Summer: the book report.

end of summer 2014

Ah, summer reading, the special torture devised by teachers to deprive children of a carefree break from school.

I hated summer reading. I’m a slow reader, for one thing, and, for another thing, I have always had a penchant for reading junk fiction. My teachers didn’t care. They never, not once, assigned a Ken Follet novel even though Eye of the Needle was way better than The Mill on the Floss.

Lucky for me it’s been a long time since I had a required reading list, one sure to be enforced by pop quizzes. So I can’t really explain why Refinery 29’s summer reading list, a Feminist Guide to Fiction, caught my attention. Yep, an F word primer, not usually my thing, to be perfectly honest, but there it is.

Maybe it’s because the list was published around the time that Jill Abramson was fired and the Nigerian girls disappeared. Maybe it was just because I’m now old enough to appreciate perspective I dismissed in my youth. In any event, while my children plowed (with much discontent) through Tom Sawyer, Warriors Don’t Cry and Frindle, I plowed through the R29 list. I did not make it through all 17 books, and I skipped most of the ones I’d already read, except for The Color Purple, which I just felt like re-reading (and it was like reading something entirely new) and The Handmaid’s Tale, one of my favorite books, which was at least as good on second reading, all these years later.

In case you’re not up for clicking to the R29 slideshow, here’s the list, with my notes:

  1. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret; Judy Blume. Read it, if you didn’t when you were in 4th grade, and then give a copy to every 4th grade girl you know, especially if your daughter is one of them. No, I don’t care that you’ve already watched the Moon Party video with her; it’s not the same thing. Not at all.
  2. Little Women; Louisa May Alcott. Take this book to a mother daughter book club. If you don’t have a mother daughter book club, then start one and read this book first. And you will cry when Beth dies, even though you know Beth dies. Even if you’ve read Little Women before.
  3. Lysistrata; Aristophanes. Women stop war by withholding sex. Brilliant! If nothing else, your friends will think you’re super smart if you read this play (a comedy), and it’s pretty easy to read and not very long. And you might even like it.
  4. Sense & Sensibility; Jane Austen. I just love this book. Love, love, love. Better than Price & Prejudice. Love. But instead of re-reading it I re-watched the 1995 Ang Lee movie, which I also love, love, love, for 100 reasons, all 100 of which include Alan Rickman as Col. Brandon.
  5. The Color Purple; Alice Walker. If you read The Color Purple when it was first published, then read it again. The world has changed (some), and you’ve changed (probably more than some), and it will be like reading an entirely new book – a pretty magnificent one, even it it’s really tough and brutal.
  6. The Handmaid’s Tale; Margaret Atwood. Read the book, don’t cheat and watch the movie. It’s a really, really good book and very timely today, in 2014, almost 30 years after it was published.
  7. She’s Come Undone; Wally Lamb. If you read no other books on the list, read this one. That’s how good it is. I can’t believe I had never read this book.
  8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; Maya Angelou. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” I can’t believe I’d never read this one, either.
  9. The Optimist’s Daughter; Eudora Welty. It’s short and it’s good and it’s quintessentially Southern and I loved it. You might, too.
  10. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; Betty Smith. How had I never read ATGIB? Yeah, I don’t know either. If you missed it, too, then it’s time to catch up – and time to share it with the young adult readers in your life.
  11. The Mists of Avalon; Marian Zimmer Bradley. If you enjoy the intrigue on Game of Thrones but struggle with the violence, then here’s the book for you. It’s long but worth it (much more worth it than Goldfinch, IMHO).

(I haven’t made it through these next ones yet; Mists of Avalon was long….)

  1. The Awakening; Kate Chopin.
  2. Their Eyes Were Watching God; Zora Neale Hurston.
  3. The Hero in the Crown; Robin McKinley.
  4. Weetzie Bat; Francesco Lia Block.
  5. Orlando; Virginia Woolf.
  6. Code Name Verity; Elizabeth Wren.

So how about you; what was your summer reading list? Hope it was as enjoyable and inspiring as mine and that summer treated you well.

Happy Labor Day weekend, and happy week.


Food | Week of September 1, 2014

Labor Day farmers marketSauteed Spinach | Roasted Fingerling Potatoes | Cheese Grits

Two starches in one dinner? Well, sure, why not? For the potatoes, just halve or quarter, toss in olive oil, salt and a pinch of herbs (Herbes de Provence, or just some plain rosemary) and roast at 380 degrees until they’re brown and crisp on the edges, about 25 minutes. While they’re roasting, let the grits cook in a mix of chicken broth and milk. I use coarse grind grits (Delta Grind brand) and use 3 parts liquid to 1 part grits. Toss in cheese at the end and stir to mix. For the spinach, these days I’ve been first sauteeing some very thinly sliced fresh onions in a mix of butter and olive oil, just until they soften. Then I put about a pound of fresh spinach, along with a good sprinkling of kosher salt, over the top of the onions and put a lid on the pot to let the spinach steam. I leave the spinach leaves whole, but you can slice into ribbons. In a couple of minutes, stir the wilted spinach and onion mixture and turn off the heat.

Planked Salmon with Coconut Rice | Bibb Lettuce

The only trick to this simple recipe from Epicurious is soaking the cedar plank in advance – do it before you leave for work if you can’t come home for lunch. Other than that, it’s an easy weeknight dinner and quite tasty. A buttery lettuce salad on the side, with lemon juice and olive oil for dressing – well seasoned with salt and pepper, is the perfect complement for the meal.

Sweet Potato Risotto | Simple Saladtomatoes august 2014

I love risotto made with butternut squash, but butternuts aren’t quite ready yet. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are. So I’ll try this recipe from Real Simple, which is very similar to the butternut squash version. No, I have no idea whether or not my people will eat it. I’ll serve with a simple salad, again dressed with olive oil and lemon juice, seasoned with salt, of course.

Green Chile Chicken Stew

No, my little people probably won’t eat this, either. But we’ll keep trying, because Bernard and I are green chile people through and through. This recipe is a pretty basic one; we use Hatch chile and can’t really recommend any good alternative.

Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce | Wild Rice | Green Salad

Flank steak (or skirt steak, if you can’t find flank) is not an expensive cut of meat, and it’s easy to prepare. Pat it dry, rub with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and let rest at room temp for about 30 minutes before you grill it. While the steak is doing its thing, put a bunch of parsley, some fresh oregano (I actually prefer parsley/cilantro/mint to parsley/oregano, but parsley/oregano is traditional), garlic cloves, vinegar, olive oil and salt in a food processor or blender and mash them all together. If you need more specific directions, there are literally hundreds of chimichurri recipes online (here’s one to start). Once you make it a few times you’ll know what mix and ratio of ingredients suit you, and you’ll probably keep a jar of chimichurri on hand in the refrigerator for everything. I’ll make wild rice and a salad just to round out the plate, but the steak and the chimichurri are all I really want from this meal.


  1. How much do I love this?! Suffices to say, I’ll be coming back to it again and again. Believe it or not I once wrote a college admissions essay that looked like this, a list of books and why they mattered to me. I remember this because I actually got in and it was a pretty lame essay. But this, this is just great.
    I couldn’t get through Orlando but I loved Awakening. What does it say that I read most of these and have forgotten too many of them? (Early onset dementia meets motherhood?)


  2. Nice list! I actually loved summer reading lists. But, how could I not? I was an English major (though I never read fiction anymore) and the daughter of a librarian. Looks like a delicious week ahead at your house.


Comments are closed.