Category Archives: Books

Books Read in January

I read a lot last month. That's because during the first half of the
month, I was too pregnant to do much else, and during the second half I
was snuggled up with a snoozing lump of baby. My hands are too full for
writing, most of the time, but reading, ah, that's something I can do.

World Made by Hand
by James Howard Kunstler, a novel set in the not-far-off future, after
a sweeping political and economic event (described only in vague terms)
has dramatically altered American society. There's no more oil. The
grid is down: no electricity, no long distance communication, not much
government to speak of. Bombs have destroyed Washington, D.C., and Los
Angeles. A flu epidemic has wiped out masses of people. In the
narrator's small upstate New York community, the survivors have cobbled
together lives from the refuse of their former existence; abandoned houses
(most of the houses are abandoned, now) are stripped for parts, and the
unsavory character who has taken control of the old landfill is one of
the chief power-wielders of the community. The narrator and his
neighbors seem perpetually dazed, still shaken by the waves of tragedy
and loss that washed the old way of life away. The events of the book
force the narrator to wake back up.

I have a great fondness for post-apocalyptic literature and film, so
this book's premise was right up my alley. The narrator's state of
shell-shocked numbness keeps the reader somewhat at a distance, but
it's a believable numbness and perhaps a merciful distance: there is so
much loss, so much pain, so much quivering uncertainty about the
future. Kunstler's vision of the various ways society gropes to reshape
itself is convincing and minutely detailed.

The Uncommon Reader: A Novella
by Alan Bennett. What a little gem. Scott checked it out from the library and said he thought I'd enjoy it. As usual, he was right. The Queen of England discovers, by
chance, that a library bookmobile visits the palace grounds. To the
astonishment of the librarian, she checks out a book—and finds herself
on a literary rabbit trail, hopping eagerly from one book to the next.
Surprising, original, delightful.

The Moving Finger (Miss Marple Mysteries) by Agatha Christie. Everyone deserves a Christie break now and then.

The Music Teacher
by Barbara Hall. Really wanted to like this novel. So much potential in
the setting and cast of characters: the novel is about a woman who
gives violin lessons in a small music store, the only female on the
staff, half in love with one undeserving coworker and flattered by the
attentions of another. Eventually I grew tired of the relentless
melancholy and bad choices. I admit I lose patience with people (even
fictional ones) who seem determined to be miserable.

Which is why the next book, Meg Wolitzer's The Ten-Year Nap,
annoyed the bejeebers out of me. Don't get me
wrong: Wolitzer can write beautifully. But oh what a bunch of whiners
in this novel. I kept wanting to shake them and shout, "Knock it off!
Quit your bellyaching and DO something! Read to your kid! Take a walk!
Bake some bread! SOMETHING. Anything." I'd read rave reviews. People
loved the "honest" look at the misgivings of women who gave up
promising careers to stay home with their children. I'm sure many women
do have those misgivings. But, look, you make your own happiness. The
women in this novel seemed to me to be sleepwalking, drifting through
their days in a state of vague discontent, trapped in the hamster wheel
of their own minds. I have little respect for people who refuse to wake

The Twilight of American Culture by Morris Berman.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by
Azar Nafisi. Had this one on the library reserve list for a long time.
Really enjoyed it—sort of. Seemed like Nafisi was trying to untangle
some knotty emotional threads about the Iranian Revolution and her own
choices during those stormy years and the decade following. The
eyewitness-to-history narrative was fascinating, but became terribly
repetitive as the book went on. The best parts of the book are her
literary discussions, her thoughtful unpacking of Gatsby, Daisy Miller, Lolita, Pride and Prejudice,
and other works. Here Nafisi shines, and it's easy to see why her
students became so attached that many of them returned to audit her
classes year after year. Best of all, Nafisi got me reading: she made
me hungry to revisit old favorites (Austen, Gatsby) and curious about
books like Lolita that have spent far too many years on my TBR
list. I wanted to hear what Nafisi had to say about them, but I loathe
spoilers, so I had no choice: had to read the books. Am very glad I did.

These next few titles, then, are books I read between sections of Reading Lolita.

Daisy Miller by Henry James.

The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald. For the, I don't know, sixth or seventh time? I
can open this book to any page and just sit there tasting sentences.

by Vladimir Nabokov. Creeped me out in the worst way—but I couldn't put
it down—and jiminy crickets what gorgeous, sumptous writing. And
beneath the creepiness, the terrible sadness, the bleak impenetrability
of Humbert's cage—worse even than the cage Lolita is trapped in.

(And a February note: my James kick has continued. First Washington Square, new to me. Now, Portrait of a Lady,
the first half of which I loved passionately in college, a love that
turned to outrage during the second half, because at that point in time
I had no stomach for a book with a likeable heroine who did not find
felicity in romance at the end. Now, nearly twenty years later, perhaps
because I am comfortably immersed in a still-crazy-in-love marriage, I
am finding that I can allow the novel to be the novel it is, not the happy-ever-after tale I wanted it to be in college.)

Cybils Winners Announced!

The winners of the 2009 Cybil Awards have been announced at the Cybils blog. Congratulations to all the winners!

As a member of the first-round judging panel for Fiction Picture
Books, I was happy to see that my favorite title from our shortlist, How to Heal a Broken Wing, won in that category.

And I'm tickled to see that the winner of the Nonfiction Middle Grade/Young Adult category is a book by a friend of mine: The Year We Disappeared: A Father-Daughter Memoir
by Cylin Busby and John Busby. Cylin and I were lowly editorial
assistants together at Random House many years ago. I'm so proud of
her. (Good thing I wasn't a panelist for that category—I'd have had to
recuse myself.)  I've been dying to read her book: I finally have a
copy on the way, so more on that later.

While you're over at the Cybils blog checking out the winners, don't miss Easy Reader winner Mo Willems's illustrated thank-you note!

Yes, Exactly

Film critic David Denby, writing of his experience revisiting, in his forties, the Great Books core courses he had taken as a freshman at Columbia University thirty years earlier:

I was reading seriously, reading Homer, Plato,
Aristotle, Sophocles, all the Greeks. But I needed more time. Life got
in the way—a good life, but in the way. I had always known it
would, but I was determined not to rope off my school adventure, not to
become a hermit, anything medieval or cloistered, but to remain a
modern middle-class man, living my life as normally as possible. As if
I had any choice! There were days when I wanted to be free just to
study, to eat at any hour and sleep whenever I wanted to, unshaven and
raw as an eighteen-year-old—and then the little one, Thomas, would take
my hand and lead me into his room to show me something he had drawn,
pulling me away from Plato, and I was exasperated but grateful, because
a child's hand is like nothing else on earth.

2008 in Books

I didn't read as many books last year as I usually do, because the
lion's share of my reading time was devoured by matters related to the
presidential election. 2009 is already off to a better start: am
halfway through my third novel already. (One of them, The Uncommon Reader—a
delightful read, by the way—was very short, a novella really. Also, my
mother has arrived to help with the baby, whenever the baby decides to
make an appearance, and so as far as my children are concerned, I am
chopped liver. It is lovely, sometimes, to be chopped liver.)

Anyway: 2008's reading list. Several of the books I enjoyed most were the handcrafty sort.

I count these as "books read" because I really did read them, cover
to cover, eagerly slurping down every single syllable of text and
caption. Maybe this year—in the latter half, because I expect my arms
to be happily full for a while—I can put some of this reading into

As for fiction, most of the novels I read were children's books:
some old favorites, read aloud to the kids, and some first-time reads
for me, so I could discuss them with Jane. Of the latter, I most
enjoyed Beth Hilgartner's A Murder for Her Majesty,
a middle-grade suspense tale set in Elizabethan times, about a young
girl forced to hide in a boys' choir after her father is murdered by
court rivals, and Scott O'Dell's The King's Fifth,
another fine piece of historical fiction, this one about a young
Spanish mapmaker whose quest for the fabled Seven Cities of Cibola
leads him into a hornet's nest of intrigue and danger.

I read some excellent nonfiction this year. I've already raved about Alice Gunther's inspiring Haystack Full of Needles and the transformative Outside Lies Magic by John Stilgoe. Another standout was Neil Perrin's collection of essays about lesser-known literary gems, A Reader's Delight.
A sweet friend sent me a copy for my birthday last year, and I savored
the essays one by one throughout the year. (I wrote about Perrin's A Child's Delight here.)
Both the Perrin books have added a column full of enticing titles to my
TBR list. One of my reading plans for 2009 is to treat myself to some
of those books.

Another interesting nonfiction book I read in '08 was Elizabeth Warnock Fernea's A Street in Marrakesh.
I met the author at a neighborhood Christmas party a year ago; she was
the mother of the host, Laura Fernea, who appears in the book as a
thirteen-year-old girl. In the late 70s, the Fernea family lived in
Marrakesh for a year. It was Elizabeth's husband's work that brought
them there, but the book focuses on the domestic scene and Elizabeth's
struggles to get to know her Muslim neighbors. Gradually, awkwardly,
connections are formed and Elizabeth is invited into other women's
homes, and her yearning to see the real lives of her neighbors—not just
the blank faces presented to tourists—is fulfilled. The book is a
fascinating look at a culture so tremendously different from America's,
but it is more than a travel book: it's a moving, honest account of
Elizabeth's vulnerability and determination. Her efforts to cross the
'stranger in a strange land' barrier are sometimes rebuffed, sometimes
embarrassing, but she presses on nonetheless. I was hoping for another
opportunity to chat with Elizabeth, but the annual Christmas caroling
party didn't happen this year. Maybe next year. (As I write, I'm struck
by the irony of my own shyness—here I am waiting for the big
neighborhood party rather than making the kind of personal overture
Elizabeth herself would never have shrunk from!)

There were other good books on my list in 2008, but I can smell my
mother's good cornbread just about ready to come out of the oven. I'd
like to say I'll write about the rest later, but we all know how
unlikely that is. Unless this baby tarries another week, in which case
maybe I'll have all too much time to blog!

This Year’s Daddy-Books

Every Christmas (birthdays, too) Scott gives each child one special
picture book. Yes, our older girls are well past picture-book age by
now—except that you’re never past picture-book age, not really.
I’m certainly not. And this is a treasured family tradition; it’s
always great fun to see what gems he comes up with.

His picks for Christmas, 2008:

: an oldie but one of the best. Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina.
Our dog-eared paperback copy was recently destroyed in that little bit
of flooding we had on my birthday. Scott replaced it with a hardcover,
because Rilla is ripe for that time-honored, giggle-inducing refrain of
“You monkeys you, you give me back my caps!”

: a newish Boynton book called Fifteen Animals! (Most of which are named Bob.) A perfect choice for our little guy, who loves rhythm, repitition, and all things Boyton.

: Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by the fabulous Mo Willems.
This would have been a fine choice for any of our brood, but Scott
singled it out for our belly-laughing Bean, and belly-laugh she did. We
all loved the Caldicott honor-winning combination of black-and-white
photo backgrounds and whimsical Willems art, and poor little Trixie’s
desperate attempts to communicate the disappearance of her beloved
bunny to her father are utterly priceless. A slam-dunk, daddy dear.

: A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton.
This was one of the Cybils nominees, and when I read the library copy,
I knew it was a keeper. Sweet, funny story about a rather curmudgeonly
bear who, despite his best efforts, finds himself playing host to a
persistent and amiable mouse. I showed it to Scott, who instantly
pegged it as a perfect Rose book. Endearing art, charming story.

: Diary of a Fly by Doreen Cronin and Harry Bliss. Various children have been given its companion books, Diary of a Worm and Diary of a Spider,
in years past. I believe Scott said he chose this one for Jane because
of the line about the young fly being relieved to discover that he’s
not the only kid at school who likes regurgitated food. (Cue satisfying
shriek from thirteen-year-old.)

Of course our Christmas book bounty didn’t end with the Daddy-books, but the rest of the treasures must wait for another post.

(A note about the links here: I stopped including Amazon links in
my posts a long while back, for various angsty reasons of my own.
However, a recent Kidlitosphere discussion alerted me to the copyright
question involved with using book cover images from Amazon and
linking to that site, so in this post I have returned to my old
practice of including the Amazon link. Since I have an affiliate
account, any purchases made from a clickthrough here will earn me a
small referral fee. Wanted to be very up-front with that info! In years
past, such referrals helped pay for the maintenance of this site. For
that, I thank you!)

Another Birthday Present: Dear Jane

It is astonishing how much attention my hubby pays to my
enthusiastic chatterings. Especially when the topic is something he has
absolutely no interest in personally, like, say, quilting.

One of my birthday presents was a book I've been hankering after: Dear Jane: The Two Hundred Twenty-Five Patterns from the 1863 Jane A. Stickle Quilt by Brenda Papadakis. I learned of this book, and of the incredible Jane Stickle quilt itself, from a link on Twiddletails, one of my favorite crafty blogs. Anina, the Twiddletails blogger, has a second blog called (for now, at least—yesterday a bit of a trademark dispute arose over the name) Dear Baby Jane, an amazing site on which Anina posts step-by-step photo tutorials for making every single block in the Jane Stickle quilt.

This is no mean feat. Jane's quilt is a masterpiece. Every single
block of this large quilt is pieced in a different geometrical pattern.
Many of the patterns are traditional quilt blocks; many seem to be
unique to Jane.

An autographed corner square tells us that Jane pieced the quilt "in
wartime, 1863," and that she used over five thousand separate bits of
fabric. A farmer's wife, she lived in the little village of Shaftsbury,
Vermont. She was born in 1817, which makes her roughly a contemporary
of Charlotte Tucker Quiner Holbrook, the maternal grandmother of Laura
Ingalls Wilder, whom I wrote about in my Charlotte books.
This is one of the many reasons the Jane Stickle quilt intrigued me
when I first read about it at Dear Baby Jane. Charlotte was born in
1809 (along with
Abraham Lincoln, Edgar Allen Poe, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Louis Braille,
British statesman William Gladstone, Charles Darwin, and Felix
Mendelssohn—some year, eh?) in Roxbury, Massachusetts. As a young
woman, Charlotte worked as a seamstress, advertising her services in
the local papers. By 1863, the year Jane finished her quilt—four years before Charlotte's granddaughter Laura was born—Charlotte had been living in the "big woods" of Wisconsin for decades.
Jane Stickle, meanwhile, lived her whole life in the Shaftsbury, VT,
area, and instead of a storytelling granddaughter, the legacy she left
us was her incredible wartime quilt.

Here's a link to a good-sized image of the Jane Stickle quilt—dubbed
the "Dear Jane" by Brenda Papadakis. (Contemporary versions of the
quilt are nicknamed "Baby Janes.") I don't know if it's kosher to post
the image itself, so I'll just stick with the link. The color scheme is
what's known as and "around the world" pattern: the blocks move through
a range of shades in concentric circles (more or less) beginning in the
middle of the quilt.

A whole Dear Jane subculture exists in the quilting world, both
online and off. There are many gorgeous quilts modeled after or
inspired by Jane Stickle's masterpiece. On the Dear Baby Jane blog, Anina leads an online community of quilters who are piecing the quilt a block at a time, two blocks a week. (Marvel at the photos here.)
Just reading Anina's instructions has been a tremendous education for
me. (I was sorry to read, yesterday, of the trademark stickiness and
the possibility that Anina will take down the entire blog. I am hoping
hard that this does not come to pass.)

My indulgent but wise husband will read this and fear that I am
poised for a dive into the world of Dear Jane creators, but he need not
worry. Having never completed so much as a simple block quilt (Rilla's little quilt
is still only half quilted, if you can call the mess I'm making
"quilting"), my attempting a Baby Jane would be something like a
starling chick trying to soar with the flock while it is still in the

But oh how I love to look at the gorgeous variations others have created,
and to read about the gradual progress of people attempting the
ambitious project right now. And I can't wait to dive into my new
birthday book to learn more about Jane Stickle and her quilt.

From the Archives: “Snuggling Up to Genius”

(Excerpted from a December 2005 post)

…Anyway, all this Dickens talk brought to mind something I read long ago in the introduction to Kate Douglas Wiggins’s Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.
It was an unforgettable account of young (very young) Kate’s encounter
with Charles Dickens himself on a train during one of his reading tours
of the United States. I no longer have the edition of Rebecca which
contains the article (Alice, I think it was your copy?), but I Googled
this morning with hope in my heart and aha! There it was, in full, at a
delightful site called

An excerpt:

There on the platform stood the Adored One. His hands
were plunged deep in his pockets (a favorite posture), but presently
one was removed to wave away laughingly a piece of the famous Berwick
sponge-cake offered him by Mr. Osgood, of Boston, his traveling
companion and friend.

I knew him at once: the smiling, genial, mobile face, rather highly
colored, the brilliant eyes, the watch-chain, the red carnation in the
buttonhole, and the expressive hands, much given to gesture. It was
only a momentary view, for the train started, and Dickens vanished, to
resume his place in the car next to ours, where he had been, had I
known it, ever since we left Portland.

Shortly thereafter, the intrepid Kate slips into Dickens’s car,
where she finds him alone and launches into a discussion of his

“Well, upon my word!” he said. “You do not mean to say that you have read them!”

“Of course I have,” I replied. “Every one of them but the two that we are going to buy in Boston, and some of them six times.”

“Bless my soul!” he ejaculated again. “Those long, thick books, and you such a slip of a thing!”

“Of course,” I explained, conscientiously, “I do skip some of the
very dull parts once in a while; not the short dull parts, but the long

He laughed heartily. “Now, that is something that I hear very little
about,” he said. “I distinctly want to learn more about those very dull
parts,” and, whether to amuse himself or to amuse me, I do not know, he
took out a note-book and pencil from his pocket and proceeded to give
me an exhausting and exhaustive examination on this subject—the books
in which the dull parts predominated, and the characters and subjects
which principally produced them. He chuckled so constantly during this
operation that I could hardly help believing myself extraordinarily
agreeable; so I continued dealing these infant blows under the delusion
that I was flinging him bouquets.

You can read the article in its entirety here.

Mark and Huck

Scott and I (especially Scott) have a great fondness for Huckleberry
Finn—the character and the book. Fondness, respect, admiration. It's
funny that whenever I'm asked to name my favorite authors, I never
think to include Mark Twain among their number. Yet I have only to read
a paragraph, a sentence even, of his work, and I'm reminded what a
prominent position he actually holds on the list.

I'm not alone. Roger Ebert, in a lyrical, hilarious, and touching piece about his longtime friend Bill Nack ("Perform a Concert in Words"), speaks with great enthusiasm of Twain's singular gifts:

I still have the first real book I ever read…It is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The inscription says, "To Roger from Uncle Bill, Christmas 1949." I was halfway into second grade.

My grandmother, Anna B. Stumm, said, "Do you think Roger can read that, Bill?"

Uncle Bill said, "Bud, can you read?"

"Yes," I said.

"Then he can read it."

I lay down on my stomach on the living room rug and started reading.
I hardly stopped. "That boy always has his nose in a book," my Aunt
Mary said. "Mary, he's reading," my Aunt Martha said. I didn't know a
lot of the words, but the words I did know were a lot more interesting
than "Run, Spot, run!" and I picked up new ones every time through,
because I read it over and over for a year, getting to the end and
turning straight back to "You don't know me without you have read a
book by Mr. Mark Twain…" It was the best book I had ever read.

Snip—but do go read the snipped part,
which contains Twain's blisteringly funny critique of James Fenimore
Cooper's work. For that matter, read Ebert's entire post, which is full
of gems. He continues with a quote from Huckleberry Finn:

Pretty soon it darkened up, and begun to thunder and
lighten; so the birds was right about it. Directly it begun to rain,
and it rained like all fury, too, and I never see the wind blow so. It
was one of these regular summer storms. It would get so dark that it
looked all blue-black outside, and lovely; and the rain would thrash
along by so thick that the trees off a little ways looked dim and
spider-webby; and here would come a blast of wind that would bend the
trees down and turn up the pale under-side of the leaves; and then a
perfect ripper of a gust would follow along and set the branches to
tossing their arms as if they was just wild; and next, when it was just
about the bluest and blackest — fst! it was as bright as glory, and
you'd have a little glimpse of tree-tops a-plunging about away off
yonder in the storm, hundreds of yards further than you could see
before; dark as sin again in a second, and now you'd hear the thunder
let go with an awful crash, and then go rumbling, grumbling, tumbling,
down the sky towards the under side of the world, like rolling empty
barrels down stairs — where it's long stairs and they bounce a good
deal, you know.

How did you think Mark Twain wrote? Four sentences. The
fourth one 179 words long. As a boy, I thought it was the realest
thunderstorm I had ever seen. It plays like Beethoven. Mark Twain
introduced America to its vernacular. Not how we speak, but how we
caress and feel words. Before him, there were great writers like Poe
and Melville, who I still read with love. But I sit on the porch steps
next to Sam Clemens in his rocking chair, and he speaks in the voice of
his Hannibal childhood–straight and honest, observant and cynical,
youthful but wise, idealistic and disappointed, always amused, and
sometimes he rolls the words down stairs–where it's long stairs and
they bounce a good deal, you know. They bounce themselves right into

The long sentence isn't a stunt. Thunderstorms do seem to sustain
themselves forever and then suddenly lull and regather. The flashes and
claps punctuate the constant rolling uneasiness. I don't know if you
can describe one in short sentences. That was the limitation of
Hemingway's style. "Grumbling, rumbling, tumbling" when it comes is not
an effect, but like all good descriptions simply the best way to say
it, evoking the way storms wander away from us, still in turmoil. Look
how he uses fst! to break the flow.

Pretty soon it darkened up, and begun to thunder and lighten; so the birds was right about it. The word was throughout is always better than the word were,
and keeps Huck's voice in view. The remarkable thing is that we accept
this poetic evocation as the voice of an illiterate boy. Darkened up is better than darken, and darkened down would be horrible. Lighten is the right word, perhaps never before used like this, allowing him to avoid the completely wrong thunder and lightning, without having to write the pedestrian and there was thunder and lightning. It keeps it in Huck's voice. An English teacher who corrects lighten should be teaching a language he doesn't know. And look at these words: It would get so dark that it looked all blue-black outside, and lovely…No, don't look at them. Get a musician to compose for it. Notice how lovely softens the blue-black and nods back to it soothingly.

It isn't merely Twain's language that makes him a master, however;
it's his understanding of human nature, and his honesty in writing
about people as they really are. I recently read blogger and newsman
Fred Clark's entire page-by-page review of Tim LaHaye and Jerry
Jenkins's Left Behind (no mean feat, that; Clark spent some four years critiquing the book in weekly posts on his blog, Slacktivist, and his shrewd and informed insights are well worth your time). In one post Clark hits upon exactly what it is about Huck Finn that Scott and I so admire:

Jesus was always saying this kind of thing: You want to
live? Die to yourself. You want to be first? Be last. Want to come out
on top? Head for the bottom. Want to win? Surrender.

You want to get saved? Get lost.

Which brings us to what is, for my money, the greatest scene of salvation and redemption in literature:

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was
a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things,
and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and
then says to myself:"All right, then, I'll
go to Hell" — and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let
them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. … And for
a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if
I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long
as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.

This is, of course, from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
The piece of paper that poor Huck tore up was the letter he had written
to turn in his friend, the escaped slave Jim. Huck had been taught, and
he sincerely believed, that doing so was his duty as a good Christian
(and as a good, law-abiding American). He had been taught, and he
sincerely believed, that failing to do so would damn his soul to Hell.

Study that a minute. Turning in Jim would condemn his friend to
years of misery in this world, but his own immortal soul would be
damned for eternity — and what are a few mortal years compared with
that? Weigh such a choice on the scales that [LaHaye and Jenkins] use
in Left Behind and Huck's choice is clear. But that is not the choice he makes.

"All right, then, I'll go to Hell!" he says. And the angels in heaven rejoice.

From the Drafts File

I have over 200 incomplete posts in my drafts folder. Yikes. And
that's just here, at the WordPress site, where I've been for less than
a year. Lord knows how many drafts are sitting over at Typepad. I dare
not look.

In an effort to clear this cache out a bit, here's a look at some
things I was going to write about but didn't get around to finishing.


Swell Stocking-Stuffer for Your Music-Loving Hubby

Or for any lover of contemporary music, really. Doesn't have to be
your husband. Your sister, your teenager. It's just that Scott's the
music buff in my life, so I relate all things musical to him.

And also, these are his books I'm recommending. Not his as in he
wrote them. His as in he keeps leaving them all over the house. Some
are from the library and some he picked up with the one measly Amazon
gift certificate I shared with him after spending all the rest on
crafty books for my own self. Um, I mean on inspiring and creatively
enriching resources for my darling children. Yeah, that's the ticket
(she says, hastily shoving her hot-off-the-presses copy of Stitched in Time behind her back).

Anyway, these music books. They're a series of little bitty paperback books called 33 1/3.
As in: thirty-three and a third. Like, you know, those round black
things they used to scratch music out of back in olden times. Each
volume is a kind of extended essay on a single record album. I think. I
mean, it's not like I've actually read any of them. But I listened ever
so intently when Scott raved about the awesomeness of the concept. One
book: one album: one deep exploration of musical themes and lyrical
themes and the life-affirming statements of painful, screeching guitar
solos and all that stuff people like Scott think about when they do
this thing that is so unfathomable to me where they just sit and listen to music.
I don't do that. Music is for singing, or for cleaning to, or for
entertaining children in the car, or for getting teary-eyed over when
it's your daughter practicing on the piano she got from the Make-a-Wish

Obviously, I wandered from the point. The point was: Scott loves this series of books and I thought someone on your Christmas list might, too.


The next draft was begun in mid-November. I'm not sure why I didn't post it, or what else I might have been going to say.

What We're Up To These Days

Let's see. You already know we're reading zillions of picture books
for the Cybils. I think I'm up to 76 books read so far, with another
five in my TBR pile and several more waiting for me at the library.
Saturday is Scott's library-run day (honestly, I don't even try any
more, not with the action-packed Wonderboy/Rilla combo), so I'll most
likely curl up for another reading marathon tomorrow afternoon.

I tried to cut back on out-of-the-house activities this fall, but
bit by bit the schedule filled up again. We've got a pretty good rhythm
going, though. Jane is taking ballet, Jane and Beanie are in a
children's choir that practices once a week, and Jane, Beanie, and Rose
are all in a very nice little drawing class they begged and begged to
squeeze in, and I'm glad I succumbed to their cajoling. Our
sewing/laundry room walls are filling up with some truly gorgeous art
in chalk pastels. I hope I'll be up to maintaining the art class
dropoff/pickup schedule after the baby comes in January, but it does
leave me with an awkwardly sized window of time to fill with my little
ones. Sometimes I do a grocery run during the window, but if I don't
get the coveted fire-truck cart that seats two children, I'm sunk. This
week I took a less productive but infinitely more pleasant approach and
simply buckled them into the Awesome! New! Double! Stroller!! (thank
you, Mr. Wonderful, you know who you are) and went for a, you guessed
it, stroll. Did a little window shopping on a quiet street full of
craft stores and antique shops. Bought each of us a teeny tiny bag of
teeny tiny sandwich cookies. It was lovely. And when I picked up the
girls they were full of chatter and excitement because two of them are
about to graduate from chalks to watercolors, and one of them (Beanie,
let's brag on the seven-year-old) had just completed a picture which
was chosen to go in the 'gallery,' aka the studio window that fronts a
busy street. Miss Bean was positively glowing. When her grandparents
come for a visit next week, they will have to drive by and admire the

Wonderboy has speech therapy twice a week and PT twice a month. PT
is a bit of a hike (up a busy highway to the Children's Hospital) but
it coincides with choir, and the other moms have been wonderful about
keeping an eye on the girls for me (mainly Rilla) while the boy and I
slip out for his session. This was supposed to be a three-month burst
of PT to help him past a growth spurt (bone grows faster than muscle,
so whenever he hits a spurt, his already short and tight muscles get
even shorter and tighter), but the therapist would like to extend it
for a while. She's doing some pretty intensive deep-tissue massage and
stretching with him. We're giving it another few weeks before we make
the call.

So all of that, plus my OB appts (which, gulp, just hit the
every-two-weeks mark this week, which means we are really very close to
the end of this pregnancy, which is sort of mindboggling because it
feels like it's only been a few months so far), makes for a pretty busy
schedule. Much busier than in our mellower Virginia days. But then, my
girls are getting big. Their interests are tumbling out of our home,
which is right and proper.


Oh, look, the next draft isn't really a draft—it's just an
unpublished baby ticker. I think I've stuck it at the bottom of a few
other posts.

Lilypie Expecting a baby Ticker

Wow, I REALLY need to find that box of baby clothes I know I saved when we moved from Virginia.


One of the drafts is called "Peace Comes Dropping Slow." That's
all there is, just the title. I vaguely remember meaning to describe
some particularly chaotic and noisy scene that had just taken place,
making a mockery of the Yeats quote at the top of this blog. Of course,
every single day provides, oh, dozens of such moments. "Peace" as
applied to this house refers more to a state of mind than any kind of
sensory description, you understand.


Whoops, the 7:00 bird just cooed.
The "big noisy peace" (as Sandra Dodd calls it) will commence any
minute now. Actually I can't believe it hasn't begun already—kids are
sleeping late this morning. But I should go. I didn't make it very far
through the big pile o' drafts, did I?