Maps and Legends – Michael Chabon

102ddfdbba1a81059734e646567434f414f4141This book is part memoir, part musing on books that straddle the divide between “regular” fiction, and genre fiction (sci fi, fantasy, comics, etc). Chabon’s considered a “regular” fiction author (I guess getting a Pulitzer does that), though he’s written books that would definitely be considered genre if other people had written them. He’s also not one of those “regular” authors that gets all huffy if you dare suggest they might be slumming it by even touching that tainted pool of books not included in “real” fiction bucket. (Are my biases showing?)

Several chapters are meditations on other works – Sherlock Holmes, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Material series, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I found those all interesting – especially the chapter on The Road. That’s the only McCarthy I’ve read, so it was nice to see Chabon’s views on how that fits in with McCarthy’s other work. (That book guaranteed I’d probably not read anything else of his.    It was lovely, but I do not need to be that depressed by a whole book.)

There are also some interesting chapters about how being Jewish has impacted the author’s work – I don’t share that faith (and frankly, culture – being Jewish is so much more than the faith), so that was interesting.

All in all, I’m not sure I’d recommond this book to anyone that hasn’t read any other works by this author – there’s enough personal material that that’s primary, but if you have read some of his books, you can see his motivations, and get some other musing on genre fiction.


Cherries in Winter – Suzan Colon

030747593x-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_This is the story of how the author’s family used food to get through hard times, framed with her experiences being laid off from her magazine job during the Great Recession in 2008/2009. It’s a really nice story of family, and sticking together through hard times. I really just picked it up because it was next in line in the stack, but it turned out to be what I need this week.

I don’t write a lot about politics and the like in this blog, because I don’t feel like that defines my existence, but that’s not to say I don’t have strong opinions on it, and the election (and the season leading up to it) last week was definitely a low point in our modern political history. I don’t know what’s going to happen with soon to be president Cheeto – I’ll do my best to respect the office, but I cannot respect the man – but this book was exactly what I needed to counteract the general air of depression hanging over a lot of us right now. In that general spirit, I’m going to focus on positive things – like the 17th annual Mocksgiving last weekend, and all the friends that make that happen, as well as the soon to be niece or nephew who is now officially my niece M. Those are the kinds of things that are important.

A Thousand Days in Tuscany – Marlena de Blasi

I read the precursor to this book – A Thousand Days in Venice – quite a while ago.    In that book, the author had thrown her life in the US over to go to Italy and marry a man she didn’t know very well.    The first book is the story of her learning to love her husband, and her new city and country.

In this book, her husband has retired from his bank job, and they’ve decided to move to Tuscany to live a country life that’s probably based mainly on fantasy, but they’re game to try.     Their new neighbors are a bit bemused by the idea, but give them many ideas from the past, and help with their plans.     Slowly, they start to figure out the new life they want to lead, and gain new friends in this new village.

This is actually only a year – the title is clearly meant to echo the earlier story – but it’s a packed year, and it’s lovely to read the author’s descriptions (she’s just this side of overly flowery – I suspect she’s the kind of writer you either get right off and enjoy, or one you’re loathe).     There is a definite bittersweet component to this book, as advertised, but it’s almost nice in a way, to see that there is the good and the bad when you throw you life over to live this kind of adventure.

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography – Laura Ingalls Wilder, ed. Pamela Smith Hill

I didn’t think I’d get this book.    I won it through EarlyReviewers back in November.    I was totally psyched – I have very warm memories of my mother reading the Little House books to my sister and me when we were little.

You generally don’t get those books for at least a month or so, so I wasn’t surprise to not get it immediately.      And then I saw this.   (Quick paraphrase: the South Dakota Historical Society had no idea how popular this book was going to be, and there were nowhere near enough printed for the demand.)     Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled at the attention the book was getting.     But I figured that meant there was no way I’d be getting my free copy.     So when I come home a few weeks ago and found a package from the South Dakota Historical Society, I knew it couldn’t be anything else.      There may have been actual squeeing involved.

So what this is is the original format that Laura Ingalls Wilder put down her life’s story in.     They’ve left in the little notes she put for her daughter (who was a more famous author than her mother in their lifetime, and was her mother’s chief editor),  some of which are just incredibly sweet, like where she notes that Rose was named for the prairie roses they found on the homestead in South Dakota.     The story was reordered, and embellished a bit in some cases, to make the Little House books.

There are also more foot notes than you can shake a stick at, that give you background information on just about anything you could possibly desire – they tracked down every person that was mentioned though census information, if they could.      Any possible historical detail was chased down, if they could.     It’s like footnote porn:  you get about three pages of notes to one page of text.

The footnotes also talk about why things were changed for the more fictionalized version that become the books.     It’s a really fascinating look into the writing process.       I have a much greater appreciation for those books, having read this one.

You Deserve a Drink – Mamrie Hart

Librarything Early Reviewers book.

So I was introduced to Mamrie Hart by way of “@Midnight”, after which we tracked down “Hey USA” online, and have added “Camp Takota” to our Netflix watchlist.    Which I guess means I’m probably not anywhere near a Mamrie Hart superfan, but I really do love her on what I’ve seen of her, so I thought getting this book through the Early Readers program would be fun.

I’d say this book is pitch perfect written by that best friend of yours that completely overshares, but you still love her for it.     I laughed very much out loud at several moments (the BF has to check in from the living room one time, when I was reading in bed and laughed so loud he heard me).    It’s absolutely all kinds of wrong, which probably makes it even better in the long run.    I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone without steering them to Youtube first, but if you’re a woman who went to college in the 2000s (or the 1990s, like I did), you’ll definitely be able to identify with at least some of the situations in this book.

Songbook – Nick Hornby

This is a book of essays about songs that have particularly interested Hornby at various points of his life.    The essays may not concern the song directly, but are sometimes about what that song may remind him of, or of feelings or events that that song is forever linked to in his mind.

It’s an interesting format.   I didn’t know all of the songs, but I can definitely identify with having songs take on a whole other meaning, based on where you were when you first heard it (or what you were doing the summer it was overplayed on the radio).    I suppose this format may not be for everyone, but if you love music, you can probably appreciate this book.

Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education – Michael Pollan

Any American gardener should read this book – it’s the story of Pollan’s evolution as a gardener at his New England farmhouse, but within this evolution, he explores quite a bit of what makes gardening here in America both the same as other places, and also very unique.

One of the things he brings up, that I had never thought about, but could instantly see, is that the American garden (and by garden, we’re often speaking about larger grounds of a home), abhors fences.    If you look at the front lawns of suburbia, they flow into the next perfectly manicured lawn, and if you put up any sort of substantial fence or hedge, you’re absenting yourself from this landscape, and even if only subconsciously, your neighbors will look down on this rebellion.    I’ve always had a thing against hedges in the city, and I think I understand part of why now.    But he also points out that this lack of fencing can be traced back to the Puritans, who believed that this land was given to us by God, and you can’t fence that off.    And it’s that viewpoint that has governed a lot of how Americans relate to land up to the present day.

There are a number of other really interesting chapters, but my other particular favorite was one about the variety of seed catalogs you can find in America.    It’s now a bit dated (the book was published in 1991), but even with what was out there then (which I remember looking at from what my mother received), there’s a lot of things I had never thought about that you find out about regional identity and class viewpoints from these catalogs.    I’d actually be really interested to see what he’d say about the catalogs out there today – in the book, Johnny’s Select Seeds is a relative newcomer, and they’ve been around for a while now.

I really enjoyed this book.    I don’t think I was expecting to have a gardening book make me think this much – there’s a lot of information to chew over in here, though I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me, coming from the author of The Botany of Desire.