Search This Blog

Friday, September 30, 2011

Book Meme

It would take a meme about books to get me to jump on the meme bandwagon. I found it on DarwinCatholic's blog.

1. Favorite childhood book?
I don't think I could narrow it down. The ones that have stayed with me the most are the Anne of Green Gables series, The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings, the Belgariad books, and all the myths, folktales, and fairy tales I could get my hands on.

2. What are you reading right now?
The Stories of English
by David Crystal.
War for the Oaks
by Emma Bull.
Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard.
no. 13.

3. What books do you have on request at the library?

by Michael Lewis.

4. Bad book habit?
Buying too many.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
None, at the moment.

6. Do you have an e-reader?
No. I prefer paper books.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
Several at once, to suit my mood and interests. Also, because I am lazy and I don't want to go downstairs at 11 at night to get the book in my bag, so I pull another from my yet-to-read bookshelf.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
No, but it has allowed me to articulate more precisely what I liked and didn't like about a book, which was part of the reason why I started the blog.

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?)
Dracula the Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
Love and Rockets, New Stories no. 1 by Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario Hernandez. Specifically the superhero tale by Jaime.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone?

Rarely. I don't have enough time to read all the books I want to read, and at this stage of my life I really want to enjoy what I am reading.

12. What is your reading comfort zone?
Well, almost everything, as long as it is 1) interesting to me and 2) not going to depress me or make me feel miserable.

13. Can you read on the bus?

I can read anywhere.

14. Favorite place to read?

Anywhere I won't be interrupted by children wanting snacks or the answers to a gazillion questions.

15. What is your policy on book lending?

I lend whenever I am asked. But I should probably be more careful, because I've lost a couple of out-of-print books that way.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books?
Yup, when I forget to use one of the many lovely bookmarks I have made or had made for me.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?

I used to, but now I only do it on the rare occasion I have actual scholarly comments I want to remember.

18. Not even with text books?
Law school killed my desire to learn from text books.

19. What is your favorite language to read in?

English. I used to read quite fluently in Spanish, but I am very out of practice. I keep meaning to start up again with poems or short stories, but somehow I never get around to it.

20. What makes you love a book?
The sheer pleasure it gives me.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?

The sheer pleasure it gives me, and that I think the person I am recommending it to will also love it.

22. Favorite genre?

Almost any fiction genre, but if I had to choose, it would be either scifi/fantasy or post-modern lit.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?)
A really, really good romance novel is great, but I have trouble finding ones I think are really, really good.

24. Favorite biography?
The only biography I have read that was not required by a class was Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel, so that one, I guess.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book?


26. Favorite cookbook?

Comida Criolla
(Puerto Rican Cookery, in English), for all my Puertoriqueño cooking needs. Glamour's Gourmet on the Run. Simple but yummy and surprisingly sophisticated recipes that have aged pretty well.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
Inspirational? I can think of several craft books that have inspired me artistically, but I don't think that's the answer this question is looking for.

28. Favorite reading snack?
If I eat as I read it is because I am hungry for a particular thing, and has nothing to do with reading itself.

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
I can't, actually. The few books I've read that were subject to wide-scale hype (the Harry Potter books, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) more than lived up to that hype.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
Depends on the critic. There are critics I have come to trust and rely on, and I have also learned how to determine from a (well thought out) review whether I will disagree with the reviewer.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?

I have no problem with it. There is a difference between a negative review and being cruel or unfair to the author.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?
Other than Spanish? French. I am missing out on some books that I would want to read in the original, like Georges Perec's La Disparition.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read?
I don't know that I have found a book intimidating. Too difficult, yes, but that is different.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin?
Again, I'm not actually intimidated, though I may be daunted by the length or difficulty of a book, because that I don't want to lose precious reading time to a big long book I end up not liking.

35. Favorite Poet?
T.S. Eliot! I need to read him again.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
One to three, depending on how quickly I can get through them and what else I am reading.

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread?

Never. I will at least skim it if I don't have time to finish it.

38. Favorite fictional character?

Severus Snape!

39. Favorite fictional villain?
Hmm, I don't know. I'll have to think about this.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation?
Something not too hard or intense, but not too fluffy, either. Something with meat.

1. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
Reading anything at all? No more than twelve hours or so, since in addition to books I read newspapers, magazines, texts on the interwebs, etc. Books? Maybe two or three days, if I am not commuting anywhere and the kids and household crap keep me busy.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum. I hated that book. It was so ugly and unpleasant I could not finish it, even for a class. Which did not prevent me from understanding why it is critically acclaimed -- a bad book is not the same thing as a book one does not like.

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
Questions. People (like, oh, say, the Beadboys) who keep pestering me by trying to call my attention to something else. Almost all of my book reading gets done when the kids are not around.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?

The Princess Bride
is an absolutely wonderful film. And Peter Jackson really did an excellent job capturing the feel of the Lord of the Rings books. Ooh, and Tristam Shandy: a Cock and Bull Story was appropriately meandering and post-moderny. I need to see it again now that I've read the book.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation?

I can't think of it. I don't actually watch many film adaptations, because I usually insist on reading the book first, and then once I have I lose interest in the movie unless it got really good reviews.

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
I'm afraid to find out.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it?

Before reading it? Never. During, I might jump ahead to get an idea of how a storyline is going to turn out, although I tend to do this with lesser quality books.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
If I really was not enjoying any aspect of it at all.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized?

I'm a librarian, so yes. The broadest categories are fiction and non-fiction. In the latter, cookbooks are by Library of Congress classification (except Mr. Beadgirl keeps messing that up), and the rest are by subject and topic (math, physics, craft books, etc.). Fiction is divided into genres -- folklore, scifi/fantasy, mystery, and "literary" fiction. The first is grouped by culture and subject. The second two are grouped by author (not alphabetical) and theme or style. The last one and by far the largest is subdivided by the author's country of origin and then organized alphabetically by author. But I group together smaller "collections" of favorite authors (Byatt, Kate Atkinson, Gaiman, Jasper Fforde, Kelly Link) or by theme (quilting, academic parodies, Arthurian fiction, etc.). Phew!

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?

but I am trying to be pickier about this.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?


52. Name a book that made you angry.

The Alchemist
by Paulo Coehlo. What a stupid, stupid, stupid book. Driven by a ridiculously shallow and not-well-thought-out philosophy, incredibly sexist, and so very pretentious. I actually wrote in the margins in this book, expressing my contempt for the ideas in it and gleefully pointing out flaws. And, oh hey! I guess this can count as a book that did not live up to its hype.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?

I don't read books I don't expect to like.

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
I've written before that I should have liked The Solitudes by John Crowley, but I could not get into it. Lempriere's Dictionary by Lawrence Norfolk was another disappointment, especially since I went through a great deal of trouble to get the unabridged British edition. The event at the core of the big conspiracy in the book turned about to be utterly mundane, and the main female character was yet another woman with no personality and no purpose except to inspire love/lust in the male characters.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?

Mysteries or novels that center around some kind of craft. Urban fantasy. The books of Sarah Addison Allen.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I had heard about Gabaldon's books a number of years ago -- a hybrid of romance, historical fiction, and science fiction -- but hadn't gotten around to picking up the first one yet. Then a friend of mine from the Dear Jane quilt class attended the romance genre convention here in New York, and came back with a free copy of Outlander; she already owned it, so she passed it to me (thanks, Lucy!)

I can see why the books are so popular, and for the most part I enjoyed it. Gabaldon writes that the book contains "history, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honor, betrayal, vengeance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, herbs, horses, gambling (with cards, dice, and lives), voyages of daring, [and] journeys of both body and soul," and she wasn't kidding. The premise is that Claire, an Englishwoman in 1946, accidentally travels back in time to 18th century Scotland and struggles to get back home, or at least survive. There is a lot of interesting stuff going on in the book, and the characters (with the exception of the main antagonist) are complex. Gabaldon has also clearly done a tremendous amount of research, and as a result the world of her novel feels dense and real.

Nonetheless, I have some reservations. For one, the book is very long, and by page 500 of 850 I was ready to move on. For another, there is an awful lot of violence: fighting, rapes, attempted rapes, and all kinds of beatings, which were sometimes disturbing, and eventually exhausting. One incident in particular bugged me -- the hero of the book, Jamie, feels the need to "punish" disobedient Claire (by now his wife) by spanking her. Gabaldon did a credible job of putting this in context, both of the society they are in and the particulars of these characters, but it was nonetheless awful to read. In my previous career as a lawyer (and lawyer-in-training) I spent some time working with domestic violence victims, so I really can't admire a man who hits his wife, no matter the cultural context. Not surprisingly, among the small but vocal minority who do not like the Outlander series, this incident gets mentioned a lot.

I also had trouble understanding why Gabaldon gave Claire a husband in 1946. Various characters discuss that she is a kind of widow as a result of the time travel, or that her marriage to Jamie takes place first temporally and so is the valid one, but I could not shake the feeling that Claire was an adulterer. It seemed icky, especially since Frank was portrayed as a good man whom she truly loved. So what was his point, if Jamie is her "true" love? Frank certainly gave Claire motivation in the first half of the book to try and return home, but it really wasn't necessary; handsome highlanders aside, most women would desperately try to get back to a world where there was indoor plumbing and antibiotics, not to mention a society where one does not have to fend off rapists every other day. Frank was also the source of crucial historical information Claire needed, but again, that could have been done through a friend or relative, or even a Frank who died in World War II. Whatever I felt about Claire and Jamie, "Poor Frank" kept running through my mind.

But this relates to what I ended up finding most interesting about the series, namely the narrative decisions Gabaldon made. Take Claire for example: she is from 1946, making her modern but not too modern to adapt to life in the 18th century. She is a nurse with extensive battlefield training, which gives her a valuable skill at a time when women were generally either wives or whores (and sets the stage for the obligatory "She's a witch! Burn her!" chapter). She was raised by an archeologist uncle who traveled the world, she endured WWII, and she was part of post-war England, all of which allows her to cope with rough living and the absence of 20th century conveniences. I enjoyed peering through the story, so to speak, to see how it was put together.

Outlander is just the first volume of the series, with book eight coming out later this year. Which presents a dilemma -- I really want to find out what happens to some of the characters (especially the hinted-at other time travelers), and what the explanations of the supernatural events are. But each book is so long, and I have so many other books to read. Perhaps I should check out the Outlandish Companion.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Alabama Skirt

I finished the Alabama Skirt last night, missing the summer but at least I can wear it through most of the fall.
I'm excited to have it finished, although it was a learning process. When I make the next one (ha!) I will:
1) Redraw the pattern onto something sturdy but pinnable, perhaps muslin.
2) Shorten the pattern more. Even though I chopped a couple of inches off while redrafting the pattern, it is too long, and I can't trim any more off without cutting into the applique.
3) Find a better way to draw the lines of the pattern onto jersey. The marking tools I had, no matter how smooth, still caught on and dragged the fine knit, making it impossible to draw a clean line. I ended up cutting around the pattern freehand, which led to very uneven seam allowances.
4) Remember to stencil the design a bit higher in the front, since the front should be hemmed (i.e., cut) two inches shorter than the back.
5) Experiment with using pearl cotton for the applique. It might not be as strong as the upholstery thread, but I think it also won't tangle or come undone as much. Plus I'll have a better choice of colors.
6) Really, really pay attention to basting the top of the panels so as to not stretch out the waist. I did baste, but I forgot I had done that when, after sewing the four panels together, I pulled the skirt over my hips to check the fit. I heard the basting stitches snap, but not until I sewed the elastic on did I realize the damage -- a whole four extra inches in the waist. And I had gone through such trouble to redraft the waist in the first place, sigh. I unpicked the back of the waistband and put in two tucks at the two back seams. It's not really noticeable because I don't tuck in my tops, but still. Grr.

It's a comfy skirt, though, and moves nicely.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Zucchini Harvest

Every year, whether it's from the CSA or the new farmer's market in our neighborhood, I end up with a ton of zucchini. My favorite recipes:

Lemon-Zucchini Cornmeal Cookies:

Zucchini Bread, from the William Sonoma Bread cookbook:

Zucchini Fries:

Chocolate Zucchini Cakes:

Zucchini Parmesan Crisps:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bottle Cap Earrings

A number of months ago in a bead magazine I saw a tiny picture of bottle cap earrings set in peyote stitch bezels; as I recall, the ad was for a class taught at a bead show I could not afford to go to. There was no indication of who the designer/instructor was, so I could not contact her and ask to buy a set of instructions.

But it was an awesome idea -- I love earrings, bottle caps, and seed beads. The first step was to pick a pair of bottle caps. I have a big jar of them:
But most don't have the bright colors I was looking for. Mr. Beadgirl solved the problem, however, by coming home one day with a few bottles of Izze's watermelon soda -- perfect!

The next step was starting the bezel to go around the bottle cap (I would attach it to a background later, holding the cap in place):
The trick was to figure out how many beads would fit around the crown of the cap (I got lucky on the first try -- 84 beads for the first two rows of peyote), and how to handle the expansion of the circumference to keep the beading relatively flat. A standard way to increase in peyote is to add two beads instead of one at various points, but I can never get it to look right. Instead, the bezel in the photo appeared to use larger and larger beads to handle the increase. After three tries I found the right sequence -- four rows of size 15 beads, two rows of delicas, two rows of slightly larger delicas, and a row of size 11 czech beads.

Next I used pliers to turn up the edges of the caps to get a flattish surface and drilled holes into the edges:
The holes allowed me to sew them onto my background (ultrasuede), so that the bezels would not be the only things holding them in place.
I then placed the bezels on the caps and sewed around the circumference through the fabric and the beads of the last row. I then trimmed away the excess fabric, being careful not to cut the stitches:
I used a whip stitch to attach another circle of ultrasuede to the back, sandwiching a jump ring at the top, and then used the peyote stitch to add one last row of czech beads. I added the ear wires and I was done!
They are quite large, but light weight and comfy.

The Ugliest Turnovers You'll Ever See

Ever since Chuck made pear gruyere pies laced with anti-depressants for her aunts, I've been on a quest to make my own pie (without the drugs, of course). Although the creators of the show did publish a bunch of the Pie Hole's recipes, they never did this one, forcing me to experiment.

A couple of years ago I made my first attempt, which was only ok. I used Bosc pears, I think -- the kind that turn brown when ripe but do not soften -- and they remained a little too firm when cooked. Next time I use this kind of pear I will try this recipe, which calls for poaching them first (and sounds delicious).

This year I got a different type of pear, so the texture was no problem. For the filling I used flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and grated gruyere, and for the crust I used the Silver Palate's Apple of my Eye pie crust, swapping gruyere for the cheddar of the original and omitting the sugar (I prefer savory pie crusts).

It was the pie crust that caused so much trouble this year. I had a hell of a time rolling out the dough, I think because the cheese made it very tough. I probably should have chilled the dough less, and added a bit more water. I also had the brilliant idea of making turnovers that I could freeze, since I am the only one who eats fruit pies, but that made the dough situation worse; while I probably could have patched together a decent circle to fit in a pie plate, trying to create any clean shape for turnovers didn't work at all.

Hence the ugliest turnovers ever:
They tasted good, however.

With the rest of the dough I gave up on turnovers, and tried my hand at ugly mini-pies:
They froze beautifully, but would not come out of the muffin pan at all, so I had to bake them all at once. Disposable mini-pie plates are the solution. And again, they tasted good, but I am still on the hunt for the perfect pear gruyere recipe.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Book Round-Up

Goddess of Spring by P.C. Cast: This romance novel is a riff on the Persephone myth. Through a series of events, Lina, a middle-aged bakery owner, exchanges bodies with Persephone and agrees to bring the touch of a goddess to Hades. This was a pretty good re-telling of the myth -- Cast makes Hades, known as a dour god (unusual for the Greek gods in general), into a very attractive hero. Lina is smart and capable and mature, a refreshing change from the typical twenty-something heroine. The happy ending is unconventional but plausible (well, as plausible as one can expect in a world where the Greek gods are real). And Cast deliberately recast (heh) the myth in a feminist manner, getting rid of the (in)famous rape in the process. (In a comment on a Smart Bitches thread, Cast states that her research indicated the rape was not part of the original myth; I can't confirm this, except to say that this aspect of the story was not known in Homer's time.) Cast has written other books in the "Goddess" series -- the one below, plus ones based on the Undine and Beauty and the Beast stories, both of which I intend to check out.

Goddess of Light by P.C. Cast: This is the sequel of sorts to Goddess of Spring, and I did not like it nearly as much. For one thing it is set in Las Vegas, which holds no appeal to me. For another, Apollo is kind of a jerk -- there are several scenes where he is downright bullying to service people. I think we are supposed to find it romantic, a sign of how passionate and concerned he is for the protagonist, Pamela, but . . . no. Nor did I like the use of the antagonist, Bacchus. I found it odd that Cast chose the Roman version of this god when all other gods were the Greek counterparts, and while Dionysus is a natural foil for Apollo, chaos to his order, Bacchus here was not chaotic or wild, just gluttonous and petty and mustache-twirlingly evil. (And fat. Cast made a big deal of how disgusting he was.) On a more abstract level, I had a bit of trouble with the idea of the Greek/Roman gods being real (which I was able to overlook in the first book, because I enjoyed it so much, but still). Not surprisingly, God-with-a-capital-G (let alone the J-word) is not mentioned in the books, but neither is this some sort of alternate America where Judaism and Christianity do not exist. There are several off-hand references to a Christian understanding of prayer, much is made of how Hades is not like the Christian Hell, and in this book we learn modern dead people do not go to Hades at all. I was therefore left with a number of questions about the theology of the books (as dorky as that sounds, and yes, I am the type who over-analyzes romance novels). Nonetheless, the book was pretty well written, and again Cast came up with an unconventional yet plausible happy ending.

A Single Thread by Marie Bostwick: Bostwick has started a series centered around a quilt shop in Connecticut and a group of women who form a modern quilting circle. As you would expect, the women face all the standard problems -- cancer, divorce, betrayal, familial estrangement, career problems, and so on. Bostwick's skill, however, keeps the story engaging, perhaps because the characters are a little more self-aware than is usual in this type of fiction. Bostwick does make a couple of odd narrative decisions: although the story centers around four women, it is told from the first-person perspective of two, not all or just one; why? And several passages in the novel indicate that the two narrators are speaking or writing directly to someone; who? Otherwise, the book was well-written and enjoyable.

The Mouse Guard comics by David Petersen: Petersen has created an unusual comic universe -- a society of mice who survive in the wilderness despite being surrounded by predators. Fall 1152 is about a rebellion against the Mouse Guard, a group who keep other mice as safe as they can; Winter 1152 deals with the aftermath of he rebellion and a harsh winter. Although the plots at times were a little thin, the world is rich and deep -- there is a history (including a war against weasels and an alliance with hares) that we only get snippets of, there are mousish poems and proverbs, and there is even a list of the quotidian professions of mouse commoners. The artwork, sized to fit onto square pages, depicts mice that are both adorable and deadly serious. I look forward to the next installments.

J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century by Tom Shippey: Over-the-top title aside, this is a great book of literary criticism by Shippey. I read it a decade ago and then lent it to Beadmom, where it sat neglected on a book shelf until I reclaimed it last month (like me, Beadmom has more books than time to read). I've now re-read it, and it was just as enjoyable the first time around. Shippey devotes each chapter to a major work of Tolkien's while tying it to a particular theme -- myth, the nature of evil, and so on. Sometimes he overstates his case, but it is clear he knows both Tolkien and his writings very well, which gives him a lot of insight into the works. He also does a close reading of the texts, paying special attention to particular words Tolkien used and even invented (not surprising, given that Shippey, like Tolkien, was a linguist at Oxford). I love language, particularly etymologies, so this is right up my alley.

Although Shippey quotes them, it is nonetheless hard to believe there are people who think the Lord of the Rings et al. is trivial and simplistic. I get not liking the books, but if you think they are just inconsequential little stories, you clearly weren't paying attention.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

More Embellished Fabric

Beadboy2 was fascinated by me beading the dot fabric. After an extended argument about how I would not let him play with my boxes of seed beads, another about how I would not give him a beading needle to sew beads on, and yet another about how the tiny seed beads would not fit on his giant plastic needle, I was finally forced to fetch the box of big plastic beads in my stash. I threaded Beadboy2's needle with wool and showed him how to attach beads to his needlework:

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

August Stitch-Along Finished!

The past few weeks have been hectic -- a trip to visit Beadmom and Fr. Beadbrother, three and a half weeks of my damn wiener kids running amok at home all day, school supply shopping, car trouble (three batteries in three weeks!). I did manage to finish the stitch-along, however, and only a week late (a record for me).

The whole thing:
There are two uncovered dots just on the edge, which will get cut off when I applique the circle down. On the one hand, I only wanted to embellish complete dots. On the other hand, they appear obvious and naked. I'll have to decide what'll look best once it is sewn onto its backing.

Close-ups (other than the four discussed earlier):