Undomestic GoddessThis   Sophie Kinsella novel is much better than the Shopoholic series, IMHO. Samantha Sweeting is an ambitious lawyer in a cutthroat London law firm. One day she makes an incredibly costly mistake and  starts wandering the city and, eventually, the countryside blindly. She ends up outside an English manor house where, it happens, they need a  housekeeper.

Samantha, hilariously, pretends to be an expert cook, laundress and housecleaner when she is really completely clueless, or, as the title says “undomestic.” Her attempts to bluff her way through the most basic of tasks are described with typical English deadpan absurdity.  The unusual couple that she works for and the gardener who turns out to be her accomplice round out an appealing cast of characters.

Undomestic Goddess has it all – humor, romance, plot, and a satisfying resolution. Put your feet up and take a break from all that housework.

Shelter for the SpiritVictoria Moran believes that housekeeping is actually a form of affection for your home. All caregiving (for people or things)  should  lead one to gradually love what one cares for. Thomas More says in the introduction to Shelter for the Spirit,  “Ordinary chores satisfy primal longings.”

This book is not about practical tips and tricks, or full of lists of the many tasks you need to do, year-round. It’s more about changing your attitude and savoring everyday acts. This is an inspiring work for those of us stressed and depressed about how much endless, repetitive work is involved in taking care of a house.

The author says, “Human beings need a place to foster an inner life….It is about reclaiming home as the primary center for our spirituality, our resourcefulness, and the best moments of our lives.”

Besides the high-flown spirtual benefits of creating your own personal haven, you, as  Moran says, “feel more in control of your life when your house is in order.”

Published by Martha Stewart, Simple Home Solutions is divided into Kitchen, Home & Garden, etc. No one produces more elegantly laid out, beautifuly lit photos than Martha herself.  This is the old-school Martha, not the newer glitzier version. She was truly the master of the quietly serene way of life.

This is a  timely book, because, ultimately,  Martha is very frugal.  Some of my favorite tips are: to put rubber bands around a lid and a jar to open a stubborn jar lid, remove sweater pills with a fine toothed comb, put candles in paper towel tubes to store them, hang chalk to de-humidify a closet, or loosen a lock by rubbing a pencil on a key. One tip I actually did (and it works great) is to apply self-adhesive felt pads to the bottom of coffee makers or other counter utensils to make them slide across the counter top.

Some criticize Martha for her perceived elitism, but she also celebrates the ordinary. For example, the book explains how to root the very commonplace coleus and  how to smooth caulk with a plastic spoon. Even if you don’t act on any of the tips, it’s a soothing world to visit.

Subtitled the “Art and Science of Keeping House,” Home Comforts is an 800+ page book , with an incredible index.  Cheryl Mendelson has written a work of reference, but it’s very readable. It’s a combination of the ultimate in practicality and an appreciation of the home as a place of refuge and the comfort that can be derived from home keeping.

The author grew up on a farm where she learned the domestic arts.  She is a spiritual Martha Stewart concerned about how daily life affects the soul. Mendelson has an soothing tone; the tasks addressed in the huge tome seem entirely doable, not overwhelming.

The book is divided into sections such as Food, Cloth, Cleanliness, Daily Life (which includes caring for books,  and “some quiet occupations”), Sleep and Safe Shelter. Like How to Get Things Really Flat, there are sections on clothing care labels and how you should sometimes disregard them. This book not only tells you how to do things, but why.

It’s Clean and Tidy Week at the Davenport Library Info Cafe blog! Over the next five days Lynn will tell us about some great books that will inspire you to organize, straighten and scrub and otherwise make you into a finer human being. She starts us off with a bang with a book that not only is useful, it’s funny!

How to Get Things Really Flat

Andrew Martin’s eccentricity, English wit and  male point-of- view and his eye for the odd historical detail make laundry, ironing and “washing up” funny and (somewhat) inspiring in How to Get Things Really Flat. Martin casts himself as the bumbling amateur when he interviews experts on topics such as vacuuming and dishwashers.

The targeted audience are English “blokes” who should be doing housework, but women will find it informative and funny. His footnotes are tongue-in-cheek factoids that are  useful for American readers. For example, he lets us know that a pram is “short for peramulator, bigger and generally more heavy-duty than a stroller, since the baby lies flat. Any man pushing one is halfway to wearing a dress, or so he thinks.”

He is interested in the sociological aspect of housekeeping , with sections on “How Much Do Women Know About Housework?” (the primary subject being his long-suffering wife).

If you’ve overdosed on straight-forward, “how-to” books, try this unique addition to the  homemaking ouevre. In this work, previously unanalysed tasks are viewed through a slightly sqewed anthropolical lens combined with a Bill Bryson sensibility.

Need something to hold you over until Season 7 of Project Runway starts on Jan. 14, 2010? Check out Valentino: The Last Emperor, a documentary following around the iconic designer and his team as Valentino gives his final show and the label succumbs to takeover. At the heart of the story is the relationship between Valentino and his long-time business partner and companion, Giancarlo Giammetti. However, it is the fluttery Valentino seamstresses that really captivated me–how does one even learn to sew like that?! I wonder if they get a discount on the couture? The parade of glamorous gowns throughout the film kept me in constant awe (Oh! to wear a Valentino!) and seeing Valentino’s complete creative process was so inspiring, that by the end of the film I felt completely heartbroken about the separation of Valentino Garavani and Valentino, the artist and his creation, the emperor and his world.

Just because we’re deep into the dark days of winter, surrounded by cold and snow and ice, that doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy great homemade food. Roast Figs Sugar Snow by Diana Henry is geared to show you just how great cold-weather cooking and eating can be.

Henry has brought together a collection of ideas and winter recipes from the Northern Hemisphere including northern Italy, France, Russia, Vermont and the Scandinavian countries. The emphasis is on food that stores well for the winter – apples, pears, root vegetables, squash, nuts – and hearty meats – pork, beef, smoked fish. Dishes reflect the regions they are adapted from such as Mussel Chowder from Quebec, Swedish Thursday Soup, Danish Christmas Kringle and Russian Cheese Pancakes.

Scattered throughout are essays on the unique pleasures of winter food (including, yes, a discussion of sugar-on-snow parties, familiar to many from reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods and which still take place in Vermont today) The overriding theme of this beautiful book is that winter isn’t necessarily a time to endure, but a season to be enjoyed and savored.

So, you’re in a book club.

Did you know that the Davenport libraries have just what you need?  Not only have we gathered multiple copies of the same title (and same edition) together into one convenient check-out box, but we’ve added lots of extras.  There’s biograhpical information about the author plus thought-provoking discussion questions.  Many of these questions have been pre-tested by various book groups here at the library. Each kit also has useful tips for starting and maintaining a successful book club.  So, you see, we’ve done the hard part for you!  All you have to do is choose from 37 different kits. We have a whole list for your selection, but here’s a few examples:  The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

Proving once again that reading pays off, we are pleased to announce the winner of our Favorite Book contest! Jason’s comment about Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, a “gripping and heartbreaking” novel about a girl struggling with anorexia, is our randomly chosen winner. Thanks to everyone who entered – my reading list just got a lot longer!

Looking for still more choice books, proven winners that will keep you turning the pages? Here are some sites to check for great ideas.

Book Club Girl – Focusing on books that would be great Book Club choices, there is also a lot of author information including live on-air author interviews.

Good Reads – Keep track of the books you’ve read, the books you want to read, find out what others are reading and contribute reviews and ratings.

Overbooked – Lots of annotated lists of new and notable fiction, non-fiction and crime fiction, often highlighting books that might otherwise be overlooked.

And Jason, please send your snail mail address to reference@davenportlibrary.com, attention: Ann, and I’ll get those two tickets to the Figge Art Museum out to you right away! Enjoy!

January 5

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

In a town where food drops from the sky like rain, a young inventor hopes to create something that will change everyone’s life. However, when the weather takes a turn for the worse, the residents of the town of Chewandswallow will find their eating habits have drastically changed.

January 12

Fame – Debbie Allen,  Charles Dutton

The inspiring story of a group of dancers, singers, musicians, and actors at the New York City High School of Performing Arts, and their spirited drive to live out their dreams of stardom. In an incredibly competitive atmosphere, each student must shine amidst the tumult of school work, deep friendships, budding romance, and self-discovery.

Big Fan – Kevin Corrigan,  Michael Rappaport

A diehard New York Giants fan meets his hero, the quarterback of the team, with disastrous results that impact his entire life and those around him.

Moon – Sam Rockwell, Kevin Spacey

Astronaut Sam Bell is completing a three-year contract with Lunar Industries to mine Earth’s primary source of energy, Helium-3. His declining health is causing headaches and hallucinations that lead to a near-fatal accident, rendering him unconscious. After recuperating, an unexpected discovery leads him to doubt his sanity, his identity, and the integrity of the company. Believing he is alone on his mission, his sole purpose is getting back home on his own.

January 19

The Invention of Lying – Jennifer Garner, Ricky Gervais

In a world where people speak the truth and have no concept of deception, a young man about to lose everything invents the ‘lie’ and goes on to not just change the nature of movie-making, but also creates the basis of religion. After much effort, he also gets the girl he loves.

January 26

Michael Jackson’s This is It

Presents a rare, behind-the-scenes look at Jackson as he developed, created, and rehearsed for his sold-out concerts at London’s O2 Arena. Drawn from more than one hundred hours of behind-the-scenes footage, the singer, dancer, filmmaker, architect, creative genius, and great artist at work is captured in raw and candid detail as he created and perfected his planned final London shows.

Surrogates – Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames

People are living their lives remotely from the safety of their own homes via robotic surrogates – sexy, physically perfect mechanical representations of themselves. It’s an ideal world where crime, pain, fear, and consequences don’t exist. When the first murder in years jolts this utopia, FBI agent Greer discovers a vast conspiracy behind the surrogate phenomenon and must abandon his own surrogate, risking his life to unravel the mystery.