These Is My Words (Nancy Turner)

In a word: Endearing

The exact copy of the book I read has gotten lost, and I can’t even find a pic of it online. So you’ll have to take my word for it that it was UG-LY. When this book was placed into my hands, I did judge that book by its cover, and it did not bode well:

  1. Grammar  in the title: bad
  2. Cover: homely
  3. Author: unknown
  4. Setting: Arizona
  5. Format: Diary

Due to all of the above, I would never have picked up this book except that the person who gave me the book was my mother. She recommended it, and what’s more, she expected me to read it.  I am a dutiful daughter, so I took the plunge, imagining that I’d take one for the team and then return to all of the more interesting titles on my TBR list.

(My mom has great taste in books, so I don’t know why I was so reluctant to trust her.)

(This is a much more attractive copy of the book than the one I read.)

That unpromising cover does give you a true preview in some ways: this is the diary of a young pioneer girl as she moves with her family into the truly wild west of Arizona territory. The unpolished grammar and spelling does take some getting used to, but it improves as the narrator matures. But despite this, and all of my other misgivings, it didn’t take me long to warm up to the characters and the story–I was curious, then invested, then totally engrossed. I finished the book within 24 hours, and I remorselessly neglected my home and family responsibilities until I got to the end.

A plot summary doesn’t do justice to the charm of this book. If you know anything about pioneer life, or if you ever played Oregon Trail, you can make pretty good guesses: snake bites, Indian raids, cattle thieves, natural disasters, etc.– all exciting, but par for the course.

What makes this book exceptional is the scrappy, determined narrator and her leading man, who might have just nudged his way into my Top Ten Literary Crushes list. Oh, Captain Jack: pass me the smelling salts! (No spoilers here, but his line “Mustache!” might be my favorite part in the whole book.)

This is one of those rare, sweet books that you can gobble down in a day but that will stick in your mind for much, much longer.

***

Here are some favorite quotes from the book, thanks to Leslie, who had the good sense to read this with a pencil in her hand:

“Childbirth is not an enemy you can fight or conquer or outrun, it takes you and tears you apart from the inside out and you have to just submit to it. I never understood why a girl would choose to be an old maid, but now I do.”

“Any other man ever comes around me better be carrying a pistol with one more bullet than I’ve got or I’ll have the last word.”

“A friendly silence can speak between two who will walk together a long way.”

“I know all these people are so busy because they love each other and me. We are a noisy crowd of love.”

“Mostly I just raise my children and cook and clean, flirt with Jack and enjoy his company, and read aloud the books he give me for silly holidays he makes up. Like, Oh, here’s a gift for The Third Tuesday in October, didn’t you know that’s a holiday?Well I bought you a book. He is amazing.”

“Well I hope I’m not that cantankerous. No. There’s a difference between strong coffee and bitter medicine.”

Sarah is strong coffee indeed! Her inspiring, endearing tale might be just what you need to wake up your reading life this holiday season.

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Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie)

In a word: Surprising

After I finished  Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star, I decided that I needed to read a classic for a little mental palate cleanse. I settled on Peter Pan, which I had picked up for a steal at the same book sale as Darcy. My kids have been ob-sessed with the Disney cartoon of Peter Pan, so I had been planning to preview the original J.M. Barrie novel as a possible family read-aloud for this year.

I’d never read it before; the Peter Pan story never really captured my imagination because I was always that kid who couldn’t wait to grow up. (It wasn’t until I was an adult that the idea of childhood appealed to me!)

Barrie’s Peter Pan did not rock my world, but I was entertained by it, and I definitely enjoyed the way it kept catching me off guard. The narrator is cheeky and wry, and is as entertaining as any of the actual characters. The book is definitely funnier than I expected. At the same time, it’s darker than I would have guessed; Neverland is a creepy place full of real villains and danger.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

One day when [Wendy] was two years old…Mrs. Darling put her hand over her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this forever!’ This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.

Mrs. Darling first heard of Peter when she was tidying up her children’s minds. It is the nightly custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for the next morning.

‘No, no,’ Mr. Darling always said, ‘I am responsible for it all. I, George Darling, did it. Mea culpa, mea culpa.’ He had had a classical education.

Every boy had adventures to tell; but perhaps the biggest adventure of all was that they were several hours late for bed. This so inflated them that they did various dodgy things to get staying up still longer, such as demanding bandages, but Wendy…cried ‘To bed, to bed,’ in a voice that had to be obeyed.

The difference between [Peter] and the other boys at such a time was that they knew it was make-believe, while to him make-believe and true were exactly the same thing. This sometimes troubled them, as when they had to make believe that they had had their dinners.

So, yes, all very charming, wouldn’t you agree? But then there are little passages   like this…

The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out; but at this time there were six of them.

[The eyes of Jas. Hook] were of the blue of the forget-me-not, and of a profound melancholy, save when he was plunging his hook into you, at which time two red spots appeared in them and lit them up horribly….

Undoubtedly the grimmest part of him was his iron claw. Let us now kill a pirate, to show Hook’s method. Skylights will do. As they pass, Skylights lurches clumsily against him, ruffling his lace collar; the hook shoots forth, there is a tearing sound and one screech, then the body is kicked aside, and the pirates pass on. He has not even taken the cigars from his mouth.

After a time [Peter] fell asleep, and some unsteady fairies had to climb over him on their way home from an orgy. Any of the other boys obstructing the fairy path at night they would have mischiefed, but they just tweaked Peter’s nose and passed on.

So at the end of the day, this was a worthwhile read, although it’s not one I’ll revisit again. I do think that I’ll hold off on reading it to my kids; I have a child with a vivid imagination who would surely never drift off to her own Neverland if I filled her mind with Pan right before bedtime!

Books I Can’t Stop Recommending

Since I’ve started posting more on social media about my reading life, I’ve had a lot of people ask me for book recommendations. Although I have read a lot of books this year, I find myself recommending the same few books over and over, so I thought I would share them with you now.

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Category: Quirky/Unusual/Different from other things you’ve read

  1. Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple

I have written briefly about WYGB before because I reread it in June (for my third or fourth time), but I wanted to give a little more details here.

Semple is a super interesting writer. She wrote for Arrested Development, which is a show well-known for witty one-liners, hilarious banter, and tons of inside jokes. WYGB delivers on all of these accounts.Bernadette herself is a quirky, misunderstood, slightly-crazy mom who goes missing, and her daughter Bee is putting together pieces to find out where she went. The style of this novel is unique: the story is told through a compilation of emails, memos, newspaper clippings, and flyers. I have heard that the style is off-putting to some readers, but I loved it. When I chose this book for my book club in July, the discussion turned into a read-aloud of all of our favorite parts of the book. It was my dream come true.

Memorable quote: “This is why you must love life: one day you’re offering up your social security number to the Russian Mafia; two weeks later you’re using the word calve as a verb.”

2. The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

The ridiculous title was the first thing that appealed to me. I read the author interview at the back and learned that his inspiration for this novel was a conversation with  friend where they started thinking back on all that a person would have seen if he had lived through the past 100 years. The story follows Allan, a man who climbs out of the window in his nursing home on the morning of his 100th birthday and embarks on an accidental adventure. The story switches between his current flight and his past escapades. Jonassan cleverly crafts Allan’s life story to include interactions with most major political figures and world events that show up between 1905-2005, from building the first atom bomb to engaging  in a drinking battle with Harry Truman on the night that Roosevelt was shot. The story is obviously far-fetched, but it is very clever and fun and full of dry wit. The book is translated from Swedish, but I think it keeps its humor really well.

Example quote: “Never try to out-drink a Swede, unless you happen to be a Finn or at least a Russian.” or “Allan thought it sounded unnecessary for the people in the seventeenth century to kill each other. If they had only been a little patient they would all have died in the end anyway.”

Category: Suspense/Thriller

3. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Lindsey had talked about Rebecca for years, and after I read it, I totally understood why. It is an awesome thriller that is gripping to the end, but it doesn’t have the graphic or scary details that often come with the genre. Rebecca tells the story of a young woman who marries a widower and goes back with him to the home he used to share with his late wife, Rebecca. The new wife (you never learn her name, although she is the narrator of the whole novel) tries to adjust to life in Rebecca’s shadow, but the longer she spends in the house, the more she realizes that things are not what they seem. Who exactly was Rebecca, and what happened to her all those years ago?

4. The Chief Inspector Gamache books by Louise Penny (Book one is called Still Life)

I have gushed about Louise Penny before, and I’m sure this won’t be my last time. There is something about this series that I can’t get enough of! Penny has created a wonderful cast of characters who play in each of these murder mysteries. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is thoughtful, kind, perceptive, and wise, and he is very good at his job as head of homicide. His character is what makes the series so wonderful. These books are murder mysteries, but they are so much more about the characters and their lives and about human nature and relationships than they are about graphic details of murders. Some of the books have a little bit of weird mysticism thrown in, and they all have some language (one of two of the characters in particular), but overall they are really great if you enjoy a good mystery!

Category: Funny

5. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (and Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

I love a good celebrity memoir, and this one is my favorite. Mindy is hilarious and down to earth and surprisingly insightful. I remember thinking, “YES! Why does no one else talk about how weird/dumb/ridiculous _______ is?!” In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me, Mindy discusses the awkwardness of growing up, making friends, chasing dreams, and feeling left out, but she does it all in a way that shows that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. Also, she gives some great behind-the-scenes details from The Office, which is always very fun to read. There is some language and adult content, but this book is way less shocking and gritty than a few other celebrity memoirs I’ve read. I liked this first book better than her second, Why Not Me?, but that one is fun if you want more Mindy. This is my go-to book when someone says they need an easy book to get back into reading. It is a quick, easy, fun read!

Example quote: “All women love Colin Firth: Mr. Darcy, Mark Darcy, George VI—at this point he could play the Craigslist Killer and people would be like, ‘Oh my God, the Craigslist Killer has the most boyish smile!”

Classics for Dudes

A few days ago a friend asked me for recommendations for classics she could give to her husband as a birthday gift.

Not to indulge in gender stereotyping, but many classics have a reputation of being kind of girly. We think they are full of of long descriptive passages, plots hinging on conversation and courtship rituals, and, always, ladies in long dresses. The thought leaves our husbands feeling the pain of Mr. Bennet: “No lace, Mrs. Bennet, I beg you!”

I enlisted the help of my husband Stephen, and we came up with this initial list. It’s just a starting point, as it is limited to books I could pull off of my own shelves, minus a bunch of obvious ones that I didn’t personally like (ahem, Dickens).

classics for dudes

For the history lover:

Beowulf– the Seamus Heaney translation is the only way to go, according to my sources. Plus the cover is way cool.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin- you’d think this one would be clever and interesting, and you’d be right.

The Scarlet Letter– you have to know that Nathaniel Hawthorne is not an objective source. But this classic is much more interesting than you remember from tenth grade, especially if you are a Reformed-theology type with a soft spot for the Puritans.

To Kill a Mockingbird– This one defies girl book/guy book categories. If you are human, you need to have read this one, probably multiple times.

The Grapes of Wrath– This one is long but it’s not a difficult read. The setting of Depression-Era America is integral to this classic. It’s one of those weirdly encouraging books that will remind you that lots of people have had it worse than you. (Trigger warning: there’s a crazy breastfeeding scene toward the end.)

For the guy who likes dystopian fiction:

Fahrenheit 451- this futuristic novel is eerily prophetic, over 50 years after its publication

Brave New World- see comment above

Lord of the Flies- one of Stephen’s favorites, and basically the doctrine of human depravity in narrative form

For the man who loves an epic story:

The Lord of the Rings– I don’t care for these books myself, but every man I know loves them. Get your feet wet with The Hobbit if the trilogy is intimidating.

The Count of Monte Cristo– An epic tale of wrongful imprisonment, revenge, and redemption that will leave you pondering the big themes of justice, mercy, and forgiveness.

Treasure Island– Pirates! Treasure! Treachery! This classic is will thrill boys of all ages.

For a man who likes a challenge:

Atlas Shrugged– I LOVED this thought-provoking classic. There are a few parts where Rand lets characters pontificate for pages on end. Although those are probably the most important parts if you’re trying to really get a handle on the author’s world view, I skimmed/skipped them to find out what happened next.

Crime and Punishment– This one is morally complex, tackling the question, “Is it ever okay to murder a shady old lady with the blunt end of an ax?” Warning: the long Russian names are hard to keep straight.

Stories about great dads:

To Kill a Mockingbird– Sorry for the double-dip here. But, Atticus Finch.

Little Britches– the true coming-of-age story of Ralph Moody

The Little House series- You can pitch this as one “to read to the children,” but if your husband is like mine, he will be inspired by the Great Charles Ingalls. Who, for the record, is not very much like the crying Pa of the TV series.

Cheaper by the Dozen- This true story of an efficiency expert and father of twelve will have your man in stitches! It’s written by two of the Gilbreth children, which makes it extra special.

 

Now it’s your turn. What would you add to this list?