Reading: The Golden Calf

I just finished reading The Golden Calf and it was GREAT. It is by far the funniest, wittiest Russian satire I’ve ever read. (Actually, it’s the only Russian satire I’ve only read but that’s not really the point.)

Set during the 1930s the novel takes place during Lenin’s New Economic Policy. The story follows con man Ostap Bender as he puts together a crew to track and bilk a underground millionaire of his fortune so Ostap can fulfill his dream of escaping to sunny Rio de Janeiro. The novel is part heist narrative, part sly political commentary, and part absurdist farce.

The Golden Calf is part of the Open Letter series published by the University of Rochester. The series focuses on international literature and only publishes works originally written in non-English languages after they have been translated into English. Open Letter publishes twelve books a year and you can subscribe to receive them as they are released. (N gave me a subscription for Christmas which I how I read The Golden Calf.)

I recommend the series and The Golden Calf in particular. It’s one of the few books that have made me laugh aloud and yet left me feeling smarter after reading it. From what I can tell (not knowing Russian and all) the translation wonderfully captures all the humor of the original story. And on an aesthetic level, the book cover is nicely designed and the book is printed on very nice paper so it’s a pleasure to hold in your hand.

If you can track down a copy I think you’ll be happy you read it.

Bee-Bim Bop!

Before we put E to bed we read to him at night. He picks out a book and then sidles up to where I’m sitting, clutching it to his chest, and ask “Up, please!” Sitting in the rocking chair with him on my lap and his head resting against my cheek reading books is one of the highlights of my day.

Bee-Bim Bop! by Newbery-award winner Linda Sue Park is one of E’s current favorite. It is a great little picture book. The story follows a little girl and her mother as they bustle about preparing a Korean dish, bibimbap, for dinner.

The rhymes are pretty catchy; enough so that E can easily follow along. And the illustrations are cute. And there’s even a recipe for bibimbap in the back of the book. (I haven’t tried it out yet, though. When I make it I use my family’s recipe.)

It’s a great book to read with little kids, especially if they’re interested in different types of food or have Korean heritage.

The books I haven’t read

I’m fairly obstinate when it comes to books. Once I start a book I usually hang in until the end no matter how bad it gets. I was an English major so I pride myself on my good reading habits. And it just bothers me not to finish things.

So it’s with not a little bit of shame that I’ve been watching N read The Cairo Trilogy every night before bed lately. I ordered the book a few years ago because I was interested in the subject matter: a Muslim family in Cairo during British occupation (and because the author Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize). I spent a few weeks trying to get through it but I kept getting bogged down. After a couple months of picking it up and putting it down again I conceded defeat and moved on to something else. N seems to be enjoying it though.

A couple of years ago I watched the movie Master and Commander and really liked it so I picked up the book. I remember it being good but the sailing jargon and politics sort of lost me. I can’t exactly remember why I stopped reading it but I want to finish it someday. The series is supposed to be fantastic.

And lastly, Middlemarch. Again, it’s a really great book but I lost steam about a third of the way through. I think it was another case of right book, wrong time. I’m definitely going to pick it back up again.

Well, there you have it–a list of my weaknesses as a book lover.

How about you–are there any books you’ve started to read but couldn’t quite finish?

Christmas book giveaway

I’m excited for my very first sponsored giveaway!

A family friend, Richard Rife, recently published a short book of essays about Christmas, Honoring Christmas in My Heart. I read it last weekend and enjoyed it. It was a lovely way to kick off the Christmas season. I liked it enough that N and I are going to buy a few copies to give as gifts to some of our friends this year.

Its fourteen essays address topics such as giving, Christmas traditions, Christ’s teachings, and the eloquent merits of Dickens’ story The Christmas Carol, which is Rife’s favorite work of fiction. Some of the recollections included are from the years he spent in Korea as a missionary for our church (as my in-laws are doing now). The book is written from an LDS perspective, but its main message is about what Christmas can mean for everyone.

Leave a comment on this post to enter the giveaway and on Monday morning I’ll pick a winner at random. Richard will send the winner a signed copy of the book. It makes a nice little gift, so if you want Richard to inscribe it to someone else, that’s cool too.

Plastic Cameras

Posting those Holga photos yesterday reminded me of this great book that one of my sisters-in-law sent for my birthday, Plastic Cameras: Toying with Creativity (Thanks, Gwyn!).

I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s chock full of great photos shot with Holgas and Dianas and is very inspiring. The book also includes helpful technical information on modifying toy cameras and tips on using different types of film.

If you’re interested in shooting with a Holga or a Diana this book is definitely worth checking out.

Saving Face

With N being a lawyer I’ve picked up a small measure of legal knowledge by sheer osmosis. When the Supreme Court is in session I like to read Dahlia Lithwick’s columns on to follow the decisions. Lithwick writes so clearly and in such a personable way that I find her columns fun to read.

During the court break Lithwick was told to work on some sort of ambitious long-form type of journalism. And so she decided to attempt to write a chick-lit novel in about a month, posting each chapter as she finished it. She talks about her goal here, and you can read the chapters so far here.

Like a lot of people I know, I have some secret writing ambitions which is one of reasons I’m enjoying following Lithwick’s project. She solicits and receives quite a bit of reader feedback on Facebook. She’ll post questions about legal matters or ask for divorce horror stories or solicit names for characters and within minutes people will post their input.

I chimed in on one thread about possible names for a stepmother. My picks sadly didn’t make the cut but it’s interesting and fun to feel like you’re contributing (albeit in a very small way) to a fast-moving project like this. If you’re interested you can follow the project on Facebook here.


Growing up, Saturdays mornings were for chores and my responsibilities were the bathrooms. I would sneak a book into the bathroom along with my cleaning supplies and then lock the door and sit on the hamper, reading. For a while my mom wondered how it could take me over two hours to clean one bathroom but eventually she wised up.

Along with reading I also like to catalog things; it feeds the tiny OCD streak I have. I recently stumbled upon a web site that feeds both my love of books AND my love of lining thing up in tidy rows.

Goodreads is a website that lets you track books you’re currently reading, books you’ve read, and books you’d like to read. When you add a book to one of your online bookshelves you can rate and review it as well as see what other people thought about it.

There’s a community aspect to the site as well. You can link to your friends and follow what they’re reading. Some authors also use the site and you can follow them as well (Neil Gaiman is the #1 followed person which somehow does not come as a surprise). They also have some nice widgets you can add to your blog to display your books. I added the books I’m currently reading to my sidebar.

Anyway, if you have some time to kill take a look. Adding books and rating them can be highly addictive. I know I’ve spent entirely too thinking of books I’ve read recently or that stuck out in my mind and adding them to my list. If you’re interested you can see my books here. If you’re already on Goodreads or end up setting up your own account be sure to let me know. I’d like to see what you’re reading.

House Works

I am in the happy anticipation phase of spring cleaning: imagining how great it’s going to be to have things organized and tidy and freshly-scrubbed. And this book, Houseworks: Cut the Clutter, Speed Your Cleaning and Calm the Chaos, is just fueling the fire.

I actually ordered it from Amazon the last time I was on a serious cleaning/organizing kick (over a year ago!) but I picked it up again this week and was impressed again by its sound advice (which I’m actually going to try and follow this time around. Ahem.)

The author, Cynthia Townley Ewer writes in a clear and calming style: she breaks things down into reasonable steps and has a lot of good ideas. And she’s not without humor. In the introduction she tells the story of how she realized she had problem with organization.

It was Christmas eve and she was recently divorced with two small kids. She had been out visiting family and returned to find the window by her front door broken. She called the cops and they came and checked it out. “Lady,” the cop said, “I don’t understand. Your deadbolt held but somehow they got inside and ransacked the upstairs.”

The rooms were “knee-deep in crumpled photocopies, legal pads, fabric scraps, piled clothing, holiday wrap, stacked files, spilled coffee and dirty dishes.” Ewer then had to confess, extremely embarrassed, that she had actually left things that way herself. (Ouch!)

After that Ewer worked hard to develop good habits and methods for keeping things clean and organized. She started a website,, and then wrote this book. I know it’s kind of silly to read a book about cleaning instead of spending the time, you know, actually cleaning but she does have some good ideas. And sometimes I just need a little inspiration and motivation.

(I know I haven’t posted photos of E recently. I’ll get some up later this week, so hang in there, grandparents!)

Seriously Cute Crochet

I’m not very good at the needle arts. A couple of years ago I learned to knit. I made a couple of scarves, a few baby sweaters and two felted stuffed sheep. But I haven’t knitted anything in oh, say about 17 and a half months. My problem is that in order to overcome my natural laziness (which is quite strong) I have to fall in head-over-heels in love with a project in order to muster the enthusiasm to tackle it instead of spending all of my free time reading or watching tv or taking naps (by the way, I got to take that nap I wanted yesterday. It lasted for three hours and it was AWESOME).

Back to the crafts: I’ve had my eye on this book, Amigurumi World: Seriously Cute Crochet, for a while now. But I didn’t get it because I didn’t know how to crochet. But my multi-talented sister-in-law Mindy got the book and posted pictures of the adorable projects she had made from it. And, overcome by the cuteness of said projects, I ordered the book.

It you crochet (or want to learn) I really recommend this book. Amigurumi are little Japanese-style crocheted animals and the patterns in this book are really cute. The first project I’m tackling is the lion from the front cover. I bought my supplies at my favorite yarn store and got some free help from the sweet ladies who work there.

Since I never crocheted before, it took me a while to get the hang of it. I think I had to redo this part at least 5 times before it looked okay. This is all I have so far: the top of the head. I need to sew on the face before I finish the rest of the head. It’s pretty slow going, but once I get farther along I’ll take some other pictures.

I hope you have a lovely weekend. I’m looking forward to mine: E and I are about to leave for the gym and then this afternoon I’ve arranged for a babysitter and I’m going to go shopping for new silverware (the set we got at our wedding is pretty thrashed and somehow missing several spoons) and then get a massage. N gave me a gift certificate to a local spa and this seems like a great time to use it. And then tomorrow night N and I are going out to dinner and maybe a movie. I feel pretty cheerful: I think I’m finally out of the funk I’ve been in for the last few weeks.

I hope you have a great Friday!

What the World Eats

Over the weekend N showed me a fascinating series of photos by Peter Menzel. (See part one and part two here.)

For the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats Menzel and author-journalist Faith D’Alusio traveled the globe and visited families in over 20 countries. They asked the families to purchase a weeks worth of typical groceries and took their portraits surrounded by the food. The authors include information on the families’ favorite foods and the cost of the groceries. I liked the online excepts enough that I think I’m going to buy the book.

I enjoyed the photos and found it riveting to see what families around the world ate. I liked seeing all the packaged foods that the Japanese family had and the vast quantities of beer displayed by the German family. But seeing the sacks of grain and few vegetables that feed the families in Mali and Chad made me feel a bit sick to my stomach about how I waste so much food. I’m pretty bad about letting leftovers go uneaten or buying vegetables but then forgetting about them until it’s too late. My casual wastefulness now seems quite obscene and I’m going to try and do better.