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.
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.
I cooked up black-eyed peas and the limp but tasty chard from the garden. At first the black-eyed peas smelled like dirt and not in a good way…but liberal bacon and onion redeemed them.
Pine decor for November: fallen oak leaves.
Happy New Year! I got up this morning and put my 2014 books-I-read list in order. The whole thing is here if you want to pore through it, but here are the highlights:
Favorite Audiobook: Graceling, by Kristin Cashore. Romantic and exciting; the full-cast audio rendition seemed cheesy at first but won me over. Strangely, the sequel Fire did absolutely nothing for me and I didn’t even finish it. I still plan to give Bitterblue a try.
Favorite Nonfiction: She Would Not Be Moved: How We Tell the Story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, by Herbert Kohl. Nonfiction. Short essay on how elementary school curricula glide over the political and activist elements of Rosa Parks’ story to make it an individual, idiopathic anecdote (“she was tired”). Aimed at educators, but made me want to read more about the bus boycott.
Favorite Kidlit Fiction (Middle Grade and Young Adult):
The Cardturner, by Louis Sachar. Love the passion for detail about bridge, love that Sachar wrote about whatever the hell he wanted and that was bridge. And I like the story too. Were the parents too cartoonish, though?
Flora Segunda (trilogy), by Ysabeau Wilce. I love the physicality, the military mama, the cultural setting, the butlers, the uncertainty of the romance, the plot twists! Can you imagine how excited I was to get a Flora Segunda gift for Fic Corner?
Favorite Adult Fiction: Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I immediately felt like I knew the characters and enjoyed their observations. Good pair with Ha Jin’s A Free Life. I want to go back and read her earlier work.
Favorite Trend: Picture-book musician biographies! Some use song lyrics in the text, and 32 pages often seems about right to evoke a life and career trajectory while focusing on the music. Included When the Beat Was Born (DJ Kool Herc), Hello, I’m Johnny Cash, and The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra. Although it’s not a biography, I also loved Gus Gordon’s Herman and Rosie. So much love and music.
New Years Day is when I practice my new perfect life and all my shining good habits, like talking to you in this blog and going for walks to the park and cooking vegetables, and yet it’s still a holiday so I can do all these things at leisure and also eat nutella and reread Dykes to Watch Out For and browse a few more Yuletide fics. Speaking of which, I’ll close with links to three Yuletide fics, from kidlit fandoms, that I loved:
currently reading: My Own Country, by Abraham Verghese. He’s one of the doctor/writers that Atul Gawande listed as inspiring his own writing career, and this memoir is about treating AIDS patients in small-town Tennessee in the late 1980s. I like it so far. I would have thought some of his wide-eyed straight-person reportage on gay culture would grate (his nervous first visit to the only local gay bar), but it doesn’t.
I meant to say Rabbit Rabbit when I woke up, I’d thought about it before I fell asleep the night before, but I went upstairs and said, “Good morning, Mom,” before I remembered. But that’s a good thing to be able to say, too.
My mom has started wearing a scarf with her bathrobe in the morning. When sanguinity and I put our bags in the rental car and got out the long-handled scraper that Hertz included, my mom came out on the sidewalk with her camera to capture Sang of the Northwest scraping the windows.
We volunteered to be bumped to another flight, and they gave our tickets away but then “found” us seats on the same flight, in First Class. Unexpected luxuries:
coffee and peeps
coffee and peeps
He is risen
coffee and peeps
Simone, who is hardly ever interested in human food, took a peep by the neck and shook it to death, then shredded its head. She is still enjoying playing with the body, except when it gets stuck on her claw.
It’s a sunny weekend in Portland! Sanguinity and I did our hiking yesterday in the Gorge, a walk at Gillette Lake on the Washington side. It was uncrowded, probably because it features power lines and clearcuts rather than stunning waterfalls. But plenty of beauty and interest including garter snakes sunning on the hillside, a lizard, perfect trilliums in the woods, and retrievers launching themselves into the water after sticks. Sang read me three chapters of Kidnapped while we lounged on the moss.
I had a lovely holiday season with family and friends and road trips. I didn’t take many photos, but here’s one of sanguinity with her BFF Miss Piggy, on the night that thrihyrne and evannichols led us through the annual Extreme Holiday Lights display around the corner from their place:
I’ve finished pulling together the list of books I read in 2012. You can see the complete list here as a Google doc if you want.
I’ll be adding these nine to my LibraryThing collection, bringing my collection there to 90 books in all:
You know, I was going to write a blurb about each one of these, but so many end-of-year book lists have gone by on my screen in the last few days that I don’t think I really need to add another. Maybe instead I’ll call out the audiobooks that got me through a lot of dishwashing: Ruby Dee reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, Natalie Moore with the perfect Wisconsin-teenager accent in Dairy Queen, and Steve Martin talking about his stand-up days in Born Standing Up.
Happy New Year to all, and best wishes for a happy and fruitful 2013!
It’s been raining all weekend, but today wasn’t too cold. I pulled on my rain gear and walked down to the canyon at Reed. It felt great to be out.
I didn’t spot the resident beavers, but they’re around.
I don’t think of camellias as December flowers, but they look as good now as they do any other time.
In the more urban part of my walk, I listened to Sara Zarr’s How to Save a Life until my player’s battery died. Both this one and David Levithan’s Every Day, which I read last week, keep making me think in the back of my head while I read, “How’s the author going to pull this off? Corner is painted…what’s the path out of it?” I sort of wish I could turn this writerly perspective off, because it’s different from wondering how the characters will solve their problems. Every Day weakened a little at the end, I thought, with a Brand New Choice taking center stage. (And the main character’s last machination? It’s in character but kind of obnoxious, I thought, a little insulting and unnecessary!) I still don’t know what will happen with How to Save a Life. But highly worthwhile, both of them.
Sanguinity and I watched Terminator 2: Judgment Day last night! I hadn’t seen it since college. Why is it called “Judgment Day”? It isn’t actually about Judgment Day. Anyway, you know what I could hardly stand? The way Sarah and John both have their bangs in their eyes. Srsly I was like, fine save the world but please get your hair out of your face! It’s no coincidence that I trimmed my bangs this morning.
Work this week, and then a week and a half off! I secretly love the budget furloughs. I’d never take this many vacation days on my own for “no reason,” meaning no extended travel, but I’m psyched.