Sunday, May 31, 2015

This Was Supposed to Be Another Fantasy Month...but....

1.  Life After Life, Kate Atkinson (audio) - It might be somewhat controversial to call this book a 'fantasy' but I would argue that it most certainly is as it explores the possibilities of a life that is lived over and over and over again.  This is one of my all time favorite books, and I'd heard good things about the audio.  I thought it would be nice to revisit it before the new book was released this month.  I still love it, and I still am excited by Atkinson's writing!   

2.  God In Ruins, Kate Atkinson -  It's been a while since I've been this excited about a new release.  As in....I was so excited that I canceled my pre-order on Amazon so that I could run to town and buy a hardback copy the day it was released rather than have to wait a few days.  Curiously enough, I then didn't start it right away.  When I did get to it, I fell head over heels in love with Atkinson's writing, as I usually do.   My one mistake was in reading the Kirkus review, which compared the novel to a very well-known short story.  It wasn't a spoiler, per se, but it did give away (I felt) a lot of what Atkinson was really going for...and that did spoil the experience for me a bit.  At the very least, it took away the urgency of finishing the book.  I decided at that point to get the audio from the library and finish it that way.  Despite all of that, I was ultimately both devastated and deeply satisfied by the end.  Love how Atkinson plays with time, and love this family of characters - even the ones I want to kick in the pants!

3.  Singer from the Sea, Sheri S. Tepper - A confession.  During college I read and fell in love with Tepper's Beauty.  That is, I fell in love with it until a friend of mine told me about running randomly into the author on an airplane, where she had to sit through Tepper's religious views for the entire flight, including an explanation of how the entire book is based on those views.  (It's been 20 years...I could be misremembering the details of the story.  I just know that I was devastated when my friend shared with me how closely the plot mirrored a specific religious was just too blatant.)  I haven't read Tepper since.  But then this book popped up for sale, and I thought I'd give it a try.  So here's the thing.  The themes in this book are absolutely not in any way childish, and yet the overall tone of the book reads very young in a really strange way.  The characters often feel very two-dimensional, the emotional shifts tend to be too swift and too emphatic for belief, and the whole thing feels kind of cartoonish....despite the fact that Tepper is very much a feminist/political writer with big things to say.  I enjoyed it...but felt that it lacked subtlety and nuance.  I'm not likely to read any more Tepper. 

4.  God Help the Child, Toni Morrison (audio, read by the author) - Morrison's Beloved made a huge impact on me as it was required reading in multiple classes my freshman year in college.  And yet curiously enough, I've not read much of her since.  (seems to be a minor theme this month....)  I adored her recent interview with Terri Gross on Fresh Air, and snagged the book when I happened upon it during a digital library browse.  It's a real treat to listen to Morrison read her own work. Truth...I didn't finish it.  It was very enjoyable to spend a morning being wrapped up in Morrisson's voice and her characters...but one morning was enough for me. 

5.  The Witch of Duva, Little Knife, and The Too-Clever Fox, Leigh Bardugo - Altogether I'm counting these three short stories as a book.  Bardugo is the author of the brilliant Grisha trilogy, and in those books she references folk tales....which she then very nicely provided for the readers in the form of these three tales.  They are absolutely lovely.  Bardugo's world in inspired by Russian and Slavic myth and culture, and these all read as if they could be real fairy tales from those world.  It was a lovely way to spend an evening!

6.  Whatever...Love is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves, Maria Bello - Bello made waves with an essay she wrote a year or two ago for the New York Time's Modern Love column.  In that essay, Coming Out as a Modern Family, she explored the fact that her family does not fit into traditional molds and is difficult to label.  It was a beautiful essay, and one which truly made me think about the constructs for family.  She extended that essay into this book, which is neither memoir or book of essays, even though it contains elements of both.  At the start of each chapter Bello asks "Am I...." and then explores the question.  I really enjoyed it, and I hope that it starts some conversations.   

 7.  The Teenage Brain, Dr. Frances E. Jensen (audio) - I had heard an interview with Jensen some time ago on NPR's Fresh Air, and must say that this is a must- read book for all parents.  (No, it is ot a parenting book, which I despise.  It is a science book that offers some guidance on how to use the knowledge contained in it.  Very different beasts.  There will be a few changes in our household based on what I learned.  Some of it confirmed things I already knew or had suspected, some of it was all-new information, and all of it was fascinating. 

8.  We All Looked Up, Tommy Wallach (audio) - I actually learned about this one when I happened across an article on the Huff Post books page by the author. File this under "Glad I read it, also glad I didn't pay for it."  Also, I'm glad I listened to it as it used four different readers for the four main voices.  While part of  annoyed at the exact point where it ended, I also thought it was fitting.  I have one big quibble about a death I thought was a tad gratuitous....but it is an apocalyptical type novel, and death is to be expected.  I thought it did a really splendid job of describing the inner landscapes of the main characters - even while I also thought that Wallach's idea of who teens are may be a bit skewed from reality.

9.  A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara - I've wanted to read this book every since Books on the Nightstand devoted an entire episode to it.  (That's unheard of, but the podcasters felt it was that important of a book.  I didn't rush to buy it, though, being somewhat nervous of the fact that all of the reviewers have ben very upfront about it not being a "happy" book.  In fact, it is generally described as being pretty tough to get through at times, and it has a reputation for leaving readers rather emotionally wrung out/drained.  But then a good friend of mine posted on FB that she'd just finished it - also because of the BOTNS recommendation - so I knew it was time to try.  (The friend in question isn't one of my regular reading /book friends, and so it really caught my attention when she posted.)

This is an important book, and it was a profound reading experience - one which I think I will be processing for quite a while. 

From a comment I wrote on FB when I posted about finishing it, "I went into it having listened to the BOTNS episode that they devoted only to this book (which doesn't happen).  They didn't give any spoilers, but were very clear that the book goes to some very dark places.  The thing is, though, that it doesn't leave you entirely without hope and light.  I can't read Ian McEwan because his books make me feel like shooting myself because they are so darn awful.  This...this was entirely something else.  It does leave you rather emotionally wrung out, and I agree that you should be prepared for the fact that things will bad...but there are moments of grace that definitely make it worth the journey. 

I occasionally had trouble following the timeline.  Yanigahara plays with the way the entire story unfolds a little bit, and it can be confusing.  It plays out over the course of almost four decades, and at times I lost track.  I wish it had been a bit clearer, but at the same time I understand why it was done.

I also had a quibble with how often all of the friends were listed.  It felt at times unnecessary to name everyone AGAIN, but at the end of the book I had an a-ha moment and realized why it had been done.

I give props to Yanigahara, who reportedly went to bat to keep her book as long as it was when the editors wanted to cut it.  It's a long, and slowish read, but I can't imagine it being any shorter.  It would lose so much.

For years now, I've wondered about my English degree.  What, exactly, did I gain from it?  Whenever I ponder that question, I always wind up with two words - empathy and compassion.  When you are a reader - especially a reader who truly is able to live, think, and feel within a book - you learn so much about people.  It's really hard to read books like this and come out the other end the same as you were when you went in, and that's a good thing. 

10.  Long Black Curl, Alex Bledsoe - Another pre-order which showed up in my digital library a few days before the end of the month.  (You might remember that I reread the first two novels recently in preparation for this one.) Truth be told, I was disappointed.  I love Bledsoe's Tufa novels, but this was clearly a big step below the first two.  While it was still engrossing enough to read straight through in one day, it felt at times more like a short story that was going on too long than a fully developed novel, and I thought it lacked a lot of the special spark that made the first two so wonderful.  I will say that it was a good palate cleanser after the Yanagihara book.  Having also read all of Bledsoe's other series, I know that he - just like other writers - has his high and low points, and that he does have the potential to regain the magic if he chooses to revisit the Tufa.  I will continue to read him hoping that happens. ( It did leave me with a gem.  There is a band who's done an album of songs inspired by the Tufa books...and I will most definitely be checking that out!) 

Unfinished:  The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison - Snagged it from the library because it was listed on many of the best of 2014 book lists.  Not sure what I expected since I had a tendency to skim over/ignore the description of it on those lists, though.  (Silly me.)  Honestly?  I felt it was a bit much - rather too something, and so I didn't make it even 1/4 of the way through the book before I gave it up.  Trying too hard?  Maybe.  Overwraught?  Perhaps.  In its earnestness it lost some honesty for me.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Summer Plans

We are not going to be able to attend reunion this year, and I'm going to miss this view of the morning mist over the valley on the road just outside of our church campgrounds.  That view is always a special treat which I enjoy on my early morning walk/run every day while we are there.

As May draws to a close - and the school year with it - I thought that I'd share some of my plans for this summer in lieu of my usual Monday List.*

I'm going to admit something.  As much as I have enjoyed branching out over the last few years to explore more modern fiction and non-fiction across a variety of genres, I find myself growing a bit weary of all of it...especially of all of the high-faluting literary works.  I'm grateful to Books on the Nightstand and to my friends for helping me to find so many wonderful books, and I don't regret a single one of them.  (Even the books I didn't like so much.)  However, I'm ready to return to fantasy for a while.  I spent last month back in my beloved genre, and it was amazing.  I think it's time to go back to some of my favorite writers - old and new - in a genre that just makes me happy.  I *might* do a few rereads, and I do have some smaller new books to explore, but mostly I want to go back to the type of massive series that I used to devour on a regular basis.  It's going to be good!

So here's the thing....I've always considered myself a writer, and so has just about everyone else that I know.  BUT.  I don't write.  I've not done any creative writing since probably before the girls were born, and all of my personal writing (journal included) has pretty much dried up over the last year.  I have seriously started to question the 'writer' label for myself, and this summer I need to figure out if that truly is who I am or if it's time to let that go.

I'd like to get one sweater for myself done this summer - preferably a cardigan that will be ready when the weather starts to cool in the fall.  I'm also going to continue on with the Great Stash Knit Down of 2015, because that just makes me happy!

There's also a big question I need to answer.  Just as I'm not sure if I'm a writer or if that's just what people expect of me, I'm also not sure if I am/want to be a knit designer or if that's just what I think people expect of me.  I talk about designing all of the time, but the fact is that I've never actually gotten around to doing anything about it.  Time to figure out if that's something I truly want to do, or if it's also something I need to let go of. 

Generally speaking, I usually spin more in the summer than at any other point in the year - and I'm hoping that this year is no exception.  I want to finish a laceweight project that's been on the wheel for forever, and I want to make a dent in some of the Jacob that's taking over my corner of the basement.  Ahem, I also still need to call Lendrum about my wheel.....

So we're not big on over scheduling the summer, and this year is no exception.  We have a few things on the calendar - cheerleading activities for my eldest, Fine Arts Explorers Camp for my youngest, SPEC - but by and large summer is a time to relax and just be.  I'll be sitting down with the girls this weekend to make a summer wish list of things to do.

The big thing is that we have to replace the flooring in our kitchen this summer, and I imagine that's going to end up being a massive project for us.  (Depending on cost, the living room and hall are also potentially up for new flooring.)  I'm not looking forward to it.  Sigh. 

Lots of good stuff has been going on in this catagory over the last five weeks, so the plan right now is to carry on and use the progress I've already made as a platform on which to build.  I'm feeling pretty optimistic right now!  (I think I'll save details for a later post.)  

And that's it for now!  What have you planned for this summer?

*The List has been absent for  the last couple of weeks - largely because we've been so very busy with all of the end of year wrap-up activities.  That, and I sprained my ankle and was in a really foul mood while it healed.  Truth!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sneak Peek

I've been quite for a while because life has just been busy!
I swear it's a May thing.....
The good news is that in the midst of our crazy schedule I have actually found some time to start working on a new piece of Estonian lace - which is something I've wanted to do for some time.
I think I'll save the details for when it's finished, and so for now I'll just share this single picture of the border pattern, which includes crop circles and nupps!

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Importance of Lighting

 I present, my most recently finished pair of socks....
as seen in different lighting.
(real color somewhere between 1 and 2, leaning towards 1)
Basic Socks
The Unique Sheep Leili
2 skeins - woodland
Knit Picks Harmony DPN's - 2.25 inches
68 stitches, 65 rows 2x2 rib in leg, 50 rows in foot
April 20, 2015 - May 11, 2015
Trying to use up my stash, and have decided to knit some of the random variegated sock yarns up on 2.25 mm needles so as to knit it up just a wee bit faster.  Will still knit Opal socks on 2.0mm needles.  Am hoping to use up at least half of the stash this year!

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Monday List!

I've had a pretty standard cast of birds at my feeder for years now, so it was rather a shock when someone new showed up last week!  This is a rose-breasted grosbeak.  I truly wish I'd been able to snap a better picture...this is through a dirty window with my phone, and it was all I had at hand.
We're going to start fresh with the list this week.  Super-exciting! 
  1. I have a sermon to write before Sunday.  The very good news is that I had a flash of inspiration in the shower yesterday (I didn't know that actually happened.) and so have the rough outline already.
  2. My husband has been carving out more time for editing/writing lately...and he's just about caught up with the editing work I'd done for him.  I have ten chapters to go, and I need to make a dent in them this week.
  3. Soooo....I bought a new, and very much buzzed about, book about tidying up the home.  (Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.)  This week I would like to read it and get started with my clothes. 
  4. The knitting remains in a weird limbo.  I seriously have barely touched the needles in over a week.  Some of it is good old-fashioned indecision.  Some is a natural break.  Some of it is that I just am not desperately in love with anything right now.  I have some ideas floating around...but nothing that's concrete as of this morning.  My goal for the week is to break through the limbo.  I'm not setting any specifics...merely stating that something needs to happen.
  5. Spinning...spinning...spinning....spring has always been for spinning!
  6. Call Lendrum about my wheel.  No, I haven't done that yet. 
Curiously enough, I think I'm going to leave it at that.  Sometimes less is better, and I hate to plan anything else given how potentially time consuming a couple of the things on the list could be.
Have a great week!