Sunday, January 31, 2021

Life: It Goes On - January 31

Happy Sunday! We made it through January! This year, more than most, that's great news.

We had quite the snowfall Monday - 12 1/2". Fortunately it was light and fluffy because neither of us has our energy entirely back yet. We seem to be in a system where it just keeps dropping snow on us. We do need the moisture, but I'd much rather it came as rain! Anyone else also thinking about spring and gardens and meals outside? 

 Last Week I: 

8" into the snowfall - one 
of us scooped, one of us
made cocoa
 Listened To: I was frustrated to get one hour from finishing Memorial Drive and having it go back. Hopefully I can get it back soon. Almost as soon as that went back, Caste became available. I feel like it picks up right where Michelle Alexander left off (in The New Jim Crow) when she introduced the idea of a caste system in the U.S.

Watched: Nothing much other than football last Sunday. I mean, the t.v.'s been on but we've just sort of been watching whatever is on without much thought. 

Read: I finished Betrayal at Ravenswick and am now working on Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women. I didn't like Bronson Alcott before I read this and I'm liking him even less now. But I'm also disappointed that Abby Alcott (the inspiration for Marmee in Little Women) wasn't someone I'd particularly like in real life, either. 

Made: Thursday was The Big Guy's birthday. Since it was just the two of us, a cake seemed sort of silly. So I made him oatmeal raisin cookies with walnuts, a cookie he loves but which I never make because I don't much care for them. Except that I did really like this recipe so it looks like I'll be making them again.

Enjoyed: Miss H was planning to come up this weekend and then she wasn't going to come because of the forecast. And then the forecast changed and she decided to come up Friday evening. So we've been enjoying time with her and ended up getting to have a family birthday dinner for BG. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I've made my game plan for 40 Bags In 40 Days, which starts February 17 and I'm working on getting things ready so that I can focus on that once it starts.

Thinking About: Finishing sorting the scrapbook project I was working on a few weeks ago that stopped when I was no longer cat sitting. 

Feeling: Happy to have had half my kids here this weekend. But so, so ready to be able to be with people again. 

Looking forward to: By next weekend I'll feel good and clear of CoVid and I'm planning on heading to my parents so that I can finally hug them. 

Question of the week: Are you planning on getting the vaccine when it's available?

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Eat A Peach by David Chang

Eat A Peach by David Chang
Read by David Chang
Published September 2020 by Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
In 2004, Momofuku Noodle Bar opened in a tiny, stark space in Manhattan’s East Village. Its young chef-owner, David Chang, worked the line, serving ramen and pork buns to a mix of fellow restaurant cooks and confused diners whose idea of ramen was instant noodles in Styrofoam cups. It would have been impossible to know it at the time—and certainly Chang would have bet against himself—but he, who had failed at almost every endeavor in his life, was about to become one of the most influential chefs of his generation, driven by the question, “What if the underground could become the mainstream?” 

Chang grew up the youngest son of a deeply religious Korean American family in Virginia. Graduating college aimless and depressed, he fled the States for Japan, hoping to find some sense of belonging. While teaching English in a backwater town, he experienced the highs of his first full-blown manic episode, and began to think that the cooking and sharing of food could give him both purpose and agency in his life.

Full of grace, candor, grit, and humor, Eat a Peach chronicles Chang’s switchback path. He lays bare his mistakes and wonders about his extraordinary luck as he recounts the improbable series of events that led him to the top of his profession. He wrestles with his lifelong feelings of otherness and inadequacy, explores the mental illness that almost killed him, and finds hope in the shared value of deliciousness. Along the way, Chang gives us a penetrating look at restaurant life, in which he balances his deep love for the kitchen with unflinching honesty about the industry’s history of brutishness and its uncertain future.

My Thoughts:
I am not a foodie. I mean, I like food, I enjoy trying new recipes and eating out, and I watch food shows. But I do not have the least clue who the latest chef superstar is or the name of the hottest restaurant. So when I heard about this book on a podcast, I had no idea who David Chang is or why he'd earned the right to have his story published. But they raved about the book and I thought it would be a nice change of pace. 

Chang has a lot to say about a lot of things. His heritage has impacted his life in both positive and negative ways; it certainly made his relationship with his dad difficult. He is very open about his battle with bipolar disorder and suicidal thoughts. He's equally open about his anger management (a misnomer - he doesn't seem to be able to manage his anger) and the ways that has pushed his empire forward but also caused tremendous damage. Of course, the focus of the book is how Chang's determination to open a restaurant that focused more on great food and less on ambiance and stuffy service changed the restaurant business and helped him build an empire. It feels brutally honest and open and is terrifically interesting. 

When I finished the book, I decided to look up David Chang and his restaurants. And I found this article on Eater, written by a former employee. It is her contention that Chang has always been honest about his anger issues but he's neglected to address the cost to those he has, in her words, "abused."
"Despite the formative role that Chang’s rage plays in both his personality and the memoir, as someone who witnessed it, its scope and its effects on the people around him never feel adequately described, partly because he favors hazy generalities over specifics, and partly because he claims to suffer from memory lapses in and around the maelstrom of his anger."
"The recipients of Dave’s anger — his employees — lack the same power to forget, or to leave the consideration of its impact to others."

In Chang's defense, when he was contacted about that article, he did apologize. And while the writer of the article accepted the apology, she also said that it cannot change the fallout of the moment. And that might have been what Chang needed to acknowledge in this book, that he has these issues and that while he is working on them, he feels regret at the damage he has caused. 

All that being said, I did enjoy this book and Chang does a good job reading it. And now I want to be able to get back to eating out and trying new foods. 


Monday, January 25, 2021

Friend and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan

Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan 
Published June 2020 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group 
Source: checked out from my local library 

Publisher's Summary: Elisabeth, an accomplished journalist and new mother, is struggling to adjust to life in a small town after nearly twenty years in New York City. Alone in the house with her infant son all day (and awake with him much of the night), she feels uneasy, adrift. She neglects her work, losing untold hours to her Brooklyn moms' Facebook group, her "influencer" sister's Instagram feed, and text messages with the best friend she never sees anymore. Enter Sam, a senior at the local women's college, whom Elisabeth hires to babysit. Sam is struggling to decide between the path she's always planned on and a romantic entanglement that threatens her ambition. She's worried about student loan debt and what the future holds. In short order, they grow close. But when Sam finds an unlikely kindred spirit in Elisabeth's father-in-law, the true differences between the women's lives become starkly revealed and a betrayal has devastating consequences. 

My Thoughts: 
Ron Charles, of The Washington Post, says that says "Sullivan approaches her story with deep-seated compassion for both sides." That may well be true, but I must say that I couldn't muster that same compassion for Elisabeth. Poor Elisabeth, Sullivan seems to be saying, her life has been upturned with a move from the city and a new baby. I had trouble feeling sorry for poor Elisabeth, though. 

I got that she had an unpleasant family life growing up, with two parents who were more involved in their own lives than those of her children, and that it affected her whole life. But much of what you might have expected Elisabeth to have learned seems to have escaped her. Her inability to communicate well with anyone in her life is astonishing and trust seems to be something that's a one-way street for Elisabeth. I've been in Elisabeth's shoes - home with a new baby and no friends to reach out to during the day (my friends were all working). It was lonely. But I also knew that it had been my choice, after much discussion with my husband. Discussions with Andrew seem to be lacking in Elisabeth's life. 

In her own loneliness, Elisabeth takes advantage of Sam in ways that create conflict for Sam. Sam, as she nears the end of her college years, loves the idea of having an adult friend, someone who seems to life figured out. But there is also a feeling of obligation on Sam's part and a fear of saying "no" to the person who holds the pursestrings. 

And there's where I felt like this book really got it's traction - the difference between classes, the haves and the have-nots. Elisabeth's ignorance of the fact that she doesn't have to worry about money because she has always had it, the way both Elisabeth and Sam think they know best how to help those lower than them on the economic ladder, the way the changing economy destroyed Andrew's father's business and the college town that is a shell of itself outside of the college core. Ron Charles has high praise for Friends and Strangers. I wish I had liked it as much as he did because there was a lot to explore in this one.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Life: It Goes On - January 24

Happy Sunday! It truly is a happy Sunday here - we are both officially out of quarantine, no matter how many days the CDC says it should last and we both survived CoVid-19. We're still battling the fatigue and I continue to have some lung issues that are being treated - we have learned the truth of the stories of mild cases that we've heard, even a mild case is nothing to be overlooked. This is the third weekend that I have been low on energy and you can all imagine how long my to-do list is after that many wasted days off work. On the plus side, CoVid brain (which I've learned is a thing), is gone and I can finally focus on books again and I've been reading up a storm the past few days. 

Last Week I: 

Listened To: Finished David Chang's Eat A Peach, which was recommended in a podcast but I can't for the life of me remember which one; started Natasha Trethewey's Memorial Drive (this one's going to break my heart); and Hamilton (I mean, it's been a couple of weeks so it was time, right?). 

 We watched some good stuff this weekend! Friday we watched Gary Oldman in Mank; he is, as always, incredible but I was also impressed with Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies. Last night we watched Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Viola Davis disappears into the title role but Chadwick Boseman, in his final role, is incredible. He was so thin by then; I have no idea how he mustered the energy required for  his role. 

Read: I finally finished J. Courtney Sullivan's Friends and Strangers and find that I'm still waiting for her to live up to my memory of Maine. I'm racing through Betrayal at Ravenswick for a TLC review soon; so far I'm thinking a cozy mystery World War I version of the Maisie Dobbs books. It's going to benefit from being the right book at the right time, I think.

Made: One of the areas that has suffered with having Covid is cooking; the good thing is that both of us have had reduced appetites as well. So I made a meatloaf and we had it three nights in a row. We cooked some chicken thighs and used them for meals for three days. I suppose it wouldn't be the worst thing if our appetites didn't come back any time soon - at least one of us (me!) has lost noticeable weight. 

Enjoyed: The Inauguration. We thought it was so well done and that concert in the evening was amazing. The ladies brought the boom which was exciting to see. But who would have guessed Bernie Sanders would steal the spotlight?!

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I'm getting back to work full-time this week which I imagine will exhaust me so I'm not planning much more than keeping up with cleaning and a couple of small projects I can do while sitting. 

Thinking About: How blessed with are with the people in our lives. So many have checked in with us regularly the past couple of weeks and offered help. 

Feeling: I went to Target with the intention of going in there yesterday but couldn't make myself it yet. Too many people. I didn't like crowds before CoVid; I wonder if I will ever be able to handle them again. I'm beginning to think I understand how people become hermits.

Looking forward to: Book club this week, even if it can only be by Zoom. 

Question of the week: Are you breathing easier now that we've gotten through the transition peacefully?

Monday, January 18, 2021

Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce

Miss Benson's Beetle
by Rachel Joyce
Published November 2020 by Dial Press Trade
Source: checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
It is 1950. London is still reeling from World War II, and Margery Benson, a schoolteacher and spinster, is trying to get through life, surviving on scraps. One day, she reaches her breaking point, abandoning her job and small existence to set out on an expedition to the other side of the world in search of her childhood obsession: an insect that may or may not exist—the golden beetle of New Caledonia. When she advertises for an assistant to accompany her, the woman she ends up with is the last person she had in mind. Fun-loving Enid Pretty in her tight-fitting pink suit and pom-pom sandals seems to attract trouble wherever she goes. But together these two British women find themselves drawn into a cross-ocean adventure that exceeds all expectations and delivers something neither of them expected to find: the transformative power of friendship.

My Thoughts:
You know, I used to be up on what books were coming out; I knew which books to request advance copies of or to put on my library hold list ahead of publication. In the past few years, not so much. The beauty of that is that periodically I discover that a author who's books I've enjoyed has a new book out already that I The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was released in 2012 (although it took me until June 2013 to read it). When I reviewed Joyce's Perfect, three years later, I called Harold Fry charming, intimate and thoughtful. Of Perfect, I said that it was more sad than charming and had a greater sense of tension. In Miss Benson's Beetle, Joyce brings all of those things together. 

Sure the quirky female who doesn't fit in anywhere as a lead is starting to become all too common place and I couldn't help but wonder, when I started this book, if I could possible grow to love yet another misfit. The answer, I quickly learned, is "yes," in no small part because almost as soon as we are introduced to Margery, we feel sorry for her (can we just talk about how cruel girls can be?!). You can't help but cheer for her as she finally takes charge of her own life and sets off to fulfill her lifelong goal. 

As soon as Enid Pretty enters the picture, this could have been nothing more than a buddy story filled with hijinks. And that would have been a perfectly enjoyable book. But remember that tension I mentioned before? Joyce builds that up on a couple of fronts. There is a darkness to this book and, as with all of Joyce's books, not everyone is going to live happily ever after. 

As I was with Harold Fry, I was impressed with Joyce's ability to paint pictures of her characters and her settings. In addition to that tension building, Joyce also touches on a number of themes that keep this from being a "lite" read: homosexuality, suicide, depression, the effects of war. This would make a good book club selection. It certainly made an excellent first book of the year choice. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Life: It Goes On - January 16

Happy Sunday! How's your week been? Remember last week when I told you that we were going to be in quarantine because a family member had tested positive for CoVid-19? That person was The Big Guy. The next day I got tested and, no surprise, I have it, too. We have no idea where BG got it and feel almost certain that he was wearing a mask when he got it. For those who don't believe masks work and think that situations like this prove it, we are convinced that our cases have been relatively mild because of that mask. So I will continue to be a huge mask advocate.

Last Week I: 

Listened To: It was hard for me to focus, and I was sleeping a lot, but I did listen to a couple of hours of David Chang's Eat A Peach, which I'm very much enjoying. 

Watched: We finished The Queen's Gambit, which we both enjoyed a lot, and Season 3 of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (we didn't love Season 3 so we're glad to see the story line move on). And, of course, football.

Read: I finally finished my first book of the year, Miss Benson's Beetle. Yesterday I started J. Courtney Sullivan's latest, Friends and Strangers. 

 I made a loaf of sourdough bread last Sunday and it was the last thing I really made until yesterday, when I made a batch of chili for today. 

 Homemade chicken noodle soup and a loaf of homemade bread that a friend dropped off. Bless her, she brought us enough for two suppers and a lunch. It tasted so good and it was so nice not to have to cook! Not only did she bring us food, she brought us a stack of New York Times' Book Review sections. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Not knowing what my energy level will be this week, I'm not planning much. 

Thinking About: Cleaning. Because you can imagine that I haven't done any of that, other than keeping the kitchen cleaned up, all week. 

Feeling: Very fortunate - in that we didn't get sicker, that we got pampered, and that so many family members and friends checked in on us regularly. 

Looking forward to: Having energy again!

Question of the week: How are you? Are you staying healthy? Feeling safe?

Thursday, January 14, 2021

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

The Death of Vivek Oji
by Akwaeke Emezi
Read by Yetide Badaki and Chukwudi Iwuji
Published August 2020 by Penguin Publishing Group 
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
What does it mean for a family to lose a child they never really knew? 

One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body, wrapped in colorful fabric, at her feet. What follows is the tumultuous, heart-wrenching story of one family’s struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious. Raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the warm, boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. But Vivek’s closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens—and Osita struggles to understand Vivek’s escalating crisis—the mystery gives way to a heart-stopping act of violence in a moment of exhilarating freedom.

My Thoughts:
Yep, this is another one I had no clue about when I started "reading" it. It's clear from the title that this is a book about the death of a man but I expected that it was we would be working up to the death. Instead, we learn in the first sentence that Vivek Oji has died. Through flashbacks, Emezi takes us back in time to find out how, and why, this troubled young man died. 

Imagine growing up believing you were born in the wrong body. Then imagine that you are doing that in an African country, where homosexuality and transsexuality is even more hated that it is here by so many. Vivek is trying to balance his own needs and desires with the expectations and hopes of his parents. It is heartbreaking to watch him struggle and even more heartbreaking that his story can only, for the most part, be told by others. 

It is a beautifully written, very raw book that is difficult to read on many levels, with some fairly graphic sexual scenes. Some of the supporting characters were not as well developed and I was surprised that so many of the characters were homosexual, not because I have any problem with homosexuality but because  it just seemed unlikely that in such a small group of people, so many would be. I imagine that's what Emezi felt it took to fully tell Vivek's story, to allow him sanctuary. And I so badly wanted him to have sanctuary, even if that did feel a bit forced.

This is another book that I highly recommend "reading" on audiobook. Both narrators are wonderful, fully capturing the emotions of the characters. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Cold Millions by Jess Walter

The Cold Millions
by Jess Walter
Read by Jess Walter, Cassandra Campbell, Charlie Thurston, MacLeod Andrews and Gary Farmer
Published October 2020 by HarperCollins
Source: audiobook checked out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
An intimate story of brotherhood, love, sacrifice, and betrayal set against the panoramic backdrop of an early twentieth-century America that eerily echoes our own time, The Cold Millions offers a kaleidoscopic portrait of a nation grappling with the chasm between rich and poor, between harsh realities and simple dreams.

The Dolans live by their wits, jumping freight trains and lining up for day work at crooked job agencies. While sixteen-year-old Rye yearns for a steady job and a home, his older brother, Gig, dreams of a better world, fighting alongside other union men for fair pay and decent treatment. Enter Ursula the Great, a vaudeville singer who performs with a live cougar and introduces the brothers to a far more dangerous creature: a mining magnate determined to keep his wealth and his hold on Ursula.

Dubious of Gig’s idealism, Rye finds himself drawn to a fearless nineteen-year-old activist and feminist named Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. But a storm is coming, threatening to overwhelm them all, and Rye will be forced to decide where he stands. Is it enough to win the occasional battle, even if you cannot win the war?

Featuring an unforgettable cast of cops and tramps, suffragists and socialists, madams and murderers, The Cold Millions is a tour de force from a “writer who has planted himself firmly in the first rank of American authors” (Boston Globe).

My Thoughts:
I discovered Jess Walter in 2009, when I read and reviewed The Financial Life of Poets. I like to think that I am literally the person that brought him to the attention to the world, because . But I'm pretty sure that was his 2012 bestseller, Beautiful Ruins, which was a big critical hit. Needless to say, his name alone is reason enough for me to pick up a book and this one was no exception. Which meant that I ended my reading year with a book that included union organizers battling in the Pacific Northwest, a subject that I also read about early in the year in Long Bright River. Coincidentally, both books have landed on my top ten list for 2020. Telling you that now probably makes any further review unnecessary. 

And we go. I'll make it quick and easy - here's why you should read this book:
  • This is another of those books that's undoubtedly terrific in print but I can't recommend the audiobook enough. Everyone of the readers does a marvelous job and I loved having a full cast so that as different characters took the narrative, you got a new voice. 
  • Gig and Rye are marvelous main characters surrounded by a interesting characters who are mostly multi-dimensional. Near the end Walter allows, for example, Acting Policy Chief Sullivan to take the narrative and he has a lot to say in defense of himself, making me reconsider him as a one-dimensional bad guy. And the good guys? They're not all saints.
  • Walter builds the tension throughout the book but allows for plenty of introspection and quiet personal interactions. And you've got a love a book in which Tolstoy plays a big role. 
  • I can see this book as a movie. Not only because I can clearly picture what these characters look like, but because I can picture every inch of what they're wearing, where they live, and the prison many of them spend time in. Please tell me someone has already optioned it. 
We love some authors because we know what to expect from them. Walter is different; I love his books because they are all so different. And yet his writing only gets better and better. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Life: It Goes On - January 10

Happy Sunday! Well, at least I hope you are having a happy Sunday. As if the past week weren't bad enough, we are now in quarantine because of a family member testing positive. So frustrating when we have all been so careful for all of these months. So this is a less than happy Sunday in our house! I'll be cleaning the heck out of the house, setting up a containment area for my patient, and hoping like hell that I don't catch it.

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Akwaeke Emezi's The Death of Vivek Oji. It's a heartbreaker. 

Watched: A lot of the news, a lot of football, and What's Up, Bernadette, finally.

Read: Rachel Joyce's Miss Benson's Beetle, which is charming and filled with quirky characters and even though I sort of feel like quirky characters are getting to be a trope, I've enjoyed it.

My latest find
Made: Sourdough bread, homemade mac 'n' cheese, chicken parmesan risotto - in other words, comfort foods.

Enjoyed: Getting my hair done and a little thrifting yesterday.

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On doing more sorting of paperwork and other things I've kept as keepsakes for my kids. Mini-me once told me that many of the things I've kept from his childhood recall memories for me more than they do for him. I'm trying to go through things with that thought in mind.

Thinking About: The events in Washington this week and the reactions that have surprised me by so many.

Feeling: Fine, just fine. Let's hope it stays that way. 

Looking forward to: Getting to be in charge of the clicker this week!

Question of the week: How are you all doing, what with everything that's going on?

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

by Marilynne Robinson
Published September 2020 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Source: check out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:

Marilynne Robinson’s mythical world of Gilead, Iowa—the setting of her novels Gilead, Home, and Lila, and now Jack—and its beloved characters have illuminated and interrogated the complexities of American history, the power of our emotions, and the wonders of a sacred world. Jack is Robinson’s fourth novel in this now-classic series. In it, Robinson tells the story of John Ames Boughton, the prodigal son of Gilead’s Presbyterian minister, and his romance with Della Miles, a high school teacher who is also the child of a preacher. Their deeply felt, tormented, star-crossed interracial romance resonates with all the paradoxes of American life, then and now. 

Robinson’s Gilead novels, which have won one Pulitzer Prize and two National Book Critics Circle Awards, are a vital contribution to contemporary American literature and a revelation of our national character and humanity.

My Thoughts:
On my phone, this book was 615 pages long. It is not really 615 pages long; it's 320 pages in hardcover. But it takes every bit as long to read those 320 pages as it would 615 actual pages because Robinson's writing simply cannot be rushed, it pulls you in and holds you down. Robinson's books must be read slowly; she insists that you stop and think about what is in the minds of her characters. 

And there is here, as in all of her books, so very much on her characters' minds and Robinson writes it so beautifully. She writes of faith, family, self-respect, responsibility, redemption, addiction, race, and love. Jack battles his addictions as well as his guilt at the choices he can't seem to help himself from making. He wants to be a better man but there's a part of him that believes he is past redemption. He has vowed to be harmless, that much he can do; and he knows when he meets Della that being with Della will harm her. But she is the first person who truly understands him,"You are living like someone who has died already."

I love Robinson's characters and Jack may be one of my favorites. He has caused so many so much pain but he is also a gentleman. He works so hard to battle his demons and to do right by the people he loves. There is supposed to be a final book in the Gilead chapter and I so hope that Jack and Della reappear in it. But it little matters. I will read it and I will be blown away by the beauty of Robinson's writing. This is a woman who can write about buildings in a lovely way:
"There is nothing cordial or accommodating about buildings, whatever they might let people believe. The stresses of simply standing there, preposterous constructions, Euclidian like nothing in nature, the ground heaving under them, rain seeping in while their joints go slack with rot. They speak disgruntlement, creaks and groans, and less nameable sounds that suggest presence of the kind that is conjured only by emptiness. Grudges, plaints, and threats, an interior conversation, not meant to be heard, that would startle anyone."
I like to say that I don't read romance novels but Jack is absolutely a novel about romance. It is subtle, it is about knowing one another, it is about the moments together.
"It will be made up entirely of stolen minutes and hours every now and then, for years and years, and we will pity all the people whose lives are diluted with time and habit and complacency and respectability until they can hardly savor the best pleasures - we will live for a month on just once passing on the street."
Seriously, doesn't that touch your heart? This whole book did that to me. As I knew it would. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

One Word 2021


In 2017, Sheila of Book Journey first introduced me to choosing one word as a theme for a new year. I knew that New Year's resolutions never worked for me and had given up on those. But the idea of thinking about making changes based on a word appealed to me. The idea is that the one word will impact all dimensions of your life: mental, physical, emotional, relational, spiritual, and financial 

In the past, I've chosen "heart" two years and last year I chose "enough." Those first two years didn't pan out as I'd hoped but I did much better last year, setting a new goal each month and trying to build on each of them. Each of those years I gave a lot of thought to what I wanted my word to be and how I could work it into my life. This year, my word just came to me and I knew as soon as I thought of it that it would work for me in a lot of ways. 
- to join or be joined again with something else again after being separated
- to improve a relationship that has become less good or less close
- to make you feel or understand something that you had stopped feeling or understanding
Each month I'll set up a plan for working the idea of reconnecting into my daily life. After a year of not being able to see people, obviously one of my big priorities is to physically reconnect with people. But while I'm waiting for that to be safe again, I want to push myself to reconnect in the other ways that are still possible. I want to reconnect with the things I love and the person I want to be. To help hold myself accountable to this, I'll make a plan in my bullet journal for each new month and I'll try to share that plan here as well because one of my plans will definitely be reconnecting with the blogging community. I have "met" so many people through this community that I consider friends and I don't want to lose that connection!

Monday, January 4, 2021

The Pull of The Stars by Emma Donoghue

The Pull of The Stars
by Emma Donoghue
Published July 2020 by Little, Brown, and Company
Source: courtesy of the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
In an Ireland doubly ravaged by war and disease, Nurse Julia Power works at an understaffed hospital in the city center, where expectant mothers who have come down with the terrible new Flu are quarantined together. Into Julia's regimented world step two outsiders — Doctor Kathleen Lynn, a rumoured Rebel on the run from the police , and a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney. 

In the darkness and intensity of this tiny ward, over three days, these women change each other's lives in unexpected ways. They lose patients to this baffling pandemic, but they also shepherd new life into a fearful world. With tireless tenderness and humanity, carers and mothers alike somehow do their impossible work. 

In The Pull of the Stars, Emma Donoghue once again finds the light in the darkness in this new classic of hope and survival against all odds.

My Thoughts: 
I've enjoyed Donoghue's books in the past so didn't even look to see what this book was about before I started it and was surprised to find myself reading about a pandemic, even as we are living through one. In the Author's Notes at the end, Donoghue says that she had turned in the final edits of her book in March 2020, just as it became clear that this novel coronavirus was going to be a worldwide pandemic. It's not the only way that this book, set 100 years ago, is timely; it explores the ways in which politics affects our lives and the way poverty is exacerbated by the pandemic (or is it the other way around?). 

I was also surprised that this was a book set almost entirely in one room, harkening back to Donoghue's earlier work Room. Donoghue is certainly adept at creating a wide world in a small space and in creating stories and characters that showcase the strength of women, from the woman who has come in pregnant with her twelfth child to the female doctor who is working to try to save lives even as the authorities are trying to arrest her. 

At times, it felt a little bit like one of those adventure movies where if anything can go wrong, it will, what with every kind of tragedy playing out in that ward. And I was about two-thirds of the way through this book and still trying to figure out where Donoghue was going with this story when it finally occurred to me that she had already arrived there and all of those medical emergencies were there for a reason. At one point, a male orderly suggests that women shouldn't get the vote because they didn't fight in the war, didn't pay the "blood price." Donoghue makes it clear that women have always paid the blood price. In the end, I came away from this book knowing that I'd be thinking about these characters and what had happened in that ward for a long time. It would be hard not to, given that we're living through it right now. 

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Life: It Goes On - January 3

Happy Sunday and Happy New Year! I'm feeling a little blue today. I'd been looking forward to having the week before Christmas off, followed by a four-day weekend the next week for months and months and now it's over. With winter ahead of us. And no vacation scheduled. On the plus side, I was happy to be working from home this week when we got 7" of snow and I was able to sit at my desk enjoying the beauty of the snow instead of having to worry about driving in it. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished Jess Walter's latest, The Cold Millions, but didn't want to start anything else so it's been a lot of music. 

Watched: All of the football, of course, and Thursday I watched a marathon of the Thin Man movies, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. I'd forgotten how complicated those plots are and how great the dialogue is; and, of course, the chemistry between Powell and Loy is marvelous. 

 I finally finished Marilynne Robinson's Jack. Her books are beautifully written but they are work to read. No chapters, not a lot of dialogue, just a lot of stream of thought. I held off starting a new book until some books I'd had on hold with the library came in because I'm longing to read an actual book. So my first book in print for 2021 will be Rachel Joyce's Miss Benson's Beetle. I have no idea what it's about; this is another book I picked up strictly because I've always enjoyed the author's work.

Made: We rang in the New Year with lobster tails and homemade sourdough cheddar biscuits and it was such a good meal with start the year with! One of my winter projects is going to be figuring out ways to use my sourdough discard and those biscuits are definitely a recipe we'll have again.

Enjoyed: A garage New Year's Eve get-together. I wish I'd gotten pictures! The four of us were all bundled up, with rugs under our feet and blankets over our laps but we managed to make it two and a half hours and knock off a couple of bottles of champagne. Now, if we can figure out how to add some heat into the system, we'll be able to get together throughout the winter. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: I've got some painting to do and I want to get back to the organizing in my basement and my office. But...tomorrow is the start of Bout of Books and I haven't participated in a Bout of Books in a very long time. What better way to kick off this reading year? 

The Bout of Books readathon is organized by Amanda Shofner and Kelly Rubidoux Apple. It’s a weeklong readathon that begins 12:01am Monday, January 4th and runs through Sunday, January 10th in YOUR time zone. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are reading sprints, Twitter chats, and exclusive Instagram challenges, but they’re all completely optional. For all Bout of Books 30 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

So maybe all of those other projects will just have to wait. If you're interested in joining, you can sign up here.

Thinking About: The 40 Bags In 40 Days Challenge, which starts February 17th. Two people live in this house. I've done this challenge for seven years already. Still, my house is packed full and there's no doubt in my mind that we can get rid of 40 bags of "stuff" we don't use or need. 

Delighted. My sister meant to send me an ornament for Christmas that had pages from a Julia Childs' cookbook in it but instead had ordered a Betty Crocker ornament. I'm good with that but she wasn't content. So New Year's Eve, when we came home from our evening out, The Big Guy grabbed the mail and I discovered that my sister had sent me this Julia Childs bookmark. It made me laugh and reminded me how blessed I am to have such a considerate sister. 

Looking forward to: Lots of reading this week. 

Question of the week: Do you have resolutions for the coming year? I stopped doing that some years ago, opting instead to choose One Word for the new year. Some years I've struggled with choosing that word and I've always had mixed results with taking that word through the year. But it works better for me and this year the word just came to me and I knew it was the one. I'll post more about that later this week. Do you choose One Word for the year?