Wednesday, August 11, 2010

As we amass an impressive collection of children's literature, and as our book-loving friends begin to have children as well, I have realized what a great opportunity I have for exchanging picture book recommendations. It is, for a number of reasons, difficult to browse the children's sections of bookstores or libraries, so I always like to have an ongoing list of titles and authors to look for. With so many to choose from, I like knowing what others have enjoyed so that we can give them a try. I hope others will post their lists of favorites after reading this post!

It took me a while to decide how to categorize these titles; I've listed our favorites first, then grouped the rest by attention span (according to the amount of text on each page, not necessarily the difficulty of the content). The author's name is first, followed by the illustrator.

Top Favorites

At the very top of any list is Tasha Tudor. I cannot recommend her books highly enough. Her stories are charming and delightful, and her illustrations are near perfection. My whole family adores her, and Sam regularly demands one of her books at storytime. Every one of her books is a treasure, but here are a few that we like especially: A Time to Keep; Pumpkin Moonshine; Becky's Birthday; Corgiville Fair; The Dolls' Christmas

We are especially fond of the following books as well, in alphabetical order:

Jill Barklem: Brambly Hedge books
The stories are somewhat lacking in plot and action, but the illustrations are marvelous!

Elsa Beskow: Pelle's New Suit
A sweet tale of a boy who works cheerfully for a new suit from his lamb's wool.

Betsy Bowen: Gathering: A Northwoods Counting Book; Antler, Bear, Canoe: A Northwoods Alphabet
Wood-cut illustrations accompany appealing descriptions of life in the Northwoods of Minnesota.

Barbara Cooney: Miss Rumphius
A little girl declares that she will do three things in her life: go to faraway places, live by the sea, and do something to make the world more beautiful.

Irene Haas: The Maggie B
One of my absolute favorites. A little girl wishes for her own ship, and wakes up the next morning aboard the Maggie B, with her brother James for company.

Donald Hall, Barbara Cooney: Ox-Cart Man
A farmer loads up his cart with all the extra produce from his farm and goes to the market. This is pretty much my dream life.

Russell Hoban, Lilian Hoban: Bedtime for Frances; A Baby Sister for Frances; Bread and Jam for Frances
We love Frances! And we are in awe of her long-suffering parents!

Robert McCloskey: Blueberries for Sal; One Morning In Maine; Make Way For Ducklings
We love them.

Alice McLerran, Barbara Cooney: Roxaboxen
As children, my sisters and I were much inspired by this story of neighbor children and their own little town on a hill.

Iona Opie, Rosemary Wells: Here Comes Mother Goose; My Very First Mother Goose
Lots of nursery rhymes with cute illustrations.

Patricia Polacco: G Is For Goat
Cheery and colorful illustrations of little Russian girls and their farm animals (including Nubian goats!).

Beatrix Potter: The Tale of Two Bad Mice; The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle; The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin; The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse; Ginger and Pickles
Our particular favorites.

Alice and Martin Provensen: The Year at Maple Hill Farm; Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm
Fun and slyly humorous tales of life at Maple Hill Farm.

Richard Scarry: Cars and Trucks and Things That Go; The Great Pie Robbery; Find Your ABCs; Mr Frumble's Coffee Shop Disaster
How many times have we read these, as children and as adults? Oh, probably a million or so. But even though I groan when Sam pulls them out again, I still like them.

Jane Werner Watson, Eloise Wilkin: My Little Golden Book About God
A perfect introduction to Christianity. Theologically sound without being confusing, simple without being dumbed down. And lovely illustrations as well!

1-2 sentences per page

Allan Ahlberg, Janet Ahlberg: Each Peach Pear Plum
A long-time favorite--I spy fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters, with cheery illustrations.

Sandra Boynton: Blue Moo; But Not The Hippopotamus; Barnyard Dance!; Hippos Go Berserk; Snoozers
The board books are perfect for babies, and the songbooks/CDs are fun for everybody.

Margaret Wise Brown: Goodnight Moon; The Moon Shines Down; Seven Little Postmen

Judy Collins, Jane Dyer: My Father
A beautifully illustrated version of a lovely sweet song.

Lois Ehlert: Eating the Alphabet: Fruits & Vegetables from A to Z
Bright and colorful pictures of almost all the fruits and vegetables you can think of.

Cathryn Falwell: Feast for 10
Count to 10 with a family preparing a holiday meal.

Marla Frazee: Hush Little Baby
Lovely illustrations of an Appalachian family accompany the familiar song.

Taro Gomi: Bus Stops; My Friends
Odd little books, but Sam enjoyed them as a baby.

Edward Lear, Jan Brett: The Owl and the Pussycat
Brilliant illustrations accompany the familiar poem.

Thomas Locker: The Mare on the Hill
These aren't illustrations, they're paintings--absolutely gorgeous. The story is simple but sweet, about two brothers who tame their grandfather's mare.

Jean Marzollo, Walter Wick: I Spy series
These are great challenges for both kids and adults--some of them are really hard! The photos are really interesting and well-arranged.

Jill Murphy: Five Minutes' Peace; A Quiet Night In
Funny stories about Mr and Mrs Large and their occasionally tiresome children.

Kadir Nelson: He's Got The Whole World In His Hands
Beautiful illustrations accompany the familiar song.

Jerry Pallotta, Rob Bolster: The Construction Alphabet Book
A must-have for boys obsessed with heavy machinery. The sound effects are a little annoying, but the pictures are nicely detailed.

Antoinette Portis: Not A Box
Sam is highly amused by this short and simple story of an imaginative little rabbit.

Peter H. Reynolds: The Dot
An odd but inspiring little story of a girl who becomes an artist in spite of herself.

Stacey Schuett: Somewhere In The World Right Now
A look at what's happening around the world right now--as children on the East Coast go to sleep, children in China are waking up, etc.

Simms Taback: I Miss You Every Day
Simple and a bit silly, but Sam likes it.

Cat Urbigkit: Puppies, Puppies Everywhere!
Very simple text with sweet photographs of sheepdog puppies in Wyoming.

Laura Williams: ABC Kids
Cute photographs of kids demonstrating letters of the alphabet.

Short paragraph per page

Lloyd Alexander, Trina Schart Hyman: The Fortune-Tellers
A winning combo of author and illustrator, and a funny little story.

Dianna Hutts Aston, Sylvia Long: A Seed Is Sleepy; An Egg Is Quiet
Beautifully illustrated --easy non-fiction about seeds and eggs. The information is simple yet accurate, and doesn't try to avoid big words like chlorophyll or cotyledon.

Felicia Bond: Poinsettia and Her Family; Poinsettia and the Firefighters
A little pig learns to appreciate her family; and not to be afraid of the dark.

Jan Brett: Daisy Comes Home; Annie and the Wild Animals; Armadillo Rodeo; Hedgie's Surprise
Predictable stories but amazing illustrations.

Virginia Lee Burton: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel; Katy and the Big Snow
Must-haves for any child's bookshelf.

Eric Carle: The Very Hungry Caterpillar; Animals Animals; Dragons Dragons; A House for a Hermit Crab; Pancakes, Pancakes!
I'm always amazed by his illustrations--so inventive. Lots of good poems in the anthologies.

Judy Dunn, Phoebe Dunn: The Animals of Buttercup Farm; The Little Goat; The Little Lamb
Simple stories and sweet photographs about farm animals and the children who love them.

Katherine Holabird, Helen Craig: Angelina Ballerina
The Angelina stories are actually pretty lame, but I love the illustrations, and I want to live in her house.

Shirley Hughes: Alfie's Feet; Alfie Gets In First; Annie Rose Is My Little Sister
Cute stories about a little British boy.

Jack Kent: The Fat Cat
My favorite as a child. A silly folk tale about a cat who starts eating everything in his path.

Patricia MacLachlan, Katy Schneider: Once I Ate A Pie
Odd, amusing little poems describing the personalities of various dogs.

Christine Kole Maclean, Mike Reed: Even Firefighters Hug Their Moms
I love the imaginative games that the little boy plays with his sister, although I wish their annoying mom would quit bugging them!

Bill Martin Jr, Lois Ehlert: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
Silly. Fun. A good alphabet introduction. Sam likes it.

Kate and Jim McMullan: I'm Mighty; I'm Dirty; I Stink!
Hardly great literature, but fun read-aloud books for boys who like vehicles.

Jacqueline Mitton, Christina Balit: Zoo in the Sky
A wonderful introduction to the mythology of constellations, with beautiful illustrations.

Liesel Moak Skorpen, Doris Burn: We Were Tired of Living In A House
Four children move out of their house and try out various alternative dwellings. Cute and imaginative.

Robin Stemp, Carolyn Dinan: Guy and the Flowering Plum Tree
Another childhood favorite--a little boy wonders what will happen after he swallows a plum pit.

Judith Viorst, Ray Cruz: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day
Some days are like that, even in Australia.

Rosemary Wells: Max and Ruby books
Fun silly stories about Max the rabbit and his bossy older sister.

David Weisner: The Three Pigs
What happens when characters fall off the pages of their stories? They rearrange things to suit themselves, of course!

Laura Ingalls Wilder: My First Little House Books
These are a bit oversimplified, and the illustrations only try to be as good as Garth Williams's, but they are a nice intro to the longer books. Sam is particularly fond of Dance at Grandpa's and Going to Town.

Audrey and Don Wood: The Napping House; King Bidgood's in the Bathtub
Goofy and fun. Even better if you can find their CD and sing along.

Virginia Woolf, Julie Vivas: Nurse Lugton's Curtain
An odd little story found amongst Woolf's manuscripts.

Several paragraphs per page

Chris Van Allsburg: The Polar Express; Jumanji
The classic Christmas story and the very odd story of a board game that turns out to be very far from boring.

Judi Barrett, Ron Barrett: Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs
Goofy fantasy about strangely edible weather.

James Harrison, Diana Mayo: My Little Picture Bible
A good beginner Bible. Most of the familiar stories are included, decently re-written, with small amounts of text on each page and illustrations that aren't too cartoony.

James Herriot: Treasury for Children
A lovely collection of some of his most touching stories.

Trina Schart Hyman: Little Red Riding Hood
Such an odd fairy tale, but retold well and illustrated superbly.

Virginia Kahl: The Duchess Bakes A Cake
When the duchess gets bored one day and decides to bake a cake, the results are surprising.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Susan Jeffers/Ted Rand: Hiawatha; Paul Revere's Ride
Wonderful read-aloud poems. Sam loves them both.

Marianna Mayer, K.Y. Craft: The Twelve Dancing Princesses
A gorgeously illustrated retelling of an odd but lovely fairy tale.

Louise Moeri, Trina Schart Hyman: Star Mother's Youngest Child
This is still a bit long for Sam, but it was one of my favorites as a child--a sweet Christmas story.

Jerry Pinkney: Noah's Ark
A nice adaptation--excellent illustrations and a decently re-written text.

Dr Seuss: Green Eggs and Ham; I Can Lick Thirty Tigers Today!; Dr Seuss's ABCs
I'm not a big Seuss fan, but these are tolerable.

John Updike, Trina Schart Hyman: A Child's Calendar
Poems for each month of the year, wih illustrations by one of our favorite artists.

For anyone who's wondering, yes, we do own all of these books (and oh, so many more--check out our complete picture book collection here). And Sam enjoys all of them at least as much as I do, including Angelina Ballerina and The Twelve Dancing Princesses. I always enjoy seeing the selection of books he chooses for storytime--it is invariably eclectic.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

I love the new Blogger templates! I was never very happy with the last template I had, so I was glad to see some new ones, and had a hard time choosing one. Finally decided to stick with pink...

I've been reading a lot of short stories lately--not for any particular reason, just because I keep finding good collections. Here are a few reviews and recommendations.

The Montana Stories, by Katherine Mansfield
I didn't know what to expect when I picked up this book--I actually put off reading it for a while because I didn't feel in the mood. When I read the introduction I was almost turned off again, upon learning that Mansfield would not have approved of the collection at all (because it included unfinished and unedited stories). However, I kept reading, and then I couldn't stop reading. I think I may never write again, after reading her unpolished gems. I loved these stories more than anything else I've read by Mansfield--her prose absolutely sparkled, and I found myself desperate for more after each fragment. I can understand why she would have disapproved, but I'm glad Persephone published this collection anyway. Absolutely lovely.

The New York Stories, by Elizabeth Hardwick
I was excited to receive this book as my first Early Reviewers win from LIbraryThing; its summary caught my eye immediately, and my first impression when it finally arrived was promising. However, after reading it I had to wait a few days before posting a review because I wasn't sure what to say.

The stories were well-written. They were interesting. The characters were realistic, and each story was an accurate snapshot of human life and interaction.

But I didn't like them. Even in the earliest stories, the author's tone was modern and sardonic, and she wrote from a perspective on life that is very different from mine. Everything seemed dreary and hopeless and tired.

Speaking as objectively as possible, these are good short stories, and I think many people would enjoy them--but they're not my style.

Good Evening, Mrs. Craven, by Mollie Panter-Downes
An excellent collection of stories. Well-written, striking, and with that perfect little twist that makes one sit back and reflect after each story.

A Harvest of Stories, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
In the prologue, the author describes her perceived role as a storyteller:

" focus what powers I had on the effort to understand and to invite readers to join me in trying to understand what happens to and within our poor, fumbling, struggling human race... to bend the utmost effort of mind and sympathy on the lives nearest at hand."

And so she does, beautifully. I loved every one of these stories, and am finding it difficult to choose one or two favorites to mention. She begins with a collection of 'Vermont Memories', stories written about her family and neighbors in the Green Mountains, and ends with 'War', stories about the French people with whom she lived and worked during the World Wars. In between were more varied stories about 'Men, Women--and Children', and these I enjoyed most of all. I'm eager to read her writings on Montessori education, since I particularly liked the stories into which some of her theories slipped ("The Rainy Day, the Good Mother, and the Brown Suit" and "As Ye Sow"--both very inspiring to me as a mother). In fact, I'm eager to read everything she wrote, and wish that more of her books were available.

This is a wonderful collection of short stories, and I highly recommend it.

Muse and Reverie, by Charles de Lint
his is one of his more random collections. Several of the stories I'd read before, and some were not really very interesting. I did very much enjoy "The Butter Spirit's Tithe", however, and "The Crow Girls' Christmas" was as delightful as all the Crow Girls stories are. "Refinerytown" and "Da Slockit Light" were typical of de LInt's mediocre tales, like form-stories written on a deadline. "Newford Spook Squad" was amusing, and "Riding Shotgun" was pleasantly creepy. "Somewhere In My Mind There Is A Painting Box" is in several other collections, but it's a great story and a return to the woods of "A Circle of Cats" and "Seven Wild Sisters"; it nicely complements the last story, "The World in a Box", which is also excellent.

It's not his best, but being a diehard de Lint fan, I had to buy it in hardcover as soon as I saw it on the shelf at Powell's. Worth owning.

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 1, by Jonathan Strahan
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this anthology, particularly the science fiction stories. Several of the stories were familiar to me from other collections, but the Elizabeth Hand and Connie Willis were new to me and quite delightful surprises. The anthology slows down a bit in the middle, with some stories that are more propaganda than science fiction, but picks back up quickly. I'll be on the lookout for more of these.

The Dragon Book, by Jack Dann
Lots of excellent stories in this anthology. The best one by far was Peter S. Beagle's "Oakland Dragon Blues", but that's not surprising since he's a fantastic author with a real knack for short stories. I was surprised by my second favorite, "The Dragaman's Bride", by Andy Duncan--I hope this author keeps writing and getting published.

Tamora Pierce's story was fun, especially for those familiar with her characters (and somewhat simplistic writing style); Gregory Maguire's "Puz_le" was also fun and reminded me a bit of Nina Kiriki Hoffman. The stories by Naomi Novik and Diana Gabaldon were light and amusing and rather silly, but I was a little disappointed in the stories by Jane Yolen, Tanith Lee, and Diana Wynne Jones--I always expect better from them. While I didn't really like Cecelia Holland's story, I enjoyed the writing enough to seek out some of her historical fiction, which is now on my TBR pile. I'll also be on the lookout for Sean Williams, with whom I'm not familiar but whose story was intriguing.

The worst story? "Bob Choi's Last Job", by Jonathan Stroud. I've occasionally thought of giving his Bartimaeus books a try, but this story convinced me to avoid them. I would recommend just skipping over this story, as it should not have been included in an otherwise well-written and enjoyable anthology.

And a few more that I haven't yet reviewed on LibraryThing:

The Poison Eaters and Other Stories, by Holly Black
Spell Fantastic, edited by Martin H. Greenburg
Great Short Stories by American Women
Minnie's Room, by Mollie Panter-Downes
The Matisse Stories; Little Black Book of Stories; Elementals, by A.S. Byatt

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I'm finally getting around to this meme, which was picked up by Peculiar through Steve. How could I resist such a list as this? The top ten books which have most influenced my life--a delightful prospect indeed. And then I began listing books, and, not surprisingly, came up with more than ten; so I decided to group them chronologically, according to four stages of my life. Most of them are favorites, but I think they are favorites in great part because of their influence.

Books encountered as a child:

Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
I received this book for my fifth birthday, which makes it one of the first real books I read to myself. The near-perfect industry and harmony of the Wilders' farm is a vision I come back to almost daily, and I still love reading about food, too.

A Time to Keep, by Tasha Tudor.
I've wanted to live in Tasha Tudor's world my whole life--to step into one of her illustrations and go to a sugaring-off party, or the dolls' fair, or a marionette show in the barn. Another ideal vision. This book is one of Sam's favorites, too.

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame.
Three specific parts of me come from this altogether wonderful book: the desire for a cozy home like those of the animals, nestled underground or in the roots of trees or under riverbanks; a first taste of magic and mystery, awed and unnerved without knowing why by the piper at the gates of dawn; and the knowledge that I was not the only one to glory in the clean slate of winter and the stark bare bones of the land.

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis.
Because this list would simply be incomplete without Narnia--I've read them so many times that they are necessarily a part of me. My thoughts about creation draw heavily on The Magician's Nephew, my understanding of Christ is founded on The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and my idea of heaven (as well as my beliefs about salvation) is pretty much straight out of The Last Battle.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte.
My parents gave me this book for Christmas when I was five, so I must have started reading it soon after that--I don't actually remember not having read it. At first I just read the beginning over and over, where Jane is a child, then as I grew older I ventured farther into the story. Jane's strength, honesty, and self-respect set my own standards.

Books encountered as a teenager:

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis.
Though I haven't re-read this book in years, it's like a security blanket on my shelf. It's never been packed up for longer than the duration of a move, and sat on my shelf all through college and during my summer in Alaska. The first time I read it I wanted to underline every sentence because he just said everything so well. I felt as though he'd given me words for my faith, and the ability to speak of it to others.

The Private Life of Tasha Tudor, by Tovah Martin.
I don't just want to live in Tasha Tudor's world, I want to be her. I think about her daily without even realizing it, when I go barefoot or pin up my hair into a bun or milk the goats or prop up a book on the counter while stirring a pot on the stove. Tasha Tudor has influenced my feelings about clothing, hairstyles, gardening, crafts, farm life, goats, history, art (my own and that of others), books, productivity, birthdays, Christmas, cooking, and, well, pretty much everything else that I like. Really the only things on which I disagree with her are corgis, primroses, and Hallowe'en. And marriage. And, I suppose, religion, since I never found it necessary to make up my own.

Farming for Self-Sufficiency, by John and Sally Seymour.
The discovery of this book was a revelation. Here was the practical knowledge for the visions that were already deeply ingrained.

The Day I Became An Autodidact, by Kendall Hailey.
Despite being homeschooled, I hadn't realized before reading this book that autodidacticism was (or ought to be) the goal of education. It's still my desire to read the way Kendall did.

Books encountered as a college student:

Pensees, by Blaise Pascal.
I was shaken by Pascal's diversions--the things we do to keep ourselves from thinking about who we are and who we ought to be. My blissful ignorance was gone forever.

Moonlight and Vines, by Charles de Lint.
After Odious read Pamela Dean's Tam Lin aloud to me freshman year, I asked him for recommendations in the fantasy genre. I'd always loved "white magic" books, as I called them as a child, like Edward Eager and E. Nesbit, but hadn't encountered any grown-up fantasy other than Tolkien. As we walked through Uncle Hugo's Bookstore in Minneapolis, Odious picked up this short story collection with the offhand remark that I might like it. In fact, it was an introduction to a new world of reading as well as writing. These were not only the kind of stories I wanted to read, they were also the kind I wanted to write. While I'm not as infatuated with de Lint as I was at first, his books have greatly changed the way I see the world. Because of his characters, I look closer at people that I otherwise might have ignored, and am reminded that every person is more than he may seem at first glance.

Books encountered as an adult:

How Children Learn, by John Holt.
I read this while working at a small church daycare, and was utterly amazed by Holt's insight and candor. The brilliant simplicity of his educational theories is wonderful, and I only wish I could convince more people to follow them.

Pilgrim's Inn, by Elizabeth Goudge.
I'd read some of Goudge's books as a child, enjoying the fantasy element without really noticing much else about them, but when I rediscovered her last year, I felt my life change again. She does not write comfortable books, in that she forces the reader out of complacency and into introspection, and yet I feel so comforted by them because she contradicts the modern philosophy that has always seemed wrong to me. I've already blogged about her focus on self-sacrifice, so will just reiterate that Elizabeth Goudge (in this book and its two companions especially) has made me act as well as think differently.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Going through our boxes of books has been a delightful experience as we rediscover old friends. I've already pulled out way more books than I'm likely to re-read, and I can't wait to have them all unpacked and displayed again. I'm also using LibraryThing as a reading list for this year, and am trying to post brief reviews of each book as I read it. My plan is to post handfuls of these mini reviews here, grouping similar books together, in an attempt to keep my blogging a little more regular.

Here are three young adult fantasy novels that I just read for the first time. All of them were mildly entertaining, but I wish I'd read them when I was younger and less critical.

A Walk in Wolf Wood, by Mary Stewart
While I liked the premise of this book (brother and sister go back in time to a medieval forest and help a werewolf regain his place as the duke's best friend and counsellor), the details were careless and the plot somewhat dull. There were too many things that didn't make sense or existed only to stretch the story into a novella. Mary Stewart charmed and surprised me with The Hollow Hills and The Crystal Cave, but the other books of hers that I've read have been disappointingly tame and predictable. She has good ideas but doesn't fulfill them satisfyingly. Even so, this was a quick and diverting read, and children who enjoy fantasy might like it.

The Sherwood Ring, by Elizabeth Marie Pope
I loved The Perilous Gard, and was excited to discover this book at Powell's; however, the story is a little too neat and obvious, and the mystery is pretty silly. A young woman goes to live with her eccentric old uncle in a historic New England house, and is visited by four ghosts who relate their story of love and adventure during the Revolutionary War. The story told by the ghosts was much more interesting than the modern story, and I wished Pope had written more about Peaceable and Barbara. The little prison, the treasure room, and the relief map in the sand were wonderful little details, and I feel like she could have written a much better story that would have satisfied adults as well.

The Farthest-Away Mountain, by Lynne Reid Banks
I might have enjoyed this more as a child. Reading it as an adult only made me notice the stiltedness of the prose and the less-than-original plot of a farmer's daughter who goes off on a quest. It's a conglomeration of better-written fairy tales, and the heroine is rather dull despite her courage. Why, after experiencing such an exciting adventure, would her desire be to marry a prince? This story could have been a lot better than it is, and feels like something written to fulfill an obligation or deadline.

Monday, February 15, 2010

I have discovered LibraryThing. I am now addicted to cataloguing my books, which may possibly make me the most boring person alive. Nevertheless, this should come as an aid to people who don't give us books as gifts because they don't know what we have! The picture books collection is almost complete, but the rest of it will take a while as I delve through box after box. I've also started a wishlist, which is on LibraryThing as well as on Amazon.

I've wanted to catalog our books for some time now. It pleases my organizational mind to know that soon there will be a record of the things we own, and it is extremely satisfying as well--like a full pantry. However, I was thinking as I worked yesterday that it's rather a shame that everything is computerized now. I'd always thought that a perfect career for me would be cataloguing private libraries, but I'd never be able to write my own computer program for such a profession. I'd have to use a pre-existing one such as LibraryThing, which might not be exactly suited to the task at hand. Of course this program is fantastic, and much more detailed and connected than a card catalog, but index cards and alphabetization are easily mastered. Ah well.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Since we moved, I've been able to unpack a few more boxes of books, including all my cookbooks. They take up an impressive amount of shelf space in the kitchen, especially because I've realized that I only use a handful of them regularly, and only one or two recipes from another handful. Am I going to purge? Erm... no. Maybe. Probably not. Because, you see, I might use them sometime! Also, I do like to revisit them for inspiration occasionally, and it is so lovely to read about food.

My kitchen Bible is Fannie Farmer. I turn to her for everything, and she rarely lets me down. The dog-eared recipes include pie crust, buttermilk biscuits, banana bread, and cream scones. She's also my reference for canning, measurements, meat cuts, and any little cooking questions that arise. My paperback copy (not a good edition for cooking--I need a sturdy hardback) is torn in half with one loose page, and the covers are threatening to disengage at any moment.

The next most loved on the shelf is the Pillsbury Best Muffins and Quick Breads Cookbook, which I believe my dear sister Meg gave me years ago. I use the basic muffin recipe, with my own variations, at least once a week. We are also fond of the banana snack muffins, pumpkin pecan bread, sour cream coffee cake, buttermilk coffee cake, and popovers.

Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is another well-used reference for things like how long to bake sweet potatoes and if it's necessary to peel eggplants. Her pancake recipe is blue-ribbon, with the striking additions of vanilla and nutmeg. I usually add mashed banana, as we often have overripe or half-eaten ones to be used up, and Sam eats the leftovers as a snack for the next few days. The recipe for tortillas is great, too--I was making them regularly on Saturday nights until Lucy came along and turned dinner prep time into Fussy Time. I've used a lot of recipes in this book, with mostly good results. The mujadarrah is amazing, and Odious likes all of the quinoa dishes. There are some tasty uses for tofu as well, and I like all of the information and starring recipes for vegetables.

The Cheese Board Collective Works saved my family from the whole wheat rocks that resulted from my bread baking experiments. Many thanks to Erin, who sent me this lovely cookbook/tutorial/bakery memoir enhanced with her own notes and advice--a book to treasure. Our everyday toast and sandwich bread, without which Sam could not survive, is from their Plain and Simple recipe. I've also tried the Sesame Sunflower, Anadama (molasses cornmeal oat bread), and Hot Cross Buns (absolutely delicious). Their pizza crust recipe is another staple, made several times a month and topped with whatever's in the fridge.

Those are the books I use most often, along with a three-ring binder that's spilling over with recipe cards and newspaper cutouts. Some of my most-used recipes are in there: No-Knead Bread; Farfalle with Tuna, Tomatoes, and Zucchini; my mom's cheater cinnamon rolls; and my own invention, Perfect Tilapia with Couscous.

As for the rest of the books on the shelf...

A recent addition to my collection is Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions. I don't use the recipes that much, except for the yeasted buttermilk bread (when I plan ahead), which is delicious and amazingly light despite being all whole wheat. There are more recipes that I'd like to try, and I'm interested in the naturally fermented foods, but haven't yet gotten around to them. Instead I use the book more for inspiration and reference on soaking beans and grains, etc. I also like to read Steven Pratt'sSuperFoods every now and then to remind myself of the things I ought to be eating.

Then there are my cheesemaking books. I use Goats Produce Too! for feta, buttermilk, and yoghurt, and Making Great Cheese for the easiest chevre you can imagine. I've tried a number of different hard cheese recipes, and never had much luck owing to my lack of patience and attention. Also I don't have a handy cave for the necessary aging.

I have a couple of Pink Adobe cookbooks for nostalgia's sake, mostly, since I have the recipes for green chile and guacamole memorized. I should make green chile stew again soon, though, and maybe one of these days we'll splurge on some good old Steak Dunigans.

I love the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks for their beautiful photographs. I have the Family Style one--her Shrimp Scampi with Linguine and Chicken Stew with Biscuits are among my favorite meals.

Mrs Peculiar gave me the Whole Foods Market cookbook for my birthday way back when, and I've experimented with varying success on several of their weirder recipes (millet and yam burger, anyone?). However, the lentil, sausage, and rice soup is fantastic, and I based my amazing chicken tortilla soup on their recipe as well. I should really look through that one again... some fun recipes.

Every now and then, when I'm in the mood for something other than chocolate chip cookies, I use the Great Big Cookie Book, which originated in Britain and is slightly odd. It's got decent recipes for shortbread and snickerdoodles, however.

Hmm, maybe I will purge, now that I look at them again, since I really don't use any of the rest except for my beloved hippie cookbooks. The Sunburst Family Farm cookbook, rescued from my mother, has THE granola recipe, along with some good fish dishes and cooking tips for the less common grains. I refer to the sprouting cookbook for methods on sprouting various seeds (I have wasted more mung beans--they take too long and I forget to rinse them... but alfalfa, rye, and millet sprouts are quicker and more successful), and to Dry It! You'll Like It! for food dehydration times and temps. The Moosewood Cookbook has an unbelievably good ratatouille with polenta, as well as another good lentil soup.

And the rest of the twenty-two cookbooks? Hm, well, a few of them I've used once or twice, but mostly they just sit there. Powell's resale counter, here I come!

UPDATE: I did decide to cull seven or eight cookbooks that I've never used and almost certainly never will. I also must admit to discovering that I own two copies of The Tassajara Bread Book, which I've never used either; one of those is on its way to the Powell's resale counter. However, I also realized that I have at least one more box of cookbooks and books on food (M.F.K. Fisher, etc). I hadn't missed my Vegetarian Epicure before this because my mom owns it too, but I rely on that for my cornbread, quiche, and yet another lentil soup.