On Books and Swedish Death Cleaning

swedish-bookI’d rather read books than think about death or clean my house. I’m also not the least bit Scandinavian. However, I found myself drawn to “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, by Margareta Magnusson.” So in late December when I saw the book in my local library’s get-organized-for-the-new-year display, I checked it out.

The author’s concept is that each of us should sort through and clean out his or her own stuff rather than leave the task for some poor sap to deal with after we’ve left the planet. It’s an idea that’s quite in line with what I’m already doing. Though I hope I’m a long way from death, I decided a while back that I didn’t want to live with as much stuff as I had accumulated. I have been sorting through my memorabilia and collections with purpose: getting rid of the junk and keeping only the meaningful things.

Need a resolution for 2019? Do some death cleaning and have a meaningful new year.

Laura Sternweis

P.S. I occasionally think about death and I often clean, but I read whenever I can. Here’s my list from 2018. I recommend them all.

  • Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • A Glorious Freedom: Older Women Leading Extraordinary Lives, by Lisa Congdon
  • The Book of Joe: The Life, Wit, and (Sometimes Accidental) Wisdom of Joe Biden, by Jeff Wilser
  • Women and the Land, written by Barbara Hall, photography by Kathryn Gamble
  • Worn in New York: 68 Sartorial Memoirs of the City, by Emily Spivak
  • What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism, by Dan Rather and Elliot Kirschner
  • The African Svelte: Ingenious Misspellings That Make Surprising Sense, by Daniel Menaker
  • Feminist Icon Cross-Stitch: 30 Daring Designs to Celebrate Strong Women, by Anna Fleiss and Lauren Mancuso
  • Courage Is Contagious … And Other Reasons to Be Grateful for Michelle Obama, edited by Nick Haramis
  • Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff, by Chip Gaines
  • The Importance of Being Funny: Why We Need More Jokes in Our Lives, by Al Gini
  • Mary Emmerling’s American Country Cottages, text by Carol Sama Sheehan
  • Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, edited by Smith Magazine
  • What to Do When I’m Gone: A Mother’s Wisdom to Her Daughter, by Suzy Hopkins and Hallie Bateman
  • Overload: Finding the Truth in Today’s Deluge of News, by Bob Schieffer with H. Andrew Schwartz
  • Race Matters (25th anniversary edition with a new introduction), by Cornel West
  • Notes from a Public Typewriter, edited by Michael Gustafson and Oliver Uberti
  • Between Gravity and What Cheer: Iowa Photographs, by Barry Phipps
  • Styling with Salvage: Designing and Decorating with Reclaimed Materials, by Joanne Palmisano
  • Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America, by Rich Benjamin
  • Cabin Living: Discovering the Simple American Getaway, by the editors of Cabin Living Magazine
  • Counting Down Elvis: His 100 Finest Songs, by Mark Duffett
  • Gay Icons: The (Mostly) Female Entertainers Gay Men Love, by Georges-Claude Guilbert
  • Live Long and … What I Learned Along the Way, by William Shatner with David Fisher
  • The Happiness Curve: Why Life Gets Better After 50, by Jonathan Rauch
  • Hygge and West Home: Design for a Cozy Life, by Christiana Coop and Aimee Lagos
  • My Love Story, by Tina Turner with Deborah Davis and Dominik Wichman
  • Maverick: An Unauthorized Collection of Wisdom from John McCain, the Sheriff of the Senate, by Mary Zaia
  • What Would Unicorn Do? Magical Rules for a Happy Life, by Sarah Ford
  • Flawed, A Story by Andrea Dorman
  • Nora Murphy’s Country House Style: Making Your Home a Country House, by Nora Murphy
  • The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, by Margareta Magnusson

Words Away

college-dictionary-resizedAfter 36 years the time had come to chuck my college dictionary into the dumpster. As I tossed the book into the trash receptacle, I wondered if I should play a funeral dirge. I am a writer, so saying goodbye to this old book was like bidding farewell to an old friend.

I had purchased my New World Dictionary, copyright 1979, back in 1982, as near as I can remember. My college professor deemed the dictionary a required text, and grudgingly I bought my copy at the college bookstore for what seemed to me an exorbitant price. Given how much it cost, I thought I’d better use it, and so I did, for his communication theory class, and a class after that, and another, and so on for the duration of my college career and far beyond.

My college dictionary gave me many years of faithful service, helping me consider spelling and meaning throughout college, my years as a newspaper reporter, two years in graduate school, and my writing and editing career. But as time passed, my dictionary’s pages became flimsy and torn, and the tiny type became ever so much harder for my bifocal-ed eyes to read. So I replaced it with a newer version.

I do not take lightly throwing words away, even in a dictionary long past its prime. Although my college dictionary has passed on, I remember it fondly. And I honor the old book’s memory as I use my Webster’s New Dictionary. Sporting larger print, brighter paper, and more white space, it will work just fine. Perhaps I’ll even get another 36 years before it’s dumpster time again.

Laura Sternweis

New Stuff to Read

Laura-3booksSiddhartha, Chip Gaines, and Hillary Clinton may seem like an unlikely trio. But together they’re the new reading material I received as recent Christmas and birthday presents. If you are looking for new stuff to read, feel free to try the trio. I can’t vouch for them at this point, since I haven’t started the books yet. However, here’s my list of books I read in 2017 — and I recommend them all.

  • The Millennial Mindset: Unraveling Fact from Fiction, by Regina Luttrell and Karen McGrath
  • Bad Little Children’s Books: Kid-Lit Parodies, Shameless Spoofs, Offensively Tweaked Covers, by Arthur C. Gackley (ABRAMS Books)
  • Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock, and Fear … and Why, by Sady Doyle
  • The Fireside Grown-up Guide to the Husband, by J.A. Hazeley and J.P. Morris
  • The Fireside Grown-up Guide to the Hangover, by J.A. Hazeley and J.P. Morris
  • Now Go Out There (and Get Curious), by Mary Karr (originally her Syracuse University commencement speech 2015)
  • Simply Styling: Fresh and Easy Ways to Personalize Your Home, by Kirsten Grove
  • Culture War: How the ’90s Made Us Who We Are Today (Whether We Like It or Not), by Telly Davidson
  • Judgmental Maps, by Trent Gillaspie
  • The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, by Courtney E. Martin
  • Better Homes and Gardens Easy Decorating Makeovers, edited by Vicki L Ingham
  • Lyn Peterson’s Real Life Decorating, by Lyn Peterson
  • But Can I Start a Sentence with “But”? Advice from the Chicago Style Q&A (The University of Chicago Press Staff – Chicago Manual of Style)
  • A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends: From Fear to Faith in Unsettled Times, by David P. Gushee
  • The Pocket Square: 22 Essential Folds, by A. C. Phillips
  • Canada, by Mike Myers
  • How to Speak Midwestern, by Edward McClelland
  • How the Hell Did This Happen? The Election of 2016, by P.J. O’Rourke
  • A Possession Obsession: What We Cherish and Why, by Monica Rich Kosann
  • Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen
  • The Writer’s Diet: A Guide to Fit Prose, by Helen Sword
  • Speaking American: How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk, A Visual Guide, by Josh Katz
  • Pantsuit Nation, edited by Libby Chamberlain (www.pantsuitnation.org)
  • Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood, by Claire Hoffman (memoir, about growing up in Fairfield, Iowa, with the Maharishi and Transcendental Meditation)
  • Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism, by Fumio Sasaki
  • The Americana Revolution: From Country and Blues Roots to the Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons, and Beyond, by Michael Scott Cain
  • Dolly on Dolly: Interviews with Dolly Parton, edited by Randy L. Schmidt
  • Flea Market Style: Decorating + Displaying + Collecting, by Better Homes and Gardens
  • Johnny Cash Forever Words: The Unknown Poems, edited by Paul Muldoon
  • Words to Ride By: Thoughts on Bicycling, by Michael Carabetta
  • Make Trouble, by John Waters (his speech to the graduating class of Rhode Island School of Design)
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
  • Roughneck Grace: Farmer Yoga, Creeping Codgerism, Apple Golf, and Other Brief Essays from On and Off the Back Forty, by Michael Perry
  • Stephen Colbert’s Midnight Confessions, by the Staff of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
  • The Once and Future Liberal, by Mark Lilla
  • Heating and Cooling: 52 micro-memoirs, by Beth Ann Fennelly
  • Gen Z @ Work: How the Next Generation Is Transforming the Workplace, by David Stillman and Jonah Stillman
  • Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives, edited by Holly Gleason
  • Mistaken for a King: Sketches of a Small-Town Boyhood, by Dan Kellams
  • City Farmhouse Style: Designs for a Modern Country Life, by Kim Leggett
  • Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, by Katy Tur

Laura Sternweis

7 Books for Christmas

Nobody needs Partridge Family books, but when I was 11-going-on-12, I sure did want them. The Partridge Family mysteries were all the rage among grade school girls in 1973. Each “super swinging saga of suspense”* was based on The Partridge Family television series.


The “groovy novels”* were available one by one through the Scholastic Book Club, and many of my friends were acquiring them that way. However, when our Christmas catalogs arrived (We received the Big 3: Sears, Montgomery Ward, and J.C. Penney.), I discovered that 14 books in the series, packaged as two sets of seven, could be mail-ordered and delivered just in time for Christmas.

In my family, each of us seven kids received three Christmas presents from Mom and Dad, under the guise of Santa Claus: a clothes present, a toy present, and a book present. There may have been discrepancies in the total cost of each kid’s gifts, but that didn’t matter to us. We each had three packages to open. It was fair.

I knew exactly what I wanted for my Christmas book present in 1973. The catalog descriptions of those Partridge Family books enticed me; the photos of Keith Partridge (also known as David Cassidy**) beckoned to me from most of the book covers. But still, how could I even hope to receive 14 books for Christmas? Such literary gluttony! I figured that all 14 would be far too expensive for Mom’s Christmas budget. But oh, perhaps she’d spring for seven! A girl could dream! So I showed her all 14 books in the catalog, but said that getting a set of seven would be plenty.

On Christmas morning when I opened my presents, behold! There in my Christmas book box, were Partridge Family books 8 through 14. Two weeks later, Mom and Dad gave me the other seven books for my birthday.

I read all 14 Partridge Family books, several times each, I’m sure. They were displayed on my childhood bookshelf for the duration of my youth. Eventually I boxed them up and they spent time stored in closets and attics of the various places I’ve lived. Now they’re on a shelf in an extra bedroom of my house. I know I won’t read them; great literature they are not. I doubt that I’ll sell them; Partridge Family books are available online, but I’m not sure they’re selling. I probably won’t give them away or throw them out, either. I’ll probably just keep them, like I’ve kept them all these years, because they’re my Partridge Family memories of a Sternweis Family Christmas.

Laura Sternweis

*From the back cover of one of the books

**1970s grade school girls with discriminating tastes understood that David Cassidy was way hotter than Donnie Osmond.

Hooked on Half-Pint

I am obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder. My obsession started in second grade “On the Banks of Plum Creek.” That was the first of the Little House books that I read. The first time through I did not read the Little House books in the order they were written. Instead, I read them in the order I could get them from the Our Lady of Peace Catholic School library. The books were popular and the school probably had only one or two sets, so a chronological reading was not an option.

laura-pepinWhen I was in high school I read them again, this time, in order. My younger sister had received the books as a Christmas gift, so I took advantage of their availability. I finally got my own set for my 27th birthday — a gift from my mother, who took the bait that year when I whined that she’d bought a set for my sister but not for me. So I read the books again. Later I acquired “A Little House Sampler” and “Little House in the Ozarks,” featuring Laura’s newspaper and magazine writing from the early 1900s.

In the mid-1990s I started reading the Little House books to my son and daughter, indoctrinating the next generation with the stories of a Wisconsin farm girl nicknamed Half-Pint. We shared the stories before bedtime and during our own travels to Wisconsin to visit my family on the farm. The kids must not have minded the indoctrination, because for Christmas 2014 they gave me “Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography.” It’s a well researched examination of Laura’s original and previously unpublished life story.

The pilgrimages started in 1998, when we all went to Mansfield, Missouri, to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum on her own Rocky Ridge Farm. In 2004 we found our way to Pepin, Wisconsin, and the reconstructed cabin at the site of the original Little House in the Big Woods. (Here I am in the Pepin Little House doorway.) In 2006 we made it to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and De Smet, South Dakota, additional Little House sites. We even attended the Laura Ingalls Wilder pageant in De Smet, a re-enactment of the book “These Happy Golden Years.” (Lon, you’ve been a good sport through it all.)

I’m not sure why I am so enamored with Laura Ingalls Wilder, both the fictional young heroine and the real-life elderly author. I simply enjoy reading the Little House stories and learning more about the woman who created them. After all, we share a name, a farming background, and a pioneer spirit. I, too, left the farm in Wisconsin, crossed a big river, and headed west. Life is good in my own little house in a little town on the Iowa prairie.

Laura Sternweis

P.S. Laura Ingalls Wilder was born Feb. 7, 1867, in Pepin, Wisconsin, and died Feb. 10, 1957, in Mansfield, Missouri. Learn more about her at http://www.lauraingallswilderhome.com/.