Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Books and Stella's Earthquake Chocolate Cake


Howdy Y'all.  As you know, reading is important to being a writer so today's post will be a roundup of books I have recently read, skimmed, or rejected, and where I got them and how I read them.
Fourth of July Pre-Rodeo Parade, Estes Park, Colorado

Most of the books were obtained from my local public library. Recently a friend, an avid reader, asked me if our little local branch library had improved since the building had been enlarged and renovated. "They don't have much on the shelves," she said.

Smart reader though she is, she is like many who do not realize you are not limited to the books on the shelves in a particular branch. You can go online and request any book. The library system, in my case, the Johnson County (Ks.) Library, (http://www.jocolibrary.org/) will find the book and deliver it to your local branch library, usually in a day or two. You then will be notified by email or phone that your book is in. You go to your branch, find your book on the Requested Book shelves, and check it out yourself. It is a fabulous service. Your city probably has this service too. You may have to visit the library to establish your password, but after that, you're all set.

Do you think of yourself as a "book person"? You love and collect books? You love the experience of holding and owning books? Me too. However, I have to confess, I have gone over to the dark side. I now own a Kindle, and I love it. Never would I have chosen to use an e-reader, but I wanted to purchase a particular book that was only available online as an e-book. I ordered it. Had to download an Adobe e-reader onto my computer. It was so easy to use, I immediately began rethinking. Then, Gentleman Friend and I had an anniversary, and I "allowed" him the pleasure of making a guy-friendly gift purchase -- something electronic -- a Kindle from http://www.amazon.com./

I received an email saying the Kindle had shipped and was on its way to me. Meanwhile, I selected Isabelle Allende's new bookIsland Beneath the Sea: and ordered it. When the Kindle arrived, there was the book, already on it, 500+ pages, ready to easily carry on vacation. Definitions of selected words appear at page bottom, notes can be made, highlights, pages bookmarked; and, yes, you can read several books at a time. Plus, you can get individual issues or subscriptions to magazines and newspapers. While on vacation, I ordered book review section of The New York Times, and within minutes, there it was on the Kindle. With his gift, GF included a black leather cover so it feels as if I am holding a book. So immersed was I in the reading experience, that I reached up several times to turn the "page." And, yes, even for a non-techie such as I am, it is very easy to use. A Novel

Now, for some books. The Happiness Project by Rubin Gretchen. Gretchen grew up in Kansas City, attended Yale Law School, clerked for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and now lives in NYC.  Undertaking a project a month, she spends a year in the pursuit of happiness and learning to live in the moment. Because the author is a good writer with honesty and a sense of humor, this book is much better than it sounds. She has a blog I continue to follow: http://www.thehappinessproject.com/.

Island Beneath the Sea, a novel by Isabelle Allende, follows a young girl in slavery in 1700s Haiti to New Orleans after the Louisiana Purchase. An epic, with war, cruelty, love, heartbreak, forgiveness, redenption, history and politics as only Allende can write. Fiction.

The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard relates how our obsession with stuff is trashing our planet, communities, and our health -- and presents a vision for change. I skipped around and read parts of this book. Overwhelming, but good information presented with some solutions. Nonfiction.

The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear is a Maisie Dobbs mystery, set after WWI. A cartographer's body is found years after his death, and the search is on by private investigator Maisie Dobbs  for his cause of death, family, and nurse who was his love. Mystery fiction.

Moonflowers on the Fence by local poet and friend Judith Bader Jones takes us to the heart of life and loss in images that are both vivid and melancholy. Because I know Judith, I imagine I know the subtext of some of the poems, but even to a reader who picks up the book at random, the poems touch a universal response to shifting time. Available from http://www.finishinglinepress.com/.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton spans several generations and relates the story of a child abandoned on a ship of turn-of-the-century immigrants to the US. Novel.
See more books listed in the Favorite Books Column to the right. Oh -- almost forgot -- thank you to those of you who have let me know you are reading the books on the Favorites list.


Bookshelf. One of my grandmothers had a small three-shelf mahogany bookshelf beside her bed. I wasn't really allowed in her bedroom, but the few times I was there, I tried to see what the books were. In my memory now, they were all about the size and color of hymnals, black or dark blue. The edges of the pages were yellowed and looked brittle. What were the books about? Were there pictures? I didn't dare remove a book and look. Although, now that I think back, I realize how much she loved reading so I think she would have been fine with showing me her books. In fact, it was she who first introduced me to the public library, my very favorite place when I was a child. What thoughts come to your mind when you think of the word bookshelf.

Write for ten minutes or so. Put your writing away for a few days. Come back and continue writing and see if you can complete a story or essay. Put it away again for a few days. Return, edit, rewrite, polish and add it to your body of work.


Stella twice has brought this super-yummy cake to gatherings of the Advanced Life Story Writing Group. She got the recipe from her sister, Martha. I don't know why it's called Earthquake Cake. I kept calling it Tornado Cake because every time Stella brought it, I went into a whirling eating frenzy. Or, it could be called German Chocolate Upside Down Cake.

Earthquake Cake

1 cup chopped nuts
1 (3.5) ounce can flaked coconut
1 box German Chocolate cake mix batter, prepared according to directions
1/2 cup margarine
8 ounces cream cheese (softened)
1 (one pound) box confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9 x 12-inch cake pan. Cover bottom of pan with nuts and coconut. Pour the cake batter on top. Melt margarine in a bowl, add cream cheese and confectioners sugar. Stir to blend. Spoon over unbaked batter.  Bake 45 to 50 minutes.

Stella's Note: You cannot test for doneness with a cake tester, as the cake will appear sticky even when it is done. The icing sinks.

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