Thursday, January 3, 2013


'Pin Picks: Cheaper by the Dozen

It's amazing how if you are just lazy and don't do something for a while, people remember it really fondly, isn't it? Like Hands Across America, or wearing pocket squares.

Happily, of course, no one will profiteth so much today as our own kickupdust, a young woman of obvious thoughtfulness and human warmth. We can tell that much is true from her three favourite books (her use of "u" in "favourite" suggesting that she may be a fellow Canadian, or an Australian – next best thing, really – or just a pleasant garden-variety Brit). She might even be Kate Middleton! Feel better, Kate! Do not let anyone try to tell you that Sea-Bands work, because Sea-Bands are nonsense (maybe if you're on THE SEA, they work, but they do nothing to counteract the tide of parasite progesterone ripping through your body).

Okay, tell us more, kickupdust:

These aren't my favourites, because who can pick favourites, but they're definitely among them. more importantly, I've come to that time in the summer* that I really intensely want to re-read these books or something like them, and I go and stare at my bookshelves and think, what do I read, and oh I should really read that one it is an Important Work and I haven't read it yet so I should now. so then I start it, of course, and get precisely 1.7 pages in and stop and go look at my bookshelves some more and pick these three up and set them down and pick them up and etc. it is very tiring and no reading gets done with all this waffling about so hopefully you can help!

*She obviously meant to say "winter," because otherwise we have to picture this sad woman aging in a chair like Bella Swan in "New Moon" as her window view pages through the seasons while she waits for Nicole to choose her.

Oh, girl, I hear you. I hear you so hard right now. Honestly, I barely had to glance at your books, because yours is an existential dilemma. You are being tossed on the horns of the familiar and the good. You want a particular experience, but you also worry that you are floundering and regressing. Do you know how many times I've said "screw itttttt" and just gotten back into bed with "Portrait of a Lady"? All the times. So, look, let's talk about your books, and then find something that's just a little bit more, okay? We'll ask a little more of you. 

1. East of Eden, John Steinbeck – INTERESTING. Not everyone loves Steinbeck. I kind of love certain Steinbeck, and others I throw across the room vigorously before I get totally bummed out. More importantly, I kind of love that "East of Eden" is comfort-reading for you, and now I know EXACTLY what you should read, because it's kind of this, but better. Because I've decided already, I can now take a minute to say, Jesus, DID you watch Ken Burns' "The Dust Bowl"? Did you? Oh my God, I am the worst person in the world, because I lost my Apple TV remote, because those things are like the size of a toenail clipping, and was all "UGH, now I have to watch something off my DVR, like an animal," and so I clicked on "The Dust Bowl," and basically spent the next several hours being visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, filled with self-loathing, watching living people remember how they had to move into a chicken coop when their dad died and their mom couldn't take in any more washing because of the dust.

2. The Once and Future King, T.H. White SWALLOWS TONGUE IN ORDER TO AVOID SAYING THE MISTS OF AVALON BECAUSE THAT IS NOT WHAT WE ARE DOING TODAY. This book is lovely. You are lovely. These stories are lovely. I am happy for you. Read them as much as you want.

3. The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas Again, charming. Also, again, not what we are doing today, but you really should read Papillon. I think we should start a microcharity where we send political prisoners copies of "Papillon" and "The Count of Monte Cristo." I am sure they would love that, even more than phone cards and better legal representation.

Your book. Your new book.

Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner. Both because it is perfect and because it is like "East of Eden" while being better and MASTERFUL. Stegner is a master. I picture Stegner living his life, absorbing the entirety of human experience with grace, then sitting down, making that gesture where you clasp your fingers and push them away from you, like, "I've got this," and then writing "Angle of Repose." And now we have "Angle of Repose." It is wonderful, but it is also accessible and kind. And it's about the West, which is something. Sometimes you read eleven novels back-to-back about people who are writers in New York City who suck at relationships, and you want a bit of a palate cleanser. Read it, tell me what you think.

Hey, while we're making word-based humour in our titles, I have it on exceptionally good authority from melis that the ACTUAL BOOK "Cheaper by the Dozen" is pretty great, and is unlikely to upset your emotional apple-cart. The dad is a cool dude, too.

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So glad this is back! Also I LOVED Cheaper By The Dozen as a kid; we didn't own it but my grandmother did and I read it every single time I was at her house and I wanted so badly to be a Gilbreth. MEMORIES.


this is perfect!!@m

Anne Helen Petersen


maybe partying will help

I just reread The Once and Future King. I don't need to reread it again yet. Not yet. I can wait. Sure, I can wait. Maybe until next month, right?


@maybe partying will help Can I recommend to you (and to kickupdust) Mistress Masham's Repose? Chances are good that you've already read it but maybe not; I used to avoid all other books by a writer if I had, or thought I had, already read their most perfect book already, so as to preserve the purity of it or whatever. So I read MMR only a few years ago, but it's extremely good. It's got some sadness and wist like The Once and Future King but not so much devastation.

maybe partying will help



I mean, you can recommend that I read it again. :B When I got to college and had a Real Library at my disposal I found everything White ever wrote and devoured it alllll. And I mean MMR has a character literally named Mr. Hater, so.

maybe partying will help


Also I will do what I always do and say that if you like the idea of awesome ladies in Arthurian stories but can't get into Mists, READ YE THE KING'S PEACE and THE KING'S NAME and THE PRIZE IN THE GAME by Jo Walton (with warning for sexual assault in the first book).



ooh, getting out my "to-read" list riiiight now.


@maybe partying will help I love The Once and Future King, but it leaves me so wrung out emotionally that I can't read it often. It's so sad! Gwen! Lance! Arthur!

maybe partying will help


It is a wreckingball. Every year when I reread it I have to warn my man that I'm about to be even sadder and more introspective for a month.


@maybe partying will help: I've got the unabridged audiobook as well, I had to keep turning it off last time I was listening to it in the car because I'd find myself starting to sniffle on the motorway.

maybe partying will help


I'm not sure I could handle an audiobook of that. I'm imagining someone reading the passage about Lancelot before he heals Sir Urre aloud to me and no, I'm not crying, why would I be crying?


I just want to take a second to mention that I tried to read The Mists of Avalon after that Classic Trash post. I mean, I really did. But at some point I realized I had been reading it for a month, was a third of the way through it, and it was steadily draining my will to read anything ever again, so I moved on. And, I mean, I'm a librarian! I love reading! And historical fiction! And women! This should have been a slam dunk. I am still baffled.


@NormaDesmond It is a horrible awful hateful book


@melis Thank you for making me feel less alone! That book, man. It made me question myself.


@NormaDesmond That book is really excellent when you're 13, which I think should be a prerequisite for any Classic Trash selection.


@NormaDesmond It's horrible. Trivia fun, however: Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote lesbian pulp fiction under a few aliases in the 60s.


@sophia_h Yeah, I've never reread it because I know it wouldn't hold up at all, but in eighth grade it was the best.


@sophia_h That was in fact the age at which I read it, and I really should never have gone back.

@PoBoyNation That surprises me literally not at all.


@NormaDesmond I hated that book! It should have been perfect for me, what with the feminism and the paganism and the Arthurian legend and retelling and all, but "steadily draining my will to ever read anything again" describes my feelings about it perfectly, so I never finished it. I even read it at sixteen, when I should have liked it.

Springtime for Voldemort

@NormaDesmond I watched the tv series as a teen and LOVED it, and then started the audiobook about a year ago, got two chapters in, and started fantasizing about driving off the road and crashing. I can't figure out exactly *why* it drove me so insane, but it did. (Ok, at least partly because I found the narrator's voice grating.) So thanks, everyone - I can now just give up on reading it, instead of planning to power through it "someday".




We had stopped in the New London restaurant for lunch, and it had seemed a respectable enough place. It was night time when we returned, however, and the place was garish in colored lights. Dad left us in the car and entered. After the drive in the dark, his eyes were squinted in the bright lights, and he couldn’t see very well.

A pretty young lady, looking for business, was drinking a highball in the second booth. Dad peered in, flustered.

“Hello Pops,” she said, “Don’t be bashful. Are you looking for a naughty little girl?”

Dad was caught off guard. “Goodness no,” he stammered, with all of his ordinary poise shattered, “I’m looking for a naughty little boy.”

“Whoops, dearie,” she said, “Pardon me.”

raised amongst catalogs

@melis That book is The Best. Cootie garages! Tonsillectomies! The Planned Parenthood woman!


@raised amongst catalogs It is the actual best.


Cheaper by the Dozen was FOUNDED ON A LIE. From Wikipedia:

"In real life, the Gilbreths' second eldest child, Mary, died of diphtheria at age five. The book does not explicitly explain the absence of Mary Gilbreth; it was not until the sequel, Belles on Their Toes, was published that her death is mentioned in a footnote."


@anachronistique Tell me that article's more tongue-in-cheek than I'm reading it. Please. Please.


@melis Argh, lost the link in editing. (It's this piece.) Aaand possibly? I just remember it as the place where I originally heard about the twelve kids never actually being around contemporaneously.


@anachronistique No, that's the right link; it's just a mess of an article.


@melis I can't disagree.


@anachronistique In my copy of Cheaper by the Dozen there's a little asterisk/footnote type of thing that explains when Mary passed away. It was an old edition that belonged to my grandmother. I remember always being a little confused by it because sometimes they include her in their stories and sometimes they don't, but I figured it's their family and if they didn't want to go into more detail about her death that was their right.

It's an absolutely delightful book. Everyone read it.


Also, everyone read "Belles on Their Toes" while you're at it.


@anachronistique I was OBSESSED with Lillian Moller Gilbreth as a kid. I have two biographies of her, several hard-to-find sequels to the Cheaper/Belles books (Time Out for Happiness, signed by Anne Gilbreth, the oldest daughter!) and the poster of her put out by the American Engineering Society still hangs in my room.
(I'm sorry but this comment thread was made for me.)
The Mary thing was a little weird, yes, and what I gathered from reading those biographies was that she wasn't omitted so much from a sense of discretion (doesn't fit in with the hijinks and merriment, I guess) as that the family didn't really talk about it after it happened, and the kids, later the authors, just blocked it out. When (SPOILER!) the dad died, Anne realized that not keeping Mary's memory alive had been a mistake, and she took aside LMG to say that they needed to talk about Frank, especially for the younger children.
Ernestine wrote an odd poem about Mary's death later, maybe when she was in high school? And I do remember that in the 1950s movie (not the Steve Martin atrocity) there are 12 children, and the family commented that they appreciated that decision.


@anachronistique Also, Laura Ingalls had a brother who died. And the timeline of the books is totally rearranged. Fiction books for kids (even based on real life) are still fiction.


Angle of Repose!! My boyfriend gave it to me for my birthday last year and while at first I thought, laaame, and expected it to be boring, it was not! It was truly beautiful and melancholy and thickly satisfying and made me wish I spent more time in valleys. I second and third that pick.


"Sometimes you read eleven novels back-to-back about people who are writers in New York City who suck at relationships, and you want a bit of a palate cleanser." THIS Jesus fuck. The NYC-writer navel gazing is so obnoxious after awhile. When this happens to me I usually re-read Mainstreet or Gone With the Wind.

Springtime for Voldemort

@highjump Yeah, I feel like I've reached my official lifetime limit for reading about NYC writers and their dysfunctional relationships. I'm maxed out. It's like radiation - even just one more novel, and I get skin cancer. Sadly, I get the feeling not all my professors agree with me.


This was great. I will now read Angle of Repose, because of this, and because I really liked Crossing to Safety except the weird anti-Semitism.

I think "favourite" + "summer" = Australia, no?

Nicole Cliffe

This email is from the long-long-ago. APPEAR, KICKUPDUST, AND TELL US YOUR PROVENANCE.


ye ol' wilds of Manitoba, which may explain the fondness for the dusty sunny wildness of Steinbeck.

more importantly: thank you so much, I was blushing the entire time I read this! I am so excited to pick up Angle of Repose (definitely thought it was "Angel" the first five times I read it). And I thought I had Papillon written/saved somewhere but I am going write it down again. thank you! you have saved me from myself!

Nicole Cliffe


Flora Poste

YES Cheaper by the Dozen is a great book! The film adaptation perfectly sums Hollywood up- find great source material, add a gallon of saccharine and 3 or 4 minor celebrities and watch the takings roll in.


So glad this feature is back! The East of Eden to Angle of Repose connection is a good one - so California. I really like those two. East of Eden is a long time favorite.


@vunder Ah, your icon just reminded me that my new crush for 2013 is Charley Harper. I got his Words & Birds book for Christmas* and it just charmed my socks right off. I tried to make myself read it really slowly and enjoy each page, but I was already sad on the first readthrough knowing that I'd never be able to see each page for the first time again.

*Because I put in on my own Amazon wishlist and my father dutifully obeyed.


@SuperGogo yeah! It's really interesting how much his work has grown in stature lately. My husband lived in Cincinnati as a child and his family was very involved with the zoo, so they have some Charley Harper zoo posters from the 80s or so. We have one of them that is to-be-framed...



I mean, yes, Angle of a Repose is a great read, which I thoroughly enjoyed last January, but then I looked up the history and it made me go blind with rage. Basically, Professor Stegner had a student who was doing a project on Mary Hallock Foote, and Stegner got so interested in the subject that he decided to write his own book when the student dropped the project and handed it over. He contacted the family and got access to her papers, letters, and journals, saying he wouldn't be quoting directly but just wanted inspiration.

HAH. He proceeded to quote her letters wholesale, use most of her actual life story for his plot, and put a weird disclaimer at the beginning. Furthermore, he made up all the adultery drama from the whole cloth (though not the child's death), and did it in such a way as to make it not entirely clear where the real historical research left off and fiction began, to the great annoyance of the family.

Eventually, the family did publish the letters themselves as A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West, which I have been meaning to track down for some time. And I did enjoy the book! I was just mad that all the good bits were off someone's real life, the letters were copied, and he threw in that over the top adultery stuff just to make a spicier story. Also, read up on MHF, she was legit awesome.


@sophia_h Too late to edit, but here is a really good article on the subject.


@sophia_h Hm. But the result is a quite lovely exploration of getting older, California history, looking backwards, etc. I think the result is a win. It's the fiction writer's job to steal and embellish, I suspect.


Another vote for the wonderfulness of Cheaper by the Dozen and the sequel, Belles on Their Toes. Few people realize that the mom, Lillian Moller Gilbreth, was an amazing trailblazer in her own right. I took a class in college (maaaaany years ago) on writing biography and I picked her as my subject, then when it was time for oral presentations I hijacked the class, used up my time and everyone else's and made them listen to how cool she was until the professor threw me out. (She must have been a very patient woman; I think she let me go for a class and a half.) All my notes are still in a filing cabinet somewhere -- but Amazon tells me that someone finally wrote a real bio back in 2006, so that's going on the to-read list!

de Pizan

@smr Yes! One of the first women to get a PhD in engineering, was on numerous government boards, she and husband were forerunners what essentially was study of ergonomics, the layout of the modern kitchen is her doing, first woman to be elected to the National Academy of Engineering, 23 honorary degrees, still had 6 kids under the age of 10 when her husband died...Awesome lady.


@smr yes! It's a great bio.


Loved Angle of Repose! Beautiful writing and it was made all the more special as I was doing survey work in New Almaden at the time. I've never read East of Eden, but this inspires me.


Oh I have another thing - it's somewhat interesting to read French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles as a companion to Angle of Repose. They were written right around the same time (70/71ish), deal with a quite similar time with very different cultural realities (the American West vs Victorian England) with very different perspectives. Fowles is pulpier, though.

Oliver St. John Mollusc

Yaaaaay Pin Picks is back yaaaaaay! Is this an OK place to post that I bought a book called Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk at Laguardia on my way home for Christmas because it was literally the only thing in the whole Hudson News I could imagine reading, and how freaking AMAZING it is? Everyone read it, but especially you girls who like war books (I can't be the only one).


But I simply don't have time for new books since I spent much of the workday yesterday covertly re-reading all the good parts of Jane Eyre and watching clips from North & South (sploosh) and P&P on YouTube and then went home and watched all of Wives and Daughters in one glorious sitting.

Angle of Repose has been on my shelf for years, mostly unread, due to a lack of adequate pathos in the first 30 pages. I will try again for you guys.


Ooh! I would also suggest Lonesome Dove! One of the Goodreads reviews basically says "give it 100 pages and by 60 I was hooked" which is exactly what happened. I never thought I liked Westerns until I read it. I picked up Angel of Repose on my professor's suggestion after raving about Lonesome Dove, but I have yet to read it.

Nicole Cliffe



@Nicole Cliffe Is Angle of Repose like Lonesome Dove? Because it will jump up many many places on reading list if it is.

Nicole Cliffe

@pterodactgirl It is a little bit like Lonesome Dove.


@Nicole Cliffe Hmm. Then it shall jump a little bit up the reading list. Although considering that I just watched the Lonesome Dove miniseries and then cried for a day and a night, maybe less like Lonesome Dove would be a good thing? Something to ponder. Thanks for the reply!


1) For people who love Cheaper By the Dozen, please let's talk about the Betsy Tacy books, because the high school and up versions of those books are totally for the same audience and also awesome.

2) Has anyone else read LISTENING FOR MADELEINE, the book with interviews from people talking about Madeleine L'Engle that we talked about here a few weeks ago? I got it for Christmas and just tore through it and I want to discuss with other people who've read the L'Engle canon!


Yes please, I can never talk too much about the Betsy Tacy books. I've loved them my whole life and I'm 25 now and still want to be Betsy when I grow up.

Porn Peddler

....I can't tell if you love or hate The Once and Future King.

Nicole Cliffe

@Porn Peddler Oh, I love it.


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