Saturday, June 9, 2018

A Draft, or Ode to an Orange Notebook

Notebooks are a tactile thing. I love the way a stack of pages feel when they've been covered with ink on both sides. You can keep your 100 GSM. I adore shitty student notebooks that show the dents and gouges and ink bleeds from yesterday's intentions and agonies and mistakes. It's braille for the sighted. It's a topographical relief map of the brain.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

#readICT Category 11: Published the Year You Were Born

I've been chugging along on the #readICT reading challenge, but I had a hell of a time with category 11, a book "published the year you were born." The year 1976 was all about giant mustaches and bell bottoms and some of the books were pretty tacky, too.

The first book I picked up was Mary Stewart's Touch Not the Cat, a supernatural romance--a precursor to vampire romances, I suppose. I thought it would be unintentionally funny and fast. But, you guys, I just couldn't. Back then, ESP was all the rage, and the main character kept talking about communicating with her lover telepathically--except she'd never met him and had certainly never boinked him. But she called him her "lover." Repeatedly. "My lover" this, "my lover" that. Eww. This struck me as the telepathic version of the sweaty Internet troll hiding in his mom's basement. Thirty pages in, I had had enough. I never did find out why she wasn't supposed to pet the cat.

Next I tried Interview with a Vampire. Here we go, I thought, a classic! This is hugely popular, it's been a movie, reading it will put me more in touch with our cultural zeitgeist. Really all it did was confirm that for me the only vampire story worth reading is the original modern version (thank you, Bram Stoker). I just don't care about sexy vampires. And in Interview in particular, I wasn't prepared for the implications of pedophilia. Was that even in the movie, or was I too naive to catch it? I'm sure in the seventies that was very taboo and titillating, but we know better now and I just found it distasteful, if not actually offensive. Thanks for playing, Interview, but you've been eliminated.

So I was feeling desperate. The day before the library closed for our big move, the last day the collection would be easily available, I did one last maniacal search for books published in 1976--and found Ursula Le Guin, bless her. Le Guin is known for sci fi and fantasy, but Orsinian Tales is beautifully ordinary. The book is a series of eleven short stories set in an imaginary eastern European country called Orsinia. Only two of the stories relate to each other, and each addresses a different aspect of world history, from rural life in the middle ages to Communism in the 1960s. The stories, which are not presented in chronological order, are about people struggling to live their ordinary lives under the weight of immutable world events.

Orsinian Tales is everything I love in a book. It is both quiet and lyrical. It is simple and profound. I'm so enchanted with this book that, when I thought I'd lost the library copy, I immediately ordered a replacement because I believe we need to keep this in the collection. When the library copy turned up again, I gave the new copy to a friend rather than return it. I'm terrible at evangelizing my faith, but this book? I will sing hymns to Le Guin and to Orsinia for the rest of my life.

Immediately after retrieving the library copy
from the pharmacy's lost and found. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Listen, This Is a Bummer. Read It Anyway.

Every once in a while, Brewster reminds me that he used to live with people who hit him. This morning he couldn't wait for me to let him outside and he had an "accident." He has a mild bladder infection right now, and he's only had two doses of antibiotics so far, so it's completely understandable—and he hit the pee pad, so it's really no big deal. But even if he had peed on my new living room rug, I would've cleaned it up and given him a hug. Little Dude is sick and he can't help it.

But I couldn't pick him up for a hug because he had left the room. Because in his previous life when he did something "wrong," someone hit him.

Brewster's so much better than he used to be. I remember the first time he threw up. I went to get cleaning supplies and when I walked back in the room with a roll of paper towels in my hand, his tail dropped and he charged under my desk, to the very back, where he sat visibly shaking. He wouldn't come out until I had cleaned up the mess and put the paper towel roll out of sight.

One day, only a couple of months after I adopted him, I came into the house with junk mail in my hand. We were having "Yay! You're Home!" Happy-Dance-Celebration-Wrestle Time (as much as you can wrestle with a 7-pound dog), and I bopped him on the butt with some junk mail. I didn't know him very well yet, and I thought he might spin around and bite it and we'd play tug. Brewster thought I was hitting him. His tail dropped and he leapt off the couch and into his crate at top speed.

Another day when I walked in with mail in my hand, I went straight to the bedroom to change. Brewster jumped up on the bed to supervise and I thoughtlessly dropped the stack of mail right next to him. It made a "thwack" sound. Can you guess what happened next? He jumped off the bed (straight to the floor, a long jump for a Little Dude, because I had dropped the mail in front of the footstool he uses to get up and down) and fled to his crate in the next room.

Can you imagine the fear Brewster must've felt the day he developed pancreatitis? The day I came home from work and found vomit and diarrhea in every room? I imagine it was so spread out because every time he'd get sick, he'd try to get away from it. And then he'd get sick again and again until there were no rooms left without a mess, no rooms left where he could hide from the punishment he believed was coming.

Over the years, I've learned to be careful about how I gesture when I have something in my hand. I try to remember not to raise my voice in certain contexts. And I never, ever, ever handle Brewster roughly for any reason. And he has slowly learned to be less afraid. I won't say he's learned to trust me, not 100%. This morning, instead of hiding in his crate, he went just around the corner, out of sight, and waited to see if it was safe. I had to call him a couple of times in my softest, happiest voice, and even then he wouldn't come close to me. I led him outside. I threw away the pee pad and he got another chance to potty the way he's supposed to, and then he let me pick him up and snuzzle. (Not a typo. It's a thing.)

Here's what I wish the people who used to own Brewster had known:

  • When a dog has an "accident," it's your fault. It's your job as the human to teach the dog in "language" he can understand where he's allowed to urinate. It's your job to watch your dog for signs when it's time to go outside. There are lots of resources online about potty training dogs. Look them up. You'll find that none of them require pain or fear. 
  • When a dog chews up your shoe, it's your fault. It's your job as the human to put away the things the dog is not allowed to chew and to provide appropriate alternatives. It's not enough just to say "no." You have to provide another outlet. Simply hurting or scaring your dog won't solve your problem.
  • Dogs are messy. They have accidents sometimes. They get sick and barf. Sometimes they eat something they shouldn't in the yard and then barf it up inside and then you are stuck cleaning up fully formed cat poops covered in dog barf all while said dog is trying to eat the poops again because poops are delicious and should not be allowed to go to waste. If you can't stand mess inside your house, if you can't have a sense of humor about cleaning up barfy poops, you should not get a dog. 
  • Dogs are dogs, not humans. They can't understand when you scream at them in English. And that misbehavior? Being "bad"? That behavior is filling a need. Figure out what the need is and find an appropriate way for them to fill it. Again, there are thousands of resources online for any problem you can imagine. If all you know how to do is hit, you should not have a dog. Or probably children. 
  • Brewster is okay now. I don't know what you thought when he turned up missing. Maybe you even dumped him because you were tired of him. That's okay. You were never his family. You were just the people who owned him. He's okay now. I hope you decided not to get another dog. 
Listen, I'm sorry to bum you all out on a Saturday, but this story does have a happy ending. Brewster really is okay now. It's exactly 7:30 and that means it's breakfast time, so he and Bert are both pacing behind me, trying to urge me to get up and get to it. So I'm going to do that. Brewster and Bertie Sue and I hope you have a wonderful weekend full of snuzzles and walks and good things to eat. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

#ReadICT Are Words that Mean a Thing

A few years ago I was messaging a friend from out of town and I absent-mindedly referred to "ICT." "What's that?" she wanted to know. It's the code for the Wichita airport, which has somehow become local shorthand for the city itself. Do people in Kansas City refer to their town as "KCI"? Do Los Angelenos talk about the city as "LAX"? I kind of doubt it. It's weird. But it's everywhere, including in the name of this year's reading challenge put together by Suzanne Tobias of the Wichita Eagle and supported by the Wichita Public Library.

The challenge requires 12 books from 12 categories to be read any time during 2018. I, of course, am enthusiastically participating--so enthusiastically, in fact, that I locked a co-worker in a supply closet so I could take her spot in the library's online book club, which you can watch here if you haven't already deleted your Facebook account. (She wasn't really locked in a closet. She was stuck in the Chicago airport during a snowstorm. That's almost the same thing, though.) 

I'm three books into the challenge and so far there hasn't been a dud in the bunch:

Murder and Other Acts of Literature is filling slot 8 for an essay or short story collection. The variety in this collection was entertaining and writers who normally don't tickle my toes made me sit up. Virginia Woolf made me laugh! I mean really. Should I reassess Mrs. Dalloway? No, of course not, don't be silly. But the short stories in this collection were a fun read.

Leopard at the Door is my category 4, "a book set somewhere you've never been." Set in Kenya, Leopard is narrated by the adult daughter of an British colonial planter during what the British referred to as the "Mau Mau uprising" and Kenyans referred to as the "Mau Mau rebellion." These words matter. Americans may not be familiar with the history described here, which complicates the pastoral images we have of colonialism that we get from works like Out of Africa. I'm looking forward to following this one up with A Grain of Wheat, by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, a Kenyan writer who fictionalizes events from the same era.

And of course, Magpie Murders is filling category 2 for a detective novel or true crime book. If you watched the video linked above, you already know how I feel about this book, which is a detailed homage to the British murder mystery beginning with the genre's progenitor, Sherlock Holmes, through the present-day craze for police procedurals, with particular emphasis on Agatha Christie's country house murders. 

Twelve books in twelve months? You can do it! I can do it! Find the categories and sign up on

Thursday, February 22, 2018

It Took a Year

It was almost exactly a year ago, in fact, when the cowl I was knitting in Andreality's (Ravelry name) birthday Malabrigo got suddenly and unceremoniously pushed aside for some new, shiny projects:

I had to make these: 
A plain sock pattern over 32 stitches on size 2 needles.

And then there was this:
The Welcome Home Baby Blanket from Lace One-Skein Wonders.

And of course that:
Elijah by Ysolda Teague.
Because when a new niece is about to launch herself into your life, there's a lot of knitting to do!

But the niece knitting is caught up for a moment and when I was sick last week and felt too dull to read, I got to poking around and found that Malabrigo cowl.  
That Nice Stitch cowl.
The photo doesn't do the Malabrigo justice, but it's
winter and I don't own a lightbox. Sorry.
It really only took the month of February. February 2017 and 2018, but still. I'm calling it February. 

And since I was sick for six days and the cowl only needed a couple of inches, I had time to finish up the socks I was planning to wear for St. Patrick's Day. In 2017. 
Geek Socks from
Such a fun way to use self-striping yarn! 

I'm finally healthy and off the couch, but I feel like I'm on a roll with the UFOs, so I went rummaging again and came up with some yarn barf that's been rolling around in a project bag since 2013. 

I hope in a couple of weeks that hot mess will be a Hey Teach cardigan. Wish me luck! 

Friday, January 26, 2018

And the Best Books I Read This Year (2017)

Yup, that's all this blog is now: annual reviews of the books I liked the best. Sorry I haven't been posting, promise to do better, blah, blah, blah, nobody cares.

So let's get to it. Based on the "would I re-read it" premise, the list is pretty small, so stay tuned for some honorable mentions at the end.

Aiken, Joan. 1963. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.
Last year I was entranced by The People in the Castle, and this year I read and loved several of Aiken's children's books. Somehow I missed these books when I was the "right" age, and that is a bit of a tragedy; the spirit of adventure embodied in Aiken's stories would've done my childhood good. I'll go beyond saying I "would" re-read it to promise that I will re-read it with my niece when she's old enough.

Chambers, Becky. 2014. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. 
I don't seek out much sci-fi and actually picked this up thinking it was something else. What a serendipitous mistake! The story, full of space adventures and imaginative tech, is entirely character driven and addresses intense themes of belonging. And it's well written and just a lot of fun. As soon as I finished Long Way, I immediately read the sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, which follows characters who were tangential to the first story. I've already placed my library request for the third in the trilogy, Record of a Spaceborn Few, which is scheduled to be released in July 2018.

Dickey, Colin. 2016. Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places.
Dickey approaches American history and culture through our most famous hauntings. He manages to debunk many of our favorite ghost stories but still creep me out anyway!

And that's it. Those are the three books I read in 2017 that I would willingly re-read if suddenly new books ceased to appear.

Here are the honorable mentions I really enjoyed but that don't make the re-read list. Oddly for me, these are all nonfiction. What? Nonfic? No, yes, really. 

Waldman, Ayelet. 2017. A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life. 
The drug war is dumb and prevents people from accessing help that could change their lives.

Winter, W. Chris. 2017. The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It. 
I have a secret weakness for self-help books, and sleep is something I have worried about a lot in my eternal quest to become bigger, stronger, faster without having to do anything boring or dumb like exercise or eat well or change my lifestyle in any way. The Sleep Solution gets into the nitty-gritty of how sleep works, but does so in accessible language. The book changed my perception of sleep and I actually became more satisfied with my sleep the very week I finished it. (On a slightly bizarre note, on GoodReads I mildly criticized the author's habit of inserting jokes as footnotes, thereby interrupting himself over and over and over for no good reason. The author responded personally to defend his choice, which was . . . odd. You'd think an internationally known sleep doctor would have better things to do with his time than stalk GoodReads reviews.)

Yang, Kao Kalia. 2008. The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir. 
The Latehomecomer was the 2017 Big Read selection for the Wichita Public Library. Many of my co-workers didn't love this book as much as I did. I was particularly struck by the fact that Yang and I are close to the same age. While I was running around the playground at OK Elementary, she was running around a refugee camp. Our grandmothers even died within a month of each other. So I felt a particular interest in and affection for Yang's well-told story.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Best Books I Read This Year

This has really been a banner year for good books. Am I getting better at choosing? Are my tastes expanding? Probably yes.

To choose these books, I went through all my 2016 GoodReads reviews asking myself if I would re-read that book. I don’t re-read very often, but, in the unlikely event that authors stopped writing new books and I got caught up on all the books ever published and had literally nothing else to read, these are the books I would happily read again. These are also the books I try to push on friends and library patrons whenever possible. (Seriously. I sent a woman home with Ghost Summer just last week. I’ll consider it a personal affront if she doesn’t enjoy it.) They’re listed in alphabetical order by author; no ranking is implied. I read the books this year, but most of them were not published in 2016.

Aiken, Joan. 2016. The People in the Castle.
Aiken died in 2004 before I had ever even heard of her. Luckily for me, her daughter repackaged and republished some of her short stories as The People in the Castle, which got written up on some blog or website or other, and I had a chance to discover her unique, beautiful fairy tales. I’m looking forward to working through her immense bibliography.

Due, Tananarive. 2015. Ghost Summer.
Ghosts stories, people! GOOD ghost stories! And monster stories and human stories and human-monster stories. If you like your literature with a side of creepy, dive in.

Jackson, Shirley. 1962. We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
Shirley Jackson. That is all I have to say. Oh, except for: Thanks, Milton, for reminding me I had been meaning to read this.

Kingsolver, Barbara. 2009. The Lacuna.
Reading about Stalinist Russia and the American anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s at this particular political moment was grounding. Recalling these eras in history has reminded me that nothing we are going through now is new; there have always been people who tried to enforce one particular way of being American. Pluralism is a luxury we are frequently not allowed to enjoy. And Kingsolver is always good.

Mandel, Emily St. John. 2014. Station Eleven.
I dig stories about how people cope with the end of “civilization.” This one is particularly good.

Yapa, Sunil. 2016. Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist.
Tells the story of the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle from the perspective of the protestors, the officers, and a diplomat.

Honorable Mention
I particularly enjoyed these, but they’re not “re-readable.”

Bradbury, Ray. 1953. Fahrenheit 451.
Butler, Octavia. 1979. Kindred.
Hernandez, Carlos. 2016. The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria.
Hugo, Victor. 1862. Les Miserables.
Nguyen, Viet Thanh. 2015. The Sympathizer.
West, Lindy. 2016. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman.