dazzling and interesting on a shoestring
The following is a short, but ever-growing list of books that Ms. D feels belong on the shelves of Destitute and Obscure homes all over the world. They are practical, savvy little tomes to use as a reference for life. Of course, Ms. D feels that a wide array of fiction, non-fiction, illustrated children’s books and large, glossy art books also belong in the home; library books should be scattered about as useful and ever-changing decor as well. But I leave those selections up to your own taste and discernment. Feel free to make suggestions to making this list longer and more diverse. All links here should take you to Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon– a one-of-a-kind, definitely NOT Amazon, used and new bookstore worth supporting if you order online. Otherwise, please go to your local, lovable INDEPENDENT bookstore to fondle or order your own copies.
Organic Housekeeping: In which the Nontoxic Avenger shows you how to improve your health and that of your family while you save time, money, and, perhaps, your sanity by Ellen Sandbeck
This is the best how-to housecleaning and organization book, um maybe EVER. It sounds dull and exhaustive, but is entertaining as well as helpful, and does indeed cover everything as the lengthy subtitle suggests. Sandbeck has done her research and applies it liberally throughout the book, giving you a whole new look at ‘clean’—the definition of which, (no) thanks to modern hyperactivity over bacteria and dirt is now more toxic than ever. Good, old-fashioned vinegar and baking soda are her stand-bys and there’s nothing more cleansing than fresh air and sunshine, as your grandmother might say. Sandbeck, as she notes in the beginning, did not write this book in order to make you commit your entire life to cleansing your home, but precisely so you could know how to do it quickly, efficiently and non-toxically so you can better do what you like to do best. For her, it happens to be gardening, and she touches on a tidy and well-organized garden in this book as well. She also happens to have a couple of gardening books out there, which are pretty nifty, too.
Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and EB White, illustrated by Maira Kalman
This is the quintessential little grammar book. It was originally compiled by EB White’s (of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little fame) English professor at Cornell, back in the beginning of the 20th century and used in the teaching of his class. But with a bit of White’s tinkering and now Kalman’s rich illustrations, it is a lovely bit of essential book with elements of many styles. There are much tinier pocket-sized editions, too, but the illustrated one is fun—buy whichever suits your needs, funds and sense of whimsy. Why a grammar book, you may wonder? Because even if you are Destitute and Obscure, thou needest to speak and write correctly, lest thou endest up on the Maury Povich or Jerry Springer Shows. When you send emails, thank-you notes and make phone calls to your in-laws, you really do need to use correct grammar and spelling. (I won’t mention the etiquette of texting—it is beyond etiquette in so many ways.) Around these parts (aka our home) we may not have a lot of money, but we have plenty of love, grace, courtesy and manners—and those never, ever go out of style. Really.
The Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker
This one, as they say, is a must-have. Really and truly, it is the basic housekeeper’s/cook’s Elements of Style and Bible (or spiritual- guiding tome). It is what my tamale pie recipe is based on, and it tells me how to go about making pie crusts (the pate brise recipe is great for quiches and savory pies, by the way) and muffins. I highly recommend getting a 1960’s or 70’s edition if you can, (maybe ask Grandma to put it in her will for you) because I don’t believe in the microwave and somewhere in the 80’s they changed my family’s favorite Peanut Butter Cookie recipe—not a good idea. While some of the canapé recipes may be out-of-date (though just wait, they’ll come back in style in a couple of years—it seems everything does eventually) The Joy of Cooking is an essential guide (and really, you don’t need dozens of cookbooks) to all things baking and cooking—it tells one why and how to do certain things and helps one trouble-shoot with nifty little pictures.
Stay tuned for the next installment of ‘Books to Live By’ and look for a new Books and Reading section when all is said, read, done and reviewed. Do let me know of the trusty books you have in your household that help you through your Destitution and Obscurity.