Vacation, Audiobooks, Kidlit Economies

Sanguinity on a grassy hillside overlooking Prineville Reservoir

Red and yellow hillsides at Painted Hills, Oregon

At the end of last month, Sanguinity and I went on vacation. It’s kind of a new thing to me as an adult, Going On Vacation when it’s not a race or dog-sitting or helping someone move or visiting relatives. It feels strange to optimize purely for enjoying ourselves and doing or seeing something memorable.

Our first plan, a fire lookout reservation, fell through when I realized it required a 4WD. Then Sanguinity suggested we go east, and I reserved a state-park cabin by the Prineville Reservoir. The desert!

We heard coyotes every night (Sanguinity has trouble waking me up usually, but I woke up for coyotes, every night). Quail and little lizards ran around, and the black-tailed jackrabbits stood on all fours with their back legs unfolded, so they looked like tiny deer with big ears. And there were magpies, a bird I miss from my Colorado days. The water was so hard it tasted salty. And man, the stars.

On our way home we visited two of the three parts of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, skipping the one with the visitor center. We are wimpy drivers and everything is an hour or more from everything else in Eastern Oregon, on beautiful but winding roads. But every “okay, let’s do it” call turned out to be the right one.

We also happened to drive through Antelope, Oregon on the way back to the Gorge. I hadn’t realized how tiny it was– old buildings, some abandoned, plus some mobile homes. I can only imagine what the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh days must have been like for longtime residents. I mean, the gossip value alone!  o_O

When we got back to Portland, the season had changed and October rains were here. I was ready.


Somehow I requested Jacqueline Woodson’s newest book, Another Brooklyn, in both audio and print versions from the library. The audio version came in first. Robin Miles is a wonderful reader and I’m going to seek out her other work– she’s recorded books by N.K. Jemison and Nnedi Okorafor too. It wasn’t the technical show of “doing all the voices” or characters at different ages, although she was fine at that. Her voice took its time and matched the poetic rhythm of the text, without ever becoming “poetry voice.”

Even so, listening was frustrating sometimes, because there were so many moments that I would have looked up and paused for awhile if I were reading in print. But maybe that’s why, when I finished in the middle of a long run at the track, it was so easy to go back to the first track and start all over again.

The one thing I wasn’t thrilled about in Another Brooklyn is the grown narrator’s career as an anthropologist who studies death rituals. It felt like a literary-fiction device, choosing such a thematic career and then every now and then mentioning that the x people do y with their dead. Ah well, every genre has its tics and tropes, lit-fic no less than the rest.

I quit my next audiobook, The Mother-Daughter Book Club, because I don’t have time in my life for a character arc that starts with making fun of kids’ lack of money and unstylish clothes. Even if Little Women is involved, apparently! Sigh. Maybe I’ll try it in print if I run across it.

Now I’m listening to Jo Baker’s Longbourn, and loving it so far because there’s LOTS OF CLEANING. I can’t explain why this is so surefire for me.


I’ve been enjoying The Billfold’s “What Children’s Literature Teaches Us About Money” series– the essays on Harriet the Spy and Bridge to Terebithia are good examples. I especially like the chance to re-evaluate adult characters. Yeah, Mr. Waldenstein does sound suspiciously no-one-understood-my-deepness. And there was always a slight whiff of the ridiculous in Leslie’s parents, but it’s much darker when you zoom out and consider why they’re in Jess’ town in the first place.

Does any adult lend himself more to re-evaluation than Pa Charles Ingalls? It’s probably a lifeling project for me, raised as I was in thrall to the books, the TV show, and my own little slate and calico bonnet. It was always, always so much easier to dislike Ma than Pa as a child reader. Parenting by the Books: On the Banks of Plum Creek takes a look at that.

Kizzy or… Kishi?

I’m reading The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet — not very far in yet, but enjoying the domesticity and cameraderie aboard the spaceship. One crew member is a human named Kizzy, and I laughed out loud on the bus when I read this description:

She had shed the grubby jumpsuit in exchange for a smart yellow jacket, a skirt that could only be described as a short petticoat, bright orange polka dot tights, a massive pair of boots trussed up in all manner of buckles and straps and a scattering of cloth flowers woven through her hair. The ensemble would’ve been clownish on anyone else, but somehow, Kizzy made it work.

Unless guided otherwise, I will be picturing Claudia.

book and TV versions of Claudia Kishi


graffiti on wall: "sam-i-am"

Today’s commute graffiti: kidlit-relevant! Commute graffiti usually goes on Twitter, but it was cutting the photo off.

I’ve had swimming on the brain. On Wednesday, I swam across the Willamette River downtown, with Sanguinity and a few co-workers and about 250 other people. It was fun! (Link is to a short FaceBook video.) I took it slow, and have much work to do if I ever want to join the River Huggers’ regular morning swims across and back.

I’ve never been one to follow Olympic swimming much, but like the rest of the internet I’m loving Fu Yuanhui. The tizzy over her mentioning her period reminded me of In Lane Three, Alex Archer , a 1987 New Zealand YA novel about a young swimmer working her way towards the Rome (1960) Olympics. The “but can she swim with her period?!” bit is almost all I remember– and I’m pretty sure I didn’t read the whole series. Trip to the university library on my lunch break today.

State of the Running


My bottle of D-Limonene has a very Alice label. Also, it’s sold by “Blubonic Industries.”

I decided I like the feeling of getting better and better, however slowly. So I will train to run the Mt. Hood 50 50-miler again in 2018, and this time come in under the cutoff of 13 hours with early start. I’m aiming at the 50k for 2017. And no knee pain in training, I am done with that. Which means lots of walking mileage.

Of course, no sooner did I decide all that, than I caught a cold that wiped me out for a week. And Wednesday I flaked on my long run, I don’t know, it was chilly when I went to get dressed or something. So THIS week I’m still at Week One, Actually Execute The Baseline Mileage I Supposedly Have.

Since I’d blown last week’s plan anyway, I took the opportunity to try out Zombies Run, which has been sitting on my phone for awhile. I set out while the intro was playing, and then it stopped. Nothing. I went, “hunh, oh well,” dug the phone out of its case, and put on my audiobook instead. But after a couple of minutes, zombies kicked in again! I guess they really meant it about interspersing the story with my playlist, and since I don’t have any playlists…. Fortunately my audiobook at the moment is Daniel Jose Older’s Shadowshaper, so it all fit together pretty well.

Throwback Thursday: Public Domain Edition

Skittle Women package,

Oh my god, I have to deal with The Phone Company this month. (For the second time, our ISP is getting out of the residential DSL business. And Google Fiber is dragging its heels on coming to Portland. So… I will finally have to communicate directly with one or the other of the Two Horrible Companies that can keep us on the internet.)

Happily, I can escape into some very cool posts on old kidlit, from before The Phone Company even existed.

  • Allison Parker looks at Sara Crewe vs. A Little Princess, in the context of that maxim about “show, don’t tell.” I had a paperback Sara Crewe as a child and had no idea it was an earlier, shorter work than A Little Princess. My Sara Crewe was severe and waspish–like Mary Lennox–and I could never understand why people went on about the other girls at the school, whom I could barely remember. A year or two ago, when Hilary McKay’s sequel Wishing for Tomorrow came out, I finally figured out what had happened, and read A Little Princess for real.
  • WOW, these posts on Little Women! Lara Langer Cohen on Jo’s anger and love. Sarah Blackwood & Sarah Mesle: No One Likes Meg. How often do you get to read thoughts on Meg?! And I found the comments on Stephanie Foote’s post about Beth as Ghost curiously affecting. And why is Jo’s writing treated so differently from Amy‘s art? Amy’s my girl and I’ve thought about her a lot, so that post didn’t strike me quite as hard as it might have. But what. a. set.
  • And finally, I just today started watching Project Green Gables. It’s a Lizzie Bennett Diaries-inspired vlog version of Anne of Green Gables, made by Laura Eklund Nhaga and friends in Helsinki. (The production is in English.) Nhaga is black and plays Anne, which puts Anne’s angst over her hair in a whole new light. I like it so far!


commute notes

hopscotch numbered from the top with tiny hopscotch beside it

I am pretty sure I’ve never seen a hopscotch grid numbered from the top. I kept trying to make sense of it after I had walked past, and ended up walking around the block to look again.

I have, however, seen a tiny hopscotch marked “for cats,” and I wonder if that’s what the smaller one is here. I can’t quite read the numbers.


orange racks ready for Biketown bikes

Portland’s Biketown (because co-sponsored by Nike) bikes arrive tomorrow! The racks have been in place for a week or so– people happily started locking their regular bikes up at them, and then the city sent out some grumpy tweets and added the CAUTION tape.

This rack is just outside my office, so I’ll try a ride down by the river on my lunch break sometime soon. I admit, I don’t really understand the customer base for bikeshare. Commuters would want their own bikes, right? Some tourists will use them, in good weather, if they’re not afraid of sharing the road with cars downtown. Maybe close-in bar hopping after the bus stops running? I guess we’ll find out.

Throwback Thursday: Runway Walk

illustration of style show from A Dream For Addie

I surprised sanguinity this morning with a skill from my past– a practiced runway walk, complete with stop, pivot, and graceful gestures at features of my clothing as they are described by the narrator (who was also me).

I learned it in 4-H, because we had a fashion show every year to show off the clothes we sewed, knitted, and crocheted.

Granted, mine is the smiley midwestern version, more A Dream For Addie than Project Runway. But then, I was modeling a Rick-Rack Rhapsody navy-blue t-shirt from JCPenney. Frump Power!

Reading Wednesday

Off and on this year I’ve been reading malt-shop YA that I get via interlibrary loan– Anne Emery’s set of four about the Burnaby girls, and last week, to commemorate Lois Duncan, her first novel Debutante Hill. I love the malt-shops, but their worlds are relentlessly white and after awhile I was longing for books from the same period about black girls.

The closest I came up with was Brenda Wilkinson’s Ludell, published in 1975 but set in 1950s Georgia where Wilkinson grew up. Ludell would be categorized now as middle grade, and its sequel, Ludell and Willie, as YA. I’m still waiting for the third one, Ludell’s New York Time. 

The first two have all the back-then vocabulary and detail that I love about old kidlit. This is before school lunch programs, so the teachers sell boiled hot dogs and candy and soda at lunchtime. Blue jeans as girls’ fashion are a brand new thing and the grown-ups disapprove. The jukebox at the after-football dance is called a “piccolo.”

The dialect is stronger than in most books now, and it took me a few pages for my associations with old racist books like the Bobbsey Twins to fade away. I like “nem” for “and them.” And you know how everyone’s always yelling and shouting in Harriet the Spy and The Long Secret? These books are like that too! I mean, I think Ludell is especially loud, like Harriet is. But in both cases, it’s almost everyone, not just the main girl.

Checking dates on Goodreads just now, I see that there are several reviewers of Ludell who say it’s the first book that made them like reading. I heart Ludell. (And Ludell and Willie are a sweet couple.) I will be starting a Wikipedia article about Brenda Wilkinson, in case anyone has favorite articles or links about her.


Rereading The Westing Game

Continuing with my 1970s reread jag, I spent most of my day off this week with The Westing Game. Spoilers ahead.

  • I admire intricate plots and puzzles… and I’m not very good at them. There’s a reason I keep reading Howl’s Moving Castle over and over. This was the first time through Westing Game that I felt like I got almost all of what was going on. That Crow was seeing Angela and Theo as another iteration of her daughter and Theo’s father. That Otis Amber was listed in the phone book as a PI under his own name.
  • Sam Westing is a despicable man. He executes the game to punish Crow, using her as a sacrificial queen in his search for someone smart enough to be his heir– Turtle, as it turns out. He has monitored his ex-wife for years and years via private investigator, and is fine with her wrongful arrest for homicide. Not cool. Never addressed. Sorry, Chris, Mr. Westing was not a good man.
  • Crow’s hair is red-blonde. I always pictured her with black hair, very goth and severe with her white skin. Probably because of her name.
  • The last chapter made me laugh. Doug Hoo has to be an Olympic medalist! Judge Ford has to get to the U.S. Supreme Court! Turtle has to make millions and millions! Somewhat more disturbingly, she marries Theo just like Violet should have married Theo’s father. Such a relief that someone (Chris) gets a partner who wasn’t involved in the game at all.
  • I think the book’s most egregious fault is its treatment of Mrs. Hoo. Raskin reports her thoughts and opinions as though they are as simple as the English she has only recently started to learn. The effect is sooo racist.
  • The $10,000 that each player received would be just over $38,000 in 2016 dollars. Harvard and Radcliffe charged $1,250 per year for undergraduate tuition in 1958, so maybe $10k is realistic for Judge Ford’s education, especially if it’s not adjusted for inflation between her student years and the book’s setting (assuming it’s more or less contemporary with the 1978 publication date).

Lots of cool stuff about the manuscript, process, and design of the book here. I first read a hardback library book, but now I have an Avon-Camelot paperback and so miss out on some of the design details.