Getting My Book On

I took a short (yeah, right) hiatus from my quest to read all 100 books on Newsweek’s Meta-List, but now I’m ready to jump back into the proverbial saddle. I should point out that I did read a few other books during the break.

Possession by A.S. Byatt is, I think, the best book I’ve read this year. If you’re into metafiction, this is definitely one to check out. Since I am a lover of the Victorian novel, I really enjoyed how Byatt was able to incorporate elements of the Victorian into modern times. I understand that a film version of the book exists; however, I’ve heard from numerous sources that the movie is not good, so I don’t think it will be added to my Netflix queue anytime soon.

The other book I read is Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. I wanted to love this book: I really did. A former instructor of mine, whose opinion I value greatly, suggested that I read it. Sorry, but this book did not do anything for me. I don’t want to give too much away, but I will say that it’s set in Paris in the ’50s and it deals with questions of morality and love and, well, it’s pretty unconventional stuff. I think reading it right after Possession may have been a bad decision on my part. I’ll give Baldwin another chance, but it’s gonna be a while.

So now I’m ready to tackle something else. I was fortunate enough to receive a Barnes & Noble gift card for my birthday (thank you, brother-in-law!), so I picked up a few books. I still have a stack of books on my desk to read, but I was in the mood for something else. Today, I’m starting Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I’ve heard lots of positive feedback about this novel, so I’m looking forward to diving in.

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Eating on the Run, GFCF

Last week I took my kids camping. In the woods. With no electricity. And nary a flush toilet in sight. Those who know me were quite shocked to find out that I was VOLUNTARILY embarking on this trip: I’m just not what one would call the outdoorsy type. To add to the shock factor, I actually went out there sans hubby; Flamenco Dad wasn’t able to join us until we were well into Day 2.  I packed up all our gear, loaded up the kids and the grub, and ventured out into the wilderness.

What we encountered once we made it to the campsite was not what I expected. I didn’t realize it ahead of time, but we were in for what experienced campers would call “primitive camping.” When we arrived, we were informed that we could not drive to our campsite, instead having to hike over 1/2 mile whilst schlepping our gear. By the time we made it to our campsite it was dark out, meaning I had to assemble our tent in the dark. It was the first time I ever assembled a tent on my own, never mind the fact that it was hard to see out there.

I’ll save the rest of our camping adventure for another day, but you may be wondering why I’m sharing all this. It’s because with all that packing, hiking, and tent building, I also needed to be mindful of what we were going to eat out there.

Three days of no access to refrigeration (save for a medium sized cooler) and only a small camp stove make for some unique food challenges.

Dining on the run (or away from home) can be difficult, especially when one has to be mindful of food sensitivities. It’s not like I can just walk into a 7-Eleven and grab whatever’s on the shelf. Besides Zoe’s gluten and dairy intolerance, that stuff it usually just plain icky and otherwise unhealthy. So when it came time to prepare for our camping trip, I needed to be ready with healthy foods we ALL could eat and enjoy.

What I did was modify a recipe for banana bread that I found in Carol Fenster’s Cooking Free. The result was a not-too-sweet, tasty, and healthy pumpkin bread that was out of this world. I gave myself props for not using any refined sugar and giving my kids a breakfast/snack that was chock full of Vitamin A (courtesy of the pumpkin puree).

Pumpkin Bread (recipe modified from a recipe in Cooking Free):

Ingredients:

1/3 cup pure maple syrup

1/8 tsp. baking soda

2 large eggs

3 Tbs. canola oil

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups of your favorite gluten-free flour blend (I made my own)

1/2 tsp. xanthan gum

1/2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 ripe mashed banana

1 1/2 cup pumpkin puree

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 3 mini loaf pans. Combine syrup, baking soda, eggs, oil, and vanilla with electric mixer on medium speed. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Add flour mixture to the egg mixture, alternating with the pumpkin and banana. Divide the batter among the three loaf pans, then bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into loaf comes out clean. Cool thoroughly before cutting.

Books, School, and GFCF Stuff

So, I had to put Middlemarch down for the time being. It’s not because I’m not enjoying the book; in fact, I was enjoying it a lot. The problem was that with my teacher certification classes (complete with lots of assignments), studying for certification exams,  and lots of busy days at work I wasn’t really able to give the novel the time and attention it deserves. But I will revisit George Eliot very soon. I am finally starting to like her, after all. I need to give that relationship the warm fuzzies it needs to endure.

Gosh, I am such a dork.

Anyway, I just picked up Wide Sargasso Sea yesterday, and it’s going well so far. I know what you’re thinking: “Well, if she doesn’t have much time to read for pleasure, why the hell did she pick up another book?” And that is a valid question, one for which I have a pretty good answer. I’m not trying to take anything away from Jean Rhys (the author) by saying this, but I don’t find Sargasso as demanding a text; therefore, I am able to read it without feeling like I’m sacrificing much time and effort. In other words, I’m approaching this book in a much more casual way than I did with Middlemarch. Does that make sense to anyone else besides me?

In other news, I passed the first of three certification exams I need to take in order to get my teaching certificate. I’m quite relieved. While I didn’t think the test was going to be too difficult, I still had a bit of nerves as test day approached. I’m glad I got over the first hurdle.

I have also started doing fieldwork in local schools, and I gotta say, I really love it. The kids are great, and I had a real “a-ha” moment on my first day of fieldwork. I looked around at the students and was taking in everything going on around me, and it occurred to me that the classroom is really where I belong. It was exhilirating and scary when that moment of recognition finally happened.

This blog has been seriously lacking in GFCF stuff, and I do apologize for that. There just hasn’t been much time; and we’ve really settled into a rhythm with feeding Zoe this way, so there hasn’t been much new to say. I do have some products to write about that we recently sampled, and I’ll try to get on that ASAP.

So Busy, I Forgot to Give This Post a Title

I finally finished The Social Contract about a day or two after my last post. And all I really care to say about the book at this point is, “So long, Jean-Jacques.” I struggle with understanding Newsweek’s decision to place this book on their meta-list, but at least that puts me in good company. Many people have taken issue with titles on that list. You really can’t please all of the people all of the time, and I’m okay with that.

Anyway, I’ve since moved on to George Eliot’s Middlemarch, and so far I’m really enjoying the book. Unfortunately, I’m unable to keep up with the pace I originally set for myself because I have so much HOMEWORK to do. Yes, you read correctly, I have homework. I started classes on Monday; to be more specific, I started courses for teacher certification. It’s an intensive program for folks like me who don’t have an educatio degree but want to teach. The program is completely in roughly seven months, at the end of which I should be ready to take my final certification exams to get my Professional Educator’s Certification. The courses are set up in modules, and currently I’m enrolled in courses is classroom management and education technology…plus I get to start doing observations in area schools. Exciting!

Not only that, but I have my job which is going very well. I’m still learning the ropes, but I think I’ve settled into a good routine, and I genuinely like the people I work with. That is always a bonus; no one likes working in a place where you can’t get along with colleagues. The folks I work with are very friendly and supportive, always willing to help out a newbie like me.

Why I Didn’t Major in Political Science, and What’s on Tap

Mr. Rousseau, I’m afraid that if The Social Contract doesn’t pick up for me soon I may have to break up with you. I find my general distaste for this book a bit odd because I’m one of those people who enjoys the study of history and politics. In fact, when I was contemplating majors many moons ago I considered majoring in political science or history. Thankfully I did not waste my time; literature will always be my passion.

I’m not trying to diss Monsieur Rousseau: I mean, The Social Contract is hailed as one of Rousseau’s premier works. But man oh man, is it ever D-R-Y. It reads like some of the stuff I had to read in Literary Criticism class…and some of that was downright painful. These scholar-authors/philosophers go through the rigorous process of presenting their theses and giving support to back up their claims, but they also need to define ALL their terms in a very methodical way and engage in discourse that, at times, I find taxing. And occasionally mind-numbing. Except for you, Mr. Addison. I have a special place for you and The Spectator in my heart, and it isn’t just because I wrote a totally kick-ass paper about you.

Anyway, back to Rousseau: yeah, I’m not really digging this one. I am, however, committed to finishing the book; and finish it I will, even if it kills me.

In the meantime, I get to prep for starting MY NEW JOB on Monday. I’ll have more details on that after I get settled in there. Oh, and there’s the matter of choosing the next book for my reading. I figure I’d set up the poll now rather than wait till I’m done with The Social Contract. At least it will give me something to look forward to–and provide some motivation to finish.

So what’s it going to be, folks?

Brave New World

I was a few days behind schedule in finishing Brave New World. We had lots of goings-on here which kept me from finishing the book according to schedule, not the least of which was Flamenco Dad’s performance in the opera, Zoe having to get fitted for glasses, and assorted other stuff with the kids. Having said all this, let me go on record as saying that this book rocks! I enjoyed Huxley even more than I thought I would. I highly recommend it, and I’m looking forward to reading more Huxley in the future.

Some thoughts on Brave New World:

My Russian Literature professor told me that not only did Aldous Huxley steal the idea for this dystopian novel from Yevgeny Zamyatin, but that he actually had the stones to deny it, arguing that he had never even heard of We.  Apparently George Orwell gives a nod to Zamyatin in 1984, but I haven’t read that one yet (it’s on the list, so look for it to appear here in the future). Whether or not you believe that Huxley did pretty much swipe the idea for the novel from Zamyatin’s We, Huxley still tells a heck of a story. Aldous Huxley is a genius. There, I said it. Sorry, Dr. Peppard.

There’s lots of the same stuff here as there is in Zamyatin’s novel: collectivism on steroids, this book presents the idea of a one world order, where a monolithic governing body controls every aspect of people’s lives.  Those who live outside the collective are viewed as savages or deviants. Strangely, in the “civilized” world they engage in behaviors that are very far removed from what we would consider a civililzed society today. They have turned their backs on the past, they reject high art for the sake of industrialization and conformity.

Ah, the mysterious elixir that is soma—learned about this in Religions of South Asia class, though in this novel the drug appears in pill form. Reference to soma is made in the Rigveda, or the Vedas, an ancient religious text. Gotta love how a solid liberal arts education is a gift that just keeps on giving. Thanks, Dr. Lopez (I just feel like giving some of my professors props today for all the interesting stuff I learned…and mysteriously managed to retain)!

What would Sir Thomas More have to say about this book? I read Utopia in one of my Brit Lit survey courses. I’m thinking that, given what a religious man he was, More would be pretty upset about how religion is completely rejected in this utopia. In class I learned that ‘utopia’ can be translated to either ‘happy place’ or ‘no place,’ or both. I’m guessing that More (and many others) are glad that this no-happy place is but a figment of Huxley’s (or Zamyatin’s, or Orwell’s) imagination.

As for the next book, you ask? I’ve selected a book that was listed in my recent poll (though it, sadly, got no votes): The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Au revoir!

Some Random Thoughts on Faulkner, and the Results are in

I’m going to avoid going into lengthy plot summaries on As I Lay Dying. First of all, people who haven’t read the book may want to take a stab at it without getting bombarded with a bunch of spoilers. Second, this ain’t one of those sites where you can buy a paper; you’ll have to write your own, buddy. Finally, nobody gave me the heads-up on this book beforehand…not to get all schoolmarm-y on you, but you’re not going to learn anything if I start spoonfeeding information to you, am I right?

Man, when did I get all grown up and stuff? Anyway, here are some random thoughts on the novel. These really don’t follow any strict, logical format…I just kind of sat down last night and typed up what I was thinking as the thoughts came to mind:

Family dynamics in this novel are completely dysfunctional. Faulkner really loves doing this: he uses similar motifs in both The Sound and the Fury and Light in August. Both of those novels appear on the Newsweek list, so look for them to appear later.

Faulkner is a true master of perspective. It’s a remarkable feat to have woven together this narrative using fifteen different voices. I heart Faulkner.

Holy calamities, Batman! Illness, death, storms, floods, fires, and vultures: there’s some serious biblical stuff going on in this novel.

Two things really creeped me out in this novel: the vultures and the sound of Cash prepping that coffin. It’s like there was this constant cadence marking the end of Addie’s life. How chilling that her son was the one marking time. And vultures are scary. Period.

Anse Bundren has got to be the most obnoxious character in all of Faulkner’s works. Does the man have any redeeming qualities? He’s the laziest, cheapest, coldest, most opportunistic man I’ve encountered in literature in a LONG time. His wife’s body has just been buried, and he immediately tries to score with the woman from whom he borrowed the shovels to bury his wife? Don’t forget the fake teeth, hot stuff. Sheesh.

I lost count of how many times I misread Bundren’s last name as “Burden,” especially since Anse is constantly harping on the fact that he doesn’t want to be beholden to anyone, a.k.a. a burden. Meanwhile, he’s a burden to everyone around him. Does he even know what the words ‘burden’ or ‘beholden’ mean? Because he’s using the expressions incorrectly—someone needs to get that toothless leech a dictionary, stat.

Okay, so on to other things! The results are in, and Brave New World is the next book I’m going to tackle. At roughly 260 pages, I plan to get through the book by Wednesday (so long as I get enough reading in today). I also plan on doing some cooking this weekend, so perhaps there will be a food pic (or two) in the next few days!