Just finished Dandelion Cottage, by Carroll Watson Rankin. 1904, middle-grade by today’s categories: four girls get to use a delapidated cottage, owned by the church on their block, as a summer play-house. I checked it out because Beverly Cleary mentioned in A Girl from Yamhill that it was a childhood favorite of hers. (And I see, browsing Goodreads, that I’m not the only one who read it for that reason.) There is lots of housecleaning! And entertaining a real live boarder for three weeks, and a culminating dinner party for the kindly landlord and favorite neighbor.
One thing stood out compared to contemporary books: the rotten new girl who steals, wrecks stuff, and otherwise makes things no fun doesn’t get the note of sympathy or redemption that would be required now. Laura’s parents are mean and negligent, and although the four Dandelion Cottage girls keep reminding each other not to sink to her level, no adult or narrator points out that Laura hasn’t really had friends before, has a tough family life, et cetera. I wonder when sympathy for bullies and “bad kids” became de rigueur– sometime before Mary Stolz’ A Dog on Barkam Street led to The Bully of Barkham Street in 1963?
There are two brief mentions of playing Indian, early in the book. No other content warnings that I can recall.
Dandelion Cottage would make a lovely pair with Elizabeth Enright’s 1958 Gone-Away Lake. And it has a school-story sequel called Girls of Highland Hall, which I have snagged to read on my phone.
The rest of my current reads:
- The Swan and the Seal, by Kristi Lee. She went indie with her sequel to the m/m novella Surprised At Nothing and changed the point of view to my favorite character!
- The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud. Audiobook. I like the relatively subtle questioning of right-and-wrong, and Simon Jones does a wonderful sardonic Bartimeus! The disappointment is that I was sure Martha Underwood would turn out to be sneaky and powerful. She got Nathan’s real name out of him in the first five minutes! She walked right in on her husband’s meeting with Lovelace! But no, apparently not. :(
- The Boy in the Black Suit, by Jason Reynolds. He has such a strong, easy prose style. It makes me feel like I know the characters, like we hang out all the time.
- Year of the Griffin, by Diana Wynne Jones. I think I’ll always have a book of hers at hand for odd moments, because something interesting happens on every single page. Moment-to-moment interestingness.
These are the books I’ll be adding to my Librarything collection this year, along with the description I jotted down for each one when I put it on my running list of books read. They’ll bring the collection to 99 books I love–although more are represented, because I let one book stand for a series and sometimes for a whole author.
- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews. Profane, funny book about kids making bad films, having inappropriate thoughts, and having different connections with each other than the adults think they do. Love Earl’s black-Pittsburgh language.
- Winterbound, by Margery Bianco. 1936 novel of siblings navigating a country winter in New England. By the author of The Velveteen Rabbit, incidentally. Not much happens, but I liked the characters and the details of day-to-day life.
- A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Ridiculous yet addictive. Oh, Sara Crewe!
- Charlotte Sometimes, by Penelope Farmer. 1969 novel of a girl at boarding school who wakes up as another girl in 1918, and they switch each night. A time-travel story that raises questions about identity and whether the people around you see the “real you.”
- Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell. Cath and her twin are both freshmen at UN Lincoln; she’s the shy, anxious one and is also semi-secretly a top fanfic author. Romance, friendship, and family drama ensue. (Note: I only just finished this before the end of the year. Curious to see if it stays prominent in my memory or fades.)
- The Gentrification of the Mind, by Sarah Schulman. The interrelation of the AIDS epidemic and its fallout with the gentrification of New York City, followed by ruminations on what has been displaced, forgotten, and lost in gay culture and politics. Outstanding, with personal stories about her choices as a teacher and her interactions with Kathy Acker and other icons.
- Among Others, by Jo Walton. A Welsh girl goes to English boarding school after her twin dies in an auto wreck. The fairies she knew in Wales, are they real or part of her psyche? Many SF and fantasy book shout-outs.
- The Lake, by Banana Yoshimoto, trans. Michael Emmerich. An art student in Tokyo falls for her neighbor, but he has heavy secrets in his past. Liked the even-toned writing style and subtle emotions; my opinion kept flip-flopping on whether this romance was advisable or not.
What my LibraryThing additions don’t reflect is that this was a wonderful year for rereading. Lots of Mary Stoltz. The Ramona books plus Henry and Beezus and Henry Huggins. His Dark Materials. Zahrah the Windseeker. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For.
Also, I combined picture books, poetry, comics, and graphic novels into one category, 22 books (including rereads), yet no new Librarything additions are in that category.
Last weekend I took Friday and Monday off work, and Sang and I drove out to Stub Stewart State Park to stay in a one-room cabin, sans internet. The plan was for Sang to study for her comps and me to do my thing of reading, writing, and looking out the window. There were enough trails around that we could also get out for walks as the weather allowed– for example, the bike path where we walked our marathon last month!
We turned on the heat and lights when we arrived at our cozy little cabin. The heater got right to work raising the temperature from 40 degrees to 70, but man, the lights. The lights worked, but they consisted of one small overhead fixture, probably with compact fluorescents inside, and it was DEPRESSING AS HELL.
Sang could see my mental health unraveling as we sat there. At her urging we got back in the car and drove toward Forest Grove, looking for a big-box store that might sell us a couple of lamps for cheap. We walked into the Walmart in Cornelius and Sang started laughing. We were turning to soul-sucking Walmart to stabilize my mood?
So now we are the proud owners of a five-dollar desk lamp and a plastic screw-together floor lamp, and with their help the cabin was cheery and snug for the rest of the weekend! We drank many hot beverages and Sang studied stats like a champ. I read four books:
- To Tell Your Love, by Mary Stolz. Her first YA novel, published in 1950. I’m going to read them all; there’s something I love about her style. I do notice lots of Madeleine-L’Engle-style quoting of literature by the characters to endear them to us bookish artsy types. The book’s prescription: go to college instead of marrying right out of high school. But if you’re pushing 27 or 28, grab your man and no matter if you met him four days ago!
- Charlotte Sometimes, by Penelope Farmer, a 1969 children’s novel of boarding school and time travel. I guess it’s a classic, as everyone I mentioned it to said they’d read it. I liked the spooky identity questions about how to stay yourself and whether anyone but your sister will even notice if you become another person.
- The Residue Years, by Mitchell S. Jackson. Portland setting by an African-American writer from Portland who got his MFA at PSU (but now lives in Brooklyn), a novel about a mother and son fighting poverty and addiction. It had a tragic quality to it that made me think it could be transposed to opera.
- Ask the Passengers, by A.S. King. I had very high expectations for this YA novel, and they were disappointed a little. The characters’ changes did not seem to be believably driven by the events in the story, for me; they seemed to be driven by it being that time in the page-count of the book for them to change. Then again, school bullying and gay-bashing are on my Not Favorite list of topics, and King seems to write about bullying a lot.
And on Monday I started my reread of The Subtle Knife. Boy, he doesn’t worry about explicating via discussion and conversation, does he? And I didn’t remember Will being such a little hardass at the beginning in Cittagazze. There is something about this series that makes me miss my bus stop while reading it, even when I hadn’t thought I was all that absorbed.
Oh, and when we got home I opened the crisper drawer in the fridge and the Cider Fairy had visited and stuffed it full of bottles of delicious Spire Mountain cider! It’s not every day that happens.
The turn of the year saw Sang and me watching the end of Xena Season Four on my laptop, sitting close on the couch and sharing a pair of earbuds because the speakers tend to cut in and out. Before that we tried playing the disc on Sang’s computer, which kept spitting it out for apparently no reason. And of course before that we tried watching it on the TV, but the TV no longer acknowledges the remote, and the tracks weren’t navigable using only the buttons on the TV. BUT WE PREVAILED, with the dog standing on the couch panting loudly in my other ear to protest the gorgeous noisy fireworks set off by the neighbors.
It’s a fine line between the pleasure of working all the little tricks and oddities required by our old house and its stuff, and a feeling that it’s all one step from collapse. But we’re good, and today we ate our black-eyed peas for luck. (Thanks, Sav-A-Lot! Safeway and Fred Meyer still haven’t clued in that they should lay in extra for this week.) I baked them up with some leftover rice and cans of chiles and tomatoes, with avocado on top instead of collards for lucky green. Okay, so the avocado turned black in the oven, IT STILL COUNTS. (But maybe I’ll go have a green tomato pickle from the fridge. Just to be sure.) Happy new year!
p.s. I don’t have any favorite book scenes featuring New Year’s Eve. But the title of this post refers to Mary Stolz’s The Noonday Friends, in which Marshall, for his fifth birthday when money is tight, gets a ticket “ONE WAY FROM FRIDAY EVENING TO SATURDAY MORNING” from his parents, meaning he can stay up all night like he’s always wanted. You go, Marshall. I was happy to turn in at one-thirty.
I got an email on Friday to say I’ve been accepted into the Independent Publishing Resource Center Certificate Program, fiction/nonfiction track! Ever since I applied I’ve been thinking about zines, letterpress (which I didn’t think I was interested in but now suddenly I am), stories, handmade boxed sets, and the cool people I’m likely to meet there. I’m psyched!
Other weekend highlights:
- got to hang out with fourgates on his trip through town! Burgerville shakes, mooching around the Reed campus, a few episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It was awesome.
- chewed over furnace replacement options– Sanguinity’s talking to the sales guy tomorrow.
- drove up with Sang yesterday to the start/finish area for next week’s 50-mile race and the campground we’ll be staying at with Leboyfriend for two nights. It’s within walking distance of the race start, which will be handy at 5:30 a.m. Sang and I hiked a bit of the route on the PCT and marveled at tiny, crystal-clear Little Crater Lake. I feel better knowing my way around a little, and the ranger gave us helpful tips (yellow jackets are bad at the southern end of the course, and look out for ground wasps!). Now I know to carry benadryl.
I zipped through The Wolves of Willoughby Chase over the weekend– I don’t think I read it as a kid! although I had Black Hearts at Battersea on my shelf. Thoroughly satisfying tale of the evil governess, plucky orphans, and giant estate with roaming packs of wolves. It prompted me to poll people– do you like reading books set in the same season you’re living through, or the opposite? I’m an opposite girl. When it’s a hot summer day and I’m reading about snow and ice on the moors, part of the enjoyment is feeling how the author is creating the chill and making me believe it even while I’m sweating and eating popsicles.
Maybe next winter I’ll be rereading Mary Stolz’s Go and Catch a Flying Fish. I think that’s the most summery book I know.