Books Read in 2012 – Or, A Year Interrupted

TSSbadge4[1]This year I read just 34 books. I knew going in that it was not going to be a high count. With work, school, and all my other commitments, I simply had very little time to read for pleasure. However, I took much care in choosing the books I read. Of course there were a few dogs, there always are. I was careful in trying to locate well reviewed books, in many different genres, in order to have a solid, if pitifully small body of works read by the end of the year.

Top Five Books of the Year in no particular order:

92689786The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier – taking place in the fifteenth century, this story is a fictional account about the commission and creation of the series of six tapestries that now hang in the Musee du Moyen-Age, in Paris, France.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern – two illusionists compete against the backdrop of a fantastical black and white circus.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – children compete to the death in a game of power and control.

82714967The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson – a clever interweaving of two stories: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the construction of the Chicago 1893 World’s Fair and H.H.Holmes, a serial killer who designed  his own torture and murder house.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – a woman goes missing and everything points to her husband. But things aren’t always as they seem.

Most Challenging Book:

29182687The Satanic Verses by Salmon Rushdie – I will definitely reread this incredibly complex work someday. It contains highly fantastical elements along with history, legend, and family drama. This is a very controversial work in the Muslim community. If any of my Muslim fb friends feel offended that I read this, please know it was not meant in any way as an insult to you or your faith. To be honest, I do not know enough about your religion to even judge this book according to those aspects.  My ignorance in that regard has challenged me to research and understand your beliefs better. I welcome your comments.

Book Club Books:

92689820Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A.S. Byatt – I read this for Slaves of Golconda. A young girl who escapes from the London bombings with her mother passes the time reading Norse mythology. Mythology can be quite daunting, but it was a surprising little read. Thinking back, I haven’t read mythology beside the Metamorphoses by Ovid and I barely know any Norse mythology. Check it out.

I thought I would also present my list of cross stitch finishes. Yep, here it is, my list of one.

DSC00827You are My Sunshine by Country Cottage Needleworks. I did this for my brand new granddaughter back in May when she was born.

Pretty pathetic, I know. I have so many WIP’s but at some point this year they were put on the top shelf in my closet. I knew I wouldn’t get to them. Probably most of this year will be the same. But they will wait for me.

I hope everyone had a fantastic reading year. Looking forward to 2013!

Sunday Salon – The Ultimate in True Crime

Back in the eighties and early nineties I was an ardent fan of true crime. It started with Ted Bundy: The Killer Next Door and moved on to other serial killers, domestic tragedies, and mafia leaders. I was starting to think I had a problem! But as they grew more formulaic, becoming light on story and heavy on police reports, my interest gradually faded. Problem solved.

Enter Eric Larson with his brand of true crime. He is scrupulous about fact yet tells a richly detailed story. The Devil in the White City tells the story of two men: serial killer H.H. Holmes (aka Herman Webster Mudgett) and Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the construction of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Amid slow committee decisions, financial problems, and temperamental architects, Burnham built Chicago’s wondrous White City while Holmes was constructing his terrifying dungeon where no one targeted for death left alive. Women, children, and a few men were among his victims.  He killed for profit and for fun. The juxtaposition of building the fair and wanton destruction of humanity was fascinating and kept what was really a rather horrifying story from becoming too dark.

I hope you pick up one of Eric Larson’s books this year. If you don’t want to read something this horrific, and I don’t blame you if you don’t, then try Thunderstruck.  I read this old-fashioned murder mystery years ago and it has none of the horrors of White City. It is set against the invention of wireless telepathy and is really quite interesting.

My review for Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman should be up soon. I hope everyone has a great reading week!

Sunday Salon – Savoring Free Time More

I don’t know whether to describe this year as “the year of change” or “the year of work”. Either one would do. I have never worked so hard or for so many hours amidst the tremendous changes going on within my family. Did I mention my other daughter is pregnant? She joked to her sister that they are thirteen months apart, their babies may be also!

In days past I had huge chunks of free time to spend as I chose. Blogging became very important when I found others who loved to read and discuss what we read as much as I do. Nowadays those chunks of time have dwindled significantly. The economy has claimed another victim as my husband has yet to find full time work. Not that it is a waste because he is putting his skills to use as the editor for the Knight Times for his local Knights of Columbus chapter. He has modernized that old dinosaur of a newsletter and it looks great!! He is much happier now and considering what his old job put him through, it is nice to see.

It may take longer for me to get through a book these days. But in some ways that makes it more enjoyable. For instance I am now reading Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan. It’s tough to put it down for a whole day, or longer. But it also gives me more time to think about the plot, characters, and the fantastic setting of Burma. In the olden days I would have breezed through it and gone quickly on to the next. The buildup is better this way. I haven’t read any reviews because I don’t want to spoil the ending!

I still review the odd book for Librarything Early Reviewers. This month I was delighted to get The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day. She is one of my heroes and I can’t wait to receive it in the mail!

Dorothy Day was co-founder of Catholic Worker movement and has been called one of the most influential people of American Catholicism. She is one of those people who really is the gospel in action. She believed in social justice and the dignity of human work. As you might imagine she got called a Socialist alot. No matter, she didn’t “suffer fools gladly”!

So this is the perfect book for a busy person. It will give me plenty of time in between reading periods for reflection on this extraordinary activist for peace.

I hope everyone has a great reading week!

Echoes of the Haitian Revolution

Martin Munro – Elizabeth Walcott Hackshaw – Editors

Univ of West Indies Pr (January 2009)

Paperback – 191 pages

It’s not every day that I review a college textbook but this one was so important that I sent my husband down to U of O to borrow it. Happy side note: all we need to borrow books at the University library is our regular old library card.

In 2004 the Haitians celebrated the bicentennial of their independence.  Most Americans were unaware or did not care. Yet this country owes a great deal to that victory. In fact, our nation would be very different if those brave Haitian slaves had not risen up against their oppressors. In a series of essays we receive a careful analysis of the events and circumstances surrounding the revolution. We also learn about the terrible effects of racism and how it renders certain countries invisible.  Haitian art forms, books describing the horrific lives of slaves, and modern cultural influences are discussed as well.

The introduction and first essay give the history behind the revolution. In 1803 Thomas Jefferson’s delegates purchased from Napoleon Bonaparte the territory known as the Louisiana Purchase. Because of its natural resources, farmland, and most of all, it gave us that all important port of New Orleans. In many ways it is considered the backbone of the American rise to world dominance. If Bonaparte had taken possession, or New Orleans had remained in the hands of Spain or France, we would have a very different country today. It would either be under the thumb of France, unless Americans had crawled back to the British for help to defeat them.

As Bonaparte was poised to launch his Louisiana expedition, the revolution had already begun in Haiti. Thousands of French soldiers had already died of yellow fever and when Haitian leader Toussaint was betrayed and kidnapped, they rose in open warfare.  Almost all the black and mulatto population actively turned against the French and even though thousands were killed, Bonaparte eventually found he no longer had sufficient troops to occupy either St. Domingue or Louisiana.

Because of his defeat by the Haitian people, there would be no American empire for Bonaparte. He sold the vast Louisiana territory because he did not think he could control it, deciding instead to profit off it. But it was America who profited from the sale while the blood of the Haitian people  paid for it.

Some have said that the Haitians won their revolution because Americans helped them. Not so. In fact all evidence goes the other way, that we abandoned them to the French. Imports on sugar and coffee fell to half what the normal was and claims of arms going to them simply has no credence whatsoever.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the whole thing was how America discounted and turned the first black republic into an invisible country. Racism is at its core. One has to dehumanize a race or people first in their  mind and in turn it allows that person to do anything, including depraved and inhuman, acts to them.

One of the essays reviewed two books about women who were driven to the edge because of their husband’s philandering with their female slaves. Unfortunately it did not move them to compassion but rather to imitate the psychopathic treatment of their men. The descriptions of torture and murder are ghastly.

The term “racist” has been overused in recent years, kind of like “abuse”. It waters down the meaning significantly, turning it into a few nasty comments or a turned down job. As bad as those things are, I believe it overlooks the sinister aspect of true racism and the inhumanity it produces in those who believe themselves superior to other races.

Let’s not forget what the Haitian slaves were up against, and what they are still up against as free people.

Help Haiti. We owe it to them.

Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management – Part Two

Turtle Soup

Eel Pie

Lamb’s Sweetbreads

Instructions on how to dress Plovers, Cygnets, and Bullock’s Heart

Hashed Partridges

Boiled Tongue with instructions on how to distinguish ox tongue from horse tongue, which is sometimes used by unscrupulous dealers.

Hungry yet?

These are some of the less appealing recipes found in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.  I’m pretty sure in some areas you would get arrested if you hunt turtles, plovers or cygnets. One thing I can say about this large section of recipes. Mrs Beeton definitely believed in a diet filled with variety.

     Getting past the nasties I was actually quite impressed with this section of the book. Mrs Beeton is a well-educated woman and punctuates many of the recipes with information on certain fish, the history of game animals, and general observations on hogs, calves, and sheep. She gives rich histories while using proper Latin terminology and hints on when and how to kill and dress these animals. It sounds barbaric until you realize that modern life has completely wiped out the need to do those unpleasant chores unless one is so inclined.  One of the strangest discoveries was how much they fancied boiled meat. Even turkey!

     Mrs Beeton uses a vast array of fruits and vegetables, breads, and soups. The most recognizable recipes were desserts of pies, tarts. and pastries. Because sugar was astronomical in price, they used what is known as loaf sugar. I looked it up and found some info here. There were drawings of molds and displays of certain dishes. They are gorgeous and look just like the ones I see in BBC productions of period pieces.

     Sauces, vinegars, and other flavorings were very popular and probably could be suited to today’s menu. The section on beverages had lengthy instructions on how to make hot chocolate and tea. Her recipe for ginger beer and hot punch looked delish.

     The chapters on cheese, eggs, and milk were very interesting, especially the part on what to feed chickens.  Apparently if they are allowed to eat too many bugs, the eggs have a disagreeable flavor. Who knew? For some reason Mrs Beeton has dire health predictions for those who eat bread hot out of the oven. She feels it is to be left for a day before eating. Anyone nowadays who has made bread knows right out the oven is the only way to eat it!

I promised a recipe so here it is:

Ginger Beer

Ingredients: 2 1/2 lbs of loaf sugar, 1 1/2 oz. of bruised ginger, 1 oz. cream of tartar, the rind and juice of 2 lemons, 3 gallons of boiling water, 2 large Tbl. of thick and fresh brewers yeast.

Mode: Peel the lemons, squeeze the juice, strain it, and put the peel and juice into a large earthen pan, with the bruised ginger, cream of tartar, and loaf sugar. Pour over these ingredients 3 gallons of boiling water, let it stand until just warm, when add the yeast, which should be thick and perfectly fresh. Stir the contents of the pan well, and let them remain near the fire all night, covering the pan over with a cloth. The next day skim off the yeast, and pour the liquor carefully into another vessel, leaving the sediment, then bottle immediately, and tie the corks down, and in three days the ginger beer will be ready to use.

All this for a glass of soda!

Next part:  invalid cooking, quotes from Florence Nightingale, and dinner menus for parties and family dinners. HInt: you would not believe how much these people ate!

Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management: Part one

 Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management

 Isabella Beeton

 Oxford World Classics (2008) First published in 1861

 4 1/2 stars

It ought, therefore, to enter into the domestic policy of every parent, to make her children feel that home is the happiest place in the world; that to imbue them with this delicious homefeeling is one of the choicest gifts a parent can bestow.

   I am reading Mrs Beeton for the Victorian Literature Challenge and enjoying it immensely. There is no way I will be able to review this book in one go. It is simply too vast and varied to attempt that. Plus this gem is so rich in portraying knowledge of the Victorian home that it is difficult to take it all in. It’s fantastic!

     First, it defines the role of a mistress, which in those days referred to the wife.  Many subjects are covered from general good character to friendships to hiring servants. Reading this book showed how important interviewing potential servants was with honesty being the most important requirement. Domestic servants often lived in the family home and took care of the most personal aspects of daily living. I’ll define some of these fascinating roles later on but here the role to secure good help is tantamount to the job of mistress. Mrs Beeton included a table of Average Yearly Wages in order of household rank which would be a marvelous find for someone studying the Victorian period.

     Morning calls, visits of condolence, and giving parties were extremely important social functions.  Ladies conduct themselves with discretion, not overstaying their welcome, and most definitely not contradict a servant who says the mistress is not at home. Guidelines about giving successful dinner parties are outlined in great detail from the half hour before arrival to how carriages of guests are announced. It also covers after dinner parties, suppers, balls, and buffets.  I loved Mrs. Beeton’s sample of an invitation.

Mr and Mrs B—- present their compliments to Mr and Mrs A—- and will do themselves the honour of, (or will have much pleasure in) accepting their kind invitation to dinner on the 6th of December next.

     I’ve got to use that someday! Where manners are concerned, it is of the utmost importance that a guest feels comfortable, welcome, and in the case of a ball, never left out of the fun. It is this practice of kindness towards all and the various ways it is shown that left an impression on me. Mrs. Beeton is definitely still relevant today.

     Evenings at home consist of various games, needlework,  and other agreeable pastimes that are experienced as a family. The quote at the top is from this section. Being cheerful and not discussing horrible or controversial things while enjoying family time is one Victorian practice we can all take to heart.

     It moves on to the role of Housekeeper and the Arrangement and Economy of the kitchen. Drawings of various pots, pans, and the so-cool old fashioned stoves are on almost every page, including a list of items most mistresses will need. I never heard of some of them. There is a list of in-season foods by month and in the Introduction to Cookery a glossary of French terms like blanch, bechamel, and gateau. I did not know that casserole and caramel are also French cooking terms.

     I wholeheartedly recommend this book. Recipes and other interesting facts make up a sizeable portion and I will review that in Part Two.

Earth Day – Some Inspiring Books

Happy Earth Day!  I was thinking about talking about books on conservation and global warming but changed my mind.  Instead I grabbed some books from my bookshelf that have gorgeous pictures of fish, animals, and nature which have inspired me for many years. Most of them are regional where I live in California, but every place in America and all over the world has it’s own particular wonders in native plants and animals. 

I truly believe that before change can happen, people must once again learn to love this wondrous world we live in. Not look at it as an enemy to be conquered, a tiresome inconvenience, or a bothersome chore. 

The book at the top is the called Yosemite: The Promise of Wilderness.  It is written by Tim Palmer, with photographs by William Neil who’s use of light and color are astonishing.  

Tim Palmer has also written Trees and Forests of America and several other works.  The pictures are just so beautiful.

Another one of my faves is California Marine Life which is written in cooperation with the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  I purchased this years ago in the gift shop while on one of my many visits with the kids.  I believe they still sell it as well as many other books on fish, mammals, conservation, and life in the bay.  In Botany this semester I learned a lot about protists (algae and kelp) and it’s importance in the food chain.

If you are done looking at pictures and want to read something inspiring on nature, my husband and I both enjoy When the Trees Say Nothing by Thomas Merton. He was a Trappist monk who’s spirituality was rooted in nature.  These are some of his essays and meditations on the sacredness of our planet.

I hope you enjoy your Earth Day. If possible, take a nature walk to be inspired by the beauties of the world around us. Or visit a bookseller to browse and enjoy!