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Julee Rudolf "book snob" RSS Feed (Anacortes, WA USA)
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Raising Wild: Dispatches from a Home in the Wilderness
Raising Wild: Dispatches from a Home in the Wilderness
by Michael Branch
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.53

4.0 out of 5 stars “It occurs to me that silence, so commonly driven from our daily lives, in another balm that the forest produces...", June 21, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Like a modern day Thoreau, Michael Branch chose to move out into the wilderness, “I put my life savings down on a parcel of land in the hinterlands of northwestern Nevada…it was also at 6,000 feet in elevation and adjacent to public lands stretching west all the way up to the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains in neighboring California,” where he lives with his family of four, a dog named Cat and a cat named Lucy. The book jacket promises, “…an intimate study of the western Great Basin Desert…where Michael Branch…his wife, and two daughters brazenly live out their days among the packrats and ground squirrels, rattlesnakes and scorpions.”

In the pre-amble, he recounts his elder daughter Hannah’s attempt to summit a nearby mountain they’ve dubbed Moonrise (p xv), “The thing about climbing a mountain is you never know what you’ll find at the top,” and explains the title (p xxiv), “…Raising Wild is intended to suggest a very different approach to how we conceive the relationship between wildness and domesticity.”

My expectations about Raising Wild were high. I enjoy essays, appreciate humor, and love nature writing as much as I love hiking and running along the nearly 100 miles of trails that lie within one minute to ten miles from where I live. And tales about families that choose to do things entirely differently than the rest of us fascinate me. Based on the blurb, I thought the collection would be a compilation of articles with a family-meets nature theme that would read something like Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild meets Timothy Egan’s The Good Rain with a contemporary Little House on the Prairie flair and a dose of David Sedaris. I imagined the foursome coexisting closely with nature in a simple, smallish, spartan dwelling set atop a mountain in the middle of nowhere with no neighbors for miles where they spend their days writing (journaling for the kids), hiking and homeschooling, but I am first and foremost a skeptic who questions nearly everything and so the collection, and, I suspect, the actual living situation, did not meet my likely impossibly high hopes. The essays work, the writing is excellent, and the stories entertaining, but the connection sometimes seems like a stretch. The great title doesn’t seem to quite match the reality.

The collection is split neatly into three sections (Birthing, Wilding, and Humbling) of four essays each, plus a preamble and coda. A quote from Gary Snyder’s The Practice of the Wild precedes each. The book (p xxvii), “shares the story of how [Branch’s] girls’ intuitive understanding of self and nature has provided a profound challenge to [his] own,” but in Birthing, he begins with a slapstick comedy laden recounting of his gin-infused conversation with his wife Eryn about the possibility of having children. This wasn’t a great start as far as I am concerned except that it includes an example of his skills at description on a trip to Monterey Bay, California (p 5), “Hiking on an exposed expanse of bare beach in February…leaning into the gust-driven gyre that lifts surging blasts of sand, you tilt toward a deep gray horizon of dusty green swells that rise like shiny billows of mountain mahogany and creosote bush and bitterbrush—breakers undulating like shimmering waves of Artemisia tridentate, big sage, each desiccated three-lobed leaf reminiscent of Neptune’s trident.” He continues with the topic in The Nature Within Us by recounting his experience with sympathetic pregnancy aka Couvade Syndrome and follows that with Tracking Stories, an essay about pronghorn sheep that is too detailed even for me, although the secondary topic (preventing excessive development in the wilderness) make me think: there must be a compromise between the haves (those with the resources to acquire and dwell on an enormous lot in the wilderness) and the have nots (who can’t or don’t want the same situation but do want affordable access to life near nature). Finally, in Ladder to the Pleiades, he delivers on his promise, his “girls’ intuitive understanding of self and nature…provided a profound challenge to [his] own,” in this case to simply go out and look up at the sky, even when you don’t feel like it because you never know what you might find) but, again, it was too detailed in its description of the stars for me.

In the middle section, Wilding, I finally got what I had expected. The Branch’s call them The Adventures of Peavine and Charlie, our family called them Super Stories, made-up-on-the-fly stories told at bedtime (the origin of Richard Adams’ Watership Down and Rev W. Awdry’s Thomas the Tank Engine tales as well) with kids contributing. I took from it (p 107), “We are each the hero of our own life story, which we write daily with our actions and ambitions, failings and fantasies.” The Wild Within Our Walls followed, which was one of my favorites: The Branch family’s experience with bushy-tailed wood rats (pack rats) contained the perfect combination of family interaction, information, frustration and funny. Then, a setback, Playing With the Stick, a specific stick “inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at the Strong National Museum of Play.” The stick is very versatile but the only connection to his children, which is true for several stories, is the short-conversation-with-kids. Freebirds, the pardoning of the presidential turkey was more to my liking.

Finding the Future Forest, the first essay in the Humbling section was better. Branch discusses his advocacy for forest protection, an issue that his passion for shows through in one of the best stories with one of the collections’ best, truest statements (p 182), “It occurs to me that silence, so commonly driven from our daily lives, in another balm that the forest produces, that it stores and holds, as it does water.” My Children’s First [second, third] Garden rounds out my top three favorites, summarized by a perfect made-up word (another thing I love), Vegpocalypse (p 205), ‘Wise Cicero, who wrote that, “if you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need,” clearly didn’t know about the California ground squirrel.” Both his conclusion about the battle (p 197), “I had failed to be humble, and in failing to be humble I was now humbled by failure,” and his ending, “…just as every day with those we love is a day to start over, to plant something again,” are brilliant. In Chapter 11, he curmudgeonly bashes The Sound of Music in The Hills Are Alive. I love to love things others hate and love to hate what others love (and I do love The Sound of Music, though I love his criticisms of it too), the essay contains a perfect blend of humor, interactions with the kids and a connection to nature. Chapter 12 Fire on the Mountain completes Humbling, in which the family’s distance from help during a house fire shows readers one of the disadvantages of living far from civilization. I came away with affirmation of the idea that writing is a cure for what ails you (p 258), “…writing is widely acknowledged to be an effective technique in the treatment of stress-induced trauma.”

He ends it all with the coda, in which he explains the V.E.C.T.O.R.L.O.S.S. Project, as intriguing as it is odd. I won’t spoil it for you by attempting to explain it.

In summary, I chose to read Raising Wild imagining the Branch family’s living situation to be a little wilder than I suspect it really was; however, as was true when I learned the same about Thoreau, the fact doesn’t lessen my feelings about the writing, which was excellent; descriptive, informative, peppered with thought-provoking sentiments and ideas, and, at times, contained exactly my kind of humor. I’ll take the mostly great and rarely not so much, and appreciate Branch’s pearls of wisdom and the opportunity reading his essays gave me to learn about life in the Nevada wilderness.


Sarjaton Varpu White Coffee Mug By Iittala
Sarjaton Varpu White Coffee Mug By Iittala
Offered by musei
Price: $19.99
7 used & new from $19.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful design, perfect size, June 18, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This is my new favorite mug. It's dishwasher safe, the perfect size and absolutely beautiful.


Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
by Lawrence Wright
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.43
250 used & new from $1.03

5.0 out of 5 stars long, detailed, and at times gossipy story about how Scientology came to be, June 18, 2016
Having read The Looming Tower, I was familiar with the author's previous work, so it was no surprise that I really liked this one about L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. I must confess though, the first time I tried to read this book, I gave up after a few chapters. I'd thought it a bit dry and hard to follow. But...then came Leah Remini's Troublemaker (which I loved, though I felt she should have given her helper writer, Rebecca Paley, a bit more credit). I could not put it down. I'd also enjoyed Under the Banner of Heaven by Sebastian Junger, and had recently read A Thousand Lives by Julia Scheeres about Jim Jones, so maybe I was just in a better (worse?) place to appreciate the subject matter: Scientology.

The story follows a number of normal, rational seeming persons who most of us would be surprised would go along with the ideas of this "religion," especially disturbing was the behavior of its leader, L. Ron Hubbard, who somehow transformed from famous sci-fi writer to idea creator to person who dreamed up a set of ideas that thousands of people or more (depending on who is telling the story) follow religiously.

Although I thought that The Looming Tower was a bit easier to follow, Going Clear was well-researched, well-written and utterly disturbing. A documentary by the same name is also excellent. In summary, this book is long, detailed and a little People Magazine-like with some of its chatty, gossipy-feeling content, but the background information about the founder of Scientology, the religion's themes and ideas, and followers is absolutely fascinating. Next up for me: Ruthless by Ron Miscavige.


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Edition: Paperback
Price: $7.31
133 used & new from $2.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Not exactly what I was expecting, but a well-written, surprising story, June 18, 2016
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I chose this book because it was YA genre, had received several awards and was available in Spanish. I'd hoped to read it in Spanish and then pass it on to my 17 year old son who just finished up his second year of high school Spanish. Um...unfortunately, I somehow purchased the English version, which was still fine. Then I could figure out what the story was about and then read it in Spanish with a basic understanding of the plot.

I thought it would be a good read about a teenager trying to figure things out in the world. I found the writing and story to be excellent, but I'm not sure it's the type of plot that I'd been looking for. I never saw the ending coming (until near the very, very end) which I liked. A well-written story with a surprise (to clueless readers like me) ending,

I was looking for something more like: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews or Star Girl by Jerry Spinelle.


Suncast Recycle Bin Kit  BH183PK
Suncast Recycle Bin Kit BH183PK
Price: $39.99
35 used & new from $27.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Stackable, nice-sized, June 18, 2016
Where to put all of those recyclables while waiting for pick up each week? These stackable bins are great for several reasons, they are easy to clean, they are big enough to fit a week's worth of recyclables (before moving to the gigantic pick-up bin) and they are stackable, so they fit in a smallish space. We've had ours for a couple of years now, still love them as much as when we first bought them.


Burton Women's Weekender Socks (2 Pack), Dusk, Small/Medium
Burton Women's Weekender Socks (2 Pack), Dusk, Small/Medium
Offered by Coats Unlimited
Price: $29.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Long, super soft, colorful socks that did not arrive as ordered or expected, May 30, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I love socks. It doesn't matter how large or small you are feeling, they always seem to fit. And these seemed like a good choice because they come in a variety of cool colors. Unfortunately, I received two pairs of med/large instead of the small/med I ordered and although they are shown as shades of blue, mine were red. I'm sort of a petite person (5'4") and wear a size 6-1/2 to size 7 shoe, so the socks were too big for me, the heel situated beyond my actual heel. And they were so long, they stretched over an inch above my knee! Product information shows the socks at mid-calf, but I can't imagine that would be the case based on my own experience. I was hoping to wear these socks running, maybe with a skirt, but they are thick and soft. I think they'd be great to wear camping or hiking. It was a bit tough to review an item that didn't arrive as expected and didn't really fit, but I think that these socks are warm, soft, and cute.


Sofa Sack - Bean Bags Memory Foam Bean Bag Chair, 4-Feet, Black
Sofa Sack - Bean Bags Memory Foam Bean Bag Chair, 4-Feet, Black
Price: $137.54
3 used & new from $134.98

5.0 out of 5 stars This ain't your mamma's bean bag chair, May 30, 2016
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I chose this item for my teenage daughter, who has never had a bean bag chair. I expected something nicer than those of back in the day, maybe a bit bigger and with better filling. What I got was an enormous, soft, super comfortable chair. But first I had to get past the packaging. Ours arrived in an extremely heavy (47# shipping weight) medium sized box...inside another box...inside a round edged cube...inside a gigantic plastic bag. I almost laughed when I saw it in it's pre-expanded form. It looked like a huge ottoman. Once we'd unpackaged it and jumped around on it a bit, it began to expand to its eventual really large size. My daughter loves it (I do too, when I can get her out of it). It's so big you could comfortably sleep on it.

This seems kind of expensive for a bean bag chair, but the memory foam that it actually contains makes the chair very comfortable. If you can get past all of the packaging, this quality product is a good value.


Cleopatra: A Life
Cleopatra: A Life
by Stacy Schiff
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.19
482 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I wish I were capable of appreciating the awesomeness of this book., May 17, 2016
This review is from: Cleopatra: A Life (Paperback)
I am historically challenged. I'm so historically challenged that you don't even want to know the stuff that I learned in this book that I had not known. That said, I can appreciate the amount of effort that went into researching and writing this extremely informative non-fiction book about about Cleopatra. It seems like the author is on Cleopatra's side and wants to paint her in a positive light. She was was more than a pretty face (in fact, not sure that her face was actually that pretty), a powerful leader and mother of four. I find parts of this book fascinating; however, it was so long and detailed. Sometimes I just wanted to give up. In fact, I probably would not have made it through the entire thing if it weren't for the fact that it was a book club pick, so I thought if it as a homework assignment that I absolutely had to finish. Best of the book: tons of interesting information. Worst: same. I preferred: John Adams by David McCoullough, The First American by H.W. Brands and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.


Euphoria
Euphoria
by Lily King
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.52
321 used & new from $0.16

4.0 out of 5 stars "a captivating story of three young, gifted anthropologists...caught in a love triangle that threatens their bonds...", May 17, 2016
This review is from: Euphoria (Paperback)
"...their careers, and ultimately their lives."
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I chose this book off the shelf at a book store. I'm not really into historical fiction, but the author had me at the fourth sentence on the first page,

"As they were leaving the Mumbanyo, someone threw something at them. It bobbed a few yards from the stern of the canoe. A pale brown thing."
'Another dead baby,' Fen said."

And it was all uphill from there. What reading this book did for me is exactly what I want from historical fiction, when I take the time to read it - to spark an interest in the subject matter. From the back book jacket, "Inspired by events in the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead." What? Now I need to know more about her.

Author Lily King brings this story about a married anthropologist couple out in the middle of nowhere and a bachelor anthropologist they encounter while researching in the wild. The story is very loosely based on Margaret Mead and her 2nd and 3rd husbands. I loved the writing, the character development and most of the plotting, which had a few unbelievable moments. This story, set in New Guinea, is an entertaining read filled with the narrators' (alternating between the wife and the bachelor) hopes and dreams, successes and failures and several conflicts, one that adds a lot of drama and suspense to the tale. Although I enjoyed it, I'd still rather read the real thing: non-fiction. I preferred Even Silence Has an End by Ingrid Betancourt; Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond and The Lost City of Z by David Grann.


Gratitude: A Journal
Gratitude: A Journal
by Catherine Price
Edition: Diary
Price: $10.03
85 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Use it or lose it., May 17, 2016
This review is from: Gratitude: A Journal (Diary)
A friend gave me this journal for my birthday a couple of years ago. Since then, it has spent a lot of time collecting dust on my shelf. When I take it out and actually write in it (the pages are small, so one can fill a page within a few minutes), it gives me a mental boost. The more I write in it, the better I feel. The less, the worse, and the easier it is to forget about gratitude and my mental well-being. There are a lot of books out there like this. I think this is a really nice one because it is small (so not intimidating) and has a few affirmations and suggestions, but not so many that you will become overwhelmed. My only advice, use the book regularly if you want to gain the benefits. If you don't, it's easy to forgetaboutit and lose out on a nice little tool for mental well-being. Also good: Life's Little Instruction Book by H. Jackson Brown, Jr., Spiritual Illuminations by Peg Streep and Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Thich Nhat Hanh.


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