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1. The Pulitzers and Graywolf Press Rocks!

Oh Pulitzer Prize! Such an interesting mix of winners, but isn’t that mostly the case? How did I miss knowing bout the Margaret Fuller biography that won? And am I happy that Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch won? (or, as the Pulitzer Committee originally tweeted it The Goldfish) I have not read Tartt’s book, had decided not to actually because every time I would read a review of it I found myself changing my mind. First it was, oh it sounds good! Then it was, oh sounds like I won’t like it. And back and forth I went until I just decided that I won’t worry about reading it at all and find something else to read instead. But now it has won a Pulitizer and one moment I thought, well I guess I will read it after all and a little after that while reading commentary on the fiction selections in general I decided I wouldn’t read it. Why do I torture myself so? Do other people do this to themselves? Please tell me I am not alone in my craziness.

What I am really excited about is that the poetry winner was published by Graywolf Press. Graywolf is an indie publisher in Minneapolis. They published Tracy K. Smith’s Pulitzer Prize winning poetry collection Life on Mars. I’ve always been proud that they are in Minneapolis and impressed by the quality of the books they publish, but now I am simply over the moon.

I have not read the winning book or poet. The book is 3 Sections by Vijay Seshadri. You can read three of the poems from the book at the link and two more previously published poems at Poets.org. I like them enough that I want to read more.

Have you read any of the prize winners and if so, what did you think? Deserved? Or would you have preferred a different choice?

Filed under: Books

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2. What to Make of It?

I’m seventy-five pages into my review copy of Francine Prose’s new book Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 and I’m just not sure what to make of it. It is one of those novels told in multiple voices with sometimes very distant perspectives to the main course of the plot. Most of the telling happens through documents — letters, chapters from a biography, newspaper stories, chapters from a memoir of some kind — but sometimes there is a chapter of regular narrative storytelling. This sort of approach I generally have no issues with, I often like the variety of perspective such a style has to offer. But this time I am struggling with it.

My struggles aren’t because I am having trouble following along or keeping things straight. My struggle comes from how contrived and same-y it feels. Prose can’t seem to find different voices for the different perspectives so they all come across as too much alike. And the letters, ugh! The letters are being written by only one character to his parents, a young man from Hungary who has gone to Paris to try and make his name as a photographer. This is 1924 and the guy is writing stuff to his parents that I wouldn’t write to mine in 2014! Plus the style in which he writes is not a correspondence style, or rather, each letter begins that way but as soon as he starts telling his parents what he has been up to it turns into a regular prose narrative with dialogue conversations that end with a plea for money and a sign off from the loving son. In addition, there are so many different narratives it is getting a bit cacophonous.

And now I find myself wondering if I should even keep reading. The story isn’t bad but it hasn’t grabbed me either. It is all just so-so. I am on the fence over whether I should give it another twenty pages or if I should call it quits because so-so isn’t good enough at the moment and King Lear is taunting me because I know I will love it since it is a reread that I loved the first time around. It is easy to give up on bad books or good books I am definitely not getting along with, but giving up on so-so books is harder because there is still the hope that maybe it will get better in ten more pages. But that can end up being a trap when after ten pages it still isn’t getting better but maybe in ten more. See me talking myself into making this book a DNF? The fence is starting to wobble.

Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Francine Prose

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3. Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

I was hoping for another glorious weekend like the last in which I could go outdoors and start removing winter mulch from the garden beds and work on leveling the blocks of the raised bed so it will be ready to fill next weekend. Unfortunately yesterday began with a little much needed rain and remained cloudy and cold all day. Today has been cloudy with a cold north wind. We only made it up to 41F (5C) and are not forecast to make it above 50 (10C) all week even though there are promises of warmer weather Easter/Passover weekend. Spring is two steps forward and one step back.

Maple blossoms

Maple blossoms

All the snow in my garden is finally gone, even in the shady places. The garlic has grown about an inch taller over the week. Yesterday I looked out the window at Melody the maple tree and noticed she is flowering. Her buds were closed tight all week every time I looked and then suddenly they are open. It is amazing how fast it seems to happen — nothing nothing nothing and then everything. It is all an illusion of course, there was a lot going on in those tight buds before they burst open. I’ve never really thought much of maple flowers but I never looked closely at them. Today I went out to try and take a photo — my camera did not want to focus on them close up but on the tree trunk further away so they are blurry — and while I was looking at them I noticed how pretty they are. The outside of the flower is a deep red and inside the tiny petals it is orange and the stamens are dark pink. The flowers come before anything else on the tree and they look beautiful against the dark and light grey of the bark. Why I have never paid attention to these flowers before I don’t know. One of my aims this year is to pay closer attention to things like this, to notice and observe.

Even though I haven’t been able to remove the winter mulch yet, the plants beneath are not waiting. The low-growing sedum

Not shrinking violets

Not shrinking violets

in one of my street-side beds is greening up and creeping out from beneath the fall leaves and prairie violets are are pushing up through their leaf mulch. It makes my heart happy.

In the back garden I have daily been looking for bulb shoots. Last fall I planted daffodils and scilla along the garden path. My neighbor on the street corner with her long south-facing stucco house wall has tulips and daffodils pushed up several inches already. I see hers and worry about mine, forgetting they don’t have a wall giving them protection and extra warmth. But even when I do remember I get nervous — did the squirrels dig up the bulbs and I didn’t know it? Did the winter kill them all? Did I not plant them right? Where are they? Today a tiny moment of relief, the scilla are sending up leaves. Hopefully the daffodils won’t be too far behind.

scilla sprouts

scilla sprouts

Bookman and I have spent more time discussing plants to get at the May plant sale. We chose our tomatoes, heirlooms, San Marzano, an Italian paste tomato for canning and a purple slicing tomato whose name I can’t remember at the moment. We also talked fruit: gooseberries, black currants, Juneberries (also known as saskatoons and serviceberries), lingonberries, raspberries. We had wanted to get a grape but the only ones on offer aren’t really very good table grapes but more for wine or juice so we decided on hardy kiwi instead which is not the same as the fuzzy kiwi fruits though they are related and supposedly have a somewhat similar flavor. And Bookman asserted himself and said he wanted some holly. But holly is not hardy here, we tried it several years ago and the two little shrubs were first beaten down by a summer hailstorm before being finished off by cold and winter snow.

However, all was not lost for our Bookman. In my reading about native plants this winter, I came across a native plant called winterberry and when he said he wanted holly I remembered that winterberry is an ilex (ilex being the family name for hollies). Sure enough, the sale has them on offer. The berries are much loved by several species of birds. And so we will get a male and female winterberry and Bookman is so happy that he will have his holly even though it is deciduous and not evergreen.

I am very excited about next weekend. I get four days off from work because of Easter. If that weren’t exciting enough, I am signed up for a class at the urban farm store on edible landscaping. It is being taught by a couple of professional edible landscape designers who work here in the Twin Cities so everything they talk about will be relevant and possible for my own garden. I can hardly wait!

Filed under: gardening

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4. Some of This, Some of That

Yesterday was far too nice a day to be indoors in front of a computer. We actually made it to 70F (21C)! It was the warmest day we’ve had since October 11, 2013. There should be a state law that says the first 70 degree day of spring is a holiday. But since there isn’t, I had to take advantage as best I could. I ate my lunch outdoors in the sunshine and instead of blogging when I got home I sat on my deck and wrote a few cards to mail. Of course today is not as warm and it will probably be another week before we reach 70 again. That’s spring in Minnesota. But enough about the weather.

I just found out there is going to be a ballet at the Royal Opera House in London during their 4014/15 season based on the life and works of Virginia Woolf! Does the Royal Ballet ever tour? I would so love to see a Virginia Woolf ballet. Please bring the show to Minneapolis!

For poetry month Tor (science fiction fantasy) has commissioned a number of authors to compose original poems for them. Jo Walton did one and is it ever good. Hades and Persephone turns the story from one of abduction and rape into one of love with Persephone bringing light and flowers into the darkness of Hell. It’s a poem about desire and how much light and darkness need each other.

Have you ever heard of Drop Everything and Read Day? It is celebrated on April 12th, Beverly Cleary’s birthday since she is the author of the book in which D.E.A.R first appeared. For whatever reason I was not a Cleary reader or Ramona fan when I was a kid. Nonetheless, I can certainly get behind a day of doing nothing but reading! Come Saturday I will try my hardest to drop everything and read. Household chores can wait another day, right?

Filed under: Books, Poetry, Reading, Virginia Woolf

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5. Would You Want a Netflix for Books?

I came across an interesting article today by Joseph Esposito, Everybody Wants a Netflix for Books. First there was Amazon Prime and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library that allows Prime customers to borrow one Kindle book each month. Next came Oyster where for just $9.95 a month you have access to as many ebooks as you can read. The catch is that you can only choose from the books in their library and they may or may not have the newest book you want to read like, for instance, The Luminaries.

Esposito’s article is the best explanation I have read so far on just what we mean when we say we want a Netflix for books and why that is not likely to happen. Using Netflix as the example, he clearly explains the difference between getting DVDs in the mail and streaming video and then translates that to books. It all comes down to copyright which these days is all about money. If there are some publishers that won’t even allow libraries to lend ebooks, there certainly isn’t going to be a comprehensive service for ebook rental.

My question is though, do we really want such a service anyway? I mean, I can understand it if you like to tear through short genre kinds of books like mysteries, romance, scifi and fantasy. But what about longer, more substantial books? You know every book you read in a month is not going to be an ebook even if you could get everything you wanted to read without waiting in line for it. So let’s say you read two books a month from the book service, and let’s say the monthly fee is $10-15. Would you sign up? Would it be worth it?

I can’t help but think it isn’t worth it especially when I can go to the library. Sure, I have to wait in line for popular books, but I have so many books to read anyway waiting a few weeks or even a few months is no big deal. Plus, I don’t have to pay a monthly fee. The money I don’t spend on fees I can use to buy those books I just can’t wait for.

But maybe I am wrong. Maybe if there was an online ebook rental service that was reasonably priced and had everything I wanted to read resistance would be futile. What do you think? Do you want such a service? Would you sign up if it existed? What would be the monthly fee you’d be willing to pay?

Filed under: Books, ebooks, Reading

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6. Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady

Holden_aprilartEdith Holden was an artist and naturalist. She lived most of her life in the West Midlands of England where she spent her time teaching art to students at Solihull School for Girls and working as an illustrator of children’s books. Holden’s paintings were often exhibited by the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and in 1907 and 1917, by the royal Academy of Arts. But as these things go, women were not at that time taken seriously as artists and by the mid-twentieth century she was nearly forgotten.

In 1906 Holden created a diary notebook of watercolor paintings. The text that went along with them included excerpts of poems related to the month and time of year and short notes about nature walks she took. She did not create the book as a diary but as a text for teaching in order to model nature observation for her students.

In the mid-1970s, Holden’s great-niece showed the notebook to a publisher. It was published in facsimile in 1977 as The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady. Through the years over six million copies have been sold. There is a second book, Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady, that was published in facsimile in 1989.

Holden_aprilI read the first book, The Country Diary, and what a delight it is. At first I thought it was meant to be a diary and was disappointed that the text was not more detailed. I do love her neat hand though and the sepia color of her ink makes me want to find a bottle for my own pen.

The beauty and detail of the book is in the paintings. They are a real delight. She had a keen eye for color and composition. While I rushed through the text, I spent time just looking at and enjoying each drawing.

Sadly, Holden died in 1920 when she was only 49. While reaching out over a backwater of the Thames to break off a branch of chestnut buds she fell in and drowned.

I borrowed my copy from the library because of Grad. I am glad I spent time with this book. It was a pleasure to look at the paintings when the snow was deep, the temperatures arctic, and spring seeming so far away. For a little bit more about Holden and some more photos of her art, visit Morning Earth.

Filed under: Art, Books, Diaries, Nonfiction, Reviews Tagged: Edith Holden

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7. Garden Season Begins

We had 6 inches (15 cm) of heavy, wet snow Thursday night through about Friday noon. Yesterday was about 45F (7C) and today it is 58F (14C) which means most of the fresh snow has melted. It’s time to get started in the garden!

future polyculture bed

future polyculture bed

Today Bookman and I made a trip to Home Depot and bought ourselves new garden gloves and cinder blocks for our raised polyculture bed. Oh, and seed starting mix for starting a few things in our mini greenhouse in a week or two. We put down the blocks for the bed and obviously have some leveling to do, but it is a start. In this bed will go a lettuce seed mix, spinach, radish, beets, dill and parsnips. As the early veggies get pulled they will be replaced by purple cabbage, broccoli and beans. The bed will get filled in with soil and compost and seeded over Easter weekend in two weeks. So excited!

While out in the garden we walked around inspecting plants. Walter the crab apple has buds. So do Finn the huckleberry and Chandler and Boo the blueberries. I was worried my very little bush cherries Jan and Joel would not make it through the long cold winter but they have tiny buds on them too. In the herb spiral, the oregano, catnip and sage all definitely made it. Not so sure about the lavender but I will be very surprised if it greens up since it is generally very marginal

garlic sprouts

garlic sprouts

here anyway and I didn’t give it any winter protection. And I can’t tell whether the lemon balm and sorrel made it. They die back to the ground and nothing has sprouted yet but it is early. And I was so relieved to see the garlic I planted in the fall that sprouted because it got warm again before winter set in appears to have made it through as well.

When I was buying seeds earlier this year I also bought a big bag of white clover seed. Clover is a green mulch. It fixes nitrogen in the soil and it shades the ground keeping weeds from growing. When it dies back, you just leave it where it is so it continues to act as mulch but also as in-place composting. I have never done this before but that is how it is supposed to work. I broadcast a bunch of the seed in my front garden beneath my apple trees this afternoon. Most of the grass beneath the trees is gone because the trees shade it out and because for the last two or three years we haven’t raked up any leaves in the fall. Last year we had a bit of rust on the leaves and even though we don’t have any junipers nearby (junipers are host plants for rust), I read that it can also overwinter in the tree leaves and one should rake them all up in the fall. So we did. And I greatly regret it.

wellies and clover seed

wellies and clover seed

I regret it because in the process of raking up all the leaves we eliminated a lovely layer of mulch and overwintering home for beneficial insects like spiders. It also left the ground bare so who knows what sort of weed problem we might end up with this year. After a few years of letting the leaves compost in place, the soil is dark and rich and lovely and because we cleaned up the leaves from the fall, nothing will be added to it this year. I feel like I ruined a nice little ecosystem, an ecosystem that, in hindsight, might have been able to take care of any of the rust fungus, keeping it from coming back. The clover will help as a temporary replacement for all the leaves, I hope.

The sap is running in my maple tree. I saw a squirrel scratch at a branch and then start licking up the sweet sap. Something, I don’t know what, has actually bored a small hole in the tree about 15 feet up and there is a small trickle of sap dripping out. Bookman and I each caught a few drips and tasted it ourselves. It was good! We are considering tapping the tree next spring and trying our hand at making syrup. We’ll see.

Earlier in the week the Friends School Plant Sale catalog arrived in my mailbox. I rushed through it like a thirsty person in the desert who just found a watery oasis. Oh I’ll plant this and this and this, and oh my gosh, that sounds nice too and I definitely need one of these and I have no idea where I could plant that but wouldn’t it be great to have one? Today Bookman and I started going through it together beginning with herbs and vegetables. Bookman ran out of steam when we got to the two-page spread of heirloom tomatoes. The sale isn’t until May 9th so next weekend we will pick up where we left off.

It is so nice to be in the garden again even if it is still too early to do much. A few more weeks though and I will be despairing about how much there is to do. I can hardly wait!

Filed under: gardening

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8. It’s Not a Slump, Just a Breather

Since I finished Wendy Lesser’s book and returned it to the library and The Critic in the Modern World and submitted my review, I have been relieved and happy to be out from under the pressure of deadlines. Now, I can read whatever I want to! Except I haven’t been reading.

That’s not exactly true. I have been reading, only it’s not been throw-myself-into-a-book reading. It has been reading on my public transit commute and during my lunch break at work and for 15-20 minutes in bed before turning out the light. I have been reading only George R.R. Martin’s Feast for Crows (my commute and lunch book) and Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great (one or two essays before bed). I am enjoying both of them very much, don’t get me wrong, but when I think, oh I will start that Francine Prose book, I can’t bring myself to do it. I pick it up, I look at it, and then put it back down. Maybe tomorrow, I tell myself.

I worried a little yesterday and today that I have fallen into a reading slump. I’ve not had one of those in a very long time. But it doesn’t have the feel of a slump. It is more like a breather. A few days to catch my breath before launching into a new book or two. And with just that little change of framing, I feel so much better. Silly as it sounds, the thought of a slump was kind of making me a little stressed. But this being a breather and not a slump, well, that’s no big deal. The weekend is coming and there will be lots of time to spend reading lots of different books.

There was a slight moment of panic when I got home from work and checked my email to see I had one from Library Journal informing me I had a new review assignment. I just turned in a review and figured it would be quite some time before my turn came around to do another review. And of course, it is another short due date: April 24th. And I have not received the book in the mail yet (it’s on the way the email assures me). But this book will be a piece of cake. It’s a gardening book! An entire book on seed saving. That should be pretty good. I hope.

And after writing about my breather I actually feel like doing some reading. Off I go while the mood is still upon me.

Filed under: In Progress

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9. April Reading Plans

Happy April! March roared by, didn’t it? We had our first April shower this morning. Of course it came down in the form of snow but we didn’t get much and it has melted away already. We still have snow on the ground though. It takes a long time to melt that which has accumulated since November of last year. But it is going fast.

Love is also in the air. On my way home from work my bus stopped for a light and I looked out the window to see five boy robins and one girl robin in a tree. All but one boy seemed more interested in trying to chase the others away than getting the girl. The one robin focused on the girl did not make a good impression because as soon as he landed on her branch she flew away. You could see all five disappointed robin heads looking wistfully at her tail feathers disappearing through the trees.

Also in the air is poetry. Happy National Poetry Month! I have mixed feelings about poetry month. I love it because poetry. I hate it because poetry should be read and celebrated all year, not just in April. I’m going to celebrate the month by kidnapping Patrick Stewart from the Poetry and the Creative Mind Gala in New York on the 24th. I’ll be taking him to an undisclosed location also known as my basement where I will keep him prisoner and make him read poetry to me until his voice gives out or I get arrested whichever comes first.

Reading plans for April do involve poetry though. I started reading Landscape with Rowers last month. The book is a slim collection of Dutch poets put together by J.M. Coetzee. It has six poets and each poet is represented by one long multi-part poem. I am reading the book along with my friend Cath who lives in the Netherlands and I am very glad to be sharing it with her. She is an insightful reader who helped me make sense of Gerrit Achterberg’s “Ballad of the Gasfitter.” We will likely finish this book before the end of the month. I am not sure what poetry collection I will take up after that. Perhaps I will finally get to T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.

I started reading A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin about the middle of last month and I am about halfway through. After the previous book in the series which was momentous event after momentous event, this one seems rather tame. But at the same time I am enjoying it immensely because many of the women in the series are making their own bids for power.

I am also still in the midst of Old Goriot by Balzac. I didn’t give it much time in March. I am blaming the unexpected review assignment I was given. All I can say is, I am enjoying it. I am reading it along with Danielle and bless her, she has been as distracted from it lately as I have so I don’t feel so very guilty.

New books I will be starting during the month include Francine Prose’s newest Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932. This is a review copy. Prose will be coming to Minneapolis in early May so I figured I’d read her book before I see her.

I also hope to read Don’t Let Me Be Lonely by Claudia Rankine. It is a mixed genre book of poetry, essay, and I think, memoir published in 2004 by the Twin Cities’ own Graywolf Press.

And finally, because I am so very greedy when it comes to just one more book to read, Bookman and I are going to read King Lear together. It will be a reread for me and a first time for him. And if I still have Patrick Stewart in my basement he will be forced to read some of Lear’s awesome speeches. After we finish reading the play we plan on watching a movie of it so if you have a favorite film version let me know!

That’s enough reading for April. I will be lucky if I get through half of it but I’m willing to give it a try.

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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10. Wendy Lesser’s Why I Read

What a relief. Over the weekend I managed to finish Wendy Lesser’s Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books. I borrowed this book from the library and since there is a waiting list there are no renewals. I have to return it Wednesday. I also finished the book I was assigned for review by Library Journal, The Critic in the Modern World: Public Criticism from Samuel Johnson to James Wood. And I wrote and submitted my tiny review; 190 words, I was not to go over 200. I am not sure what the etiquette of writing about that book here is. I’ll have to figure that out.

I started reading both of these books about the same time. I did not get off to a good start with theThe Critic and was very angry that in nearly 300 years of public literary criticism none of the essays focused on a female critic. But I had Lesser’s book going and she was making me happy, so very easy going and chatty, I had a hard time being interested in The Critic. But as irony would have it, I ended up liking The Critic quite a lot and Lesser’s book, meh.

There is nothing especially wrong with Why I Read. As I said, Lesser has an easy going, chatty style and she loves books and reading. She says in the prologue that she decided to write the book in order to figure out not why she reads so much as what she gets from from it. But really the book is about various aspects of books that she finds interesting, that motivate her to read and give her pleasure.

Lesser works her way through the various elements, discussing her favorite books and how they are examples of the chapter topic. She gives us a chapter on plot and character, novelty, authority, grandeur and intimacy, things like that. And it is all very well and good and I now have a short list of books she mentions that sound really interesting some of which I have never heard of.

In the end, however, I found myself wondering why I should even care about why Lesser reads. While I added some books to my TBR list, her discussions were nine parts enthusiasm to one part useful and interesting. Judging from the lack of pages I marked, I might actually need to downgrade that to only 1/2 of one part useful and interesting. She doesn’t bring anything new to the table, nothing fresh, and definitely nothing that would aid a reader in her own reading of any given book.

The final chapter is an “afterword” in which Lessor retreads the digital versus print debate. She owns an ereader and buys and reads digital books but firmly believes in the superiority of print. Which is fine, but I found it hard to care by this point and became really disturbed by her lack of understanding in the realm of copyright and why so many mid-twentieth century books are not available in a digital format.

I feel like I am being a bit too hard on Why I Read because it suffered from being read alongside The Critic. Lesser wasn’t aiming for insightful commentary or an intellectual history. She just wanted to spend some time conversing about all the things that make reading books so enjoyable. In that she succeeds. It just turned out that I wanted thought-provoking instead of easy going.

Filed under: Books, Nonfiction, Reviews

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11. You Give Me Fever

the garden emerges

the garden emerges

I have spring fever and I have it bad. This is kind of fever that it is good to have, right? Winter is losing its grip on us. The garden is beginning to emerge from beneath all the snow and what a welcome sight it is. Currently it is 53F (11C) outside. The ground is still frozen though but one thing at a time. I should be getting the catalog for the big annual plant sale Bookman and I got to every year sometime this week. Anticipating the pleasure of going through that catalog and choosing plants to buy for my garden is sending shivers up and down my spine and making me twitch. I can’t sit still.

Because I can’t sit still, I made Bookman help me prune Bossy the apple tree in our front yard this afternoon. It was so nice to be outdoors without a coat on. Glorious. Warm enough to be fine while moving around but not warm enough to sit out yet. But soon, soon. Maybe next weekend. The week ahead won’t be nice, rain/snow forecast almost every day. April showers starting early. The good thing about rain is that I don’t have to shovel it and it makes the snow melt faster.

Getting prune-y

Getting prune-y

The worms are not being so very cooperative in moving to the side of the bin with fresh bedding in it. Some of the worms have moved house but there are a lot that haven’t. So I pushed their old bedding into an even smaller pile and added more fresh bedding, food and some calcium (to promote wormy reproduction). When I was done I had dirt under my nails, almost like I had been outdoors, it made me a bit giddy. I told Bookman after he got home from work yesterday that I had gotten my hands dirty in the worm bin. He looked at me and said, “you know that’s worm poo, right?” Ah Bookman, thanks for that.

I’d like to report great success in the making of sauerkraut. And it was so incredibly easy. Therefore there will definitely be cabbage growing in the garden this summer. We are hoping the garden will yield a bumper crop of radishes and cucumbers this year so we may try fermenting those too. So exciting!

Filed under: gardening

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12. FYI

Even though I made good progress on my assigned reading over the weekend I still have about a third of the book to read and an (albeit short) review to write of it for the journal I am reviewing for. The book has improved, thankfully, but the reading is slow going. So no new posts until I finish the book and turn in my review. Then I’ll come back and tell you about the book and, I hope, some other fun things. I’ll still be around on the internet though, I have to get my daily fix!

Filed under: Blogging

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13. Anthropology of Reading

Anybody catch Tim Parks’ NYRB blog post last week Where I’m Reading From? In the essay he wonders about why people aren’t more interested in the anthropology of reading, who reads what and why. He thinks it would be good for there to be a public website or database or something where those who write about books professionally provide a brief account of “how we came to hold the views we do on books, or at least how we think we came to hold them” in order to throw some light on disagreements about books. Parks then goes on to write his personal contribution.

All this reminds me of W. H. Auden who created a long list of questions he thought critics should answer so that we readers would have some insight into how said critic might have come to have such an opinion. Auden’s questions aren’t all about books, which is good because our opinions about what we read are tied up with how we see, act and understand the world in other ways too. In fact, Auden wanted critics to write about what they thought Eden would be. I answered the questions in case you are curious. Parks is also aware that our judgments about books are built of many things, and while his piece focuses on how he came to read what he does, he looks at how his parents influence his reading choices, what kind of environment they created for him to grow up in, how they nurtured him or not. He even pulls his brother and sister into the mix.

Toward the end of the essay Parks provides a few examples of books he read and how his formative years influenced his response to, and opinion of, them. The point to all of it being, he finally decides, not just information for the reader to be able to judge his opinion, but also for himself. If you are aware of your habits you are better able to recognize your own bias and, if not correct it, at least own up to it.

Of course the Parks essay has gotten me thinking about why I read what I do. Why do I not really care for crime novels or mysteries but science fiction and fantasy are pretty darn awesome? Why do I tend to stay away from straight-up commercial fiction preferring literary fiction instead? Why do I get excited by books that challenge me in some way? And poetry, how the heck did I come to enjoy reading that so much? And what about the large chunk of my reading that is dedicated to nonfiction? What’s that all about? I don’t know how to answer those questions. I have suspicions of course. I’ll have to think about it a bit more and if I come up with anything satisfactory, I’ll share.

What about you? Do you know why you read what you read?

Filed under: Books, Reading

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14. First Robin of Spring

While there is still snow on the ground I saw proof today that it really is spring. Bookman and I met a friend for breakfast this morning. Our table was next to a window that looked out on the patio dining area. Empty and sad looking with a ridge of snow along its length, I looked out when a movement caught my eye. What did I see? A robin! It is the first robin I have seen this year. Mr. Robin looked a bit cold, but there he was which means spring for real.

Even though it is spring and the snow is slowly melting I am still about a month away from being able to actually plant anything in the garden. And the only reason I will be able to plant anything in a month is because it will be in a raised bed. A raised bed that hasn’t been built yet. As soon as the snow is out of the garden, Bookman and I will be venturing forth for the supplies to build the bed. We decided to use cinder block instead of wood. The bed will be our first ever polyculture bed. Which reminds me, I have to figure out exactly what we will be growing in it so I can make succession planting plans and all that. The bed will be about 4 x 8 feet. And you know, cinder blocks have openings in them. We will be filling all those up with soil too and planting sweet alyssum and nasturtium in the blocks. So excited!

I mentioned a couple weeks ago Bookman and I were going to try our hand at making sauerkraut. We haven’t gotten around to it until today. Chopped and salted cabbage packed down as best we could get it in a very large jar with a weight pressing down the cabbage. The book says it will take about 24-hours for the salt to pull all the water out of the cabbage. Then we give it several days to start fermenting. The longer it ferments, the more sour it gets. We’ll let ours sit until the end of the week before giving it a taste. If this goes well and we manage to not poison ourselves, one of the things that we will end up growing in our polyculture bed will be cabbage. And, if the kraut goes well, we will also try out using fermentation to make pickles this summer. It is an exciting new adventure in garden food preservation.

This weekend I also put my worm wrangler hat on. It is time to put new bedding in my red wiggler bin. Since I don’t want to dump the bin out on a tarp on my kitchen floor and sort the worms out of the compost, I am trying another method that supposedly works. I moved the current bin contents to one end of the bin. In doing so I disturbed many worms and even found a few small young ones (my worms had sex!). I put fresh bedding in one side of the bin and some fresh food and made it all as inviting as I could. I will let the old bedding on the one side of the bin dry out. The idea is the worms will migrate under their own power to the new bedding because that is where the damp and the food is. I hope it works so I don’t have to resort to a tarp on my kitchen floor. Bookman would not be pleased to have the worms cavorting free outside the prison walls of their bin. Fingers crossed!

Filed under: gardening

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15. Happy Spring!

Happy first day of spring! And to those of you south of the equator, happy first day of autumn!

While February crept along, March is flying by. My reading has gotten a bit discombobulated. Over a year ago I applied to review books for a library publication and didn’t hear anything from them. Then early last week I got an email to tell me a book was on the way and I have to have it read and reviewed by April 1st! The book didn’t arrive until the end of the week. And while it is not a big fat novel, it is a just over 200 page book of essays about the history of the modern critic. The author and I aren’t getting along from the get go which doesn’t make the reading easy. Good thing I have a deadline or I would take forever to finish this book.

Of course this book came at the same time my turn for Wendy Lesser’s new book came up. And of course I am enjoying Why I Read so much more than my assigned book that I will be having to do some assigned reading cramming over the coming weekend.

Waiting in the wings after these is a review copy of the new Francine Prose book, Lovers and the Chameleon Club. Prose will be in town in early May doing a reading at the public library so I figured this was one review copy I could agree to reading.

I must say though that I am surprised I made it this far into the year before my multitude of books in progress have made me feel a bit overwhelmed. My month-to-month planning is working pretty good. Once I get my assigned review book done I will feel much better again. I am grateful that it is only a short review of 200 words I have to write — piece of cake! I hope.

Now I want to leave you with a good laugh in case you missed the story. A man in Bristol discovered he’d been scammed by a man who sold him a PS3 console online which never was delivered. To get back at the scammer, he copied the complete works of Shakespeare and pasted them into one giant text message. You know how long text messages get broken up? Well, the scammer will be getting about 29,305 texts. It’s brilliant!

Filed under: In Progress

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16. Vital Signs

Vital Signs: Psychological Responses to Ecological Crisis turned out to be a great companion read to Braiding Sweetgrass. Both talk about climate change and our relationship with nature and ways we might go about repairing it but they do it in two very different ways. Braiding Sweetgrass took a personal, Indigenous American approach, offering a vision of what it might mean to recognize how humans are part of nature (as we always have been) and what we might do to repair and heal our relationship with the other-than-human world.

Vital Signs takes a distinctly industrial western approach through the lens of psychology, but it too comes down to discussing how we might create a reciprocal and sustainable relationship with nature and the other-than-human world. Since it approaches the topic through the frame of psychology and science, it might be a more palatable for people who don’t go in for touchy-feely things like talking to plants and trees.

When we see headlines like ones from yesterday Scientists Sound Alarm on Climate or hear about the press conference during which President Obama announced the launch of a new government website of climate change data, it is so easy to get depressed, to feel like there is nothing we as individuals can do so why bother? Or it is easy to get angry – I’m already doing everything I can, I recycle, buy summer vegetables at the farmer’s market and drive a hybrid car why can’t someone make all those people driving trucks and SUVs change their ways? The thing is, if we are going to get ourselves out of this climate change mess, we are all going to have to do quite a lot more than recycle and drive hybrid cars. And, we are going to have quite a bit of grieving to do, not for the planet, but for ourselves and the way of life we have come to feel entitled to in the industrialized west.

The things that drive climate change are many but at the root of it all is how humans have chosen to see themselves as separate from nature. While industrialized societies certainly have created a sense of safety, believing we are not part of nature is a mistake. We are and always have been part of nature. We evolved like every other creature on this planet and to say that we have somehow gone beyond and escaped Nature is hubris of epic proportion and has brought us to where we are today.

Believing we are separate from nature leads us to see everything around us as a resource to be exploited and commoditized. It also makes us think that we can somehow fix the problem of climate change with technology and ingenuity — someone just needs to invent something and then we can keep on keeping on as usual. But why would we want to?

Cutting ourselves off from nature has caused all sorts of mental health problems. We have forgotten who we are and what our place in the local and global environment is. We have lost a sense of identity and meaningfulness that a relationship with nature provides and to fill the hole we buy things and make the problem even worse. As one of the essayists in the book says,

We live in a world where identity is contingent and unstable, supported through relationships with material goods…And if lifestyle purchases are being used to support a very fragile sense of self, then demand for change may threaten personal breakdown and will be defended against. (Randall, ‘Fragile Identities and Consumption.’

In other words, who we are is very much tied up with what we own, and when that is threatened we are likely to get really defensive when we are told we aren’t doing enough.

The way we talk about climate change puts us in danger of making it worse. We talk about reducing our carbon footprint as though it were a new kind of diet. This is not the right approach insists Mary-Jayne Rust in “Ecological Intimacy” because anyone who has tried to diet knows it ultimately does not work:

This is a top down approach which is all about being “good.” The inevitable then follows: breaking the rules to binge on “naughty” food, a sensual orgy not unlike the sexual excitement of having an affair. The carbon diet urges people to love the good green life, while rampant consumerism and life in the fast lane can easily become part of the naughty, exciting sensual orgy or modernity.

Stopping climate change from getting worse is going to take nothing short of a complete lifestyle makeover. We have to figure out what it means to have enough and live with that. Of course, figuring that out isn’t going to be easy. Rust suggests we have to ask:

what is it we are really hungry for? Spending time in the garden, listening to the birds in the local park, lying on the beach and feeling the rhythm of the waves, are all experiences which nourish our sensual selves in a more satisfying way than consumer goods. Such experiences open portals into the timelessness of simply being — as opposed to the frantic doing, compartmentalized into hours, so prized by our cultural norms.

One or two of the essays in Vital Signs mentions the changes we need to make as sacrifices. I found this a bit bothersome because I don’t see it as a sacrifice at all because we will be gaining so much more. Rather than a sacrifice it is a transformation and a renewal. It makes a difference how we talk about these things. Back when Bookman and I first became vegan I used to talk about what I had give up and as a result I would sometime feel like I was missing something while at the same time I’d get ego strokes from people saying how disciplined I must be to give up cheese and ice cream. But as the years have gone by and I have eliminated other things from my diet like trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup, I have stopped seeing them as something I have given up since it is no true sacrifice. Instead when I talk to people I say I choose to eat other things and those other things are so much healthier and taste so much better that I do not feel any loss at all.

I know making lifestyle changes is not easy, I have struggled with them and I still do. But searching for what is enough is not a sacrifice, it is an opportunity to grow and discover and create something else even more meaningful than what existed before. And I think that is what the many people who contributed essays to Vitals Signs are trying to bring to their therapeutic practices as well as to the book. I won’t lie and say the whole book was really interesting and exciting but overall this collection of essays is worth the time and effort if for no other reason than feeling like you aren’t alone or powerless.

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

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17. Kindle Rebellion

Little did we know that my Kindle trouble recently was the start of a Kindle Rebellion at my house.

Bookman, who rarely turns off his electronic devices, decided Friday that he would turn off his computer and his Kindle. Saturday morning his Kindle would not turn back on. I saw him go through the Kindle frustration cycles just like he watched me do when I took the drastic step of zapping my Kindle back to its original factory settings. I had hoped to swoop in like he did with me and save the day. It was not to be. I couldn’t get the Kindle to turn on either.

I suggested that perhaps Bookman had let the battery run too low (he often does) and it just needed to be charged. So we plugged it into his computer. He had to go off to work. Hours later I noticed his Kindle still was not charged. I plugged it directly into the wall instead. But it still wouldn’t charge. The light remained orange and I noticed it kept flashing on and off like there was a loss of connection or something. But everything was fine as far as I could tell when I wiggled the cord.

Saturday night Bookman came home and the Kindle that had been theoretically charging all day still did not show us the green light and continued to refuse to turn on. Unfortunately, you can’t just buy a new battery. After a few more attempts to get the Kindle working on Sunday we declared Bookman’s Kindle dead and pulled the plug.

He has the day off today and decided to shop for a new ebook reader. He considered a Nook and a Kindle Paperwhite but in the end went for just the basic no frills e-ink Kindle. He ordered it.

A little while later he picked up his dead Kindle to remove the cover and it was on! And working! Like nothing ever happened!

He decided to not cancel the order for the new one, just in case.

Kindle Warrior

Kindle Warrior

But now I am wondering if this is a Kindle ploy to build the Kindle army in our house. Such gullible humans! We will soon have three Kindles and we two homo saps will be outnumbered. If this is the beginning of a Kindle uprising I wish I could count on Waldo and Dickens to help us out. Waldo is a good hunter, at least we think he is. Since he doesn’t go outdoors all he has ever hunted are spiders, centipedes and dust bunnies, but he is very good at it. And Dickens is Houdini reincarnated. He can open doors and dresser drawers and boxes and storage bins with clasps. Between the two of them they could save Bookman and I should
My army?

My defenders?

worse come to worst. But can one ever really trust a cat? Sure, they act like they love us, but one never really knows whether it’s true love or they’re just looking for a warm lap.

So I am getting this message out while I can, before the Kindles block my internet and keep me from communicating with the outside world. Beware the Kindle Rebellion!

Filed under: Kindle

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18. Squirrels Love Cardboard

Spring is finally on the way. We still have plenty of snow but after several days above freezing, bare ground is beginning to appear around trees and at the edges of sidewalks. It is such a relief.

Another sign that spring is imminent is the busy squirrels. When the temperatures were arctic and the snow piled high on the rooftops, I saw hardly any squirrels. Now they are out in force. To be sure they are looking for food, but they are also looking for nesting material. Since the snow still covers most of the ground making left over fall leaves impossible to find, they have chosen cardboard as their nesting material. We have a cardboard box on our deck that we were going to use as mulch in the garden but the squirrels have gotten there first. The bold critters come up and tear off pieces and run away with a full mouth. Waldo and Dickens are definitely entertained. They plaster themselves against the window and chatter at the squirrels. Does anyone else find a chattering cat both amusing and unnerving at the same time? The sound they make is funny but it’s like they are possessed.

It isn’t just the cardboard box on the deck that the squirrels are helping themselves to. I got two boxes in the mail over the course of the week. One was larger and had my new wellies in them. Yes I got wellies! My first pair ever and I like them very much. They are plain and slate colored but the color is more blue than grey and they look sort of periwinkle. Made by Kamik they are all rubber and should I manage to wear them out I can send them to the company for recycling. How cool is that?. Anyway, they got delivered while Bookman and I were away at work. When we finally retrieved them from the porch, the squirrels had helped themselves to a corner of the box.

On another day I received a book in the mail. It was too big for the mail carrier to put it in my mailbox so he left it on the porch in front of the door. Arriving home from work I startled away a squirrel who ran off with a mouthful of cardboard. It was not the first trip to the box because the whole of one end was gone! Thankfully the squirrel had not taken any bites out of the book inside. I have to admit it was kind of nice I didn’t have to wrestle the box open.

Since I am still a month or so away from being able to plant cool weather veggies in the garden I don’t mind the busy squirrels. I have a secret weapon to keep them from digging up my seeds this year. I am anxiously awaiting a battle of wits. In the meantime I am carefully observing the voracious appetite for cardboard of my enemies so that I may know them better and ultimately win the garden war.

Filed under: gardening

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19. MS Awareness Week

MS Awareness WeekWe interrupt the regular bookish nonsense for a brief post on MS Awareness Week.

As you may know, my beloved Bookman was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2005. I’ve been posting about MS Awareness week since 2006. This year I have been hemming and hawing and almost hawed myself out of posting about it not because things have been bad, far from it, but because of fatigue.

Nine years with MS and Bookman is doing really well. He has no new symptoms and things go on in a not-getting-worse kind of way. There are good days and bad days, but having settled into a sort of normalcy of living with a chronic illness one gets used to it but also tired of it. Tired of thinking about it, tired of talking about it, tired of hearing about it, tired of cheerleading and fundraisers and awareness weeks. And certainly one gets tired of living with it.

And that’s why I finally decided to post for Awareness Week. Because while Bookman isn’t getting worse, he also is not getting better. There is still no cure. Scientists still don’t know what causes MS. There have been some interesting discoveries over the past year that might eventually lead to treatment therapies that could, if not cure the disease, at least repair some of the neurological damage and keep it from getting worse. The time it takes for these things to develop means it could be years or a decade or more and for people who have an unpredictable chronic disease that is a really long time. My being tired of all of it is nothing compared to how Bookman and millions of others who actually have MS feel.

Bookman has benefited from one development over the past year. Prior to spring of 2013 there were no oral MS medications and Bookman had to give himself a daily injection. Now there are not one, but two oral medications. Bookman started taking one of them in May and so far so good. No major side effects and since he hasn’t had any relapses we assume the medication is working as well as his injectable medication did but it will be awhile before we know for sure. It was a bit disconcerting when he first started the oral medication to hear is neurologist say, “well we’ll know in a few years whether or not it works.” We’ll know it is working if he doesn’t have a relapse and he has a couple MRIs that come back showing no new myelin damage. In the meantime my skinny husband is grateful he no longer needs my help to squeeze up some imaginary fat on the back of his arms for an injection. And we both happily watch the years of injection site scars slowly fade from his arms, hips, legs and stomach.

We remain grateful for health insurance and his good general health. But not a day goes by that we don’t both look at our framed broadside of Jane Kenyon’s poem and know that one day it might be otherwise.

Filed under: Books Tagged: Multiple Sclerosis

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20. Bully Training: Read Lots

As readers we like to think we are really awesome and special people simply because we like to read a lot. At least I like to think that. Kinder, gentler, smarter, introverted perhaps and maybe even shy but still people savvy, high emotional IQ, and the list goes on and on. Just Google “benefits of reading” for yourself sometime for lists and lists.

But does literature really make us better people? MobyLives reported the other day on a Stanford Center for Ethics panel on the moral merits of reading and the findings? Reading literature does not make us more moral but it apparently can make us better bullies!

Reading literature does make us better as assessing someone’s emotional state and as a result we tend to have a well-developed Theory of Mind. Bullies also generally have a well-developed Theory of Mind. Of course we like to think we use our powers for good but I’ve watched enough superhero movies to know that even the good guys are a hairsbreadth away from turning bad, Superman even had a go at it. And remember, Hitler was a great reader and I don’t think anyone would argue he was a good person. Then there were the days long, long ago when novels were considered corrupting. Seems like they may have been on to something after all.

I mean, think of all the trouble we could cause if we decided to be bad. We’ve got so much knowledge stored up in our heads. If I had a wine cellar I could totally pull a “Cask of Amontillado” on somebody! And I know some of you would be able to effectively execute a locked door murder and know how to not get caught.

Dangerous we are. Good thing we are too busy reading and can’t be bothered to be bad unless being bad means staying up too late with a book or calling out sick in order to spend the day reading.

Filed under: Books, Reading

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21. A Hint of Spring

A glorious sunny day today that made it above freezing. Yes we have snow and ice melt and 43F (6C) degrees. Hooray! It will all freeze again tonight but tomorrow is supposed to be above freezing again and the trend is forecast to continue through the rest of the week. We have a lot of snow and ice to melt, it will be a couple weeks of above freezing temperatures before bare ground begins to appear and no doubt there will be days that don’t make it above freezing and we will surely have more snow. But at long last it finally feels like winter is coming to an end.

I spent about 45 minutes today outdoors in the sun chipping ice off the sidewalk. I got so warm I had to take off my mittens and scarf and unzip my coat. I would have taken my coat off too if I had anyplace to put it but on top of a snowbank. It felt good to be outdoors and not shivering.

I am reading a really good book at the moment called Bringing Nature Home by Douglas Tallamy. He is a professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware. The book is about the importance of plant and wildlife diversity and emphasizes using native plants in the garden. Really it is about the importance of insects and plants. Insects are the largest class of herbivores on the planet and while many of them are generalists, they will eat just about anything, a large chunk of insect species are specialists, meaning they depend on certain plants for food and reproduction. When cities sprawl and suburbia creeps ever further out, native plants are most often replaced by non-native plants — fescue lawns and ornamental shrubs, trees, and flowers from other countries. The insects that rely on certain kinds of plants will disappear and the birds and other animals that relied on those insects for survival will also disappear. The book is amounting to some fascinating information about insects in the ecosystem and why a healthy insect population is so very important to a general diversity of life.

Bookman and I have a forsythia in our front yard. We love it’s yellow blooms in spring and it was one of the first things we planted when we bought our house 13 years ago. Based on what I have been learning from this book and other reading, Bookman and I have decided this spring will be the last for our forsythia. It is a nonnative plant, it provides no food or habitat for anything. In fact, I can’t even recall seeing any small birds even land on it. It takes up a nice sunny spot in the yard that we will instead fill in with prairie plants. I haven’t decided what yet, but that will be some future fun planning. I will wait and see what the plant sale catalog has on offer this year. And that plant sale catalog? Three more weeks until it becomes available. I can hardly wait!

Filed under: gardening

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22. Drastic Measures

My Kindle and I have been having an ongoing argument. I mentioned our disagreement back in November when it appeared that Kindle was developing an opinion about what I should and shouldn’t read. I thought we had come to an understanding after the incident since things went on in a friendly way for the next book or two. But January brought a few hiccups and February almost came to a melt down.

Now over the weekend I felt like Kindle and I were in the knife fight from Beat It except without the cool dance moves.

I finished reading David Copperfield and was queuing up my next book only Kindle refused to cooperate. It either kept trying to take me to the Amazon online store or would not let me page through my books to the one I wanted to read next. No amount of restarting helped. Amazon troubleshooting and forums all said restart and all will be well. Liars!

Finally I decided to take the nuclear option. I saved all my books onto my computer since most of the books on my Kindle are from Project Gutenberg and I didn’t want to have to download them all again nor did I want to lose my highlights and notes. Then I reset Kindle to its original factory settings. Zap!

But Kindle refused to bow down in submission. Resetting it also deregistered it from Amazon which means the few books I have bought were inaccessible and I couldn’t borrow an ebook from the library if I wanted to. When I tried to get to the settings menu to re-register Kindle, it refused to allow me to go to the page.

Kindle and I circled around each other, waving our knives. While Kindle was silent, I was not. Bookman became alarmed. Let me help you he pleaded. There is nothing you can do! I snapped. I was sorely tempted to break Kindle in half against the edge of the table and be done with it once and for all. But Bookman swooped in like Michael Jackson in the video, randomly pushed buttons, and suddenly Kindle decided to dance! I registered, plugged Kindle into my computer, copied all my books back to it and held my breath. Success!

Today I began reading Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin and Kindle continues to behave. We’ll see what Kindle will do when I am done with the book in a few weeks. Will it let me read another book without trouble? Time will tell. But for now we are getting along again.

Filed under: ebooks, Kindle

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23. David Copperfield

Tristram Shandy still being in my not long ago reading memory I could not help but compare the opening of that book to David Copperfield.

A memory refresher in case it has been a while since you read either book or in case you have never read them at all.

Tristram Shandy begins:

I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly consider’d how much depended upon what they were then doing;—that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;—and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost;—Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,—I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that in which the reader is likely to see me.

And David Copperfield:

I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night.

Both books are coming of age stories written from the perspective of a later date and both books begin at the beginning only it takes Tristram nearly half to book to actually get born where David does it in the first sentence. Both books are more about character than plot and filled with digressions. But the whole point of Tristram is the digression and Copperfield always comes back to a main progression toward a firm conclusion. Tristram ends with a joke and loose ends flying everywhere, while Copperfield ends with everything wrapped up and tied with a neat little bow. I’ve no further comparisons to make or brilliant observations, I only wanted to remark how fascinating literature is that you can have the same basic story told in two completely different ways.

What I found really interesting about David Copperfield is how all the characters come in pairs except for David, he is left alone until late in the book. There are the brother and sister Murdstones, Dr. Strong and Mrs. Strong, Mr. Wickfield and his daughter Agnes, Mr. and Mrs. Micawber, Uriah Heep and his mother, David’s aunt and Mr. Dick, Steerforth and his butler Littimer. Everybody has somebody except David who goes from pairing to pairing, learning from each while being cared for or hated.

I would have thought that in all these relational pairings David would have learned something about pairing up himself, but alas, he makes the same mistake his father made and chooses a “child-wife.” When he gets a second chance he makes the correct choice but he had to learn the hard way.

In spite of its length and lack of real drama, David Copperfield moves along pretty well without bogging down at all. It does bog down though. The last 15% of the book dragged as David went on his European tour to get over his grief at losing Dora and as Dickens felt compelled to tie up all the ends. The wrapping up went on and on and on as characters died, got put in jail, or shipped out to Australia. Australia solved a lot of problems for Dickens in this book. Need to get rid of a thief? Send him to Australia! Need a fresh start? Go to Australia! It actually got to be kind of funny. It’s a good thing Dickens had so many characters to dispose of, which was probably the problem in the first place. Nonetheless, good book. And if you like Dickens you are sure to enjoy David Copperfield.

Filed under: Books, Charles Dickens, Reviews

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24. Life is Short, Read Fast

Have you heard about the anti-slow reading app called Spritz? It’s a speed reading app, “reading reimagined” they say. Why do you need a speed reading app? Because reading is so time consuming. The thing that takes the most time is moving your eyes across the page so Spritz presents the text to you one word at a time with key letters highlighted to help you recognize the word faster. The app will supposedly help you read up to 1000 words a minute. The average reading rate of an adult is 220 words a minute. They are touting you can read a whole novel in under 90 minutes! That way you know you can either read more books or move on to doing something else with all your extra spare time.

Spritz is basically power skimming. One. Word. At. A. Time. Can. You. Imagine. What. That. Would. Do. To. Proust? Or Henry James? Or Virginia Woolf? Or pretty much any writer who isn’t a robot? Why anyone would want to read a novel that fast is beyond me. No, wait, I know who would. People who only read so they say they have read. The ones who aren’t really readers but want to look like it so they can sound smart.

But what sort of comprehension can one possibly manage at 1000 words a minute? Hardly any according to the Telegraph. There are limits to how fast you can process information. Apparently we max out on spoken words at 300 words per minute. And I don’t know about you, but when I read, no matter what I read, I hear the words in my head and if I don’t hear them in my head they don’t really register and I forget them, get lost, don’t know what I just read. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the 300 words per minute max for spoken words also held true more or less for reading.

Plus, when we read we don’t just read one word at a time. We read phrases too. Our eyes also do not move smoothly across the page even though that is what it feels like. When we read our eyes move back and forth across the line as we put together an understanding of what we are reading.

The people at Sprtiz want everyone to use their app. Sorry Spritz, you won’t get everyone because I will never use it. Ever.

If you want a demo of what the app looks like and how it works at different speeds, you can give 250, 350, and 500 words a minute a try here. If your experience is like mine, 250 felt fast but totally doable without much effort. At 350 I started to feel tense and felt my shoulders start to move up to my ears. At 500 my blood pressure shot up and I felt a little crazy and angry because I couldn’t completely comprehend the whole thing. One could argue that with practice, speed will improve. But what’s the point?

I’ll stick with slow reading, thanks.

Filed under: Books, Reading

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25. Show Your Jane Austen Love

One of my coworkers who knows I am a book nerd brought in a small clipping for me from a magazine she was reading recently. What was the clipping about? A short blurb on temporary Jane Austen tattoos. The sheet of temporary tattoos comes with 22 different designs from a stack of books with Austen’s titles on them to a heart with Mr. Knightly across it to a locket with Willoughby and Wickham inside and “Bad Boys” on a banner across the bottom. So very silly but hilarious too.

The same website also offers Jane Austen air freshner you can hang in your car. It supposedly smells of “genteel lavender.” There are also Jane Austen band-aids, or plasters to you UK folk. And, of course, a Jane Austen action figure. I’ve had one of these for several years expect my Jane is wearing a green jacket. So glad I got it before they pinked her up!

Since I am on the topic of Jane Austen stuff, if you have a fountain pen you might like some De Atramentis ink in the color Jane Austen. I have a bottle and not only is the ink top notch, the color is a nice grey-green. Another ink company, Organic Studio has recently come out with their own Jane Austen color. This one is lavender/violet. It’s new and I don’t own it and probably won’t because I am not a fan of purple ink unless it is dark.

Lots of things with which to Austenize your life. And if you haven’t seen Austenland yet, well , rent it, stream it, however you view your movies these days, see it.

Filed under: Jane Austen

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