Ten books Challenge

A facebook friend of mine challenged me to list the ten books I have read that have stayed with me. ¬†At first I was thinking that meant my favorite books but that is different from “stayed with me.” Books that have stayed with me are books that changed my reading habits or my likes or dislikes. First, I would like to start with my favorite books.

1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville. This book was the first book I received in a series from Easton Press of the 100 Greatest Books Ever Written. I wanted to acquire a library of classics at that time, and this preselected series seemed like a good way to start. I had read Moby Dick in high school English class and I was probably too young or immature to appreciate it. It is an American book and everything about it is American from the mixture of people coming to work the whalers to the Bible banging minister preaching down on the docks. I really understood how the whale and Ahab were symbolically one and the obsession to kill the whale was his inner turmoil to suppress his animalistic dark side. I also enjoyed reading about the whale biology and the aside chapters that were thrown in. I “got it” this time.

2. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. This is the original story that the movie, Heart of Darkness was based on. It also has a lot of psychological symbology in it although I did not like the book for that reason. The gist of it is it shows civilization’s inhumanity and Nature as evil and dark. What I like about it is the excellent writing style. Conrad was born in Poland and was taught several languages as a child but not English. He ended up in England and was working aboard a ship that had an English crew. He learned English quickly in order to pass a proficiency test in seamanship in order to get better pay. He was about 20 when he sailed on that ship and wrote Heart of Darkness when he was 30. His descriptions of the landscape and waterways are like looking at a painting they are so beautiful.It is amazing that someone who learned English as a second language could write so well.

3. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. I enjoyed reading this book and others as a kid and enjoyed them all over again when I read them to my kids.

4. Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling. I enjoyed this book and others by Kipling when I was a kid, reading during the summer.

5. Anna Karenina and War and Peace by Tolstoy. I enjoyed a good story, historical fiction and good writing style. This was one of the first books that was ever written as a novel as we know them today. War and Peace is famous for being famously long, but I enjoyed it. It has a lot of battle scenes in it and a first, I was going to skip them and pick up the story when it moved on. That would have been a huge loss to me because it was amazing how Tolstoy would describe the battles against Napoleon’s forces as they were fought in those days. No one had a good map of the terrain, lots of people could not read, and there were no phones. The commander would tell a battalion of soldiers to show up at a certain place on a certain day, and sometimes chunks of the army would get lost or get the date wrong and not know there was a battle raging somewhere. There was a good scene that I remember on a bridge where the citizens were leaving and crossing the bridge and the army was trying to get across the bridge as well and the attacking army taking over the rear. It was pandemonium that was well described and made the reader “see” the battles and the chaos of War.

6. Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. Really anything by him because I love the humor of his writing and the good storytelling. He seems to break all the rules and put together a great book. It is also interesting to read the controversial book that got a fatwa put on him by a Mullah for being blasphemous. I really didn’t appreciate how some people could take offense to a very funny story, but some people have no sense of humor when it comes to religion. I am always puzzled by this but there you are. If you are interested in an autobiographical story of what his life was like under the fatwa, read Joseph Anton. It was really ridiculous what he went through.

7. Harry Potter books are on this list as a “dislike” because of a realization I had after reading them. This series made me understand that what I like in a book is good style and expertise in a writer as well as the tale. The storyline can only get you so far. I really like the story of Harry Potter and the imaginary world of Hogsworth. But the writing just was not great. An example of an A+ for spinning a great yarn but a strong B on the writing. I never finished the books since they read more and more like a comic book of dialog to me.

8. Robin Hobb books. Really good world-crafting and imagination plus good writing in the fantasy genre.

9. Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Connan Doyle. The first of the type of book we now know of as crime novels or detective novels. He set the stage for many many authors to write mysteries like this and I enjoy them all.

10 Agatha Christie books. I enjoyed these as a kid and enjoyed trying to figure out “who-dun-it.” I particularly enjoy the “closed room” mystery story type. This is a situation where an event like a snow storm or something strands a small group of characters in a place where no one can get in or out. Then the crime occurs and we have to guess who the perpetrator is because they are locked in. A recent popular book used this device in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

So, that is my list of 10 books that have stayed with me. There are so many more that didn’t make the list though. I will sneak in a few more under the category of current favorites. The Book Thief for excellent use of the narrator and the style of stating what you are about to read and tantalizing us to read on. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Vergese for excellent use of suspense and super-skill at changing scenes while leaving the reader hanging. Historical Fiction by Bernard Cornwell because they are a pleasure. Anything by Michael Chabon because he writes well and is funny. Phillip Roth period novels because I keep thinking he is going to win a Nobel Prize someday but he keeps getting more and more out-of-date. Well, that is enough for now. I hope the kids enjoy reading my list. Mom.


2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,300 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 55 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Super Males


Here is a very strange fact about certain fish species; they can change sex. We usually think of animals as fairly evolved creatures and when a female or male animal is born, it stays whichever sex it started as. But not certain fishes such as the members of the wrasse family or Parrotfish. They are called protogynous hermaphrodites.

If you break down the words in proto (first), gyn (female), they are fish who start out female and then change to male. The small immature wrasses are brown or cyptic (camouflage). They start life as females and lay eggs which are fertilized by the males. As the fish grow and age, they become less female and more male. They turn pretty colors and take on harem collecting behavior. They eventually become functional males that fertilize their harems.

There are many theories of evolutionary fitness that may explain why the wrasses go through this metamorphosis. I’m not sure I buy all the explanations but you may want to read for yourself here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequential_hermaphrodites.
There may be an environmental advantage to a species doing this. If the environment is harsh and the populations are starving and not doing well, more of the fish will stay in the small female stages longer to make more eggs and improve the number of animals. Anyway, I found this story an interesting thing to learn about after we saw this fish at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Florida.

Hoya Plant

Hoya flower

Hoya flower

Here is an interesting flower seen at Selby Gardens in Sarasota, Florida. The Hoyas are a group of tropical vines that are usually epiphytic. That means that they grow up on a support (such as a tree) and need humid air and dew for a source of water. The most common houseplant sold in garden centers is Hoya carnosa. It comes in a variety of leaf colors and if given enough sunshine, it will flower. The flower and plant are waxy to conserve moisture. Although they may be grown in a humid area, they make the most of any liquids coming their way by being almost plasticy feeling with a heavy layer of wax.

The reason I wanted to show you a picture of the inflorescence is that it is a good example of an umbel. The individual flowers are tiny five petalled affairs. The are clumped together by their stems and come out from the center like a firework. That is an umbel. In the Hoya they are usually a ball of individual little flowers. Some other plants that are umbel-bearers are flat topped umbels like the wild carrot, etc.


Full Bloom

Here are the Paperwhite narcissis (members of the Daffodil group) in full bloom. This picture was taken on the fifth week after they were brought out into the house. They have been refrigerated in their pot for a few months prior. Paperwhites do not need a cold chilling period, they will grow right away. I just refrigerated them to attempt to time them for a certain date. So now I know that at a chilly and sunny spot they take 5-6 weeks to come into full bloom. My target date was Valentine’s Day but they are a couple weeks early. Next year I will set them out in the house 2 full weeks in to January to try to get the timing right.

Paperwhites Week 4

Fourth week on the Paperwhites. We now have the first little flower. I mistakenly posted this yesterday as week 3 but it is week 4. They were taken out of the refrigerator on December 21, 2012. My goal is to time them to coincide with Valentine’s Day. I think this will always be approximate. The warmth of the house and how much you water them will affect their growth rate.

Paperwhites at 14 days

Paperwhites at 14 days


These Paperwhite bulbs were taken out of the refrigerator one week ago. They are already starting to grow. They seem to be erupting out of the media a little bit. I should have taped them down with florist tape across the pot. I will record their progress as they grow each week. They were set out on December 21. This photo was taken Dec 28. They are in a cool (60 degrees) bright window. I am going to try to keep them very cool so they do not get leggy. Check back in a few days to see their growth.

Senate Bean Soup Recipe

In honor of the election tomorrow, I present to you the U.S. Senate’s recipe for their Bean Soup.

Senate Bean Soup

1 pound white Navy Beans
1 Cup chopped Onions
2 Tablespoons minced Garlic
2 Celery stalks, chopped
2/3 cup instant mashed potatoes
1/2 cup Cilantro, chopped
1/2 pound baby carrots
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon Mrs. Dash (or other similar)
1 Teaspoon Oregano, dried
1 Teaspoon basil, dried
1 Teaspoon Nutmeg, ground
2 Bay leaves
1 quart water
1 quart beef stock
1 pound either Italian sausage, browned or minced Ham, your choice.

In a large stock pot bring 6-8 cups of water to a boil, add beans and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cover. Let stand for at least 1 hour. Drain. Add the water and the beef stock. Add the meat. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 1-2 hours until beans soften. You can add the vegetables at any time depending on how soft you want them to cook. Hold back the herbs and spices until 20 mintues prior to serving time to maintain best flavor. Add cilantro at the very end as it has a delicate flavor. Makes about 3 quarts.

For 12 bowls, it contains 234 calories per bowl and has 866 mg of sodium. If you are sensitive to sodium, skip the added salt.

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