Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review: The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely (audio)

I really enjoyed Mr. Ariely's first book, Predictably Irrational, and have recommended it to others. I prefer nonfiction on audio and thought my husband would like it also so it would be a good choice for a roadtrip we went on back in May. However, it sadly wasn't great.

The narrator, while fine, I don't think was the right choice for this book. I like Mr. Ariely's accent and wish he'd narrated it himself but I understand why he might not want to. But then, I wish he'd used an American narrator instead of British. There were a few times when he'd refer to things like "our congress" or "our government," meaning the United States, and it was quite jarring. Also at other times he mentioned that he (Mr. Ariely) is from Israel and that was also incongruent with the accent and highlighted the mis-match.

That would have been fine though, if the book weren't quite so dry. And I suspect this is better in the print version. Multiple times, he would explain to us the results of an experiment and whether or not the students cheated more or less and by how much, with the new variant. And then he'd explain it all again, more formally, which I suspect was from a figure or box that was being read to us. Most readers would either skim the exposition of the results or the box, but with an audio you are forced to sit through both in detail, which was a bit much. This book also just didn't feel quite as accessible to a layperson who is not an academic. I do wish he'd tried harder to make it fun and widely appealing. To that end, I did find the part about lying about one's golf score amusing, and it was fascinating that if the IRS would move the signature line, where we all swear that everything in our tax return is true, to the top of the form, it would improve the honesty factor significantly (but the IRS won't do it.) There are a lot of great stories in the book but they are obscured by all the discussion of the endless matrices experiments. Again, in print that would be easier to skim, but skimming is hard on audio.

One thing that was great on the audio was at the end there were a number of short (5-7 minute) interviews Dan did with a variety of economic professors around North America on various related topics. I particularly liked the one where a strong correlation was found between the number of parking and traffic tickets accumulated by various countries' diplomats in NYC, and those countries' level of corruption. So if the diplomat is from a law-abiding honest country (such as in Scandinavia), they are very unlikely to be double-parking in front of fire hydrants, but if they're from an African country with a dictator, they're very likely to do so. Therefore one's country or society affects one's morality. I was able to relate to this in my own life thinking back on my high school days. My high school was renowned for our drug dealers, and instead of judging the drug dealers, we fellow students judged the stupid drug dealers who got caught. They were all doing something illegal, but we only judged the stupid ones. Because in the society of that high school, drug dealing was such a norm that it didn't raise any alarm bells.

So overall the audio was a mixed bag. The extras were great, but the bulk of the book was too dry for this particular presentation of it.

I downloaded this book from Audible.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt
The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely (audio)

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

Up next:
Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean
My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places by Mary Roach
One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

Friday, September 27, 2013

Book Beginnings: Mud Season

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Mud Season: How One Woman's Dream of Moving to Vermont, Raising Children, Chickens and Sheep, and Running the Old Country Store Pretty Much Led to One Calamity After Another by Ellen Stimson

"Falling in love makes you do strange things."

I think pretty much everyone would agree with that statement! However few would guess that the author is talking about falling in love with Vermont (although she does preface with talking about falling in love with her husband.)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Men Who United the States

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible by Simon Winchester

Synopsis from Goodreads:
For more than two centuries, E pluribus unum-Out of many, one-has been featured on America's official government seals and stamped on its currency. But how did America become "one nation, indivisible"? What unified a growing number of disparate states into the modern country we recognize today? In this monumental history, Simon Winchester addresses these questions, bringing together the breathtaking achievements that helped forge and unify America and the pioneers who have toiled fearlessly to discover, connect, and bond the citizens and geography of the U.S.A. from its beginnings.

Winchester follows in the footsteps of America's most essential explorers, thinkers, and innovators, including Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery Expedition to the Pacific Coast, the builders of the first transcontinental telegraph, and the powerful civil engineer behind the Interstate Highway System. He treks vast swaths of territory, from Pittsburgh to Portland; Rochester to San Francisco; Truckee to Laramie; Seattle to Anchorage, introducing these fascinating men and others-some familiar, some forgotten, some hardly known-who played a pivotal role in creating today's United States. Throughout, he ponders whether the historic work of uniting the States has succeeded, and to what degree.

Featuring 32 illustrations throughout the text, The Men Who United the States is a fresh, lively, and erudite look at the way in which the most powerful nation on earth came together, from one of our most entertaining, probing, and insightful observers.

Publishing October 15, 2013 by Harper.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Review: The Reversal by Michael Connelly

One thing I really like about the Lincoln Lawyer novels is how they really show the day-to-day details of the life of a lawyer, and it isn't all glamorous or always interesting (although I personally do find those details interesting, I understand not everyone will.) The devil is in the details after all.

I also like how Mr. Connelly mixes things up and he does that in a big way here, switching Mickey from the defense to the prosecution. A convicted murder's conviction has been set aside by the state supreme court and Mickey is called upon to retry him as an independent prosecutor. Obviously there was a big problem with the original case and Mickey needs to find new evidence on an old case, with Harry Bosch helping out. Meanwhile, their teenage daughters meet and become friends, which is a cute side-note and not the norm for legal thrillers.

These books are just fun. Nothing overly complicated (although complicated enough to keep me guessing) and nice and relaxing for a Saturday afternoon. I immediately got the next book in the series.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Reversal

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The Reversal by Michael Connelly p. 64

"Now I want you to go back in there and ask for a new hearing on bail."
"No, I'm not going to do that."

Mickey has been asked by the Los Angeles District Attorney to be a special prosecutor on a case, even though he's been a lifelong defense attorney. He let the accused murderer out on bail and the D.A. is furious.

Monday, September 23, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
The Eight by Katherine Neville

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Lookaway, Lookaway: A Novel by Wilton Barnhardt

Up next:
The Longest Date: Life as a Wife by Cindy Chupack
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel B. Smith

Friday, September 20, 2013

Book Beginnings: The Reversal


Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Reversal by Michael Connelly

"The last time I'd eaten at the Water Grill I sat across the table from a client who had coldly and calculatedly murdered his wife and her lover, shooting both of them in the face."

Well, that's quite a spoiler of the second Mickey Haller book, if you're reading them out of order (or if you're reading this as a Harry Bosch novel and are thinking of going back to the Mickey Haller books later.) It is intriguing though, and certainly doesn't give away the interesting details of how or why.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Family

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century by David Laskin

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The author of the The Children’s Blizzard delivers an epic work of twentieth century history through the riveting story of one extraordinary Jewish family.

With cinematic power and beauty, bestselling author David Laskin limns his own genealogy to tell the spellbinding tale of the three drastically different paths that his family members took across the span of 150 years.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century Laskin’s great-great-grandfather, a Torah scribe named Shimon Dov HaKohen, raised six children with his wife, Beyle, in a yeshiva town at the western fringe of the Russian empire. The pious couple expected their sons and daughters to carry the family tradition into future generations. But the social and political upheavals of the twentieth century decreed otherwise.

The HaKohen family split off into three branches. One branch emigrated to America and founded the fabulously successful Maidenform Bra Company; one branch went to Palestine as pioneers and participated in the contentious birth of the state of Israel; and the third branch remained in Europe and suffered the Holocaust.

In tracing the roots of his own family, Laskin captures the epic sweep of twentieth-century history. A modern-day scribe, Laskin honors the traditions, the lives, and the choices of his ancestors: revolutionaries and entrepreneurs, scholars and farmers, tycoons and truck drivers. The Family is an eloquent masterwork of true grandeur—a deeply personal, dramatic, and universal account of a people caught in a cataclysmic time in world history.

Publishing October 15, 2013 by Viking Adult.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Book Review: Still Alice by Lisa Genova

I wondered from the moment I first heard about this book, how the author had a book narrated by a character with Alzheimer's. Could that possibly be effective? Was this the ultimate unreliable narrator? Would it just trail off into babble?

Yet it was very effecting and poignant. I think only through the eyes of someone like Alice who is actually going through the trauma of both losing her mind, and the realization that she is losing her mind, can we fully appreciate the great tragedy of this wretched disease. To make Alice a Harvard professor of linguistics only increased the loss and irony.

I did get the male characters confused throughout the book, I think mostly due to their boring, interchangeable names (John, Tom). And I wasn't very satisfied with the lack of resolution regarding Alice and John's opinions on their youngest daughter's career (acting) and John's financial assistance behind Alice's back and against her wishes. I suppose it was more like reality -- problems like that just prove to be insignificant when massive problems loom -- but from a plot point of view, I wished it had been addressed. It was nice that the relationship was patched up, though.

I did get a good feeling for what going through the disease was like -- the forgetting, the blurring of names, the unrecognizableness of previously familiar places -- and it gave me a god appreciation for both what these patients and their loved one go through. I think putting it in a fictional light instead of nonfiction is much better at getting people to identify with it.

That said, I recognize that this review is somewhat clinical. It did take me a long time to write the review, and while I did very much enjoy the book at the time, it didn't stick with me much. The characters weren't quite well-developed enough for me to identify with them and want them for my friends. Their two-dimensionality did keep me at a distance and yet, the book is a fast and captivating read.

I do not remember where I got this book but I know it wasn't from the publisher.

Teaser Tuesdays: Still Alice

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Still Alice by Lisa Genova p. 21

"She wanted to continue walking but stood frozen instead. She didn't know where she was."

This must be terrifying. She was only a few blocks from home, in the neighborhood where she worked. How can you suddenly not know where you are, when you're in a place you are every day?


Monday, September 16, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
none! I am reading a rather long book

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Eight by Katherine Neville

Up next:
Moonrise by Cassandra King
Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt
The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore

Friday, September 13, 2013

I Got Married! With Books!

You know me, I can’t do anything (go on vacation, go on a cruise) without it involving books. So how on earth could I get married without books?

It all started with this fantastic wedding invitation that I found on Etsy. An homage to the original Penguin classic book covers, what really sold me was the color. See, I also can’t do things the traditional way so my dress was orange. (I know it looks pink in the picture, but it entirely depended on the light.) I loved that the invitations would match. It's like a book jacket, so we had a "plot description" on the back (Jordan wrote that. If I had done it, it would have been too much like a real back cover description on a book. I did the copyediting) and also "blurbs."

After that it seemed like a no-brainer that we would use wooden bookmarks made locally from our local independent bookstore, Park Road Books, as favors. Since I know the owner and she’s awesome, she let us pick out the designs we liked, so a lot of bears (for Missouri) and Tarheels (for North Carolina) as well as a lot of pigs (they're just cute as buttons and are the bestsellers at the bookstore).

Then we went to a friend’s wedding (yes, she is also in the business) who had wrapped used books on all the tables as favors, and I loved that idea too! She said she was happy we stole her idea, but we couldn’t just go with any old books, we had to go with the orange-spine Penguin books to match the invitations. (Tracking down actual orange Penguin classics in the design as the invitation would have taken a long time and been expensive.) We went to our local used bookstore, The Book Rack, traded in some books of our own to help defray the costs, and then we almost wiped them out of their orange-spine Penguin books. My bookish friend Kristen was of course the last person to leave the reception so she could help me unwrap the few leftover favors and take the ones she didn’t already have.

One other cool bookish thing is our lovely friend Carolyn made this gorgeous bouquet out of a copy of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. If you looked carefully, you could even see the names of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth on individual petals. She even dyed the small flowers to go with our color scheme!

The reception was great and everyone had fun! I think the books were an effective break-the-ice conversation starter too as we encouraged people to swap books to get one they thought they would like. I know my sister ended up with the biography of Gandhi that my Dad hilariously opened. And a few guys were fighting over the autobiography of a football coach (I will admit the book selection – and I think this simply reflects Penguin’s overall publishing theme for this imprint – leaned more towards women’s fiction.) I did vet all the books at the bookstore even though I had only read about a half dozen of them. We did try to mix it up with memoirs, history, and short stories. And everyone said the wedding was very me, which is the best compliment!


Book Beginnings: Still Alice

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

"Alice sat at her desk in their bedroom distracted by the sounds of John racing through each of the rooms on the first floor."

I like how the book starts with a moment of irony: the spouse of Alice (who is shortly going to be diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's) has lost his keys and the character who soon will be the forgetful one, will find them.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Book Review: Boleto by Alyson Hagy

Will Testerman wants more than his older brothers, more than his father, working a full-time job on top of keeping up his small ranch. He buys a beautiful little filly that he plans to train, in the hopes that she could be his ticket out of Wyoming.

And she is, as he moves to California in the fall, after working on a guest ranch all summer, to learn about training polo ponies. Meanwhile, Will learns about who he is, what he stands for, what is important in life, and what he's willing to sacrifice.

This is a hard book to analyze. It's quiet and reserved and the three sections are pretty distinct, with almost nothing from each of them appearing in the others aside from Will and his horses. I wish plot threads from the earlier parts were resolved later, like with Annie, a neighbor who disappeared, and Will's ex-girlfriend and her baby. But those first two sections seemed more focused on developing his character and showing his growth, not developing plot. Which is a shame as I think both could have happened successfully quite easily.

I did like what was there very much, and it was an atmospheric and gentle story, even if occasionally touched by violence. Which is not unexpected in a Western story involving cowboys. It did make for a good discussion in our book club, but unfortunately a lot of that resolved around the unwrapped-up storylines and unexplored resolutions. I liked it, but it could have been so much more.

I checked this book out of the library.

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Longbourn

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended.

Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic—into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars—and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own.

Publishing October 8, 2013 by Knopf.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Teaser Tuesdays: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open to a random page. Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!) Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by Fiona Carnarvon p. 27

"In August 1893, three months after Almina's presentation at Court, she encountered Lord Carnarvon when they were both guests at one of Alfred de Rothschild's weekend house parties at Halton House. Sir Alfred was very much in the habit of entertaining in spectacular style."

Almina was Rothschild's illegitimate daughter, which everyone knew. Which meant with her came the Rothschild fortune.

Book review: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by Fiona Carnarvon

If you're a big Downton Abbey fan like I am, you'll love this look into the truth behind the manor house where the TV show takes place, and the Lady of the house at the time of the show.

Lady Almina might have not been a lady at all. Yes, she was amazingly wealthy, but she was illegitimate, and that would have stood in her way, even though it was widely known that she was the child of de Rothschild. But Lord Carnavon liked her and needed a big influx of money to keep his estate, Highclere Castle, going.

Some plot elements on the TV show, such as converting the house to a hospital during WWI, were taken directly from the Carnavons' life, but most of the show is entirely fictional. Which is good, because the viewing public is unlikely to believe the Lord of the house also discovered King Tut's tomb, but he did! The Carnavons started going to Egypt twenty years earlier to help with Lord Carnavon's unsteady health, as the warm dry air was good for him in the winter, and he loved the archaeology. He tried many other locations first, finding nothing, until a stroke of luck uncovered the greatest archaeological discovery of all time.

This book read like a novel but isn't. I do wish it had more information about the servants of the time, but it was captivating and incredibly interesting.

I bought this book at B&N.

Monday, September 9, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

This meme is now hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Books completed last week:
Boleto by Alyson Hagy
Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Changed America by Les Standiford

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Eight by Katherine Neville

Up next:
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield
The Official Nancy Drew Handbook by Penny Warner

Friday, September 6, 2013

Book Beginnings: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by Fiona Carnarvon

"On Wednesday 26 June 1895, Miss Almina Victoria Marie Alexandra Wombwell, a startlingly pretty nineteenth-year-old of somewhat dubious social standing, married George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, the 5th Earl of Carnavon, at St Margaret's, Westminster."

And so begins her life as the Lady of the real manor estate that stands in for Downton Abbey on the TV show.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

I visited two Laura Ingalls Wilder homes!

This past summer while on a road trip to the Midwest, I was glad our route took us close to two Laura Ingalls Wilder homes for me to insist that we visit them! First we went to the Wilder farm in Mansfield, Missouri "Rocky Ridge" where Laura and Almanzo lived for around sixty years. This is where Laura wrote all of her books.

Going to the Rocky Ridge farm was awesome. It was so neat to see things like how low the kitchen counters were, since Almanzo made everything by hand and Laura was not quite five feet tall, so he made it just to her height. Also it was neat to see how changing technology impacted them. When they were able to buy a refrigerator, it didn't fit in the kitchen, so Almanzo built a little bump-out for it.

In the museum I got goose-bumps when I saw Pa's fiddle. That was by far the most iconic thing in all her books, and it was right there, just a foot away from me behind glass. It was also great to see Carrie's china dog and Mary's braille slate, but nothing compared to Pa's fiddle. A lot of their hand-made clothes were also on display and all of them were so tiny!

For the editor in me, I was impressed by the two walls of foreign editions of the Little House books, and also a letter from Laura's editor at Harper & Row about how well The Little House in the Big Woods was being received upon its initial publication, particularly by librarians. I was also awed by seeing Laura's desk, and the seat where she also did a lot of her writing.

You weren't supposed to take pictures inside, we soon discovered, so you'll have to go see the rest for yourself. It sure didn't look like a hand-built one-room-at-a-time house! Once she started writing and the books got big, their daughter Rose did build them a bigger, newer, fancier home, which they lived in for about ten years (on the same property) but after Almanzo died, Laura moved back into the house he built for her. I wished we had a lot more time to hang out, but we made the best time we could that day to get there an hour before closing, and in that time we had to do the tour, look at the museum, and go to the gift shop, so it was a race. The neatest thing we got at the gift shop was a CD for my mother of songs of Pa's from the books, played by famous musicians, and using Pa's actual fiddle! When Mom was reading these books to us as kids, we were lucky that she was familiar with a lot of the American folk songs that Pa knew and could actually sing them, like Clementine and Old Dan Tucker.

Next we went to Independence, Kansas, to THE Little House on the Prairie. In all honesty, it is a replica, but it was rebuilt according to Laura's very specific specifications in the book as well as other documents like Pa's claim, which helped solidify that this definitely was the exact plot of land. Now, Pa did know that this land was not open for development and he went there anyway hoping to get a jump on the claims (this practice is what led to the Nebraska nickname "Sooners.") Also here's an interesting bit of trivia: Carrie Ingalls was born here, in the cabin in Kansas, not in Wisconsin. There's a reason Laura's books are classified as fiction, and here's one example of how she stretched the truth.

Unlike the Rocky Ridge farm, this little house is directly out of the books I know and love, and it was almost spooky to see how perfect it was. Now if you grew up with the Garth Williams illustrated editions like I did, there's a reason for that -- Mr. Williams went to all the Ingalls/Wilder sites and did his research. (Did you know his were not the original illustrations? I find the original covers goofy, but cute. But they've got nothing on Garth Williams who was one of the most brilliant illustrators who ever lived, in my opinion.) The cabin itself is just like the description, down to the hand-hewn planks for the door and the pegs and leather straps. I knew it was small, but it was another things to see exactly how small and picture five people (albeit three of them very small) living there. It was much shorter than I had pictured.


And what was much smaller than I imagined (and I do think Mr. William's dimensions are a little off) was the wagon. I pictured covered wagons the size of an SUV, and in the pictures and in movies and TV shows, they are always pictured at least as wide as a modern conventional car. The wagon pictured here (and there was also one in Mansfield that was the same size) was very small. I'm not sure it was the size of a Smart Car. If two adults were sitting side by side at the front, there was not an inch of extra room on either side of them. Of course they wouldn't have had all the stuff we have to take with them, but it still seemed tiny to hold all your worldly possessions.

In the cabin, you saw a red checked tablecloth just like Ma always used to make the place more cheery, and the beds were a thin mattress on top of rope, woven through a bed frame (this is where the phrase "sleep tight" comes from.) There was a "spider" for cooking (a frying pan with legs) and a churn. In the back in a hand-dug well that, although it is closed off for safety reasons, they believe is in fact the very well that Pa dug in The Little House on the Prairie. There is an adorable barn and farmhouse next door which is the gift shop, and on the other side a couple of other late-1800s buildings have been brought out to the site to make for more of a display, although they are not original to here. There is a post office and a school. There is a lovely little display about Dr. George Tann (yes I know Laura spelled it "Tan" in the book but apparently she misremembered as the research has been done and he did exist and his name was spelled Tann), the black doctor who helped nurse the family through a terrible illness, "the ague" (probably malaria).

We tried to walk to the creek but didn't make it. Jordan did however make friends with a donkey. We bought his niece a bonnet and I bought a half-dozen Laura Ingalls Wilder books that aren't widely available (one on what happened in Burr Oak, Iowa, one is a guidebook to all the locations) although I did already have some of the obscure ones!

This trip was a magical and luminous one for me! I could have stayed there forever. It was amazing to see the actual same land that Laura saw, to be under the same wide Kansas sky, and having the same tiny prairie birds burst out of the grasses in front of me. I really felt immersed in the books, and a closeness to them that I've never experienced anything like before. Jordan enjoyed both the visits very much too, although previously he'd only read half of Farmer Boy. I am glad to say he's now read all of The Little House in the Big Woods and half of The Little House on the Prairie (Pa just built the door. He hasn't dug the well yet.) It was good to see that someone who hasn't read any of the books, and certainly isn't as obsessed about them as I am (my youngest sister is named Laura because our parents were reading The Little House in the Big Woods to my middle sister and me when she was born) could enjoy these two historic sites as well. I'm not sure if he'd ever be up for joining me to go to Pepin, Wisconsin and De Smet, South Dakota, but this was awesome. If you've ever thought about visiting one or both of these places, GO. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

“Waiting On” Wednesday: One Summer: America, 1927

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted here, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

Synopsis from Goodreads:
One of the most admired nonfiction writers of our time retells the story of one truly fabulous year in the life of his native country—a fascinating and gripping narrative featuring such outsized American heroes as Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, and yes Herbert Hoover, and a gallery of criminals (Al Capone), eccentrics (Shipwreck Kelly), and close-mouthed politicians (Calvin Coolidge). It was the year Americans attempted and accomplished outsized things and came of age in a big, brawling manner. What a country. What a summer. And what a writer to bring it all so vividly alive for us on the page in this certain bestseller.

Publishing on October 1, 2013 by Doubleday.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Book Review: Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

A book of essays is always hard to review, but suffice it to say if you like Mr. Sedaris, he won't let you down here. Every time that I worry he'll run out of material, he decides to start personally picking up all the garbage in the areas surrounding their house in England or meets a very creepy taxidermist who has a mummified human arm and the skeleton of a pygmy. I always love the stories about his family from when he was a kid, and also about Hugh who just doesn't even see all of David's odd quirks (what a fantastic trait to have in a loved one!)

I think my favorites this time were "Standing By" about airports and "A Cold Case" about David's passport being stolen. David includes some very short pieces of fiction in this book (2-3 pages) and a set of poems about dogs at the end, which weren't my favorite. I just love his personal stories about his life! I love hearing about the differences in the Pimsleur language programs (German is angrier and more direct), child David asking out a poor black girl, and child David and his cousin bringing ten loggerhead turtles home from the beach (it does not end well).

I laughed out loud several times and forcibly read aloud bits to my BF even though he doesn't get David's humor. I think the problem is he's not heard David's priceless delivery (luckily I saw him live when the book was first released so I did hear him read several stories.) Loved it!

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore, Park Road Books.