Ta-dah! Here is my book binge. What you all do now is publish your lists of books on your blogs, and then let me know in the comments. I will publish the list of bingers tomorrow.
Too Pretty to Die (A Debutante Dropout Mystery)
A pretty piece of fluff. Mindless way to pass a half-day or so…
You Look Nice Today
Tedious account of an office affair gone bad — without even any juicy bits for interest.
Ghosts, ghost-hunters, lost loves and hope. A nice mix, though I found it bogged down around page 80 – 90, once I was through that it moved between past and present, through an intruiging twist, to a hopeful ending.
Bread and Dreams
What started out with the appearance of historical fiction turned out to be a romance. The surrounding’s and support characters’ only purpose was to further the plot. Unlikely plot event occurred, obstacles were overcome in even more unlikely ways, so that the happy couple could meet their destiny to be together. Meh.
Lament for a Lounge Lizard (A Fiona Silk mystery)
Maffini takes neither the genre seriously, nor allows her character to take herself too seriously. Thus it’s a fun, tongue-in-cheek read.
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
The best thing about this book is how the narrator, a young Chinese woman sent to England to learn to speak English, speaks in her developing English voice. In the foreward, we read of her fears:
And how I living in strange country West alone? I never been to west… What I knowing about West? … That not my life. That nothing to do with my life. I not having life in West. I not having home in West. I scared. I no speaking English. I fearing future.
Touching. The primitive English and fractured grammar only add to its poignancy. In the first few chapters, there are intruiging glimpses into the Chinese culture, all the more fascinating given that the narrator assumes her home perspective and experiences, so you have to infer what she’s accustomed to from the things she perceives as odd in Western life.
As the novel progresses, however, one begins to wonder if what you’re seeing is a window into Chinese culture, experience, and mindset, or whether you’re merely getting a window into the world of a rather disturbed young woman.
It’s an interesting book, but ultimately dissatisfying.
Biography of hypothetical “lost love” of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Well-told. You can never actually like Ginevra, the spoiled rich girl telling the tale, but you feel for her.
Exercises in Style
An eccentric re-telling of a single brief non-event 99 different ways. It’s not a book you read cover-to-cover, because the “plot”, such as it is, is recounted in its entirety, on the first page and in less than 300 words. (Educated guess. I did not count.) The plot is not the point. The point is the variety of ways a simple event can be retold. Part writing exercise, part humour, it’s a dryly entertaining way to pass a few minutes. A good book to keep in your bag for those times when you have a few moments to kill.
Schott’s Orginal Miscellany
I was given this book ages ago, and I’m not sure I’ve read every page, but it deserves mention simply because I do dip into it at semi-regular intervals. It’s a collection of facts. Quirky, trivial, interesting bits and pieces of this and that. Containing everything from the Ten Commandments to Boatswain’s Calls, and all manner of miscellanea in between, it’s a great book to annoy one’s spouse throug constant interruptions to his reading. “Hey, love! Did you know that the chemical notation for testosterone is C19H28O2??” (Imagine those numbers as teeny subscripts. I don’t know how to make WordPress do that…)
Lion’s Honey: The Myth of Samson
Sex and Other Changes
David Nobb (could that be his real name?) manages the astounding feat of (respectfully) tackling the serious subject of sex change — with humour. Husband and wife, Nicolas and Alison, become wife and husband, Nicola and Alan. How their marriage, their friendships, their children, their jobs, their sex lives, weather this enormous change is real story of the book. And for all that, it’s an entertaining read. Who knew it was possible?
The Young Mrs. Meigs
Fun read about a feisy 80-year-old, with enough true-to-life human passions and the slightest tinge of tragedy to make it less than total fluff. The portrayal of an elderly woman is firm and unsentimental; Mrs. Meigs is a delightful old woman.
The marriage she encourages her granddaughter into is bound to fail, of course: “Married life with Tip O’Neil wouldn’t be a bed of roses. Bot that streak in Cecile which had threatened lately to turn into hardness would ome out as strength now that she was married to the man she loved. ‘She married the man she loved!’ That wasn’t the same thing as saying, ‘She lived happy ever after.’ But it put a woman straight with life.”
Which is utter nonsense, of course. Poor Cecile will soon be very unhappy with the handsome, charming and irresponsible Tip. Sooner if they have children. It’s clear I’m far less sentimental about the omnipotence of love than Mrs. Meigs.
My Sister’s Keeper
You’ll need a half-dozen boxes of kleenex to get through this one. When baby Kate is discovered to have a fatal health condition, her parents decide to conceive another child … to use as a source of spare parts to prolong Kate’s life. When she is 13, after innumerable surgeries, Anna rebels against this role and takes her parents to court to fight for the right to the integrity of her own body. The struggles of the family as this plays out are by turns poignant, tragic, compelling, enraging, and horrifying. I could deal with all that — that’s what the story requires. However, the story did NOT require the ending, and I doubt I will read another Picoult book because of it, I am so offended. I cannot conceive why it was necessary to throw in that twist at the end. Well, no. It was completely unnecessary. Boooooo!
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
Clever and engaging story of the unlikely project to introduce salmon fishing into the hot and arid world of the Yemen. Though it’s seen mostly through the eyes of the lead scientist on the project, the story is advanced through a wide variety of vantage points, including TV scripts, news accounts, emails, as well as two or three different characters. At times social and political satire, farce and romance, it’s a funny, intelligent read with a wistful ending. I liked it.
Julie and Romeo
A light and touching retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story (betcha didn’t guess that from the title, huh?), it’s not deep, but it is funny and satisfying. Julie Roseman and Romeo Cacciamani are sixty-something owners of rival flower shops. When they meet at a small business owner’s convention, their romance (ahem) blossoms in unfriendly soil. Can love triumph over the amassed forces of a three-generation family feud, a secret buried in history, their outraged children, and a malevolent grandma?
The Jane Austen Book Club
Karen Joy Fowler
Not one story, but many, this book recounts far more than the monthly meetings of a book club reading through the works of Jane Austen. You don’t have to have read a word of Austen to enjoy the book, but if you have (and enjoyed them!), you’ll feel part of the club as you read along. You care about the members of the club, and enough ends are left loose that you’ll think about them after you finish the last page. A good read.
As yet unfinished:
Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World
Biography of Sergio Vierira de Mello. Not far enough into it (page 62) to say much about it, though I know how it ends…
“Why do you have a garden on your porch, Mary?”
The children are very impressed by the range of flowers sheltering under the slatted chairs on the porch. Each one has had to stop and hunker down on their way in the front door, check out the colours.
“It’s on my porch for a while, but soon I’m going to put those flowers in the garden. Will that be fun?”
“You has a garden?” Astute kid. Knows the difference between “garden” and “arid wasteland”.
“Well, maybe I don’t have one just yet, sweetie, but once I fill it up with these plants, I will!”
The children mill about as I prepare. Spade, hose, manure (cow; it was cheaper than sheep; is there a difference?), little plastic pots of flowers. Since it is a very small plot, the tots are not allowed in. Five toddlers would trample every bloom in my four-to-six square metres in about 90 seconds. Instead, I have all sorts of kid-friendly activities planned for them. They will fetch and carry, toss vegetable debris into the bin for recycling. Lucky us, here in Ottawa: we have curbside yard waste collection throughout spring, summer, and fall. They will watch and comment and question…
They will ride the ride-on cars and cover my driveway with chalk art. Mary’s kinda boring, after all. She’s just digging holes. They do that three times a week at the park. And she doesn’t even have any sand toys. Where are the buckets and the tractors? Grown-ups make everything boring…
Me, I’m having a great time, though what with my surprisingly long fingernails it’s clear that gardening gloves will be my next horticultural investment… (Where did those nails come from, anyway? Yay for calcium supplements!)
I dig the three trenches into which I’m going to place the daisies at the recommended 8-inch intervals. (I figured three trenches were easier to dig than 18 separate holes.)
The bag of manure lies in the drive, where the children ride and chalk. I give it a whack with the pointed tip of the spade. Such unorthodox behaviour draws the tots like flies to … manure. (The uncomposted stuff, unlike the dark and odour-free version in the bag.) I am immersed in a swirling cloud of curious tots and questions.
“Why are you hitting the bag with the shovel?”
“Did you gots to dig a hole in the bag, Mary?”
“What’s in the bag?”
“What is ma-nooowa?”
“EEEEEWWWW!!!” Anna is practically falling over, she’s laughing so hard. The other four are merely dumbfounded.
“You gots poo in that bag?”
“Where did the poo come from?”
“You BOUGHT POO? From the STORE???”
“Why is there poo in a bag?”
“Who put their poo in the bag?”
Nigel is the first to recover from the shock, and comments sagely. “Milk comes from cows. And poo. Cows make milk and poo.”
Indeed. Mary continues. The interrogation continues.
“Why are you picking it up?”
“Is you picking up POO in your HANDS???”
“It’s clean poo?!?!”
“Why are you putting it in the hole?”
“PLANTS EAT POO?”
THIS is the most interesting thing I have done in WEEKS. Mary is playing with poo. With her bare hands. It doesn’t look like poo, granted. It doesn’t smell like it, either. Maybe cows make funny poo? But Mary is playing with POO!
We shall overlook the fact — because the tots obviously have — that I deal with the real, uncomposted human variety several times a day, also with my bare hands. Well, okay. With at least one layer of baby wipe between me and it, but, you know. Mary and poo, we go way back.
But today, Mary is picking up COW POO in her BARE HANDS and putting in the GARDEN for the FLOWERS TO EAT.
If that’s not really weird, what is?
Weird, and really, really interesting.
At the end of the day, the parents are bombarded with largely incoherent stories about Mary! COW POO! POO IN A BAG! flowers EAT POO! POO inna hole! POO from a store!
Oh, and we planted some flowers, too.
She stomps through the front door, her pudgy legs striding with two-year-old resolve.
“I brought sumpin’.”
“You did. Oh, that’s nice! What did you bring to share?” (Note the very subtle reminder of expectations.) Daddy the pack mule lumbers in behind, arms laden with a heap of multi-coloured aluminum tubing and canvas.
“Train. I brought a train.” And indeed she did. The canvas-and-tubing pops out into two small ‘cars’ and an ‘engine’, like little wagons without wheels. Each, about 20 inches wide by three feet long, holds one or even two toddlers, if they’re cuddled up snug. The pack mule kisses his tot and heads off to work.
Emma surveys the train pieces ranged around our (very small) living room. “What’s the weirdest thing anyone’s ever brought to daycare?”
I consider the options, down through the years. Apart from the standard toys, books, and items of food, there have been …
- a nursing bra. (“She can’t sleep without it.”)
- one of the child’s father’s shoes. A different one each day. I gather there was some negotiation required, depending on daddy’s sartorial requirements of the day, but always one of his shoes. For about three months.
- a potted plant. Same one, every day for weeks. It had a name and everything.
- the child’s own potty. This one was just plain annoying. I have a potty, I have a very small house. There was no need for two. He never once got to use his own potty here. I told the mother all this, but it kept right on coming. It was just plain silly. I ended up putting it on the porch. I flirted with the idea of putting it there before mom had pulled out of the driveway, but I could never quite bring myself to be so blatant about it.
- cake batter. In the bowl, the open bowl. Good thing I have cake pans, because they didn’t think to bring those.
- a pet rat. No, they didn’t ask if it was welcome. I really don’t like rats. They smell weird and their tails gross me out. This one was male, and their testicles totally gross me out, too. I mean, WHY does any male need them so large they drag on the ground behind him? Eeew.
- a same-age cousin. Which would not have been an issue at all, except they didn’t ask! Just showed up with an extra for the day!
(And they were suprised to be asked to pay at the end of the day, because the cousin’s family was, you know, on holiday. Because you don’t pay for childcare when you’re on vacation? Because when they’re on vacation, somehow I am too, so an extra child isn’t extra work, but only extra … fun? What does go on in some peoples’ minds?)
- two whistles. Can anyone who likes their caregiver send their child to daycare with whistles? I think these people hated me. They said they didn’t, but I just don’t know…
- Similarly, there have been drums, a toy piano, innumerable toys that squeak, rattle, chime, sing, and an enormous range of toys with truly annoying electronic sound effects. None of which, of course, had volume control. All of which, naturally, were factory-set to EXTREMELY LOUD. (Why do manufacturers DO that??)
But for sheer consistency of items, and for sheer consistency of inappropriate items, today’s little one takes the cake. In the past couple of months, we have had … coins, toothpicks, tiny beads (TINY beads! many, many, many tiny, tiny beads), nail polish remover (in a non-child-proofed bottle), long pointy sticks; a croquet ball, stake, and wicket; a pepper grinder FILLED WITH PEPPER which I didn’t know until my couch had been liberally seasoned … there are probably more…
The issue? Parents who cannot say no. To any request. And, since they know that I can, they avoid the fight. It doesn’t particularly bother me, in that it’s a simple matter of saying, “Okay, honey. You can’t have that here. It’s dangerous!” in tones of grave concern, and holding out my hand. Initially she threw a fit when this happened; sometimes even yet she tries a pout, but mostly these days she just forks it over. If she really hollers, she has a nap, but that doesn’t happen often any more.
But it does bother me, in that they really should get a grasp on this whole “making ‘no’ stick” thing NOW, because it is NOT going to get any easier. Try telling ‘no’ to a 14-year-old who’s never had to take it seriously before.
I predict storms ahead for the three of them. Good thing she’s essentially a friendly, happy girl who gets great enjoyment out of laughing. I don’t think she’ll go to the Dark Side, but I do think her parents are in for a rough ride. (And they think they’re getting one now. Ha.)
I love gardens. I have happy childhood memories of mucking about in our large country garden under the direction of my grandfather. I weeded, I watered, I watched little plants come up. I was paid to pick peas, beans and strawberries. (The strawberries were wild. Why plant when the Real Thing was available everywhere — and so much tastier?)
Those memories are early, though. Even the little plot of my own I was given, which I blithely filled entirely with marigolds, because I loved them (still do!), was done under the direction of grandad, and I was very young. Six? Seven? By the time I would have been old enough to take the gardening helm in any meaningful way, he was too ill to garden, even from the director’s chair.
So, though I love gardens, though small and surprising bits of gardening trivia and lore occasionally burst from my lips, giving the (FALSE) impression that I know what the heck I’m doing, I do not know how to manage a garden. I don’t know how to put things together, how to plan the blooms, I don’t know how big plants gets, how much they’ll spread, how quickly they grow. I can’t visualize the end product from the tags on the plants or the pictures on the seed packages. Drop me in the middle of a nursery, and I feel a bit at sea.
I also feel like a kid in a candy shop… All that colour! All those pretty, pretty blooms! Do I want pink? Yellow? Blue? Do I want that trailing green stuff? Tall? Short? Round? Flat? Annuals? Perennials? Shrubs???? And then it all starts to close in on me. How do you CHOOSE?
A kid in a candy shop on a very small boat in the middle of Lake Ontario, maybe?
I’ve only had a garden of my own for three summers now, and (thanks be to kindly deities), it’s very small. About a metre across and two, maybe three back. Perfect! It hadn’t been tended much by the previous owners, but it had a few things in it: a yellow rose bush; a tallish bush that has pink blossoms on its whippy, slender stems, right now; something low and rounded with fascinating leaves, yellow, green and red, all on the same plant; some truly unfortunate tall weedy things with mediocre flowers that are SO INVASIVE!!!! ; and, our favourite of all, our beloved droopy tree. (YES, that is too what it’s called.)
Mostly, however, it was two or three square metres of parched earth, bleak and cracked at the front, and filled with weeds and those noxious weedy things at the back. The first year, busy with the other million things that must be done in a new home, I ignored the parched and weed-strewn patch.
The second fall (yes, I let almost TWO FULL SEASONS go by before even STARTING to deal with it), when I was noted PLANTING BULBS, the neighbours were SO EXCITED, they stood around cheering. Oh, they were discreet about it: One would wander by and ask whether those were tulip or daffodil bulbs; another would comment how nice it is to feel that dirt under your nails (and you know? I agree); someone stopped and chatted as I dug, to “keep me company”; another offered to bring me their bulb-planter. Discreet. But they were cheering.
It was when, in their heady enthusiasm, they started bringing me plants, “extras” and “leftovers” from their own gardens, that I realized that for TWO YEARS they had been staring at the blight of my front yard with some mix of annoyance, impatience, and despair. Perhaps concern for property values figured in there, too.
And in all this time, no one had said anything. Isn’t this a such nice neighbourhood? (We shall not dwell on what might have been said privately, under cover of darkness, in dining rooms and bedrooms up and down the street…) But to my face, they were nothing but nice, and when I moved an inch in the direction of Responsible Garden Maintenance, they were RIGHT THERE WITH ME!
Good people, I tell you.
And, knowing they are all in my corner, rooting for my greenery, I am now free to ask them stuff. For advice, for direction. For rides to the nursery. Indeed, they are fighting over the privilege.
“How are you getting there?”
“Neil’s giving me a ride in his truck.”
“We usually have two vehicles. Anytime you need the van, just ask. You can have the keys.”
On my return from the nursery, I have:
-one flat of impatiens (pink, red, lilac) for quick colour
-two trailing petunias (lilac). (Who knew petunias ‘trailed’??)
-two pale yellow dahlia-like things, only smaller and with pointier petals
-two largish phlox plants (perennials! yay!), pink
-a whole whack of smallish daisy-plants, which will only grow eight inches tall.
I spent two hours that night dealing with the hideous invasive stuff. Ripping it out by the armful and tossing it into bins for the shrubbery pick-up. Turning over clumps of the revealed dirt with a spade, and hauling out great fistfuls of intertwined roots. Roots, roots, roots. ASTONISHING. No wonder the things are EVERYWHERE. Good lord.
And then I was tired and I needed a shower and the mosquitos had come out. Probably pissed off because I’d removed not only all that lovely tall greenery in which they were hiding, but a small tupperware sandwich box of stagnant water (who knew that was back there?) in which they were undoubtedly breeding like … mosquitoes. (‘tos’? ‘toes’?)
Which drove me inside. I am not allergic to mosquitoes, but I sure am reactive. Whereas most people come up in small bumps a few mm across, I come up in quarter-sized lumps. Not pretty. They recede to normal dimensions in a few hours, but, ugh.
So. Stage one. Garden turned and largely de-rooted. Plants waiting on the porch. Tomorrow: the daisies go in!
Nigel: My daddy works for Santa Claus! (Yes, it’s the end of May. Santa is always topical.)
Anna: Santa brought me a candy cane, and a purse, and a button for my coat.
Anna: I hear sumpin’. What is that noise?
Mary: It’s a motor.
Anna: Where’s it comin’ from?
Emily: VROOM! VROOM! It’s comin’ from my mouf!
Nigel has taken a tumble. Normally he recovers pretty quickly from these things, but he’s very obviously tired today. His parents have been having trouble getting him to bed at night, so I’ve been cooperating (with some internal doubts) with their request that he not have naps for a week. He is three now, so it’s entirely possible that he doesn’t need afternoon naps. It could be that without naps he’ll fall asleep sooner in the evening.
It could be, but I have my doubts. Nigel has never slept well at home. Is the problem age-appropriate changes to his sleep patterns, or the ongoing issue of poor patterns at home? The only way to find out is to try it out. So we’re giving it a week.
It’s not going well. Not only are his bedtimes getting later rather than earlier, he’s also waking earlier i the morning, bringing his night-time totals down from nine hours at night to seven. This certainly confirms my suspicion that he still needs those naps. But I promised a week, and a week I’ll deliver.
And what a week we’re having! The boy is whiny, irritable, prone to pick fights and tattle. He’s bossy with the other children, pushing and shoving at them to ensure they do as he dictates. He’s uncoordinated, taking trips and tumbles at a far higher rate than normal. The bags under his blue-smudged eyes droop down to his chin, poor lad. Every time he has a setback, he falls apart. And he’s having lots of setbacks, given his pugnacity and reduced coordination.
His latest tumble? He went to sit down on the step and missed. So his butt hit the floor five inches lower than he’d expected it to. It was a bit of a jolt, but the boy is not hurt.
Try telling him that.
He’s whimpering on my lap, threatening to veer into full-fledged roars any second. We try distraction, cheerful reasoning, firm words. None is effective. Oh, I just want to put the boy to bed! And then…
A slight little noise. A small squirm. I rear my head back and look at him with eyes wide with astonishment and horror.
“NIGEL! Did you just FART???”
He looks up and gives me an almost-grin. He’s rather proud of his little self.
“You FARTED???” I am milking this. Farts are very funny.
“Yeah.” And that was a small smile.
“You FARTED??? On my LEG????”
“Yeah!” A real smile.
“EEEEWWWWWW!!!!” And if “fart” is funny, a heart-felt “EEEEW” is hysterical. Now the other tots have gathered around.
“EEEEWWWWW!” They have no idea what’s so gross. They just love saying the word. “EEEEEEEEWWWWWWWW!”
And Nigel is happy once more.
Nigel: My teeth are growing up.
Mary: Your teeth are growing up?
Nigel: Yeah. And down.
Brrrr! It’s CHILLY out there. Okay, so it’s not “cold”. Cold is thirty below. But today it’s a whopping five degrees (Celcius. Which is, oh, something like 41 or 42F). In the middle of May!
This is totally, wholly, completely UNacceptable, and I wish to register my strongest objection.
Still, chilly or not, these children have energy to burn, and before it fries me to a frazzle, I am taking them outside. Let them charge off some steam out there. Maybe they’ll warm things up a bit. Lord only knows they exude enough energy. Hm. Now there’s a thought. Do toddlers contribute to global warming?
They exude volume, too. Lordy. The higher the energy, the greater the volume. Almost 100% correlation with tots. Must get them outside where it isn’t echoing off walls.
As we walk, we chatter. Oh, how we chatter. Occasionally I interject a direction or a comment, but mostly I just let the waves roll over me. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. No one is talking TO anyone, really, but oh, how they talk.
“Okay, guys. Let’s go down this street, instead.”
“Why?” Anna is firmly in the ‘why’ stage. Nigel uses it reasonably frequently, too, but his ‘why’s’ are only and always the “I don’t wanna” why’s, whereas Anna’s are the true ‘why stage’ why’s: reflexive, knee-jerk, compulsive, frequently nonsensical.
This one, in fact, is perfectly reasonable, and it is Nigel who answers.
“Because the other street is a busy street, and busy streets are dangerous!”
“Busy streets are more dangerous, Nigel, but that’s not why we’re taking this other street. Busy streets are also noisy streets, and Mary HATES noise.”
Which suddenly strikes me as very funny. Guffaws — rather loud ones — bust right out of me. The tots are a bit surprised, and then, with a clear “oh, what the hell” sort of response, they join right in. Because funny is funny! They might not get the joke, but that’s not going to keep them out of the fun of a good belly laugh.
And, chortling (loudly) we proceed down the quiet street.
Hmmm… This bingeing this is not all I’d hoped it would be this year. I’ve gotten through another two or three books, and … I have yet to read one that I enjoyed, unconditionally, from start to finish. This week’s selection were two “meh’s”, and an “I think this woman is unhinged.” (The main character, or possibly the author. I’m not sure.)
I hope yours is going better!