About novelrambles

Retired after 41 years of working in a public library. Future plans include traveling in our trailer, reading, and sleeping in past 6:00 a.m.

The Teen Years: Phallic Towers in the Valley of the Dolls

Thanks to everyone who is following my reading journey. If you missed my previous musings, links are at the end of this post.

valley3One day in 1966, when I was in the 8th grade, I was perusing the rental shelf (5 cents per day, if I remember correctly), when my eyes spied a book I had recently heard about, the groundbreaking Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. When I took it to the desk, Miss Clark looked at it with disapproval and said I needed a note from my “mommy” to check it out. What happened after that shaped my reading life forever.

But before that happened…

Gothic Love

After I finished the “teen” books in our small library, I asked Miss Clark what I should mellynread next, and she recommended Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt. I wish Miss Clark were still alive so I could thank her for how she changed my life. First of all, I was so enamored of the story, setting, and shocking revelation at the end that to this day, there’s nothing I like better than a good gothic novel with a creepy manor setting, a sense of unease, and a twist that knocks my socks off. And secondly, her help made me realize how much fun it can be to help someone find just the right book for their reading pleasure.

I went to read the rest of Victoria Holt‘s oeuvre, including Bride of Pendorric, The Legend of the Seventh Virgin, Kirkland Revels, and more. After that, I scoured the shelves for books by other authors with covers featuring terrified women fleeing manor houses with menacing towers or other dark and foreboding covers that would send chills down my spine. I read books by Phyllis Whitney, Dorothy Eden, Mary Stewart, Barbara Michaels, and anything else with phallic symbols on the cover.

iPiccy-collage gothcsYes, that’s right. Did you know that back when gothic novels were “hot,” book cover artists were instructed to create covers with towering phallic symbols? Who knew? You can read all about it in my review of Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell.  Hmm, maybe the subliminal message went into my subconscious, which may have influenced my next reading obsession…

The Blue Years

When Miss Clark told me I needed a special note to check out Valley of the Dolls, I must have looked at her with puppy dog eyes and said something like, “Oh, Miss Clark, you’ve known me for a long time. May I please take it today?” And she relented. I was absorbed from start to finish, and quite frankly, I can’t tell you anything about the plot and characters, and I’m sure some issues went over my 13-year-old head, but I was ready to read more of this kind of book. I’m sure by today’s standards, the content would be relatively mild (and I did end up reading worse a few short months later, but I’ll get to that in a minute), but it was reasonably risqué for that time.

iPiccy-collage robbinsAfter that, it was a short coaster ride down the slippery slope to reading more smut. It wasn’t long before I discovered novels by Harold Robbins, such as The Carpetbaggers, but my favorite was The Adventurers, where I even learned a few Spanish words! Heh.

(If you have read his books and have the time, this 2019 article about Harold Robbins is fascinating.)

Then my stepmother started watching the TV series based on Grace Metalious’ shocking Peyton Place, so how could I resist getting the book which was described as “…a tale that includes incest, abortion, adultery, lust, and murder.” Hooboy! Right up my trashy teen alley! I bought it at the corner drugstore (for 95 cents) and inhaled it along with the sequel, Return to Peyton Place.

Next up were William Goldman’s Boys and Girls Together (same author who would later write The Princess Bride and Marathon Man), Robert Rimmer’s The Harrad Experiment, and even Kyle Onstoff’s Mandingo (and sequels if I could find them). What can I say, if the paperback had a lurid cover, I would easily part with some of my hard-earned allowances.iPiccy-collage smut

But Where’s the Carnival?

One day during my 8th-grade language arts class, a boy who sat behind me handed me a paperback book to read, and since by now everyone has pretty much noticed I’ll read just about anything, I took it. I don’t remember the full title, but the word “Carnal” was included (no, it wasn’t Carnal Knowledge), and I thought it sounded interesting. Well, it turned out to be pure explicit porn, but that didn’t bother me as much as trying to figure out why the “carnival” was never featured! Silly me, eh? (Side Note: The boy who loaned me the book seemed a little disappointed when I handed it back saying it was an interesting story. I think he expected me to be shocked.)

(When I was doing readers’ advisory, and a parent expressed concern when a tween/teen wanted to check out a book with “content,” I usually responded that I read Valley of the Dolls when I was 13 and I turned out OK–well, I think I did anyway. I never told them about the “Carnival” book.)

But not everything I read was considered trash. Next post I’ll get into my late teen years and how a book finally taught me the real “facts” about the birds and the bees.robin 7th grade (2)

 

The Very Early Years

Chapter Books

Nancy Drew and Chums

The Tween Years

 

Going To the Right: The Tween Years:

Thanks to everyone who is following my reading journey. If you missed my previous musings, links are at the end of this post.

Once I exhausted all of the mystery series and started finding the children’s books a little, well, childish, I decided it was time to make a run to the right of the desk where the adult books were shelved. So one day, I skulked past the gimlet eye of Miss Clark and entered a whole new world of books. At first glance, many appeared to be a bit beyond my ken, but it didn’t take long to discover a treasure trove of books with “teen” spine stickers mixed in with the fiction. After loading my arms for the long trek home, I soon found myself immersed in the exciting new world of teen troubles.

ipiccy teenYoung Adult Books, 1950s/1960s Style

As a dweeby sixth-grader with frumpy dresses and a home perm who so badly wanted to be popular, books by Anne Emery and Rosamond du Jardin were a balm to my tween angst. All dealt with teen trials and tribulations, both frivolous and thoughtful, but mostly I identified with the stories where the main character was trying to be part of the cool kids’ group. Oh, and boy trouble…

Anne Emery’s Dinny Gordon series featured a teen whose career goal was to be an archaeologist, which sparked my interest in also exploring ruins and going to Egypt (spoiler alert: it didn’t happen). The series went through Dinny’s freshman to senior years, and I devoured them all. Another favorite by this author was The Popular Crowd, which I read multiple times.

Rosamond du Jardin wrote in a similar vein, and I plowed through all of her books such as Class Ring, Boy Trouble, One of the Crowd, which were all part of Tobey and Midge Heydon series. Here is a lovely description of parents in a simpler era:

“The Heydon family resides in the town of Edgewood where Mr. Heydon sells plumbing supplies and Mrs. Heydon is a homemaker who enjoys baking chocolate cakes and lemon cream pie.”

I also read books by Janet Lambert and Betty Cavanna and continuing my interest in the medical profession, novels like Candy Stripers. Occasionally I wandered into the nonfiction aisle and picked up books on Oregon history (Sacajawea was a favorite) and astronomy.

Mad about Magazines

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my magazine addiction started in grade school with the distribution of the Weekly Reader, and it wasn’t long before I got hooked on the hard stuff. In 1964 the Beatles took over the imagination of tween/teen girls (and yes, I was one although I became more of Herman’s Hermits fan), and I started noticing magazines such as ‘Teen, Tiger Beat, 16, and more. With such lurid headlines as “Beatles Weird Wishes” and “Herman’s Wild Life!” it was easy to part with my allowance so I could follow the latest about my idols.

ipiccy mags

16 magazine was my favorite, and I remember a contest where one “lucky” Meowreader could win Herman’s (Peter Noone) snaggle canine tooth he’d had removed. (I hope no one thinks of less me of when I admit I actually entered that creepy contest.) I didn’t read Tiger Beat very often (think it was hard to find), but I enjoyed Ann Moses’ recent memoir, Meow!: My Groovy Life with Tiger Beat’s Teen Idols, with lots of juicy behind-the-scenes revelations and interactions with the stars of the day.

‘Teen magazine was another fave that I read religiously. I don’t remember many of the articles, but I did lust after the fashions (especially the go-go boots) and perused the Pen Pal page to see who might have the same interests I did–you know, books, boys, and surfing–OK, so maybe I didn’t surf, but it was cool to think I could.

madI also discovered MAD magazine, and even though I’m sure much of the content went right over my head, I thought it was hilarious, especially the movie and TV show satires. I still remember my brother and me listening to the 33 1/3 RPM record insert of “It’s a Gas” and giggling uncontrollably. If you never had the pleasure of hearing this classic, listen to it here.

Next up: I discover smut and the start of my love for psychological suspense.

roibn 8th

8th grade, trying hard to be groovy

Earlier posts:

The Very Early Years

Chapter Books

Nancy Drew and Chums

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Series Years: Grades 3-6

I have a fantastic memory (which served me well when helping readers find the book that had a red cover and was set in New York City), but while I remember much of what I read over the past 64 years, please know I can’t pinpoint the age I read the books that shaped my reading life–well, except for a few smutty ones but we’ll get to those later.

ipiccy library

This is where the magic happened. Kids to the left, adults to the right.

Discovering the Joys of Books in Series

betsyMy memory of walking into the Cottage Grove Public Library and inhaling that unique “old books” scent is as vivid as if it happened yesterday, but what I also remember is the feeling of anticipation to see what new books awaited me for my reading pleasure–and that hasn’t abated a whit since then. It wasn’t long before I discovered books in series and that I loved following a particular character. I don’t recall reading many Beverly Cleary books (except for Fifteen in my later years) but loved Carolyn Haywood’s Betsy series.

However, Betsy and the gang were left in the dust when I discovered Nancy Drew. Whenever I entered the library, a beeline was made to the rack to see if there were any of the tweedy blue cloth-covered Drew multimysteries I hadn’t yet read.  I don’t think the library had a system for reserving books (or if they did, the librarian, Miss Clark, never offered as she might have known she’d be pestered to death), so I would rely on my memory to remember what I had read. I liked some more than others and the ones I liked best probably took place in mansions. (As an adult I relived my “Drew” years by reading Chelsea Cain’s delightful Confessions of a Teen Sleuth.)

I went on to devour the Hardy Boys series, and after those were exhausted, read the Trixie Belden, Kay Tracey, Judy Bolton, and Ginnie & Geneva series (never got into Bobbsey Twins as I think I found them a little twee) but my next obsession came from a Mickey Mouse Club addiction.

“Y? Because We LIKE You!”

ipiccy annette donnaIf you are close to my age, you probably remember singing along to the opening of the Mickey Mouse Club — “Hey There! Hi There! Ho There! You’re as welcome as can be!” But what I loved most were the introductions of the club members and Annette’s appearance! Y? Who knows, I just know she fascinated me, and I was thrilled to find she was featured in a mystery series I found at the five-and-dime store, Knickerbocker’s.  I read Sierra Summer multiple times which give me a  hankering to visit California’s Gold Country.

Since these cheaply bound books weren’t in the library and cost only 10 cents, it was easy to splurge on others, including the Donna Parker series. The one I loved most was Donna Parker in Hollywood, and what sticks in my mind was her itchy black wool bathing suit.  This was most likely the book that set me on the road to ruin when it came to my love of anything set in the glamourous world of La La Land, including celebrity memoirs and books by Jackie Collins.

Get Me the Next Book, STAT!ipiccy nurse

My next obsession came in the form of nurse stories, mainly the series featuring Sue Barton by Helen Boylston and Cherry Ames by Helen Wells, starting with their first adventures as student nurses. Sue Barton had a life trajectory that wasn’t all apples and roses so I don’t remember reading the later titles and wonder if it was because the library didn’t carry them due to the “real-life” content. Still, I loved reading her experiences in the years before marriage and kids. (An interesting side note about the author, Helen Boylston: She based her books on her actual nursing experiences, plus she was also a good friend of Rose Wilder Lane, who called her “Troub” for “Trouble, and lived with her for several years, some in Albania.)

The Ames series was fun as Cherry immersed herself in various jobs, probably a forerunner of my love for “behind-the-scenes” kinds of narratives.

And hey, who remembers these? I used my allowance to buy Harlequin nurse stories at the corner hole-in-the-wall magazine store.

harlequin

I also spent my allowance on comic books (12 cents each!) with my favorites being Superman and Archie, but I would also read Batman, Richie Rich, and Casper, and these weird comics based on classic books such as Huckleberry Finn, Robinson Crusoe, and more.

ipiccy comics

Next up I return to my early teens where Miss Clark introduced me to my next genre fascination and allowed me to check out smut.

robin 3rd grade

If you missed the first installments, you can find the first one here and the second here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Magical Reading: Chapter Books

I fear this history of my reading over the years may turn out to be longer than I originally planned, but quite frankly, that’s how I’ve always rolled. Anything I think will be an easy peasy project becomes anything but simple. So buckle up, it may take me all summer to chronicle the history of how books shaped my reading life.

If you missed my first post on my reading history, you could find it here.

Finally, Chapter Books!

When I entered my second-grade classroom, my eyes were immediately drawn to a table judys journeyin the rear with a stack of books that appeared to be thicker than the easy picture books and readers from the first grade. I didn’t care that they were above my grade level, I just wanted to burrow my face into the stack. I don’t remember when we were allowed to select what we wanted to haul home (although I do remember taking more books than I had time for, a practice that continues to this day). But I do remember Miss Rorrer reading us a chapter a day from Judy’s Journey by Lois Lenski, a title from American Regional series. I was entranced, and even though the teacher admonished us to not read ahead, I got a copy from the public library and devoured it.  I went on to try a few more by the author such as Prairie School and Flood Friday but never finished the series because I soon discovered something I liked better.

Prairie Life

I don’t recall if a librarian recommended the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House series or if I discovered it on my own. Still, I remember hearing the angels sing and devouring them one after the other. I rarely read any book more than once, but I read this series at least four times (except for By The Shores of Silver Lake) throughout my childhood and once when I became an adult. I went on to read anything else about pioneer life I could find (especially loved Steele’s We Were There on the Oregon Trail), a topic that still interests me. As an adult, I went on to read the various biographies and historical accounts that chronicled what it was really like for the family. Two of note are Susan Wittig Albert’s A Wilder Rose, a novel based on Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, and the well researched and eye-opening Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser.

ipiccy little house

More Magic

island blueI don’t know how old I was when I discovered Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. However, I can still remember the magical feeling I experienced as I read about a girl’s survival (I later learned it was based on an actual Native American who lived alone on California’s San Nicolas Island for 18 years). To this day, I love a good survival story, whether it be fiction or nonfiction.

Historical Celebrities

What I remember most from the school library was the profusion of biographies available, mostly from the series Childhood of Famous Americans. Who else remembers those orange cloth-bound books with such titillating titles such as Pocahontas, Brave Girl, or Ben Franklin, Boy Printer? I remember enjoying them, especially Clara Barton, Girl Nurse. These most likely started my love for memoirs, especially those by famous people. (Insert your own snarky remark here.)

bios

Weekly Reader and Book Fairweely reader

During elementary school, two events helped shape me as a reader. Once a week, the teacher would pass out the Weekly Reader, a small newspaper printed for children. I don’t remember much of what I read, but what I loved was the feel of the paper and how much I looked forward to seeing it. I think it’s what started my continued love of magazines (mainly about celebrities).

I also loved going to the “fair”–the Scholastic Book Fair anyway. It was a short downward slope to forming my shopaholic ways when it comes to buying books.

book fair

That’s it for this post. Stay tuned for the next part of my grade school years when I discovered books in series!

 

 

 

 

 

 

50 Shades of Books: 64 Years of Reading

When we first started the virus lockdown, I was having a tough time focusing on reading, so I turned to my BoBs (Books of Books I began 47 years ago, pictured in my new blog photo) to take a journey into what I’ve read over the years. It was interesting to not only see what books I read but also how my tastes (and handwriting!) have changed over the years. I started reminiscing about how I developed as a reader waaaaay back before my saddle shoes graced the steps of Harrison Elementary School, which then led me to the decision to chronicle my reading from age 3 to the present day. So over the next weeks, months, years (seems at this point I have nothing but time), please forgive my self-indulgence in posting about reading experiences and books that have influenced my reading tastes.

My Very First Book

My mother said as soon as I could grab, the first things I would latch onto were books. Now she may have been humoring me, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I don’t remember having many children’s books in our little trailer-house, but if we did, they were most likely those Little Golden books from Knickerbocker’s.

What I do remember is discovering our 1950 edition of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook and deciding I was going to use the pages to practice writing my name. Then someone told me (probably a neighbor friend) that continually writing my name showed I was self-centered, so I stopped. Below is the actual book which I still own. I’m unsure who was the recipient of “I Love You” and no idea what “EUESS” meant.

My First Booktalk

One thing I was looking forward to when I started first grade was reading the Dick and Jane series, but Mrs. Browning sent me past “Go,” putting me the “advanced” group where we read a different set, most likely the Ginn readers. I remember looking forward to each day’s reading assignment.

But what I’ve never forgotten is my trips to the Cottage Grove Library and what a treat it was to haul home a huge stack of picture books. I was so impressed by D’Aulaires’ Don’t Count Your Chicks that I took it to Show and Tell and gave my first booktalk, imploring everyone to read this fabulous book. The only problem is I made the grave error of giving away the ending! I never did that again.

And from there, it was a slippery slope to more advanced reading in the form of chapter books and two of the most magical reading experiences of my life, which will be the topics of my next post.

My Favorite Books of 2019

From the “Better Late Than Never” Department

In between games of Typing Maniac, I’ve been outlining my next posts and it dawned on me that I’ve never shared my favorite books of 2019 list on this blog.

As usual, I had a plethora of titles to recommend. Click here for the complete printable list on a Google doc. I had written about some of them in my post from a year ago so if you need a refresher, check Recent Reading for 2019.

Below I’ve highlighted a few more titles with a reminder that clicking on the highlighted book title will take you to the Goodreads entry or my review.

Perfect Book Group Choices

Hands down, my favorite novel of the year was The Dearly Beloved. One concern I’ve heard from readers is this might be too “faith-based,” but it’s not. Quite frankly, if I hadn’t been sent an early copy with a personal note from the publisher, I probably wouldn’t have read it. The author presents the religious topic from four different viewpoints with much fodder for discussion. Read my GoodReads review for more details.

Olive, Again is the sequel the Pulitzer Prize winner, Olive Kitteridge, and again features curmudgeonly yet somehow endearing Olive as she navigates life and old age.

Crime Fiction

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson is a riveting domestic psychological thriller featuring a cat-and-mouse game between two women trying to outguess each other’s next moves. It was definitely twisted in all of the good ways.

As I said in my Goodreads review, I’m not saying much about Tarryn Fisher’s The Wives lest I spoil it but if you’ve ever heard the term “unreliable narrator,” you’ll be on the edge of your couch trying to figure out what is real and what isn’t.

J. A. Jance never ever disappoints me when it comes to writing about J. P. Beaumont (“Beau”) and I loved every minute of the 24th entry in the series, The  Sins of the Fathers. I always add the caveat that if you’ve never read this series, read the first title, Until Proven Guilty, and then feel free to skip around but don’t go too far astray as Beau’s development is a major component of the story.

Narrative Nonfiction

Mortician Caitlin Doughty’s previous book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, is one of my favorite books about cremation–OK, it’s the only book I’ve read about life in a crematory, but it’s still fascinating although at times it can be a little stomach-churning. Her latest book, Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs, addresses questions from children about death and dying and not only did I find it fascinating, but I also loved the whimsical drawings throughout.

Ever since I read Nickel and Dimed, I’ve had a fascination with “immersion journalism” where the author reports on what goes on behind-the-scenes of any type of industry.  If you’re interested in what life is like working in an Amazon warehouse, customer call center, or even a busy McDonald’s (it’s more interesting than you might think), pick up On the Clock by Emily Guendelsberger.

Even if you don’t give a whit about grammar, words, or how language should be properly used, read Dreyer’s English for the snark and humor. I’m not one to read a book from cover to cover on how to correct your grammar but Dreyer is hilarious and I devoured every word.

Stay tuned as my next blog post will focus on a bunch of memoirs I’ve read over the past few months.

By now many of you have probably seen this clever grouping of book titles, but if not, it’s worth reading through it.

No photo description available.

 

 

 

“UpLit” or “Feel Good” Books

Hello everyone! I know it’s been almost a year since I last posted and I promise to do better in the coming months–I mean, what else do I have going on?

UP-LIT OR “FEEL GOOD” READING RECOMMENDATIONS

During stressful times, readers may want to escape by wandering into different kinds of reading than their normal fare. Some prefer “escapist” titles which can be found by simply looking for a thriller, romance, fantasy, or even a celebrity memoir. Others prefer “comfort reading” which may take them back to childhood favorites or a title they’ve read multiple times. And there are even those who like to read something closer to home such as novels based on apocalyptic events or set in a dystopian civilization.

But many readers prefer reading that will lift their spirits or leave them with a hopeful feeling that the book world has dubbed “UpLit.” (For a more thorough explanation check librarian Kelly Moore’s blog here.) 

Click here for the entire list of titles. Enjoy!

 

Recent Reading for 2019

Following is a rundown of what I’ve enjoyed so far this year. Most are now available or soon will be. It’s rather long so carve out a few minutes to wade through this.

Remember clicking on the book title will take you to either my review or the book page on GoodReads.

Novels

ipiccy oregonTwo books by Oregon authors are a little offbeat but both are excellent. 

Karen Thompson Walker is from Portland and her first book, Age of Miracles incorporated the theme of “slow-apocalypse”  in which heading into an apocalyptic event is slow and becomes normal life. She continues this theme in The Dreamers where a sleeping sickness has taken over a small college town. I felt the tone read like a “gentle fever nightmare.”

 If, Then by Kate Hope day (from Corvallis) also has a quirky attitude with the topic of “multi-verses” where people exist in two different planes at the same time. It’s a mind-bender and I compare the reading experience to being in a carnival funhouse. (If interested, the author will be appearing at Salem’s Book Bin on May 24.)

Mainstream Fiction

A novel sure to appear on my Best Books of 2019 list is Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. I was surprised at how much I loved this because the oral history told in the form of interviews didn’t seem that enticing, but it soon became riveting. The story of the 70s iconic band is told from various points of view (lead singer, band members, and others involved with the group), and one can’t help but think of Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham though it is nowhere the same story. I would recommend this be “read” in audio as the various voices would lend even more authenticity to the storytelling. Also, get the musical vibes by listening to the Spotify playlist (also on YouTube) created by the publisher.

At first glance, Cape May appears to be aimed towards readers who enjoy a good beach read (similar to Anne Rivers Siddons or even Elin Hilderbrand), but it’s not. Taking place in the late 1950s, it’s a novel about a very young couple’s honeymoon shenanigans that have a lasting effect on their marriage. It was compelling (and a little steamy) but what made the book worthwhile was the epilogue which covered the rest of their married life. I’m recommending this for book groups if no one minds the racy scenes.

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin has been receiving quite a bit of attention and I loved it. It’s a literary novel about messy family dynamics with a bit of a twist at the end. Another sure bet for book groups.

 

Chilling Thrillers

By now readers of this blog should know there’s nothing I love more than a good twisty psychological thriller and many good ones have been published over the past few months.

Burning up the bestseller list is Alex Michaelides’ Silent Patient, and I was lucky to be a very early reader. I’m a sucker for anything set in a mental institution and the final revelation packed a heckuva punch.

Two thrillers with interesting locations were Fiona Barton’s The Suspect and Annie Ward’s Beautiful Bad. Both of these dragged a bit but the Thailand setting in The Suspect and The Balklands (based on the author’s experiences) in Beautiful Bad kept me reading. 

For a chronicle of family foibles, Sally Hepworth’s The Mother-In-Law kept me guessing. At first, the MIL seems like a totally unlikeable and cold woman but the author has a few surprises for readers by the end of the book. Hepworth’s earlier book, The Things We Keep, is wonderful.

While I was reading Dear Wife, I had no idea where it was going, but decided to go with the flow and be surprised. Since this isn’t due to be published until June, you can mitigate the wait by reading the author’s earlier book, The Marriage Lie, which is also “unputdownable.”  

Alice Feeney made her mark with her first book published a year ago, Sometimes I Lie, and readers are still talking about what really happened at the end. I Know Who You Are isn’t quite as twisted and ambiguous but it’s a solid thriller with a few shocking revelations.

My most recent psychological thriller is Liv Constantine’s Last Time I Saw You, which was quite good and kept me on the edge of the recliner. Her previous book, Last Mrs. Parrish, is also a good thriller.

If you have a hankering for a creepy gothic style read set on a remote isle featuring a spooky manor and ghost sex (yep, that’s right), look no further than Stephanie Merritt’s While You Sleep. Read this one with the lights on.

Memoirs

I’m a huge fan of Lucy Knisley who wears her heart on her sleeve by drawing and writing from her own life in graphic form, aka “comics.” Her latest, Kid Gloves, is a harrowing and poignant story of the struggles she endured during her pregnancy and the birth of her son. If you haven’t read Knisley and aren’t sure if you’d like this kind of format, start with her earlier book, Relish. 

Cathy Guisewite is the author of the syndicated comic strip, Cathy, and I was sad to see it discontinued, but am pleased she has a humorous book of essays which often mirrored her fictional counterpart’s life. In Fifty Things That Aren’t My Fault, Cathy writes about life as we age, along with stories about her experiences as the single mother of an adopted daughter and of coping with aging parents.

Librarian colleagues are raving about How To Forget by actress Kate Mulgrew, a very heartfelt memoir about her parents and their illnesses (father had cancer and mother Alzheimer’s). This is one of the best and beautifully written memoirs many of us have read in quite a while. To be published in late May.

Ruth Reichl annoyed me with her last book, My Kitchen Year, where she talked about how cooking “saved her life” after losing her job as editor-in-chief at Gourmet magazine. Her latest memoir, Save Me the Plums, soothed my irritation as she toned down the angst and wrote a fascinating report of the inner workings of the magazine while also discussing her main passion in life, food.

I expected more out of Olivia Newton John’s memoir, Don’t Stop Believin’. There was nothing wrong with it, I just found it a little tedious and at times a little coy, but then I’m more of a casual fan so it may be that true fans will enjoy this more than I did. (One of my gripes about celebrity memoirs is when they write a story involving someone famous but then act evasive and won’t say who it is.)

For sheer hilarity, Helen Ellis’s Southern Lady Code is chock full of snarky and off-the-wall essays about the “true” meanings behind various southern phrases. The author reveals that those southern phrases may not be as sticky sweet as they first appear.

That’s all for this blog. We’ll be heading south to close on our Arizona villa so I’ll be back soon after to tell you about two wonderful novels coming out this summer. Many of us are positive they will be blockbusters. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SPARKING JOY: Books for Simple Living

Netflix’s Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, a reality series based on Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is causing battle lines to be drawn on the hardwood floors. Some watchers have been inspired to delve into closets and kitchen drawers, keeping only items that “spark joy,” and others are annoyed with the entire “KonMari” method. The harshest words seem to be for the idea that no one should have more than 30 books with author Jamie Ford posting this photo saying, “Is this what Marie Kondo meant by only keeping books that “spark joy”?”

bookbed

But did you know I was cool before living a simpler life became the latest trend? In 1994 I stumbled upon Elaine St. James’ Simplify Your Life and it struck a chord. Since then I  have strived to keep my clutter tamed and am always reading the latest book for new inspiration and ideas.  Following is a rundown of my favorite books that may help you spark the inclination to simplify and become more of a minimalist.

The Basics

ipiccy kondo

Some of the advice from Simplify Your Life may be a bit, well, simplistic and a little outdated (getting rid of your car phone) and a bit impractical (pay off your mortgage), but there are still plenty of ideas to inspire you to reduce stress and clutter. One idea I’ve flirted with but never had the nerve to try is to put a bunch of stuff in a box and label with a date, then after a year toss it without looking inside. A little extreme but will you miss what you don’t remember?

For more inspiration or to just smirk at Marie Kondo’s suggestion of thanking everything for its service (can you imagine unloading your handbag every night and thanking each item then reloading it all back the next morning?) read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s worth learning more about the “KonMari” method, but I haven’t yet had the stomach to clean out the closet and stack all of my clothes in one place. (For a short but hilarious review, check out Laurie Notaro’s comments here.)

For more of a memoir-type of book that may help you gain inspiration, try Cait Flanders’ The Year of Less and Judith Levine’s Not Buying It. Both chronicle the authors’ decisions to reduce their consumerism to varying degrees of success. Neither author gives much information in the way of practical advice but might be worth reading to see if this could be a goal.

Since we’ve retired, my husband I have discovered the joys of attending garage and estate sales, mainly for entertainment rather than acquiring more stuff, although we do occasionally find something worth adding to our household (hint: estate sales have great deals on cleaning products). The positive results of seeing how people live are observing how much stuff they accumulate over the years and how much they go through to get rid of it after a move to a retirement residence or a death in the family. This brings me to The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning which isn’t as gruesome as it sounds. The author nudges readers to get rid of stuff before you leave this realm so your heirs don’t have to take care of your household. I mean think about it–your kids and/or relatives have plenty to do without spending weeks trying to decide what to do with your wedding china and casino shot glass collection, and news flash, many don’t want them (article Top 10 Objects Your Kids Don’t Want).

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Now What?

OK, so you are inspired to get busy and have carved out a few days to become clutter-free, but where do you start? Fortunately, there are many “how-to” books providing practical advice. Here are two of my favorites.

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If you are going to purchase a book, make it Cluttered Mess to Organized Success by Cassandra Aarssen. It’s chock full of worksheets to assist in keeping track of various household information (medical, books, emergency contacts), practical advice, “recipes” for cleaning supplies, and even labels for your various baskets. Or you could get a fistful of dimes and plan on copying lots of pages. The “paper purging guide” was a big help in determining what I could discard.

That leads to New Order: A Decluttering Handbook for Creative Folks. This book fileis best if your “digital clutter” is getting out of hand, but what I found most valuable was the suggestion of keeping an open file box for household files (important folders are kept in the safe). I started with two boxes and have since reduced it to one. The open top makes it easy to tuck something into a file folder and also since it’s easily in view in the den closet, I am reminded to clean it when it gets too stuffed. It’s not pretty, but it works well for my purpose.

Moving Along

ART OF HAPPY MOVINGThe Art of Happy Moving by Ali Wenzke will be published in May and I realized that one way to think about decluttering is to look at everything you own and wonder “Hmmm, is this something I’d want to pack and schlep to another house?” There may be things you aren’t quite ready to discard, but you’re a step ahead if you keep a mental list of what items wouldn’t be worth carting along, such as the three crockpots sitting in my garage (I know I know, but all of them would be included in the moving sale).

In addition to divulging insights about your belongings, the author also has helpful information on the practical and emotional aspects of a big move, including tips on selling and buying a house, evaluating a new location, and how to adapt once you have relocated. I thought her ploy to help children weed out their toys was brilliant.

For an interesting take on downsizing, Live Laugh RV’s blog post on downsizing from a 4000 SF house to a 300 SF RV is enlightening and encouraging.

Easy MoneyiPiccy money

A few years before I retired, one of my universal concerns was if we would be okay financially. Fortunately, I ran across Jeff Yeager’s How to Retire the Cheapskate Way, and it reassured me that as long as we didn’t want to live like the Kardashians or even Caitlyn Jenner, we would most likely be fine. One of my favorite quotes is Yeager’s Cheapskate Retirement Principle #10: “Simple-sizing is like downsizing, but it’s based on recognizing that whenever you simplify your life, it usually saves you money, and also reduces your stress and makes you happier. Particularly before you retire, the rule is “Lose it if you don’t use it.”

Happy Money isn’t available until June, but it might be worth getting from the library to see what Ken Honda, Japan’s “Zen Millionaire,” has to say about our relationships with money. This quote is from the publisher’s book description: “What Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up did for your living space, Honda’s Happy Money will do for your feelings about your wallet.”

Minimalism 201

For those who are serious about becoming a total minimalist (and perhaps moving to a tiny home?), a couple of books go beyond getting rid of a few knick-knacks and out-of-date mom (or dad) jeans. ipiccy less

Less by Rachel Aust has a nicely laid out format along with concise lists of life’s necessities, plus the author also includes suggestions for decluttering your mind, easier cooking, keeping the budget simple, and recipes for ecologically friendly cleaning solutions. The photos aren’t very appealing, but the recommendations on how to simplify are well done.

For the truly hardcore who think that perhaps reducing your furnishings and belongings to a simple pad that works as both a bed and couch and an iPad for all of your entertainment needs, try Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki. The author writes of his experiences of becoming a radical minimalist with thoughts on how it improved his mental health. You might not be tempted to jettison everything in your house but it may help you think a little deeper about what’s important in life.

Wrapping It Up

If you want to read even more about simple living, check out this GoodReads list of books on Simple Living and Minimalism.

shelfI realize this has been one of my longer (and not very simple!) posts and I thank you if you’ve made it this far. This topic is near and dear to my heart, and I’ve wanted to write about it for a long time. We are far from being true minimalists but we have been able to stay in our 940 SF house for 42 years, and even though it’s a continual struggle, I consider that a success. I’m sure everyone will empathize with the bookshelf issue, but fortunately, e-readers have come to my rescue. I still haven’t wholly reduced my clothes closet contents (and under the bed and shed storage), but I’m working on it. And if you need advice, I’m here for you.

A Few More Good Books

While I’ve reported on my favorite books of the year, I thought it appropriate that I let you know of a few other good titles I’ve read over the past five months.

Note: For most titles, I have attached a link to either my GoodReads review or the general GoodReads entry. 

Fiction

A couple of years ago I read Iain Reid’s dark and twisted novel, I’m Thinking of ipiccy fictionEnding Things and if you want to see if the book is for you, check out my review here. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I picked up his follow-up novel, Foe, and while it wasn’t quite as dark as his previous book, it was still a good mind-bender. I can definitely see this made into a fabulous Twilight Zone episode.

I’ve been a fan of Elin Hilderbrand’s Nantucket books for years even though she tends to run hot and tepid. Winter in Paradise is the first in a trilogy set on the island of St. John and it is a frothy escape from the grind of everyday life. If you’ve never read her books, try The Blue Bistro or for a good binge-read, get the “Winter” series which starts with Winter Street.

The first Liane Moriarty book I read was The Husband’s Secret and I was blown away [a side note: the “exploding flowers” on the book jackets started a cover trend] and her follow-up, Big Little Lies, if not equally as good, was compelling and turned into a blockbuster HBO series. Even though her latest book Nine Perfect Strangers got off to a slow start, I ended up enjoying it. Some have said the plot twists were implausible but I found them very timely.

I am a huge fan of Stephen King (The Shining remains one of my favorite books of all time) but I have strayed a bit from reading his latest books. I saw Elevation at the library and decided to pick it up because it was short. It’s not scary, just an odd story about a man who suffers from every woman’s nightmare, losing weight but still staying the same size–OK, maybe that does classify it as horror.

Thrillers/Mystery/Suspense

Even though Claire Fuller’s Bitter Orange is set during a hot summer, the tone is dark (gothic noir?) as you know from the beginning it isn’t going to end well. It wasn’t the best gothic suspense novel I’ve read but it held my interest and the setting based on the Grange Hall estate in Hampstead sent me down a rabbit hole of googling images of the estate.

The Au Pair by Emma Rous is still on my “to-be-read” list but I included it for those who want more titles with a gothic feel. Reports have been mixed with some saying it’s rather slow and plodding but others have loved it.

While You Sleep (March publication) could also be titled “Fifty Shades of a Grey Ghost” because hoo-boy! it had some pretty steamy scenes involving a spirit. If you’re still interested, it’s set on a Scottish isle and is rife with lots of scary grabs, and while a twist or two may be guessed, the ending will have you thinking “What just happened?” It will also have you checking the VRBO or AirBnB reviews a little more carefully before booking a vacation rental.

Last year I enjoyed The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen so I was looking forward to their second collaboration, An Anonymous Girl, and I was not disappointed. The authors took their psychology research and applied it towards this very in-depth look at ethics and morals along with some good plot turns.

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Even though I’d grown disenchanted with Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, I decided to try the 25th title, Look Alive Twenty-Five and it roped me back into the series. Stephanie’s life is still messy but some of her new exploits had me chuckling and even laughing out loud a few times. I maintain these are still best in audio as the narrator is excellent.

I adore the Bakeshop Mysteries series by Ellie Alexander featuring appealing characters who live and work at Torte bakery in the charming setting of Ashland, Oregon. The 9th book in the series, Live and Let Pie, starts with the crew moving into their remodeled digs and even introduces a couple of new characters. The food descriptions are yummy and recipes are tempting. And as usual, I recommend these be read from the beginning; a complete list of titles can be found here. Readers who enjoyed the Goldy Bear series by Diane Mott Davidson may want to give these a whirl.

Nonfiction

Forty years ago, I read Peter Jenkins’ A Walk Across America and it instantly ignited myto shake passion for reading books by anyone who performed some type of death-defying endeavor. I was excited to see his son, Jedidiah Jenkins had written To Shake the Sleeping Self, the chronicle of his bicycle trip from the Oregon coast to the southern-most tip of South America, but turned out that while the adventure was amazing, his storytelling lacked a certain panache. You can read more of my thoughts here.

dreyer's englishSo as I’m writing the above paragraph, I wondered if the phrase “southern-most tip of South America” is correct or if it has a redundant word or two. A few weeks ago I wouldn’t have given it a thought but after reading Benjamin Dreyer’s excellent book on language style and usage, Dreyer’s English, I find myself looking at my writing with a more careful eye. I’m not sure it’s changing for the better but at least I’m thinking about it! Anyway, if you do any kind of writing (and don’t we all?), buy a copy to keep on your shelf.

Tina Turner’s My Love Story details her amazing and many times harrowing journey from meeting Ike Turner and getting out of his clutches to meeting the love of her life and then surviving a stroke, cancer, and a kidney transplant.

In Pieces by Sally Field is interesting but not as compelling as I had hoped. She divulges some of the harrowing incidents that marked her life and talks about her complicated relationship with her mother, and her dishing on Burt Reynolds was revealing.

And then there’s the “memoir” This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Phillipps, the latest in a series of young female celebrities writing candid essays about their lives. I wasn’t as impressed as others have been but then maybe I’m a little too old to appreciate the whole “Insta-celebrity” phenomenon.

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For sheer fun, get Sarah Andersen’s group of comics for adults called Sarah’s Scribbles. They are all a quick and realistic yet humorous look at a millennial’s life as an introvert who also loves books and cats. The titles are Adulthood is a Myth, Big Mushy Happy Lump, and Herding Cats.

That’s it for this post. I’ll be back to catch up on Library Reads and then my plan is to write about the life-simplifying trend, something I did 25 years ago after I read Elaine St. James’ Simplify Your Life.