Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Good Reads

Lest you think all I do is watch TV and browse YouTube for funny commercials and political skits - here are a few of the books I've read recently. I read one or two books a week; these are the best ones I've come across in the past couple months.

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle. This was recommended to me by my middle school French teacher. I called her when I got my mission call to Bordeaux and she told me I had to read this book before I went. I never got around to it then, and just recently found this copy in a pile of books at our recent ward swap. It's wonderful. Peter Mayle describes his adventures as he (an Englishman) and his wife buy a house in Provence and make it their new home. They get to know their neighbors, learn about the French work ethic (the construction workers that renovate their home show up only if nothing else is going on - and there is never a guarantee that they will be back the next day), drink wine, and above all, eat! Roasted lamb, beef en croûte, coq au vin, baguettes, Camembert, chèvre, mousse au chocolat...I found myself getting hungry every time I picked it up. If you've ever lived in France you'll recognize all the characters and relate to the love he has for the people and places he encounters. There are several follow-up books and I plan to read them all.

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant. Another one I picked up at the ward swap. Nothing like a free book! And a good one at that. I'm a sucker for neo-feminist historical fictions (see my post about The Red Tent) and I really enjoyed this one. The story takes place in 15th century Florence, and the protagonist is Alessandra, the daughter of an upper class merchant who wants nothing more than to become a great painter. She consents to an arranged marriage because her husband-to-be promises her complete freedom - but it comes at a cost. They find themselves at the mercy of political events that endanger their lives and the art they love so much. There are parts of this book that are a bit too romance-novel-y for me, but overall I enjoyed the story and especially the way the history and culture of Florence is entwined with the plot. And there is a pretty big twist at the end, which I always love. This would be a great book to bring to the beach this summer.

The Book of General Ignorance by John Mitchinson and John Lloyd. I bought this book for Eric for Christmas (classic case of giving loved ones what you really want for yourself) and just read it the other week. It's a collection of trivia - things you think you already know but really don't. It's fascinating and easy to read in bits and pieces since each section is short (Eric calls it a great bathroom book.) Some examples:
-The guillotine was not invented in France - it comes from Halifax, England. It was used there in the early 13th century, long before the French adopted it as their execution of choice in the Revolution.
-Who said "Let them eat cake"? Not Marie Antoinette. The phrase had been used to describe the decadence of the aristocracy since at least 1760, and the French Revolution didn't happen until 1789. It was likely invented for propaganda.
-The largest organism in the world? A mushroom, the common honey fungus. The individual clusters are small, but they are all interconnected at the roots and make up one huge organism. The largest one is in Oregon - it covers 2,200 acres and is at least 2,000 years old.
-Thomas Edison invented the word "Hello". During his testing of Alexander Graham Bell's prototype telephone, he suggested using this word to initiate conversations because it could be heard from far away, like "Halloo" which was used to call hounds and ferrymen. Bell preferred saying "Ahoy!" but Edison's "Hello" caught on more quickly and became common usage. Personally, I think it would be kind of cool if we all answered our cell phones by saying "Ahoy!" but that's just me.

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. Love me some OSC! This is a reread for me, since my book group is discussing it soon and I haven't read it since college. It's the second book in the Ender's Game series, and in my opinion the best one of them all. Thousands of years after Ender facilitates the extermination of an entire alien species, he has become a Speaker for the Dead, a traveler who speaks at funerals in a most unusual way - by telling only the truth. He is called to the planet Lusitania, which is the home of another sentient species - the pequeninos. The storytelling is fantastic (this is Card after all!) and incredibly thought provoking as it explores the boundaries and limitations of civilization, morality, language, and what it means to be human. Immediately after finishing I had to reread Xenocide, the next in the series - that one gets even more metaphysical and some passages read more like a philosophical essay than a novel. I think Speaker strikes a better balance between philosophy and plot, but really the whole series is excellent.


  1. Those sound like some good books, but I want to know how anyone finds time to read? Seriously - I miss it so much. But by the time things are finished at night, I'd fall asleep before I got through one page. Maybe some day.

  2. THanks for the list. Now I just need to find time (and quiet) to sit and read a book! :)

  3. i love a year in provence. my HS french teacher had us watch the movies. i also own that book. i've also read "a good year" which i thought was ok. when i get through my stack of 15 books, i'll try and find another one of his. waiting for your stock on etsy to show up....:)

  4. Christie, It's pretty simple - I only have one child, I'm home all day, and my house is never very clean. It's all about priorities. :D I've actually only really gotten back into reading a lot in the past year or so, when Sawyer was younger it was too hard to find time or I was too tired to stay up late and read.

    Terina, Isn't it great?? I didn't know there was a movie, I'll have to check that out. Thanks! I have two soaps that will be going up next week, Oats & Honey and Mojito. And several more batches that are still curing (they have to cure for 4 weeks before they can be sold.)

  5. i am going to start a game of blogtag! and i've just tagged YOU!

    here are the rooolz:
    1. link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog.
    2. share 7 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.
    3. tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs.
    4. let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

  6. Thanks! I love book recommendations. I'll have to check these out.

  7. pretty sure you got Birth of Venus from me (yeah ward swap!) :)

  8. How funny Rebecca! I got a ton of books at the swap, love it.

  9. those books look really good, especially the one about Provence. I love non-fiction. Now all I need is some free time! I could give up the internet to read during my kids' naptimes, but then I'd never find out about good stuff like this online!


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