Advert for Peachy Books website and book review with a picture of a glass of whiskey on the rocks beside the front cover of Charles Bukowski's Ham on Rye that says: Happy Father's Day... Sort Of. If you can handle the dark, don't miss this book review and biting 'ode' to (some) Fathers.
Blog Roll, book reviews

Father’s Day Book Review – Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski

“Fiction is an improvement on life.”

Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye

Dedication in Ham On Rye: ‘For all the Fathers’

*This review has some spoilers*

There was a time in my life when thinking of Father’s Day would conjure up the prose of Charles Bukowski, as opposed to the angelic verse you find in the greeting card section of your local shop. It’s been a passing thought, more than once, that I would prefer a brand of greeting that was honest about the failings of the recipient, not some gilded version of what they could have been, had they been someone completely different. Why must those of us with the misfortune of having bad parents be tortured twice a year into pretending that our dear old dads taught us everything we know, or how our magnificent moms used to cut the crusts off our nut butter and organic preserve sandwiches, just right?

When I used to think of fathers – the ones that most of my classmates seemed to have, those on sitcoms, or even the one my mother had – I would get a little Bukowski-esk; bitter, resentful, and then after enough alcohol, apathetic. Father’s day was nothing but a week-long leadup to a depressing day with torturous reminders that everyone else seemed to get handed a protective and nurturing knight for their Dad, and instead, I would spend the rest of my life trying to heal from the gaping wounds left by mine. My father was a toxic mixture of Bukowski the drunk, and his strop-wielding maker, with some extra poison for good measure. This review, were he alive today, would be the closest thing to a tribute that he would ever receive.

I want to be clear, I hold nothing against those good people out there that were fortuitous enough to have such shining examples of greatness at the helm of their beginnings, at least in this stage of my journey. My bitterness surrounding the issue of these commemorative days has more to do with a system that inflates them into commercial spending sprees and does so by media manipulation and over-saturation throughout society. (Please note, I am now a cog in this machine, as of late, with my post about the Top 5 Books For Dad, so welcome to the height of hypocrisy). 

Of course, in the last decade this type of toxic marketing, amongst others, has become amplified via the monster that is social media, properly slaying nations and their children. This beast is a malevolent force that reminds a person what they are lacking, in glaring and constant ways, thus pushing insecurities deeper, whilst eroding confidence and drive. Sounds almost like what happened to Bukowski, except for him it was due to a different ogre: his father.

Life wasn’t easy for Henry, the literary stand-in of Bukowski’s creation, and agonist of this semi-autobiography, Ham on Rye. One doesn’t know exactly what parts of the book weren’t truly Bukowski’s story, but you don’t have to look too far into his other work to see the pain and trauma that he asserts came at the hands of his detestable, racist, and raunchy father. 

Henry was a young boy growing up in the depression era, a time which saw many families with fathers out of work, his being no exception. Poverty and malnutrition were commonplace in his neighbourhood, but his was the only father that simultaneously pretended they were rich.

We all came from depression families and most of us were ill-fed, yet we had grown up to be huge and strong. Most of us, I think, got little love from our families, and we didn’t ask for love and kindness from anybody.’

Henry’s father would see beans and weenies on his plate and boast of how they were eating the finest meal. He would rise early each morning and leave the house, only to return after the length of a typical workday, just so the neighbours wouldn’t know that he too was unemployed. He was larger than life.

‘I heard my father come in. He always slammed the door, walked heavily, and talked loudly. He was home. After a few moments the bedroom door opened. He was six feet two, a large man. Everything vanished, the chair I was sitting in, wallpaper, the walls, all of my thoughts. He was the dark covering the sun, the violence of him made everything else utterly disappear. He was all ears, nose, mouth, I couldn’t look at his eyes, there was only his red angry face.’

All of that emasculation, frustration, and delusion resulted in an angry tyrant who felt no weight about taking things out on his son. Playing with local ‘hooligans,’ writing stories, or the old standby: a failed attempt to remove every last blade of rogue grass missed with the mower; anything could result in Henry incurring his father’s strop, often 2-3 times a week.

Charles Bukowski Quote from Ham on Rye, with a backdrop of bottles on display at a bar: 'I felt even the sun belonged to my father, that I had no right to it because it was shining upon my father's house. I was like his roses, something that belonged to him and not to me...'

As this terrible man continued to treat Henry in these vile ways, while his mother just sat there agreeing with everything he said and calling him ‘Daddy,’ *cringe* I could feel my jaw clenching. I was reminded of the man we meet in the first chapter of the book, Henry’s alcoholic grandfather, and questioned what role he had to play in who his father had become. It is likely to have been considerable, as both his uncles were also alcoholics, and his aunt was estranged from the family. Shit rolls downhill, as they say.

“My father didn’t like people. He didn’t like me. “Children should be seen and not heard,” he told me.”

I became hopeful for a moment, with the appreciation his writing received from his fifth-grade teacher for an embellished paper that he had submitted about having attended a local visit from President Hoover. This gave Henry a sense of pride and satisfaction for the first time. He had a skill, with value. He had found currency, not only with his teacher but with the other students, even the bullies. But it wasn’t enough to last, and he was soon destitute once again.

Given Henry’s isolation from other children whilst growing up, and his needing to withstand his childhood within the confines of his mind, he acquired a propensity to daydream, and a survivour’s need of dissociation. Under these circumstances, it is understandable that he became the writer he did, and explains both his imagination and his inability to form real connections with others throughout his journey.

‘… since some people had told me that I was ugly, I always preferred shade to the sun, darkness to the light.’

Henry had a protective nature towards animals and other vulnerable beings in general, a quality that I’ve noticed in many others who have lived a life mired in trauma. He had an affinity for collecting strays and misfits. At school, the outcasts were drawn to him, and whether he liked it or not, he couldn’t shake them because he knew what it felt like to be cast aside. When he wasn’t able to sufficiently protect whatever sorry soul he was in defence of, he castigated himself for being a weakling.

‘He was so pitiful that I couldn’t tell him to get lost. He was like a mongrel dog, starved and kicked. Yet it didn’t make me feel good going around with him. But since I knew that mongrel dog feeling, I let him hang around.’

In 7th grade, he tried alcohol for the first time at a friend’s house. Life began for Henry that fateful day, as the clouds parted and the sun shone on his face from the heavens above; after 13 years he had finally found a way to feel good.

‘Never had I felt so good. It was better than masturbating. I went from barrel to barrel. It was magic. Why hadn’t someone told me? With this, life was great, a man was perfect, nothing could touch him.’

Except for his father and the strop, especially when he found out his son was partaking in an activity that he despised. After seeing the effects of alcohol on his father and brothers, Henry’s father wanted nothing to do with drunks, which no doubt made the drug all the more enticing to our rebellious antihero.

A violent and soul-crushing family life wasn’t all that Henry had to contend with, as he had hormonal issues that resulted in debilitating acne. The vivid descriptions of the medical procedures that he had to withstand, and the pain that he had to endure multiple times, for months, were hard to read. Other than the friend he eventually found in alcohol, there was no form of solace or saving grace for Henry throughout this story, save for a kind nurse that he never saw again once his invasive acne treatments were complete. I felt perpetually sad for him, increasingly so.

The beauty of healing through art was one of few tools that Henry availed himself of, as he spent his spare time recovering from his devastating acne by filling a notebook with the escapades of his hero and creation, Baron Von Himmlen.

‘The Baron went on doing magic things. Half the notebook was filled with Baron Von Himmlen. It made me feel good to write about the Baron. A man needed somebody. There wasn’t anybody around, so you had to makeup somebody, make him up to be like a man should be. It wasn’t make-believe or cheating. The other way was make-believe and cheating: living your life without a man like him around.’

I also empathised with his existential confrontation with God during those lonely days of healing. I’m sure religion and faith are laughable things when you are a young man suffering through the hardships of the depression-era, unloving and abusive parents, and trapped in absolute isolation. It is almost certain that one would feel forsaken.

‘All right, God, say that you are really there. You have put me in this fix. You want to test me. Suppose I test you? Suppose I say that You are not there. You’ve given me a supreme test with my parents and with these boils. I think that I have passed your test. I am tougher than You. If You will come down here right now, I will spit into Your face, if You have a face… I think you have been picking on me too much so I am asking You to come down here so I can put You to the test.’

The library was a saviour for Henry, as it has been for much struggling youth, myself included. He was thrilled by the possibility found in the words of others, and the healing that reading books can offer.

Charles Bukowski Quote from Ham on Rye: It all came rushing at me. One book led to the next...It was a joy. Words weren't dull, words were things that could make your mind hum. If you read them and let yourself feel the magic, you could love without pain, with hope, no matter what happened to you.'

There came a point when Henry needed to forge his path, and find his own identity; one that wasn’t an extension of his father’s. He found that route through alcohol and a tough-guy persona. He was proud when his coach from middle school referred to him as one of the ‘bad guys,’ or when the girls were shocked by his brutish antics. At least he could be someone of his own making.

At times disgusting, and others hilarious, it was always interesting to read the locker room banter between the young lads, where Henry vacillated between victim and perpetrator, and they all, collectively, struggled to find out who they were, and where their place was in the hierarchy that is high school.

Bukowski pontificated on the insufferableness of the limited choices for a young and poor person making their way through school. How things are tailor-made to break one’s spirit, to better facilitate the transition and assimilation into the adult world, and I found myself in agreement.

‘The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little bit more off you, until there was nothing left. At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole god-damned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves.’

He was bitter and felt it unfair that he would have to work a dead-end job because he didn’t have the means to be properly educated to get a high-paying one. He claimed that his apathy and lack of drive were a direct result of his father’s desire to be rich, which in turn made him want to be a bum. Part of that is likely true, but another aspect could be that he made himself believe he didn’t want anything and became lazy so as not to be exceedingly disappointed by not being able to have these things afforded the lucky ones. A get them before they get me, mentality.

‘Now, I thought, pushing my cart along, I have this job. Is this to be it? No wonder men robbed banks. There were too many demeaning jobs. Why the hell wasn’t I a superior court judge or a concert pianist? Because it took training and training cost money. But I didn’t want to be anything anyhow. And I was certainly succeeding.’

I was pulling for Henry, I wanted him to have a loving and dependable person stand up for him in his early life. I think that would have made all the difference, and that he might not have remained stagnant in his development if there were someone there to show him about love. But alas, there was no guardian angel, and he just continued to exist. Sure, it was on his terms, as he bolted from home early and lived in rooming houses; struggling, boozing, and brawling. It wasn’t what I would call, even mildly, ‘healthy’ living, never mind whether it was truly enjoyable.

Even as he was adamant in the later chapters of the book that his life was how he wanted it – without the anchor of a job, a wife, or kids – he offers glimpses into the loneliness that shrouded him. There were parts of Ham on Rye when Henry would request the company of strangers, almost begging for them to join him in his drinking binges. Those were the times when I felt the saddest for him. His defeat, however, was laced with pride, as he appreciated himself too much to simply just end it. I found this excerpt to be a clear view into his bitterness that was forever gnawing at his soul. 

‘Sitting there drinking, I considered suicide, but I felt a strange fondness for my body, my life. Scarred as they were, they were mine. I would look into the dresser mirror and grin: if you’re going to go, you might as well take eight, or ten or twenty of them with you…’

After I had finished reading this tragedy of a broken life I was left with pity, sadness, and an overwhelming sense of melancholy for a man that was too numb to feel any of these things himself. His prose is sparse but concise and pointed. I agreed with some of his commentary on society and war, but I didn’t find his words to be overly profound, so my rating sits at 4 peaches for Ham On Rye. It should be noted that my original rating was 3.5, but after assessing the book and his words deeper for the writing of this review, I’ve bumped it up. I will read the other Henry Chinaski books, partly because I’m curious about how much of a trainwreck this guy will become, but also for the dark humour bestrewn within the writing.

As for me and my Bukowski-like bitterness, I’ve developed an appreciation of what Mums and Dads should be, which I’ve acquired through life with my chosen clan, post-family-from-hell. I would surely hide in a technology-free zone, on the second Sunday of every May and June for the rest of eternity, drowning myself in spirits and the caustic words of Bukowski had I not my son’s father to love, or my cherished position as Mummy to fill. The reading of this book has reminded me how I’d narrowly averted that boozy bullet. I am forever grateful to my guys for lifting me out of my previous vitriolic existence, and I can’t help but feel sorry for Bukowski for not having had the same chance. Who knows? He clearly and repeatedly stated throughout his works that this sort of saving was something he not only didn’t need but was repelled by. Instead, he seemed to find solace in the bottom of a bottle, and his redemption through words on a page, so maybe in the end that was good enough for him.

Happy Father’s Day to the amazing Daddies out there, like my son’s. The world would be much darker (and “drunker’) without you.

A young Charles Bukowski with his parents and the poem he wrote for his father.

Here is the sudsy beer mug bookmark I made, inspired by Ham on Rye.

Crochet bookmark of a sudsy beer mug with a flaming tassel in yellow, orange and red, with a tree bark background, superimposed on an orange painted background
Image advertising the Where Is The Eiffel Tower Book review by Peachy Books with a crochet bookmark of the Tricolore Flag
book reviews, Middle Grade, non-fiction

Book Review: Where is the Eiffel Tower? by Dina Anastasio

Book Cover for Where Is the Eiffel Tower? by Dina Anastasio, from the Who HQ Series.

Where is the Eiffel Tower? by Dina Anastasio, illustrated by Tim Foley

March 31, 1889, marked a triumphant day for France, as the ‘Tricolore,’ blue, white, and red flag was displayed atop the newly erected, bold, and beautiful Eiffel Tower, an astounding 934 feet in the air. This marvel of artistry and architecture would, at that time, hold the title of the world’s tallest structure. Gustave Eiffel was properly impressed by his tower and its distinct beauty, but its critics, however – and there were many – called it a ‘monstrosity,’ a ‘giant ugly smokestack.’

Gustave wasn’t the only one who appreciated this modern wonder, as others reveled in its great size and uniqueness, but unfortunately, there were also a great many who questioned what the iron thing even was. Some French people were so put off by it that they wrote letters to the editor protesting the tower. France was a country patterned with gorgeous, old stone buildings and historical monuments, and the new tower’s detractors felt it just didn’t fit in. Little did they know that the Eiffel Tower would go on to become one of the most famous landmarks in the world!

Image of the Eiffel Tower with a beautiful blue and cloudy sky as the backdrop
Eiffel Tower

Where Is the Eiffel Tower? is another installment of the lovely Who HQ series of books, that we have grown to love so much in my household. As an avid history buff at the ripe old age of seven, my son really appreciates this wonderful series, as do I. Among many other fascinating details about the Eiffel Tower and the European French Republic, this book shares with us the details of Gustave’s early life and his ascent into an engineer and inventive businessman.

As a clever young boy, he found himself bored by school, and his grades reflected his disinterest. With his parents owning a successful coal transporting company, he would much prefer to watch the ships loading and unloading coal at the canal port in Dijon, France. Eventually, he met the right teachers who helped him foster an appreciation for literature, history, and science, and his grades soared. It was at college that Gustave met his first true love: metal.

Gustave’s fondness for this revolutionary building material came with an abundance of curiosity, as he began to investigate how he could bend, shape, and use the element innovatively. After enrolling in engineering school, and working as an unpaid apprentice at his brother-in-law’s iron foundry to learn all he could, he went on to open his own company, the Société des Établissements Eiffel. His team consisted of engineers, architects, and designers, and from 1879 to 1883 they would work on their most famous project to that date, creating the metal framework inside the USA’s Statue of Liberty.

Photo depicting the Inner framework of the Statue of Liberty as constructed by Gustave Eiffels company
Inner Framework of the Statue of Liberty

After adding such an important element to the fabric of American society, Gustave went on to produce a structure equally as majestic for his homeland. The Eiffel Tower was introduced to the French people and the world, by providing the entry point to the Exposition Universelle, an internationally celebrated fair held in Paris that year, which hosted exhibits from all over the world. Some 61,000 exhibitors displayed products, artwork, and held performances of dance, music, and theatre. A few of the more popular American offerings were Thomas Edison’s electric lights, and tin-foil phonograph, Alexander Graham Bell’s line of telephones, and a Wild West show put on by Buffalo Bill.

The abundantly successful fair went on for three months, and after its completion, Paris officials called to have the Eiffel Tower removed. At once clever and determined, Gustave Eiffel was narrowly able to keep his tower a part of the city’s skyline. Where is the Eiffel Tower? lays out for us how his resourceful mind was able to save one of the world’s most iconic structures for millions of tourists and dilettantes to continue to enjoy more than a century later.

Not unlike other volumes in the Who HQ series, this informative book treats us to detailed sketches that depict the various buildings and sites discussed within, which helped to give this reader a well-rounded and visually enhanced perspective. The lattice ironwork and creative details that are a part of the Eiffel Tower’s construction were stunning.

Enjoy a short video of historical images of the tower:

Eiffel Tower Construction 1887-1889 Paris Photos by mycompasstv on YouTube

Take a look at the ‘Tricolore’ flag bookmark I was inclined to make upon reading Where is the Eiffel Tower? I think it makes an excellent addition to our growing collection!

So if architecture and history are your (peach) jam, and your littles love non-fiction books as much as my lad does, be sure to pick this one up, as you’re all sure to learn something, and have a great time doing so!

Flyer for the Peachy Books review of The Library with accompanying crochet bookmark inspired by the book.
Blog Roll, book reviews, non-fiction

Book Review: The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

My local library was my first true love, and will always remain the top place holder on my literary dance card. Growing up with a portal to unknown and enchanting worlds, only a ten-minute walk from my home was a blessing I took for granted in my early years, but is in no way lost on me now.

The nostalgia that Susan Orlean was able to elicit in The Library Book, transported me back in time to my childhood happy place. I would tear off on my bicycle and spend lazy summer days walking up and down the aisles, my eyes full of wonder at all there was to soak up about the world. It was an escape into better lands, ones filled with promise and hope, others offering solace in their dark authenticity. It was a refuge that I didn’t know I desperately needed at the time, and I’m so grateful for it when I look through the window of hindsight.

Quote From The Library Book by Susan Orlean: "Destroying a culture's books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never lived."

The Library Book’s focal point is the Los Angeles Public Library in downtown LA, as it chronicles the history, architecture, and most profoundly, the devastating fire that left more than 1 million books damaged or destroyed in its wake. April 29th of 2021 marked 35 years since this tragic disaster. The greatest loss to any public library in the United States history, the (first) LAPL fire was both a sad and fascinating story that begged to be told. Orlean offers us a true-crime retelling of the happenings on that fateful day in 1986, as we try to figure out why someone would do such a destructive thing to historical data, art, and literature that was as important to the citizens of LA as it was to humanity as a whole.

I enjoyed reading about the influential role libraries play in society, and how they are a hub for the young, new immigrants, and the homeless; where they can assist in education, and offer coordination for community resources. It was powerful to read about the City Librarian for Los Angeles, John Szabo, and how he had teamed up with local outreach programs, to assist his patrons, and the greater community.

Quote From The Library Book by Susan Orlean: "The Library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever."

Orlean had spent some time shadowing employees at the LAPL and shares with us the day-to-day of the motley cast of characters she encountered there. We get to know the people that served the position of head librarian over the years at the LAPL, learn about patrons, and community volunteers that lent their time and hearts to the teardown and restoration of the fire-damaged library. There was a long list of admirable philanthropists who donated their dollars to the costly and noble cause of its repair, celebrities included. Some participated in the Save The Books Telethon that aired to raise money for the replacement of the books that were lost in the blaze. If you’re interested, take five minutes to watch this spooky advertisement that was aired during the fundraiser.

I appreciated the intimate parallels Orlean shared, of her writing the book whilst her mother, the inspiration for her passion behind books and libraries, was fading away with dementia. I did, however, struggle with some of the excessive detail afforded some of the less interesting, fringe characters peppered throughout, and the more mundane events that were strung together to complete the timeline. At various intervals I had to really push myself to keep going. It could be that a local to LA might find these specifics more entertaining, but for this Canadian girl, it caused the story to drag on.

Overall, this was still worth the slow read for the shared library appreciation, fond memories, and some blogworthy quotes. And it was fun to web search all the LA libraries as they were mentioned along the way, just to add some visuals to the story. I love when a book has a game with it, haha. I’m not the only one that does this sort of thing, am I?

A 6.5 minute video recapping the fire:

Saving Central Library: Remembering the Fire and Recovery – LA Public Library

Here is the bookmark I made in honour of The Library Book:

Crochet bookmark of red books with flames on the front, inspired by the The Library Book by Susan Orlean, and made by Peachy Books.
Peachy Books Storytime Saturday Cover for Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith
Blog Roll, Middle Grade, Storytime Sunday

Peachy Books | Storytime Sunday | Read-a-Loud: Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith

Image of Aliens on Vacation by Clete Barrett Smith with a blue alien crochet bookmark

Welcome to Peachy Books Storytime Sunday!

To hear the reading for Chapter 2 of Aliens on Vacation, by Clete Barrett Smith, please visit the Peachy Books YouTube Channel or click on the video below.

My son and I are really enjoying the wacky adventures that our hero David (aka Scrub), is faced with at The Intergalactic Bed and Breakfast! The aliens within this engaging tale are so inspiring that I decided to make my own little alien, Zarnox, to vacation at our house, whilst we make our way through this hilarious story.

Take a look at these fun action shots of Zarnox having a blast in our backyard. It’s our favourite place to be, and it looks like this little cutie is fitting right in.

Enjoyed by children and parents alike, Clete Barrett Smith is an amazing author that is not to be missed. So don’t hesitate to get Aliens on Vacation, as well as the other books from this fabulous series, to share with your family today!

Friday Favourites Poster - Top 5 Books for Dad - Father's Day 2021 @PeachyBooksCA
Blog Roll, Friday Favourites

Friday Favourites: Top 5 Books for Dad – Father’s Day 2021

Friday Favourites Poster - Top 5 Books for Dad - Father's Day 2021 @PeachyBooksCA

Looking for the perfect gift for Dad this Father’s day? Look no further than the comforting pages of a great book. Check out these 5 recommendations from Peachy Books: from uplifting non-fiction to hilarious satire to dystopian fiction to the thrills of baseball, you are sure to find something to match your Dad’s taste in this succinct yet comprehensive list of great books!

Book Cover for Crossroads: My Story Of Tragedy and Resilience As A Humboldt Bronco

Crossroads: is the true story of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team’s bus crash that rocked the nation with sadness and compassion, as parents across this great land recognised how this story could have been theirs. This beautifully written account by Kaleb Dahlgren, one of the brave survivours of this heartbreaking tragedy, highlights the strength and resilience that the Canadian hockey team now signifies.

The author will donate a portion of his proceeds from this book to STARS (Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service)

“…Dad knew that my hockey dream was likely impossible. With diabetes, a future in the game was probably not in the cards for me. It broke my parents’ hearts to know that their son’s dream could end so young.

But we spent the next decades together – Dad, Mom, and I – proving the impossible wrong.”

Crossroads: My Story Of Tragedy And Resilience As A Humboldt Bronco by Kaleb Dahlgren

Book Cover for Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear

After the pandemic isolation that we have all been met with over the last 16 months, this might be a book that the whole family could benefit from. Atomic Habits is an uplifting, self-help guide to making the changes that are needed to reach personal goals and live the best life possible.

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it—but all that had gone before.”

Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way To Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones by James Clear

Book Cover for Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

A hilarious work of historical satire, that points to the corruption, greed and absurdity to be found within the military complex. Catch-22 is an anti-war story for the ages, that’s sure to have your Dad chuckling from start to finish.

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed.

“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.”

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Book Cover for Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

There is no other piece of fiction that I can think of that better predicted the world that we find ourselves in today, than Brave New World. Touted as one of the best books ever written, be sure to borrow it after he’s done, because this is one book you don’t want to miss.

“Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.”

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Book Cover for The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Sports fans will love this heartwarming story about dedication, and the importance of family and friendship. It’s clear that Chad Harbach knows baseball, as The Art of Fielding is a well-written work of fiction, and whether he is a tepid fan, or an expert coach, your Dad will eagerly fly through these pages to the story’s victorious end.

“You told me once that a soul isn’t something a person is born with but something that must be built, by effort and error, study and love. And you did that with more dedication than most, that work of building a soul-not for your own benefit but for the benefit of those that knew you.”

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Cover for Peachy Books' Cookbook review in The Cookery post showing the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book Cover and a crochet bookmark of a chef's hat with a rolling pin.
Blog Roll, book reviews, The Cookery

The Cookery – Cook Book Review: Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book

Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book – 11th Edition

Nostalgia: n. A bittersweet longing for things, persons, or situations of the past.

I am a sucker for sentimentality. There are times, however, that I’m confused as to how nostalgia can push through the fullness of time with such a golden sheen. Often the things that I can be nostalgic for don’t end up being nearly as enjoyable when I happen upon them at my current perch in life. I end up disappointed, and sometimes sad, for ruining what esteem I held for something that elicited such joy at a lesser privileged time in my history. It might be best to leave some things well enough alone, but I was hopeful that the Better Home and Gardens New Cook Book would not be applied to this category.

If memory serves, this was one of three cook books that we had in my home growing up. The edition that we had was much larger and had a hardcover. This is certainly not that version, as it is significantly smaller both in overall size and text font, some pages have separated from the binding – even with minimal use – and it’s harder to keep open because it is a mass-market paperback, so be forewarned. I decided to only rate it 3.5 peaches because of these flaws, and for the basic recipes within, with a whole peach devoted to its nostalgia and staying power.

I couldn’t tell you what my mother cooked out of her better quality book – if I’m honest, not much, as cooking wasn’t necessarily her forte – but, once or twice, she likely baked some shortbread. For me, it was enough to just have the colourful book to flip through, and dream of the day when I would be able to make anything I wanted. I think I may have even spent some time copying out recipes that I found appealing. The life of a child before the advent of the internet, sigh.

As a gift from my mother, at some point over the last twenty years, I received this smaller paperback version of that red-and-white plaid cook book in my mind’s eye, and I set out to make my childhood dreams come true. But, not unlike that big old book, this one sat idle for many years.

Cooking was a skill that took me decades to acquire, as I had other interests that stole my time – many that shall not be named on this website – but by my 30s I had steered my head away from all of those distractions, and I jumped in with both feet. I fancy myself a bit of a foodie at this point in my early 40s, certainly as compared to my earlier years when I subsisted off of Kraft dinner, wieners, and beans. I truly enjoy fixing up delicious meals for my family, even if they take all day and produce a big, honking sink of dishes. Ok, I hate that part, but it is an unfortunate consequence of the cooking, and I am without a dishwasher, so what can you do?

The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book might make me smile when I pass it on my bookshelves, but I rarely use it unless I’m looking for some kind of bake sale item – the lemon squares are a fabulous option in this case. I just have so many other books that offer more exotic or exciting recipes, so this one often gets skipped and forgotten. I decided to give it a chance as my opening post for The Cookery on Peachy Books, as it deserves some attention after all this time, and if nothing else, there is the nostalgia factor that I appreciate.

I set out to make a meal from this collection for my lads on the weekend. I took a closer look at this classic and read through the first section entitled: ‘Cooking Basics.’ Here you’ll find a breakdown of required ingredients and appliances, some suggestions to maintain kitchen safety, party planning tips, the food guide pyramid, and cooking techniques; all of the things that would help someone completely inexperienced navigate their way through a kitchen.

I had my son take a gander to see if there was anything that he would prefer to have for Sunday dinner. He headed straight to the ‘Appetizers & Snacks’ section and chose potato skins, and on a neighbouring page, a dill dip for veggies and crackers. I can work with that, I thought. So I took out a package of ground beef from the freezer and decided I would make some burgers to go with his finger-food fare.

We prefer our burgers with simply salt, pepper, and ground beef, which doesn’t require a recipe, of course. Since I didn’t have any buns on hand, I sifted through the book until I found the ‘Breads’ section. There was a ‘dinner rolls’ recipe, but after reading through to the end, I found additional instructions detailing how to instead form the dough into burger buns. I was all set to begin making our scrumptious meal!

Now, I had a confounding experience that happens more than I’d like to admit when I’m following new (to me) recipes. I try following the directions, when suddenly they call for something that I know to be a bad choice based on my cooking knowledge. Instead of being confident and going with what I know, I figure I must be misremembering and I just follow the recipe in front of me. It turns out, as it has many times in the past – I guess I’ll just never learn – I should have followed my instincts.

The dough called for heated milk, butter and sugar to be added to the flour and yeast mixture, and it stated that the milk mixture should be warm, between 120 – 130 degrees Fahrenheit. First of all, that doesn’t seem like a warm temperature to me, just speaking logically. Sure, it’s not boiling, but it sure as heck isn’t warm, in my view. And from my bread baking experience, where I’ve tried various recipes over the last ten years, I am sure that on multiple occasions it was pointed out that yeast will burn if your liquid is any more than 110 degrees. I pondered this and decided that maybe the flour would bring down the temperature right away, and therefore the yeast wouldn’t get burnt. I didn’t feel great about it, but I also wanted to follow the recipe to the letter since I was making a review post for the cook book, so I just followed instructions…

Welp, I’m fairly certain that I killed my yeast, because, as you can see, the buns didn’t rise much at all. But they were still tasty and we all enjoyed them, so all is well that ends well.

I don’t know if them not rising is why this is the case, but my son liked that they held the burger and the toppings together better than the store-bought brioche buns we usually get; where the burger slips around and sometimes tears though the bun. My husband agreed, and said he liked how they didn’t get soggy from the wet toppings.

So, I’m going to give the recipe another go, but next time I’ll adjust the milk temperature to around 110 degrees, and we’ll see if they rise more, and if they like them as much. The biggest part of cooking great food is the trial and error, in my opinion. Lots of recipes I use have handwritten notes included, where I have tweaked things to my families preferences and taste buds.

The potato skins were fantastic, and the star of the show, I would say! I’d laid the toppings on pretty thick, so that could have something to do with it, but the chili oil that you spread over the shells adds a nice extra flavour component. You’ll see some plain ones, and those, of course, are for my particular eater.

The dill dip was a great companion to the potatoes, instead of just plain sour cream. As a whole, this was a very decadent and rich starter that you surely shouldn’t eat much of at once. The recipe called for 6 large baking potatoes, so I froze a dozen shells, and next time I’ll just have to add the toppings and we’re good to go.

We love vegetables around here, so it’s no surprise that my son chose a crudité platter with dip. I found crackers, or the skins, to be a better vehicle for the dip personally, as we usually eat our vegetables plain. Next time I’ll look for a similar but healthier version, because I really enjoyed the dill, but with sour cream and cream cheese it was a bit heavy.

The meal was indulgent, but it was thoroughly relished by us all. I might not head to the Better Homes’ New Cook Book on a regular basis, but this exercise has proven that maybe I should a bit more often. Who knows what other timeless gems I can stumble across.

Do you remember this cook book? Is there a recipe you favour, found within its pages? If not, let me know which cook book you remember, or one you love!

Check out my chef’s hat and rolling pin bookmark that this cook book inspired me to make.

Crochet bookmark of a chef's hat with a rolling pin at the end of the string
Cover for the book review for The Code Breaker with crochet bookmark of a spike protein.
book reviews, non-fiction, Sciences

Book Review: The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson

Book Cover for The Code Breaker - Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race by Walter Isaacson

The Code Breaker – Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing and The Future of The Human Race by Walter Isaacson

‘”We decant our babies as socialized human beings, as Alphas or Epsilons, as future sewage workers or future…” He was going to say “future World controllers,” but correcting himself, said “future Directors of Hatcheries.”‘ – Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (as quoted in The Code Breaker)

As of the writing of this review, it has been fifteen long, isolating months since my family and I have been in the perpetual Groundhog Day that is Coronavirus lockdown. We haven’t hugged our families, there have been no birthday parties in the backyard, no friends over to play. But we have kept the roof over our heads, our bellies are full, and we fiercely love each other – possibly more now than ever before – as we continue to forge our path through this crazy labyrinth of plague and despair. It is the journey through said maze that has led me to The Code Breaker, as I try to understand what direction is best chosen for my family.

I have never been against vaccination, and can safely say that everyone in my house is fully immunized for all the standard diseases. That said, after having heard that there was a new type of technology being used for the Corona shots, a type of injection that would change my DNA and insert a microchip in my body (Whoa!), I was quick to put on the brakes. I then pondered that it may be time to delete a few of my YouTube subscriptions.

To be clear, I don’t have a tendency to get my science from conspiracy hypotheses, memes, or my friend Sarah who flunked out of grade eleven biology; I like to make informed decisions. Not to knock Sarah, though, because I have no postsecondary science knowledge to draw on, myself. I do, however, like to read, so I thought the best place to start would be to try and understand what the mRNA vaccines were about. I can somewhat confidently say that after having read about the revolutionary CRISPR technology, and Jennifer Doudna and her colleagues’ discoveries in Walter Isaacson’s extremely thought-provoking and enlightening book, I am not going to win any Nobel prize for scientific comprehension, but I think I have a handle on the basics. I’m essentially saying that I no longer feel like the machines are trying to take over… at least not yet.

This almost 500-page book was not like reading a textbook, where if you aren’t passionate about the subject, it just drones on and you have to pry your eyelids open with your fingers – or maybe that was just me in college, but I digress. Not only a story about the fascinating life of Doudna, and the crazy ride through competition and innovation that she and her collaborators and opponents lived through over the past few decades, we are also invited to question how we feel about these new frontiers that humanity is being dragged into with the advent of somatic and germline gene editing.

From the first chapter, I had an emotional connection to the story, as I felt grateful that Doudna had the internal fortitude not to listen to the many teachers who in various different ways insisted that “Girls don’t do science.” She shares that at the time it was hurtful to her, but it also stiffened her resolve and caused her to focus on her goals. She remembered telling herself “I will show you. If I want to do science, I am going to do it.”

Doudna, under the tutelage of Jack Szostak, was a pioneer in the research of RNA as a major player in the origins of life, monstrously widening the scope from how it had once been considered a dull intermediary to the proteins doing the lion’s share of the work in human cells. Ever the valorous adventurer, she gave into curiosity and took the risk of doing her doctoral research in this ground-breaking area of study, while other biochemists were choosing to focus on the sequencing research for DNA with regard to The Human Genome Project.

She credits Jack for sharing his guiding principle: Never do something that a thousand other people are doing. She said, “I learned from Jack that there was more of a risk but also more of a reward if you ventured into a new arena.”

In 1989 Doudna received her PhD from Harvard. She then went on to do her postdoctoral studies in Colorado, with Tom Chech, a man that she both respected and admired, namely for his discovery of self-splicing introns, and for leading the very best RNA biochemistry lab, at the time.

On the heels of Doudna and her future husband – then workmate in Chech’s lab – Jamie Cate, unveiling their grand discovery of the three-dimensional structure of RNA, she suffered the news that she would lose her father to melanoma. Sadly, the cancer had metastasized to his brain, and he was given only a short time to live. He was her biggest champion, and in the last months of his life she regaled him with the details of their massive breakthrough.

“It was only after he died that I realized how influential he was in my decision to become a scientist.”

As sad as those days were for her, their groundbreaking findings were the catalyst to Doudna and her colleagues putting in place the tools that could edit genes. During a TV interview for a science news show, when explaining what the implications of such technology could be, she said, “One possibility is that we might be able to cure or treat people who have genetic defects.”

As RNA discoveries continued to flourish, so did the significance and necessity such findings would have in the future of vaccines. Spanish Molecular Biologist Francis Mojica discovered palindrome-like, repeating segments of DNA, in the 90s, and ended up creating the defining acronym – CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), which was excepted on November 21, 2001 as the appropriate moniker.

‘Mojica found that bacteria with CRISPR spacer sequences seemed to be immune from infection by a virus that had the same sequence. But bacteria without the spacer did get infected. It was a pretty ingenious defense system, but there was something even cooler: it appeared to adapt to new threats. When new viruses came along, the bacteria that survived were able to incorporate some of that virus’s DNA and thus create, in its progeny, an acquired immunity to that new virus. Mojica recalls being so overcome with emotion at this realization that he got tears in his eyes. The beauty of nature can sometimes do that to you.’

After marriage and the birth of their son, Doudna and Cate were both offered a professorship at UC Berkley. Part of Doudna’s genius was her ability as an effective leader. The emphasis she put on assembling a team in her lab that had chemistry (pardon the pun), so that ideas would collaborate and flow instead of egos or combative competition causing objectives to be stifled, was cherished by her underlings.

‘The camaraderie in the lab was not an accident: in hiring, Doudna placed as much emphasis on making sure someone was a good fit as she did assessing their research accomplishments.’

While she preferred and encouraged her team to be self-sufficient and independently driven, she still offered guidance and had a knack for asking creative questions, that lead to big ideas and new projects. She offered the right amount of challenge to inspire her team to be bold and brave in their endeavours. Her engagement in a project would increase when it came nearer to completion, as her excitement would see her wanting a competitive edge over other labs who may beat hers to a discovery.

The truly revolutionising work came when Jennifer Doudna and Martin Jinek collaborated with Emmanuelle Charpentier and Krzysztof Chylinski, as they attempted to figure out the mechanisms of the CRISPR-Cas9 enzyme. It was determined that – as Jinek informed Doudna – “Without the tracrRNA, the crRNA guide does not bind to the Cas9 enzyme.” Doudna would go on to win the Nobel Prize with Charpentier in 2020, for their pioneering work in CRISPR gene editing.

‘This amazing little system, it quickly became clear, had a truly momentous potential application: the crRNA guide could be modified to target any DNA sequence you might wish to cut. It was programmable. It could become an editing tool.’

How CRISPR Works diagram as published in The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson

The race to prove that CRISPR-Cas9 could work in human cells became fierce, and was realised in roughly six months in five different labs within the scientific community. Although, admittedly, the scientific and technical jargon became difficult to follow at times, there was often an under thread of competition and excitement that kept me reading. It almost became a sport, and I was in the stands rooting for my team to be first to the finish.

Doudna’s most direct opponent in the field of CRISPR research and technology appeared to be Feng Zhang. Although healthy competition can inspire innovation and unleash creativity, I couldn’t help but wonder how much ego and competitiveness had slowed progress of this very important research. They seemed to have differing skill sets, and that had they worked together in the race to turn CRISPR into a human gene-editing tool, things may have happened smoother and/or sooner. Putting a practical need for alliances aside, intellectual property disputes and competition for patents and prizes made for an interesting and sometimes even thrilling journey throughout The Code Breaker.

Somatic editing – changes that are made in targeted cells of a living patient and do not affect reproductive cells – is currently being used for gene editing, and is helping to eliminate blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia, aiding in the detection and treatment of cancer, as well as assisting in a cure for a form of congenital blindness. While it is true that I am no expert in … well, anything really, (except maybe crochet,) I can see nothing wrong ethically with carrying out these kinds of treatments, most certainly if funding can be made available through all socioeconomic communities. With insurance companies being as lucrative as they are, is it naive of me to think that with government regulation this could be attainable? If the incidence of lengthy and expensive diseases were minimised within the population, and therefore are not bogging down the healthcare system, are expensive price tags for somatic gene editing not worth it in the long run? Or maybe pharmaceutical companies that pull in billions on the backs of said diseases would have a complaint that governments and the lobbyists couldn’t ignore.

While somatic gene editing gets a pass with me until I can be convinced otherwise, germline editing – inheritable changes made through reproductive cells – on the other hand, has me in full-force hypervigilance mode. As amazing as these new heights being reached by CRISPR were, like any great technology, there is the possibility that it could be weaponised and used for nefarious reasons. This was when the book started to weigh heavy on my psyche, and I found myself putting it down to discuss the ethics with my husband. I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that these advances would be in the same vein as the splitting of the atom, or the proliferation of the internet. How does one truly feel about such important and life changing technologies that could also be the authors of the world’s destruction?

‘…in 2016 when James Clapper, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, issued the agency’s annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment” and it included for the first time “genome editing” as a potential weapon of mass destruction.’

Moral and ethical questions concerning the usage of genetic engineering to produce children of specific qualifications and lacking undesirable features, leaves a lot for discussion and thought. Although one may be inclined to feel that gene modification and selection is playing God and should be left to chance, another may think it cruel and unusual not to use every tool in the workbench to make sure all living beings have a fair chance at a good life. Imagine for a moment being able to eliminate schizophrenia from the gene pool.

Another important factor to consider is the ability for germline editing to further erode equality of opportunity within society. Could the expense of the technology, and differing regulatory standards in certain countries lead to genetic tourism? If you have the money, just travel to one of the countries that offer the procedure and design your genetically modified little human. How could any governing body or judicial system possibly regulate such a thing?

The thought that I kept coming back to as Isaacson was weighing out the pros and cons was what would be the dreaded possible unintended consequences… What would happen to: personal drive, empathy, humility, sense of accomplishment through grit and determination, sacrifice, tolerating discomfort, personal responsibility, or healthy living? If we don’t seriously consider all that could come from this, do we deserve whatever we get? It felt as though there should have been an international referendum on this, but as documented in the case of the CRISPR twins in China – which you’ll find chronicled in the book – the cat was already out of the bag.

“Ingenuity without wisdom is dangerous.”

It’s hard to imagine how a gene supermarket, with price points only affordable to the already rich and privileged, would result in anything other than a super-elite class. Those unable to keep up would merely be serfs whose only existence would be to serve the master class. Bio-techno-feudalism, as it were. That is not the world I want to live in.

Doudna: “We could create a gene gap that would get wider with each new generation,” she says. “If you think we face inequalities now, imagine what it would be like if society became genetically tiered along economic lines and we transcribed our financial inequality into our genetic code.”

‘By limiting gene edits to those that are truly “medically necessary,” she says, we can make it less likely that parents could seek to “enhance” their children, which she feels is morally and socially wrong.’

Speaking of supermarkets, as an aside, one of my favourite questions laid out in the book references genetically modified food and one of its unintended consequences: ‘Will we become less flavorful, like our tomatoes?’ Maybe if more people are fed, and fewer left starving, the taste is less important? … If only it were that black and white.

Nearing the end of the book we reach the vaccination information. It was heartening to see a shift in the behaviour amongst the CRISPR scientists when they became less worried about competition and were willing to share their work, as they became impassioned by the urgency to defeat the coronavirus. The fundamental breakdown of what the mRNA vaccine technology can do for humanity and the future of plague and disease in the world is nothing short of miraculous. I am truly amazed by what these genius scientists have uncovered to help to defend mankind, and how their hard work could see us not locked down in our homes every time a novel corona virus comes on the scene.

‘…basic function that RNA performs in the central dogma of biology: serving as a messenger RNA (mRNA) that carries genetic instructions from DNA, which is bunkered inside a cell’s nucleus, to the manufacturing region of the cell, where it directs what proteins to make. In the case of the COVID vaccine, the mRNA instructs cells to make part of the spike protein that is on the surface of a coronavirus.’

I’m really glad that I took the time to wrestle with The Code Breaker and its big questions, and I would recommend that others do the same if they are interested, as this is the world we live in now, like it or lump it. You don’t have to be science minded to follow, as long as you give yourself the space to not understand everything to the T… cell (haha), and who knows, you may just find you’ve learned something. Upwards of 90% success rate or not, for my family I am inclined to think that more time is needed to see how these vaccines will react to people’s immune systems in the long-term, especially those with autoimmune disorders, as we have in our household. The data collected regarding their use in humans is obviously very limited in scope, given they have been in use for under a year at this point. With time and confidence this could truly be the thing to save us, and as long as the technology stays in the right hands, it won’t be the thing to destroy us.

What are your thoughts on the gene editing possibilities that this technology offers humanity? Do you trust in the world to use this revolutionary science fairly, or will it be manipulated and weaponised by the fortunate few against the masses?

A bookmark representing a spike protein, that I had fun creating after reading The Code Breaker.

Cover for the Explore the Mythology of the Solar System post in The Gallery on Peachy Books
Blog Roll, non-fiction, The Gallery

The Gallery: Mythology of the Solar System

Image of the Where is Our Solar System with a crochet shooting star bookmark

Reading Where Is Our Solar System? was a wondrous voyage through space for me and my little lad. In case you missed my review, you can find it here.

One of the most interesting parts was learning about the mythology that surrounds the solar system, imagined by ancient peoples to make sense of the vast expanse in the sky. 

Where Is Our Solar System? begins by sending us back thousands of years into the fields of ancient China, where farmers were terrified when amidst their workday, the sun-streaked sky suddenly turned to blackness. The farmer’s concluded that a dragon was eating the sun. The only recourse they had was to scare the dragon away, and they did so by making the loudest ruckus they could muster by beating drums, chanting, and banging pots and pans. The cacophony did just the trick, and after only a few moments, the sun was back and blazing in her rightful splendor.

Chinese mythological dragon eating the sun, meant to explain the solar eclipse
Flag of the Qing Dynasty, representing the hungry dragon

Ancient Greeks were also affright by the shrouding of darkness resulting from a solar eclipse and rationalised the amazing occurrence as a sign of angry gods. This was observed as a bad omen: that the people would soon suffer devastation and destruction.

Ancient Greeks terrified by the solar eclipse, as they feared it the result of angry Gods set to put forth devastation and destruction
Ancient Greeks feared retribution from angry gods

The belief of the early Hellenic’s was that a group of immortal gods and goddesses were the rulers of the world. One of the mythological explanations they held was that the titan Helios, the personification of the sun, would drive his horse-drawn chariot up into the sky every morning – sunrise – and would drive it back down in the evening – sunset.

Greek God Helios and his chariot soaring to the sun
Greek god Helios and his chariot

The moon was almost as important as the sun to the ancient Maya. They told the story of a fierce moon goddess, Ix Chel, who would battle the moon down into the underworld every night, and the sun would rise in its place; hence why you never see both the moon and the sun in the sky at the same time.

Mayan Moon Goddess Ix Chel
Mayan Moon Goddess Ix Chel

Five planets were discovered through the naked eye of stargazing ancient Greeks: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. There are eight planets in total, and all except Earth and Uranus are named after ancient Roman gods (who were based on the original gods of Greek Mythology).

Statue of Mercury, the quick-footed messenger god
Statue of god Mercury

This beautifully speckled and luminary planet is named after the Roman quick-footed messenger god, Mercury (identified as Hermes in Greek Mythology,) since due to its positioning, it is the fastest planet to orbit the sun.

Planet Mercury
Statue of the Roman goddess Venus
Statue of goddess Venus

This shining glory, the only planet to be named after a female deity, is named after the goddess Venus, (known in Greek mythology as Aphrodite) as it was the most brilliant planet known to ancient astronomers.

The fiery red planet Venus
Planet Venus
Statue of Roman god Mars
Statue of Roman god Mars

It is a commonly held belief that the planet Mars was named after the Roman god of war (duplicated after the Greek god Ares) because of its red colour, representing bloodshed. The planet’s two small moons were named Phobos and Deimos, after the two horses that the Greek god of war, Ares, used to pull his red chariot.

Picture of the planet Mars
Planet Mars
Statue of Roman god Jupiter
Statue of Roman god Jupiter

This gigantic planet with the red spot is 2.5 times larger than all of the other planets combined and is named after the most powerful of the gods, Jupiter (vis-a-vis the Greek god Zeus).

Image of the planet Jupiter
Planet Jupiter
Statue of Roman god Saturn
Statue of Roman god Saturn

This, the sixth planet from the sun, and adorned with beautiful rings, is the slowest to orbit, which may be why it was named after the Roman god of time, Saturn (counterpart of the Greek Titan Cronus.)

Image of planet Saturn
Planet Saturn
Statue of Greek god Uranus
Statue of Greek god Uranus

Uranus, with the exception of Earth, is the only planet that was named after a god of Greek mythology, as opposed to Roman. To ancient Hellenic people, Uranus was the primal god personifying the sky. According to myth, he was the grandfather of Jupiter and the father of Saturn.

Image of the planet Uranus
Planet Uranus
Statue of god Neptune
Statue of Roman god Neptune

This frigid planet is the furthest away in orbit of the sun and was only just discovered via mathematical equations in 1846. In keeping with the tradition of planets being named after mythological deities, it was decided that it would be assigned the moniker Neptune, the Roman god of the sea (equivalent to the Greek god Poseidon,) which is likely because of its enormous size and blue colouring.

Image of the planet Neptune
Planet Neptune
Photo by Pits Riccardo on

Ours is the only planet not to be named after ancient stories, but instead was given its title after the Germanic word ‘erde’ or the English word ‘erda’ which means ‘the ground.’ Earth’s official scientific name is the Latin phrase ‘Terra Firma,’ meaning for ‘firm or solid ground:’

Image of planet Earth
Planet Earth

If you have ten minutes to spare, this is a fun video explaining how the planets received their names. Don’t forget to follow the creator, Name Explain, on Twitter, if you enjoyed it.

Name Explain describes how the planets got their names

I would love to hear of any mythological stories that you may have been told about the solar system, space, or astronomy, so please let me know in the comments down below!

Image of the Where is Our Solar System with a crochet shooting star bookmark
book reviews, Middle Grade, Sciences

Book Review: Where Is Our Solar System? by Stephanie Sabol

Book Cover for Where is Our Solar System? from the Who HQ series

Where Is Our Solar System?

Stephanie Sabol, illustrated by Ted Hammond

Just like their enchantment with dinosaurs, pirates, and animals, children across the globe love to learn about the solar system. Heck, I’m in my 40s, yet I can remember doing an oral presentation (possibly my very first), where I stood up at the front of the class and nervously sputtered out the names of the colourful orbs I had cut out from construction paper and displayed on a navy blue, pencil-crayoned poster board. Dollar stores weren’t around every corner back then, with a devoted section to Bristol board, displaying every colour of the rainbow.

With technology being what it is, kids have it too easy these days! And how often do they even do a physical presentation, given the habits being adapted through COVID virtual learning? With the choice available to him, my son excitedly opts for online slide projects as opposed to the cutting, pasting, and printing required for a tangible design.

Never mind research trips to the library for facts and content – which I loved – this lad only needs to do a simple web search and he’s met with endless pages of info to draw from; easy, peasy! Where is Our Solar System? is not only a fun and interesting read, it would have been the perfect resource for doing a project back in the olden days. This one book would give you all the interesting data you needed for any middle grade project.

Historically speaking, the book informs us of how watching the sky helped ancient people with navigating their ships based on the stars, how they told time with the position of the sun, and that they would organise planting schedules based on the moon’s phases for better yields at harvest. We learn how planets were first discovered through the naked eye of early stargazers, and how the curiosity of early Greek scientists led to the study of astronomy. Visit the Mythology of the Solar System post in The Gallery to learn more about how Roman and Greek mythology inspired the names of the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

There are sections devoted to describing the planets, and their size in comparison to Earth, I found to be very enlightening, although my little space lover was quick to inform me, “You’re just late to the party, Mummy!’ We both learned a fascinating fact about Jupiter: its famous red spot is a storm that has been raging for 350 years!

Picture of Jupiter's Great Red Spot (GRS) which is an anticyclonic storm
The Great Red Spot on Jupiter is a storm that has been raging 22° south of its equator for hundreds of years

And did you know that our moon is just a piece of Earth that was broken off from the planet after being hit by a very large object? 

Giant Impact Hypothesis diagram
Giant Impact hypothesis that resulted in our moon forming

To the thrill of my son, special attention was also paid to the planet Mars, and the Curiosity Rover that landed there in 2012.  

Image of the Mars Rover Curiosity in 2012
Mars rover Curiosity which touched down on August 5th, 2012

Learning is made easy as the informative diagrams and pictures throughout are not only eye-catching, but help to explain some of the concepts visually for little ones. For example, a basketball court is used to describe the Earth’s distance from the sun, the Earth’s axis, and the resulting season changes around the globe.

Minor mention of UFOs, and aliens, are part of the recount, as well as major innovations in space exploration like the Hubble Telescope, and the ISS.

Picture of the Hubble Telescope with the Earth in the background
The Hubble Telescope that was launched in 1990

Lest we forget why it all began, we are informed of the space race that spurred JFK to extensively fund space research, with the goal to beat the Russian Cosmonauts in putting the first man on the moon!

We really enjoyed reading this one from Who HQ, and this novice learned a tonne of new things since my early years when I was fascinated by our solar system. I’ve rounded up to 4.5 peaches for my rating, so make sure to share this educational book with your budding astronomer, they won’t be disappointed!

A shooting star bookmark that I made after reading Where Is Our Solar System?

Shooting Star crochet bookmark being displayed on the first pages of the book Destination Moon.