legacy, and that’s too hard a topic for pre-tertiary discussion? I refuse to believe that kids are unable to grasp the context of Huck Finn despite the alarming amount of Disney-ficiation and dumbing down going on. At ten I was no pre-teen Twain scholar but I was not phased (or emotionally scarred) by reading books that contained offensive words or ideologies – hello Babar the benevolent dictator or the misogyny of the Famous Five. I may not have know what “context” was then but I had my own frame of reference in which to understand what I was reading: Star Trek.

Growing up I was not blind to the fact that attitudes towards gender, race, class and sexuality had changed overtime. It was easy to understand that when you compared everything to the equality reflected on Star Trek. Star Trek was the ideal.  A time when people were judged on merit and by their actions not by their race, gender or sexual orientation. Hell even a northern Shakespearean thespian could be welcomed onto the bridge of the Enterprise.  So as a kid I understood that I lived in a world somewhere between the stories set in the past, be them fairy tales, Huck Finn or the atrocities of World War 2 (please tell me kids in the US read the Diary of Anne Frank or The Silver Sword before they get to high school?) where society was rife with prejudice and discourse, and the glorious egalitarianism of the United Federation of Planets.

Huck Finn is a thought provoking read, and don’t young adults need to have thoughts and be provoked? Don’t kids today have their own frames of reference in order to be able to understand and evaluate the past? I may not have appreciated all the nuances and themes that Twain was going for in the book but I most definitely understood that the casual racism and prejudice was tied to the period it was set in. It reflected a dated ideology that jarred with my own London of the 1980s (just) and the 23rd century of my beloved Star Trek.

Kids shouldn’t live in bubbles, and parents and educators shouldn’t be afraid of challenging or pushing them outside of their comfort zone.

It’s been super busy the last week or so. Surprisingly busy for one who is currently semi-retired. The weekend before last we took off for an air show at Oceana Naval Base near Virginia Beach. It was a long drive down so we broke the journey in Annapolis. A cute colonial town that houses the Naval Academy, and like most places on the NE coast it was instrumental in the revolution. Alex took lots of great photos of the air show but apparently none of the ones of Annapolis are up to muster. If we go again then I’d like to stay a little longer and explore. Because it was such a short trip we didn’t stay at the beach but we had a great meal at Eat: An American Bistro (thanks to a recommendation from Bookishly Fabulous – great bread pudding).

We had barely got back home when we were off again – sort of. On Wednesday we had our anniversary meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns near Tarrytown. We had a late reservation so we decided to stay over. It was a good call because we started eating at 9pm and we didn’t finish till 12:30am. An eight course tasting menu with wine and coffee. I’ve done a few tasting menus over the years and this was the only one that did not leave me feeling grossly overstuffed (and the next morning I was able to have waffles). The food was outstanding. All fresh and locally sourced (if not grown on their farm). My personal highlights would have to be the field fresh veggies, braised cod head, poached egg and paw-paw desert. Did you know that paw-paws are indigenous to the East Coast? I feel compelled to try and source some and try to make paw-paw bread out of them.

We rounded off our little adventure with a William Gibson book reading on Thursday night. All in all a good few days.

I came up with a few goals for the summer because what is three months off studying without a some structure. I like organized fun people – I’m a capricorn.

– Jog for 20 minutes
I am not a huge fan of cardio. I walk a lot and take pilates classes but the treadmill is an undiscovered country. But, I know that cardio is good and I feel that I should at least be able to run for 20 minutes without my legs turning to jelly. I started out by doing walk-run-walk-run for a few minutes of each and today I managed 15 mins of a continous jog. (Of course afterwards I collapsed and I will feel it tomorrow.)
– Read 12 books
So far I’ve read 8 books: The Slap, The Millennium Trilogy by Stig Larsson, An Education by Lynn Barber, The Mapping of Love & Death by Jacqueline Winspear, The Importance of Being Seven by Alexander McCall Smith and Exit Music by Ian Rankin.
– Gut my wardrobe
When we moved flats I lost the walk-in wardrobe and about 50% of storage space. I really need the cull my clothes because there just isn’t the space to hold on to those items that I might one day wear again. So far I haven’t tackled this project. I have a feeling it might be done at the end of the season when I am switching over to my fall-winter clothes (which I also have to cull).
-Get through my Netflix queue
I upped my membership to two discs at a time but I am still fairly slow to watch stuff but at least I am getting more use out of Netflix Instant thanks to Leverage.
– Learn how to make macaroons
When I was in London I discovered macaroons from Paul’s bakery chain and oh my word they are delish. I haven’t started on this challenge yet because the summer heat makes it unbearable to have the oven on.