Returning to Sussex, England, as a middle-aged man, George stops at the farm at the end of the lane from the house he once lived in and is pulled back into the life he lived at the age of seven when he met Lettie Hempstock and was introduced to the ocean — not to be confused with a pond — in Lettie’s backyard. In that year, the opal miner living with George’s family ran over George’s beloved kitten and then committed suicide in the family car on the edge of the Hempstock farm.

George is stashed away with the Hempstock women — Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother — during the investigation and is quickly dragged into the darkness, the incomprehensible yet magical world of the Hempstock women. Fear gets the best of him, though, and he ends up letting go of Lettie’s hand allowing a piece of the world the Hempstock women keep from mixing with George’s world to travel back inside him as a worm. A worm that becomes Ursula, the babysitter intent on locking him away in the attic so no one can make her return to the other world; a worm that forces him to believe that Lettie — magical, comforting, wise beyond her years — will hold her promise to protect him, no matter what.

One of the best things about joining a book club is being forced to step outside of your comfort zone when it comes to books; another is the opportunity to discuss said books. Gaiman’s short novel hits both of these marks, and I’m looking forward to discussing the events of this novel with my new book club later in the week because I have so many unanswered questions. On the surface, the book appears to explore the fantastical imagination of a young child trying to cope with the upheaval in his life — the change in his economic status, the introduction of a babysitter as his mother heads into the workforce — but, on a deeper level, maybe it is an exploration of how children are able to see things adults cannot see, how children confront their fears every day while adults carve their lives around their fears?

“I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. No one, in the whole wide world.” (pg. 112)

Or, maybe the purpose of the story is to get the readers, who are probably adults, to remember what it is like to imagine an whole other world. To me, reading does exactly that but I also know that when it comes to science fiction and fantasy novels, I often rely upon the author to create the world for me, to establish the rules and the sights and the sounds. Yet, Gaiman doesn’t really do that. The fantasy world and the “real” world blend together; you’re never really in one or the other. And like a child’s imagination, the reader must pick up the fantasy world in the short walk between the farm house and the “ocean” and willing to adjust to the changes the come with an ever running imagination. It makes for a very interesting read. Perfect for a book club so, hopefully, we’ll have a great discussion because this book certainly deserves one.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Gaiman, Neil. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. New York: William Marrow, 2013. Print. 181 pgs. ISBN: 9780062255655. Source: Library.
Book Cover © William Marrow. Retrieved: July 27, 2014.

Convicted and sentenced to fifteen months at a federal correctional facility in Connecticut for trafficking drug money across international boarders ten years ago, Piper Kerman trades in her life wearing all black in Manhattan for an orange jumpsuit and severely restricted freedoms. Kerman quickly learns that this restrictions aren’t always grounded in reality but, rather, exist in the unpredictable world of prison life where guards do as they please and prisoners band together based on race forming their own families and their own societies.

Although I resisted my friends’ and tumblr’s demand that I watch the Netflix series based on this memoir for nearly a year, I eventually succumbed and dragged my parents down with me. Absolutely hooked and sad to see the finale of season two, I eventually made my way to the top of the wait list for this book at the public library and eagerly checked it out hoping to discover hints about the direction of next season and to learn answers to my lingering questions about this show.

“Based on” should really be substituted for “inspired by” because so little of this memoir and the television series are the same. Morello and Daya are amalgamations of multiple characters; Crazy Eyes only wants to borrow a book. It is much harder to connect with the secondary characters in the memoir because Kerman tells us so little about her fellow inmates seemingly because she’s clinging hard to the “rule” that inmates never ask one another what they are in for. They exist solely to scare her, to support her, to provide comedic relief for her and the reader.

Although the focus is very me, myself, and I — an aspect I loathe about Piper the television character — Kerman is at least willing to admit that she had it much easier than her fellow inmates — a fiance who never wavered in his love and support, family members who sent checks to help pay for items she wanted and needed from the commissary, friends of friends who set her up with a high-paying job back in Manhattan after she was released, and people who sent her boxes filled with books to help her pass the time. (There is an entire organization dedicated to donating books to women in prison so something to consider the next time you clean off your bookshelves.)

It’s refreshing to see considering how much this does not compute with Piper the television character. Like Piper the television character, though, Kerman still expresses shock that poor women and women of color could have something of value to add to her life, and I found myself gritting my teeth as I turned the page. Even so, I liked that the people in Kerman’s life were much better than those who surround Piper the television character. I actually felt bad while reading for Kerman’s family members who are portrayed as such self-centered, horrible people on the television.

However, it is hard to see people champion for reform based on her experience because there is so much privileged injected into the story and so little we know about the other people mentioned in this book. As such, I appreciate the television show even more now because it fleshes out the secondary characters from this novel breathing life into those who Kerman cannot bother with.

Book Mentioned:

  • Kerman, Piper. Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2013. Originally published 2010. Print. 352 pgs. ISBN: 9780812986181. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Spiegel & Grau. Retrieved: June 25, 2014.

Found after Wilder’s death, the final book in the Little House series covers the first four years of Laura’s marriage to Almanzo. Although the Wilders welcome their daughter, Rose, the first four years of their marriage are marked largely by death – the destruction of their farm, the struggle to make it as farmers, and the unexpected and unexplained death of their unnamed infant son. Almanzo promised Laura at the beginning of their marriage that he would leave farming if they were unsuccessful and Laura was unhappy and, by the book’s conclusion, Laura must decide if that is still the case.

Unlike the happy and golden (to borrow Wilder’s words) hue of the previous book, this book is much starker and matter of fact in its presentation of Almanzo and Laura’s life together. They had a baby. They lost their farm. They lost their second baby. The only time real emotion seeps onto the pages is when an older, childless couple offers to trade their best horse for the Wilders’ daughter, Rose, and the description of Laura giving birth is so convoluted that I can remember thinking she had a stomachache or appendicitis the first time I read the book as a child. The whole novel lacks the descriptive warmth of her previous novels and leaves the series with an unpolished, stark end.

Now that I’m older, however, I can understand why Wilder would have left this manuscript incomplete. I’m sure it was quite difficult to fictionalize the tragedies in her life, to reimagine them over and over again into words, especially when one particular tragedy in her life occurred with no explanation. The afterward also states that Wilder stopped writing after the death of her husband so she likely no longer wanted to continue to dwell on the sadder aspects of her life. I do wish the book had been more polished and longer (four years in 135 pages is so quick!), but I also appreciate that the readers at least know what happened between Laura and Almanzo after their marriage. I would have been left wondering otherwise.

Book Mentioned:

  • Wilder, Laura Ingalls. The First Four Years. New York: Scholastic, 1971. 135 pgs. ISBN: 9780590488136. Source: Purchased.
Book Cover © Scholastic. Retrieved: June 15, 2013.


Borrowing | I’m borrowing the format I’ve seen Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness and Vasilly of 1330v to write my first Sunday Salon post in over a year and a half. Yikes! Has it really been that long?

Updating | After walking at graduation this past May, I planned to move home and finish my masters thesis in order to receive my degree in August. A week after moving home, I received a job offer, which I accepted, and am now going to spending the new four weeks looking for an apartment, finishing my thesis, and doing as much reading and hiking or biking with my family as I can.

Reading | I’m about a hundred pages into Elizabeth of York by Alison Weir, which is a biography of the mother of perhaps the most famous king in British history, Henry VIII. Weir is one of my favorite historians so I was so happy to spot this book on the shelf at the local library.

Planning | Next up, I’m planning to read Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner. I have a list of about ten books I’m hoping to read before I move in order to help further clear off my bookshelves and reduce the number of books I have to move.

Watching | In addition to watching season two of “Orange is the New Black” with my parents, I’ve been on an Audrey Hepburn film kick lately. I watched “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” yesterday after watching “Charade” and “Roman Holiday” back in May. I’m considering watching “How to Steal a Million” next weekend.

Blogging | I have nine reviews to write up. After not reading and reviewing books for months, I feel a bit out practice so rather than stumbling over my words, I’ve been reaching for the next book in my stack. I’ll get through the backlog eventually.

Avoiding | Although I passed my thesis defense, my reading committee gave me a long list of corrections and additions they wanted to see in my thesis. After weeks of going back and forth, I finally put my foot down and told them I don’t have time to chase variables that so far have not had any significance and greatly deviate from the original questions posed in my thesis. The back and forth has drained any enthusiasm I had for working on my paper.

Anticipating | I’m looking forward to apartment hunting at the end of the month and starting my new job in July! It’ll be hard to move away (again!) but I’ve always liked a good adventure and it’ll be nice to feel like a “real” adult soon.

The Sunday Salon:

The Sunday The Sunday Salon encourages bloggers to get together –at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones– every Sunday and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another’s blogs. Salon participants are encouraged to blog about their time spent reading, pages read, information about current reading, discuss a reaction to a book, state what they plan to read the following week, or make suggestions for a group read.

Photography © Me. Taken: June 5, 2013.

Every year, the average American eats thirty-three pounds of cheese (triple what we ate in 1970) and seventy pounds of sugar (about twenty-two teaspoons a day). We ingest 8,500 milligrams of salt a day, double the recommended amount, and almost none of that comes from the shakers on our table. It all comes from processed food, which is heavily dependent upon salt, sugar, and fat to create texture, taste, and a “heavy users” base of customers.

Moss utilizes examples from some of the most recognizable and profitable food companies and brands of the last half century — Kraft, Coca-Cola, Lunchables, Kellogg, Nestlé, Oreos, Cargill, Capri Sun — to explain how the average American ended up here. Food scientists funded by both the United States government use cutting-edge technology to calculate the “bliss point” of sugary beverages or enhance the “mouthfeel” of fat by manipulating its chemical structure so processed food not only taste good but also leaves the eater wanting more.

Marketing campaigns are designed using techniques adapted from tobacco companies to redirect concerns about the health risks of their products: decrease one ingredient, increase the other two, and tout the new line as “fat-free” or “low-salt”. Ultimately, Moss shows that today’s “food” companies could never produce healthy alternatives to their products because the industry itself would cease to exist without salt, sugar, and fat.

Moss’ book is divided into three sections and not in the order the book cover would suggest — first sugar, then fat, followed by salt. The first book is quite easily the best; I gleamed the most information from this chapter. I’ve been told for years that I need to stop drinking soda, but it wasn’t until I read the chapters on Coca-Cola featuring a former executive that it began to sink in just how much I need to kick this addition to the curb. Coca-Cola’s formula is specially designed to sit right at the “bliss point”, a term used by the food industry to describe food that leaves eaters craving more, and the goal of the company is not to increase the number of people drinking soda but the number of sodas people drink. In other words, I’m never going to be able to kick this habit to the curb unless I go cold turkey because one twelve-ounce can is never going to satisfy me. I’m always going to want more. I do wish Moss had used a measure other than teaspoons; it’s hard to reconcile the five teaspoons women are allowed max with the grams reported on food nutrition labels.

The problem with fat, apparently, is cheese. As Americans have rushed to eliminate trans-fat and saturated fat and drink skim milk, dairy produces in the country has been left with millions of pounds of milk fat that they can nothing with other than make into cheese. Production of cheese used to take months but industrialization by the food industry means the process now takes a matter of days, and the abundance of fat on the market means cheese is a relatively cheap product to inset into foods. Hence the advent of stuffed crust pizza, three cheese pizza, etc. Plus, when consumers push for sugar-free or reduced sugar options, the food industry increases the amount of fat and sugar in products to maintain the same taste. Moss cites another book on the topic of fat that I’m curious to read now.

The final section, Salt, was the least informative of the three. I knew that the majority of salt in the American diet does not come from the salt shaker on the table, and there wasn’t anything particularly eyeopening like Coca-Cola and the bliss point in this section for me, which is disappointing because salt appears to be the most commonly used ingredient and the hardest to escape. Moss explains how even Corn Flakes produced by Kellogg’s have salt and without it tastes like metal with the texture of cardboard. Gross. And unlike sugar, babies are not born liking it but must be conditioned into eating it so how did we begin to crave it? Moss never really explains, and I’m hoping I can comb through his citations and find a book that focuses more in depth on salt.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Moss, Michael. Salt Sugar Fat. New York: Random House, 2013. Print. 446 pgs. ISBN: 9781400069804. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Random House. Retrieved: June 5, 2014.
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