Delusions of Audiophilia: Part 1

It’s been a while, and I’ll be honest, these aren’t going to be bibliophile updates (though, I assure you I still read plenty and I still work at libraries). Rather, this will be my brief, and semi-delusional foray into audiophilia by way of my dad’s impressive vinyl collection and old Rotel turntable.

A Lebanese Beginning

While dining with my parents for Father’s day at an old haunt of ours, I asked my father what he wanted to listen to later that night. You see, I got an itch to play his old turntable again, so around Thanksgiving break this past year I helped him move the damn thing down from the attic and then reorganize his collection of records. Since then, I’ve fallen in love with Fleetwood Mac and made the resolution to “educate” myself in the classic bands he listened to when he was my age.

So, at dinner, at this little Lebanese joint in Lansdale called The Oasis (seriously, check this place out, my family’s been going here for longer than I’ve been alive), I waited for the answer from my dad. He has a collection that any serious vinyl collector would kill to see, so I knew he’d be hard pressed to narrow his choice down to just one. As we finished some absolutely divine pastries, I knew what I was going to do.

He and I selected a comprehensive group of about forty albums that would constitute my “education” and as of that night, I have set out to finish that group of albums before I go back to school.

But seriously, go eat at this restaurant.

House of Kashmir

I mentioned that my dad’s turntable set up is over forty years old, right? Well, it is. Barring a few newer editions to the audio set up to meet modern day high-def standards, the table and amp and speakers are quite old. In fact, Rotel doesn’t even make turn tables any more. But, let’s not assume for a moment that my dad’s set up is old. No. In fact, his set up is in fantastic condition and his table is so finely adjusted that he balked at the used bargain Star Trek album I brought home because it didn’t meet the quality standards he’s set for the Rotel.

Anyway, I’m kicking off my delusions of audiophilia with Side 2 of Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti featuring “House of the Holy” and “Kashmir.”

physical grafittiWhile listening, I realized none of the music I was hearing was particularly new to me. In fact, the album was part of the soundtrack of my childhood. Turns out, you can force the man to put the turntable away because it takes up too much space in the “new living room” but you can’t keep him from his music. So, for better or worse (my mom might say worse–unless it’s a Moody Blues album in question), I grew up listening to Zepplin and Dylan and Bowie and ELP and Fleetwood–never really knowing it, but knowing it all the same.

pearlThe second album of the night was Side 2 of Janis Joplin’s Pearl featuring “Mercedes Benz.” And, once again, I realized that silly song my dad sang to me whenever we rode the tandem together was actually Janis. As soon as I recognized the song, I didn’t hold back in accosting my father with the refrain “I can’t believe you were singing Janis Joplin to me my entire life!” And, for that one, my suspiciously stoic mother even joined in to sing.

jethro tullI let my dad pull the next album. This time he pulled an artist I’ve spent my life hearing about but not really hearing–Jethro Tull. I think for the better part of my life I thought Ian Anderson was some super crazy, kind of vulgar artist because of how my dad would occasionally describe the man’s stage presence. But, after listening to Side 1 of M.U. – The Best of Jethro Tull (flute and all), I can say for certain I think this band ranks in my top ten with Fleetwood Mac, The Airborne Toxic Event, and David Bowie. I mean, let’s all appreciate “Thick as a Brick Edit #1” for a moment. It’s also safe to say that any band that can get my mom off the couch and dancing is worthy of a top ten slot.

yes albumAfter an absolutely stellar side of Jethro Tull, we jumped genres again to Yes and Side 1 of The Yes Album. Yes was less of a hit for me, although I do like it–especially the instrumental heavy “The Clap” which reminds me, quite fondly, of the guitar skill of Lindsey Buckingham (the moody, love spurned guitar player from Fleetwood Mac). The side ended strong with “Starship Trooper,” which finally won me over to Yes as a band overall. I suppose this time around, I wasn’t as struck by the sound of the band as a whole, but I was struck by particular songs from the band.

To listen with me, check out the links in the playlist below. So, with four down, there are still plenty more to go. I can’t guarantee another weekly update, so I will say this instead: until next time!

Delusions of Audiophilia: Part 1 Playlist

  1. “Houses of the Holy” Led Zeppelin
  2. “Trampled Under Foot” Led Zeppelin
  3. “Kashmir” Led Zeppelin
  4. “My Baby” Janis Joplin
  5. “Me and Bobby McGee” Janis Joplin
  6. “Mercedes Benz” Janis Joplin
  7. “Trust Me” Janis Joplin
  8. “Get It While You Can” Janis Joplin
  9. “Teacher” Jethro Tull
  10. “Aqualung” Jethro Tull
  11. “Thick as a Brick Edit #1” Jethro Tull
  12. “Bungle in the Jungle” Jethro Tull
  13. “Locomotive Breath” Jethro Tull
  14. “Yours Is No Disgrace” Yes
  15. “The Clap” Yes
  16. “Starship Trooper” Yes

 

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“Fish aren’t real” and Other Groundbreaking Discoveries

I admit, it has been a whole semester. I’m sorry. These are still the confessions of an English major:

The past couple of months have been chaotic, insane, frustrating, and undoubtedly the most amazing to date. To list all the fascinating things I’ve learned and all the interesting discussions I’ve had this semester would be pointless because there are simply too many things to list even briefly and I feel I wouldn’t do any of them justice. Even so, the purpose of this blog is to chronicle my continuing voyage into the world of literature, so I will do my best.

This semester promised to be challenging from day one. On top of a heavier credit load and more rigorous major-specific classes,  I added a time-intensive night-shift job. I’ve heard it said  before that college life is a PICK TWO: academics or social life or sleep. Never, never have I felt the effects of this selection so acutely before. Before you ask, I picked academics and sleep (although, there are nights when it seems more like a PICK ONE kind of deal and sleep just doesn’t make the cut). Call it training for the real world, that’s what I’m doing. Even as I quietly mourn the passing of my social life into the great void, I can’t bring myself to be anything but satisfied. Sure, it’d be nice to say I get out on the weekends, but I’ll never trade the progress I’ve made in my studies for a Friday night rager.

It seems just a bit useless to say this because it was never really a question, but it’s exciting anyway: as of the beginning of the spring 2017 semester, I will officially be declared as an English and History major in the College of Liberal Arts at Penn State University. It’s red-tape and form-filling-out technicalities, I know, but it feels nice to have it official. In addition to declaring both of my majors, I’ve also formally submitted my Intent to Pursue A Specialty form indicating my choice for Literary and Cultural Studies. On a less official note, I’ve also decided on a personal specialty: Modernist studies, particularly Modernist poetry.

In Which An English Major Goes Off Topic

It seems, no matter how hard I try, poetry is something I cannot, for the life of me, escape. Though, if I’m being honest, I don’t really want to anymore. Last semester I took a course on 20th century British and Irish poetry and I enjoyed it. What began as a last resort became a genuine interest. At the end of last semester, though, I wasn’t quite willing to say I loved poetry. Much of my out-of-class time was spent educating myself on poetry terms just to keep pace with the course material. So, like it or not, I ended last semester with a fairly decent understanding of poetics. This semester I scheduled a Modernist Literature course for two reasons: my favorite literary movement is Modernism and the professor for the course came highly recommended by my brother. Like other 400 level literary surveys at Penn State, this one covered poetry as well as prose. I knew that when I scheduled the course, yet I assumed that, like other literary surveys, it would touch only briefly on poetry. Instead, an entire half of the class was devoted to an in depth study of Modernist poetry from Yeats to Williams and nearly everyone in between.

2572021The professor for the class specializes in Modernist poetry and has, on multiple occasions during the prose portion of the semester, reminded us that he is “a poetry guy” and “prose is basically a necessary evil” for him. I think the reason most people, myself included, shy away from poetry at first is because it is so different from anything else. In previous classes, and even in high school, poetry felt more like a chore than an actual literary genre. For instance, in a 200 level lit class last semester, my professor admitted that he really didn’t understand poetry. Should the syllabus not have required the inclusion of some poetry, he would have avoided it altogether.

Poetry is different, I grant you that, but I reject the notion that it is “impossible” to understand. Poetry reminds me a lot of learning French. Initially, everything is gibberish because there’s a different sentence structure, a different accent, and even a different alphabet in so far as most English words don’t have accents on them. However, once you’ve learned the structure, the accent, the alphabet, it’s not so scary or strange. In fact, it’s kind of cool. Poetry is essentially the same. There’s a different structure (verses, lines, stanzas, couplets, octaves, sestets, what have you), there’s a different accent (rhyme, rhythm, enjambment, caesura, etc.), and there’s a different alphabet (iambs, trochees, spondees, dactyls, and so on). Approaching poetry without any background knowledge is hard, it’s a lot like trying to read a sentence in a language you don’t know.

I realize why I didn’t understand or appreciate poetry when I was introduced to it in high school. In a setting where so much of the course is dependent on literature; prose, essays, novels, drama, etc. and where students rarely greet those things with enthusiasm there isn’t time to spend on teaching the language behind poetry just so that students can understand one poem to meet syllabus requirements. Instead, students get the crash course and the class moves on. I think, though, that this does an enormous disservice to poetry and to the students who have the chance to learn it. I don’t fault the teachers or the professors in this failure. I recognize the restrictions of the learning environment as the primary source of the problem and I understand that isn’t ever the educator’s fault. In an ideal world, poetry would be taught in a relaxed circle-style discussion that didn’t have a time limit or a grade attached to it. Poetry works best when it is explored in a setting open to discussion, interpretation, and immersion. You just can’t recreate that in a high school class room easily.

5467141I should qualify a previous statement. Poetry is still accessible without knowing the “language.” In my Modernist class this semester, there was very little talk of actual poetic terms. Rather, the discussion centered on the meaning of the poem, the purpose, the style. This worked because my professor emphasized the importance of actually engaging with the poem in order to get anything from it. To read it once in your head, declare the meaning lost on you, and move on is to miss the point entirely. And, sure, looking closer at a poem can easily turn into “tying it to a chair to beat the answers out of it” (thank you Mr. Collins), but I’m not encouraging that either. There is a happy medium that exists when you take pause and re-read the poem, OUT LOUD because poetry is a vocal medium, and then take another moment to ruminate on the aspects that confuse or  interest you. Ask yourself why you like a certain line, or what the poet is trying to say with another. You can’t understand something if you simply refuse to look at it just as you can’t understand something if you force the purpose out of it.

Prose is, no, can be very passive. (Both poetry and prose have complex relationships with active and passive reading. I won’t bore you with the details so let’s just generalize for now.) There is rarely a need to stop and question the use of one word over another when reading a novel. Poetry, by contrast, is active. There is always a need to question and engage with the text in order to understand. So, when people who are used to prose read poetry, they expect something similar to the passive reading experience they get with novels. But, I ask you this: when you go to an art gallery, do you get frustrated when the paintings don’t move like they do on TV? You don’t or, at least, you shouldn’t. The same is true of prose and poetry. You cannot expect poetry to operate like prose if it isn’t prose. Yes, it is composed of words that you read just like books, but paintings and cartoon shows are both composed of drawings, aren’t they? You must meet poetry on its own terms, as a separate entity, rather than forcing it into a space where it doesn’t belong.

318868This is all to say, I think, that I have fallen in love with poetry. Whether I choose to focus on poetry or prose (since I am still quite besotted with books), I recognize that poetry will always be a part of my academic future in some way or another. This Modernism class I took this semester really showed me why people write and read poetry. It challenged me to get up close and personal with something I really didn’t understand. And, when I took the time to understand it, I realized that it’s actually pretty cool.

In Which an English Major Re-Focuses and Things Are Exciting

Turning back to my academics, I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to combine my love of poetry and my love of history this semester. In addition to Modernist Lit, I took  Post-1848 European History this semester because I knew it would mold, quite nicely, with my English class. As a final assignment for this history class I had to write a research paper on some topic that related to what we covered in class. As the sly little bugger that I am, I picked a favorite poet of mine, Wilfred Owen, and researched his poetic correlation to the transition from Romanticism to Modernism in Europe because of World War I. Just yesterday I received my grade for the paper and a recommendation from that professor to present my research at the History department’s undergraduate conference next semester!

I am cautiously excited for the chance to present this paper because I poured a lot of effort and care into it and I’m so proud that it paid off. The paper was my first real foray into the kind of work  I want to do in the future because it blends poetic and critical analysis with historic context. It was, quite simply, an incredibly challenging labor of love and I’m just floored that it was received so well. I am still cautious, as I mentioned before, because I know the conference means I will need to give a ten to twenty minute presentation and answer questions from a panel of history department faculty. I will also need to polish the paper and discuss it with someone in the English department which is daunting in its own right because the topic may be new (or, at least, uncommon ground) in the history department but is absolutely old news in the English department. So, I’ll need to be sure I’m bringing something original to the discussion. The entire process will be a very new experience but I’m looking forward to it.

Concerning the Title

In case you were wondering, fish don’t exist. And that, my friends, is where I will bid you adieu. If you’d like an explanation for the title, check back next week!

To hold you over until then, I encourage you to check out some poetry! Here are some poets and poems to start with:
William Carlos Williams – “Complete Destruction”
Billy Collins – “Questions About Angels”
Wilfred Owen – “S.I.W.”
Ezra Pound – “Portrait d’une Femme”
Wallace Stevens – “The Ultimate Poem is Abstract”
Walt Whitman – “O Me! O Life”
(Bonus: “A Supermarket in California” because I just love this one way too much)
Elizabeth Bishop – “One Art”
H.D. – “Oread”
Philip Larkin – “The Whitsun Weddings”
(if you don’t mind coarse language check out “This Be the Verse” and “High Windows”)

As always, I love to hear from you all, so feel free to tell me about your experiences with poetry, your favorite poets, your favorite poems, or even your least favorite! I love book recommendations and I’ve been so removed from what’s new that I would really appreciate some opinions on the what’s what of new releases. Until next week, happy reading!

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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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
in
2/3 c. hot water
add
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.

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The Mayberry Family Weighs In

Karen:
“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.”

Rich:
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.

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

#savetheculture

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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!