Monday, June 12, 2023

Read in May 2023

Friends, this reading month was a bust. In addition to giving up on at least four books, most of the ones I did finish weren't all that great. They can't all be winners, I guess? But, let's start with the two I did like:

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith is a 5-star read, hands down. This is how nonfiction is done. In addition to being a beautiful writer (the author is also a poet), Smith stays on task, backs up all his assertions with evidence, and doesn't hide facts that don't jive with his personal opinion. He also challenges assumptions: he includes a chapter about slavery in New York (most of which I didn't know), showing that the North wasn't blameless. He also visits a plantation in Louisiana that holds up the stories of the people who were enslaved there. Everyone should read this book - even if you think you know everything there is to know about American slavery, I guarantee you'll learn something.

Julia and the Shark by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, illustrated by Tom de Freston is an illustrated middle grade book about a young girl and her family who move to Shetland for the summer so her father can repair a lighthouse and her mother can conduct research on the Greenland shark. I have been wanting to read this because I love Shetland as a setting, so I requested that my library buy it, and they did! The illustrations are gorgeous and add to the atmosphere, so this is a must-read in print. In the end it's a story of mental illness, which is handled really beautifully. 

And the ugh, fine, whatever, meh:

Sadie by Courtney Summers is a YA book (which I did not know going into it) about a teenager who is tracking her sister's killer. There is also a podcaster who is tracking Sadie, so the chapters alternate between Sadie's perspective and the podcast. The audio was pretty fun because the podcast sections really do sound like podcasts. There is some dark child abuse stuff in here, and the ending is unsatisfactory. I'd say it was just fine.

Ya'll, I can't with the subtitles these days. What's Eating Us: Women, Food, and the Epidemic of Body Anxiety by Cole Kazdin is already long, but then there's another block of text on the cover: Fixing Our Messed-Up Relationship with What We Eat and How We Look. The book was none of these things! Frankly, it was all over the place. It deals with: eating disorders, different types of treatments, body positivity, diet culture, healthcare inequalities, infertility, exercise, and a million other topics, mixed into a memoir of the author's own eating disorder. There's also a whole chapter on her infertility and adoption of her son, which seems very out of place. Most annoying of all, there are several anecdotes that go something like this: "My friend was complaining about being fat - but she totally isn't!" If you're interested in this topic, there are a lot of other, better books you could read.

My Body by Emily Ratajkowski: I have so many opinions about this book. In fact, I debated writing about it at all. If you don't know (I didn't), Emily Ratajkowski is a model. The stories she tells about how men in the industry (and in life) treat her are abhorrent. No one should be assaulted, ever. People should be treated as a whole person, regardless of their appearance. BUT. Then I looked up her Instagram. She is obviously using the beauty industry to her advantage, making tons of money and cementing a future for herself and her family. However, she is doing in a way that plays into every unachievable standard, and she does not call anyone out for this. She doesn't talk much in her book about how she achieves her body, only on two occasions mentioning "keeping weight off" after being sick and "skipping meals." She has a huge opportunity, with 30 million (!!) followers, to highlight what it takes for her to maintain her body shape (particularly for a woman who has given birth). I don't expect everyone to take up the torch to fight diet culture, but when you have an audience that big, the expectations and responsibilities are bigger to match. 

Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira: So, this book is about child rape. I didn't realize this at first, and it doesn't become apparent until 100 pages in. I finished it because I wanted to see what happened, but I really wish I had known the content, because I would have skipped it.

Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China by Guy Delisle: I have been slowly working my way through all of Delisle's graphic novels. This one seems to be in a completely different style than his others. The drawings seem rougher, like they were done with pencil. I did enjoy the facts I learned about China, but Delisle doesn't hide the fact that he doesn't like the part of the country he's in. He's always trying to go somewhere else, and in general doesn't seem respectful of the culture. In fact this is something I'm sensing in all of his books - I'm almost finished with his last one, so more on that next month.

Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club by J. Ryan Stradal: This book is objectively pretty good. However, lots of sad things happen in it and I just was not in the mood after this month of heavy topics. 

Summer Reading!

I am a mood reader at heart, and my attempts to make TBRs are usually failures. However, lately I have been wanted to get to those books I know I will probably like but have been pushing aside in favor of shiny new releases. Several of these have been on my Goodreads TBR for FIFTEEN YEARS. (Stolen Lives, Yes Man, The Light Years, and Nine Coaches Waiting.) Some of this was because my library didn't have copies, so I recently just ordered used copies so I could finally read them.

I average about 5 physical books a month (the rest being audio, or sometimes graphic novels which are quick reads), and there are 16 in my stack. It should be doable from June through August, and I'm fine with spilling over into September. I have been reading East of Eden for several months now, and spoiler, it might be one of my favorite books of all time. I'll definitely finish it up soon.

In case you can't read the titles in the picture, the books are:

Owned: East of Eden, The Light Years, Yes Man, Village School, Americanah, Nine Coaches Waiting, Like Water for Chocolate, The House at Riverton, Lands of Lost Borders, Stolen Lives, and 11/22/63

Library: Close to Home, A Month in the Country, Unsettled Ground, All the Beauty in the World, Girls Burn Brighter, and Hamnet

Happy summer reading, all!

Friday, June 2, 2023

May Happenings

May was a lovely month. The weather has warmed up and the trees have leafed out, perfect to start our outdoor season. There is a trailhead about five minutes away that leads to a stream perfect for throwing rocks into. Has the pollen been terrible for you too? I'd love to spend even more time outside, but the yellow stuff is everywhere! It doesn't help that we've had a very dry spring, with no rain to wash things clean again.

I am lucky enough to live only 30 minutes away from where the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival is held, which is one of the largest such festivals in the country. I've been going on and off since 2005, but it's been a while since I was able to attend, with all that pandemic nonsense. I went by myself, as the crowds are so insane, trying to keep track of small children eliminates any ability to shop. The people watching is also great, with knitters showing off their creations and others bringing their most interesting outfits.

Ok I realize the below highlights the row of toilets, but also, look at the crowd!

I didn't buy too much because I don't knit as much as I used to. The gradient packs from Fiber Optic Yarns sucked me in, as did the colors from Into The Whirled. I've bought from both companies before and been very happy with my purchases. The small basket was handwoven by the sweetest lady (who really needs to charge more - the basket was only $8!) The zippered pouch I got for free for signing up for a mailing list; I was shocked when she handed it to me. I was expecting the "free gift" to be a sticker or something small. It's from Cottontail Farm. I wish I had bought more than one skein of the fingering weight yarn, because I really don't need more socks and have been wanting to make a summery top. (Let me know if you have recommendations!)

I am firmly into flower season, harvesting several times a week. The busyness of spring is waning, since I have almost my entire space planted. I'll still need to start more plants for my fall crop, but for now it's mostly just watering and tending to what is already there. I've been having a war with a family of rabbits - despite multiple types of deterrent and a fence, they still outsmart me. Next year I will likely have to invest in a more solid chicken wire fence, because they have really been enjoying eating the tops off the young delicious seedlings.

It's crazy that I actually managed to go to TWO festivals by myself in one month, but I did! The second was the Gaithersburg Book Festival, which is a local event featuring a surprising amount of well-known authors. I find it so interesting to hear authors talk about their work, even if I haven't read (or even heard of) their books before. The first talk I attended was by Ari Shapiro (you may have heard him on NPR's All Things Considered). Seeing a person after only hearing them speak before is jarring. I did not expect him to look like this at all! He even acknowledged it, saying "Isn't it weird to hear my voice coming out of a stranger?" He was a hilarious and engaging presenter, and now I definitely want to read his book. [Note to publishers: book tours work!]

The author I most wanted to see was Anthony Marra, author of one of my favorite books, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. His newest book is Mercury Pictures Presents, about Hollywood in the 1940s. Isn't it odd that authors are actual, real people? He co-presented with Barbara Mujica, who also recently published a book, Miss Del Rio, with a Hollywood theme. Because they had to share the time, he didn't get to speak all that much. The moderator seemed very flustered and at kept losing her notes. One thing he did talk about was the German Village that was built in Utah during WWII to conduct bombing experiments. I had never heard of this before!

The last talk I attended was with Brendan Slocumb, author of The Violin Conspiracy and Symphony of Secrets. With him was E.A. Aymar and Art Taylor, two other authors I admit I had not heard of before. The panel was fantastic - the three had great chemistry together and were joking and laughing even while tackling heavy subjects, like representation in publishing. Brendan talked about how his editor wanted him to change the name of his main character, Rayquan, because "that name won't sell books." It's insane that this type of thing is still happening in publishing. In the end, Brendan did not change the name, and he added that his editor later apologized. 

The Friends of the Library holds a massive used book sale at this event. I'm trying not to buy any fiction that I can easily get from the library, so I mostly looked for any art/nonfiction books I could use as references. I totally lucked out, finding two similar books about nature observation and sketching, a book on flowers in American Art, and another on Georgia O'Keeffe, one of my favorite artists. I also picked up a copy of The Overstory, because I'm low-key trying to read the Pulitzer winners, and it's long enough that I might not be able to finish a library copy during the checkout period.

A small local thrift store is a great resource for puzzles, and whenever I see a Charles Wysocki one, I buy it. His folk art style makes these a joy to put together - and this one had all the pieces! That pumpkin patch though... oof, that was a test of nerves! It's not seasonal, but I look forward to doing this one again in the fall.

My quilt is now basted and ready to be quilted. This is my least favorite part of making a quilt though, and I suspect I'll put it off for awhile. Luckily it is a fairly small quilt, so I hope to have it finished by the end of the summer.

I hope you are all having beautiful weather where you are too!