A Year of Homeschooling Peacefully in the Ancient Times

May 30, 2022 at 1:42 pm (Education) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

The school year began, for me, in a bit of chaos. My son was born over the summer. My mother had died. In addition to my newborn son, I had two extra children in my household. I was overwhelmed by the impeding doom of our co-op. I could sense it coming, but I honestly thought it was a year or two off and I was committed to giving it my kiddo’s fifth grade year before bailing, believing that the proverbial poop would hit the fan a few months after my departure. (It hit sooner.)

Still, after the children went back to their own home. The co-op dissolved and something new began… we found ourselves homeschooling through the ancients in our own little Pax Romana. We declared this our year of homeschooling in peace and it has been phenomenal.

As usual, we began our dive into Ancient history with the Epic of Gilgamesh. After years of reading the picture book trilogy by Ludmila Zeman, it was time to upgrade to a a more “grown up” version of the story. Gilgamesh the Hero by Geraldine McCaughrean was a perfect bridge for the dialectic stage, from elementary to the full translations of high school. Kiddo was struck by the subtle differences, the pieces that make it suitable for older readers, but not for younger ones. As a child who doesn’t like change, learning that different adaptations have a different flow and feel to them has been a challenge. As a ten/eleven year old, she has now been exposed to several adaptations of the Gilgamesh myth and also has a much broader view of near eastern cultures and history. I’m happy to say, my homeschooler as an elementary graduate has a more thorough understanding of history and other people groups than I did as a public school high school graduate. These are the goals, and we’re winning.

I read The Golden Bull by Marjorie Cowley out loud to two ten year olds and an eight year old. This is right about the time we started making our timeline (using Amy Pak’s Home School in the Woods History Through the Ages Record of Time), and having the kids perform narrative plays of what I had just read to them while I nursed my infant. Our house is fairly full of music, so naturally we ended up making a lyre (and some ukuleles) as a hands on craft which in turn became props in our living room productions of The Golden Bull.

Meanwhile, we were also re-reading Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the Wold Volume One for the third time, reading Story of Civilization for the first time, plucking our way through the Usborne Encyclopedia of the Ancient World, reading the Old Testament, and for good measure added a plethora of picture books I had on hand from the last time we studied the ancients.

Ox, House, Stick by Robb was discovered while we studied the Phoenicians and the alphabet. This one came highly recommended, and the kids liked it ok, but it wasn’t my favorite. We also re-read The Riddle of the Rosetta Stone by Giblin, that one is always fun and fascinating.

We had some extensive discussions regarding laws and lawmakers. The kids each read a biography on Hammurabi, the one by Mitchell Lane Publishers was the best, we thought. A few rabbit trails later and we spent an afternoon on You Wouldn’t Want to Be an Assyrian Soldier.

As we moved into the time of the Egyptians, we tackled Green’s Tales of Ancient Egypt, The Landmark Book of Pharaohs by Payne, Mara: Daughter of the Nile by McGraw, The Golden Goblet also by McGraw, and The Cat of Bubastes by G. A. Henty. Kiddo hated Mara, I thought it was great. I found the Golden Goblet on the boring side, Kiddo loved it. The fun thing about reading so many books together are the discussions. Homeschooling is basically book club every day. I love book club!

One of my pet topics of study as an adult is the Pharaoh Hatshepsut. I find her to be the most intriguing and have some theories as to where her place in history overlaps with our knowledge of biblical history. The kids each grabbed a biography and I re-read a few of my own. Although I usually love National Geographic stuff, our favorite is the one put out by Compass Point Books. Compass Point Books, for the most part, is a huge go-to in our house. If I see one, I grab it, often accidentally purchasing duplicates. They are more thorough than the Who Was series, but less daunting than the DK series, although we own a good amount of both of those as well. At this point, Kiddo tried her hand at her first full length essay, complete with me dragging out my typewriter for her to type the finished product.

I also love David MacCauley books and we read Pyramid. Kiddo does *not* love David MacCauley books, which is unfortunate because I think I own them all. She preferred diving into Mummies, Tombs, and Treasure and the Magic Tree House Research Guide: Mummies & Pyramids. Side note to the Magic Tree House books: Although the fiction books are overly simplistic and quickly outgrown, we have found that the research guides last all of the elementary school years and are revisited often. We will keep the research guides long after the fiction series is purged, I believe. As homeschool eccentrics this study coincided with our anatomy studies in science. The kids got the chance to observe a profession necropsy of a rat and later Kiddo tried her hand at mummifying the spare dead rat. AmenRAThep still lies in our garage buried in salt in his intricately decorated plastic tomb. An expository essay on the mummification process ensued. More tapping away at my now “vintage” typewriter… More revisiting all our favorite picture books (Mummy Cat by Ewert just never gets old and Tutankhamen’s Gift is lovely) as well as the HMNS for the Ramses exhibit.

Necropsy

When we wrapped up our anatomy studies, the mummification process became a nice bridge into our archaeology unit. We used the Wonders of Creation series from MasterBooks.com. The Archaeology Book by David Down and The Geology Book by Dr. John D. Morris led beautifully into The Fossil Book by Gary Parker. We’re definitely going to continue through this series into Caves, Minerals, Oceans, Weather, and Astronomy as we move through the timeline to the middle ages.

I love multi-sensory learning whenever possible, so during all this we also tried our hands bringing our history studies to our taste buds. One of my favorite cookbooks to pull out during the ancient years is The Philosopher’s Kitchen. It’s full of ancient flavors that make use of modern kitchen routines so you can enjoy the taste of the times without slaving away. We have recipes we’ve attempted to make the way they would, but I’m content with learning to use the kitchen I have instead of trying to time travel. Kiddo found some easy kid recipes in various places and we also enjoyed some Mesopotamian sweet breads she made herself that were rather tasty. Cardimon and honey is a lovely flavor combination.

Thankfully, the African Chicken was deemed “tasty” by our harshest critic.

Another aspect to unit studies/ studying all disciplines through the timeline, is that we tried Spelling You See for the first time and used the Ancient (level F) package. Spelling You See was developed by a reading specialist who encourages identifying word patterns and color coding them. Married with dictation of an entire topical paragraph, this curriculum abandons the by rote memorization of a list of spelling words. I find this method useful, but we will also continue with our Spelling Workout books after we’ve completed all the lessons in this book, as spelling is a subject we’re going to have to continue to work on long after some of our peers have abandoned it as a subject. I’m ok with this, Kiddo tests gifted in most subjects but spelling is a struggle. We remind ourselves daily that we can do hard things (through Christ) and that it is ok to not be perfect at everything as long as we’re trying our best.

Adara by Gormley, God King by Williamson (we had already read Hittite Warrior years ago), and Days of Elijah by Noble were read as we continued our studies of the Old Testament as well as Herodotus. (Kiddo loved Days of Elijah, I tried to read it with her but I found the writing style very off putting, I honestly cannot remember if I finished it or not.) Kiddo re-read Bendick’s Herodotus & The Road to History, we both love all things Bendick. I wanted to re-read Herodotus’s book as the last time I had read it Kiddo was two or three, but time got away with me. We were knee deep in fractions because math may never be abandoned, no matter how many people die (we had four significant deaths this season), or how tired you may be. What kept our mind clear enough to finish our Singapore 4a&4B curriculum and get through Math-U-See Epsilon, was the fact that we were taking time to study God’s word daily. We weren’t just trying to incorporate theology in our homeschool, my husband was actually leading bible study every evening (and had been since the start of our marriage in 2020); and in addition to that, upon moving into our new house in 2021 we began using the Simply Charlotte Mason Scripture Memory System. I found a reasonably priced recipe box on Amazon and started adding index cards as per the instructions of the method (follow the link). Focusing on hiding God’s Word in your heart, opens the mind up for so much more, and in all the crazy we prayed for God to help us be good stewards of our brains and our time and the results have been delightful.

With all this Bible study, Kiddo requested to eventually study Aramaic and Hebrew and Koine Greek, but we decided to wait as we continue on our Latin studies. One thing at a time, and we still have some Latin books to complete.

Now, for the Greeks… The D’Aulaires have a lovely Greek Myths book. In addition to that, Kiddo read more books on Homer’s work than I can count. The highlight reel were repeat romps through the Mary Pope Osborn adaptation, Sutcliff’s Black Ships Before Troy and The Wanderings of Odysseus, and Lively’s In Search of a Homeland. She also read for the first time Aleta and the Queen, Flaxman’s The Iliad of Homer, and Colum’s Children’s Homer. By the time she reads Homer’s unabridged work, she’ll know the stories so thoroughly I’m hoping the poetry of it will shine through and delight her in ways that evaded me when I blindly trudged through it for the first time because I had no previous knowledge of context to work from. I had planned for us to read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, but when you’re done, you’re done. So we’re saving Hamilton for the next time around, in four years.

Bendick’s Archimedes and the Door of Science as well as The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Lasky are must haves. We have read them every time we’ve studied the Ancients and sometimes we pluck Lasky’s picture book up to read just for kicks.

Rome Antics by MacCauley was beautiful. It takes about ten minutes to read, but days to absorb if you want to go back and study all the architecture as well. I didn’t dwell on it too much as she’s already read Where Were the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World? and Where Is the Parthenon? (we did a hands on project with friends building the Parthenon out of marshmallows which was fun). While on the Who/What/Where series kick, she also read Where Is the Great Wall? We’ve studied ziggurats and pyramids and a number of other structures this year, and now that we are currently studying Rome, I’m going to have to collect my thoughts and make proper plans to lay the groundwork for a strong introduction to architecture. In the meantime, now that summer is here, we’re listening to the Rise of Rome on Wondrium, and plucking through our never ending reading list.

I’ll continue to update as we make our way through the last hundred years or so before Christ, through the New Testament, and onto the invasion of Britain. We already studied Pompeii and went to the museum exhibit with our co-op, and volcanoes were studied in passing while we raised money for the Pacific Rim Awana programs and made a homemade volcano during a friend-date at our house. (I think we may start a science club…)

(We got a taste of Asian mythology and folklore with some read alouds and picture books, but I think we will revisit them in a more heavy handed way when we study Marco Polo again. If you’re looking for titles, I recommend perusing everything by Demi as well as 101 Read-Aloud Asian Myths.)

This school year has been our most relaxing yet, despite the chaos of life, and we hope to continue this pattern in the years to come.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Diminutive Books I Have Loved

August 19, 2019 at 4:20 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Once upon a time…

I was on a book hunting excursion at the Recycled Bookstore in Denton, Texas. That night I purchased and read a book by Paul Collins called Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books. I loved every minute of it and proceeded to hunt down everything the man had ever written. When pressed, I will tell people this is my *favorite* book. As a book lover, it hurts me to choose just one, so I must admit I don’t even know if this is an accurate proclamation. But it is the one I claim.

Later, I would get a job at Half Price Books and not only re-read this gem, but purchase any copies that came into the store. I’ve given several copies away, I think I own a few still, the one I will always keep is the polypropylene covered first edition I bought in Denton. Of all the parts of the book, one quote regarding dust jackets and marketing is the one that has always stuck with me, it’s something I have even told other booksellers when training them:

“Woe and alas to any who transgresses these laws. A number of reviewers railed against ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ because it used the diminutive hardcover size and muted color scheme of, say, an Annie Dillard book–thus cruelly tricking readers of Serious Literature into *buying crap*. Not to be outdone, the Harvard University Press issued Walter Benjamin’s opus ‘The Arcades Project’ with gigantic raised metallic lettering. One can only imagine the disgust of blowhard fiftysomethings in bomber jackets as they slowly realised that the project they were reading about was a cultural analysis of 19th century Parisian bourgeoisie–and not, say, a tale involving renegade Russian scientists and a mad general aboard a nuclear submarine.” 

I am a sucker for diminutively sized hardback books with matte finished covers, especially if they are about books or nature. Case and Point: the hardback edition of Sixpence House is 5.7 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches in size. It isn’t small per se, but it is definitely smaller than your typical contemporary New York Times bestselling fiction, like Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, for instance, which is 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches. Or, if your flavor is more sci-fi/fantasy, Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings hardcover stands at 6.4 x 2 x 9.6 inches. 8.6 inches to 9.6 inches is a meaningful jump in the publishing world. It tells you something about what is lurking inside those beautiful, beautiful pages.

Imagine how much more significant a leap from 9.6 inches down to 7.3 inches, which is the height of the hardcover edition of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. I plucked this book up sometime before I separated from my ex-husband. I read it just a month before I finally said enough was enough. I remember reading it and craving the calm of being bedridden and having nothing to do except think and watch a snail creep around the house. I was aware that it was probably ridiculously unhealthy – to crave someone else’s pain, but I was very much exhausted of my own. Much relief comes from evicting an abusive drunk from your home, but before you’re free it’s nice to find comfort in books like this one. I’d like to re-read it again, and soon, so I can appreciate it more fully for what it is rather than using it to hide from what it isn’t.

I’m in a good place now, much healing has occurred over the last few years, but I still occasionally crave tiny and textured books. Keeping an eye out for calming and similar reading experiences, and knowing what I know about book covers, imagine my glee when I discovered Grayson by Lynne Cox.

One of the most lovely qualities of such books is that they can be read in one sitting by nearly any audience, but they rarely talk down to the reader and are often articulate and well-researched. These are the books written by amateur observers – remember the Latin root for amateur is amo, “I love.” An amateur is not someone who is less competent, as the connotation has evolved, but someone who has learned something for the sheer passion of it. They didn’t study for a grade, they aren’t necessarily doing it for their job, instead it is their passionate hobby. It is what they pursue at the end of the day when their bones are tired and their eyelids weak.

Lynne Cox loved to swim in the ocean. She swam every day for miles. I read about her swimming habits and am in awe. Several times I looked at my fiancé and said, “I would have drowned.” I definitely would have probably choked on the grunion when it slithered into my mouth, and then drowned. But Lynne Cox didn’t drown the day a baby whale found her during her morning swim. In fact, she swam and tread water for hours so she could help him find his mama. She didn’t go back to shore when her lungs were burning and her body freezing, because he would have beached himself and died. Lynne Cox loves the open water and the beach and you can experience how deep this love goes when you read about just one morning of her whole life. So much quality is packed into 150 pages: quality time (my love language), quality writing, rich and genuine details about sea creatures off the coast of California. I loved every second of this darling book and I’m grateful Cox chose to share it with the world.

This experience, to me, defines the genre of diminutive books. They aren’t separated out in any particular way in any bookstore I’ve ever patronized (again, I’m using the less commonly used definition here: “frequently shop”), but they definitely reside in the same file folder in my brain… and yes, my brain is actually a series of files and folders (and boxes and “gently raining post-it notes”) I spend hours sorting through. The books, and an assortment of others, all belong in the same place in my mind – not just belong in the same place, but belong to each other, I think.

Each one is a small nod of knowing to another, whether they are aware of it or not, guiding people ever so tenderly down a cobblestone path lit by fireflies and dreams…

Permalink Leave a Comment

Gilgamesh

July 26, 2019 at 4:47 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

If you’re studying ancient history in chronological order, sometime after you’ve read the Book of Genesis, it’s really fun to dive into Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is an epic poem most kids have to read in high school or early college for literature classes, originally written in Akkadian. It’s a mythological adventure about a real Sumerian king documented in history, who, like many kings of old, became a legend passed down through the ages, the truth of his life distorted and lost to deification.

Ludmilla Zeman has a fantastic children’s picture book trilogy that I find to be the best starting point for learning about Gilgamesh. It is consistent with most translations and full of beautiful illustrations. When kiddo was small and we were studying ancient history the first time around, we checked these out from the library over and over again. She loved them. This time I bought them, brand new. They’re worth every penny.

I picked up used copies of the epic for myself. I was disappointed to discover that every translation available was a translation of a translation. I know its ignorant to expect to read direct translations of the Old Babylonian tablets when you pick up a Penguin trade paperback, but I did. I went back to the store after reading through David Ferry’s pretty version and N.K. Sandar’s better translation, looking for something closer to Andrew George’s 2003 version – or better yet, George Smith’s 1870’s version! To no avail. Everyone wants new and better more modern ways to tell the tale, while I bemoan my inability to read archaic clay tablets I’d never get my hands on anyway.

I was hoping to find a cool cartoon on the tale for us to watch together, desiring a repeat of the experience we had when we studied Beowulf in 2016 (YouTube had an amazing cartoon rendition of Beowulf featuring the voice of Joseph Fiennes at the time…). All I found were some not so kid friendly “cliff notes” style videos of people walking students through what it was all about so they wouldn’t have to read the book themselves.

Attention all animators: Please provide a kid appropriate Gilgamesh cartoon, featuring an oddly famous actor of the 90’s of my choice. Thanks.

Gilgamesh is neat. I love the beautiful picture books we own. I will be the parent that makes sure she reads poem and doesn’t watch internet video summaries when she’s older. But I’m not in love with it the way I am with The Iliad and Beowulf. I think it may be the insincerity of it all. It feels obvious that it was a legend born of puffing up the ego of a king and his people. It takes Noah’s ark and twists it, I love reading confirmation that many regions of the world had a major flood, I’m saddened when the details are distorted and inconsistent, making heroes of those who weren’t and forgetting the one man who did obey.

Maybe I’ll love it when I finally get my hands on one of the George translations…

Permalink Leave a Comment

Beowulf

September 13, 2016 at 1:33 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I have a confession: I never read Beowulf in high school.  Or college.  I read Canterbury Tales more times than I can count (yet only remember a handful of the stories).  I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ad nauseum – and I like that story.  But no Beowulf.  How did I miss it?

I’ll tell you how, we tried to cram so much into such a short amount of time.  We spent hours and hours in school, but spent very little time actually studying.  Somewhere along the way, Beowulf was lost to me.  I’m not sure if I was ever really exposed to it or not.  It might have been something I breezed through in a Norton Anthology and regurgitated the next day for a pop quiz, only to be quickly forgotten.  I couldn’t tell you.  I only know that I had a vague idea that it was an epic poem involving something named Grendel when I began working at a bookstore as an adult.  Even then, I couldn’t tell you if Grendel was the monster or the man.

unknownAs we began our Middle Ages/ Early Ren. (450 AD to 1600 AD) year while classically homeschooling, it dawned on me that this was the year for Beowulf. I had already read the picture book by Eric A. Kimmel to kiddo when she was a wee one, but I’m sure she was so tiny she had fallen asleep; now was the time to embrace the story.

And we did.  I read her the picture book shortly before my trip to Atlanta. It fit right in with all the Celtic and Norse mythology we’ve been reading to bridge the gap between the ancient times and our exciting year ahead.  “What a guy! He tore off the monster’s arm! I can’t even do that,” she exclaimed. She was very pleased that this particular picture book could give the story in “one-sitting, all today” as opposed to the stories of Odysseus and Troy which all took weeks of chapter by chapter to finish. I foresee reading this again and again over the coming months, she loved the story so much; I have to admit, I did too.

4cf814193a0I liked it even more when I discovered there was a cartoon made in 1998 starring Joseph Fiennes as the voice of Beowulf – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKjcoFZmKuA.  We got to watch that and call it school.  It was a lot of fun.  (There’s one for Don Quixote we’ll be watching next year when we make it into the 1700s.)

Naturally, I was curious as to the accuracy of these versions.  I won’t ever truly know, because everything is a translation, but I thought I’d give an adult version a go.  There’s so many versions out there, I think I’ll just try a different one every Middle Ages cycle.  So I took the Constance B. Hieatt version with me to Atlanta and enjoyed it immensely, especially the little extras at the end.

beowulf-cover-hiea-900

The kiddo, of course, keeps asking me why we are using “fake stories as lesson books, they aren’t real stories mother!” I keep telling her, very ineloquently, that these stories help us understand the people who told them.  Read them to her as bedtime stories and naturally she’s thrilled at the excitement of them.

We’ll collect more versions over the years and by the time she is grown she will know the story well – and remember it.  Next go around we’ll even tackle it in poem form, and eventually we’ll read Gardner’s Grendel.

Do you have any favorite versions of Beowulf?  Or, more importantly, do you know any great stories of the time period that should not be missed?

Permalink 1 Comment

The Havana Treatment

October 27, 2015 at 4:15 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

31RZD3GdDVL._AA160_Title: The Havana Treatment

Author: Peter Devine

My first Peter Devine book was True to the Code, a series of short stories that were as much historically educational as philosophically motivating.  As much as I enjoyed my first taste of Devine’s prose, Havana Treatment was infinitely more riveting.

Peter Devine has an uncanny ability to put you in the middle of a character’s big moment only to take you right back out again.  Each short story in Havana Treatment introduces you to a whole person in a just a few moments or hours, leaving you with a solid understanding of who they are, but wanting more of the story.  Described as an exploration of the shelf life of a romance, Havana Treatment doesn’t disappoint, and each story is as compelling and oxymoronically uniquely typical as the next.

The human race is completely infatuated with the idea of love, and after spending time with Devine’s characters, it is easy to see why.  A moment with someone can become a lifetime of dedication.  A person’s soul can be boiled down to one momentous story that could have seemed so unimportant at the time, but because the encounter was so genuine it shapes someone forever.

Devine has such a strong grasp on these realities. His experience and all the people he has met in his life shape the wisdom in his tales; but in all his travels and worldliness, Devine still captures Americana and our ideas of romance like no other.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Haunting Jasmine

July 11, 2015 at 12:58 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have a cousin I’ve never met.  She married my actual cousin that I grew up playing with on a good chunk of our weekends when we were kids – and special holidays – so she’s not really MY cousin, but I have a habit of adopting people that way.  My family is weird, he’s the great grandson of my Grandfather’s sister, but I spent more time with their family than a lot of people spend with first cousins.  Unfortunately, he flitted away out of state and I haven’t had a chance to spend time with his lovely bride.

She’s been a published author for quite awhile now, longer than I’ve been running this blog, but I had conveniently lodged that information into some lost corner of my brain – until recently, as he and I played Scrabble over Facebook.

Anjali Banerjee is the lovely woman my awesome cousin chose to spend the rest of his life with and I’m so pleased to finally read one of her books.  While reading Haunting Jasmine, I felt like perhaps we were kindred spirits, as we have both written about bookstores, and clearly have a mutual passion for the written word.

She’s just way better at using those words than I am!

Title: Haunting Jasmineabanerjee-2l-haunting

Author: Anjali Banerjee

Genre: Women’s Fiction

If you’re in the mood for a haunted bookshop, a fabulous Indian aunt, a god hanging out with Dr. Seuss, Jane Austen, Beatrix Potter, and a number of other ghosts – then you might need to find yourself a copy of Haunting Jasmine.  Set in the north west, there’s a nice bit of ocean, some chilly weather, rain, hot tea, and a divorcee you might want to spend a day with in Seattle.

The writing is easy to get into, and she made lucky choice to use the word wafted – we all know how much I love that word, I think.

There’s a bit of a romance, but nothing too over the top to actually place it in the romance genre – it’s more about Jasmine and her journey to understanding herself and the nature of her aunt’s shop.

It’s definitely worth a bubble bath or day off, and I’m not just saying that because I’m biased. 🙂

Permalink Leave a Comment

The Haunted Bookshop

January 22, 2015 at 9:52 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“It’s one of the uncanniest things I know to watch a real book on its career – it follows you and follows you and drives you into a corner and makes you read it. […] Words can’t describe the cunning of some books.  You’ll think you’ve shaken them off your trail, and then one day some innocent-looking customer will pop in and begin to talk, and you’ll now he’s an unconscious agent of book-destiny.” – pg. 121, The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

The Haunted BookshopTitle: The Haunted Bookshop

Author: Christopher Morley

Length: 265 pages

I am constantly haunted by books.  As a reviewer your TBR pile grows and grows, but there are books that you want to read that no one is asking you to that sit and lurk until finally they demand that you pick them up.

I purchased The Haunted Bookshop years ago; it was the same time I bought Parnassus on Wheels.  Nearly two years after finally reading my first encounter with Morley, I’ve finally been hunted down and captured by his wonderful sequel.

“There’s only one way to lay the ghost of a book, and that is to read it.”

haunted shopNow that I’ve revisited Roger and Helen Mifflin, however, I just want more.  I want to know what happens after this glorious book fetish mystery.  After Parnassus on Wheels, it was exciting to see Mr. and Mrs. Mifflin after they settled down.  But now I want to know: how does all the inadvertent advertising change the face of Mr. Mifflin’s business.  I want to hang out with these fine people until we experience their inevitable deaths.  Favorite characters deserve that much, for their fans to sob at their memorials.

Mostly, I adore Mr. Mifflin’s constant book recommendations.  As long as people love books there will be books about bookstores, I am convinced, because the truly bookish seek out recommendations from their favorite characters, always.  That was the romance, for me, in writing The Bookshop Hotel.  I hope in time that fans will see more similarities in my work to Christopher Morley than to Debbie Macomber (of whom my writing has been compared) and the like.   Ultimately, however, I’m happy with however I am categorized as long as people are enjoying them.

Permalink Leave a Comment

My Life in Literature Meme 2014

December 8, 2014 at 1:14 am (In So Many Words) (, , , , , )

This is fast becoming a yearly ritual.

Using only books you have read this year (2014), answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.

Describe yourself: A Reliable Wife

How do you feel: Not Even Wrong

Describe where you currently live: Follies Past

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The Lacuna

Your favorite form of transportation: Resolute

Your best friend is: The Book of Secrets

You and your friends are: Committed

What is the best advice you have to give: Life is Hard But God is Good

What’s the weather like: Shades of Earl Grey

You fear: The Beginner’s Goodbye

Thought for the day: Get Me Out of Here

How I would like to die: in A Circle of Quiet

My soul’s present condition: Alone

Permalink Leave a Comment

And When I Think, I Fall Asleep

November 25, 2014 at 4:37 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , )

one-hundred-years-of-solitudeTitle: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Genre: Fiction/ Literature

Length: 458 pages

When I was a kid I had a poster of a chimpanzee on my wall.  Underneath in a font that was surely intended to motivate a young mind it said: “When I Work, I Work Hard. When I Play, I Play Hard.  But When I Think, I Fall Asleep.”  The monkey had his chin resting in his human-like hand, eyes drooped down.

Although I’ve read more books that my norm this year, I’ve just *mostly* finished my 93rd title, it’s been a lot of fluff.  It’s been a lot of things that digest easily and go down like lemonade on a hot summer day, or cooled hot cocoa in winter.  The heavier stuff that I tend to enjoy has bored me.  I’m too tired for all this thinking.  My energies are spent writing.  I want to just download books into my head, Matrix style, when I sit down to read.

One Hundred Years of Solitude has been sitting on my shelf radiating all this promise for years.  I’ve put it off because it was going to blow my mind.  It was going to be too wonderful for words.  Then, when the words came, it was supposed to be the most intelligent thing that had ever come from my mouth – or been typed by my fingers.  Because it’s Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  Because Garcia is wonderful.  Because this is his magnum opus.

I was bored.

There’s a lot to take in.  There’s a lot to quote.  I could never write anything so wonderful in all my life.

But around page 300 out of the 458 pages, I caught myself skimming.  The drama was annoying me.  The people were unfriendly.  I couldn’t relate to anyone, nor did I want to.  This probably says more about my mood than anything else, but I started flicking through the pages speed reading to a level that even I know I’m not really reading anymore.

“Not finishing a book that doesn’t move you is a sign of reading maturity,” I just told a co-worker at the bookstore tonight.  “It’s knowing that there are so many wonderful things out there that you shouldn’t waste your time with things that aren’t wonderful.”  I waste my time with things that aren’t wonderful all the time.  Even more so, I waste my time with things that are wonderful even if I’m not feeling wonder at them at all, I’m just reading it because I’m supposed to feel awed.

Around page 370 or so, I took a deep breath, skipped to the last chapter and read it.  Yes, I skipped pages.  Lots of them.  And just read the end.  I still started nodding off.  I’m not even that tired (ok, I am that tired, but good books are supposed to keep you awake!), just that unmoved by this family and their crap.  Sadly, I didn’t feel like I missed anything at all.  I was just relieved that it was over, that I was going to mark this one off my list.  Then, I felt the annoyance of the knowledge that I was not going to write my one solid literary essay of the year, at least not on this book.  (Once a year or so, I write an essay.  A proper one, as though I’m still in school.  It’s lame.  And nerdy.  But I feel like I have to do this to stay in practice.  You know, in case I ever go back.  They get worse every year.  I’ve stopped sharing them.  Now, it looks like I’ve even stopped writing them.)

I’m further annoyed that this is a favorite book of my best friend.  I hate that I can’t share that with her.

Maybe I’ll read those pages I skipped one day.  Maybe.  For now, I’ll admit defeat and enjoy my sleep.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Unexpected Odes to Literature

June 10, 2014 at 11:19 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

City of Lost Souls 2Title: City of Lost Souls

Author: Cassandra Clare

Genre: Young Adult/ Fantasy

Length: 534 pages

For me, what makes the writings of Cassandra Clare so captivating isn’t the fairy tale romance, the paranormal elements, or the bad ass fight sequences… at the heart of it all, it’s the way Clare manages to make a young adult fantasy saga an sequence of unexpected odes to her favorite pieces of literature.

“No man chooses evil because it is evil.  He only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.” – Mary Wollstonecraft

“Love is familiar.  Love is a devil.  There is no evil angel but Love.” – William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

“I love you as one loves certain dark things.” – Pablo Neruda, “Sonnet XVII”

“All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.” – William Butler Yeats, “Easter, 1916”

Whether the story was constructed around these quotes, or the quotes City of Lost Souls 1were slipped into the story, the two halves were beautifully married together.  Just as Clare always manages to do.

If you recall my review of The Book of Secrets you should be well aware of how much I cherish this particular aspect of storytelling.  I love peeping into the mind of the author and what they’ve read before – what work we may have both cherished.  I love to see how others acknowledge how literature builds a soul.  Even if that soul is an imagined character in another book.

A reviewer on Goodreads mentioned they thought it was silly that all these Shadowhunter kids were completely oblivious of what went on in the mundane world half the time – Jace completely misses references to Madonna or Dungeons & Dragons games – but are well versed in William Shakespeare and Dante.

As a classical book geek it makes perfect sense to me.  I was raised on Charles Dickens and the Brontes, not the latest boy band or pop culture trends.  Poetry is timeless.  New Kids on the Block obviously not so much.

One doesn’t expect these odes and references in a paranormal teen romance.  I suppose that’s what makes them so stunningly lovely.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Next page »