On my iPod: Audiobooks

I spend nearly two hours a day in my car; I don’t ever really think about it, until I say things like that. Part of what keeps me sane, though, are audiobooks. I’ve reached the point in my current book (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larrson, which is *fantastic* and highly recommended, but read (or listen to – the narrator for the English translations of these (Simon Vance) is wonderful!) The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire first) where I’m desperate to know what happens next and at the same time terribly sad to know that by this time tomorrow there will be no more left to listen to. In this case, it’s even more pronounced than it tends to be because in addition to being the last book in the trilogy, Mr. Larrson died young so there really won’t be more to enjoy by him, involving these characters or others (he apparently finished about half of a fourth book – out of ten originally outlined – but there are apparently some Swedish legal matters that make it unlikely it will every be finished and published). While he pushes the bounds of suspension of disbelief quite a bit, the Millenium trilogy is a fully enrapturing romp and his characters are truly unforgettable, ranging from fully anti-social and eccentric to everyday hero to straight out villain with a few other deviants along that spectrum scattered about for good measure.

Recently, I’ve also listened to The Sunless Countries, the fourth book in Karl Schroeder’s Virga series. It was, again, not the direction I expected him to take, but still very, very good. I like that he seems to be doing character-based sequels, where a character from a previous book becomes either the main or a connecting character to a new cast. It’s been a rather believable way of doing the world exploration without stretching credibility *too* much that a single core group of characters is directly and integrally involved in everything fantastical that happens throughout the series. He also does a remarkable job of keeping his characters human without over-accentuating either their virtues or their flaws.

Prior to that.. hrm.. oh, yes, The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande on a recommendation from a work colleague. Very engaging (and reasonably short), but I’m not entirely sure there’s anything particularly groundbreaking about anything in it, except perhaps the author’s attempts to introduce the concept to the healthcare industry and his subsequent results.

Anyway, I’m not sure what will be up next as I usually decide what I’m in the mood for when I get to that point, but I have waiting in my library How Pleasure Works by Paul Bloom, The Sacrifice by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (which you can get, too, and for free, even: “Limited Time #FreeBook ANYONE can get the First Book of Fey, The Sacrifice by Kristine Kathryn Rusch http://ht.ly/248Jd” (via @audible_com on Twitter)), A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende, and Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Mmm.. welcome back.

*contented sigh*

I’m reading more or less regularly again. By which I mean I’m actually reading printed-on-paper books as well as listening to audiobooks in the car (which I’ve been in a lot lately between the commute and a more-than-usual amount of weekend travel). Like many things in my life, reading sometimes ebbs and flows, and lately I’ve not had the calmness of mind to slip into a story and just let it take me away. It’s a sign of some peace and predictability returning, as I settle into the new job a bit more as well as make some decisions that, while not exactly weighing on my mind have been bouncing around the back burner for quite awhile. All things considered, this is a Good Thing(tm) and somewhat of a relief – for some reason it always makes me worry when I lose the desire to read.

I plowed through Santa Olivia, Jacqueline Carey‘s newest non-Kushiel novel, in a couple days last week. It lacks a lot of the depth of the Kushiel series, but was still a well crafted story with enough counterculture to satisfy. Feeding off that momentum, I started Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson and though it started a little more slowly than I’d have preferred, it’s progressed into the combination of well-researched history and plausible near-future that I love about his work. About the same time, I downloaded Bright of the Sky by new-to-me author Kay Kenyon and have been thoroughly sucked into it to the point where I actually finding myself wanted a commute longer than the 50 minutes it already is!

I’m also beginning to plot for the garden this year.. so far all I know for sure is cukes and tomatoes and pr’bly onions and peppers again. I’d do herbs (oh, right, I’ll do dill again) but that always seems like a grand idea until I realize that I have no real idea how to cook with them. *shrug* I’ll pr’bly do peas and beans again, though in the back yard this time instead of one of the boxes so they’ll get more shade and possibly vine up over the pergola. Lettuce would be good, if I actually manage to tend the garden well enough to stagger the planting (and therefore the harvesting) well enough. Pr’bly no squash this year as I don’t seem to go through as much of it, but I might give in and do a summer squash anyway. I’m learning that I’m a sort of haphazard gardener, which I’m honestly okay with, but sometimes means my follow through suffers. *smile*

Supporting a fondly remembered childhood author..

I have very fond memories of the animated Lord of the Rings and The Last Unicorn – both of which I now own on DVD – and am saddened to learn that Mr. Beagle has fallen on hard financial times. It’s hard to make a living as an author, harder still, I’d imagine, in these tough financial times; if you, too, have fond memories of Mr. Beagle’s work, please take a moment to help him out. (I just ordered the unabridged MP3 audiobook of The Last Unicorn and can’t wait to listen to it!)

A PERSONAL REQUEST TO ALL MY FANS
by Peter S. Beagle

If you’ve ever read and enjoyed one of my books or stories, or seen and enjoyed one of the films that I scripted, I’d like to ask a favor of you. It’s simple, really — if at all possible, within the next month please do one of the following things.

1) Go to www.conlanpress.com and buy a subscription to my year-long 52/50 Project (more about which, below).

2) Go to www.conlanpress.com and buy any single book or DVD of my work, either for you or as a gift for a friend.

3) If you can’t make a purchase yourself, try and get someone else interested enough to take the leap.

As for why I’m asking, that’s even simpler: you will change my life.
If you make just one purchase, or convince someone else to do so the same…and if enough of the other readers who get THE RAVEN do likewise…if that happens, then the financial crisis I’ve been in since my mother died in 2006 will finally be over. If that happens, I’ll be able to pay back all the money I’ve had to borrow to survive. If that happens, the Last Unicorn audiobook and the special hardcover Two Hearts will come zooming out at last from Conlan Press, along with Writing Sarek and the hardcover editions of my two new novels, Summerlong and I’m Afraid You’ve Got Dragons, and more. Better still, if that happens I’ll be able to buy the thinking and writing time I need to tell the rest of Sooz’s story — i.e., the full-novel Last Unicorn/Two Hearts sequel that I’m eager to bring to all of you (but which no publisher anywhere has so far been willing to pay me enough to live on while I’m doing the work).

Okay, Beagle. Deep breath. That wasn’t so hard, was it? Except, of course, being fairly shy about these things, it was.

There are lots of authors who are good at self-promotion. I am definitely not one of them. All I can do is work up my courage and ask, which I have now done: the rest is up to you.

To that end, I want to publicly thank the 53 people who have so far purchased subscriptions (58, total) to my 52/50 Project, in which I’m writing 52 original poems or song lyrics, one per week, for a whole year. The money from these subscriptions paid most of my rent last month, for which I am amazingly grateful.

copied from his newsletter, The Raven. Peter Beagle is an awesome, fabulous talent and it would be a Good Thing to throw a little support his way.

(Yes, yes, the deck is almost finished; pictures pr’bly tomorrow.)

Musings from LAX

This:

.. is where I’ve been this week.

It’s been glorious.

My meeting Monday and Tuesday – the last face-to-face meeting for this project – went well and I feel that the work we’ve done has good, solid potential to be adopted by the sponsoring organizations. My role in that work was not insignificant, and that is something for which I’m both proud and grateful.

Starting around 2 on Tuesday, though, I’ve been on vacation and got to spend three laid back and relaxing days catching up with and getting to know better a few good friends. It’s not uncommon for me to be mildly anxious at being a house guest, especially at the home of someone I don’t know “like kin”, but my welcome was nothing short of warm and friendly and, best of all, casual. I typically prefer to simply melt into the background of any particular gathering and my friends here allowed me that – they allowed me to simply join their lives for a few days and exist alongside them as they went about doing what they do. I could not have asked for a better vacation and am already counting the days until we are reunited (133, in fact *smile*).

Because they are also SCAdians, and because SCAdians tend to be artisans of all sorts, I had time to work on some projects while I was here as well. The first of the Sprung Socks (PDF), from the Yarn Pirate yarn I received from Stephanie as part of the Gnome Swap, is almost complete:

I’ve also worked up a fair bit more of the baby camel and tussah silk since I last posted about it:

I will likely soon wind off the copp of this one as it’s getting a bit heavy to keep the thread as thin as I’d like. I haven’t decided yet what this will be, mostly because I’m not sure how much of it I’ll end up with. I’m hoping for something thin enough to make a lace wrap, or maybe the edging of one.

I also started working up the cashgora I got in Kansas City with Cate and Sara:

I’m loving the color in this, but working with the goat fiber is a bit different from wool – it has noticeably less crimp and is coarser than what I’ve been working with lately, much more like hair than fleece. All the same, I’m truly enjoying watching the color shifts and expect that this will be my first Navajo plied yarn so that I can maintain said shifts without muddying them.

I also managed to find some uninterrupted reading time, a luxury I rarely afford myself when at home. I finished The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman, a book selected by a book group that’s recently started meeting on campus. It’s an odd little novel, centered (as seems to be somewhat of a theme with this group so far) on a cholera epidemic in early 19th century England. It took me awhile to really get into the book – something about the characters seemed distant, making it difficult for me to really care about their story – but by the end I was hooked in enough that it wasn’t as if I had to force myself to finish it. *shrug* The next book for this group will be The Thirteenth Tale, which I have on order from Zooba and will admit to being a bit stand-offish about given it’s recent acclaim (yes, I am contrary like that).

My guilty pleasure reading after The Dress Lodger is Jacqueline Carey‘s Kushiel’s Dart, which I’m re-reading to remind myself of the beginnings of this wonderfully crafted tale. Having just finished Kushiel’s Scion I found myself with hazy memories of some of the history and interconnections built up throughout Phedre’s life and because the stories are so engaging it was the perfect choice for a book to get lost in while on vacation and a wonderful travel companion for the four and a half hours of flights home.

Oh, and since I was downloading the pictures in my camera, here’s one of the cheesecake I made last week, unmolded:

Books.

Right then.. It’s summer (I’m told most people consider Memorial Day weekend the “official” start of summer; for me (and I’d guess most of us in academia) it’s the start of summer term, about a week after commencement) and that means it’s time to read. Several weeks ago I posted about the books I wanted to read this summer. Some of you may recall that I finished Ghost Map shortly after that post, and Leaving Atlanta quickly followed. So that means Eat Pray Love was next, so without further ado..

I don’t think I’ve intentionally been putting off writing about this one – I have legitimately been busy and traveling and then there was the small matter of my laptop deciding not to boot for a couple days – but I admit to still being a bit unsettled about it. The book is divided into 3 sections – Italy, India, and Indonesia – and is the author’s (Elizabeth Gilbert) narrative of her recovery and rediscovery of herself throughout her year of travels. Ms. Gilbert’s writing style is very engaging and the opening of the book was immediately gripping; I felt like she was writing from inside my head, which is a bit misleading – I’m not now nor have I ever been in the situation she describes, but I could viscerally identify with the emotion.

And I stayed more or less an emotional voyeur throughout Italy. In India, Richard from Texas jumped out of the pages, living and breathing. We all need a Richard from Texas. My lasting impression of India was that it went by so much faster than Italy. I never went back to actually figure out if there were fewer pages, or if it was just that because of the relative lack of “terrain” covered compared to Italy, it seemed so. But Indonesia.. Indonesia is where I started to emotionally disconnect with Ms. Gilbert. I still can’t quite identify which part of Indonesia caused me to pull away – and I don’t want to give too much away by listing the options for those who still want to read it – but there was definitely something distancing in Indonesia. And while I still enjoyed the book through to the end, it wasn’t a book that left me wanting more.

Which I think is okay, and it rather nicely illustrates the point of the book – a journey to identify yourself. In the end, Ms. Gilbert found herself, and even though I can identify with where she started, and even several of the steps and stages she went through on her journey, in the end she arrived at herself and she and I – and everyone else – are on different paths to different destinations.

And that dovetails quite nicely into Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi, which is about a journey of a different sort. Judy G. asked if I liked it; and I did. But not being Canadian means that I’m mostly unaware of the media lovefest surrounding Martel at the moment. Yes, the book was highly acclaimed in the US when it was first released, but that was some time ago and I think it’s one of those flash-in-the-pan books for the fickle American readership – it was all the buzz for a few months and now it’s available in most half-price book stores on clearance for a couple of bucks (which is, in fact, where I picked up my copy). Which is really neither here nor there, other than to explain that I probably tend toward contrarianism when it comes to the hot new author as well and typically end up working back around to that once-must-read a few years later and get to make my judgement about the story.

And, as I mentioned, I did like The Life of Pi. It was.. real enough without being too much of a stretch. As an allegory, it’s subtle enough to skip over if you want to just plow through the story for the sake of a decently told story. And even though they mess with your head a bit at the end, I still liked it even though I’m not sure I’m going to bother to probe, even for my own edification, the depths of the allegory. *shrug*

I’m now about half way through Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (who is also the author of The Virgin Suicides), which I picked up in the Denver airport because I forgot to pack The Life of Pi. It was a book recommended by one of our campus librarians and one I’d glanced at a few times in the past year or so, but never bothered to pick up to read the synopsis. It’s not about what I thought it would be, and I have to say that it’s not really about (at least so far) what I thought it was after hearing it described. Middlesex is purportedly about the life of a modern hermaphrodite; so far, though, it’s mostly about the family history of a modern hermaphrodite, starting with his Greek grandparents in their remote Turkish village and their flight from the burning of Smyrna to 1920’s Detroit. It’s an interesting story packed with a lot of issues in addition to the probable most obvious one – racial tension in both Turkey and Detroit; immigration; prohibition; guilt; religion – but written so that you don’t get beaten over the head with any of them. Unfortunately, because it touches on so much, it can be a bit much for bedtime reading at times, but I won’t hold that against it. *smile*

Plans for the long weekend.

I’ve been traveling most of this week – Denver Sunday evening through late Tuesday and then Madison Wednesday and Thursday – and while it’s been a productive and useful week, I’m very glad not to be traveling again this weekend (especially because I only get seven days at home before I’m off again to Kansas City for six!).

Sometime today I need to run into town to deliver some games to our Garden Gurus, the male half of which will be chaperoning a class of pre-teens on a trip to our nation’s capital next week. They’re taking the train and, knowing how hard it can be to keep preteens occupied for a long trip, MGG (Male Garden Guru) asked if we could loan them some of our board games. We’ve sort of collected quite a few, thanks in large part to some friends who have come to spend the last three New Year’s Eves with us playing games, and this is just a sampling of what we’re sending along for their trip:

Starting on the top left and going what will end up being more or less counter-clockwise: Phase 10, Peasantry, Queen’s Necklace, Rook, Carcassonne: The Castle, Carcassonne (original with a couple expansions), Ticket to Ride, Tsuro, double 12 dominoes, the 1910 expansion for Ticket to Ride, and Monkeys!. I tried to pull a selection that would allow for some smaller groups (The Castle, Tsuro, and dominoes can be played with two people) as well as larger groups (Tsuro can go to 8, but most of the rest top out around 5 or 6). I’m contemplating sending Mystery of the Abbey, but I’m a bit worried it might just be a bit too complex for the average pre-teen. And while we have Settlers of Catan and two of the larger expansions, as well as the expansion for 5-6 players, I think it just has too many little pieces that could too easily get lost on a train (and technically, so does Ticket to Ride, but I can’t resist sending game about trains along on a train trip!). Similarly, the Catan card game and Jambo (both two player games) are staying home (though I admit that the Catan card game is staying mostly because we just picked up the expansions from Pegasus Games while we were in Madison and haven’t had a chance to play it ourselves yet; we also just got Guillotine, which is also staying here for the same reason.) Yes.. we like good games and our friends know it. *smile*

When I drop off the games, I’ve been invited to peruse the GG’s garden for anything that I’d like to add to my own. I already know that I want to get some balloon flower from them, and hopefully some of the small Japanese irises. And some garlic chives (which I think Jack actually already got and just need to be planted). If the weather clears up tomorrow or Monday, I’ll likely go plant the seeds for the vegetable garden (I don’t want to plant them and then have a thunderstorm roll in right away for fear the seeds will flood out and all clump in one place).

I also plan to round out the packages for the summer swaps I’m doing. I sat down last Saturday before I left and ordered a bunch of stuff for my spoilees and was quite pleased that it all arrived by the time I got home:

I won’t go into detail on what’s all there just in case one of my spoilees happens to drop by and figure things out (and there are some things that were intentionally kept out of this picture because I was worried they’d be too easily identified by their intended recipients!), but I will say that it’s going to be hard to let some of this stuff go! There are just a few finishing touches needed for each of them, and of course, I still need to knit my sockapalooza pal’s socks, but I have a couple months for that still.

In the meantime, I finished the first of the toe up socks:

I didn’t really use a pattern, but the yarn is Lorna’s Laces in Buck’s Bar and I just worked the leg until I ran out of yarn. As I realized how tall these were going to be, I added in some calf shaping, which I think turned out pretty well considering I made it up as I went along!

(Thank goodness for Blogger’s new auto-save feature! I just accidentally clicked on a shortcut in my menu bar and thought I’d lost this entire post.. Whew!)

And as long as the weather stays chilly and storm-threatening, I snuck a skein of Louet Euroflax in Lilac in with the orders for my spoilees so I can snuggle in and watch a movie (we got both Babel and Pan’s Labyrinth from Netflix while I was gone) while making a couple washcloths (modified from the hand towel pattern from Mason-Dixon Knitting) for the upstairs bathroom.

I’m admittedly a bit torn because I’d really love to make hand towels for the new bathroom as well, but the Euroflax is a bit spendy. I’ve checked out KnitPicks new CotLin, though, and I think I could make a couple hand towels with the Linen colorway using the Royal Plum for accents that would work well and would come in around $7.50 per towel instead of the $20 it would be if I used Euroflax. And if they turn out well, I might just make some for gifts, too.. I know at least a couple folks who have done bathroom remodels lately!

Oh, and sometime soon I need to do a book post. I finished Eat, Pray, Love a few weeks ago, and since have also finished The Life of Pi and started Middlesex. And I picked up a couple new books while in Madison as well – Tayari Jones’s The Untelling (you knew this one was coming, right?) and Gabriel Garcia Marques’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. The stack on my bedside table doesn’t seem to be getting smaller, but I couldn’t be happier at having so much good literature to read!

My head is full to bursting..

I have so much to say right now.. I hope I can do even half of it justice.

First, I received the following via email today:

DEAR /t,

Thank you again for shopping at Spring Hill Nursery. The items listed below have been shipped and are on their way to you.

SHIPMENT SUMMARY————————————————–
Ship Date: 04/18/2007
Items Shipped:

Qty Item Item
Shipped Number Description
——- ——- ——————————
1 17715 VINCA EVERGREEN
1 09712 PHLOX CARPET WHITE DELIGHT
1 65019 MIXED FOXGLOVE
1 68537 SEA HOLLY BLUE STAR
1 09738 PHLOX CARPET SAPPHIRE BLUE
1 71367 WEIGELA VARIEGATED/VW

Whee! And sh!t! at the same time. I’m not ready to plant the front yard yet! It *SNOWED* last week?! HOW can I possibly be ready to dig my fingers into that (cold! wet!) dirt and trust that it will nurture tender young roots?! (Fortunately, I have a gardening consultant who is much more reliable than Francisco who told me that I just needed to keep the little plants’ dirt moist and cover them at night if I’m going to leave them outside until I’m ready to plant them in a week or so. Whew!)

Second, which chronologically should have been first, I finished reading Leaving Atlanta last night. It is a wonderfully written, very engaging and true-to-life telling of a terrible time narrated through the voices of 5th-graders. It left me wanting to know more about that time in our country’s history, wanting to know why this was the first I’d heard of a series of African American child kidnappings and murders that occured during my lifetime (1979-1981). It left me.. conflicted. Not because of any lack of attention paid to the events portrayed between it’s covers, but because it ended before the end.

I think..?

It didn’t finish the story – we don’t know what happened to any of the major characters (save one), we don’t know whether they ever caught the person(s?) responsible for the kidnappings and murders.. the story simply ends. In the middle. Of their lives, and their (broader) deaths.

And I’ve chewed over why this bugs me in the back of my head all day. I really can’t say that I think it’s any failing on the part of the author, nor of her skill in crafting a story – in fact I found the story gripping and engaging and had to force myself to put it down to go to sleep several times. Rather I think it’s an internal compulsion within myself to have things end.. neatly. Which is in stark contrast to.. well, reality. Things *don’t* end neatly. (The obvious example is the 33 lives abruptly ended amidst terror and panic and confusion on Monday.) Ends are rarely tied up in a neat little package (except, of course, in knitting.. which leads me to wonder about why it is a craft that tends to bring me such comfort, but that’s for another time). There is rarely (never?) An Answer(tm).

This echoed itself in my world rather strongly today. I’m on a team of faculty, staff, and students working to complete an 18-month process of inquiry and examination into the equity of outcomes for students of color at my university. We are working on completing the draft of the fifth (and next to last) piece of what will become our final report – the only remaining piece is the conclusion – and today we had a spirited and useful discussion centering on two sources of data that appear to present conflicting evidence. Both sources are based on relatively small samples of students – and therefore neither can be considered conclusive or definitive. There is, objectively, no reason to favor one source over the other. But subjectively, one source seems to fly in the face of the personal experiences of several members of the team. We, as a team, are struggling to present these data in a way that won’t muddy the already cloudy water surrounding “diversity” on our campus. We all want there to be a single, definitive story, An Answer(tm) that announces itself loud and clear in bright shining neon, a solution that is based on solid fact, not interpretation or reconciliation of conflicting data sources. A solution that fits with our experiences and that tells the story we think is Real(tm).

As a statistician and a social scientist, I know that such clarity never exists in the study of human society. I *know* that there is never a single story, that there is at most a common thread woven into a myriad of individual tapestries. We each bring to common experiences our own set of lenses and filters that shape our perceptions and remembrances of them. Just as the three narrators in Leaving Atlanta brought their own life’s knowledge to the common experience of what is now referred to as “the Atlanta child murders“.

I believe that any good book will not just tell a story, but leave the reader with something to mentally chew on. Tayari Jones has achieved that end in Leaving Atlanta, at least for me, but I doubt it’s the meal she expected to be leaving her readers with. I haven’t explored all the courses or sampled the myriad flavors, but I expect that this will be a meal I’ll not soon forget, even if I find it difficult to digest initially.