Time to Hit the Books

I admit, it’s the beginning of the semester and I’m ready to get back to work and “hit the books” as they say (but I won’t actually be hitting any books, that’s like aggravated assault or something and I don’t think the books would like that). Anyway, getting back into the swing of the school year is a welcome change from the very different (but no less fun) kind of busy that I was over the summer. I’ve moved into my apartment, my books are cataloged alphabetically, my cacti are still alive (I think), and I’m set to tackle sophomore year. These are the confessions of a sophomore English and History major:

Yeah, you read that right, English is moving over to make room for History this year, and, well, the foreseeable future. To assuage any concerns you may have about this time share situation I promise to still love English just as much as I did before History came but now I’m going to love both of them the same amount so tantrums from English about how much love it’s getting will not be tolerated. (Well, that’s the plan anyway. History is still very much on the chopping block for the next month or two until I suss out my trajectory for the rest of my college career. It may not work with History out and that’s not History’s fault. It’s mine. But, I’m sure History will still eat a gallon of ice cream and watch sad movies if we part ways.) Long-winded relationship metaphors aside, I’m really looking forward to this semester. (If you want to know how literally insane I am when I say that, I encourage you to check out this post about my schedule) It promises to be challenging and interesting, two words I often cringe at when used together but appreciate all the same.

Keeping in mind that I’ll be crazy busy this semester, I ask for your patience with weekly posts and book reviews. The posts may not be weekly and the reviews may only be few and far between. I’ll try not to make that the case, but I can’t control the evil whims of my professors (they aren’t actually evil, they’re all pretty nice, but they assign homework and anyone who does that is evil in my book – says the girl thinking about becoming a teacher).

Speaking of books (at least that’s what I’m supposed to be doing), I’m super excited to report that this semester, although it’s more History than English, will include some awesome reads and even a chance to combine my love of both History and English. My honors history course will be drawing on some of my favorite novels as primary sources for the Great Wars Era so I’ll get a chance to look at them from a historical perspective rather than a literary perspective. This kind of synthesis of History and English is what I love most so I suspect you’ll be seeing some of that interest bleed into my posts in the future. In addition, I’ll also be taking another look at modern poetry and tackling (finally) the massive task of reading and interpreting Ulysses by Joyce. (I’m also going to get to know the geology of the national parks thanks to a bikeshorts-clad hippie but that’s not exactly the highlight of my semester.)


What can I say? Sailing is still at the top of my list of things to do in Boston.

On an even more disjointed organizational note, I have some things to mention from my amazing trek to Boston a few weeks ago. Like all my past voyages north, Boston means book stores, book stores and, get this, more book stores!  This year I had the opportunity to check out two new stores, one in New Haven, Connecticut, the other in Westerly, Rhode Island. Atticus and Savoy, respectively, are  both very neat independent stores nestled into small intellectual towns. Although, I didn’t  get much time in either, both are worth another stop down the road. Boston, on the other hand, yielded no new faces in terms of books stores, but it was a much needed return to old favorites. Brattle, Newbury and Harvard all made the cut for this year’s excursion and each of them are just as amazing as I remember (to remember with me check out this post). On top of my yearly pilgrimage to the great northern book stores, I also stopped at the Intrepid Museum in New York to experience Starfleet. I will spare you the geeky details. Suffice it to say I behaved as a five year old does when she is told she is to be spending five hours in a room full of fluffy baby animals. Just replace the five year old with an adult and the fluffy baby animals with a recreation of the Enterprise bridge and you’ve got the idea.


The copy I’m reading is the Burgin and O’Connor translation if you’d like to follow along.

The highlight of my Boston excursion wasn’t so much the book stores or even Star Trek, (although, I will never complain about visiting book stores or Star Trek) rather the wonderful conversations I had with my uncle about Russian literature. Some brief background on my uncle will reveal that he spent some years working in Russia as part of his job in D.C. and in that time he acquired an expansive and fascinating view of Russian literature from the Russian perspective (oddly enough, the Russians don’t really like Nabokov, but they love Bulgakov). Over the course of the week we discussed mainly one novel; The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov (others were mentioned but this one was the focus). The premise of the novel (and I have been assured that this is spoiler-free) revolves around a down-on-his-luck author and his unique encounter with the devil in a comedic retelling of the story of Jesus- in Russia (also there’s a cat, so that’s a plus).

Aside from the interesting premise and promise of humor, the cultural and societal context of the novel is rather interesting as it addresses the government censorship rife within Russian academia and society at the time. As I have not finished the book yet, I’ll leave the rest of my notes on the subject for later.

On a minor house-keeping note, I’ll be really busy with class assigned reading. As per my own decision I won’t be reviewing any class reads here. In an effort to keep my academic opinions separate from my personal reading opinions I feel the distinction is necessary. That said, some of my class reads will probably appear in later entries in some capacity or another. Regardless of my work load, I still hope to follow some semblance of a reading schedule so I’ll give you all the rough outline (that is very much subject to change):

  1. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
  2. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Shoot me, this has been on my list for like half a year now and I’m 76 pages in but I never have the time to pick it up and finish it and I’M GOING TO because I really like it and to hell with being busy I want to read this book!)
  3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  4. The Idiot by Fyodor Dosyoevsky
  5. The Fencing Master by Arturo Perez-Reverte (Again, shoot me, this is basically the same problem. I love this book but haven’t found the time to devote to it.)

I fully expect this list to change over the next several months, but I feel that having it written down makes me a bit more accountable.

If you’re interested, my class reading list for this month is as follows:

  1. The Poems of W.B. Yeats (for English 451)
  2. War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells (for History 120H)
  3. Assorted other Modern poets (for English 451)

There’s plenty more that I’ll be reading over the course of the semester: Mrs. Dalloway, As I Lay Dying, Ulysses, Equus, and The Hound of the Baskervilles;  excerpts from Night,  The Storm of Steel,  Survival in AuschwitzBeyond Good and EvilJourney in the Whirlwind and All Quiet on the Western Front; “Shooting An Elephant”, “The White Man’s Burden”, “The April  Theses” and “The Sinews of Peace”; and tons of Modernist poems.

It seems I have quite a bit to get started on, in the mean time I wish all of you starting school again a wonderful school year and semester and for those of you who are not, I wish you a fantastic fall season. Until next week, happy reading!

Shoofly Pie Chronicles: Act IV

The Family Weighs In

At the end of July I had the chance to visit with my family in Wyalusing. I took a shoolfy pie with me and I was lucky enough to have some extended family weigh in on my shoofly shenanigans. The recipe I made was actually an altered recipe. From the first pie I made for this blog I modified the measurements to make one pie rather than two.


My grandparents, great aunt, aunt and uncle and little cousins all liked the pie. It’s safe to say that Pie #1 got the Waltemyer stamp of approval. I couldn’t be more excited. When I asked my granddad what he thought of the pie, he responded like he always has; “I think you need to make another one just to be sure that you did it right but when you make it don’t change a thing.”


Besides eating shoofly with family I don’t get to see too often, I had a wonderful time seeing the farm. I got to see some pretty adorable calves, some barn cats and the amazing new barn being built. My mom even got back in touch with her farm girl roots and found her arm covered in cow slobber by mid-day. Even though she washed it off she couldn’t stop smiling.

Take 4

Shoofly 4 is a recipe from my grandmother’s ex-mother-in-law sent to me by my aunt.

As written the recipe reads:

Shoo-Fly Pie

1 1/2 c. flour
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c.shortening
1/4 tsp. salt
Use a pastry blender to turn into crumbs.

For the pie dissolve
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2/3 c. hot water
2/3 c. dark molasses, stir.

Pour liquid into 9 inch pie shell. Top with crumb mix. Bake at 350 for 35-40 mins. Enjoy!

This recipe has to be my favorite to date. It was simple and it turned out really well. The consistency of the wet-bottom and the crumb toppings were perfect in my book.


The Mayberry Family Weighs In

“It wasn’t bad.”
So it wasn’t good?
“I didn’t say that, I said it wasn’t bad. You should try again.”
Mom, seriously?
“What can I say, I’m my father’s daughter.”

The consistency of the crumbs on the top and the wet bottom were both good. The way that they absorbed into the bottom in different ways was great. The wet bottom was just wet enough and a little chewy on the top. All together it was a really well made pie. It tastes like old Pennsylvania dutch family picnics where the old guys would sit around and speak deutsch.


I think this one is a keeper!

My Rating: Overall I loved this pie. I think the ingredients were just what they needed to be. I get skeptical of the pies that have extra stuff added to them and this one didn’t. It’s a nice hearty, well made pie. I think I’ll go back to this one in the future.

Bookish Update

Next week I won’t be posting. I’ll be on vacation in Boston and I’ll be enjoying the crap out of my adventures. The week after that there may be a post because I can guarantee that I’ll be up to some bookish things in Boston. However, because it’s the last week I have before I go back to school I may not have the time to post. If that’s the case I’ll be posting a double post about Boston and about my first week back on campus. In case I don’t see you all until then, happy reading and happy August!

The Children’s Section Weighs In

I admit, I’m out of pie crust at the most inopportune time. This post has nothing to do with pie (next week, though, I’m bringing you a recipe that’s been in the family for quite some time and I’m really excited about it). Instead, my recent dealings with children’s books have inspired me to talk a little bit about kids books. After all, I am a library intern and 80% of my job revolves around children’s books. These are the confessions of a children’s librarian:

As a child there were three books that I loved. My parents may have brought home others for me to read, but I had three favorites. On Wednesday’s I spend a good deal of time listening to kids talk about their favorite books and I can’t help but feel the need to talk about my favorite kids books from my childhood and from today.

Growing Up a Reader in the 90’s

Like any small child before bed I required a story and after said story had finished I negotiated expertly for at least three more before bed. Sometimes it worked, and when it did I always asked for Mr. Bell’s Fixit Shop, Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go to Sleep, and Owen.

Mr. Bell’s Fixit Shop by Ronne Peltzman

615pf95plkl-_sx258_bo1204203200_I suspect I liked this one because Mr. Bell reminded me of my grandpa. In this story a young girl employs the town’s local fixit man to fix her doll. The old man, who claims he can fix everything but broken hearts, learns a valuable lesson from the little girl. The book is an endearing tale of compassion that made me think of all the things my grandpa could fix. As a kid I was convinced that he could fix everything even broken hearts.

Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go to Sleep by Joyce Dunbar

51ruxu9-salNothing is better than adorable bunnies and rhyming before bed and Willa and Willoughby hopped right into my heart as a kid. Big bunny brother Willoughby comforts his little sister Willa of all  the things she thinks she’s afraid of. Instead of a scary shadow, Willa begins to see, with her brother’s help, all the things that she loves during the day are waiting for her to wake up and play in the morning. For little Kate, this books was a necessity every night.

Owen by Kevin Henkes

owen_bookI think the reason I read this so much as a  kid is because my mom loves it even more than I do. Even so, Owen’s blanket that drives the narrative reminded me of my own blanket and in that regard the book felt more like vindication in my devotion to my blanket than anything else. That said, the book is a truly wonderful tale of growing up but still staying a kid. There’s no shame in still having a blanket and Owen is more than happy to say so.

Twenty First Century Kiddos

As a librarian that handles kids books on a daily basis,  I see around a hundred or more titles a day. But these three have caught my eye more than others recently:

This is London by Miroslav Sasek

sasek-londonWhile I haven’t read this book, what struck me was not so much the content but the sheer size of this This is… series. Sasek writes a while slew of these adorable illustrated books about places all over the world and even solar system. Highlights of this massive collection include This is Venice, This is Greece, This is the Way to the Moon, This is Israel and This is San Francisco. What I found neat was the extent of the locations discusses and the engaging illustrations the books had. For little kids, these books are great ways to show them different places all over the world. (also there’s a song called This is London that’s really good)

I Really Like Slop by Mo Willems

9781484722626_p0_v1_s600Mo Willems is something of a celebrity at the library. His books are so popular that we can’t actually keep them on the shelf long enough. His characters are simple and the illustrations are  straightforward, but the stories have a unique way of drawing kids in as if they are an active part of the events transpiring on the page. Willems has a ton of neat selections, the best of which I’d say are We Are in a Book and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.

Sparky! by Jenny Offill

sparkySparky is about a little girl in search of a new pet. When her parents turn down all the usual options, she chooses a sloth and then finds herself in a jam when a classmate demands to see her sloth do a trick. The book is whimsical and the illustrations are adorable. The story too, is a neat tale about accepting people as they are, even if that means that sloths don’t exactly do tricks.

Every once in a while I like to flip through kids books. There’s something about them that’s just plain fun. I hope you or a child you know gets some enjoyment from these books. Also, I’d love to hear which books you loved as a kid. See you next week! Happy Reading!

Reading Rut? Ask Bowie

I admit, I’ve taken some reading suggestions from Rory Gilmore. Chief among those have been the novels The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger. As ridiculous as it may  be to get reading suggestions from TV shows and celebrities I can honestly say that some of my favorite book recommendation lists come from pop culture sources.  These are the confessions of a pop culture bibliophile:

I’m always looking for new things to read and when I hit a dry spot in my reading there are two lists that I always look to: Bowie’s Top 100 and The Gilmore Challenge. In light of the new Gilmore season coming to Netflix here’s a top 10 breakdown of the Gilmore Challenge.

10. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

9. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

8. The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Letham

7. Howl by Allen Ginsburg

6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen


5. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

4. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

3. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

2. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

1. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

The list is a comprehensive collection of all 339 books mentioned during the entire life of the show. I suspect that when the Gilmore Girls return there will be even more to add the list. In anticipation of the new season, Alexis Bledel did a short segment with the first lady Michelle Obama that featured the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante. Whatever you think of Gilmore Girls, put it aside because the reading list this show managed to create is absolutely epic and worth a browse if you’re looking for a new title to pick up.

My second go-to is a bit surprising given who compiled it. It’s a fantastic list of both new and classic novels chosen by one David Bowie. To give you a taste, here’s a top 10 preview of the list:

10.The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima

9. The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

8. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

7. 1984 by George Orwell

6. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner


5. The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

4. A  Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

2. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

1. White Noise by Don DeLillo

Bowie’s list is a little more on the fringe than the Gilmore list and it has more musical influences (for obvious reasons). Even so, it highlights some lesser known novels by some fairly famous authors. Unfortunately, though, there won’t be any additions to this list. I hope you check it out when you find yourself in a reading rut.

I’m curious to see where you all get your reading suggestions when you are out of books to read. Are there any books that are cross listed?

Until next week, happy reading!

Shoofly Pie Chronicles: Act III

This week: I drown in required text, attempt not to have an obsession with Pokemon Go, and make pie to escape from it all.

Pennsylvania Deutsch in 2016

I mentioned in a past blog that the Pennsylvania Deutsch culture is still alive in 2016. There are two main Pennsylvania Deutsch festivals in the area where people like myself go to commune. The larger and more commercialized of these festivals is the Kutztown Folk Festival, the other more authentic one is the Goschenhoppen Folk Festival. Over the 4th of July weekend, my parents and I ventured to the Kutztown festival. Although the motivation for the trip was my own desire to find more recipes, the day itself turned into a neat adventure into my own culture.



Hex Sign Artist at the Festival

Throughout the fair grounds there were large wooden plaques that detailed different aspects of Pennsylvania Dutch life. There were also a variety of different craftsmen and women selling hex signs, authentic furniture, and other folk products. While the festival itself was a bit less authentic than I would have liked (something tells me the Pennsylvania Dutch didn’t grow bonsai trees or paint Japanese koi pond scenes) it still held the heart of the PA Dutch culture complete with pickled pig products (from the snout to the innards) and old men in straw hats shooting the bull with one another in Pennsylvania German.

Hex signs, if you were wondering, are a form of Fancy Dutch fraktur (or folk art) that became popular in the 1850’s as barn decoration. The signs, however, have a highly superstitious origin and are said to ward offer evil and bless a farmer’s work. For those who aren’t as lucky, though, the signs are said to have the power to curse, or hex, someone for doing wrong to the owner’s family or property. Over time, the signs have become more commercialized and have lost their traditional meaning. Most modern designs stray away from the radial stars that the practice originated with and incorporate non-traditional distelfink, floral and compass rose images that are common in fraktur but not in hex signage.

At the Kutztown Festival I got the chance to speak with some older women about shoofly pie and sample a slew of old family recipes. The women and I exchanged recipes and talked about the nuances of different kinds molasses and egg versus no egg in the wet bottom.  It was a wonderful day and it was neat to share it with my parents and see them both remember bits of their childhood growing up with Pennsylvania Deutsch parents and grandparents.

Take 3

Shoofly 3 is a recipe from the cookbook Country Cookery Through the Years 1987 by Hazel Lauman.

As written the recipe reads:

Shoo-Fly Pie (wet bottom)

2 1/2 c. flour
1 2/3 c. light brown sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp. vegetable shortening
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 c. Karo syrup (blue label)
2 c. boiling water
2 1/2 tsp. baking soda

Mix thoroughly the flour, brown sugar and shortening; set aside 1 cup crumbs.
Stir Karo and soda into boiling water. Cool slightly; add eggs and stir. Mix crumbs and liquid together. Pour into 2 (9 inch) unbaked pie shells. Top with reserved crumbs. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes then at 350º until done (about 30 minutes). Test with a cake tester.

So, this pie didn’t exactly go to plan and I don’t have any pictures for you. While the recipe  called for 2 pies  I only had enough Karo for one pie, so I had to fudge a bit to make it work. On another note, this recipe was a bit strange to begin with because it called for Karo corn syrup rather than molasses.

The Family Weighs In

Karen: Rating – 2
The taste is good, the consistency… is … not good.

Rich: Rating – Appearance before cutting – 7, appearance after cutting – 0.7
The crust is a 5, pie is a poo.

I guess it’s safe to say this one is a flop.

My Rating: Before cutting into the pie it looks amazing. After cutting into it, it looks like… um, soup. The taste is good. The corn syrup made it a bit sweeter than a molasses based pie. I liked the combination  of the syrup and the crumb but aside from that it wasn’t all that great. Combine pie and soup…. to get… well, you get the gist. There will not be any photos of this pie simply because I think you all would like to keep your appetite.

Bookish Update

Nothing new to report on this end. I’m plugging away at the books on my list and loving every second of it. There probably won’t be any new book reviews until much later this month, but I hope to have a bookish blog post for you all next Tuesday. On an entirely separate note, I’ve gotten the Pokemon Go app on my phone and I’ve been beside myself with the chance to live the childhood dream of being a Pokemon trainer in real life. Even so, I caution anyone with the app to be smart about using it. Look where you’re going! It’s fun, but it can be dangerous if you’re not careful. Happy reading and happy baking, see you next week!

Off the Shelf: Zero K

This is a long time coming and worth the wait if you ask me. So, without further ado: Zero K by Don DeLillo.

The Plot

zero-k-9781501135392_hrThe novel is split into three parts; In the Time of Chelyabinsk, Artis Martineau, and In the Time of Konstantinovka. The first part follows Ross and Jeffrey Lockart, father and son, as they prepare for the cryogenic freezing of Ross’s wife, Artis, who is dying of several debilitating diseases. Told from the perspective of Jeffrey, this part jumps between Jeffrey’s memories and his present stay at the Convergence facility where the freezing will take place. It explores the utopian concept of the Convergence as well as Jeffrey’s own grasp on reality both as it is defined by most and as it appears to the faceless nameless entities within the facility.

The second part isn’t technically a “part” it is a brief interlude that traces Artis’s thoughts. While not expressly explained the reader is left to assume that these are her thoughts as she is frozen.

The third part plunges the reader into a familiar New York scene with Jeffrey. Juxtaposed with the previous part, this vibrant and normal New York appears surreal and implies as much as both the reader and Jeffrey are left to make sense of the world and reality after having experienced the Convergence.

The Intrigue

There’s a lot of stock in the idea that DeLillo novels are hardly compelling. I tend to agree. The plot, what little of it there is, is merely a vessel for the greater picture. In the case of Zero K there wasn’t a grand revelation or a climactic moment. Instead, there was an elegantly crafted idea that drove the novel. While the “action” of the novel revolved around the cryogenic freezing of Arits, Ross Lockhart’s wife, the real meat of the novel evaluates the concept of cheating death and discovering one’s identity through the eyes of Ross’s son Jeffrey. That is to say, this isn’t a coming of age novel where the protagonist comes to discover themselves. Rather, it’s a novel that dissects the very essence of self down to the psychological implications of a manufactured limp and the fabrication of a name as a means to certify existence. It begs the questions: “What is life?” “Who am I?” “What constitutes reality and identity?”

The novel’s triumph isn’t in the story or even in the characters. (Most DeLillo characters are mundane, almost comically so.) It’s triumph is in the sentences themselves. I would equate reading a DeLillo sentence to listening to a perfectly tuned orchestra. It’s complex in it’s inception and flawless in it’s execution. Take, for instance, this excerpt from Zero K:

“I tried to empty my mind and simply listen. I wanted to hear what Ben-Ezra had described, the oceanic sound of people living and thinking and talking, billions, everywhere, waiting for trains, marching to war, licking food off their fingers. Or simply being who they are.
The world hum.” p.135

In my exploration of DeLillo’s writing I’ve seen critics say that a DeLillo sentence seduces. There is something uniquely secretive about his words. There is always the enticing initial read but, without fail, deeper layers emerge then submerge themselves in a way that urges the reader to play a game only DeLillo knows the rules to. Since a majority of DeLillo’s work is far more conceptual in nature, it is no surprise that his novels deal with ideas and thoughts above all else. DeLillo creates a novel of pure abstraction with Zero K. While many of his previous novels only tentatively toy with abstract expressionism, opting instead for postmodern satire, Zero K extends further into the unreal than ever before. It touches ever so lightly on the tangible, though, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the stark future Ross and Jeffrey Lockhart inhabit.

The Verdict

Zero K is an experience for the senses. It may appear like a dry story, devoid of action. But, if you allow yourself to be seduced by the writing, its haunting exploration of life and humanity is thrilling all on its own.


I admit, this post is the last thing on my mind today. Tomorrow I’m going to take my drivers test. I’m nervous but I think, all things considered, it’ll go well. Anyway, even though I’ve  been sidetracked  with that, I’ve been getting more involved in book communities with a couple of new things that are designed to connect readers all over the world. These are the confessions of a community reader:

I was going to post a review of Zero K but I haven’t finished it which is a little bit shameful on my part. Once I get the nerves of my test out of the way I think my mind will be clearer and I will finish it and start Smoke in due time. Until then, I’d like to address three major things that have come to my attention recently.


The first is the death of an incredible gentleman. Elie Wiesel passed away on July 2nd and I can’t help but find myself drawn back to the very first time I learned about his story. His book Night was one of the books that drew me so forcefully to books. Although the novel is short it was the first time I was exposed to something more than an interesting tale. The novel was a difficult read, not in complexity or in technicality but in emotional depth. The second time I encountered Mr. Wiesel in any noticeable context I was in Boston standing a foot away from a plaque that named Mr. Wiesel as the foundation upon which the BU Jewish studies department was built. I wish I could have heard him speak at BU. Either way, he will be missed and his memory and his influence will live on.

qwcijj_piphone_litsy2_screenSecond is an app that I’d like to draw your attention to. The app is called Litsy and it’s basically a combination of Twitter and Instagram for book lovers. You can review books or post blurbs or quotes about them. You can choose to add a photo, too. But every post has to reference a book of some sort. You can add books to a To Be Read list or to a list of books you’ve already read. You can make note of which books you’re reading now and the ratings are either “Pick” for really good books, “So So” or “Pan” for really bad books. There’s even a “Bail” category for books you’ve put down.

I cannot recommend this app enough. I’ve met so many  people through this app and I’ve gotten even more book recommendations. The app’s community is still kind of small so it’s a great time to get started with it because it feels more like a community than a massive social media app like Twitter  and Instagram. If you do end up getting the app, follow me @utterKATEness

Finally, my cousin Stephen posted something about a book exchange that his high school English teacher started. So, I’d like to post about it here:

Calling all bookworms — We need at least 6 people to participate in a book exchange! You can be anywhere in the world. The farther we get the better. All you have to do is buy your favorite book and send it to one person. You will receive approximately 36 books back. If you are interested comment with the hashtag #savetheculture and I will message you all the details 🙂 Happy reading! #savetheculture

The concept behind the book exchange is pretty cool and it’s a wonderful way to connect with more bookworms all over the world! The idea of the project is to connect with as many people as possible so spread the word about this and get involved! I plan to take part as soon as I can pick my favorite book (there are too many contenders). Who knows what you’ll discover. (In the nature of full disclosure, it’s unlikely that you’ll get 36 books back but the idea of sharing a book with another book lover is really cool!)

I suppose for this week I don’t have much to update you all on which is slightly disappointing. I’m anxious to get back to reading. The next four  books on my list are Smoke, The Shadow of the Wind, The Secret History and Leonard. So here’s  hoping that all goes well tomorrow and I have the time to read on Thursday so I can get back into the sing of things.

In the mean time, I hope you get involved with this awesome book exchange idea and get connected with the Litsy app. Having a community of bibliophiles to talk with is the best way to expand the kinds of things you read and to share your love of books with others  who love  them, too. Until next week, happy reading!

Bringing Ideas to Life

I admit, I’m actually not half bad at building bookshelves! I’m not usually the best at construction or power tools, but this Sunday with the help of my dad, I can honestly say I’m incredibly proud of how my bookshelf is shaping up. I was beginning to worry about whether or not I’d actually get a chance to build this shelf. I’d also like to dedicate this post to Antoine Griezmann’s golden foot. Anyway, these are the confessions of a bookish builder:


In my very limited experience I can say that the best time to build a bookshelf is right after the French team beats Ireland in the Euro Championship. Now I realize that such an opportunity might not come up again, so for the sake of easy instruction, let’s just say that the happiness that follows when your team wins a game will suffice. Even if you don’t have that kind of vibe going when you’re ready to start the bookshelf, your next best bet is some rocking music. I suggest The Mowgli’s or The Airborne Toxic Event or The Strokes if you’re looking for some music to jam to while you build.

To start with, you’ll need some wood and materials to work with. I suggest nice quality pine. You’ll still have to sand it some and stain it, but it’s good enough quality that it’ll hold up and look really nice once it’s done. You’ll also need screws, wood stain, wood glue, a drill, a saw, and a power sander. If you don’t have all of this, that’s okay. I’m sure you can improvise with some elmer’s, a screwdriver, a plastic butter knife, and a nail file.


Once you’ve gathered  your materials, if you’re like me you’ll want to find someone far more adept at building things. In this case, I employed my dad. If you already posses the magic ability to build things without help then by all means, build me a bookshelf. If not or if you’re like me. The first step is to measure out the top, bottom, and side boards of your bookshelf. Seeing as this job is fairly difficult to mess up, I was given the task. I’ll be honest. I did mess this up a little bit. I was using a pencil, though, so it was okay in the end.

Once the measuring is finished and has been checked, in my case, by a far more experienced builder the next step is to cut the four boards to the correct length. This is where I knew my contribution would stop, at least for a little while. As eager as I was to try my hand at the power saw I knew that these boards were far too important to be messed up so I gladly handed the job over to my dad. We secured a guide board onto the board we were cutting to ensure a straight cut, then we double checked the depth of the saw. Finally he was ready to cut so I stood back to watch.

With the boards cut we prepared for the assembly of the frame. Before we could actually  begin to assemble it, we had to sand the boards since they would be difficult to sand if they were already put together. For the bottom and the sides of the frame I used a power sander with 180 grit sandpaper. The top board, however, got an extra treatment with 221 grit paper to bring out a better finish for when it was sanded.


The next and most exciting part was the assembly. Using a corner squaring tool we attached each corner with screws. After that,  we sanded the connections to make seamless transitions from one board to the next. Once the boards were finished, we unscrewed all the connections, added glue between each board and reattached the boards with their screws. With all this done, we cleaned up and set the shelf to dry and wait for the next step which will be the assembly of the interior shelves.

The result is pretty awesome. Even though it’s just a frame right now, I’m really excited about it and I can see it coming together slowly. Also, I’d like to say a special thank you to Mamma and Papa Mayberry for putting up with my wild ideas, helping me build this thing and taking pictures of the process. 99.9% of my outrageous ideas wouldn’t even be possible without them, so thank you guys for humoring me.


A Brief Update on Everything Else

This Thursday I hope to have a review of DeLillo’s Zero K for you. I’m about half way though and I love it. After that, I’m going to be reading a new release called Smoke by Dan Vyleta. It looks like a neat fantastical twist on Dickensian England. After that I’ll finally have the chance to read In the Shadow of the Wind which I’ve been itching to read for a little while now. I promise I’ll be getting back to the pie soon, too. If you have any Shoofly recipes you think I should try please let me know, I’m always open to suggestions! I’m also open to book suggestions, too. Happy reading and happy building. See you next week!

Off the Shelf: The Language of Flowers

I spoke briefly about how I came to read this book on Tuesday, but I’ll re-cap in case you missed it. This isn’t a book I would have picked up on my own. I’m not generally drawn to books that look like they may be romances. (Although, I do read a select few Rom-Com authors) Anyway, the reason I ended up reading this book is because a patron returned it and, before I had a chance to protest, a coworker pulled up my account and checked it out to me. She then handed me the book and told me I didn’t have a choice and that I must read it. I can honestly say I’m glad she made me read the book.

The story I read is not at all what I expected when I opened the novel called The Language of Flowers. Vanessa Diffenbaugh tells a compelling and heartfelt coming of age story about a girl and her inseparable bond with the language of flowers.

The Plot

10032672The Language of Flowers follows the recently emancipated Victoria Jones as she sets foot in the world without the support of her case worker for the first time. Told through the present and flashbacks to Victoria’s youth, the novel traces her discovery of herself and the beginning of her work as a florist.

Throughout Victoria’s own journey she encounters a piece of her past and through the language of flowers that she learned as a child she works her way through past demons. This novel is far more than a romance, though, it is a celebration of compassion, perseverance and family in all its different shapes.

The Intrigue

The language of flowers has been around since the time of Shakespeare as the novel explains. It is a an interesting concept in itself, and seeing it woven into a novel so brilliantly was a breath of fresh air. At the very least the inclusion of such an interesting idea offers a unique twist on a relatively classic tale. At the most, it explores the complexities and nuances of communication and the importance of clarity and sincerity. The languages of flowers adds a tantalizing new layer to the novel The Language of Flowers that makes it a novel that is hard to put down.

The Verdict

If you’re looking for a heartfelt story about life and love and becoming oneself despite the odds. This book is truly a wonderful and emotional read. I recommend it for anyone looking for a  book to grab them by the horns and not let go.

Attic Treasures

I admit, this post is a long time coming and I’m quite happy to swing, if only briefly, back into some bookish things. That’s not to say that my Shoofly pie adventures are over, they most certainly are not. All it means is that I’ve had a few weeks to let my bookish musings build up and what follows is the result of that. These are the confessions of a come-back-bibliophile:

It has been quite some time since I wrote on bookish things and I have A LOT I’d like to share with you all. First and foremost, let’s address the elephant in the room. My review of The Turner House by Angela Flournoy was promised weeks ago and I don’t think that it’ll be coming at all at this point. I’m in the middle of the book and it’s good, but it’s slow and dense. I was initially drawn to the book when I did a preview of all the NBA finalists back in, oh man, I want to say December. After reading several reviews of the book it seemed like a novel that I’d connect with personally. The themes these reviews highlighted talked about the perseverance of an American family and the celebration of that family, flaws, failures, triumphs, disputes, love and all.

As far as I can tell, those themes hold true in the novel. It really does capture the reality of a family without need for dramatization or flair. I think the reason I’ve had a difficult time making it through the novel is due to the similarities I see between my own family and the novel’s Turner family. The family’s late patriarch Francis reminds me of my own grandfather and some of the struggles the eldest two Turner children cope with echo my own with eerie similarity. I suppose I wanted to read the book and find some of myself in the pages, some of my family and bits of our lives over the past several years, too. I think I did. I still have to finish the novel and I may write briefly about my overall opinion of it once I do. I will not, however, be writing a full review of it. That shouldn’t stop you from  reading it though. It really is a good book.

I just finished the novel The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh this morning, so that will be the subject of Thursday’s review. (When I say morning, I mean 1:37am, because I started the novel at 8pm last evening.) This wasn’t something I would have picked up to read had a coworker not thrust it into my hands with a check out slip attached saying she’d already checked it out to me and that I had no choice but to read it. I’m quite glad she gave me no choice. More on that this Thursday.

As much as I love to talk about the history in my family I often leave out the less noble parts of it. That is to say, the house I live in has been in my family for about 200 years or more, but my parents didn’t always live here. My dad, as his family is the one the house comes from, moved around quite a lot as a child. He also read a lot as a child. He said to me once that he never kept all that much because of how frequently he moved. My mother, too, mentioned that many of her own family possessions fluctuated between houses for quite some time. The point of explaining all that is to have you understand how utterly surprised I was to find not only books my dad read as a kid but books from my great-relatives on my mom’s side all piled up in the attic.


Boxes of older books I have yet to excavate from the depths of the attic.

When I say books, I want you to fully understand my meaning. There are four to five large plastic totes that hold my dad’s books, most paperbacks but a good portion are hardcovers. There are even more (probably eight to nine) large cardboard boxes of books that belonged to my moms grandparents and great grandparents, and three or four boxes belonging to the members of my dad’s family to whom the house belonged. The oldest of these books date back to the mid 1800’s. I like to fancy myself a bibliophile and I smile at my collection of books (a rather large one at that) but the books in my attic make my collection seem like a handful in comparison.


The very top of only one of the boxes with my dad’s books.

In my exploration of some of the older books I was slightly disappointed to find few literary gems. Most of the books are religious texts or manuals on geology, plants and rocks as the two relatives who contributed the most to the collection in the attic studied religion at college and liked to collect and read about stones and geology. I’m not surprised by the subjects I discovered only mildly disappointed that none of them saw fit to preserve or even read the most famous of the Romantic authors of the time.

About half way into my excavation of the boxes in the attic I did stumble across a small but significant cluster of history texts and a few literary texts. The highlights of this find are as follows:

IMG_2568English Poetry of the Nineteenth Century edited by Oscar James Campbell and published by F.S. Crofts & Co. in 1940. There’s nothing too exceptional about this volume, it’s not a first edition and it’s not in very good condition. Regardless, it’s a wonderful old collection of some great Romantic poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, Tennyson and Browning to name a few. The inscription penciled in by one Lester Kister (on my dad’s side) suggests that this may have been a required reading text for his degree at a seminary college.

IMG_2566McClellan’s Own Story by George B. McClellan and published by Charles L. Webster & Company in 1887. Considerably older than the poetry volume, this was a more exciting find. Unfortunately it was also in considerably worse condition than the poetry volume. Even so, the embossed hardcover volume is pretty neat to look at considering its history. Around the edge of the text on each plate there is evidence of excess ink where the page was printed. The printed portrait of McClellan opposite the title page has a piece of translucent protective paper, probably to keep the image from smudging.

IMG_2565The Works of William Carleton Volume I by William Carleton and published by P.F. Collier in 1881. What drew me to this book was the binding. It has beautiful gold colored inlays in the cover and a rather fancy spine. Unfortunately I knew nothing of the author so I looked him up. Carleton was a prominent Irish author during the early to mid 1800’s. While he isn’t frequently referenced in modern literary canon his work is seen as a precursor to the Celtic Revival and he appears in a poem by Seamus Heaney, a famous modern Irish poet and friend of my poetry professor from last semester.

IMG_2564The oldest book I found is a tiny cloth and board bound story called Wide, Wide World. The first few pages have fallen out so I had to resort to the internet to find a publication date and even the author. After some research I found the author to be Susan Warner and the story to be considered “America’s first Best Seller” but the publication date of this specific volume still eludes me (the first publication date of the story is 1850). I have yet to find an image or description that matches the cover of the book I have. I will have to keep looking.

Anyway, it’s kind of neat for me to look through all these old books. I find myself transported back in time a bit as I think about how each book was made and then where it may have been purchased and where and by whom it was read. There’s also something about old books that I love. Newer books feel less personal. I know for a fact they were printed in a large factory and came in little contact with humans until they are inevitably bought and read. But these old books, they were handled throughout their entire “birth”. Someone manually stamped each page, someone made the binding by hand. These books were well loved even before they made it to stores. Then, once purchased they became like best friends. In a world devoid of technology, these books were tantamount to the newest iPhone.

As much as I appreciate the sound of a brand new hardcover being cracked open for the first time, I don’t think I will ever tire of old, brittle pages and worn, loved covers. Books are meant to be loved after all. They are meant to be used and worn until the pages threaten to fall and the margins are full to bursting. New books may not be made as intimately as older ones, but that should not mean that they are loved any less.


One hundred points to Slytherin if you can tell me the title and author of this book. Eighty points to Ravenclaw if you let me know what you thought of it if you’ve read it, and fifty points to Gryffindor if you share your own marginalia stories in the comments. (Hufflepuff gets the obligatory pat on the back. But for fairness’ sake, thirty points to Hufflepuff if you tell me what other book by this author I should read next and why.)

I may be a librarian and by principal disprove of marginalia and dogeared pages in library books, but I am also a bibliophile and all of my favorite and most beloved novels at home are worn and dogeared, the covers close to tatters and the margins so full that I may as well have written my own novel within them. I hope someday in the future someone will open one of my books (or, really, any beloved book from my generation) and look at it the way I look at the books I’ve found in the attic.

Happy reading, see you next week!