Thursday, February 2, 2023

First Lines: January 2023 edition

Dusk falling in North Park

I look back wondering how I managed to finish eight books in January.  It was part holiday, part travel to the Old Folks Home, part insomnia.  But mostly an inexplicable lack of energy all month, probably due to the burst of energy required in December for me to do all the tasks that I put off until after the election. And we made SO many cookies in December!  January filled me with a great desire to hibernate, crawl under the covers and do nothing but read.  I was privileged to be able to do that, at least some of the time.

If there are themes emerging from this selection of books, they would have be forest, and justice, and justice for the forest.


Book 1

Rego Park, N.Y. c. 1958

It was summer, I remember.  I was ten or eleven.  I was rollerskating with Howie and Steve.  “Last one to the schoolyard is a rotten egg!”


Book 2

The world, as it is, is the enemy of God.  The world, as it is, is the enemy of the people of God.  



Book 3

Three-quarters of the way to the newsagent’s, a trek she will come to deeply regret, Millie Gogarty realizes she’s been barreling along in second gear, oblivious to the guttural grinding from the bowels of her Renault.



Book 4

SCENE I. Athens. The palace of THESEUS.



Now, fair Hippolyta, our nuptial hour

Draws on apace; four happy days bring in

Another moon: but, O, methinks, how slow

This old moon wanes! she lingers my desires,

Like to a step-dame or a dowager

Long withering out a young man’s revenue.


Book 5

In the late spring of 1995, just a few weeks after I’d turned twenty-eight, I got a letter from my friend Madison Roberts. I still thought of her as Madison Billings.


Book 6

This book grew out of a series of Facebook posts designed to help guide Christians in the United States through the maze of issues that were debated during the presidential election in 2012.


Book 7

I remember now standing with my face to the horizon in the waist-deep tide of the Gulf of Mexico, making up a dance routine.

Book 8

First there was nothing.  Then there was everything.

Then, in a park above a western city after dusk, the air is raining messages.

Did not finish

Wheels Up

I am running late for the airport, trying to catch a cab on my street corner.  A woman in a wheelchair and her date, a man, arrive at the corner seconds after me.


The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

The Complete Maus (Maus #1-2), By Art Spiegelman.  Nonfiction graphic book.  Part memoir. 296 pages. first published 1986.

This book has been challenged to be removed from school curricula.  It is a difficult book to read because of the subject matter, but I found no reason to ban it from high school curricula or libraries.  I did have to put it down for a few hours because of the harrowing story.  It reinforces how random was the possibility of survival for Jews in the Nazi regime.   There is plenty to discuss after reading this book. For starters: the author-artist’s choice to represent humans as animals, and by a different animal for each group of people (e.g. Jews, Nazis, Poles).


Book 2

Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing, by Dennis Jacobsen.  Published 2001.  103 pages.

This book was a shocker to me, starting with those opening lines.  I didn’t feel that starting off by saying the world is the enemy is helpful for organizing.  But then I haven’t done any organizing.


Book 3

Good Eggs, by Rebecca Hardiman.  336 pages. Published 2021

Recommended by Pai.

Funny but also filled with off color language.  The frequency of the f-word was surprising to me, given that most of the characters are Irish.  Maybe my copy was Americanized? The book is also sad and tense.  This family was exhausting but I was compelled to read to the end to find out what happened.


Book 4

 A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare.  256 pages. First published 1595.

For book club.  This was a relatively easy Shakespeare to understand.  Two of my kids and I read it out loud in the living room, which was a blast.  I’ve got to find time to watch a movie version, because the part with the wall has got to be even more hilarious on stage. This play involves a lot of traipsing about the forest. "Into the woods, and who can tell what's waiting on the journey?"


Book 5

Nothing to See Here, by Kevin Wilson.  Published 2019.  277 pages.

This book  examined parenthood from a unique perspective, but I thought it was a bit repetitive and tense.  Not as funny to me as others’ Storygraph reviews claimed.  But this could be because I am just tense myself. That said, there's quite a lot to think about when reading this book.


Book 6

Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity, by Miroslav Volf, Ryan McAnnally-Linz.  240 pages. Published 2016.

The authors expound on the commitments, convictions, and virtues that they feel should guide those seeking to lead a faithful Christian life.  The book has a beatitude-like list of political and social goals for our society, but also asks valid questions.  They do not address if and how Christians should support democracy; the existence and continuation of democracy is a given.  In 2016 most of us did not see a threat to democracy.

Book 7

Bomb Shelter: a memoir in essays, by Mary Laura Philpott.  Published 2022. 288 pages.  Essays about anxiety and optimism.  Includes a very good description of vertigo.  I enjoyed it.  More essay collections, please.


Tree roots on forest floor, far below the overstory

Book 8

The Overstory, by Richard Powers.  2018.  502 pages.  Pulitzer Prize winner.

 An extraordinary book that left me with questions, although the main thesis is consistent and strong.  If you have time to read a long book, I recommend this one.  It’s about trees and forests, but also a revealing portrait of activism.


I admire a writer who structures the book according to the theme (e.g. All the Light We Cannot See).  At around page 70 of The Overstory I decided that this was not, in fact, a novel, but a collection of short stories.  I was wrong.  The first 150 pages are the roots --  in-depth expositions of the nine (!) major characters. If I had bothered to read the Table of Contents I would have realized that from the beginning.   In the Trunk, Crown, and Seeds sections, we see how the characters branch out, and into each others’ lives. 


In the prologue, the trees tell us humans:

Your kind never sees us whole.  You miss the half of it, and more.  There’s always as much belowground as above.

Human that I am, surely I have missed deep points and clever details. It’s a longish book (502 pages), yet the characters and plot swept me right along.  I wish I could have lingered with it, but I finished it with only one day to spare before the library snatched back the e-book.  

A recent word from the author: Five Years Ago, I Wrote a Fictional Disaster That Is Now Playing Out in Real Time.  Feb 2, 2023 New York Times.

Did not finish

Look Alive Out There, by Sloane Crosley.   Essays.  Published 2018.  257 pages.

Parts were very funny.  But also snarky.  I was not in the mood for this level of snark. 


Monday, January 30, 2023

Resolution Abandoned!

Morning note, 2015


I don’t make New Year’s resolutions.  Secretly, though, this year I did make one.

I have already failed to keep it. That’s the fate of most New Year’s resolutions.  Soon the foot traffic at the local gym will decrease.  Consumption of bacon will increase and the eating of lettuce will fall.  The world will return to the usual level of cussing and cussedness.

My New Year’s resolution was to use no exclamation points.  

Sometime in the 1980s, my brother the compiler programmer taught me that the exclamation point can also be called “bang”.  The punctuation combination (say that ten times fast) ?! can be called “interrobang”.  I find ?! to be quite useful in the modern world, as there is much that is surprisingly questionable.

The symbol ! is also used in math to denote factorial, which involves an enthusiastic increase in numerical value. 

Waffles!!!!!  Toast!!!!! Transmogrifier!!!!!
The meaning of this exclamation-point-laden written exchange
among Common Household family members
is lost in the sands of time.

The use of most punctuation has declined.  To denote the end of your sentence, you don’t need a period.  

Just send the message

Or even better send a gif

Which is pronounced with a hard g because otherwise it is peanut butter

I feel the reverse is true for the exclamation point.  The universe of words is awash in exclamation points.  Attempting to live exclamation-point-free will result in one’s written comments being misinterpreted as grumpy, conflicted, or downright hostile.  

Examples – someone posts online:  

I just got the job I wanted!

We just adopted a new pet!!  

My possible exclamation-less responses:


That’s just fabulous.

Inner reaction toward me from the original poster: You misanthrope! 

If I want to sound enthusiastic without using an exclamation point, I would have to use a lot more words, such as,

  • I am very glad you have been hired for the exciting job you were seeking as a professional paint drying watcher.  

  • That is so wonderful that you were able to adopt your new armadillo.  I applaud you for your care of animals.

I very quickly reverted to using an exclamation point in my responses.  This January has me feeling grumpy enough, without contributing to the feeling with waspish replies.


As true in 2023 as it was in 2017.
Voting for judges is important
enough to warrant an exclamation point.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Selecting a Leader?

 Throughout history, humans have devised numerous methods for choosing leaders.

We in the Common Household want to do our part to provide viable ways to choose steady leadership.  Herewith, our illustrated list of ideas on how to select a leader. 


  • Science test

This is how Older Daughter studied for her
biology test in high school.  We could require
our leader to draw protist comic-book
 characters and name the parts of a flower.  

  • Twitter poll. Choose your bird carefully.

  • Baking contest

Anyone who can make cupcakes look like
mashed potatoes with butter and gravy wins.

  • Jar-opening contest

The first one to open all these jars
becomes supreme leader.

  • Folding a fitted sheet contest

Before the fitted-sheet-folding contest
begins, participants must be brave
enough to walk through this teen's room.

  • Art contest

Contestants must turn this into

this and then into

this without losing patience.

  • Whack a big rock with swords (the Dark Crystal method)

The candidates must use these tiny hors d'oeuvres swords 
to conquer this rock.

  • That's all I got. Sigh.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Favorite books read in 2022

In 2022 I was fortunate to be able to finish 63 books, 41 fiction and 22 nonfiction.  Nine of those books were children's or young adult lit.

That is a total of 17,930 pages.  Here are the books I rated as excellent and as enjoyable:

Excellent Fiction

The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett, published 2020.  352 pages.

Meet Me at the Museum, by Anne Youngson.  Published 2018.  277 pages.

A Single Thread, by Tracy Chevalier.  Published 2019.  318 pages.

Excellent Nonfiction

How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America, by Clint Smith.  Published 2021.  The text ends at 288 pages.  With endnotes 353 pages.

Winter: Five Windows on the Season (The CBC Massey Lectures Book 2011), by Adam Gopnik.  219 pages of main text.  Total 274 pages. 

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee:  Native America from 1890 to the Present, by David Treuer.  Published 2019.   455 pages (text); 512 pages including endnotes.

And some others I enjoyed quite a lot:

Essays of E.B. White, by E.B. White, published 1977 (essays were first published in various publications from 1934 through 1977).   346 pages.

The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth, by Ken Krimstein.  A graphic biography. Published 2018.  233 pages. 

Joy in the Morning, by P.G. Wodehouse.  Published 1946. 229 pages.

Miss Buncle Married, by D.E. Stevenson.  Published 1936, 352 pages.

The Thursday Murder Club By Richard Osman. Published 2020. 355 pages.


The Marble Staircase, by Elizabeth Fair.  Written 1950s?, published 2022.  210 pages.


Tess of the D’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy. Published 1891.  256 pages.


The Maid, by Nita Prose.  Published 2022.  280 pages.

The Christmas Train, by David Baldacci.  Published 2002. 273 pages.

Some second readings

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.  Published 1813. 

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich.  464 pages.  © 2020.  (Pulitzer prize winner).  

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah.  Published 2016.  289 pages.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, originally published 1843. 

Some of my reading stats, from

StoryGraph says that I have read 65 books, but maybe it is counting books I entered but didn’t finish.  StoryGraph seems to count as “classic” any book written before roughly 1950.  Okay. 

My top five genres for 2022 were “classics”, literary, historical, mystery, and history.  The only reason I read two thrillers is because of book club.

Creepily, the Washington Post also informed me that I had read 13,218 of their pages in 4,903 articles. I am pretty sure I did not read that many articles, although I might have clicked on that many articles.

First Lines: December 2022 edition

 First Lines: December 2022 edition


Below are the first lines of the books I finished reading in December. 



Book 1

On an evening in the latter part of May a middle-aged man was walking homeward from Shaston to the village of Marlott, in the adjoining Vale of Blakemore, or Blackmoor.



Book 2

Dypaloh.  There was a house made of dawn.  It was made of pollen and of rain, and the land was very old and everlasting.  There were many colors on the hills, and the plain was bright with different-colored clays and sands.



Book 3

I am your maid.  I’m the one who cleans your hotel room, who enters like a phantom when you’re out gallivanting for the day, no care at all about what you’ve left behind, the mess, or what I might see when you’re gone.


Book 4

On October 31, 2022, in a Federal courthouse in Washington, DC, Graydon Young testified against Stewart Rhodes and other members of the Oath Keepers militia group.


Book 5

This book tells the story of what Indians in the United States have been up to in the 128 years that have elapsed since the 1890 massacre of at least 150 Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota: what we’ve don't, what’s happened to us, what our lives have been like.  It is adamantly, unashamedly, about Indian life rather than Indian death.  That we even have lives – that Indians have been living in, have been shaped by, and in turn have shaped the modern world – is news to most people. 


Book 6

Stave I – Marley’s Ghost

Marley was dead: to begin with. 


Book 7 

It was only November sixth but Chicago had just been hit with its second big blizzard of the season, and Mr. Oswald T. Campbell guessed he had stepped in every ice-cold ankle-deep puddle of dirty white slush it was possible to step in, trying to get to his appointment.

The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

Tess of the D’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy. Published 1891.  256 pages.

My younger daughter has advised me for several years to read this book.  I finally found the time, and do not regret it.  I was reluctant to take up this tragedy, because, well, tragedy, but the tragedy was different than what I had imagined.  I loved reading Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native in high school, and Far From the Madding Crowd on my own.  In Tess, I was particularly fascinated with his descriptions of the hardship labor required by agriculture at the end of the 19th Century.


This book contains a wagonload of foreshadowing.  Birds seem to be an omen.  I can’t recall a single positive portrayal of a man; all the male characters are jagoffs of one sort or another.


Book 2

House Made of Dawn by M. Scott Momaday.  First published in 1968.  212 pages.

Takes place in New Mexico and Los Angeles.  A heart-breaking story, with stunning descriptions of locale and indigenous culture, although it was often hard for me to tell which character was “on stage” at any given moment.  Colors feature prominently.


Wikipedia:  House Made of Dawn is a 1968 novel by N. Scott Momaday, widely credited as leading the way for the breakthrough of Native American literature into the mainstream. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1969, and has also been noted for its significance in Native American anthropology.


Book 3

The Maid, by Nita Prose.  Published 2022.  280 pages.

A murder mystery with interesting characters, a twisting plot, and a satisfying ending.    My husband keeps quoting from this book, so I think that means he enjoyed it.  I read it for book club #1. The discussion has yet to take place so I don’t know if the others liked it.



Book 4

Introductory Material to the Final Report of the Select Committee, by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, Published Dec 19, 2022.  104 pages without footnotes; 154 pages total.

Infuriating all over again.  I don’t plan to read the full report but might read the transcripts, unless they disappear by the time I get to them.   


Book 5

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee:  Native America from 1890 to the Present, by David Treuer.  Published 2019.   455 pages (text); 512 pages including endnotes.


This book is a combination of much-needed history lessons, in-depth portrayals of interesting people, and the author’s own reflections.   These varied approaches all help fill in the vast gaps in my knowledge about US policies toward Native Americans, and the consequences of those policies.  



Book 6

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, originally published 1843.  Audiobook read by Simon Prebble, released 2007.  3 hours 9 minutes.  (64 pages in the printed version)


Having recently watched two movie versions (the Jim Carrey version and the Muppet Christmas Carol with Michael Caine), I wanted to find out if the Christmas-Eve skating scene and other tidbits were in the original.  Simon Prebble gives this audio book a delightful rendition.  While both movies are quite good, nothing matches the Dickens Carol itself.  The skating scene is only part of one sentence, with Bob Cratchit’s glee implied.  There’s also a bit in Stave III where Scrooge seems to criticize the Spirit of Christmas Present for blue laws requiring the closing of businesses on Sunday.


Well done, Charles Dickens and Simon Prebble, and God bless us, every one.  


Book 7

A Redbird Christmas, by Fannie Flagg.  Published 2004. 200 pages.  This is a book that has recipes at the end.  An enjoyable light read.