One of our less brilliantly successful forays into attachment parenting was The Family Bed. When Axa was born, we had a queen-sized mattress on box springs on the floor. Unfortunately, it was Tony’s old bed from when he was growing up, and he still had his old habit of sleeping diagonally on it. That technically still left half of the space on the bed open, but it was not very usable space, since it was bisected by him. I got my revenge when I was pregnant, because I slept on the wall side and rolled my very pregnant body right over him every time I needed to go to the bathroom (which at eight months pregnant was pretty often).
OK, I realize that this is going in a TMI direction. The point is, by the time we added in a baby who was a very active sleeper, that queen-sized bed was feeling pretty small. We toughed it out for nine sleep-deprived months before finally making her a little bed on the floor next to ours, and then kicking ourselves and our bed completely out of our apartment’s lone bedroom when she turned one. Yes, it was awkward seating our dinner guests on the edge of our bed and pulling the table up to them, but it was worth it for the sleep. (At least it was for us. I’m not sure about the dinner guests.)
When Raj came along two years later, we already knew that one queen-sized bed was far too small for three people. So we went overboard in the other direction. We bought a California king-sized sleigh bed and a matching crib. We adjusted the crib until the mattress was exactly the same height as the bed, carefully filled in the small gap between, and bungeed the two together. It looked a little strange, and it took up most of the room in our bedroom, but the sleeping space was vast. Of course, Raj turned out to be a much easier sleeper than Axa (and much less addicted to the all-night milk bar). But it was pretty fun to have such a gigantic bed.
When Raj was ready to sleep on his own, we converted the crib into a toddler bed, and that’s where he’s slept up till now.
He loved his little bed. But at the age of 5 and 11/12ths, he could barely even stretch out in it. So we began the search for a new one. Since there were no beds handy on the curb, we went for the next best thing: craigslist. $85 and 24 hours later, Raj could be found in his bedroom, busily erecting his new, twin-sized bed.
It took a good two hours of hard labor,
And assistance from Axa and Dad (not pictured),
But by bedtime, the new bed was fully assembled and functional. And possibly the most awesome bed on the planet. I give to you: Raj’s castle!
Yes, it’s pink, and I absolutely love that Raj didn’t even comment on the color. He just picked it out of all the available beds on cragslist and said he wanted it. So he’s dealt a heavy blow to the stifling monochromacity of gendered marketing and become king of the castle all in one day. Not bad at all.
April 30, 2013 4 Comments
You were probably just lamenting to yourself the fact that I have not yet gotten around to initiating you into the rest of the secrets of my den of books. (How do I know these things?) When last we entered the book cave of wonders, I showed you what is probably the prettiest bookcase in my house. Today we’ll move on to its companion bookcase, which I think of as my collection of books about traveling the world. Here it is in full:
As before, that top shelf is the only one able to accommodate taller books, so it’s a bit of a mish-mash. Fortunately, most of my art books, like most art books, just happen to be over-sized. So there’s a little bit of serendipitous organization there. Also included are the binders that our mothers made with all our mission photos and letters, and a gorgeous Strega Nona pop-up book that my sister-in-law sent us for Christmas one year.
Next shelf over is my Arabic shelf. Here you’ll find my trusty Hans Wehr Arabic dictionary from college, as well as various other text books, my free Qur’an from the Saudi Arabian Embassy (because I was told to keep it on the top shelf and only touch it with freshly washed hands; what a lovely way of respecting the Word of God), and some miscellaneous Arabic literature, and a couple of atlases that got stuck up here on the top shelf because they were so tall.
Next we pass to the Italian shelf, which holds all our ambitious attempts at learning Italian, none of which were as successful as immersion in Italy. Big surprise there. Also Dante and Macchiavelli in the original Italian, some of my more triumphant thrift store finds, along with various other examples of Italian literature. I put most of my Latin books on this shelf too, since geographically the ancient Romans were also Italian.
Next we switch abruptly to music. Books about music, that is. The piano and guitar sheet music lives over in a gigantic IKEA basket by the piano. One of the most interesting books on this shelf is Music and Song in Persia, written by one of my favorite professors at the university. He was living in Iran just before the Revolution and running a television program on Iranian music. He smuggled out hundreds of videotapes of traditional Iranian music performances that would have otherwise been consigned to the flames. Also on this shelf, because they didn’t fit on the Arabic one, are some social science-type books on the Muslim Middle East.
And now the French shelf. Ah, the French shelf. Several years ago, Tony and I conceived the romantic idea of buying an old French chateau, fixing it up, and turning it into a bed-and-breakfast (because nobody has ever had that clever idea before). That daydream has not yet come to fruition. For that matter, neither has our more practical daydream of fluency in French. We still laugh over the time we decided to read the Book of Mormon out loud together in French. We chose a verse at random, and got completely hung up on the pronunciation of the word meurtre, which for some reason occurred an inordinate number of times in the verse we chose. In Tunisia, even the Arabic sounds Frenchified, so that helped me a bit with the heretofore mysterious pronunciation of French. Due to various attempts at study combined with my acquaintance with Latin and other Romance languages, now I am not half bad at deciphering written French, but I still can’t speak it.
Next up: the Mormon shelf. We have Bibles and Books of Mormon in several different languages, as well as hymnbooks in Italian, Spanish and Arabic. Notice the interesting leather-bound book near the end on the right. It’s a hand-made embossed leather cover for Tony’s Tagalog scriptures, made by a member in the Philippines.
I had to put the biographies somewhere. I am not a big biography collector, but I have a few: Henry Adams, Benvenuto Cellini, Michael Collins, Ronald Reagan; it’s all pretty eclectic. This shelf also eclectically holds the Dumas overflow from the French shelf and random books for languages I really haven’t studied much (sign language, German, Hebrew).
And now the history shelf, also quite random, even though it’s in more or less historical order. Also some Spanish books, including La Perestroika Cristiana: la politización del Evangelio, which was given to me by the author when I was on my mission in Chile.
Religion shelf #2. Here we have all those Teachings of the Living Prophets books that they come out with every year, as well as a few other random LDS Church-published books. Luther and Tyndale are here too, as are a couple of fascinating 19th century histories of the Valdese, Tony’s Italian Protestant ancestors. And several extra Books of Mormon, because they’re always giving them out at church so we can give them away to friends, and I always seem to be behind on the giving them away to friends part. So if you’d like your own bona fide copy of the Book of Mormon, let me know, and I’ll happily mail it off to you.
One of my favorite shelves on this bookcase is the travel guide shelf. Some of these are the normal Lonely Planet type guides, but I also have a dozen or so travel memoirs, going all the way back to Mark Twain’s A Tramp Abroad. So fascinating. There is nothing I love more than good travel writing, whether it’s about places I’ve been, places I’d like to go, or places I would never have dreamed of going otherwise.
We’ve reached the bottom shelf now. These are my self-help books, ranging from The Attachment Parenting Book to 7 Habits to Alkalize or Die! Some of these, whose names will remain unmentioned, I am getting ready to toss (I have to psych myself up to get rid of a book, no matter how bad), but others are awesome and I would highly recommend them, such as Taking Charge of Your Fertility or The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Parenting.
And finally, the biology shelf. When I decided to homeschool my children, I knew I had to get a little more well-rounded, and this shelf is part of my effort. Bird guides, tropical fish, Lewis Thomas, and herbcraft. It still has a decidedly literary bent, but there’s some hard science going on here too.
I hope you enjoyed this extended tour of my living room/library. Next we’ll probably pass into the homeschool room, and see the books that get used on a more regular basis.
April 28, 2013 1 Comment
Mormons (at least in the U.S., where the MPAA holds sway) have a soft norm against watching R-rated movies. There are still lots of Mormons who watch them (just like there are plenty of Mormons who drink Coke or watch the Superbowl on Sunday or let their little girls wear tank tops), but for some, not watching can be something of a symbol of their faith. I remember as a kid hearing several stories of young people who “lived their religion” by suggesting a different movie or just going home when their friends were pressuring them to watch one that was rated with the big bad “R”.
Apparently I came from an especially strict family, because we didn’t watch PG-13 movies either. Or even PG movies sometimes. In fact, my entire family (parents + five kids) walked out of a movie theater once because my parents considered the content inappropriate. The movie? Home Alone.
I did watch the odd PG-13 movie as a teenager. In fact, I remember going out on a first date with someone to see City of Angels. Watching the sex scene at the end of that movie with a boy I barely knew had to have been one of the most embarrassing moments of my sheltered sixteen year old life.
At BYU, I went to the International Cinema every week, so I saw dozens of artsy foreign films. Some of them had originally been rated “R”, but had been edited by the university (sometimes skillfully, sometimes less so, and sometimes to the point of leaving ragged plot holes).
So my first real “R” movie was Braveheart. I watched it shortly after I got married, because Tony thought it was amazing (and that I should lighten up about the movies). Besides, even my grandma had seen it. It was kind of a bad choice for my first “R” film, since it turns out that “brutal medieval warfare” is not really my thing. Which may have something to do with the fact that I didn’t watch another R-rated movie until a couple of months ago, when I finally decided that I was quite a bit more capable than the MPAA of deciding which movies I would enjoy.
Lately I’ve been catching up on the past several decades of great movies. I’ve had some fits and starts (e.g. I only made it about 30 seconds into The Libertine, even though I love Johnny Depp), but by and large, it’s been great. And because you’re surely dying to know, here are my favorite three R-rated movies so far:
One of my first choices was The Matrix. Judging by the number of times I’ve heard this movie referenced in BYU classes and even Sacrament Meeting, I am not the first Mormon to make an exception to the “R” rule for this movie. So mainly I am happy to finally have a reference point for when people ask me if I want the blue pill or the red pill. I found the movie both fascinating and entertaining, and a very illuminating antecedent for much of the sci fi that has gone on since. (And hey, I guess Keanu Reeves is not such a bad actor as I had thought from seeing him slaughter his every line in Much Ado About Nothing.)
All the scattered philosophical allusions are good fun, although I would characterize it more as a movie with some deep bits and pieces than a really profound work of art. There were some kind of gory parts, but I didn’t really find it any worse than some PG-13 movies I could name (Dark Knight, I’m looking at you).
I first fell in love with the Guy Fawkes masks during the Arab Spring, when Anonymous was so prominent in its support of the young protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere. And Natalie Portman is one of my favorite actors. So I was intrigued to finally see this movie, and went into it with very high expectations. They were fulfilled and surpassed. Visually, this film is absolutely gorgeous. The dramatic colors and the sweeping panoramas give it a larger-than-life feel.
The dialogue is sophisticated and wonderful, from V’s very first gloriously alliterative introduction. It is a film with more than its share of memorable moments, perfectly orchestrated for maximum impact. There were some parts where there was just too much blood for me to look, but I wouldn’t call any of the violence gratuitous. All in all, I highly recommend it for anyone who likes a good dystopia-meets-civil disobedience story. (O.K., any adult. I still don’t let my little kids watch R-rated movies.)
This may be my favorite movie ever. It definitely makes the top five. It’s directed by Michael Radford, who also did the wonderful Italian film Il Postino. I’ve always felt vaguely guilty for loving The Merchant of Venice because it’s so blatantly anti-Semitic. But Michael Radford humanizes and elevates the problematic Shylock to the status of tragic hero, masterfully played by Al Pacino. We empathize with Shylock even as he descends into revenge and bitterness, and the terrible effects of bigotry on both offenders and offended are graphically illustrated.
The rest of the cast also performs beautifully. I especially enjoyed watching Lynn Collins’ portrayal of the brilliant, desired, but unmistakably human Portia. And the implied homoerotic relationship between Antonio and Bassanio renders Portia’s ultimate victory in the end all the more complete. I had never read The Merchant of Venice as Radford reads it, but I found myself utterly convinced by the end that even if Shakespeare hadn’t intended all these nuances, he ought to have.
On top of everything else, this movie is visually stunning. The costumes and scenery are lush and opulent, and the dramatically shadowy canals of Venice made me feel like I had gone back in time. In fact, bizarrely, it was Radford’s insistence on absolute historical accuracy (including the fact that prostitutes in 16th century Venice were obliged by law to go bare-breasted) that garnered the film its American ”R” rating. Go figure.
So what else have I been missing? Any movies to recommend?
April 22, 2013 6 Comments
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s hard for me to resist a book about Jane Austen. And this one did not disappoint. Mullan raises all sorts of deceptively simple questions, from what the weather was to when and how the characters blush to how long the bereaved wear mourning. His answers reveal the genius of Austen’s subtle manipulation of the simple everyday happenings of life in 19th century Britain, and how even seemingly insignificant details shape and reveal her plots. Apparently, everything matters in Jane Austen.
Although this book did give me some additional historical insight, what I really enjoyed were the plot analysis and learning about how Austen invented literary devices to make the novel more powerful and greatly influenced later writers.
Caveat: if you’re unfamiliar with Austen’s novels, the extensive quotations and dizzying leaps from plot to plot will probably just be frustrating and boring. But for those who have read and reread Austen, this is a wonderful tool for appreciating her even better.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was a fascinating, unusual book, and my first by Camille Paglia. In a relatively small, slim volume, she takes the reader on a sweeping tour of the history of Western art. Each chapter contains a photograph of a piece of art, and then a short essay. Although I diverged with Paglia in some of her opinions, her insights were invariably illuminating. I really loved that she devoted an unusually large portion of the book to more modern art, and most of the modern pieces she used were new to me. I will admit that I initially picked up this book for its titular promise to treat Star Wars as serious art, and yes, I was tempted to turn to the end and read the Star Wars essay first. I didn’t, and I’m glad I read the rest of the book first to give me context, because the Star Wars essay was great, and I think I understood it better than I would have if I’d just flipped to the end and read it. This book is totally worth a read, whether you’re interested in Star Wars or art or both.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is really a 3.5 star book, but I admire Jana Riess, so I gave her another half star for that. It turns out that I enjoyed the idea of the book more than the actual book, so maybe this is just a case of having too high of expectations. One thing that surprised me is that the book is almost entirely focused on Christian spiritual practices, when from the title I had expected a more ecumenical approach. Still, there’s quite a bit of diversity in Christianity, and I was unfamiliar with several of the approaches she tried, so I learned a lot. My favorite thing was that along with the different spiritual practices, she read writings by the Christian authors (some going back to the early centuries before Christ, and others more modern) who championed those practices. I felt like by the end of the book I had a better understanding of the diversity of Christianity through the ages. As far as the author’s goal of incorporating a different spiritual practice each month, however, the whole thing seemed a little flippant.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This was another one of those esoteric books I picked up on a whim from the “new books” shelf at the library. Really, I was just curious to finally find out exactly what that cryptic term “Steampunk” means. To my delight, as well as being an artsy how-to book, this actually is a sort of primer to Steampunk. There’s an introduction explaining the term at the beginning, and short chapters interspersed between the jewelry projects explore different aspects of Steampunk style and history.
The jewelry itself is quirky, creative, and often beautiful. Most of it looks like it could belong on the set of the movie The Golden Compass. This book is worth a read, even if only for the sake of cultural literacy. But for a brief moment as I read it, I actually considered converting my entire wardrobe to Steampunk.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a real educational winner. The funny, sometimes bizarre story-line has my kids laughing out loud almost every day. We’re actually already on Book 3 of the series, and I’ve made it the primary math curriculum for my children (ages 5 and 8). I find that they both understand and retain the material. And because it is presented in a real-life setting, they also can see how math is meaningful and useful in life. I will re-start my 5-year-old on the first book in a year or two, but in the meantime he is getting a great introduction as he listens along with his big sister. He loves the story, and can do a lot of the problems too. The icing on the cake is that this series goes all the way up through calculus. With any luck, my homeschool math curriculum is taken care of forever.
Note: I supplement with Khan Academy for extra practice, and bought some math card games to help my kids learn their arithmetic facts. But Life of Fred, despite how fun and painless it is, seems to be a very solid primary math course. I would also highly recommend it to any parent with a child who’s struggling in math and needs some extra help not only “getting” math, but loving it.
photo credit: Steampunk Vader
April 2, 2013 5 Comments
What with the death of Hugo Chavez, the Syrian refugee count reaching 1 million, the coming drone apocalypse, and everything else depressing in the world, we all really need something to cheer us up. So here are my top picks from the last six months of search engine queries that have landed people at Casteluzzo. I notice that among other things, I seem to have become quite a versatile authority on some esoteric facets of pet ownership.
“coffee table repurposed to hold rabbit cage”
“homemade dog cage out of cardboard boxes”
“epic rat cages”
You overestimate my inventiveness, as well as my menagerie.
“brut cologne out of date”
No way! It’s still very much da mode. See also: “infatuated with his smell”
“$150,000 worth of jelly beans”
Thanks. You shouldn’t have.
“christmas turkey wrapped in bacon”
Yes, I did. It tasted like 14 pounds of bacon.
“bacon wrapped dove”
I think this might be taking the concept a little too far . . .
“how to draw a sugar glider”
Good luck! I can’t even get a non-blurry photo of one.
“what is the best way to create a roller coaster with at least three hills and one loop that can transport a marble at least 2 meters from start to finish”
Why do people keep asking me this question?
“artificial spanish fir x-mas tree with raindrops”
Raindrops? Really? That’s a whole new dimension of flocked.
“motorbike sidecar” or “motorcycle sidecar” erotic film italy dead mother”
Um. I’m not sure if this film is really my style. Anyone else?
“can sugar glider eat ice cream”
“can sugar glider eat pepperoni”
“can sugar gliders eat popcorn”
No, no, and no! Please feed your sugar glider responsibly.
“people steal my trash in deltona”
“hot american kissing”
Well, we’re American. And we’re hot. And we kiss. So yes. I guess.
“baby rabbit mask glasses diapers”
“creating a government for a marooned island people”
Is this some kind of political reality show?
“is it possible to take my sugar glider to school in secret?”
Looks like yes: “kid has sugar glider in pocket at school”
“dining room is not” buddha
Neither is my dining room. I’m sure the feng shui is off too.
“mushroom growing in bathroom natural conditions”
I don’t even want to know.
“i sometimes cook i always clean the bathroom i almost never clean the kitchen”
Look, I think we’ve had enough housekeeping confessions.
“praying mantis for sale in philippines”
Any takers? I hear they make great pets, and keep the bug population down too.
“green banana fitted with a stand and decorated” and “i capricorn i dream of papaya what it means”
I think it might mean that you should lay off on the exotic fruit snacking before bed.
graphic courtesy of wordle
March 7, 2013 1 Comment
It should not be possible to get the February doldrums in Florida. But I am ready to say goodbye to last month, and feeling like I’m falling apart. I suppose part of it was having a house full of guests the week of Axa’s baptism, not to mention a trip to Disneyworld the day before. Somehow, I ended up on Saturday morning making several dozen mini-muffins whilst simultaneously ironing Axa’s baptism dress, practicing our special musical number, putting the finishing touches on my talk, and loading the car up with a million and one different things for the baptism. I’m surprised I forgot to do as few things as I did.
It was all great fun and a smashing success, but I ended the week feeling as if I’d been run over by a train. And that was two and a half weeks ago. Have I yet recovered? Probably not, judging by the fact that I have read the entire Twilight saga one and a half times during the past two weeks (not to mention catching up on all the corresponding films), and not even opened a single other book. On my informal personal scale of mental stability (measured in descending order by whether I’m reading cerebral nonfiction, classic literature, or fantasy novels), that gives me a score of something approaching survival mode.
So, I am very late to the Twilight party. But why do people hate these books? I mean, do they seriously not remember being seventeen? The incredible angst? The romance? The social awkwardness? The awakening sexual tension? The deep, cosmically charged relationships?
I originally avoided reading Twilight mostly because I read Interview With a Vampire as a teenager, and ended up pretty traumatized. I found it creepy, violent, twisted and nightmare inducing (maybe I would give it a kinder review now?). The genius of Twilight is that the whole down and dirty of being a vampire (and you know, actually sucking people’s blood) stays mostly in the background, lending a dark, exotic ambiance to a light but passionately felt teenage romantic fantasy. I am reading it on my Kindle, and the most hilarious thing is that the very cheesiest and most syrupy sentimental lines are the ones that people have highlighted five hundred times.
Anyway, tomorrow Tony and I are going to watch Breaking Dawn: Part 2. It was supposed to be shown at an outdoor amphitheater surrounded by woods, which I thought was a pretty perfect setting for a vampire movie. But this being Florida, when the weather forecast came in at “extremely cold” (i.e. less than 60 degrees for the evening), they moved the showing indoors. Oh, well. It’s still a great way to say goodbye to the month of February.
March 1, 2013 1 Comment
Last Tuesday was Axa’s 8th birthday. We spent the morning at the Daytona Museum of Arts and Sciences. They had quite an interesting mishmash of exhibits, including a room devoted entirely to art depicting space flight, and another of Spanish conquistador weapons.
But Axa’s favorite, and the reason we went to the museum on her birthday (other than the fact that it was the first Tuesday of the month, and free to Volusia County residents) was the beautifully preserved fossil skeleton of a giant ground sloth.
On the way home from the museum, we finally had the experience we’ve been waiting for since we moved to Florida: an encounter with wild alligators! Although I was vigorously urged on by Axa, this is the closest I was willing to get, even on her birthday, and even for the sake of photographic evidence of our exploit.
The alligators are the small lines on the incline toward the pond (you can tell they’re really alligators if you click on the photo and make it big). In the background is a flock of storks, which as you can see were braver than I.
When we got home, Axa opened her presents.
And then we had cake. Yes, I MADE this cake. I’m practically getting to be one of those awesome pinterest moms. Just kidding. I’m not. To tell the truth, I made the mistake of sitting down with Axa and doing a google image search when she said she wanted a dinosaur cake. This was the one and only dinosaur cake that I could imagine myself actually executing.
The recipe called for chocolate graham crackers to make the “dirt.” I was going to make it easy for myself and just buy them, but they didn’t have them at the grocery store, and going to another store didn’t really fit in with my idea of making things easy for myself. So instead I used the Smitten Kitchen recipe, with the addition of 1/4 cup or so of cocoa powder. Lots more work than store graham crackers, but lots yummier as compensation.
We made a white cake for the base, and then chocolate cream cheese frosting to glue on the dirt. The “bones” are sugar cookies. If you have a similarly dinosaur-obsessed child, here’s the dino bone template.
Axa helped with every stage of the cake, from beating the eggs to cutting out the cookies. And she was very pleased with the result.
Happy birthday to my sweet little girl!
February 16, 2013 1 Comment
It was Axa’s birthday last Tuesday, and it turned out to be a pretty action-packed week, so I have plenty to blog about. But first, some exciting news: we have new sugar gliders!
No, Merry and Pippin did not have babies (they are both, after all, neutered males). A friend of friend needed to rehome a pair of adorable little girls, and so my friend mentioned me. On Tuesday, Axa and Raj went with me to pick them up, and they’re now settled in at our house.
Following our Tolkien theme, we named them Galadriel (“Gala”):
And Nimrodel (“Nim”):
Sorry, I know it’s TMI, but you can see that she’s already what sugar glider enthusiasts would unblushingly refer to as a “bra baby.”
The girls are seven months old, and came with their own cage and accessories, which was good, because they need to be kept in a separate room from Merry and Pippin for a routine 30-day quarantine period.
After the 30 days, I’ll start swapping their toys and sleeping pouches so they can get used to each other’s scent. So yeah, I hope Merry and Pippin don’t mind sleeping in this:
Their previous owner made adorable little aprons with pockets for the sugar gliders to ride in:
I was worried that Gala and Nim wouldn’t like my blended glider food, but they took to it right away. They also seem to be adjusting well to their new humans. We had tent time last night, and they were darling. They are quite a bit smaller than Merry and Pippin, and a little more timid and easily startled. But they’re also more prone to just snuggle rather than dashing around from spot to spot like little madmen. In fact, they are sleeping in my shirt right now, which is just about the cuddliest thing ever.
I felt really bad for their owner, who obviously loves them to death. But they keep her husband up at night with their barking, and it was a deal-breaker. She needed to find a new home for them, but didn’t want to give them to someone she didn’t know, because there are unfortunately a lot of people who run glider mills and would love a couple of little females, especially here in Florida where they are so popular.
Sadly, I notice a lot of gliders being sold on craigslist too, and most are about the age of mine, from a few months to a year old. People get them and then realize after a few months that they are overwhelmed by their new pet. So yes, for the record, sugar gliders take a lot of time. They are loud. They are messy. They are expensive. If you’re considering adding sugar gliders to your family, here’s a more comprehensive list of cons to sugar glider ownership.
They are definitely not a low maintenance or easy pet. But if you have the time, the patience, and the inclination, they are utterly worth it all. We look forward to spending lots of time with our new little girls, and eventually, if everyone is amenable, putting all four of them together in a big family cage.
February 14, 2013 No Comments
Last week, my beloved Kindle finally died. Axa was getting ready to read The Princess and the Goblin aloud to all of us from the back seat of the car. She opened up the case, flicked the power switch and . . . . nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. Faint lines on the screen, and tantalizing ghosted images of what we were last reading, but nothing really useful.
The poor dear thing has been well loved, and well used. And although I always kept it in its case and treated it well, you might say it’s been well abused too. I read it for hours nearly daily, carried it around in a purse wherever I went, and charged it in three different countries. That last one is a big deal because it’s basically every electronic device’s nightmare: dealing with 220 volt electricity in Italy, 110 here, and varying/surging volts in Tunisia.
Actually, that was Kindle #1. Kindle #2 was sent to me free when Kindle #1 died shortly before we left Tunisia. Kindle #2 was probably a refurbished model, but between the two of them, they’ve lasted me for two wonderful years and hundreds of books. Eventually, Kindle #2 was beginning to develop some eccentricities. Page turns were getting longer, and battery life was getting shorter. Sometimes it would take heart-stoppingly long to come back to life when I flicked the power button.
When it finally died, I can’t say I was surprised, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t in mourning. In fact, it was ironically the very day I’d just finally branched out and checked out my first Kindle book from the library. I didn’t even get to read a word. To say nothing of the project I was about to embark upon of reading I Promessi Sposi simultaneously in English and Italian. And the several times since my Kindle’s demise that my children have asked to read The Princess and the Goblin. And missing my Anthony Trollope fix for the week. And the fact that I didn’t have my scriptures at church on Sunday. And those papers on international development that I downloaded as pdf’s last month and haven’t gotten around to reading yet. And the American history curriculum I was reviewing for homeschool. And, and . . .
O.K., I do have a life outside my Kindle (and I even read books outside my Kindle. A lot of them.), but apparently it’s kind of a sad shell of a life. Fortunately, my mother-in-law loves me. She happened to find out from my husband that I was Kindle-less, and last night I got a super-awesome surprise early birthday present: a Kindle Paperwhite!
I am in love with it already. To be clear, I had no complaints about my old Kindle. Not even the dorky, virtually functionless keyboard really bothered me. But the Kindle Paperwhite is even more lovable, as well as more stylish and sexy in every way.
I’ll start with the most obvious difference: it glows in the dark! The front-lit screen is awesome. I stayed up late in bed reading last night and woke up early to read this morning, just for fun. The lighting is perfectly even, and can be adjusted from flashlight-bright to off. I thought it was weird at first that the Kindle counter-intuitively suggested using lower lighting in a dark room and higher lighting in a bright room. But then I turned it on at 5:30 this morning and the sudden flash was a bit blinding (sorry Tony).
So yeah, lower lighting in a dark room is the way to go. It works perfectly for reading in the dark–way better than a reading light or even a bedside lamp. And I’ve taken it out in bright sunlight too, and can confirm that the lovely matte screen is also perfect for reading outside–no glare at all.
The difference in screen contrast from the Kindle 3 (the model of Kindle #1 and Kindle #2) is quite noticeable. True to its name, the Paperwhite background looks refreshingly white instead of grey, making for an easier reading experience even when the light is off.
Just like before when my Kindle was replaced, all my books and things are still floating up in the Amazon Cloud. They show up as available on the homepage, and it’s a matter of seconds to download one for reading. And instead of just a list of books, they show up in their pretty covers right on the homepage. When I booted it up initially, my Paperwhite gave me the option to connect to Facebook and Twitter, which I declined. If they had offered Goodreads, though, I would have done it.
One strange thing about my old Kindle was that instead of page numbers, it would tell me my “location” in the book. But since a normal book has several thousand Kindle “locations,” and I have no idea what a location even represents, I never found this a very useful feature. But the Kindle Paperwhite is even stranger. At the bottom of every page it tells me how many hours and minutes of reading I have left before I finish the book. Because when I’m reading a novel, what I really need is a visual representation of my life slowly ticking away as I give in to the temptation of compulsively reading just one more page.
The touch-screen does take a little bit of getting used to. The main weird thing is not having the page-turn buttons. I found it a lot more difficult to read one-handed. With my old Kindle, I would normally rest my thumb on the page-turn button as I was reading, but resting your thumb on a touch-screen can cause all sorts of unexpected effects, like random dictionary entries appearing, involuntary highlights, and turning ten pages at once. I think with some practice I’ll be able to get the hang of it, though, and I think having a case will also help.
You can look a word up in the dictionary with just a touch, and a much more sizable portion of the dictionary entry pops up. It drove me crazy that my previous Kindle would only give me two tantalizing lines. I always had to click through to the full entry. For even more detailed research,the new X-Ray feature gives you a list of important people, places, and concepts in the book, and links to the appropriate Wikipedia article for each one. So basically they’ve added on easy access to an encyclopedia as well as a dictionary. X-Ray has been poo-poohed as useless and esoteric in some reviews I’ve read about the Paperwhite. But I have actually wished for this feature multiple times while reading my previous Kindle, so I guess my nerdy wish is granted.
In fact, it seems that in the soft white glow of the Kindle Paperwhite, pretty much all my nerdy wishes have come true.
February 2, 2013 1 Comment
When I asked on Facebook for suggestions on organizing my home library, I was amused to find that multiple people suggested organizing the books by color. Now nobody is denying that a bookshelf organized by color is very pretty. But how do you find the books once you’ve organized them?
Maybe I just have too many books. When I got ready to do my organizing overhaul, I thought it might be fun to count. My off-the-cuff estimate was around 500. The grand total, though, after going through every room in the house, was 805 books. Not counting the 100-or-so library books in the house at any given moment.
I grew up in a house full of books, so after Tony and I were married, I didn’t really feel like I had a real home until we had at least one full bookshelf. I regularly haunt library book sales and the book section at thrift stores. I would love to have a whole dedicated room to serve as a library, but I have a feeling that the books would not stay inside it very well. Books tend to go wandering at our house. Sometimes I wonder if they’re up playing musical shelves during the night.
I have other reasons for collecting books than just my compulsive fetish for paper with words on it. I like having the books I’ve read at my fingertips, because you never know when you’ll need to look something up again. Some books, like art books, I collect for the pleasure of paging through them. Others, like all the guidebooks and travel memoirs, remind me of places I’ve been or places I want to go. But my ultimate reason/excuse for collecting books is that I homeschool my children, so it’s part of my job to create a rich learning environment. Which of course includes filling the house with books on all sorts of different subjects, to pique their interests and feed their intellectual passions.
On top of that, someday (preferably soon) we’ll be moving away again to a foreign country where we won’t have an English-language library at hand. So I have to madly fill my personal library in the meantime so it can compensate. Because even though it’s true I can get hundreds of thousands of books via Kindle and other digital means, I know from experience that all those books lining the walls of my parents’ house actually did get read by their children. So I don’t collect books indiscriminately. I mostly buy the ones I want my children to read, if not now, then in ten years.
I actually did consider employing the Dewey decimal system. But it just doesn’t represent all the relationships between books. What I really need is some kind of complex tag cloud. But for now, my physical books are limited to one location in space, so they’ve ended up categorized according to my own whimsical, intuitive, and sometimes haphazard system. Which doesn’t represent all the relationships between books either, but it’s mine, so I like it. If anyone has a really awesome system, I’d love to hear about it.
One of my favorite things to do in other people’s houses is to look at their books. I feel like it helps me get to know them. If that’s not something you do, the rest of this post probably won’t interest you much. But if it does, and if you were in my house, this is what you’d see . . .
Here’s the mostly literature bookcase, housed in the living room.
You’ll notice that the bookcase, while lovely, does not have adjustable shelves. This adds an extra dimension of challenge to book organizing, since the tall books must go on the top shelf. So here’s what you’ll find on the top left shelf: business, Tolkien, and a bit of miscellania.
Because it’s a double bookcase, there’s another top shelf to the right of this one. This is our Mormon shelf, with some Nibley, various manuals, and our Minerva Teichert-illustrated Book of Mormon.
On the next level we have my collection of individually bound pocket-sized Shakespeare plays. Why yes, I do envision my children someday brandishing one of these as they improvise a scene out of Macbeth.
Shakespeare continues to the right, and the golden monkey tidily separates him from the rest of my drama collection, although some displaced 19th century novels are stuck in between as well, pending finding more space for British literature.
Because I tend to think of everything in geographic terms, I have my novels organized more or less by the author’s nationality. So from left to right, Lebanese, Russian, South African, Irish, Canadian, and American.
American novels continue to the right, although they’ve been mostly eclipsed by Dickens, who was kicked off the English literature shelf because he was taking up most of it. In fact, my English and American literature is somewhat mixed up, partially because I originally had all the Anglo-Saxon stuff together and only recently tried to separate them out.
Next, we take a ride back to ancient Greece, where we find Homer and then the Greek philosophers, and then eventually philosophy in general. Also Gilgamesh, because he’s kind of ancient too, and where else would you put Gilgamesh?
Now British novels, although really, as you’ve seen, they’ve been spilling out all over the place. Also, some mis-filings I hadn’t caught. Hawthorne, Herman Wouk, and Chaim Potok have since been returned to their proper place.
Which brings us to the science fiction and fantasy shelf. Here you’ll find Patricia McKillip, my favorite contemporary fantasy author, along with some sci-fi classics like Dune and Stranger in a Strange Land. Also a couple of versions of A Thousand and One Nights, although they should perhaps be moved to the fairy tales section. And Nietzsche is probably rolling over in his grave because the philosophy shelf above this one was too full, and he fell down into the science fiction.
Poetry! When my dad did a reading of some of his own poems at our family gathering last month, I was reminded that I come from a long line of poets and poetry-lovers. On the very far right, you can see a slim maroon volume with gold lettering. It’s called One Hundred and One Famous Poems, and was given to me by my grandparents on my 10th birthday. I still have many of those poems memorized.
We’ve reached The Bottom Shelf at last. Sorry it’s a bit blurry. I guess I was getting tired of taking pictures of bookshelves. This shelf holds essays and speeches, from Anne Morrow Lindbergh to Thomas Jefferson. It also holds one of only two literary works that ended up in duplicate when Tony and I merged our libraries (aka got married): Frederic Bastiat’s The Law. Our other duplicates were two entire sets of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings plus the Silmarillion. Tony’s were the deluxe slip-case edition pictured on the top. Mine were just one of a series of thrift store paperbacks that have since been read to death and replaced multiple times. I’m not sure what deep conclusions about us and our relationship you could draw from this. At any rate, neither of us is quite as radically committed to laissez-faire economics as we used to be . . .
And finally, the short stories. They ended up at the bottom of the bookshelf because I am not a huge fan of short stories. When I read one, I feel like I’m just reading until the punchline of a joke. And in the unlikely event that I actually happen to really like the story, it’s over almost before it begins. Also, I still sometimes can’t get out of bed to get a drink of water at night without turning on the light and still feeling generally terrified as a result of reading a Henry James anthology culminating in The Turn of the Screw while sick in bed three years ago in Ireland. But every rule has its exception, and the exception to my general dislike of short stories is “Repent Harlequin,” Said the Ticktockman. Which does not yet exist on my bookshelf.
I hope you enjoyed this riveting tour of my bookcase. Stay tuned for further exciting episodes. In the meantime, how do you organize your books?
January 30, 2013 4 Comments