Tuesday, April 4, 2017

On the Bookshelf: Batman, Jane Austen, and How to Live in a Car

Okay, everyone: it happened again. I found myself overloaded with tons of fascinating books. This is what happens when I visit several libraries in the Oklahoma City metro. And, naturally, I have to read these books, because they are interesting and I love books. So, for any of you interested in what has been occupying much of my time, here follow some thoughts on cookbooks, nonfiction, and fiction books of a variety of topics-everything from Jane Austen to "how to live in a car" to Batman!

The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee, by James Freeman, Caitlin Freeman, and Tara Duggan. This is a fantastic volume packed with coffee-related goodness. James Freeman tells the unlikely story of how he began roasting and selling coffee, and how his work evolved into the Blue Bottle Coffee Company. He discusses the whole process of coffee-from the plant to production to roasting to sales-and gives a detailed exposition on different ways to make coffee. There is a very in-depth section on espresso makers, and the book concludes with a selection of recipes for treats that are designed to be eaten while enjoying a cup of coffee. I loved this book, and found it extremely informative and interesting-and learning about the intricacies of coffee has helped me enjoy the flavors and differences between coffees more!

The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes, by Sasha Duerr. This was a fascinating and delightful book about Slow Textiles (taking time to be aware of a garment's life cycle, for example) and using organic plants to dye fibers. The book went through many different types of dyes that can be obtained in the wild, grown in a garden, or taken from a kitchen (like onion skins!). After going through this book, I really want to do a dyeing project sometime in the summer!

Heartless, by Marissa Meyer. This book is 452 pages, and I read it from start to finish in less than 20 hours. And part of that time I was sleeping, at Mass, and hanging out with my husband and baby. I think this shows just how riveting and amazing Heartless was. Wow. I love Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series, so when I heard about her novel that provides the origin story for the Queen of Hearts, I was very excited to read it! Five stars, this book was beautifully written, incredibly tragic, and simply amazing.

The Magnolia Story, by Chip and Joanna Gaines. I have never seen the Gaines' show on HGTV, and honestly did not know much about them at all. But, when I heard about this book, I thought it sounded like a darling story. I mean, a love story and the story of their adventurous life flipping houses? Yes please! I loved this book a lot. I really liked how it was a conversational back-and-forth between Chip and Joanna, I loved hearing about the many misadventures that they've encountered (such as the police having a warrant for Joanna's arrest shortly after she gave birth!) and how God brought them through it all in crazy miraculous ways. This story was exciting, engaging, and beautiful, and I highly recommend it.

Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and (Almost) No Money, by Dolly Freed. When I saw the title, I was intrigued, and I'm very glad I picked this book up! While I disagreed with some of the author's sentiments, this book was all-around fascinating. She walks the reader through the process of living off the land and the freedom that she and her father found when they started living their quirky lifestyle in the backwoods. What's very interesting is that in the copy I found, the author came back years later (the book was originally written several years ago) to make some notes at the end about how she has completely changed her views about some things. A very interesting read, which I recommend!

Make Ahead Bread, by Donna Currie. This was a very practical bread cookbook which provided a wide range of recipes using easy-to-find ingredients. I've already made the Savory Monkey Bread from this book (loved it!) and I just liked the simple, accessible way that this cookbook was made (photographs! So many photographs and explanations about ingredients!).

Caramel, Caramel, and more Caramel! by Ivana Nitzan and Michael Moses. This cookbook was all about caramel, and included both sweet and savory recipes! I didn't make any of them, but they looked really tasty, and I liked that the recipes all specified at the beginning whether or not you'd need a candy thermometer to make it. It's a pretty nifty cookbook if you want to cook with caramel!

How to Live in a Car, Van, or RV, by Bob Wells. I should clarify: I am not planning to live in a car anytime soon, BUT this book was still very interesting to read!!! Wells, I learned, became a vandweller twice-once out of necessity, and the other time by choice. As he tells a little bit about his story, he walks the reader through the process of turning your car/van into a home and all that is entailed in this. I disagreed with some of his principles (some of his ideas seemed a little sketchy, legally speaking), but overall I really liked what he discussed. He really makes the idea of living out of a van seem not just possible, but pretty darn epic.

Silence, by Shusaku Endo. I read this years ago, but since a movie version came out and so many people are talking about Silence, I figured it was time for a re-read. This is a beautifully written book (the prose is gorgeous!), and very thought-provoking. It's a great discussion book about what it means to choose Christ and live as a Christian in the face of persecution!

Longbourn, by Jo Baker. Think "Downton Abbey meets Pride & Prejudice" and you'll have a good idea of what this book is. We hear all about the servants who work for the Bennets, so this book is much earthier than P&P, and it gives a good perspective of what that time period was like for so many people. Aside from a little bit of sexual content here and there, I really enjoyed this quite a bit! I highly recommend it to people who like Jane Austen and Downton Abbey.

The Caped Crusade: Batman and the rise of nerd culture, by Glen Weldon. Guys, this book. SO FASCINATING! I love Batman, and Weldon does a great job of thoroughly discussing the different incarnations of this superhero that have been created over the decades. Really, really interesting stuff-and it put me in the mood to watch some of the 1960s Batman TV show, which is always a good thing ;) I highly recommend this to people who love Batman and/or people who like learning about superhero and comic book history!

A Call to Mercy: Hearts to love, Hands to serve, edited by Brian Kolodiejechuk. This book is totally incredible. When a friend recommended it to me, I was like, "okay, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is cool and all that, but I'm not in any rush to read it." But then I saw it displayed at the local library, and picked it up and WOW. The book is divided into chapters for each of the Corporal and Spiritual works of mercy, and each chapter has stories about how Mother Teresa lived these out, words that she said pertaining to the works of mercy, and each chapter ends with some self-reflection questions so that we can see how better to live the works of mercy. Y'all need to read this book, I'm not even kidding.

Cooking with Jane Austen, by Kirsten Olsen. If you like Jane Austen, you will love this book. If you like history, you will love this book. Olsen provides an in-depth, well-researched discussion of what cooking and dining was like in Austen's time period. She also provides period-appropriate recipes that correspond to foods featured in Austen's books and letters, and she provides modern adaptations of these recipes so that we can replicate them easily! This is a massive book, and I had to keep renewing it so that I could finish it before returning it to the library. I'll definitely be checking this one out again in the future, so that I can attempt a recipe or two! (but maybe not the stewed cucumbers. The author said that those were pretty gross when she tested them out for the book)

The Nerdy Nummies Cookbok, by Rosanna Pansino. I had never heard of the author (apparently she has an internet cooking show?), but the title grabbed me and I just had to see what this cookbook was. The recipes covered a whole spectrum of nerdiness, including treats that related to math, science, and geekiness. Everything was fairly generalized, so you'd be able to adapt a recipe to a variety of circumstances. So, instead of having a Legend of Zelda recipe for rupees, there is a recipe for candy gems. I thought many of these treats were creative, but a lot of them required very specific baking items and molds, so I don't know that I'd ever make most of these. But, there were some cute ideas, and I liked looking through this book. 

It's the little things: the everyday interactions that get under the skin of blacks and whites, by Lena Williams. In this book, Williams bluntly lays out the grievances and struggles that many black people deal with on a daily basis. She included quotations from a variety of people, which I thought was nice, because it gave a range of voices. A lot of what she said was extremely eye-opening to me. For example, I never knew that for some black women, hair is a touchy subject! This book really helped me to see the perspective that Williams and many other people have, so that even if I don't necessarily agree with or understand everything, I can at least try to be more compassionate and mindful of racial differences and differences in beliefs. I also liked that at the close of this book, she included a chapter where various white people mentioned difficulties that they have-many of which I could relate to. I highly recommend this book! 

The Memory of Old Jack, by Wendell Berry. I've only read one other book by Wendell Berry (Hannah Coulter), but I've decided that I need to read more from this man. His prose is beautiful, and I love how he discusses the relationship between mankind and the land that he works. This book follows Old Jack throughout his day as, in the span of one day, he recollects a lifetime's worth of memories. This book is oh-so-sad and full of death (the night after I finished it, I actually dreamed that I was in a mortuary, planning my funeral), but it's beautiful. I still like Hannah Coulter much better, but this was a good read. 

Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh. I first picked this up during college, but with all the classes and homework and socializing I had going on, I just wasn't able to give it as much time or attention as it deserves. So, now that I don't have classes and homework, I decided to revisit this novel ;) It's a beautiful, thought-provoking, and interesting novel about Charles Ryder and his friendship with Sebastian Flyte and Sebastian's complicated Catholic family. This is a novel about sin and redemption, beauty and humanity. There's a lot in this novel that I need to chew on and think about, and I'm excited to dive into some articles I've seen that discuss it! 

For the Record, by Regina Jennings. This is a sweet Christian romance novel about Betsy Huckabee, a young woman determined to get published in a big-name newspaper. When a new deputy comes to her small town, she decides to secretly write a series of sensationalized stories for the women's section of the paper that are loosely-ish based on him. While I don't dive into Christian romance novels often because they aren't always up my alley, I did like this one. I liked the conflict that Betsy faces of basing stories off of a man (without his knowledge of it), because I found that very relatable as a writer, and it seemed like a pretty unique approach to a Christian Western romance book. This was a fun, quick read, and I recommend it to fans of Western romance novels! 

A street cat names Bob: and how he saved my life, by James Bowen. This is the true story of how Bowen, a recovering drug addict, became attached to a street cat-and how his life was forever changed and transformed. I cried, smiled, and grew in my awareness of what it's like to play an instrument or sell newspapers on street corners. I loved this book, and I highly, highly, highly recommend it. Even if you don't like cats. This book describes an amazing relationship between a man and his cat, and really shows the amazing things that one can accomplish when he perseveres. 

I hope you all enjoyed hearing about my latest reading adventures! If any of you try the recipes out of the Jane Austen cookbook, I'd love to hear how they turn out! 


  1. My family lived in an RV for a few months when I was 9-10, while we were between homes. It was pretty epic....but with five kids and two parents, it was also a mite crowded. That story about the street cat sounds really cool! And I'm not even the biggest animal lover...

    1. Wow, I bet living in an RV for any amount of time was an adventure!

  2. I haven't yet read "The Magnolia Story." I need to, though. We love Chip and Joanna. I went to college in Waco (they attend the same church I went to during my years there). I love what they are doing for the community of Waco and the way they subtly share about Jesus though their work.
    Please tell me that blueberries were among the natural dyes discussed in the book you read on that topic. We had some the other day and Amaris got some on her shirt. The blue/purple color won't come out!

    1. Wow, that's so cool that you have that connection to Chip and Joanna Gaines! So cool. And yes, it is awesome to see how they share about Jesus and how they're such great witnesses of marriage and family life.
      Oh no! I'm so sorry to hear that Amaris got some blueberries on her shirt! I've thought about doing that (on purpose) sometime, but then I realize that I'd rather eat the blueberries.

  3. That's probably one of the most eclectic reading lists I've ever seen!