Confessions of a Bookaholic: Eating Locally

Arizona Backyard Garden_Cherry Tomatoes 1_feistyharriet_April 2016

Over the last couple of months I have become more and more interested in eating locally, meaning, eating fruits and vegetables that have been raised and farmed responsibly and sustainably close to my home. There are a lot of people that put a lot of rules on what all of those things mean, but for me, it’s not a hard and fast dictum, but more a general premise to shop and eat by (by which to shop and eat?). Mr. Blue Eyes and I eat a lot of vegetables in the first place, but other than some browsing and occasional purchasing at the summer farmer’s market in Salt Lake, I’ve never made much of an effort to eat locally grown vegetables or organic vegetables. I was pretty satisfied with, you know, eating vegetables.

However, living in a valley that receives 300+ days of sunshine every year and only the occasional hard frost, I feel like I have a lot more flexibility and more options on my fruit and veggie shopping. I did some research, asked friends, and read a lot, and finally found a CSA that I hope will work out. My first delivery is this week and while the grass-fed meats were more expensive than my local grocery, the veggies are really about the same price. (Yes, I’ve been doing the math, keeping receipts and a spreadsheet and everything.)

I read a handful of books about eating locally, my favorite, Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food, by Megan Kimble (review below) made the idea of eating locally and unprocessed foods seem relatively easy. There are farms that grow edible foods in enough variety to create a menu every week right here in the Phoenix valley. She talks a lot about moving to unprocessed foods, and, by default, that often means local because processing is required for transportation of most things. She isn’t a zillionaire, she doesn’t have an inherited family farm, she just, you know, did a ton of research and made a few lifestyle changes. Lucky for me, her research is local to me too; she lives in Tucson, just 90 minutes south of me.

I also read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver, and while the idea of my moving to Appalachia (where it’s already GREEN without pumping the Colorado River dry) and living on a farm is certainly tempting, it’s not going to happen. (Also? Kingsolver LEFT Tucson for Appalachia…Tucson must be a hoppin’ place!) I love that she and her family were able to eat primarily food from their own yard or the backyard of neighbors and the farms of vendors at their local farmer’s markets. I am kind of obsessed with this idea, actually. The radical notion of eating whole foods, not genetically modified foods, not ultra processed foods, but ones that were picked a day or two ago and can be purchased at a manageable price. Sure, the farm idea is nice too, but it also comes with a CRAP TON of effort.

Now, I realize that not everyone lives in a place that sustains year-round farming, I get that. I’m not advocating for militantly standing by a set of rules written by someone in completely different geographic and agricultural circumstances than you are. But, the idea of joining a CSA, or frequenting the farmer’s market on the regular is something I can get behind.

Author Wendell Berry spells out a list at the end of his book of ways one can be a more responsible eater/food consumer. The first four components are: 1) Participate in food production, grow herbs in your window or a bunch of veggies in the backyard, appreciate the time and effort it takes to cultivate edible foodstuffs; 2) Prepare your own food, instead of relying on pre-packaged meals; 3) Learn the origins of the food you eat, buy food produced closest to your home; 4) Deal directly with a local farmer whenever possible, I think this means by farmer’s market shopping, or even being familiar with the farmer who distributes your CSA portions. That is advice I can totally get behind. Gold star, Wendell Berry.

In addition to the books reviewed below, here are a few additional recommendations if you’d like to whet your appetite on local eating, unprocessed eating, or–in general–better eating (I’m sorry! It was a horrible pun! But necessary because when will I have that chance again!?:

I have a GoodReads shelf for books about food, the food industry, and cookbooks too.

A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Following are short book reviews, the first two are books I loved (also mentioned above), the next three books are interesting–okay, two are interesting, one involved a lot of eye-rolling–but not super great. So if you want to stop reading now I totally get it. But! Before you go, I’d love to hear about any backyard vegetable garden attempts! Or CSA successes! Or farm-to-table eating! And if you’ve got nothing, please admire the BABY BELL PEPPERS and BABY LIMES that are currently growing in my backyard! Meeep!

Arizona Backyard Garden_Bell Pepper 1_feistyharriet_April 2016

Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food, by Megan Kimble (4 stars). I literally could not put this book down and finished it in under 24 hours. The whole premise is that Megan decides to spend a year not eating processed foods, or, mostly not eating processed foods, and/or eating mostly not processed foods.* Her rules are a little loosey-goosey at first, although as she learns more about food processing–from vegetables to milk to meat–she firms them up quite nicely. I love that she lives in the arid Southwest, I feel like I can totally relate and even try some of her tips. I also love that she does not make a gazillion dollars, she makes $18,000 per year as a single woman and grad student living on her own. Yes, she eats a lot of fairly plain food, but her point is that even with a small income we can make better choices about what we eat and where it comes from.  I think it fitting that somewhere in-between starting and finishing this book I actually planted seeds in my new vegetable garden (photos of said garden’s progress in this post), and selected a CSA to tide me over until my little garden starts producing tomatoes and zucchini, squashes and peppers. Quite convenient that many of the vendors she interviewed and facilities she toured are local to me, so I cherry-picked off her research much more than I normally would be able to on a book about better eating choices.

As for the memoir part, I’ve read reviews complaining that Megan is just some privileged white girl who hasn’t had enough experience with hunger or lack of choices to write a worthwhile memoir about it. Well, frankly, I am also a privileged white girl who has very, very rarely gone to bed hungry, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to learn to make better, more informed choices about what I put into my body, and to do it without spending a gazillion dollars.

Arizona Backyard Garden_Lime Tree 1_feistyharriet_April 2016

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver (4 stars). There are so many things I loved about this book! Basic idea: Kingsolver and her family leave Tuscon for a large farm in Appalachia and decide to spend a year eating only what they can grow on their own land, or purchase from local farmer’s markets/farming neighbors. Now, the first obvious problem is that we all don’t and can’t have 20 acres of fertile ground in a rain-rich area of the country. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t do better about making a shift in our buying choices to buy more local produce, dairy, and meat. Kingsolver’s husband and daughter both offer essays throughout the book on politics and recipes, respectively, and I ignored the political ones and skimmed the recipe ones, frankly, neither have near the skill at writing that Kingsolver does. I really did love so much of this, despite knowing that I will not be able to replicate her project. I loved heard more about heritage seeds and the many many varieties of vegetables and fruits that are no longer in commercial production/are only available through seed saving farmers. I also signed up for a heritage seed catalog and am already planning what I’ll do with my garden boxes for the fall/winter (a legit growing season here in Arizona).

Arizona Backyard Garden_Pinto Beans 1_feistyharriet_April 2016

The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, by Michael Pollan (3 stars). I wanted to love this book more than I did, I mean, it starts out quoting Darwin for heaven’s sake, it is RIGHT UP MY ALLEY. And, to be fair, I did appreciate the research and history Pollan discusses about the apple, the tulip, and the potato.  However, Pollan LOVES apples and I’m only kind of “meh” about them, and Pollan doesn’t seem to really care that much about tulips and I LOVE them (my wedding bouquet was tulips and tulips only). So, Pollan and I kind of got off on the wrong foot to start with, he anthropomorphizes both to a spectacular degree but in the opposite way that I would, so…yeah. I do appreciate the discussion in the potato section about genetically modified foods and the difference between Big Agra and small organic farming. One of his four sections is about cannabis, and while he did bring up some interesting bits that are relevant now with all the political discussion about making marijuana legal in so many states, the history and benefits of cannabis is not really my jam.

Bringing it to the Table, by Wendell Berry (3 stars). I’m not sure what I was expecting, but not exactly the contents of this book. The first 100 pages are essays written by Wendell Berry over the course of 30+ years that focus on Farming and agriculture and the ills of agribusiness (and, though not specifically mentioned, the enormous factory farms and the way companies such as Monsanto and Cargill have drastically altered farming in this country). This section was a rough go and was hard to enjoy and relate to, in many ways it read more like an economics textbook. The next 80 pages are essays about individual farmers, and this section was–by far–my favorite. I loved reading stories about people who continue to farm small family farms and continue to produce in healthy, responsible ways and make a living at it. I particularly loved stories about the Amish and their hyper-responsible farming traditions. The last 50 pages are about food, but Berry only has one published essay about food, so the rest are excerpts from some of his fiction books that deal directly with farm-to-table eating, typically by a farm family and assorted guests. I love reading about farming, farm-to-table, sustainable and responsible agriculture, shopping local and CSA stuff, all that. But I feel like–especially in his Farming section–I bit off more than I was interested to truly chew. (MORE BAD PUNS!)

Coming Home to Eat, by Gary Paul Nabhan (2 stars, maybe only 1). I love the idea of eating local (obvs, and if you’re still reading this post, gold star to you), however Gary Paul Nabhan takes his year of local-eating to an extreme that I just couldn’t identify with. He lives in Arizona (Yay! Like me! Maybe I can get some tips!) and decides that “local” means “native to 100 miles around my home.” Not cultivated, but NATIVE. Ok, so, this means he spends his year eating cactus flowers and weedy greens he picks from public lands and–literally–roadkill. He does also grow a garden full of plants that are native to the southwest, and he raises a couple of turkeys, and I think that overall his version of local is a cool idea in theory, but I also think that I would starve if I had to subsist on rattlesnake road kill or hunted neighborhood quail and salads made from weeds and flower petals. It’s just…it’s not sustainable. For one guy, sure. But not for more than that. Nabhan relies heavily on techniques and methods he learns from Native Americans on reservations around Tucson (MORE Tucsonites!), and I completely respect their ways, but again, it is not sustainable for more than a small group. There are REASONS the southwest was sparsely populated until the invention of air conditioning and automated farming sprinklers. As is, the land cannot sustain the numbersof people who now live here.

Nabhan spends a lot of time arguing the health benefits of eating the diet that is local to your ethnic nativity (so, ethnic Italians in Italy or a diaspora are healthier when they eat like ancient Italians because that diet and their genes have adapted together) …but, um, he’s not Native American nor are his ancestors from the Southwest. He’s Irish-Lebanese and the seeds he brought from his family’s ancestral home in Lebanon couldn’t grow in his Arizona backyard garden.  So his year of eating some other group’s local/native foods should not have done anything for his health outside the general best practice of eating organic and farm-to-table, cutting out the Monsanto’s and Cargill’s of the world.

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Confessions of a Bookaholic: Habits, Efficiency, and baby steps towards Minimalism

My life is very different as far as time management goes than it was 3 months ago, I’m working remotely from home and am figuring out that piece, and I also figuring out how to merge my life with Blue Eyes after years apart, and figure out my role as stepmom, and, and, and…it’s a lot of change. I’ve been making lists like crazy and trying different ways to refine my habits and use my time wisely. Shockingly, because reading and nerdery is totally my jam, I picked up a handful books that I hoped would help me navigate this new space. Now, overall, I don’t feel like any individual book was all that helpful. Most had really great ideas and components, but I feel like none were a home-run for me. But, collectively, I felt like I have some new insight in creating and maintaining better habits, becoming more efficient, and structuring my life to “default” to a better, healthier decision, instead of default to Netflix and Kraft Mac-n-Cheese.

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, by Laura Vanderkam. This is a reread (originally rated 3 stars), but I only read the parts about efficiency at work and not at home because I think her research and writing is crap for efficiency & time management at home. My biggest take-aways this time through are that you have more time than you think and YOU are in control of it, you prioritize how you spend your time, and no one else. True, you cannot control the random chaos in the universe, but you can use your time to “stack the odds in your favor.” So, I’ve adding some of Vanderkam’s strategies about efficiencies at work to my daily life and am hoping that in a month or two I will have solidified some new habits that help me figure out how I fit in this new life and head-space.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo (3 stars). I will say this straight up: I do not drink the Konmari Kool-Aid. I think she makes a lot of really great points, and I also think that I have a lot of room for improvement in pack-rat prevention. However, I am not to the extreme point of minimalism that Kondo suggests, nor do I want to be. I grew up with very few things of my own, and even fewer that were purchased specifically for me and not acquired second or third hand and used simply because there was no other option and no money for another option. Things matter to me in ways they do not matter to Kondo, and that is okay! Now, I do try and select quality over quantity, and I have thinned out my clothes, my books, and other cluttery areas again post-Kondo. But I will never dry my dishes on the patio and I won’t talk to my socks and I won’t get rid of my bookcases because they are an eyesore. I love having a home full of books and art; that brings me joy, Marie Kondo be damned.

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, by Gretchen Rubin (3 stars). I think there are a lot of really great components of this book, I like the easy-to-identify-with style Rubin employs, but I also grew wary of how much Gretchen was embedded in the pages. Her “conversational” style seems to veer towards lecturing and bossiness, which I have a difficult time relating to (I am a Questioning Rebel, so this perspective does not surprise me at all). None of this was particularly new information, but I have read other non-fiction books about creating and forming habits that I found more insightful and helpful, and weren’t quite so, well, Gretchen. 

Happier at Home, by Gretchen Rubin (2 stars). I did not love this book, I feel like it was an addendum to the Happiness Project and not actually a new spin, quantifying and specifying at-home projects. I feel like Rubin contradicts herself over and over, and the things that she values the most are the exact opposite of what I value. (She’s a workaholic homebody who hates trying new foods, trying new hobbies, changing up the fundamentals of her routine, or buying anything, even if it might enhance or simply her life. She likes to “work harder” but I don’t feel like she has any interest in working smarter, her lack of efficiency is appalling, frankly. She doesn’t like interacting with new people on THEIR level, but she does like interviewing/lecturing them on whatever she’s researching at the moment. I am, for the most part, the exact opposite of all of those components. This book was hard for me, and will probably be my last Rubin book. Meh.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg (3 stars).  This is a mix between a neuro-psychology book about how the brain is wired/re-wired, and a book about consumer choices, specifically, buying patterns and economics. So, it’s probably not at all surprising that I really enjoyed it! Many of the studies that were used about brain pathways I’ve read about in other books; examples of how to create good habits I’ve heard about in other books, there wasn’t a ton of groundbreaking new information, but I did appreciate the delivery.

Others recommended reads: Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, by David Eagleman; Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein; The Checklist Manifesto, by Atul Gawande.

Instead of grouping book reviews by month or quarter, I’ve decided to group them by topic instead because that seems to be how I read them anyway. What are you reading lately?

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Best of 2015

I think by all accounts, 2014 was one of the worst years on record for me. By comparison, 2015 has been a dream, even with the bumps, bruises, and emotional roller-coasters that are the norm for making our way through Life. In some ways, 2015 has been a holding pattern and a waiting game, but in most respects I tried to pack as much as possible into 52 weeks, spending my time exploring, hanging out with friends, and soaking up every minute I had with Mr. Blue Eyes. While I’m excited for the coming year and all the challenges and triumphs, I am also a little sad to see 2015 close. So, I decided to come up with a “best of” list of some of my favorite things from the last twelve months.

Muir Woods National Monument_feistyharriet_July 2015 (5)Muir Woods, California, July 2015

Best Experiences of 2015:

Geez, I really don’t know how to narrow this down. However, I can say with confidence that the best times of my year have everything to do with spending time with the people I love.

  • Adventures afar and nights at home in jammies with Blue Eyes.
  • A 6-state Midwest road trip with a girlfriend.
  • Spending a whole week as the full-time caregiver for my stepkids, it’s more time than I’ve ever spent with them, and a few hiccups aside, it went smashingly!
  • A long weekend laughing with my best friend and her family in California.
  • Book club, always and forever.
  • Designing and costuming a competitive (and award-winning) Shakespeare team comprised of 50 teenagers with one of my oldest, best friends, for our 10th year running.
  • Planning and executing back-to-back smash success events for work; one a giant professional development conference, the other a state-wide event for 20,000 high school students.
  • Spending the evening with my four siblings, the first time we have been together in YEARS.
  • Crashing with dear, dear friends for a couple weeks between moving all my things to Arizona and moving my actual self.
  • The homemade welcome party that awaited me when I finally arrived here in Arizona.

Best Books of 2015:

Goodreads tells me that I read 111 books this year (!!), a total of 36,000 pages (for reference, my 2014 totals were 38 books and 13,000 pages). My shortest book was the Pulitzer Prize winning play Doubt, by John Patrick Shanley, the longest was the behemoth War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy. My most frequently-read categories this year were Russian literature and history (especially of the Romanov family), feminism, and slavery and racism. I also read a number of books about North Korea, Darwin and evolution, elephant psychology, Joan of Arc, neuroscience and psychology, the Iranian Revolution, and China prior to/during Mao’s cultural revolution. Yes, I have eclectic taste. No, I won’t ever apologize for it.


  • Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
    Tolstoy is a master, and in my opinion, this is his best.
  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs
    More than any other slave narrative, this one rips my heart out. Harriet’s anguish and turmoil over leaving her children behind, of rescuing her children, of keeping her family together, this will change you in all the right ways.
  • The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East, by Sandy Tolan
    Refugees, war-torn middle-east, historical context for the Israeli-Palestine conflict, and a lot of “Humans of New York” type stories and sharing from in-depth interviews on both sides. Absolutely recommended.
  • The Martian, by Andy Weir
    Hilarious, scientific-nerdy, perfection.
  • The Master and Margarita, by Mikhaul Bulgakov
    Magical realism and political satire in communist Russia? Gimme!
  • Middlemarch, by George Eliot
    This is why people like 19th century English literature.
  • Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
    This book is very much an acquired taste, but I loved it. Yes, even the 600 plus pages about the history of whaling, the anatomy of whales, the economy of whales, the works. Loved it.
  • Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
    So dark and moody! So delicious! I can’t believe I hadn’t read this one before.
  • Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley, by Charlotte Gordon
    Dual-biography of early feminist icons from the 18th and 19th century? Yes, please!
  • The She-Pope: a Quest for the Truth Behind the Mystery of Pope Joan, by Peter Stanford
    Did you know a woman became Pope in the 11th century!? This story and the research to piece this story together are so fascinating!
  • Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup
    At times I am baffled that slavery existed in the United States, that humans were perfectly fine owning other humans. This book details some of the most monstrous atrocities and a few gentle kindnesses from white freemen to their black slaves.

Of these books, which should you read? Well, world events being what they are, I think you should read The Lemon Tree as soon as possible. It shows both sides of Arab and Jewish tension and the history behind it. Honestly, it made me much more sympathetic to both sides and the war-torn refugee people who are caught in the middle. If that isn’t your cup of tea, I’d definitely read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, a rare first-person slave narrative from a woman’s point of view.

Best Vacation of 2015:

MidWestRoadTrip_Carhenge Nebraska_feistyhaarriet_June 2015 (18)

This is probably a toss-up between an awesome road-trip across the Midwest with a girlfriend, and a delightfully low-key weekend in San Antonio with my sweetheart. Last January I had high hopes for a warm, international getaway, but more practical things like bills and buying a house and maintaining two households for 14 months took precedence. Hopefully 2016 will see a little passport action.

Best Photos of 2015:

I have had the chance to travel around to a number of different places this year, hauling my camera with me. Of the thousands and thousands of photos I snapped this year, these are probably my favorites, along with the others in this post.

Capitol Reef Fruit Orchard_feistyharriet_March 2015 (6)Capitol Reef National Park, Apricot Orchard, March 2015

Grand Canyon North Rim_feistyharriet_October 2015 (4)Grand Canyon North Rim, October 2015

IMG_0039Boone Hall Plantation, Charleston, South Carolina, September 2015

Bryce Canyon National Park_feistyharriet_2015 (9)Bryce Canyon National Park, Thor’s Hammer in the fog, October 2015

Agave teeth_feistyharriet_San Antonio Botanical GardensSan Antonio Botanical Gardens, agave teeth, November 2015

Best thing I learned:

You will never truly feel better about something until you do the work to actually change it. I’m sure some philosopher has said this much more eloquently and concisely, but I learned (or, re-learned, rather) that buckling down and getting my hands dirty and elbows greasy brings me an incredible amount of satisfaction. Granted, there are some things that we cannot change and must simply learn to work around or live with; I get that. What I’m saying is that we as humans are capable of an incredible amount of forward progression if we put our minds to it, pool resources, and reach out to friends and loved ones. Here’s to 2016, more forward and more progress.

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Harriet the Bookaholic: December 2015

I delved into historical feminism and feminists and was both richly rewarded and quite disappointed (see below). I can’t wait to read more from and about my new feminist-bff, Mary Wollstonecraft, and I am completely over anti-feminist writings that are nothing more than a back-handed slap in the face, telling women to just “stay in your place, already!” (Eric Metaxas, I’m looking at you!)


Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley, by Charlotte Gordon (5 stars). I absolutely devoured this book! Gordon is engaging and spins a fantastic story about early-adopting feminist mother-daughter duo, Wollstonecraft and Shelley. Even at nearly 600 pages I loved this book so much I wanted to start again as soon as I finished. I knew very little about Mary Wollstonecraft or Mary Shelley prior to picking up this dual-biography, however I quickly fell in love with both of them, with their particular brand of trail-blazing feminism, their politics, and their artistic endeavors. Were they flawed? Deeply so; aren’t we all? Do I agree with everything they did, said, and/or wrote? Of course not. But I loved learning more about these two women, their lives, thinking, intellect, politics, and writings. Recommended.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, by Mary Wollstonecraft (4 stars). I particularly loved the first half of this book, Wollstonecraft talks about the infantilisation of women, their lack of education, and the societal expectations of sweet and nice and generally weak ladies. She talks about how much damage this does to women AND men, and in general, I want to be her when I grow up. Favorite quote (which may be off a word or three because I was listening to this while driving. “If fear and infantilism in women were treated with the same abhorrence as cowardice in men, women would not be the false, simpering flowers they are often assumed to be. […] I do not wish women to control or lord over men, simply to govern over their individual selves.” Spot on, Ms. Wollstonecraft. So, spot on. This book was published during the French Revolution (1790), it’s horrifying how many of her frustrations are still felt by feminists today.

Intellectual Women and Victorian Patriarchy: Harriet Martineau, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, George Eliot, by Deirdre David (2 stars). I really wish this book was written by Charlotte Gordon (who wrote Romantic Outlaws, the dual-biography of Mary’s Wollstonecraft and Shelley).  I had a really hard time with this book, the writing is very dense and if you are not well-versed in the writings of Barrett Browning and Eliot you will  miss a lot of this book. Harriet Martineau is a lot less known and the author at least explains her writings for the reader, where for the other two she–professor as always–assumes you already took a grad course in comparative 19th century feminist literature. I found this book when looking for more information on Martineau, who I found kept popping up in the books I read about Charles Darwin. She was a staunch supporter of ending the slave trade and abolishing slavery in the British Empire and America, she also edited many scientific articles for Darwin and his contemporaries and wrote countless reviews on natural history and evolution. I was disappointed that this work was not even mentioned in this book, instead focusing on her political economy writings, travel writings, and (according to the author), her “inability” to write a great novel. I am not well-enough read in 19th century literature to follow all the (very dense and very wordy) arguments and critiques the author makes for/against Barrett Browning and Eliot, comparing fictional characters to real-life authors and delving deep into all sorts of theory.

7 Women And the Secret of Their Greatness, by Eric Metaxas (2 stars). The subtitle of this book should be “The Secret of Their Greatness is Christianity and Adhering to Traditional Female Roles.” Not that there is anything wrong with being a Christian woman, but I was disappointed that was the unifying theme Metaxas chose for these women. In his introduction he blatantly states he is anti-feminist, and my heart sank. I suppose there lies my issue with the unifying Christian/supporting the religious and governmental patriarchy theme. Women who break the mold and are pioneers in feminism he dismisses out of the hat as unseemly radicals, while praising those who excel in “womanly” ways. Meh, not my cup of tea. Some of the women Metaxas selected I had never heard of, some I have read biographies or autobiographies of (Joan of Arc, Corrie ten Boom) that were FAR superior to the synopsis Metaxas wrote. Several women I am positive do not fit into the same ranks as Mother Teresa and Rosa Parks, but because they were good Christians and anti-feminists, Metaxas included them (Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Saint Maria of Paris).

Additional Recommended Reading: Joan of Arc, by Mark Twain; Joan of Arc: In Her Own Words, by Jeanne d’Arc; The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom.

Space & Science Fiction:

The Martian, by Any Weir (5 stars). I loved this book so much, Blue Eyes and I listened to it as we were driving back and forth (11 hours each way, 5 trips in the last 6 weeks) and we both laughed and geeked out and brought it up in conversation for weeks afterward. Brilliant, science-y, hilarious, and general perfection.

Additional recommended reading: Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, by Mary Roach.


A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (5 stars). While I have seen about a dozen different film adaptions, I had never actually read the story. I loved it, absolutely loved it. I loved the characters and the imagery and the general message. I love the darkness of the Ghost of Christmases Yet To Come, and the imps Fear and Ignorance. Dah, so many wonderful parts of this. Recommended. (Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to re-watch my favorite versions with a steamy cup of cocoa.)


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Harriet the Bookaholic: November 2015

I’m a bit late posting this, I kept thinking I’d finish up one more book to add…but I didn’t. Between boxing up my whole life and moving it 700 miles south and then coming BACK north for the holidays and to finish up some stuff at my office…I just, well, I’m swamped. Blergh.


The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood (4 stars). The world is limping along after a massive nuclear holocaust, pockets of humanity survive and depend on subjugating women with viable ovaries, impregnating them, and confiscating any babies who are not deformed or “shredders.” In hyper-conservative religious Gilead, Offred tells her story. I loved this.I was not terribly horrified by the premise that women were used for their ovaries and classified and ranked in society. I mean, civilizations around the world have done that for thousands of years. Take Henry VIII, he wanted a son so badly he kept killing his wives until one produced an heir. Marie Antoinette and Catherine The Great’s places as queen/empress were not assured until they produced an heir to the throne. I guess I expected to be horrified, and in many ways I was intrigued and sometimes disgusted, but it wasn’t ever truly shocking. Controlling women and their bodies has been part of our history forever, it only makes sense that in a post-apocalyptic world that would continue. Excellent read, so many things to think about.

Dance of the Dissident Daughter, by Sue Monk Kidd (3 stars). I have very mixed opinions about this book. Overall, I really didn’t like it. BUT, I also underlined and starred a number of passages. So, there’s that. I appreciate some of Monk Kidd’s revelations as she becomes a feminist-thinking woman, but I also was super frustrated by her process and actions. Written in 1992 some of those pieces are–at least for me and the women I associate with–just before my time and I have difficulty relating. But some of her opinions just came across as way extreme to me, and I consider myself a liberal-thinking feminist. Some great one-liners and small paragraphs, but overall, meh.

Additional Recommended Reading: The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman; The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan; Feminism is for Everybody, by bell hooks.

Russian History & the Romanov Family

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, by Robert K. Massie (4 stars). Catherine I–Catherine the Great–is seen as both a terrible tyrant and a benevolent empress. The truth is probably a little of both. This incredibly strong woman came to Russia as a young teenager, married the weak and indecisive heir to the Russian throne (Peter III), but still had to contend with the jealous and terrible Elizabeth, Russian Empress, for almost 2 decades before her husband became Tsar. At that point, Catherine decided to rule the country in her own right instead of leave the vast resources of the Russian empire to her completely inept husband. She ruled for decades, keeping hold of Russia through numerous wars and skirmishes with Prussia and the Turks, internal rebellion, and continued to expand the Russian empire while Great Britain lost the American colonies and the French monarchy and aristocracy were put to death via the guillotine. She introduced the smallpox vaccine, introduced religious tolerance, and nourished friendships and political alliances around Europe. She was such an incredible woman…and also an autocrat monarch of a vast empire she could only hope to vaguely understand. She maintained the status quo for the millions of peasants (um, it wasn’t a good status, btw), was unable to free the serf, although she did introduce serf reform that was quickly quashed by the land-owning noble-classes, and had little concept of how her autocratic rule was viewed in the provinces. Fascinating woman. Fascinating biography.

Additional Recommended Reading: Nicholas and Alexandra, by Robert K. Massie; Maria Theresa, by Edward Crankshaw; Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette, by Sena Jeter Naslund

The Amber Room, by Catherine Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy (2 stars). This is such a fascinating subject: a room made entirely of panels of amber from the Baltic sea, more precious than gold and much more fragile. This room was part of the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg (yep, that Catherine), locations of millions of pieces of art collected for centuries. When the Nazi’s stormed the city during World War II the museum curators feverishly packed, stored, and hid as much art as they could…but the Amber Room proved too difficult to move and was left behind. The Nazi’s pried the amber panels from the walls and packed them off to a castle in Germany…and that is where the trail dies out. Did the panels arrive? Were they sent elsewhere? Did the Russians reclaim them and hide them again? Was the room destroyed by fire or carelessness? If you’re a White Collar fan, the contents of the Amber Room are a continuing theme and obsession for Neal Caffrey and take up the bulk of seasons one and two; the music box is from the Amber Room. So…fascinating subject, but the authors were SUUUUPER boring, and I like research-heavy books non-fiction books! Skip this, watch White Collar instead.

Additional Recommended Reading: The Lost Painting, by Jonathan Harr.

Russian Literature

Dead Souls, by Nikolai Gogol (4 stars). There is a lot to digest here, and if you aren’t paying close attention and at least nominally familiar with Russian aristocracy in the 1800’s you may get a little lost. Chichikov is a young man trying to make it big in a society where landowners with serfs are the only true way to wealth. The more serfs you have, the wealthier you are. Chichikov devises a plan where he collects serfs on paper–people who have died but are still considered alive by the state due to a once-a-decade census.  As Chichikov collects these dead souls through not-entirely-ethical means, his status rises and he is viewed more and more as a prominent member of society. And then, of course, his plan falls to pieces: all that glitters is not gold.

Additional Recommended Reading: The Gilded Age, by Mark Twain.

The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Leo Tolstoy (3 stars). This is a short book, Tolstoy explores the hurt, anxiety, frustration, and despair surrounding Ivan Ilych as he lays dying. There is some gorgeous imagery and tone, and you can’t help but want to hang out with Ivan Ilych (always called by his full name) and talk to him for the afternoon, hoping to give him a little hope and happiness.

Additional Recommended Reading: Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande.

Civil War History

Ulysses S. Grant, by Owen Wister (3 stars). This is a pretty short biography of Grant, too short. I wanted a lot more detail on every part of his life. Thanks to Melanie‘s recommendation, have added a proper Grant biography to The List.

Additional Recommended Reading: Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara; Grant and Twain, by Mark Perry.

Harriet sig