Some Thoughts on Dickens and Popular Literature

Right now I am reading Bleak House.  I haven't read any Dickens in longer than I can remember.  I read most, if not all, of his novels when I was very young and then burned out on him.  A few of his novels have really stuck in my memory but Bleak House is not one of them.  All I really remember is that there is a case of spontaneous combustion in the book at some point which I found disturbing as a child.

  I am about a third of the way through the book right now and I am finding it fascinating. Fascinating, not necessarily because of the story itself though that is good, but because of what constituted popular literature in Dickens' day.  His books were immensely popular.  They were serialized in magazines and newspapers and people waited eagerly for the next installment.  So eagerly that when The Old Curiosity Shop was being serialized crowds waited at the docks in New York desperate to find out what happened to Little Nell.  I read somewhere that the poor and illiterate would pay to have the latest installment read to them.

And now we view Dickens as difficult.  If you ask the average person to read Dickens they are going to refuse, probably with memories of high school forced readings of A Tale of Two Cities.  If someone finds you voluntarily reading Dickens they are likely to view you as a bit of a show off.

How have we gone from a world that goes crazy over Dickens to a world that goes crazy over Fifty Shades of Grey?

I know there are beautifully written, literary works of fiction being produced in our day.  However, those are not usually the ones that take the average reader by storm.  Dickens did in his day though.  I wonder what makes the difference.  Obviously many in his day were not well educated.  Many were just average people.  But now, reasonably well educated, average people view Dickens and authors like him as too difficult.  So many popular authors of their day such as Jane Austen, Fanny Burney, Charles Dickens, and Anthony Trollope have now become challenging.  But when they wrote they were what the average person read.  They were the popular authors of their day.

Occasionally, I worry for our day. I worry about a world that won't commit to an eight-hundred page novel but instead wants everything in 140 character tweets.  (Though the thought of trying to condense Bleak House into a series of tweets sounds like it could be entertaining.)  I am not sure what it is.  Do we have less time?  A shorter attention span?  Has our reading style really been dumbed down?  Are we less literate?  Do we have too many distractions?  I don't know.  Maybe it is a bit of all of that.

But Dickens should be read.  His characters are clear and appealing. So many have become part of our language,  Scrooge, for example.  His depiction of London and the England of his day is enthralling and horrifying in equal parts.  His ability to tell a story is obvious.  He had his flaws like any author does, I don't always feel drawn to his female characters,  but what really amazes me on rereading him is just how readable he is.  He knows how to hook a reader.  That is why they waited on the docks for the next installment of The Old Curiosity Shop.  He had them in the palm of his hand. He was a consummate storyteller.

Little Adventures and Interesting Things

a walk in the woods

It was 65 degrees.  At the end of December.  On the east coast of the United States.  That is just crazy.  But it does mean that we were able to go for a walk and we didn't even need jackets.  Actually, the kids and I went for a walk,  my husband went for a motorcycle ride since his ankles are still not fully recovered after spraining them a few weeks ago.  But who would think he would be getting his motorcycle out of the garage at the end of December?  He was a very happy man.

I drove my kids slightly crazy by continually stopping to take pictures, though my daughter ended up not minding too much because we found lots of interesting things to look at.  She told me that life is an adventure and lots of things are interesting and we need to point them out or people might miss them.  That is not a bad life philosophy.

ferns and foliage

woodlands and moss

A lot of things are still green.  I think the plants are a bit confused.  That's okay, we are too. We saw some gorgeous fungi.  (There is a sentence I never thought I would write.)  They really were gorgeous though.

fungi in the woods

fungi in the woods

fungi in the woods

We also saw this cool sign lying on the ground.  The Indian Chair is a natural stone formation. There is also a Table Rock at the same site.  We didn't have time to walk all the way there but my daughter is determined that we do so next time.

Indian Chair--woodland walk

It was an enjoyable walk.  We were surrounded by that indescribable smell you only get in the woods, there was the sound of running water from the stream nearby, and my children only bickered occasionally.  I think that makes for a successful afternoon.

I hope she never stops thinking that life is full of adventure and interesting things.

a girl in the woods

Does Blogging Change The Way You Read?

I started thinking about this the other night as I was trying to write a review of London Belongs To Me.  I was struggling a bit and I wasn't sure why.  After all, it was a book I had enjoyed.  I should be able to express that in a brief review.  But still, I struggled.  All I could think to write was a bit vague as if I was saying "I liked it, you might like it, read it."  Not really an earth-shaking review.

Then I realized, over the last few months, I have developed two different ways of reading.  I read to blog and I read to read.  That is not to say that I read things only because they will look good on the blog.  I read what I want because I want to read it.  However, sometimes when I read I do so with the idea of having to talk about it afterward and sometimes I just read for the sake of reading.  (Is anyone else feeling that the word "read" is losing all meaning after that paragraph?)

When I read with blogging in mind I do so with post-it notes by my side.  When I like a paragraph or sentence or thought I stick a post-it note on it.  That way when I want to write a review I can easily find the quotes I want to use.  The problem comes when I don't decide that I want to write about a book until I am all done with it. Then there are no post-it notes and I am left with the feeling that I want to start a conversation but don't know what to say.  Sometimes a book is thought-provoking and it is easy to know what to say because you can't get it out of your head.  Sometimes though, you just want to say "I like it, you might like it, read it" just with more detail.  Maybe I should read all books with post-it notes by my side?

Also, a lot of books are read on my Kindle and you can't use post-it notes with a Kindle.  I know you can highlight things but I have always used that to save quotes that mean something to me.  I am struggling a bit with adding quotes, not because they mean something to me but because they will be needed for a review.  Maybe I need a notebook?

I am probably overthinking this.  I overthink things quite frequently, but how do you balance the need to keep the analytical side of your brain awake with the need to just get lost in the book?  Do you learn to do both?  Reading has always been my escape and I don't want to lose that but I enjoy talking about books and that means I need to be specific sometimes. When I am talking in person about a book it doesn't matter if I have the quote exactly right but it sure matters when I am writing.

I will figure it out in time.  I will find a process that works for me.  In the meantime, I am sure I will spend a lot more time staring at a blank screen and thinking "I like it, they might like it too, they should read it."

London Belongs To Me by Norman Collins

If only this was true. If only London did belong to me. I am involved in an ongoing love affair with London and the title of this book is what first drew me in but once I read the description I was sure it was my kind of book.

This is the account of 10 Dulcimer Street and the people who live there.  Mrs. Vizzard is the landlady and the picture of rectitude until she falls in love with Mr. Squales.  He is a bogus medium determined to find a comfortable home to land in, preferably with a wife to support him.  Mr. and Mrs. Josser have lived at number 10 for almost a dozen years.  He has just retired and dreams of a house in the country, she isn't so sure.  They are the characters around whom the story revolves.  Mr. Puddy dreams only of food and eats his way through his duties as the night watchman.  Percy Boon and his mother provide much of the drama.  He gets involved in some very illegal activities that cause repercussions for all.  Connie is an elderly actress now working in a nightclub as a cloakroom attendant. With a few other minor characters wandering in and out it could be a recipe for disaster, a book that tries to do too much with too many people.  Yet, somehow it works.

I think it works because it doesn't try to pretend to be something it isn't.  Really, it is a bit of a soap opera of a book, though that implies sex, violence and illegitimate children and that is not what this is.  This is a soap opera about working class people of the 1940s.  And it is a soap opera without huge events, except for Percy Boon's escapades.  It is a picture of a time and a place and a people.  It begins in late 1938 and ends just as the bombing of London was beginning during WWII.  It is a picture of people on the verge of change.  It is a war book without really being a war book.  The war was infringing on people's lives but they were not always completely aware of it.  And then, there it was.

London Belongs To Me was a fun book to read though that may seem like a strange thing to say about a book set in the early years of the war. But really, that is what it is, a fun book.  It is the kind of book you pick up and don't want to put down.  You tell yourself you will read just one more chapter. But then you want to know what happens and you find yourself one hundred pages further in and still reading. It is a huge beast of a book with eccentric characters that you get attached to. They are drawn with humor and empathy.  I was sorry to say goodbye to them.

Words That Sing

apple tree

When I was in high school I had an English teacher who every day would put a poem up on the board.  She never discussed it or even mentioned it, but every day when we walked into class there would be something new.  I wasn't much of a poetry reader but I was a reader, an obsessive reader, and if she put a piece of writing on the board I was going to read it.  Most of it didn't make much of an impression.  I read it, thought it sounded nice, and moved on.  But one day she put an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem up and it was different.  I don't really know, I am still not much of a poetry reader, but it put images and ideas in my head.  I knew exactly what Millay was talking about even though I had never thought about it before.  This is the poem.

Not in a silver casket cool with pearls
or rich with red corundum or with blue,
Locked, and the key withheld, as other girls
Have given their loves, I give my love to you;
Not in a lovers'-knot, not in a ring
Worked in such fashion, and the legend plain-
Semper Fidelis, where a secret spring
Kennels a drop of mischief for the brain:
Love in the open hand, no thing but that,
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt,
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat
Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt,
I bring you, calling as children do:
"Look what I have!-And these are all for you."

I copied the poem down in a notebook and went home and pulled out my mother's Millay anthology.   As I paged through I found other bits and pieces that I liked.  Lines here, phrases there, stanzas on the next page, words that said something to me without necessarily telling a story.  I had always loved the story, that was why I read.  I devoured books for the story, the adventure, the romance, the mystery.  But poetry, this was different.  It was the beauty of the language that meant something. It was the way words could be strung together to make, not a story, but a sound, a rhythm, music.

I am still not much of a poetry reader.  I still devour books and I still like the adventure, the romance, the mystery.  But I learned something that day.  I learned that the language is as important to me as the story, maybe more important.  I learned that sometimes you can read a book or a poem or a letter or anything really, and the words can sing.  And that, when the words sing?  That is a special kind of magic.

What Happened to Winter?

Theoretically, it is December.  I should be huddled in layers, slipping and sliding on ice and snow, and drinking innumerable cups of tea.  Only the last is true, but that is always true.  Right now it is 60 degrees outside and I only need a sweater.  If this keeps up things are going to start blooming.  I am not complaining, it is just strange.

I am reading like it is winter though.  It gets dark so early that I don't really want to go anywhere.  I just want to curl up with a book and an afghan.  I am just finishing up Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky.

book--Suite Francaise

I did not realize when I bought it that it was unfinished.  It was supposed to be a series of five novels, but only two were finished before she was arrested and sent to Auschwitz where she died.  Her daughters kept the notebook her writing was in but never read it until the late 1990s.  They had always thought it was a journal and that it would be too painful to read.  They were going to donate her writings and decided to read them first.  That is when they discovered what they really had.

Suite Francaise begins with the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1940 and draws a picture of a country in chaos.  It does not really tell the story of individuals, instead it uses the stories of people to tell the story of a country.

I really enjoy her way with words and how she can use them to make a subtle point.  Here is one quote I liked that highlights the attitude of the townspeople toward the refugees.

"But they were all right, time would pass, soldiers would fight while the ironmonger on the main street and Mlle Dubois, the hatmaker, would continue to sell saucepans and ribbons; they would eat hot soup in their kitchens and every evening close the little wooden gates that separated their gardens from the rest of the world." 

That little line about closing "the wooden gates that separated their gardens from the rest of the world" says it all.

Nemirovsky emphasized the effects of the occupation itself.  I found that so interesting.  The French and Germans were enemies, they fought each other, but then the Germans came in and took over a town and the two peoples got used to each other.  There was a constant pull between the individual and the nation.

"War...yes, everyone knows what war is like.  But occupation is more terrible in a way, because people get used to each other.  We tell ourselves, "They're just like us, after all,"  but they're not at all the same.  We're two different species, irreconcilable, enemies forever."

And this,

"There had been no men in the village for so long that even the soldiers, the invaders, seemed in their rightful place.  The invaders felt it too; they stretched out in the sunshine.  The mothers of prisoners or soldiers killed in the war looked at them and begged God to curse them, but the young women just looked at them."

It is obvious this is an unfinished work, some things don't flow and there are inconsistencies.  However, it is an unusual and beautifully written work.  It is such a tragedy that it was never able to be completed.

I know a movie was based on this.  I am debating whether or not I want to see it.  I have a conflicted relationship with movies based on books.  Has anyone seen it and if so, do you recommend it?

Wartime Women

book--Wartime Women

Wartime Women, edited by Dorothy Sheridan, is a Mass-Observation anthology.  It examines how the war affected the lives of women.  So much changed for women during the war years. Many of their husbands were gone, they were working outside the home, even the attitude towards women entering pubs changed.  This book examines the changes, many times using the women's own words to give a clear picture of the world they lived in and what they thought of it.

I have read quite a few Mass-Observation based books and this one is a little different.  Many of the others use diary extracts to paint a picture of the world, frequently following a few individuals.  This book quoted from diaries, but it also used reports written on concerns of the day and observations sent in to "directives" issued.  These directives were basically questionnaires used to collect information on various subjects.  These reports and directives discussed everything from driving in London to the demand for day nurseries to opinions on women in public houses.  The diaries are fascinating to read but sometimes they assume you have knowledge common to the day.  The reports fill in some of these gaps.

While the information in the reports is very interesting, what I really enjoyed was the way the women's voices and personalities came through.  So many of them used humor to cope with situations beyond what they had ever imagined.  For example, Muriel Green kept a diary and submitted it to Mass-Observation for the entire war.  I would really love to read more of her entries, but anyway, at one point she and her mother and sister are in their beds and;

"I listened and heard machine-gun fire, lay in bed and listened and heard burst after burst of guns.  This was about eight o'clock.  Mother called out, 'Do you think they are landing on the beach?'  She then said, 'If they come I shall get under the bed and lie low.'  Jenny said, 'I think I shall be more of a success with them if I stay in bed!'  We all laughed and after a time it stopped and I went to sleep again."

It isn't the world's best joke but it gives such a clear image of the women and their relationships and how they coped.  I marked another example of the same type of reaction.

"Mrs B.  was telling me that when the Belgians gave in she felt terrible-she felt like sitting down and weeping her heart out.  Then she started to plan what she had better do if we were invaded-for she was certain we would be invaded right away and she planned that she and Mrs M.  would take the old car, pile all the kids into it and get away-and when she came to think of the old car starting off all piled up with bedding and kids it struck her as so funny that she sat down and had a good laugh-and that was that."

"And that was that."  Fear, sorrow, weeping, planning, laughter, "and that was that" and they all got on with it.  I think that is what is so amazing.  Lives were changing, attitudes were changing, the world was crashing all around them, but "that was that."

This book collected information from a huge range of women of various ages all living in wildly different circumstances.  The whole thing comes together to give a fascinating picture of women's lives and attitudes during WWII.

Books I Bought #2

book stack

I have managed to acquire quite a few books in the last couple of weeks.  Hmmm.  Somehow that sounds a little vague as if the books just happened to me.  Let's be blunt.  I have bought quite a few books lately.  Most of them came from a library book sale and from Goodwill so they were very affordable but still, my shelves are starting to groan.  In fact, my parents just bought me a new bookshelf for all the books stacked in front of the built-in ones in my living room.

So, from top to bottom here is what I have.

The Backward Shadow by Lynne Reid Banks.  This is the sequel to The L-shaped Room which is the story of a young, unmarried, pregnant woman who moves into a boarding house in London after being turned out by her father.  The Backward Shadow follows Jane as she lives in a cottage with her child and tries to make a future for the two of them.  I read The L-shaped Room a few weeks ago and I thought the author made life in a London boarding house during the late 1950s come alive.

Alternative Alcott by Louisa May Alcott.  An anthology of some of Alcott's less famous works.  Some I have read before, such as "Hospital Sketches", but some I am unfamiliar with, such as "Diana and Persis" which the blurb on the back says is her last unfinished novel.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.  It is described as the imagining of "the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewed version of contemporary England."  It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf.  I have only read Mrs. Dalloway.  I feel like I should read more Woolf.  Isn't that what educated people do?

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.  I think the only Wharton I have read is Ethan Frome.  I read it in high school and I hated it.  It made me mad.  I didn't like the characters,  I didn't like the affair they were having, and I got so angry when they drove their sled into a tree. (Sorry if you haven't read it and that spoils it for you.)  I thought it was so selfish.  I fumed about this book for days and got in an argument with my teacher about it.  Since I was a painfully shy girl and very quiet in class you can see that I must have been pretty worked up about it.  Recently I have been thinking that any author that can leave that big an impression on me must have something going for her so I am going to give Edith Wharton another try.  Besides, it won the Pulitzer Prize.  Apparently, this is also what educated people read.

The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas.  Mattie marries Luke and they go off in a covered wagon to start a new life in Colorado.  The book is written in the form of her diary.  I like novels written as diaries, I like pioneer stories, I thought I might like this.

To Serve Them All My Days by R.F. Delderfield.  The story of a shell-shocked man who returns home from WWI and takes a temporary job as a teacher.  He ends up teaching for several decades.  I have read Delderfield's The Dreaming Suburb and The Avenue Goes to War and I enjoyed them.  I like huge saga type novels that keep me busy for days.

Chatterton Square by E.H. Young and William by E.H. Young.  I really enjoy her novels. I wrote a review of one a few days ago.  I just love her writing style.  I am slowly buying all her novels.  I hear good things about Miss Mole and will have to look for that one next.

I actually ordered two more books online but they haven't come yet.  Is there anything in my stack you really recommend?

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off...

In my husband's case, this was literally necessary.

 I mentioned last week that the kids were going to my parents for the weekend.  We were going to have the whole weekend to ourselves.  Just imagine, eat what we want, talk about what we want, do what we want, for a whole 48 hours.  This doesn't happen very often so we had really built it up into a big thing in our heads.

So, let's set the scene.  The kids are all packed, I am upstairs almost dressed for our dinner out after we drop the kids off.  We are supposed to leave in five minutes.  My husband walks down the stairs to the family room to make sure my son has his computer.  Except he didn't really walk down the stairs.  He fell down them instead and sprained both his ankles.  Badly sprained his ankles, they instantly swelled up to twice their normal size and started turning black and blue.  He is yelling, my daughter comes running upstairs screaming at me that there is something wrong with Dad and I am frantically trying to get my inside-out shirt back on so I can go down and figure out what is going on. Almost the first thing my husband said to me was "we just can't win, can we?"  The poor guy.

So, no dinner out, no trip to the book store, no hike. (Yes, those are our ideas of fun. We are not "going out" people.)  Just a husband who was unable to get off the couch for the entire weekend.

Not quite the romantic weekend we had envisioned.

Such is life.

It wasn't all bad though.  I dropped the kids off, picked up Chinese food and the makings for ice cream sundaes and we spent the weekend eating, watching movies, and having fires in the fireplace.  And my husband made a valiant effort to pretend he wasn't in pain.  But he was.  He is slowly getting better though he has some pretty spectacular bruises.

I did get a bit of reading done.  I read a mystery I got off the free book rack at the library. I can't remember the title right now and it is already in the attic in the donate box. It was populated with thoroughly unlikable characters.  I mean what are the odds of every single main character cheating on their spouse?  Annoying.  Besides, there really wasn't much mystery to it.  I started reading one of the books about WWII that I bought recently.  That I am finding very interesting.  I also read about half of some chick-lit type thing but then abandoned it because I just didn't care if I ever saw it again.  I debated starting one of the unread Persephone books I have on the shelf but I couldn't quite bring myself to do it.  Does anyone else hoard books they think they might really enjoy, waiting for just the right time to read them?

I didn't do the Classics Club spin but I did think that I would just check what the 19th book on my list was.  I didn't feel motivated to make a separate list since mine is new and mostly unread.  Anyway, it is Middlemarch.  That is the book I have been feeling moved to start next anyway but I am a little unsure.  I read it at a much older friend's suggestion when I was a very early teen and I struggled with it.  I am not sure why, I enjoyed other classics at the time, but Middlemarch just didn't work for me.  I am hoping I was just too young for it and reading it now will be a different experience.  We will see how it goes.

The Misses Mallett by E. H. Young

books--e.h young

The Misses Mallett is the story of two sisters, Caroline and Sophia, their half-sister, Rose, and their niece, Henrietta, who comes to live with them upon the death of her mother.  They live in the town of Radstowe and queen it over local society.  Caroline, in particular, likes to reminisce about all her conquests but she never lets the rest of her family forget that "Malletts don't marry."

Rose, leading an unfulfilled life, falls in love with a man who has a crippled wife.  The love is never acted upon but the wife knows and is bitterly jealous.  The arrival of Henrietta seems to be a bit of a catalyst in all of the character's lives.  She brings new life to the older sisters and shakes up the relationships and lives of those around her.  Henrietta herself seems very immature and lives in a bit of a fantasy world.  She dramatizes herself into being in love with the same man as Rose which leads to all sorts of emotional complications.

I really enjoy the way Young develops her characters.  They are quirky and interesting and flawed.  I don't have much patience for a perfect heroine.  There are no perfect people in the world so don't give them to me in books.  All the characters had unlikable characteristics but their motivations and feelings were so clear that I sympathized with them.  They were complete characters with strengths and weaknesses.

A novel about small-town life and a group of single woman leading simple lives could sound like a cozy read but that isn't what this is.  The emotions, interactions, and introspective thoughts make it slightly unsettling at times, maybe because her flawed characters awaken us to the flaws in ourselves.

This was just the kind of book I enjoy.  I want to visit Radstowe now.  I was told that it is based on Bristol.  The writing was very evocative of a time and place.  I always appreciate books with good character development.  The older I get the less I care about the plot and the more I care about the people.

 I have read a few other of Young's books.  I hear good things about Miss Mole.  I will have to find a copy of that next.

Little Things #6

I am writing this sitting on the couch with the cat next to me. He is snoring like crazy and he looks a little ridiculous, kind of like he is drunk  The wind is blowing outside and life is pretty peaceful.

Jack the cat

I went consignment shopping and out to dinner with two friends the other night.  It was a really good day.  I don't usually go out in the evening without my family.  My bizarre sense of guilt makes me think I should be home making sure everyone is fed and does their homework.  However, that is about as ridiculous as the cat is.  They aren't going to die if I am not there.  Though my daughter did keep emailing me with questions her father could have easily answered.  I think she just likes emailing.

I really enjoy consignment shopping.  I like clothes, not obsessively but I like to be dressed nicely.  However, I don't have the budget to spend lots of money on clothes.  My kids are outgrowing theirs too often for me to do that.  If I shop at consignment stores I can have the clothes I want at a fraction of the cost.  Besides, it is like a treasure hunt.  You never know what you are going to find.  My bargain of the day was these shoes.

Michael Korrs shoes

Michael Kors shoes for $14.00.  That made me pretty happy.  And can we all agree that it is a good thing I usually write about books and kids and everyday things because I would never succeed as a fashion blogger?  Honestly, how do you make shoes look interesting in a photo?  I just plopped them on the floor and snapped a picture but I am pretty sure that is not what you are supposed to do.  I also got a Hilfiger blazer for $0.99.  It looks brand new and they usually run about $100.

The kids are going to spend the weekend at their grandparent's house.  They are really looking forward to it and so are my husband and I.  I am a firm believer in the benefit of occasional time without kids.  It is good for the kids to spend time with their grandparents and it is good for us to have time to ourselves.  We are going to go out to eat tomorrow night at a restaurant that is not kid friendly.  In other words, a restaurant that doesn't have pictures of the food on the menu.  I can't wait. Maybe I will wear my new shoes.

My daughter just reread A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  She liked it more the second time.  Now she is looking for recommendations of books about boarding schools and orphans who overcome hardship.  I thought of Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster and Mandy by Julie Edwards. Mandy is about a girl in an orphanage but I think it is the kind of story she is talking about.  Does anyone else have any other ideas?

How to Turn Your Child Into a Reader

children's books

I have always loved books and I have always wanted my children to love books as well.  Even before I seriously thought of having children I was saving books for them.  I still have most of my childhood books and I have eagerly waited for my kids to be ready to read the stories I loved when I was their age. I have even written before about how I enjoy recommending books to my daughter.

But how do you convince children that reading is fun and not a chore to be gotten through as quickly as possible? How do you make reading and books as automatic as breathing?

First of all, and you would think this would be obvious, read to them.  I am amazed when I hear parents say that their child is too young to be read to or too young to appreciate books.  Your child is never too young to be read to.  Read to them when you are pregnant, read when they are newborn, read when all they want to do is chew on the pages.  If you start trying to read to a child when they are three it will be hard to keep their interest. They will wander away and get distracted.  If you read from infancy it will be a habit.  They will associate reading with you, with comfort, with something they enjoy.

Read to them often.  One book read quickly at bedtime is not going to turn your child into a book lover.

Read what they want, even if it means you read the same book 500 million times.  Children love repetition, parents not so much.  Do it anyway.  I still have The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton completely memorized from years of reading it to both kids.

Let your child see you reading.  It does no good to tell your child how awesome reading is if you never do it.  Children can smell a hypocrite a mile away.

Books should be readily accessible.  Have a basket or a bookshelf where they can go and pull out the books they want to look at whenever they want to do so.  Books shouldn't be put up as special and untouchable.  They should be everyday objects.

Take them to the library.  Make it a fun excursion.  Let them pick their own books, even if it means they get the exact same books they got two weeks ago.  Remember, kids like repetition.

Keep up with your child's comprehension.  A 5-year-old may only be able to read a picture book by himself, but that doesn't mean that is the only thing he can understand.  His comprehension is above his ability to read at that point.  Read the chapter books to him.

Don't try to turn every book into a learning experience.  Let your child just enjoy the story.  If they want to talk about it, that's fine, but no one enjoys always being taught a lesson.

I know teachers are very into reading at grade level but I don't always agree.  Many kids want to try a book that is supposedly too hard for them.  If you let them try they might succeed beyond your wildest dreams.  If you talk them out of it they might not try again.  Do you want to stifle their initiative?

By the same token, it isn't going to hurt them to read books that are too young for them sometimes.  My son went through a stage when he was much younger when he read all his little sister's picture books when we got home from the library.  They were way below his reading level but he enjoyed them.  That is what you are going for, enjoyment.  Do you always want to read a challenging book?  I didn't think so.  Neither do our kids.  Sometimes they just want to read something easy and that is fine too.

Remember that your kids are not you (this one is hard for me!)  They may not love the same books you did (Oh, the horror!)  Find the books they love.  My son developed a love affair with Star Wars books at a very early age.  That did not come from me  but that is fine.  It is really the love of books in general you are going for, not the love of a few specific books.  Besides, some day he will be desperately trying to convince his children that Timothy Zahn is the best science fiction author ever and I will get a lot of pleasure out of watching that.

Don't make reading a chore.  Being told you have to read a certain number of minutes or a certain number of chapters is a guaranteed way to destroy any desire to read.

Buy books.  They don't have to be expensive, thrift stores frequently have books for sale, but buy them.  The library is wonderful but sometimes you just need to own the book.  Kids understand the joy of possession.

Teach them that books contain not only stories, but knowledge as well.  The internet is all well and good and you can google almost anything but sometimes it is wonderful to give a child a book that tells them what they want to know.  Is your child interested in the solar system?  There is a book for that.  Maybe it is sharks or dinosaurs or how to crochet.  There is a book for that.  Children can really enjoy poring over a book that fits their interest. They might find their answer quickly online but they will find answers to many things they didn't realize they wanted to know if they read a book.

I firmly believe that one of the most important things you can give a child is a love of books and reading.  Worlds are opened for them.  Knowledge is at their fingertips. Tolerance and empathy are learned. Imagination is sparked.  Boredom is impossible.  All you need is a book.

Everything I Ever Wanted to Know I Learned From Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and The Happy Hollisters

Did you read Nancy Drew when you were a kid?  I did, constantly.  My best friend and I would pass them back and forth and discuss them endlessly.  I knew they weren't great literature but oh, they were fun! Nancy and her friends George and Bess were always involved in some huge adventure.  They would go racing off in Nancy's blue convertible and save the day, because Nancy always knew what to do and always was able to do it.  Everyone deferred to her, she had everything. She was pretty and smart, and well-off and again, she had that blue convertible-yes, I wanted it.  I still kind of do.

I knew the books were ridiculous.  I knew no one would ever run into that many adventures and always come out the winner.  I knew even at the time that the books were pure escapism, but I didn't care.  I thought Nancy Drew was wonderful.

Nancy was strong.  She was independent.  She stood up to people and stated her opinion.  She could fix a car, solve a puzzle, do any sport that was suggested, run a house, I think she could shoot a gun.  Basically there wasn't anything she couldn't do.  She was also very likable.  She didn't gloat when she did all these things. She was modest and humble and respectful. And pretty, let's not forget pretty.

Plus she only had an adoring father which basically meant no one telling her what to do.  There was the dream life right there.

I think I admired her independence.  She wasn't a shrinking violet.  She went out and did what needed to be done and spoke up for herself and others.  She was a strong independent woman  (girl actually, but when I was 10 I thought she was a woman.)  She didn't need to be rescued, she did the rescuing.  What is not to love?

I think I still want to be Nancy Drew.

On a related note, did anyone grow up reading The Happy Hollisters?  We had the whole series when I was a child.  A family of five children who were also always solving mysteries.  Mrs. Hollister always calmly waved them off to chase the bad guy with only an admonition to not be late for dinner.  Sometimes they had to leave Sue, the four-year-old, home because she might miss her nap but otherwise Mrs. Hollister never worried.  And the children always returned having vanquished the criminal, solved the mystery, and been lauded by all.

 And then there was Trixie Belden.  I loved those too.  Another group of kids solving mysteries.  No wonder that when I was small I thought being a detective was a feasible career choice. Practically every book I read had kids running into mysteries at every turn.  My prosaic life was a sad disappointment.

I think there was a definite theme to children's books back then.  Get rid of the parents and allow the kids to be independent.  It fits into every kid's dream.

Kids, Parents, and Other Nonsense

girl in the woods

So, this is about being a parent and being around other parents and raising kids.  If that isn't your thing, you can click away now.  If you enjoy listening to rants feel free to stick around, I'm glad to have you.

Our kids go to public school, I don't homeschool.

We see nothing wrong with requiring our kids to do chores.

We never let the kids sleep in our bed, even when they were tiny.

We are very strict about what video games our kids play.

My general belief is that a little junk food isn't going to kill my kids.

We are a bit old-fashioned and require the kids to use Mr/Mrs etc when addressing adults unless given permission to do otherwise.

I could go on and on.  These are our parenting choices.

Let me be very clear. The operative word here is choices.  I am not saying my way is the only right way.  It isn't. There are lots of ways to raise children.  It all depends on your family, your kids, your situation.  I know that, I am hoping you know that.  What I want to know is why so many other people don't know that.  Why do people feel free to tell parents that public school is bad, your child who is mowing the lawn is overworked, and you shouldn't bake because sugar is bad for your kid?  What is up with people?

I think if there is one piece  of advice I could give new parents it would be "don't judge."  It is so easy to always think that your way is the right way.  After all, it works for you, shouldn't it work for every other parent on earth?  And you know what?  Maybe your way is the right way or the better way.  But sometimes as a parent you can't do the better way.  You can only do the way that is working for you right now.  Sometimes there are circumstances that prevent you from doing the better way.

I learned that very early with my son.  I had always planned on breastfeeding my children.  It was good for them, kept them healthy, promoted bonding, all the things new mothers hear.  Then my son was born and he had a cleft lip and palate.  He couldn't nurse, literally couldn't.  So I pumped and fed him with a special bottle and I was so disappointed and felt like a failure.  (New mom hormones don't make much sense.)  And some other moms would judge me for that bottle because they didn't know the circumstances.  I remember sitting in a group of moms as they all talked about the joy of breastfeeding and I thought then that we never know what is going on behind the scenes.  What about the mom who's baby was in the hospital for three months and she couldn't maintain her milk supply?  What about the mom who is taking medicine that could harm her baby so she can't nurse?  So much we don't know.

And it applies to all aspects of parenting.  We never know.  And we as parents want so badly to be doing it all correctly.  We want some guarantee that our kids are going to turn out okay.  If our decisions aren't the best possible ones then maybe the kids won't be fine.  So tell the world homeschooling/public school is best because that is what we are doing and we have to believe we are doing it right. Insist that never letting your kid taste sugar is the way to go because otherwise the work of packing alternative snacks and denying them donuts is pointless.  But you know what?  It doesn't matter.  There is no need to be doing everything right for the whole world.  We only have to be doing it right for our family.

But don't go around telling the other families they are doing it wrong.  Don't judge.  You can have your opinion but keep it to yourself.  If someone makes a different decision from yours that doesn't make their decision wrong, just different.  (Unless you are insisting that reading is a waste of time.  Then you are just plain wrong.  I'm joking...kind of.)  And their different decision doesn't call into question the validity of your decision. Why do people feel threatened by a different opinion?

You should firmly believe in your parenting decisions.  You should think about them, weigh options, consider, and then do what you implicitly believe is right for your family.  And you should still implicitly believe it is right even when someone else makes a different, also perfectly correct, decision. However, you shouldn't tell that person all about why their decision is wrong. Because there are two sides to every parenting choice.  You can argue for and against public school, for and against junk food, for and against co-sleeping.

So we send our children to school, we feed them sugar, we make them do chores, and we were always thrilled they slept in their own beds.

You don't have to agree.  In fact, feel free to completely disagree.  Just don't feel free to tell us we are doing it wrong.

End of rant.  This was not inspired by anyone who reads this blog, mainly because no one I know in the real world does read this blog.  It was inspired by some very opinionated friends.

Books Beside My Bed #2

My reading has been a little disjointed lately.  I keep picking things up and putting them down, not because I am not enjoying them, but because I keep getting distracted by other books.  Sometimes I think having a lot of books to choose from makes it harder to stick to one.  The grass is always greener.  I'll give you a quick rundown of what I have been dipping in and out of.

First of all, I just started Best Little Stories From The White House by C. Brian Kelly.  It is a book my dad loaned me and isn't something I would necessarily have picked up on my own.  It is what the title says, little stories or vignettes of various presidents or those surrounding them.  They aren't necessarily amazing stories but many are interesting or charming insights into the people and their lives.  I like the description quoted of Dolley Madison.  She was "a fine, portly, buxom dame who has a smile and a pleasant word for everybody." That just makes me feel as if I would like to know her.

I have been reading the Provincial Lady books by E.M. Delafield.  I have read the first two before and always enjoy rereading them.  I only recently bought a Virago edition that also has The Provincial Lady in America and The Provincial Lady in Wartime so those are both new to me.  I am enjoying them very much.  The Provincial Lady books just make me happy.  I love her wry observations.

I just finished A Small Death in the Great Glen by A.D. Scott.  It is a mystery set in the Highlands of 1950s Scotland. A small boy is dead and the newspaper staff ends up investigating.  It sounded like an easy read that I would enjoy but it just never worked for me.  The story felt a bit disjointed and I never cared that much about any of the characters even though I obviously should have.  I found myself skimming just to get the basic plot outline. It was a pity because I felt it had real potential.  Maybe it was just me because I see it is the first in a series and it gets decent ratings.

I am also reading The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock.  I just started this last night (because obviously I needed another book on the go) and am enjoying it so far.  It is the first of a trilogy, a family drama beginning in the summer of 1914.  It revolves around the family, friends, and servants of Abingdon Pryory.  I am still at the stage where all the characters are getting introduced but so far I am enjoying it.

I am resisting the urge to pull any more books off my shelves.  I woke up this morning wanting to reread This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart.  (I don't know, is it odd to wake up thinking about the book you want to read?) However, I managed to resist for now.  I'll wait until I have finished some of these.  I do love Mary Stewart though....

Three Months of Blogging


I started this blog on a whim three months ago, not sure how long I would keep it up and not even completely sure why I clicked the "create blog" button.  I didn't tell anyone, including my husband, that I had a blog for at least a month and now my husband and children are the only ones in my everyday life who know about it.  Because really, having a blog is a bit of an odd thing.  You write down your thoughts and opinions on the internet for strangers to read, not because you have to and not because you are being paid to but just because you want to.  The thing is, I find it much easier to have all you strangers reading what I write. You don't know me for real so you aren't reading everything trying to fit it in with the Jenny you know.  You just read it for what it is and click away if you are not interested.

However, I do have some observations after three months of blogging and you fortunate people get to read them.

There is a whole world of people out there who read the same kinds of books that I do.  That is absolutely fascinating.  Where are some of you in my real life?  I know people who like to read but they don't usually read similar books to me and their book addiction is not so over-the-top as mine.  You people make me feel normal, because it is normal to constantly have book parcels showing up in your mailbox, right?

No matter how much you say you are blogging for yourself, it really isn't true.  There is always that voice in the back of your head hoping people will read the post you just wrote and hoping they will like it.  If you were blogging just for yourself you wouldn't care.  Sometimes the posts I work the hardest on and am the most pleased with are the ones that get the fewest views.  I am not really sure what to take away from that.

Blogs get labelled.  I knew that, I knew there were food blogs and photography blogs and travel blogs, but I didn't realize that once you fell into a label there was a feeling that you had to stay there so you didn't disappoint your readers.  After all, if you usually write about books is anyone going to want to read your post about your kids?  I struggle with that a bit but I finally decided to write what I want within reason and you can  read what you want.

I think I lead a slightly boring, quiet life.  I read other blogs and they are always going out to eat and traveling to amazing places and going out with friends.  It makes for interesting blog reading but what I want to know is how do they find the time, money, and energy?  (Hmmm.  Showing my age right there.)  I think I like my slightly boring, quiet life.

Taking photographs is hard.  That being said, I do a much better job at pulling my camera out in everyday life.  Because I am aware of taking blog pictures I am aware of taking pictures in general.  Most of them never are put on here but it is nice for us to have them.

I feel like there is a whole world of blog etiquette out there and I am the person in a new culture trying to figure it out.  If someone follows you do you have to follow them back?  If you comment on someone's blog for the first time should you introduce yourself or just jump right in?  It does feel a bit awkward, especially when I want to comment on blogs that have been around for a long time and the people in the comment section obviously know each other already.  That being said, most times when I have commented on a blog people have been very nice and have responded.  I really, really appreciate the ones who have then visited my blog and who now make regular comments.

Twitter is really scary.  I can post tweets about blog posts but other than that I am a bit terrified.  What do you do, just tweet whatever is in your head at the moment?  Oh my goodness, I overthink too much for that.  I'll come to grips with Twitter eventually but that day has not come yet.

I read somewhere that most bloggers quit within 90 days.  I am still here.  We'll see how the next 90 days go.

I am curious.  If you have a blog, do your friends and family know about it or is it your little secret?

A Few Burning Questions About Life

autumn leaves

  • If I plan meals for the week and make a grocery list why do I then always leave the list on the coffee table when I go to the grocery store?  
  • Why is the child who can't hear you ask for the five hundredth time for chores to be done perfectly able to hear you whisper the question "Should we order pizza?" from three rooms away?
  • Why do my children need to talk to me as soon as soon as I make a phone call?  They are never so eager for conversation at other times.
  • Why did no one tell me that it was possible for a night owl to give birth to a morning person?   
  • Why do clothing stores never sell complete outfits?  If you find a skirt you like there is never a top to match.  And if you buy it without the matching top it will then become a task akin to the labors of Hercules to find one.  
  • How come once you hit my age stores think women want to dress like old ladies?  I may be "mature" but I am not ready for "mature fashion."
  • How come the only other clothes in stores have been designed for 13-year-old bodies? Don't clothing stores realize there is a whole vast market of females in between those age groups who would love to purchase clothes?
  • Is rolling of the eyes an art form taught to all teenagers?
  • Is exercise really worth it?
  • Why was homework ever invented because, frankly, it seems pretty pointless to me.  And what kind of teacher gives it over school vacations?  That is just miserable for everybody.
  • Why is the online world fascinated by introverts (just go on Pinterest and look at all the quotes) but the real world still thinks you should come out of your shell?  I like my shell, it is peaceful.
  • Is anyone else shocked by how much they have forgotten?  Just try to help your child with math homework and you will know what I mean, or is it just me?
  • To go along with that, why have they changed the way they teach math?  I have no idea what my daughter is talking about and she thinks I don't know how to do long division.  I do, just not the new way.  Isn't math hard enough without changing it?
  • Can you ever buy too many books?
  • Has anyone ever seen the bottom of a hamper?  That would mean all your laundry is done and I don't believe in fairy tales. 
  • Where do teenage boys put all the food they eat?  Even hollow legs can't account for eating an entire week's grocery shopping in 36 hours.

Little Things #5

Things look a little different around here, don't they? It's so pretty now.  I was never really happy with how my blog looked, but I thought I should see if I was going to stick with it before I got too involved in changing it.  Over the weekend I bought a template for next to nothing on Etsy and installed it.  It was surprisingly fun figuring everything out.  I think everything works fine now, but if you find any problems please let me know.

This week has been a little slow, full of boring but necessary things like car repairs and more car repairs.  I was in an accident about six weeks ago, no one was injured and it wasn't my fault, but the body shop can't seem to get everything done just right.  I have to bring the car back again tomorrow because they didn't reconnect the rear window defrost.  Then Tuesday I have to bring it in because one of the key fobs isn't working.  It is all just annoying.  Plus we have had a cold working its way through the house.  There is nothing like sending kids to school to guarantee a full supply of germs for your whole family.

So I don't have any new and fascinating books to write about.  I have been rereading the Provincial Lady books.  Light and fun and easy to read while sitting in a waiting room. I did start listening to Longbourn by Jo Baker.  It is Pride and Prejudice told from the servants' perspective.  I am only a couple of chapters in but I am enjoying it so far.  I have never been too enthralled with audiobooks, I get impatient because I can read them faster by myself.  However, I have been using them lately because they make time on the treadmill go by much more quickly. I read a lot of books that I never write about on here.  I can never decide.  Do I write about everything I read or only about the things were I feel like I have something to say?

We have also been planning our family vacation for next summer.  We are going to Chicago.  My husband is originally from Illinois and we lived out there for the first 7 or 8 years we were married.  We usually meet up with his parents every couple of years somewhere halfway between Illinois and Connecticut.  Their health isn't too great lately and they can't do a long drive this year so we have known for a while that we would have to fly out there.  We are spending the first half of the week with them and then for the second half we are going to visit old friends and do touristy things with the kids.  The kids love the city and have been asking to go to Chicago for quite a while.  They were both quite young last time we went. It sounds like a bit of a chaotic week but I think that is the way it always is when you are visiting relatives and trying to fit too much into one week.

It is getting dark so early now.  I hate that.  As soon as it is dark I just want to curl up on the couch with an afghan and a book but that is not conducive to getting anything done.  I am not sure I care today.  I'll just ignore the world and keep reading the Provincial Lady.

Book Recommendations: The British Home Front During WWII

I have mentioned a few times that I am very interested in the social history of WWII, especially in relation to the British home front.  I can't really pinpoint what started this interest, probably a book at some time or another, that is how most of my interests start.  Whatever began it, I am just fascinated with the everyday life of people living through the war.  I like finding out what they thought, how the felt, what they did to stretch the rations, how they clothed their families, what they did for entertainment, how life changed and how life stayed the same.  Maybe it is just my nosy side coming out, maybe it is just a fascination with people in general.  Possibly this is why I also love people watching.  Whatever the case may be, I thought I would share some of my favorite books about that time period.

books--Simon Garfield

First of all, we have a trio of books by Simon Garfield.  They are We Are At War, Private Battles: How the War Almost Defeated Us, and Our Hidden Lives: The Remarkable Diaries of Post-War Britain.

I bought the first of these books when I went to the Imperial War Museum in London.  We went to see an exhibition called A Family in Wartime.  It was about the Allpress family in London and how the war affected them.  There are reconstructions of rooms in their house, photographs, and audio recordings.  It was fascinating.  I bought the book in the museum bookshop.  I started reading it that evening.  It was the first time I had heard of  The Mass Observation organization.  It was a social research group that collected information about everyday life in Britain, including during the war years.  Diaries were kept, observers took notes on what people were doing and saying, and volunteers responded to written questions and other prompts about day to day life.  Garfield used the archives of this organization to compile fascinating accounts of life during the war.  In each book, he follows four or five people and their diaries, interspersed with a few explanatory notes.  It really brings the time period alive.  You are reading in someone's own words what they thought and felt at the time.  I highly recommend all of the books.

Book--How We Lived Then

Next, we have How We Lived Then, A history of everyday life during the Second World War by Norman Longmate.  This is a comprehensive history of exactly what life was like during the war.  It is extremely detailed but extremely readable.  He quotes extensively from individual accounts of the war.  This book really makes the history come alive.  Plus it answers every question you didn't know you had about what it was like to live then.

book--Nella Last's War

Nella Last's War, edited by Richard Broad and Suzie Fleming is probably the most well-known compilation of diaries from the war years.  It was made into a movie, Housewife, 49.  I wasn't wildly impressed with the movie but then, I frequently get annoyed with movies that are based on books.  Nella Last submitted her diary to the Mass Observation Organization.  This, and the two further volumes, are an interesting depiction of one woman's viewpoint on life during the time.

books--Mollie Panter-Downes

London War Notes by Mollie Panter-Downes was recently reissued by Persephone Books not too long after I had spent a year stalking copies of it online, trying to find one that was affordable. Ah well, that's life.  Panter-Downes wrote a column called "Letters from London" for the New Yorker.  There were over 150 columns over the years from 1939-45.  They gave Americans a window into the life of the British during the war.  This is intensely readable and absolutely fascinating.  (I feel like I am saying that about all of these books, but if I hadn't enjoyed them I wouldn't be writing about them now.)

One Fine Day is also by Mollie Panter-Downes.  It is a little different because it is a novel and it is set just after the war, but I included it because it gives a beautiful picture of one day in the life of a family living in a small English town after the war when they are trying to adjust back to a permanently changed life.  It is a quiet and lyrically written book. Do you ever read a book were the language almost makes you feel like you are listening to music?  I don't know how else to describe it. I highly, highly recommend this book..

I have a lot more books on my shelves about this time period.  I find it endlessly fascinating.  Currently I am looking for more novels set during the war years.  Does anyone have any they suggest?

The Joy of Recommending Books to a Daughter

books-Ingalls and Alcott

I am not sure you can really call it recommending because I basically force my favorite childhood books on her.  In a very nice way, of course.  I have always looked forward to having kids who like to read and I am so glad it has worked out that way.  Of course, I like recommending books to my son, but our taste in books is a bit different.  Understandable, I guess, but it does mean I am getting double pleasure out of seeing my daughter read the same books I did.

Sometimes, however, I realize that the books I loved are such an integral part of my childhood that I assume my daughter already knows all about them.  For example, I have been trying to get her to read Little Women lately. It was my favorite book for years and I have such fond  memories of it.  She has been very polite but obviously not interested.  In my usual need to make everyone love the books I love, I tried again the other day when she was looking for something to read.  She finally (patient child) got frustrated with me and asked why on earth she would want to read a book about a bunch of old ladies.  Which is when I realized that in all my raving about the book I had never actually summarized the plot for her and, based on the title, she had a very strange view of what it was probably about.  I immediately cleared things up and with only a minor boggle when she found out a character dies, she changed her view and decided it might be interesting.  Though I have also changed mine, and decided maybe she should start her Alcott reading with Eight Cousins, another favorite of mine.  This time I summarized the plot right away.

Sometimes my almost evangelical need to suggest books is a bit more successful.  She loves the Little House books which is fortunate because love of those books is basically a prerequisite to being my child.  She has read the entire series multiple times and is happy to discuss them endlessly with me.  Oh, the joy!  She also loved The Secret Garden, but resisted my efforts to convince her to read A Little Princess.  She has never jumped on the Princess bandwagon and, once again, the title put her off.  That time I was smarter and told her the story line right away.  She read it and liked it, though not as much as The Secret Garden, which is fine because I agree with that opinion.

Right now she is working her way through the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace.  Our library only has the first two so we have been requesting them.  Sometimes it can be hard to find books that I loved as a child.  I didn't always buy them because they were readily available at the library, but now they are viewed as old-fashioned and libraries get rid of them.  It annoys me.

A love of Anne of Green Gables was also a requirement for being my daughter.  Thankfully, she passes with flying colors.

It is interesting to see her fall in love with books with which  I am not familiar.  I had never heard of the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome, but she loves them.  It is the same with the Famous Five series.  In fact, when my husband and I go to England in April she is requesting that I bring home more books by Enid Blyton. Someday she will probably be trying to convince her children to read those books.

I think one of the most important things you can give a child is a love of reading and of books.

What were your favorite childhood books?

Man Overboard by Monica Dickens

books-Penguins--Monica Dickens

Man Overboard by Monica Dickens is the story of Ben, a widower and the father of a daughter, who is decommissioned from the British Navy and has to figure out how to make his way in the civilian world.  His entire working career has been in the navy and he struggles to find a job and to decide what he really wants out of life.

The book follows Ben through the confused early stages of his new life when he gets involved with a beautiful television actress who obviously isn't right for him and when he is desperately trying to find a job.  Many characters seem to come and go in this book.  Just when you get used to a character and settle in thinking they are going to be a continuing part of the story they disappear.  In many ways they seem to symbolize the impermanence of Ben's own life.  He isn't settled so the people around him aren't either.

One character I really liked is Ben's daughter, Amy.  Here is a description of her.

"Amy, who was never the same child for more than a few weeks at a time, was having one of her old-fashioned periods, when she called Ben Father and was rather stiff and formal with him. Since it made her more docile too, in a beaten down Victorian sort of way, it was one of her easiest disguises to cope with; but it made her rather dull, and the lunch, which was a celebration of her tenth birthday, was not being very gay."

How can you not love a little girl who play acts and who constantly fits her personality to what she views as the exigencies of the situation?

I also really liked this window into Ben's personality since I also am an inveterate people watcher.

"He had found out long ago that the fascination of a group of strangers fades as soon as you become part of the group.  The discovery, however, did not impair his enjoyment of other people's lives at a distance. Without envy or discontent, he was an appreciative Peeping Tom, yearning after houses glimpsed from a train, basement kitchens, shadows moving behind a blind, lighted front rooms seen from a street at dusk before a silhouetted figure drew the curtains on the intriguing interior."

Ben, after many trials and tribulations, comes to realize what is important in life.

"He must go back and make her understand the truth; that nothing was any good alone, that if they were all together, something would turn up, and whatever it was, however small and unimportant, they could all be happy sharing it."

This was not a book of any life-changing wonderfulness.  It was however, a pleasant and enjoyable read.  I found myself really caring about Ben and Amy and hoping things would work out for them.  Monica Dickens writes books that pull you into the story.  This is not my favorite of hers, but I definitely enjoyed it.  Sometimes a little enjoyment is all you are looking for.

A Walk in the Woods


My kids had the day off from school earlier this week so I took them out to lunch and for a walk in the woods.  Lunch wasn't anything fancy, just fast food burgers at Wendy's, but that is what they wanted.  The walk in the woods however, was definitely something special.

We went to a state park near us.  We have been there before to swim in the pond, but we didn't realize that there are all kinds of trails throughout the acres and acres of land surrounding the pond.

a girl in the woods

We crossed a little bridge and meandered up a hill.  My son was almost out of sight ahead of us.  My daughter had to stop to look at everything and climb on everything climbable and I kept stopping to take pictures.

a boy in the woods

Here he is semi-patiently waiting for us to catch up.  It was a gorgeous sunny day and it didn't feel at all like November.  We didn't even need jackets.  We only saw two other people the whole time we were walking.  It was so peaceful.  It looked like it was raining leaves.  They just kept coming down slowly, swirling all around us.  Squirrels and chipmunks were running frantically through the brush and my daughter was convinced if we were just quiet enough maybe we could surprise a bear.  I am really glad we didn't!  That would be more excitement than I would need on an afternoon walk.

a boy in the woods

He is still waiting patiently, as you see.  He was having more fun than it looks like.  He told me the woods is more fun than his favorite computer game so I am viewing the walk as a huge success.

woods and water

We ended up talking about all the books the kids have read that are about people stranded in the wilderness.  Hatchet by Gary Paulsen was one they mentioned.  Also The Swiss Family Robinson and My Side of the Mountain.  My son loves the idea of being out in the middle of nowhere, having to depend on your own wits to survive.

All in all, it was a very nice afternoon.  We will have to go back with  my husband before the weather gets too nasty. I think it is good for all of us to get away from the frantic dash of everyday life and just exist for a bit.  You can't walk into the woods without feeling more peaceful.

Book Recommendations

The Persephone Biannually

This came in the mail this week.  It is bad for my budget but so much fun.  Wouldn't it be fantastic to just be able to order every single Persephone book ever published?  Well, I can dream, can't I?

I am trying to decide what book to read next for the Classics Club. I am in a bit of a reading slump and just can't seem to get into anything.  I read the first couple of pages and give up.  Maybe I just need to read something light and fun and then try again.  I was looking at my Classics Club list and realized I had made a mistake.  Somehow a recently published book had gotten on it.  Probably the result of having too many lists of books I want to read floating around the house.  I took that book out and added in another Jane Austen, because you can never have too much Jane Austen.

My father has been recommending books to me lately.  I just finished The Wright Brothers by David McCullough.  I wasn't going to read it because I had not particular interest in the Wright brothers but my father insisted I give it a try.  I am glad he did.  It was fascinating.  It is a quick and easy read but packs in a lot of information.  The Wright brothers were interesting men.  You wonder what makes some people so driven to figure something out and to invent.  I always found it interesting that they were much more successful in France to begin with.  It took the US a while to become really interested in them.

This weekend my father gave me The Last Hurrah by Edwin O'Connor.  Now, one thing you need to realize about him is that he never reads novels.  His book recommendations are usually history related, but he loved this book.  I looked it up and apparently it focuses on a mayoral election in a city on the east coast.  It was #2 on the bestseller list in 1956 and a movie was made of it starring Spencer Tracy.  If I like the book I will have to try to find the movie.

A friend of mine recommended Hawaii by James Michener.  We tend to have very different taste in books so I am not sure.  She likes books full of doom and death and I like books with beautiful language and quiet development of the characters.  We each keep reading the other's books and being slightly puzzled by them.  Has anyone read Hawaii and what did you think?

I like getting book recommendations.  Frequently they lead to me reading books I would never have picked up on my own.

So, what do you think I should read?  Do you have a favorite you recommend to everybody?  Maybe something you feel like you discovered and want the whole world to read?

Tips for a Happy Marriage

Today is our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.  I thought about putting up a picture from our wedding but my husband is a private person and wouldn't want that so you will just have to imagine it. If you picture me with a perm and wearing a gown with a big bow in the back you will be right on target.  In my defense, everyone had perms in 1990 and all wedding gowns had huge bows.

So, how have we stayed married for twenty-five years, you ask?  (Let's just pretend you want to know, because I want to talk about it.  That is how this blogging thing works.)  So here are my tips for a happy marriage.  (And just to be clear, I don't think I have it all figured out.  These are just the things I have learned over the last twenty-five years.)

The wedding isn't the end, it is the beginning.  Don't get so caught up in planning the wedding that you forget you are planning a marriage.

Communicate.  I feel like an advice columnist but honestly, talk to each other.  Listen to each other too. Maybe I am not particularly interested in exactly how the engine on his motorcycle works (welcome to my world) but I can bet he also isn't particularly interested in the plot of the latest novel I read.  But we are interested in each other.  And who knows, maybe someday a knowledge of motorcycle engines will come in handy.

Pick your battles.  Do you really want to have a big fight about the socks left on the bathroom floor?  I didn't think so.  Save it for the things that matter.

If you have to argue about something, take your time.  Don't hold a grudge and refuse to talk but also don't jump right in when you are emotional and angry.  Give yourself time to cool down.  Go mow the lawn, scrub the tub, bake fifteen batches of cookies, whatever calms you down, and then go back and talk about it a little more rationally.

He will never be able to find anything in the fridge, even if it is right in front of him.  Get used to it.

Give your kids away occasionally.  Seriously, that is why grandparents were invented.  Whether it is for an hour, a day, a weekend, spend some time just the two of you.

To go along with that, don't make your kids the center of your marriage.  Of course, they are important.  Of course, you devote a lot of time to them. However, your goal with kids is to get them to grow up and move out. Your goal with your husband is to get him to grow old with you and never move out.  Don't forget that.  If you give all your time and attention to your kids, what is left when they are gone?

Find romance in the little things.  When you are first married you want flowers and chocolate.  Honestly, I don't get those very often anymore and that is okay.  Because now he fills my car with gas when he notices it is empty and he orders the books I leave in the Amazon shopping cart.  That is romance right there.

Sometimes life is boring because it just is.  It can't be fun and games all the time.  Don't mistake a dull patch in your life for boredom in your marriage.

Marriage can be work.  We are willing to work for our careers, work to make successes of our children, work at our friendships, but sometimes we expect our marriage to just fall into place.  Sometimes it does, sometimes you have to work at it.  Having to work at it doesn't mean you are doing it wrong.

Have a sense of humor.  Men are strange creatures.  I am sure they say the same about us.

Pay attention to autocorrect.  Yesterday, when I was texting my husband, it changed "I didn't hear" to "I didn't cheat."  Good thing I caught that one or he might have really wondered.

A wise man will never ask you if your period is due when you are upset about something.  A wise woman will consider whether he has a point when he asks that question.  Resign yourself to the fact that neither of you is likely to be wise in those circumstances.

Respect each other's pet peeves.  Sometimes it doesn't matter except for the fact that it matters to him.  Is it going to kill you to go along with it?

Be loyal in every sense of the word.  Be loyal physically, emotionally, verbally.  A marriage is built on loyalty.  On love too, of course, but you can have love without loyalty and then the marriage falls apart.  If you have love and are loyal, your marriage will be strong.

You will want to kill him occasionally.  A truly successful marriage is one where you don't get beyond the planning stages.

He will want to kill you occasionally.  Don't take it too personally.  After all, didn't you just want to kill him?

Be affectionate, and not just in bed.  Hold hands, hug hello and goodbye, kiss.  It will keep you close and it will gross out your kids.  That is a double win in my book.

If there is something bothering you and it needs to be addressed, speak up.  Men are not mind readers.  They also are not always good at picking up on those subtle clues you think you are giving them.  Give the guy a break and tell him what is going on.

Be appreciative.  Don't get so caught up in what you are doing for the family and your relationship that you forget to thank him for what he does.  You don't want to be taken for granted and neither does he.

Marry someone you enjoy talking to.

Compromise.  You don't always have to get your way even on the big things.  Sometimes there are two right ways.  It doesn't always have to be your way.  

Be forgiving. That means don't bring it up the next time you are angry.  No one needs to be reminded of all their past mistakes.

Agree to disagree. Just because you are married doesn't mean you will think the same.  That is what keeps life, and conversation, interesting.

Make plans for the future.  Have things to look forward to together.

So there you have it.  My tips for a happy marriage. I just counted and I came up with twenty-five, one for each year we have been married.  That seems appropriate.  What suggestions do you have?  

And one final thought, I wrote this whole thing including the part about being okay with not getting flowers much anymore.  Then my husband walked in the door holding flowers.  That is what keeps marriage interesting. Just as you think you know exactly what your husband is going to do, he surprises you.  The flowers are beautiful, roses and lilies.  But I still think books are romantic too.