Monthly Archives: August 2007

Some books should be left alone

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54. Slan Hunter by A. E. Van Vogt and Kevin Anderson

So incredibly disappointing.

Vogt started this book, but couldn’t finish due to Alzheimer’s. Anderson finished it, and it is difficult to imagine how he could have done a worse job. Not only is the book not even remotely consistent with the first book, it isn’t internally consistent. Anderson took the real people that populated Vogt’s book, characters with complicated motivations for their actions, and turned them into silly caricatures. The plot consisted mainly of people frantically running from place to place so that when they got there, they could sit around and explain things to each other. The tone was sentimental and insipid. The ending was horrifyingly atrocious. On the plus side, I recognize the genius of Slan even more after reading this horrible sequel. That’s the most positive thing I can think to say.

How do people survive?

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According to a recent poll, approximately one in four American adults did not read a single book last year.

Wow. I would die. I have read 53 books this year (will be 54 by the end of today), and I am feeling a little bereft at the books that I have missed out on because my pace is slower this year than last year (I was on number 61 this time last year).

I have to believe that these people are doing some reading, whether it be online, or in the newspaper or in magazines. In fact, the Internet was cited as one of the possible causes for the decline in reading in the study. But I don’t understand how people can feel that they are a part of our culture without reading any of the books that help to set the national conversation. Not all of them, because I don’t choose books by their perceived importance, but at least enough to be a part of the conversation. Anyone who is reading this, I am sure, is a reader as well, so no one is going to be able to help me to understand this, but I still have to say, I just can’t even imagine what it would be like to go an entire year without reading a single book. Heck, I couldn’t imagine going an entire month. Maybe if I was in a coma, but nothing else springs to mind.

A Planning Victory

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The last time I tried to do some cooking ahead on the weekend, I way over-planned. I didn’t get half of what I planned done, so I felt like a failure there. So, with school starting for both kids this week, I decided to make a more modest plan. I just made a big pot of rice on Sunday, and boxed it up for use through the week. And it worked! This is the easiest, quickest way to have a big impact on the week.

Sunday night I didn’t use the rice at all, though–we just had tacos. I got soft corn tortillas, Lightlife soy taco meat, Follow Your Heart nacho cheese and grape tomatoes, and we had a quick and easy meal. The kids ate plums and I had a pluot to round it out somewhat.

Monday I worked from home for a half day after getting the boy off to his first day of Kindergarten, so I had extra time to cook something. I have been wanting to try this chicken and dumpling recipe for a long time, so I took advantage of my extra time. Oh my goodness, was the seitan good! I forgot to get plain soy milk, and I didn’t add enough liquid to the dumplings, so they were only okay, but the deliciousness of the seitan and the gravy more than made up for it. Even the girl said that she didn’t expect to like it at all, but it was actually absolutely delicious. I will definitely be making this again. Often.

Tuesday the kids were at their dad’s house, and I had a really hard cardio kickboxing class, so I didn’t get home until 7:30. By the time my muscles stopped resembling a big bowl of jelly at about 8:30, I was really glad that all I had to do was heat up some Thai green beans from Trader Joe’s and serve over already made rice. What a relief.

Yesterday was my birthday, so we went out to California Pizza Kitchen. I had split pea soup, Thai Curry Noodles and a fruity drink with pomegranate schnapps.

Tonight we are going to have veggie meatballs with a sauce made from tomato soup, applesauce, chili sauce and agave nectar, more of the pre-made rice and some kind of veggie.

This weekend I am on my own again, so I imagine I will have a bunch of variations on the bowl of rice, veggie and a sauce theme.

A Quick One

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53. Slan by A. E. Van Vogt

I can definitely see why this book is considered a classic. Although some of the perspectives and ideas that Vogt has about the future are a bit dated, the story itself is clearly the basis of every other book I have read about human evolution. When I read Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear, I thought it was so original, but now I see that it is not. It’s still a good book, but Vogt came up with the major themes many years earlier. The book is very short, but packed with ideas. No word is wasted, and the story moves quickly. Very impressive, and I am glad I read it.

Catching up, again

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50. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

Excellent, excellent book. This was a re-read, so I knew I would love it, but I had forgotten how wonderful it is, and how truly subversive it is. I still want to live on Anarres, though. This book really made me think, and was totally fascinating all the way through.

Before I read this, I read about 236 pages of The Brothers Karamazov. I liked it, but I found I just couldn’t face 470 more pages of it, not when I knew that The Dispossessed was waiting.

51. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Again, compulsively readable. Since my best friend gave me a lot of details about the 7th book, the end wasn’t a surprise to me, but I still really enjoyed it. I wanted to pick up the last one right away, but my daughter left it at her father’s house, so I have to wait for her to bring it home, hopefully Wednesday.

I started Slan by A. E. van Vogt, but then I misplaced it, so I am reading a short mystery called The James Joyce Murder by Amanda Cross. I read a really good Cross book a while back with a character who was obsessed with John Le Carre‘s character George Smiley, which I enjoyed on its own, but also for prompting me to read more Le Carre.

52. The James Joyce Murder by Amanda Cross

This was a very quick, easy read, and I suspect that I have read it before. I like the dry, intelligent characters in this series, with the main characters being Kate Fansler, a literature professor, and Reed Amhearst, an assistant district attorney. The books are fun to read, and interesting little character studies/mysteries.

I found my copy of Slan, so I am continuing on that now. Good thing, since the girl forgot to bring home Harry Potter 7.

The Problem with Eggs

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I love them.

I never used to be a big egg fan, except when I was pregnant. Both of the last two times I was a vegetarian, I went ahead and gave up eggs, because I wasn’t eating meat, and I couldn’t eat dairy anyway, so I thought that I might as well give up eggs and go all the way (well, mostly). But when I was pregnant with my children, I loved eggs. After I had my daughter, the craving passed, but since I have had my son, I just can’t get enough eggs. They are so good. A good over medium egg with that creamy, rich yolk, oh yum. And they are good with hot sauce and hash browns. And omelettes, with lots of veggies.

So, my next project is going to be finding a source for local eggs, from chickens that walk around in a farm yard, rather than living in cages. I know a farmer’s market that I can probably go to for this. At least that way I am not contributing to animal cruelty when I eat eggs at home. Now, what am I going to do about eggs in restaurants?

Maybe I will reconsider this again, but for now, eggs are officially in my diet. I think this still makes me an almost vegan, although I know I am moving further away.

Catching up

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46. Death of an Expert Witness by P.D. James

I really like P.D. James (as you can tell by my list so far this year), and this one did not disappoint. I really enjoy the way James gets into the minds of the characters without giving away too much, or taking away from the central mystery. She really has a gift for making her characters real, in a very short period of time.

47. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

I had never read this one. I would not say I am a huge fan, which is obvious by the fact that I haven’t read this until now, but I am surprised at how compulsively readable these books are. This was 870 pages, and I read it in three days, even though I had my kids with me, and I went to the theater on Monday night, so that whole night was out. This was a fun read, even though it was definitely a lot darker than the previous ones. Dolores Umbridge really made me mad, I hate people like that. She was convincingly really scary because she was so real.

48. Identical Strangers by Elyse Schein and Paula Burstein

More review to come. I loved this book, but I need to think about it a bit more.

49. The Baby Merchant by Kit Reed

Fantastic book about how we lie to ourselves. The titular character, Tom Starbird, rescues babies from less than ideal family lives, and delivers them for a very high price to couples who have difficulty adopting. He honestly sees himself as providing a service to all parties, including the harried mothers from whom he steals the babies (or, as he puts it, the suppliers from whom is acquires the product). Of course, it is all much more complicated than that, and he ends up his final case ends up going against everything he believes about himself.

One of the things that I found fascinating about this book was his obvious compassion and love for the mothers he deals with, whether the suppliers or the clients of his transactions. His own mother attempted to abandon him when he was small, and never was very loving, so perhaps he was touched by their obvious love for the babies involved, but that doesn’t completely explain his regard for the suppliers. He thinks he is doing them a favor, by taking a baby that they do not want. His occupation seems to be an act of love to his own mother, who he could never please as a young boy. He still loves her, though, and he thinks that removing the burden of the baby might have made her happy, so he provides this service for other mothers. Although he doesn’t come out and tell them this is what he doing, he does convince himself that they would thank him if it weren’t socially unacceptable to do so, especially in a world with a baby shortage (increasing infertility, and the borders are closed to foreign adoption by Homeland Security).

This book is frighteningly possible. It made me think about my own parenting skills, and also the society that we live in quite a bit. Many people do view babies as products–the baby merchant’s clients, while obviously sincere in their desire to be parents, are incredibly specific about what they want in a child (e.g. one of the parents must have attended Juilliard). They want to be parents, but they think they can order up talents, looks and a personality for their child like they might order up color, cut and material for their newest winter coat. They tell themselves they just want to be parents, the husbands just want to make their wives happy, but they mean they want to be parents of specific children that will turn out well and make them proud. In the end, they are just as sefish as Tom’s mother, who only had him to help her with her poetry, and wanted to discard him when she found out that a baby is a dependent being, not a muse.

This is the kind of book that stays with you and makes you think for a long time.