Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What I'm Reading in the Winter Break

I want to thank everyone who wrote me messages of encouragement and shared their own stories on my last post. I am so touched and grateful that you joined in the conversation. In talking about my fears of diabetes openly, I feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Clearly, a lot of us are in this together. I do believe that 2015 is going to be a big year of small changes for the better. 

It is cold and dreary here and I've spent most evenings this month reading or quilting. I took up a rather challenging (for me) quilt this year, making a couple of squares each month of 2014 and shocked myself by finishing it before year end!

As for reading, my three favorite books this month were all about questions and answers. 


What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe (of xkcd comics fame) is the most delightful book I've read all year. Munroe is a physicist. Readers of his website posed absurd questions to him and he answered them as thoroughly and seriously as he could, using principles of science, math and logic.

If you have a curious nature, if you've ever wondered, "How much physical space does the Internet take up?", or "What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made of the corresponding element?" or "How many unique English tweets are possible?", you'll find this book hilarious, entertaining, illuminating and very very clever.

I disagreed with a couple of his answers to biological questions. I would have answered them a completely different way. But that is the point of absurd hypothetical questions- they make you think and there is rarely one right answer, just a range of plausible ones. If science was taught this way, more kids would find themselves in STEM fields.

Big Questions from Little People: And Simple Answers from Great Minds compiled by Gemma Elwin Harris. Kids ask the most baffling questions from morning to night, and this book collects some such questions posed by kids ages 4-12 and gets experts to actually answer them. The questions range from "Why is space so sparkly?" to "Why do wars happen?" to "What should you do when you can't think what to draw or paint?" to "Who is God?". The resulting collection is a delightful collection of quirky wisdom and some very profound thoughts. I think any grown-up would enjoy leafing through this book, and if you have a child ages 5-12 (or so), it would be really fun to read some of the questions and answers with them. 


Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. This is an unusual sort of book. Strayed used to be an anonymous advice columnist on a website. Readers would submit questions on love and life and the answers are compiled in this book. Reading a bunch of advice to strangers seems like a weird thing but this book is a powerful compilation of authentic and raw human emotion. This book made me "feel all the feelings and think all the things"- my litmus test for a worthwhile book. I'm very glad I read this masterpiece of heartache and hope. 

On to some fiction...

Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym. I have to thank Arpita for introducing me to this author. Pym has a knack for commenting on the tiny details of everyday life with wit and humor. This is a book about two men and two women who share an office and who are all approaching retirement age. This is not a plot-driven novel but a character-driven one. It is a quiet book, sad and funny in its way, as it comments on human nature. 

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is a gentle, sad yet ultimately uplifting story. This is a story both literal and metaphorical about the journey that we humans undertake. Harold Fry is recently retired, living with his wife in a tense and bitter marriage in their home at the Southern-most tip of England. He gets a good-bye letter from an old colleague who is dying in a hospice at the Northern tip of England. Harold sets out to the corner mailbox to post a reply, then somehow, without planning or preparation, keeps walking for weeks (!) to see her in the hospice. “The world was made up of people putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply because the person living it had been doing so for a long time.” 

The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni was on my to-read list for a long time. When I finally picked it up this month, I did not "get" the story at all. It was tedious, not fun and I returned it without finishing the book. Oh well.

Meanwhile, here's what we have been reading with Miss Lila...

Otis by Loren Long. Lila borrowed this book from her school library and she can't get enough of it. It is the sweet story about friendship between a calf and an old tractor. Lila loves to say "putt putt puddety chuff" and those sort of tractor noises from the book.

The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle is so hilarious and endearing. The ill-tempered ladybug doesn't want to share a breakfast of aphids with the friendly ladybug and looks to pick a fight. When the friendly ladybug agrees to the fight, the grouchy ladybug says "Oh you're not big enough" and goes off to find progressively bigger animals to fight with.

If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Joffe Numeroff and Felicia Bond. Boy, we've read this one so many times that Lila and I both know the words by heart. This is completely ridiculous story about a young boy who offers a muffin to a visiting moose. One thing leads to another as the easily distracted moose jumps from activity to activity making a complete mess in the process.

All by Myself by Aliki. Nothing exceptional about this book except that since the title is Lila's all-time favorite phrase, I could not resist picking it up at the library. The book goes through a busy day in a child's life, highlighting the everyday actions he learns to do by themselves, such as buttoning his shirt and brushing his teeth. 

What are you reading these days? 

17 comments:

  1. Hi Nupur,

    I am so pleased to read that you and Lila enjoy 'If you Give a Moose a Muffin.'
    I found this quirky book in a small bookstore in Alaska, many years ago and as it came highly recommended by the lady at the cash desk, I bought it for my nephews. They loved it and of course I was made to create many similar scenarios involving other animals but rhyming is not one of my talents. So I was happy to discover the other books in this series, such as' If you take a Mouse to School' and 'If you Give a Dog a Doughnut.' The nephews were too old for these stories by then but I now had a little boy of my own who still loves them.
    I must personally admit to a soft corner for that scatty Moose....

    The Mistress of Spices bored me as well, however I did enjoy Sister of my Heart.

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    1. I found "moose" at a gently-used book sale and it is a slim paperback but definitely a favorite around here! I didn't realize that the author is the same one who wrote the mouse-cookie book.

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  2. I always enjoy hearing about what you are reading. Am sure I would love most of these. I have heard a bit about The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - I would fancy reading this too. I am reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman which is really entertaining if a little strange at time.

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    1. I've only read Coraline by Neil Gaiman and I did not like it as much as others seem to. I think I am put off by "strange" stories, I am too practical and not imaginative enough!!

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  3. Hi Nupur, I will have to check out your top 3 picks.... they sound good. I'm reading Fluent Forever which is a book about learning languages fast and retaining them....Someday I plan to take up French and justify the 5 years spent in school on it but for now, I'm improving my German... Hopefully you had a nice few days off. Hugs to Lila! Love, R

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    1. Learning languages is good fun- and great brain exercise! We're enjoying the winter holidays and hope you are too. Hugs to you!

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  4. I am intrigued by your book recommendations, as always, Nupur.

    Your quilt is lovely. I do have a whole list of things to do this coming year as well, and am planning to use the Getting Things Done approach. I hope you have a lovely 2015.

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    1. Thanks Radhika! Wishing you a wonderful 2015 too, with lots of good books!

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  5. Hi Nupur- loved that you read a Barbara Pym. I haven't read Quartet in Autumn- I've heard its one of her most melancholy, thoughtful ones. In a strange way I don't want to finish the Pym's- there are so few of them there will be nothing of hers to read afterwards :) I would like to read the strange pilgrimage of … soon myself.
    As for me I thought I would indulge in a Christmas read '12 Days of Christmas' by Trisha Ashley- I find it too frivolous- rather than being a relaxing read I'm getting annoyed- but determined to finish it.
    Another book I picked up was a collection of twelve holiday short stories called My True Love Gave to Me- all by YA fictional authors. So far I've enjoyed a story by Rainbow Rowell who I want to read more of now.
    Ive been dabbling in doodle teaching books- like how to draw a tulip 20 different ways- just for fun- so I can doodle in my journal.
    One of my new Years resolutions is to read 50 books in 2015. Lets see.. good to aim high… wish you and yours a very happy and healthy new year.
    Arpita.

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    1. Arpita- Quartet is melancholy for sure, but ever so relatable (perhaps because aging relatives have been on my mind lately...). The doodle books sound very interesting! I hope 2015 is stacked high with wonderful books for you!!

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  6. Wishing all of you a very happy new year, Nupur. Good health (most apt, after your previous wonderful post), good friends, good food and good times. And may your blog continue to bring cheer to all our lives :)

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    1. Thank you, dear Kamini, for these wonderful wishes! And I wish you a very happy 2015 too. I can't wait for your next post- it is such a treat.

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  7. Happy New Year!

    I finally got back into reading - here's my list
    - What If - I read his blog all the time and this book is great!
    - At Home by Bill Bryson - The history of everyday life written from the rooms that it happens in. Nice writing
    - Cant we talk about something more pleasant? - A graphic novel about caring for aging parents. A topic all too close to my heart and to a lot of my friends too.
    - My family and other animals - Gerald Durrell - re-reading for the 100th time!

    I highly recommend Henry and Mudge books for the little one - they are nice ones to graduate them to reading too.

    Happy New Year!

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    1. Glad you liked What If too, Vishakha! Can't we Talk...is very much on my reading list. I read an excerpt in the New Yorker and loved it. I'll look for Henry and Mudge books- thanks! Happy New Year to you too!

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  8. Isn't Tiny Beautiful Things just lovely? I'm glad you got to read it. Michael bought What If? recently and I'm looking forward to diving in!

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    1. Tiny Beautiful Things was so beautiful and heartbreaking. Cheryl Strayed really knows how to rip open emotions.

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  9. If you haven't already, highly recommend Anne Lamott's "Small Victories"... incandescent!!

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