Really Nowhere Near 50 Books!

Happy stupid new year, everybody!  It’s supposed to be our first day back at school today, but we’re keeping everyone home, waiting for the phone to ring, hoping that the idea of nine kids coming in to the hospital to be tested for strep throat is just as terrifying for the doctor as it is for us, and that she will just call in prescriptions for everybody.  Maybe just a giant vat of penicillin, which I will pour into the tub, and we can just swim around in it for a while. I wouldn’t even mind the big pink cat ring, as long as we don’t have to go to the hospital.

We did this same thing last year (the strep, I mean, not the vat).  This photo is in the folder marked “Christmas 2011″:


(Don’t worry, I wasn’t storing them in direct sunlight.  I just lined them up on the windowsill for dramatic effect.)  This year, my husband went from being sorta kinda sniffly to DYING VERY FAST, and it turned out he had an abscess on his tonsil.  EWWWWWWWWW.  I mean, awwwwwwwwww.  Poor guy. Isn’t that awful?

The worst part was that he only had me to take care of him.  I can be nurturing for as long as ten or eleven minutes at a time, but beyond that, I find sick people irritating.  As you can imagine, I then feel horribly guilty about that, and take it out on the sick people. So, the moral of this story is, get the hell away from me, with your pain and suffering.  I mean, would you like some orange juice?  Or tea?  No?  Well, then I guess I’ll go shovel the driveway ALL BY MYSELF, with no one to help me.

The other thing I stink at is doing fifty book reviews on the fifty days before Christmas.  I thought I would be really clever and have fun while raising enough Amazon credits to entirely pay for Christmas.  And dad gummit, I almost made it!  To tell you the truth, I made TONS of money in credits, and I am so grateful to you guys!  Lots of people went out of their way to use my links to buy all sorts of big ticket items.

The only catch was, there is a 60-day delay on payments, and so I’m expecting a huge credit  . . . any day now.  Le sigh.  But man, next Christmas is gonna be a doozy!  So again, thank you for going to the trouble.  I know shopping is complicated enough, without having to remember to make sure some lady on the internet gets her piece of the pie.

By the time Christmas came, I had managed to list 33 books, and have sort of organized them below.  (If you want to see the original posts, here is a list of them.)  I thought it would be fun to keep up a once-a-week book recommendation, too, probably on Wednesdays.  As long as no JERKS get SICK again and mess up my schedule.

Oh, and Christmas day itself was lovely at our house (the sickness really set in a few days afterward).  We went to Midnight Mass and spent Christmas day wallowing in wrapping paper and cinnamon buns, and everyone was happy.  There was a little bit of this


while we were preparing to go out in the cold in the middle of the night, but there was a lot more of this:

[yeah, okay, actually I haven’t uploaded the Christmas morning photos yet, but it was pretty great.]

Oh, one more thing:  please join me in sending up a prayer for Melanie Bettinelli, who was hoping to have her new baby Lucia in her arms by now, but had to postpone her c-section because she was so sick!

All right, here are the 33 books:

YA Fiction

Most of these were recommended by my 13-year-old and 14-year-old daughters.  I’ve starred the ones I recommend for adults as well as “young adults.”

The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud

Shooting Kabul by N. H. Senzai

The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson

The Name of This Book Is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch


Angels and Other Strangers:  Family Christmas Stories by Katherine Paterson

*The Golden Key by George MacDonald, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Leviathan by Scott Westerfield


*The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien


*Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams


The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner


A Dog’s Life:  The Autobiography of a Stray by Ann M. Martin


*The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson


The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare


Children’s Books

A Time to Keep:  A  The Tasha Tudor Book of Holidays

The Flying Carpet by Marcia Brown

Who Is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate, illustrated by Ashley Wolff

The Golden Egg Book by Margaret Wise brown, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard

The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivisas an illustrated by the wonderful Helen Oxenbury.

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe

The Golden Bible, Old Testament, illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky

It Could Always Be Worse:  A Yiddish Folktale written and illustrated by Margo Zemach


Non-fiction for adults  (I’ve starred the ones that are also suitable for teenagers.)

From Bauhaus to Our House   by Tom Wolfe

Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart by Fr. Jacques Philippe

God Help Me!  This Stress is Driving Me Crazy: Finding Balance through God’s Graceby Gregory Popcak

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham

*Masterworks of Ukiyo-E: Hokusai Sketches and Paintings

*The Rattle Bag edited by poets Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes

*The Family of Man by Edward Steichen and Carl Sandburg

*and Hokusai, First Manga Master [for some reason, WordPress won’t let me turn this one into a link]


Fiction for adults

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

The Odyssey, the translation by Robert Fagles

*The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

Wow, I can’t believe those are the only two adult fiction books on the list!  I guess I was trying hard to branch out, since I actually read mostly novels.




50 Books: What Kinkade was aiming for

First, a shameless plug:  order today with standard shipping from my CafePress store,and get a free shipping upgrade so your items will arrive by December 24.

Doesn’t your beloved wife deserve some Dignaroos?  Or won’t you step up and protect her honor on her semi-annual Trip Outside the Home by furnishing her with this presumably finely-crafted aluminum Pants Pass?  Or some other ridiculous crap I threw together?


Then let’s retreat from crass materialism.  I hope everybody knows Tasha Tudor, whose gentle illustrations are always full of sweet grace and warmth.  They are what Thomas Kinkade and Precious Moments fail so wretchedly to capture:  simplicity, innocence, and the small joys of the family.  My favorite Tasha Tudor book is

a time to keep

A Time to Keep:  A  The Tasha Tudor Book of Holidays

Endlessly fascinating, this book takes you through a year of traditions and celebrations from the old days.  It makes you feel happy and nostalgic for things you aren’t actually old enough to remember.  I still feel, deep in the heart of me, that someday I will send a multi-layered birthday cake floating down the river for an evening party, or we will make our own tin can firecrackers to scare the corgis.  Some books that hearken to a simpler time make you feel melancholy and guilty when you’re done, as you compare your life to what you’ve read; but this book doesn’t have that effect.  I’m not even sure why.  Maybe because, like Norman Rockwell, she injects enough realism — skinned knees, chapped lips, burnt fingers — to remind you that life was never perfect; and that children are still children, and always will be.

50 Books: the Ultimate Reading Accessory

Back to books tomorrow, but I couldn’t resist adding in one non-book item:

tv b gone

Perhaps you have found yourself sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, and the wall-mounted TV is on, and you aren’t quite up to answering the question, “Momeeeeee, what is a ‘twanssexual wuv twiangle?’”

Or you’re sitting in a restaurant for your biennial date with your husband, waiting for your bloomin’ onion to arrive, and you realize that your precious evening is being devoured by the eleven wall-mounted screens, all showing the Laker Girls?

Or heck, maybe you’re sitting in that same restaurant and Michael Voris comes on, and you actually listen with an open heart for once and you suddenly realize that he actually is a fearless prophet who will save the world, and is, as  one of my readers pointed out, “completely faithful to the magnesium?”  But, because of your heart of stone, you are unwilling to take back your calumnious words, and so you wish you could just TURN THE TV OFF?

That’s what the TV-B-Gone Universal TV Power Remote Control Keychain does.  It turns off TVs.  Point and click, and whatever’s troubling you on the silver screen goes away, so you can wait for the phlebotomist or bloomin’ onion or continue to dwell in non-Vorisian darkness in peace and quiet for another day.


Seven to Ten Quick Takes: 50 Books: Guest Post: I like colons


Today’s guest post is written by my ever-enthusiastic 13-year-old daughter, Dora (who was born and named approximately six months before Dora the UsurperExplorer made her irritating debut). 

Standard disclaimer:  I have read some, but not all of these books, neglectful mother, ideas have consequences, corrupting the youth, blah blah blah.  I have read Shooting Kabul and it was fine, and I loved The Star of Kazan — thought it was really sweet and imaginative, and just altogether much more pleasant, well-written and entertaining than 99% of literature for this age group.  I have a bit of a prejudice against books that come out as an instant series, and haven’t read the other ones. 



The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud

bart trilogy

Individual books:  The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye, Ptolemy’s Gate

This has three really funny, really awesome books.  The series follows the story of a demonic daemon (djinn) named Bartimaeus.  He is constantly being summoned by a snotty brat of a magician, Nathaniel.  In the second one, I was laughing  over a buffalo.  When I first saw the books, I only checked the first two out, and was very angry at myself for weeks before I finally got back to the library, and got the last book.  I recommend this to anyone over ten who is a good reader and has a sense of humor.


Shooting Kabul by N. H. Senzai

shooting kabul

This is an amazingly good book. I got it from my schools “free book day,” or something.  It’s about a family that’s trying to escape from Afghanistan to the United States right before 9/11.  On the way, the youngest child gets left behind, and throughout the whole book, her older brother, Fadi, is trying to find her.  It is unsure, though, if there is a happy ending.  [I think she means the reader is not sure whether it will end happily.  Spoiler for my more nervous readers, since this is a pretty good book, and worth reading: The little girl does get found! — Admin]  Emotional people,beware, this book will probably make you cry.


The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson

star of kazan

A super-dee-duper awesome book about an orphaned girl living in a wonderful home in Vienna.  One day a woman shows up at her doorstep, claiming to be her mother.  This great story is filled with twists, and when I read it, sometimes it gets so good I want to throw it down and stalk away.  [I read this sentence several times, uncertain of its meaning, and finally concluded that my daughter is a weirdo. –Admin] Everything is tied up at the end, and one of my favorite parts is the epilogue.  All in all an awesome book.


The Name of This Book Is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch

secret series

This is the start of a captivating, but maddening, series.  It is called the Secret Series.  There are five books in all, and you need a lot of patience to read them all.  It follows the story of someone who might be named Cass, as she tries to find out the Secret of Life.  It gets a little wearisome after a while, what with all the “Oh, I guess I’ll tell you the Secret.  Oh, wait!  Never mind!” from the narrator, but once you get past that, it is pretty good.

50 Books: Katherine Paterson

Back to the books!  Today’s pick is a collection of very short stories for older elementary school kids to adults:


angels and other strangers


Angels and Other Strangers:  Family Christmas Stories by Katherine Paterson


These stories all center around Christmas, and they all seem like they’re going to cross the line and get maudlin . . . but they don’t.  This is one of Paterson’s earlier works, and she’s clearly still gathering her powers; but even when she’s not so subtle, she’s great.  These are all stories about love and about finding Christ in, as Mother Teresa would say, His more “distressing disguises.”  Paterson is a true American treasure — and, happily, she is very prolific – and I’ve found only a few books of hers that I don’t like.

This book appears to be out of print, so you’ll  probably want to buy one of the used copies to avoid the crazy prices (please note, the cover I show is just one possible edition!  I’ve been careless before, and ended up ordering something I wasn’t expecting on Amazon) — but you won’t regret adding this one to your library.  Paterson is a great teacher of love in action, something kids (and everyone) desperately need to learn about.


50 Books: zip pop

Self-help books (from yesterday) always make me think of Walker Percy, and Walker Percy always makes me think of Tom Wolfe, and Tom Wolfe makes everyone think ofThe Bonfire of the Vanities , but have you ever read


From Bauhaus to Our House ?  By Tom Wolfe?

This slim volume (I love saying that) from 1981 tells the bizarre story of how we, the consumer, were quietly conned into accepting “grim and hideous” as the two main pillars of modern architecture — not that pillars have any place in modern architecture.  There has been a small movement back toward beauty and ornamentation in the last few years, but the metal and glass box still has a firm grip on our aesthetic sensibility (gosh, I’m tired.  Well, you know what I mean).

Anyway, even if you’re not normally interested in architecture (and you should be!  What we build tells you who we are, or who we want to be), this weird and hilarious book will open your eyes to What Happened; and it’s a great intro to the non-fiction writing of Tom Wolfe, which I prefer to his fiction.  Ha ha, and Playboy magazine reviewed it thus:  “Sharp serpent’s-tooth wit, useful cultural insight, and snazzy zip! pop! writing.”  So there you have it.  Snazzy and zip pop.

50 Books: Guest Post: Peace and Balance

Today’s book picks are by my sister, Rosie Herreid, who recommends some very timely reads for Advent:


Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart by Fr. Jacques Philippe

searching for an maintaining peace

I felt noticeable more peaceful while I was reading this book.  At first glance it seems to offer the kind of cliche spiritual advice that is hard to take to heart, but it is actually full of extremely practical advice about breaking destructive mental habits.

Fr. Philippe begins by dismantling the subtle temptation to fight the “wrong battle,” which he describes as the misplaced desire to attain peace by conquering all of our faults and all of the external obstacles to peace.

…if we expect peace…because everything is going well…and our desires are completely satisfied, …then it is certain that we will never know peace or that our peace will be extremely fragile and of short duration.

Instead, the first step towards finding peace is to look for it in the right place: trusting in God.   He describes his own interior peace this way: “The external situation was always the same, there were always problems to solve, but the heart had changed, and from then on, I could confront them peacefully.”  This is a small, extremely easy-to-read little book, written in a gentle and tender tone.

One more snippet, a prayer upon making a decision, which demonstrates how effectively Fr. Philippe cuts through mental confusion and scrupulosity:

“Lord, I have thought about it and prayed to know Your will.  I do not see it clearly, but I am not going to trouble myself any further.  I am not going to spend hours racking my brain….I know well that, even if I am mistaken, You will not be displeased with me, for I have acted with good intentions.  And if I have made a mistake, I know that You are able to draw good from this error….’  And I remain at peace.


God Help Me!  This Stress is Driving Me Crazy: Finding Balance through God’s Grace by Gregory Popcak

god help me popcak

This is the book Fr. Philippe would have written if, in addition to being a wise spiritual adviser, he was also a very practical psychotherapist with an annoying sense of humor.  Dr. Popcak does an impressive job of smoothly weaving together spiritual advice, traditional therapy techniques, and extremely practical, specific, and step-by-step guidelines for extricating yourself from the pit of anxiety.  This is the book for the person who is warily venturing into the field of self-help books, but afraid of running into ideas that clash with Christianity or offer vague psychobabble instead of concrete advice.

Dr. Popcak’s approach combines surprisingly deep theological insights with practical ways to recognize and dismantle bad mental habits.  One of my favorite examples, on the mental habit of magnification:

Imagine standing in the middle of the railroad tracks.  A train is bearing down on you, and all you can think is, ‘How am I ever going to lift this train before it crushes me?’  Never mind that if you stepped five paces to the left or right you would be just fine.  Magnification causes us to feel that our problems are so big there is nothing to do but become paralyzed by them.  We forget that no matter how big our problems are, God always obliges us to act….

Avoid platitudes like ‘Don’t worry.  You’re going to be OK.  God won’t give you any more than you can handle.’  All of these statements may be true, but they lack the weight needed to be any real help to you or anyone else….If you can’t figure out what to do, make that your main mental occupation, not worrying…Put all of your energy into finding solutions, not into nursing your stress.

This book made me realize that God wants me to be healthy in every way, and that includes psychologically; that He blesses psychotherapy and self-help books just as much as spiritual help and taking care of your body, because He wants you to use everything He has provided to make yourself well.

50 Books: Who is coming to our house?

One of the sweetest animal Christmas stories I’ve ever seen:

Who Is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate, illustrated by Ashley Wolff

who is coming cover

It’s very short and simple.  All the animals in the stable know that someone is coming to their house, and they wonder and wonder who it could be.  They do what they can to prepare for their guest, and at the end, everyone welcomes Him.

A very warm, gentle, and happy book (and Mary is shown lying down and snuggling the baby after giving birth, which I always appreciate!).

who is coming to our house interior

I’ve linked to the sturdy board book version, because I think little guys will appreciate the warm colors and friendly animal faces — but I always find the little story moving and comforting, myself.


50 books: Guest Post by Steve Gershom

Okay, so I just completely forgot to post a book pick yesterday.  Today, I’m featuring two good books for Advent reading.  The first recommendation is written by the wonderful Steve Gershom (Catholic, Gay, and Feeling Fine, Thanks).


The Golden Key by George MacDonald

illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Everybody runs the risk of doing what Revelation 2:4 warns about: forsaking their first love. I come back to The Golden Key often, to remind me what my first love was and is.
It’s a children’s story, and my mother first read it to me when I was maybe eight years old, but it laid the groundwork for all the things that, when I am at my best, I am able to remember about life: that it is terribly good and terribly exciting; that the stakes couldn’t be higher; that real goodness is a thing that glows white hot; that our final destination is a beauty so deep you could never hit bottom.
Not that kids will get all of that at first. It works as a standard fairy tale, too: the quest for a magical object, the strange, sage-like figures met along the way, the tests and trials. The adult will see further, and if he’s reading it out loud, should probably have several kleenexes at hand.
                                                                                                                                                                                                   –Steve Gershom
And, since I owe you a book from yesterday, let me remind you that ADVENTHOLOGY has broken free from the murky realms of pre-ordering, and is now on sale.  Here is the cover for my contribution:
Here is an excerpt:

But what if we’re too sick, too busy, or too lazy to enter into a full observance of each season?  What if we’re just half-hearted draftees as the calendar reels by?  Or what if we get so caught up in the preparation that we miss the main event?  What if we’re never sure we did it right?

It’s the liturgical calendar to the rescue again.  Just like any life, the life of the Church includes healthy doses of Ordinary Time.  Mother Church, in her wisdom, knows that her children need regular lulls of boredom and routine in order to process everything that happened to us during the feasts and fasts.  The great celebrations of the liturgical year are a tremendous gift to us, but ordinary time is something just as valuable:  time to unpack the gifts we received.  Time to see what we really have.

And time to remember that Christ was born as a baby.  The thing about babies?  They need time to grow.

Stay tuned for more excerpts from the other contributors, Dorian Speed and Brandon Vogt (and click here for an excerpt of Dan Lord’s contirbution).  Also check out the editor Ryan Charles Trusell’s redesigned website, where he’s recently started blogging!

50 books: speaking of heathen stuff

Today’s book pick is one I just read to my kids last night, and it’s just as good as I remembered it from my childhood.

The Flying Carpet by the wonderful Marcia Brown 

(retold from Richard Burton’s translation of The Arabian Nights)

Very lavish and rhythmic, so much fun to read out loud (warning:  plot spoiler!)

“Alas!  We have traveled far and wide for hope of wedding the Princess Nur-al Nihar.  But in vain!  She lies on her bed, sick unto death.  Her women weep and wail in sorrow.  O my brothers, if you would see her for the last time, take a look before she is no more!”

Ali and Ahmad looked into the tube.  Indeed Nur-al Nihar was about to die.  Ahmad turned to his brothers.  “Come, she is not yet lost.  I can save the princess!” He pulled from his pocket the magical apple and told them what it could do.

“My carpet!” cried Prince Husayn.  “It shall fly us in the twinkling of an eye straight to our beloved!”

The illustrations are like what you’d get if Marc Chagall were an Arab — gorgeously gaudy,  just absolutely perfect to completely satisfy a child’s thirst for brilliant color, emotion, texture, and action.  We love this book!