Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

That’s Entertainment?

In Books, creativity, Home, Learning on October 13, 2017 at 7:44 am

What do you watch on TV?” has become a standard question I ask everybody I meet. Other than The Big Bang Theory and This Is Us (plus my guilty pleasure, The Young and the Restless—don’t tell) I can’t seem to get interested. We have far surpassed Springsteen’s lament of “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On).” These days, we have literally hundreds of channels and there’s plenty on.

I cut the cable cord several years ago, so old favorites like HGTV are no longer an option. Still, I have Netflix and Amazon Prime and YouTube in addition to my local broadcast channels, and while I dip into them every once in a while, mostly I’d rather read a book or listen to a podcast or write in my journal.

Maybe it’s my age. I’m reminded of the quotation, “I wasted time and now time is wasting me.” At almost 70, I just don’t have that much time left to waste. Plus, 98% or more of all TV shows aim at a MUCH younger demographic.

The thing is, I know there are good shows on. Just this week, I’ve heard good things about Blackish, The Good Place, and Schitt’s Creek, so they will join my growing list of shows I might watch someday–maybe if I get really bored or really sick. And I’m eagerly waiting for the final season of Longmire to start.

I can’t even watch the news anymore because, like Jake Tapper, I’m “overwhelmed by the relentless tidal wave of incompetence, idiocy, and bigotry pouring from the White House on a daily basis.”

I used to love TV, watched it constantly and thought people who claimed they “never watched” were either liars or snobs. As the screens got bigger and reminded me more of 1984, I grew warier. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, far from it, but I have to wonder if they’re watching us whenever we’re watching them.


Sourdough Revisited

In Books, creativity, Learning, work on October 6, 2017 at 9:56 am

Robin Sloan says he splits his time between the Bay area and the internet. Hard to resist a man like that. The author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, one of my all-time favorite books, has a new novel out, Sourdough. Like its predecessor, this book features a young San Francisco tech worker who discovers other interests in real life, although the computer is always there to help out with wide-ranging information.

In Sourdough, Lois Clary works for a company called General Dexterity programming robotic arms to make them perform human-like functions. She joins her fellow “Dextrous” in a diet made of Slurry, a nutritionally complete gel with the consistency of a thick milkshake. It eliminates the time-consuming work of deciding what to eat and food preparation for people consumed by their work.

Lois explains, “I existed mostly in a state of catatonic recovery, brain flaccid, cells gasping. . . . I didn’t have any friends in Sand Francisco aside from a handful of Dextrous, but they were just as traumatized as I was.” Then one night she orders a double spicy soup and sandwich from Clement Street Soup and Sourdough.

It was an elixir,” she says. “First my stomach unclenched, and then my brain.”

When the young proprietors return to Europe, they leave their sourdough starter with Lois, their “Number one eater” and she starts to make sourdough bread.

Once again, Sloan has created a world I’d like to live in and characters I’d like as friends. Take the Lois Club, a group of women with nothing in common except the name Lois. It’s as good a reason as any to form an affiliate group. I wonder if there’s a Dixie Club?

From robotic bakers to manufactured food products to cricket flour cookies and magical yeast, the book is a joyful romp through our hippy dippy organic technoculture.

You really should read it.

The Reading Life

In Books, Learning, writing on September 22, 2017 at 6:29 am

Two of the things I like most about Kindle are the ability to publish things quickly and to publish things that are less than standard book length, for instance, short stories as Kindle Singles.

Traditionally published authors use these capabilities to extend their brands, attract new readers and nourish old readers during the year or more long drought between published books. They write and publish short stories about much-loved characters and introduce new characters to their readers.

I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan not long after it came out in 2012, and it charmed me with its offbeat characters and storyline. It featured a bookstore, technology, the key to eternal life, a secret society, and a mystery all rolled into one slim volume. I loved it.

When Sloan’s new novel, Sourdough, came out this month, I immediately ordered it from the library, and I also noticed a Kindle Single prequel to the first book titled, Ajax Penumbra, 1969. Only 61 pages long, it was the perfect quick read while I waited to receive Sourdough. After reading the prequel, I wanted to reread Mr. Penumbra and found the audio version on Hoopla.

I still have a while to wait for Sourdough to come in, and that gives me time to read Lisa Scottoline’s latest Rosato and Associates book, Exposed and who knows what other lovely stories?

Book nineteen in my favorite Bellingwood series by Diane Greenwood Muir comes out Monday, and I have three books to pick up at the library on Saturday.

Life is good.

Time After Time

In Books, Learning on September 6, 2017 at 10:46 am

I am a voracious reader, as you may have heard. I read so many books that I tend to forget them as soon as I move onto the next one and the one after that. Helping myself remember is one reason I’ve decided to start writing reviews here.
My only complaint is that there are so many books and I only have time to read a tiny percentage of them. About a million books are published in the U.S. alone every year, including self- or indie-published, and I do include them. I read a hundred or so.
So, why, you ask, would I reread a book when so many new ones can tempt me?
Some books, like To Kill a Mockingbird are just so good I don’t want to let go. I first read it in my high school sophomore English class and I’ve reread it several times, including listening to the audio book. I also saw the movie several times, and a few years ago went to the stage play.
Sometimes I get tired of waiting for a new book from a favorite author, like Sue Grafton, so I read the old books to revisit stories and characters I enjoy. For the alphabet mysteries, I switched to the audio versions for my second and third times through the series, so that makes it a little different experience.
Haven’t you ever wanted to unread a book so you could have the pleasure of reading it again for the first time. My faulty memory makes it possible to do that while knowing that I enjoyed it the first time lets me choose books I know will delight me.
A wise person said that no two persons ever read the same book. I think it’s also true that we never read a book the same way twice, if only because we’re slightly different people than we were that first time.
Oscar Wilde said, “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” C.S. Lewis agreed, “I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.” So every three or four weeks, I pick up an old favorite and putting aside the new books in my to-be-read pile, settle in to visit an old friend.

My Indian Name is Nose in a Book

In Books, Home, solitude on September 4, 2017 at 5:27 am

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry tells the story of a reclusive, widowed bookseller whose prized and very valuable book disappears just before a suicidal mother leaves her baby girl in his store.

Ultimately, it’s a book about people who love books. Each chapter begins with a short story recommendation. The title character moves from grieving curmudgeon to doting father to romantic, and every other major character is equally charming from the quirky publisher’s representative to the precocious foundling and the crime-reading police chief.

The reader can pick up dozens of book referrals as the characters discuss their favorites. I found myself stopping frequently to look up a title and order it from the library.

When I first read it 2014, I went on an evangelical frenzy, telling everybody I knew that they had to read this book. The smart ones listened.

Here are a few upcoming books I’m looking forward to.

To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon is the latest entry in the Mitford series. If Mitford weren’t in North Carolina and, you know, fiction, I’d want to live there.

Sourdough by Robin Sloan, the guy who wrote Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which would be enough of a recommendation for me, but this is also about an isolated software engineer who learns how to bake sourdough bread. How can I resist?

Happy reading! For me, that’s what Labor Day is all about.

Y is for Yesterday

In Books, creativity, writing on August 31, 2017 at 6:46 am

Sue Grafton’s beloved alphabet mystery series started with A is for Alibi in 1982 when protagonist Kinsey Millhone was 32. Thirty-five years and most of the alphabet later, she has only aged seven years. More importantly, the world has only aged seven years.

In Kinsey’s world, people must rely on public telephones or other landlines. They listen to music on a Sony Walkman and still use video tape. The detective can’t use computer databases or the internet. She types her reports on an old manual typewriter. Social media consists of actually talking to one another.

Sometimes as a reader, I get impatient with this. We’ve all moved on; why can’t Kinsey? On the other hand, I think it was a good choice because otherwise she would now be 67 and the books would have a much different flavor. I know a few people who are still badass at that age, but they don’t get into physical confrontations, or if they do, they don’t come out of them as unscathed as would someone in her thirties. On the other hand, if I can be permitted three hands, it would be fun to see what she would be like at 67.

In Y is for Yesterday, the story returns to 1979 when a group of wealthy high schoolers gets in trouble by filming a sexual assault and then turning to murder when the tape goes missing. Back in 1989 when the murderer goes free, the tape resurfaces and threatens to unravel the lives of the students, now young adults involved.

As Kinsey tries to untangle what happened, she also faces danger from the man who almost killed her in her last case and some family problems without her usual support system. Landlord Henry at 89 seems like a sap for letting two homeless people take advantage of him.

Grafton, of course, is at the height of her powers as a writer, but as a friend pointed out, nobody except Kinsey was the least bit likable in this book. Maybe that’s why I didn’t find it as compelling as most of her earlier works. I always try to stretch them out as long as possible, especially as we near the end of the series. Usually, that means a book may last three days. This one took me a whole week to read.

In a couple of years, we’ll get the final book in the series. Any guesses as to what Z is for? It will take all of Grafton’s skill to wrap up this series in a satisfying way, but I think she’s up for it.

The Color of Fear

In Books, Prejudice on August 29, 2017 at 6:21 am








An elderly Indian man is attacked, beaten, and left to die on the streets of San Francisco the week before Christmas in Marcia Muller’s 32nd Sharon McCone mystery, The Color of Fear. A passerby reports it and an ambulance takes the old man to the hospital. There police find a business card of prominent private investigator Sharon McCone in his pocket. When they contact her, they are astonished to find that the man they thought was homeless is instead her father.
Was it a random, racially motivated crime or the work of a disgruntled client of McCone’s agency? She puts her whole agency to work to find out while her father remains in a coma. At the same time, she has to cope with both her birth and adoptive families, a hacker clever enough to bypass sophisticated security at her house, and a shadowy, racist hate group.
McCone has grown older and more comfortable in her wealth and success and begins to question whether or not she wants to continue putting her life and the lives of those she loves in danger. The hate group theme makes the book oddly prescient in today’s political climate given that it was written at least a year or two ago.
Having followed this series from the beginning, I enjoyed the character development throughout the series, even as it seems time to move on to a newer, edgier protagonist. Muller is at the height of her writing powers, but these characters need to retire.

Make (Me) Believe

In Books, Church, Learning, spirituality on August 8, 2017 at 6:37 am







I was talking to a couple of the young men in our congregation about our beliefs. Greg said, “I believe Jesus died for our sins.” The other man agreed, and I said, “I don’t believe that.” Frankly, I don’t even know what it means.
Greg looked shocked and said, “You HAVE to believe that.”
I said, “The reason I like this church is that nobody gets to tell me what I have to believe.”
Fourteen or so years later, I’m still here, but Greg left not too long after our conversation. I don’t imagine that had anything to do with his leaving, but I do imagine he found a church where he could tell people what they have to believe.
It all goes back to the Bible. I’ve never been much of a Bible reader. I don’t know if it’s the small print, the tissue thin pages, or the archaic language (and, yes, I know there are versions available that correct all those “defects.”) Shortly after I started going to church I bought The Children’s Illustrated Bible thinking I might actually read that, but no. Somehow I never managed to read more than a few of the stories in that book.
Call me a secular Christian. I accept the Bible as part of my cultural heritage while not considering it factual.
A book I did read was A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. Ten years ago when it first came out, I thought it was hilarious, showing how futile and frustrating a quest it was.
I just reread it and still find it very funny. I enjoyed his discovering the near impossibility of not mixing fabrics as well as his difficulty in locating an adulterer to stone. He carried pebbles in his pocket just in case he found one. (He did and the man threw the pebbles at him.) He also had to try many tactics to avoid lusting after women in his heart before finally hitting on one that worked: thinking of them as his mother.
Nevertheless, some of the rules had a positive effect on his life. For example, when he stopped cursing, he became calmer, not so angry. Wearing white made him feel light and happy.
He ended the year still an agnostic, but observing that “the Bible may not have been dictated by God, it may have had a messy and complicated birth, one filled with political agendas and outdated ideas, but that doesn’t mean the Bible can’t be beautiful and sacred.”
That I can believe.

Reading Roundup

In Books, Learning, spirituality on July 25, 2017 at 7:23 am

Here are the books I’m currently reading. I never read just one at a time.
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan
A mystery set in a thinly disguised Tattered Cover Bookstore in Lower Downtown Denver, one of my favorite places. This book has everything I love: a bookstore (the best one ever), Denver, quirky characters, an imaginative mystery, and terrific writing. I’m about a third of the way through and trying to balance my wanting to know what happens next with my desire to go slowly and make it last. He can’t write his next book fast enough to suit me.
The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs
A secular Jew, Jacobs decides to explore religion by taking a deep dive into the Bible a year trying to obey all of the 700+ rules documented there. One of my favorites is his difficulty in finding clothing that doesn’t mix fibers. He also carries pebbles in his pocket looking for an opportunity to stone an adulterer. The often contradictory and nonsensical rules lead him to a funny and thoughtful spiritual journey. I first read this when it came out ten years ago and chose to reread it (this time on audio) to accompany the next book.
A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans
This is not an instruction manual.
Evans, raised in an evangelical home in Dayton, Tennessee, site of the Scopes Monkey Trial, now writes progressive Christian books and blogs. Using humor and compassion, she explores Biblical heroines and wrestles with passages that encourage misogyny and violence against women. I just started reading it on Kindle and look forward to accompanying her as she remains silent in church (some advice I definitely won’t be taking) and moves into a tent in her yard during her “unclean” times.
Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age by Jeff Goins
I’ve followed Goins’ career since he came to prominence through his blog several years ago. This is just the sort of book I ought to like, but I’m finding it a difficult slog. He has some good ideas and an interesting perspective although too much of the book is rehashed from other books I’ve read and liked more (see Austin Kleon). He comes across just a little too earnest and humorless for my taste. I may manage to make it through before its due date only because it’s a short book.
There you go. What are you reading?

The Good Old Days

In Books, Church on July 11, 2017 at 7:48 am








I don’t remember her name, I only remember how stunned I was to learn that my new ninth grade locker mate was married. Fourteen and married.
Let’s call her Ann. She had transferred from a small Christian school run by the fundamentalist Pillar of Fire church. Her parents made her get married when they found out she was having sex with her boyfriend.
I don’t know what happened to her. She was gone by the time we went to high school. Possibly she was pregnant by then. At that time, in the early 1960s, birth control pills were legal for married women (with, I believe, the consent of their husbands), so Ann would have qualified. Teenagers still had to rely on luck, timing, back alley abortions, or the “visit to her aunt” where the baby was given up for adoption. Girls who got pregnant at our school simply disappeared.
The next summer, my friend Debbie told me that a popular boy in our class asked her to come to his house one afternoon and forced himself on her. I was more upset that she might be pregnant than that the sex was, as we now say, not consensual. I don’t know if I even knew the word rape.
Debbie assured me that everything was okay because her aunt (it’s always the aunt) had mafia connections and, if worse came to worst, she could get an abortion. She knew this because her older brother’s girlfriend had gotten pregnant and the aunt took care of things.
I would have thought things might have progressed a bit in fifty years, but no, the religious right wants to take us back to those “good old days.”
Is it any wonder that The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, a dystopian novel about the future suppression of women, has become a #1 bestseller and a wildly popular TV series more than 30 years after it was written? Or that signs at protests admonish that the book was never meant to be an instruction manual?
Earlier this year, former President Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist church after more than 60 years. “The truth,” he said, “is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.”
Who’d have believed we’d still be fighting these battles in 2017?