Wednesday, August 20, 2008

counting cards, reading books

A few days ago, I bought one of those automatic card shufflers, along with two new decks of cards. I figured the kids would enjoy the shuffler, and as much as I like to shuffle cards by hand, I can't seem to do it without bending them. I am amazed to say that after making their way to the floor and then underneath the bookshelf, all 108 cards (including Jokers) have been recovered.

I'm teaching Leah to play solitaire. I remember when my grandmother taught me. First, she showed me a very easy version that involved making piles of cards face down and then turning them over one by one. At the end of the game, you end up with stacks of four of each card; in other words, a deck that needs shuffling. Then we moved on to the traditional version, which is what Leah is learning now. It's really quite complex for a seven going-on-eight year old -- she loves it.

I got on the card kick after reading Bringing Down the House, the true story of the MIT kids who gambled their way to fortune by applying their math skills to the game of Blackjack. A quick, fun read, but I still don't get the lure of Vegas. I traveled there on business for the first time this past May. It was 106 degrees. The hotel lobby was a labyrinth of slot machines, which to my dismay were just computers with touch screens, like the ones in pizza parlors and bars, only bigger. Some of them still have levers for people like me, who would miss the action (I still enjoy a good rotary phone), but still -- it just wasn't what I had imagined. I won $32.00 and promptly spent it on gin and tonic at the bar.

Moving on: After inundating myself with downtown Birmingham library books about raising chickens, I have finally found time to read some fiction (and some non-chicken nonfiction). I work three days a week from my house, and the other two days I travel to the office, which is located in a small town with a makeshift library in the diner. I am pleased to say that I have not purchased a book in months, aside from two good chicken reference books. The only downside to using the Mt. Laurel library is that its offerings consist of books donated by residents, so the selection is limited. There are a lot of those alphabetical mystery books and lawyer mystery books and forensic science mystery books. A lot of mystery books. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Here is what I've managed to find:

Mother of Pearl, Melinda Haynes
Okay, okay -- it's an Oprah book. There, I said it. Still, it's really wonderful -- written by a painter from Mississippi. There is an instance of the most graceful use of punctuation I have ever seen.

Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens, Jane Dunn
Historical text. There is no fictional story line in the world that can compete with true stories of European royalty.

Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea, Steven Callahan
True story of a man who survived for more than two months alone at sea, improvising tools to spear fish, filter water, and keep his raft afloat. Pretty amazing.

Heyday, Kurt Andersen
I LOVED this book. There were some plot contrivances, but overall a really wonderful way to experience mid-19th century America/Europe.

Those Who Save Us, Jenna Blum
I keep wanting to type something about shades of gray in Nazi Germany. Can I do that without sounding like a jerk? A very moving book.

The Memory Keeper's Daughter, Kim Edwards
There is no way to discuss the plot of this book without making it sound really bad, which it isn't.

Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen
Almost didn't make it past the first six pages -- thought it was going to be lame. Glad I stuck with it.

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