May 292014

Somehow I’ve been extra lucky on the book-choosing front recently and discovered a string of really good books in both fiction and non-fiction. Thought I’d pass along a few recommendations in case you’re looking for a summer vacation read. (And if you’ve read something lately that you particularly enjoyed, be sure to leave a note in the comments. I’d love to check out something new!)

witness wore red

The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice. Saw this on our public library website, and reserved it based entirely on the wonderfully melodramatic name. The author, Rebecca Musser, was raised inside the polygamous Mormon offshoot now (in)famously headed by Warren Jeffs. After becoming the 19th wife of Jeffs’s elderly father, she left the community and later served as government witness for legal cases against the group. I’m not a big memoir fan so had low expectations, but I thought it would be interesting to skim for the peek at life inside a polygamous cult. Turns out, this book delivered so much more. It’s a surprisingly page-turning account of how one person’s religious and social views were shaped in childhood, what it took to make her challenge those views, and how she created a whole new worldview as an adult.

Fall of Giants and Winter of the World, by Ken Follett. If you enjoy historical fiction — or even just fiction — these epic tales of WWI and WWII are a must-read. Follett does a masterful job at creating vivid settings and characters who feel real. Devoured all 1,800 pages of these two, and I’m excited to finish the trilogy’s end in September. In fact, the third book is the only book I’ve ever pre-ordered off Amazon. Want it at my doorstep the moment it comes out!

taking the leap chodronTaking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears, by Pema Chodron. Buddhist-style mindfulness has been a life-saver during my long illness. In the most troubling times, these practices taught me how to make peace with difficult emotions and how to worry less about the past and future and focus more on the present moment. And among the handful of mindfulness authors that I’ve read, Pema Chodron stands out as the master. If our society truly rewarded wisdom and the ability to share it, Pema Chodron would be the most famous woman around.

I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t). I am late to the Brene Brown bandwagon. Had a few brief exposures to her work, but the advice that many people find so inspiring mostly just made me roll my eyes. To each her own and all that, just not for me…. But this was sitting unread on my bookshelf from a long-ago book club intro offer, and the title looked interesting. Turns out, it predates Brown’s career as a self-help guru. She started out as an academic sociologist researching shame — what makes people feel shame, and, more importantly, what helps them resist shameful feelings — and this book is a summary of her research. It’s a bit more academic than her other books but does an excellent job of providing examples and putting complex feelings into simple words. After reading it, I can see shame and its effects much more clearly in my own life and in the society all around.

first rule of survivalAnd finally, a few page-turners for the beach this summer: The Hidden, by Jo Chumas — an atmospheric thriller set alternately in Egypt in 1940 and in the aristocratic harems of a generation earlier. 2013 winner of Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award in the Mystery/Thriller category. The First Rule of Survival, by Paul Mendelson — a South African police procedural that entangles its central mystery within a web of police politics and conflicting motivations. And The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson — the Amazon page describes it perfectly: “A reluctant centenarian much like Forrest Gump (if Gump were an explosives expert with a fondness for vodka) decides it’s not too late to start over.” As long as you can suspend disbelief at the not-exactly-realistic storyline, it’s a delight.

Your turn! What books have you most enjoyed lately?

Nov 272012

In the context of my struggle with losing so many years to illness, I read this in Craig Ferguson’s autobiography* last week and took great comfort:

Had [the baseball player who hit the "shot heard round the world" in 1951] stayed in Glasgow he would never have played baseball, he would never have faced the fearsome Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca in that championship game, and he would never have learned that if you can hit the ball three times out of ten you’ll make it to the Hall of Fame.

Today I watch my son at Little League games, his freckled Scottish face squinting in the California sunshine, the bat held high on his shoulder, waiting for his moment, and I rejoice that he loves this most American game. He will know from an early age that failure is not disgrace. It’s just a pitch that you missed, and you’d better get ready for the next one. The next one might be the shot heard round the world. My son and I are Americans, and we prepare for glory by failing until we don’t.

- American on Purpose, page xiii

* (P.S. I feel bad saying this after quoting it, but Craig Ferguson’s book is not the best of the recent comedy memoirs. Personally, I most enjoyed Samantha Bee’s book, then Tina Fey, a tie between Mindy Kaling / Rachel Dratch, and then Ferguson.)

Feb 252010


What do y’all think about the first few episodes of Lost’s final season?  Is it living up to your expectations?  Can it live up to fans’ enormous expectations?

Any predictions?

And what will you watch to replace it, once it has gone away and left us with a gaping hole in the slightly-fantastical long-story-arc dramatic universe?

Despite all the grand (sort-of) revelations, this season has felt anti-climactic to me thus far.  I admit the possibility that they’re moving pieces into place for a truly grand finale, but I don’t want to get my hopes up lest they be disappointed.  I have no idea what’s going on. And Fringe is currently in the running to fill the hole in my life once Lost disappears to an alternative universe.

Or, I could just refuse to admit Lost is gone and spend one hour a week re-creating scenes with the baby’s toys.

Jan 302010

I am crazy-in-love with luxurious fabrics, vintage clothing, Chinoiserie, and the color turquoise.  So the cover of The Well-Dressed Home stopped me dead in my tracks:

Apparently I missed this book when it made a tour of design blogs a few months ago, but on discovering it last week I wasted no time in breaking my vow to stop purchasing craft and home decor books.

The photos and inspiration boards in this book are absolutely swoon-worthy.  The lighting, the cropping, the colors, the choice of objects — everything about them struck me as perfection.

And, while I would have been perfectly happy with a book full gorgeous photos, The Well-Dressed Home is text-heavy for a decorating guide.  The book describes in detail why each element of each room was chosen — for example, a curvy coffee table to balance out straight lines, or mother-of-pearl picture frames to reflect soft light.  While I didn’t always agree with the actual decor choices, the text gave so much guidance that, for once, I understand the interior design process well enough that I could articulate what I’d change and why.

The book’s central concept involves approaching interior decorating styles the same way you approach your wardrobe.  This idea is both the book’s strength and its weakness.  I love the suggestion of using past clothing choices as a way of figuring out my decorating style.  And the book is full of usefully concrete examples of how to translate a beloved garment into a beloved room design.  On the other hand, the concept grew old when repeated over the space of two-hundred-plus pages.  By the end I was rolling my eyes at yet another mention of ThisDesigner or ThatFashionHouse.

Still, did I mention the gorgeous, light-filled, fashionably inspirational photos?  Just … sigh. This is one of those books that sparks new inspiration every time you open it, and I have a feeling it will remain a bookshelf favorite for many years to come.

(first and last photos borrowed from Wishing True; others from Brooke Giannetti)

Aug 132009

I am crazy for vintage design. For furniture, my favorite styles come from around the 1940s, when styles began to incorporate the smooth lines and honey colors of Mid-Century Modern but still retained a few decorative flourishes from the Art Deco days.

My pre-Mr T apartment sported a real dining room, and I decided it needed real dining room furniture. As usual, this meant searching Craigslist and Ebay for super-cheap versions of the vintage styles that I love. The sideboard and china cabinet came from a DC-area government scientist who talked my ear off about politics and science. The pieces had been in her family since they were first purchased in the 1940s. I know less about my dining table and chairs, which came from Boston via Ebay, dropped at my door by a curmudgeonly man with a trailer.

Here’s a tiny bit of my dining table legs (which isn’t terribly relevant to this post, but I can’t resist the puppy photo of Zoe):

And here’s a chair:

Cut to last week, when Mr T and I were finishing Season 2 of Mad Men. There was an episode where Don visited an old friend in California. He was shown fixing the leg of a wooden chair. And when he turned it over, we saw this:

I can’t tell you how bizarrely excited I was to see my chair on Mad Men! When the new season starts, you can bet I’ll be watching extra closely in case any of my other vintage possessions show up in the background.

Have you ever had a copy of your possessions turn up in a very unexpected place?

Feb 122009

Because it’s so much fun to hear from you, I hope to make “Your 2 Cents” a (more or less) weekly feature.  Unfortunately, until the worst of the baby distractions are over, this may be just a sad reminder of how little I’m managing to post.  Oh well.

Anyway, today’s topic:  Who’s your TV Boyfriend or TV Girlfriend?

Mine tends to change every few months —  name a show that I watch, and at some point it provided at least a fling.  These days, I’m leaning toward Peter from Fringe.  Which is a bit funny, because I never watched Dawson’s Creek and was initially quite skeptical of the decision to cast Joshua Jackson.

But in the past year, I’ve also covered pretty much every male character on Lost (except Sawyer, ew), Sylar on Heroes (though, sure, the serial killer thing is a bit of a drawback), even tiny Gio on Ugly Betty (something in the way he looked at Betty, sigh).

Mr T, on the other hand, is more of a one-woman boy:

(Though not entirely, given that this week’s topic is partly inspired by tomorrow’s premiere of Dollhouse. And I know he flirted with Eliza Dushku in her Buffy days….)

Other burning questions:  Are you loyal, or a TV slut like me?  Does your real-life love know about your crush?  Does the character’s personality affect your choice, or is it just looks?  And do you ever (as I do) feel guilty if the person is happily coupled on the show and/or in real life? Please do dish below!

(Image source one, two)
Jun 262007

Over the several years that we’ve been dating, Ed has slowly converted me to his cause of closet sci fi geek-dom….  Case in point: this past Friday, we went to a showing of Serenity that was being held as a fundraiser for Equality Now in honor of Joss Whedon’s birthday.  (Joss W. created the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly as well as the movie Serenity.)  I hate re-watching most movies, but this was my 3rd time seeing Serenity in a theater, and I still enjoyed it thoroughly.

More importantly, though, before the movie they showed a speech that Joss Whedon gave at a 2006 Equality Now event addressing the question “Why do you write such strong female characters?”  It was such a fantastic speech that I simply had to share.

His speech begins at around 2:30, after an intro by Meryl Streep.  Clicking the link takes you to the video on YouTube:

Sometimes I find it particularly inspiring to hear sentiments like this coming from a man….  ‘Abdu’l-Baha, one of the Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith, said “When men own the equality of women there will be no need for them to struggle for their rights!”

He said it in 1911.  96 years ago.