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1. Seconds

I don’t remember where I heard about Bryan O’Malley’s newest graphic novel Seconds, but I immediately put myself on the library hold queue for it. You may recognize O’Malley as the creator of the Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series or maybe you might just know that the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is based on one of those novels (I learned from the movie that I should have vegan superpowers but I must be doing something wrong because I’m still waiting for them). I’ve not read the graphic novel series, have you? And if so, should I?

But back to Seconds. It is about Katie, a successful chef who runs a hip restaurant called Seconds. She is in the midst of trying to strike out on her own with a brand new restaurant but the building is in such bad shape renovations are taking forever and costing a lot of money. Katie lives in a tiny room above Seconds in order to save money. One evening, there is an accident in the kitchen and a young waitress whom Katie has been trying to make friends with is badly burned. In her room, Katie is presented with a chance to change things. A notebook appears in which she it to write what she wants to change and then eat the little mushroom that was left beside it.

Now I know what you are probably thinking about that mushroom! I thought it too. But it isn’t that sort of mushroom. What it does is erase the accident. It never happened. Katie is happy and relieved and wishes she had more mushrooms because there is so much she would change if she could. And then she discovers the mushrooms are growing beneath the floorboard of a not frequently used storage closet behind the kitchen. She helps herself to quite a few of them, a dozen. And every time something happens that she doesn’t like, she can change it. Her new restaurant, her old boyfriend, friends, she changes them all sometimes more than once. She begins to get confused about what has and hasn’t happened.

She learns from Hazel, the waitress and now her friend who burned her arms that began this whole thing, that Seconds has a house spirit. The house spirit’s name is Lis and she makes an appearance in Katie’s room demanding she give back all those mushrooms, Lis’s mushrooms. But Katie refuses. Things get bad. Really bad.

The story is good, well told. The art is good too. They combine to make an enjoyable reading experience. I liked that Katie is a successful woman and this is her story. She is not drawn as tall and gorgeous, impossibly skinny and extremely well endowed. Nope, Katie is normal. Kind of short even with sort of crazy hair. I also enjoyed mulling over all the ways “seconds” can be applied in the story. From food so good you want seconds to second chances to how a life can change in seconds.

I don’t read graphic novels very often, not because I don’t enjoy them. I think I am just very picky about them. They have to meet some kind of worthiness test that I can’t even begin to articulate. But Seconds passed the test. I’m glad it did because it’s a good read.


Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Reviews Tagged: Bryan O'Malley

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2. Read-a-thon Wrap Up and Stuff

I was tricked! Bookman and I were in bed reading last night and he began getting drowsy, decided he’d had enough. He keeps the time on the clock covered up because sometimes during the night he has insomnia issues and staring at the clock only makes it worse. When Bookman called it quits I wasn’t really tired but I figured it must be getting late, or late for us at any rate. So he turned off his light and snuggled under the blankets and closed his eyes. I kept going. When I reached the end of the chapter I still wasn’t that tired, but Bookman looked so comfortable snuggled in that I thought is would be nice to be done. So I turned off my light and burrowed into the blankets. I asked Bookman what time it was, he tried to avoid answering me, but I insisted. I thought surely it’s 9:30, or 9:45, but Bookman says sheepishly, 9:15. What!?! I could still be reading, I thought it was later. Well, it’s too late now, he said, you’re snuggled under the blankets, you can’t get back up and read more. You didn’t have to turn off your light. But — I started to protest. But he was right, I didn’t have to turn off my light. I guess I was done.

So, in the end I read a total of 277 pages. Bookman read about 100 Kindle pages. We are going to round it up and make a $40 donation to FirstBook. It was a fun day. I finally read Medea, and in one sitting too which is ideal for plays. And I am almost done with the Tim Parks book, Teach Us To Sit Still. Bookman read, I forget the title but it is Terry Goodkind, the second book in the Legend of the Seeker series.

Net year I will make more of an effort to start on time and to not let Bookman’s cute snuggled up self lure me into turning off the light! Having a short book and a longer book to read worked out really well. I will have to remember that for next time. The food and drink set up was perfect. As was the break for exercise and the occasional breaks for laundry.

And thanks to the cheerleaders who dropped by. Very much appreciated. We’ll see what I am doing when the spring read-a-thin roles around, perhaps at that one I will volunteer as a cheerleader.

I’ve got a bunch of finished books to write about in the coming days. You all can look forward to posts about Medea, Famous Ghost Stories, a graphic novel called Seconds and What Makes This Book So Great.

It is a gorgeous fall day outside and I am going to head out into it. I’m going to try watering my blueberries with diluted vinegar. It just might work. It is also time to clean up and bring in my ceramic froggy birdbath and fountain. There are other garden things to do too. It will be nice to be up and moving around after so much sitting yesterday. Away I go!


Filed under: Books, Read-a-thon

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3. Dewey’s Read-a-Thon!

It’s read-a-thon day! It’s been a long time since I’ve participated and I am very excited. Bookman wanted to play too but he has to work today. Nonetheless, he’ll be reading when he’s home. We have decided to donate .10 cents for every page we read to FirstBook. We are not late night people so I don’t expect we will be making it to the wee hours, but we will keep going as long as we can and read as many pages as we can.

I have no plans on what I will read other than Euripides’ play Medea. The rest, well, we’ll just see where it goes. The weather is forecast for a partly sunny crisp fall day, perfect reading weather. There are cats for my lap, coffee and pumpkin muffins. It’s going to be a good day!

My plan is to make regular updates at the bottom of this post for the first part of the day and then I’ll start a new post for the second part of the day. That will hopefully keep feed readers and email boxes from being spammed every time I post an update. My start time is 7 a.m. so here we go…


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4. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher

Hilary Mantel’s newest book, a collection of short stories titled The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, has been getting quite a bit of press. It seems many people have decided to take offense at the titular story in which an IRA assassin tricks a woman into letting him into her apartment which has a perfect view, and perfect shot of the back of a hospital through which Thatcher will shortly be exiting. The woman at first is alarmed but ends up being sympathetic and helps the man by showing him an escape route through which he might be able to get away without capture. The story ends just before the gun is fired.

It’s a pretty good story. We are left wondering whether the assassination was successful. Well, we know it wasn’t, don’t we? Mantel isn’t out to rewrite history. So the shot was missed for some reason. We are left to wonder at the aftermath, left feeling sympathetic for the IRA man who fully expects to get caught but shows the utmost concern for the woman whose apartment he took over. And the woman? She’s middle-aged, single, tidy, reliable, caught in the habits of her daily life and not one to rock the boat. But this man gives her a chance to break free from the ordinary without much risk and she takes it. You can read the story yourself if you haven’t already.

Unfortunately all the talk about the one story has overshadowed the rest of the book. Most of these stories are complete stories with beginnings, middles and ends, no brief slice of life stuff that just goes for mood or effect, things happen in these stories. Whether it is an English woman living in Dubai with her husband for his job who inadvertently finds herself being courted by another man or a husband caught kissing a neighbor in the kitchen by his wife the shock of which actually causes his wife to die from an unknown heart defect, the stories feel complete.

Then there is the story “Comma” about two young girls, about twelve. The one who narrates, Kitty, lives in a solid, middle-class household. Her friend, Mary Joplin, who lives just across the street, is from a family of dubious status. But Kitty is friends with Mary and the pair slip away from the parental gaze to go wandering through the surrounding neighborhood. Mary discovers the house of a rich family across a field. At this house they have something that should be a baby but there is something wrong with it. Our narrator and Mary sneak over and spy to try and figure out what the adults refuse to talk about. And while we think the story is about this baby it is really about the relationship between our narrator and Mary and then finally on Mary’s low-class status and how that ultimately affects her life. We catch a glimpse of the two in middle age, Kitty recognizing Mary on the street one day:

It passed through my mind, you’d need to have known her well to have known her now, you’d need to have put in the hours with her, watching her sideways. Her skin seemed swagged, loose, and there was nothing much to read in Mary’s eyes. I expected, perhaps, a pause, a hyphen, a space where a question might follow . . . Is that you Kitty? She stooped over her buggy, settled her laundry with a pat, as if to reassure it. Then she turned back to me and gave me a bare acknowledgement: a single nod, a full stop.

Or the story “Winter Break” in which a husband and wife on a winter holiday, riding through the night in a taxi to their distant hotel are disturbed when the car hits something. The driver bundles it up in a tarp and puts it in the trunk. The couple think it is a goat which they have seen running around everywhere. But they discover something else when they reach their destination.

These stories are about normal people in their everyday lives. Husbands and wives, friends, coworkers, getting on as best they can, scared, alone, confused, making mistakes, trying to figure things out. The most exotic person is a writer in the story “How Shall I Know You?” who is invited by a book group to visit and give a talk. And while the story seems to be all about the writer, like “Comma” it ends up being about something else. Something bigger, that lifts it up from the ordinary to the extraordinary, if not for the characters in the story, at least for the reader who gets to see the big picture.

I’ve only ever read Mantel’s Cromwell books so I was expecting some interesting narrative stylings in the stories. But they are all pretty straightforward. I was not disappointed by that because I don’t need stylistic dazzling in my short stories; they aren’t long enough for me to get used to something unusual and by the time I’d get my bearings I’m afraid the story would be over and I’d be wondering what just happened. This is not to say that Mantel’s style is plain. She uses various structural elements that we are all familiar with: flash backs, foreshadowing, story breaks that indicate the passage of time. What I really liked about many of these stories is that often they were about something other than I initially thought they were about. And those moments in the story when I realized there was something else going on were very pleasurable.

So don’t be put off from this collection by all the press and all the controversy over the titular story. These stories are good reading.


Filed under: Books, Reviews, Short Stories Tagged: Hilary Mantel

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5. Oops!

I was browsing through my online TBR fiction list earlier today looking for a book whose title I could not remember but I was pretty sure I had put it on my list. That’s what these kinds of lists are for right? So I wasn’t worried about not remembering the title, I’d recognize the book when I came to it I was sure. Well, as I was scrolling through the list I came upon a book I actually did read. Given that I had well over 200 items on this fiction list I was pretty pleased that I could take one off. I checked the box next to it and clicked “delete” and when the popup window came up to ask me if I really wanted to delete the item from the list I said “yes.” Except that is not what the popup window was asking me.

Turns out in my still cold medicine addled brain I had clicked on the button not to delete the book from my list, but to delete the entire list. And that popup wanted to know if I was sure I wanted to delete that list of 200+ items. And I clicked “yes.”

List gone. No take backs.

At first I couldn’t believe what I had actually done. Was the list really gone? I clicked to view a list of my lists. Yup, gone. Then I kind of wanted to cry. That list is where I save all the books I think sound really good when I am out and about on the internet reading blogs or other book news. I have no way of recreating this list.

I’ve been trying to comfort myself with things like “Well that’s one way to reduce your TBR pile!” And, “You were never actually going to be able to read all those books anyway.” But it’s not been working very well and pouting just feels so much better. When I told Bookman he immediately suggested I contact WorldCat and ask them if they can recover it from a backup tape or something. Bless my dear beloved for trying to be helpful and not laughing at me. I have no idea if WorldCat would help me out like that, but I am not going to bother to find out. It’s just a list of books and I figure the ones I really want to read will bubble up into my awareness again sometime. And if they don’t, well, I won’t miss them since I don’t remember what they were to begin with.

All the same, I made a new list to save fiction titles to. There is nothing on it. Yet.


Filed under: Book Lists, Books

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6. Don’t Even Think About It

Don’t Even Think About It: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change by George Marshall is pretty darn depressing. Oh he tries to offer hope at the end but it is paltry compared to what comes before. And what is it that comes before? Page after page of psychology and human behavior detailing why this climate change thing is so hard for us to get together and do something about.

The problem is not just one thing, it’s a big prickly ball of things that is going to need to be attacked from all angles at once and not one thing at a time. Where to start? First, there is a disconnect between scientists and the public and the way they talk to us about climate change. They use words that mean something completely different to us. They say, we are almost certain that climate change is happening and that it is caused by humans. What they mean is they are sure but they can’t say that because in science-speak you can never ever be 100% certain about anything. So what we hear is there is room for doubt. If the scientists aren’t certain then they could be wrong. The scientists beat us over the head with statistics and numbers and logic. We say, wow last winter was so cold I wouldn’t mind if it were a few degrees warmer. They give us facts. We want compelling stories to engage our emotions and prompt us to care and they can’t be about drowning polar bears because, sad as it is, a drowning polar bear is too distant for me to really care about it. I need a story about how climate change is going to affect me personally, and not in 30 or 40 years, that’s a long time away, but five years, next year, now.

Also, climate change needs to be placed into a wider context. It has been boxed away as an environmental issue which makes it easy for people to dismiss. Climate change is not an environmental issue. It is about values, politics and lifestyle. It is about food and water and jobs. It’s about safety and security.

We are busy looking around for someone to blame. We want to blame the oil companies and the politicians while we fill up the gas tanks on our SUVs and fly to the Virgin Islands for a mid-winter getaway. We have convinced ourselves that we are doing everything we can, I’ve changed all my lightbulbs to LED, I recycle, I take my own reusable bags to the grocery store, someone else has to do something. When we are all at fault. Us, our parents, our grandparents, our great-grandparents. But to play the blame game will get us nowhere. We will all need to make sacrifices much more drastic than buying an electric car. We’ve gone about “fixing” the problem from the wrong end. Instead of attacking it at the source and limiting coal and oil extraction and use, we go at it from the tail which is like trying to put out a forest fire with a bottle of water.

We are attached to the status quo and will keep doing what we’ve been doing unless given a compelling reason to do something else. And if, or when, things to start to change, everyone needs to be affected just as much as everyone else. Humans are great at detecting inequities and if you are only allowed to drive your one car two days a week but I get to drive mine four, well that’s just not fair.

I could go on and on, this is a substantial little book. In the end Marshall suggests that all the things that keep us from recognizing climate change as a threat can also help up solve the problems climate change will bring us. It will not be simple to change the frames through which we view the problem, but it isn’t completely impossible. He offers numerous ideas of what needs to be done and how we can each contribute to changing the conversation.

Climate change is happening right now. It is going to continue to happen. Things will probably get bad. Really bad. Not tomorrow and probably not next year, but sooner than you think. So what are we going to do about it?


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews, Science Tagged: climate change

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7. Celebrating Eleven Years

Today marks eleven years of this little old blog. Where has the time gone? It certainly doesn’t seem like I have been at this for eleven years which means it must be fun otherwise I wouldn’t keep at it. So how appropriate was a sort of celebration Bookman and I did yesterday: Bikeworm.

Bikeworm was the first of what I hope will be many, sponsored rides for bookish folk. The Twin Cities Book Festival was yesterday at the State Fairgrounds, the ride, advertised for those who had a hard time deciding between a book or a bike, started at the downtown Minneapolis Central Library. We got a little backpack with a snack, a bike map of the Twin Cities, a bumper sticker that says “Make Your Next Stop the Library,” a bookmark, some discount coupons for booths at the festival, and a raffle ticket to win $500 worth of bike gear. The ride was limited to 100 people and I believe we ended up with 97. At 9:15 we got on our bikes and rode together along the Dinkytown Greenway, a newly completed off road bike only route that took us most of the way to the fairgrounds. It was an easy and pleasant, though chilly, 6.5 mile ride. Bookman and I have never been on a group ride like this before and we had a blast.

We even had two authors riding with us, poet and musician Ben Weaver who, at the conclusion of the ride, read us a wonderful poem he had composed for the occasion about bicycling. The other author was Terry Kerber who has just published Major Taylor. Taylor was a black cyclist and in his day the fastest man on a bike in the US.

Bookman and I locked up our bikes and went in to the festival exhibit area and wandered around to all the tables, browsing books and sometimes chatting with authors or publishers. I suck at this kind of chatting so it was really me looking interested and nodding my head a lot while Bookman did the talking. He is so good at this kind of thing I marvel to watch it. We managed to slink by the Dianetics booth without any of the Scientologists there trying to lure us over with some kind of stress test. The man in front of us wasn’t so lucky. One of the publishers had a book judging poets by the weight of their beards. I flipped through it giggling. There were no bearded female poets in the book, though if there were it would have been even more interesting.

Did I buy any books? Why yes, yes I did. At the Coffee House booth I bought a copy of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing

by Eimear McBride. I’ve heard the beginning of the book is particularly perplexing so I opened the pages and read the first paragraph. Yes, perplexing, but in a delightful way. The Coffee House person at the booth, thinking, perhaps, that I would be turned off like so many other people are by experimental writing and difficult books, started trying to sell the book to me and assured me that after the first ten pages or so it would start to make sense. She was a bit surprised when I told her I knew all about it and loved this kind of thing, here’s my credit card.

At the Graywolf Press booth I got sucked into buying two more books, The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot by Charles Baxter and The Art of Daring: Risk Restlessness, Imagination by Carl Phillips. Baxter’s book discusses subtext in fiction. Phillips, a poet, takes on poetry and “its capacity for making a space for possibility and inquiry.” They are slim books and are targeted at writers which explains why the person at the Loft Writing Center table who saw me buy them tried to get me to sign up for writing classes. The books may be aimed at writers, but I am always of the mind that there are plenty of things readers can get out of them too. Writing and reading are feedback loops in a way. Reading teaches one about writing and writing teaches one about reading. There were a few other tempting books but remembering I came to the festival on a bicycle, I figured three books was enough.

Katha Pollitt was scheduled to speak at 12:30 and I really wanted to stay for that, but my cold is lingering and by 11:30 my energy was beginning to flag. Bookman reminded me we had to ride home, so I gave in and we headed out to our bikes. Our return trip included a woman named Cathy who had signed up for the group ride but had driven in from the burbs and missed the group, riding over alone and not really knowing where she was going. So she asked if she could tag along with us. Of course. She was really nice and grateful for the company. Back at the library we parted ways. Bookman and I rode to the metro train station a block away and hopped on with our bikes, got off at the station closest to our house and rode the rest of the way home. I then collapsed on my reading chaise for the rest of the day, much more tired than I should have been. But it was a fun day. The ride was a success and I suspect it will happen again next year. I hope it does anyway!

Now, to also celebrate eleven years of blogging I thought it might be fun to open up my Donny and Marie diary from 1979 when I was eleven years old. Turns out I didn’t have much to say that year because the only month filled in is January, but oh, what a laugh those 31 days are. Here are some samples with all the misspelling intact.

January 3, 1979
Today we were playing a game Cat’s Eye. I was playing with Alicia and my sister Cindy. Cindy was cheating! I’ve started to write 3 storys but, I still haven’t finished yet!

January 8, 1979
Today Sha came over and Cindy got mad. She told my mom of course. Now my mom said next time I write a story it has to be what a good sister is.

January 10, 1979
Today we went to room 16 only the 5th graders. We had to do mouth to mouth on resea Andy. that was the manican’s name. I did it and it was awful hard to pinch a rubber nose.

January 16, 1979
Today it was cold but it did not rain. I got a letter from Tricia today. I’m going to write her back as soon as I can. We are having chille for dinner. I don’t like chille.

January 17, 1979
Today at school we saw Iland of the blue dolphins. It rained and Cindy and I are playing school we are pretending to be freshmen.

January 27, 1979
We made a hop scotch out on the patio. We walked to the store with mom.

And there is a glimpse into the ever eventful life of me when I was eleven. I have no recollection of the “storys” I refer to nor do I remember not liking “chille” because I like it just fine now. I like to think in the intervening years both my writing and my spelling have improved. Perhaps one of these days I will go back in the archives and check out some of my first blog posts. But then maybe not. It is easier to forgive my eleven year-old self for being silly than it is to be kind myself from eleven years ago.

But now I’m just rambling. Blame the cold medicine.

Thank you all for visiting this little corner of cyberspace. The internet is such a big place and you could be anywhere else but here. I do so appreciate you stopping by. Each one of you are part of what has made this blogging thing so much fun and I am ever so grateful.


Filed under: Blogging, Books

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8. Gathering Moss

Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer took some time to get through for such a slim book. It’s not that the reading was all that difficult, most of the chapters are the perfect length for reading before bed or during lunch. Nor was is over science-y and dry. It was actually a really interesting book. For instance, did you know there are as many as 22,000 different kinds of mosses and that they inhabit every ecosystem on earth? What took me so long to get through the book were some interruptions with books on deadlines, but also a bit of disappointment.

Like I said, Gathering Moss is really good. But I had read Kimmerer’s second book, Braiding Sweetgrass earlier this year and absolutely loved it for its combination of memoir and plant science. I expected Gathering Moss would be the same. In some ways it is, there are a few personal stories about her daughters and her neighbor and stories about field study for her own research and working with her students, but the focus here is definitely on the mosses. Nearly every chapter is devoted to one particular kind of moss, how and where it grows, how it reproduces, that sort of thing. It took me a little bit to get over my initial disappointment, but once I did and no longer had other bookish distractions, I fell pleasantly into the book.

I always thought moss was pretty neat, but now I will never look at it the same way again. And the thing with moss is, you really do have to look. It is such a tiny plant, it requires that you pay attention and get up close and personal with it, preferably with a magnifying glass or microscope. And when you really look, it does amazing things. Moss can lose up to 98% of its moisture and still survive, reviving when it gets wet again. And if you live in a city, you have probably helped pollinate moss and not even known it.

The moss species Bryum agenteum is most commonly found in sidewalk cracks. When we scuffle over the cracks, moss spores stick to the bottom of our shoes and is deposited in other sidewalk cracks, pollinating other colonies and spreading to uninhabited cracks to begin new ones. Moss is also very sensitive to air pollution so you can tell how clean your city’s air is by how much moss you see on trees.

Moss also helps grow and sustain forests. Moss is like a sponge and it shares its water with tall trees and sprouting tree seeds. Moss also shelters insects and these insects in turn become food for birds and salamanders and toads which then become food right up the food chain. Moss also supports fungal growth in the soil, important for good soil health which is important for other plant life as well.

Mosses are tiny, overlooked powerhouses. Without mosses, this world would look a lot different. Come next spring when the moss brightens the bark of the trees in my garden, I will be stopping to look up close. And I will be getting down on my hands and knees to look at the patches of moss growing beneath the apple trees in my front yard. Over the years as the grass beneath the trees has disappeared I have noticed the patches of moss have increased in size and number. It has always delighted me to see these patches getting bigger but I have never bent down to really look at them. Now I will. It is time to get to know the moss in my garden.


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Science, Science by Women

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9. She

What I learned from She by H(enry) Rider Haggard: There is nothing more horrible than a woman of great beauty unless it is a woman who is old and ugly. Actually there is, but I’ll get to that later.

Ah those crazy Victorians and their adventure stories filled with misogyny, racism and classism and all kinds of other isms. All in all, it comes down to being a really silly adventure story in which two British gentlemen like to shoot animals and marvel at the backwardness of the natives who, because they are not British and wear animal skins for clothes and use mummies as torches, are obviously savages. But, I get ahead of myself.

Haven’t read She? Let’s see if I can summarize it for you. Newly minted Cambridge professor Horace Holly is visited late one night by his friend and colleague Vincey. Vincey is ill and tells Holly he will die soon. He makes Holly promise that he will take on the guardianship of Vincey’s five-year-old son, Leo. He then spins a tale about how ancient his ancestry is and leaves Holly a locked iron box he is not to open until Leo turns 25.

Holly raises Leo as promised. Leo turns out to be smart and tall and very blond and so beautiful that people refer to him as a Greek god. Every woman who sees him falls madly in love, which Leo finds mildly amusing. The day of his 25th birthday arrives and Holly brings out the iron box. Inside are all kinds of goodies that include writing in uncial Greek and also Latin, which our narrator Holly is kind enough to reproduce and then translate each one into English for us. The main prize is the Sherd of Amenartas. It tells the tale of the beautiful Amenartas running away from Egypt with the equally as beautiful Kallikrates. They end up in the clutches of Ayesha who falls in love with Kallikrates, demanding he abandon Amenartas and stay with her. But Kallikrates refuses and Ayesha in her rage kills him. Amenartas escapes. It turns out she is pregnant, bears a son, and then passes down from son to son the story of Kallikrates and the injunction to one day take revenge upon Ayesha, who, while not immortal, has a lifespan of thousands or years.

Can Holly and Leo believe such a fantastic story? Holly doubts it but Leo, bold and brave like a lion, is eager to find out. So they set off with their trusty servant, Job, to the wild lands of Africa. After their ship sinks and they get lost in the swamps, they are rescued by savages sent by She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. These savages are the Amahagger who pretty much worship She and do her bidding. These savages do savage things like allow their women to be in charge. Almost immediately, Leo is claimed by Ustane. Young Leo is tickled by the whole idea of women being in charge — what a lark! —and goes along especially since Ustane is attractive and uh — shall we say attentive to his manly needs? Holly is too old and ugly to be of interest but servant Job is approached and offends the woman and the whole tribe with his proper British manners.

The savages are also cannibals and decide that they are going to take a bit of revenge on their guests by eating Mahomed, the ship captain who survived with them. The Amahagger don’t end up killing Mahomed, but Holly does. Aiming at the female agressor who holding him while a man is about to put a burning hot pot on top of Mahomed’s head, Holly somehow shoots the woman and Mahomed. Oops! is pretty much as grief stricken as Holly gets about that.

Anyway, Leo turns out to be the spitting image of the dead-for-two-thousand-years Kallikrates. She believes in reincarnation, she has been waiting around all those years for Kallikrates to return to her. Holly at first had a hard time figuring this out. He could not believe that She was immortal or even close to it because

The person who found it [near immortality] could no doubt rule the world. He could accumulate all the wealth in the world, and all the power, and all the wisdom that is power. He might give a lifetime to the study of each art or science. Well, if that were so, and this She were practically immortal, which I did not for one moment believe, how was it that, with all these things at her feet, she preferred to remain in a cave amongst a society of cannibals? This surely settled the question. The whole story was monstrous, and only worthy of the superstitious days in which it was written.

If you were nearly immortal your goal would be to rule the world, right?

Holly’s lack of imagination weaves its way all through this book where he repeatedly excuses himself from describing things because, well he simply cannot. For instance, when She removes her veil and he sees her face:

I gazed above them at her face, and—I do not exaggerate—shrank back blinded and amazed. I have heard of the beauty of celestial beings, now I saw it; only this beauty, with all its awful loveliness and purity, was evil—at least, at the time, it struck me as evil. How am I to describe it? I cannot—simply I cannot! The man does not live whose pen could convey a sense of what I saw.

Holly is really good at long moralizing passages though. Here’s a short snip:

Soon I gave up thinking about it, for the mind wearies easily when it strives to grapple with the Infinite, and to trace the footsteps of the Almighty as he strides from sphere to sphere, or deduce His purpose from His works. Such things are not for us to know. Knowledge is to the strong, and we are weak.

Of course, both Holly and Leo fall under the spell of She’s beauty. They lose their will, they can’t help themselves. Only when She steps back into the flame that gave her long life to discover that standing in it a second time takes it away and she shrinks into a hideous shriveled thing the size of monkey and then dies, are the two men released from her spell. Then Holly quickly tosses a robe over her horrible ugliness before the stunned Leo can see what happened.

Even with She dead, the two men have the chance to become nearly immortal themselves. The moralizing Holly of course refuses. Leo also refuses because he does not have the patience to wait two thousand years for She to return. And men call women fickle and inconstant!

This is a ridiculously terrible book. I have no idea why it caught the popular imagination and has been so influential. There is even a sequel called Ayesha, the return of She. But now I’ve read it and I don’t know if I am glad or wish I could wash it off my eyeballs. There is the real horror right there. It’s not She or the cannibals but the book itself that is horrible, which of course makes it more than appropriate for the RIP Challenge.


Filed under: Books, Challenges, Gothic/Horror/Thriller, Reviews, Victorian Literature

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10. Mind Change

Hi Everyone! I’m at Shiny New Books today. Here’s a taste:

With Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains, Susan Greenfield has provided us with an even-keeled examination of the intersection of digital technology and neuroscience. She explores various ways in which digital technology is affecting our brains, identities and culture and the possible consequences. Human brains are naturally plastic, everything we think and do changes them; this is a known and uncontested fact. There is no reason to believe that digital technology will not also change our brains and ultimately, who we are. Isn’t it a good idea to assess the potential risks and benefits of technology before we are so deep in it that it is too late to go back?

Intrigued? Read the rest here. And be sure to check out the rest of the Autumn issue while you are there!


Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews, Science, Technology

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11. Gardening Season Ends

Heartleaved aster

Heartleaved aster

Having come down with a cold Friday night, I did absolutely nothing in the garden this weekend. Even if I weren’t sniffling and sneezing, it would not have been a pleasant weekend to be outdoors. The wind has been terrible. The cold temperature, easy enough to deal with.

The long-range forecast last week indicated it would continue to be above normal for the season in temperature but things quickly took a turn and by Thursday the forecasters could hardly contain themselves, predicting as much as an inch of snowfall overnight Friday into Saturday morning. Maybe because I was already starting to feel not quite right Friday afternoon, when I got home from work I put on my wellies, grabbed a big bowl and went out to the garden and picked everything including green tomatoes. Even if it didn’t snow and we only got frost, covering the tomatoes and peppers would not have worked because everything was wet from three days of intermittent rain showers.

Of course, you know it didn’t snow. It didn’t even freeze. Sure, there was a light frost on the rooftops and car windshields, but the frost did not make it down to the ground. But if I had left everything out in the garden there would have been a hard freeze and I’d be kicking myself for letting the remaining tomatoes and peppers go to waste. Sometimes there is no way to win.

I bought a pound of seed garlic in the midst of summer. I received it in the mail about the second week of September. I have been patiently waiting for it to be cold enough to plant it — that often elusive time between frost and the ground freezing when the bulbs can settle in but not start growing. This morning, bundled up in a jacket warmer than I normally would have chosen to appease Bookman who was threatening to lock me in the house, I supervised as he planted the cloves. Then we spread the bucket of worm compost I have been saving just for the occasion since the end of August. When the leaves fall from Melody Maple Tree, I will pile some on top of the plot to keep the ground insulated from freezes and thaws so the cloves don’t get heaved out and ruined.

Other than a few chores around the edges of the garden that meet sidewalk or pathway to make it easier to shovel snow when

Minnesota mum

Minnesota mum

the time comes, gardening season is over. It has been a good year and I have learned a lot. It was also nice to see some of my work paying off with a bumblebee nest in my compost bin and monarch butterfly caterpillars on my milkweed and a chrysalis that hatched. Birds everywhere, including hummingbirds. A raccoon family repeatedly raiding my little pond. Using fabric row cover and nylon socks to actually grow sweet corn that I got to eat and the squirrels didn’t. But then they got me back by eating my sunflowers.

The garden continues busy with birds and squirrels. The juncos have been flitting about and eating seeds from coneflowers and asters along with a few late goldfinches. And today two blue jays visited for awhile. And the sparrows are everywhere too.

Of course, part of putting the garden to bed is also planning for next year. I did so much better at keeping a journal this year than last, and I have pages of notes and lists of plants and ideas of things to try. As I look forward to a winter of rest I am also already excited about spring.

Thanks for sharing the gardening season with me!


Filed under: gardening

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12. October Reading Plans

I was going to write about the ridiculousness that is Rider Haggard’s She this evening but I am just not in the right frame of mind. Earlier in the week the weather forecast was predicting moderate but still warmer than usual fall weather. And dry. Now it has turned cold and has been raining off and on since yesterday and there are threats of snow flurries on the weekend! The forecasters are all backpedalling and declaring that we should all know by now how unpredictable Minnesota weather is this time of year so don’t blame them. Yeah, right.

The good thing about the sudden change in weather is that it makes me want to snuggle up and read which is good because it seems like I didn’t do all that much reading in September. Or Rather, I did, but just not as much as I planned. Story of my life.

Part of the trouble that is not really trouble at all, is that two books I finished in September I have not written about here because they were for review elsewhere; a book of essays called Icon for Library Journal and a book called Mind Change the review of which you will soon be able to read at Shiny New Books.

I have lots of carry over books this month. I am still reading Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I am determined to finish it this month, it has been lingering far too long. I am almost done with Don’t Even Think About It, a book about climate change. It is pretty interesting in terms of human psychology and behavior and kind of sad too.

I continue with House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski and continue to be creeped out by it. It’s one of those evil house-type stories, at least so far, in which the home that is supposed be comfort, love, and safety for the happy family, does a turn about and causes all sorts of problems even when it is not actively doing anything.

I’m about halfway through Mantel’s short stories, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. I know the titular story is getting lots of criticism and so is Mantel, but I have been avoiding reading about it because I don’t want to be biased when I finally get to the story. The ones I have read so far have all pretty much been really good.

Other than finishing the introduction to the Selected Letters of John Keats, I haven’t read any further in the book. I hope I can manage to get in deep with it this month.

October will be a good month for reading, I just know it. Next weekend is the Twin Cities Book Festival and the following Saturday is Dewey’s Read-a-thon. Bookman usually works on Saturdays but he managed to get the day off to attend the book festival with me. He wants to do the readathon too, but can only manage it around his work day. We’ve decided to donate ten cents for every page we read to First Book. One of the things I plan to read during that day is Euripides’ Medea, finally!

There are a number of library holds in my queue that have been outstanding for quite some time that are now all getting close to being my turn all at once. Isn’t that the way of it? So other than keeping on with what I am already in the midst of and reading Medea, I am not going to plan on any other books because they will just get tossed over in favor of the library books with reading due date deadlines. It all feels hectic, but that’s okay, it is still quite fun. If it weren’t fun, then there is not point in it, right? Reading should never be a punishment.


Filed under: Books, In Progress

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13. But What

What a wonderful poet is Judith Herzberg. On the recommendation of my friend Cath I read Herzberg’s But What: Selected Poems. The poems are selected from five of her published collections with an additional section of five new poems. This book of selected was published in 1988 with early versions of some of the poems appearing in magazines and books as far back as 1980. All of the poems are translated from Dutch by the same person though, Shirley Kaufman.

The collection provides selections from Herzberg’s first book of poetry, Zeepost, published in 1963, to Dagrest, published in 1984. During that time period Herzberg published seven books of poetry so two of them are not represented in this collection. Still, it manages to provide a nice line of development through time. However, since Herzberg is still living, you could say it covers only her early work.

The poems tend to be one page, two pages at the most. Her style is short, crisp, she has an edge as opposed to being gentle and musical as some poets are. She writes of every day things. Her tone is often melancholy, musing on life, death, place. Her poems don’t flow over you as you read, they stick to you and ask you to stop and consider for a while.

Herzberg writes things like,

We live off the intentions of our intentions.
’We Live’

And

To know there are rhododendrons on
     the slopes of the Himalayas
is not enough.
’Nearer’

And

We are tomato flowers
in our buttonholes and will never grow up to be
     tomatoes.
’Late’

Herzberg doesn’t do humor so when it shows up in ‘How Far’ it took me by surprise:

He always used to look out through the OO’s
of his DOOR, but now there are glasses in front
of his eyes that enlarge the business.

Except I should have known that this was a ruse, that this man with “eye-hunger” was not going to remain funny.

One of my favorite poems in the book, “Shoes,” comes late and is this short little gem:

Every morning, between putting on
his right and his left shoe,
his whole life quuickly passes by.
Sometimes he almost doesn’t
get around to the left one.

These are poems not to be rushed through. They are not terribly difficult but they do agitate the brain. Sadly, not much of Herzberg’s poetry has been translated into English. Even if you are not a big poetry reader, you are sure to find something to like in this selected collection.


Filed under: Books, Poetry, Reviews

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14. Modern Ghost Stories

I was surprised to come to the end of the book I was reading on my Kindle today. It’s a Project Gutenberg file of She and I always forget that those often end somewhere around the 95% to 98% mark. So when I finished I had a little panic because I hadn’t downloaded the gothic novels I had planned to read for RIP yet. I started paging through to see what I did have and discovered Famous Modern Ghost Stories.

Published in 1921, this is collection of ghost stories features the likes of Anatole France, Ambrose Bierce, Guy de Maupassant, and Edgar Allan Poe. The collection is assembled by Dorothy Scarborough, Ph.D., lecturer in English at Columbia University. This book has a companion volume she also compiled, Humorous Ghost Stories.

I am in the midst of the first story, “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood. Blackwood is so far not impressing me. The narrator of the story is canoeing down the Danube with a friend. They have reached a swampy area and found a dry island to camp on for the night. Problem is, he has gone on at great length for pages about the history of the Danube and the sites he and his friend have seen so far on their trip. I so wanted to shout numerous times, Get on with it! But since I was in public I kept my mouth closed and firmly projected my impatience at the story. Which makes me wonder now if somehow my firm mental projections at books I have read on my now dead Kindle had anything to do with its demise? Hmmm.

The Blackwood story is not what I was keen to tell you about. It’s the introduction to the book by Dorothy Scarborough, Ph.D. (that’s how she has her name on the book!). She is a hoot! Her introduction had me laughing throughout, not sure whether she was serious or pulling my leg. First she mentions how there has been a huge increase in the population of the spirit world and then she says:

Life is so inconveniently complex nowadays, what with income taxes and other visitations of government, that it is hard for us to have the added risk of wraiths, but there’s no escaping.

Then she goes on to try to explain why there might be more ghosts now than formerly and why they might be so much more vigorous than they used to be:

Perhaps the war, or possibly an increase in class consciousness, or unionization of spirits, or whatever, has greatly energized the ghost in our day and given him both ambition and strength to do more things than ever. Maybe ‘pep tablets’ have been discovered on the other side as well!

Next, she explains how modern ghosts are different from those old-timey ghosts:

Modern ghosts are less simple and primitive than their ancestors, and are developing complexes of various kinds. They are more democratic than of old, and have more of a diversity of interests, so that mortals have scarcely the ghost of a chance with them. They employ all the agencies and mechanisms known to mortals, and have in addition their own methods of transit and communication. Whereas in the past a ghost had to stalk or glide to his haunts, now he limousines or airplanes, so that naturally he can get in more work than before. He uses the wireless to send his messages, and is expert in all manner of scientific lines.

And ends up sounding like a motivational speaker for ghosts:

Whatever a modern ghost wishes to do or to be, he is or does, with confidence and success.

Finally she gets around to talking a bit about the stories in the collection. One of the stories has a man being haunted by a severed arm. Scarborough writes:

Fiction shows us various ghosts with half faces, and at least one notable spook that comes in half. Such ability, it will be granted, must necessarily increase the haunting power, for if a ghost may send a foot or an arm or a leg to harry one person, he can dispatch his back-bone or his liver or his heart to upset other human beings simultaneously in a sectional haunting at once economically efficient and terrifying.

Are you laughing? I hope you are laughing.

The story I am most interested in reading falls second in the collection, “The Shadows on the Wall” by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman. Scarborough says that “one prominent librarian considers [it] the best ghost story ever written.” I shall soon find out and let you know!


Filed under: Books, Challenges, Gothic/Horror/Thriller, Short Stories

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15. I Thought it was the End of September!

Big bluestem

Big bluestem

We had a return of summer at the end of the week and into the weekend with temperatures in the low 80s F (high 20s C) and a touch of humidity. Lovely as it was, for whatever reason I was just plain tired and didn’t spend much time at all out in the garden. I thought for sure I’d regret it, missing the last warm days of the year, that surely the coming days would bring us down to normal temperatures and the usual cold, damp, October. But the long-range forecast says there is no frost in sight and things will be dry and unseasonably warm. If it weren’t for the leaves continuing to change color and the constant stream of migrating geese and ducks flying overhead, I would be hard pressed to say it is the end of September. I haven’t decided if I am happy about this extended season or not. At the beginning of the month I was not at all ready for the end of gardening, but now I think I am. That is not to say I want it to be snowing, don’t get me wrong. But I wouldn’t mind cool and crisp and at least a little rain.

The turnip greens are starting to get big. I hope that bodes well for there actually being big turnips attached to them. My beets never did do anything and the parsnips were a disappointment as well. Me and root vegetables just don’t seem to get on together. I suppose it has something to do with my sandy soil. I just have to keep adding compost. The soil is better than it used to be but I wish it would be more loamy faster than it’s going. More lessons in patience.

I added more sulfur to my blueberry beds yesterday. I really poured it on figuring that last time when I thought we’d put

Sedum and zinnias

Sedum and zinnias

a lot on it the ph meter barely moved so adding almost all of the remaining sulfur in the bag couldn’t hurt. I need the ph to be 5. Hopefully in the spring when I check I will be pleasantly surprised. If the ph is still hovering around 7 like it has been all summer I will then have to decide whether or not to call it quits with the blueberries. If I do, Bookman and I have decided to plant honeyberries, a fruiting shrub in the honeysuckle family. No one seems to be able to agree what the fruit tastes like. Some say blueberries, some blackberries, one site says to just consider it a “mystery berry” flavor. We shall see in spring whether the blueberries remain or we go with the berry that tastes like everything but not really like anything.

One thing I know I will have to re-plant in spring already is my Juneberry. It is planted near one of the blueberries and I noticed yesterday when I was out near it that somehow it got completely snapped off about two inches above the ground so it is just a brown stick. I have no idea when or how that happened and I am very sad about it because now it is going to take even longer before I get any of its sweet berries. Sigh.

Even if there has been no frost and the weather remains warmer than usual, I have decided I will plant my garlic next weekend. I am worried if I don’t plant it and continue to wait that I will end up waiting too long and the weather will suddenly snap back to normal. We have been enjoying the garlic we grew in the garden this summer. It is so nice to go grocery shopping and be able to pass by the pricey organic garlic bulbs. I don’t have enough to get through to next summer though so I will eventually have to cave in, but until then, I walk by the garlic bin at the grocery with a self-satisfied smug look on my face.

While I may be ready for a rest from working in the garden, I never really tire of reading about gardens. This week I received a book in the mail for review called The Writer’s Garden: how gardens inspired our best-loved authors. My oh my is this a gorgeous book! I’ve just begun it and thought is would be mostly photos with nothing but fluffy text but am finding the text pretty good too. The photos, of course, still win, but the book is off to a very pleasing start with a wonderful chapter about Jane Austen. Definitely more to come about this book including a full review when I am finished with it.


Filed under: gardening

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16. Fountain Pens for Better Penmanship

It’s not uncommon to hear people say their handwriting has gone to pot because of computers, who needs to use a pen anymore? Write a letter? Email is faster and I don’t have to look all over for a stamp. But according to a Wall Street Journal article, your choice of pen can also hurt your script (via Letter Writers Alliance).

This is the first time I have heard pens blamed, but the argument makes a good point. Rollerballs are apparently the worst choice of pen if you are trying to write neatly. The ink flows too fast. I can agree to this. I don’t like rollerballs, my handwriting gets pretty scrawly with them. However, if you are taking notes and need to write fast, well, they are ideal. The trouble comes when you try to read those notes later. There are few things more embarrassing than being unable to read your own writing.

Ballpoints are bad for your writing too, says the article. They require too much pressure to get the ink to flow. That’s the truth! My hand gets tired fast when using a ballpoint. I always thought it was me, but now I can blame the pen!

Why I loved this article was because the conclusion is that the best kind of pen to write with is a fountain pen. Thank you Wall Street Journal for validating my fountain pen obsession! Now I don’t feel bad about owning eight fountain pens and always lusting after more. Now, could you do something to ease my guilt about how many bottles of fountain pen ink I seem to require?

The article makes some fountain pen suggestions for those who have never used one before. They are good suggestions. Lamy makes an excellent pen, though instead of starting with a Studio or an Al-Star, Safari is a good choice. They are lightweight, come in a variety of nib sizes and lots of fun colors. They have a sporty look and are durable. They are also inexpensive for a good pen.

If you want a pen that has a flexible nib for more line variation and don’t want to spend a wad of cash, I can heartily recommend the American made Noodler’s Ahab. Yes that Ahab. The pen clip is even designed to look kind of like a whale. These are really lightweight pens that won’t tire your hand. You can write for hours! And if you are really geeky, you can take the entire pen apart and clean every single of piece of it. The first time I did that I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to put it all back together again, but really, there aren’t that many parts to a pen. I don’t know why I find it so much fun to take my pen apart and reassemble it, but it is.

However, does a fountain pen make my handwriting nicer? I don’t know. I can still manage a good illegible scrawl with one. I can say though, that it does enhance the experience of writing. A beautiful pen, my choice of ink color, and some nice paper, what a pleasure!


Filed under: Writing

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17. A Little Laugh

Because even a book on climate change needs a little humor:

Not surprisingly, the Kochs [siblings David and Charles, inheritors of the second largest privately owned company in the US, Tea Party supporters, and opposed to action on climate change] are the number-one hate figures of the progressive left and environmentalists alike, and the grinning brothers are often portrayed in activist literature as the twin heads of the “Kochtopus,” surrounded by the spreading tentacles of their gas, oil, and chemical interests. This is the latest in a long cartoon history of rampaging corporate cephalopods, which have included railroad monopolies, ice monopolies, Tammany Hall crooks, [and] Standard Oil.

Heh, rampaging corporate cephalopods. Makes me laugh every time I read it.

I have a few writing and reading commitments I must attend to this week so posts might be skimpy. If only there were enough time in the day to fit everything in! I’ll try, but, well, we’ll see.


Filed under: Books, In Progress

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18. Summer to Fall

Milkweed seeds

Milkweed seeds

It has been a dry, almost summery week but last night we got a refreshing rain and today has been pleasant, sunny and comfortable. The tomatoes are still getting ripe, the pumpkins are still growing, the kale is very happy, and the turnips are trying really hard to make something of themselves. Otherwise, the garden is pretty much done. We haven’t had a frost yet so my garlic and I wait patiently for the right time to plant. In the mean time I keep changing my mind about where in the veggie beds I will plant it.

I did another ph test in my blueberry beds today and was once again disappointed. Try as I might, I can’t get the ph to drop. It is stuck at 7. We’ll add more sulfur and I’ll put down leaves once they fall from the trees, but come spring if the ph still hasn’t budged, Bookman and I will have some serious thinking to do. Keep trying or get rid of the blueberries and cultivate more currants and other berries instead. Fingers crossed it won’t come to that decision.

The anise hyssop is still blooming and covered with bees and over the last two weeks it has also been covered in monarch

Virgin's bower clematis

Virgin’s bower clematis

butterflies. I walked out one afternoon and counted eight of them fluttering around on it. Amazing! Bookman and I have decided we are planting a second one somewhere in the garden next spring. The pumpkin flowers are also attracting bees like crazy. This afternoon I saw three big fat bumblebees all crammed into one flower jostling for position.

And oh! During the week I looked out and saw a hummingbird at the red bee balm! I was so very excited because I chose it in order to attract hummingbirds and it worked!

Yesterday while sitting in my reading nest I glanced up at some movement outside my front picture window to see a female goldfinch chowing down on coneflower seeds. She was out there for a good ten minutes before I decided I just might be able to snap a photo. Sadly she saw me moving in the window and flew off. Then I felt really guilty about interrupting a meal she was so much enjoying. I kept hoping she would come back but I didn’t see her again the rest of the day.

Bookman got out the extension ladder to try and reach the big apples at the top of Bossy, but he only had limited success. They were still too high up on branches not strong enough to put a ladder against. So we will just appreciate what we could pick and have decided to invest in a long reach fruit harvester for next year. What we are going to do when we can reach all those apples way at the top, I am not sure. Apple pies, apple crisps, apple sauce, apple butter. I think I might have to learn how to make apple chutney which sounds so good. I might have to try that with the apples we have now. Yum!

This has got to be one of the nifitiest things ever: swallows that figured out how to use automatic doors (via Sociological Images)

And as I am reading a book about why our brains are programmed to ignore climate change, the largest climate change march in history took place today in New York City. An estimated 310,000 demonstrators showed up to demand action on climate change. In support, other marches took place around the world from Paris to Papua New Guinea. The United Nations is scheduled to meet on Tuesday in Manhattan for a climate summit. Is it too much to hope for that such an outpouring will actually spur world leaders and politicians to do something? Of course, we all have personal responsibility in the matter as well. Does such a gathering inspire you to make any changes?

Maple leaves

Maple leaves

One thing I wonder about, many people came from far away to attend the protest and with their transportation they have added carbon into the air. I hope they have done something to offset their usage, if not, that’s just sad, demanding action on climate change while contributing to the problem. Something to think about, especially for the people who came from far away countries to join in the march. Why not organize a march closer to home?

We’ll see what the UN does later this week. And following that, what each country is willing to do. I don’t have much hope but at the same time I can’t help but hope.

On a happier note, someone I know who lost a big tree in her backyard earlier this year has been inspired by all my gardening talk and has decided to get rid of the lawn and grow a prairie meadow. How awesome is that? When she told me I was thrilled and tickled silly. It’s been so hard to not pester her and ask her what she’s going to grow. I explained to her how to kill the grass. I’m hoping over the winter she will want to talk plants.

Autumn Equinox is Tuesday or Spring if you are down under. Be sure to celebrate. Take a walk, enjoy a seasonal treat, spend some time with your favorite tree or sitting on your favorite garden bench. Whatever you do, just take some time to enjoy the changing season.


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19. The Troll Garden

For some reason I don’t read short stories very often. I’m not sure why, I have nothing against them. I think of essays as the nonfiction equivalent of short stories and I love reading essays. So I am always baffled why I don’t feel the same about stories. Until I read Willa Cather’s The Troll Garden and Selected Stories, I had not read a story collection in well over a year. First published in 1905, this is Cather’s second book and her first of fiction. Her first book was poetry published in 1903.

The first story, “On the Divide” made me really worried I was going to hate the book. Sure, it had great descriptions of the landscape but the story itself is pretty caveman: the hard drinking Canute Canuteson decides he is tired of Lena Yensen’s flirtatious ways so he is going to marry her. It doesn’t matter that Lena doesn’t want him. Canute shows up at her family’s farm in the middle of a snow storm and drags her away to his house. Then he goes to the minister’s and forces him out into the blizzard to marry him and Lena. And somehow, in the end, Lena is pleased with the outcome even though she won’t admit to it.

Ugh! This made me want to barf.

But the story that followed this unfortunate beginning ended up being one of my favorites. Eric Hermannson was a free spirit, young and strong and gifted on the fiddle/violin. But his mother and others in town had been drawn in by the Free Gospellers and their leader, Asa Skinner. The preacher’s beliefs are strait-laced and buttoned up, no music, no dancing, no mirth; God was vengeful and the only way to being saved was strict obedience to His will. Skinner has his eye on Eric. Converting him would be a triumph. Somehow he manages it. But as soon as Eric gives up his violin he gives up his soul and his spirit dies. He trudges on through his now unhappy life until he is reawakened by a young woman staying with relatives on her way through to somewhere else.

Margaret Elliot is on her last fling as a free woman. When she returns to the city in the east, she will be married to a man she doesn’t exactly love and she is determined to break through the walls Eric has built around himself. There is going to be a big dance and she taunts Eric into making an appearance. And you know from the start Eric is doomed:

Something seemed struggling for freedom in them tonight, something of the joyous childhood of the nations which exile had not killed. The girls were all boisterous with delight. Pleasure came to them but rarely, and when it came, they caught at it wildly and crushed its fluttering wings in their strong brown fingers. They had a hard life enough, most of them. Torrid summers and freezing winters, labour and drudgery and ignorance, were the portion of their girlhood; a short wooing, a hasty, loveless marriage, unlimited maternity, thankless sons, premature age and ugliness, were the dower of their womanhood. But what matter? Tonight there was hot liquor in the glass and hot blood in the heart; tonight they danced.

But of course the reader does not see Eric as doomed. We see him as being saved even though the preacher is quick to promise him sulfur and brimstone.

And it turns out the first story is an anomaly, the one that is not like the others. “Eric Hermannson’s Soul” sets the stage for all that follows. Story after story of a hard life on the plains being saved by music. Some of the characters are allowed to escape to the city — Denver Chicago or New York — and one is allowed to escape to Europe and the opera. But not all the stories are about artists or musicians and while some of them are happy, a good many are tinged with sorrow and a few are downright tragic.

The stories weren’t amazing, not like reading Song of the Lark or My Antonia, but they are good, competent stories with moments of beauty in which is glimpsed the writer that Cather becomes. And since I like Cather very much, it was a pleasure to discover her young voice and the seeds of the themes and motifs that play out in her later fiction.


Filed under: Books, Reviews, Willa Cather

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20. A Reason to Live

Did any of you catch the article at the Guardian recently about the Future Library Project? Conceived by Scottish artist Katie Paterson, one thousand trees will be planted near Oslo. Every year until 2114 a writer will be asked to contribute a text to the library collection. The writer can do anything they like, a short story, a novel, poetry, and it can be in any language. The work has only to be on the theme of imagination and time.

Time? Why time you ask? Well, these works will not be read or published until 2114 when those 1,000 trees are cut down to print all the contributions to the project. I guess it will be a sort of cumulative literary time capsule. The contributing authors are sworn to secrecy on what they write. Kind of cool. Kind of weird.

Can you guess who the first author is? Margaret Atwood!

I have been planning on living a very long time, I have a huge TBR pile to get through. Now I have to add to it Atwood’s piece, which won’t be published until 2114. If that’s not a reason to keep going I don’t know what is! I will be 146 which makes me feel so young right now! I’m just a baby! I don’t want to rush through those 100 years, but I am looking forward to reading Atwood’s piece in 2114.

On a non-bookish side note, I know a number of you will be really interested in 10Q. I found out about it at Boing Boing today. It is an annual project that takes place over the Jewish High Holidays, a traditional time for personal reflection. You do not have to be Jewish to participate. The project is hoping to inspire people to stop and think, something we don’t do so very much in our busy always connected lives. So, over the course of 10 days, you get a “big question” in your email inbox every day. You are to answer the question. The project saves it and the following year, you get the question and your previous year’s answer emailed to you at which point you answer the question again. Your answers are private unless you choose to share them. Some people have. I have signed up and I am looking forward to it!


Filed under: Books Tagged: 10Q, Future Library Project

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21. It Worked Until It Didn’t

A few weeks ago I placed a plastic bag over the head of one of the sunflowers in hopes that I would beat the birds and squirrels to the seeds. I couldn’t just cut off the head because while the flower had been pollinated, the seeds weren’t done forming. The bag was a big success. Yesterday I thought, it’s about time to cut the flower head off. Since I had plans on being out in the garden doing other stuff Sunday I figured there was no harm leaving it until today. The bag, after all, had been doing a great job at protecting it.

Crime scene

Crime scene

Bookman and I managed to sleep late this morning, well late for us anyway, and we got up and had a lazy breakfast of from scratch gingerbread waffles. I pulled open the blinds and looked out into the garden and something wasn’t right. There was a hole in the landscape, what was missing? And then I realized it, the sunflower! The stalk was broken off about knee high and the rest of it was on the ground. I could still see the plastic bag so I thought, naively, that it had deterred the squirrels from the seeds. I put on my wellies and tramped out to find the squirrels had ripped open the bag and eaten every single seed. The remains of their feast was scattered around amidst the peppers and tomatoes where the flower stalk had fallen.

If I had cut off the flower head yesterday I would have been shelling sunflower seeds right now. Note to self, deterrents only deter for so long. If it is ripe, don’t wait or you’ll be sorry.

The weather has taken a decided turn towards autumn. We came very close to actually having frost Saturday morning. I also

New England asters

New England asters

had to scramble at the end of the week to find clothes to wear because suddenly all my summer clothes weren’t warm enough. The change in temperature has definitely put a halt to the warm season vegetables getting on. The corn is done. The zucchini is done. Tomatoes and peppers, the ones currently on the plants will only grow a little bigger and may or may not get fully ripe before we actually do get a frost. Ironically, the eggplant has just now decided it is going to fruit and we have three beautiful purple and white streaked fruits about the size of a gherkin pickle. There isn’t enough growing season left for these to get full size so they have suddenly become gourmet baby eggplants. Didn’t know that was a thing did you? Well it is now. Hopefully they will at least get to be big babies before we have to pick them. We’ll see.

This afternoon Bookman and I were out starting to clean up the veggie beds. We pulled out the pickling cucumbers that hardly produced anything. We pulled out the bush beans too. We weeded and scattered clover seed to grow as a cover crop and act as a green “manure” in the spring when we pull it out to plant vegetables next year.

Apple time!

Apple time!

Fall also means it is apple picking time. Usually Bossy, our green cooking apple tree, produces apples on alternate years. Last year was a bumper crop year so we thought this year we’d be lucky to have any apples at all. But Bossy has quite a few apples. The squirrels have been helping themselves to their share this past week, but in this case there is enough for everyone. Bookman and I picked a bucket and there is probably another bucket or more on the tree. Problem is, they are all at the top of the tree beyond our reach even while standing on a step ladder. And they are big apples too! We aren’t sure how we are going to get up there to pick them, I suppose we have to try using the extension ladder on a day that is not breezy so the branch the ladder is braced against doesn’t move around and tip the ladder and Bookman over.

Last week I was sad at the prospect of it turning cool and gardening season being over. But the cool, dry, and breezy week and weekend is kicking up dust and pollen into the air and has my allergies working overtime. My eyes are dry and scratchy and my sinuses a bit inflamed. It is not bad enough to make me feel bad and keep me from doing things, but it does sap my energy. As the day progresses I start to notice just how worn out I feel. All that to say I am no longer sad gardening season is coming to an end. Mother Nature and my immune system had a chat and now my brain is in agreement. Yes, please, a hard frost would be quite nice. Trouble is, now that I have decided I am ready to be done for the season, there is no chance of frost in the forecast for the rest of the month. Temperatures will be cool and seasonable which means no frost until early to mid October. I guess when the freeze finally does come I will be extra happy and have not a twinge of sadness at the change of season.


Filed under: gardening

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22. The Bookbook

Yeah it’s an add for Ikea but what an ad!

What cracked me up most? “Notice something? No lag. Each crystal clear page loads instantaneously no matter how fast you scroll.” The bookmark feature is fantastic as is the color coded system for multiple users. And the share feature! But best of all, the voice activated password protection feature. Amazing!

On a side note, does anyone know what that red fuzzy fruit in the bowl is?

Please forgive the post today. Monday beat me. Actually, Monday was just fine. The public transit system beat me. I promise tomorrow I will have a review of How Should a Person Be. I’m going to go start working on it now.


Filed under: Humor

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23. How Should a Person Be?

Have you ever watched the television show Girls written by and starring Lena Dunham? If you have and if you like the show, you will like Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be. It is like Girls in a book. According to a review in the Sunday New York Times, the reviewer felt the same. He even quotes Dunham saying that Heti is one of her favorite authors. Heti herself said she modeled the book after an MTV reality show called The Hills. Having never seen that program, I can’t remark on any similarity.

What I can remark on is how there seems to be a certain tone and persona that young female novelists have in common. Heti has it, Offil has it in Department of Speculation and Kushner has it in The Flamethrowers. Young, smart woman, fairly self-aware but a bit lost for some reason, looking for something, she is not always sure what. There is a wry sense of humor, the story has something to do with art or artists in some way, there is growth in the protagonist but one is not sure just how much, and the ending is rather open-ended giving you to understand that the story continues but the book does not. Does this count as a trend or just a coincidence? Or is this just the common experience of what it is like to be a young woman in 2014? I’m not certain since I am wandering in the desert known as middle age where I am neither young nor old.

The book is a “novel from life” whatever that means. The narrator and person trying to figure out how a person should be is named Sheila. Most of the characters in the book have the same name and occupation of friends of the real life Sheila. And many of the conversations between Sheila and her best friend, Margaux, are copied from actual conversations they had in real life. In the book Sheila starts recording their conversations in an effort to discover the mystery of what it means to be Margaux and in the process figure out what it means to be Sheila.

In the novel Sheila is writing a play commissioned by a feminist group. She has been working on it for two years and is getting nowhere with it. The problem, with the play and with Sheila, is that she wants both to be a work of art. She believes she has a destiny and she wants her play to be so good it brings some kind of salvation to the masses. But while she wants to be god-like in this respect, she, at the same time, worries that she is not human, worries that somehow she is missing out on what it means to be human. She flip-flops back and forth worried she can’t fulfill her destiny, worried she is just like everyone else, worried that she isn’t like everyone else.

Such worrying could get old fast but somehow it doesn’t. Sheila worries about not being human but that worry itself reveals just how human she is, she just can’t see it. Eventually she figures out a few things.

The novel has no real plot. Things happen but they don’t especially pull the narrative along. The one event that does is a an almost friendship ruining argument she has with Margaux brought on by Sheila buying the same dress Margaux does when they are at an art festival in Miami where some of Margaux’s paintings are being shown. The argument is sparked by the dress, but of course it isn’t really about the dress at all.

There is also an ugly painting contest between Margaux and their friend Sholem. Which of them can paint the ugliest painting? Sholem ends up in a rather depressed place after completing his painting but this not being a tragedy kind of book, his situation is darkly funny and he is eventually brought back to a sunnier frame of mind.

How Should a Person Be? is well written, kind of quirky, sometimes grim, and occasionally uncomfortable. It has an honest quality about it. The pacing is perfect, it never bogs down even with the lack of plot. I’m not entirely sure how Heti manages to make it all work but she does.


Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Sheila Heti

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24. Books Just Ruin Everything

Books have a way of wrecking a person’s life. Well, okay, not wrecking, that’s far too strong. Ruin maybe. Well, no not ruin either. Let me try again. Books have a tendency to keep a person from being settled in her opinion of things. The opposite could be true too, books could serve to always confirm a person’s opinions and beliefs. I guess it all depends on what sorts of books a person reads. For me, the first one tends to hold sway.

Most recently my opinion of Andrea Dworkin has been ripped to shreds. I am reading a book of essays called Icon edited by Amy Scholder to review for Library Journal and I just finished an essay in it by Johanna Fateman on Andrea Dworkin. I can’t say that I have ever read Dworkin. I have read bits and pieces, passages, quotes, never an entire book of hers. By the time I came along to college and took a women’s literature class, Dworkin had already pretty much been written off by feminists because of her anti-porn and, purported, anti-sex, stance. I wasn’t especially concerned with porn, but when you are twenty, the thought of being anti-sex, even if you weren’t having any, was preposterous. So I wrote off Dworkin too as a kooky feminist who had gone way too far. I was all, feminism yay! But I just didn’t see the reason it had to go to such extremes.

But this Fateman essay is forcing me to re-evaluate my opinion of Dworkin. To be sure she did go way out there, but she had reasons. And now, from the perspective of 20+ years, I can also understand that sometimes one needs to go to extremes in order to get any sort of attention on an issue that people don’t think is a problem or refuse to believe is anything to be concerned with.

And did you know Dworkin wrote novels? A couple of memoirs? And some supposedly excellent literary criticism? I certainly had no idea. And now this (not) stupid essay has made me want to go and dig some of those things up, especially the criticism, to discover for myself just what made her so known and influential before everyone turned on her.

If I hadn’t agreed to review this book for Library Journal, and if there hadn’t been an essay in it about Dworkin then I could still be going on my merry way with not a thought about the woman. But now, blast it all, I am not going to be able to let it go. I will have to investigate further. Darn books, why can’t you just let me be ignorant? I don’t have time for this. Books have to go an ruin everything.


Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Andrea Dworkin

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25. A Jumble of Things

Ah Thursday! A happy day that means tomorrow is Friday and the weekend is very close at hand. I have a jumble of things this evening.

RIP Update
I am nearly done with Haggard’s She. I am alternately amused and appalled by it. I have also found the structure of the novel interesting because Danielewski’s House of of Leaves which I am also reading has a similar structure. Maybe structure isn’t the right word, frame or perhaps technique would be better. I find it fascinating that this very Victorian novel and a wacky postmodern novel both use manuscripts from a dead man to tell the story and each uses footnote comments from the inheritor of the manuscript to comment on the the text. It goes even farther than that in House of Leaves. But that I am reading two RIP books from different centuries that both use the same approach is fascinating. I’m not sure what else to say about that yet, perhaps there is a post about it after I finish both books. Oh and House of Leaves, had me feeling the chills in broad daylight.

Andrea Dworkin
I did some looking into various books of hers today and it turns out that someone has probably illegally scanned them and made them available online as PDFs. So if you are interested, download them while you can! The titles I am especially curious about at the moment are Our Blood: Prophecies and Discourse on Sexual Politics, Woman Hating, and Right-Wing Women. I have no idea how long these books will be allowed to stay out in the wild, so if you are interested, get them now.

Experimental Novels
Flavorwire has a list of experimental novels that are worth the effort in honor of the publication in the U.S. of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. I am proud to say the U.S. publisher is Minneapolis’s own independent Coffee House Press. Woo! I am very much interested in the novel. Has anyone read it yet?

As to Flavorwire’s list, I take exception to the “worth the effort” bit. Any good book is worth the effort, so what if it is difficult. The list is good in spite of that. I’ve not read any of the books on it though I have read other books by several of the authors listed. Does anyone have a favorite experimental novel (if that even really means anything) that is not on the list you would recommend?

Reading Insecurity
A somewhat amusing article at Slate, Reading Insecurity. What is it? That feeling that you are not getting as much from your reading as you used to. The worry that you aren’t reading as much and when you do read you are distracted. The belief that you spent all day lost in a book as a kid and can no longer achieve that level of reading nirvana. It isn’t a bad article as these things go.

Readathon!
I was just wondering the other day when the fall readathon was going to be because it has ben a couple years since I participated and I am in the mood. Then today in my feed reader, behold! Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon is scheduled for Saturday, October 18th. I have signed up and I am already wondering what I will read! Not only that I am wondering what delicious snacks I can get Bookman to make me to fuel my reading! I’m not sure which I am more excited about, the reading binge or the snacks.

Well, that should do it for now. Off to get in a little exercise and a little reading.


Filed under: Books

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