What I Would Do For Fun (if I Couldn't Read)

Nov 27, 2015

When Suzanne and I did our first Blab last week, we stumped ourselves with this question: "When you have time to yourself, what's your favorite thing to do (besides reading)?" We had the most difficult time thinking of anything that wasn't reading, and I eventually went with some incredibly lame answer along the lines of "sit in a quiet room by myself and think" (which isn't entirely inaccurate, but wow, could I sound any more boring?).

In the days since, this question has come back to me again and again, mostly because I keep thinking of other things I love to do besides reading and wondering why I couldn't think of them at the time. (I also think it's funny that one of the things I did think of is actually something I rarely (maybe never?) do by myself: go on a walk. It's not a bad idea; I'd probably enjoy a walk by myself; but the truth is, I almost always go with someone else because I like having someone to talk to.)

So what would I do if I had time to myself and couldn't read? Even though I thought of more things, they're all still pretty boring. Turns out, I'm just a boring person. (It also turns out that many of them are still reading related, even if I'm not sitting down with a physical book. Big surprise right there.)
  1. Knit or crochet (while listening to an audiobook) - I learned how to knit earlier this year, and it has since become a favorite hobby. I'm currently making a vest for one of my boys (probably Bradley, but if it doesn't fit him, hopefully it will still fit someone!). The tactile feeling of the yarn and the rhythmic clicking of the needles make this a very relaxing, almost therapeutic, activity for me (and if I can listen to an audiobook at the same time, it's even better).
  2. Wander around a bookstore - I can't believe I forgot this one! One of my very favorite things to do is go to a bookstore and write down all the new titles I want to go check out from the library. I love the smell of bookstores (different from a library because all the books are new), and I love being surrounded by shiny, gorgeous books. 
  3. Work on blog posts - If I'm being honest, this is probably how I spend almost all of my available free time. I always have so many ideas bouncing around in my brain, and I love being able to get some of them written down (so that I can use that opened up brain space to think about more posts).
  4. Clean - I'm not even kidding. I love cleaning my house if my kids are away and won't immediately undo my work (if they're home though, I basically feel the opposite because it seems so pointless). It's energizing to use my hands to bring order to a space. (Also, this is another great activity to do while listening to an audiobook.)
  5. Fold laundry - see above
  6. Take a nap - I've probably taken a nap a total of two times this year, but come January, our church schedule is switching back to 9:00am (we've been on the 1:00-4:00 schedule), so you can bet I'm soon going to be taking a nap every Sunday afternoon.
  7. Reserve books at the library - one of my favorite nighttime activities is to go through book lists and blog posts and award lists and max out my library card with holds (and sometimes Mike's and Aaron's cards, too).
  8. Go to the library - I often go there to write a blog post or just escape the kids for a half hour after Mike gets home.
  9. Read blog posts, scroll through instagram, waste time on the computer or my phone - Sometimes this is exactly the kind of break I need because it is almost completely mindless (that's not exactly a compliment, but you know what I mean).
  10. Write in my journal - this is part of my evening routine, which means that I always spend at least a few minutes writing at the end of the day. It feels so good to gather my thoughts and write.
  11. Work on a bigger project - this might be organizing some part of the house or sewing or crafting (right now it happens to be addressing Christmas cards). I don't always have something going, but when I do, it's nice to make some progress on it.
  12. Put together a puzzle - this happens more by accident than anything else. Usually my kids have out a puzzle, and I catch myself putting it together when I have a quiet minute.
  13. Write letters or thank yous - I like writing to my brother who is currently serving a mission or my grandma or just jotting down a quick card of thanks to a friend or acquaintance.
  14. Sit by myself in a quiet place and think - there it is. I wasn't lying when I said it before. I love being by myself and doing absolutely nothing.
When you have some time to yourself, what do YOU like to do (and you can't say reading!)?

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

Nov 25, 2015

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott book review
I've read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott a couple of times but never delved into any of her other books. One of my goals this year was to read another classic from a female author I already knew I liked, and so I decided to try Little Men.

I don't know quite what I expected, but I had no idea that in this sweet story about Jo March Bhaer and her rambunctious houseful of boys, I would find my parenting bible. I'm not even kidding. This book touched me to the core and inspired me in more ways than I can say. Jo is not so much a kindred spirit to me as a mentor. Our personalities are nothing alike, but her sympathy towards and astute handling of boys are nonetheless attributes that I want to emulate and adopt.

As you might remember from Little Women, the Bhaers were gifted the large estate of Plumfield to turn into a school for boys. When this story opens, the school is comprised of ten boys plus the Bhaer's two sons, Rob and Teddy, plus Jo's niece, Daisy, so thirteen children in all. It's a lively bunch, and it only grows more lively when Nat, a young orphan, joins the group. (As Nat is waiting in the entryway, he sees a boy come crashing down the banister, and I had to laugh when it said that it was "a crash that would have broken any head but one rendered nearly as hard as a cannonball by eleven years of constant bumping." I'm pretty sure my own Clark is well on his way to such a head as that.) Nat is a quiet boy who desires to please his benefactors (although he does have one ill habit of telling lies that must be dealt with), and he settles into the mix fairly easily.

The real drama begins when he invites an acquaintance, Dan, to also come and live at Plumfield. Dan has had a hard life, and it shows in his anger and bitterness. His manners are coarse, he won't follow the rules, and he picks fights with the other boys. Mr. Bhaer is worried that this is one boy they won't be able to help. But Jo sees the goodness in him and won't give up on him.

Some people will read this book and see a quaint story told with old-fashioned language. But in spite of this, I found much of it so relatable and brilliant that I was constantly jotting down ideas and dog-earring pages. For example:
  • Jo has a "Sunday closet" filled with "picture-books, paint-boxes, architectural blocks, little diaries, and materials for letter-writing." She says, "I want my boys to love Sunday, to find it a peaceful, pleasant day, when they can rest from common study and play, yet enjoy quiet pleasures, and learn, in simple ways, lessons more important than any taught in school." Sundays are always tricky days for us around here because our kids get bored and restless, so I really loved Jo's foresight to reserve some enjoyable activities specifically for Sunday--both to make it a more enjoyable day and to teach the boys how to enjoy the blessing of rest.
  • Jo keeps a record of each boy throughout the week and then meets with him one-on-one on Sunday to go over that record. She praises him for his good choices and offers some constructive criticism for the mistakes he's made. Each boy knows that she cares about him, his well-being, and his improvement. He knows that she's watching him throughout the week and observing his triumphs and his setbacks. He knows that he can openly talk to her about anything. This is the way to build solid, trusting relationships with each other.
  • Jo allows the boys to have a pillow fight every Saturday night. She recognizes a boy's need for wild fun and gives it to him. But then, when it's time for the pillow fight to be over, she expects them to stop and respect her wishes. This is only one example of the natural give-and-take that is a part of Jo's relationship with her boys. She respects them, and they, in turn, respect her.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer value the outdoors and know how important they are to a boy's health and well-being. Lessons are important but only in moderation.
  • Jo values the treasures of little boys. At one point, Dan says, "I suppose you threw away my bundle of plunder?" (little shells and stones and birds' eggs he found on his journey). Sadly, if it had been our home, he probably would have been right, but Jo says, "No, I kept it, for I thought they must be treasures of some kind, you took such care of them." She just as this quiet kinship with boys and their interests that I admire very much.
  • She's realistic. When they're going through a pleasant, peaceful spell, she thinks, "It is too good to last." She knows that raising boys is an exciting ride and that it's never wise to get too comfortable with the current setup. 
But all of these lessons paled when I read the chapter about Dan coming home. Dan, as I mentioned above, has had a difficult life. He doesn't trust anyone, and he wants the upper hand on everything. He doesn't believe Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer when they say they're happy he's come to stay with them and that they know he can turn his life around (and really, even though they say it, they don't entirely believe it themselves). Dan repeatedly breaks the rules, and Mr. Bhaer shows mercy, but eventually (after an incident involving smoking in the bedroom that leads to a small fire), Dan goes too far and they make the difficult choice to send him away in the hopes that he will someday come back with a changed heart.

When Dan eventually does indeed return, it is one of the most touching scenes in literature I've ever read. Jo catches him fast asleep behind a little haycock, and when she wakes him, he's still half-asleep and says, "Mother Bhaer, I've come home." She knows then that he's ready to try. I was worried from the outset that Dan's story would not be believable. I had a feeling that he would be reformed, but he was so convincingly rough and mean-spirited that I didn't know if I would be able to believe any sort of transformation or change of temperament.

But here's the thing: When Jo goes in to tell Mr. Bhaer than Dan has come back, she says, "But, dear, you'll be very kind to him, no matter how gruff he seems. I am sure that is the way to conquer him." And with that sentence, I knew it was true. Love can overturn the roughest of souls, and if anyone could show pure love, it was Jo. She went on to say, "He won't bear sternness nor much restraint, but a soft word and infinite patience will lead him as it used to lead me." This said even more than the "love will win him back" statement. Jo somehow inherently knew how much they could push him and when it was time to hold back, and she knew it because she had a bit of that rebellious spirit in her as well. She felt a kinship to Dan, and she was willing to believe in him because of it. I feel like I could read this chapter over and over again and there would still be lessons to glean about how to parent with love and compassion.
The book ends on Thanksgiving. I didn't know it would, and so you can imagine that I was giving myself high-fives over my perfect timing. Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer spend the day rejoicing in all of the wonderful progress that their boys have made. It's been a fruitful year, and they feel so blessed. The whole group that is gathered in their home sing these words,

Summer days are over,
Summer work is done;
Harvests have been gathered
Gayly one by one.
Now the feast is eaten,
Finished is the play;
But one rite remains for
Our Thanksgiving-day.

Best of all the harvest
In the dear God's sight,
Are the happy children
In the home tonight,
And we come to offer
Thanks where thanks are due,
With grateful hearts and voices,
Father, mother, unto you.

The boys gather round Father and Mother Bhaer. They hold them in a gigantic embrace. As I read the final lines, there was an almost tangible feeling of love and goodwill. They know the days ahead will not be perfect (even in the midst of this happiness, Jo was probably reminding herself, "It is too good to last"). There will be more bumps in the road, more Sunday one-on-one sessions where they talk about the notes in the little notebook, more consequences (both pleasant and unpleasant). But each boy knows that Mr. and Mrs. Bhaer's love for them is unfailing. It will always be there--a constant beacon to guide them through the storms of life.

And at the end of the day, that is exactly what I want for my own little men.

Honey For a Child's Heart: The Imaginative Use of Books in Family Life by Gladys Hunt

Nov 23, 2015

Honey For a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt (book review)
I first heard about Honey For a Child's Heart many months ago on a Read-Aloud Revival episode. I can never resist a good book list, so a whole book full of good book lists sounded right up my alley. (It was subsequently mentioned on almost every following episode, which further cemented my desire to look it up.)

A couple of months ago, my education group was planning out the next nine months of meetings. We each volunteered for a month to choose a book and host, and this is the book I went with. I was glad to finally have a reason to read this book and discuss it with other book-loving moms.

The book is divided into two sections. The first hundred or so pages make a case for why reading in the home is so wonderful and why every family should make it a priority. Of course, I loved these chapters. Reading with my kids is my very favorite way to spend time with them, and it's always nice to get some outside validation that what I love is actually what is best for them.

Gladys Hunt said, "Good literature teaches more than we know. Example always speaks louder than precept, and books can do more to inspire honor and tenacity of purpose than all the chiding and exhortations in the world."

She also used this section to talk about how to choose good books. Every time I go to the library without a plan (i.e., without twenty books already waiting for me on my hold shelf), I feel so overwhelmed (unless of course I'm by myself with twenty minutes of free time--then I'm happy to aimlessly peruse the shelves). The problem is, when I feel like I'm under a time constraint to find a worthwhile book for Aaron to read, the pressure of sifting through a lot of poor literature in hopes of finding the gold is really daunting.

Gladys Hunt defines a good book as "the quality of the idea, the skill of the plot, the depth of the characterization, [and] the distinctive style of the author." I agree with all those things, and I believe I can often recognize it when I find it. The problem is, finding it.

That's why book lists (from people you know and trust) can be such a gold mine. When other people have done the work for you, it's so easy to just click and reserve, click and reserve, and within ten minutes have a stack of books worth reading. I have many websites and blogs I trust for book recommendations (look at Where to Find a Good Children's Book and Nine Blogs I Visit For Book Recommendations for some of my favorites), but I really loved the second section of this book, which was list after list after list of tried-and-true books for children. (In fact, at one point, I closed this book, looked over at Mike and said, "I can't take it. There are too many good books to read.")

Seriously though, the book lists in this section are awesome (and I should know since, being the nerd that I am, I actually read this entire section cover to cover because it's so much fun to read a book list). I feel like I need to buy this book so that I'll be able to reference it whenever I'm reserving books at the library (a favorite nighttime activity for me).

That said, these aren't perfect lists, and I'll tell you why.

First, she recommends so many books that are currently out of print. I love discovering old classics, but it is really frustrating to hear about a good book and not be able to check it out from the library. I almost never buy books that I haven't already read, and I'm certainly not going to pay rare book prices if it's for a book I don't already know that we love. So I'm torn: I liked finding out about new books, but if I can't read them, it just makes the forbidden carrot so much more agonizing.

Second, I discovered that when she was summarizing a book I already knew, I often found her descriptions so bland and/or misrepresentative that I maybe would have never picked up that particular book if I was going off of her recommendation alone. The problem with that was since I felt like she didn't do justice to the books I knew, it made me distrust her a little with the books I didn't know.

Third, the organization was a little bit random and haphazard. If I had been skimming rather than reading this section all the way through, I think I would have missed a lot of good books because I would have assumed they were somewhere else rather than where they actually were. Also, some of her summaries were placed in the most bizarre places. For example, she listed several of the books in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase series, but didn't put her summary until after the third book (which made it look like the first two listed weren't part of the same series (also, she classified this as a "young adult" novel and, as you might remember, we just read this book last month, and my kids loved it, and I'm still trying to figure out what was young adult about it since the girls in the story are about nine years old).

All of this makes it sound like I didn't like the book lists but quite the opposite is true. I just wanted you to have a heads up on some of the things to watch out for if you take a look through them. From these lists, we've already found some new favorites, such as Pete's a Pizza by William Steig, Meanwhile by Jules Feiffer, and Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney.

This book made me reevaluate the way I was choosing books for my kids, particularly the books that Aaron is reading on his own. I'll be sharing some of the changes I've made in a future post, so stay tuned for that. And meanwhile, go get this book and start making more conscientious choices for your family too.

The Book Blab Episode 1: Introductions Plus Two Favorite Food Books (includes show notes)

Nov 20, 2015

Suzanne and I had so much fun recording our first official Blab last night. It was great to chat with her, and I'm already looking forward to doing it again next month. It definitely took me out of my comfort zone, but that's a good thing, right?

In case you missed it, you can watch the entire video below. Here's a breakdown of what we talked about:

0:44 - How Suzanne and Amy met

01:12 - Why we decided to start a video series

02:44 - A little bit about Suzanne

04:09 - A little bit about Amy

06:42 - Questions and Answers
  • 07:10 - Favorite color
  • 08:08 - Summer or winter
  • 09:23 - Favorite Thanksgiving side dish
  • 10:03 - If you could go anywhere in the world . . .
  • 11:20 - Most exotic trip
  • 12:29 - Restaurant preferences
  • 14:19 - Favorite music (in which I say that Clair de Lune was written by Chopin?!, which just goes to show you how nervous I was)
  • 16:01 - Favorite household chore
  • 17:30 - Free time activity
  • 19:08 - Early bird or night owl
  • 20:36 - Dog person or cat person
22:55 - Food book recommendations
  • 23:38 - Suzanne: Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist 
  • 25:43 - Amy: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
28:56 - Conclusion

Links from the show:
Stay tuned for our December show where we talk about giving books as gifts, book-buying habits, gorgeous editions, and two more book recommendations!

Six More Listening Favorites

Nov 18, 2015

A roundup of six of our favorite things we're listening to right now

Between driving in the car, going to bed at night, resting for quiet time, and just dancing around, my kids listen to music and other things quite a bit. Even though I just shared nine of our current favorites a couple of months ago, I already have another little group. The thing is, every time I write one of these posts, you all come back with some really great suggestions, which we try out and usually love, so then I have more things to share. It's a vicious, but wonderful, cycle. Keep it up.

A roundup of six of our favorite things we're listening to right now

1. Here Come the 123s by They Might Be Giants

I can't believe it's taken until now to mention our love for this rock band. Although they've only been writing music for kids since 2004, they've been around since the 1980's. Mike was well acquainted with them before I brought home Here Come the ABCs (their first children's album) from the library, but the rest of us have been quickly converted. They have a dry sense of humor that makes Mike crack up on a regular basis, they're not afraid to use big words, and they explore a lot of advanced concepts and ideas. Their songs are educational while being highly entertaining and catchy. It's a winning combination. My kids also really love their videos. Oh, and I just found out that they're releasing a new album, Why?, at the end of this month. Just in time for Christmas.

Favorite song: "Seven Days of the Week (I Never Go to Work)" (Mike would love to take this one as his theme song. Someday, honey.)

Sunlit Pages // A roundup of six of our favorite things we're listening to right now

2. We All Live Together by Greg and Steve

A couple of years ago, I was participating in a preschool co-op, and one of the moms made up a CD of educational songs from her childhood for us to use when we were teaching. I used the song, "Months of the Year" every time it was my turn because it was such an easy way for the kids to learn the names of all twelve months. It wasn't until recently that I figured out that that song was sung by Greg and Steve. They've been around for decades and many of you probably already know them from your own childhoods. I must admit that the album cover I'm showing here is not necessarily my favorite album of theirs. As of right now, we've listened to a number of their albums, and I haven't absolutely loved every single song on any of them (but I've liked the majority), so I just went with an album cover that I liked (some of their covers are a little strange). They sing a mix of well-known and original songs, and while I won't pretend that these songs don't sound like they were recorded in the 1980's (they totally do) or that they're voices are my very favorite (they're not), there's still something about them that hits a sweet spot.

Favorite song: "Months of the Year" from the album, Sing and Read with Greg and Steve

Sunlit Pages // A roundup of six of our favorite things we're listening to right now

3. Laurie Berkner's Favorite Classic Kids' Songs*

Remember when I devoted an entire post to Laurie Berkner? Well, she's getting a second mention here because last month she came out with a new album, and it's pretty fantastic. When I interviewed her six months ago, one of the questions I asked her was about if she's recorded any favorite songs from her own childhood. Part of her answer mentioned that she was in the process of recording some traditional songs for an album that was to be released later this year. This is that album! And truly, it's quite an impressive collection--nearly sixty songs (and almost half of them brand-new releases), covering such favorites as "The Ants Go Marching," "A-Tisket A-Tasket," and "The Itsy Bitsy Spider." These are songs that have been sung by generations of children, and now it's time to pass them down to my kids. It's surprisingly difficult to find a good collection of classic children's songs that are easy on the ears, but Laurie Berkner's voice and musical style are exactly right for the job. This will now be the album that I recommend to anyone who is looking for old favorites.

Favorite song: It's almost impossible to choose just one. I'm pretty sure my kids would choose "The Cat Came Back" until the end of time (they love that song), but one of our other favorites is "Shoo Fly."

Sunlit Pages // A roundup of six of our favorite things we're listening to right now

4. Classical Playlist

This might be my favorite one on this list, maybe just because it's totally one-of-a-kind and you can't find it on Amazon (but you can create your own). So remember last time when I told you about the Classics for Kids episodes we were listening to every morning on the way to school? We're currently going strong on those (and listening to William Grant Still's segments this week), but I've been trying to figure out a way to capture and remember some of the things we've been listening to. I finally decided to choose one piece from each composer (preferably one of our favorites when we were listening to the episode) and compile them all into a classical playlist that we could listen to again and again. My kids have loved this. They request this playlist much more often than I would have predicted. They love reviewing details they remember from the episode, and they especially love quizzing Mike and seeing if he knows who each piece is by (the pieces by Kodaly and Kabalevsky totally stumped him). A couple of summers ago, one of our summer goals was to "Name that Composer." I intended to have the boys become acquainted with the music of five different composers, but although we listened to a lot of classical music that summer, none of it stuck. I just couldn't figure out a way to present it to them. But this Classics for Kids/classical playlist combination is it. My one tip would be if you create something similar, make sure you choose pieces in the 2-3 minute range. It doesn't matter how much your kids enjoy classical music, they're probably not going to stand for a 20-minute piece. They're just not.

Favorite piece: "Galop" from the Comedian Suite by Kabalevsky (look it up; it's a winner)

Sunlit Pages // A roundup of six of our favorite things we're listening to right now

5. Jim Gill Sings Do Re Mi on His Toe Leg Knee

Jim Gill is another artist we've been familiar with for a long time but didn't really pin down who he was and what songs were his until recently (one of our librarians often plays his "Silly Dance Song" as part of storytime). Jim Gill's music has been around for more than twenty years, so I definitely could have heard his music when I was growing up (but I never did). His songs are silly and ridiculous and usually inspire some actions and movement. He usually accompanies himself on the guitar or banjo, and so his music has a twangy, country flavor that will make you start tapping your toes and clapping your hands. My kids can't help singing along with him. His enthusiasm and good humor are contagious.

Favorite song: "Spin Again" (Speaking of contagious, you'll get this one stuck in your head, but it's not obnoxious, I promise.)

Sunlit Pages // A roundup of six of our favorite things we're listening to right now

6. Stories Podcast 

My friend, Sarah, alerted me to this one. She knows that my kids, especially Maxwell, love listening to stories. While there are a number of story podcasts out there, this one is our current favorite because 1) It features traditional stories like The Ugly Duckling, The Three Little Pigs, and The Boy Who Cried Wolf, 2) There are usually a few little unexpected differences to the original story that make it interesting to even an adult listener, and 3) most of the episodes are in the 10-20 minute range, which is just about perfect for Bradley. The narrator is not my absolute favorite (the different voices she uses are a little over the top, but this is a kids' show, so I won't judge too harshly), but one of the things I love is that each episode includes a little song to help tell the story. Overall, it's a really great podcast.
Favorite episode: "The Ant and the Grasshopper" (this is a lesson I would love for my kids to soak in and apply to real life)

That's it for now. What have your kids been listening to lately?

*I received a copy of Laurie Berkner's album and was happy to review it because we love everything she puts out.

The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories by Saki

Nov 16, 2015

When I made the goal at the beginning of the year to "read a short stories collection," I had no idea what kind of headache I was signing up for. I didn't have a particular collection in mind, but I figured there must be a list out there somewhere of "popular short stories collections everyone must read to be a real reader." I would just pick one off the list, read it, and be done with it.

Eleven months later, and after trying at least a half dozen collections, I can tell you, it wasn't as simple as that. I tried Amy Bloom, Anthony Doerr, Alice Munroe, and Jhumpa Lahiri, but abandoned all of them after just a few pages because of their common thread of infidelity. Seriously, I was not interested in reading a collection of a dozen stories about infidelity, no matter how well-written or thought-provoking they were .

I began to wonder if it was possible to write a short story without infidelity or if that was a qualification for getting published. I had two other options: a thick volume of Jack London stories that would have taken me the rest of the year to finish or Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling (which I read to the boys over the summer). The obvious choice should have been to just count Just So Stories since I could check it off right then and there and move on with my life.

But this is where you're going to see my Upholder Tendency coming through loud and clear. When I read Just So Stories to the boys, I intended to use it to fulfill my "read a children's classic" goal. In fact, I never gave a thought to it being a collection of short stories (even though, of course, that's exactly what it is). Additionally, when I made the goal to read a short stories collections, my intent was to get a feel for what the genre was like and read a popular, well-known collection. Even though I was the one making the rules, I didn't want to fall back on Just So Stories because it was the "easy" choice.

But after trying five other collections, I was about to do just that. I was definitely getting a feel for the genre, and I was beginning to think I was not cut out for short stories.

And then, someone, somewhere referenced Saki and The Unrest-Cure. I wish I could remember how I found out about it because I would love to personally thank whoever it was. I loved these stories, and, as it turned out, they were exactly what I was looking for all along.

Saki is the pen name of Hector Hugh Munro. He was born in 1870 and lived for most of his life in England before being killed during WWI. I'd never heard of Saki before picking up this book, but he was actually somewhat of an authority on the short story. Without meaning to, really just out of desperation, I picked up the kind of collection I had been wanting.

This particular collection is comprised of stories from five previously published collections. I liked getting a broad view of Saki's style. If I had to use three words to describe him, witty, sardonic, and morbid would all come to mind. I am not all that familiar with British humor, but several of Mike's family members are, and I have a feeling they would love these stories (if they haven't already discovered them, which they probably have). I'm guessing he would seem similar to P.G. Wodehouse, although that's an author I have yet to read.

Anyway, these stories were short, funny, and almost always involved some unexpected twist at the end.

For example, one of my favorite stories (and I guess one of his most popular ones) was "The Open Window." In it, Mr. Framton Nuttel has come to call on Mrs. Sappleton. He has just moved into the neighborhood and is seeking to become acquainted with his neighbors. Mrs. Sappleton's niece answers the door and entertains him while they are waiting. She confides to Mr. Nuttel that the drawing room window is open because her aunt is waiting for her husband to come home . . . he disappeared three years ago. She paints this sad and vivid and actually quite horrifying picture of her slightly insane aunt. Mr. Nuttel feels quite sorry about the whole situation, but his sympathy turns to terror when the aunt enters the drawing room and says, "Here they are at last! Just in time for tea." Mr. Nuttel can see three figures walking towards the open window, but he doesn't stick around to meet them. He bolts out the door, and the niece accounts for his strange behavior by coming up with an elaborate tale to match the one she just told him. The story ends, "Romance at short notice was her specialty."

All of them had that same slightly irreverent, sarcastic quality, and I really loved them. Here are a few other favorite lines:
  • This from Egbert to his wife, Lady Anne, whom he's trying to smooth over a quarrel with: "My remark at lunch had a purely academic application," he announced; "you seem to put an unnecessarily personal significance to it."
  • "Susan Mebberley was a charming woman, but she was also an aunt."
  • "My aunt never lunches," said Clovis; "she belongs to the National Anti-Luncheon League, which is doing quite a lot of good work in a quiet, unobtrusive way. A subscription of half a crown per quarter entitles you to go without ninety-two luncheons."
  • "The aunt of Mrs. Greyes declared afterwards that she found herself subconsciously repeating 'The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold' under her breath, and she was generally believed."
I will warn you that he doesn't mind killing off characters without the least warning or provocation. I was seriously afraid he was going to do just that in "The Penance," but thankfully, he didn't. That was one story I don't think I could have handled it in.

With 2016 just around the corner, I've been thinking about the reading goals I want to make for the year. "Read a short stories collection" will not be making the cut this time. However, if that's going to be one of your goals, I can save you a lot of time and trouble and decision: Just read this one. You're welcome.

I'd love to hear your own experiences with short stories in the comments. Did I abandon some of the other collections too quickly? Have you read anything by Saki before?

The Book Blab: A New (Video!) Series

Nov 13, 2015

Last week, I alluded to an upcoming project on the blog, and it's time to reveal it to you.

On the recent Sunlit Pages survey, one of you suggested including some video on the blog. While I wouldn't necessarily call a single suggestion a universal clamoring, it did plant the idea in my head. I considered: if I were to add some video to the blog, how would I do it? What would I talk about? What platform would I use?

The idea of sitting by myself chatting to a screen kind of terrified me, but then one of my friends suggested doing a Blab, and I was like, "What's a Blab?"

The simplest answer is that Blab is like Periscope but for several people. But if you're like me and haven't joined the Periscope craze yet, then that explanation probably didn't help you.

Basically, Blab is a live video streaming service where two to four people interact through video and potentially many more people watch and participate through comments on the sidebar. Rather than a couple of people videoing their conversation in isolation and then publishing it for everyone to see, it all happens live, right in front of you.

The idea that I wouldn't be doing this alone was instantly appealing, and I knew almost immediately who I wanted for my partner in crime: Suzanne.

You might remember Suzanne from my post about nine blogs I visit for book recommendations. Her blog, Such Stuff, has been one of my favorites for a long time, and I knew that if there was someone I'd feel comfortable just chatting over the screen to, it would be her. I proposed the idea, she liked it, and we began to work out the details.

We are finally ready to share those details with you:

Our first blab will air live next Thursday evening, November 19th, at 7:00 PM MST (that's 6:00 PST, 8:00 CST, and 9:00 EST). There are a few options for how to view this event:
  • You can watch the video live from this site (or Suzanne's site) at the scheduled time. So just pop over here at 7:00 MST, and the video will be going. You won't have to do a thing. As my kids would say, easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, right?
  • Alternatively, you can watch it directly from the blab site by following this link (from your desktop or your phone). If you want to participate, you can sign in using your twitter account (don't worry, you won't be on video--you'll just be able to type in comments and questions).
  • If you can't make it on November 19th at 7:00 MST, we will be recording the blab and will post the replay of it the following day, so you can watch it at your convenience. 
This first episode will mainly be an introduction to the series as well as a chance to learn a little bit more about Suzanne and myself, but we have some fun topics coming up in the future, so we hope you'll join us for these monthly video chats.

Questions? If this confuses any of you, feel free to ask me more about it. I don't promise to know the answer since this is the first time in my life I've been on the social media forefront. Also, if there's anything you've been dying to know about Suzanne or me, feel free to ask and we'll try to answer it on Thursday. See you then!

P.S. Check out Suzanne's announcement, too. She does a better job of explaining this whole Blab thing.
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