Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

My kids are 5 and 2 right now. My daughter is just about to start Kindergarten, and she’s not reading on her own yet but she memorizes books and “reads” them to her brother. I can’t remember which one of us started it, but my husband and I both play them audiobooks in the car for their commute to and from day care. I would never have thought that a 2 year old would really comprehend much from an audiobook, but he does! It’s surprising how much they both retain, and what their preferences are. I’m sure there are educational benefits for children, but mostly this is just a good way to stay sane in the car.

For the record, my kids are pretty sensitive about scary things. Like, the 5 year old won’t even watch Frozen or Moana.  The most adventuresome books, like Harry Potter, I have to assure them that nothing bad happens to the protagonist.  Some of these books have movies that were fun to watch (e.g. Fantastic Mr Fox), others have movie versions that are way too scary (e.g. The BFG, Harry Potter, Matilda).  Here is a list of audiobooks that they have enjoyed over the past year or so.

  1. All of Roald Dahl’s children’s books, including Going Solo, his memoir of his World War II exploits. My favorite was Fantastic Mr Fox, read by Chris O’Dowd. They listened to these in B’s car and every day came home and told me about what was going on. Full list: James and the Giant Peach, Boy, Danny the Champion of the World, George’s Marvelous Medicine, The Twits, the Minpins, The Magic Finger, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, Going Solo, and The BFG.
  2. The The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, read by Anne Hathaway. Wow, that was a lot different than the movie!
  3. Pippi Longstocking, one of my childhood favorites, stood the test of time. This is a short one! Only 2.5 hours long.
  4.  Little House on the Prairie series. They are listening to this in B’s car, which is good because I listened to the sample and the narrator grated on my nerves. They are also watching some episodes on TV, which is fun. Hopefully they appreciate the bounty of the grocery store more now.
  5. A Wrinkle in Time. Another of my childhood favorites. I’m sure the kids did not grasp the themes in this book but they did like the characters. Like music, sometimes the best thing is finding something I want to listen to that the kids think is for them. So, this is the They Might be Giants of audiobooks.
  6. The Percy Jackson and the Olympians trilogy was surprisingly well-received, I think we read it when Jaybird was 4. Again it was something I enjoyed listening to and the kids mostly just tolerated it, though Jaybird did follow some of the story.
  7. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy. This is kind of a timeless story, I was surprised at how recently it was written. It’s about 4 girls and their dad staying at a summer cottage, and their adventures with new friends (a boy is one of their new friends, so this would appeal to boys and girls, not that I think there are limits on that).
  8.  The Boxcar Children. The kids loved this, I put up with it because it was short (2 hours). Too cutesy for me.
  9.  The Neverending Story. One they listened to in B’s car and I think they even watched the movie.
  10.  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
  11.  And the pain and the pleasure of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Book 1, read by Jim Dale. I am a huge Harry Potter fan and I love JK Rowling but Jim Dale’s voice is like nails on a chalkboard to me. The Stephen Fry reading is SO MUCH BETTER. I don’t know what rumors to believe about their beef with each other, but I want it all to end so I can have Stephen Fry’s dulcet tones rather than Jim Dale’s whining. /rant I am listening to the Jim Dale version with the kids and getting through ok but mentally cringing every time he whines. We definitely will not proceed with the series at this point because it gets dark pretty quickly, but I look forward to indoctrinating them completely into all things Harry Potter.

And a few failures, for the record.

  1. Ramona the Pest annoyed my husband, he said Ramona is too dumb to be believable. The kids liked it though.
  2. The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde, one of my favorite authors! I loved it but the humor was a little advanced for this age. Worth trying again in a few years.
  3. Cujo, not a hit for some reason. KIDDING, kidding.

Here is what’s on our to-read list.

  1. The Tale of Despereaux.
  2. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: The Chronicles of Narnia. One of my childhood favorites. I’m a little concerned because the sound quality on the audible sample is not so good.
  3. My Father’s Dragon was recommended as a good early chapter book by my local bookstore, and it looks pretty great.

What books do you recommend for young kids? Or for early elementary kids?




Disclosure of Material Connection: This post contains “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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Running + Reading

I’m trying to start running again. I’m 42 years old and I just started running last year.  I ran a mile for the first time last summer, and then I ran a 5K in September. I took a bit of a break (OK inauguration depression crept in), but I’m back on the road!  Last year I was listening to a lot of fast music while I ran, then I figured out that I prefer listening to podcasts or audiobooks while I run.

Most recently I finished What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, by Haruki Murakami. He is one of my favorite authors, and he seems a bit secretive so I was curious to read about his exercise regime. He has been running for 25 years, he started at age 30 and he runs a marathon every year. Some great revelations in this book included that Murakami listens to the Red Hot Chili Peppers (!) and Gorillaz when he runs, and that he loves Hawaii. He discusses his struggle with aging, his challenges in triathlons, and how running is part of his writing process. While reading Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, I was struck by the myth that creative people must be self-destructive to access their creativity.  Murakami addresses this myth in his book, saying that if a writer wants to have a long career it is important to stay healthy, and that although self-destructive behavior may allow some brilliant work it will not last for long.

Murakami is such a brilliant writer, this is nothing like his fiction work but it is so cool to get a glimpse of his personality.  I don’t think this book would interest non-runners much, but it might interest serious Murakami fans because it is a memoir, however specialized. It is a very short book, more a collection of journal entries. The audiobook is only 4.5 hours long.


Right now I’m reading The Martian, and it is so good. I saw the movie in the theater and loved it, and the audio is just as good as the movie. Suspenseful, hilarious, and exciting with lots of great adventure and good characters. As a biologist, I’m pretty happy to see a botanist get so much love. Yay science!



Disclosure of Material Connection: This post contains “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Audiobook Recommendations

trevor noah.jpgGulp-cover-350.jpg

I have been listening to a lot of audiobooks lately, mostly in an attempt to avoid being immersed in the news all day. These are two recent favorites, available on audible.com

Born a Crime is a memoir by Trevor Noah, read by Trevor Noah, about his childhood in South Africa during and following apartheid. Firstly, you should read the audiobook just to hear Noah speak Xhosa, which is one of those amazing African clicking languages. He also does great accents.  Secondly, the book is just full of stories that are both so foreign yet familiar. The racial politics of post-apartheid South Africa are dicey, and Noah being of mixed racial origins gets the best and worst of it. His mother is really the main character of the book, and she does seem like a true character. Interestingly, Noah does not venture into his rise to fame even to discuss much beyond a few references to working in comedy clubs. This is truly about his childhood.

Gulp by Mary Roach, read by Emily Woo Zeller– another monosyllabic title from this taboo-breaking author. I like her consistency. Honestly the parts of Packing for Mars (wait I guess not all of her books have one-syllable titles!) that I remember best are about pooping in space. This book encompasses a multitude of digestive interests, but let me just get down to the real nitty gritty: there is a whole chapter on Elvis’s megacolon.. Emily Woo Zeller won an award for her reading of this book.

Other recommendations: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is the best audiobook I’ve read this year; the cast of characters is incredible, and it was just 1,000x more fun than reading it. Chris O’Dowd reading Fantastic Mr. Fox is a lot of fun also.

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I think a lot about advice that I wish I had received as a young person, or things that I would tell my younger self if I could go back in time.

This book made me realize that I should be keeping track of those things to compile for my kids and my niece and nephew (I harbor some doubt that they are secretly wishing for more advice from their aunt).  Hey  I’m going to add a new tag for it so I can compile them right here on this blog. I have a lot of love for self-help books that are actually helpful, this seems like a good one.

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Happy 2012!

We had a fabulous New Year’s Eve. We went to see the American version of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and watched the fireworks on Lady Bird Lake from the theater right after we got out. Perfect timing!
And lest you worry, I finished my one last book and made it to 50 for 2011. Whew! That was the most recreational reading I have done in a long time. But I’m going to try to be realistic about how much reading I’ll get done with a baby due in February.

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge

Sue has read 0 books toward her goal of 20 books.


Here’s to fresh starts!

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One more day of 2011!

2011 has had its ups and downs… some family illnesses that were close calls, and our sweet Coaly is sick. But we had a lovely vacation in Chicago and I had my last hurrah in Europe. We are definitely looking forward to 2012 and the new baby who will be joining us! So amazing. But where is my real focus in these last hours of 2011?

2011 Reading Challenge

2011 Reading Challenge

Sue has read 49 books toward her goal of 50 books.


Finishing just ONE. MORE. BOOK. And yes, I have been cramming in some short ones here at the end of the year, but that is fair, right?  The thing that is really irking me is that there is a cookbook in there, I might have to finish two books by tomorrow just to make up for that.  I’m thinking that next year my goal is 10, including cookbooks. Going from one a week to one a month seems about right for my expectations. Or maybe I should just read all 10 in January? Happy new year! May we all reach our goals for 2012.

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I have been on a streak with the popular science books, and I am happy to say it continues with this book. Full disclosure: I grew up watching Jacques Cousteau, I went to Marine Biology camp, I went to Marine Biology campus in college, and were it not for a wicked tendency to seasickness and an awesome ornithology professor I would probably be a Marine Biologist today. I love the ocean and the animals in it.

Wendy Williams (such name confusion! Between China Miéville’s new book by the same name and several famous Wendy Williamses, whew!) gets me, but she gets the squeamish people too. So if you don’t automatically love squid that is not on your dinner plate, don’t give up. (But don’t look for sympathy from me. I don’t get you, squeamish people!) She follows the history of squid in popular culture, art, and writing, and finds them and their octopi brethren thoroughly vilified. She takes time to dispel rumors, and even to touch some critters herself.

Williams tackles the GIANT SQUID that has fascinated artists and scientists for years. Their carcasses have popped up randomly, confirming stories of their existence though some were overblown. And they EAT PEOPLE! No, not really. But they look super-cool and they live really deep in the ocean. She follows scientists studying the weedy Humboldt squid, and she also spends a lot of time with neurologists using squid nerves as models for human nerves. Fascinating! I loved the section on animal intelligence, where she notes the anthropocentric attitude that invertebrates as stupid and considers the ways that WE would be stupid to a squid.

Between Finding Nemo (“You guys made me ink!” being one of the highlights of the film for me) and the adorable octopus with the coconut shell, cephalopods are moving up in popular opinion. Hopefully the kid fans of Sponge Bob and Nemo will grow up to read this book and discover the really amazing animals that inspired the shows. Williams’s humor and scientific curiosity are qualities you will enjoy in your tour guide into the cephalopod world.

Thanks to Abrams Books for providing a copy of this book via netgalley. My opinions are my own.

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