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.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

What It's Like to "Own" a Dog

You’re supposed to get up at the same time every day, and that’s where dogs come in, because if you get up at 6:15 five days a week, she’s pretty much going to insist that you get up at that time on days off, too. And then refuse to go out because the neighbors’ sprinklers are running and the noise is too scary. So you have to put on pants and put her in her harness and take her out front. You think you’ll just take her in the front yard and she’ll do her business and you can come back in, but nowhere in the front yard meets her demanding pee spot specifications, so you end up walking up the street and finally, three houses up, she squats. Okay. You can turn around and go home now. Except now she thinks you’re on a walk and doesn’t want to go home. There are things to smell in the next block, dammit! So when you try to turn back, she plants her little feet and, in an astounding abrogation of the laws of physics, turns her stocky little fifteen-pound body into a hundred-pound boulder. When you pull on the leash, she tries to bite it. You could pick her up. But.
            So. You decide screw it, claw the sleep crust out of your eyes, and start walking, wondering if the neighbors saw you lose a war of wills to an adorable floof ball. “I didn’t bring a poop bag,” you tell her. “We weren’t supposed to leave the yard. So don’t poop.” And you walk, thinking about how good it is that you have a dog who forces you to exercise and isn’t this what you wanted in the first place when you decided to adopt dogs? A reason to force you out of the house? So this is good, right? Right?
            And then she poops.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Wichita, Take a Look

I saw something today that everyone in Wichita needs to take a look at. I volunteered for the river cleanup this morning and somehow ended up under the Seneca Street bridge next to the Indian Center, where people have lived.

 I and a friend, along with other volunteers, spent 2 hours filling five garbage bags. It took so long  because we had to spend time deciding whether everything we touched was garbage or someone's belonging. Empty cigarette packs: trash. Plastic dishes: leave them. Clothes: wearable or shredded? I folded four or five tee shirts and left them on a rock next to a stack of waterlogged but still readable paperbacks (a Nora Roberts, a James Patterson, Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, and a book about the Titanic). We dug a heavy winter coat out of the bank that looked like it was in good condition, but was so waterlogged and muddy that it would've needed professional drycleaning to be wearable again. We decided to throw it away. I've spent the rest of the day thinking up scenarios that could explain the presence of a plastic dollhouse, none of them good.

All the while, we had to negotiate the boulders and rubble that cover the bank. No one is meant to walk down there, and it isn't safe. Boulders shift as you step on them. Falling on the sharp rock would mean bruises at a minimum, if not broken bones. G's foot slipped between two rocks, and there was a scary moment when I thought she had turned her ankle and we were going to have to figure out how to get us both out of there without hurting ourselves worse. There is no place where someone could stretch out comfortably to truly rest.

The rubble does serve a purpose, though. It's been stacked into small walls so each person has a semi-private area. There were four or five little "apartments" with a communal bonfire area close to the river. Clothes, particularly denim, and styrofoam along with driftwood seem to have been the main sources of fuel. There were empty Ramen packages; I hope it wasn't cooked in river water.

This is the bridge north of the Indian Center where Seneca turns into Greenway. Beautiful Riverside homes are right across the river. The Art Museum is just up the street. We have all driven along here and walked the bike paths to the Keeper of the Plains about a half-mile or so away. Of course I had heard that people lived under Wichita's bridges, but I hadn't seen it. I didn't really know what that meant.

I'm not asking you to volunteer or give money or even change your ideological or political opinions. I'm not trying to guilt you, I swear. I just want you to look, to know that this is Wichita, too.