Nov 24, 2014

A Little Bit of Everything

My Weeks in Books

I'm playing a little bit of catch-up on the books I have been reading and it's hard to look at the collection and come up with any one theme that ties everything together...

The outlier, really, is Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King. I don't read tons of non-fiction, but I do enjoy learning more about the Civil Rights Movements in the United States and becoming better informed about African American history. When you look at the major players from he Civil Rights era, Thurgood Marshall ranks at the top. When Marshall argued, and won, the Brown versus the Board of Education case in 1954 to the Supreme Court, it overturned Plessy versus Ferguson from 1896, which established the concept of separate but equal. It was an enormous moment for our country. In Devil in the Grove, King helps illustrate that the win was many, many years in the making.

Devil in the Grove focuses on a murder and subsequent arrests, and murders, in Florida. The case, with any twists and turns, is interesting. What was more compelling for me, though, was to learn about Marshall and his approach to justice. He played a long-game. Many times over he went into cases knowing he would lose them but trying to help set precedent for future cases. Trial by trial, he built up to ending the concept of separate but equal. Given the circumstances in which he was working, it's pretty remarkable that he could maintain that focus.

I wouldn't gift this book to many people I know. At times it is dry and it is packed full of detail. I passed it on to my father, though, and he was immediately hooked. If you like history and biographies, and especially if you'd like to fill in some gaps in your understanding of contemporary American history, I recommend Devil in the Grove.

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When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt is a book I received for free from LibraryThing as part of a celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of the book's publication. I picked it from my stack of books as something to read because I wanted something very light. The back-of-the-book summary included, "Fatty, fatty, two by four. Can't get through the kitchen door," which is mean but pretty much foretold what I could expect from the book. It's not politically correct. It's cute. It's aimed at a very young audience. It's listed at being for kids ages 10 to 14, which I feel is old given the storyline. But I wanted light and I got light.

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I enjoyed The Giver and was thrilled when I learned it had three companion novels. I've only read the first of those, Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry.  I was expecting a story that continued the adventure from The Giver so it took me a bit of time to understand what was happening - that Gathering Blue is it's own, standalone story. (Or, at least, I think it is!) It's a modern day parable that reminds me of the Narnia Chronicles. The books aren't anything alike, but do try to convey lessons.  Lowry isn't heavy-handed in religious references like C.S.Lewis was, but there is still a sense of right versus wrong, accompanied by magic. I'm thrilled knowing the next two books are sitting near by bed but am trying to limit how fast I read all of the books. Soon, though!

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Some reviews of The Magicians by Lev Grossman talk about the book ripping off, or failing to rise to the greatness of, the Harry Potter books. Having not read those (I know ... no lectures, please), I was impressed with how Grossman paid homage to his predecessors. The Lord of the Rings and Narnia Chronicles seemed well-referenced and revered. I spent so much time reading about Narnia and loved Tolkien's novels when I was younger that reading The Magicians was like visiting somewhere known and comfortable.

I enjoyed it so much and am thrilled it's part of a trilogy so I can read more about magic and adventures in the land of Fillory.

Devil in the Grove; When Zachary Beaver Came to Town; Gathering Blue; and The Magicians.

Nov 19, 2014

A Lesson In Stepping Out

While we were in Nepal, Wonder Boy, Frankenstein, Outside and I all took a chartered plane ride past Mount Everest. We had figured that this trip would be the closest we would ever get to the Himalayas and that none of use was likely to ever hike to Mount Everest. But a plane ride? Well within all of our skill sets.

We woke up early so we could be flying at first light. I had seen photos from a friend's trip and she had gone on a similar flight. Based on her photos, I was excited for the photography opportunities. I had my camera ready to go!

When we got on the plane, I was disappointed to see that my window’s view was partially blocked by the plane’s wing. But with careful careening of my neck, I could still get a wing-free picture. In between snapping shots, I tried to take in the view. To absorb everything I was seeing. But just like the window was blocked, my mental state was partially blocked by my singular focus on getting some pictures.

I’ve been going through my pictures from the trip and have learned a valuable lesson. While I was busy trying to take good photographs, I should have been more focused on the great view. Because you know what? My raw photos aren't good. They are streaked and blurred by whatever was on my plane window. The plane’s wing makes many appearances.

Heavily edited in Photoshop, I have some that look okay. But I'm not sure any of my handful of photos match in beauty, even close, what I know I saw.

A view of the Himalayas, as seen from a flight by Mount Everest.

That leads me wondering if I got my money’s worth. Or at least everything I could have from the experience. I’m not sure. If I didn’t, though, it’s my fault. The flight wasn’t about what I could see through my viewfinder. It was what I could take in and embrace. That flight was about seeing individual homes in remote areas of the Himalayas. It was about getting as close to Mount Everest as I’ll ever be. It was about being in awe, and a little incredulous, of anyone willing to climb those mountaintops. It was about seeing Mother Nature in one of her finest acts.

That flight was about a singular experience. I regret that I wasn’t able to step out from behind my camera for a while longer and enjoy it more.

That’s a relatively inexpensive lesson for me to learn, in the grand scheme of things. The same thing applies to me hiding behind my phone screen being “social” or sitting behind a computer screen “interacting” with people. Not everything has to be captured and documented. Not everything needs proof. The experience might be so much better than any of that and all the proof I need is stored in my head.

Nov 17, 2014

Peculiar and Fabulous

I’ve been intending to write a review of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and the follow-up, Hollow City, for some time now. I enjoyed the books so much but I don’t know how to adequately describe them.

I enjoyed the stories in part because they were not at all what I was expecting. Even the genre was different than I had anticipated. I’m fascinated by how the author, Ransom Riggs, used old photography throughout the books. I couldn’t help but wonder what came first – the images or the stories. I hope it was the images because it makes his creative process so much more unique to me!

I think I could make some attempt here to describe to you what Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City are about. Or, I could do you a bigger favor and just instruct you to go read the books. Learn nothing about them beforehand. Dive headfirst into the story and be prepared to be transported to a wonderfully peculiar place.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City by Ransom Riggs.

Nov 12, 2014

Peanut Butter Overload

Forbidden Fruit(y Pebbles)

In this edition of the Forbidden Fruit(y Pebbles), where I enlist my family and friends to go back and taste test all of the cereals our moms wouldn't let us eat growing up, Wonder Boy and I sample Cap'n Crunch's Peanut Butter Crunch and Reese's Puffs. What will they be like as adults? Will they be as good as we suspected? Or, were our moms right all along?

Cap'n Crunch's Peanut Butter Crunch

At least Cap'n Crunch's Peanut Butter Crunch really does taste like peanut butter.
Have you had this cereal before?

Wonder Boy: No
Me: No


As a kid, what did you think it would taste like?

Wonder Boy: Peanut butter heaven!
Me: Warm toast topped with melted peanut butter.


Now that you've tried it, what do you think it tastes like?

Wonder Boy: It was everything I thought it would be. It lives up to the crunch!
Me: I was pretty dead-on. It tastes like warm toast topped with melted peanut butter topped with a healthy coating of sugar.


Was your mom right or wrong to not let you eat this?

Wonder Boy: She was right, probably. This is not good for you.
Me: She was definitely right. This doesn't taste healthy at all.


Other Comments:

Wonder Boy: I think this is a keeper, but I want to see how it stands up to Reese's Puffs.
Me: This is better than I expected. It doesn't taste like breakfast but it's still pretty good.


The Verdict: We both approve!


Reese's Puffs

Reese' Puffs have only the slightest taste of delicious Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

Have you had this cereal before?

Wonder Boy: Yes, but as an adult.
Me: No


As a kid, what did you think it would taste like?

Wonder Boy: Reese cups being my kryptonite, it should live up to expectations.
Me: Like a Reese's peanut butter cup, I hope!

Now that you've tried it, what do you think it tastes like?

Wonder Boy: Peanut buttery chocolate goodness.
Me: One bite and I'm done. This is gross. I get hints of Reese's cups, but so, so much worse.


Was your mom right or wrong to not let you eat this?

Wonder Boy: Definitely wrong!
Me: Right. Thank you.


Other Comments:

Wonder Boy: I want to rub this cereal all over my face.
Me: How can I get rid of the taste in my mouth.


The Verdict: I'm not sure Wonder Boy is a valid judge of things flavored like peanut butter and chocolate... He loves both while I'm split.