Random thoughts

I haven’t done a rambly post in a while, and I enjoy rambling, so here we go.

It’s almost Christmas! In that spirit, I give you this:

I post it every year, but it’s one of my very favorite things ever. I don’t think any one else should ever sing this song, Bono just owns it. It must be sung with heartbreaking abandon. I adore Bono so much. I saw U2 in concert once, and he is so magnetic you could feel it across the amphitheater. Plus The Edge’s eyeroll at 1:28 is magnificent.

Watching this, I realized that I think early Bono is the look that little John Taylor whatshisname was going for on The Voice.

It’s not really his fault that he got the “super special little snowflake” treatment this season. He has a good voice, the whole “he has a VISION, people!” thing just got old. He’s too young not to take some advice.

And can I just say that Gwen and Pharrell were adorable together? The complete adoration he has for her just kills me.

Also for your Christmas cheese enjoyment:

Thoughts while watching:

I love this song so much. I know it’s cheesy, but I loved it so much anytime it came on the radio when I was little. This was really the first “activism” of any kind I knew about. This was how you spread information back then, there was no internet, no twitter to get people informed and motivated. But you could influence people through music, and the thought of all these artists getting together to do this still warms my heart. The more recent version, however, is an abomination and should be burned with fire.

Some shallow thoughts:Do you think Sting asked for them to show him during the “bitter sting of tears” lyric?  Boy George has lovely teeth. So does George Michael. I appreciate a good eye tooth. Paul Weller is incredibly lovely. Like, seriously incredibly lovely.

paul weller


I watched the documentary The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden and it was fascinating. It started out slow with two families moving to the Galapagos Islands to find solitude. The islands were mostly uninhabited at that point, and the whole idea of people moving to the middle of an inhospitable nowhere is interesting in and of itself. But all of the sudden it took an Agatha Christie turn with the arrival of a young baroness and her two lovers. What happens is fascinating, but what impressed me most is that it made me appreciate Dame Agatha all the more (and she is my idol, so that’s impressive) because these people were so fully realized (um, because they were real people) but they felt just like her characters, which meant she had such an incredible facility for capturing people’s quirks and the things that make them alive.

Anyway, the documentary is really interesting, and I’m currently reading one of the books it’s based on, also called Satan Came to Eden, by Dore Strauch, one of the women who lived it.

I just fell down a random youtube rabbit hole and came across this. This is one of my favorite David Bowie songs. When I was writing the first novel I ever wrote (during NaNoWriMo 2001?) I picked a bunch of songs to lead what I was writing. There’s a death in that book, and this song, while it’s really about missing someone who moved away, became the touchstone for one of the character’s grief. So now every time I hear it, I think of this character singing it to his friend who is dead and not there anymore.  Plus at the end of this video is his version of Cactus, which is one of my favorite covers of all time.

And of course, Bowie always makes me think of Swinton, because they really are so visually similar. Have you seen Only Lovers Left Alive yet? You really should. It’s so beautiful. You have to be in the right mood for it, but dear goodness, I could watch it forever. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hilddleston are vampires who are spending their eternity making music and reading books, and it’s a Jim Jarmusch movie so nothing happens. Either that appeals to you or it doesn’t, but it’s pretty much my ideal movie.

Neil Gaiman recently mentioned Tom Hiddleston in relation to the Morpheus role in the movie version of the Sandman comics, and while I read it as tongue in cheek, I think Tom Hiddleston would be fantastic. I’d prefer Joseph Gordon Levitt, who’s the one that’s been attached to it, but Tom Hiddleston would kill that role.

I have to go bag up some marshmallows (marshmallows were made today). I went outside my comfort zone and made chocolate marshmallows, which turned out pretty well.  So I’ll leave you now.

What’s going on with you?

Books I loved this year

It’s not the end of the year yet, but I thought I’d put up the books that I enjoyed most this year. Usually when I do this, I look over the list of books I read for the year and pick out the books that at that moment stand out to me. But this year I kept notes on the books as I read them, rating them on a 1-5 system. (Really it was a 3-5 system; if anything would have gotten a 1 or a 2 I stopped reading before I finished it.) The books below are those that got a 5 rating, in the order I read them. (I only included books that were not rereads, so The Great Gatsby isn’t on the list, even though it gets a 5 every time.)  I’ve linked to my original posts on them so you can see what I thought when I read them. I would add my current thoughts about them, but most of them boil down to a smile and a “oh, yes.”

A True Novelby Minae Mizumura            Original post here.

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wellsby Andrew Sean Greer          Original post here.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker         Original post here.

The Serpent of Veniceby Christopher Moore   Original post here. That post also includes:

Bellweather Rhapsodyby Kate Racculia

The Girls at the Kingfisher Clubby Genevieve Valentine     Original post here, which also has the next two books in it.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikryby Gabrielle Zevin

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)by Mindy Kaling

Letters to a Young Mormonby Adam S. Miller  Original post here, also has my thoughts on:

So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Enduresby Maureen Corrigan

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Dayby Ben Loory   Original post here.

What were your favorite books this year?

Books I read this week: December week 1

These are the books I read this week.

Bad Feminist: Essaysby Roxane Gay is a book that I think every single person would benefit from reading. It is just so good. Roxane Gay is so honest, so clear in her thinking, and she tackles subjects like feminism, privilege, and race is a compassionate, searingly intelligent way. My mind has been riled up all week thinking about the things she has to say and hasn’t calmed down enough for me to write something out about it, so I will simply say, I am unabashedly a feminist, and you probably are too.

I try to keep my feminism simple. I know feminism is complex and evolving and flawed. I know feminism will not and cannot fix everything. I believe in equal opportunities for women and men. I believe in women having reproductive freedom and affordable and unfettered access to the health care they need. I believe women should be paid as much as men for doing the same work. Feminism is a choice, and if a woman does not want to be a feminist, that is her right, but it is still my responsibility to fight for her rights.

We tend to believe that accusations of privilege imply that we have it easy, which we resent because life is hard for nearly everyone. … You don’t necessarily have to do anything once you acknowledge your privilege. You don’t have to apologize for it. You need to understand the extent of your privilege, the consequences of your privilege, and remain aware that people who are different from you move through and experience the world in ways you might never know anything about. They might endure situations you can never know anything about.

Jackabyby William Ritter is a fun romp of a book. A young woman in the late 1800s absconds with the money her parents have set aside for her education and runs off to look for adventure. She finds it in the employment of Jackaby, a Sherlock Holmesian detective who has the ability to see the supernatural. He has a contentious relationship with the police, a house with a pond on the second floor, and a previous assistant who is currently (and stubbornly) a duck. The core mystery of the book isn’t difficult to suss out, but the ride there is fantastic. There are some really innovative and striking ideas, and the characters are enjoyable.

Hatun sees a different world than you or I, a far more frightening one, full of far more terrible dangers, and still she chooses to be the hero whom that world needs. She has saved this town and its people from countless monsters countless times. That the battles are usually in her head does not lessen the bravery of it. The hardest battles always are.

We are not with the police department, except for those of us who are.

There are some books that you start to read and they just feel like home. Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Dayby Ben Loory is one of those books for me. Every word is magic. Even the spaces between paragraphs (there are 3 blank lines between each) are perfect, giving breath and life to the stories. Each story is 4 or 5 screens (on the Haunted Kindle) long, just long enough to take root in your brain. The tone of the stories is whimsical and odd and slightly melancholy, and I wanted them to go on and on and on.

The young man has never been afraid of hats before. In fact, he’s recently found himself admiring them. The hats on the heads of the men in this town have actually seemed to him quite marvelous. So it is strange that he should now be so frightened- so incredibly frightened- of this one.

The Strange Libraryby Haruki Murakami is odd in the way that only a Murakami book can be odd. It’s about a boy who gets locked into a room under a library by a man who wants to eat his brain, and he and a sheep man and a girl from another dimension have to escape. Yeah. It’s pretty fantastic. It’s more of a short story than a novel, and it’s early Murakami, but this edition is gorgeous because Chip Kidd designed the whole thing and it’s full of strange images. If you’re going to get this one, get an actual hard copy, not on Kindle- you’ll want to hold it.

Where’d You Go, Bernadetteby Maria Semple is an odd, lovely book. The characters are alive and creeping around your brain from the first page, and they become clearer and clearer the further into the book you get. Told in emails, credit card statements, and other “evidence”, the book is 15 year old Bee’s attempt to figure out where her complicated mother, Bernadette, has disappeared to. See, Bee’s parents promised her that if she made it all the way through middle school with perfect grades that they would give her any one thing she wanted. The end of middle school is weeks away, and what she wants more than anything is to go on a family trip to Antarctica. And more than anything, Bernadette wants to give it to her, but the trip means a cruise, and a cruise means being around people and actually leaving the house- something Bernadette has kind of stopped doing. She’s also stopped doing a lot of other things (like grocery shopping, making dentist appointments), preferring to outsource them to a virtual assistant in India. And then, the day before the trip, Bernadette disappears. There’s so much more to it all than that, which is what the reader discovers along with Bee.

It’s a razor sharp look at genius, family life, parenting, school parent politics, and so much more. Most of the reviews I read talked about how funny it is, and there are some very funny moments (in an Arrested Development vein- Semple was a writer on the show) but it’s also quite sad– you’re basically watching a number of people’s lives implode. I really liked it, and can’t stop thinking about it.

What are you reading?

Books I read this week: October and November catch up


Every year around this time I get behind on writing about the books I’m reading to the point that I just want to throw in the towel rather than catch up. So these are the books that I’ve read over the last two months with minimal commentary.

Don’t Point that Thing at Meby Kyril Bonfigliolli. I really wanted this to be like the Lucifer Box Novelsby Mark Gatiss. (Yes, that Mark Gatiss. Go read them, they’re amazing.) It was not. Entertaining, but not the madcap spy brilliance that I wanted it to be. That’s hardly it’s fault- it’s the story of an art heist and what happens afterward, and it’s solid for what it is, with some wry British humor.

I say, Charlie, really, what a filthy rotten idea; I mean, think of my wife.

“I never think of policemen’s wives, their beauty maddens me like wine.

The Miniaturistby Jessie Burton. I read this for book club, which I’m really glad about, because I was going back and forth on picking it up. It’s the story of a young woman who ends up in a marriage arranged by her mother and her future sister-in-law. Her new husband is rich but distracted, and her gives her a miniature model of their house as a wedding present. When she orders miniatures to fill the house, the pieces that come (and keep coming despite her instructions that they stop) are eerily prescient. Lots of dramatic things happen and secrets are revealed and it’s really quite good. It had its flaws (I would have liked more insight into the other people in the village) but I enjoyed it and it’s a good book for discussion.

When you have truly come to know a person, Nella-when you see beneath the sweeter gestures , the smiles-when you see the rage and the pitiful fear which each of us hide-then forgiveness if everything. We are in desperate need of it. And Marin is- not so forgiving.

A Visit from the Goon Squadby Jennifer Egan. I’ve been meaning to read this book for an incredibly long time. It’s gotten insanely good reviews and won all kinds of awards and there’s good reason. It’s the story of a group of friends over a number of years, and each chapter is told from a different character’s point of view. The writing is incredible and the characters are alive and tragic. One of the chapters is told in the form of a Powerpoint presentation, and you will either love it or loathe it, but I thought it was utterly masterful.



There’s a lot of swearing and a decent amount of sex (just a heads up to anyone sensitive to such), but it’s not gratuitous.

Letters to a Young Mormonby Adam S. Miller. This book is stunningly good. I want to send copies to all my friends. Each short chapter is an essay on a different subject- faith, repentance, sin, love, hunger, and they are insightful and excellent. Miller pulls in a lot of mindfulness philosophy into his writing, which really speaks to me. So much of this book is highlighted that it would almost be easier to pick something I didn’t highlight. I love his chapter on scriptures so much that I want to paint it on a giant canvas for my living room.

Get close to the scriptures. Do anything you can. God is in there. Moses told his people to put bits of scriptures in little boxes and, when praying, to tie one box to their arm and the other to their head. Strap the bible to your forehead. Wear the Book of Mormon on your sleeve. Sleep with your scriptures under your pillow. Tape Pharisees to you bathroom mirror. Underline everything. Pack your margins with notes. Read Paul out loud like poetry. Copy the Book of Mormon by hand. Read the bible backward one verse at a time. Tally their letters like numbers. Squeeze their verses like oranges. Know Isaiah by heart. Love Matthew like a brother. Sing the psalms as your prayers. Read them in Hebrew. Read them in Greek. Read them in Russian and Spanish and Japanese. Translate them all into English and back again.



His chapter on sex is fantastic, and what I want to read with my girls when the time comes to discuss such things.

Chastity is not a kind of perfection. You may have arrived in this world innocent, but chastity is something more. Chastity is not something you are born with and then break or lose, it is something that is made. It is something that must, with years of patient and compassionate effort, be cultivated and grown and gathered and sealed.

Wait to kiss and then kiss like you would like to kiss again tomorrow, not like you want to get all the kissing done, once and for all, today.

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davisby Lydia Davis is 749 pages of short story brilliance that took me 5 months to read. Some of the stories are 3 sentences long, some are pages, all are really quite something. Her sentences are brilliant.

She eats her potatoes as though she would make a revolution among them, as though they were the People.

Yet my confusion must be this: though her body is old, her capacity for betrayal is still young and fresh.

You learn about patience. You discover patience. Or you discover how patience extends up to a certain point and then it ends and impatience begins. Or rather, impatience was there all along, underneath a light, surface kind of patience , and at a certain point the light kind of patience wears away and all that’s left is impatience. Then the impatience grows.

Yes Pleaseby Amy Poehler. I love Amy Poehler. I think she is utterly fantastic. This is a great memoir, cleverly and honestly written. There’s quite a bit of swearing in it, which you should know going in. But there is also great insight and some excellent writing.

The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not.

That is the motto women should constantly repeat over and over again. Good for her! Not for me.

Your brain is not your friend when you need to apologize.

When I left SNL, I gave Seth a badge of courage, like Dorothy gives to the Cowardly Lion. The props department helped me make it. He kept it in his pocket during “Update” until he didn’t need it anymore. Now it sits on a box on his desk at Late Night.


I’ll admit, that last story made me tear up, it was so sweet.

Nanaby Delacorta is one of my favorite books ever, which I feel slightly guilty about since it’s a totally trashy French novel about a 40 something year old ex-driver for the mob and the 13 year old girl he falls in love with, and the havoc the two of them secretly wreak in her French village.  I first read it in high school, and I typed out the first couple chapters onto my computer because I wanted to own them. (It was a library book.)

It did not resemble a triumph of modern technology, but rather looked like a child’s toy left outside to rust. The depot seemed abandoned and a hobo jungle had taken root in a line of freight cars parked on a siding. A tin-roofed building slid slowly into view and the train wheels screeched to a stop, ungreased brakes squeaking. Serge Gorodish, the last passenger off the train, left the end car and walked the entire length of the platform toward the ugly cement station building.

Elements of Wit: Mastering the Art of Being Interestingby Benjamin Errett. I read this because I’m doing edits on my novel and I need to tap into a wittiness that isn’t flowing for me. This book didn’t necessarily help with that (I find that heavy doses of Dorothy Parker are best, really), but it’s an interesting book about how wit works and why.

I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until finally I became that person. Or he became me. Or we met at some point.  – Cary Grant

So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Enduresby Maureen Corrigan is one of the best books I read all year. Her readings and insights of The Great Gatsby are cogent and articulate, and I just loved it.

The great theme running throughout all of Fitzgerald’s writing- and his life- is the nobility of the effort to keep one’s head above water despite the almost inevitable certainty of drowning.

That’s the whole burden of this novel- the loss of those illusions that give such color to the world so that you don’t care whether things are true or false as long as they partake of the magical glory.

The Great Gatsbyby F. Scott Fitzgerald. And of course I had to reread the book again with her insights in mind. It remains one of my top 3 books of all time.

Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo. Z wanted this book and I had no idea what it was about. It is utterly adorable and I highly recommend it. It’s the story of a little girl who saves a squirrel from a vacuum cleaner, and the squirrel changes her life. That’s really all you need to know. It’s gorgeous.

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventureby William Goldman. I also read this for book club, though I didn’t end up making it to the meeting, which is sad because I would have liked to have discussed it. It’s fun but not brilliantly amazing, but I think that’s because I’ve seen and know and love the movie, so none of it was a surprise. The movie is really the book come to life.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Brideby Cary Elwes is what it looks like- Cary Elwes’ memoir about the making of The Princess Bride. He includes a ton of quotes from everyone involved in the movie, and it’s just a lovely book. There are some interesting things, like Wallace Shawn being terrified the whole time that he was going to get fired because he had been erroneously told that they really wanted Danny DeVito for the part. And all of the background about the epic sword fight between Wesley and Inigo is fascinating. Anyway, it’s a really good read.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends: An Autobiographyby Rob Lowe is really good. Like, surprisingly good. Some memoirs by famous people read like someone else wrote them (and someone probably did) but this entire book is so chatty and casual and it really “sounds” like you think Rob Lowe would sound.  This book covers his childhood, his work on The Outsiders, the debacle with Snow White at the Oscars, all the way through his time on The West Wing. He talks about his alcoholism and rehab, his wife and kids, and the worrisome side of growing up in a culture where adults let you do whatever you want. It’s really very good, and well written. He kept breaking the 13 year old in me’s brain talking about hanging out with Emilio Estevez and Charlie Sheen as kids, making hand held movies.

Love Lifeby Rob Lowe is the follow up to Stories I Only Tell My Friends, and it’s not quite as good, but still quite good.

Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaksby Brad Dukes is utterly fascinating.  It’s what it looks like- the “author” (compiler, I guess?) interviewed almost all the people involved with Twin Peaks and put together this account of everything that went down behind the scenes. There’s excellent stuff in here- gossip, yes (most people maintain that Agent Cooper and Audrey didn’t get together because Lara Flynn Boyle was dating Kyle MacLachlan and refused to allow it), but also lots of day to day stuff about how a tv show gets made. And how it spirals into disaster in a second season. If you’re a fan of Twin Peaks I HIGHLY recommend this one. (Sidenote- I would LOVE to see something like this done for Lost. )

The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (Twin Peaks)by Jennifer Lynch, on the other hand, I only recommend if you have a strong stomach. It’s very well written, but it’s heartbreaking and horrible. It’s the story of a sexually abused little girl- it does what it’s supposed to do while still fitting well into the Twin Peaks world.

Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger. I feel like Gail Carriger and I would be very good friends if we knew each other. She speaks my language, and I am the target market girl for her books. They are just perfection and I love them. In this one, Sephronia and her friends spend most of their time away from the dirigible assassin school (see why I love it??) in order to help Sidheag, granddaughter of the alpha werewolf of a pack in Scotland get back to her pack. It’s marvelous and I adore it beyond all reason.

If anyone saw Monique, a well-dressed woman of quality, dangling from the doorway, they apparently assumed everyone had difficulties in life and moved on.

I’m currently reading Bad Feminist: Essaysby Roxane Gay, and it is excellent. Really, so good. But I will write about it when I finish. Or, you know, a month or so later.

What are you reading?

Random thoughts on a Sunday night

Hi there.

I just went browsing through some of the blogs that I frequent, and none of them had new posts. And that made me kind of sad. And then I thought, maybe someone went past my blog and was sad that there wasn’t a new post. And while I kind of doubt that’s true (except for maybe Brandy, Hi Brandy!), I shall post regardless.

I’m two days into NaNoWriMo. This year I’m writing a sequel, but not to my book, Mystery’s End. A couple years ago during NaNoWriMo I went outside the murder mystery box and decided to not plot anything ahead of time and just write. They say that you should write the book that you want to read, and this ended up being all of the things I love in a book- pulpy madcap adventure in the vein of the Avengers – not these Avengers:


THESE Avengers:

avengers 1

There’s secret societies, mysterious organizations, two secret agents investigating crazy phenomena, and of course, a wise cracking flapper. It’s kind of bananas, and so I put it to the side and didn’t really think about it again, because any time I think about it I think that it probably wouldn’t appeal to anyone other than me. But it was so much fun to write and I like the characters so much that I decided to take them out for another adventure.

So that’s happening.

My parents just went home after being here with us for 10 weeks, and that is sad. We miss them a lot. Luckily we have friends staying for a week to distract us. We’re on vacation from school this coming week, which is also nice.

I’ve been watching The Voice and finally figured out that this guy:

reminds me of Patrick from Coupling.

It had been making me crazy, and I’m glad to have that resolved. I’m also glad that the other guy stayed on over him.

This guy, though, is my favorite. He could believably have a record contract right now.

In church I’m in charge of the classes for the kids that are 18 months to 11 years old. Every year on one Sunday they do a presentation during Sacrament Meeting (the main church meeting) where instead of one or two people giving a sermon, the kids present things that they’ve learned and sing songs and such. It’s a fairly big deal, and we have 51 kids that need to each have a turn to say something and have a place to stand where their parents can see them and a place to sit. We’ve practiced the program over the last two weeks (the actual program will happen next Sunday) and it’s gone really well. I was going to say to someone today that it’s like herding cats, but really pretty well behaved cats. We’ll see how next week goes. And whatever happens, it will be fine. As long as no one sets fire to the building.

I’m about to start Amy Poehler’s new book, Yes Please, but first I have to finish The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis. It’s 749 pages, and I’ve been reading it on and off since May 11 of this year. I’m at 96%. It’s so close I can almost taste it.

When we start up school again after next week, we start studying Jackson Pollack for the month. I’ve never felt a deep affinity for Pollack. Perhaps I will develop one over the course of the month. I have the feeling Tiny will enjoy him- she gravitates toward the Abstract Expressionists like Kandinsky.

I was listening to Prince the other day and decided that he has one of the most perfect voices ever. It’s just never ugly, and is often transcendent. I can’t find the song I want to post (The Breakdown, which goes supersonic toward the end), so I’ll post this instead, one of my absolute favorites. He’s seriously magic.

I’d also put Brett Anderson and Chris Cornell on that list. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m fairly certain that Chris Cornell is the god of rock- Neil Gaiman American Gods style. He could be the physical incarnation of the spirit of rock and roll. Seriously. Watch this and tell me that you can’t picture him opening his eyes at some point during it and they’d be glowing and he’d have crazy sharp teeth or something. Why the god of rock would have glowing eyes and sharp teeth, I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure he’s hiding them there somewhere.

And as a little extra for your day, I was going to post him singing Redemption Song, but then I found this and had to post it instead. It is truly glorious. When he hits those high notes it just slices right through you. In Mike Allred’s Red Rocket 7(which everyone should read) he talks about a divine chord. Chris Cornell hits notes that sound divine- it’s what makes me think he’s the god of rock- he’s got the notes for it.

That’s all I’ve got for right now. I’m going to go to bed.

Books I read this week: October weeks 1 and 2

Here are the books I’ve been reading.

Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Centuryby Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger was a great read. The ups and downs of the Taylor/Burton relationship are all laid out, and there’s lots of gossip, but it never gets trashy or mean spirited. The love between the two of them is the core of the book, and it was definitely a love for the ages. It’s unfortunate that alcohol addiction came between them.

Curiously, Elizabeth didn’t conisder herself-nor Grace Kelly, for that matter- truly beautiful. She felt that being too impeccable, too groomed, too studied- “so that you can feel the vanity behind it”- made beauty boring. Her ideals of feminine beauty were women like Lena Horne and Ava Gardner, earthier women ablaze with life and heart.

I’ve been waiting for The Brothers Cabal by Jonathan L. Howard for quite some time. I inhaled the three previous books in the series, and this one was just as much fun. Johannes Cabal is a necromancer who stole his soul back from the devil, and his brother Horst is a twice (thrice?) dead vampire with impeccable manners. When a group with dangerous intentions raises him to be their Lord of the Dead, they get something a bit different than they expected.

‘Are you deliberately collecting animated heads, Johannes?’ he asked.

Cabal frowned, then accepted the point. ‘Not deliberately. It just happens.’

I have quite literally been reading the Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay for 7 months. I started it in March of this year. I parceled it out over that time, and therefore I do not now hate St. Vincent Millay as I could have if I’d read straight through. Her poems are gorgeous, she has marvelous turns of phrase.

It well may be that in a difficult hour,

pinned down by pain and moaning for release,

or nagged by want past resolution’s power,

I might be driven to sell your love for peace,

or trade memory of this night for food.

It well may be. I do not think I would.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is one of those books that has been on lists of “books you must read!” forever, and I’ve never read it. But there was a copy at the bookstore with the new Vintage Magic cover, and so I bought it. It’s not at all what I expected, but I’m not really sure what I expected. It’s the story of what happens when the devil visits a Russian town. As you would imagine, things go awry, and lots of people end up in the lunatic asylum. Only two people make it out unscathed (well, relatively); the master and the woman he loves, Margarita. The master is called such by Margarita because of the book that he has written about Pontius Pilate- she considers him a master of his craft. I went in thinking that the two of them would do battle with the devil, which is not at all what happens. Apparently there is lots of social commentary about life in Russia at the time it was written, but I missed a lot of that. What I did get was the humor (madcap at times), the horror, the exhilaration. It’s a great read, I enjoyed it a lot.

Itby Alexa Chung was a total impulse buy. I enjoyed Alexa on 24 Hour Catwalk, and flipping through this book I saw things that made me smile, so I bought it. It’s basically a scrapbook/lookbook of things that have influenced her style, with snippets of her thoughts about them. I kind of wish that I just read it at the bookstore- I don’t know how much I’ll delve into it again- but it was a fun little read.

I also read a draft of a book that a friend of mine wrote, that you will all want to read when it’s published.

I’m currently in the middle of Don’t Point that Thing at Meby Kyril Bonfiglioli, which is entertaining.

What are you reading?

Books I read this week: September

Somehow I forgot that I was supposed to be posting every week. So I shall catch up now for the month of September.

Meeting the Dog Girls: Storiesby Gay Terry is a collection of odd, well written stories. All of them have at least one strange element, sometimes it’s magic, sometimes it’s a creature from another world, sometimes it’s a mysterious marble.

If she thinks my spells are ungodly, wait till she gets on a golf course, with its voodoo:nine plus nine and numbered clubs; the fusion of elements: water, air. iron (a curious choice of metal), wood (Did they know the effects of different kinds?). How does she think people get suckered into it so easily, hypnotized into spending days in the hot sun hitting a ball into a hole? That’s profane enchantment for you.

Interpreter of Maladiesby Jhumpa Lahiri was recommended to me by a friend, and I am grateful. It’s a thought provoking set of stories dealing with life in India. Each is a polished gem that stands as its own narrative, and some of them seem to serve as a microcosm of societal interactions in India, especially where class is concerned.  I really enjoyed this one.

In fact, the only thing that appeared three dimensional about Boori Ma was her voice; brittle with sorrows, as tart as curds, and shrill enough to grate meat from a coconut.

Dimension of Miraclesby Robert Sheckley has a lot in common with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is not a bad thing. A normal, everyday human wins the Galactic Sweepstakes (by purposeful accidental computer error) and finds himself traveling around the universe trying to get back to Earth. It’s absurd and philosophical and enjoyable.

He was somewhat above the average in height and self-deprecation. His posture was bad, but his intentions were good.

I’m going to be totally cliche and say that The Magiciansby Lev Grossman is Harry Potter and the Narnia books for grownups. Quentin, the smartest kid in his high school, applying to Ivy League schools and on his way to his successful life, finds himself crossing through a forest into the grounds of a school for magicians. He takes the entrance exam and is accepted, and the book goes from there. The students are brilliant, the work is hard, the goal is to be a fully functioning practitioner of magic, so that upon graduation you can do anything you want to. Along the way, Quentin discovers that Fillory, a fictional world he loved reading about as a child, might just be real.

The book is adult and angsty and the ins and outs of the school are well thought out and described, as is the process of learning itself. What it isn’t is fun.  The characters are snarky and clever, and there are funny bits, but as one of the characters says, no one at the school but Quentin actually believes in magic. They know it’s real, they use it, but it’s not “magical” to them. And it isn’t to Quentin either- he’s easily bored and always looking for the next thing that will truly make him happy, and never finding it. So the book doesn’t have that magical spark, instead it truly is Harry Potter for adults- magic with all the wonder sucked out.

That’s not to say it’s not a good book, because it really is. The whole “no wonder” thing is part of the point, I think (I hope), and it’s really well written. There are some interesting ideas and it’s a pretty effective look at what would happen “in real life”. I liked the characters, and while I’m not rushing to read the next book, I will read it soon.

Quentin’s mind spun. Maybe he should ask to see a brochure. And no one had said anything about tuition yet. And gift horse and all that notwithstanding, how much did he know about this place? Suppose it really was a school for magic. Was it any good? What if he’d stumbled into some third tier magic college by accident? He had to think practically. He didn’t want to be committing himself to some community college of sorcery when he could have Magic Harvard or whatever.

Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural Worldby Ben Hewitt is really an extraordinary book. It’s the memoir of a family in Vermont who lives on a farm and have chosen to not put their children in school or educate them based on any set curriculum. This approach is generally called “unschooling”, and it’s something I was passingly familiar with, but I feel like I understand it so much better now.

Hewitt and his wife are intelligent people, and their sons are full of curiosity and wonder. They’ve learned how to read, they can do math, but it’s all been learned through practical use on the farm and in the woods. Through their own living and learning they can identify almost any kind of plant, can create their own perfectly balanced bows and arrows, can build shelters that can withstand a Vermont winter.

One of Hewitt’s main goals for his children is that they have an attachment to the land and a connection to it. Most of the kids’ days are spent outside- doing chores and work around the farm, and then roaming free in the woods. It reminds me a lot of Little House on the Prairie or something similar- an older way of life where kids grew up to take over the farm from their parents. And that got to me a bit, because aren’t they limiting their children’s futures? But then I realized that all parents do that to a degree, in choosing what to expose their children to, and what opportunities they give them. My kids likely won’t grow up to be farmers, is that unfair?

I’m still thinking over it all, but that’s the lovely thing about this book. He isn’t prescribing anything for anyone else, just describing what he and his family do. In fact, he specifically says that he knows that their choices aren’t right for everyone. But reading about their choices makes me think about my choices, and opens my eyes to other choices, and that’s a good thing.

“Rye, if you could have any three things in the world, what would they be?

My eight year old younger son did not hesitate for even a moment.

“Traps, a donkey, and a cabin,” he replied emphatically, and at that moment, I felt a small ache. Part of it was happiness, the recognition that a boy can still be drawn to such things in a world that has all but forgotten they exist. But there was sadness, too, because I knew how unusual my son’s three wishes were. “What will the world do with a boy who grows up wanting traps, a donkey and a cabin?” I though.t. And then: “What will a boy who grows up wanting traps, a donkey, and a cabin do with the world?” When I expressed these concerns to Penny, she paused for a moment before replying. “Well,” she said, “it’s probably a lot more realistic than growing up wanting to play third base for the Red Sox.

I started reading The Resurrectionistby Jack O’Connell because I decided to pick a book that had been on my Kindle a while. I started the resolution at the beginning of the year that I was only going to read books that were already on my Kindle, but a lot of the books I’ve read this year have been bought this year. So I decided to go farther back, and picked this one. It’s the story of Sweeney, a man whose wife is dead and whose son is in a coma. He’s taken a job as a pharmacist at an exclusive clinic so that his son can have better care. Every night he reads to his son from a comic called Limbo, and the storyline of the comic is included in chapters of the book. It’s a story of circus freaks, specifically a chicken boy who is searching for his father. As the real life story of father and son goes on, the story in Limbo begins to echo it in strange ways, and both stories twist and turn in unexpected directions. There are some interesting ethical questions that arise, even though the ending got a little tangly, it was a good read.

Now I’m reading Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. It’s a great, gossipy read.

What are you reading?

A holiday pilgrimage

Yesterday was a holiday in Japan, and so Bruce had the day off. He planned an amazing trip to Kamakura, where we were able to see 5 different shrines/temples.

We took a train down to Ofuna, where we got on a monorail that took us down to Enoshima. The monorail was of the hanging kind, and at times it went crazy fast and was awesome. When we got to Enoshima we switched to an old school train that took us to Hase.





Our first stop was at the Kotoku-in Temple, which is the home of the Daibutsu (Giant Buddha). My grandpa visited this Buddha when he was stationed in Japan after the war, and he told my mom that she really needed to see it.

This is not the Daibutsu. It’s one of the guards of the temple.IMG_4524

Kamakura has over 100 temples and shrines.IMG_4525 IMG_4527

Here it is. It’s hard to miss.IMG_4529 IMG_4533 IMG_4537 IMG_4540

The things that look like wings on his back are windows; you can actually go inside the hollow statue. You used to be able to go up and look out the windows, but you can’t anymore.IMG_4550 IMG_4559 IMG_4564

Our cool shoes.IMG_4567

We took the Daibutsuzake Hiking Course to get to our next stop.IMG_4585 IMG_4593

The Sasuke Inari Shrine . This is actually outside the shrine, nestled in some trees. Inari is the god of rice, tea, sake, fertility, and general prosperity. The fox is his go-between, and so people make offerings to both Inari and the foxes.IMG_4594 IMG_4595 IMG_4600 IMG_4601

Part of the shrine itself.
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Our next stop was the Zeniari Benten Shrine, which was so interesting. To get there you go through a tunnel in the mountain.IMG_4642 IMG_4645

There is a cave in the shrine area with a spring inside. You can wash your coins in the spring, and they are supposed to then return to you when spent, and multiply.IMG_4662 IMG_4665

Paper cranes.IMG_4666 IMG_4668 IMG_4670 IMG_4676

We went through Genjiyama Park and saw this fine fellow. The girls posed with him, and garnered quite an audience. (You’ll see them in a minute, but my pictures are out of order and I don’t feel like fixing them.)IMG_4685

We saw spiders like this EVERYWHERE. They were about this actual size, and they had huge cool webs. We currently have one of these outside of our house.IMG_4688

These are the girls’ fans. They cheered and clapped as the girls posed. It was hilarious.IMG_4689

Then, inspired by the girls’ vigor, they posed themselves.

The hike out of the park was pretty awesome.

Our final stop was Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu temple in Kamakura. Just outside of it there was a couple who had just gotten married. (We also went to Shirahafa Shrine here, but I didn’t take pictures.)IMG_4716 IMG_4720 IMG_4733 IMG_4735 IMG_4740 IMG_4742

Time for a Tiny interlude.IMG_4746

A monk.IMG_4749 IMG_4751

Then we walked back to the station. And saw this tired cat.IMG_4761

And a Native American.IMG_4762

And this cool poster.IMG_4763

And this little bird.IMG_4767

Then we did it all backwards to get home- old style train to monorail to train. On the way back through Ofuna we got pictures of this lovely huge statue of Kannon. It’s at Muga sozan Ofuna Kannonji, and I want to go there if only to be awed by its massiveness.IMG_4790 IMG_4794All in all, we walked 8 miles. We left our house at 9am  and got back at 5:30pm. The girls did a fabulous job with all the walking, and it was so cool to be out at the temples with so many other people. (In Japan people tend to go to temples on holidays.) It was also really neat to see how different each of the temples and shrines were from each other, each had its own personality and feel. It was a pretty excellent trek.

Around Zojo-ji and the Tokyo Tower

Yesterday we took my parents to the Tokyo Tower and to Zojo-ji, a Buddhist temple complex nearby. I love this area.

This is the Unborn Children Garden, where parents can make offerings to Jizo, the guardian of unborn children (miscarried, stillborn, or aborted) to ensure their passage to the afterlife. It’s such a beautiful, melancholy place.
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The gate into the Tombs of the Tokugawa shoguns. You can’t get in this way, and there must be another way in, but we couldn’t find it. IMG_4425

The Tokyo Tower.IMG_4426

Not the Tokyo Tower.IMG_4427 IMG_4428

This is in the temple at Zoji-ji. The first time we went in, these little things weren’t on the floor. When we went back 15 minutes later they were. It was like an invasion.IMG_4432 IMG_4433 IMG_4437 IMG_4441 IMG_4445 IMG_4459 IMG_4470 IMG_4480 IMG_4482

Bones and things

The other day we went to the Special Exhibit at the Natural History Museum in Ueno. Here’s what we saw.

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And then Tiny tried to steal a Monet. She’s definitely my daughter, that one.IMG_4413