Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Strangest Man: the hidden life of Paul Dirac, mystic of the atom, Graham Farmelo.
Fascinating biography of a brilliant physicist and endearing human being, 539 pages.

Running for the Hills: growing up on my mother's sheep farm in Wales,Horatio Clare.
A story of brilliant and imperfect parents through the clear but loving eyes of a particularly bright child, 273 pages.

The Sabbath World: glimpses of a different order of time, Judith Shulevitz.
Beautiful, beautiful book, part personal memoir, part cultural history, a Jacob's wrestling with the idea and reality of the Day of Rest, 246 pages.

Olive Trees and Honey: a treasury of vegetarian recipes from Jewish communities around the world, Gil Marks.
History and geographical survey of the Jewish diaspora, by way of recipes.  Good, wholesome food, 454 pages.

A Blessing of Bread: the many rich traditions of Jewish bread baking around the world, Maggie Glezer.
Spotlights on individual bakers with professionally exact recipes and detailed techniques.  A treasure, 336 pages.

Understanding the Book of Mormon: a reader's guide, Grant Hardy.
A fluid and mountain-creek-clear structural analysis of this text as a text, how it functions as a text, how parts comment on neighboring parts.  Insightful, 346 pages.

The Great Angel: a Study of Israel's Second God, Margaret Barker.
Theology, unconventional and thought-provoking, 272 pages.

Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses, Claire Dederer.
Loved this contemporary memoir of an ordinary but extraordinarily attentive contemporary woman, 332 pages.

Subversive Sequels in the Bible: how Biblical stories mine and undermine each other, Judy Klitsner.
What the subtitle says is what this book does.  Interesting and insightful way of reading the stories of the Bible, relating stories together and weaving a whole cloth from  different episodes, 224 pages.

A Tour of the Calculus, David Berlinski.
A manic ode to math.  Required reading for all wordy mathophobes amonst us, 331 pages.

What the Nose Knows: the science of scent in everyday life, Avery Gilbert.
My personal obsession with understanding how scent works continues, 290 pages.

The Secret of Scent: adventures in perfume and the science of smell,Luca Turin.
My personal obsession with smell personified in one stubborn, unconventional, and charismatic man, 207 pages.

Creating a Forest Garden: working with nature to grow edible crops,Martin Crawford.
A blueprint for restoring Eden, with gorgeous photos and useful plant lists, 384 pages.

Alone Together: why we expect more from technology and less from each other, Sherry Turkle.
Enter into the thought-chamber of a particularly intelligent researcher and survey alongside while she looks back over decades of her research about technology and what it means to be human.  Fresh and insightful, backed up with hard data and extensive familiarity with the topic.  Brilliant, 360 pages.

 The Winter of our Disconnect: how three totally wired teenagers (and a mother who slept with her iPhone) pulled the plug on their technology and lived to tell the tale, Susan Maushart.
Fun account of a family that goes technologically cold-turkey.  Enough to inspire emulation, 278 pages.

NurtureShock: new thinking about children, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.
Always satisfying to read convincing studies that back up your parenting intuitions.  Even more helpful to pick up more useful techniques and insightful approaches, 336 pages.

Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron, Jasper Fforde.
This audiobook took us many miles across country and played severely with our brains.  Waiting impatiently for the sequel, 390 pages.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010: a year in books

My Life in France, 
Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme.

Biography of a life in love with food, 317 pages.

 The Rest is Noise: listening to the twentieth century, Alex Ross.
Beautifully written and brilliantly conceived history connecting modern music to the politics, philosophies, and world events from which they arose, 624 pages.

The Last Jews of Cochin: Jewish identity in Hindu India, Nathan Katz and Ellen S. Goldberg.
Intimate history of a long-lived Jewish community in India, 352 pages.

Catching Fire: how cooking made us human, Richard W. Wrangham.
Renowned primatologist argues that the habit of eating cooked food allowed the development of the human brain, civilization, and the male/female division of labor, 309 pages.

Ancient Encounters:  Kennewick Man and the first Americans, James C. Chatters.
American archeology by one of the more controversial practioners in the field, 303 pages.

What to Eat, Marion Nestle.
Our pre-eminent nutritionist takes a tour of the average grocery store exploring the pros, cons and controversies of today's diet, 611 pages.

Curious Minds: how a child becomes a scientiest, John Brockman.
Collection of autobiographical sketches of scientific awakening by many of the best modern minds, 236 pages.

Radical Evolution: the promise and peril of enhancing our minds, bodies -- and what it means to be human, 
Joel Garreau.

Fascinating overview of technological advances and thought provoking discussion of  technology's effects on human nature, 384 pages.

Alexis de Toqueville: a life, Hugh Brogan.
Entirely satisfying biography of an incomparable man, 724 pages.

A Sacred Feast: reflections on Sacred Harp singing and dinner on the ground, Kathryn Eastburn.

Personal journey through the melodious and faithful world of modern shape-note singing,  212 pages.

Red Plenty:  industry! progress! abundance! inside the fifties' sweet dream,Francis Spufford.
Not exactly straight history and more than just a novel, the author calls this a comedy of ideas, set in early 1960s USSR.  An enlivening read, 441 pages (53 pages of notes). [re-published in 2012]

The Routes of Man: how roads are changing the world and the way we live,Ted Conover.
A thought-provoking adventure through the world's network of roads, 333 pages.

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins.
YA science fiction, a gripping story of loyalty and courage, 374 pages.  Continued inCatching Fire, 391 pages, and Mockingjay, 398 pages.

Pearl: Hymn of the Robe of Glory, Nonny Hogrogrian.
Picture book and ancient gnostic poem, 40 pages.

Wolf Hall, 
Hilary Mantel.

Historical novel centered on Thomas Cromwell, a powerfully intelligent and deeply humane man at the time of Anne Boelyn and Henry VIII, 532 pages.

The Ingenious Mr. Fairchild: the forgotten father of the flower garden,Michael Leapman.
Delightful biography and history of the early hybridization of flowers and the beginning of the English nursery trade, 280 pages

something sensational (2009)

You must indulge me-- No, no, there is no must. 

You may or may not indulge me.  That is the beauty of our relationship.   I do indulge myself though, like Cecily who knows the Importance of such things: 

"I never travel without my diary.
One should always have something sensational to read in the train."

And it seems to me, if I can make my own self laugh out loud 2 years later, or bring tears to my own eyes, that just might be something  worth passing around again.

Here's what I've most enjoyed re-reading from long ago 2009  . . .

(click on the titles to read the full posts)

Monday, January 19, 2009  What Daughters Do
I sigh.

"What’s wrong?” says my oldest.

“Oh, just thinking of all the reasons why people wouldn’t like me anyway.”

Stay with me – there’s no reason yet to swoop in with reassurances. Does no one else have these moments of self-pity/loathing/weariness when you wonder how much longer you can count on other people’s forbearance?

And let’s get this into context.  It’s 5:47 a.m. . . .

Sunday, February 9, 2009   Dogsbody
. . . "Dogsbody" is the title of what I thought I was going to write – about the time my friend and I, when we were still friends, confused the word dogsbody with godsbody and insights resulting therefrom that seemed to apply to my daughter and the diminished I.

But instead, all I can think of is what a stupid hound the heart is – you try to yell at it and order it back home and it whines and cowers back, until you aren’t looking, then bounds up around your heels again, ears flapping, tongue flapping, so glad to be out on the road with a friend. . . .

Sunday, February 15, 2009   The Golden Apple
. . . We are old, really, my husband and I. And sensible. So where does this weakness in my knees come from as he eats from my hand? Indescribable tenderness fills me, “Isn’t it good?”

“Oh, yes.” He eats the fruit I give him from my fingers. "It is good."

There was once a garden where a tree grew whose fruit was forbidden and guarded by a dragon – fruit so desirable it could stop you in your tracks, entice you from the race you thought you were running. Am I Eve or Atalanta? Is this Eden? Or the garden of the Hesperides? . . .

Monday, April 6, 2009  What my Great-grandchildren Would Want to Know about Today
. . . It's the first time I've heard them this spring - the guardian spirits of this part of the world. They have such a strange ridiculous call - so much the aah-ooo-GAH! clown-horns of the bird-world that I expect to see them rolling over each other and faking pratfalls and headbutts in the sky when they finally appear up over the edge of our roof.

"They're not flying in formation," notes Fritz. It's true. They circle like a skein unloosening above us, rising slowly, spiralling.

"Maybe they're scouting out a feeding place," I suggest.
"Not a very efficient way to fly," he says. . . .

Tuesday, April 7, 2009   Do You Recognize the Song?

. . . Because we are hardly different from one another, any of us, though we walk around thinking what we have and what we've done is what we are, thinking we are more than frightened children dangling our legs over the bank with bravado and tossing small rocks into the dark water.

Today a woman came in, the powder blue of her sleeveless sweater pefectly setting off the dark-blue undertones in her skin. Her voice is loud and sure, sweet as molasses, her wide-set brown eyes very beautiful - beauty is confidence and confidence beauty for her, "Bleach! Bless you!," she lifts a jug from the free shelf. "Can I really have this? Really! You are all working for Jesus - you know that don't you? You are working for Jesus. I can see your haloes!"

If so, we are the saddest, seediest group of angels you'll ever see. . . .

Monday, April 27, 2009  Finding It
. . . Fritz lets out a huge shout of laughter, plainly relieved that the paranoia is finally working itself out into the open, “No doubt!”

. . . “And instead of charades they’re going to act out stupid things I’ve done and try to guess,” I mime it, between gasps of laughter, “ – oh wasn’t that the time . . . ? And don’t forget that one time she . . . !”

“They’ll call it Were You There?!” he squeaks, trying to catch his breath. We’re both gasping with laughter and tears are beginning to roll down my cheeks.

“Who’s doing this?” demands YoungSon from the backseat. “Who’s having that kind of a party?” . . .


Monday, June 1, 2009  Quantum Guy and MicroNudge at dinner with their children Joy-of-Flight and Nature Boy

. . . “I don’t know,” I say, “Being able to stop evil plans from being carried out. Somehow.”

“Elasticity, now,” says Fritz. “It would depend on how elastic you were. If you were so elastic, you could stretch and stretch, thinner than threads, and then you could be invisible.”

“Except then everyone would keep getting tangled up in you,” I say.

“Yeah, people would keep tripping over your stringiness,” says Eldest.

“So, you’d just drape yourself along the walls,” says Fritz. . . .

Monday, June 8, 2009  Arcing up through Dark Waters
. . . So. My story, for you, my friend.  Not after all about postpartum depression – but how I lived past that bleakness. How I came into a deeper kind of knowing.

How I know that God is there.
Is More than just the sum of everyone else’s platitudes.
Is Deeper than my sorrows.
Is the Firmament on which I can trustingly stand.

Is the water and the rising.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009    Talking Large 

If I don’t write about my father having a heart attack a few weeks back, it doesn’t mean I am indifferent to it’s happening.

It may mean I want to pretend it didn’t happen. It may mean I don’t see any need to ask for comfort. Which writing about it would seem to entail.

He had 95% blockage, or 99% - the story changed as my parents told it. They said, Main aorta. Left ventricle.

They said, Widowmaker, laughing at the melodrama of it all.

My dad said afterwards, Wake up call. He said, Full healing and stent and successful surgery. He said, it’s probably not my heart that’s going to take me.

I don’t want to be the one to whom people say, Oh, I am so sorry . . . 
(see also "small anvil")

Thursday, August 6, 2009  My Father Sings
. . . "The Merry Golden Tree," Mom would jump in, as she does tonight, with a good backup of her children following.

"The Golden Argosy," insists Dad, with a chorus of offspring following him.

"A Fam'ly Controversy," more of us each year sing laughingly.

These songs were the book where I read my father - even through the years where whenever Dad and I exchanged words it ended in tears and yelling, me shaking with rage, he shaking his head in bewilderment.

But in the bright safe place made by his guitar and the singing, I could read my father as someone standing in his own light: . . .

Sunday, August 23, 2009  Looking Pretty in Pictures
"I think my computer has a crush on me," I tell my youngest sister.


We're sitting on the floor of her study. Beside the guest futon. Waiting for the computer to boot so we can check out the central Illinois weather report. Playing with her new baby. YoungSon and his 4-year old cousin run about.

"Yeah," I say, "every time I change my blog picture, my computer's all - " I make bedroom eyes, drop my voice an octave, "Fetching profile photo . . . '"

Saturday, September 5, 2009  some questions, some answers
. . . "Do you want me to put my book away and stew with you? Because I'm just reading this to distract myself."

"Read your book."

I read.

Fritz shifts in his seat. Then, "I don't know that anyone would CHOOSE to go into urology, you know? Maybe fall into it as a good opportunity . . . Now nephrology, I think that would be fascinating. But urology? I would think that's got to be one of the more unpleasant branches of medicine. Seriously, how many kids grow up wanting to be a urologist?" . . .

 Monday, September 15, 2009   Contentment :: Contain:  Discontentment ::  . . .  
. . . Fritz begins to quote at me: "Two men stood behind bars - one saw the mud, the other saw stars . . . "

"Okay, but the one who saw mud," I tell him, "he says, Whoa, look at that! That ground's soft enough out there, I bet if I just dig this out a little further I can escape," I'm miming it, gesturing widely. "And meanwhile, the other one is still just gazing up through prison bars, Ah, the stars, the stars, how lovely the stars are."

"I have to admit," says Fritz. "That's a good story."

. . . Say, you actually do, nominally, belong to a group called The Gleaners' Group - which group seems to have, sadly, though with melancholy aptness, died on the vine . . . The vision behind that group was a more thrifty and thorough sort of gleaning than what you do today (and really, what you do everyday you are out on the bike, or walking, during gleaning season).

Season begins in August when the growing-wild blackberries ripen.

You know with your nose it's time when you coast (around that corner by the old farmhouse, where the new development is going in) into a cloud of winey, flowery fragrance that is the smell of blackberries, plump and full of all the rain and sun of the summer, tiny dark globes shining heavily in a fat cluster.

Then it is that you come back from rides with the children into town, all purple- tongued and stained fingers. You linger in the creek bottom before climbing your last hill home, bikes propped at the roadside, stepping gingerly into the wild thorns, looking for a darker blackness amid the shadows . . .

Saturday, October 17, 2009   Pictures of Things that Change
. . . I have never been without you.
And yet, you would not want me to stay.

Neither has her mother grown out of the sense
of wonder at sharing the care of such an unique,
exquisite soul . . . So if I find my eyes wet now
it can't be because I see a lovely young daughter
crowned with honors, trembling on the threshold
of a bright, successful future.

I will miss your company
and your wisdom.

writes my daughter, October 2009
The tears must be for the dear old suitcase.
I don't know how I'm going to live without it.
wrote my mother, August 1985

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 stay forever.
I am watching Middlest negotiate a river crossing I've never had to cross. She who does not like to cry cannot speak about Eldest leaving for college without her throat filling with tears. She dashes the water from her eyes with a quick impatient hand, shakes her head, makes herself laugh. . . .

Unless she's angry with her sister, which is also happening more frequently than ever in their deeply intertwined lives. Then it's - "I'll be glad when she leaves!" And when, later, I suggest it may be time to mend fences, "Why? It will never be the same anyway. She'll go and she'll never really ever come back again." . . .
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