dazzling and interesting on a shoestring
All hail the crazy, lazy days of summer—depending on your employment and child-rearing position in life. What is summer for? The beach? Sure. The movies? Maaaaaybe. But books? Darn Tootin’!! Here’s what’s currently trying not to accrue late fees on my library card:
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez— listening to this one as an audiobook; I multi-task my commutes and my runs with some literary interludes.
One, two, three! by Sandra Boynton—You can’t go wrong with Sandra Boynton board books for kids, or calendars for adults. Her quirky cats and dancing hippos can charm the socks off young and old.
This Little Chick by John Lawrence
Little Lion by Giovanni Caviezel
Only You by Robin Cruise—a sweet little surprise/love poem book.
For the bigger kid:
Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows—if you’re not familiar with Ivy and her friend, Bean, you should be, especially if you have kids kindergarten through about grade 3. Something modern and fun while your waiting for them to get old enough for Harry Potter.
Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White—Okay, this is cheating a little bit (we actually returned this book about a month ago) but this is the best, best, best book for beginning chapter read-alouds. Yes, there’s Charlotte’s Web, but Trumpet of the Swan is even better. It doesn’t get nearly enough coverage as its big sister, Charlotte, but it is every bit as quirky, clever, amusing, heartwarming and poignant (and all those other book-describing adjectives) if not more so. Read it to your kids, or even just to yourself.
Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback—A great little story with fun illustrations and Jewish culture to boot—excellent. I am not, however, the first to think so. It won the Caldecott Medal.
Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman
For future reference, because I know she’s a good writer, and I’ll need something for the big kid once she’s into grade school:
The Runaways by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Drucker—It was time to read another view of parenting, though in truth, it’s a non-view kind of view.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen
The Annotated Brothers Grimm
The Three Incestuous Sisters by Audrey Niffenegger—an illustrated number, not so much for the children.
For research on writing prompts for the Iron Horse Women’s Writing Group (led by yours truly):
Naming the World: and Other Exercises for the Creative Writer
The Writer’s Idea Book by Jack Heffron
Virginia Woolf Writers’ Workshop: Seven Lessons to Inspire Great Writing by Danell Jones
And some others:
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury—Recommended by Uncle Jeremy. I love Ray Bradbury and hope that I will be able to get to it soon, after all the homework’s done.
How To Behave So Your Preschooler Will, Too! Sal Severe, MD – Because I liked the title.
It’s Twins!: Parent-to-Parent Advice from Infancy Through Adolescence by Susan M. Heim—Self-explanatory reasons.
Japanese Art by Joan Stanley-Baker—For a school project, sort of and because I couldn’t remember the names of the Buddhist temple guardians (Fudo).
Happy Summer! Happy Reading! And be sure to let me know what’s on your list. (So I can add it to mine when I’m done with this one.)
The following is a part deux of 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. As before, feel free to make suggestions for making this list longer and more diverse. All links here should take you to Powell’s Books in Portland– 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.
The New Frugality: How to Consume Less, Save More, and Live Better by Chris Farrell
This book is written by an expert, and it’s completely readable. Chris Farrell is the Economics editor for NPR’s Marketplace Money, so he has a clue about money, and more than a few about life. In the book, he explains the merits of different forms of investment, from all the reasons why an employer-sponsored 401k continues to be a good idea, and how exactly to start saving for your child’s college education— itself a priceless investment. Best of all, it’s written in plain English (the language I speak) and has those nifty little sidebars with bulleted lists and resources. It really couldn’t be easier to understand, whether your Destitute and Obscure or otherwise. One of his best examples of ‘the new frugality’ would be to invest in a high-end, well-equipped bicycle and ditch the car (especially the second car). While a grand or more may seem extravagant for a bicycle, it’s not so much when you figure that you won’t have to put gas in it (aside from making sure you’ve eaten a healthy breakfast) give it an oil change, or worry about the mileage and its Kelly Blue Book value. This book is a great how-to of living economically without all the mind-numbing jargon of your Economics class.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, Steven L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver
This is a lovely family story of the ‘eating locally’ movement, aka ‘grow your own’. It should also be noted that the Kingsolver/Hopp family did all this on a fairly large plot of land in a part of the country that receives rain during the summer. It’s lovely to read about but not entirely do-able for everyone. And for the most part, they’re not expecting you to be almost-pro farmers, either. The suggestions for eating locally and seasonally (which you can do, thanks to your local farmer’s markets) are wonderful, and accompanied by simple menus as well. I highly recommend, if circumstances allow, listening to this book, since Ms. Barbara reads it herself in her lovely, soft-spoken and ever-so-slightly lilting southern voice. The book is not only informative and directive, but a wonderful story, too. Absorb whichever layers suit you best.
Thrifty: Living the Frugal Life with Style by Marjorie Harris
What I love about this book, besides the huge amount of helpful tips and details, is that it’s handy and stylish. What could be more Lifestyles of the Destitute and Obscure? And furthermore, she redefines ‘thrifty’, condemned the idea that it be synonymous with ‘cheap’—a word that makes me cringe. “Being thrifty requires a brain; being cheap doesn’t,” says Harris. My thoughts exactly, thank you. She has all kinds of amazing ideas she has gathered, as well as lots of thoughtful insights from her friends, about being thrifty at home, while travelling, and in fashion as well. Originally a writer of gardening columns, Harris also has a ton of recommendations for gardening and cooking, too, including a book entitled Thrifty Gardening: From the Ground Up. She advocates my all-time favorite must-do tip for grocery shopping and cooking—shop with a list (for heaven’s sake!). And her idea of having dinner guests is right up my alley, too. “My theory about entertaining is that if you have one lovely thing to eat, masses of candles, enough wine and great company, you can’t help having a spectacular time.” Words to live by.
Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan with illustrations by Maira Kalman
I will read, with delicious pleasure, anything that Michael Pollan writes. And if it’s got pictures, then so much the better. And pictures by Maira Kalman! How can this handy little book be anything but a joy? (She illustrated a great edition of Elements of Style, for which you will find a handy little review if you click on the highlighted title/linkage.) This is a wonderful book to cruise through and live by, post snippets on your wall and steal from in order to make quick, witty Facebook posts, such as Rule #22— ‘It’s Not Food if It Arrived Through the Window of Your Car’ or one that most can’t help but love, Rule #52—‘Have a Glass of Wine with Dinner.’ Food Rules makes a great gift and a fun read-aloud while enjoying that glass of wine with dinner and entertaining friends (see Marjorie Harris’ recommendations above). Maira Kalman’s pictures of food, including a Thomas Jefferson’s colander full of peas, make the reading even more delicious.
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.