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I’m going to write up an entire blog post about this book. It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Florence as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

Also finished The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel by Gabrielle Zevin. It popped up on a list I subscribe to and was available for $1.13 as an e-book. As it begins, you’re hearing from A.J., a grieving widower who owns a bookstore on an obscure island off the East Coast. He’s angry, rude and every other negative adjective you can imagine. A book rep comes to visit and he’s awful to her, yet she perseveres and manages to sell him a few books. You get to know his friends (a friendship with him is full of sharp points) and one day an abandoned toddler is found in his bookshop. In between the story line about A.J., the book rep, the little girl and others, you will learn all about A.J.’s book tastes. If you’re an avid reader, you’ll really enjoy that part. It’s a charming book; loved it.

Also read a quirky book, Goodbye, Vitamin: A Novel by Rachel Khong. She’s a new writer (newly published, I guess I should say) and this story is about Ruth, a 30+ something, trying to readjust to life without her fiance, who’s dumped her. She goes back home to help with the care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. Written in a diary style, it jumps all over about her life, her mother, the funny, poignant things her father says on good days, and the nutty stuff he does on not-so-good days, her ex-, and her very quirky friends, too. Then a woman flits through who had had an affair with her father –  you get to observe all the angst from the mom about that. Mostly it’s about her father, as he’s relatively “together” early in the book, but then he disintegrates. Reading that part isn’t fun, although the author is able to lean some humor into it. I’m not sure I recommend the book exactly – I read it through – and felt sad. It doesn’t tie up loose ends – if you need that kind of book – you may not want to read this one.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Books, on February 19th, 2009.

kindle-case

I included a TV remote control in the picture, just so you can see the approximate shape. It’s about the same size as a larger paperback.

It’s been some months now that I’ve had a Kindle. I bought one when Jeff Bezos (Amazon’s CEO, and the Kindle’s maker) was on Oprah last Fall, and offered a discounted price if you bought one then. I’d been contemplating buying one anyway, so that was all the impetus I needed.

kindle-openWhy did I buy one?
1. I hate to give away my books. I have hundreds. And hundreds. And I keep buying more. Even though I never (almost) re-read a book. Hundreds and hundreds of pounds of books. So, I figured if I read books on the Kindle, I’d not be adding to my collection, my home book footprint. None of our kids read like I do. What are they going to do with all my books, for goodness’ sake, except give most of them away?
2. Whenever we travel, I always have to allocate precious suitcase space to books, since we read a lot when we travel. As we’ve gotten older, we’re not quite so active at every destination – we rest some in the late afternoons. And we read. So I saw the Kindle as a perfect solution. Ten (or dozens) more books, all in the space of one. Except for the charging cable, which isn’t all that big.

The advantages:
1. The small (footprint) space, lots of books (several hundred) can be loaded, you can make notes and bookmarks (there’s a small keyboard on it), you could read 5 books at the same time for that matter.
2. The dictionary – is amazing. You merely scroll to the line where the questionable word is, click, go to Dictionary and the Kindle defines all the major words on that line. There’s a tiny little roller button that is sort of like a mouse. That’s what you use to navigate around.
3. Buy a new book anytime. Right through the Kindle. Or you can do it from your home computer too. Or somebody else’s computer – just log on to your Amazon account. Takes just seconds to download it. You can also subscribe to newspapers and magazines too (I don’t, but lots of people do). For business travelers, that would be a very good deal. Supposedly you can access the internet on the device, although it’s not really a computer, as such. You can get to the Kindle bookstore easily and select new books. If you have an amazon account, it’s a simple matter of pressing a button and the book downloads in about 60 seconds. Bingo.
4. The price of books. Most books were $8.99 when I bought the Kindle. They’re now $9.99, but still a good deal. And a few books are more.
5. The screen – it’s not backlit – you can’t read it with a light. For some this might be a disadvantage, but for me it’s easier to read this way. And the print size can be adjusted to suit your eyes. (In the photo below you can see the print – it’s adjustable to 5 sizes, I think it is.)

kindle-reading-aThe disadvantages:
1. The battery. It’s only as long-lived at each sitting as the battery. If you don’t use the Kindle (and charge it) regularly, it goes into a power-down thing and it’s a bit of a hassle to get it back to running again, but that’s a minor thing. It does have to be charged often (about 4-5 hours of use, is my guess). I now have the charging cable right next to my bed, so it’s easy to plug it in after every 2-3 or 4 days of use.
2. It is a computer, after all. If something were to go wrong with it on a trip, it might be difficult to get it fixed. That hasn’t happened to me yet (except the major battery down thing which was easily fixed after talking with a Kindle customer service person). You can buy an extended warranty.
3. The Kindle 1 case that came with it was not good. I’ve since purchased another one, built especially for the Kindle, but fixes all the little problems with Amazon’s case. It was $50, and it does keep the Kindle securely in the case. If you’re interested, you can search on the internet for “Kindle covers,” you’ll find many manufacturers of them). I understand that the Kindle 2 is shipping without a case.
4. It’s too easy to accidentally advance or backup a page. The bars on both sides of the Kindle take you ahead one page (top right and lower left), back a page (top left) or to the beginning (bottom right). They’ve made this user friendly for both righties and lefties. Clever planning, I’d say. Overall, though, I’m saying it’s worth buying – I LUV my Kindle – but it’s a bit of a nuisance sometimes when you accidentally hit the Next Page bar. Usually it advances just the one page, but occasionally if the Kindle falls out of its case, in righting it, picking it up, etc. you may advance the pages by several. Just a little bit of a pain to have to back up to find the page you were on. But then, that’s really no different than dropping a regular book and losing your place. It’s just different on a Kindle.
5. I won’t be buying any cookbooks on the Kindle. And I do buy new cookbooks with some frequency. Those books I want to hold, be able to see the color photo (the Kindle just has B & W), glance at the whole recipe at once. All things the Kindle can’t do for me.
6. Some people don’t like the millisecond of time when the pages turn – the screen flickers once (blips to black momentarily) with each page advance. At first it was annoying to me, but quickly I got used to it.
7. If you like to loan or give books to friends – well, you can’t loan a Kindle book you’ve read. The book lives only on your Kindle, and unless you want to loan the actual reading unit, it’s only yours. Supposedly Amazon offers a family plan (up to 3 units) and within that “family,” you can share all the books. You don’t have to be an actual family – but the units and books have to be purchased from the “head” of the group only.

And just because I listed more disadvantages than advantages, doesn’t mean I don’t LUV my Kindle, because I really, really do. In case you haven’t heard, they just announced a second generation Kindle at the same price – $359 (what I paid 6 months ago). Longer battery life, thinner package. More books can be loaded. And the blip at page turns is vastly improved, I’ve heard. It will read TO you, if you’d prefer (good for the sight-impaired). I won’t be buying a new one since mine works just fine, but now I’ll try to convince my DH that he needs one, then I can give him mine and get the new one 😉

A year ago: Coriander Lime Shrimp (an appetizer)

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