Update: Trips and Acquisitions

Dear Reader:

Another week plus gone by with no post.  I was traveling again.  It was harder to post due to more limited full-scale computer access.  And I was visiting my friend and collaborator, Heidi, and my Aunt Arline.

The Maine Coast

Heidi and Magic the Golden

I had a wonderful visit with Heidi and Magic at her beautiful cabin.  We did lovely hikes through the woods and over the above beach.  Heidi cooked very special and delicious food while I relaxed, read, and played with Magic, her aptly named, very fun and lovely golden retriever (very much helping me to miss my dogs, especially Gus, much less) and enjoyed her gorgeous “cabin.”  We visited a perfect farmers market with everything from petition signing to cheese, meat, a coffee roaster, apples, cider, bread, veggies, music to free cookies and a lot of good old-fashioned back to the lander/liberal earnestness.  I also got to meet her lovely parents and visit a great little bookstore.  I made a pilgrimage to LLBean (my first).  In the interest of supporting it, I purchased 98) Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell #14 for $5.99.  Heidi also gave me a copy of 99) Drinking the Rain by Alix Kates Shulman (Gift) a book about a woman who turns 50 and moves to an isolated Maine cabin to write and think.  This has caused me to re-think my 20 books this year acquisition policy and decide that I won’t count gifts toward me 20.  Thank you Heidi for a lovely visit!

My visit to Maine was extended a bit by the Northeastern US having a record breaking massive October snowstorm that roared up the coast, with heavy winds, leaving up to 10 inches of very heavy, wet snow all over states from Virginia to Maine.  While we only got a couple inches where we were in Maine, inland got more, and my Aunt’s area in the tri-state NY, Connecticut, New Jersey region got up to 10 inches.  My flight was cancelled and I was rebooked for a day later.  When I arrived in the tri-state area, there was devastation all around.  Hundreds of thousands of full-leaved trees had come down or lost branches, resulting in up to three million people losing power around the Northeast.  Nearly a week later, when I left, some people remained without power.  I was shocked to see the devastation – it was on par (people told me) with Hurricane Irene’s impact only a month or so earlier.  Everywhere you drove you saw big old trees (this is a heavily forested, although, urban/suburban to rural area) destroyed, downed branches and power lines lying on the ground.  By my aunt’s house, the utility companies had a staging area for about 100 utility trucks from around the US working hard to restore power.

Aunt Arline

I also had a lovely, lovely visit with my aunt.  We drove over to sit by the choppy Hudson and watch the brave sailors sailing around.  I made many visits to her wonderful local library with free wireless for my ipad.  We caught up, I met some of her friends, and we watched Dancing with the Stars – sadly, the charming, funny, goofy, irrepressible David Arquette was cut, but maybe this will lead to us seeing him in a new tv or movie project soon.  I treasure my visits with her and look forward to seeing her when she comes out here in the spring.

I’ve not only re-thought my 20 book goal to exclude gifts, but also decided that I will not count library books.  I recently renewed my local library card (it costs me $85 because it is the only good local library in our area, but I am technically a non-resident, being from a [cheap, non-book-valuing] neighboring town which claims to have a public library but in actuality does not, since they claim the high school library as “public” – a hard argument to make since it is never open outside of school hours [closed evenings, weekends, summers, school holidays] and generally, it is staffed by gaggles of giggling high school girls overseeing its lousy selection) – OK, enough venting.  I would like to do plugs for my Aunt’s and our good local library (that I have to pay for) but I’m trying to retain a modicum of privacy for all, so I reluctantly won’t.  One of the reasons I renewed my card was that I can know borrow books from my local library and read them on my kindle.

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch

This book had been on my wish list.  So when I saw 93) Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch at my aunt’s library, I had to borrow it and read it in a day.  I had read the first couple chapters as a sample on my kindle and knew that I liked it.  Nina has a blog at Read All Day.  She lost her older sister to cancer, sending her into a tailspin, and leaving her, three years later, unsure how to move out of her grief.  She and her sister had shared books and, ultimately, Nina decided to give herself a year of reading a book a day (and reviewing it on her blog) as a way of taking time out and immersing herself in the transporting power of books.  The book appealed to me because she has a book blog and I wanted to read a fellow book-blogger.  I also enjoy memoirs focused on my passions (dogs, books).  And I totally relate to the relaxing, nurturing power of book immersion.

I loved the book – and, note – she did meet her goal, even with kids and a husband (but not a day job – reading and writing her blog was her job that year – her husband’s income allowed her to do this.  Hopefully, the book and her ongoing blog have provided some income.)  It is part memoir of her relationships with her family, including her parents and sister, part memoir or reading and meeting “a year of” goal.  She does talk about what she is reading (although not every book – there is a list of what she read at the back), but it is frequently woven into her discussions of getting over her grief, book reading in general, relationships with family and friends, and learning how to gracefully share books with others.  This is a great book for book lovers, especially if you are struggling with an important loss.

Big in China by Alan Paul

I got this book because of my recent trip to China and Beijing.  I had not hear of 94) Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Becoming a Star in Beijing by Alan Paul  but saw it at my aunt’s library.  Alan’s wife was Wall Street Journal Bureau Chief for several years in Beijing and he chronicles their time there.  A lot of his writing is about his creation of a successful blues band “Woodie Alan” (with a Chinese friend, Woodie, and some other Chinese musicians).  That was interesting, but I maxed out on it after awhile.  What I loved was his descriptions of living in Beijing.  Particularly his descriptions of the death defying act of trying to walk, ride, or drive somewhere – anywhere in Beijing.  He talks about how his family got (stupidly) temporarily lulled into feeling comfortable riding in taxis without seatbelts (his wife and three small kids in the back, him up front with the only seatbelt) and driving their piece of junk jeep supplied by the WSJ.  He and his wife get their licenses (an insane process – the test is hilarious and often ridiculously off-point while requiring the absorption of a multi-inch thick drivers manual – few pass it).  And have the revelation that driving this falling apart, airbag-free Jeep is unlikely to enable them to ultimately leave China with all five family members alive and fully-limb-intact.  So, they get a mitsubishi “inspired” minivan with airbags and seatbelts (not an easy proposition).  His descriptions of the perils and culture of riding/driving in Beijing were spot-on and had me laughing hard.  Truth be told, I didn’t quite finish this book as I was running out of time and interest in the description of the band-stuff.  But I did really like it.

95) The Dog Who Loved Too Much: Tales, Treatments, and the Psychology of Dogs by Nicholas Dodman

I didn’t think to take a picture of this.  But it had been on my wish list.  Dodman has written a lot of well-known books about animals – particularly dogs and cats, but also wild animals.  He is a vet, but I don’t remember this coming into this book too much.  I mostly read this for his discussion of the big ole lab he acquired (a failed service dog) in New Zealand (I can’t remember the dog’s name, sorry!).  This lab was so unfailingly delighted to meet every human, dog, cat, and other animals he ever came across.  Unfortunately, he was pretty uninterested in following commands, making him a service dog washout.  But he was/is such an incredibly loving dog, that it got Dodman thinking about how this could be.  He discusses the evolution of people and dogs together and the idea the, as we co-evolved, we developed a fairly unique ability (among species) to connect deeply and emotionally with many other species.  If you saw the picture in my last post of my cat grooming my blissed-out golden retriever, you saw an example of this.  He argues that other animals may do it – but that they almost always are connecting with dogs or people, not other species.  For instance, my cat friend enjoys Gus my golden and people, but no other species.  While dogs, especially particular dogs, can get predatory about almost anything that moves – animals (people, cats, squirrels), leaves, bikes – there are many, many examples of them connecting to a wide variety of species in an emotional way.  He argues that humans and dogs can do this because we’ve evolved together over, perhaps, 150,000 years.  I enjoyed this book, but did skim over some sections that repeated information I’ve picked up from countless other dog-related books.

96) In Praises of Goldens: Celebrating the World’s Greatest Dog Author: Voyageur Press

I got this from my aunt’s library – it is excerpts from famous dog writers of stories about golden retrievers.  I cherry-picked a couple and grew tired of the cutesiness of them.  It is filled with gorgeous pictures of goldens.  I did enjoy the James Herriott story toward the front.

97) The Power of Wagging Tales: A Doctor’s Guide to Dog Therapy and Healing  by Dawn Marcus (Uncorrected Proofs!?)

Somehow the proofs of this book, which has since been published, made it into the library and onto the shelves – probably not something that was meant to happen, but perhaps a reviewer or publishing staff donated it to the library.  I leafed through and read bits of it – it is medically-oriented to people learning about therapy dogs.  A good book for that audience.  I enjoyed some of the discussions of the benefits.  But this is also something about which I’ve read (and experienced) a lot already.

84) Fascinate [sic] Chinese Shadow Play: Appreciation of Treasured Shaanxi Shadow Play and Paper-Cutting (Author Unknown) (Gift)

This was the beautiful, generous gift of a friend of a friend while I was in Xi’an.  It is big and thick with only a few pages.  The pages have inserts with actual paper cut-outs and puppets you can remove.  It is beautiful.  I hadn’t realized that shadow puppetry, popular in Asia – especially Indonesia – originated in China, especially Shaanxi Province where I was.  My student’s mother made beautiful red paper cut outs with intricate designs (I’ll try to include them in a future blog) – done by hand – for me.

86) Steve Jobs by Walter Issaccson  #7 (kindle)

I’m nearly done with this – it will be the primary focus of a future blog.  This is the book everyone is talking about – coming just a few weeks after Jobs’ death.  Steve asked Issacson to do his biography (he had done  ones for Einstein and Benjamin Franklin).  It is excellent.  And worthy of its own post.

87) In a Dog’s Heart: What Our Dogs Need, Want, and Deserve – and the Gifts We Can Expect in Return by Jennifer Arnold  #8 (kindle)

I had read Jennifer Arnold’s book Through a Dog’s Eyes about her business training service dogs.  I also saw a documentary based on the book (very good).  I was eagerly awaiting this book and bought it when it came out.  I’m partway through – will probably come back to it later.

88) Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die by Jon Katz  #9 Yes! (kindle)

I have read and loved many of Jon’s books.  I had been eagerly awaiting this one.

If you love animals, are mourning the loss of an animal, have a pet now – I highly recommend this book.  To get a taste, go to The Perfect Day read the excerpt and watch the video, but I warn you – have a box of tissues with you.

I share Katz’s philosophy of animals – he doesn’t anthropomorphize, favors practical training and pet ownership, has made hard choices for aggressive, ailing, beloved pets who would do better with another owner, and writes very well.  This book is about losing your pet.  But in many ways it is about cutting yourself some slack.  Many of us have experienced the guilt and doubt of making decisions about treating and euthanizing and losing our beloved animals (I know I have).  Katz helps with ways to work through the grief and by noting that the kind of people who care enough about their pets to read his book are the kind of people who very likely gave their pets a darn good life.  So, let the guilt go, know your tough decision was a good one, and move on to the next great pet.

89) The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout by Jill Abramson #10  Yes! (kindle)

I avidly read Jill’s New York Times blog The Puppy Diaries last year about raising her golden retriever pup, Scout and was looking forward to this book.  It has been reviewed at least twice by the NYT, including here: The Puppy Diaries Review.

What I didn’t realize was that she was NYT managing editor at the time and that she was made, in September, the first female NYT executive editor.  I didn’t realize it until I read a recent profile about her in the New Yorker: Changing Times which features her with a picture of a young Scout (check out the link if only for this).

I think it says a lot about Jill that I didn’t realize she was managing editor as I read her blog.  I don’t think I would have known she was executive editor if I read her book first.  First, even if you read the blog, the book is filled with new material – it is NOT a rehashed version of her blog.  I love her descriptions of her adventures of dog dates and training.  I share a lot of her philosophy of dog ownership.  And, as a fairly successful, dog-crazed woman, I loved seeing her balancing her life (dog, husband, children, friends, not necessarily in that order) with her highly demanding job.  I guess I’d say, read the New Yorker profile first (as I did) and then the book – it provides a lot of context.

90) Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook by Roger Ebert #11 (kindle)

This was on sale and I figured it was time to get a new Ebert movie review book (I have one for 1993 and that’s it).

91) Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel (Three Pines Mysteries) by Louise Penny #12  (kindle)

A regular reader of this blog (Mary, I think) recommended Louise Penny as a good mystery writer – when I saw this on sale from Amazon, I picked it up.

92) In CHEAP We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue by Lauren Weber #13 (kindle)

On sale, bought it in a weak moment, not particularly great, maybe I’ll come back to it when I finish it.

Happy Reading!  Ruby



  1. Yeah, my favorite book blogger is back! You had a very enviable sounding trip – at least the farmer’s market and beach part – less so the devastating snow storm.

    Thanks for the link to the article on Jill Abramson. My first laugh out loud of the day was the way people dealing with a brilliant, strong newswoman fall back on trying to analyze how her speech sounds, “like she’s trying to copy Bob Dylan.”

    I have a book to share with you by the way, “Winston” is written by a German writer (sorry, name escapes me) about dogs in general and his introduction to the dog world through an English Bull Terrier that his wife found one cold winter night, left tied up in a cemetary…they had been “too sensible” to have a dog before this but somehow Winston ended up staying and this gentleman has many observations to make about the dog owners of the world. I’ll have to get this to you soonish.

    Keep reading and writing!

    • Hi: Thanks! I look forward to the book. I totally missed the Dylan reference – will have to go back and re-read. Now you made me laugh! Ruby

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