Wodehouse!

I turn 40 in 19 months… a staggeringly wonderful and scary fact.  I had a crazy aggressive 40 before 40 list, a more realistic 40 before 40 list, then the reality of life and limitations of time and money had me abandon my 40 before 40 list… but then I missed it lots.  So I have a 14 before 40 list…. a *very* realistic list of things I can achieve with almost no money if I make the time for them.

One of the things is to read all P.G. Wodehouse books before I turn 40.  He wrote 97 books (per Wikipedia, source of all kind of true knowledge), and I have read 27. I have to keep up a pace of a Wodehouse book per week, which is possible, but challenging.  Last week I read Money in the Bank.  And I loved it, I love all Wodehouse books.  There was a particular passage that had me breathless with laughter.

The writing of Wodehouse relaxes me – the stories are light enough, the characters and their problems are far enough away from my tribulations that I can stay in the moment, and he can manipulate the English language for comedic purposes like no other writer.  If you have never read a Wodehouse book, give it a try – a Jeeves novel is usually the best place to start.  Or, for more immediate gratification, visit the Wodehouse quote generator.   If you don’t find a quote that makes you smile within a few clicks, I’ll give you your money back.

2011 Year in Review – The Books

This is the list of 17 books I read this year:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

My Fair Lazy by Jen Lancaster

Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin

Something Blue by Emily Giffin

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons

The Borrower by Rebekka Makkai

Social Crimes by Jane Stanton Hitchcock

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

 

Book that opened me up to the most ridicule for reading:
Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

Favorite book:
The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Second favorite book, since everybody already knows about The Help:
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Book that was so beautiful and sad it made my heart ache:
Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Something I Kept – Egalia’s Daughter by Gerd Brantenberg

(The first in a series of posts where I describe something I didn’t get rid of – and why it means so much to me that it made the cut.)

I read this book in my Feminist Ethics course – and being good literature it stuck with me more than any of the other assigned reading or lecture from that class.
It is a hilarious and profoundly sad story of a dystopic parallel universe where men are women and women are men. Roles are reversed. Breast feeding is a public event that demonstrates a woman’s power is one example from the book.

The book confirmed and strengthened my conviction that gender inequalities aren’t based on anything inherent about being female. It is based on a power structure that is institutionalized in our societies. And I don’t have to play along. I can’t control that the way I look doesn’t come anywhere close to the feminine ideal – but I can control how I use my power and intelligence.
Having this book around reminds me to be myself independent of what prejudgements people superimpose on me. And of being in college and having discussions with people as radical as me – heck even more radical. And how that felt good.

And I want to have the book around to share with my stepkids when they are the right age, if they need it. Maybe gender disparities won’t exist by then – but if they do, I want to be prepared.

Lightening my load – the first 67 things!

1-64 – So last Thursday night, in a totally out-of-character move for myself, I got a burst of energy and started clearing stuff out.  I cleared out books that I had already read or knew I would never read.  I took my bedside table from being a dusty, overly junked mess to being clean, organized, and at least only mildly overly junked (There still are a lot of books I want to read but haven’t gotten to.)  And I cleared off a whole big surface in our bedroom. 

IT FELT GREAT!!  It was a lot of work, but soooo worth it.  With each thing I sorted, I felt lighter.  But it wasn’t as easy as I thought – other than losing weight, the thing I want for myself more than anything is to have a decluttered life – but that means making hard decisions about what I really need and want.  Sometimes I feel like I am losing a bit of my sentimentality/softness as I purge things.  I just need to keep reminding myself that they are just *things*.

On Sunday DH and I took 64 books (yes, 64, and that is just a drop in the bucket – I have a *LOT* of books) to a used bookstore and got a pittance compared to the number of books I brought in, but it was enough for a nice lunch.
65-66 – Returned a book and a DVD that we had been borrowing from a friend waaaaay tooo long.

67 – Used a bottle of perfume – I have lots and lots of bottles of perfume because I love it so much.  But I want to get down to 3 – maybe 1 if I can decide on a favorite scent.  Ok, not one – maybe 2?  I really love perfume but I don’t like a big grouping of bottles that I never use while accumulating more.  That is just bad.

Because of the success of this first week, I have decided to double my goal to get rid of 1000 things, rather than 500.  If not a lucrative endeavor, I think I will feel richer when it all is done.  More space, less crud to look at and dust.  Truly awesome.  Truly.

Books I Read in 2010

33/56 planned – 59% of goal

1  Light on Snow by Anita Shreve
2  Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve
Fortune’s Rocks by Anita Shreve
5   Free-Range Knitter by Stephanie Pearl McPhee
Pretty in Plaid by Jen Lancaster
  Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
  American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson
The Privileges by Jonathan Dee
10  Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs
11  The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
12  The Vegan Monologues by Ben Shaberman
13  To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
14  Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery
15  Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
16  Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
17  Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary
18  Skinny Bitch by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin
19  Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary
20  Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary
21  Ramona and her Father by Beverly Cleary
22  Ramona and her Mother by Beverly Cleary
23  Ramona’s World by Beverly Cleary
24  The Perfect Scent by Chandler Burr
25  A Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
26  Claude and Camille by Stephanie Powell
27  The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
28  Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner
29  Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
30  Carb-Lover’s Diet by Frances Hodgman
31  Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott
32  Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
33   Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

I haven’t been good about commenting on the quality of books I have read this year, and I have read some really good ones, so in no particular order, these are the top 10 I have read this year, with asterisks next to the top three:

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer*

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

To the Lighthouse by Virgina Woolf

The Privileges by Jonathan Dee

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery*

The Perfect Scent by Chandler Burr

A Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Claude and Camille by Stephanie Powell

The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan*

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

iCurse!

I have an iPad.  There.  I said it.  I have been on the delivery side of more than one rant about how technology is too prevalent in our free time – how we have forgotten how to have conversations or read or just be still because of all the bleeps and bloops.  But dernit, I love my iPad.  But, still, please do not read texts while having a meal with me.

Here are the top reasons I love my iPad:

1. Puzzle games which keep me from eating in the evening.  They need just enough concentration to keep me from concentrating on all the crap I would like to eat.

2. Travel companion – I don’t need multiple books and an iPod – it all is there at my fingertips.

3. Workout companion – music, books, tv shows – all to keep me moving.

4. Easy email access.  The phone is too tiny for me to successfully write and read emails – and I will never be good at that tiny keyboard.  And powering on my home PC requires me to step away from whatever I am doing.  So now those days I have to (unfortunately) be chained to my email I can do it wherever I am – giving me more free time.

That being said, I am conscientiously trying to limit the amount of time I use the cursed thing.  And if you ever are in a conversation where I am talking about any sort of electronic device as if that is something interesting to talk about, please slap me.

Churchill!

I finally made my way through Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship. I have been listening to this book off and on for a loooooong time. I get fascinated by the personal relationships but then approach a coma during the history parts. I want to find history interesting and compelling, but something about all the dates and places and names affects my ability to pay attention. But this book (although REALLY long), is really good. It tells the history of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill through the rise and defeat of Hitler, but from the perspective of their friendship.

My favorite thing about the book was getting to know Winston Churchill. So here are some things about Churchill that we can all try to integrate into our lives.

(list 58) What was so great about Winston Churchill

  1. He wore really silly outfits. A large man, he still was prone to flowery robes and one-piece coveralls in velvet. I LOVE that. He wore what he liked, not what was appropriate for a man of his position, stature, or size. Can you imagine if we all did that for one day? Now that would be a great day in the office!
  2. He didn’t hold back his affections. When he liked someone, he let them know – through telegrams, notes, and flowery speeches. I adore people deeply – some people I know really well and some I just barely know. This is a product of my childhood where my parents were always expressing affection for me – I thought waxing poetic on how great someone was was “normal”. And I used to tell people more often how much I adored them – without censor. I “grew” out of this in my late 20s – not sure how. Now I mostly just make my husband put up with my flowery speeches about how great he is. I wish I hadn’t lost that. I wish I still could tell people how much I adore them – but it probably makes people feel akward. Oh well. But Winston did it – and he was great at it. Some of the excerpts from his letters in the book are truly amazing – he could turn a phrase so that there was no doubt how deeply he liked someone.
  3. He appreciated the personal in all of our lives. One of the focuses of the book is that the world was saved from fascism by the deep, complicated friendship of two world leaders. There is no separation from the personal – work and politics are personal – and being a good friend and a good person is important no matter what we are endeavoring to do. And that anything can be achieved through friendship.
  4. He would stand only for French champagne and English gin.
  5. Apologize. Being passionate and bombastic, Churchill would often anger people, especially his wife. He always apologized and did it in a note. Apologies are a good thing – keeps those darn grudges from building.

Another interesting thing from the book was the relationship with Churchill and Roosevelt and Stalin during the war. It was very junior high. Roosevelt befriended Churchill and then made fun of him behind his back to get in good with Stalin. It is crazy to think of the leaders from World War II behaving in that way, but more testimony to the fact that the political is personal.

Books!

As I approach 50 on the number of books I have read since I turned 30 (a measly number, but I only recently started holding myself to the book-every-two-weeks regime), I thought I would share the list, along with my rating of one to five stars.

(list 28) Books I have read since turning 30
P.G. Wodehouse – Blandings Castle (They all get five stars, it is Wodehouse, after all. Wodehouse is excellent to read when life is stressful. It takes me to another place and is so far from my life, yet entertaining and funny. Wodehouse can always calm me down and lower my pulse.)
1. Lord Emsworth and Others
2. Something Fresh
3. Leave it to Psmith
4. Blandings Castle
5. Summer Lightning
6. Heavy Weather
7. Uncle Fred in the Springtime
8. Full Moon

P.G. Wodehouse – Other – These all get five stars also. Before I started focusing on Blandings Castle and its denizens, I was a wee bit unfocused. Of all of the following, I adored Jill the Reckless the best. Jill is adorable – you will love her!
9. Eggs, Beans, and Crumpets
10. Uncle Dynamite
11. Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit
12. Jill the Reckless

Olden-time. These are all 19th or early 20th-century
13. Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton ***** – This has everything – villains, scandal, descriptions of dresses, Paris, unrequited love
14. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell **** – beautifully written and a good history of the labor struggle in England in the early 19th century – I found the main character to be too much of a goody-two shoes. And the antagonists were chubby – I don’t like that! Chubby people can be moral and kind.
15. The Razer’s Edge by Somerset Maugham **** – Interesting – about a World War I vet who shrugs off responsibility to follow his own calling. I wish I would have read it in college – it has some good lessons about defying convention.

Chick-Litish – Light and Fluffy
16. The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld *** – Not as good as prep, but you can finish it in an afternoon.
17. The Guy Not Taken by Jennifer Weiner *** – It was great because it is Jennifer. The short story format is great – but none of the stories really stuck.
18. Quality of Life Report by Megan Daum ** – Blech. The story is about a woman (more than mildly idiotic and annoying) who moves to the midwest from the east cost. Thank goodness the midwest isn’t actually lik ewhat she encounters in this book.
19. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld **** – Pure genius. She writes what high school is. I would give something really precious to be able to write my own experiences like this.
20. Old School by Tobias Wolff **** – This really doesn’t fit in here, but it didn’t fit in anywhere else, and it was reccomended by Curtis Sittenfeld. A good story about a boys’ school – including hilarious tales of guest authors Ayn Rand, Robert Frost, and Ernest Hemingway. Also a good story for those of us who took a really wrong turn when we were young and came out OK on the other side.

Chick Litish – Heavier
21. Child of my Heart by Alice McDermott *** – I wanted to like this one more than I did. I think the protagonist didn’t catch my interest. She was heartbreakingly beautiful and talked about how hard it was to be heartbreakingly beautiful. Boo hoo.
22. Runaway Stories by Alice Munro **** This Alice is a genius. These are all stories about women who have run away from their lives. They all are excellent – and each one will stick with you.
23. Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk ****** This one got a bonus star because it is the best book I have read in recent memory. Her description of the internal lives of women is pitch perfect – as good as Mrs. Dalloway. If you are a complex woman, or want to understand a complex woman, read this book. Seriously, read it.
24. Birds of America by Lorrie Moore ***** Reccomended by David Sedaris. These short stories are equal parts pain and hilarity. And if David thinks it is good, it’s good.
25. Ten Days in the Hills by Jane Smiley * Dreadful people having dreadful conversations – for 700 pages. BLECH! DH pieced together that this book has the same format ast the Decameron – rich people escaping to their poshness during the plague (Decameron) or Iraq war (Ten Days in the Hills). Just read the Decameron and then watch a couple hours of The Hills on MTV – I swear it would have the EXACT same effect – nausea.

Reccomeded to me – All of these were reccomended by a friend or a loooover (Ok, well DH)
26. Wicked by Gregory McGuire **** – Pretty darn good – even made me want to watch the Wizard of Oz.
27. Conservatives without Conscience by John Dean**** – Depressing but good. Thank goodness it is 2008.
28. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon **** – Interesting and a quick read. Definitely unlike other things that one typically reads.

Baseball-related
29. Moneyball by Michael Lewis **** – Talks about one man’s struggle to bring rationality to baseball and statistics. The freakonomics for baseball.
30. Ruling over Giants, Monachs, & Stars by Bob Motley *** – A living legend – last living Negro Leagues Umpire – a little disconnected

Michael Cunningham and Virginia Woolf – Michael Cunningham wrote The Hours, which is an interpretation of Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf – so they are sort of related.
31. The Hours by Michael Cunningham – **** – Almost as good as the movie.
32. Virginia Woolf by Nigel Nicholson – ** – A boring biography about a not-boring woman. It is somewhat interesting because he is the son of Virginia’s (female) lover, but it doesn’t save the boring prose.
33. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf ****** – My favorite book – the style of writing was controversial at the time – but the imagery and story are flawless. Read it with The Hours for the full experience.
34. A Home at the End of the World *** – An interesting and sad story. This one was also made into a movie. The movie has a slightly happier ending.

David Sedaris and Bill Bryson and Sarah Vowell – All three write travelogueish, familyish hilarious personal narrative. So that is a good grouping. I turn to them when I want a story that will make me laugh out loud. And all of them are incomprable. 5 stars all around.
35. Dress Your Family in Denim and Cordurouy by David Sedaris
36. Assasination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
37. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (All about France)
38. Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson – all about growing up in Des Moines in the fifties
39. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson – About hiking on the Appalachian trail
40. Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson – About travelling in England
41. I’m a Stranger Here Myself by Bill Bryson – About moving back to the U.S. after living abroad for many years. Will make you mad and make you laugh.

Phillip Pullman – These were reccomended by my husband, and I loved the movie, so devoured the set. Four stars all around – full of adventure and strong characters and happiness and sadness and insight into the importance of knowledge and love and connection.
42. The Golden Compass
43. The Subtle Knife
44. The Amber Spyglass
45. Lyra’s Oxford

Turin!


I have had a really rough bout of stomach crud today, and am finally able to sit upright, have the computer to myself, so I am getting caught up on blog entries – don’t try and stop me. Seriously, I am unstoppable.

A few years ago, my dad bought me a really cool biography of Luca Turin called the Emperor of Scent. (My dad and I have always had a passing interest in scent, mixing up concoctions from his store of essential oils – some really good and some really bad.) I was transfixed by this book! It chronicles how Turin is trying to find the secret to how we smell – and how many tried to sabotage his work. His theory is that the nose works to smell by sensing the vibration of molecules. This flies in the face of the standing theory that scent works like taste – where we have lock and key molecules. Turin doesn’t think that makes sense – because we can smell many more things than we can taste, and molecules that have very different shapes smell very similarly. This is a very poor explanation of his theory, if you have any interest at all in perfumery or senses, I highly recommend reading this book. The biography has lots of great information about his life, his obsession with old perfumes (like searching for fine wines), and his fascinating feminist mother.

So we (my dad and I) were THRILLED when Luca Turin came out with his own book which described his theory – The Secret of Scent. It is a charmingly written book about his theory and his search for perfumes, including gaining access to smell some things that only a very few people on earth have been allowed to smell. The scientist in me loves how he is trying to deconstruct the fragrance industry from being something that is smoke and mirrors to being something that is based on science and thought. This book gave me my answer to the question “What would I do if I could do it all over again?” I would pay better attention in chemistry, learn French, and study to be molecular chemist perfumer. Hello, dream life! This field seems to be the perfect marriage of science, art, passion, and luxury.

Side note: Luca Turin made some basic chemistry errors in his book. None of which affected the soundness of his theory, but piqued my father who is a chemist. (Chemistry is not Luca Turin’s original field of study.) My dad sent him an e-mail citing his errors (along with noting how he appreciated his book and his work), and Luca Turin thanked him and said he would incorporate the changes in the UK edition of the book!! That was a very proud moment for me as a daughter.

On my birthday, I received the latest book from Luca Turin, and it is revelatory! He and a woman from the states have written a review book of perfumes. The reviews are pure genious, and the book provides lists of top ten perfumes. I think it is my new favorite anything. Here is why I love it:

(list 24) Why I love Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez

1. My two favorite fragrances in my life get good reviews – so I think it is brilliant. 😉 Each perfume gets a star rating, up to 5 stars.

Dune, which I wore in college, got 5 stars, here is an excerpt from the review:

Forget suburban-gothic names, forget all the phony “noirs”, from Angelique to Oris. True, menacing darkness is not to be found in upset-the-parents Alice Cooper poses, but in this disenchanted, ladylike gem.

I was disenchanted, not a lady or a gem in college, but I love the review. And I love that there is the picture-in-words for something that was such a part of my life then – my scent. (I adhere to the adage that a woman isn’t dressed without perfume, even when I was in doc martens and a college sweatshirt.) I love you, Luca Turin.

And then there is the review for what I wear now, when I can afford it, Butterfly by Hanae Morii. It received four stars (not bad). Here is an excerpt from that review:

HM is a bomb-shell gourmand, incredibly rich and strong, projecting far distances and intensifying with time.

Again, that doesn’t at all describe me, but it describes what I aspire to be. And I love the picture-in-words of scent, my scent.

There are several perfumes I own or have purchased for loved ones that were panned by Luca Turin. It doesn’t make me like them any less, scent is deeply personal, but now I have a guidebook for my minor obsession. And a review I can attach to the gift, as a scent calling card.

2. Both the authors are really good writers. Really good. And I love good writing almost as much as I love a good scent.

3. The book has lots of lists. Best male perfume, best female perfume, best chypres, etc. And the book itself is a big long alphabetical list of perfumes. And I love lists almost as much as I love a good scent.

4. The snarkiness is to die for. I leave you with some of the best passages for the one-star perfumes.

China Rose (Floris) * syrupy “rose”
The name must refer to a Chinese takeaway in Newark, the cloying smell to the air freshener in the ladies’ toilet. TS

Echo (Davidoff) * woody citrus
To borrow John Redwood’s description of his political friend William Hague, a perfume made for a “train-spotting nonentity with a surface gloss of management theory.” LT

Paris Hilton (Paris Hilton) * silly floral
Competent but depressing woody-fruity-floral aimed at ditzes. LT

Miss Rocaille (Caron) sour peony
For the young who apparently deserve no better: tart peony top note, green aquatic midpart, and I couldn’t get to the drydown to report without washing.

This is just the smallest smattering of the reviews, I encourage you to get this book and find your new fragrance, or book some time with me and we will review my copy together. I can’t think of a better way to spend a few hundred hours.

To summarize, here are the books on amazon.com, if you are interested:

(list 25) Books by or about Luca Turin

1. The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr

2. The Secret of Scent by Chandler Burr

3. Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez