Tuesday, April 3, 2012

March 2012 Books

It's funny: when I count up the number of books I've read for the month and I think to myself, What a puny amount of books! But I average at least 2 books per week (not even counting magazines, news articles, and blogs) and that's pretty good, given how busy a desperate suburban happy housewife can be during the week.

One of the benefits of Paperback Swap is the sheer number of books arriving at my post office box each week: at least two per week. Which explains my HUGE "to-be-read" pile of over 60 books! (And our rather high postage expenses because I mail out books too.)

One of the drawbacks of PBS relates to non-fiction. Those books move very slowly through the system. Some never move at all because no one ever posts them. So I hit the library website and put a bunch of non-fiction books on hold there. I currently have 13 library books here at home and 13 on request at the library. That's a lot of non-fiction!

  • Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements, From Arsenic to Zinc by Hugh Aldersey-Williams
    • This is one of those fun books of stories about science, in this case related to the elements of the Periodic Table. I never took chemistry in high school or college but I think I would have really liked it: it seems math-y which greatly appeals to me. (Also fun and math-y: classes in logic in the philosophy major!)
    • At the same time, while I enjoy a book like this immensely, I remember NOTHING after I'm finished. So I have no tales to share. I seem to pick up a book like this every few years but to really stick in my mind I need much more reinforcement.
      • Seriously, I can tell you all sorts of dates, names and events from English or Roman history because I have read a buttload of books on those subjects. But 2 or 3 books about chemistry over the course of 15 years and I can tell you nothing.
    • Even recalling very little, I loved this book.
    • Book grade: A

  • Just Let Me Lie Down: Necessary Terms for the Half-Insane Working Mom by Kristin van Ogtrop
    • A quick read by the editor of "Real Simple Magazine". It's comprised of a lexicon of terms which are then filled in with stories and lists that many working moms can relate to and get a chuckle of recognition to boot. Cute.
      • Yes, I know I am not a "working mom" by definition but I have been in the past and, even without a full-time job, it's not like I get to do whatever I want whenever I want!
    • B
  • An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage
    • A rare example of a non-fiction book without a yard-long subtitle!
    • This book was really interesting! In the first chapter, he makes the point that, based on current research, hunter-gatherers really worked less than settled farmers overall.
    • Spices and the drive to find them lead to the age of exploration (Columbus was searching for a faster way to the Indies partly to find spices and cut out the middlemen). 
    • Standage's last book, A History of the World in 6 Glasses, was interesting too, covering beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and soda in a historical context.
    • A
  • American Rose: The Life & Times of Gypsy Rose Lee by Karen Abbott
    • I have been interested in Gypsy Rose Lee since watching the movie "Gypsy" as a kid. I recall that the usual Friday night TV schedule was pre-empted and "Gypsy" was shown instead. In any case, I was enthralled by that musical. In hindsight I realize how sanitized it was but I still love it: Natalie Wood and Rosalind Russell, what's not to love?
    • This book is a biography of Gypsy Rose Lee and of the burlesque era. Gypsy's mother Rose really was even worse than the movie portrayed!
    • A-
 Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother's Compulsive Hoarding by Jessie Sholl
    • In the past few years several TV programs have featured hoarders so by this time most of us are familiar with the concept. In fact, two of our pet rats (Cocoa and Puff) were adopted from a rat hoarding case several years ago in Petaluma. And I think even our most recent rat family rat members were rescued from another rat hoarding case.
    • This book is one woman's story and it is more about her coming to terms with her mother's issue than it is about the mother getting "cured" of hoarding. Apparently hoarders have an extremely low "cure" rate so I wonder how much help any of those reality shows are. You can clean up a hoarder's home but the odds are good that they'll just start hoarding again.
    • B-
  • The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8 Lee
    • No, not a typo. Her middle name is really "8".
    • Interesting book. All I could think about was Chinese food after finishing the book so this past weekend CPA Boy took me out to Lily Kai, a Chinese restaurant close to our house. Yum!
    • I learned:
      • Fortune cookies -- actually a Japanese treat that might not have become tied to Chinese restaurants had not the camp internments of the Japanese-Americans occurred during WWII.
      • General Tso's Chicken -- a dish unknown in China. Rather the General is an actual historical figure. Kind of like if we went to China and discovered a dish called General Grant's Chicken. I've never had General Tso's chicken as it is always served on a bed of broccoli. Barf.
      • Why Chinese restaurants are almost always staffed with actual Chinese people -- there's quite an (almost) underground market for workers and restaurant owners.
      • Chinese people prefer the leg and feet of a chicken; they are the most costly parts in China. Americans prefer the breast meat, viewed as bland in China.
      • Chop suey was popularized in America before the turn of the 20th Century but it has mostly fallen out of favor. I don't think I've ever had it.
      • Chinese food is extremely popular in India (where it is the most popular food after local Indian food), Great Britain, America, and many other places.
    • Darn, now I'm hungry for Chinese food again!
    • B+

  • The President is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth by Matthew Algeo
    • See what I mean about subtitles?! This pretty much tells you all you need to know about the book!
    • Cleveland, whose first name was actually Steven, had a growth in his mouth that was feared to be cancerous in a time when the "dread disease" was not referred to by name. On the heels of Ulysses Grant's slow death by oral cancer a few years earlier, Cleveland did not want the American people to lose any more confidence during 1893, the first year of the largest economic depression faced by the United States until the Great Depression.
      • The big issue in those days was gold vs. silver. Money was backed by gold and the "Silverites" wanted to replace it. Now it all seems kind of silly to modern eyes since our money is back by, um, nothing (the full faith and credit of the United States actually).
      • The presidency was weaker in those days; all the biggest decisions were made by Congress and the Supreme Court. But President Cleveland faced an economic situation very similar to that of today. History really does seem to repeat itself, in generalities at least even if the details are different.
    • Other interesting Cleveland facts:
      • His wife, age 21, was the youngest First Lady ever (she was 27 years younger than her husband) and the first to remarry after she was widowed (Jackie Kennedy was the only other presidential widow to remarry).
        • Cute story: When she was an old lady in her 80s she attended a State dinner under her second married name, Mrs. Preston. She commented to President Eisenhower that she used to live in Washington DC. He responded, "Oh really? Where in Washington?" One can only imagine his surprise when she would have responded, "Here in the White House."
      • One of their daughters, Esther, was the only presidential child born in the White House.
    • A
  • Lost to Time: Unforgettable Stories That History Forgot by Martin W. Sandler
    • Chapters on Cahokia (city built in today's Illinois by Native Americans and abandoned before Europeans arrived), the Sultana (Civil War era steamship that exploded and killed more people than the sinking of the Titanic), and several others. None of it was that interesting and it was written in a way that several pages information could have been shared in a few sentences.
    • C-
  • 8 books read
  • 8 non-fiction
    • 2 memoirs
    • 1 biography
    • 5 general history
  • 0 fiction
  • Grades
    • A: 4 (3 A, 1 A-)
    • B: 3 (1 B+, 1B, 1 B-)
    • C: 1 (1 C)

1 comment:

  1. Gypsy Rose Lee *is* fascinating! I will look for that bio. I am also intrigued by the Periodic Table book (have seen it around) and will likely get it for the mister for Father's Day or something.

    General Tso's chicken is delicious! I can't believe that in the entirety of Petaluma, there's no Chinese restaurant that will serve it over rice. Your BF says: Just ask! It's soooo worth it. However, it is also an incredibly fattening dish, so, hmm, maybe you should ignore me after all.

    Hey, how was California? Hee.