Currently... reading the current

The beautiful and busy fall season continues, with these wonders:

Reading | Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. This is gonna take a while.

I’ve also been reading the river, though I gotta say: the Dear Man is a way better river reader than I am (though he’s kind enough not to display this skill unless I ask his advice on choosing our line; then he diplomatically gives his informed opinion, which invariably is the best course; then he gives me credit). Canoeing with this man is one of my favorite things in the world.

Listening | Lin-Manuel Miranda, you’ve infiltrated my poor brain with so many earworms, I hardly know what to do with myself. The Hamilton quoting may become a problem. (It's become a problem.)

Learning | I'm listening to Getting Things Done by David Allen as a 6-month refresher and I keep hearing things I missed the first time through. And oh my goodness, people. The refining of the processes -- it's seriously happy-making.

Loving | These photos...

Anticipating | This month's book club pick is The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. The thing is ominous and full of menace, and it's perfect for October. And I can't wait to discuss it with the ladies.

Celebrating | How ’bout them Cubs?! 


Visiting the dead presidents

Dead Presidents: An American Adventure into the Strange Deaths and Surprising Afterlives of Our Nation’s Leaders by Brady Carlson

3 words: rollicking, enthusiastic, informative

Bybee, you’ve done it again. Your fantastic, enticing review of Dead Presidents sent me directly to that book, and I devoured it with complete delight.

Turns out, author Brady Carlson and I are of the same tribe. We’re the ghoulish sorts who visit cemeteries for fun. And if there’s a president buried there, we plan our vacations around the presidential grave visit

Yep. You’re hanging out here with one sick puppy.

And I gotta say, I think we also have a similar graveside manner: reasonably reverent, but with an eye for the peculiar.

For example, when the Dear Man and I were in Louisville, we visited the grave of Zachary Taylor. 

(Brief pause, while we reflect on the fact that while Taylor is more memorable than, say, Pierce, he sure ain’t no U.S. Grant. OK. Back to our story…)

And on the way there, we Googled Taylor and found out dude had been disinterred during our lifetime!

(This is one weird world we live in, my friends.)

Apparently (who knew?!) there have long been rumors that Taylor had been poisoned. 
(Test results say: ummmm… NO.)

Brady hits that story in this here book, and lots of other great little anecdotes that will surprise and delight.

And we mere civilians can also attend! 

Imagine a world where Grover Cleveland’s grandson rubs elbows with the grand-nephew of Harry Truman...

Pure magic, right?

For a book dealing with dead people, this thing is awfully darn fun. Carlson’s tone is ebullient, and his observations sharp and delighted. 

There are moments in this book that made me laugh out loud, such as this one:

“We take a look through the Harrison items in the back room, including something called an ophicleide, which looks like the love-child of a tuba and a bugle, played when Harrison was interred in North Bend in 1841 and brought out again at the renovation of the tomb in 1922.”  (p. 34)

(Love-child of a tuba and bugle!) 

If you're even vaguely interested in Geek Tourism or the presidents or travel memoirs, give this book a whirl. Carlson's a fun and knowledgeable tour guide who'll skip the boring parts and delivery only the good stuff. 

Confession time, my friends... What's your weirdest travel quirk? 

BEA book blogger reunion!

Remember how I met those amazing bloggers at BEA? 

Back in May, we did that thing where we said, “We’ll have to get together someday soon!” 

And we actually did.

Marisa, Julie, me, and Katie, as photographed by Shortman of the JulzReads universe

And it was fantastic, because these ladies are seriously accomplished.

Julie of JulzReads invited us to her lovely home, a place that is nothing short of amazing, because:

  1. Her house is gorgeously decorated, and she’s only lived there since May. (I’ve been in my house for 19 years, and guess what? It’s not decorated.)

  2. Not only is her house beautiful, but it’s bookish as all heck. She has a for-real library with windows that look out into the treetops, and a cozy reading room with a fireplace, and she even has a Harry Potter themed bathroom. I’m not even kidding.

Then we were talking with Marisa of The Daily Dosage about her new job, which she has been gearing up for during the past year. And she has one of those jobs that makes other work seem really easy, so we were all pretty much in awe of her.

And then it came to light that Katie of Words with Worms not only gardens like a fiend (the woman’s flowers are ridiculously beautiful), but she also decorates 4 (yes, I said 4) Christmas trees at her house every year. And then she rapped some Hamilton and brought down the house.

I was clearly out of my league (and also missed nearly every pop culture reference), but they were kind and pretended not to notice. 

We had a fantastically bookish and blogish conversation, and everyone’s TBR grew (I added Burial Rites and Forty Rooms and… oh my gosh, I thought that was it, but there’s more… Also: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe). 

And then: book geeks party game! We each got to choose a book for Julie to read from her TBR shelves. (I prescribed The Lonely Polygamist.) 

And then Julie and I raved so much about A Gentleman in Moscow that Katie and Marisa said they'd read it (maybe so we'd hush). 

It was a delightful get-together. 

So, dear readers... Who are the people in your real-life world who talk books with you? 

It’s book club month!

I love it that October is National Reading Group Month.  

It’s the month when I start to feel like settling in for some cozy evenings at home with a book. 

And sometimes, a book and some friends and some beverages and some snacks.

My current book club’s been on the go since 2007, and we continue to surprise each other with the books we select. And sometimes, we don’t surprise ourselves at all. (We each have types of books that are deal-breakers.)

Whatever our quirks, I find our full list to be a weird and wonderful thing. 

In other book club-y news, earlier this year, I rolled out the Discussability Score, which prompts me to really analyze how well a book performed under the pressure of a 5 to 45 minute discussion. (The ones that don’t do so very well? They’re the 5-minute discussion wonders.) 

And soon I’ll do another book club update, but for now, suffice it to say: we’ve recently read a children’s classic, followed by a contemporary popular work of sociology, and there’s a fantasy novel on the horizon. (It’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Had to tell you that, because I’m about to ask…)

All you good people of book clubs… What’re you reading this month?

Paul Harvey visits Longbourn

Longbourn by Jo Baker

3 words: domestic, sympathetic, frank

So this one made me a little nervous. A retelling of Pride and Prejudice from the servants’ viewpoint?

My fear: snark. Or worse.

Katie of Words for Worms (her review is, of course, a fabulous thing to read) assured me it would be OK.

And it was.

In P&P, the servants are sort of there, taking care of things... but really? They’re pretty much making the Bennets’ lives comfortable, and their thoughts and feelings are completely absent.

Here, we get The Rest of the Story.  (Anyone else kinda miss Paul Harvey?)

And Jo Baker does it up right. 
Sarah, a young housemaid, is smart and hardworking and likeable. And her hands usually hurt, cuz that was some horribly hard (and often disgusting) work they had to do. (I've never looked at my washing machine with such fondness as I do now.)

Then a new footman arrives at the house, and that upsets the applecart downstairs almost as much as Mr. Bingley’s arrival disrupts life upstairs.

The thing that surprised me -- and eventually delighted me -- is that Elizabeth and Darcy’s story is hardly even mentioned in this version of events.

Here, we get to hear Sarah’s story. And James the footman’s story. And Mrs. Hill’s surprising back story.

And it was a little bit Downton Abbey-esque, all this downstairs business, as we follow these characters through their daily lives and care about what happens to them.

And it’s not necessarily the happily-ever-after story of P&P, but the author leaves her characters in reasonably good situations, so no worries there.
And even the poor, overlooked, middle Bennet daughter, Mary, gets a happy ending. These lines made me so happy, I nearly cried.

“And to be flourishing, and happy, was to be a good way towards being beautiful. And being flourishing, and happy, and beautiful, was a good way towards being beloved…”  (326).

So, good people... What's your take on pastiches? Yay, nay, or maybe?

Currently... Fall!

Reading | The new Craig Johnson book (An Obvious Fact) has been unleashed, and I gobbled it up right away. Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear do tough, manly things while delivering stoic one-liners, and they do theses things in Sturgis at the biker rally. It’s flat out fantastic. All other reading halts when Walt makes an appearance.

Listening | I stumbled upon the podcast HerMoney with Jean Chatzky, and I’ve been binge-listening. Dang, I love a good personal finance podcast.

Watching | I’d like to say I’ve been watching educational programs like the Great Courses, but truth is: Fixer Upper. Chip and JoJo, slip the bonds of Texas & come north & design me a lifestyle!

Celebrating | discovery of Iceland-made skyr, right here on this continent! The Dear Man and I have been conducting a quest, and... success.

Learning | ...that goodreads will show us our reading data! After reading this great Bookriot article, I delved into my stats and it was super fun, cuz man I love the data.   

Loving| ...the Google Trips app, which I’ve been playing with while planning some future travel

Anticipating | ...the BEA bloggers reunion that Julie of JulzReads is hosting! Can’t wait to see these ladies again! (Hi, Marisa and Julie and Katie!)

War? Pretty much hell

Co. Aytch by Sam R. Watkins 

3 words: unflinching, immediate, direct

I seriously love a conversational first-person narrator. So when we were visiting Kennesaw Mountain battlefield and I saw Sam Watkins quoted all over the museum and then saw his book blurbed as one of the most compelling memoirs of the Civil War… I was there.

I nearly bought a copy right there in the gift shop.

But then I thought: audiobook.

And, in retrospect, that might've been a mistake. The thing is this: Watkins is a Southerner. And the narrator of the audiobook? Pure Yankee. It created kind of a strange disconnect. 

But that's my only quibble with this book.

Watkins wrote one doozy of a narrative.

Although he wrote this memoir a couple of decades after the war, his story feels fresh and honest and unflinching.

And there are moments that'll rip your heart out. Moments like when he describes the horrible death of a fellow soldier in vivid detail, then states simply, “I loved him. He was my friend.”

And then he picks up the narrative as the army marches on. 

There were moments I halted what I was doing, to just pause and feel all the feels.

Watkins doesn't sugarcoat a thing. He lets us know how horrible that war was. He unsparingly describes the fury and the horror at the Dead Angle at Kennesaw.

(When we saw that place during our visit, I stood and gaped. It was hard to believe that soldiers mounted an attack on that ground. Sobering stuff, my friends.)

And call me weird, but I find it strangely comforting when someone speaks the full truth about something horrible. So I found Watkins’s memoir both moving and  refreshing.

 Anyone else like the full honest truth in their books?

Raise a glass to fREADom

Pretty sure Lin-Manuel Miranda would forgive this...

Recently I woke with altered lyrics running through my mind:

"Raise a glass to fREADom
Something they can never take away"

...cuz it's Banned Books Week, and that always gets me feeling grateful for our freedoms, and also concerned that some people wish to abridge the freedom of others. 

So... if you feel like exercising your freedom to read, here's a list from the ALA of frequently challenged books. And then there's the list of banned & challenged classics

See some favorites there? Yeah, me, too.  

What's your favorite banned or challenged book?

That time we went to Iceland

So even though Iceland's all literary (the libraries! the bookstores!)...

...the reason we visited was the natural beauty. 

The place has got it all goin' on. It's got...


Rainbow waterfalls


Waterfalls you can walk behind


Steam puffing out of the earth

Lava fields

Recently active volcanoes(!)

Troll houses

 Charming fishing villages and all those islands

Lovely city scenes

Geothermal pools

Historic sites that are stunningly beautiful 

And tourists who attempt to figure out the selfie stick

And there it is: best vacation ever.

So, traveling readers... What's the most beautiful place you've ever visited? (We might want to go to there!)

A Gentleman in Moscow delights a lady in the U.S.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

3 words: gracious, engaging, triumphant

I was pretty sure I’d love this book, given the way I felt about Amor Towles’s debut novel, The Rules of Civility.

And then when I heard him speak about this new novel at BEA, that completely clinched it. (And I spoke to him, and he was gracious!)

So when I actually started reading, it shouldn’t have surprised me -- but did -- that I loved it so very much.

And all of these things happened despite the fact that I don’t like novels set in Russia. And I don’t like novels of political imprisonment. And I’m not all that very much into historical fiction, though I wish I were.

And this book is all of those things, but it won me over almost immediately.

Here’s how it did it…

Count Alexander Rostov is the central figure in this book, and the dude is witty, cultured, good-humored, and positive to a degree that’s seriously impressive.

If there’s anyone on earth who would not like this man, I hope I never meet that person.

So we have a delightful main character whose charm and humor and approach to life create an atmosphere that’s like breathing fresh air.

Then you plunk him down in a luxury hotel in Moscow, where he’s been ordered to live out his days. In a tiny attic room.

And so it begins…  this story of a man whose life has been turned into a miniaturized version of itself, who responds by expanding his world within those hotel walls and creating a family from those who work and stay there.

And then there’s the author’s writing style, which perfectly matches its subject. It’s sophisticated and wry and urbane and witty, and it’s smooth and smart and polished, and it makes a person feel very comfortable. The author is like a fine host who caters to his guests.

I read most of this book on the flight home from Reykjavik, and I truly felt like I was soaring. 

So now I'm doing that thing, where I dart around telling everyone about this book. (If I see you in person, prepare yourself. This book's coming up in conversation.)

Fellow readers... what book are you pushing these days?