The Art of the Reread

This year I am nostalgic. 

Okay, most years I am a bit nostalgic. But this is the year I turned 30. My boyfriend moved in. We are fully settled in our careers and the future looks a lot more like house work and zero free time then carefree vacations and summer’s reading by the lake. 

That’s fine. I’m really happy. I just find myself thinking back to books of times past. The books I read in the heat of summer when I was savoring in the break between spring and fall semester, the books I read in fall that inspired me. The winter tomes I somehow spent hours reading with nothing but homework to break my concentration. 

More than anything I find myself nostalgic for the books I read when I was very young. Middle school and high school me was both a pretentious reader and a ravenous reader. However, younger me was also not afraid of a reread. When I found a book I loved I ate it up. I did it again. I read it over until the spine was cracked and pages were falling out. Then I would read it again. 

My first favorite author was Tracy Chevalier. A waitress at my family’s favorite restaurant gave me a copy of Girl with a Pearl Earring and I devoured it. My parents took me to WaldenBooks (watch me date myself) and buy EVERYTHING else she had written. To that point it was just 2 books. I read them with the same all consuming passion. I learned about different times. It was my first experience with historical fiction, with fiction set in a truly different place

Throughout the rest of middle school and high school I continued to return to these stories. Of course I bought new books as well. I found a new temporary favorites and read everything required for my English classes. I just occasionally needed the reassuring settings of these books I first learned to love.

I did a similar thing with Harry Potter. Last year was the first time I didn’t read the complete series in well over a decade. My summers used to consist of reading through, at first all of the books that had been published, and then reading the entire series and discussing with friends. 

I always counted these books to my yearly reading goal. I still do. I know there is a debate on this front. I’m not truly reading something new. However I get something different out of a book each time I read it. 

This is why I find it so difficult to participate in a book community that seems to care exclusively about the new, the fresh, the unknown. Sometime in college, the first time I started blogging about books I did the same. But now I want to count my rereads. I want to enjoy what I am reading. I want to acknowledge the stories I loved as a teen. I want to spend my precious reading time in a way that is best for me.

This year I reread Pride and Prejudice and loved every second of it. I revisited the Raven Cycle so I could spend more time in Cabeswater with the Latin speaking trees. I have no regrets about these reads. I could them towards my yearly goal because I did in fact read them. They did actually mean something. I was still learning. 

What are your thoughts on rereads? Do you have a few novels you like to revisit every few years?

Review: Furious Hours by Casey Cep

In May I had a bit of a reading slump. It had less to do with not having anything to read (haha. My house is overflowing with books) and more to do with the fact that I was waiting for a book. This Book. Furious Hours by newcomer Casey Cep. I had heard the buzz for months. It screamed “Sarah finishes in a marathon reading session.” And I did. 

I bought the kindle edition the day it was released, because of course that is so much easier than stopping by Barnes and Noble or my not so local indie bookshop in the middle of a workweek, and dug in. 

I came up for air maybe twice. 

Furious Hours is two stories in one. First, you have Reverend Willie Maxwell, who is committing some pretty grave forms of insurance fraud to the tune of several dead family members. You have his lawyer, Tom Radney,  who is both hilarious and a surprisingly progressive character in a story of rural Alabama in the mid 20th century. You have another crime that turns everything on its head. Then, you have Miss Harper Lee, fresh off her success of To Kill A Mockingbird, chasing a second novel.  You have her relationship with Truman Capote and the work she did with him on In Cold Blood. You have her trying to write the follow up that never did come. 

I was fully prepared to be disappointed. Occasionally true crime is dry, and author biographies are difficult to wade through.  This is not the case with Furious Hours.

It is both parts vivid history and unbelievable myth. If it had not been based off of true events it would seem outlandish. But Cep paints each character so beautifully that it is easy to get a feel for all the players in this spiderweb of a story. She also doesn’t dwell. The pacing is incredible. There isn’t a minute to be board. It never feels like you’ve fallen into the weeds. 

It also isn’t scary. The story of Reverend Maxwell crimes aren’t so gruesome as to leave a real impression. For all of you horror nuts this is probably a negative, but as I couldn’t sleep after watching a few too many episodes of Mindhunter I was in love with being able to enjoy true crime without having to worry about sleepless nights. 

The real star of Furious Hours though, is  Harper Lee. Cep does such a fantastic job of capturing her finicky personality. Through stories of her childhood and time in New York you get to meet Nell, not just the Harper Lee whose name appears at the bottom of everyone’s favorite classic. She feels real. Her struggles with writers block and her love of isolation create suspense even though everyone already knows how things will end. There is also some interesting insight into the real origins of Go Set a Watchmen.

If you haven’t picked up Furious Hours yet I highly recommend it. It is one of my few 5 star reads of this year. It is perfect for a hot summer day where all you want to do is read something and feel transported.

Shakespeare Festival, Miranda in Milan, and a Killer Breakfast Tart

I grew up in the theater. As a result I grew up around and loving Shakespeare. I was lucky to find a partner who was just as passionate about live theater, and crazy enough to let me drag him to Shakespeare plays with zero description. 

You see, every year we go to Stratford, Ontario to see a few shows. We stay at a bed and breakfast, chat with the locals, contemplate retiring in rural Canada. You know, totally normal and hip things for a young couple to do. 

Last year we saw the Tempest. It was wonderful. It was our first trip and we ventured out at the end of July to celebrate my birthday. It wasn’t until we were through the first act that my boyfriend turned to me in a panic to tell me he had no idea what was happening. We were seated by a loud school group so I didn’t mind whispering major plot points to him over the next couple hours.

Looking back it was hilarious that he was too nervous to tell me he had never seen a Shakespeare show before, and that I hadn’t thought to ask if he actually knew what we were seeing. It was still a great experience. The Tempest remains one of my favorite plays and now holds a special place in my heart. We saw Othello earlier this year and he got a full high school English lesson on the plot. It was a much more enjoyable experience for both of us. 

If you’ve read any of my previous post this next bit will come as no suprise. I love a good retelling. Give me Fool. Give me every weird, strange, bad adaptation of Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet. I’ll read them. I’ll make comments but oh will I read them. 

Cue Miranda in Milan. Cue an excited librarian.

I wanted Miranda in Milan to be more. At its heart the Duckett has a great premise. What happens to everyone from The Tempest after they leave the island? What about the people they left at home? There’s some LGBT content. A little magic. What could go wrong? 

It turns out, a lot. Somehow for such a short book Miranda managed to be deeply unengaging and then exceptionally weird. Necromancy? Sure. Okay. Palace intrigue? Overdone, but alright.

I still finished this adaptation, and in the end have some minor love for its weirdness, but could never recommend it to anyone else. You need to be a Tempest lover to understand anything that is happening. You can’t just know the major plot points. This calls for scholar level understanding to feel like a full story. Real character development is seriously lacking. Also Ariel never shows up and that is a true shame. So unless all of these things sound incredibly intriguing I’d like to point you in the direction of some other amazing adaptations – Hagseed maybe? New Boy? 

Or you take a look at this tomato and pancetta breakfast tart. 

Remember when I said my boyfriend and I spend our vacations in B&Bs? We also tend to fall in love with the breakfast part of our stay. Everything about this book reminded me of our last visit. The room dedicated to William Shakespeare, the cute little streets, and the killer breakfast tart our host made.

I went home and tried to recreate the dish. I failed. I tried again. Repeat. 

Eventually I came up with this – a crowd pleasing recipe. It is perfect for breakfast if you serve it with a runny egg. It’s also great as a side at a dinner party. Also feel free to omit the pancetta or onion at your leisure. You could also throw in some extra veggies if you’re feeling exceptionally creative. I bet some asparagus would add some color and crunch. 

Eventually I came up with this – a crowd pleasing recipe. It is perfect for breakfast if you serve it with a runny egg. It’s also great as a side at a dinner party. Also feel free to omit the pancetta or onion at your leisure. You could also throw in some extra veggies if you’re feeling exceptionally creative. I bet some asparagus would add some color and crunch. 

2 pints cherry tomatoes
1 package pancetta, cubed
½ cup sweet onion
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
Handful of basil

For the Sunny Side Up Eggs
4 eggs
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

An hour before making take puff pastry out of freezer to thaw.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9×13 baking sheet and set aside.

In a medium pan place pancetta and onion. Cook until pancetta is fully done and onion is translucent. While onions and pancetta are cooking, chop the cherry tomatoes in half. Set both aside. 

Roll out puff pastry to fit your baking sheet. Scour a line 1 inch from the edge along all sides of the puff pastry, being careful not to cut all the way through. With a fork poke around the inner square of pastry to ensure no air bubbles.

Top with mozzarella, pancetta and onion mixture, a little oregano, and as many tomatoes as will fit on tart. Bake for 15 minutes. Tart is done when crust is a golden brown and center is dry. 

Cut the tart into 4 to 8 services, depending on your mood. Feel free to top with basil, balsamic glaze, and  sunny side up eggs. Really, the egg is the game changer here. Give it a try.

List Love: End of Summer TBR

If you can remember back to Monday, you’ll recall that my summer has a bit of a theme. Like any reasonable person I am embracing my current reading obsession with open arms. Here are a list of books I hope to get to in the not too distant future. 

Lavinia – I’m a sucker for female centered retellings of classic stories. After powering through the Aeneid I am curious to see what powerhouse Le Guin can do with Lavinia. She’s only mentioned a handful of times in the original text, but her existence sets so many things into motion. I hope to see her have real agency. Her perspective on war and marriage should be fascinating. 

Galatea – Admittedly I knew little of Galatea, the marble statue come to life before this summer. However I would currently trust Madeline Miller with my reading life. Short stories are also some of my favorite things to read so I am extra excited to see how much information could be packed into this small package. 

Mythos & Heroes – Both by Stephen Fry, these are retellings of all the myths we’ve grown to know, love, yawn at, reference poorly, and everything in between. After reading Norse Mythology last year I was desperate to find a modern take on Greek tales, and it seems like I have finally gotten exactly what I asked for. My two copies are sitting by my nightstand now, waiting to be read. 

The Cassandra – World War II. A Seer that no one will believe. Sign me up. I have noticed a surprising (at least to me) lack of Cassandra retellings in my searching. Her myth is so iconic, and her plight so easy to translate across settings and eras that I was expecting to find them everywhere. I’m hoping this lives up to expectations

Gods Behaving Badly – It’s modern day and our favorite Gods are feeling a little irrelevant. They’re sharing a flat in London and wreaking havoc on their neighbors, and possibly the world! This sounds like an adult Percy Jackson to me and I am so here for it!

The Penelopiad – The Odyssey but from Penelope perspective. Also they’re in Hades. And there may be some repercussions for slaughtering all her maids. Sign me up.

A Thousand Ships – Lastly we have what sounds like The Silences of the Girls on steroids. This is toted as being the Trojan War told entirely from the perspective of the different woman that lived and suffered through. I cannot wait to get my hands on this. I will probably need a lot of chocolate and other comfort foods to compensate for all of the misery. It’ll be worth it.

So that is my Mythology related TBR. I hope there are a few you haven’t heard of and may join me in reading!

It’s all Greek to Me: Myths, Retellings, and a Summer of Epics

Sometimes I can get a little obsessive. It usually results in podcasts, music, tv shows and books all centered around a central theme. I’ll make little Sim families related to the current topic. I’ve gone off the deep end on the Plantagenet’s, I’ve gone gaga for impressionist artists in fiction and television, and like any good reader had my “will read any book about books” phase. 

This summer I am all about the Greeks. Last year I read Circe and I still think back to it frequently. Then I read The Song of Achilles, and the same thing happened. Most of my whimsical thoughts were captured by ancient Gods and timeless myths. This year I listened to all of the Silence of the Girls while working in my garden. By the end I was in love with ancient, decimated Troy and acutely aware I had never actually read The Iliad. So I did that. Then the Odyssey. I had my friend pick up Stephen Fry’s Myths and Heroes while she was in the UK so I could continue my obsession.

Oh. I also listened to Hadestown. A lot. My boyfriend is not amused. My dog is not amused. I sing WAIT FOR ME whenever I fall slightly behind a group.

I swear I am actually a pleasant person. 

Anyway, my goodreads TBR is now completely filled with retellings. I’m trying to finally understand myths that I’ve only ever heard from Disney or Wishbone and it is fantastic. For once it feels like one of my mini obsessions is something I can actually communicate. 

It can also grow naturally. After telling a girl at a humanities workshop about my recent time with the Iliad she talked to me about the Aeneid, and off I went. Roman history is less interesting to me but I still sped through the epic. 

I understand so many references now. I unfortunately still have zero interest in toga parties. 

There was a point this summer where I felt a bit like a one trick pony. All I wanted to talk about were Greek Gods and their extremely poor decisions. I didn’t want to share this thing that made me so excited because I was worried I would get blank stares and variations of “weirdo.” Call it a holdover from a childhood of wanting to be liked.

I wound up talking to friends. One read through the Iliad with me. My boyfriend still lets me blast Hadestown in the car. I’ve made new friends talking about this really old thing that has become so dear to me.

What I am trying to get at is obsessions are great. Sharing them with others is amazing. Fall down the rabbit hole and learn something. 

Who knows, maybe you’ll start learning Greek, or learn how to bind books (check), create a backyard garden (check), or get really into home repairs (check for the bf.)

Stay tuned later this week for a masterlist of all the myth retellings I am hoping to get to this summer. Also, leave recommendations in the comments!

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Plus the Best Biscuits Ever)

Have you ever read a book, and immediately googled flights to it’s setting? That’s me, John Berendt’s Savannah right now.
While Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is coming up on 20 years old, I found it was a perfect pick for the book club I run at the museum. We’re all history buffs, a little into true crime, and really into rich historic houses.

I won’t know what my coworkers thought of the book for another couple weeks but I can tell you a few things from my reread. And boy, was it worth the reread.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is half court room drama, half love letter to Savannah, if I may be cliche. Berendt does an excellent job of establishing his setting before diving us into the Murder that captivated the city in the 1980’s. Through him we meet socialites and drag queens. Everyday citizens who are full of quorks. Debutante balls, bars, and massive parties abound. Everything feels rich and humid, like you’re actually in Georgia as you’re parsing through this true story that fully feels like a novel.

The actual crime aspect is both hilarious and intriguing. Jim Williams is a flawed character with enough money and personality to go around. He reads as both someone you’re rooting for and as a person you wouldn’t want as your friend.

I was surprised by how well the story aged. I originally read the book in the early 2000’s as a high school student and at the time I was fully engrossed in a time and setting not too far off from my own. Now as an adult in the digital age I was expecting something to feel different, off, quaint, something. Instead Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is still the page turner it was when it was released 20 years ago. I guess you don’t become the longest running NYT Best Seller for nothing.

The whole week I spent reading what is now my favorite true crime novel I was craving biscuits. There’s something Savannah, and the south in general that makes me want to be in the kitchen, getting some really flakey, buttery treats in the oven.

Plus biscuits are one of the few foods my boyfriend and I agree on. So I caved. Despite the heat I pulled out my go to biscuit recipe, took out my abundance of jam, and had the most delicious snack while hearing about how Jim Williams spent the last of his days.

For those of you who want to join me in my tour of southern literature mixed with very tasty (and on theme snacks) the recipe is as follows:

2 Cups all purpose flour
1 Tbsp baing powder
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tsp salt
6 Tbsp cold (ideally frozen) unsalted butter
3/4 Cup cold milk

Preheat oven to 425F and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper

Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Mix well.

Cut butter into flour mixture using pastry cutter or your fingers until you develop a mixture that looks like a rough crumb

Add milk to the butter/flour mixture and stir to combine. Be careful not to over mix. You don’t want tough biscuits!

Transfer dough to a clean, flat surface and work the dough together until it is in a manageable ball.

Fold the dough in half over itself and flatten. Turn 90 degrees and repeat several times, taking care not to over work your dough.

Flatten dough to 1 inch thickness and use a biscuit butter/glass to out biscuits, placing directly onto baking sheet. You should get 7 to 10 biscuits.

Bake at 425F for 10-12 minutes. Tops should turn a faint golden brown

Format: Teaching an Old Reader New Tricks

I have an odd problem.

I’m obsessed with Audiobooks.

I have a job where I spend a lot of time alone, parsing through data. I also have 3 library cards, an audible account, and a love of taking long walks with my dog.

I’ve finished 26 audiobooks this year. I don’t even want to think of how many hours that equates to.

My podcasts are suffering, but I have finished some amazing stories.

The thing is, I didn’t use to believe in audiobooks. When I say believe I mean they weren’t for me. I knew they were real but they didn’t feel like reading. I didn’t understand how someone could concentrate on a story without looking at physical words on a page. I thought I would miss the smell of old books and the weight of a hardcover in my purse.

And then I needed a change. Work can be boring without some sort of audio entertainment and I couldn’t listen to another political or history podcast. I dipped my ears in the fountain (see what I did there?) With Chernov’s Grant. I owned his biography of Hamilton already and had quickly learned that while it looked impressive on my bookshelf I would never actually be able to finish it. It was too bulky to easily carry around, and too dense for before bed reading. Grant was of a similar length and I had read good reviews. What did I have to lose?

It turns out, nothing. I loved the experience of hearing a well written biography. I found the right playback speed for my attention span. I learned that for all the years I was singing the praises of podcasts and ignoring audiobooks I was mistaken. Their content can be similar. The listening experience the same. Honestly, there are just less ads.

So I’m a convert. It took a few starts and stops but now I’m here. I’m listening. I’m singing in the audiobook choir.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I spend my days talking about access. How we can make our library items easier to use, the information faster to digest, the content easier to find. Now I’m just treating myself like my patrons.

Now it feels like I can conquer my TBR pile, and I’m never without a book.