I am linking up with Leigh Kramer to share what I’m into — which is mostly books!!
February has been a month chock full of READING. It’s the perfect season for it : cold and gloomy outside (well, mostly). And what better way to keep “active” during the winter than to roam around in various landscapes of the mind? In addition to reading a lot, David and I have been trying out a variation on the theme of meal-rotation. Rather than creating a few rotating menus, we’ve assigned “themes” to the days of the week regarding meals, and tried to stick to them. So far, it has simplified cooking and meal planning a lot and has definitely helped us save money.
And now, to the books :
Goat Song by Brad Kessler. I will say right off the bat that this book filled me with ENVY. Kessler is a novelist married to a photographer and they clearly make good money, because they are able to move out of Manhattan to a small farm in Vermont, where they learn to care for a small herd of goats. Obviously they don’t support themselves on the cheese they make from the goats’ milk, but their creative pursuits are successful enough that they can afford this lifestyle. I read this book because I saw it mentioned in a Facebook group, and one of my standing jokes is that I would love to ditch modern life and my career plans and move into the mountains of Switzerland to become a goat herder, a la the grumpy grandfather in Heidi. Despite by powerful envy and occasional eye-rolling, I truly loved this book. I learned a lot about goats (especially goat sex…SO much about goat sex) and Kessler also weaves in fascinating explanations of the many ways that goats, and humans’ domestication of goats, has shaped many aspects of human culture (language, literature, music, religion, etc.).
The Girl of Fire and Thorns, The Crown of Embers, & The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson made up an engrossing and enjoyable series. It was great to just fall into a different universe for a bit. I would classify the books as YA high fantasy — dramatic journey, chosen one trope, adventure, danger, all the classic elements. That said, I had some issues with Carson’s handling of the topic of weight and weight loss. I think she had a great opportunity to make a positive for readers (many of whom are teenage girls), but instead, the main character loses weight and afterwards becomes a better hero figure. So, I’m torn. The books were SUPER enjoyable and I think she…tried to handle the topic of weight/appearance well, but stumbles at a few points. That said I FLEW through these (read one of them in one evening after work, even with cooking dinner) and was very engrossed in the plot.
Mary Oliver’s poetry collection A Thousand Mornings was beautiful. I have often enjoyed Oliver’s poems, but I’ve never read a collection, only the ones I’ve come across in anthologies or online. Her writing is so quiet and yet powerful at the same time. The first poem in the collection, I Go Down to the Shore, is pretty much perfect. And her response to Christopher Smart’s poem For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffrey, For I Will Consider My Dog Percy, moved me to tears.
Virginia Woolf’s Orlando BLEW MY MIND. I had never read any Woolf before, and happened to start with Orlando because I saw a quotation from it and was intrigued and it only cost 99 cents for a Kindle copy. And…I have no idea what I just read. (Like, none.) The whole time I was going “…??? what???” but I also could not stop reading because every single word is just perfectly selected. And it was so gender-bending and feminist and queer and fabulously over-the-top…I loved every second of it. A few people have said this isn’t the right Woolf to start on, but honestly, I was never drawn in by the other Woolf books I tried (To The Lighthouse, Mrs.Dalloway, and Flush) but this did the trick…and now I am more willing to slog through a bit at the beginnings of those more standard Woolf books. I am glad I started at the crazy end.
Quiet by Susan Cain is a book that I started reading almost three years ago but couldn’t get drawn into. Luckily, I picked it up after I finished Orlando and was headed into a long evening shift at work. It was a quiet night and in between tasks I read about the first forty pages and was hooked. Cain weaves the history of the culture shift in the United States from a quieter ideal to an extroverted ideal along with reflections about the struggles and strengths of introverts in our culture. It was an empowering read for me and helped me reflect on my own introversion and begin to consider ways that this awareness can help me at work and in my social life.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath marks another first-foray into a famous author’s work. Amazingly, I managed to make it to age twenty-six before reading this classic, despite being an upper-middle-class girl from the East coast who has spent a lot of time in therapy (ha!). I devoured it — picked it up after work, went home and cooked dinner, and then read all evening and in the early morning. I had to consciously slow myself down at times to catch Plath’s beautiful writing, because I was being drawn along so quickly by the plot.
Interim Errantry by Diane Duane made my year. So, I love the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane but I had missed the announcement that a) book ten was coming out and b) between books 9 and 10, Duane was releasing a collection of stories/novella-length adventures with the characters that were all holiday themed. But I just found out about it so now I get to read them!! I am saving the tenth book, A Wizard of Mars, for next Saturday when David will be at a conference in Chicago and I will be at home alone without a car all day. But I read Interim Errantry as soon as I got it and IT WAS SO MUCH FUN. All the characters I love, plus Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day. Absolutely delightful. The Young Wizards books feel like home to me.
And finally, I finished out my February reading with a classic fantasy novel (in the beloved subgenre of girls-defying-gender-stereotypes-with-swords) that I have “meant” to read for like…fifteen years? The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley is the first in the Damar series. It was so much fun to read. All the classic tropes but not boring or repetitive at all, and with lots of delicious additions like a cat-and-dog army and the rehabilitation of a slightly snooty but lovable war-horse. Is Aerin’s true battle the battle against an evil wizard and an ancient dragon, or against her own struggles with self-worth? Probably both, to be honest, and both of those battles are worth reading about. I am definitely looking forward to reading The Blue Sword.
Reading has (clearly) been my main entertainment this month, but I’ve also continued to enjoy baking, watching movies, and listening to podcasts during my dog runs. Most of my baking was tried-and-true recipes (the chocolate chip cookie recipe on the back of the Nestlé chocolate chip bag…is the right recipe) but I also made chocolate shortbread hearts and rosemary and cheddar biscuits (which were so, so scrumptious!).
David and I enjoyed two documentaries this month.
Meet the Patels was a hilarious and super interesting documentary about actor Ravi Patel exploring marriage traditions : specifically, trying out his parents’ preferred method for finding a spouse. Patel is (as you guessed) Indian-American, and his parents met via a carefully arranged match and have had a wonderful marriage and been very happy together. As Patel approaches 30 years old, his family is bemoaning his single status, so he decides to explore the issue with his sister Geeta as filmmaker. It was phenomenal.
In a completely different kind of documentary, we also enjoyed Meru, a film about climbers attempting the Shark Fin climb on Mt. Meru, which is pretty much the most difficult mountain/rock climbing site in the world (previously un-climbed). Similarly to Meet the Patels, Meru was filmed mostly just by a couple of people with small cameras (the climbers themselves — obviously, they couldn’t bring a crew with them!), but where Meet the Patels was funny and heartwarming (while also tackling social issues of the day), Meru was heartracing. But it was also fascinating and the scenery shots are just unreal.
One new podcast that I have enjoyed listening to is called Reply All.
Reply All is a podcast about the internet — but also more broadly about technology. The episodes I have listened to have been Cathedral, a very sad but touching story about a man who designs a “videogame” (game seems the wrong word) about his late son’s experience with cancer, Raising the Bar, a story about Leslie Miley — a black engineer at Twitter who left the company due to the racist environment that he found there (and at other Silicon Valley giants where he had worked), and In The Desert, a “mystery” in which people keep showing up on the same couple’s doorsteps, claiming that their Find My Phone app is telling them their lost/stolen smartphone is in the couple’s home (they aren’t). Clearly, the podcast runs the gamut from emotional stories to important discussions about issues to just weird, quirky situations. The storytelling is fresh and interesting and I love the variety of topics.
For Valentine’s Day, David and I saw the local symphony orchestra perform a concert of romantic music — my favorite two pieces we heard were Barber’s Second Essay and Liszt’s Les Preludes. David and I also went bowling towards the end of the month — something I hadn’t done probably since high school (or maybe early college?). We had a great time and are very excited about the campus bowling alley which is really inexpensive and convenient. Plus, I bowled a strike on my first frame!
On February 20th, David and I observed the sixth anniversary of my father’s death by going for a long walk in the woods, eating Indian food, drinking Beck’s beer, and listening to Stevie Wonder. It was sad and hard and always is, but it was also…okay. I shared a bit about my dad and my grief here.
Coming up in March : um…probably more insane weather (we have gone from single-digits to SEVENTIES this month — snow, rain, thunderstorms, and clear skies — Indiana is nuts!), more books, more work, and at the end of the month : Easter! David is going to two conferences this month, commenting on a paper in each and also giving a poster presentation at one. Go go academia go!
In an effort to encourage you to purchase books from local booksellers or to utilize your local library, I have linked all the books to the authors’ webpages, when able, and to Wikipedia when unable (i.e. with Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf).