Currently… travel-ready

Spring is finally arriving in the Midwest, and thank goodness. It’s disheartening to have sunlight at 7 pm shining on snow.

As we launch into spring, here’s what’s going on around here…

 

Lingering on | My eyes have been seeking out vintage books lately. Exhibit A:

 

Reading (books) | After the post-vacation recovery period, I’m back at Tell the Wolves I’m Home. (Literally: I’m home. But please don’t tell the wolves.) And it’s so good, I’m sorry I set it down for those weeks. I’m also seriously loving The Woman’s Hour by Elaine F. Weiss, which describes the work done by brave and smart women to get the 19th amendment ratified.

 

Reading (online) | I’m super excited about Citizen Reader’s Essay Project, and I’m so playing along.

 

Listening | I’m really liking Michael Strahan’s reading of his book Wake Up Happy. Beyond finding his story fascinating and his approach to life inspiring, I really like the sound of his voice (which reminds me of my favorite great-uncle).

 

Watching | Samuel and Audrey travel videos on YouTube. We’re hooked.

 

Eating | The donuts at the new donut place. Oh my land. There’s fig & goat cheese, and then there’s Oreo. I’m not even kidding.

 

Learning | Meditation, you’re not gonna be an easy one. I’ve been reading Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, a book whose title and tone I adore, but man have I been struggling to sit still and breathe. Even when I schedule it, I dismiss the reminder cuz I’m not only fidgety and skeptical, I’m also stubborn. If meditation actually takes, this is gonna be a serious achievement.

 

Loving | My aromatherapy diffuser. I’m completely surprised by how fond I am of this little guy. And it even turns all kinds of pastel colors when I turn it on its lava lamp setting. I know: ridiculous. But it makes me happy. (It does not make me meditate. See above.)

 

Anticipating | The Dear Man and I are doing preliminary planning for a trip with his dear sister and dear brother-in-law, and I can’t wait. I’m writing a packing list and agonizing over which books to take and getting all shivery with excitement.

 

Celebrating | Day trip season has begun! We made our first springtime day trip to some Black Hawk War sites and geeked it up right. More happy geek couple travel ahead…

Great book discussion book: West with the Night

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

3 words: lyrical, understated, adventurous

You know that thing when you re-read a book and it’s even better than you’d remembered? That happened with West with the Night.

I kept thinking: my high school self was reading some intensely good writing.

The writing, people. The writing.

Markham (or whoever wrote it — there’s a juicy authorship controversy) had some serious talent as an author. There are sentences like this:

“I never knew what their digging got them, if it got them anything, because, when I set my small biplane down on the narrow runway they had hacked out of the bush, it was night and there were fires of oil-soaked rags burning in bent chunks of tin to guide my landing.” (p. 4)

I mean, that’s some gorgeous writing, and that’s some serious romance.

And this paragraph that I remembered from my reading of the book in my teens*:

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesterdays are buried deep—leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance. The cloud clears as you enter it. I have learned this, but like everyone, I learned it late.” (p. 131)

Lovely, right?

Not only is the writing lush, but the storytelling is incredible and nuanced and delightfully incomplete. (Memoir, you’re a book discussion’s best friend.)

Markham is attacked by a lion and nearly attacked by an elephant, she trains derby-winning horses from her teen years on, and she flew an open cockpit biplane in Africa. And she had multiple affairs (not alluded to in this book, but legendary).

It was not a typical life.

There’s just something enticing about stories of growing up in Africa. This book evoked Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and William Kamkwamba’s The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Except Markham’s book contained some allusions to race that made me frankly uncomfortable. We can see these comments as typical of the time the book was written (1942), but that doesn’t mean a modern reader won’t squirm a bit. And that’s yet another topic of discussion: how do the treatments of race and colonialism affect our reading of the book?

Well worth reading—for the writing, the stories, the discussibility.

Give this book a whirl if you like… memoirs of a woman leading an unconventional life, the Golden Age of aviation, ex-pats in Africa in the early 20th century, reading about free spirits, sympathetic narratives about animals, tales of daring

What’s the book you re-read and found it better than you remembered?

*I might’ve even copied it into my Quotes notebook (such a dork)

Launch of Rocket Men

The Rocket Men book launch…

3 words: thrilled, awestruck, verklempt

A book launch that was a transcendent experience — these things don’t happen just every day. Robert Kurson released his latest book, Rocket Men, in the best of all possible ways: with the full crew of Apollo 8 participating in a panel discussion.

And we were there.

In the same room with Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders.

Of course I was beside myself with joy. The thing that was a revelation was the degree to which the Dear Man and my friend were exhilarated to be in the presence of those men.

It was truly an honor to be in the room with them. And such a delight to hear them interact with each other — there was jocular fondness, there was humor. They’re seriously likeable guys.

One of my favorite moments: Anders was describing the violence of takeoff, and he said they were shaking so hard, Borman took his hand off the abort handle, so he wouldn’t pull it by accident due to the way they were being thrashed around. “Just like any other fighter pilot, he’d rather be dead than screw up.”

Apollo 8 command module, Museum of Science & Industry

I love that.

I had the good fortune to read an advance copy of Rocket Men, which I adored

for all kinds of reasons. And the people brought to life in its pages were clearly recognizable in that room. Kurson really captures their essence.

So, the event is over. But the story lives on in the pages of Rocket Men, a book I truly love.

This one’s going down in my personal history as the best book event ever.

My fellow readers… Book launches can be amazing. Tell us about the best book event you’ve ever attended. What made it fantastic?

Quiet Books

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

I’ve been pondering books that are reserved in tone* and it makes me realize I’m a total sucker for books that are quiet and understated.

This preference wouldn’t surprise too many people who’ve heard my librarian voice (I’m told it’s quiet. I’m told to Speak Up). And I come from stoic people, so understated… it’s comfortable.

If you like this stuff, or if you’ve never gone there but are wondering what all the hush is about, here are some books notable for their quiet tone…

 

There’s fiction…

 

And nonfiction…

 

And the most obvious choice of them all…

 

And I adore them all.

 

So, good readers, what titles would you add to the list?

 

 

*for the Reserved square of Book Bingo

 

Vacation Reading

A week-long vacation in a tropical paradise. You know what I’m thinking, because you’re thinking it, too…

What books to pack?

 

Recently the Dear Man and I joined my sister’s family on a vacation to Costa Rica to visit our aunt and uncle.

So yes, I packed two swimsuits and a sun hat and a gallon of sunscreen and sandals… but most of my packing energy focused on the books. There were hard decisions to make, people. My primary criterion: weight. So I went with all paperbacks.

Here’s what I packed…

 

And coming up… the big reveal of What I Actually Read. But first…

 

What I did instead of reading

So here’s the thing. With a party of 8, things stay busy. And the most fun I really can even imagine. I love these people.

 

My vision was this: while the teenagers are surfing, their auntie will be reading. In reality, it was too much fun watching the kids surf and talking with my people and playing in the waves. So the books stayed in the beach bag, and that was just fine.

 

We spent time in the air (ziplining— a huge triumph for she who fears heights) and in the water (paddle boarding in the sea).

 

And we ate wonderful foods (gallo pinto and casado and pizza #106 and heavenly coffee). But as we know, in the end…

 

Reading always wins 

I grabbed a little reading time while hanging out on the balcony of the house we rented and lounging in the room with a view (oh my land, what a view).

I read the middle section of No More Words: A Journal of My Mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh by Reeve Lindbergh, which seemed a strange but perfect thing to read while on vacation. (Reading about Alzheimer’s is not particularly light or jolly.)

I actually bought the book at the Charles Lindbergh home in Minnesota during a long weekend, so it was a book bought on vacation and read on vacation. And the book made me think all kinds of thoughts, and it was a pleasure to have the time to consider them.

So I had just enough time for some basic maintenance reading there on the ground…

 

It wasn’t until our long flight home that my books got much attention. And then it got serious.

Here’s what I read…
  • I finished the Lindbergh book.
  • Then I read our upcoming book club book cover to cover. This sounds all impressive, but since the book is only 176 pages long, it’s not that grand an achievement. Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth was a great vacation book: it’s a swift-moving, surprising, violent Western romp featuring hippos. I don’t mind flying, but the cramped quarters make me glad to be able to escape somewhere else on long flights.
  • Then I read a couple of essays from Portage: A Family, A Canoe, and the Search for the Good Life by Sue Leaf, including a chapter about a river the Dear Man and I have canoed (hello, beautiful Upper Iowa!)
  • And then I dove into Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, which I also bought on a previous vacation (at the marvelous Novel Neighbor bookstore in Webster Groves, Missouri). And I read half the book on the flight and kept saying to the Dear Man, “This book is so good.”

Now that we’re home, the poor neglected book is in a holding pattern while I get caught up on laundry and all the other adulting things that are clamoring for my attention. But the lovely thing is that once I immerse myself in the book again, it’ll transport me not only into the story itself, but also into The Vacation Feeling. I love that.

 

So, my fellow readers… what’s your favorite vacation reading tactic?

18 for 2018

One of my weekly treats is listening to the Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast.

In episode 149, Gretchen and her co-host (and sister) Elizabeth Craft introduced the concept of 18 for 2018 — a list of things to accomplish this year.

The list can contain whatever a person wants — big things or little, easy or difficult, simple or multi-phased.

I love goal-setting, I love lists, I love this concept.

So I wrote me a list.

Completed items: they’re in italics. And yes, as of the date of this posting, I’ve already ziplined.

Here are my 18 for 2018…

 

  1. Call each old friend on a regular basis
  2. Buy typewriter key jewelry
  3. Go on southern vacation with the Dear Man and Younger Sister
  4. Go on northern vacation with the Dear Man and Older Sister
  5. Roast vegetables once a month
  6. Burn a candle when writing
  7. Buy fresh flowers & watch a YouTube video to figure out how to arrange them
  8. Invite friends for dinner
  9. Begin meditating
  10. Memorize 5 quotes
  11. Visit 3 history geek places
  12. Bake 2 family recipes
  13. Replace long wool coat
  14. Buy warm winter coat & boots
  15. Remind myself to slow down once per day
  16. Complete 2 of the 3: Book Bingo, Read Harder, and Modern Mrs Darcy reading challenges
  17. Zipline
  18. Paddle board a second time

 

So, how about you? Any lists of goals for the year?

 

The best fictionalized autobiographies by women

March is Women’s History Month, so we’re talking women’s novels today. Novels by women, about women, from the viewpoint of real historical figures.

I’m pretty sure we’re living in a Golden Age of amazing autobiographical fiction about women’s lives. So many of the books being written these days are meticulously researched and emotionally authentic.

In recent years, we’ve had…

  • the remarkable novels by Melanie Benjamin — The Aviator’s Wife, about Anne Morrow Lindbergh and The Swans of Fifth Avenue, about the women in Truman Capote’s social circle
  • Paula McLain’s glorious Circling the Sun, about Beryl Markham
  • Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, about Mamah Borthwick

And a spate of fictionalized memoirs told from the viewpoint of First Ladies:

  • Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife, about Laura Bush
  • Ann Beattie’s Mrs. Nixon, about Pat Nixon
  • Amy Bloom’s White Houses, about Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok

The thing I love about these novels is that they allow us to get into the person’s head in a way that feels believable, based on what I know of each of the subjects. (I would’ve bailed if I’d’ve thought the author got it wrong.)

And then a reading map can take us to the actual biographies or autobiographies, and the nonfiction about the times when the person lived. It can really be a lovely thing.

I’m susceptible to this kind of thing: I’m in the midst of the second Berle Markham spree of my young life. I just finished Circling the Sun and am about to embark on a re-read of her memoir West with the Night. If I were super ambitious, I’d also read Mary Lovell’s Markham biography Straight on Till Morning, plus Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa and re-watch the movie. And then this historic aviation line could loop me right back to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and then on to Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and then I’d be soaring above the clouds.

This is happiness, my friends.

What great fictional biographies would you add to this list?

Top 20 Pizzas

Welcome back to the PizzaQuest Chronicles.

Pizza duo at Pizzeria Due

 

Last week I listed our Top 10 Pizzas.

This week, we’ve got pizzas ranked 11 through 20.

The truth of the matter is this: When the Dear Man and I made a first pass through our pizza spreadsheet to pull out the pizzas that might be in contention for our Top 10, we listed 18 pizzas. So these are all serious winners.

 

Let’s have a look at them… again, in alphabetical order, because otherwise it’s just too hard.

 

 

Coalfire

Chicago

Thin crust

Why it’s great: Specialty pizzas like Honey & Salami and Vegan Pesto

Coalfire

 

D’Agostino’s

Glenview, IL

Thin crust

Why it’s great: Crispy thin crust and sauce full of flavor

D’Agostino’s

 

 

DeSano Pizza Bakery

Nashville, TN

Neapolitan

Why it’s great: Sauce with zing, and lovely crust

DeSano

 

 

Georgio’s Chicago Pizzeria & Pub

South Barrington, IL

Deep dish

Why it’s great: Wonderful crust and great blend of flavors

Georgio’s

 

Il Forno

Highland Park, IL

Thin crust

Why it’s great: Crispy thin crust and a nice zing in the sauce

Il Forno

 

 

Deerfield Italian Kitchen  

Deerfield, IL

Thin crust

Why it’s great: That sauce: zingy

Italian Kitchen

 

Jet’s 

Skokie, IL

Detroit style

Why it’s great: The only national chain to reach our top 20, this deep dish pizza with all edge pieces is stunningly good.

 

 

Pizza Italia  

Libertyville, IL

Deep dish

Why it’s great: Absolutely amazing crust. I mean, look at it.

Pizza Italia

 

 

Pizzeria Due  

Chicago

Deep dish

Why it’s great: Wonderful crust and nicely balanced ingredients

Pizzeria Due

 

Roots  

Chicago

Quad City style

Why it’s great: That sweet crust!

Roots

 

 

And that rounds out our Top 20 Pizzas.

 

What’s your favorite pizza place, anywhere on Earth? We’ve got a list, and we are adding to it…

 

Top 10 Pizzas

Your friendly neighborhood eaters of all the pizzas

We never set out to become pizza experts. But once we’d eaten at 50 different pizzerias, we found that we were developing some serious Pizza Discernment.

Then we ate 50 more pizzas and got even savvier. Here’s the best of what we’ve learned.

 

Our methodology:

  • Order a pizza with onions and green peppers (except if it’s a specialty pizza place that discourages deviations from their concoctions).
  • Choose the style for which the pizza place is famous: deep dish, thin crust, Neapolitan, Quad Cities style, Detroit style, New York style…

Our pizza truths:

  • There is no bad pizza.
  • Sometimes the best pizza comes from a hole-in-the-wall place.

Our pizza revelations:

  • Our favorite pizzas have zingy sauce, salty cheese, crust that tastes good all on its own, and a nice balance of ingredients.
  • If the sauce isn’t zingy, the pizza might be good but will never be great.
  • If the pizza’s not great, adding more cheese will make it worse, not better.
  • It’s easier for a pizza to stand out if it’s deep dish or very thin crust.
  • We have a weakness for deep dish.

 

And now…

Our top 10 pizzas…

First, our undisputed top 2:

 

Pequod’s Pizza

Morton Grove, IL

Deep dish

Why it’s great: That caramelized crust!

Pequod’s

 

La Rosa

Skokie, IL

Thin crust

Why it’s great: The best thin crust on the planet. Razor-thin toppings, zingy sauce, crispy crust

La Rosa

 

And the other 8, in alphabetical order:

 

de Carlucci’s Pizzeria & Mexican Grill

Morton Grove, IL

Thin crust

Why it’s great: Zingy sauce, crispy crust

de Carlucci’s

 

Gino’s East  

Chicago

Deep dish

Why it’s great: That cornmeal crust…

(We forgot to take a photo!)

 

 

Gullivers Pizza & Pub

Chicago

Deep dish

Why it’s great: All those flavors and that perfect crust

Gullivers

 

 

Harris Pizza

Rock Island, IL

Quad Cities style

Why it’s great: The sweetness of the malty crust, and the zing of the sauce

Harris Pizza

 

Impellizzeri’s Pizza   

Louisville, KY

Deep dish

Why it’s great: Zingy sauce and nicely balanced

Impellizzeri’s

 

Labriola    

Chicago

Deep dish

Why it’s great: Full-featured deep dish that impressed us even after we’d tested more than 75 pizzas

Labriola

 

Lou Malnati’s

Lincolnwood, IL

Deep dish

Why it’s great: Zingy tomatoes on the top, and the crust is always a treat

(We’ve eaten Lou’s so often, we never thought to photograph it. We’re kind of appalled at this discovery.)

 

 

Pi Pizzeria   

St. Louis, MO

Deep dish

Why it’s great: A zingy, perfectly balanced deep dish pizza with delectable crust

Pi

 

Up next week: pizzas ranked 11-20. Because there really are that many great pizzas.

 

Our fellow pizza lovers… where would you send us next?

Currently… deep winter and it is some kind of cozy

This installment could be subtitled “Presently: presents!” because it features at least five perfect gifts that came into my life. I’m a lucky one.

 

Reading (the books) | On my nightstand, I’ve got Y Is for Yesterday, the unexpectedly final book by Sue Grafton. (This makes me very sad.)  Also: Grant by Ron Chernow, a delightful Christmas gift from the Dear Man, who perfectly anticipated I’d need a Chernow fix as I was nearing the end of Alexander Hamilton.  

 

 

Reading (the audiobooks) | I’m listening to The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, which has me completely engrossed. Also: occasionally overcome with emotion.

 

Reading (online) | The Dear Man News Service sent me this article about George Washington and a library, which made me happy…

 

Listening  | Lin-Manuel Miranda announced his Hamildrops project, and I’ve been inappropriately laughing as I listen to “Ben Franklin’s Song.” (I’d link to it, except all those swears!)

 

Watching  | Oh my gosh. We’ve been watching the Winter Olympics, and I adore it.

 

Learning  | During the holidays, nearly all of us did the Enneagram Inventory by Ian Morgan Cron, and I’ve been diving deep into that world. (Type 1 here!)

 

Loving  | My new egg cooker. I mean, look at how cute.

 

Anticipating  | We’re homing in on Pizzeria #100 pretty soon… We’re at #99 and counting! My excellent sister and brother-in-law gave us a pizza carrier for Christmas, and it’s proving the thing we never knew we needed.

 

Celebrating | Five years ago, I met the Dear Man. Serious happiness has ensued.

 

I’ve decided: I kinda like winter.

 

So tell me, readers… what perfect gifts have come into your life?