My Holiday Book Haul


I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful family. Even though the holidays were really hard this year because of my Papa’s health, it was still wonderful to take the week with my fiance to see all my family and so many friends back in Portland. I miss them already.

For Christmas, my family does a holiday gift exchange–a “stocking” filled to the brim with goodies of various sizes. My Papa had my stocking this year, but since he wasn’t able to go shopping my Nana took it over. She and my mom and my aunt apparently all had way too much fun at Macy’s on Black Friday and I received a ton of Fiestaware (which is the china/dishware that I was going to ask people to get us for our wedding) in all different colors. And along with my many colored dishes, I was given a ton of used books. Basically the best Christmas ever.

Some of these I actually picked up for myself and then they were added into my stocking (that would be the top three). This is because when I volunteer at the Mini Monday book sale for my Friends of the Library I’m constantly around used books. I really enjoyed E. Annie Proulx when I read her last year, and I liked Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, and the other book just caught my eye.

My mom picked up the rest of the books for me–like me she has a thing for used books. She knows I love to collect older editions of Shakespeare, and a little birdy (aka me) let her know that I wanted a copy of Anne Frank’s Diary and hadn’t read anything by D.H. Lawrence (though I own a copy of Women in Love).


She also got me some movie star biographies/autobiographies, since I love to read about Hollywood–including Cary Elwes’ book, which I was very, very excited about. I also received Wicked and Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, which I didn’t have copies of before, and a new (to me) Margaret Atwood book. So much fun!

I’m so excited to get reading! Did you receive a book you really wanted for the holidays? Let me know in the comments!

Women Writers Reading Challenge #54: Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde by Franny Moyle


I was really eager to read the story of a woman whose accomplishments and failures were totally overshadowed by those of her husband. While that was not necessarily unusual for women of the period, it seems a bit strange that we should do so for Constance Wilde if only because of the scrutiny her husband has received over the years. And it’s really too bad because Constance was an interesting writer and activist in her own right.

While I really enjoyed reading about Constance, I wasn’t really enamored with this particular book. I think that Franny Moyle has an excellent eye for research, but I wish she had condensed her quotes. Some of the long passages from various letters are really interesting, but most of them could easily have been summarized to a similar effect or at least shortened. I also felt that Moyle was really quick to label certain incidents as “the biggest mistake s/he would make,” as if they should have definitely known better. Sometimes, of course, that’s true, but I felt she was a little judgmental of Oscar and Constance, or that she wished they had done things differently. Both of these might be true, but I don’t feel like a biography is about those opinions. I think with better editing, this book could have been more moving–because their lives really are sad and tragic. I didn’t really connect with this book, though I’m still glad I read it in order to have a better understanding of Constance, who I’d never spared much thought for before this. If you’re a Wilde fanatic, you’ll probably like this book, but if you’re just in search of an interesting piece of nonfiction reading with a slightly feminist bent, I’d recommend Jill Lepore’s history of Wonder Woman instead.

Has there been a book lately that’s slightly disappointed you?

Women Writers Reading Challenge #48: A Scented Palace by Elisabeth de Feydeau


The full title of this work on non-fiction is A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette’s Perfumer, which really helps to explain the whole premise of the biography. Jean-Louis Fargeon was a man with Republican leanings and an aristocratic clientele, and his story gives insight into how the country was split by the French Revolution. The entire court was captivated by perfume, and perfumers were kept busy creating different scents for different times of day and a million different occasions. If you’re interested in the intimate workings of fashion and finery in Marie Antoinette’s court, this book will give you a unique look. (And the other book you should read if you’re interested in Marie Antoinette and fashion is Queen of Fashion by Caroline Weber).

Marie Antoinette is one of those subjects that I find totally fascinating. No matter how many accounts I read of her, I can’t help but be enchanted with the doomed queen. She’s one of a few historical figures that I can’t get enough of: Marie Antoinette, Cleopatra, Marilyn Monroe, and Coco Chanel are just a few of my obsessions.

Anybody else have any historical figure obsessions?

Women Writers Reading Challenge #18: Streisand: A Biography by Anne Edwards


I’m a huge fan of biographies of old stars and personalities, especially women: Marilyn Monroe, Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn. I don’t know if Barbra Streisand qualifies as an old star, as her first Hollywood musical was made at the end of the musical heyday, but she has always fascinated me, and I was glad when Mom and I found this biography about her at an estate sale.

I didn’t know very much about Streisand before reading this book, so I learned quite a bit about her. Anne Edwards writes very well. Her book is engaging and moves quickly, something that can’t usually be said for biographies.

Since Streisand is still alive and continuing her career (and she certainly was when the book was published in the late 90s), it doesn’t have the same perspective other biographies have. It can’t discuss the entire arc of her career or her legacy–not that I want Streisand to go anywhere–it’s just different from many biographies I’ve read. I’ve also discovered, this again is no reflection on the book, that I am not all that interested in recent history. Past the 1960s I have to work really hard to stay engaged in what I’m reading. I really try to stick with it though because every era has a story to tell, and I’m glad I stuck with this book because Streisand becomes even more interesting as she asserts more control over the material as producer and director. If you like Streisand and want to learn more about her career, you won’t be disappointed by this book.

2015 Women Writers Reading Challenge–Book #7: If You Ask Me by Betty White

IMG_1954_2I thought it was time to talk about (and therefore read) some nonfiction. I’ve got them piling up on my shelf because I always promise myself I’m only going to take x amount of books out at the library at one time, and I always exceed that by a multiple of at least three. I currently have 15 library books on the shelf, and I probably won’t get through them all, but that’s not going to stop me from getting more (because reading for me is basically working and going to the library is basically reading).

Anyway back to Betty. I haven’t seen much of Betty White’s early work (Golden Girls and The Mary Tyler Moore Show). I’m much more familiar with her character work in films like The Proposal and Bringing Down the House. So it was really interesting for me to read her newest memoir, which deals with her newer work. This is the age I always picture her–though now I know I’m going to have to go watch her earlier work because I love her even more now then when I started.

Since this book is her sixth, it’s less an autobiography and more of a collection of thoughts about various subjects including her acting, writing, and aging. They’re grouped into categories, and the sections are very short, most being only two to three pages. Interspersed are dozens of pictures, which show you a very happy life. You can tell she does the things she loves to do.

Her writing is very down to earth. It reads somewhere between a journal entry and a conversation with a close friend. She is frank, grateful for her experiences, humble, funny, and lives life with zest. My favorite quote from the book talks about following your passions: “If you live without passion, you can go through life without leaving any footprints.” I thought this was such a beautiful way of putting this idea. Beautiful, and yet simple.

I think this work is quite lovely. I love the way she references advice from her parents and how she describes aging. I really enjoyed this book, but if you’re interested in reading more about Betty’s earlier appearances, I’d suggest reading one of her earlier works as this book is really focused on her more current roles and appearances.

Do you like memoirs? What kind of experiences are you most interested in (film and entertainment, politics, food, science, etc.)? Personally, I love film memoirs and biographies, but I’ll read anything with good writing and an interesting perspective.