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1. Sex Criminals

Earlier today I had a thought. I know right, such a rare occurrence! The thought was about something I should mention tonight that would transition so nicely with the graphic novel I just finished reading. Since I had this thought at work I was going to send myself an email reminder. Do you ever do that? Send yourself emails or texts to remind you to do stuff? But I got busy at the circulation desk and the email to myself never got sent.

Now I’ve been trying to remember for the last hour what it was I wanted to write and I can only remember that I wanted to remember something. It’s like when you tie a string around your finger and then forget why you did it. Oh well.

The Pulitzers were announced today though. I am so out of it I didn’t even know it was that time of year. Anthony Doerr won for All the Light We Cannot See. Gregory Pardlo won for poetry. I have never heard his name before. Someone “new” to investigate sometime.

coverThe Pulitzers do not make a nice transition to the graphic novel, Sex Criminals Volume One: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. It is told from Suzie’s point of view and in a way is a kind of coming-of-age story. When Suzie is a teen and pleasures herself for the first time she learns that when she orgasms time stops. Eventually it wears off and time starts moving again. At first she thinks this is something that happens to everyone but no one is willing to talk to her about it and none of the books at the library mention it. When she is a few years older and has sex for the first time she learns what she was beginning to suspect, it is just her.

Until she meets Jon. Suzie is a librarian and her library is going to be foreclosed on by the bank. She is throwing a fundraising party to try to save the library and Jon shows up at the party, saves her from a loser dude trying to pick up on her, and then makes her fall in love with him by quoting extensively from Lolita, Suzie’s favorite book.

Well, it turns out when Jon has an orgasm he can stop time too. Then we get some flashbacks of Jon’s story. Meanwhile, since the beginning of the book, we’ve been getting flashforwards of Suzie and Jon robbing a bank and the whole thing not going well. Eventually all the timelines catch up and the whole sex criminals title makes sense.

I know it sounds kind of weird. Okay, so it is weird. But it’s good too. The art is great and the story is definitely different. And it is not a raunchy sex book. But it’s definitely adult content, not something you want to give your thirteen-year-old niece or nephew for a birthday present. And probably not something you want to give grandma for Christmas unless you have a really cool grandma. It’s fun and silly. There is one panel when Suzie and Jon are laying in bed together saying “Sylvia Poggioli” over and over very slowly. And then Jon comments that Susan Stamberg has a sexier voice. Now if you live in the US and listen to National Public Radio this is one fantastic joke. I am never going to be able to hear either of them on radio again without giggling. And did I mention Suzie is a librarian? Not one of those sexy, shirt unbuttoned down to here and skirt cut up to there librarians, but a normal human being kind of librarian.

I put myself in line at the library for volume two, which was just published this year. I’m something like number 44 in line. Volume One ends with a sort of cliffhanger so I hope I don’t have to wait so very long for my turn to come round.

Filed under: Books

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2. Gardening Season Begins!

Lily of the valley

Lily of the valley

The weather during the week was sunny, dry and warm. Oh, and windy. The wind makes my allergies very bad so it’s best to just skip over the misery to the beautiful warm, sunny and non-windy days that were Friday and Saturday. They could not have been more perfect. Unfortunately I had to spend most of my day indoors working on Friday, but the evening was mild and relaxing.

Saturday I had work to do. The forecast for Sunday was rain off and on all day. Gardening had to happen this weekend and it had to happen on Saturday. Bookman was at work so he missed out on all the fun. I spent two glorious hours outdoors. I began in the front garden removing leaves and cutting back the remains of last year’s perennials and grasses. I had decided last year that I want to use my tall native grasses to make baskets. I don’t have a huge prairie so they would have to be small or take a year or two to make one of size. No problem. I found out how to do this: cut grasses before they flower, place in a warm area to dry. When the time came last summer to cut back some of the grass to dry I couldn’t bear the idea. I know, it’s grass, it would grow back, but it’s so pretty waving in the breeze. So I decided I didn’t mind some fluffy grass seedheads in the mix and I would let nature take its course and when the grass dried naturally I’d cut it back to use.

When the time came to cut the dry grass I thought, oh it looks so pretty I can’t cut it back yet. I’ll wait until just before it snows. Snow came late but the cold didn’t and who wants to be out cutting back grass when it’s 25F/-4C outside? Spring, I’ll do it in spring.

And as I was cutting back the grass yesterday I understood why it gets cut when it is green. It is fresh and clean, unbroken and unbent. In spring it has been flattened by snow, has leaves and dirt in it. It is no good for baskets, only good for mulch and compost. Lesson learned. So this summer I will try cutting a little from a few clumps of grass and drying it and seeing how that goes.

I must have some new neighbors down the street from me because as I was working a child of about eight I had never seen before was riding his bike up and down the street all by himself. He seemed to be having a good time, zooming along and sometimes singing to himself. Finally his curiosity got the best of him and he stopped and asked me what I was doing. I explained I was clearing away the leaves and dead twigs so the new flowers could grow. He didn’t know what to say to that but sat there on his bike watching me for a bit before he asked if I was “helping the house.” I understood his question to mean was I being paid by the people who live in the house to do this work. I told him no, that I live in the house. His response was “oh” and then he zoomed off down the sidewalk and didn’t come by again. Did I scare him or have I been placed in the “crazy lady” box?

I got one big bed cleared. There is another large bed and a couple smaller ones yet to do. Almost all of these plants are natives and they don’t need much attention at all in order to thrive and do their thing. Unless there is something newly planted in one of the beds, my policy tends to be one of benign neglect. No one took care of them on the prairie, they don’t really need me to take much care of them now.

I was happy to see the gooseberry I planted last year is leafing out and the black currant, which I fretted

beginning ramp patch

beginning ramp patch

over all winter because it looked like nothing more than a stick in the snow, is covered in new leaves too. And, hooray, the ramps came back! Ramps are wild leeks, native to woodlands in Minnesota. I planted a couple last spring and they went dormant a few weeks after that. To see them tall and leafy now makes me very happy. Hopefully in a couple of years I will have a patch large enough I can start harvesting some for an early spring treat.

In the vegetable garden in the backyard I prepped the polyculture bed for planting. I had covered it in leaf mulch for the winter and with the wind most of the leaves had blown away. So I broke up the top of the soil pulled out a few weeds that had sprouted, turned some of the leaves under — found some earthworms yay! I also cut back all the dead stalks from the perennial sunflower that lives next to the polyculture bed. When Bookman came home in the evening we planted the bed with a lettuce variety mix, cosmic purple carrots, red beets and golden beets, parsnips and purple radish. Then we covered it with row cover fabric and weighed down the corners. Since it was going to rain, we didn’t water it.

It did rain a little overnight, not much though. And today it rained only once for about twenty minutes. It was too wet to do any digging but Bookman and I got out in the garden for a little while. We worked on breaking up some old concrete and used it to mark out more paths through the garden. At one point Bookman failed to remember he was swinging a sledge hammer while standing beneath a clothesline rope. He swung the hammer, it hit the rope and bounced back and gave him a glancing blow to the head. I didn’t see it happen, only heard the cursing after the fact.

Bookman is ok. He has a small cut on his forehead, a bruise and a marble-sized lump. But we decided he needed to be done gardening for the day. After a long afternoon rest, however, he did take a few minutes to help me plant sunflower seeds in pots. We have to start the sunflowers so the squirrels don’t dig up the seeds.

But it isn’t squirrels I am worried about this year. The mild winter we had allowed the rabbit population to embiggen and we’ve had several rabbits foraging through the garden over the last few weeks. There was nothing growing except weeds and greening grass so I didn’t think much about it. Until yesterday when I walked around the garden checking on all my shrubs. Bush cherries looking good, black raspberry fantastic, winterberries made it, blackberry not sure, huckleberry — hey where did the huckleberry go? Eaten down to a nub. And it is a good thing I already decided to give up on the blueberries because the rabbits had eaten those too! Nonetheless I was a bit miffed.

My nextdoor neighbor has a large shade tree in the backyard and has told us there is a hawk nesting in its upper branches. I can see a nest but I have not seen the hawk. Is it bad of me to hope the hawk takes care of the rabbit problem? There were three large rabbits. In the last few days I have only seen one. I have not seen any rabbit remains though so maybe the rabbits have just become more cautious? Whatever the case, I now have to take extra precautions and protect against both squirrels and rabbits. Not pleased about that!

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3. Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature

April is National Poetry Month and I have neglected to say anything about it thus far. Well, I am about to fix that.

The Library of Congress today launched the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. There are fifty recordings available at the moment and it will be added to every month.

The LOC is digitizing its collection of nearly 2,000 recordings of poets and prose writers who participated in events at the library. Most of the recordings are on magnetic tape reels and until now have only been available by visiting the library.

Among the items available at launch is Robert Frost being interviewed by Randall Jarrell in 1959 and the Academy of American Poets’ 35th anniversary program from 1969 that included readings by Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. That is just the tip of the iceberg. It is a true treasure trove.

This is why I love the internet. Go now, explore the archive and enjoy.

Filed under: Poetry Tagged: Elizabeth Bishop, Library of Congress, Robert Frost

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4. Now I Can Catch Up

This morning when I sat down to breakfast Bookman asked whether I had heard Eduardo Galeano had died. Yesterday I said, and Günter Grass too. Bookman commented that we have several fat Galeano novels on our bookshelves. I know, I replied, I’ve always meant to read him. Well now you can finally catch up, Bookman quipped.

Indeed I can. I can catch up on Grass too whom I have also meant to read and haven’t managed.

When authors are alive and writing it is hard to keep up with them sometimes. I mean, they are only writing one book at a time but we are reading all sorts of books all the time. And much as I wanted to read Margaret Atwood’s short story collection that came out last autumn, I still haven’t managed it. It’s lovely little hardcover self sits on my reading table, waiting. In the meantime I have heard she is publishing a novel this autumn. It kind of stresses me out a little. Thank the book gods I am not a huge have-to-read-everything fan of Joyce Carol Oates.

I am sad both Grass and Galeano have died and I look forward to the day I finally read their work and, perhaps, catch up on all of it. It is easier when an author you want to read but have not yet read dies. You can be sad but you can’t really be OMG I’m such a huge fan sad. When authors I do love die it is much harder. I am very sad there will be no more books whether or not I have yet read them all. But weird things happen.

Like when Adrienne Rich died in 2012. I had read all of her published books both poetry and nonfiction. She had just published a new collection of poetry about a year before her death. I had begun reading it, slowly, savoring, taking a long time about it. And then she died. And I stopped reading the book. It is still sitting on my night table. I haven’t picked it up since. It is her last book and when it’s done, it’s done. Sure, there might be some additional poems and nonfiction writing collected up but it won’t be quite the same. I can’t bring myself to finish the book.

Something similar happened when Octavia Butler died so suddenly. I had just discovered her a few years prior and was happily cruising through her newer books and looking forward to reading everything she has published. Then she died. The only book of hers I have read since then is an older collection of short stories. I can’t bring myself to read all the other books because, you know, when I have read them there won’t be any new ones and so nothing to anticipate. At least right now I still have the anticipation of the ones I have not read.

I know it is silly. But I bet all of us readers have some kind something or other that is silly. So now I can catch up on Galeano and Grass. One day I will finish the final poetry book of Adrienne Rich and the remainder of Butler’s books too. Probably.

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5. When Books Went to War

book coverWhen Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning turned out to be bit thinner and lighter than I expected but was enjoyable nonetheless. The focus of the book is World War II and efforts undertaken to provide American troops with a constant flow of books. The effort was for two reasons, first and foremost, it was to counteract the war of ideas Hitler had unleashed with his book, Mein Kampf and the demoralizing radio broadcasts that he used to bombard the airwaves to make people think that he was right in his philosophy and there was no way to stop him or his army. The second and just as important reason for books was to provide the troops with something to do during all their hours of downtime and help them keep up morale.

The move to provide the troops with books began before the United States actually entered the war. A draft was instituted and suddenly thousands of men had to go off to training camps, some of which had not even been built yet. Librarians across the country began coordinating and holding book donation drives to provide all of the soldiers in training reading material. It was a huge success.

Once the U.S. entered the war, however, the librarians were told their books were not wanted any longer. Part of it was that all of the books at that time were large hardcovers and hardcover books were not troop friendly. When you have to march all day and your pack is already heavy, do you want to add a hardcover book to it? No. So the War Department and publishers got together and created a group called the Council on Books in Wartime. While there were a few publishers that had been experimenting with paperback books before the war, it was the creation of American Service Editions (ASEs) that brought paperback books to the masses.

Paper was being rationed and books had to be able to fit into a soldier’s pocket. The ASEs were designed to be light and small and readable anywhere. They were such a success the number of books printed each month had to be increased several times in order to keep up with the demand. The books were printed in a series beginning with series “A” which had thirty titles. Each book had a thumbnail picture of the original cover and its letter and number in the series. Oftentimes the most popular books would be called solely by their series letter-number combo. One of the most in demand titles was D-117, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

A set of books would be sent to a unit and passed around. Reading ASEs became such the rage that if you didn’t read them there was something wrong with you. And their portability made sure they got read everywhere from training camp to hospital, from foxhole to the beaches of Normandy where the men who made it to the cliffs but were wounded and could not continue sat, hunkered down, reading while waiting for medical help to reach them.

As important as the program was it was not without its problems and controversies. Some of the books were considered to be lewd or inappropriate and attempts were made by groups in the US to ban certain titles. There was also a bill passes in congress that threatened the entire program’s existence. The bill placed restrictions on the kinds of subject matter allowed in combat zones. Nothing that the government deemed political argument or political propaganda of any kind would be allowed. Violators would be fined and prosecuted. The bill was so vague the Council chose to interpret it in its broadest sense. This meant a very popular biography of Woodrow Wilson was not allowable along with a slew of other books. There was such an angry outpouring of letters from troops and from their families at home that the government very quickly amended the bill and set everything aright.

By the end of the war there were 1,200 different ASE titles and over 120 million books printed. The Council as well as authors received so many grateful letters from the frontlines and innumerable comments about how the ASEs had turned people into readers who had never been interested in books before.

When the GI Bill was passed providing those who had served a free college education, a great many men who went to university were inspired to do so because of the books they had read. In addition, all those new readers returning home wanted to continue reading. As a result the publishing industry boomed and the market for paperback books took off not only among the returning troops but within the general population as well.

I loved reading about this aspect of WWII, what book lover wouldn’t? The book itself is rather slim for a history, only 194 pages. And it doesn’t go into in-depth details or studies of people and places. There is also a bit of a repetitive feel to it, how many letters from servicemen about how great the ASEs are can be quoted before they all kind of meld together? When Books Went to War is still a good read. And Manning provides a complete list of all the ASE titles and their numbers in an appendix at the back of the book so prepare to add some titles to your TBR lists and piles.

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6. Rain, Sun, Wind

After a cold, wet and grey week it feels almost like summer outside this weekend. Saturday was about 70F/21C and today is 76F/24C! Rain followed by warmth and sun is going to jumpstart all things growing. I have tulip leaves pushing up through the mulch and a few eager perennials too. Next weekend will see me outdoors cutting back all the dead perennial stalks and clearing mulch off the low growing plants. I saw lots of people out in their gardens today while I was torturing Bookman with a bike ride, but it is too windy this afternoon to be out. My allergies were bothering me before the bike ride, they are worse now. To be outdoors getting dust and leaf mold up my nose right now would send me over the top. So, perhaps there will be a nice evening during the week to start work outdoors. If not, nothing horrible will happen if I don’t get to it until Saturday.

The bike ride this morning was wonderful. I don’t know how far we went because I accidentally hit the wrong button on my bike app and poof! our whole ride about three-quarters of the way through disappeared. We took some bike trails we had never been on before and took some wrong turns onto other trails and had to backtrack, so my guess is we rode 24 (38.6km), maybe 25 (40km) miles. The ride was originally mapped at around 23.5 miles (37.8km). The light breeze blowing when we began our ride soon turned into a 20 mph/32kmh wind. And it seemed like we were always riding into it. There were a few times it blew as a cross wind, which made for some interesting riding when it would gust. If you were watching me and didn’t know better, you might have thought I was riding while intoxicated! Bookman was not too keen on the wind but I kind of liked it even though it made my nose run even more because of my allergies. It was a good opportunity to practice balance and get bonus workout points.

But back to the garden. Most of the seeds I’ve been planting since the beginning of March are doing well. The peppers didn’t germinate in profusion, but there are some and some is better than none, right? All the seed starting is pretty much done except for sunflowers and the only reason we start those ahead of time is because the squirrels dig up the seeds. Those I will start next weekend. And I just realized, that if the weather continues warm this week, and it looks like it might, I will be able to seed lettuce, peas, radishes, spinach and other cool weather veggies in the garden next weekend. Woo! I had better figure out what my seeds are and where they are going this week!

Bookman will have a couple different contractors out during the week to look at our garage and give us estimates for tearing it down. We were out measuring today to get an idea of how big the space is so I can figure out how many shrubs to purchase at the plant sale for planting along the fence we will be putting up along the alley. The space is so much bigger than I thought it was! It looks tiny with a big one-and-a-half-car garage on the site, but take that down, replace it with a 7.5 x 7 foot shed (2.3 x 2m) and a chicken coop and run that will be about 5 x 10 feet (1.5 x 3m) and Bookman guesstimates we will have about 200 square feet (61m) of additional garden space! Squee!

It won’t all be planted though. There will be a gravel path between the shed doors and the gate in the fence and there will be gravel around the chicken coop for ease of access and what-not. However, there will still be a lot of additional garden to grow in. Do I need to tell you how much fun I am having planning this space? I am calling it the Chicken Garden because I am designing it so the chickens can free-range in this little garden without having access to the bigger vegetable garden. It is going to take a lot of work because I expect after being buried under concrete for sixty years, the soil is going to be pretty compacted and fairly dead. Roaming chickens will certainly help improve it much faster, however.

I have also decided that when we are building the coop over the summer, we will build it with a green roof. Mine won’t be exactly like this but you get the idea. I borrowed a book from the library called Small Green Roofs to help us figure out how to build it. The roof will have to support the extra weight of all that soil, which requires some extra structural pieces. In addition to looking pretty, a green roof will keep the coop cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. How fun is that going to be?

Can you tell how excited I am about all the planning? The actual doing will start soon. Stayed tuned!

Filed under: gardening Tagged: chickens

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7. Reading in Bed

I don’t know what it is these past several nights but I’ve been barely able to keep my eyes open while reading before bed. Maybe it’s the cold, grey days we’ve been having. Maybe it’s because work has been pretty busy. Hard to say but it is frustrating.

Do you read before going to sleep? I know sleep experts frown upon the practice but I thumb my nose at them. I love reading in bed at night and so does Bookman. It happens every night and on the few occasions when it doesn’t, it feels so wrong. Sometimes the time reading before lights out is only 10-15 minutes. Most often it’s around half an hour. When we are feeling wild and crazy and don’t have to work the next day it might stretch to 45 minutes, even an hour. Whoa! I know, right?

My eyes were drooping in a major way last night. I could barely read an entire sentence before they would go unfocused and I’d begin to nod. That’s when I start trying all kinds of ways to keep alert. Sit up straight, hold my book up off my lap, put a finger on the page to follow the words as I read. None of it was working. I wasn’t about to admit defeat though. I probably read the same two pages three or four times before we turned off the light.

It’s not the book’s fault. I’m reading When Books Went to War at the moment. Good pacing, not brainy but not fluff, long chapters but lots of breaks within the chapters, easy to put down and pick up where I left off.

Choosing a book to read before bed is an art. Don’t you think? You want something relaxing but not dull. You don’t want something that is so exciting and such a page-turner you stay up into the wee hours. It has to be something you can start and stop. It has to bear up under an attention that might drift from time to time or eyes that might droop. You don’t want a chunkster you’ll be stuck reading for the next eight months. But you don’t want something so short you can finish it in a night or two.

Essays tend to work fairly well for me but not all essays. If they are long I will want to read the whole essay which could be detrimental to my beauty sleep. But if they are too short I feel kind of cheated because I didn’t get to read long enough. I’ve thought before that short stories should make great bedtime reading but I find it difficult to manage varying lengths. Where I might be able to stop in the middle of a long essay if I have to, short stories should be read in story-chunks. So I rarely end up reading stories before sleep.

Certain kinds of novels work really well. Proust is not a good choice to read before sleep. Murakami will give you wacky dreams. Anything remotely tense or thriller-y will cause bad dreams or not allow you to sleep at all for fear of what that noise might be. Science fiction and fantasy tend to work pretty well as does lighter literary fiction. I find nonfiction works really well too, but not all nonfiction. Books on history like When Books Went to War, letters, diaries, memoir and literary biography are good choices. One must stay away from books on science and technology before sleeping because they require too much mental effort.

Sometimes poetry works. It has to be an “easy” poet though like Mary Oliver. T.S. Eliot is not good before bed reading.

How do you choose your before sleep reading? Do you have a preference for certain kinds of books or a particular genre?

Filed under: Books, Reading

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8. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

After several months of waiting, my turn for Roz Chast’s graphic memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? finally came round. It was worth the wait.

You may already know what it is about. Chast’s parents were aging and she tried several times to talk to them about what they would want to do if something happened. Of course no one likes to think or talk about these sorts of things and trying to talk to your parents about it, especially when they don’t want to talk about it, is no easy thing. So Chast’s attempts went nowhere. And her parents continued to age and everything was fine until it wasn’t.

In their early 90s and becoming more frail, unable to keep the apartment clean and relying on a friendly neighbor to pick up things from the grocery store for them, it was only a matter of time before something happened. The call came at midnight. Chast’s mom had fallen while trying to stand on a ladder to change a light bulb. The fall had actually happened a few days before and she refused to go to the doctor. Nothing a little bed rest couldn’t fix. Until she couldn’t get out of bed. While Chast’s mom spent a few days at the hospital she had her father stay with her and her family. It was then she noticed her dad’s mental acuity was nowhere near what she thought it was. Her mom had been taking care of him and covering up just how bad he had gotten.

Thankfully, her mom was not seriously injured. But it was the beginning of the long decline. After more incidents Chast managed to convince her parents that they needed to move into assisted living. It was a nice facility where they had their own apartment and Chast, her husband and kids were nearby and could visit them frequently. Still, the parents did not go willingly.

The memoir is well told with humor and compassion. The art is cartoon-y but expressive. Chast’s story is the story of so many others that it is no surprise really why the book is so popular. I have family members who have had to take care of their aging parents. I have friends who are in the midst of taking care of theirs. It is not easy and our society doesn’t help make it any easier. Care facilities cost astronomical sums of money. Chast’s parents had scrimped and saved their entire lives and it only took a couple of years before they had nearly run through all their savings. Is that what we work all our lives to save for? Not retirement, but to pay for decent end-of-life care? And what happens when the money runs out? What happens if you have no one like Chast to look out for your best interests when you are not able to? It’s a scary prospect.

Growing old sucks. But the thing is, I don’t believe it has to. I don’t know how to change society and culture so that the golden years truly are golden right up to the last breath. But it is definitely something that needs to change.

Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, Memoir/Biography, Reviews Tagged: Roz Chast

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9. Shiny

The Spring issue of Shiny New Books is up!

I was so lucky to have the chance to read and review not one, but two, Oxford Classic reissues of Virginia Woolf books.

There is the delightful and marvelously rich Orlando:

I first read Orlando by Virginia Woolf many years ago. Fresh in love with Woolf’s writing and having just learned about her romance with Vita Sackville-West, I read the book as one long love story. But to read Orlando purely as a love letter from Virginia to Vita is to miss all the truly strange and wonderful things the book does. Because the book is also mock historical fiction and a satire on biography, not to mention an examination of identity and gender as well as a criticism of literary criticism. The book turns out to be charming, rich, and complex.

Having just published To the Lighthouse, Woolf wanted to write something lighter to please the public, something of which a reader could understand every word. But this is Woolf we are talking about and she sent me to the dictionary a number of times. Orgulous? Drugget? Obfusc? Woolf made that last one up!

Then I got to read The Waves for the first time. I was pretty nervous about that one and as you can tell, the introduction didn’t help matters. However, I should not have worried because it turned out to be a most amazing book:

Oxford World Classics has produced a terrific reissue of Virginia Woolf’s novel The Waves. There are helpful endnotes, biographical information, a selected bibliography and an introduction. But don’t read the introduction first. This is not because the introduction spoils anything, The Waves has no plot to spoil. Nor is it a badly written introduction, in fact it is quite good.

Don’t read the introduction first because it will color the way you read the novel. It will scare you by telling you how difficult The Waves is. It will tell you the book is Woolf’s most anti-colonial novel and you will spend far too much energy looking for clues for this. It will explain characters to you before you even meet them, which will cause you, when you do meet them, to have preconceived opinions. It will try to pin down into reality much of what Woolf works so hard to leave open and ambiguous. Read the introduction, but read it afterwards, after you have been tossed and tumbled about by The Waves and finally washed up on the shore bruised, glassy-eyed and gasping for breath.

Pop over via the links for the full reviews and while you are there, be sure and check out all the other articles and reviews. And be prepared to add to your TBR pile!

Filed under: Books, Reviews, Virginia Woolf Tagged: Shiny New Books

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10. Behind Every Great Man

I’m over at a site called Bitter Empire today with a review of a new nonfiction book:

Behind Every Great Man: The Forgotten Women Behind the World’s Famous and Infamous by Marlene Wagman-Geller, offers a collection of short biographies, usually six to ten pages, of the wives of famous men. From Johanna Bertha Julie Jenny von Westphalen (aristocratic wife of Karl Marx) to Eva Gabrielsson (common-law wife of Stieg Larsson), from artists and scientists to dictators and activists, Wagman-Gellar investigated women who were both married to historically significant men and seemed to have “dwelled in the shadows.” With her investigations she aimed to pay tribute to the women who influenced their famous husbands. Many of the women profiled were equal partners in the events that brought their husbands’ fame only to find themselves left on the sidelines of history.

Also, it is the final day of my long, four-day weekend. Sigh. It is cold and rainy outside and bookish folk know what that means: perfect reading weather. So please excuse me while I go curl up with a few good books.

Filed under: Books, Memoir/Biography, Nonfiction, Reviews

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11. Celebrating

First of all happy Easter and happy Passover to all who celebrate.

The original portable word processor

The original portable word processor

I have been celebrating my birthday this weekend. The big day was yesterday but no need to confine the celebrations to one day! Bookman made me a delicious carrot cake. He also made chocolate chocolate chip and peanut butter coconut milk ice cream. And he gave me a wonderful present, a portable Royal Aristocrat manual typewriter! It has been completely refurbished and is in excellent working order. I can’t say the same thing for my typing skills. It has been since seventh grade that I have used a manual typewriter and early college days since I have used an electric one. The keys are much farther apart than on a computer keyboard and take a whole lot more effort to push! Plus, this old typewriter has no key for the number one or an exclamation point. A lowercase “l” has to be used for a number and a period and single quotation mark combined to make a exclamation. There are no italics and of course, I can’t erase my mistakes. I have no correction fluid in the house, so the lucky people to be the first recipients of my typewriting will have to put up with some typos. It’s a wonderful fun toy.

Bookman and I took a bike ride today too. My beautiful new bike, Astrid, continues to do me proud. We are getting to know each other better and better and I like her more and more. We did a 19-mile ride today. Want to know how to go faster? Don’t dress warm enough for the weather! It requires you to pedal faster to keep from freezing. I thought shorts and a long sleeve jersey would be enough but the sun decided to disappear and a light wind blew the whole time and it was only about 50F/10C. When we got home my hands were numb. But it was a good time anyway. And a good excuse for a hot cup of coffee and a big piece of birthday cake!

Seed starting is going fairly well. The onions are doing great, the peppers are beginning to sprout and the



tomatoes too. Today I started twelve pots of basil. I found a new cover for the greenhouse online and it arrived Friday. The greenhouse is set up on the deck and I moved all the seed flats out to it. It stays warm enough inside it overnight that I don’t have to move everything back into the house at the end of the day. And so far it hasn’t gotten hot enough during the day to put the little sprouts in any danger of being cooked. They sit inside, steamy and warm. If the greenhouse were big enough I’d crawl inside it too.

Two years ago Bookman and I made two raised beds in which to grow blueberries. We have done everything we can to acidify the soil during that time from adding carbon in the form of leaves and shredded cardboard, using peat moss mulch, and adding a whole bunch of sulfur and watering with diluted vinegar. It is entirely possible that my PH meter doesn’t work, but since the needle does move I’m guessing it works well enough. I’ve been hoping for a miracle all winter, but after testing the PH yesterday and having the needle land just below 7 (it needs to be around 5) I decided the whole blueberry enterprise is just not going to happen. I can’t begin to say how disappointed I am because I love blueberries so very much and local organic blueberries are so very expensive.

Siberian squill

Siberian squill

In a last ditch move of desperation, I tested the soil in an area of the garden that has had leaves composting on it for two years. My reading was only slightly better than the blueberry beds. Defeated. The small half alive blueberry bushes will be dug up and composted, the raised beds disassembled, the soil from the beds used to fill in Amy Pond and dispersed throughout the garden. I’ll be planting a couple of honeyberry bushes. These are purple fruits that look liked elongated blueberries. The shrub is a member of the honeysuckle family. The fruits have a berry flavor that no one can agree on. Some say raspberry, others blueberry. Some say currants others saskatoon berries. They can be eaten fresh or made into preserves. Most important of all, they do not require acidic soil. It will take a couple years for them to get big enough to produce any sizable amount of fruit but hopefully it will be worth the wait.

Meanwhile, around the garden I notice the Siberian squill have put up leaves and will probably be blooming by the end of the week. It is a bit early, but the weather has been warmer than normal. Also up are the bunching onions (green onions/scallions). They are perennials we planted last spring. It’s not quite a big enough bunch yet to actually harvest from, but considering I was not expecting them to come back (I have no idea why) I am happy to see them no matter how small.

My witch hazel is also blooming. It is the common variety and is supposed to bloom in October. It did early on once or twice, but then it decided to change its bloom time to early spring. I have no idea why. I was hoping to see the asparagus I planted last spring popping up but there is nothing yet. I guess it is a little early still. Even when it does come up I won’t be able to pick any because it is too young. I have to wait at least another year or two. Oh the anticipation!

The forecast for the week is for cooler than normal weather with several chances for rain. I’m not happy about the cooler than normal, but the rain will be welcome.

Filed under: biking, gardening

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12. April Reading Plans

Can you believe March is over already? February always goes so slowly and then March comes and time suddenly speeds up. Or maybe it’s me that speeds up as I begin to thaw out from winter and emerge from hibernation? Yes, that seems the more likely explanation. And now we are a few days into April. Oh April is going to be such a busy reading month! But then what month isn’t a busy reading month? If you find one, let me know!

In addition to the advanced reading copies and the library book holds that have arrived for me, I am still in the midst of This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein and A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin.

Martin released another chapter of the next-to-be-published book that everyone has been eagerly awaiting for a few years now and fretting over what would happen if Martin died before finishing the series. I must say I feel sorry for the man who says he has no health problems, but no one seems to believe him. It’s almost like people want him to die just so they can be right. Martin has released a couple chapters now from Winds of Winter but I have refused to read any of them. I will wait for the whole book to be published, probably next year. I suspect the chapter release is just a ploy to get fans off his back for a little while.

I’m also still reading volume three of Proust. Actually I don’t think I opened the book once in March so technically I haven’t been reading it but I have not given up on it and plan to keep going, there’s just so many other books and distractions and Proust does go on and on.

I’m also still reading the poetry of Keats as well as his letters. Is it my imagination of does Keats go from being competent to amazing in the span of just a few poems? I mean, one second he’s writing silly poems to his friends and the next he’s writing “Endymion.” Where did that come from all of a sudden?

And if that isn’t enough, I am planning on reading a book along with Danielle, a book leftover from 2013 when we were both subscribers to the New York Review of Books book-a-month fun. We both still have a couple unreads from that year and we decided to finally read one of them, The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart. I’ve heard excellent things about it and I have yet to be disappointed by a NYRB.

There’s April in a nutshell. Now with my four-day weekend beginning I should be able to — I want to say make a dent, but really it will be more like a scratch given the number of books. Nonetheless, it will be fun to see how far I can get!

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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13. Hold Me

Bookman and I were out last night learning how to fix a flat tire on our bikes. The weather was nice enough and it is light late enough that we were able to ride over to the bike shop. We were the only two people there for the class which was kind of nice actually. Since it was such a lovely evening we had the class outside behind the shop. The instructor and I both turned out to be seasonal allergy sufferers so we had a bonding moment over that. If you don’t have seasonal allergies, you have no idea what a mixed blessing spring is especially after the long cold winters we have in Minnesota.

The class was conducted as if we were roadside, out riding and, oh no! flat tire! The hardest part about the whole thing for me was opening the quick release lever on my back wheel. Quick release my ass. The second hardest thing was getting enough air in my tire. My road bike tire is supposed to be up to 120psi and at 90 I had to start leaning my weight into the pump handle to force the air in. At 100 I was practically doing a handstand on the pump. At 110, the handle would not budge. But apparently close enough is good enough, which is a relief. After the class we got a discount on patch kits and a little pump that attaches to the bike. I feel so prepared for long distance rides now!

But you don’t care about that, you want to know about books. Well, another book arrived for me at the library because even when I keep my hold request queue at five or less, when it rains it pours. Add to my reading pile When books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win WWII by Molly Guptill Manning. It recounts the campaign (begun by librarians!) to send free books to American troops. Over a million paperback books were sent to troops. Should be an interesting piece of history.

Also unexpectedly arriving was Missing Person by Patrick Modiano. It’s a slim book, but something tells me it is not going to be a fast read.

Since this left only one book in my hold queue, Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, and that one is on order and not at the library for lending yet, I figured it was okay to add two more books to my hold queue.

So I added The Folded Clock: A Diary by Heidi Julavits. The library has this one on order too so it might be a little while before I get it. After reading old diaries from when she was younger and realizing she was not how she remembered herself and her diaries were all about worries over grades and boys and being popular, Julavits decides to try again and see if she can write a diary of her current life that is what she wished her old diaries were like.

The other book I added is Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso. Two new books about diaries. Is this going to be the start of a trend? This one has been published and I am 15th in the queue. The odds are good that it and the Julavits will both be mine at the same time because that’s the way these things work. Ongoingness is a book-length essay about the diary Manguso has kept for 25 years and continues to keep. It is about why she started and how it has become a kind of spiritual practice.

As someone who has been keeping a diary since the age of eleven, I always find books about diaries fascinating. It is such a personal, private thing that having a glimpse into the diary-keeping of other people is a special kind of thrill.

Lunch time reading spot

Lunch time reading spot

Today was a beautiful, warm day in spite of the gusty wind. It is early enough in spring that high winds on an otherwise pleasant day are not enough to keep me indoors so I went outside and sat on a bench in the law school courtyard. There are a couple of these benches in the courtyard and when the weather is fine from now until it is too cold in the fall, I spend my lunch breaks during the week sitting on one of them and reading while I eat. Sometimes I share bits of bread from my sandwich with the birds. One year there were baby rabbits I would share carrot sticks with. It’s a generally quiet place with the hum of downtown Minneapolis serving as white noise in the background. And sometimes there are other people out enjoying the weather and a quiet read too. Today I was the only one. Bliss.

Filed under: Books

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14. Time is a concept I do not understand

Just as I am thinking, whew, I can relax a bit and have some meandering reads, the book gods decided to have a big belly laugh. It is now my turn for Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast and The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. I’ve been looking forward to these for some time and I started the Chast last night and it’s so good.

These of course arrive at the same time I have gotten a review copy of The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak. I’ve not read Shafak before and I am really looking forward to it. It takes place in the Ottoman Empire starting around 1540 and centers around architecture, jealousy and rivalry.

And because that’s not enough, I’m expecting another review copy in the mail of a book called The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl. Nineteenth century book pirates! Yes, you read that right. They are out to steal Robert Louis Stevenson’s last manuscript. It sounds completely silly but I’m hoping for a good, fun adventure kind of novel. Fingers crossed!

These four books in addition to all the other books that are lined up or already on the go. I am quite probably demented. Also, I am fairly certain that I have no concept of time when it comes to books and how much time is available during my day for me to spend reading.

And then today I found out about a project at the Biodiversity Heritage Library where they are asking people to help transcribe old seed and nursery catalogs. Of course I want in on that!

Since I work at a Catholic University I will be having a four-day Easter holiday weekend. The weather on Friday and Saturday is forecast to be not so very pleasant which means I will have plenty of time to indulge in reading and catalog transcribing. But since I already know I have no concept of time, I no doubt am thinking there will be so much more of it available than there really will be. I wonder if the scientists at the Large Hadron Collider really do make contact with a parallel universe that might mean I can find another me and we can get together and divide and conquer. That’s divide and conquer the reading, though being in charge of a universe or two could be fun. Nah, it would cut into my reading time.

Filed under: Books Tagged: the nature of time

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15. Harbinger of Spring

No, it’s not a robin, I’ve seen a few of those already.

I’ve been starting new flats of seeds every week since the end of February and they are all coming along nicely. The onion sprouts were the first and they are getting tall. The peppers came next. Those take a long time to even sprout and just this last week a few little pops of green gave me relief that something was actually happening. Last week was tomatoes and cabbage. Tomatoes take a bit of time but the cabbage has started coming up. Today was marigolds and parsley.

Was it last week I mentioned the cover to the mini greenhouse was no longer functional? One of the zippers was broken and the plastic has become brittle. It turns out you can order new covers without having to buy the whole set up. Thank goodness. I ordered a new cover Monday and, fingers crossed, it will be here in the next day or two. I now have four flats of sprouting pots that are getting difficult to manage and being able to use the greenhouse will solve all my problems.

The weather this weekend has been chilly. This morning we had rain and now it is sunny but so blustery the house is creaking. Of course the forecast for the coming week is gorgeous when I will have to be at work and indoors. Sigh. Tuesday night Bookman and I are signed up for a class at the bike shop to learn how to fix a flat tire. I can change a flat on a car but I have no idea how to fix a flat on my bike. Oh, and my new bike, she has a name now: Astrid. Bookman gives me odd looks when I talk about Astrid but I really don’t care!

I know real honest to goodness spring will be here soon because the Friends School Plant Sale catalog arrived in my mailbox Friday. I wasn’t expecting it until this week so it was a surprise. I was only going to look through the herbs in the first section of the catalog and save the rest for casual browsing throughout the weekend, but I was kidding myself. I couldn’t put it down and devoured the whole thing, gleefully marking off plants. I’ll take this and this and oh, doesn’t this sound nice? And yes, definitely one of those. And that, a must. And, hmm, where could I put one of these? Want to know what a happy Stef looks like? That was her reading and marking up the catalog.

All year long I keep lists of plants as I learn about them that I think I might like to try in the garden. So Saturday I got out all my lists and scraps of paper and sat down with the catalog again and marked things from my lists. There were quite a few items on my lists that are not in the catalog but that’s okay, there are also plenty of plants that were.

Then, of course, I had to think about the chickens and the chicken garden area where their coop is going to be. A friend of mine recommended a very good book called Free-range Chicken Gardens. It has lots of helpful advice in it. I had been wanting to plant elderberries and serviceberries in the garden but couldn’t figure out where I could plant these large-sized shrubs. Well, they make good hedges and places for chickens to take cover it turns out so now I have a place and a reason for them. Yay! Also, I have an excuse for a wild rose bush and more gooseberries, more prairie grasses and all sorts of other plants. All these I have dutifully marked in the plant catalog.

Now I just need to win the lottery jackpot so I can afford them all!

And poor Bookman. He says he knows nothing about gardening and asks I just point to where I want him to dig and tell him what to put there. He’s going to be doing a lot of digging.

Filed under: gardening Tagged: chickens, Friends School Plant Sale

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16. Almost. There.

Still frantically reading and working on reviews for other venues but I thought I’d pop in and say hi because I miss you all even though it has only been two days. Seems silly, but there it is.

I have a couple links to share because links can be fun!

I first saw the article about someone photocopying their cat at a Wisconsin university library in my library news feed. It linked to an article about it at Time Magazine. Time linked to the original news story from the Badger Herald (Wisconsin’s mascot is Bucky Badger). The photos are hilarious. But now it turns out no one has actually been bringing their cat to the library and photocopying it. The copies found around the library were photocopies of photocopies that students were leaving trying to inject some levity and stress relief during midterms. Is it bad of me to say I am disappointed there wasn’t actually cat smuggling and copying going on?

Few things are as entertaining as an author insulting another author. After Pepys saw Midsummer Night’s Dream he wrote in his diary that it was “the most insipid, ridiculous play that I ever saw in my life.” Stephen King said of Stephenie Meyer of Twilight fame, “The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.” Ouch. More at the link.

Ever wonder what the English spoken by Shakespeare really sounded like? Or Chaucer? What about the English in Beowulf? And how might King Arthur have sounded? The curious can find out here. I can recognize Shakespeare as still being English, Chaucer, only a few words. After Chaucer no one is speaking any kind of recognizable English but it sure does sound pretty.

Finally, my geeky science fiction heart is absolutely thrilled that the Large Hadron Collider is going to be used next week for an experiment to try and discover a parallel universe. Scientists have no specific parallel universe in mind, any one will do, they are just trying to prove they exist at the moment. How totally awesome is that?

Filed under: Links

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17. Shrinking the Collection

I have never felt like having a lot of books was any kind of clutter as long as they were all tidy. Nor was it any kind of burden even when moving house. But lately as I have been searching for ways to simplify my life and minimize my possessions, my eyes keep going to my bookshelves.

Over the last two years I have been borrowing more and more books from the library and buying fewer and fewer to put on my shelves. I have not felt the urge to own any but a few particularly enticing ones. Sure, there is the occasional book by a favorite author but these tend to not be many either. Actual book buying binges where I leave the store with a huge pile of books don’t happen anymore. These days I leave with two or three, sometimes even none.

When I first began noticing the change I worried something was wrong with me. Am I depressed? Unwell? Survey after survey said all systems go. I had plenty of books I already owned that I had not yet read and the library books never seemed to stop arriving so it’s not like I had nothing to read. In fact it seemed like I had been reading more than ever before. I just didn’t feel like I had to own all those books. Gradually I got used to the idea of library first, bookstore second. Lately this new habit has gotten so strong that even when I have a gift card it is hard to find something to spend it on. I think, Oh I know I’ll get XYZ. But then I stop and check the library catalog and generally end up saying, nah I’ll get that one from the library instead when I am ready to actually read it. And the gift card sits for weeks before I figure out what to buy with it.

The strange thing is that it has begun affecting Bookman too. I never said a word to him but his book buying habits have changed as drastically as mine have.

Then about the middle of February I decided I would take a Friday off in March and do some spring cleaning. Part of that cleaning would be going through the bookshelves in my study room. Three years ago I planned on adding another shelf but events conspired against it and by the time I had the chance to actually do something about adding the shelf my book buying habits had begun to change and I didn’t need it any longer. Now the very full shelves said not that I needed another shelf but that I needed to get rid of a quantity of the books that were on the shelves I do have.

Empty shelves

Look at all that space!

I had a tiny moment of panic. Then I had a few days of feeling a little unsettled. But as I got used to the idea, I started looking forward to that day off. When the day arrived it turned out to be a whole lot easier to make decisions about what books to keep and what books to get rid of. I actually felt good making piles of books to send out into the world to find new owners.

When all was said and done, My shelves were no longer crammed full and I even have a lot of empty shelf space. I filled to overflowing six fabric grocery bags. Bookman and I took them to sell at a secondhand shop yesterday. There were three bag’s worth of books they didn’t want for various reasons. Those we will now donate to the next library book sale.

I have to admit that Bookman and I did spend some time at the shop browsing and I did bring home a few books but compared to what I got rid of three new books for me and two for Bookman are not going to make a difference. What I brought home is:

      • Barren Ground by Ellen Glasgow. A Virago Classic first published in 1925 and set in Virginia. Poverty, seduction, betrayal, a woman who struggles to find herself and take control of her life and destiny. Sounds pretty good, eh?
      • The Giant O’Brien by Hilary Mantel. eighteenth century London, a parable of man versus science. You know, I had not gotten around to reading Mantel until her Cromwell books and I really like her. I think she may have become one of the authors whose books I definitely want to own.
      • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. He is another author whose books ask to be owned since they are all connected through characters and themes. The woman at the register gushed about how great the book is as I was paying for it. That’s a pretty good recommendation right there.

And no, I don’t feel suddenly compelled to buy books to fill the empty spaces on my shelves, otherwise I would have brought home more than what I did. We still have a library in the basement with books on the floor because there isn’t enough shelf space. It is a messy out of sight, out of mind thing. But I have plans to go through those books too. And Bookman has caught the bug as well. He speculates we could conceivably empty two or three bookcases. We have not set a date to start this process. I suspect it won’t happen until summer when it is hot outside and being in the cool basement will feel good. But I am confident that it will happen and I am looking forward to it.

Filed under: Books

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18. Happy Spring!

Onion sprouts!

Onion sprouts!

First off, happy spring! Or, happy autumn to those of you in the southern hemisphere! I hope everyone had a delightful equinox. Of course now that spring is officially here the lovely weather has disappeared and we have returned to a slightly warmer than normal temperature between 35-40F/1-4C. For anyone but Minnesota this sounds cold. It isn’t, but after several days around 60F/15C, it is severely disappointing. And all those people over the last week who were out in their yards removing winter mulch, what the heck were you thinking? Too early people! You know there is snow in the forecast this week, right?

Even my maple tree is confused. She has blossoms. And the forsythia has buds. It’s a dangerous time of year.

Seed sprouting moves apace. We got our mini greenhouse out of the garage to discover one of the flap zippers is

When the greenhouse was new

When the greenhouse was new

broken which prevents us from being able to leave anything in it overnight because the frost will get in. Also, the plastic after only a few years has gotten brittle. We are going to have to see if we can get a new cover or else buy a whole new greenhouse. They aren’t that expensive, but I expected it to last longer than it has. Humph.

The onion sprouts are doing really well. The peppers seeds from last week have not yet begun to sprout, they take a little while. Today we planted tomatoes and cabbage:

  • Henderson’s Pink Ponderosa. A huge beefsteak first introduced in 1891
  • Cherokee Purple. A medium to large sized purple-pink pre-1890 heirloom
  • Evan’s Purple Pear. A newer variety from 2008, selected from an accidental cross between heirloom varieties. Small, purple-pink fruit, most excellent for sauces and canning.
  • Red Express Cabbage. A newer variety of open-pollinated (non-hybrid) red cabbage bred especially for short growing seasons in Canada and the northern US

Makes my mouth water just typing that. Grow seeds, grow!

We worry about all kinds of things when it comes to food but how many of us stop to think about working conditions in moderne agriculture? Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, created a four-minute video not long ago outlining how bad it is for many people working in the fields. It’s eye-opening. Another good reason to start your own garden and buy from local farmer’s markets where you can talk to the farmer directly and find out how s/he harvests the vegetables you are buying.

A short post today. Posting in general might be light this week because I have review deadlines fast approaching. Then I will breathe a sigh of relief and, I hope, get back to a regular reading-for-myself schedule. I’ve been reading good stuff but there’s lots of other good stuff in the wings. If only I had more eyes and hands and could read multiple books simultaneously. Sure I’d look really funny, but think how much reading I could do!

Filed under: gardening

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19. Holmes Makes and Appearance

Holmes standing before the fire

Holmes standing before the fire

Ah, the magic of the internet! It allows us to see amazing things from the comfort of a favorite chair when just twenty years ago we would have been out of luck.

I was reading The Great Detective by Zach Dundas at lunch today and he was talking about the beginnings of the Sherlock Holmes stories and how they took off when the second Holmes story appeared in The Strand Magazine in July, 1891. He mentions you can read it on your iPad. He talks about the stories and illustrations not only in the Conan Doyle piece but in the whole magazine.

It is in the Strand story, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” where the first drawing of Sherlock Holmes was made. It is a drawing that set the stage for how we still picture the great detective. And I thought, oh how neat! It would would fun to see it. But just on that alone I really had no plans on trying to find it. Until, that is, Dundas mentions an article in the same issue called “A Regiment on Wheels.” It is about a military regiment of bicyclists and there are illustrations demonstrating, among other things, a cyclist decapitating someone with a saber while riding his bike! Now that I had to see!

So to recap thus far: first drawing of Sherlock Holmes, not worth the bother of doing an internet search; drawing of a

Swords & bikes - who knew?

Swords & bikes – who knew?

cyclist decapitating someone with a sword, totally worth the effort to find.

The Internet Archive has the magazine, volume 2, number 7. You can view it online or download it as a PDF or several other file formats. Nifty.

To my credit, I found the Holmes drawing first and yes, he is exactly how you imagine him.

I did not linger long, however, there was a decapitation to find!

Pimp my bicycle

Pimp my bicycle

Of course it ends up being a bit disappointing. The cyclist isn’t actually decapitating a person but merely practicing by knocking a “head” off a post. I’m not entirely certain what I was expecting to see, but it wasn’t that. Nonetheless, it is an impressive skill to have and I might begin practicing it on my own bike. Perhaps I will use a stick though since I don’t imagine my neighbors would appreciate me riding up and down the street with a sword in my hand. There are children on my block after all. They would think it was cool and want to try too which would not endear me to their parents and I need to make sure my neighbors like me at least until I get them to sign off on my chicken permit. Then look out! I’m going to pimp my bike and when the zombie apocalypse comes I will be ready to make some zombie heads roll.

Filed under: Books Tagged: Sherlock Holmes

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20. Does Age Matter?

Since I finished Clockwork Orange I’ve been mulling a bit about age and books. Several people commented that they were blown away by Clockwork Orange when they read it as a teen. Then today in the comments at Necromancy Never Pays Jeanne commented that perhaps because she was older she liked the book under review better than two others who didn’t care for it as much. Does age matter when reading?

Not always, but sometimes it does. I think I would have felt differently about Clockwork Orange if I had read it as a teen. I didn’t read The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe until I was an adult and while I could see the charm for a kid, as an adult, I didn’t think it was all that. Same thing happened to me with Catcher in the Rye.

Conversely, when I was younger and read Moby Dick in high school English class I liked it but found it mostly really boring. Rereading it as an adult, the book turned out to be amazing. The first two times I read Jane Austen’s Emma I was in my twenties and I found her insufferable. When I read it last year I suddenly liked Emma and the book so much better.

Age matters but I don’t think it is age as a specific number, I think it is more age as experience — both reading experience and life experience. Does that make sense? I would like to think that age doesn’t matter when it comes to reading (and most of the time it doesn’t), the thought that there are some books out there that I haven’t read yet but might have missed the boat on makes me a bit sad. But then I can buoy myself up with the thought there are probably books I have not read yet that will be much more amazing when I do because of my age. Two sides of the same coin? Has your age ever made a difference when reading?

Filed under: Books, Reading

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21. Goodbye Mr. Pratchett

I’ve been a little bit sad today ever since I learned this morning that Terry Pratchett died. The outpouring of love for the man and his books on the internet has been overwhelming. It also is comforting, this collective mourning of a beloved author. I can’t begin to link to everything but I thought I’d collect together a few of the places that I have liked most: Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing, Jo Walton at Tor, a gathering of comments and tweets at the Guardian, a lovely mention at the Paris Review. Also at the Guardian, favorite Pratchett quotes which doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the marvelous things Pratchett said and wrote.

Writing humor is hard, writing fantasy humor is even harder. Pratchett is the only author besides Douglas Adams that has reliably made me laugh out loud reading his books. I was terribly sad when he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s a number of years ago, but yet he still managed to keep writing so his death today came as a shock.

Pratchett might be gone but at least we still have his books. And that’s something very special I think, to live on in the hearts and minds of readers around the world. Still, I’m going to miss him. As The Librarian, one of my favorite characters would say, Ook!

Filed under: Books, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: Terry Pratchett

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22. Pie, Biking and Gardening

Bookman is proud of his pie

Bookman is proud of his pie

Did you all have a happy pie day yesterday? It was an extra special pi day because it had the most accurate decimals of pi in the entire twenty-first century. To celebrate, Bookman made us a delicious apple pie with apples that came from our own tree (preserved as pie filling). We also had pizza for dinner. A double pie whammy!

The weather this weekend has been absolutely gorgeous. It feels more like the end of April than the middle of March. No jackets, open windows, sunshine. Bookman and I took our new bikes out for a spin today and I wore my bike shorts and t-shirt with a windbreaker on top and was almost too warm (except when the wind was blowing across the still frozen lakes, that was a bit chilly). It seems like the rest of Minneapolis was out today as well.

It was my first time out on my new bike and I love her silly. She is so light and zippy. I practiced clipping in and out of my pedals for about half an hour before venturing out. At first I was terrified to be so locked on to my bike but after making a few stops and not falling over, I started to relax and really have fun. I’m still hyper-alert about releasing my feet before getting close to a stop, but after a few more rides I expect it will become more natural and less thinky.

We did an easy 18 mile/28.9km ride. I’ve never had a road bike before so it was very much a get-to-know you ride. Did I say how much I love my new bike? My city bike (affectionately named Ninja) is going to be so jealous. I am searching for a name to call this bike but nothing has come up yet. I was going to take a photo but forgot. Giant has a fine photo though with the same exact colors including saddle and handlebars in case you care to go take a look. The only additions I have made are silver fenders over the front and back wheels, a cage for my water bottle, and a holder for my iPhone which I am using as a bike computer.

Happiness is also more seed starting. The onion seeds I planted last week have begun to sprout. I would have taken a photo but they are so tiny yet you wouldn’t be able to see them in a picture. Friday night Bookman and I spent about an hour making paper pots for the next round of seed starting and beyond. Today we filled another tray with pots, filled the pots with soil, and planted:

  • pepperoncini
  • golden cayenne
  • leutschauer paprika
  • etiuda bell (orange sweet)
  • red mini bell
  • purple jalepeño
  • tall Utah celery

The celery was a last minute addition to the lineup. Bookman decided he wanted to grow some so we picked up a packet at our food co-op when we did our grocery shopping recently.

The seed trays reside on top of the refrigerator for the time being for warmth and out-of-the-wayness from

The perfect seed starting locale

The perfect seed starting locale

curious cats. Since the weather has been so pleasant these last few days the onions got to sit out on the deck in the sun for several hours. The week ahead is going to be ten to fifteen degrees cooler so there will be no deck time. Next weekend we will be setting up our mini greenhouse on the south side of the house and move the onion sprouts into it to make room for another seed starting tray of tomatoes on top of the fridge. The last time I did seed starting, about ten years ago, it seemed like one big hassle. I’m not certain what has changed, but at the moment I am having a great time.

For all of you out there who are new to the whole thing and want to try your hand at gardening, whether it be outdoors or indoors, in containers or in the ground, lettuce, herbs, or something else, check out Start a Garden (via). The site will give you easy, step-by-step instructions on how (for example) to grow thyme in a cup on your bathroom windowsill, tomatoes in a pot on your deck, or corn in your yard. Unless you live in a dark, cold cave, this site will help you find something you can grow.

And of course I had more fun reading about chickens this week too. A Chicken in Every Yard turned out to be a practical and informative guide to urban chicken keeping. When it gets closer to the time of having my own chickens I will definitely be buying myself a copy of this book. One thing I learned about chickens is that they can see color and when let out to free range they tend to stick to other flock members of the same color. This piece of information has me rethinking what kind hens I want. Do I go with two orpingtons (brown) and two australorps (black)? Or do I totally mix it up and go with one each of orpington (brown), ameraucana (brown), australorp (black) and barred rock also called Plymouth rock (black with white)? If I go with the one of each it will certainly be easier to tell them all apart. Thank goodness I have plenty of time to figure it out, and plenty of time to keep changing my mind! You’re going to get so tired of hearing about chickens before I even get the chicks next year!

Model for my future coop

Model for my future coop

As I mentioned before, we will be tearing down our old garage at the back of our lot. We will be installing a shed instead, this one to be exact This will happen in May or June. The tear down that is. The shed building will happen not long after that. We will have plenty of room for the chicken coop alongside it. I’ve been doing lots of coop plan browsing and have decided ours will look something like the red and white number in the photo. We’ll be making modifications, but this will be our foundation model. What do you think?

So much work ahead, but all of it good!

Filed under: gardening Tagged: chickens, seed starting

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23. Definitely a Monday

Today was definitely a Monday if ever there was one. I decked myself out in green and was so excited it was St Patrick’s Day. I actually have Irish heritage so I can really claim the day. When I got on the bus with my neighbor she saw my green dress and green cardigan sweater and said, gee you should have waited to wear that tomorrow. Huh? Why? Because tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, she said. No, it’s today, I replied. She looked at me and started laughing. No, tomorrow, on the 17th. So far no one has come to take away my right to say kiss me I’m Irish but I wouldn’t be surprised if my license gets revoked.

Then when I got to work my default printer to which all my circulation stuff is set up to print refused to wake up from its slumbers. I print a list of books to pull from the shelves every morning to send to other libraries in my consortium and I only have a short time to get this done because I have to open the library. I am the only one at the service desk to take care of this. The printer is one of those huge multi-function monstrosities that prints, scans, faxes, copies, and lurks in the corner with a surly teenager attitude. I had to take the drastic measure of restarting it. It’s easy enough to turn it off and on, but the thing takes ten minutes, sometimes longer, to reboot and run through all its diagnostics and who knows what else.

Why not print to another printer you ask? In the glorious world of library software we have, I would have had to close down my circulation program, change my computer printer default settings, then reopen the circulation software which itself take far longer than it should to start up. So I ran around the four floors of the library doing library opening stuff, came back to the desk and the printer was up. I pressed print for my list and had two minutes to pull five books from the shelves. I sprinted upstairs and made a mad dash through the stacks, barreled back down the stairs and got the doors open just in time. Luck of the Irish or just a crazy librarian at work?

Things got better as the day progressed but there were some trying moments.

On a more bookish note, I turned in my review of The Great Detective by Zach Dundas to Library Journal yesterday. What a fun read it was! I can’t really give it a full review here, but I did mention already about the first illustration of Sherlock Holmes. The rest of the book goes apace. It’s one of those books that does many things at once and combines personal experience/fandom, biography, literary criticism, cultural criticism, and a general attitude of “what a great adventure all this is.”

It is light and entertaining, a survey with a few lingering moments of strolling in a bit deeper, but not much. If you are a Holmes fan who has done a lot of reading about the great detective then the book is not for you. However, if you, like me, have read a story or two and watched a good many movie and TV adaptations but didn’t know much about Conan Doyle or any of the inspiration behind the stories, then you will very likely enjoy the book quite a lot. Look for it at your library or local bookstore and enjoy the read!

Filed under: Books Tagged: Sherlock Holmes

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24. Spring Fever

In February I was a bit down because of the horridly frigid weather that was better suited for January. Reading anything that wasn’t page-turning or zippy was hard. Now March, March has taken a sudden turnabout from February and it feels like April. I hope this doesn’t mean that April will end up being like March, that would be too much. But the warm, well warm for Minneapolis, has been so glorious it has made me unable to sit still. I want to be up and about doing things. Reading? Reading’s for those who have nothing better to do and I have lots to do.

I know! I can’t believe I just said that about reading either! I have a serious case of spring fever. While reading helps with other kinds of fevers, it only makes spring fever worse. It also doesn’t help that I have once again found myself in the middle of a bunch of books with nothing new just begun or anything about to be finished. Such a situation tends to make me antsy anyway then add the spring fever problem to it and I’m nearly bouncing off the walls. Some of that might be from the cup of coffee I just had, but still.

So today, how about a few weird things from around the internet?

First there was dinosaur erotica (it’s a thing, look it up!), now there is Conquered by Clippy, a short story about one woman’s torrid romance with a giant paperclip. The same author has another story called “Taken by the Tetris Blocks.” What’s next? “Making out with Mario”? No, that’s too obvious, maybe “Probed by Space Invaders.” Oh this could get to be silly fun. What unlikely erotica title can you come up with?

It seems that a good many people are aghast that digital natives prefer reading in print rather than on a screen. While I read ebooks for the convenience and easy carryableness of them, print is where it’s really at. A print book is one of the most perfect technologies if you ask me. But then I doubt any of you need convincing about that!

And while we are on the subject of books, have some fun reading How to Tell If You Are In A Virginia Woolf Novel. Because even Woolf deserves to be laughed at sometimes.

Finally, nothing to do with books but music. Specifically music for your cats. I played the clip linked in the article for Waldo and Dickens and they both looked at me with panic in their eyes not sure if they should run and hide or stay and listen. They stayed but they certainly didn’t relax or look like they were enjoying the music. But then that’s cats for you. You buy them an expensive toy and they like the bag you brought it home in better. You play them music just for them and they act as though it’s nails on a chalkboard. Ungrateful beasts.

Filed under: Books, Links

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25. Jane Austen Knits

Have I ever mentioned before that I knit? I don’t knit as much as I used to, mostly because I have tendonitis in my wrist and if I am not careful I can very easily make it flare up and give me all kinds of unhappy pain. But I still knit, if only for short periods of time at sometimes widely spaced intervals. In spite of the fact that I don’t knit a lot, I still enjoy reading knitting magazines and collecting patterns for things I will very likely never make. But that doesn’t matter really because I get great pleasure in imagining the whole project.

Recently I was perusing the latest issue of a knitting magazine I borrow electronically from my public library and saw an advertisement for a book called The Best of Jane Austen Knits. Whaaa? Of course I immediately checked to see if my library had it and they do. Yay Hennepin County Library! I love you so very much!

The book has patterns for 27 “regency inspired designs.” That translates to lots of shawls and shrugs. But there are a few cardigans, a couple of bags, some baby clothes, a tea cozy, some elbow-length gloves, some super-cute stockings, and a few other items. I can’t imagine Austen herself wearing any of them, maybe the stockings, or her heroines, but the idea is still fun. There are a few of the shawl designs I like very much from a filmy lace to a solid cute number that is long and designed to wrap over the shoulders and tie behind the waist. And did I mention the stockings? They are just below the knee and have a pretty lace and heart pattern up the side and are held up by a satin ribbon.

There is also a “loyalty and pin ball.” These were popular projects to make and give to friends (so the book says). They have a medallion-like motif on each side. It is stuffed and sewn together and trimmed with a ribbon or twisted rope. It is made with a very fine cotton and calls for size 0000 (1.25mm) needles. I have used size 1 (2.25mm) needles before but nothing that small. It seems like it would be something really fun to try. I promise if I manage one I will take a photo to share.

For all you bookish knitters out there, I recommend you take a look at this book. It’s got some super-fun patterns in it.

Do any of you have some favorite literature-inspired knitting patterns to recommend?

Filed under: Books, Jane Austen Tagged: Knitting

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