The Great and Powerful…Meh

My mother and aunt stumbled upon a used bookshop that has a fun section called Blind Date with a Book.  All the books were wrapped in white paper with a brief and catchy description of said book.  This is all you have to go on when selecting your “date.”

The idea struck their fancy, so they purchased “a date.” My aunt’s turn out to be The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.  It’s a great book but neither one of them had read it.  My mother’s turned out to be Naked Once More by Elizabeth Peters.  When my mother started reading it, she seemed a bit…“meh.”

In fact, she seemed pretty “meh” about the whole experience. However, she liked it enough to put it in my pile to take back with me when I visited for Christmas.  Naturally, this response didn’t lead me to be super excited about it, but about a while ago I had finished The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper and needed a new book.  I was feeling a bit indecisive, so I grabbed a few off the shelf and threw them on the couch and asked my husband to pick for me. He glanced through the titles and saw the word “naked” and immediately grinned and said, “I pick this one!”  I laughed and agreed that it would be my next read.

So, on my way home from work the next day, I started Naked Once More, and I found it really interesting.  I would not describe my feeling as “meh.”  And I wondered if my mom’s lackluster reaction had lowered my expectations and thus it easily exceed them?

She didn’t tell me anything about the book prior to my reading other than the title and that is was alright. (Yeah, I know she really sold me.) My mother normally isn’t a shoulder shrugger when it comes to books.  The reviews are normally glowing of greatness or raving of horribleness.  Indifferent is an unusual state of being for her and probably in a way piqued my curiosity which is why I threw it on the couch at Scott when asking him to choose.

I feel like this book is a pretty good representation of how our expectations and knowledge prior really affect our view of the story.  What’s funny is when I finished it, and I told my mother that I actually really enjoyed it she said, “Yeah, it was good wasn’t it?”  I was immediately confused. I questioned, “You liked it?”  Then she was confused, “Yeah of course I liked it.”

I wonder now if I had known her true feelings if my expectations would have been different and if I would have reacted to it differently.  I don’t purposely find fault with the books I’m recommended, but I think they get held to a certain subconscious standard that for this book I didn’t have. I spent most of the book trying to figure out what my mother thought it lacked. Obviously, we had mis-communicated, but I think that lead to some interesting results and deduction. I admit I would be interested in potentially reading more “shoulder shruggers” to see how I feel about them.

How do your expectations affect the books you read?


The Weirdness of English

I love words and language.  I love their flow and magic. I find other languages tantalizing, and I have on numerous occasions attempted to learn another language.  In high-school, it was Spanish. In college, it was Italian, and currently it’s French.  I haven’t been particularly successful at any of them, but I’ve probably stuck with French the longest.  This is probably due to the fact that I don’t have a grade riding on it. I chose to try and pick it up, so I’m less hard on myself and get less frustrated.

When I was younger, I thought all the other languages were stupid-difficult and why couldn’t they be nice and easy…like English? To be clear when I say “easy,” I’m referring to verbal communication. While I’ve always loved to read and write, I’ve struggled with spelling and grammar since…forever.  But I’ve never had trouble speaking, ask my Dad. Apparently, once when I was about two, and I was chattering away he looked at my mother and said, “We couldn’t wait for her to talk…”

Anyway, as I got older, I learned that English is one of the most difficult languages to learn (both verbal and written) because it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Sounds love to morph in weird ways, and we have nine-hundred words that all mean the same damn thing.

We even have “rules” that have more exceptions than followers, I once saw a statistic that said only 44 words follow the “i” before “e” rule while 900-plus words break it. It will never be obvious that the plural of moose is not meese, or that the plural of goose is not gooses.

However, the difficulty of English didn’t really sink in until I saw a sign that read, “Through, though, cough, and rough. None of these rhyme, but for some God forsaken reason pony and baloney do!” After I dried my tears from laughing, I decided that I didn’t have a reason to complain about the French and their obsession with silent letters after all.

The Misleading Dust-Jackets of Humans

We have all heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Most of us are guilty of doing just that, at least occasionally, but sometimes we also judge people by their covers. This is something we shouldn’t do, not only for moral reasons, but because what’s behind those “dust jackets” can be pretty remarkable and surprising.

Take Robin. Robin was featured on the podcast, Criminal. He ends up in prison with a steep sentence for burglary given his prior offenses. He further gets into trouble by participating in a violent prison riot resulting in seven years being added to his sentence. Thus, he finds himself in a prison cell with nothing to do until a library cart comes by. Robin decides to get a couple of books. The problem is Robin can’t really read or write. He was classified as a troublemaker in school, so instead of learning, he was given chores.

Over the course of his time in prison, Robin teaches himself to read. He realizes that books can take him anywhere, and he begins to amass a small but precious personal library. He even sends away for the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Encyclopedia.

His goal is to read it from cover to cover. As Robin reads he starts to notice a few mistakes; some of the facts are off. He knows this because, by this time, Robin has read several hundred books on almost every topic imaginable. So, he writes to the editor regarding these errors.

Somewhat to Robin’s surprise, the editor responds thanking him for his corrections. So from then on, each time Robin finds more errors, he writes the editor. As time goes by, the editor and Robin become close friends via their frequent correspondence. The editor, in turn, becomes fascinated by Robin’s journey to master and fall in love with reading.

It’s an awesome story, and I must admit it’s a bit surprising to hear a former convict who has almost no formal education using words such as “gingerly,” “dovetail,” and “hyperbole” in general conversation. Robin describes his reading in prison as his freedom. He didn’t need an escape plan; all he need was a book.

The story shows the power of books and friendship. It shows very starkly that behind some covers, there are truly amazing and unexpected stories. It’s a great reminder to give some books and people a second look despite their lack of shiny exterior.

A Charming Read for the Cold Winter Months

In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a lot of people have mentioned that the winter weather has them a bit down; and as such, they have found themselves in a reading slump.  Personally, gloomy weather normally lends to a reading spurt, because what else is there to do? However, I do try to find lighter reads to help keep my chin up in the brutish months of January and February.

And for those of you who could use some cheering up and a spark to your reading material, might I suggest The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick.  I found this one via a Pinterest list of books recommended if you had liked A Man Called Ove.  Strangely enough, I pinned the list before I had even read A Man Called Ove, let alone fell in love with it.

I honestly think I pinned it because the covers looked pleasant.  I know it’s a mortal book sin, but the technique has lead me to some very high-quality reading.  Honestly, I really have no intention of curbing this tendency especially since A Man Called Ove was the best book I read last year.

This naturally made everything else on the list immediately more interesting, fancy book art or not. And after finishing Arthur Pepper, I can tell you that not only was it delightful, but the Pinterest list was spot on. Ove and Pepper have many similarities as wonderful reads. They are the comfort food of books.

These are yummy feel-good stories.  They manage to cover all of the emotions, but the feelings of hope and happiness win out. I recently wrote a post about books giving me feelings of certain colors. (If you want to try to wrap your brain more around that here’s the post.)  Pepper gives me a daisy yellow-like feeling.  When I think of it, I see this wonderfully bright yellow, but it’s not a fake or exaggerated yellow.  It is a genuine bright yellow of happiness and peace.

It is a quick little book, only a little over 300 pages, but it might be just the thing to get some people back into the swing of things and perhaps put a little color in these gray months of early 2018.

Happy reading!

Pinterest Book Lists

Like any modern woman, I have a Pinterest account, and I love it.  It is truly a vortex of wonder. It constantly adds to my artistic ambitions, my crocheting project list, my running knowledge, and it boundlessly feeds my reading soul with quotes, pictures of gorgeous libraries, and lots of lists of books.

I enjoy perusing the book lists to see how many I’ve read and how many I should add to my Goodreads TBR, but occasionally I’ll be reading a list such as “The 50 Best Books for the Modern Woman to Read” and they will list a book that in my opinion is downright awful.

This immediately makes me question the validity of all other 49 books on the list, or at least all those I haven’t read. I know this seems extreme, but I can’t help it.  If you are putting an awful book on your “best” 50 books list, I’m immediately concerned that your best books and my best books aren’t exactly compatible.

It’s kind of like internet dating. If a dude liked the movie The Princess Bride, I would definitely be more inclined to meet him for dinner. But if he liked Bridesmaids… I’d think twice. (My husband is the only other person I’ve met that equally shares my distain for Bridesmaids.  It was a defining moment in our early relationship.) Book lists are the same.  If you list books I like, it boosts the validity of your recommendations because it alludes that we have the same taste.

Yes, people have different tastes, so I think the list making should continue in spades (also I love lists).  But I’m probably not going to pin the list that has one of the world’s worst books on it.

Strangely enough, the list I saw that prompted this post contains a book I haven’t actually read.  So, I guess this is a bit like making a recipe with peaches instead of eggs because I didn’t have any eggs and then giving it a bad review because it tasted funny. Yeah, no shit.  (As a side note: people really need to stop complaining about recipes they don’t follow.  It’s very irritating.)

Anywho, I digress. My mother and aunt read said book about 20 years ago, and it has been burned into their, and consequently, my brain as the pinnacle of terrible ever since.  They still gripe about this book.  They have griped about it so much that I feel like I have read it.  Any time it’s mentioned my aunt uses one of her classic phrases, “oh ick.”

For inquiring minds, the book was A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. It was actually the first book ever read by their local reading group.  There was serious concern that the group would not survive after reading this as their first book. Yeah, it’s critically acclaimed blah blah blah…nevertheless I believe the entire group thought it was bunk.

Thus, I have been tarnished for life and probably with good reason.  My mother, aunt, and I generally see eye-to-eye in the bookish world. And I know that they would immediately become weary of any best book list that included this memorably bad tome.

Do you peruse Pinterest for book-ish things?  Do you see lists of books and question them if they have a book you didn’t like? Do you think twice of taking a friend’s recommendation if they liked or loved a book you think should have found its way to a circular file? Tell me everything!

Feeling the Color of Books

Odd question:  Did a book you read ever give you a feeling that you translated into a color?

I inquire because my friend Kelsey and I were discussing The Magicians book series by Lev Grossman.  She is currently reading the final book in the series, while I’m still feeling a little scarred from the second book.  She has informed me that this book may be the road to redemption. She’s going to keep me posted.

I admitted that I would probably read it at some point in the future regardless.  Obviously, if she thinks it’s good, I’ll get around to it sooner rather than later.  But I told her, even if it’s fantastic I won’t read it until this spring because the book series gives me a remarkably gray feeling.  I don’t like the idea of reading a gray book during the already gray winter weather.  We then discussed that we both completely understood the gray-ness these books seem to give off. We agreed that when we think of the books the gray-ness is ever present.

This got me thinking about whether I feel and see any other books as specific colors.  I was a bit shocked to find that yes, I do.  Particularly darker books, for instance Wuthering Heights, I see as a deep, dark indigo blue color.  Rebecca, I see in grayish-sepia tones.

It’s not that I see the plot played out in these colors; it’s that this is the color that I “feel” when I think about the book.  I guess you could say it’s the color of the book’s aura.

The first Magicians book was gray.  The second was darker.  It exuded the blackness of rot; dark and demented. This black was cracked, bubbling, with an oozing yellow hue. Oddly enough, a book I loved, The Night Circus also gives me a black feeling, but this black is polished and smooth; classy and elegant. It has stark white contrasts similar to that of a checkerboard.  It has a mysterious air that is exciting instead of scary.

Does any of this make sense?

I admit that I am probably influenced by the colors on the books’ covers, but perhaps publishers and cover designers have just done a proper job of capturing the essence of a book. I don’t have this color feeling with all books, but it’s powerful when I do.  However, it cannot simply be described as the hallmark of a good book, because I see/feel colors with books I’ve disliked and not seen colors with books I’ve loved.

I loved The Stand and A Man Called Ove, but I don’t tend to see or feel colors associated with these reads.  I’m honestly not sure what causes the color feeling. Perhaps some books evoke many colors and thus one doesn’t stick out.

Does anyone else have a book that they think of as a certain color?

Coffee Consumption: A Guide

There are quite a few of us book lovers that are also coffee lovers or addicts.  This could be because coffee is delicious and the warm wafting steam along with a book sends us to our happy place. Or it could be very possible that we stayed up far too late with a flashlight under the blankets reading. When morning comes, we are faced with the unfortunate realities of the “real” world and coffee is our mechanism to do it. Or in the wise words of my husband, “A little bit of column A; a little bit of column B.”

Anyway, due to my love of coffee and my curious mind, when I saw a cup of Dunkin Donuts marked as dark roast with four creams sitting on a co-worker’s desk, I thought to myself:  why wouldn’t you just get a lighter roast and cut the number of creams?  Cream is normally used to cut the boldness of coffee, so if you reduce the bold flavor, you reduce the number of creams. Right?  But then I got to thinking…

What if people get bolder or darker roast coffee for more caffeine? This naturally lead my inquiring mind to find out if this theory had any merit.  It might finally explain why so many people wander around with that terrible tasting Starbucks every morning.  After reading several articles this is what I learned…

How dark or light the roast of coffee you choose makes no significant difference in caffeine amounts. In fact, if you frequent an establishment that grinds their coffee from fresh beans, but measures the beans by volume instead of weight, lighter roast coffee will actually end up having slightly more caffeine. Why?

Glad you asked.  The longer coffee beans are roasted the larger the bean expands. By definition, dark roast coffees are roasted for a longer time period than light roasts. Thus, if you order a dark roast coffee where the beans are measured by volume you will have less overall beans used to make your coffee than someone who has chosen a lighter roast. More beans equals more caffeine. Nevertheless, the significance of this difference is probably negligible and if the coffeehouse measures them by weight and not volume there will be even less difference.

It is common for people to assume that a bolder flavor equates to more caffeine.  However, in reality, if you are looking for high caffeine content your best bet is cold brew coffee, with drip coffee coming in a close second.  Espresso surprisingly takes third place in this contest because one serving of espresso (about 1oz.) has less caffeine than one serving of brewed coffee (industry standard is 6 oz.).  However, for a complete mind screw, one ounce of espresso has more caffeine than one ounce of brewed coffee. You still with me?

But let’s throw in another curve ball. The above only holds true if you are comparing the same species of coffee bean. There are in fact two main species: Arabica and Robusta.  Arabica generally is considered tastier; however, it has about 50 percent less caffeine than Robusta which does have a harsher flavor caused by its significant increase in caffeine content. (This is probably where the dark roast/harsh flavor equals more caffeine myth comes from.) Arabica is found in most coffeeshops or cafes.  Robusta is more likely found at less “fluffy” utilitarian type establishments such as truck stops or convenience stores.

So where does all of this leave us…

It leaves us with the knowledge that a coffee’s roast makes not a hill of beans (see what I did there) difference in caffeine amounts, but coffee species and brewing method does. If you want coffee for the delicious wafting steam to help send you to your happy place, choose Arabica and if you need a little extra kick go with cold brew coffee. However, if you’ve been up all night under the covers with your flashlight again you might want to find a truck stop with super cheap Robusta coffee, but you will probably need more than four creams to drink it.

Happy reading!  And happy coffee drinking!