Thursday, November 17, 2022

Thanksgiving Survey 2022: Water


The Sea of Galilee

For the eleventieth year in a row, It's time for the Common Household time-honored tradition of the

Thanksgiving survey:  


1. Name a body of water (of any size) for which you are thankful.

2.  Name a famous body of water, and why it is significant.

Please participate by giving your answers in the comments.  Happy Thanksgiving Preparation Week!

As you can see, I could not pick one favorite photo for this topic.

New Brunswick, Canada

Wetlands sign, Allegheny County, PA

North Park, Allegheny County, PA

Roman aqueduct, Israel

A drawing by my father for 
a class lesson he was teaching

Refreshment for voter
registration volunteers

Oregon Ridge Park, Maryland
Alas, this lovely swimming hole is no more.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

First lines: October 2022 edition


One of many non-hot-air-balloon flights we were on in the last few
days of October.  I think this is Dallas, TX.

Below are the first lines of the eight (!) books I finished reading in October. This is a stupendous number of books for me, caused by the confluence of needing to switch to children’s lit, and having two cross-country travel days.

Book 1
September 1953
Turtle Mountain Jewel Bearing Plant

Thomas Wazhashk removed his thermos from his armpit and set it on the steel desk alongside his scuffed briefcase.

Book 2
Hi, I’m Sadiq! My family and I live in Minnesota, but my parents are from Somalia.

Book 3
Chapter 1: The Ridiculous Hat

“Force…equals…mass…times…acceleration,” muttered Ada as she wrote in her notebook. Ada pondered that if you drop a hammer on your foot, it hurts more than dropping, say, a sock on your foot. The acceleration, or speeding up, is the same, but the mass, the solid oomph of a thing, is different. Oomph times zoom equals kaboom!

Book 4
Chapter 01: An Unexpected Sofa

The sofa wasn’t there on Monday but it was there on Tuesday. It sat in the shade just down the road from the bus stop.

Book 5
On Nov 4, 2008, when many world leaders waited to hear the results of the American presidential election, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was in his Roman residence preparing to have sex.

Book 6
Chapter 1: Disarming

“Did!” Ada growled through gritted teeth. She shirred the black iron coal shovel down through the air at her sister.

Book 7
Part One: Meet New People and Try New Things

Well’ let’s start with Elizabeth, shall we? And see where that gets us?

Book 8
Chapter One: The Lady in the Drawing Room

“Grrh, I’m a bear! Grrh, grrh, I’m a bear, Dorkie!”

“Oh, dear, so you are! Wotever shalladoo!”

Did not finish
Just as Lucien Bernard rounded the corner at the rue la Boetie, a man running from the opposite direction almost collided with him. He came so close that Lucien could smell his cologne as he raced by.

The titles and authors revealed:

Book 1
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich. 464 pages. Published 2020. (Pulitzer prize winner)

This second reading was for book club. I found the book even better the second time around – I love the characters and the magical realism of this book. It also taught me about a piece of US history that every American should know. Highly recommend.

Book 2
Sadiq and the Big Election, by Siman Nuurali, Art by Christos Skaltsas. Published 2022. 50 pages. Children’s picture book. Has a glossary, discussion questions, and activities for kids.

I desperately needed something short and light. I find that at bedtime I cannot read about French collaborators during the Nazi occupation (see “Did not finish” category). But it also seems that I cannot escape elections as a topic, because this book popped up near the top of the list as available from the library on kindle.

Book 3
The Case of the Missing Moonstone: The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency Series, Book 1, by Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy. Published 2015. 216 pages.

This was a fun children’s detective story, which puts together two girls from history who did not actually know each other in real life. Ada Byron (who became Ada Lovelace, known as the world’s first computer algorithm designer) and Mary Godwin (who became Mary Shelley, known as the world’s first science-fiction author). Other historical characters also appear, and there is a splendid hot-air balloon adventure.

Book 4
What We Found In The Sofa and How It Saved The World, by Henry Clark, Illustrated by Jeremy Holmes. 368 pages. Published 2013. This middle-reader book also features a wild hot-air balloon ride. This book is more sci-fi fantasy than the other kid’s book. Includes an A.I. couch, cloning, an evil alien, and shenanigans.

I don't have a photo of a hot-air-balloon.
But I do have this photo of wet balloons
during a marching band parade.

Book 5
Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present, by Ruth Ben-Ghiat. Published: November 10, 2020. Text 262 pages. With notes, index, etc, 358 pages.

Terrifying, but instructive. I had to gloss over some sections which were just too awful. Warning: this book contains graphic descriptions of violence, including sexual violence.

The book is a case study of some of the more well-known autocratic rulers of the 20th and 21st (so far) centuries, but is limited to those who came to power through elections or coups. There is nothing in this book about Stalin, Mao, Xi, or the Kims of North Korea, because they came to power in already-closed systems. It turns out Trump’s personality flaws are not a quirk but a feature of the “personalist”/ autocratic type ruler. Ben-Ghiat published this before the Jan 6, 2021 insurrection but does note that in general the strongman ruler will do just about anything to stay in power or return to power.

Book 6
The Case of the Girl in Grey: The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency Series, Book 2. By Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy. Published 2016. 226 pages.

The Strongmen book was very difficult subject matter so I was happy to turn to the second in this children’s lit series (Grades 4-6). Starring Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley as children. Contains harmless ghosts, graves, and doppelgangers.

Book 7
The Thursday Murder Club By Richard Osman. Published 2020. 355 pages.

I did not like the narration style at the start of the book, but the narration/viewpoint changed frequently. Oddly, those changes did not bother me. I was eventually drawn in by the setting, and then the characters and the humor. The Old Folks’ Home portrayed in the book closely resembles the place where my parents spent their last days. Except the one in the book had a cemetery, with extra bodies in it. I am not a good judge of whether the mystery and solution thereof are satisfactory to die-hard (!) murder mystery fans; all I can say is that I enjoyed the story a great deal. It was good book to read while experiencing jet lag that just makes one want to loll around in the hotel and read.

Book 8
The Two Mrs. Abbotts (Miss Buncle Book 3) By D.E. Stevenson. Published 1943. 276 pages.

This book takes place and was written during World War II. I did not enjoy it quite as much as the 2nd book in the series. It includes a character who believes in judging a person’s character by the size and shape of the head – eugenics? – and that irked me. But it ends with a traditional couple falling in traditional love, so that’s okay to read while cooped up in an airplane for 4 hours.

Side note: If you get on an airplane departing from Texas, keep your face mask on. It was our last flight home after a wedding, and I was thinking I could take off my mask, but as soon as we took off, people starting coughing and kept it up for the entire 2.5 hour flight. My mask stayed on, and now, 6 days later, I am not sick.

Did not finish
The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure. Published 2013. 400 pages.

For book club. A fictional exploration of the Nazi occupation of Paris, with particular attention given to French collaborators with the Nazis. I got about half-way through (after the scene with the fireplace), but this book was too fraught with peril for me to finish. And that’s too bad, because I think it is important to understand what it means to be a collaborator.

Monday, October 3, 2022

First Lines: September 2022 edition


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



Book 1

I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William.


Book 2

We had better move, said Mr. Abbott casually. 


Book 3

Before we talk about anything else, can we just start with awe?  I am completely in awe of this moment we’re having right now --  you and me.  When I was younger, disability didn’t seem to exist outside my visits to the hospital and seating clinics for repairs on my wheelchair.


Book 4

There was a stand-up special ten or fifteen years ago called Welcome to Turtle Island.


Book 5

To prohibit illicit carnal intercourse between Europeans and natives and other acts in relation thereto.


Did not finish 


Every age hath its consolations, as well as its sufferings.  – Adam Ferguson.

For a period of nearly half a century, from about the time of the Highland rebellion of 1745 until the French Revolution of 1789, the small city of Edinburgh ruled the Western intellect.  For near fifty years, a city that had for centuries been a byword for poverty, religious bigotry, violence and squalor laid the mental foundations for the modern world.



The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

Oh William! By Elizabeth Strout. Published 2021.  240 pages.

Interesting characters, although they are not particularly happy.  Excellent writing.  I was quite distracted while reading it, so I probably didn’t enjoy it to its fullest.   It was extremely well received in book club.  I thought the portrayal of rural New England was spot on.



Book 2

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

The second in a series about Barbara Buncle, now married and living in a different small village in England in the 1930s.  I enjoyed this one even more than the first one. This book is part of the Furrowed Middlebrow set of books.   Sometimes I need to unclench my jaw, and the Furrowed Middlebrow collection is exactly right for those times. 


Book 3

Sitting Pretty, by Rebekah Taussig.  Published 2020, 256 pages.

I read this in order to educate myself about how people with disabilities interact with the world.  This book was a good start, and I recommend it.   I still have plenty more to learn.


Book 4

We Had a Little Real Estate Problem: The Unheralded Story of Native Americans & Comedy by Kliph Nesteroff.  Published 2021.  336 pages. 

I am the least likely person to read a book about comedians.  However, the author of this book kept me interested.  The last few chapters were especially relevant.  The text of the book is far less than 336 pages.  At the end of the chapters there are many photos, followed by notes and an index.

Book 5

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

I first read this book in June 2017.  I am re-reading it as an assignment from my church’s anti-racism group.  Trevor Noah was a toddler when the apartheid system was coming to an end in South Africa.  Our group is hoping that his insights about the apartheid system and the aftermath will be instructive to us.


Did not finish 

Crowded With Genius:  The Scottish Enlightenment: Edinburgh’s Moment of the Mind, by James Buchan.  Published 2003. 340 pages of text.  436 pages with notes and index.  

I enjoyed the start of this book, with its descriptions of then back-water town of Edinburgh, Scotland.  But I soon found the book was too dense and confusing and I didn’t get past the first chapter. I think I would need to already know a lot of Scottish history to make sense of this book.  The court in Edinburgh was called The Session, which makes me wonder if this is where the Presbyterian Church got its terminology for the governing board of local congregations.

Please do tell -- what are you reading these days?

Sunday, September 4, 2022

First Lines: August 2022 edition

I didn't have any photos of Wuthering Heights
so we will have to make do with this photo
of Golan Heights

These are the first lines of the books I finished reading in August.  If there is a theme this month, it could be “Books That Reminded Me of Wuthering Heights In Some Way.”  Three of this month’s books did, anyway.



Book 1

Shadow had done three years in prison.  He was big enough, and looked don’t-fuck-with-me enough that his biggest problem was killing time.



Book 2

One tree is like another tree, but not too much. One tulip is like the next tulip, but not altogether. More or less like people—a general outline, then the stunning individual strokes.


Book 3

When I was six, my father took me to Grand Central Terminal in New York to see the imposing bronze statue of my great-great-great grandfather “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt.



Book 4

The Piano Teacher’s Pupil

‘The Brahms?’ she said.  ‘Shall we struggle through the Brahms?’  The boy, whose first lesson with Miss Nightingale this was, said nothing.  But gazing at the silent metronome, he smiled a little, as if the silence pleased him.


Book 5

From above, from a distance, the marks in the dust formed a tight circle.  The circle was far from perfect, with a distorted edge that grew thick, then thin, and then broke completely in places.  It also wasn’t empty.


Book 6

Chapter One:  Breakfast Rolls

One fine summer’s morning the sun peeped over the hills and looked down upon the valley of Silverstream.  It was so early that there was really very little for him to see except the cows belonging to Twelve-Trees Farm in the meadows by the river. 


The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

American Gods by Neil Gaiman.  First published 2001 (465 pages).  10th Anniversary edition, with 12,000 additional words, published in 2011.   565 pages.

I read this for book club.  My review at this link.   It is like Wuthering Heights in that I didn’t love reading the book, but I keep thinking about it.


Book 2

 Upstream by Mary Oliver (essays by the poet).  2016.  187 pages.

This book provided a lovely respite from the world.   I was completely in the mood for these essays, which feature discussion of nature and a few American writers.  This book was not in any way like Wuthering Heights.

This is my photo of a stream that is probably
 in New England, so close enough
 to Cape Cod, where Mary Oliver lived.


Book 3

Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty

by Anderson Cooper  and Katherine Howe.   336 pages.  2021.

Pretty good read - expos√© of a rich but unhappy family, the ancestors of Anderson Cooper, journalist for CNN TV news.  Cornelius Vanderbilt used some of his money to found the university that bears his name.  (6+ degrees of separation: I studied in France for a semester via the Vanderbilt-in-France program.)  A few generations later, the mother and daughter both had the same name – just like in Wuthering Heights.  I was confused about which Gloria was which, at any point. I guess this practice of parents naming their children after themselves is more prevalent than I had realized. 

Book 4

Last stories by William Trevor.  Published 2014.  240 pages.

Ten short stories, published posthumously (as near as I can tell). 

Short stories are not my favorite genre.  I read this to fulfill the Summer Library Bingo square for a book with the word “last” in the title. I tried two other books in this category, and they did not grab me at all.  

These are well-written stories, but with short stories I always feel that I am not able to get to know the characters well enough, and there is usually a macabre or sad twist to the plot.  I would like to read more by this author, if time permits.  His work made the shortlist for the Booker Prize five times.   It’s a stretch to relate these short stories to Wuthering Heights, but there was one story that takes place partly on a remote farm.


Book 5

The Lost Man by Jane Harper .  2019.  353 pages.

It’s about a dead man and his distrustful family, all in the stark and blazing-hot Australian outback. I thought it was well told, with interesting characters.  I started out with the audio book, because it was available, but it was hard to understand, because of the Australian accent.  I switched to the kindle version to finish it, but in my head the Australian accent was always rolling around.  

This book reminded me a lot of Wuthering Heights – both have a family that mistreats each other, who live off in the middle of nowhere, with very little interaction with the outside world.  I was fascinated to learn about The School of the Air, which is a real thing.  I read this book for book club, but sadly will not be able to attend the discussion.

I don't have a photo of the Australian outback, so
this photo of the Thar Desert in Pakistan will have to suffice.
The crowd includes my Mom, Dad, brother, me,
 and my father's cousin's family.
I am the one in the pink chunni (head scarf).
April 1990.


Book 6

Miss Buncle’s Book, by D.E. Stevenson.  Published 1934.  304 pages.

A book set in a small English village in the 1930s.  A woman in need of money writes a roman √† clef about all the people in her town.  Matrons are insulted, barbs are traded, but nearly nothing of great consequence happens.  There is tea drinking and hot buttered toast and a happy ending.  It was a bit of a challenge to keep track of all the actual townspeople plus the fictional townspeople, but I didn’t worry about it too much.  The major villain is named Mrs. Featherstone Hogg.  This book is part of the Furrowed Middlebrow set of books.  I picked this one because it was available on Kindle from our library.


Did not finish 

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman.  2019. 400 pages. 

I might come back to it.  It was just too fraught at the beginning for me to get through to the better part.  Yes, I was too anxious to read a book about anxious people. The book club folks agreed with me about the beginning, but said about half-way through it became well worth it, and there was redemption.

As always, I love to hear what you are reading.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Book Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

The Common Household Mom’s review of

  American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I was perusing my college alumni magazine while brushing my teeth, and came across this sentence:

“In the century since its publication, James Joyce’s Ulysses has been described as beautiful, overrated, experimental, pornographic, dull, and genius.”

Aha! I thought.  All those adjectives could equally apply to American Gods by Neil Gaiman, the tome I was reading at that time, when not brushing my teeth.  I haven’t read Ulysses, so I don’t know how the two books truly compare. 

American Gods was chosen by one of my book clubs, with the adjective “trippy” attached to it by the person recommending it.  American Gods proved trippy indeed.  

Fantasy is not my preferred reading genre, and dark adult fantasy even less so.  I finished the book because I was fascinated with Gaiman’s take on America, and because I felt pride when I recognized a character as a god.  I did not overly enjoy this reading experience, but I keep thinking about the book.  Kind of like Wuthering Heights

It’s a very American novel, in that the main characters spend most of the time driving everywhere, and acquiring and discarding vehicles. The car is king (almost a god!) in Neil Gaiman’s America.


Plush Jesus 
buckled up for a car ride.

It’s also a very dark novel.  The setting is invariably dirty, dingy, ugly, smelly.  There is not much pleasant in this America.  Even the agreeable, crime-free, clean town of Lakeside has an extremely dark underpinning.  The gods are, at best, amoral – the main character gods, anyway.  Shadow is the most morally upstanding of the characters.

I didn’t find much exploration of race, although many characters are non-white.  If I recall correctly, the first characters who are obviously gods are ones from European cultures (Norse, Celtic, and Slavic). And there are also the gods who were worshipped in American before white people came.  It seemed to me the only gods from Africa were Anansi and then a few Egyptian gods, but it could be that I failed to recognize some, because I am a white American and I have not learned much about the many distinct African cultures that exist. I would be curious to know if Gaiman fell into that pit of assuming one or two gods suffice to represent all of Africa.  

I don’t know which culture the cat sex goddess is from, but I have to say, that was some scary pornographic text that I do not usually encounter in my reading.

As far as gods from Asian cultures, the only one I can recall, six weeks after finishing the book, is Ganesha.  Well, and that interlude story with the djinn - I was annoyed by that story because it didn’t have anything to do with the plot of the book and just added to my confusion.  Several times Gaiman inserts a little short story that is only tangentially related to the rest of the book.  The one with the djinn is the only one I can even vaguely remember.

Were there any gods from Central and South America?  I would not know nearly enough to recognize any gods from those cultures.

Gaiman intentionally obscures some of the gods.  The prize of recognizing that a character was, in fact, a god, was a teeny dopamine hit that kept me reading.  The first thing that keyed me into this was the introduction of Czernobog.  I know some Russian, and recognized that the character’s name means “Black God.”  After that, I saw that the gods kept popping up everywhere.

The Common Household Husband was reading the book at the same time.  He kept asking me, “What does this book mean?”  

Heck if I know.

What is Neil Gaiman saying about America and Americans? I am not sure, but here’s a stab at an answer:  Our gods are not the ones we say we worship.  In addition to bringing our up-front religions with us to the new world, white European people also brought all our folk gods and superstitions.  And people of color brought their gods. And there are also the gods who were worshipped in American before white people came.  We Americans carry around folk stories and superstitions from ancient times and faraway lands.

Then there are the “new” gods - gods of things, commerce, transport, money, and technology.  Mister Wood, Mister Stone, Mister Road, Mister Town, Mister World, and so on.  Out of all these gods, which ones do we really worship and adore?  Which ones are worthy of attention?  Which gods have the best outcome of people in mind, and which gods are only in it for themselves?  Perhaps Gaiman’s main point is to pose these questions.

Gaiman might be saying America is in a battle between the “old” gods of ancient tradition, and the new gods.  The way they are all portrayed in the book, I conclude that Gaiman feels none of them are worthy of our adoration.  Many of them are dishonest compassionless tricksters.

Shadow is very clearly a Jesus/Messiah figure, in that he makes a sacrifice.  Tied to a tree, enduring great pain, including the piercing of his side – classic crucifixion references.  He is resurrected by a woman (goddess/mythology figure) named Easter.  But does Shadow offer any kind of salvation?  

Gaiman comes from a family heavily into the Church of Scientology.  I know nothing about that, so I can’t say how that works into the themes in the book.

Our kindle download was touted as the “author’s preferred version” which included 12,000 words not included in the first-published edition. I really want to know which parts of the book were axed by the editor for the first edition, but I was not able to find this info anywhere.  It seemed to me that editors exist in this world for a good reason, and this book was at least 12,000 words too long. But on the other hand it gave me a lot to think about.

The book is American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.   565 pages.  Published 2011.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

First Lines: July 2022 edition

Below are the first lines of the books I finished reading in July.  This past month included a fun trip to Boston to visit family, a joyful event (our daughter's wedding), and then the inevitable aftermath: covid.



Book 1

Book One: A Nice Little Family

Chapter 1: Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov

Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov was the third son of a landowner from our district, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, well known in his own day (and still remembered among us) because of his dark and tragic death, which happened exactly thirteen years ago and which I shall speak of in its proper place.



Book 2

This happened back in March of 2010, when the Philadelphia train station still had the kind of information board that clickety-clacked as the  various gate assignments rolled up.


Book 3

You know the story of the Three Wise Men of the East, and how they traveled from far away to offer their gifts at the manger-cradle in Bethlehem.  But have you ever heard the story of the Other Wise Man, who also saw the star in its rising, and set out to follow it, yet did not arrive with his brethren in the presence of the young child Jesus?



Book 4

Tom Langdon was a journalist, a globetrotting one, because it was in his blood to roam widely.  Where others saw only instability and fear in life, Tom felt graced by an embracing independence.


Book 5

It’s hard to imagine modern life without the crossword.  The puzzle originated in 1913, and it soon became part of the fabric of daily existence. 




The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  Translated by Larissa Volokhonsky, Richard Pevear.  First published 1879.  This translation first published 1990.  815 pages.   

I’d like to say something pithy about this book but I can’t because I just had covid.  And I read this in the BC period (Before Covid).  (I am now on Day 8, feeling much better, thank you, and tested negative.)

I first read The Brothers Karamazov when I was in high school, but not for a class, so I had no guidance to help me through.  The main thing I remember is that it was full of over-emotional characters.  The main phrase was:

“(some exclamation),” Dmitri cried. 

Dmitri was always crying, that is, crying out. I believe it was the Constance Garnet translation.  When I read it 40+ years ago, I did not understand it well. 

I thought maybe if I read it in a newer translation I might get better insights, so I bought this translation for my kindle in 2019.  I started reading it in April 2022. This new translation seems to bring forth the narrator’s voice - it’s got a sardonic tone to it.  The text seems to flow well, and the notes are helpful.  But it is still full of over-emotional characters.  

The B.K. reminded me of Wuthering Heights.  It’s about one hugely messed up family who do terrible things to each other, and the characters’ names are fiendishly hard to keep track of.  Then add in a whole lot of musings about the Russian church and God and the devil, and you’ve got yourself a fine Russian classic.  At least there is Alyosha to give us all hope for humanity. 

Fun fact:  In the 1958 movie version Alyosha was played by William Shatner.  Also starring Yul Brynner as Dmitri and Lee J. Cobb as the depraved father Fyodor.

An example of a Dostoevskian sentence:

And at such moments he was glad that nearby, close at hand, maybe not in the same room but in the cottage, there was such a man, firm, devoted, not at all like himself, not depraved, who, though he saw all this depravity going on and knew all the secrets, still put up with it out of devotion, did not protest, and – above all – did not reproach him or threaten him with anything either in this age or in the age to come; and who would defend him if need be – from whom?


Book 2

French Braid, by Anne Tyler.  Published 2022.  244 pages.

The story begins on the train from Philly to Baltimore, so I loved the book from the start.  It’s about a kind of flaky family, with children of such vastly different personalities that it is amazing the family can still be together, although they don’t see much of each other.  I read this for book club, and we concluded together that it is not the best Anne Tyler book, but I enjoyed it.


Book 3

The Story of the Other Wise Man, by Henry Van Dyke.  Published 1895.  28 pages (short story).

Part of my self-assigned “Winter reading in July”.  This was a charming tale, quite short.  


Book 4

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

Part of “Winter reading in July”.  I enjoyed this book – good characters, plot twists and turns, railroads, and a happy ending.



Book 5

Thinking Inside The Box by Adrienne Raphel   248 pages.  Copyright 2020.

The history and current standing of the crossword puzzle.  Many mentions of Will Shortz.  The weirdest thing was the description of the crossword puzzle cruise.  This was a good book to read while lying in bed with covid.