Category Archives: in my library

Summer Book Report, Part 2

summer reading, a good man is hard to find, we have always lived in a castle, a country doctor, consequences, convenience store womanI gave myself until the technical start of fall to finish my goal of reading ten books, and I’m going to call it complete. I finished my last book on Tuesday, and one of my choices is technically a short story, but…it’s all good. I’ve been reading up a storm, finishing all of these this month. (Don’t be too impressed…one book was a layover from August and the others are quite short!)

A Country Doctor by Sarah Orne Jewett (1884): This was for book group and it was kind of meh. The writing is really lovely, but many parts were too verbose and I didn’t feel the same connection to the characters that I have in other books. Oh, and it’s another single woman, finding her way in the world, struggling between career and marriage…I’m not complaining. I love those books. This just wasn’t my favorite.

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor (1953): It’s a short story that I can’t believe I’ve never read. I can’t tell you anything. Don’t read about it. Just get it and read it. It’s perfection.

Consequences by E.M. Delafield (1919): Another spinster novel…I loooooved this. It took me almost a month to read it and I had to take a break from reading it to read for book club. But, every time I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down. It is a tale of a misunderstood child turned single woman who makes many bad choices in life (a life constrained by society’s expectations and restrictions) and has to live with the consequences.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (2016): Oh look! It’s a book written this century! Naoto’s sister recommended this book to him a couple years ago and it was the book that got him back into reading. He read the Japanese version and I was a little bummed because it wasn’t available in English when he told me about it. Then, I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Work Over Easy, and I was reading this post thinking “huh, this book sounds like that one Naoto read!” and sure enough it was! I immediately ordered it from the library and read it in one day. I loved it so much, but it’s hard to explain why. Weirdly enough, it’s another book about a single woman who has made some “non-traditional” choices. I loved the main character and I loved how the author paints the perfect picture of life in a convenience store. (Sidenote: convenience stores are way better in Japan…perhaps I need to write a new Japan Does It Better post.)

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (1962): I haven’t read enough Shirley Jackson. “The Lottery” is one of my favorite short stories ever. This was the perfect introduction into my spooky October reading. The book was creepy and captivating and funny…and the first paragraph is one of the best ever written:

My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead.

For book club next month, we are reading Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and I just started Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto, another Japanese book that I read about in the New York Times review of Convenience Store Woman. Perhaps I’ll be back with a fall review soon! In the meantime, here are some of my favorite book club reads from October!

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Summer Book Report, Part 1

summer book report, summer reading, little women, o pioneers!, the precipice, classic literatureI’m only halfway to my goal of reading ten books for the summer. Of course, I consider September summer still…autumnal equinox isn’t until September 22 after all. I need to buckle down and put my phone down more often and pick up a book from my towering stack of library options. (I’ve also been reading some non-fiction–cookbooks, a book about tomatoes, and a book about cleaning–on and off while I watch TV. I suppose I should consider these in my ten summer books but they’re more for personal and garden improvement. I’ll probably do a separate post about those kinds of books.)

I know I’ve mentioned my book club before, but we only read books written before the 1950s. We’ve made some exceptions, but nothing we’ve read is contemporary by any means. I cannot express how much I love these books, which are sometimes tedious and slow but almost always rewarding. Our discussions are usually really good, even better when we disagree on how good the book is or have different interpretations about a character’s motive or something. Someone in the group always brings up something really profound about the book that no one else thought of. And usually by the end of the meetings, we all like the book more than when we initially finished. When I read things on my own, I find myself popping onto Goodreads to see what other people say about the book, just so I can try to learn more and see things I didn’t see during my reading.

So…a little synopsis of my reading thus far:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868/69): We read this for book group in June and half of us had read it as children and the other half were experiencing it for the first time. I was in the latter group. It didn’t hold the same magic for me that people talk about when you mention Little Women. I found the little vignettes to be tedious and saccharine. I’ve since read some feminist perspectives about the book and Alcott that made me appreciate it more, but…I think I missed my chance to fall in love with Little Women. It probably would have been dreamy in fifth grade.

The Victorian Chaise Longue by Marghanita Laski (1953): Kathy recommended this one to me a long time ago and I finally had to just buy a used copy because no library could get it for me. It reminded me a lot of “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which I’ve read too many times to count. Victorian Chaise Longue is terrifying and haunting. A modern woman who has tuberculosis falls asleep on a used chaise lounge and wakes up ninety years earlier (mid-1800s) in the body of another woman who also has tuberculosis. It’s a good feminist read, and sort of sticks around in your head after you’re done.

The Precipice by Elia Wilkinson Peattie (1914): We read this for book group last month and I flagged so many passages. The main character is a Chicago social worker at the turn of the century during the early years of Hull House. All different types of women are portrayed, from feminist progressive women, to women who held traditional roles as wives and mothers to women who were making compromises between the old and the new worlds and career versus family. It felt a little contrived at times…everyone fit into a box, but it was a nice perspective about life for women at that time and it’s always fun to read a Chicago book.

Death Takes Priority by Jean Flowers (2015): I talked about this one last week. If you like light reads and the post office, I recommend this book! (Mom, you would like it!)

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather (1913): We just finished this one in book group over the weekend. I just love Willa Cather. (The group read My Antonia before I joined, and we read Song of the Lark a few years ago, which is the opposite order that the books were written as the “Great Plains Trilogy.” We also read Lucy Gayheart, which is one of her later books, and another Chicago book.) Her prose is so lovely, and O Pioneers! was a peaceful read. Nothing happens for the first two-thirds of the book but you don’t mind because she’s painting a beautiful picture and setting up the “action.” (I use that term loosely.) Her story structure is so good…there’s a point in the book where there’s a perfect break, a tiny breath between acts. And her description of winter as a pause between the abundance of fall and the promiscuity of spring was nothing less than life-changing. (Mom, you would love this one, too!)summer book report, summer reading, little women, o pioneers!, the precipice, classic literature, Presley the cat

Next up for me is Consequences by E.M. Delafield. It came as a recommendation as a good post World War I spinster book during a podcast about Lolly Willowes (which probably deserves its own post…it was such a fun read and so different from the other spinster novels of the era! We read it for book club and it was a surprise pick that everyone loved!)

Presley and I would love to hear what’s on your nightstand.

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Mail Reads: Death Takes Priority

Death Takes Priority, mail reads , postal books, mystery books Today is National Book Lovers Day, so let’s talk about books!

One of my goals for the summer is to read ten books. I’m halfway there. Most of the books I read are older books that, well, aren’t quick reads. I have resisted the “beach read” since my high school days of devouring three Danielle Steele’s a week. I was a literature major in college and for some reason, I’ve felt like I need to always read something challenging. It’s silly, I know. I’ve realized that sometimes it’s nice to just read for fun, instead of having to analyze every sentence and detail.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, Margaret posted an Instagram of a book she found on vacation, Addressed to Kill. It is a postal themed murder mystery, third in the Postmistress Mystery Series. So I hunted down all three at my library and started with the first, Death Takes Priority. (I can’t read things out of order, though I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter here.)

I read it in a couple days, and I even stayed up past 1AM reading it, which seriously never happens with my other books. It’s definitely fluffy, but the story was good and there are a lot of delightful postal details. The main character is the Postmaster of her tiny hometown in New England. In Death Takes Priority, she accidentally gets involved in solving a local murder. There is a tiny bit of romance (nothing like a Danielle Steele book!) and some friendship sprinkled in. Death Takes Priority, chapter pagesOh! And each chapter number is framed with a postage stamp, which is just a kitchy-sweet little detail of the book. I’m going to read the other two, but after I read some heavier stuff in my stack. We’re reading O Pioneers! for book group next week and I want to get a jump start on that because I’m usually cramming the night before and I’m hosting this month so…I’m sure I’ll be cleaning.

Have you read anything good lately?

P.S. For other mail reads, go here!

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Mail Reads: The Post Office Book, Mail and How It Moves

The Post Office Book The Post Office Book: Mail and How It Moves was a gift from my pen pals in Wisconsin, Angela and Penny! It is a fun little paperback they found at a bookstore and sent to me last year. It’s super cute drawings really get into the nitty gritty of how mail gets from one mailbox to another. It was written in the 80s, but I think the illustrations are timeless, though things are a little more high tech now. The Post Office Book: Mail and How It Moves by Gail Gibbons, vintage children's books, books about the post officeIt starts with a little history of early “mail.” The Post Office Book: Mail and How It Moves by Gail Gibbons, vintage children's books, books about the post officeAnd then they jump into “modern mail.” The Post Office Book: Mail and How It Moves by Gail Gibbons, vintage children's books, books about the post officeThe Post Office Book: Mail and How It Moves by Gail Gibbons, vintage children's books, books about the post officeThe Post Office Book: Mail and How It Moves by Gail Gibbons, vintage children's books, books about the post office The Post Office Book: Mail and How It Moves by Gail Gibbons, vintage children's books, books about the post officeI like how it shows different types of mailboxes: mail slots, apartment mailboxes, rural mailboxes, and PO boxes. The Post Office Book: Mail and How It Moves by Gail Gibbons, vintage children's books, books about the post office The Post Office Book: Mail and How It Moves by Gail Gibbons, vintage children's books, books about the post officeIt’s fun to see how automated things were in the eighties compared to the older books from the fifties and sixties. And I think things are even more automated now. Based on my post office visit a few years ago, my understanding is that humans are only sorting things at the very end of the mail journey as letter carriers are sorting for their own routes.

Have you seen any other good kids books about the post office?

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Mail Reads: Mr. Zip and the U.S. Mail

Mr. Zip and the US Mail by Jene Barr, vintage kids books, out of print books, books about mail, snail mail, write on, national letter writing monthI’ve added to my collection of books about mail! Mr. Zip and the U.S. Mail is another book designed to teach kids about the U.S. postal system. Someone posted it on Instagram last year and I found it on Amazon through a used book dealer for $5. It’s an old school library book in excellent condition. I’m no reading level expert, but it feels like it was written for a younger audience than this book that I wrote about a few years ago. Mr. Zip and the US Mail by Jene Barr, vintage kids books, out of print books, books about mail, snail mail, write on, national letter writing monthIt was written in 1964 by Jene Barr and it follows Mr. Zip, a letter carrier, through the mail delivery system. (I really wish we still had small letter boxes on posts like the one next to the traditional blue box! Mr. Zip and the US Mail by Jene Barr, vintage kids books, out of print books, books about mail, snail mail, write on, national letter writing monthCan you still send a baby chick in the mail? Mr. Zip and the US Mail by Jene Barr, vintage kids books, out of print books, books about mail, snail mail, write on, national letter writing monthJimmy is mailing a thank you note to his Uncle Mike for sending him a stamp book. Mr. Zip and the US Mail by Jene Barr, vintage kids books, out of print books, books about mail, snail mail, write on, national letter writing monthIt’s so funny that we think of mail as “slow” nowadays when it was considered fast back then. But this is a pretty fun predictor: someday maybe we’ll be sending chocolates and letters to our friends on the moon!

P.S. Another old book about letter writing…this one is for grown-ups!

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“Emerson on Indigo” for the Forest Park Library

Kimberly Adami-Hasegawa embroidery project, Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, Forest Park Library, 100 ArtistHere is my final project, “Emerson on Indigo,” that I made for the Forest Park Library’s 100 Artists Event. It’s a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote handwritten and hand stitched on hand dyed indigo fabric.

“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” I know modern libraries are more about being community centers and hosting great programming and computer access, but for me, the “access” (the theme of the show) is in being able to get my hands on older books that are hard to find and that I don’t have the budget (or room on my shelves) to buy. I love how books become a part of you, that you can quote them when you don’t have the words to express your thoughts, and that when my book-loving friends and I get together, almost all of our conversations include the phrase, “It’s like that book we read…”

raw indigo fabric for embroidery project, Forest Park Library, 100 ArtistAt first I was really frustrated that my (normally neat) handwriting didn’t translate nicely in stitches but then I sort of ended up liking the wonky imperfections. I was also hesitant to cut into my indigo fabric. Part of the reason I haven’t done anything with my dyed fabric is that I’ve been too afraid to ruin them. (It’s silly, I know.) I think cutting this piece off was a sacrifice for the greater good. I was really excited that the segment I chose worked out like I had pictured. (You can see the whole fabric above, drying after I soaked off the stabilizer. It was a huge piece of thick cotton that I had done a circular tie-dye pattern.)

The project served as many firsts for me and I was sorely out of practice with embroidery. I had never stitched words before and trust me, smaller is not quicker and easier! I used Sticky Fabri-Solvy for the first time, too. (You can read more about it here.) Using the somewhat sticky stabilizer was tricky at first, but by the end I loved the results and how easily the stabilizer dissolved off of the fabric. It was like magic and I’m so excited to be able to transfer patterns easily to dark fabrics now. And it was my first time mounting an embroidery project. (I used this method.) Kimberly Adami-Hasegawa embroidery project, Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, Forest Park Library, 100 Artist, Bottle Rocket GalleryForest Park Library, 100 artists gallery show, Bottle Rocket Gallery Forest Park Library, 100 artists gallery show, Bottle Rocket GalleryThe art at the gallery show was really amazing. Everyone had a different interpretation of “access” and such different styles. Everything from pens and paper to fabric and wool and keys were used. Some pieces were very sparse, others were detailed and layered, and some were interactive. It was so fun to see each piece and meet some of the other artists. Jackie Lakely project, Forest Park Library, 100 artistsMy friend Jackie had a piece in the show as well, “Windows to the World.” Kimberly Adami-Hasegawa, Karen, Jackie LakelyJames and Kimberly, The Heritage in Forest ParkAfter the show, Karen, James, Naoto, and I went out to dinner at The Heritage in Forest Park. (That’s James and me, toasting above.) It was such a fun night with friends.

P.S. Sending out a special thanks to Mollie whose blog I visit frequently for stitching tips and inspiration. Thank you for walking me through the Sticky Fabri-Solvy stress and sharing so many other tips on Twitter 🙂 I couldn’t have finished it without you!!

 

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Forest Park Library’s 100 Artists Event

Presley with indigo dyed embroidery projectA few months ago, in a random moment of Instagram scrolling, I signed up to participate in the Forest Park Library’s 100 Artists event. Forest Park Library is celebrating its 100th anniversary and put out an open call to get 100 artists to create a piece of work in the theme of “access” for a gallery show on Madison Street. As the deadline approached I was sort of panicking about not having an idea for my project. Since I’m not an artist, I was especially self-concious about my (lack of) skills and artistry.

Finally (three days before the project deadline!) I decided to embroider a quote about books (because they are still my favorite part of the library in spite of all the other amazing and modern things libraries offer these days!) I was going to just work on some linen and make it very neutral, but then I remembered that I have a nice stash of indigo fabric that I dyed two winters ago. It ended up being the perfect thing! I’ll share the final project, wonky stitches and all, next week.

All 100 projects will be showing this weekend at Bottle Rocket Gallery here in Forest Park. You can register here to attend. It’s free! If you’re in the area, come!

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Recipes and Cookbooks in a Pinterest World

Better Homes and Gardens NEW COOK BOOK , 1989 editionFor the past few years, I’ve been going to Pinterest more and more for recipes. On Pinterest there’s an endless variety of choices, instant access to reviews, and of course that bottomless rabbit hole of internet clicks. A search for a quick supper recipe quickly unravels into a hunt for table setting ideas, crafts, and other nonsense. Basically, what should be a five minute search for something to eat becomes a thirty minute internet time-suck.

So lately, I’ve been craving the comfort of my own cookbooks. First of all, curling up with the iPad and falling into a net of random blogs and untested recipes is not the same as paging through an old cookbook of tested, tried and true recipes. I love sticking page flags on the top contenders and building a meal from several cookbooks. 
And–more importantly here for me–constant searching and making Pinterest recipes doesn’t leave a paper trail.

My mom has a metal box packed with delicious recipes that we’ve eaten through the years. It’s like a little family time capsule of yellowed 3-by-5 cards in her own handwriting, my great-grandmother’s handwriting, my grandma’s handwriting, my aunts’ handwritings… It’s so fun to poke through the box and see who brought each recipe into our mix of regular meals and family gatherings. She also has her Better Homes & Gardens cookbook from the 70s that is so well-used, the pages are falling out of it. 

My own recipe box consists of a handful of recipes in my college handwriting and has pretty much been untouched since then. My own cooking history lies in my Pinterest pins and my internet search history. If I don’t change things now, when I’m old, I won’t have that paper trail of my own recipes. I won’t have creased and yellowed cards in my mom’s handwriting. I won’t have little handwritten notes about what worked and what didn’t when I tried a new cookbook recipe. I won’t have stained and wrinkled cookbook pages, tangible evidence of a well-loved meal.

I’m trying to break the Pinterest habit and rely more on my cookbooks and recipe box for meals and desserts. (I mean, why have them if I’m not using them?) And I’m trying to write down some of the favorites I have found online, like Kathy’s grandmother’s cranberries

Naoto and I have a small collection of cookbooks, mostly vintage ones with a few Food Network titles mixed in. (We used to watch tons of Food Network shows together on Saturday and Sunday mornings.) The backbone to our collection is the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. We both brought versions of this cookbook into the marriage. Naoto’s is the 10th Edition (1989, pictured above) and he got it in college when Auntie Judy (his host mother in Hawaii) took him to Waldenbooks and bought it for him. Mine is the 11th Edition (1996) and I, too, got mine in college, as a Christmas gift from my parents. We are emotionally attached to our respective cookbooks so we’ve kept both of them. Plus, even though the editions are only a few years apart, mine has some newer recipes and even the old standards have slight changes to them. We have favorites in each edition. My mom is bringing her edition to Thanksgiving so I can see if we are missing out on some good 1970s standards. I will report back. 

In the meantime, I’m cracking open the cookbooks to get ready for Thanksgiving tomorrow. And cleaning…

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Mail Reads: The First Book of Letter Writing

The First Book of Letter Writing Out of the blue one day, long, long ago, I received a package from my online friend Holly. Inside was this fantastic children’s book, The First Book of Letter Writing by Helen Jacobson & Florence Mischel. The delightful illustrations were done by Lászlo Roth. The First Book of Letter WritingPublished in 1957, it covers everything the mid-century child needed to know about letter writing: how to write a letter, how to address the envelope, proper penmanship, writing celebrities, thank you notes, condolence notes, stationery, postage and more. The First Book of Letter Writing CoverThe book originally came with a book of stamps to get the letter writing started! The First Book of Letter WritingThe First Book of Letter WritingJust like yesterday’s book, some of the book reads as a time capsule of children’s correspondence in the fifties. I didn’t realize there were rules for children’s stationery: “boys always use a single, unfolded sheet of paper” while “girls may use folded stationery.” But most of the book is still helpful in its teachings of letter structure and helping children to learn that their letters should be a mix of news and questions for the recipient. I think it would still be a great introduction to letter writing. The First Book of Letter WritingReceiving this book–which is a technically a “destroyed” library book–made me both happy and sad. Of course I am thrilled that Holly found it and thought of me and sent it my way. I will treasure it forever. But I’m sad because this book about letter writing isn’t out there in a library for a child to discover. Maybe checking out a book like this would inspire a new generation of letter writers. In my personal book collection, it has a very limited reach…how sad! But thankfully it was rescued from the dumpster, right?!

I just requested a bunch of letter writing books from the library, so hopefully in the coming weeks, I’ll have more books to share. It will be nice to keep the spirit of Letter Month going a little longer, right?

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Mail Reads: The Etiquette of Letter Writing

vintage book: The Etiquette of Letter WritingMy friend Peggy gave me this tiny book, (A Desk Book on) The Etiquette of Letter Writing, last summer. It was published by Eaton, Crane & Pike Company in 1927. It is a tiny guide that outlines the basic social rules regarding correspondence. vintage book: The Etiquette of Letter WritingThe book comes from a time when married women signed their correspondence Mrs. Husband’s First & Last Name and when wives mailed handwritten invitations to dinner parties and responses came mailed back with handwritten notes. I grew up during a time when party invitations were mailed, but dinner invitations were offered with a phone call. Nowadays, we are lucky if we get a wedding invitation in the mail. Most invitations are offered through emails and texts. (I’m guilty of this too.) Think of the planning it would take to choose a date, write out your invitations, mail them, wait for responses and prepare for your party. You would have to have the proper-sized stationery (blind embossed with your family crest, of course!) ready to write out and respond to all of your invitations! While I am glad that we have fewer rules dictating our modern day correspondence, I really miss the days of real paper invitations. (I also miss the days of the R.S.V.P. but I can’t even talk about this or I’ll get ranty. This is a funny op-ed about the dying art of R.S.V.P.s.)vintage book: The Etiquette of Letter WritingDo you have simple, monogrammed stationery for everyday use (the initials “being placed in the left corner, of course”)? I’ve tried to limit myself when buying frivolous stationery with hopes that I could save up for some stunning engraved notecards. But there are too many good options out there and I like having a variety of paper and notecards to choose from. Still…think of how classy a gorgeously engraved monogram would be.
vintage book: The Etiquette of Letter WritingI love the suggestions for closing a letter: Cordially, Faithfully, Affectionately, Devotedly. When did we get stuck writing Sincerely over and over again at the end of our correspondence when there are so many other wonderful options?

I enjoy having this little gem on my desk to peruse and daydream about the formal days of visiting cards, handwritten invitation acceptances, summer home stationery, and family crests. Thank you, Peggy, for knowing me so well.

P.S. If you’d like to see a few more pages from the book, Donovan wrote a post for the Letter Writers Alliance blog here.

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