Monthly Archives: November 2007

Goal reached

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83. The Worst Thing I’ve Done by Ursula Hegi

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN, and stayed up too late last night to finish it. On the other hand, it was kind of an obvious story. It was very obvious how Annie felt about Mitch and Jake, and kind of weird how delusional she was about it. The characters were fully realized and interesting, but I just wanted to shake them sometimes.

And, here I am at my goal, with a whole month left for the year. Go me!

Now, if I can just get some more books off my TBR list before I buy even more books. I am not so delusional as to think that I am going to not buy anything until I read all the books I already own, but it would be nice to make a dent in the pile.

Books by ex-presidents

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Well, only one.

I wondered as I read this book: how much of this was ghost written? On the one hand, why would a politician be a good writer? That’s what speechwriters are for, right? On the other hand, this wasn’t great writing. It was fine, it was easy to read, but it was pretty straightforward. Surely a reasonably intelligent person (which I believe describes Bill Clinton) could put a book like this together, maybe with some editorial help. But still, he’s a busy guy, does he have time to write this book? Either way, it doesn’t really change my feelings about this book (it’s not like James’ Frey’s fictional memoir), but I do wonder.

82. Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World by Bill Clinton

This was a quick and easy read, basically a survey of several different effective charity efforts, both global and local. It was very inspiring, and I got several different ideas of things I could do to help others. There was a fair amount of self-promotion, but I imagine that is a hard habit to break after a lifetime in politics, and it clearly wasn’t the main intent of the book.

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Only 1 book away from my goal! I haven’t really been that focused on the goal per se, but it does feel good to read as much as I did last year in 11 months. That means I can get in that many more books that I have waiting to be read. AND, I only bought 3 books this month, 2 of which were bibles that I will not read straight through, so my TBR list actually went down for a change! Woohoo!

80, 81

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80. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Very interesting. I am guessing this was early in Scalzi’s career, since the writing was a bit juvenile at times, but the story was well-thought out and I enjoyed the characters. I am looking forward to reading the next books in the series.

81. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

I don’t know where I got the idea that I wouldn’t like Hemingway. I do see why we didn’t read this in high school, though–the drinking! It never stops! This was an excellent book, though, and I am glad I read it.

I am currently reading Giving, by Bill Clinton, and I am most of the way through The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan. I brought TFM along to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving, and ended up leaving it in my mother’s minivan after a marathon day of shopping on Black Friday. I miss it, but not enough to make a special trip over to pick it up yet. It is a very interesting book, but it is really shocking to me how relevant it is to today’s world. I mean, I thought we got over that, but we are seeing this whole return to homemaking now, too. I have even participated in it at times in my adult life. This is one of those books I have always heard about but never seemed to get around to reading; I am glad to be reading it now.

In other news, once I finish these two books, I will have hit my “goal” for the year. Since I have over a month left, I know I will pass it, and my semi-kidding stretch goal of 90 books seems totally possible. I am making a real effort to read some of the books on my TBR pile, without buying too many new books. That isn’t too hard this time of year anyway, when I should be spending my money on gifts for other people, not on books that I don’t even have enough shelves to store. I have my eye on some really cool shelves from Ikea, though–too bad I will have to drive to Chicago to get them! But, if I get the white ones, I can put them in my bedroom and paint a purple pattern on them to match my bedspread, and store lots more books. Maybe I can even get some of my boxes out of storage (if I hurry before I buy more).

Recovery starts here

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When I moved into my new apartment, I made a resolution. Since this apartment is bigger, with more closet space, I wouldn’t let it be so cluttered and messy. Considering the vast number of boxes waiting to be unpacked, it was clear that keeping this resolution would have to involve getting rid of a LOT of stuff.

So, I have been working on it. Some things are easy to get rid of, like old mail, or outgrown kids’ clothes. Kitchen gadgets and utensils were a bit more difficult, but I only have so much storage space, and I don’t have time for a lot of elaborate cooking anyway. Books are almost impossible. I love my books!

De-cluttering has lead me to spend a lot of time thinking about how much stuff I really need. I can’t think of myself as a minimalist, who only has a few absolutely needed things. On the other hand, I clearly have too much stuff now–and I say this after 5 or 6 full carloads of stuff taken to Good Will. What I am working on now is, where is that line? What amount of stuff will let me enjoy my life and my apartment without overwhelming me? I think maybe I need the books, because they make me happy. But, do we all need enough clothes to get through 2 or 3 weeks without doing laundry? Probably not.

I decided to start this blog to give myself a place to figure some of this out. Maybe if I chart my progress here, it will help me to clarify what I really need, what I really want, and what I can do without.

Oh, and if you don’t recognize the name of the blog, I took it from a book I read based on this PBS series. Check it out–it is very informative.

78, 79

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78. And Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

Brilliant. The workers at this failing advertising agency become increasingly paranoid as layoffs get closer and closer to them personally. The ridiculous things that they do seem reasonable when they are in the thick of them, but when you pull back a bit, you wonder how intelligent people can find themselves in those situations. But, I can tell you that it happens all the time in big corporations. This was more insightful than I expected, and also hilarious.

79. The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs

I love A. J. Jacobs. He is clever and funny and interesting. This project, following the rules of the Bible as literally as possible, could have been done very poorly. I am not religious, but I don’t want to read a book about someone making fun of religious people. But Jacobs was able to do this well and even learn a lot, despite not changing many of his beliefs about God or religion.

An odd trip to the bookstore

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My trip to Border’s today was odd for two reasons. First, I had a mission, and I did not deviate from it. I mean, sure, I looked longingly at several extraneous books, but I did not purchase any of them. The second odd thing? My mission was to purchase a Bible (actually, I ended up with two, but that still counts in my estimation, since they were different versions, but both were bibles).

I have been reading The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible lately. A. J. Jacobs was raised as a secular Jew who doesn’t really practice any religion, but he decides to spend a year testing the Bible out, living by the rules in the Bible and investigating both Judaism and Christianity, although he doesn’t go so far as to actually believe in Christ’s divinity. The book is very funny, which I expected, but also deep. It also reminded me that, despite 13 years at my local Catholic schools, I am somewhat lacking in religious knowledge. This, even though I was a fairly devout Catholic for some time. Now, I find myself viewing all religion rather skeptically, and I am reading TYLB almost like a tourist, who doesn’t recognize what Jacobs is describing at all from a first person perspective. Being deeply secular now, I seem to have repressed much of the religious knowledge that I used to possess.

I don’t have any plans to start following the Bible’s teachings, but I decided that reading the Bible might be a good idea. It’s one thing to decide not to believe in God, and another to completely disavow any knowledge of what is arguably the most important and widely read book in our country. Much of our culture and English and American literature draw heavily on Biblical symbolism, to say the least about the Bible’s impact. So, I went to get a Bible. I got a Catholic bible, because it has more books than the Protestant bibles, or the Hebrew bible (the portion that Judaism and Christianity share, that is)–the Apocrypha, as Protestants call them, or the Deuterocanonical books, as Catholics refer to them. I am scraping the bottom of that particular branch of my biblical knowledge there, but suffice to say, I wanted to read those books, too. I also got a King James version that was on the bargain book rack, because that is the most common version.

As a non-believer, I felt weird going to the cash register with two bibles. I can tell already that I will do my bible-reading at home. It’s not that I am embarrassed to be seen reading it exactly, but rather that I don’t want people seeing me reading it and making false assumptions about me. I wouldn’t be insulted to be called a Christian, but it feels like lying to me to put out that image when it isn’t true. And people do assume you are a Christian when they see you reading the bible. Today in the bookstore, I seriously considered buying God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens, to even out my purchase, but I stopped myself.

So, I didn’t go crazy at the bookstore (have I mentioned the over 100 books I already own that I have not read? Yes, I have? well, just a reminder here…), and I bought not one, but two bibles. A very odd trip for me, indeed.

Entertaining

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I have finally done enough unpacking to feel comfortable inviting some people over to my house. The apartment is still not stranger-ready, really, but it is looking good enough to have friends over. Woohoo!

On Friday of this past weekend, I had two other single moms from my childrens’ school over with their kids. I am glad I have the bigger apartment to accomodate 3 moms and 6 kids (mostly the 6 kids–they need a lot of space!). I got out my cool appetizer platter and put roasted garlic hummus in the center, then piled sun-dried tomato and basil Wheat Thins, baby carrots, olives, pickles, dried plums and a spicy nut mix. I gave the kids some veggie sticks, which sound healthy, but is really just slightly healthier junk food. Many of them came in and ate pickles, olives and baby carrots, too, though. One 6 year old boy even drank some of the pickle juice! Just a little bit, because we wanted to see if he really would like it. He said it was good, but he didn’t clamor for more when it was done ;-).

For dinner we had chickpeas and yukon gold potatoes cooked in a store bought vindaloo sauce that was actually nicely spicy. I find that a lot of store-bought sauces are too bland for me, but this one had a definite kick. We had brown basmati rice cooked with bombay saffron rice spice and Thai green beans from Trader Joe’s. I was worried that it wouldn’t be enough food, but many of the children were too busy playing to eat much, so I had plenty of leftovers to enjoy.

I had so much fun having people over on Friday that I did it again on Saturday. This time I invited my friend Mandy, her 11 year old daughter and one of her neices, A. My daughter has been wanting to do more with A for some time, but she goes to a different school, and I am not friends with her mother, so we don’t see them very often. This time we were pretty casual. We had some hummus and flatbread for an appetizer, and I made a pasta with carmelized cauliflower recipe from the most recent issue of Vegetarian Times. (Have I ever mentioned how much I love that magazine? There is always something in there that I want to make, usually more than one thing. In this same issue is a wonderful looking vegan moussaka, which I am going to make sometime when I have more time available. And some adorable cranberry molds I am going to use to replace my gelatin based cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving, as mentioned below.) Everyone ate at least some of the dish, which I consider a success with picky pre-teen girls.

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On another note, I was mistaken, the children will be with me for Thanksgiving this year! There are definitely some times when I am glad to be wrong. I am still doing most of my cooking at home, though, and avoiding the smoke.