Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Only With Books (and No Pinning)

September 11, 2014 @ 8:26 pm | Filed under:

Here’s a new game I’ve just thought of: close your eyes and grab a book from your shelves, any book, and then write a brief commentary about it. Or a long one, if you like. I’ve got so many books in my review stack, and so many others (the backlist and midlist titles I love to champion) waiting in my mental queue for some loving attention from me—books I mean to discuss or celebrate or simply wax nostalgic over. (Sarah and Katie, you guys. FOR FOUR YEARS I’ve been planning a Sarah and Katie post. The cover’s been sitting there in drafts staring mournfully at me all this time.)

All those plans create pressure, and pressure, I have found, is the enemy of blogging. So I’m thinking about making a game of it, a game with a challenge built in. I do like a dare. 🙂 Will I find a few words to say about any book I pluck off the shelf? I suppose I’ll have to allow the caveat that if it’s one of Scott’s books and I know nothing at all about it, I can choose another. And I might need to impose some mild rules upon myself about mixing up the shelves, since our books are sorted into a rough order and I could easily stack the deck by reaching for the favorites on the bookcase next to my desk.

Want to play along? Feel free to chime in below, or on your own blog (and share the link, if the latter). If there’s enough interest I could make a Mr. Linky for it, but I wouldn’t promise to host a linkup on any kind of regular schedule, because promises are pressure and see above. Unless maybe a Mary Poppins kind of promise…when the wind changes

All right, here I go, getting up and squeezing shut my eyes. A bedroom bookcase, since that’s where I am now, but not the one by my desk.


Okay, that was harder than I expected. It’s tricky to get close enough to make a grab without either walking into the bookcase or peeking at the lineup on the shelf you’re reaching for. I might have to enlist a child to help with future random selections. But I did nab a title, and here it is:


The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Marie Child. Now, this little book may have had an unfair advantage over all the others because I happen to own two copies of it. They live side by side on a shelf, alongside my Blue-Back Speller. Both books were indispensable to me during the writing of the Charlotte books. A lot of the meals Martha cooks come right out of Frugal Housewife (“Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy”). Originally published in 1833, this was THE go-to book for housewives, covering everything from recipes to housecleaning to general life advice such as the essay on “How to Endure Poverty.” Mrs. Child was the home management guru of her day, sort of a Tightwad Gazette meets Flylady meets Ina Garten. She’s perhaps best-remembered today for her poem, “Over the River and Through the Woods.” But I think her real genius shines in her foodie writing. For example:


If your husband brings home company when you are unprepared, rennet pudding may be made at five minutes’ notice; provided you keep a piece of calf’s rennet ready prepared soaking in a bottle of wine. [Blogger’s interjection: I MEAN, OBVIOUSLY.] One glass of this wine to a quart of milk will make a sort of cold custard. Sweetened with white sugar, and spiced with nutmeg, it is very good. It should be eaten immediately; in a few hours, it begins to curdle.

That is but THE TINIEST SAMPLE of Mrs. Child’s wisdom, and I could write for hours about this book and its sweeping influence—oh what a doozy of a selection I wound up with for this first go! Actually, I have written a lot about it already, ages ago, when for a time I was doing a recurring “Mrs. Child’s Wise Advice” series here, entirely for my own amusement. Those quotes are a hoot. (“EGGS.—To prove whether they are good or bad, hold the large end of the egg to your tongue; if it feels warm, it is new; but if cold, it is bad.”)

Scott’s waiting for me to finish, so I’ll leave it at that!

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18 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. sarah says:

    I love this game! My finger landed on Euripides, Four Tragedies. I wisj I had picked something easier as I have to get up in the next minute or so and go make dinner! The plays are brilliantly written with wonderful psychological insights (although I’ve always felt Meda was probably an innocet woman whose name was cruelly blackened by one of the vile men in her life.) I do believe this book should be on any liberal educator’s list. I just wish my finger had pointed to Anne of Green Gables, which is sitting right next to the Euripides and would have been easier to write about!

  2. sarah says:

    Oh lordy, such terrible typing! I’m sorry, of course I meant “wish” and “Medea.” And “innocent”! Sheesh. In my defence … er, there is no defence, is there?

    • Lindsay says:

      Defense? Absolutely! Typing in the evening on the horrible black keyboards that seem to be all that is available these days, it’s a wonder anyone can type anything that makes sense! Ejy ph eju … oops! Why oh why can’t we have visible buttons on our electronics?

      As for book reviews, I was away all summer having a grand time reading Agatha Christie (got the idea from Melissa’s blog.) We took 2 “omnibus” volumes, so got 10 books to read, without using too much packing space.

      At the moment, watching 2 fledgling Goldfinches harrassing Papa at the feeder — “Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!” Probably better than any book!

  3. Ellie says:

    Funny to think how much subconscious pressure we put on ourselves to Produce For The Blog ….

    Love random or pointed or any sort of book chatter, always 🙂

    Last night I posted a bit about a few of the books I’m in the middle of …. I have been writting a definitive BookLog post monthly for some while, tidy lists and reflections on all the books I’ve read, but these past couple of months I’ve had such a hard time finishing books and it occurred to me yesterday, sheesh, relax, just note the ones you’re reading right now, never mind if or when you finish. And I thought oh, how clever and easy.

    • Melanie Bettinelli says:

      I’ve been struggling with that too. Feeling I haven’t read enough nor have enough to say about the books I am reading to justify a full blog post. I started one the other day and realized I was too tired to say more than that I’d enjoyed the book. So why did I feel that was not enough to post?

  4. Ellie says:

    PS Sarah: I read “Meda” as “Medea” 🙂 so often the eye sees what it expects to …

  5. Melissa Wiley says:

    I realized a while back that I feel more compelled to blog about books *while* I’m reading them than after I’ve finished. I’m something of a social reader; I crave dialogue about the book I’m immersed in (which means I’m constantly thrusting things at Scott and I’m seriously lucky that he so often obliges with an immediate read). That’s why my daily reading notes work well for me, when I’m in the habit of doing them. But I’ve been in a bit of a reading lull since my Forster binge early in the summer. I expect the booknotes will pick back up now that we’re heading into fall, which is such a reading season for me. I always *think* summer is going to be, but I think it seldom is.

    • Melanie Bettinelli says:

      I agree. I have these two warring tendencies: the perfectionist urge not to write about it until i’m done and the desire to chat about what I’m immersed in. I think I need to fight back against the former and give in to the latter. It’s much more fun to write about the middle muddle.

  6. Melissa Wiley says:

    Sarah, I’ve got Medea on the list to read with Rose this year! And maybe Antigone. It’s a long time since I’ve read either Euripides or Sophocles (college) so I’m looking forward to it. Right now she’s reading Henry IV Part 1, and I need to catch up! Haven’t read that play since college either. We had planned to spend September on Paradise Lost, but a sudden need for the Henrys arose. 🙂

  7. monica says:

    ok, i played too. 🙂 Here is my post

  8. Melanie Bettinelli says:

    I had so much fun doing this. Now I’m totally immersed in reading a book that I’ve owned for almost a decade and never opened. This needs to be a regular feature for sure.

  9. Louise says:

    I had to have my younger girl pick out one for me – I know my bookshelves too well to be able to pick something randomly, even with my eyes shut.

    She set her finger on Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell. *happy sigh.* Dare I confess I love Gaskell even a little bit better than Austen? Carl appreciates her, too; I even custom ordered him a mug for Christmas one year with the quote “I won’t say she was silly, but one of us was silly and it wasn’t me” on it. I love how real all the characters are, how none of them slip into stereotypes or caricatures, and I most especially love Molly.

    Good choice, Gracie! (We’ll see what big sister Joy chooses next time.)

  10. Melissa Wiley says:

    I’m loving this game. I need to read more Gaskell! I’ve only read bits of Cranford–I think when I was watching the tv series, I was looking up storylines to see how they compared? Though if I recall correctly the Cranford show pulled a lot from Wives & Daughters as well. I should read it!

    Melanie, I loved your entry too! I think I *will* add a Mr. Linky thing next time; it makes it so easy to see if other bloggers have chimed in. Your Learning Notes one is delightful.

  11. Clarissa says:

    I’m a lurker, but I had to play!

    I got The Young Visitors or Mr. Salteena’s Plan by Daisy Ashford, illustrated by William Pene du Bois. This is a charming and hilarious book written when the author was nine years old, in 1919. How can you resist sentences like: “I shall put some red ruge on my face said Ethel because I am very pale owing to the drains in this house.”

    I did feel that depending on which bookcase I aimed for I could target a type of book, so I aimed for the shelf with miscellaneous mostly British goofy titles.