Yes – No – Yes – No – Yes

Yes, no, yes, no, yes?  This is not about being indecisive, this is about books we have lately been loving – barely tolerating – loving – barely tolerating – loving: 

YES! Orchestra” – by Avalon Nuovo and David Doran.  “Orchestra”, with its first rate graphics, is surprisingly comprehensive – we’ve been studying classical music for about 10 years, and we still had things to learn from this book –  

  • softwoods vs hardwoods – their best uses in stringed instruments (hardwoods for the back of the violin, softwoods for the front).
  • Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) – we listened to a few of her compositions (making us think of of Gregorian chants – of which Hildegard was familiar – interpreted “soaring soprano style”) and worked our way through a book on Ms. Hildegard (see “Books that disappointed”)(drat).
  • the concert hall with the best acoustics   according to sound experts, the prize goes to the Wiener Musikverein, home of the Vienna Philharmonic.  THIS IS EXACTLY THE TYPE OF INFO THAT FASCINATES US.

Sorry, a NO from me, but a YES from my son: “The Hobbit”   I wanted to like this book, I really did.  But J. R. R. Tolkien’s wordy, slow-moving masterpiece shoves me into stupor mode nightly.  I soldier on because my son is enjoying the cast of fantasy characters.  We’ve dealt with goblins, wolves, eagles, but alas, we are only one third through.

YES!  Charles and Mary Lamb’s “Tales from Shakespeare”   Oh YES, a thousand times YES.  Written in 1807 for “young readers”, this is still the gold standard for Shakespeare summaries.  (I have known we should read this for quite some time, and was prompted into action because of its key role in “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”.)  So far, we have read through the Lamb’s sketches of The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Winter’s Tale, and The Merchant of Venice.  We have discussed the difference between a story and a play.  

– Whoo Hoo!  Inside scoop on Lamb book! Here is something that I didn’t share with my son: How is it that that this book is a “children’s classic”, written for the “young reader”?  This is not easy reading and was clearly written for all readers who want to get a grip on the plot lines before tackling Shakespeare’s delicious wordery.  The answer:  The Lambs excluded Shakespeare’s sexual references in these summaries.  Ha!  But really, thank you Charles and Mary! 

NO!  Books that disappointed – we are continually slogging through books that give us a bit of new information, but do not hold our attention.  Not mentioning book titles,  here are recent topics we really wanted to know about, but the books we found were boringly technical or insultingly simplistic or rife with misspelled words.  How did these books even get published? 

  • the sugar cane industry
  • the James Webb Space telescope
  • European geography
  • Saint Hildegard of Bingen
  • the history of tap dancing

YES! “Hatchet”, by Gary Paulsen (our current re-read) – possibly the best book ever written on the theme of self reliance.  This is our third time through.  It keeps getting better with each reading.

YES!  “Mosque”, by David Macaulay – brilliant illustrations, clear explanations.  We were learning things from page one.  This may be the finest of Macaulay’s books that we have read and we are excited to open this book every single night.

YES and YAY!  We do have a life outside the “Stories and Studies Center”.  My son recently celebrated his 50th day at his minuscule volunteer job at a local garden center!

YES, always YES to story problems  Farmer Brown’s roadside stand and the local diner have a friendly wager going:  which venue will sell the most pecan pies in December?  The diner sells their “take-away” pecan pies for $25, the roadside stand sells pecan pies for $20.  If, at the end of the month, in pecan pie sales alone, the diner takes in $2,000 and the roadside stand takes in $1,800, who will have sold the most pies? (answer at bottom of post)

YES to classical music that enhances our studies –

We wanted to hear a few performances filmed at the Weiner Musikverein. Could we appreciate the “best-in-the-world acoustics” via youtube video? (sorry, no) (but would we like to be seated in this concert hall and hear “in person”? YES!)

  • First, some excellent views of the concert hall, with Franz Welser-Most conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in the “Radetzky March”.  The Radetzky March is only one of the best marches ever, composed by scoundrel Johann Strauss Sr (father of much better person, Johann Strauss Jr), and premiered in 1848 –

  • How about one of our favorite conductors, Mariss Jansons, conducting the Vienna Philharmonic & the Vienna Boys’ Choir & manning the hammer and anvil, in the Weiner Musikverein, in the “Feuerfest Polka”?  The Feuerfest Polka (my son and I refer to this as the Blacksmith Polka)  is only one of the best polkas ever.  It was composed by Josef Strauss (brother of Johann Strauss Jr) in 1869.  Performance starts about 20 seconds into the footage –

  • And finally, we time-traveled back 1,000 years and sampled the music of Hildegard of Bingen (AKA Hildegard von Bingen).  One of the pieces we listened to was “The Chalice”.  Soaring tones, ethereal, contemplative.  Wow.  From 1,000 years ago – 

Welcome to the best part of my day,
– Jane BH
(story problem answer:  The roadside stand sold more pecan pies (90!).  The diner sold only 80 pies.)


  1. So exciting that in midst of disappoiting books that Ben received his 50 day volunteer certificate! He can be very proud of himself for the new experiences he’s taken on.


  2. Great summary of interesting books to read (or not)! Giving me some inspiration. Love seeing the picture of you and Ben celebrating the 50th day at his job. I remember us discussing the idea of a volunteer job for him, so glad to see it came to fruition.


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