Thursday, June 2, 2011


There are 4 of them - baby robins right outside my bedroom window. I feel like a peeper myself but I watched this mom on her nest for over a week, and finally one day saw her feeding 4 downy balls. Oh, and with heads made of mouths. No really, I swear their head split right in two to open cavernously every time she came near. Otherwise, they just laid down and snuggled together.

It's been about 6 days since I first saw her feeding them, and they're stretching their wings - with actual feathers now - and are alert - they watch when mom (and supposedly dad) goes to get food. Their heads are only 50% mouth now. To see this transformation in only 6 days is incredible to me. Downy puffball to winged bird in 6 days seems to rival the butterfly's transformation. Babies are amazing.

The picture to the left was taken 2 days ago with a cheap digital point and shoot, sorry! I should get a zoom lens and an expensive digital SLR camera, as well as go down there and trim the branches away from the nest - but I don't want to scare the mom away! The movie below was taken yesterday.

They're so cute I'm gonna DIE!!!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Home Depot?

I have at least two more posts in the works, I promise, but for now let me just say this: I don't know what Home Depot is thinking selling these, but I might have to get one.

Only $35? Forget one, sign me up for THREE!

P.S. Yay for my new camera! It's the BEST. I <3 itty-bitty cameras.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

House Goodness

Before I say anything else:

My camera broke weeks ago and I just received my new one in the mail last night. I love my reading with pictures (at least online). So, I'm sorry, I apologize to those of you fellow children-at-heart. The pretty pictures will be returning very soon. I promise.

Okay, so.

I bought a house, right?

And I've had a week or two to start fixing it up and all (it wasn't in bad condition, really. I'm just not a fan of paneling).

Anyhow, this is just a short post to instruct those of you who are thinking of remodeling by putting up 1/8" paneling as to the proper rules to follow. It's amazing what taking down someone else's construction or remodel job will teach you how to do it right.

#1 - You do not need 100 nails per 4' x 8' panel. Really.

#2 - You don't even need 50. Or 25. You could probably do a great job with 10.

#3 - Don't put up paneling 1st, then window sills and door frames 2nd. This causes needless effort and is considered rude.

#4 - Never, Ever assume that because you're covering up the walls, people will not ever read what you write on them beforehand. They will be read someday.

#5 - If you must write things on the walls, you might not want to include a list of people that you hate, or boys that you think are cute.

#6 - Don't assume that the people who see your writing will be unaware of the people in your neighborhood. Not everybody moves out. This is a corollary to rule #5. =]

#7 - Please don't cover up termite damage with paneling. Ever. =[

#8 - When you run out of paneling, it is not appropriate to use rough oriented strand board(OSB), paint over the top of it, and call it finished.

#9 - Also: don't use rough-and-painted OSB to make your windowsills.

#10 - You probably shouldn't use it for your bathroom, either. But you get points for putting on a funky two-tone sponged textured paint which hides the wood texture.

That's it for today! I had a week off of work and I've been putting all the extra time into the house, coming home late every night, sore and tired. I can't wait until I get started on the garden!

Yes, that means I'm having fun. =]

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


My husband thinks I'm crazy. I know this because he has told me so: at least 10 times in the last 6 months.

Furthermore, I'm reasonably certain that 3/4 of his immediate family agree.

What could cause this marital tension? Only my latest project, to scan and digitize all of both our families' photos, negatives, slides, and documents - trivial and not.

Just as a sample, when I decided to undertake this project I counted them. (Well, some of them.) On my husband's father's side alone, I have a box containing 1192 pictures and 1853 negatives (of which 1362 are 35mm negatives, and the other 491 are 100 negatives). That doesn't count the dozens of handwritten recipes in his grandmother's recipe box, or the documents of ancestors coming through Ellis Island in 1902. Yes, that accounts for 1/4 of our combined heritage on media.

I know what you're thinking, because I've heard it a lot lately. She must be crazy!

But let me at least explain: a few months ago I attended a family get together where we looked at slides of my mother's side of the family. Slide after slide of irreplaceable memories, stacked up in round donuts. I can't remember ever having seen these particular slides beforehand, which isn't surprising: the family has a *lot* of them: likely my uncle grabs 2-3 never-before-seen rounds once every 2 years for family get-togethers. Strikingly, many of these slides had photos of my great and great great grandparents. I thought: Woah.

Unfortunately, in some of the slides my aging grandmother was the only individual who could identify every person in the photos. Yes, that aging grandmother. The only one remaining out of 5 in that generation, in my state, that would be able to recognize the photos, that is still alive today. We lost 3 of them two years ago all in a summer, as though each of the deceased came back for their siblings until they were reunited again. (To be honest, I wouldn't be surprised!)

Where others saw a marginally interesting slideshow of our family through the years, I saw a tragedy waiting to happen.

Then there is the box of photos from my father in law. Literally thousands of images sitting in my own back closet where they’d been neglected for the past five years. Included in this smorgasbord are some striking photos of family members long passed on that I never met, but see every day in my husband or his siblings. He has his grandmother’s teeth. His sister has her hair. His father, at times, holds himself with the same pride I can see in his uncle in 1962 – with that same determined, forward-looking, American look on his face, though it steps out of another time, in black and white photos where children wore 3-piece suits to church. His uncle was an immigrant from Cuba. Will I see these same features in my children?

I would be happy to share these photos with my family: it’s just not feasible to go down to the photo store and have them make a quintuple set of every negative on file for everybody in the extended family.

While considering these things, it did occur to me then: in this age of global digital media, there’s got to be a way to put these all into digital format, so everybody in our family can enjoy them. And then perhaps we could even catalog them by dates and names: and each picture could be tagged with Grandma’s help. If nothing else, it would make for a fascinating history project and a great Christmas gift to everybody in my family. (Okay, maybe just a great Christmas gift to me, but I can pretend!)

Over the past year as I've considered these things, I've started a little of this project. As I continue, I hope to share more of it. Here's a little of what I've learned so far: Sending your slides, negatives, and photos to be digitized by a professional company can be expensive. In addition, you can't know if they will maintain any kind of organization to your media, even if you send it organized to them. And you have no control over what size or shape or quality of scan you get, or whether the raw scan is edited at the outset (some would prefer this done professionally, others, like me, prefer hands-on modification). That being said, if sending it out is what you'd prefer, you can't beat the prices at Scancafe - though you'll have to mail off your media to them. Local dedicated photographic media stores like Inkley's will also do it for a price: they mail it off to their own labs, though.

I decided, for the sake of control and also because I am insane, to buy my own scanners and do the work myself. The price overall will probably be lower, save for the massive amount of time being put in. Lots of internet research told me that if I have the choice between scanning slides and negatives or their color photo counterparts, I should choose to scan slides and negatives (they are much much higher quality 'originals' whereas a photo is a lower quality copy). And furthermore, if I'm going to be scanning a lot of slides and negatives, I need to use a dedicated film/slide scanner, preferably with Digital ICE. This means one that doesn't do prints at all - no flatbed. But I also do have a number of prints I'd like to scan, so that meant buying two scanners.

After reviewing a number of scanners in my price range (both needed to add up to less than $1000 on my budget), I narrowed my list down to 11. From those, I chose one flatbed: an Epson Perfection V500 ($250), and one dedicated film scanner: A Nikon Coolscan V ED ($550). These fit my needs for resolution, Dmax, bit color, price, and reviewed very well on professional sites. Furthermore, they could be purchased at a retail outlet, so if they didn't work I could return them: but they've worked great so far. In the interim, however, Nikon has stopped producing the Coolscan V ED, leaving anybody interested in doing this kind of work in a lurch. (Its best competitor is the Minolta DiMage Scan Elite 5400 II, which I would have preferred: but Minolta stopped producing this scanner before I started looking, and thus it was not available at any retail outlets). If you're looking to do this kind of thing yourself, you might look for one of the above two scanners on ebay - they sell for more now then they did retail!

Both scanners came with their own proprietary scanning software, which is fairly straightforward and easy to use. However, I was interested in using the same software for both applications, both for ease of use and because I wanted some advanced scanning options. Amateurs and professionals have two options in this area: Vuescan and Silverfast. The former is cheaper, but the support is also pretty minimal and though it's pretty intuitive, the lack of any real help options is a hindrance. The latter is much more expensive, and according to most review sites they are both comparable. I went with Vuescan.

I could have saved the $40 Vuescan cost had I realized that it doesn't support the scanner settings that I really need: the flatbed Epson will scan multiple photos at once if you can fit them all on the scanning area, whereas Vuescan will only do one at a time. As the Vuescan method takes 5x longer and the overall quality is pretty comparable, I've ended up using the Epson proprietary software anyhow. For anybody else out there wondering, I would say if you have a flatbed don't bother with Vuescan. It's updated regularly but when I queried the owner, he said they had no plans in the near future to add the feature to the software.

For the slide and film scanning, I've used Vuescan mostly because it's a little more intuitive than the Nikon software, but at that point I already owned it so it didn't really matter which I used.

After playing around with settings for months looking for a universal scan setting which would minimize any post-scanning editing necessary, I've decided there is no such thing. I don't have the scanners do any color or lighting editing whatsoever, as it can remove information from the scan and I can process it fairly quickly post-scan if necessary. Luckily, most of the photos I've been scanning are in very good condition. Hurray!

On a good day scanning full time, I can get ~ 50-80 slides or photos scanned while I putter around the house in between scan setups. That's not a lot overall, but it's a fast enough rate for me to keep an eye on details from individual scans and make adjustments for them as necessary. The result has been very rewarding: a dual layer DVD for Craig's family for Christmas, and dozens of slide scans I was able to show off to my grandmother a few weeks ago.

My current collection of scanned photos and slides is small, but growing. I've definitely got more to write about: lots of little details about the hows and whats of scanning and editing photos. But for the moment, enjoy the leaked photos above. In the meantime, I'll give bonus points to anybody in our family who can identify the people and settings of each of the above pictures, all culled from my 500+ scan database so far. =)

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Great Utah CSA Experiment (2009)!

It's that time of the year again: time to start another community supported agriculture (CSA) project over at my Local Utah Food Blog. I'll be writing another 20 posts or so over the season on this summer's CSA experiment, which has been scaled back to one CSA share from East Farms. But remember, due to the volume of posts on this subject I won't be posting here again about it: so be sure to check it regularly!

For those of you who are new to CSAs, now is the time to check it out and get on board for another great year!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

2008 Reading Resolution - Part II

Here we are for the second installment of my 2008 Reading Resolution! One note on the recommendations at the end of each summary/review: the age ranges listed are minimums, but that doesn't mean that I don't recommend that older people read the books. I'm a great example of an adult that still enjoys fiction aimed at the juvenile audience, as well as adult fiction. I'm an equal opportunity reader!


Jane Austen:
Sense and Sensibility

Having recently re-read Pride and Prejudice (and enjoyed it more than I did in high school English), I thought I'd give Austen's other novels a try. Sense and Sensibility is very similar book - the family of daughters left with little inheritance, caught up in the drama of courting and marriage prospects while dishonorable men and scheming matrons inflict seeming tragedy. As is the case in Pride and Prejudice, one of the girls is sensible but the rest are fairly senseless, hence the title. This was a fun read, though I was rather annoyed at the girls' silliness at times. The language was not as witty as Pride nor was the story as original, but it was enjoyable anyhow. Recommended for fans of romance and classic fiction.

Frank Beddor:
The Looking Glass Wars

The Looking Glass Wars was another pick I made while browsing the library shelves. This book is a very liberal re-telling of the Alice in Wonderland tale that lacks the charm and wonder of the original story. While the world is fanciful and amazing, it also lacks consistency. Furthermore, the book is riddled with trite formulaic themes which aren't fully developed: they just hover around the story and occasionally land like flies at a barbecue. I was seriously disappointed with several of the plot developments (they were either horribly predictable or horribly wrong) and these, along with the inconsistencies, seemed to multiply the closer I got to finishing it. That's not to say everything was bad, but the overall story really missed its potential. The artwork inserted in the book is also hit and miss - why would the artist draw the triumphant protagonist slouching in her throne like a spoiled teenager? I have no idea. I don't recommend this book to anybody, unless you want a good reminder of why you don't like to read poorly written fiction.

Charlotte Brontë:
Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre was another stab at classic fiction. This was my first book by Brontë and I had a hard time putting it down. Though it has the elements of romance and impossible love that Austen writes about, the story focuses much more on the entire life of Jane, rather than just her marriagable years. Tragedy seems to strike again and again, but this tempers Jane into a very compassionate and generous woman. Things end up all right in the end, but it's not the gloriously perfect ending you might expect from a romance - as such it feels somewhat more real. I would recommend this book to fans of romance and classic fiction, especially those turned off by the silliness of some of Austen's characters.

John Grisham:
Playing for Pizza

I got this book from my mother, who recommended it highly - though having read it, I have no idea why. This book is about a crummy NFL quarterback, Rick Dockery, who goes to Italy to play in the leagues there. Rick's salary is quite small and the league lacks cheerleaders (a fact that he laments multiple times in the book); however, he ends up loving it because it's a league where he can be a hero and the food is fabulous. I disliked this book for several reasons, including the silly premise and a character I never felt I could identify with. It was also hard to suspend disbelief at some plot points - such as how quickly Rick takes to the opera. I guess this might a good book for fans of football or Italy.

Robin Hobb:
Farseer Trilogy
Assassin's Apprentice

Assassin's Apprentice was recommended to me by a two close friends; it is the first of a 3-part series by Robin Hobb, who continues following the character in another 3-part series known as the Tawny Man Trilogy. The series is classic fantasy with a hint of mystery, and Hobb does a good job of immersing the reader in the story and making the characters feel real. The classic fantasy elements of magic and court intrigue don't feel formulaic and the world overall is very original. The mystery elements kept me turning the pages to find out what happens next! The next two books in this series are definitely on my master list of books to read, and I'd recommend it to anybody who enjoys fantasy fiction.

Gail Carson Levine:

Fairest is a liberal re-telling of the classic Snow White fairy tale; but instead of being the 'fairest' in the land, the Snow White-like protagonist, Aza, is considered ugly in a world inhabited mostly by very petite, pale blondes. In fact, she is so ugly that she was abandoned as a baby and some consider her to have questionable heritage: possibly ogre blood! Aza's looks are offset by her beautiful singing voice, and singing is considered a prime talent in the kingdom; but it's not enough to help her overcome poor self-image issues. The vain and manipulative (but not evil) queen who follows the terrible advice of a sentient mirror nearly ruins Aza's life by taking advantage of her considerable talents. I found the reading very entertaining, especially when I stumbled across references to the original tale spun in a completely new way. I would recommend this book to pre-teens.

George Macdonald:
The Light Princess
The Princess and the Goblin
The Princess and Curdie

George Macdonald (1824-1905) is an author and minister who predates most of the books I've discussed here. He was recommended to me by a friend who knew I enjoyed C.S. Lewis well enough to recognize references to his sci-fi space trilogy. Lewis and his contemporaries were heavily influenced by Macdonald, which you can quickly see when you read his works. All three of the books listed here are fantasy-based, and all are heavy on the moral references - but not so heavy as to overcome the story. Although the works are all old enough to be public domain and are available online for free, I'd suggest buying an illustrated copy (if you can find one - his works seem to be mostly out of print). I would recommend these books for families to read together or as bed-time stories to their children (à la Chronicles of Narnia).

Stephenie Meyer:
Twilight Series
New Moon
Breaking Dawn

The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer has received quite a bit of press recently, and for good cause: the first three books spent a combined total of 143 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list. The series has garnered additional popularity in Utah, as Meyer is LDS and a graduate of BYU. The first time this book was recommended to me was at girls' camp with my church group, and I was shocked that these girls were reading vampire fiction. In my experience, vampire romance in fiction has always been a short step from erotic literature (if a step at all). The girls assured me there was *no* sex, but even then, it took several more recommendations before I ventured to read the first book - which took all of one day well into the evening to finish, as I refused to put it down for such mundane activities as sleeping. The sequels are just as enthralling, and as my girls said, the first three books contain a lot of sexual tension, but not a bit of inappropriate activity. (Unless you consider snuggling an 'inappropriate activity'). A warning: the final book does in fact contain sex - it is set after the main characters are married. My only real gripe with these books is that sometimes the teenage female protagonist behaves so much like a teenager I wanted to strangle her. That's not really a gripe though, it just means the character was well-written and the story made me think of her as real. I would highly recommend this series to teenagers, and please note that I have discussed this book with guys who also enjoyed it thoroughly.

An Na:
A Step From Heaven

A Step From Heaven is a JV fiction novel about a young korean girl whose family immigrates to America when she is four years old. The story revolves around her parent's sincere desire to make a life in America that will be better for their children than their lives as poor fisherman in Korea. This sincere desire is challenged by the difficulties of working and succeeding in a foreign country, and the inevitable culture clash between the very rigid male-dominated Korean culture and the less formal and more opportunistic American culture. Overall the book reads like an Amy Tan novel written for a teenage audience, complete with the focus on the mother-daughter relationship. This book is a great one to help teach kids about different cultures. Although the book does include some heavy material, including domestic abuse and alcoholism, I'd recommend this book to preteens.

The Time Traveler's Wife

This was another book I picked up at the library, attracted by the cover and the description. The story is essentially a romance with a twist of mystery - a story told primarily from the perspective of a girl, Clare, who grows into a woman and marries a time traveler, Henry, whom she has been seeing since she was a girl as he has traveled to the past as a man. The novel unwinds in a rather disjointed fashion as you might expect, given that sometimes Henry travels forward in time and sometimes backwards, sometimes farther and sometimes not so far. This formula has the potential to be very creepy, but it works well the way it is written. This book also discusses some very heavy subjects, including teenage abuse, suicide, and infertility in a realistic and yet sensitive way. Overall I enjoyed this book, and I'd recommend it to adults.

Aprilyne Pike:

I was lucky enough to read Wings as an Advanced Reader's Copy (ARC) this past holiday. I'll admit, it wasn't my ARC, but it was laying around at my parent's house and my curiosity overcame me. I felt a little like I was cheating, reading the ARC that wasn't meant for me, so I told myself I'd only read the first chapter. At the end of chapter 1 I decided that it was too short and I could feel okay about reading the first 3 chapters. Then 5. Then 10. Craig finally forced me to stop at chapter 12 so we could go home. I later finished it (with permission) and though I was impressed with the first half of the book, the second half really pulled me in: I couldn't put it down! The book is about a teenage girl, Laurel, who discovers she is a changeling: a faerie planted in the human world, now maturing into full faeriehood - a somewhat traumatic experience for her. In addition to the difficulties of faerie development and cross-racial tensions, Laurel also deals with budding romance and family tragedy. I would highly recommend this book to preteens: look for it's release in bookstores on May 5, 2009!

Kristine Kathryn Rusch:
Buried Deep

I spend a lot of time at the library these days, and while I was there I bumped into an old friend; He heard all about my reading resolution, and highly recommended Kristine Rusch. Buried Deep and Extremes are both futuristic science fiction-based mystery novels from Rusch's Retrieval Artist set - a group of books with some of the same characters and similar settings, but not necessarily direct sequels per se. I enjoyed these enough that I've requested several more of her books from my library. It's been a while since I really enjoyed such good mystery novels!

Shel Silverstein:
Runny Babbit

Runny Babbit was a recommendation I picked off of BYU's 100-hour board - where students ask questions and other students and professors have 100 hours to post answers. I love Shel Silverstein's works so I was intrigued by this book, which I'd never heard of; turns out it was published posthumously. It's a great book in classic Silverstein style, and I'd recommend it for all ages. Although very young children might not 'get' it all, they'll still giggle at the ridiculousness of the words. Young children will enjoy deciphering the code, and slightly older children will enjoy the story.

Ysabeau S. Wilce:
Flora Segunda

This was a fun book, if slightly disturbing. It is a coming-of-age story that is part fantasy, part silliness, part military, and part pirate novel. The story is told in first person narrative by the protagonist, a 13 (turning 14) year old girl who is everything you'd expect from a teenager: rebellious, adventurous, independent and willful, weak, possibly insane, and maybe a little lazy. The writing itself is quite enjoyable; the book has a very unique voice. I would recommend this book to preteens (or advanced younger readers.)


John Bayley:
Elegy for Iris

This book is two things: first, it is a memoir of the lives and marriage of John Bayley, an English literary critic, to his wife Iris Murdoch, an author. Second, it is a chronicle of Iris's descent into dementia after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease on 1994. This book was recommended to the BYU student body by author and celebrated neurologist Oliver Sacks (see below) as a great example of patience, love, and humor given to a woman afflicted with this horrible disease. I enjoyed it, but I'll admit that never having had a loved one deal with this kind of deteriorating illness, I did find it hard to relate at times. I would recommend this book to anybody who has a loved one suffering from dementia.

George S. Clayson:
Richest Man in Babylon

This book was recommended to me by several people when they learned that my husband and I were interested in investing and money management tips. This book is written as a fiction novel, but the goal and premise is to educate the reader on how to become wealthy. As such, it covers all the typical topics from getting out of debt, living beneath your means, saving substantially, and making your savings work for you (by investing). The book is much more inspirational than educational, however, and the short stories which demonstrate each point are incredibly repetitive. For the average American in debt and looking for a way out, it might be very helpful, but Craig and I felt like the choir listening to the preacher. Furthermore, it stops at the investment advice after insisting that to become wealthy you should make your money work for you, and gives no practical advice about how exactly to do that. Having said that, I did take away a few gems from this book, and have read it nearly three times in the last six months. I would recommend it to anybody looking to better understand finances and wealth in general, and especially to those who are struggling to get out of debt.

Brian Clegg:
Getting Science

I picked up Getting Science from the BYU library when I was looking for books to help teach my nephew and his friends learn how to do a little science and chemistry at home. This book is not intended for children, but primarily for educators of school-age children who must teach science as part of the curriculum. Clegg's purpose is to help re-instill that sense of fun, excitement, and fascination with science into the readers so they can help communicate the same to their students. The book includes some very key suggestions on how to put science in to context, make it hands-on, and make it fun. As a popular science author, Clegg not only makes the science subject matter accessible; he also makes it interesting - which is, of course, the point. I'd recommend this book for grade-school educators as well as homeschooling parents who feel that science is a weak area for them.

Larry Gonick and Craig Criddle:
The Cartoon Guide to Chemistry

I received this book as a gift from a good friend, and laughed quite a bit while reading it. Cartoons make everything more funny! Unfortunately the target audience who would appreciate this book is rather slim, and in some cases the chemistry is a little weak and oversimplified. It would be great if illustrations in this book were usable by teachers, but the title page clearly reserves all rights and instructs educators to write a letter to the HarperCollins 'Special Markets' department if they want to purchase a copy for educational purposes; this makes quite clear that any educator wishing to use copies of the material in-class via 'Fair Use' rules is out of luck. I'll be honest, I can't remember the last time I composed an actual physical letter and sent it via snail mail for anything, nor can I see a educators paying a lot of money for the rights to use a few photocopies purely for the purposes of helping keep the class entertained and engaged (as the material is a bit weak to actually help teach a normal chemistry class). Ah well, that's Harper's choice I guess! I would recommend this book to anybody who is geeky enough to enjoy an 'intro to chemistry' book done in cartoon-style.

Barbara Kingsolver:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Anybody who's been watching my blog for the last year knows how profoundly this book has affected my life. A good friend and colleague recommended it to me and I picked it up from the library as a bit of airplane reading last March. It was powerful enough to motivate me to make significant changes in my food buying and consumption habits, as well as humorous enough to be enjoyable reading. When I got back from my trip, I purchased a copy for my mother as a Mother's Day gift. Then, because I didn't want to wait three weeks to give it to her, I delivered it early anyways! She also loved it, and since then I've recommended it to about everybody I know. It's still near the top of my recommendation list for anybody interested in learning more about food in our nation.

Oliver Sacks:
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

Oliver Sacks, as discussed above in relation to John Bayley's Elegy for Iris, visited the BYU campus and spoke to the student body in a Tuesday devotional. I was inspired by his compassion and humor, and decided to read a few of his books. Both The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and Musicophilia are fascinating compilations of short descriptions of actual clinical patients and afflictions Sacks has worked with as a neurologist during his career. The stories are informative as well as humorous, and Sacks's care for each of the patients described is clear. He makes a clarion call for medicine with compassion during this age where medicine is seen as a dispassionate scientific field. While The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat focuses more on a broad range of often poorly understood neurological issues, Musicophilia focuses on those neurological issues which are involved exclusively with music. I recommend these books to anybody with an interest in science or medicine.

Phil Town:
Rule #1 Investing

This book was recommended to me by a relative who heard me ranting about The Richest Man in Babylon (see above). He indicated it was the natural next step to any individual interested in learning about how exactly to invest. In this book, Phil Town instructs the reader, step by step, on the whys and hows of do-it-yourself investing, including very detailed instructions on why it's better to do it yourself, how to find a good company to invest in, how to know when the right time to invest has come, and how to set up an IRA or 401(k) to do the trading yourself. While the instructions are extremely helpful, this book suffers from Town's overly 'motivational speaker' style - which, to me, is an instant red flag for exaggeration and 'too-good-to-be-truisms'. It is unfortunate that the book contains that tone, because from the actual data included I really think this is something which can work for me and others who are natural skeptics. I recommend this book for anybody who is interested in learning about how to manage money for retirement.


That's it for this last year: nearly 50 books in total. I had thought by this time I'd be booked-out, but I just want to read more! I've already put in a hold list for a number of books at my library I haven't been able to get, and for the first time in my life I've found the local library lacking: several of the recommendations I've received recently aren't available. I'll have to get creative in my search if this keeps up.

In the future, I'll keep blogging about the books I read; but I'll post a more manageable 10 books at a time instead of 25. I'm still taking recommendations, though; so don't be shy about letting me know what good books you guys stumble across!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

2008 Reading Resolution

I'm not a fan of New Year's Resolutions. It has nothing to do with the Resolution part, I just never got the part about doing it (or making a big deal about it) on the New Year. Why not make a resolution in July? And while I can think of interesting projects that would be nice for me to embark upon nearly year-round, I always come up with blanks around December 27th. Or maybe it does have to do with the resolution part - my personality tends to avoid resolutions all together: thus sparing myself the guilt of not following through.

That being said, I did make a resolution last year on January 20th (like I said, the 1st was not for me). My resolution for this past year was to read. A lot. I was discussing books with some acquaintances and realized I hadn't read many books for pleasure since, oh - 1998? And now that I've been out of school for over a year, I can spend my evenings reading books for fun instead of meeting educational requirements.

I proceeded to get book recommendations from pretty much everybody I conversed with - students, teachers, friends, family, acquaintances, people I met in elevators. Then I hit the library in force. My rule is that I have to consider every book suggested, and if it is suggested from more than one source I have to read it. This is the first post of two about what books I've read over the past year, which I've enjoyed, and how I feel about completing an actual resolution.


I tend to enjoy fiction in the science fiction, fantasy and mystery genres, though I also enjoy general fiction. The only genre I try very hard to steer away from is Romance. Interestingly enough, I enjoy Juvenile Fiction almost as much as Adult Fiction. Here's what I read this year.

Terry Brooks:
The Sword of Shannara

Terry Brooks has a veritable empire in the world of fantasy books and has been recommended to me multiple times over my lifetime. So I asked for a place to start, and this was the book I was recommended - it is his first novel and the first in his extensive Shannara series. It has the distinction of being the first fantasy book EVER to make it onto the New York Times bestseller list. Perhaps I was expecting too much, because I was very disappointed in this novel. It felt very formulaic and unoriginal, and read exactly like a rip-off of Lord of the Rings. Guess that's the last Terry Brooks novel I read!

Sophie Dahl:
Playing With Grown-ups

I picked this book up while browsing at the library. It's a fiction piece about a teenage girl who finds herself moved around by every whim of her very artistically talented and emotionally unstable mother. From drugs to sex to extortion to excursions with quasi-eastern religious groups and everything in-between, it is at times heartbreaking and at times shocking; but the ending cut off at what should have been the climax, and though we can tell (from a flash forward) that protagonist is OK now, we don't get to hear how the heroine pulled herself out of the mess her mother made of her life. Also, despite what appears to be the aim of some of the marketing on the cover, I do not recommend this book for teens.

Neil Gaiman:
American Gods
Anansi Boys
Smoke and Mirrors

Neil Gaiman is a general fiction author I have admired since I read his book Good Omens It was a gift from a friend for Christmas, and I read it several times, trying to put together all the pieces. Gaiman's writing is unique in that there are never loose ends, and nothing happens by 'chance' - you see everything coming together in the end in a way you'd never expect earlier in the novel. For instance, what you thought was a casual discussion which helped illuminate a character's personality ends up being a major plot point which the characters refer back to later. So when I received several recommendations for Stardust, I was happy to jump back on the Neil Gaiman bandwagon. I was so impressed with the book (a blend of unique fantasy in Gaiman's unique style) that I picked up American Gods, Anansi Boys, and Smoke and Mirrors. The first two deal with similar material and are classic Gaiman, if you enjoy his style. The last is a series of short stories, if you'd like to get an idea of his style (My favorite was We Can Get Them For You Wholesale about a mild-mannered Englishman who begins by hiring an assassin, who then keeps offering to kill even more people at 'bulk rates') Overall I'd recommend Gaiman, but note that his books are Adult fiction and contain a lot of adult themes and content; I wouldn't recommend them for teens.

Philippa Gregory:

The Other Boleyn Girl

This book is a historical fiction account of Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne Boleyn (famous second wife of Henry VIII). As it of course deals with divorce, adultery, homosexuality and even hints at incest, it is not a book for children or teens. It may not be terribly historically accurate, either - but it is a good read about this time period where women children were essentially chattel for parents to use in advantageous marriage alliances (or advantageous adulterous alliances). In that respect it's valuable as a tool for seeing the larger world in historical context, and enjoyable to boot.

Frank Herbert:
Dune Series
Dune Messiah
Children of Dune

I enjoyed these a LOT - enough so that I purchased Dune for my dad on Father's Day. I've always been a fan of the sci-fi/fantasy genre and I don't know how these ones slipped past me. They were recommended by several people - all of whom further recommended I stop after the 3rd in the series, which I did. Hurray for good recommendations!

Brian Jacques:

Redwall is the first in a series by Brian Jacques, which has been adapted as an animated television series which ran from 1999-2001. All the characters are forest animals, and the 'good guys' are a bunch of mice in an abbey, which doubles as a safe haven and fortress when the 'bad guys' (a bunch of rats) show up. It's very cheesy, but good lighthearted fun. This series is a good one to read with children.

Gregory Maguire:

I first started reading this book while killing time at a Media Play location. I later nabbed it from the library so I could finish it. While the basis of the story is not original material, this retelling (from the perspective of the Wicked Witch) was engaging and interesting, if more than a little disturbing. The reader is presented with a number of issues that might have direct pertinence in the 'real world' but none of them are fully developed and none of them end well either (despite all the best intentions of the good green witch). I also felt the portrayal of the wicked witch as 'good but misunderstood' was a little too formulaic for my taste, and the portrayal of religion as only either a) entertaining 'pleasure faith' or b) boorish 'thou shalt nots' was a little hard to believe. All in all, a pretty good read. I would not recommend this book to teenagers.

L.A. Meyer:
Bloody Jack
The Curse of the Blue Tattoo

I picked up these books when browsing for Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. I'm always up for a good read, and they looked interesting. These two books are the first in a JV fiction series set in the early 1800s about an intrepid street orphan girl "Jacky" who poses as a boy in order to get work and get out of the streets. Over the course of both these books, she continues to make bold and brash decisions than her more polished (and fortunate) female counterparts, often leading her on adventure after adventure after adventure (and, unbeknownst to her, away from her 'one true love' who is desperately trying to catch up with her, following the chain of disasters she invariably leaves behind). They were fun reads, but I found myself wishing Jacky would stop behaving like an irrational teenager at times and that the chasing would end (how ironic - that's how I felt about the Twilight series at times!) It didn't - at least not in these two books. This series would be good for teenage girls.

Jody Lynn Nye:
An Unexpected Apprentice

I picked up this JV Fantasy book while browsing and liked the cover and backstory. I read it pretty quickly and rather enjoyed it, and though one can draw a lot of parallels between it and Lord of the Rings, it wasn't nearly so awful as The Sword of Shannara. It also includes some very unique elements, such as the 'Runes' and the perspective of the female protagonist from a very male-dominated culture. I would recommend this book to teenage girls.

Rickard Peck:
The River Between Us

I picked up this novel while browsing at the library. It is set at the beginning of the civil war, from the perspective of a girl whose mother decides to allow some interesting refugees to board with them. The novel includes some touching depictions of life as a girl in southern Illinois and the social conventions that existed there. It also addressees issues of racism, family loyalty, family secrets, and family history. Some of the text is gritty, but it fits. The ending surprised me! The book is marketed to the pre-teen age group, and I felt it was appropriate.


I enjoy educational and entertaining non-fiction. I love learning about the world and people in it, but I don't really enjoy doing so if the reading lacks good writing or literary polish. I have found the best nonfiction books I enjoy are written by established fiction authors or playwrights who then turn to issues which are dear to them. As part of my experiment, I went out of my way to read a number of interesting nonfiction books recommended to me.

Richard Dawkins:
The Selfish Gene

This book was recommended to me by several acquaintances who knew I enjoy educational and entertaining non-fiction. I have to admit I found it very dry, dull, and even insulting - I couldn't get past chapter 3. This is likely because The Selfish Gene was originally published in 1976, and the science underlying it isn't exactly new or controversial anymore. What is left of a persuasion piece when everybody already believes your science? Only the tone. As author Brian Clegg wrote in his book Getting Science "Even a scientist who is good at communicating like Richard Dawkins can often suffer from what seems like arrogance when he shows his very obvious disdain for any views he regards as unscientific. You don't have to be religious, for instance, to find his attacks on belief irritating." Classy!

Robert Pirsig:
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence

This book is a rather heavy philosophy book, put in the setting of cross-country motorcycle trip. It purports to end the false split between a logical and intellectual 'rational view' of world, and the non-intellectual 'romantic' view of the world. He focuses on the definition of 'Quality' and determines it is impossible to define: though easy to know if something 'has it' or 'doesn't'. I will admit that it was a bit heavy for me, but still interesting. I could definitely see myself reading it again. Or, I might decide to go for the sequel, Lila: an Inquiry Into Morals.

Carl Sagan:
Pale Blue Dot

This was another non-fiction piece recommended along with The Selfish Gene. The book itself is full of pictures, explanations, and its own sense of wonder - it is amazing that it could be communicated so well by a physicist. While the premise behind Pale Blue Dot isn't exactly controversial, it's a timeless message that everybody could use: a call for cosmic perspective on our tiny world, and unity of humanity in preserving it and treating each other with dignity. The best part about Pale Blue Dot is that if you have ever heard Sagan speak you can hear him speaking the words in the book in clear, calm, and passionate tones. Sagan, like Dawkins, makes clear at many times that there is no proof (or necessity) of deity in the science underlying the history of the world and the study of astronomy as we know it. However, the bottom of that message does not come across rooted in disdain (as it does from Dawkins), but rather as a warning that relying on religion to save the planet or each other does not result in good stewardship nor wise planning. For those of you who have a tradition of reading stories with your families, I would recommend this book as bed-time reading for particularly curious boys and girls.

Jean M. Twenge:
Generation Me

Subtitled Why Today's Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled - And More Miserable Than Ever Before, Generation Me is a book on self-esteem; or rather, a book on the results of the independence and self esteem movements of the last few decades. The book is terribly dry and was difficult to read, but I couldn't put it down for all that. And afterwards, I found myself seeing the claims of the book everywhere I went! Her claims are backed up by an impressive compilation of an array of sociological and psychological data showing that the way people think about themselves and their place in the world has changed fundamentally. It's got a number of really funny stories and statistics too, my favorite was the fact that more Gen Me's believe in aliens than believe social security will be there for them when they need it. Overall, I recommend this book to anybody interested in psychology or sociology.

That's it for today! Expect to see Part II of my book-reading resolution soon!