Books I read this week: May week 3

Back in the early years of this blog, I took a year and looked for connections between the books that I read, while not picking out obviously connected books to read. It was fun. Anyway, I feel like that has been happening with the books I’ve been reading lately.

Adé: A Love Story by Rebecca Walker. I started reading this book because I was trying to decide what to read and accidentally opened this on the Haunted Kindle and figured, sure, why not? I bought it a long while back, and I thought I remembered that it was fiction, but it’s not. Rebecca Walker is the daughter of Alice Walker, which makes her immediately interesting to me, and because I’ve read so much by her mother, I feel like I kind of have a sense of her background. So this book was enjoyable for that reason, and because it’s really well written. It’s the memoir of Walker’s time in Africa, exploring a continent that she was raised by her mother to feel is her home, though she had never been there. She travels with a friend who is white (Walker is half black half Jewish) and Walker describes how they drift apart as they have different experiences and feel more and less welcome and at home. As they get deeper into Muslim areas, her friend feels oppressed and nervous about how women are treated, while Walker falls in love with the people and the traditions.  It seems only natural then that she falls in love with Ade, a lovely man with a lovely extended family, who embrace Walker as their Ade’s beloved. It’s a fairy tale kind of story that then hits harsh reality as Ade and Rebecca try to blend their traditions and backgrounds, and they have to face truths about whether or not that’s possible. Walker is honest about all her feelings- good and conflicted alike, and about her struggles with privilege, idealism, and romanticism; which is excellent, especially in the context of her judgement of her friend for having the same feelings and struggles. This is a short book, but beautifully written and compelling.

It did not occur to me that I could be hurt, or that anything could be bigger or stronger than my own will to move freely, unobstructed, across the plains.

I knew nothing about him and yet I wanted to see him again. I had too much power, I thought. I might consume him out of my own curiosity simply because I could. I could stay or go. He could not. He had too much power, I thought. He could reject me. He could break me in two.


A Spy in the House of Love: The Authoritative Edition by Anais Nin. There was something in Ade: A Love Story that reminded me of this book, I don’t recall what at the moment. But I realized that I haven’t read this book for a very long time, and it used to be one of my very favorites, so it was time for a reread.

It’s a hard book to describe- the plot is rather simple but the book is anything but simple- so here’s the blurb that describes it better than I can: “The main character, Sabina, realizes that she is a composite of many selves, each one seeking identity within relationships with five very different men, and while she seeks to live out each part of herself, she also craves unity, setting the stage for the battle for self-awareness.”

I first read this book in high school, after my best friend read it and told me that it reminded her of me. And I identified with so many parts of it- feeling forced into a definition while containing multitudes, feeling misunderstood and limited. (Lots of teenage angst combined with the fact that the character is an actress and I wanted to be an actress.) This time around I’m a bit more self aware, so I feel more like Sabine at the end of the book than the beginning. But it’s still a gorgeous read. Few people write poetic prose like Anais Nin.

Out of the red and silver and the long cry of alarm to the poet who survives in all human beings, as the child survives in him; to this poet she threw an unexpected ladder in the middle of the city and ordained, “Climb!” As she appeared, the orderly alignment of the city gave way before this ladder one was invited to climb, standing straight in space like the ladder of Baron Munchausen which led to the sky. Only her ladder led to fire.

The enemy of a love is never outside, it’s not a man or woman, it’s what we lack in ourselves.


The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins has a character very much like Sabine. But she’s not the main character, and I won’t spoil too much by going into who it is. This book was on the top of last years “Best of” lists, so I’ve been wanting to read it. It’s the story of Rachel, a woman who travels into London every day on the same train. Every day she sees the same houses, and in one of them,  a couple that she does not know, but imagines things about, and she imagines them to be the perfect, happy, ideal couple. So one day, when she sees the wife kissing another man, she decides that she has to go tell the husband about it. And the next morning she wakes up to news reports that the wife is missing. But Rachel can’t remember anything about what happened because she is also an alcoholic who drinks herself into a black out state on a regular basis, and she was in just a state that night. All she knows is that she witnessed some kind of argument and that she has a nasty cut on the side of her head. She knows that she was in the neighborhood because her ex-husband and his new wife (who Rachel has been drunk dialing on a regular basis) also live in the neighborhood, and saw her that evening. So she decides to investigate, in the most awkward, bumbling, trouble causing manner. She doesn’t stop drinking, because she can’t, and that just complicates everything and calls any of her assumptions into question. The story alternates between her point of view, that of the missing wife (flashing back in time), and Rachel’s ex-husband’s new wife. It’s very effective story telling, and a total page turner. If you decide to read it, set aside enough time to get all the way through it in one go or you will get irritated if you have to stop.

I have never understood how people can blithely disregard the damage they do by following their hearts. Who was it said that following your heart is a good thing?

I don’t know where that strength went, I don’t remember losing it. I think that over time it got chipped away, bit by bit, by life, by the living of it.

I’m currently reading The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham. I’m not loving it as much as I loved The Hours (my most reread book in the last 11 years – just a little trivia for your day) but that may change by the end of it.

What are you reading?

Books I read this week: May week 2

Here’s what I read this week. Apparently I’m on a non-fiction roll.

To Marry an English Lord by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace is one of the most enlightening books I’ve read in a long time. It’s about American heiresses in the late 1800 whose families weren’t old money enough to be accepted into NY high society, so they went to England to find dukes to marry. It’s one of those books where you pick up so much history in the reading of it, and as I read there were so many circumstances in other books and movies that suddenly made sense. THAT’S why people reacted the way they did in The End of Innocence! THAT’S why Tracy Lord’s family has that huge house in High Society! I suddenly had context for so many situations. The whole time period is fascinating, as what was acceptable and desirable in society was changing, and the heiresses’ transition to life in England was also just so interesting. I really highly recommend it.  I should note that half of the book is a directory to heiresses of the time and bibliography, so if you’re reading on a Kindle, just know that at the 50% point you’ll be finished.

It wasn’t that American women had never before sailed to Europe. It was that they’d never before had fun when they got there.

American women were braver than the staid Englishwomen and considerably more profligate than the Parisiennes, who were liable to choose three exquisite costumes and make them last a season or more- true elegance but not about to make Worth a rich man. Americans like Jeannie never stopped at three dresses; they were hard put to stop at eighty or ninety.

Any man who reverses (changes the direction in which he’s spinning his partner during a waltz) is a cad.

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Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons From The World’s Most Elegant Woman by Karen Karbo is an enjoyable, chatty book. Part biography of Chanel, part memoir, part self improvement guide, it’s kind of light, but has some thought provoking sentences.

Cut to the chase, don’t waste time doing stuff that seems to be essential to your life and business, just because other people do it. A smart friend once summed it up thus- why make nachos if what you really want to do is puck the browned shreds of baked cheddar off the cookie sheet? Just cook the cheese and be done with it.

I miss the romantic notion that there are crossroads in life, and one must make an irrevocable choice to go this way or that, then live with the choice without apology.


Diary of a Stage Mother’s Daughter: A Memoir by Melissa Francis is a difficult book to describe my reaction to- it’s by turns heartbreaking, inspiring, and eyeopening. Francis grew up acting; from her “discovery” when she was less than a year old and appeared in a No More Tears commercial, she worked in commercials and TV through her teenage years. Her career, and that of her sister, is managed by her mother, who becomes addicted to being on set, having successful daughters, and the money that comes from their work. She never lets them forget her sacrifices on their behalf, and though she claims (and perhaps starts out) that she is doing all of it to give them a better life than she had, her actions are abusive- physically and mentally. She has no hesitation to literally push one of the girls out of the (stopped) car when she dares to talk back to her, tell her that she never wants to see her again, and drive away- waiting a good couple miles before going back for her. The little girl is 8. It’s horrifying, and yet it’s the life the girls know, and they bend over backwards to placate her. Francis really enjoys acting, and continues with it long after her sister has stopped, which means that she gets her mom’s attention, while her sister is neglected. As Francis gets older and attempts to stand up to her mother, she has to fight for what is hers, and she really does come into her own.

The book brings up some interesting questions about working children- her parents tell her that all of her paychecks are going into a bank account for her college fund, but she discovers that they’ve been using them to pay for her private school, horse riding hobby, and even the BMW that they give her as a birthday present. It’s not that the money shouldn’t be used for those things, but the whole time it’s presented as them sacrificing so much to give her all these things and then when the money is gone when she wants it for a summer session at Stanford, they accuse her of spending it irresponsibly (even though she never knew it was being spent). Her mother dedicates years to “making her a star”, and has no skills to show for it when she (Francis) goes off to college, so feels entitled to some of the money – in short, I feel like I understand the whole Lindsay/Dinah Lohan dynamic better now. Francis’ relationship with her sister is difficult and lovely and painful. It’s a great book, and I really enjoyed it.

My mom had held a power over me, over all of us, for a long time. I was a hostage to her moods, her violence, her praise, her favor, all doled out in random doses and with confusing inconsistency, which had been designed to control me, training me to crave her attention like a starving dog.

[On her mom wanting to open a B&B after Francis’ marriage] “So she’s taking all the things she didn’t do for us growing up, and turning that ball of wax into a career? Those would be some disappointed and confused guests”

A fire-breathing dragon of a mom may produce a champion, or she might burn her child to death.

 

Now I’m reading Ade: A Love Story by Rebecca Walker because I opened it by accident after finishing the previous book and thought, why not? It’s quite good so far.

What are you reading?

School for next year: Planning edition

Brandy asked for a post about our plans for school next year, and what Brandy asks for, she gets. :)

Of course I’m already waist deep in planning because a, that’s what I do to keep my sanity, and b, we’ll be moving right at the beginning of the school year, so I need to have everything in place. So here’s what we’ve got.

Math: We’re sticking with Math U See because it works really well for the girls. Both girls will finish the books that they’re on by the end of the month, so we will begin new books in September.

Spelling: I’m really not sure what we’re going to do with spelling. We used Spell U See this year, and I’m really not sure how much the girls have gotten out of it. We may go back to Spelling Workout, even though Z complained daily about it. I’m still thinking on that one.

Reading: We will have a dedicated reading time for the girls to each read out of an assigned book (on each of their reading levels). Then they’ll tell me what they read, and we’ll go over literary structures like plot, conflict, things like that.

History/Social Studies: Z will be starting 4th grade, which is the year when you’re supposed to do state history. Since we’ll have just moved to Texas, it will be a great opportunity for us to get to know our new state. I found a curriculum from Splash Publications (www.splashpublications.com) that we’ll be using called Do Texas! that covers the geography, animal life, history, and government of Texas.  It’s got all of the lessons and worksheets and project instructions, which is awesome. Their customer service was also excellent.

 
Art: We’re focusing on women and minority artists this coming year. Most of them struggled through an illness of some kind, which adds an interesting through line to the year. We’ll be covering Mary Cassatt, Dorothea Lange, Faith Ringgold, Jacob Lawrence, Horace Pippin, Paul Klee, Frida Kahlo, Grandma Moses, and Andy Warhol. We’ll do a month on each- 2 times a week.

Music: The focus for this coming year will be on classical composers, in preparation for a focus on jazz the following year. We did a little jazz this year, which the girls loved, but B and I both think that they will be able to have a greater appreciation for what jazz does if they have a foundation in the classical music that it subverts. So we’re doing Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Gershwin, and then we’ll end with John Williams, which the girls will love. Each composer gets a month, 2 times a week. As I was picking the songs that we would use, I got so excited about the girls hearing this gorgeous music. I do need to find a way to introduce them to some female composers- when I told Z we were doing classical she said, “That’s when they didn’t let women write music, isn’t it?”. I reminded her that they have tons of music written by women on their ipod, but more never hurts.

Poetry: Instead of doing Shakespeare, we’re going to focus on a different poet each month. As with the composers and artists, we’ll look at the individual’s work while also learning about general poetry vocabulary like alliteration, rhythm, symbolism, personification, metaphor, etc. We’ll study Mary Ann Hoberman, Ogden Nash, Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Robert Louis Stevenson, Carl Sandburg, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Eloise Greenfield, and Valerie Worth. My goal is to introduce them to the fun of poetry, how the words play on your tongue and capture so many things in such a little space.

Science: Science is all about experiments next year. I bought 5 books (Janice VanCleave’s Physics for Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments in Motion, Heat, Light, Machines, and Sound (Science for Every Kid Series), The Science Chef, The Everything Kid’s Easy Science Experiments Book, Gardening Lab for Kids, Kitchen Science Lab For Kids) and sorted all of the experiments in them into categories so that we have units covering biology, earth science, the human body, chemistry, food science, and then a remaining 10 in different facets of physics, including rocket science and electricity, which Z is most excited about. We’ll do a different experiment every day. It should be very exciting.

There will also be lots of writing, which will get complained about. :)

Texas is really low key about homeschooling- you don’t report to anyone and you get no money from the state. There are only three requirements: 1. The instruction must be bona fide (ie. not a sham) 2. The instruction must be in visual form (ie. books, workbooks, video monitor), 3. The curriculum must include the five basic subjects of reading, spelling, grammar, mathematics, and good citizenship.  I love that first one, which, incidentally, is copied and pasted straight from the state website. No sham homeschooling!

We’re also planning to get the girls into some active activities; there’s a homeschool fitness class at one of the local gyms, and the girls really want to ride horses. Hopefully there will be other homeschooling families that we can do things with- the girls are so excited to be around kids they can actually talk to. They keep coming up with clubs that they want to have, sewing, cupcake making, science- so we’ll see what comes of that. We’ll be looking into 4H as well. So many wonderful options.

We only have 3 weeks left of school for this year, and the year has gone well. The binders worked like a dream, and I’ll definitely do the same for next year. It’s so lovely to just pull out the binder and know what we’re doing for the day.

The one big question is whether we will keep the Flying Butler Academy name or pick a new one. That’s a pretty good question to have.

Books I read this week: May week 1


Dark Rooms by Lili Anolik was compared to Sharp Objects, The Secret History, and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which made it a must read for me. However, unlike The Rabbit Back Literature Society (see the last post), those descriptions weren’t accurate at all in my opinion. If it reminded me of anything, it was V.C. Andrew novels.

Grace’s younger sister Nica is found dead in a graveyard, and though a culprit is quickly found, Grace doesn’t think he’s really the one who did it. So she sets out to find out who really killed her sister, and if she discovers who the father of her own unborn child is along the way, that would be great, because she doesn’t remember having sex. Ever. The story has lots of twists and turns and while Grace’s character is fairly well fleshed out, the others move around the story without clear explanation. That could work, given that everything is from Grace’s perspective, and she doesn’t know or understand where everyone else is coming from, but some of it is maddeningly vague. The book is full of the inappropriate parent/child boundaries and crooked sexual interactions that V.C. Andrews was known for. It mostly works for what it is, though there was a whole section at the beginning where the timing of things was very unclear. And there is an utterly maddening section where sex with an unconscious person is explained away by the victim as “foolish, not forced”. But there are some good parts, and it does an impeccable job of illustrating teenage sister life, the struggle to understand each other, to cover for each other, to love each other desperately and still feel like there’s nothing you can do to save the other. So if V.C. Andrews is your cup of tea, go for it. Just please don’t give it to a seventh grader (how did we get away with reading those books so young???).

It’s telling me that, once again, I’ve disappointed her, have said something wrong, something nobody else would wish to have said, have failed, in the most fundamental of ways, to get it.


The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess, and a Family Secret by Catherine Bailey is seriously fascinating. Bailey was researching for a different book (about the experience of villagers in WW1), using the family archives of the 9th Duke of Rutland (John Henry Montagu Manners) when she discovered that three distinct time periods (including the one she needed) had been removed completely from the archives. No letters from those times were left in any of the various sections of the archives despite the thousands and thousands of pieces of correspondence. Since the information that she needed wasn’t available, Bailey became intrigued with what happened during those three periods of time, especially as she was told that the Duke died in the rooms where the archives were kept under lock and key, refusing medical assistance for pneumonia because he “needed to finish” something. It becomes clear that he painstakingly found and destroyed every paper dealing with three incidents, and Bailey is determined to discover that they were. And her search is so fascinating. Following her detective work is one part of it, and then watching her discoveries is another as the real life of the Duke and his parents becomes clear.

We’ve been watching Game of Thrones, and as I read about the different things that happened in the family I couldn’t help but cast the Lannisters into the roles of the Manners family. There’s so much intrigue and hurt and purposefully misconstrued readings of situations, and so much call on duty. Duty to family is everything, the family line must be preserved. It could be the war cry of both families.

I came away having learned so much about England and the peerage before and during WW1, and I love books that make learning like that seamless. I really highly recommend this one.

‘What went on up at the castle never went out the doors,’Gladys Brittan, the wife of the Duke’s butler, remembered. ‘The castle- by that I meant the family- was the castle. It was nothing to do with anyone else.’ Gilkes, a cockney, ant the police were outsideres as far as the servants were concerned; they belonged ‘out the doors’.

‘Her grace is raising tally-whack and tandem all over London,’ wrote Lady Desborough, who disliked Violet intensely and was thrilled at her disappointment.

Books I read this week: April weeks 3 and 4

These two weeks held a run of seriously downer books. They were good, and I kind of ran with a theme, but you’ll see what I mean.

The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison was on the top of all of last years “Best of 2014″ lists, and for good reason. The woman can write excellently well thought through essays. Her subjects are thought provoking and sometimes painful, which is a good thing. She doesn’t usually flinch away, but if she does, she admits it. In the title essay Jamison ponders her time as an empathy tester for doctors- while in medical school, doctors practice empathy skills with actors who present a host of symptoms, some that they are upfront about and others that they’ve been told to hold back. The doctor’s task is to get all of the information from the “patient”. It’s fascinating, especially so when she counterpoints it with her own actual experience of going to have an abortion performed.  Other topics include prison inmates, the West Memphis Three, how female pain is talked about, silver mines in Bolivia, a “gang tour” in LA, and others. They’re all excellent. Through them all runs the question of how we can assess others’ pain and why empathy is important.

Pain without a cause is pain we can’t trust. We assume it’s been chosen or fabricated.

But I don’t believe in a finite economy of empathy; I happen to think that paying attention yields as much as it taxes. You learn to start seeing.

We like who we become in response to injustice; it makes it easy to choose a side. Our capacity to care, to get angry, is called forth like some muscle we weren’t entirely aware we had.


The Etiquette of Illness: What to Say When You Can’t Find the Words by Susan P. Halpern is a must read. For everyone. It is a practical how-to book on talking to those who are ill, whether temporarily, chronically, or terminally. Halpern is a cancer survivor, psychotherapist, social worker, and founder of the NY Cancer Help Program, so she has lots of experience, and it shows. This is a really eye opening book, and a truly helpful one. Throughout the book she gives concrete suggestions, including options of things to say in different situations. She also has advice for those suffering from illness, of how they can better help those around them help them. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

As a giver I sometimes feel helpless. It is hard to remember that my presence is sufficient. I want to rush in and fix and comfort and solve the problem. However, if I am the “fixer,” then the sick person may feel broken. Listening closely, questioning, allowing the sick person to set the tone, take the lead, make the plan, is the greatest act of kindness. To engage with the sick person in how he or she wishes to be cared for is an enormous gift.


Her: A Memoir by Christa Parravani is gutting. I was scared of it when I bought it, scared of it every time I thought about reading it, and scared when I read it. It was worth the read, but my goodness. It’s the memoir of Parravani’s life with and without her twin sister Cara, who died of a drug overdose.

Did you know that 50% of twins die within two years of their twin? It’s a real statistic, and one that Parravani comes dangerously close to being a part of. Cara and Christa’s childhood is tumultuous, to say the least, but it is a horrific attack and rape that traumatizes Cara to the point of self medicating with serious drugs. Parravani’s account of what being a twin is like, “People think having a twin means never being lonely. Nothing is lonelier than being separated.” is eye opening, as is the raw honesty of her grief and struggle to continue living when the person she considers to be half of herself is gone. Her memoir is interspersed with pieces of Cara’s writing (until Cara died, Cara was the writer and Christa the photographer, because they “couldn’t” both be writers), which gives insight into Cara and how she viewed things. It provides a searing look into the damage that rape causes, to the body. mind, and identity.

Having read this review, you will say, “who would ever read this?’ but it is really good, and I do recommend it. Just know it’s tough going, but worth it.

We shared everything until there was nothing of our single selves left. It was my task in grieving her to unravel the right, prickly braid of memory rope we’d woven- to unwind and unwind and unwind until I was able to take my strand and lay it out beside the length that was hers.

Her face is prettier than mine. We look exactly alike.

I thought the doctor’s diagnosis was the first step to mending her. I know now that a diagnosis is taken in like an orphaned dog. We brought it home, unsure how to care for it, to live with it. It raised its hackles, snarled, hid in the farthest corner of the room; but it was ours, her diagnosis. The diagnosis was timid and confused, and genetically wired to strike out.


The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah was just about the worst choice I could have made to follow up Her. As I told my mom, every tragedy in WW2 happened to the family in this book. Seriously. So many bad, worse, and most horrible things happen, and they just keep happening. The story follows two sisters in Vichy France and their very different ways of dealing with what is happening around them. One sister joins the resistance, the other (unwillingly) has a SS officer billeted in her home. And awful things happen.

And that’s what you get with a WW2 book, I suppose. The main issue I had with the book was that the characters were a bit thin, we kept being told that one character was impulsive or strong or resilient, for example, without anything to back it up. It got to the point that one character would make a choice and I just didn’t believe it, because we’d been given no reason to believe it other than other characters saying things about her.

I did learn a fair bit about Vichy France, and it had some nice sentences. It also made for a great book club discussion.

If I had told him the truth long ago, or had danced and drunk and sung more, maybe he would have seen me instead of a dependable, ordinary mother. He loves a version of me that is incomplete. I always thought it was what I wanted; to be loved and admired. Now I think perhaps I’d like to be known.


The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen was the perfect antidote for my WW2 / sisters dying induced depression. It’s weird and odd and magical. It’s been compared to Twin Peaks, the Brothers Grimm, The Secret History, The Shadow of the Wind, and Murakami’s works, and I’d say all of those comparisons are solid.

Ella is a substitute teacher in her home town of Rabbit Back, Finland. When she calls out a student for messing up the story of Crime and Punishment in an essay, he hands her a copy of the book with the inaccurate story printed inside. She takes it back to the library only to find incorrect versions of other books, and a cagey librarian, who soon afterwards lets her know that she has been chosen as the 10th and final member of an extremely select writing group run by a renowned children’s book author. It’s so select that the other 9 members were chosen 20 years previously. Then the children’s book author disappears in a puff of snow at a party, and it’s up to Ella to figure out what in the world is going on. It’s a razor sharp look at writing and writers, at where they get material and the cost exacted for it. It’s got magic realism and fairy tale elements and possibly a murder mystery and so much strangeness. I adore it. Fair warning, there is one pretty graphic discussion and a decent amount of cussing.

Where would we be if anything at all could turn up in books?

A person shouldn’t talk too much, Ella realized. With writing, you could construct a whole world, but talking too much could demolish it.


The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo is a really inspiring book. In it, Kondo lays out a plan for going through everything that you own and deciding what to keep and what to get rid of, so that you only keep those things that truly bring you joy. The “tidying” in the title is a bit of a misnomer, she’s not talking about putting things away- the magic of purging might have been more accurate. And I don’t know that her approach is more Japanese than any other approach, she’s just Japanese. But her tone is inspiring and half way through the book I was ready to start getting rid of stuff. She does bring a Japanese sensibility with the idea that every item has a spirit, and comes into your life for a reason, and that once that reason is fulfilled, you can (and should) let it go and serve its purpose elsewhere. She thanks her possessions for their hard work on her behalf, which I could see making readers give her a side eye, but I liked her so much by that point that I didn’t mind.

We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.

I have yet to see a house that lacked sufficient storage. The real problem is that we have far more than we need or want.

Life becomes far easier once you know that things will still work out even if you are lacking something.

Butterflies and girls

We went to Tamagawa Park today. Z is carrying her lunch in her bag, Tiny is carrying her stuffed Pooh Bear.

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There were tons of these black and red butterflies around.

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Sometimes you need a sister’s help

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She’s happy to stay closer to the ground.

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This park is the site of 8 burial mounds from the 7th century (the Kofun period). They don’t look like much more than little hills from the outside (which is the only way you can see them), but they’re large tombs. The one pictured below is tomb 4.

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The girls put on a show.

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Photos from Odaiba

We took my parents to Odaiba to gorge ourselves on pancakes and whipped cream. We succeeded in that, and also saw some other stuff.

This is my favorite building. It’s from the future.

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The Rainbow Bridge, seen in such classics as Cars 2.

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See those two buildings in the distance? Those are the docks where the giant mecha lands to recharge. One for each foot.

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Which giant mecha? This one.

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There was a lovely flower … display? I’m not sure what to call it, but it was a bunch of flowers planted along a walkway that would only be there for a limited time.

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We also went to Venus Fort, which is a mall made to look like Venice even though the name implies outer space. It’s because the Japanese vowels are all soft, so it’s pronounced veh-nuh-s, like Venice. Anyway, the girls love it there, and I got an awesome skirt with zippered panels all over it (skirt not pictured).

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Fiddy billion pictures of cherry blossoms.

Just for you.

At Shinjuku Gyoen.

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This woman was setting up to take pictures of her doll amongst the blossoms.

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Apparently Tiny’s shirt choice was on trend.

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So many people come out for hanami. (Hanami= cherry blossom viewing.)

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The front of the line to get into the park.

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Cherry blossoms at night in Nakameguro.

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This is what most of my pictures looked like.

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We hit a large crowd and realized they were all stopped to take pictures of the cat.

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Hanami at Tamagawa Park. Snow cones (and other festival food) are an essential part of the experience.

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Hanami at Senzokuike.

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Choco bananas.

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Yes, this woman is taking pictures of her stuffed frog in the blossoms. To each her own.

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A different day at Shinjuku Gyoen.

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Each of the following are different species of cherry blossoms. (At least I think so. What do I know for cherry blossoms?)

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These are not cherry blossoms, but I love them.

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Books I read this week: April week 1 and 2

This is what I read over the last two weeks.


Get in Trouble: Stories by Kelly Link. I really enjoyed Kelly Link’s previous short story collections- I’d rate them super high on my list of liked things. They’re magical and unexpected and special and odd. This collection is as well written, but not as strange as her other stories, which was disappointing. Many of the stories have to do with superheroes and there are some strong reoccurring themes, but I prefer her earlier collections, (Stranger Things Happen: Stories, Magic for Beginners, Pretty Monsters).

“So my question is this. Does Angel the vampire keep a pair of black leather pants in his closet? Just in case? Like fat pants? Do vampires have closets? Or does he donate his evil pants to Goodwill when he’s good again? Because if so then every time he turns evil, he has to go buy new evil pants.”


Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar is an absolutely stunning book. It’s so well written. Sometimes I forget how brilliant books can be. Then I read something like this where the words just sing and I remember. It’s an account of life with the Bloomsbury group- a group of bohemian artists and writers that included Virginia Woolf and her siblings, E.M. Forster, Duncan Grant and others. The book is written from the perspective of Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woof’s sister, who struggles with loving and being exasperated and eventually hurt by her mad, genius sister. Vanessa was an accomplished painter in her own right, and she and her siblings occupied a time in England where gender and class roles were changing and adapting. Her voice is so clear in this book that it made me want to learn more about her. I’ve read a lot about and by Virginia, but there’s a whole other side to the story, and this book makes an excellent attempt at shining light on it. The writing is so honest and the language so beautiful. I really highly recommend it.

Getting Virginia to Cambridge had been like moving a pound of ants.

Thoby’s at homes have the soft, unpredictable feeling of a hat tossed high in the air.

I wanted Thoby’s friends to see her dazzle the way she can when she chooses to rake the conversation into a leafy pile and set it alight.

Friday nights-for artists. Shape. Colour. Light. Depth. The fractured, messy journey of image. I hope people come. I want so much. I want these nights to be brave. I want to elbow words out of the way and give art the floor. In Cornwall, I felt wrapped in such a sense of what was possible. Each canvas soaked up the paint hungrily. The brush thrummed with purpose. It was not the outcome that mattered but the doing. I want to bottle that feeling and serve it to my guests.

Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey by Marie Mutsuki Mockett is a really interesting book about grief in Japan. Mockett is half Japanese, and her Japanese family runs a Buddhist temple in Northern Japan, near the area affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The book is a memoir of her travels through Japan as she attends to the services for her grandparents’ remains (their deaths were not connected to the natural disasters) and deals with her grief over her father’s death (also non disaster related). She decides to learn more about Buddhism, and as she does so, she learns more about how the natural disasters effected the Japanese and how they are grieving. It’s a thought provoking book, and it opened my eyes to a number of things about Japan. If I have one comment it’s that her grief was somewhat missing from the book- it’s mentioned but not felt by the reader. That’s fine, but for a book about grief it struck me as a lack. But I would recommend it to anyone interested in Japan and/or grief.

All across Japan people have been suffering for a long time. A long time. And the tsunami has revealed our modern problems, and the limitations of how we now care for each other.

He now trusted in the great wisdom that life was full of suffering and happiness and that wisdom lay in this tension.

I often felt in those day that to be stuck in grief was to feel kidnapped against one’s will and forced to go to some foreign country, all the while just longing to go back home.


Prudence (The Custard Protocol) by Gail Carriger. Any book by Gail Carriger is like a little tailor made present for me. I don’t know how she does it, but they’re just perfect. This book is the start of a new series that follows the daughter of Lady Alexia Maccon from the Parasol Protectorate series. Prudence (called Rue) is your typical Victorian young woman with a meta-natural mother, a werewolf father, and a vampire foster father, who herself has the ability to “steal” other people’s powers and use them as her own for a short time. Rue has been given the assignment from Lord Alkadama (her foster father) to go to India to investigate a new sort of tea, and so she assembles a crew for her new dirigible (The Spotted Custard) and goes off in search of adventure, which of course, she finds. It’s marvelous.

Lady Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama was enjoying her evening exceedingly. The evening, unfortunately, did not feel the same about Lady Prudence.

“I’ll have you know, infant, I was a madcap adventurer of epic proportions. Not that you should take that as permission, mind you.”

In the end, Queen Ivy gave up mothering her son, and Percy stopped poking her vampires with letter openers.

If Dama had taught her nothing else, it was that the outrageous was often one’s best disguise. It is a very great thing, my Puggle, not to be taken seriously, he had once said.

I’m currently reading The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. It’s really excellent so far. What are you reading?

Books I read this week: All of March

The beginning of March was slow reading for me, which, looking past over the last couple years, is regular for me. I read three books over the first 3/4ths of the month, then binged on 5 books in the last week. Part of that had to do with getting bogged down in a biography, but we’ll get to that.

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente is lovely. It begins with a brilliant inversion of the beginning of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, where instead of a little human girl getting swept away into Fairyland a little troll boy is swept into the world of humans as a changeling. The sentences and paragraphs are the same but flipped, and it’s a treat to read. The book follows the little boy as he forgets his troll past and struggles as a human boy, and then returns to Fairyland, breaking all the rules in the process. September from The Girl books makes an appearance, and her involvement drives the action to the cliffhanger ending. Valente’s sentences and images are as wonderful as ever, but this book does suffer slightly from being forced to exist in the human world. But even then it’s lovely and insightful.

“There isn’t really a choice, is there?” he whispered. “Adventure cheats. It’s so much shinier and louder than Not Adventure.”

It was Normal to take the nice things your mother knits for you and say, Thank you, they are very nice. Especially if she has made you a sweater with matching mittens and scarves and a long, oversize hat with a long tail and a pom on the end, blue and orange and red and green, with row after row of polar bears and kangaroos knitted into it, which is quite a lot of work. It was Not Normal to stretch the hat out so you could fit inside it up to your neck and fall down the stairs screaming that you are not Thomas, but Horace the Genie of Ten Thousand Burnt Toasts and you are here to take back all your wishes.

A child equals the mass of Fairyland times the speed of luck squared.

Josephine Baker: The Hungry Heart by Jean-Claude Baker took sooooo long to read. Two and a half weeks, which is years to me. It might possibly have taken longer than it took me to read the biography of Van Gogh, and that book is almost 1000 pages.  I don’t know why it took so long, it was a good book and Josephine is quite interesting, but I think part of it is that as the author acknowledges at the get go, Josephine was a manipulative person, and I got a little tired of it. Nothing that she did had real consequences, there was always someone to get her out of any trouble that she got herself into.  She brought herself out of poverty and became world renowned, which is compelling, but she also used people and made some really questionable decisions. Over the course of her life she adopted 12 kids from different countries with the goal of proving that there could be a global family that transcends race, but the result was less like Angelina Jolie and more like if Lindsay Lohan did the same thing. Although that comparison isn’t quite fair to Josephine. So much of her time and effort went in to providing for her kids that she was never there to nurture them. But she also made such questionable business decisions and turned to the public’s pity to bail her and her kids out so much that the Lohan comparison isn’t completely inappropriate. Anyway, I’m glad to know more about her, and I was glad to be able to move onto a different book.

To save fifteen monkeys from the place where God had put them, my second mother, filled with goodwill and ignorance,  took them away and killed every one of them.

You loved her, and she hurt you, that was the price you paid for being with Josephine.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is such a good book. Set during WW2, it follows two characters; Werner, a young German boy who has a prodigious skill with radios, and Marie-Laure, a blind girl in France. Marie-Laure and her father flee Paris with what could possibly be a priceless, cursed gem (there have been 3 copies of it made and no one knows who has the real one), and end up in a seaside town where the citizens have decided to resist the German occupation. Werner ends up at a school for Hitler youth where he undergoes indoctrination and trauma and ends up in the battlefield locating the sources of illegal radio transmissions. Since Marie-Laure’s great uncle’s home has a radio transmitter in the attic, it’s only a matter of time until their lives intersect, and it’s very well done. There are some lovely ruminations on the power of music and memory and generosity. I also really appreciate the realistic look at both the German and the French during this time. Werner isn’t evil by any stretch of the imagination, but he goes along with what others are doing because it’s easier than standing against it. In many cases, going along is literally the only way to survive. On the other side, Marie-Laure and her family have to decide whether standing up against the enemy is worth risking their safety.  In both cases, the safest thing would be to just do nothing, but that comes with its own consequences. It’s such a thought provoking, wonderful book. I really really liked it.

“Isn’t doing nothing a kind of troublemaking?” “Doing nothing is doing nothing.” “Doing nothing is as good as collaborating.”

Frederick said we don’t have choices, don’t own our lives, but in the end it was Werner who pretended their were no choices, Werner who watched Frederick dump the pail of water at his feet- I will not- Werner who stood by as the consequences came raining down.

 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is also so so so good. It’s set in an apocalyptic world where the majority of the world has died of a epidemic. The remaining survivors either find places to settle down or travel around as nomads. One such group is the Traveling Symphony who travel between settlements, staging performances of  music and Shakespeare plays. The story bounces through time, following the members of the Symphony in the present and following various characters in the time of the epidemic. The movement back and forth through time works so well, as information is parceled out and you come to realize how various characters are connected.  The descriptions of the epidemic and its aftermath are disturbing in a “wow, this could really happen” kind of way, but not sensationalized at all, which is probably what makes them so disturbing.  I love the idea of the Traveling Symphony and their motto, taken from Star Trek, that survival is insufficient. That’s why they go around performing Shakespeare, and I love that so much. There’s a quote that I can’t find because I read a friend’s copy and therefore couldn’t mark it that says that the troupe tried other plays but everyone kept asking for Shakespeare because they wanted the best of humanity. Yes. Read it, you won’t be disappointed.

Confessions by Kanae Minato is a disturbing little book. It is the story of Yuko Moriguchi, a middle school teacher whose 4 year old daughter dies at the school where Moriguchi teaches. It is deemed an accident, but Moriguchi figures out that her daughter was actually murdered by two kids in her (Moriguchi’s) class. She confronts them in front of the whole class and sets up her revenge on them. The book then switches points of view as the story continues, and we see the action from the point of view of the mother of one of the murderers and then the murderer himself, a friend of the other murderer, and then the other murderer. Each switch reveals a wider picture of what actually happened, and what each person involved thought was going on. It’s an eye opening reminder that we never really know what someone else is thinking unless we talk to them about it. Each one of them has a reason to believe why what they’re doing is right, even if some of those reasons are insane.

Lots of people fritter away their lives complaining that they were never able to find their true calling. But the truth is that most of us probably don’t even have one. So what’s wrong, then, with deciding on the thing that’s right in front of you and doing it wholeheartedly?

But I have to say that I’m less interested in catering to your adolescent whims and more concerned that you grow up someday to be people who are capable of considering the feelings of others.

Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness: One-Minute Tips for Decluttering and Refreshing Your Home and Your Life by Donna Smallin is a collection of short little tips for organizing your house. There’s not really anything new in it, but I read it in less than an hour and it cost me 99 cents so I won’t complain.

Clutter is what you end up with when you have more stuff than you need.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is so good and so sad. It begins on the morning that sixteen year old Lydia Lee’s family realizes that she’s missing, and follows the aftermath of her discovery in the neighborhood lake. As the book goes on, we learn the history and inner thoughts of each family member, and much like Confessions, realize that we can’t know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. Lydia’s father is Chinese, her mother is white, and as the book is set in 1976, their relationship and history is fraught. They bring those concerns into the lives of their children without realizing it. They consider Lydia the perfect child and lavish all of their attention on her, to the detriment of her older brother and younger sister. Everyone thinks that they understand where everyone else is coming from, but in their grief everything unravels and everything that everyone is holding back comes out. Their secrets aren’t even secrets; they don’t necessarily realize that they’re keeping anything from anyone, they just see the world the way they see it and assume that everyone else does the same. It’s a heartbreaking, eye opening story, as you recognize the damage that families can do to each other without even realizing it. It reminded me a couple times of  The Hours by Michael Cunningham, especially Laura’s story where she struggles with the weight of her responsibility to her son. “He will watch her forever. He will always know when something is wrong. He will always know precisely when and how much she has failed.” That line from Laura’s mind could sum up all of Everything I Never Told You.

It’s gorgeously written and painful to read, and so incredibly good.

But the moment flashed lightning-bright to Hannah. Years of yearning had made her sensitive, the way a starving dog twitches its nostrils at the faintest scent of food. She could not mistake it. She recognized it at once: love, one-way deep adoration that bounced off and did not bounce back; careful, quiet love that didn’t care and went on anyway.

The minister reads the Twenty-third psalm, but in the revised text: I have everything I need instead of I shall not want; Even if I walk through a very dark valley instead of Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It feels disrespectful, a corner cut. Like burying his daughter in a plywood box.