Category Archives: reading

Sitting on the stoop

You know you live in an affluent suburban neighborhood when sitting on the stoop (like now), you hear only tree frogs, cars occasionally passing, and one or two jets going overhead and you declare it HEAVEN.

You know you live in 2022 America, when your battered psyche swings between icy panic, disbelief, and both lazy and full-throttled escapism. Oh, and rage. Did I mention rage? Who knew how important wordle, the spelling bee, crossword and jigsaw puzzles would become to one’s mental health?

This week escapism overlapped with current events in the form of a gripping novel full of political intrigue. Such a page-turner, I devoured 500 pages in two and a half days (see escapism, above).

The very week the Washington Post disclosed that among the stolen papers at Mar-a-Lago was a document revealing the nuclear capabilities of another government, I read the thriller that Hillary Clinton co-authored with Louise Penny.

It’s pretty much ripped from the headlines.

Among the things to love is how the protagonist, a female Secretary of State, makes sweeping critical commentary about the former guy. He was called Eric Dunn, or moron, or corrupt bad actor — you get the idea.

And if you’re a fan of the Three Pines mysteries by Louise Penny (I’m looking at you, Jen), the detour to that Quebec town and the appearance of Chief Inspector Gamache are just added kicks.

I won’t spoil anything here by saying the plot turns on the infiltration of the US government at the highest levels by domestic terrorists, features nuclear bombs, and showcases the sharp wits of a few American politicians.

In other news, yesterday I mailed off two quilts to C. in California. Of my two boys, he’s the bigger gamer, hence the wall-hanging based on a first-person shooter game, Lost Planet. I sent him a vertical landscape as well. For some reason, it’s one of my favorites.

In closing, I’ll share a secret. K is soon making his first international trip in more than two years (he used to be gone about a week a month), and I can’t wait to make pancakes for dinner AT FOUR O’CLOCK!

PS I shouldn’t have said anything! A backyard neighbor is having their house power-washed. All our back windows now closed (and it’s still loud).

PPS Below’s the figure quilt is based on. It’s not the exact magazine ad, couldn’t find that. But you can see outline, weapon, garb, etc.

It’s the smoke

Been tired this week after lunch. In the morning, I’ll make a couple calls, walk the dog. Then do a little gardening and write for a couple of hours. Then all I want to do is sleep.

A friend said, “It’s the smoke.” The Bootleg Fire. Canadian fires. You can’t really see anything here, but others nearby have noticed.

Almost done with the Durrow novel. Protagonist, Rachel, is the daughter of a Danish woman and a Black GI. Father takes off and entire rest of family (except Rachel) dies after a fall off a nine story building. We read to find out whether it was murder or suicide. We read to see how this biracial girl grows up with her Black grandmother, trying to understand herself and her world (first Chicago, then Oregon — Portland, I think). We read to see how Rachel will make peace with her past.

I’m reading it on my kindle reader in the phone so I can tell you I have roughly 23 minutes left. I guess I’ll go finish the story.

Update: it turns out I only had about five minutes left of reading, which is too bad because it means that the BIG moment we’d been waiting for came and went too quickly.

Sunrise 6:17

One of the things you can do when you’ve been awake since one and puttering about since three, is watch the sunrise.

Earlier: I bathed in moonlight. It’s a waning gibbous moon, but very bright. There were shadows.

In a show of solidarity, Finn followed me out and after sitting close and nudging my hand for scratches, curled up in my armpit. That’s the kind of moment dogs give you over and over, willingly and without reserve.

I was lying on the grass on my hard plastic bolster. It may or may not do anything corrective for my spine, that bolster, but every time I stretch my length on it, I groan with pleasure.

Back release under the moonlight. That’s about as radical as it gets these days!

Usually when I don’t sleep, I don’t have to be concerned about accomplishing much the following day. Today company is coming for a patio dinner.

I worry about these encounters, a little. I keep reading about people who “did everything right” and found themselves sick with Covid19 anyway. One such tale centered around an outdoor dinner, no other known possible exposure.

On the other hand, a psychologist friend seeded the idea this week that a kind of de-socialization is taking place. We’re forgetting how to interact with one another. So it seems important to do this. To visit and connect.

Earlier (but after moonlight): finished a memoir by Abigail Thomas. I’d already read the one where she talks about how her husband was mowed down on a NYC street and left with a traumatic brain injury. A Three Dog Life. Well worth the read.

What Comes Next and How to Like It features really great stuff about aging, friendship, relationships with kids and grandkids. Memory. Illness. She’s a dog person big time, so there’s that, too.

I recommended this book to a friend who’s writing a memoir in part because of how short and sweet many of Thomas’s chapters are — almost like diary entries, often no more than two paragraphs long. Somehow, it makes the business of constructing a memoir seem more doable.

Have to share with you a great new term picked up on Twitter: DOOM SCROLLING.*

No definition required, right?

I did that before I got out of bed. In case you’re inclined to suggest that I not expose myself to toxic terrifying national news while lying awake in the middle of the night — let me just say, I wasn’t gonna sleep anyway.

*Imani Gandi @AngryBlackLady

Third week is book week

Don’t mind me. I’m trying to figure out how to organize content. A little. I’ve read some really great books since Christmas and want to force my hand here, so I’m dedicating this week (mostly) to books.

First up: Educated by Tara Westover. This award-winning memoir is a page turner. An inspiration. Like “Hillbilly Elegy,” it’s a tale about the elevating and redemptive powers of education. While JD Vance overcame neglect, poverty, and a community riddled by addiction, Westover overcame the damaging isolation of a survivalist childhood, physical and emotional abuse, and her father’s severe mental illness. I agree with the NY Times review that stated, “‘Educated’ makes Vance’s tale seem tame by comparison.”

A Mormon with eyes on the Rapture, Westover’s father did construction and ran a scrap yard in the hills of Idaho. Probably bi-polar, his mania was fueled by panic about being ready for the end of the world. His frenetic pace created a wanton disregard for the basic safety of his off-spring. Limbs nearly severed. Rebar thrown like lethal spears. Avoidable explosions. The hair-raising mishaps in the scrap yard were truly horrifying.

Tara was not even home schooled. Like her siblings, she worked in the yard or in the kitchen. Thank god Westover aced the ACTs in her late teens or one wonders how she would have fared.

To begin her exit from the family, Westover had to start at the very beginning: obtaining a birth certificate. Her mother didn’t even know the exact month of her birth. A day or two on either side, okay — but forgetting the month? It’s staggering.

One brother escaped and reappears periodically. Encourages his sister. Another brother torments her with both emotional taunting and physical abuse. The classic cycles: battering followed by contrition; shaming followed by gifts. Another reader I know speculated that there was sexual abuse as well. As soon as she said so, it seemed correct. But Westover doesn’t mention it and in a way, it doesn’t matter.

The mother says nothing. Complicit.

Eventually (no surprise), the father is badly wounded. Meanwhile, the midwife mother has generated enough support for her herbal products to be running a small empire by book’s end.

Westover’s education takes up much of the latter part of the book.

Recommend. Starts out with a literary voice and loses that early on, but still a worthy read. Edifying.

Good pairing: JD Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy.”

Frightening current parallels: Mike Pompeo and John Bolton (secretary of state and national security advisor, respectively) are both End Times guys, leading two shrewd political commentators* to suggest that this administration is turning even the future into a commodity, one that most of us don’t deserve and can’t afford. A planet with huge reductions in population would leave more resources for the elite, now wouldn’t it? Denials of climate change, mere ruses. Nuclear war, a means to an end.

Sound like fundamentalism? Sorry to say that while speculation underpins this view, there is also compelling and chilling evidence for it.

 PS I make no attempt to provide a thorough review of books and since I’m not being paid to do this, I feel entitled to my idiosyncratic approach. Plenty of official reviews are easily available online.

 

 

 

 

At 3:00 am

When I rise in the early hours, I love to look out the window on my way downstairs. It’s quiet out there. Dark. Unlike a sunshine shadow, a streetlight shadow carries an air of mystery and force, as if it might unhitch itself from its creator (in this case a bent maple branch) and walk off — probably to work mischief somewhere.

Last night sleeplessness might’ve been caused by an unshakeable sense of unease about not going up to Salem this weekend (a feeling my sister graciously dispelled this morning). Or, it might’ve been the bombshell NYTimes reporting late yesterday about our president being under surveillance as a national security risk (which sounds like the same old same old but certainly isn’t).

But mostly, it’s this body I inhabit, this time of life. Sleep just doesn’t come sometimes.

After reading twitter and watching Maddow, I finished reading this debut novel in the wee hours. Tommy Orange graduated from the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts and is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma.

One of the characters tells us early on that Gertrude Stein grew up in Oakland, the novel’s setting, and upon her return after being away for many years, said (in her inimitable style): “There is no there there.”

When those words are quoted by a white gentrifier in passing to one of the Native characters (who is both Indian and native to Oakland), it takes on the weight of history. “There is no there there” could be the catch phrase for genocide. The Oakland Native character is well read enough to know, too, that Stein used the phrase to describe change and not really to say something about the place itself and so the remark is both insulting and ignorant. That gives you a feel for the book’s themes and occupations.

The novel is haunting, sad (really sad), and at times funny. Family is central. There are parents who vanish and parents who are doing the best they can but falling far short of the mark. There are the lingering scars of a devastating history. In one review, Orange said, “We are the memories we don’t remember.”* The book’s main and final event, a first-time powwow in Oakland, provides a canvas to explore a range of relationships to Indian culture — from celebratory to ambivalent to predatory.

There were a lot of characters to keep track of, so this novel would benefit from a second read. By the time of the denouement, I had trouble remembering who everyone was which makes me think this story would make a better movie than novel.

But it’s a good novel.

* NYTimes review by Colm Toibin.