Monthly Archives: January 2012

30 Books Everyone Should Read Before Turning 30

Today I enter my 25th year. Eeek! I’ve always thought of 25 as the age  where you exit Jr. Adulthood and become a Real Adult. Like moving up from Webelos  to the real Boy Scouts.  Since Jr. Adulthood is annoying, what with people still assuming I’m in highschool and all, I thought I’d be more excited. But I just keep wondering- where did the last decade of my life go? I can’t possibly be closer to 30 than I am to 20, that just seems impossible.

I’m trying not to think about it too much because it makes breathing difficult, but clearly I’m failing because I stumbled upon this little list recently while Googling ridiculous things about turning 30. ( Examples: Is 30 too old to wear leggings? Is 25 too young to worry about getting wrinkles? If I wait any longer, will I be considered an “old mom”?  How much life insurance should a 30 year-old old mom have? Will I look ridiculous if I keep my nose ring past 30? What things should every 30 year old know and/or have done? Side note: I’m not normally this anxiety ridden. I was having a bout of insomnia, and the lack of sleep always makes me a little crazy.) I thought it was a fascinating concept. If you only read thirty books in the first thirty years of your life, should these really be the thirty? Why these thirty? Who decides the thirty? Why is Lolita, a perfectly wretched book in my estimation, included, but not say, Pride and Prejudice or even a single Austen or Bronte novel? Or for that matter, no women at all? Why The Wind in the Willows and not Charlotte’s Web, an arguably more influential book in our society? And who on earth shortens Thomas Paine to Tom? Is the “h-mas” really too difficult?

It seems a little trite to me, but even listology told me this was the list, so apparently I have five more years to finish this list and be a well-read thirty year old. If I’ve read nine-hundred books but not these thirty, I will have failed, or so the list gods tell me. I’ve read only 16 of the thirty, but to be fair, I spent the first 13 or so years of my life more concerned with Nancy Drew than life-altering literature, so I’m going to propose an alternative title to this list:

30 Books Everyone Should Read Between the Ages of 18 and 30, 16 If You’re Ambitious:

(The one’s I’ve read are bolded, and I put a * next to the ones I plan to read in the future because there are some that don’t interest me much. )

  1. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse*
  2. 1984 by George Orwell
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  4. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  5. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  6. The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
  7. The Social Contract by Jean-Jaques Rousseau
  8. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez*
  9. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
  10. The Wisdom of the Desert by Thomas Merton*
  11. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
  12. The Art of War by Sun Tzu
  13. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  14. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
  15. Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot*
  16. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  17. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  18. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  19. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky*
  20. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli
  21. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  22. The Republic by Plato
  23. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  24. Getting Things Done by David Allen
  25. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  26. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  27. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  28. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  29. BONUS: How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
  30. BONUS: Honeymoon with My Brother by Franz Wisner*

What do you think? Which ones would you change and why? Or better yet, if you had to compile the list, what would it include?

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Stuff I’m Doing

1: Reading. A lot. I’ve got these little beauties either started or waiting in the wings:

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Plus a few e-books: Real Marriage by Mark & Grace Driscoll, Pulphead: Essays by John Jeremiah Sullivan, and An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson. That should hold me over for the next few weeks, and put me at eight total books for the month. I’m hoping to read a total of 10 books in January, but my birthday is today and I want to save room on the list for any birthday books I may receive.

2: Spending far too much time in Starbucks. We haven’t had Internet these last few weeks, so I’ve been writing and blogging from Starbucks. The older gentleman at the counter knows my drink by heart and almost remembers my name. (“Venti passion tea lemonade, sweetened, light ice for…Amber? Camilla? Miranda? No, don’t tell me. I’ll get it!”) I wish I could say I’m one of the cool kids who supports the fair trade, locally owned coffee shop, but it’s far far away, exorbitantly expensive, and crowded with people far more hipster and socially forward that I shall ever be, so I just come here instead.

3: Packing. We go to Ohio tomorrow to visit my family, my dog, and also my favorite used book store! But I’m more excited about the family, of course. Included in this packing process is how to make my Southern California wardrobe stretch and work for the Frozen North. I’m excited about the possibility of snow, and I actually miss the cold of my native Midwest, but I no longer have the wardrobe for it. I think I’m going to have to invest in a lot of warm leggings.

4: Finally taking down our Christmas tree. That poor tree is deader than MySpace and almost as unsightly, and it’s starting to bum me out.

5: Working on this. I love the idea of tiny, month-long resolutions, they seem so much more manageable than the grandiose, idealistic gestures people tend to make every New Years. Plus, I am notoriously bad about my writing schedule. I’ll go strong for three weeks, then do nothing for a month, or get distracted during my writing time and then stay up until all hours if the night scribbling like a mad woman. I may adjust some of the months to fit my own needs, but I think I’m going to do this. In fact, I’ve had two solid hours of uninterrupted writing time for the last three days already, and it feels really good. I also love the idea of reading a book on my craft every month. Any suggestions? I’ve read Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, (which I will probably re-read), and I own but haven’t yet read Stephen King’s On Writing.

6: Watching reruns of 30Rock in anticipation of the new season that premiers today! To summarize how 30Rock makes me feel, I quote the words of the great Liz Lemon: “I’m a star! I’m on top! Somebody bring me some haaaaaaaaaaaaam!” Amen.

7: Getting ridiculously excited over a new mop. I’m aware that I’m starring 25 in the face, and getting excited over a new mop does not bode well for me as I try to hang on to my last remaining scraps of youthfulness, but it’s just so shiny and fancy that I can’t help myself! I’m twenty-five, I’m a housewife, and I like my mop! Get over it, younger version of Amanda!

And I think that’s just about it. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last five days. What about you guys? How are you doing with your resolutions and your reading? I’ll be back tomorrow to share reviews of my second and third books for the month, and probably some Cambria pictures, since it’s been awhile and her little diva feelings are getting hurt. And maybe, if I feel all fancy, I’ll blog from the plane on Friday.

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E-Books Schme-Books

I am officially a modern woman now. I own (and can actually operate!) a smart phone, I actually helped someone figure out how to connect their laptop to the wifi at Starbucks the other day (no matter that I was struggling to get my own to stay connected to said wifi), and I have read a whole entire book using an E-Reader, and my poor little purists heart didn’t even explode, it just melted a little bit around the edges.

I’m not going to lie, I did not go into this with a particularly open mind. It makes me mad that people are so willing to surrender all the solid aspects of life to technology. I refuse to abandon my beautiful paper-and-ink books for the same reason I still write snail mail letters, because it’s important for Something to still be real and concrete and meaningful beyond the now. But I have a confession: this whole e-book thing was not that bad.

I started by downloading and setting up iBooks, Nook, and Kindle, just to get a feel for each one and see how I liked them. I like the design of iBooks the best- it has what looks like a real bookshelf and the pages flip like book pages, but the Nook has the best interface. The Kindle is okay. I like its home page, but it’s actual reading interface has fewer options and seems stiffer.

And reading on my iPad? It was easy. I forgot that I was reading on a screen…almost. I was no less enthralled, and it wasn’t distracting at all, except when I kept accidentally flipping through multiple pages at a time, but that was most likely operator error. The only things that make me sad about e-books are:

1: It’s hard to tell how far you’ve read/ have left to go.
2: My thumbs get sore from the way I have to hold the tablet.
3: I can’t take pictures of book covers for my reviews on e-books.
4: There’s something wonderful about setting a finished book back on the shelf, spine creased and pages slightly dog-eared. I missed that, that physical sign of my accomplishment.

I think I will convert to maybe 25-30% e-books. And I will definitely be taking advantage of the free previews you can download of the first 30 pages or so of each book. I like being able to read a bit in advance and decide if I really want to pursue this book or not.

Which, speaking of pursuing books, I completed my first book of the year on Tuesday! And yes, it was of the electronic variety, Fathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian Science by Lucia Greenhouse was an unflinching look inside the unfamiliar, often bizarre world of Christian Science.

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Growing up, Lucia’s parents were warm and loving, but their seeming idyllic life was not all it seemed. Christian Scientists do not believe that the material world is real, so in their minds sickness, disease, germs, and death don’t really exist. They deny all these things, from the blatantly obvious childhood chicken pox Lucia and her siblings suffer from to the more serious matters like cancer and heart attacks. They believe these things are caused by erroneous, negative thinking, and Lucia’s parents, who worked as a Christian Science practitioner (their equivalent of a faith healer) and nurse (who do not do any actual nursing duties, but rather fulfill the role of caretaker to the sick who come to the Christian Science nursing homes to ” work out their issues”), are no exception. They try to work out everything, from poor eyesight to Lou Gherig’s disease, with prayer and positive thinking, and without a single drop of conventional medicine.

As Lucia and her siblings grow up, they begin to see the inconsistencies of their parent’s faith, which causes a deep rift in the family. The tension culminates when the now grown Lucia realizes that their mother in desperately ill, but is refusing to accept any medical treatment. When she finally realizes that she is undeniably dying and relents to being taken to the hospital, she is malnourished almost to the point of starvation, and the family experiences much hostility from their non-Christian Science medical team and extended family, as well as incredible grief over her death at the young age of 50, which could have potentially been avoided.

In turns tragic and hopeful, informative and deeply felt, I very much recommend this book. I appreciated Lucia’s guts; she does not apologize for her parent’s dogma, her extended family’s bewilderment, or her own frustration and confusion. She offers it all up, raw and unedited, with the hope that her story can shed light on this seemingly benign but often inhumane and illogical belief system. Though it’s pages number into the three-hundreds, I read this fascinating account in just under three hours, and I dare say Lucia’s memoiring skills should be numbered among the greats, such as Jeannette Walls.

And now, friends, I’m off to drink some tea, delve into The Tiger’s Wife for the Huffington Post Book Club, and sleep. In that order.

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I’m Cleaning Out the Junk Drawer

Be honest, you have one too. That drawer in your kitchen where you put toothpicks and matchbooks and coupons and birthday candles and bits of string and old coupons and the set of coasters that only has two left and cat treats and all the other randomness that doesn’t have a good place where it “belongs”.

I have two junk drawers in my life- a kitchen junk drawer, and a blog junk drawer. The first is filled with all the aforementioned junk, plus all the kitchen gadgets they tell you you simply cannot survive without when you do your wedding registry, but then you only use once. (Exhibit A: silicone basting brush. Exhibit B: egg separator. Exhibit C: tiny measuring cups that say things like “pinch” and “dash.”) The later is filled with all the little bits of humor and observations that don’t really “go” with any other post but are too good to just forget, and books that I read but never felt inspired to review.

In an effort to start the new year clean and fresh and organized, I attempted to organize my kitchen, but I was quickly defeated. So here instead are my condensed thoughts on some books that have been floating about, waiting for their moment in the sun:

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The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle: Adam Eddington, of A Ring of Endless Light fame, is on his way to Europe for the summer to intern with a famous scientist. But on his journey there he gets wrapped up in a plot thick with intrigue, international politics, and danger, and suddenly his summer is no longer relaxing. Or safe. This is not L’Engle’s best work, but the action is fast paced and well written with just the right amount of tension sprinkled in.

The Secret Zoo by Bryan Chick: A little girl goes missing at the local zoo, and her brother and two best friends must hurry to help find her. But strange occurrences meet them at every turn, and a mysterious shadow man is hot on their tracks, leading the kids to question: is this zoo really just a zoo, or is something more sinister bubbling underneath? A really fun concept, one any kid (and many adults) will relish. I enjoyed this series first, although I was a little disappointed by some of the characterizations, especially one little girl with an obnoxious attitude that Chick seems to glorify.

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard: This little book is stuffed with plenty of insight and advice for writers. I really appreciated her wisdom, and I learned a lot, but the fragmented style of writing made it hard to read in long stretches.

The BFG by Roald Dahl: A little orphan girl, Sophie, is snatched away by a giant. Fortunately he is the Big Friendly Giant (BFG), and not one of the little girl eating ones. But the nasty giants are about to go on a child-eating rampage in England, and it’s up to Sophie and The BFG to save the day. This delightful little adventure was fun to read- I especially enjoyed BFG’s fun way of mixing up and mispronouncing words. Also, I felt like Dahl’s undeniably dark undertones were a little more dulled in this story versus, say, The Witches, which is, at least for me, a plus.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: Written with Lamott’s usual warmth and candor, the chapters of this book were fun and companionable. Even though I really enjoyed this book and found it chock full of good advice, I’ve come to the conclusion that any book about writing is hard for me to swallow in the usual amount of sittings a book of this size would require. Writing books are best savored in little bits, not devoured in heaping spoonfuls. But, overall, I preferred this book to Dillard’s Writing Life.

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo:

    ‎”Do you think,” she said, “that elephants have names?”

    “Oh, yes,” said Sister Marie. “All of God’s creatures have names. Every last one of them. Of that I am sure; of that I have no doubt.”

DiCamillo is, without question, one of my favorite authors, and possibly my very favorite children’s author. She writes with warmth and understanding that touches adults and gives children an invaluable sense of security. You cannot read her works without believing, even the tiniest bit, that the heart of life is beautiful. This story is no exception as it finds an orphaned boy, a displaced elephant, a disillusioned magician, a blind dog and his beggar companion, a hopeful policeman, and a host of other lovable folk discovering that the impossible can happen; that sometimes dreams do come true. Plus there’s an elephant. What’s not to love? Take an afternoon and read this one. You won’t regret it.

Lucky Child by Thomas Bergenthal: This memoir tells the story of how young Thomas survived the atrocities of the Jewish ghettos of early WWII, several concentration camps, and finally the Auschwitz death march, before being miraculously reunited with his mother at the end of the war. I really appreciated this account, which was written without sentimentality and with straight-shooting, unflinching honesty and grace.

The Tower, The Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart: With it’s whimsical setting, fun title, and critical praise, I really thought I was going to love this one. No such luck. I forced myself to finish it, but it was without relish. The story is bogged down with too many subplots, and the quirky details which at first were mildly amusing quickly became a drudge. The light tone belies the many sad circumstances the characters are dealt- infidelity, unrequited love, unwanted pregnancy, the death of a child, a crumbling marriage, crushed dreams- which results in a lack of depth, and a missed chance for a deeper connection with the audience. I get what Stuart was trying to do, but it just didn’t work out for her.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton: At 21, Nell’s world falls apart when her father reveals a long guarded family secret: Nell is a foundling of unknown origins. She goes in search of her roots, but it isn’t until after her death that her granddaughter Cassandra is able to get to the bottom of the mysterious little girl who was abandoned on a ship bound for Australia all those years ago. Written in the same vein as Diane Satterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale, Morton masterfully weaves the stories of seven women spanning hundreds of years in this multilayered mystery that will, if not keep you guessing, keep you deeply involved right to the end.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: The last installment of The Hunger Games trilogy is just as fast paced and thrilling as the first two. I was a little unsatisfied at the resolution of the Katniss/Peeta/Gale love triangle, but ultimately pleased with the result, so I can’t complain too much. My final verdict? Read this trilogy! It is the singularly most satisfying pure pleasure read I can recall to date, and the commentary on human nature and the role of government were unexpected but ultimately timely and thought provoking.

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“Octopus Paintings,” and Other Things That Bring Us Together.

You may think reading is what brings us all together, that the main reasons people come to my blog are the book discussions and cat pictures. And you’d be 73% correct. The other 27%, however, is found in the rather amusing search terms that, against all odds, bring people to my virtual doorstep. (Disclaimer: All statistics are made up. Therefore, I cannot vouch for the math behind them or their accuracy.) Some almost make sense, and some I really can’t figure out. Here are a few of my favorites, as they have appeared on my stats page:

  • Getting rid of a charlie horse
  • Preschool octopus crafts
  • neon silverware
  • octopus paintings
  • How to make an octopus? (I’m not sure what started the octopus craze, but I addressed it here.)
  • cat shampoo
  • august gloop fat
  • Augustos Glopp
  • Augustus Gloom
  • is augusts gloop real (I mentioned poor Augustus once, waaaaay back. That post still gets at least 30 hits a week from people searching for him under many misspelled monikers. And who knew there was an iniciative to make him the next Pinnochio?)
  • definition of zoophilia
  • Is happiness possible in 2012?
  • 2012 happiness plan
  • i love boys who love Jesus
  • is dartmoore zoo accredited
  • is Dartmoore Zoo real?
  • fairy tale vocabulary
  • The Grimm Legacy vocabulary
  • big vocabulary blog (Why thank you!)
  • 10 commandments for life not from Bible
  • personal kitchen towels
  • towels for cats

I’m sure there have been other oddities as well, these are just the ones that were recent enough for me to remember stood out.

In other news, I’m blogging from my brand new iPad for the very first time ever today!

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It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Amanda on her iPad!

And I’m getting ready to download my very first e-book. I’m not 100% sold on electronic books, but since I have the tablet now I’m going to give it a try. (Side note: That math was not made up and is completely accurate though subjective since personal in nature.) What should I download first? Do you prefer Nook, Kindle, or Google books? Whatever my initial opinion, I’ll report back tomorrow for those of you who, like me, are on the fence about this whole technology and books mumbo jumbo. But I really do have to go get reading now. Marissa has already finished four books! She’s beating me, and I just cannot allow that! (Have I mentioned that the two of us get rather, erm, competitive? I won last year, and I’d like to keep my title, so as much as I like you guys, I’m off. Only 364 days left to read/ win!)

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Books I Simply MUST Read in 2012

First of all, Happy New Year, friends! And many happy returns to you and yours! Did you make any resolutions? I did, which leads us to the second thing…

Today is Day 1 of The 2012 Lovely Little Reading Challenge! I’m starting off strong with a re-read of Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh, which I have not read in a very long time. I’m excited partially about the beginning of this years reading challenge, and partially about rediscovering a book that I’m sure I didn’t fully understand the first time around.

After book one, where shall I go? I obviously haven’t pre-planned all 104 books, but there are a few books that I know for certain I must read.

  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Everyone I’ve ever talked to who has read this book has loved it. It’s listed over and over again as a book the will definitely be a classic. Plus, I found it for just $1.91 at a thrift store, so I have no excuse not to read it.
  • The Help by Katnryn Stockett. How I haven’t read this yet, I’ll never know. I’m fascinated by the story concept and all the hype of the last year. Even my mom loved it! Okay, so my mom only saw the movie. But I haven’t even done that yet! I simply cannot allow my mom to be cooler than me.
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I am not exaggerating when I say I adore Russian literature, but I never had the time in college to read all the long stuff. I’m hoping to change that this year. War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and at least one solid Tolstoy biography are hopefully in line for this, my Year of Tolstoy.
  • The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz. Um, it’s the first Sherlock Holmes novel approved by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate ever. Do I really need to say more?
  • The Nazi Officer’s Wife by Edith Hahn Beer. I am enamored by the history of WWII, and this story of a Jewish woman who survived by marrying a Nazi officer has peaked my curiosity for literally years. I’m determined that this year, it will get read!
  • The Tiger Wife by Tea Obreht. Not only has this been on many, many “Best Books of 2011” lists, it’s the January pick for the Huffington Post’s new book club, which is free to participate in. I’m excited about this book, which sounds fascinating, but also about this book club!
  • Something by Toni Morrison. I’ve heard such good things about her, but she has so many books to pick from! I don’t know which book yet, and I’m open to suggestions, but I think it’s time to get over my intimidation and discover this author.
  • Rumo and His Miraculous Adventures by Robert Moers. I’ve read two of Moers’ Zamonia adventures, and I’m working my way through a third. (They are fantastic but long.) I hope to finish my quest through Moers incredibly series this year. If you’re looking for absolutely original, unique fantasy, I 100% recommend Moers. He’s the Lewis Carroll of our day.
  • Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides. I’m not afraid to read about sticky issues, but a modern hermaphrodite is a new one to me. I’ve heard it’s a great book, and even though I’m not a big Oprah fan, I have to admit that her book club picks are usually really good, so I’m going to give it a go. And I’ll probably read The Marriage Plot too.
  • Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls. I read The Glass Castle a few years ago, and it was truly phenomenal, so I cannot wait to read this book! (Plus, I also got this one at the bargain price of free when it was on the Barnes and Noble “Buy Two Get One Free” table. Cha-ching!)
  • Howls Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. A magical land with a castle that can grow legs and walk and a wizard who is under a spell and must be saved by a group of brave young sister? Did Jones write this just for me? I think she must have. This great gap in my YA fantasy knowledge must be amended ASAP.
  • The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming. It’s critically acclaimed magical realism, and it involves my favorite place ever: Ohio. There is zero chance I’m skipping this one.
  • Grendel by John Gardner. I cannot lie: Beowulf is one of my favorite ancient texts. I have read it with relish many times since that first day in sophomore English, and I’m practically giddy at the idea of this modern retelling from the monsters point of view.


  • What about you, friends? What, if any, reading challenges do you plan to participate in this year? What books can you simply not wait to get your hands on in 2012?

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