Happy new year! I still have three more days of Christmas in which to finish up my holiday correspondence, but other than that I’m back, and so are most of those around me. Sanguinity and I had a good few days with her parents– I’m not usually one for posting photos of presents I receive, but check out the awesomeness from my in-laws:
I’m still working on my list of books that I read in 2016. I’ll post a link to it when it’s done, but in the meantime here are
Ten Top Picks from 2016
Beware the Power of the Dark Side! by Tom Angleberger. Children’s, 2015. An authorized novelization of Return of the Jedi. By contract, Angleberger had to use all the movie dialog exactly as it was performed– but he makes use of authorial asides, retcon, and description to set his own pace and tone. A fun reading experience for someone who knows the film well and is also interested in how books are put together. And it must have been a blast for him to write, as a longtime fan!
Tumbling, by Caela Carter. YA, 2016. Audiobook narrated by Emily Eiden. Follows six girls at a fictional US Olympic Trials meet. I learned a little more about gymnastics, and the drama was satisfying without becoming over-the-top soap opera. The narrator had “young” speech patterns like vocal fry.
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers. Fiction, 2014. Space opera featuring a small cast of varied species, on a long-term work assignment in space. Fun!
The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness. YA, 2015. For every story of outsider high school kids fighting supernatural powers, there’s a townful of regular kids trying to figure out their regular lives. Each chapter begins with a paragraph or two about the “indie kids” and what their TV show plot would be… then the rest of the chapter is the regular kids’ story, with only occasional intersections with the supernatural plot. The regular kids and their friendships were well-drawn, too. Best book I read this year.
Lucy and Linh, by Alice Pung. YA, 2016. Lucy gets a scholarship to the fancy Melbourne girls’ academy, where her race, low-income family, and immigrant background ensure she is very much alone. She observes the political machinations at school and tries to navigate her new social milieu and its repercussions at home. I loved her relationship with her baby brother, and her mother’s quiet speech about the value of their close family. Pair with both Counting By 7s and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks.
The Cosmopolitans, by Sarah Schulman. Fiction, 2016. A retelling of Balzac’s Cousin Bette (which I haven’t read), set in the Village in the late 1950s. A middle-aged white single woman’s dearest friend is the gay black man who lives across the hall, but when her ambitious cousin shows up, all the relationships shift. The characters have to re-interpret the past and learn new patterns. Beautifully stylized, with themes familiar from following Schulman’s career. This version of French Realism lets Schulman take her time and lovingly develop all the details of 1958 New York and the characters’ inner lives.
Ludell, by Brenda Wilkinson. Children’s, 1975. Ludell lives in Georgia in 1955, a poor black kid in an all-black community. No school lunch program yet– the teachers sell hot dogs, soda and candy at lunchtime. Blue jeans for girls are just coming into fashion. Great details. I liked the immersion in black culture and the dialect (“nem” for “and them”). The dialog tags had a lot of shouting and yelling that reminded me of the Harriet the Spy books. The rest of the trilogy was also good. I hope to write a Wikipedia article about this author.
Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang, art by Sonny Liew. Comics, 2014. The Green Turtle was the first superhero drawn by a Chinese American artist, Chu F. Hing, during WWI. He wanted to make the Green Turtle Chinese, but his editor wouldn’t let him. So Green Turtle’s face is hardly ever visible, and never in full. Shadow Hero is Yang’s origin story for Green Turtle, set in a California Chinatown in the 1930s. Hank’s mother hilariously pushes him into pursuing a career as a superhero, but the society he’s in is corrupt and dangerous, with the tongs influencing city politics. Wonderful, can’t believe I waited so long to read it.
Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed, by Virginia Hamilton. Children’s, 1983. Takes place over two days on a black family’s farm in Ohio, when Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio play broadcast. I marveled at how much of the book followed ordinary events in the children’s lives, without an apparent plot thrust. I can see why I didn’t read more of her books as a child, but now I am eager to. The description of being a kid walking a beam and knowing you won’t fall is perfect.
Alone in Antarctica, by Felicity Aston. Memoir, 2014. Aston’s account of her trip as the first woman to ski solo across Antarctica, coast to coast. Adept at describing the mental and emotional challenges without melodrama, alternating with the landscape. I appreciated that it didn’t fill in with a lot of back-story from her life. I felt for her in many of the episodes she described because I had experienced a milder version while hiking and camping– the “almost there syndrome,” the uncertainty about routes, the repeated struggle to get out there and get going each day despite discomfort. Similar to Helen Thayer’s adventure reports, which I also love.
It’s cold and windy here this week, so I’m reading Debbie Clarke Moderow’s Fast Into the Night, an Iditarod memoir that I hope will make Portland’s winter feel balmy by comparison.
I decided to go with office supplies instead of food for end-of-the-year tokens of appreciation for my co-workers. Conveniently, the smallest-sized binder clips are the same width as washi tape. (Not my original observation; I got it from the internet.)
I have also ordered bright orange labels to make some anti-Trump stickers. A mock-up:
I plan to carry them and stick them on whatever images of Donald Trump cross my path. Let me know if you’d like a sheet! Typography suggestions are also welcome. I considered Highway Gothic but haven’t actually seen it much on work-zone kinds of signs.
Read: The book that gave me solace during election week was Lucy and Linh, an Australian YA novel by Alice Pung. Lucy wins the inaugural Access Scholarship to an old and cutthroat girls’ school. No one else is the daughter of Chinese parents from Vietnam, or helps out at home sewing piecework. Lucy observes and navigates politics of race, class, and femininity. Whew. Intense but in a way that I love. I highly recommend it if you like the exploration of power dynamics in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. (It did end a little suddenly and neatly. Part of me was okay with that because I needed Lucy to be okay; another part wishes there were another whole book developing the last 40-ish pages.)
Write: I’m taking a half hour a day to write by hand in a spiral notebook. It feels good to have my mind to myself, with no media input and no audience. Not even a project I’m working on, unless I want to. Just me.
Run: 39-mile week achieved! I left the long run (nine miles) until today, and also made up the last three walking miles I needed. It was a push to get this week’s mileage in without my commute to make it feel natural. And early darkness (usually of the cold and rainy variety) kills motivation for an evening walk, frankly. Next: the milestone 40-mile week, half running (10/6/4) and half walking (5×4).
Resist: I sent a “Not Bannon” postcard for Postcard Avalanche, mostly for the mental health benefits of fighting normalization in my own head.
If there’s money left in the checking account at the end of the month Wednesday, it will go to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe to help cover bills for the Water Protectors. The latest developments worry me.
I’m one of the millions who aren’t overtime-eligible after all. I don’t work over 40 hours a week, so for me it’s just whether I fill out a time-sheet starting December 1, or not. But I feel for all those fast food and retail managers who put in 50 or 60 hours a week.
This is something I almost missed but am glad I didn’t, because it gave my spirits a lift! Guys Lit Wire is in the home stretch of their fifth book fair for a public high school in Washington, DC. I appreciate the decision to stick with the same school and really develop their collection, with librarian Melissa Jackson and the students collaborating to develop the book list.
If you want to know what I sent this time around, it was Richard Van Camp’s The Lesser Blessed, which was also the first book I read this year. I hope it finds new friends at Ballou.
I believe the fair will continue until 200 books have been sent.
After work on Monday I walked the last three miles home, from about six to seven o’clock. At first the only trick-or-treaters I saw were babes in arms or in strollers. They gradually got older as I got closer to my house and it got darker; by the time I hit my street there were middle-schoolers.
The first time I passed a jack-o-lantern lit with a candle, I had an immediate and immersive memory of that smell, the mix of warmed and scorched pumpkin flesh plus candle-wax. I considered walking up to a jack-o-lantern to smell it, but they were all close to front doors and it was hard to tell what was candle and what was LED. There was no wind.
The Pixy Stix I bought at the dollar store were mad popular in our trick-or-treat bowl! Kids instinctively grabbed them, but didn’t know what they were. I’m proud to have shown the wonder of pixy stix to a new generation.
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.
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.
Today I got to visit the source of my drinking water, Bull Run Lake.
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.
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.