books, art, culture, and other things I love

Month: December, 2014

The Athens of the South.

After a grueling day of air travel (about 17 hours all together), we finally made it to our destination. Though Nashville is commonly referred to as The Music City, its moniker of “The Athens of the South” long predates the recording industry for the city’s reputation as a place of intellect and ingenuity.

Nashville’s Parthenon was built in 1897 for Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition and is an exact replica of the Athenian original. The statues that adorn the replica were actually made from casts of the originals (now housed in the British Museum).

Today, the space serves as the city’s art museum. Well worth a visit!






Bon Voyage!

This week, we are setting out for a family trip. The best part: the destination has not yet been revealed to the children! The backpacks are packed with plenty of on-board snacks and these books are going in as well to keep them busy.

Stay tuned for a reveal of our destination. 😉 Hint: stateside, lots of good music, and more than 20 colleges and universities within city limits…

(Inside the wrapped package is a tour book of our landing spot.)
For B (grade 6):
Zodiac by Romina Russell
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (he is already midway through this one and is enjoying it)
The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer
1 Page At A Time by Adam Kurtz (this is a book of writing prompts)

For N (grade 2):
Henri’s Scissors by Jeanette Winter
A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond
Manners and Mischief (an American Girl Doll series)
Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, and Other Fatal Circumstances by Lenore Look
Laugh Out Loud Jokes For Kids by Rob Elliott


Merry Christmas and a poem.

This poem, composed in 1629, by John Milton is one I think of every year. In fact, on a cold December morning in 2008 (Milton’s 400th birthday) I attended a sunrise reading of this poems and this was the first one read. In it, Milton reimagines the New Testament birth of Christ from a first person account. It is so lovely–read it through.

Merry, Merry Christmas!






I want a little sugar in my bowl.

Over the summer, I wrote about some of my favorite vacation books and Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar was on the listReaders may also be familiar with Strayed’s memoir, Wild, about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail–which is now made into a movie that is on my list for the semester break. Tiny Beautiful Things is a compilation of advice columns that Strayed wrote for the Dear Sugar column on The Rumpus and it is one of my favorite nonfiction reads in recent years. As I mentioned before on the blog, I read the book on a Boston-Denver flight and experienced the full range of human emotions as I read. My seat mate was stealing glances at me as I laughed and cried while turning the pages.

The Dear Sugar column may be gone, but now there is an exciting new project in development by WBUR, Boston’s NPR affiliate…a Dear Sugar podcast: hosted by Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond (who actually founded the original column)! The series officially begins in January; in the meantime, listen to this introductory podcast. Cheers and Happy Listening!  (And bonus points if you recognize my post’s title allusion.)


Memoir Monday: Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable.

I clearly remember the moment I first picked up Meghan Daum’s book My Misspent Youth. It was a Thursday afternoon, and I had walked to Brookline Booksmith from my apartment when it started to rain. I had come to pick up a special order (Eric Auerbach’s Mimesis, which I was using to write my thesis), but I decided to wait out the weather a bit and browse around the store. I wandered over to memoir and essays and a cover caught my eye. Its faded photographic image of a beach scene immediately conjured up memories from my childhood. And I suppose, that in that moment, the title itself called out to me. I wondered in that moment if my own youth was being “misspent.” I was turning twenty-five that month after all, and was about to embark on a nearly decade-long academic odyssey that would nearly kill me (hyperbolically speaking, of course). As I stood in the aisle, leaning up against the wooden shelves, I looked up the title essay in the Table of Contents. I opened to page 41 and started reading, “Earlier this summer I was walking down West End Avenue in Manhattan and remembered, with a sadness that nearly knocked me off my feet, just why I came to New York seven years ago and just why I am now about to leave.”

I was hooked.

Over the years, I have taught that essay to freshman college students more times than I can count. It remains, for me, the ideal model of a personal essay. Anchored by knowing details–like the dollar amounts and street addresses that give structure to an essay that could be otherwise unwieldy as it is so full of youthful longing and sadness and recall. I can recite whole passages of this essay by heart—so much has it become a part of my consciousness over the years. And the collection as a whole is one that I treasure—in fact, this is the only book that I would never loan to a friend.

And now, thirteen years later, there is a new collection of essays titled The Unspeakable that is just as beautiful as the last. I preordered this over the summer and when it arrived last month, I immediately started reading. Though I had to put it down while making dinner and tending to the business of children, I finished it that evening once the house had gone quiet.

The book contains ten essays, all of which are loosely organized around the idea of “the unspeakable,” that is, the truths that we all know but seldom say. Daum unflinchingly goes to the place of the real—where honesty and authenticity dwell. She writes about the complexities of mother/daughter relations (both specifically and universally) in “Matricide”; of not feeling compelled to motherhood in “Difference Maker”; and of her boundless love for dog Rex in “The Dog Exception.” While each piece functions as a discrete entity, together they form a cohesive whole that I believe is best read in sequence.

In the essay “Not What it Used to Be”—which speaks about memory, nostalgia, and moving on, I found this passage (about what one’s Older Self speaking to one’s Younger Self), “But here’s what Older Self will not have the heart to say: some of the music you are now listening to—the CDs you play while you stare out the window and think about the five million different ways your life might go—will be unbearable to listen to in twenty years. They will be unbearable not because they will sound dated and trite but because they will sound like the lining of your soul. They will take you straight back to the place you were in when you felt that anything could happen at any time, that your life was a huge room with a thousand doors, that your future was not only infinite but also elastic. They will be unbearable because they will remind you that at least half of the things you once planned for your future are now in the past and others got reabsorbed into your imagination before you could even think about acting on them. It will be as though you’d never thought of them in the first place, as if they were never meant to be anything more than passing thoughts you had while playing your stereo at night” (85-86).

Daum has the ability to cut right to the truth.

Read The Unspeakable. And if you’ve never read My Misspent Youth, read that too. Just don’t ask to borrow my copy. 😉

Foreign Language Friday: Schoenhof’s Foreign Books.

With the Internet it is pretty easy to get anything—from anywhere—and at anytime. However, some places are worth an in-person visit. And Schoenhof’s Foreign Books is one of those places.


Located just outside of Harvard Square, on Mount Auburn Street, Schoenhof’s boasts the largest collection of foreign books in North America. If that fact wasn’t impressive enough, consider this: the store was founded in 1856!

Last week, I visited with my children to select some French books. Schoenhof’s has a solid children’s and YA selection, so in no time, they had a stack of books in hand.

Here are the books that they selected.

As an added bonus, there was a holiday weekend sale, so all books were 50% off. The staff is cheerful and knowledgeable (and multilingual!), so be sure to ask if you need a recommendation. Patrons can order books online and can also purchase and download e-books directly through the store’s website.

Here is N. offering a reading of Madeline’s Christmas (en francais) and it features some funny ad lib moments throughout. 🙂


Bookminded Recommends: Cutting Teeth.

Julia Fierro explores the politics of parenting and its attendant relationships through a satirical lens in her debut novel, Cutting Teeth. Fans of Amy Sohn’s recent work (Prospect Park West and Motherland) will likely enjoy this story, which documents one weekend that a group of thirtysomething parents and their children spend in a Long Island beach house.

The mothers (and one stay-at-home dad) initially meet and become friends at a local playgroup established when their now toddlers are babies. In the group, there are a variety of personalities that don’t always mesh, but they are held together by a Friday afternoon playgroup ritual that provides them all with a social safety net.

There is the alpha female, Tiffany, who has reinvented herself from a troubled past to the owner of “Tiff’s Riffs”—a center offering musical playgroups for young children. There is Susanna, an artist and mother of twin boys, who is expecting a third child with her longtime partner, Allie. Nicole is an anxious mother of two that self-medicates by smoking pot and is convinced that the world is ending after reading sinister Internet predictions. Leigh is the well-heeled mother of Chase and Charlotte, who is hiding money troubles and another big secret. And Rip is the stay-at-home dad in the group who is concerned that his time at home is coming to a close unless he convinces his wife to have another baby, and fast.

The ingredients for domestic discord are in full supply when the couples leave the city and head to the beach. Outside of the shared context of their Brooklyn bubble, the differences between them float to the surface and the added tension of their respective partners only serves to amplify the unease.

Fierro is a keen observer of detail and her dialogue natural, which is important because the narrators switch from chapter to chapter. All-in-all, an enjoyable book that is immensely readable. I breezed through it in two evening sittings and even my puppy was trying to get a hold of it (see photo evidence below)! Back in October, I had the pleasure of hearing the author read from her work and when I had the chance to speak with her afterward, she was funny and engaging—just like Cutting Teeth.

Since my puppy Hildy is *actually* cutting teeth, I guess this book must have been calling her name...

Since my puppy Hildy is *actually* cutting teeth, I guess this book must have been calling her name…Ruh-roh.


Bookminded Recommends: Visiting the New Harvard Art Museums.

We stayed local for Thanksgiving, so the day after, we were looking for a good family activity. And Black Friday shopping wasn’t it. My daughter suggested an art museum—but “one that [she] had not visited before.” As an aside, somehow I have managed to brainwash our kids into not only enduring, but enjoying museum-going (something else to be thankful for!).

As the Harvard Art Museums were newly reopened, we decided to take a short sojourn to Cambridge. After lunch here—because my top secret to getting kids to like museums is to feed them first—we hurried through Harvard Yard and to Quincy Street. Before the redesign by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop (also responsible for the recent Gardner facelift) the three museums: Fogg, Busch-Reisinger, and Arthur M. Sackler were discrete entities. Now they are joined by a glass and steel roof and the effect is nothing short of breathtaking. My first experience visiting the Fogg Museum was years ago as a high school art student (thank you, Mrs. Burns!) but the new unified structure is different in every way.
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The collection is truly impressive beginning with ancient artifacts to engage the history buff.
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While N. was diligently copying down the provenance details of various ancient coins, a man to her left was pontificating about the dearth of "true English art" in the National Galleries of London.

While N. was diligently copying down the provenance details of various ancient coins, a man to her left was pontificating about the dearth of “true English art” in the National Galleries of London.

There are also plenty of recognizable names, like Matisse, Rodin, Picasso, and Renoir.
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They love to "take notes" and sketch what they see. Look out John Berger!

They love to “take notes” and sketch what they see. Look out John Berger!

But there are also interesting exhibits by lesser-known artists. Like this mixed-media one from German artist Rebecca Horn, featuring film, photograph, and object alike. In particular, I loved this one, Flying Books under Black Rain Painting, which is a kinetic sculpture that was commissioned by the Museums.
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If you are in the area, you really must visit. It is truly an impressive collection—and now too, a truly inspiring space.

Bookminded Recommends: Cards for Readers.

Last week, I popped into a local garden shop in search of a new plant for my kitchen after my countertop rosemary tree withered away.

For those in the Boston area, Cedar Grove Gardens (located in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood) is a hidden jewel. Not only is it a great spot for larger plants and garden plantings, but it is a full service florist and gift shop.

After I selected a plant that I was assured would survive under my care (!), these cards caught my eye. I picked up two that I thought would be perfect to send reading friends on the occasion of a birthday. Aren’t they cute?




And here is the plant I picked out, which seems to be flourishing in its new home. 🙂


Monday Misc.

Happy December 1!

For the past week, I have taken a bit of a blogging hiatus in order to get through a busy time at work (the end of semester always hits like a tornado), recover from a lingering cold, moving my blog over to a different server (exciting changes to come!) and enjoy Thanksgiving with family and friends. I hope you enjoyed some downtime too!

In the meantime, I have been doing lots of reading (like Meghan Daum’s new essay collection and Julia Fierro’s debut novel); soaking up local culture (like the newly-reopened Harvard Art Museums); and eating great meals (including a fabulous Thanksgiving feast here).

I even fit in a weeknight showing of this film.

This week, look for my reviews of these things as well as the start of holiday book suggestions—for gifting and getting.

And P.S., am I the only one getting excited for this?
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