NOTICE: (Updated March 5, 2010)

Beginning December 19, 2009, Books 'N Border Collies will be posting but only intermittently while I pursue personal goals. I plan to share some reading I'm doing, but there will be no reviews. I will, however, be sharing my exploration of vegetarian cooking and the cookbooks and websites I use to educate myself. I hope you enjoy it!


Saturday, January 31, 2009


by Philip Roth

Perfect student and model son Marcus Messner leaves his New Jersey home to attend college in Ohio in an effort to escape his over-protective father. All Marcus wants is to study and graduate as class valedictorian, but circumstances conspire to snap all of his good intentions.

I usually have an issue with books that feel like they dwell on teenage sexual obsession and anxiety -- or anyone's sexual obsession and anxiety for that matter. It's just not my thing, and they tend to bore me to tears. Those sections of Indignation did set my mind to wandering, but the book did have more going for it overall, so I was able to get passed my personal prejudice. I ended up enjoying it quite a bit, but it didn't speak to me the way some of my previous reads this year have.

The message that did come through was how a person's inability to compromise can drive them into the arms of the very thing they fear most. It's the old adage, "Pick your battles wisely." Every once in a while our most firm beliefs are challenged in a manner that requires more malleability than we are comfortable with if we are to avoid a worse fate than bending just a little bit. Flexibility is not only good for the body. It's good for the mind and the soul, too.

Friday, January 30, 2009

In My Book, He's An All-Star

Big sigh. Once again, Big Al has been snubbed. No All-Star status for him, even though he is one of the only three guys in the NBA with a 20 point/10 rebound average for the season, and the Timberwolves currently hold the best record in the league for 2009. (Just for the record, the other two are in the All-Star lineup.) And our rookie Kevin Love was not invited to the Freshman/Sophomore game despite his outstanding play and high rookie ranking. Grrrrrrr. No respect.

Our time is coming! Until then, these guys are All-Stars in my book!
Go Wolves!!!


by Mortimer J. Adler

This one was a project! Philosophy is not my forte in life. A lot of it goes right over my head. But there was a lot to ruminate over in How to Think About the Great Ideas: From the Great Books of Western Civilization. My favorite sections were on the ideas of Education and Democracy. The one on Education sparked my autodidactic flame back to life, and the one on Democracy sent me immediately to the computer to order The Federalist Papers and to download a copy of The Declaration of Independence and The U.S. Constitution. I've read the Declaration and the Constitution before, but I felt the need to take a closer, more, well, philosophical look.

This is a book a person could go on and on about, but the fact is that if it interests you, you really need to experience it yourself. My purpose in reading it was to start identifying concepts that are meaningful to me in my reading and really thinking about how I feel about them. In that, I was successful. I'm hoping to translate that into reviews and reading notes that amount to more than, "I liked this book. You should read it. Or not." :-)

For those who do read this book, keep in mind that it is basically a collection of transcripts from an old television show that Mortimer Adler hosted. ("Old" as in there were still only 48 states in the U.S. when it aired, and there are cultural references in the discussions that reflect this.) It's written in a more narrative form, but the idiosyncrasies of spontaneous speech have not been edited out. It does not always flow smoothly. And while I usually can just blow by the occasional typo, the edition I read had just enough of them for me to begin taking notice. Also, I was hoping to hear from a much, much larger selection of "Great Books", but most of the quotes that are used come from the likes of Plato and Aristotle. If you can ignore those couple of superficial grievances, the book is still more than worth the effort to kick-start long-dormant brain cells.

If you would like to learn more about The Great Ideas, click here to check out the Center For The Study Of The Great Ideas.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bookworm Meme

I generally stay away from doing memes on Books 'N Border Collies. No real reason. I just mostly enjoy them from afar. But in honor of a new follower of said blog (Hi, Denea!), let's see what I can come up with for the Bookworm Meme she tagged me for after making such kind comments about my fuzzy kids! :-) Rules: Open the closest book to you, not your favorite or something you have to go searching for but whatever's closest to you right now, and go to page 56. Starting with the fifth sentence on the page, transcribe three to six lines directly from the text. Once you've typed those lines, tag five more bloggers to do the same on their blogs.

Alrighty then. At the top of the pile is Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien. Flip, flip, flip to page 56 and count one, two, three . . . OK. Here we are. Line five:

"They saw no villages. Curving with the flow of the land, the road was hard and dusty and deserted. The trees were bare. It was parched country, for the rains had not yet come north, and the streams ran nearly empty."

For a novel about the Vietnam War, that doesn't sound very interesting, does it? Trust me, Tim O'Brien is a wonderful author despite that random selection. I'll be talking more about this book probably next week.

In the meantime, I'll tag Charley, Ramya, Jeane and Jo-Jo. And Michele, because she might be secretly reading Faulkner and not 'fessing up. ;-)

Reading Notes

I'm listening to Philip Roth's Indignation on my commute this week, and there is a scene in which the main character is quoting from Bertrand Russell's essay, "Why I Am Not A Christian". It was only a handful of lines, but I have to admit I was intrigued enough to print out the entire essay and will be reading it this weekend for the Essay Reading Challenge. I'll report back when I am finished. That is, assuming I haven't been struck by lightning or anything. :-)

Other than that, there is not a lot to report on the reading front. I'll be finishing How to Think About the Great Ideas and starting Book II of The Faerie Queene. I'm hoping to have enough of a reading stretch to make serious headway into Going After Cacciato. And as if I don't have enough books going and sitting on the desk from the library waiting their turn, I just received three Albert Camus books from Amazon and The Federalist Papers and The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates are scheduled to arrive today. Then there are those cool lit courses sitting there patiently waiting for my undivided attention. I think I need to quit my job. It's really getting in the way. :-)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


When my birthday rolls around, which is in February, Peter always knows just what to get me! Flowers? No. Jewelry? No. Chocolate? No. Books? Close!

He and my mom took advantage of The Teaching Company's huge annual clearance sale, and my awesome early birthday gift was brought yesterday -- four literature courses I've been drooling over for months!! Each individual lecture is 30 minutes long, and here is what is now sitting on my desk:

Classic Novels: Meeting the Challenge of Great Literature (36 Lectures)
Classics of American Literature (84 Lectures)
Classics of British Literature (48 Lectures)
Classics of Russian Literature (36 Lectures)

How great is that? I own and/or have listened to a couple dozen of The Teaching Company's courses in literature, history, philosophy and religion, and I just cannot recommend them highly enough. If you have a chance, explore their site and check out everything they have available. Every course goes on sale at least once a year, so if you're patient, you can acquire some fabulous learning experiences at excellent prices! Otherwise, check your local library. They often carry them, also.

I'm off to try to decide which one to start with!

Thanks, Peter and Mom!!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


by Dave Eggers

Sudanese civil war refugee Valentino Achak Deng tells the harrowing story of his life in Africa, his years in refugee camps and realizing his dream of coming to America.

One of the many things I love about books is how they mean not only different things to different people, but how they can mean different things to the same person depending on when it is read and what is going on in that person's life at that moment in time. What Is the What is a book that has the ability to speak to the reader in a hundred different ways, all of them containing lessons in courage, acceptance, and perseverance. It can make you wary of strangers, and it can make you want to reach out to them. It can make you thankful to live in your own country, and it can make you see your country's flaws. It can make you hug your loved ones tight and never let go, and it can make you happy to set them free. It can make you comfortable in your own skin, it can make you squirm with doubt, and it can make you want to reach for forgotten hopes. But don't only reach up. Reach deep.

Also reviewed by:
Tip Of The Iceberg

Monday, January 26, 2009

DIVA v. King James

It's no secret to readers of this blog that I'm a huge NBA fan. My Minnesota Timberwolves are far and away my favorite guys but there are a couple of others that I like a lot. LeBron James is one, which is why when I saw a video of him on YouTube singing the Bee Gee's "Stayin' Alive", it cracked me up so much. Then I thought, "Hey, I could take him on! He may be called King James, but they don't call me The Diva for nothing!" So, one on one, Me v. LeBron. I'll let LeBron go first:

Ha! I love that! I love a guy who doesn't take himself too seriously. And speaking of not taking ourselves too seriously, here are me and Tony being not-too-serious at the Minnesota State Fair this past summer:

All my life they told me to sing from the diaphragm. Now I spend entire songs singing out of my nose. :-)

Have a great day, everyone!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Reading Notes

I did a bit of running around yesterday, so I didn't get as much reading done as I had hoped. Today we're going out to birthday lunch with Peter's parents for me and Peter's dad (Early for mine, late for his.), and my Wolves are playing the Chicago Bulls tonight at 6:00. I might be a little short on reading time today, too. But that doesn't mean I've gotten none in at all!

I'm working diligently at How to Think About the Great Ideas: From the Great Books of Western Civilization, and in last night's reading I came across a discussion about laws. Specifically, are laws only rules written by men and only as valid as the means to uphold them, or are there natural laws, inalienable rights, that are outside the realm of man to meaningfully legislate? This question led to a short discussion about the American Constitution and, assuming the latter argument is correct, how we have altered that document as we learn more about the rights of human beings. Examples would be the abolition of slavery and women's right to vote. I liked that we can continue to learn and grow in our understanding of natural rights, that prejudices that are acceptable now can become intolerable in the future. We still have a long way to go, but we can get there and we can help other nations get there, too.

I've been enjoying this book so much that during my trip to the library I picked up Mortimer Adler's The Great Ideas: A Lexicon of Western Thought in which he discusses each one of the 103 Great Ideas in greater detail. I may have to find a copy of this one to keep for myself. It would be a really good reference book to have around as I contemplate this self-teaching thing.

I also finished up the first book of The Faerie Queene. I'm not going to pretend I'm soaking up all the subtleties of this poem, not even close. But I am enjoying it immensely! Knights and ladies, witches and dragons, battles between good and evil. . . What more can a girl ask for? :-) My favorite part is still the parade of Lucifera's advisers in Book I, Canto IV. Here is part of the description of the adviser Gluttony:

And by his side rode loathsome Gluttony,
Deformed creature, on a filthie swyne,
His belly was vp-blowne with luxury,
And eke with fatnesse swollen were his eyne,
And like a Crane his necke was long and fyne,
With which he swallowed vp excessiue feast;
For want whereof poore people oft did pyne;
And all the way, most like a brutish beast,
He spued vp his gorge, that all did him deteast.

Ewww! You can picture it so clearly though, can't you? You know what I thought of the whole time? Remember the movie "The Dark Crystal"? Remember the Skeksis?

That's what I pictured through that whole section of the Canto. And now I really need to see that movie again. It was so good!!

I think that's it for my Reading Notes update. I hope you're all doing fabulously well!

Happy Reading!

Friday, January 23, 2009

What To Do, What To Do . . .

I have an intellectual dilemma, and I'm certain in this book-blogging world that I'm not alone. I think many people out there have that certain insecurity that goes along with never having pursued a college degree, that weird "I'm not smart enough for my opinion to really matter" feeling, as if some letters after my name will propel me to some higher ground.

I would *love* to be able to say I have a degree in English or Literature. It's a fantasy to see my name with an M.A. or Ph.D. after it. Or even a B.A. at this point! I've spent a lot of time kicking myself for singing in rock bands instead of going to school. But I've also been told by people who do have M.A.'s and Ph.D.'s after their name that they would love to have done what I did, to have those experiences. The grass is always greener, right?

Those same people, when we talk about my lack of a college degree, tell me something very interesting. They sum it all up like this -- higher you go with a formal education, you learn more and more about less and less until you know everything about nothing. Unless I'm pursuing the degree for work purposes (Which I'm not. It's purely personal.), I'll learn much, much more on my own. I scoffed at this until I realized something this morning as I was scanning the degree requirements at yet another local college. Every list made me feel claustrophobic. All that time and effort and that's all I'll learn about? But there's sooooo much more out there!! Suddenly, I find myself envisioning different letters after my name: A.D. (A.D. being the abbreviation for autodidact). I could write papers and link them to my blog for any crazy folks who would care to follow along. I could spend hours with courses from The Teaching Company. I could even have Peter make me a lovely certificate so I could feel all official. What do you think? I think I like it! :-)


by Elie Wiesel

From the back cover of Dawn:

Elisha, a young Jewish Holocaust survivor now living as a terrorist in British-controlled Palestine, awaits dawn, when he has been ordered to kill a captive English officer. Caught between the manifold horrors of the past and the troubling dilemmas of the present, Elisha wrestles with guilt, ghosts, and ultimately God as he awaits the appointed hour for his act of assassination.
If you've read Wiesel's Night, you know exactly how I feel right now and how hard it is to express what I'm thinking. While Dawn is not at all a happy book, it is not one of those books that left me depressed. It left me deeply introspective. Given the same history, can I honestly say that my moral integrity would not have led me to the same acts as Elisha? I would like to be able to confidently say yes. I'd like to, but there is a thin black thread of uncertainty that bothers me. And therein lies the power of these eighty-one pages.

Though this very short novel is about a Holocaust survivor, it is particularly relevant in the time of our current conflicts in the Middle East. The emotions portrayed in Dawn are no doubt transpiring in the hearts of too many. In response to my own thin black thread, I will let the author's own words speak for themselves: "[H]atred is never an answer, and . . . death nullifies all answers. There is nothing sacred, nothing uplifting, in hatred or in death."

Thursday, January 22, 2009


by Ian Buruma
(from The Best American Essays 2007)

"When a touchy subject can no longer be openly and rationally discussed, it is left up to the bigots to talk about it irrationally."
-- Ian Buruma
While I read this essay, my thoughts swirled around the last couple months of the 2008 presidential election. Some of the author's points were captured perfectly at that time. Emotions were at a fever pitch on both sides. If you ridiculed Sarah Palin, you were sexist. If you criticized Barack Obama, you were racist. In reality, this kind of thinking goes on all the time. People are accused of homophobia, misogyny, prejudice or any number of other epithets for not liking, disagreeing with or questioning another person's words, beliefs or actions. And fear of being labeled as such can stifle or shutdown potentially educational discussion.

Part of living with the freedom of speech is understanding that not only do you get to speak freely, but so do others. And you might not like what they have to say. Granted, and most unfortunately, there is plenty of homophobia, misogyny, prejudice, etc., etc., alive and well in our society, but "[w]here exactly is the border between criticism or ridicule and 'stirring up hatred?' " When the speech is your own, you know on which side your meaning lies. If it's someone else's, how do you know? And what is the proper response?

The author does not answer these questions, but the point is made: Our right to free speech, which many people in many countries do not have, does not include the right to not be offended. However, we can talk about it! :-)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


by Thomas L. Friedman

It was an accident that I finished up Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America on the day of Barack Obama's inauguration, but it also seemed appropriate. I spent much of this book feeling like we're doomed. Humans on the whole are too selfish to care about the damage we are causing. Far be it from us to inconvenience ourselves for the sake of some polar bears and villages of poor people we'll never see. I was pretty down. Then came Jan. 20, 2009. Say what some will about Obama, here are my feelings: He may or may not be as extraordinary as many of us think he is and he may be nothing but a lot of rhetoric. But that rhetoric makes me personally want to be a better person, to care for others and our planet. He makes me want to live as one nation and one people while embracing our differences, and he makes me want to learn and intellectually explore beyond my comfort zone. And it appears there are at least a few million others all over the world who feel the same way. How can that possibly be a bad thing?

And how is that related to this book? Fixing the problems on this planet, environmental and otherwise, will take more than a few activists. It will take more that just the government and more than just America. It will take all of us, everywhere. And for that, we need to start by putting aside "I" and "me" and "mine" and reach out to that person and that culture we don't quite understand. And in the words of our new President, "Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations." Let's make sure we include a healthy planet to go along with that freedom.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


by Jo Ann Beard
(from The Best American Essays 2007)

Werner Hoeflich miraculously survives a devastating fire in his New York City apartment building, and in the chaos before and after his amazing leap to safety through a window of the neighboring building, his mind flashes to different episodes in his life.

Aside from the fact that I found myself hideously distracted by the fate of Werner's pet cat, this is a beautiful and disturbing essay. (The distraction was not the fault of the author. I am always distracted by animals in any story no matter how small their role, because I am always afraid they are only included to meet some horrible end. It's a personal paranoia.) This reads so much like a short story that I wished a little more information had been included regarding the origins of this piece of writing. The inner thoughts and emotions of Werner are so boldly exposed that I would have expected this to be either fiction or a personal memoir. It did have me spending a couple sleepless hours wondering how I would have handled the same situation. I'm not sure I could have saved myself or my cat. But I am certain that reevaluating my values in life would be a top priority if I managed to do so. Perhaps it would be best to do that without the prompting of a life-changing conflagration.

Change Is Here!!


by Iain Pears

When what is believed to be an authentic Raphael painting is discovered beneath the painting of another artist, questions of authenticity lead to murder.

The Raphael Affair is the first in a series of Art History Mysteries by Iain Pears, and his style reminded me a bit of Agatha Christie. While it didn't keep me on the edge of my seat or riveted to the pages, it was a cute book -- that is, if "cute" can be applied to fraud and murder. :-) This is a series I will definitely keep on the TBR list for when I want a quick pick-me-up and that I would recommend if you're looking for ideas for the Art History Reading Challenge.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


by Lloyd Jones

"I will be honest with you. I have no wisdom, none at all. The truest thing I can tell you is that whatever we have between us is all we've got. Oh, and of course Mr. Dickens." -- Mr. Watts in Mister Pip, pg. 18.

A single, eccentric white man, Mr. Watts, chooses to stay behind on a war-torn island and teach the children. He begins by reading everyday from Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Through opposition, fear and tragedy the lessons from Mr. Watts will persist, and the love of that story will help at least one child emerge scarred but victorious.

Rave reviews abound for Mister Pip, and there is a good reason for that. It is an amazing book! It put my emotions through the wringer, squeezing out any idea of remaining ambivalent about Mr. Watts, Matilda, her mum and the other villagers. With my current crush on Mr. Dickens, I thought this would be fun way to capitalize on that new-found fancy, but it turned out to be so much more than that.

The quote I included at the beginning of this post remained in my mind for the entire book. And in the end, to me, it meant this: Material goods and fluid circumstances have little meaning in the illumination or gloom of our relationships with those around us. Evil can abound in the most unlikely of places and good can flourish in its shadow. The choice is yours.

Friday, January 16, 2009

In A Related Post . . .

A message from LOLCats that I'm on the right track with that Russian Literature thing:

It couldn't possibly be a coincidence that picture was posted today, could it? :-)

Look What UPS Brought Me Today!

I realize there is not a large number of people who will be as excited about this as I am, but I just had to share anyway. :-) After reading Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky last year and reading about a whole bunch of other classic Russian novels I'm now anxious to explore, I just had to have this. I also picked up a book of some of Gogol's short works, and I'm developing a weird obsession with reading Nabokov's other work despite the fact that I hated Lolita. Have you read the little blurbs on any of his other books? Here are a couple:

Invitation to a Beheading:

Like Kafka's The Castle, Invitation to a Beheading embodies a vision of a bizarre and irrational world. In an unnamed dream country, the young man Cincinnatus C. is condemned to death by beheading for "gnostical turpitude." an imaginary crime that defies definition. Cincinnatus spends his last days in an absurd jail, where he is visited by chimerical jailers. an executioner who masquerades as a fellow prisoner, and by his in-laws. who lug their furniture with them into his cell. When Cincinnatus is led out to be executed. he simply wills his executioners out of existence: they disappear, along with the whole world they inhabit.


Extensively revised by Nabokov in 1965--thirty years after its original publication--Despair is the wickedly inventive and richly derisive story of Hermann, a man who undertakes the perfect crime--his own murder.

My imagination is captivated. I don't know why. I bought Despair the other day. Perhaps this cold has finally gotten to me. :-)

Reading Notes

First, I want to thank Jo-Jo from Jo-Jo Loves To Read for this cool award:

Thank you, Jo-Jo! If any of you haven't seen Jo-Jo's blog, stop over and say hello! She's a newbie blogger who started in Oct. and is so much fun to have around!

As for reading, I'm almost finished with Book One of The Faerie Queene. Only six more to go! And I'm a little more than half way through How To Think About The Great Ideas. Here's a great idea for me: Don't read two books I have to think about at the same time. They start moving too slowly and I can't make up my mind which one to pick up when I have a few extra minutes.

I started Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones last night. It's a book I can just sink right into, which is great because it's due back at the library tomorrow and I can't renew it because of requests. Someone is going to be up late tonight after the Timberwolves game. . . .

PS My house was 73 degrees inside this morning which was 93 degrees warmer than it was outside. You do the math. If I write that temperature out it makes me cry. ;-) There is hope though. It's supposed to be 30 on Sunday, which will feel like a sauna after this week!

Happy Reading, Everyone!