Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Various and Sundry

Hello out there!  It’s been a while.

For those of us with children, especially school-aged children, May is always crazy.  Between homework and piano recitals and t-ball games and music programs and awards ceremonies and girl scout bridging and grandparent visits and organizing the teacher gift and harvesting tomatoes  and packing for vacation and pool season beginning here in south Texas and so on and so forth…it is almost impossible to come up for air.  Thus, the blog has been neglected.  I’ve been missing it, actually, but really can’t say what the summer will bring in terms of fulfilling my goal of a once-per-week post, since I’ll be on full-time mom duty again. (The summer holidays – looking forward to them with equal parts excitement and dread). 

However, I have been reading some GREAT STUFF.  Today, let’s talk books for the wee ones.  The Who Was series is amazing. 

Eloise and Owen (ages seven and almost six, respectively) each received three of these in their Easter baskets this year and devoured them in a matter of hours.  They are an excellent introduction to biographical chapter books, and are wonderfully cross-cultural as well.  (Yes, so the cover art is a bit creepy with the gigantor-head.  Avert your eyes!)  I bought them in an attempt to expand the kids’ interests in various genres (since I tend to lean heavy on the fiction when left to my own devices), and I’m happy to say that both of them loved the series. 

Another book that has been sitting next to my computer for weeks now is this one.

Again, another fantastic introduction to biography (coincidentally, the author is a contributor to the Who Was series, but this one is color-illustrated and therefore perhaps for the slightly younger child).  I read this one to Eloise and Owen and was particularly impressed by the amount of discussion it triggered.  In other words, plan on this relatively short tome taking upwards of an hour in aloud-reading time, because you’ll need Google to answer all the questions it sparks.  Discussion topics covered were as varied as feminism and the women’s rights movement, slavery and abolition, existentialism (try explaining that in twenty words or less to a couple of kids who don’t even tie their own shoes), vegetarianism, vaccination, the Civil War (also a tricky explanation for the little dudes, seeing as how we’re Southern), and mercury poisoning.  Keep your smartphone handy.

But here’s what I’m super excited about today, which we found at the library just this morning.  Have you read Alexander McCall Smith?  He of Precious Ramotswe and The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency?  Well, if you haven’t, get on it posthaste and tout de suite. 

All of his books are wonderful wonderful wonderful:  Lovely, good people doing honorable, just things.  They will restore your faith in humanity.  Plus, I believe that McCall Smith is one of the absolute best modern writers at “turning a phrase,” if you will.  The way he puts words on paper is so clever, so precise, and so utterly charming and funny – he is extremely talented, and his novels simply a pleasure.  (An aside:  The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series was made into a HBO show for one season.  It was delightful, but unfortunately cancelled.)  Anyway, now he is writing children’s literature and I am beside myself. 

It’s Precious Ramotswe, as a child!  SOLVING MYSTERIES, people.  (Mysteries involving cake, it appears.  Even better.)  Love.

In other news, I’ve been watching Downton Abbey.

I’ve discussed my detrimental television habits in the past here, so by the words “I’ve been watching” you understand that I mean “I’m completely OBSESSED with, and not in a psychologically healthy way.”  (Why do they need dinner, AGAIN?  Can’t Eloise just put some waffles in the toaster?  God, can’t they see that we’re in the throes of the 1918 Spanish Flu, here?)  I also realize that I’m possibly the last person on earth to board this particular bandwagon.  I KNOW.  Next I’m going to really step into the vanguard by, I don’t know, getting a cellular phone, or something.  There is no stopping me.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Weird Sisters – Eleanor Brown

I loved this novel.  I guess one would classify it as “chick lit” (if one were particularly condescending) in that it centers on a trio of sisters as they return home to care for their ailing mother.  But it is smart, and funny, and warm, and while it isn’t the most earth-shattering tome you’ve ever beheld, it is just a Good Book.  I’m so glad I read this book now.  Lately I’ve been reading some mindless drivel (thank God that’s over, (uh…kind of)), and some terribly boring stuff (The Tiger’s Wife, Oprah?  Are you high?), and a bunch of stuff to my kids (the Who Was? series in particular, more on that later), and it was nice to be simply entertained by a book.  Put The Weird Sisters on your summer reading list; it’s the perfect “beach” read – not too heavy, but well-thought-out and completely absorbing.

The Weird Sisters was particularly poignant to me because lately I’ve been thinking about women, and sisters, a lot.  I don’t have sisters.  I have a lovely step-sister (who is rather recent; we didn’t grow up together) and several wonderful sisters-in-law, but no actual blood-related, room-and-hand-me-down-clothes-sharing, fighting-over-the-hairbrush-and-princess-phone sisters.*  My family and Mike’s family both run heavy on the Y chromosome.  So the sister relationship is sort of fascinating to me – like, in an anthropological sense.  And though I’m not a sister, I am wholeheartedly a “girl’s girl.”  I have lots of close girlfriends.  I have never been that girl who has “more guy friends than girl friends” or who feels more comfortable hanging out with the boys.  (In fact, men rather intimidate me.)  But the sister relationship is different.  I watch sisters interacting like a kind of voyeur, so reading a novel about them is always fun.    

My friend Kristina, the oldest of three sisters and two step-sisters, once described the sister relationship as follows:  “We can be having a huge screaming fight, and stomp off to opposite sides of the house, but then five minutes later ask the other, ‘Hey – you wanna go to the movies?’”  This completely mystifies me – the fight as well as the forgetting of it.  When you grow up with brothers, fights are just different.  Less emotional, maybe.  Less fraught.  Definitely less often, I think.  Something like that.  AND we wouldn’t want to see the same movies, anyway, so that whole episode could never even remotely happen.  Instead we’d just yell and then totally ignore each other, never bothering to apologize or make up, but instead just waiting for the storm to blow past.  Possibly because I didn’t want to borrow their shoes.

But I have a theory about female friendship, so tell me what you think.  I have noticed that many women who have sisters become childhood best friends with other women with sisters.  On the flip of that, sisterless (or sisterfree?  Is that glass half-full or half-empty?) women become childhood best friends with other sisterless women.  Of the women I’ve informally polled about this over glasses of wine, I’ve noticed this to be surprisingly widespread.  I don’t think this happens as much once women are older; I’m talking specifically about the close female friendships that begin in childhood and last throughout a woman’s life.  Have you noticed this?  If so, what do you think the reason for it is?  Do you think that it is possible that sister’ed women have slightly different needs than sister-less women in their early, close female friendships?  Like, those of us without sisters are always on the prowl for maid-of-honor potential, since our genetic pool didn’t handily provide us one?

In a different vein, another thing I appreciated about The Weird Sisters was its presentation of the act of reading as solace.  Regarding the processing of tragedy, the narrator remarks, “we’d do what we always did, the only thing we’d ever been dependably stellar at:  we’d read.”  For me, this resonates.  When in the throes of postpartum depression, I remember sitting at my breast pump, reading.  Because if I wasn’t reading, I was crying.  Or dialing hotlines.  (It was bad, y’all.)  I remember reading all the Emily Giffin books in about three days after Owen was born – and what a gift those were, not because they are especially ground-breaking, but because they provided escape.  Ten years ago, when my mother was dying, we kept a round-the-clock vigil, in which one of us (either my dad, one of my brothers, my aunt, my grandmother, any one of my mother’s best friends – she was a “girl’s girl” too – or myself) would sit next to her bed, just to be with her.  Just to be present.  And during my time watching over her, I read.  I probably read a novel a day, because it was the only way I could leave my thoughts and my grief and my problems and my misery behind.  Strikingly, it was my mother who taught me to be a reader, and I think she would’ve been happy that her gift could comfort me when she could not.  Anyway, reading – and fiction, particularly – has always been therapeutic for me.

So, that’s what I’ve been thinking about with this book.  I’d love to know your thoughts, lovely reader (whether you’ve read the book or not).

*Remember those phones?  I had a lavender one (fabulousness!).  (God, I’m OLD.)