Posts Tagged ‘books’


Yogamum tells me that the list of unread books came from Library Thing. (Which terrifies me with its appeal. I already spend too much time on the computer. Must. Stay. Away.)

I still don’t get why they didn’t just stop the list at the nice round number of 100, instead of adding 6 more.

The unread books on my shelves number in the hundreds. Most have stayed unread for years. I consider them back-up – like, what if they suddenly shut down all the libraries, or we are snowed in our houses for weeks sometime? The irony is that when I do sometimes find myself without something new to read, I usually pick up a previously-read book that I particularly like instead. But that is only short-term. I’m sure if I went new-bookless for longer, I’d need all those unread books.

Speaking of books, my kids’ school is having a used book sale as a fundraiser. Those things are a lot of work, because the books people donate need to be organized. I spent yesterday afternoon with a couple other moms going through boxes and sorting the books out.

The sale organizer thanked me several times for volunteering, but I confessed that I am not merely doing it out of the goodness of my heart. I’m doing it for first kick at the books. Those sorting the books can put aside anything that appeals and buy them before the sale starts.

Even putting aside the books I wanted (which I did), I just love seeing what pops up. The others looked at the boxes and boxes of books and said, “We have a huge job ahead of us,” and I agreed, but I was thinking of all the interesting books hidden in there. It’s like Christmas morning for the bibliophile.

I’m going back this afternoon.


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I’ve gotten in trouble several times in the past couple of weeks by referring to Maya’s ipod as ‘my ipod’. I tell her it is just a verbal shortcut, but she knows that is crap. That thing never leaves my body. In fact, I’ve discovered that if I wear my sweatshirt with a sweater over top (not unusual for me), string the wire down under the sweater and put the ipod in my sweatshirt pocket, no one can see it. I have long, shaggy hair and it beautifully hides the ear buds.

Occasionally, I make a show of handing it over to her, like when we return from school. I say, “I had your ipod while I walked the dog. Here it is.” She takes it and hides it somewhere, but I watch surreptitiously and retrieve it at the first opportunity. I should probably just buy my own, but it seems like such a waste of money, given that Maya is at school all day and, in truth, rarely listens to it when she is not.

I’m hooked on This American Life, an NPR radio show I’ve known about for a while, but never had decent access to. I am a huge fan of both David Rakoff* and David Sedaris, who are regular contributors. I have now become a huge fan of Ira Glass, the host.

The current shows download to my (Maya’s!) ipod for free, but that is too slow for me, and there are years worth to be had. They cost just under a buck per show at itunes, which is a great deal for an hour’s worth of quality entertainment. But since there are hundreds of old shows, this is going to get expensive. I’ve been picking and choosing particularly interesting topics.

When I run out of This American Life shows already downloaded, I still have tons of CBC (Canadian public radio) shows to fall back on and a lot of them are really good too. I’ve also downloaded two books so far. I wish I had an ipod since I was a kid. I used to walk slowly home from school, reading as I went. I developed really great peripheral vision. I try to read while cooking, knitting, folding laundry – anything, really. The ipod has basically given me that ability.

The other day, up at the cottage, I cleared our skating rink on the lake, shoveling for over an hour, while listening to a fascinating This American Life on the concept of sissies. The show was so interesting that I cleared the rink exceptionally well, since it wasn’t over and I didn’t want to go inside and not hear the end of it. The idea of me managing to stay shoveling for an hour pre-ipod is pretty much unimaginable, since I have an extremely low boredom threshold and, trapped alone with my own thoughts, would have snapped after about 15 minutes.

The only downside is that I sometimes fail to fully pay attention to my own children. I fake it as they ramble on, secretly listening to David Rakoff describe how badly he hated chicken-catching on kibbutz when he was a teenage and trying not to laugh inappropriately.

Yesterday, I kept listening in the car after I picked up the kids, pretending to pay attention as Maya sang me a long Hebrew song she had learned. She complained that she had to answer lame questions about the song for homework. The equivalent in English would be: “In Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” where is the Little Star?” Granted, the questions and answers were in Hebrew, but it is still simple, make-work nonsense for grade 6.

She then told me that they will soon be singing it at the home for the aged next door to the school. I managed to follow both this and the discussion on the ipod, but both badly. To demonstrate I was listening, I asked her why, if they just learned the song to sing to the old people, did she have to answer pointless questions on it?

She stared at me for a moment, then said, “Because we have to answer questions on everything.” That struck me as a really profound description of grade school and I laughed for a long time. And turned the ipod off. Turns out, my kids can be just as entertaining. (but it stayed in my pocket, as backup.)


* I have a odd David Rakoff story. I am distantly related to him by marriage and knew him from family events like brises and weddings before knowing he was a writer. I knew he lived in New York and wanted to be a writer, but that was it. When his first book, Fraud, was published, I bought it out of some vague sense of familial loyalty, expecting it to be crap. Really, crap. Because, in my utterly Canadian way, I assumed that no one I actually knew, much less was related to – however distantly – could actually be really good. The book would sell 500 copies and sink like a stone, but I’d do my bit.

Of course, having bought the thing, I had to read it.

I loved it. I laughed out loud, sometimes to the point of helplessness, tears rolling down my face. Now, having read that and his second book, Don’t Get to Comfortable, plus heard a good number of his NRP essays, I am nothing short of a goggle-eyed fan, which makes casual conversations with him at those family events a bit awkward, because I am far to cool and Canadian to suddenly gush, “I’m just a huge fan. I love your work! You are so funny!” One, that ain’t me. Two, he’d die. So he has no idea. I feel kind of stalker-ish.

The biggest irony is that the title of his first book – Fraud – refers to his own feelings of not really being a real writer, that he’s faking that, among other things. It seems that he too, had some expectation that his book would sell 500 copies and disappear. Ah, the joys of being Canadian.

Anyway, he is a brilliant and funny writer. Go buy his books.

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A cuckoo in the nest

Someone just surfed onto my blog using the search string, “tiny whale.” I swear on all my chocolate I have never used the word ‘whale’ in my blog. Until now.


When Maya was 11 weeks old, a newspaper story came out of two sets of parents in the US who had discovered their sons had been switched in the hospital at birth. This boys were about 9 years old, and yet the parents switched them back. We were baffled. After only 11 weeks, we were so utterly besottled with this child that we could not imagine giving her to someone else, even if she turned out to not be ours biologically. Which is good, because yesterday we had this conversation:

Me: Look, I got this promotion card for 28 free song downloads and one audiobook. Cool, huh?

Maya: I want the songs.

Me: Okay, but I get the audiobook then.

Maya: Well, duh. It’s a book. Like I’d want that. (laughs, then assumes a false voice) No, no, give me the book! (laughs uproariously, even more so as I start to sob quietly in my chair.)

Wherever my real daughter is, I hope she’s with a proper, book-loving family. I’ll always love my reading-phobic Maya, even though it is completely clear that she was switched a birth with another kid.

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Thirteen Things about just making it up.

  1. Top of my list is a book called How to Read the Bible, by James L. Kugel. It puts the Bible (and by that I mean the Torah, the one Christians call the Old Testament) into historical, archaeological and etiological context, as well as giving the traditional interpretations of the various elements and stories. It looks at the assumptions people bring to it as they read it, and why they bring those assumptions. It is just fascinating. I stumbled across it at Barnes and Noble in the US. The only problem is that, at 800 pages, it is hard to drag around in my backpack or read in the bath (although I’ve been doing the latter anyway).
  2. Biblical Literacy, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. I have several of Telushkin’s books, as I like him as a person and a thinker. He does a lot of speaking about Jewish ethics. I got this book because J was at a conference at which he was scheduled to speak, and when he arrived at the hotel, it had bumped him from his room. The desk dork was directing him to some Super 8 miles away so J, who recognized him from other talks, approached and offered him the other bed in his room. Telushkin gave him this book in thanks, and several others since, but they are made out to me as I’m the one who reads this sort of thing. Anyway, I’ve read a lot of it before, but it is an interesting companion to read along side #1. It’s only 600 pages, though.
  3. The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, Wendy Mogel. This one was a Borders buy, but I’ve been looking for it, as several people recommended it. It is a parenting book along the sort I like – that say that this self-esteem thing is producing self-absorbed little shits for children (doesn’t put it quite that way, though) and they actually need a little hard work and to be allowed to experience failure and disappointment in order to grow up to be happy, successful adults. The twist on this one is that the author uses the Torah and Talmud as her jumping off points for parenting successfully.
  4. The Optimistic Child, Martin E. Seligman. Another parenting book that’s all for letting your kid fail on her own, and succeed on her own too. This guy’s thesis is that not allowing this sets our kids up for depression as they grow up, and we need to produce resilient, realistically optimistic kids in order to ‘innoculate’ them against depression. Based on a ton of research and study, and very interesting.
  5. The New Yorker, latest issue. This stays in my car in case I get caught without anything else to read. (heaven forbid!) My in-laws got me a subscription for Hanukkah last year and it has been one of the best gifts ever. The damn magazine is expensive, though, and up for renewal soon. I’m going to have to start making off with their copies again, which was what inspired the gift in the first place.
  6. Inkheart, Cornelia Funke. I read this to the older two every evening.
  7. Pain, The Fifth Vital Sign, Marni Jackson. It is a sort of sociological look at pain in our society and how we deal with it (or don’t, as the case may be).
  8. Stumbling On Happiness, Daniel Gilbert. It’s a kind of Freakanomics sort of look at happiness. Interesting. I think it is due back at the library soon, though.
  9. The Dangerous Book for Boys, Conn and Hal Iggulden. Reminds me of my childhood, even if I’m not a boy. Asher and I are reading it. He’s very keen on the part about making a battery and about making a bow and arrow. He hasn’t discovered the chapter on hunting and skinning a rabbit so far, thankfully. I’ve noticed this book reviewed and wanted it, but it is damn expensive. The friend we stayed with in NY had a copy, though, and when I commented on it he gave me permission to steal it, so I did.
  10. Several days of newspapers that I refuse to recycle until I’ve at least had a look at.
  11. The Case Against Homework, by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish. The title is pretty self-explanatory. I haven’t opened it in a while because it is too painful, as Maya slogs through her homework each night. I’m toying with just giving it to the vice-principal as a gift.
  12. Blogs.
  13. Okay, I’ve run dry. But doesn’t the fact that I’m reading an 800 page book and a 600 page book together kind of make up for not having a thirteenth?

Links to other Thursday Thirteens:
1. Pass the Chocolate

2. Bring Your Own Cheese

3. Burnt Offerings

4. MamaArcher (kindly put me in her 13 favourite Thursday Thirteens on motherhood.)

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!

The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

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