Thursday, February 19, 2009


I love books. It probably shows. To discuss further, and also comment on comments, here's some further thought.

First, yes, I agree that while books in the home will lead to smarter children, I suspect the books themselves aren't the cause of the smarter children. People who read/love books are generally more intelligent and more intellectually involved with their children from the get-go, so I think the books are really more of a by-product. A lovely by-product to be sure, but not the initial trigger for the smartness. Plus of course you can get into genetics and just what is inherited and how I'm convinced big-brained people breed more big-brained people and while that doesn't equal smart, it's a darn good starting place.

When I visit other homes and don't see books, it kind of weirds me out. What do they DO? I imagine them like some kind of android, walking in the door and shutting off until they go out the door to work or school again in the morning (let it be said I never denied having an over-active imagination). On the other hand, visiting people WITH books is like an automatic topic for chit-chat. Years ago we visited with some friends of the in-laws who'd kindly invited us all to dinner. After, we wandered into the living room for drinks and there on the coffee table was a book on the history of electricity; I'd never had any idea our one host was interested. The husbeast and I immediately were off on history and technology and we had a wonderful time with our host that wouldn't have happened without him leaving that book there, and without me spotting it.

Even the husbeast, who is dyslexic, has a foot-high stack of car mechanics magazines next to his easy chair.

I also think that if anything, it's more important to have a child SEE you reading, than to read to them. Because the one leads to the other. If I'm reading, as often as not the Goober will turn up with a book of her own, or if there are pictures in what I'm reading, will simply lean over my shoulder and ask questions and point and demand words. (She's the only child I've met who will announce "I don't know the word for that." and point.) Of course it all works out far better if there are books there for the child when they DO ask to be read to. But having the kid see parents reading as a normal thing to do with spare time is a huge behavioral trait they pick up on, very early. And thank goodness.

Oh, and that crate full of books in the photo yesterday? Those are only about half of her books. The good books, with paper pages (instead of 'board books' with cardboard pages) are in her bedroom on a real shelf. She's got more books than some adults; I feel very sorry for those adults.

Anyway. A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine was casting about for something good to read, and he asked several friends to make a list of 'thirty books you dig'. Fiction, non-fiction, it didn't matter. He did say that if it was a series of books, to just count it as one. I was one of his victims, and he gave me one other rule: no knitting books. So I put together a list and sent it off.

I thought it would make a fun voluntary meme sort of thing, to give all of us ideas what each other read, and good stuff we haven't seen yet. I won't say NO knitting books, but go light on them; we all know the good knitting books. Let's branch out into other stuff. Annotation isn't required; I put in comments because, let's be serious, I can't shut up. Here's my list.


-Kushiel series, Jaqueline Carey. Smut and philosophy all in one place. Gotta love 'em.

-Cook Wise, Shriley O. Corriher. Cook book by a biochemist. She can tell you WHY things work the way they do. And how not to mess it up again.

-5,000 years of Textiles, Smithsonian books. With pictures! Makes me want to build a draw loom on the back porch.

-A Brief History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson. Yes, it's brief, and barely touches some topics, but he humanizes it and makes it entertaining. And explains geologic time and evolution in terms anyone can understand. Also Made in America and Mother Tongue. Or, really, anything he wrote. A Walk in the Woods is one of the funniest non-fiction books I ever read.

-Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan. He follows four plants and discusses how mankind has forced them to evolve for our own purposes.

-Lord of the Rings, J R R Tolkien. I know, I know. But it still kicks ass.

-World History, Dorling-Kindersley. It's newly published, one of those committee things. Kicks ass. I read it through cover to cover. Best part is the by-country history appendix in the back.

-Baking textbook, Cordon Bleu. With this you can bake THE WORLD.

-'In Death' series by J D Robb. Fluff, but entertaining fluff.

-Cod, by Mike Kurlansky. And also Salt. Pop history at its best, making things interesting that we had NO IDEA were so interesting.

-The Phantom Toll Booth, Norton Juster. Kid's book, the first book I read to my kid though she was three months old at the time. It's about learning for fun, and obviously had a huge impact.

-Anything by Jenny Crusie. "Chick Lit", but good chick lit. Guaranteed feel-good reads. Sometimes a girl needs that. Not so much 'empowering' (I hate that shit) as 'fucking hilarious'.

-Ditto for the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich.

-Amelia Peabody novels by Elizabeth Peters. These are about a family of Egyptologists. The books begin in the 1880s, and the last one was set in 1927. The author is an Egyptologist and puts in 'inside jokes' that you really have to know Egyptian history and archeology to get. Good stuff.

-Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond. Anthropology 101, but interesting.

-Food in History, Reay Tannahill. Best food history book I know of, makes a serious effort to cover all cultures, and is readable by people without history degrees.

-Botany for Gardeners, Brian Capon. I had a horticulture professor actually use this as a textbook, once. Best laypersons' discussion of botany I've ever seen.

-Children's books by Sandra Boynton. If I've gotta read the same damn book five times in a row, at least these are cute and funny and well-illustrated. I've got several memorized (One hippo, all alone, calls two hippos, on the phone). Hippos Go Berserk and But not the Hippopotomus are personal favorites.

-Don't know much about the Bible, Kenneth C Davis. Goes through the Bible book by book, giving a history of where the text came from, what they were thinking when they wrote it, surrounding historical and cultural pressures, and contradictions within it and with other books.

-Ancient Inventions, James and Thorpe. An honest look at what went on in our past, through texts, archaeological remains, etc. Contains info on the Baghdad Battery, etc.

-The Story of Stupidity, James F Welles. You'll have trouble finding this one unless its been reprinted. It's from a small university press and I picked it up in a college book store. Anyway, it explains WHY people do stupid shit and finally really got me to understand how others' brains work.

-A History of Art, Borders Press. Another conglomerate/committee type book. About four inches thick, but not bad for a general overview. It's fairly snooty and obnoxious, but you get that from art historians.

-The Arts of China, Michael Sullivan. Know the art, know the culture. Though he does go on a bit more than necessary about the freaking ink drawings. I don't CARE how popular they are.

-The Universal History of Numbers, Georges Ifrah. Just what it says. The guy should have an honorary PhD from SOMEWHERE for this book. Starts in Sumeria and branches out; there are chapters for each region and culture as needed.

-Bright Earth, Phillip Ball. Another book by a chemist, this one about art, painting, dyeing, and color. All in layman's terms, and wonderfully interesting.

-Collins Atlas of Archeology. A series of articles by a bunch of specialists. Maps AND archeology. What's not to love?

-The Battle for God, Karen Armstrong. The history of fundamentalism in the modern world, why it happens, and to whom.

-Women's Work, Elizabeth Wayland Barber. Sure, some of her conclusions are debated, but still. It's the only really approachable work of it's kind, a history of textile production and the people (women) who did the work.

-Mad Scientist's series of books, by Bertrand R. Brinley. Old - from the sixties - and kind of dated, yet still hilariously good young adult fun. Really smart kids getting into trouble, essentially. These are waiting for the Goober. I read them too.

-The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff. Also The Te of Piglet. If you want Taoism explained in a way you'll understand, these are the books for you. Gentle, funny, peaceful, much like Taoism itself.

There you go. Anyone who would like to join in, feel free. Hit your shelves, see what you've got out, in progress, and share your favorites. I can't wait to see, and find more things to read.


Emily said...

Oh dear, my favorites...too many, across all sorts of genres...of fiction. I was interested in the two books on religion you mentioned, promptly purchased them. I'm scared to death about the rise of fundamentalism and what it means for my grandchildren's lives. I believe in God & in a relationship with Him/Her/It, but I don't understand why so many feel it necessary to shut off one's brain for this.

OK: I recently listened to "The Afghan Campaign" (Stephen Pressfield) on CD. Alexander's war in Afghanistan, from the point of view of a young soldier. Pretty bloody, but a fascinating view of a culture that seems not to have changed much since.

Bunny Queen said...

I, too, love the Kushiel series, although I was a little disappointed in the last one.

If you have never listened to the Amelia Peabody books, you may want to give that a try. I borrow them from the library and listen on the bus. One woman does all the voices. She is amazing!

Other favorites are Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series. She gives an interesting twist to ancient history and its impact on the modern world. I also have to say that I love Terry Pratchett and the early Piers Anthony Xanth books. The plots aren't necessarily the greatest, but I laugh my way through them, and some days that is the most important aspect of the books. :)

Oh, and The Midwife by Gay Courter. I was 16 or 17 when I first read this book and was amazed at some of the women's history I learned. I don't even remember how much time I spent in various libraries trying to determine what parts of Courter's world was fact and what was fiction.

Rachel said...

*adds almost every book to to-read list*

Are you on It's a great way to keep track of books.

Mandy said...

You've named quite a few that I would also have on my list: "The Lord of The Rings" is still my all-time favorite, and we read "The Hobbit" to my son when he was 5 (we also have the "Mind's Eye" radio theatre versions of both on cassette, which we bought for road trips in college and which we still listen to on occasion in the car).

Loved the first 3 Kushiel books, but the latest one has really stalled for me. And of course, Nora Roberts is always good for light reading. My former boss turned me on to Amelia Peabody and Stephanie Plum, and anything new in either series is an immediate must-read (and I agree about the Peabody audio books, but you have to get the ones read by Barbara Rosenblat - there are some recorded by other readers who are just not worth listening to.)

The Harry Potter books are a pretty darn good tale. I've always loved kids lit, and have a goodly collection of beautiful picture books and pop-up books started in college, long before my son was even a spark.

I would re-read anything by Robert Heinlein and enjoy it as much as the first time.

For the lovers of the paranormal, Kim Harrison's Hollows books, and Kelley Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld series are both a lot of fun.

Of course, Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series is excellent, good story and lots of history.

And I have on my to-be-read stack a book by Rita Golden Gelman called "Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World" that looks pretty darned interesting.

I don't know if I could stop at 30.

Bells said...

Great list! Love the way you summed up the chick lit one. I don't need my feelgood books to empower me - just to make me feel good!

And I'm with you on the seeing parents read thing. I'd not want my kids to think that books were just something I pulled out to read to them for their entertainment. Books will just be what we do.

Alwen said...

I sort of tried to do this before reading your list.

But the plain fact is, I have about 11,000 books here. (And I'm scared to count them, because I might not even be exaggerating.)

I've read a lot of the books on your list, and public libraries are a blessing. Otherwise I would be crowded down to narrow aisles in my house, and someday would be killed by the book-valanche.

Robin said...

I think I could open my own library! I love books! The Stephanie Plum series is a hoot! I love a good murder mystery. Have you read Sheep in a Jeep, Sheep in a Shop, Sheep on a Ship, etc.?? How about Love You Forever, Like You For Always?

mrsfife said...

I love Bill Bryson, too! I saw a coffee table version of his Short History and drooled over it a bit in the bookshop. Maybe I can ask for it as a birthday present or something.

Have you ever tried Tim Mackintosh-Smith? Including Travels of a Tangerine (in the footsteps of Ibn Batuta) and I need to find his other books.

Minette Walters writes amazing psycho-thrillers with great depth.
I'm currently reading William Dalrymple's The Last Mughal about the 1857 mutiny in India.

I don't mind a JD Robb myself sometimes, but only read my first Stephanie Plum the other day. No Kinsey Millhone for you? I suppose she's less funny.

The Spice Route by John Keay was a wonderful record of the history of the spice trade and how it led to colonialism. I felt sorry when it ended.

One of my favourite authors is Georgette Heyer, she does people so well! Then Alice in Wonderland is something my sister and I quote at each other all the time.

I'd die if I couldn't read.

Anonymous said...

My son was especially, shall we say, active, as a toddler. I think he could easily have been diagnosed as hyperactive. Instead of putting him on ritalin, we put him on books.

Cuddling up on my lap with a book was one of the very few things he would sit still for *ever*. Whenever I reached my wit's end, we'd pull out another book - thank goodness for the second-hand stores in town that sell kid's books for a quarter! And we started visiting the children's library before he could speak in full sentences.

Because of all that early exposure to books, he learned to read quite early, which is wonderful now that he's started school. Instead of just being a busy kid, he's a busy, bright, curious kid, which totally changes how he's perceived. Reading to my kid has been a real lifesaver for us.

Oh, and now that he's 5, I'm starting to be able to read (my own books) in front of him again!


Walter K said...

Nice list. I'm always up for reading new things. I took your advice and listed 30 of my own.

Barbara said...

Love your list! Thanks for the idea. I spent a happy hour or so cruising the bookshelves having the devil of a time picking only 30 but I managed and posted it on my "Crocheting to Keep from Smoking" blog. Stop over!

Amy Lane said...

Dude--awesome list, but I'm too much of a reading slacker right now--you've totally put me to shame... (spamword: rescu ... rescue me from booklessness!)

Puck said...

Oh wow...those Amelia Peabody books sound like they're right up my alley. I love Egypt and am always wanting to learn more about it. I actually picked up the book of Amun Ra about a year ago at a book seller.

Favorites...the Harry Potter series. To be fair, I started reading them about 8 years ago or so, when I was a lot younger. I still love that series.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Bridge to Terebithia...The Notebook...M*A*S*H...Alan Alda's two memoir books ("Never Have Your Dog Stuffed" and "Things I Learned While Talking to Myself"). The Book of the Flower Fairies by Cicely M. copy is rather old, at least from 1931. Great sort of kids/adult book...poems and beautiful illustrations.

There's so many books that I love, I actually need a new bookcase >.<

I think it's true, what you said about kids seeing their parents read and picking up the habit, both my brother and I love reading, and my mom was always reading and reading to my brother and I. I wonder if that works for knitting as well, as my Gram was always knitting whenever I was around...hmmm.

dear said...

No Dune? Im dissapointed in you, Dooie.

Now I'll have to buy the Goob the entire series so she'll force you to read 'em to her. Everynight. for the rest of her life.

Tiger said...

Great choices...anyone who loves Stephanie Plum is alright by me! :)

Seriously though, I think you make a very valid point about children seeing parents read. My dad has always been a big reader (in preference to TV for the most part) and having books of all kinds around was normal.

As for books wot I dig?
- Ian Rankin's Rebus novels; a great, grumpy Scottish detective and well worth investigating (pardon the pun!)

- Alexander McCall Smith's No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series; thoughtful, witty, insightful and smart writing.

- Peter F Hamilton's sci-fi tomes, especially the Night's Dawn Trilogy.

- Marian Keyes' chick-lit. Intelligent, raw, funny, emotional.

- Jonathan Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union. Just loved it.

- Peter Biskind's film books, especially 'Down & Dirty Pictures' & 'Easy Riders, Raging Bulls'.

BTW, thanks for keeping me on your blog list although my frequency of posting has sucked - have changed my blog address as per below.