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July 2009

Up in the Air (with a book)

I've been on the move the last couple of weeks ever since school let out. First stop was sunny Florida with the boy (a rising fifth grader!) and his dad, and now I'm seeped in the humidity of a Mississippi June, awaiting a friend's 80th birthday party tomorrow. Everywhere I've been I've seen people reading, and am thinking of recording all the books that travellers have their noses in. Maybe on the way home to New England.

The June 28th New York Times Book Review contains a review of Christopher R. Beha's The Whole Shelf: What the Great Books Taught Me About Life, Death, and Pretty Much Everything Else, which I just finished on the earlier part of my vacation. Beha spent a year reading the Harvard Classics, and, writes critic Alexander Nazaryan," he makes an elegant case for literature as an everyday companion no less valuable than the iPod." Isn't that a great way of putting it? The Whole Shelf is one of the best My Year of [Insert Project Here] books that I've read, and has me eying my parents' copy of Richard Dana's Two Years Before the Mast, which Beha mentions as particularly accessible.

I photographed a couple of great-looking children's books on display at the Sanibel Public Library, and hope to get those posted soon. By the way, that's a really nice library if you're ever down in southwest Florida, with aquariums, a shell collection, and a light-filled, friendly atmosphere.

Urban Farmer

I'm so glad that I actually read the paper on Friday; otherwise, I would have missed Dwight Garner's terrific review of a terrific new book, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, by Novella Carpenter. Garner, one of the New York Times' book critics, writes,

I had a feeling I might like this memoir when I came upon on its first sentence, a gentle twist on the opening of Isak Dinesen’s “Out of Africa.” Here is Novella Carpenter: “I have a farm on a dead-end street in the ghetto.”

But I didn’t truly fall in love with “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” until I hit Page 38. That’s when the bees that Ms. Carpenter has purchased from a mail order company arrive at her post office in Oakland, Calif. A panicked postal employee calls, begging her to pick them up because they’re attracting other bees and “freaking everyone out.”

I knew I had to have this one, and sure enough, I bought it yesterday afternoon and barely stopped reading until I finished. Very good, and funny.  The author, Carpenter, also blogs at GhostTown Farm.

Reading Fest

48hbc Pam Coughlan, who blogs at MotherReader, sponsors a read-a-thon each June, in which participants read and blog about as many children's books as they can in a 48-hour period. You'll get many reading suggestions from all those involved just by keeping up with the reviews. At last count 107 people were signed up and burying their noses in books!

See the starting-lineup list at MotherReader, and click on the individual blog titles to follow the action. I'll be sitting in the grandstand, rooting everyone on.

The Week in Books, or Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading!

Egypt is in, amoebas are out. Junior's library haul this week included David Macaulay's Pyramid, from 1975. He's also poring over Make It Work! Ancient Egypt, by Andrew Haslam and Alexandra Parsons. Every once and a while he drops a few random facts about biomes, which they're studying at school. "Ah, savannas," he said with a sigh the other night, "the grassy plains." 

I've been doing some reading about reading, and delved into Maureen Corrigan's Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading! and Nick Hornby's Polysyllabic Spree. Corrigan, the book reviewer for NPR's "Fresh Air," combines literary scholarship (very readable, don't worry) and autobiography in a series of essays. Inveterate readers will relate to how much Corrigan, a Sunnyside, Queens, girl with a Ph.D in English, filters her experiences through books.

I made a long list of recommendations from Leave Me Alone, and have already finished  Anna Quindlen's novel Black and Blue, which I avoided when it first came out. I don't remember why. It's a suspenseful tale of a Brooklyn police officer's wife fleeing domestic abuse and starting over. Quindlen, who once wrote the "About New York" column in the New York Times, nails the milieu—the Brooklynese, the cops' wives' talk, the love and fear in the family affected by domestic violence, and especially the repercussions.

The Polysyllabic Spree, Hornby's short, funny book about reading, gave me even more titles I wanted to track down, like  Charlotte Moore's George and Sam, written by a mother of two sons with autism. Melissa Wiley mentioned this one, too, on her blog Here in the Bonny Glen, where I first heard of Hornby's book.

Finally, Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life, by Jenna Woginrich, has me wanting to learn the fiddle. Hey, why not! Only in her mid-twenties, Woginrich wrote the book to help people get started on living a more self-sufficient life. Chapters cover raising chickens, beekeeping, canning, and more. The author blogs at Cold Antler Farm.