Wednesday, January 6, 2010

in which we discuss beautiful books and the importance of long underwear.

Listening To: Poison & Wine by The Civil Wars
This weekend I was watching Iron Chef: and the host said, "He's making scallop mousse." My first thought was: scallop-mousse scallop-mousse can you do the fandango? I don't think Queen would approve of my creativity.

Thanks for all your sweet words of comfort about my dog! It is quite wonderful to know I'm not the only crazy pet owner out there. I'm happy to report Biscuit is back to her usual level of spazztastic. As I type this, she's snuggled right beside me staring at the screen. Think she can read what I'm typing? :)

I stopped by Borders yesterday (just to kill some time) and ended up buying a book (because leaving there without a book just makes me feel empty inside). I also bought a couple of new Molskine journals that are PINK! So fun. While I was purchasing my stuff, an older lady walked up beside me and asked one of the ladies behind the counter about a Rosetta Stone French program. The associate who went to look for the program was bundled in a heavy jacket (picture something like a caveman would wear ... like a pre-historic saber-tooth-tiger-snuggie). When the lady in the saber-tooth-snuggie walked away to look for the French stuff, this is the conversation that transpired:

Cute older lady with the sassy haircut [to the associate ringing me up]: Why is that girl wearing a heavy jacket inside?
Sales Associate Ringing Me Up: She's always cold. I tell her she's too thin. Needs meat on her bones.
Cute Older Lady [to me ... very loudly]: Heh. Know what the problem is? Young girls don't wear long underwear anymore. Y'all wouldn't freeze if you'd wear long underwear.
Me: [laughs politely]
Cute Older Lady: Do you wear long underwear? You're a tiny little thing. You should wear it. I wear it and I'm fine on days like this. I even have a silk pair. You should get some.
Me: ...ok.
Sales Associate in the Saber-Tooth-Snuggie [returning from foraging for French programs]: Sorry. We don't have it.
Me: [heaves a sigh of relief that I'm not going to have to figure out a way to participate in a conversation about underwear in a public place.]
Older lady [to me]: Ever read a good book about France?
Me: [relieved again at not having to talk about underwear] Last year I read a memoir called Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik and it made me want to update my passport and move. I hear My Life in France, by Julia Child, is awesome too. I know those aren't exactly travel books but ...

*quick break for nerd moment: I also saw Hemingway's A Movable Feast on the discount table for $3. The title "A Movable Feast" is how Hemingway referred to Paris. Isn't that beautiful?

Cute older lady: Heh. I'll look at those. [She starts to walk away. Then turns back around.] Buy some long underwear, sweetie! You're a tiny little thing. It's cold outside!

And so it goes.

Since I got on a book recommendation kick, I thought it might be fun to share the books I gave as Christmas gifts here on the blog. Other than a few exceptions, I gave all books for gifts this year. I discovered trying to pick a book for someone specific is just as exciting, and difficult, as picking any other perfect sort of Christmas present. Do you go by genre preference? By personality quirks? Do you pick because a character in The Novel reminds you of the person? Because you know said person enjoys a good laugh and this one made you snort in public you were laughing so hard?

It made me happy to see so many books stacked on the bed waiting to be wrapped. And because these were gifts, I opted for prettier covers. Hardbacks if I could find them. Pretty, swirly covers if I could find them. Or just the one behind the display copy that wasn't as bent and thumbed through. :) I took the time to write little notes on the front page. I even bought some cute bookmarks. It was a fun venture.

These are the books I gave as gifts this year ...

Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard
Super cute story about a girl who trips in her heels, bumps her noggin, and wakes up in Regency England. And falls for a certain snooty duke who bears much resemblance to a certain Mr. Darcy. I bought this for my niece, Erin (age 12), but I read it before I passed it along. I thought it was adorable - fast paced, funny, and very teen. And Erin finished it in the car on her way back home. She liked it too. Great for younger teens or pre-teens who love Meg Cabot-esc books. And their 20something aunts who like those books too ;)

Otis by Loren Long
This one was for my nephew Andy (age 5). Otis is an old tractor who likes to drive around on the farm and help the farmer work. One day a lonely little calf has trouble sleeping, so Otis cranks his motor and makes a purring sound that helps the calf get to sleep (awww :). They become BFF's. Until! The farmer replaces Otis with a new-fangled tractor and makes Otis sit out in the backfield. Which makes cute little Otis feel like a pile of clunky garbage. What's his place on the farm if he can't keep tractoring?! Eventually the farmer realizes the new tractor isn't all it's cracked up to be and Otis saves the day. The story is sweet but I was even more smitten with the illustrations. Otis is a big, bright, book. The illustrations are perfect for the story: nostalgic and sweet without being too saccharine.

* Andy's birthday is coming up soon. I'm considering buying him a book called Dinotrux by Chris Gall. If you can recommend books an almost six year old boy would like, let me know!

(Have I mentioned I'm weirdly obsessed with Children's Books? My favorites I saw this year were The Curious Garden by Peter Brown and Only a Witch Can Fly by Alison McGee. I could sit in Barnes and Nobel and read children's books all day long.)

The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond
Are you as addicted to the Pioneer Woman's blog as I am? Is there anybody that isn't addicted to this blog? Are they going to make this woman's life into a movie already?! :) The cookbook is great but the blog is equally awesome and it's free. If you haven't read it yet, you're in for a treat. (Reading about how she met Marlboro Man is like reading a novel.) Cuddle up with your computer sometime and take it all in. And sigh happily :) My sister reminds me of the pioneer woman because she's gorgeous and modern (with definite city flair) but still loves life on the farm. Like loves it. Baits her own hook and would milk a cow or pluck a chicken loves it. She's been making the recipes and says they're all divine - but the cinnamon rolls are her fave so far. She made a huge swirly batch of them for friends and they all wanted the recipe. Incidentally, my mom also gave me The Pioneer Woman Cooks for Christmas (I got a total of five cookbooks for Christmas ... I get the hint, fam.) I made my own swirly batch of cinnamon rolls this weekend too ...

And they were delicious! Even though the task is a bit daunting, the book makes it seem less so because 1.) the way Ree writes is funny, down to earth, and easy to read and 2.) there are pictures for each step of the process. The picture part is great. Usually when I try to cook, I call my mom mid-way through the attempt and say, "Is this supposed to look like earwax?" Knowing what something looks like at each step is so nice. The only irony in my Cinnamon Roll Excursion is this: like 99.9% of the nation I'm trying to eat a little bit healthier this year. And one of the first things I ate in 2010 was ... a swirly cinnamon roll covered with icing. :) I'm excited to try more recipes. And so is my sister. We're total Ree Drummond fangirls.

*Two other cookbooks I like to give as gifts, particularly at a bridal shower, are Apples for Jam and Falling Cloudberries (both by Tessa Kiros). They're great for people who love beautiful photography as much as fun new recipes!)

Once Again to Zelda by Marlene Wagman-Geller
I have a friend who loves novels and reads them voraciously. Which makes for a problem when your goal is to buy said person a book. Fear not. I have a solution to this problem. This year, I stumbled upon a book called Once Again to Zelda, a collection of essays about some of literature's quirkiest, most romantic, most infuriating ... most infamous dedications. Sometimes the story behind the story is as good as the book itself. One of my favorites was the story behind Stephen King's Carrie. He wrote the book, then hated it, then threw it in the trash. His wife, Tabitha, pulled it out, dusted off the cigarette ashes, and read it. She told him it was great, and he should continue. The dedication reads: This is for Tabby, who got me into it, then bailed me out of it. My most favorite is the story behind J.K. Rowling's introduction in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. It makes me teary :)

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Lucked out with this one. I know you already know what it is. Everybody knows what it is. But I have one friend who has been living under a rock called "post-college-get-ready-for-grad-school" and hadn't heard of it. He loves dystopian stuff so I knew this would be his thing.

Just Between You and Me by Jenny B. Jones
I gave this one to a girlfriend who loves good women's fiction. Slight disclaimer: Jen is a good friend. But Just Between You and Me is my favorite book she's done. Definitely one of the best books I read last year. I finished it in a weekend. Thought about the characters for the rest of the week. And, without realizing it, I started internalizing so much about the main theme running through the novel: fear. What holds me back from doing what I really love? What keeps me bound to all the ghosts in my past instead of moving ahead? You aren't slammed with those messages while you read; they're woven very subtly into the story. But the fact that they resonate so hard against your heart when the book ends ... that's really something. I think that's usually the mark of a book that's pretty darn special. In particular, I like the way Maggie (the main character) struggles through her faith. Maggie's journey is honest and genuine - never tied up too neatly or conveniently. I like reading women's fiction where the main character is re-examining her faith as an adult (any faith - not just Christianity). This one is definitely up to par with other books I've read like that. It made me laugh so much (rare for a book) and it made my heart hurt. One of my favorite reviews on Amazon said, "Can guys in Christian novels be this sexy?!" Indeed they can. This book is appropriate for teens, but you'll probably like it more if you're college and beyond.

More Fabulous Books I read in 2009

Something's Rising by Silas House and Jason Howard
This book is about mountain top removal, an invasive form of coal mining that blasts off the top of a mountain to get to the coal underneath. Not only does the mountain never recover, but the "spoil" (the sludge that's blasted off) is usually dumped into rivers. Rivers that run into mountain communities. Mountain Top Removal isn't such a huge issue in Tennessee yet but is pretty much at pandemic levels across Western Virginia and parts of Kentucky. At this point you might be thinking ... how the heck do you read an entire book about a topic like that? :) You'll have to pick this book up to understand how good it is. Silas House is one of favorite writers. He's an exceptional novelist with an ear for dialogue and a knack for story-telling that pins my heart every time I finish one of his books (favorite: Clay's Quilt). I knew his jump to non-fiction would be worth taking in. Jason Howard is also a gifted writer and activist. This time they edited essays from people who've been affected by Mountain Top Removal. The stories these people share will break your heart. Their reflections on "home," on stewardship of the earth, and on personal responsibility will make you want to get up and take action (not necessarily in this fight, but for something close to your heart). The best thing about the book is that it reminds you no matter who you are, or where you're from, or how insignificant you may think you are ... you have a voice that needs to be heard.

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
Stunning. Magical. Beautiful. If I use any more adjectives, you'll doubt my sincerity but it truly broke my heart. Buy this one. You'll want to keep it.

City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
Mortal Instruments is my favorite fantasy series post Harry Potter. I thought this one was a great finale (maybe finale ... is there another one coming out?). It's crazy how Cassie Clare can write such high fantasy in such a fun, readable, conversational way. Also, I think Clary Fray is a seriously cool girl. *spoiler warning* The only thing that made me go ehhhh was when Jace and Clary started kissing and they still didn't know for sure they weren't bro and sis. I realize there were loads of clues in the text that they weren't, that Valentine is a nasty villain who lies (tells them lies, tells them sweet little lies) but still. I wish they had known the DNA was not shared before the smooching commenced.

Havah by Tosca Lee
I finished it in a day. Havah is the story of the Garden of Eden, the fall of man, and everything that came after that ... from Eve's perspective. It's literary, romantic, heart-breaking, weird, wonderful, and wild. Stylistically, I would compare Lee to Audrey Niffeneger.The prose is so gorgeous but not in this "look how good I am at this" kind of way. It's a more evokative kind of writing; language that's so perfectly woven that the emotional punch always resonates more than a pretty word pairing. You'll never read Genisis the same way again after you read this. And if that doesn't persuade you this will: the book is just a smidge controversial :) Note: this one is defintely for older readers.

Sweethearts by Sara Zarr
This one has been out at least a year (maybe two) but I didn't read it until this year. I think it's brilliant. Tight prose, beautiful love story (but not a sappy sweet love story like you're thinking). And as a girl who has always struggled with weight (particularly as a kid), that aspect of the book really pulled at my heart. One thing I love about Zarr's characters is that they're always very flawed, but very loveable. Also, smart. And she never makes excuses for her girls being smart. I think Sweethearts is my favorite she's done (I like it even more than Story of a Girl). I think most girls have had a Cameron Quick in their lives. This book reminds you how sweet, how important, friends like that are (and how much they shape the person you become). Also, how gorgeous is this cover?

The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
I liked the story. I loved the prose. If you haven't read Shannon Hale (as if! :) but you like beautiful writing and gorgeous fantasy, give her books a go. You'll be passing it along to your friends as soon as you read the last sentence. (For the record: Miri is my favorite of Shannon Hale's characters. But I think The Goose Girl might be my favorite book. So far.)

One thing I'm going to try to do more of on the blog this year is talk up books I like. I hope you never feel like I only use this webby spot to talk up my book. Or any book. I don't want this place to feel like a chronic informercial :) But I'm pretty sure this blog is a community of fanatic booklovers who enjoy booky conversations. Also, I know how hard it is to try and promote a book in a stinky economy like this. So this year, when I read books I like, I'm going to gush about them. Or buy them for other people. Or blog about them. And I hope you'll tell me about books you love too. Let's be bibliophiles together? :)

A final note on books: We're chatting about the first ten chapters of Emma next week. Come get your regency on!

(Also, I'll be back on Friday to talk about my new appreciation for computer generated rat tails.)

Did you get any good books for Christmas? Is there a book you love giving as a gift?


  1. Okay, I'm adding Prada and Prejudice and Once Again to Zelda to my Amazon shopping cart. I have Jenny B. Jones's book, just haven't read it yet (unforgivable, I know!)...and if you've caught any of my FB updates you know I'm addicted to the Pioneer Woman website. :) Oh, and I LOVE Shannon Hale! Saw her speak at the Southern Festival of Books about 3 years ago, whenever Austenland came out. Have you read that one? So much fun. And eeek!! I have to get cracking on Emma!

  2. One of my goals to do over Christmas break was to spend an entire day at Barnes & Noble. I still haven't gotten around to doing it, but I think you just inspired me... Haha. Oh, this makes me wish I had more time to read SO much!

  3. Wow, thanks for the shoutout and for passing the book on as a gift.

    One of my favorite gifts to give was the PW cookbook. It really is a good read. I don't love to cook, but I love cookbooks. And I am dying to try her orange rolls recipe, which is just a variation on the cinnamon rolls. Or you could try it and just tell me how fabulous it is.

    I've been wanting to read Prada and Prejudice forever and now that I have Obama Bucks (stimulus money) for my classroom to buy books, that has become number one on my list. I'll check out the fantasy book mentioned for my kids as well.

    And I've had Sweethearts on my shelf for like 6 months. Have yet to read it. It sits right by Same Kind of Different as Me...also unread and supposed to be fabulous. Great book rundown, Natalie!

  4. Ha! That's awesome! And so random! One of the conversations that all you can do is laugh.

    Glad Biscuit is doing well!

  5. I am oddly drawn to children's books, too. But thankfully, that's perfectly acceptable, even normal, since I'm studying early childhood development. One of the classes I'm taking this semester is Children's Literature (and one of the books we had to have for the class was "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe"! How awesome is that?).

    Thanks so much for all of the book recommendations! I've been on sort of a book spree here lately. I got "Loves Comes Softly" and "The Book Thief" for Christmas. Our local B. Dalton is going out of business. It's sad that now the closest big bookstore will be about 35 miles away, but everything is 50% off now, which is awesome (even though the selection isn't so great anymore). I've already bought four books, and now I might be headed back with a new list.

    I can't wait for "Emma" next week!


  6. Natalie!!!! I am so glad that I found your blog! I heard about Paperdoll, so I had to research more about what you have been doing since I saw you last (which was too long ago). What wonderful book suggestions you have! I can't wait to set my eyes on several of them, as I have read way too many psychology books in the recent years. Have a wonderful week, and stay warm!!!

  7. Ruth, Austenland was the first Shannon Hale book I read! How is that not a movie yet?! (What did you think of Lost in Austen?) You'll love Jenny's book. Also, the Pioneer Woman recipes you make look far better than my attempts will ever look. I have a feeling you're slightly more savvy in the kitchen than I am ...

    EJ, have fun camping out in B&N! I used to go hang out more than I do now. Oh the good ol' days .. sigh :)

    Jen, I'm in the same boat on Same Kind of Different As Me. Actually, I've read a couple of chapters but end up putting it down. I hear so much good about it. I know I need to pick it up and re-read. It's just that the first part is so depressing I have a hard time with it. I bet you'll like P&P.

    Kristen, thank you! (Crazy conversations are par for the course around here. I'm really surprised it didn't get any weirder.)

    Kristin, I'm so jealous of you're children's lit class! That was one of my favorite classes in college. So fun discovering new books and re-thinking books I loved as a kid. I think that class is what ushered me back into the world of reading for fun (and not just reading in order to write a paper :). I can't wait to hear your thoughts on Emma!

    Lindsay, it's so good to "see" you on here!! :) Have fun reading for fun again. It really is like taking a breath of fresh air when you get to transition back ... ;) I can't wait to catch up on your blog.

  8. Natalie,
    I love that you are going to write about what books you like more! I have been making alist of 2010 "to reads" and I have added many that you have suggested. Keep 'em coming!
    That woman sounds so sweet! I work at the YMCA, and I encounter alot of sweet, wise, and just plain cute old people. And boy do they speak their minds. But I love how honest and sincere they are. That story made me laugh.

    The Book Thief is awesome. I am almost done. Then I plan on getting Beautiful Creatures, Havah and Just Between You and Me to read next :) Thanks for the suggestions!

  9. Oh Natalie, I love Lost in Austen! I've heard that it's supposed to be made into a theatrical movie, not sure how I feel about that but hopefully it will be fun at the very least. And seriously - me, super savvy in the kitchen - that's funny. You are far too generous. LOL!!!

  10. Well, I guess this counts as a Christmas gift.....I got this book called Paperdoll.... :)

    I also got a book on Third Culture Kids, which is a term that applies to missionary kids, military "brats", etc. My students may have an American passport, but they're not really American, they're not really Ukrainian; they are their own "third culture." I'm looking forward to reading it even though I've heard a good summary of it.

    There are so many spinoffs from Pride and Prejudice, at least as sequels, that I don't even know which ones to read! I bought Mr. Darcy's Diary, but that was simply P&P told from Mr. Darcy's POV. Nothing new. Any recommendations?

  11. Ruth - DITTO! :) I thought it was so so good. It made me laugh out loud a couple of times. Those brits don't have the same restrictions about what they can say on TV do they? I love how EVERY version of P&P I've seen makes me fall in love with Darcy as Elizabeth is doing it. I saw that guy and thought .... meh. But then I started thinking he was a total doll. Also, love that girl. If they do a movie, they've got to use her!

    Steffanie, I'm so excited to hear what you thnk of those books! I didn't like Beautiful Creatures as much as I'd hoped but it was still a good read. Those other two are incredible. You'll LOVE Just Between You and Me :)

    Jessica, yay Paperdoll! I hope you like it :) Third Culture Kids sounds great. I saw your status on Fbook about re-entry shock. When I went on my first missions trip, they warned us about that in de-briefing - how we wouldn't be able to convey the experience to somebody else. It was so weird to experience it and I was only gone two weeks. I can't imagine being gone for as long as you've been gone, then trying to mesh two worlds together. I like the term "third culture". I've never heard that term before. Let me think about P&P spinoffs. If I can't think of one, Ill ask Ruth. She's my Jane Austen consultant :) (I've seen Mr. Darcy, Vampyre at Target ... ;)

  12. Ok, you might have me convinced to give Emma a try-I need to read a Jane Austen book! Love Hunger Games and it's a great gift-I gave it to a friend of mine who immediatly asked for the sequel and then yelled at me for getting her hooked on a series that isn't finished. :) And Prada is super cute! I need to read Mortal Instruments. And if you liked Harry Potter, check out Skulduggery-it's my favorite post-Harry read.

  13. Natalie - Elliot Cowan in Lost in Austen was a wonderful surprise, wasn't he? :)

  14. Hey, Natalie! I've just started reading your blog; I like it very much. I too am excited for your upcoming book reccomendations.

    I got Paperdoll as a pre-Christmas present. I loved every bit of it! Are you writing another one yet? :) (Please say yes!) I'm thinking it is a "yearly read." I need to read it once a year for a boost of encouragement.

    I also got A Young Woman's Walk With God by Elizabeth George for Christmas. It's very good so far.

  15. GBTQ, Thanks so much for that recommendation! I've never heard of it before, but after looking it up I'm totally psyched to read it :) I'm with your friend on The Hunger Games too. I'm not reading the second book until the week the third one is released. I can't handle books that end too cliffy :)

    Ruth, That guy is so much cuter without Darcy hair!!

    Jennifer, thank you so much for this sweet comment! I'm so glad you liked Paperdoll :) I'm working on a new book right now but it's a novel ... and I'm not sure what (or if) I'll do anything with it. Thank you for the little nudge of confidence though! :) Elizabeth George is a great author!