Thursday, January 30, 2014

Anne of Avonlea

"Perhaps she had not succeeded in 'inspiring' any wonderful ambitions in her pupils, but she had taught them, more by her own sweet personality than by all her careful precepts, that it was good and necessary in the years that were before them to live their lives finely and graciously, holding fast to truth and courtesy and kindness, keeping aloof from all that savoured of falsehood and meanness and vulgarity. They were, perhaps, all unconscious of having learned such lessons; but they would remember and practice them long after they had forgotten the capital of Afghanistan and the dates of the Wars of the Roses."

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

In the second book, Anne is no longer the student: she has become the teacher, and she pours her soul into it, as she does with everything.  She is home to help Marilla with their two new additions: twins Davy and Dora.  She also makes several new friends, who keep life interesting and full of love and imagination.

A wonderful read.  I love watching Anne grow up.

Anne of Green Gables

"Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It's splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world."

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Good heavens, how could I have never known Anne of Green Gables?  I have never read this book and I can't imagine how or why!  The only comfort I have in waiting so long is that I have now had such a fun treasure in my twenties that I never knew about!

When Mary saw I was reading this she asked me, "Have you come to kindred spirits yet?"  :)  What a delightful term for those people we all hold near!

I just love this book - it went right along with happy people living in mountains and now on islands!  Anne is so wonderfully endearing I understand exactly why she has become so well known over the years.  Perhaps I love her most because she always has such great intentions.  She is such a fun protagonist.

To start the series, Anne leaves an orphanage to live with a brother and sister (Matthew and Marilla) in Green Gables.  They had planned on a boy, but feel so badly for Anne that the keep her.  Over time, they come to love Anne, in spite of (or maybe because of) her many incidents and accidents.  It is a beautiful, rich story.  I will undoubtedly read this again and again (books 2-7 are on my library counter to read right away!)

LOVED this.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

"Don't think of introversion as something that needs to be cured."

 Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

I heard about this book some months ago and thought, "As introverted as I am, I probably ought to read that."  I have come to generally accept that I'm introverted but feel mostly inconvenienced by it, especially at work, where I need to be a team player and negotiator.  This was a great book.  Perhaps more than anything else it made me feel empowered as an introvert: reassuring me that there are many others that are also introverts that are highly effective and successful.

The book climbs through different themes, including how we came to be a nation that so highly prizes extroversion, what introverts are naturally good at and how introverts can be more effective at extroverted tasks.

There were a number of times throughout the book that I felt like shouting, "That's me!  That is me!"  One example:

"Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions."

I also found a great definition for one of my key characteristics, which Cain describes as "high sensitivity."  This is me to a T:

“The highly sensitive [introverted] tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions--sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments--both physical and emotional--unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss--another person's shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.”

 I just felt so empowered by the whole thing.  As soon as I finished I handed the book to TJ and said, "Read this.  It will teach you all about me."  I think that, in spite of our full book shelves, I may just spring and buy this one.  I definitely think I'll be reading it again.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I, Juan de Pareja

"Art must be true.  It is the one thing in life that must rest on solid truth.  Otherwise, it is worthless."

I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de TreviƱo

In my quest to read all the Newberys, I picked up "I, Juan de Pareja" in January 2009.  Because I love Spain, and I know who Velazquez is, I devoured the story, wishing genuinely that there was more.

Velazquez is a renowned Spanish painter from the seventeenth century.  His most famous piece of artwork, "Las Meninas" is an intriguing work that I feel privileged to have seen in person.  I, Juan de Pareja, is a book about Velazquez through the eyes of his slave, Juan de Pareja.  Juan is inherited by Velazquez when he is a young boy and becomes a pillar for Velazquez: he sets the canvases, washes the brushes, arranges the palette, and travels many miles at his master's side.  It is a captivating story, both in regards to the artwork that Velazquez created, and in terms of the beautiful relationship that unfolds between master and pupil.  Juan's voice is simple and raw, filled with honesty and emotion.

Whenever I am asked about my favorite book I respond that it is "I, Juan de Pareja."  I can't believe five years have passed since I read it, but I truly enjoyed again experiencing the surprise that comes from being uncertain how it would all go.  I love this book.

By the way, the cover is snatches of the artwork of Velazquez, which I also just love.  Go look up "Las Meninas" and read a little about the history of it.  It is the only self-portrait we have of Velazquez.

Friday, January 10, 2014


In a letter to her husband:

Dearest darling,

       I've been away from you enough during the last year to last me for the duration of this existence and I hope Heaven is a small place or travel is by instant atomic force."

Letters by Marjorie Pay Hinckley

As a sophomore in college I spent a semester studying abroad in Spain, about an hour outside of Madrid.  I went with a group of about 30 other kids from my university in the US and we lived with families for the 3 months we were there.  Each morning we had class for several hours and then we had the afternoon to spend how we pleased.  Several of the kids jumped on the train after school each day and headed to the city, where they spent hours, then days, then weeks and months exploring Madrid and beyond.  After class each day, I walked home and stayed there.

My genuine hope while living in Spain was to know what it felt like to live in Spain.  I spent as much time with my family as possible, because I wanted to see and know and feel how they lived.  I spent two hours at lunch with them everyday.  I watched TV and movies with them.  I played games with them, made dessert with them, practiced French with them and went on walks with the dogs.  I was fascinated by the quotidian lifestyle and have no regrets about how I spent my time.

I find I am still drawn to people that live quiet lives of consistency and build a life out of routines, habits and little actions.  I love Marjorie Pay Hinckley because she was genuine, full of life, humorous and involved in the day-to-day.  I just finished reading Letters, a compilation of letters she wrote throughout her life, for the second time and enjoyed it yet again.  It feels to me like sitting down with one of the older women you love, cherish, admire and lean on because their experience in life has granted them wisdom and stability that is gained no other way.  Her letters made me laugh on several occasions and made my heart hurt on others.  She brought countries of the world to life with her descriptions of them and she pushed me to reach out to family members more consistently (if she can drop postcards to grandkids from countries around the world I can certainly take time to reach out to those that are a few miles away).  I just really love this book.  She makes me feel so optimistic about life.

By the way, I typically link the title to amazon but this book is particularly hard to find as it's been out of print for a half dozen years or so.  I just got my hands on a used copy and after cleaning up the cover a bit it's good enough for me: happy hunting!

Bright Island

Sailing was better than flying.  You sat still and the clean water poured around you, and the sweet air washed you clean.

Bright Island by Mabel L. Robinson

I remember that in high school someone asked me what kind of books I liked and I responded, "Happy books about nice people who live in mountains."  Christy, by Catherine Marshall, was one of my favorite reads at the time and I found a few other treasures about people living on the land that I really enjoyed.  I have clearly broadened my horizons to now include happy books about nice people who live on islands.

Bright Island is about Thankful Curtis, a young girl that lives with her family as the sole inhabitants on an island off the coast of Maine.  Thankful thrives on her island and lives for her icy plunges in the water each morning and sailing every afternoon.  She loves watching the stars and living off the land.

But Thankful is sent to the mainland to go to finishing school with other children her age.  She has never been in so much noise or with young people her age, to say nothing of her confusion about modern-day conveniences.  She struggles and learns, makes mistakes and grows.

It was not a profound book, but I really enjoyed it.  It is one I would pick up again to enjoy the sights and smells and sounds of Thankful's Bright Island.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Garlic and Sapphires

Every restaurant is a theater, and the truly great ones allow us to indulge in the fantasy that we are rich and powerful. When restaurants hold up their end of the bargain, they give us the illusion of being surrounded by servants intent on ensuring our happiness and offering extraordinary food.  

But even modest restaurants offer the opportunity to become someone else, at least for a little while. Restaurants free us from mundane reality; that is part of their charm. When you walk through the door, you are entering neutral territory where you are free to be whoever you choose for the duration of the meal.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl

What an interesting book.  I now feel like I should be eating infinitely more fancy food, all the time.  (Though I confess that when I eat my very simple chicken tacos at home with my husband I feel like it's all I need, which might explain why we've had chicken tacos at least three nights a week for four weeks straight now.)

Ruth Reichl was hired as the food critic for The New York Times in the 1990s.  She moved her family across the country and settled in New York City where she dove right in.  This was a fascinating life for me to hear about: I had no idea that such people exist, frankly.  I mean, I assume that somewhere in my mind I realized that there were food critics and that they ate out a lot, but I didn't full understand that to give a fair review you probably needed to eat at the same place 3-5 times trying more than a half dozen dishes each time.  I thought I had a hearty appetite but I really respect someone who can sit at the same table eating the same meal for five hours straight.

Also, I don't drink alcohol so the wine aspect of this book was really fascinating to me.  I'm trying to think of a non-alcoholic similarity but I just can't seem to find one: seems like a very rich experience for so many.  It's really interesting for me to read about the sommeliers and the wine snobs and the depth and flavor of a good wine.

Aside from the wine, I really enjoyed simply getting a glimpse into such a different lifestyle from my own.  I have never tasted about 90% of what she wrote about (I had to ask TJ what foie gras was) and I am confident I'm incapable of naming every ingredient in the foods I eat.  Aside from being able to taste things in details (an odd combination in writing) she is a great writer.  Her food descriptions were gorgeous - I can see why she was given the job.  This short description of noodles gives you a taste of her writing:

I was not prepared for the feel of the noodles in my mouth, or the purity of the taste. I had been in Japan for almost a month, but I had never experiences anything like this. The noodles quivered as if they were alive, and leapt into my mouth where they vibrated as if playing inaudible music.

One thing I really appreciated was the clean language...until about halfway through when there were three instances of the f word on one page.  I sure wish that would have been left out!  There were a couple other swear words so if you're a sensitive reader (as I consider myself to be) beware.  You could certainly skip that page without missing a beat, which makes me think I should've grabbed the page number before returning it.  Sorry about that.

If you're looking for a look at a different lifestyle (assuming you're not already a food critic) this is a fun read.