Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Brilliance of Books, Late June 2018 Edition

The year marches on, and here we are, almost halfway through. I'm behind in my reading goals for the year--the first few months, being the chaotic, delightful adventure that they were, didn't leave me much spare time for literary ...

I can't say that life has settled down much--that's not really what life does, after all--but I have been going about one of my favorite pasttimes with a bit more purpose. Some of the goals I tackled in May and June were:

The Cafe By the Sea-Chicklit isn't really chicklit anymore. The Great Recession put the finals nails in the coffin of that sub-genre, at least in its early form. Or perhaps chicklit has just been sucked back into the "mothership" of women's fiction. Or perhaps it's just matured into something that's a little more substantive and sensible. Either way, Cafe by the Sea is a combination of chicklit and women's fiction, with just a tiny dash of cozy. Jenny Colgan's books (fortunately) lack the glitz and glamour of New York City, and are real in their exploration of messy, realistic family dynamics...and they include lovely rural UK villages and delicious-sounding foods.

Perception-As I'm a rather nerdy, pompous bookworm who has known from a very early age that my face would not be my fortune, I've always had a wee bit of a soft spot for Mary Bennet, the plain middle sister of Pride and Prejudice who hid her shortcomings behind a bookish disdain for society and pretensions to intellectualism. And with that bias in my heart, I always gravitate towards Pride and Prejudice spin-offs in the hope of reading more about this intriguing changeling and seeing her come into her own. Perception is the one of the latest offerings, and while it was a little on the fluffy./historical romance side, I still enjoyed it. There's another possibility though, Mary B, due out later this summer, and I have rather high hopes for that one. It looks like it might less..floofy.

(I tend to consume a lot of floof. I need to counter that consumption whenever I can.)

The Silence of Ghosts--I don't often say this about a book, but I regret reading this one--at least, I regret reading it when I did. This delicious ghost story deserves to be read in darkest October, close to midnight, as the shadows of the year are closing in, and the icy fingers of seasonal death tighten their grip on the world. It's certainly a book I will happily read again.

Mrs. Osmond-Ever read Portrait of a Lady? I haven't. Saw the movie once, but I recall very little about it other than John Malcovich's overweening smarm. But I'm familiar enough with Isabel Archer, her wonderful prospects, and her very, very poor choice of husband, to enjoy this literary offering from John Banville, who explores the "what next?" after the end of Portrait. While it's technically a historical novel, it isn't primarily a historical novel--it's literary through and through. It's also a book that I will need to re-read...I devoured it for its plot, but unfortunately, this is not a book to devour. This is a book to savor. 

The Monsters of Templeton-Eldest Sister told me about this book as she was reading it...a freakin' decade ago. (It's a little disturbing that I can now break my life down into decades.) I still remember how excited her voice was as she described this book, filled with ghosts and family secrets and lake monsters and quirky characters who make all sorts of questionable life choices. Why did it take me ten years to read this?

Welp. The year marches on, and here we are--day by day, the sand in the hourglass trickles down, and there is ever-less time to read all the books that I want to. All I can do is go about it with a purpose and a plan.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Nothing Gold Can Stay...But It Can Return

Nothing gold can stay...

This has been a lesson that I have learned (or at least been reminded of), over and over, in the last eight years of my life. Any sense of contentment, of amusement, of relief, of pleasure, of simple joy in my home and work and friends, is accompanied by a shadow of knowledge that restlessness, disillusionment, anxiety, frustration, and abandonment (whether real or perceived) will also have their day. In the face of illness and old age and death and our own human frailties, the work and sacrifices and laughter and hopes will wither on the vine and seem trivial.

What if our hard work ends in despair? 
What if the road won't take me there?
Oh, I wish for once, we could stay gold.
What if to love and be loved's not enough?
What if I fall and can't bear to get up?

Oh I wish for once, we could stay gold.

This song, by First Aid Kit, is one that I've found immense comfort in over the years. These words remind me to keep a sense of balance and proportion. I've been given so much privilege in my lifethat even the days and weeks and months of sharp disappointments and worries do seem to be tempered by many good days, and weeks, and months. "Ebbs and flows," as my Middle Sister so often reminds me, and so it is in my life.

Thus far, it's been a rather golden kind of year--definitely since compared with last year, which, looking back now, seems layered in a thick coating of the ashes of many hopes, many plans, many castles in the air which came tumbling down. And so I've been relishing this golden yeara..because nothing gold can stay...

To this end, I threw a birthday party for myself at the end of May, as I leveled up to Adulting Level 38. Normally I'm not big on my birthday--I'm all about others' birthdays, but for me, I always worried that it would seem egotisitcal of me to throw a party and say "Hey everyone! Let's celebrate me!"

But this year, I made an exception. And on a golden evening in late May, I opened my home to a goodly number of people. It's been a long time since I've thrown a party of any significance--and as it turns out, while my little Haggery Home feels spacious for one feme sole, when you cram 20 people into a 2 bedroom flat, things can get cozy! But most folks stayed to the very end, and honestly, I don't even care if they didn't come to celebrate with me. They were there, laughing and having a good time, and that makes my heart happy. It's a golden memory that I will keep with me so long as my memory endures.

One of my sisters flew up from Florida. One of my oldest friends from grad school drove down to Chicago with her dog for the weekend. It was a golden night, with love and laughter and silly toasts and heartfelt words (and Cards Against Humanity, too.)

But there is only forward, no other way
Tomorrow was your hope at the end of the day
And gold turns grey...

All so very true, but if I can bathe in the glow of the gold as it is here, I will count this as worth the grey.

Monday, May 14, 2018

A Brilliance of Books, Mid-May 2018

There were a few years there in my life where I was reading an insane amount--upwards of 125, 150 books per year.

These were also some of the unhappiest years of my life. Coincidence? Nope. Not even a little bit. Books were my escape, of course, but they were also a way for me to mark progress through something. Stagnated as I was in my career, trapped and immobile as I felt in my life, there was (I thought) little room to move forward, to progress in life projects. So, page after page, I moved through stories, moved through piles of books. In hindsight, I wonder if there was something a bit...compulsive about it?

And now, here I am, in 2018.So far this year, I've not even managed 30 books. Sure, we could chalk it up to me juggling all the jobs in Bloomington, and moving households, but also, I think it's got something to do with the fact that I am just...happy. I'm occupied with pursuits and people and projects, and while I still love to read, I feel like maybe it's become a bit more proportional to the other facets of my life.  

What I've Read This Month, So Far:

Ann Rinaldi, Brooklyn Rose
Have any of you ever read anything by Ms. Rinaldi? I know I did, a very long time ago, and of course she came up in my children's literature class back in library school. This prolific author produces a lot of historical fiction, focusing on momentous events told through the mouths of fictional characters--indentured servants of Abigail Adams, or wards of the haberdasher to Queen Victoria, or some such. It's a bit of a cliched literary device, to be sure, but it certainly is one way to get young folks reading about history. Early this month, I stumbled across Rinadli's name somehow, and got it into my head that I should read something of hers. So, I checked out the title that I found the least ridiculous  that sounded the most appealing, and spent an evening reading about Rose, a Southern gal who marries into a wealthy Northern family and must test her mettle against her overbearing mother-in-law. Verdict: Entertaining enough, but by no means earth-shattering.

Mariah Fredericks, A Death of No Importance
Now this--this book was one of those that it was a true pleasure to read, that I hated to put down, and hated, too, when it was finished. A murder mystery, this was, set in 1910 New York City, and told through the voice of Jane Prescott, a ladies maid to the Benchleys, a nouveau riche family learning to navigate high society. Throw in a gruesome murder, some violent anarchists, and suspicious characters with no end of motives, and you gain a good read, and lose a night to its consumption.

Anne Easter Smith, Daughter of York
Originally, this book caught my notice out in California, when one of my colleagues nominated it for a staff pick. It looked vaguely interesting, so I threw it on my GoodReads list...where it proceeded to languish for the next eight years. I took up this doorstopper this month more to get it off my damned list than for any other reason. It tells the story of the War of the Roses in the voice of Margaret of York, Duchess Consort of Burgundy, who was sister to two Kings of England. I plowed through this a little bit at a time during my lunch breaks the last two weeks, and it was one of those that held my attention enough as I was reading it, but didn't stick very long in my memory otherwise.

Kerry Greenwood, Murder and Mendelssohn
The twentieth (and latest) installment in the Miss Fisher mystery series, this books is now four years old, and I've heard nary a peep about further books illustrating the intrepid antics of Australia's most fabulous flapper. So I read this book as slowly as I could, but there are only so many ways that one conductor can possibly be killed (my personal favorite was him choking to death on a choral score), and finally, I turned the last page. I miss Phryne already.

What I'm Reading Now (Not pictured):

Kintsugi Wellness and Harvard Business Review's 10 Must Reads for New Managers

Extrapolate from that what you will.

Now excuse me while I go on to my next book, which is...a historical novel.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Being Green

Today at work, when I was buried ass to eyeballs in files and notes and paperwork (with nary a book in sight), a random realization came to me: fourteen years ago today, I came to Bloomington, Indiana for the first time as an adult.

That's a rather silly sort of anniversary, isn't it? 14 years. Not that it's a decade or 25 years or anything like that; not it's not that I moved to Bloomington just then; not even that it was my first time in Bloomington. But for whatever reason, this happy little anniversary stands out to me.

It was a whirlwind trip, that trip--I flew in early on a Friday morning, giddy from a lack of sleep, and was back in Florida by Sunday night. But oh, I packed so much into those few days--I explored, I secured housing for myself, I wished graduating students well as they posed with their parents for pictures in front of the Sample Gates, I met a fellow that I would soon fall madly in love with; I listened to Irish music at a co-op cafe, I got re-acquainted with my uncle and his girlfriend; I met up with some Internet acquaintances for an early-evening picnic in an enchanting park, and together we tortured a Peep and a Peter Pan doll.

And I saw spring. A real, proper spring, with green everywhere. Sure, I knew green--the dusky, darker green of the palms and pines and scrubby brush of Florida. But this was a green that I had never encountered...a vivid, lush, almost painfully bright green. It was a green that seemed to flaunt itself, like it knew that it was in the rudest of health, and it was boasting of it. Oh, it was green.

But nothing was as green as I was.

Fourteen years later...My uncle's girlfriend is now my aunt. Those students that I wished well are now 14 years older, and while I never learned their names or even the first thing about them, other than they had proud parents, I still think of them and hope their parents are still proud, and that they remember their university years with joy. The fellow that I met and fell madly in love with...well, ours is a goofy sort of story, but we are still characters in each other's tale. The little co-op cafe is no more, and most of the folks I met for the picnic have moved on to different places, different partners. That enchanting park is still there, is a place I drive past all the time, is a place I still love to go.
And me? What of me?

I wanted different things then-- my vision was a bit more limited, I think. I wanted to do well in grad school, make good grades; marriage and family and career and everything Beyond Grad School were just abstracts. Research papers and projects and stultifying reading assignments loomed large, and I don't think I saw much past that. If the me of fourteen years ago met the me of now, I think we would--at best--cordially dislike each other. The battles that mattered to me at 24, I quite often can't be bothered to give a damn about at 37. Weirdly, I want more from life and expect more from myself now than I did fourteen years ago, but I'm a happier person, all the same.

Who's to say that happiness will last? Green springs swell with life and hope...and give way to fruit and death and fallow times, and god knows I've seen plenty of those in the fourteen years that have lapsed. There will be more fruitless and fallow times ahead in my life--hell, I just exited one--and perhaps in another fourteen years, I will look back on this green-and-gold spring evening and shake my head over who I am now.

"Get out of your own head," Older Indy Grrl might say, "Get off your ass and sit outside in this gentle twilight you're writing about and see the spring beauty while you can."

And yet here I am, still typing.

Maybe I'm not so different than I was, after all.

But I'm kind of curious about what happened to that Peter Pan doll.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Hoosier Broad in a Hoosier Nation

When I was growing up, on the weekends my mother would send me over to my grandparents' house. I lived for these weekends--my grandmother doted on me, and my grandfather went along with my grandmother in most things. Every Friday night, when I came over, we would go for a stroll around our neighborhood, walking along the cracked sidewalks and sweating in the Florida humidity and talking of lord only knows what.

But I do know what. "Tell me about the olden days," I'd cajole them. And they would.

I remember my Boppa telling me a little about his high school years in 1930s Tipton, Indiana--now, this was a man who was Hoosier to his core. He was quiet, whip-smart, hardworking, and humble about it. So when he would talk about his years playing basketball in high school, there was never any bragging in his tone. It wasn't until after he passed away that I learned from his sister, my Great Aunt Wilma, that he was something of an MVP on his team. After high school, there wasn't much of a question of him having any sort of future in basketball--even if it weren't for the Great Depression, and then the war, my grandfather's people were tenant farmers, working hard to just keep body and soul together.  But he was damned good at his basketball, and even into his last years, he loved watching the game.

It wasn't just my grandfather, either. Basketball is kind of a major thing here in the Heartland--basketball and corn. We play one and eat the other. Now, I am not a sports girl at all--usually, I would bracket basketball in with all the other sportsball stuff. But I am a Hoosier girl, and I've been meaning to get to a game for while.

(A while being for, oh, say, the last two years.)

My cubicle mate at work diligently, dare I day religiously, attends a lot of the women's basketball games. First, because yay! women! and second, because they are a lot cheaper than the men's basketball games. So I hear some updates from her, from time to time, on how "the team" is doing. And recently, I heard "the team" was doing pretty well. Like, championship well.

Combine that with a friend from the big city in town for the weekend, a couple of rainy days, a slight panic attack of "Oh my god what can we do?", and some free tickets, and I (along with my city-slicker friend) got to enjoy THE HOOSIER NATION experience.

(It's not a complete Hoosier Nation experience without a little pre-gaming at Nick's.) 

Usually, the women's basketball games don't generate a huge attendance. But because we hit the day that they were doing the WNIT Finals, and WE were in the finals, and it was at OUR stadium...we broke a record. 13,007 people showed up for this game. 

(Not sure if the Candy-Striper Dude counted) 

(Nonetheless, there were a lot of us)

I know next to nothing about basketball. But I know it's fast-paced, I know basketball is a thing here, I know my grandfather loved it...and I figured this would be a fantastic Bloomington/Hoosier Experience for the both me and my friend. And it was!
It was the largest crowd to attend a IU Women's Basketball game. It was rather exciting to be part of IU History, even if it was a rather modest sort of legacy when compared with all the other records and victories.

More importantly, with that many people, the crowd was lit! And, I quickly realized--a crowd really helps make the game. Bet the cheerleaders and band really appreciated having an engaged (and huge) audience for this event.

I can, and am, as cynical about sportsball as the next person--the enormous amounts of money poured into athletics, the abuses of power, the scandals, as well as my vague suspicion that sportsball is as much of an opiate for the masses as religion or movies--all give me the feeling that this (along with probably every other facet of western consumer culture in which I am, to greater or lesser degrees, a willing participant) is...well, problematic, for lack of a better word. But I'm not one to denounce an activity or entertainment just because I have some issues with it, and nor am I a person to deny myself the enjoyment of that activity. Particularly since, as the game commenced, I was pleasantly bombarded with memories of a very patient grandfather attempting to explain the rules of basketball to his youngest granddaughter. I don't know that I believe in ghosts, but I do believe in being haunted (or accompanied by) powerful memories of the folks we love, and it felt like my Boppa's company was close by during that game.

Also, we ("we", ha) won the game. Icing on the Hoosier Cake.

Will I get season tickets to the Women's games next year? Or even (gasp!) shell out for a ticket to some of the men's games? I don't want to say for certain...but I am very much tempted, if it means carrying on a bit of my grandfather's memory, as well as becoming more embedded in my adopted home.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Brilliance of Books: March 2018

Fare thee well, March. We'll not see the likes of you again! As months go, this was a rather... ooooof kind of month. In addition to the usual work and life stuff, I was rather focused on getting The Haggery settled, as well as pursuing a couple of substantial professional undertakings. As a result, my recreational reading time was a bit limited, and my ability to really devote attention to what I was reading was, too. What's a Book Bitch to do?

Decimate the local library's collection of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, that's what. 

Now, my mother-in-law turned me onto the television series back in 2015, on a lazy weekend that I spent with her down in San Diego. I was--and am--addicted to that sumptuous, gorgeous show, but there are plenty of differences between the books and the tv series, so I can enjoy each on their own merits.

And so, whenever I had a spare moment this month, I'd hunker down on the couch, under a blanket, and immerse myself in the world of 1928 Australia and the society of the Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher, a rags-to-riches socialite with a knack for accumulating waifs, making wise investments, and alternately seducing, charming, and buying her way to the bottom of the crimes she solves as a "lady investigator. 

There is so much to enjoy in these books--Splendid secondary characters, including her Communist muscle men Bert and Cec, her devout companion Dot, and the long-suffering Detective Inspector Jack "Call me Jack, everyone does" Robinson. Beguiling descriptions of food, 1920s society, and haute fashion. And truly amusing dialogue...for example: "The night would degenerate into the usual problems of an orgy: where to put what and where and when, and how to find room for one's elbows", or, with reference to some hotel's housemaids, Bert knew "that some of the Sailor's Rest young women had professions which might involve beds but did not involve making them." 

The plots sometimes seem to rely heavily on coincidences, and Miss Fisher--beautiful, wealthy, generous, clever, very sexually accomplished, remarkably open-minded for her time period, and quite skilled in exotic dancing, nude modeling, art investing, race car driving, aeroplane flying, and god only knows what else--from time to time comes perilously close to Mary Sue territory. But as she is a fearless explorer, that's not much of a surprise. 

I'm up to book 15 in the series, and there are only 20 at this point. I'm going to be quite adrift--gutted, really--when I'm caught up, and I'll have to return to more high-minded reading. Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is like a rather pleasant, not entirely but still slightly frivolous vacation from the literary world, and it was definitely one that I needed this month.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Season Snapshot: March 2018

I've survived another winter here in the Heartland! Yesterday was the first day of spring--although, Indiana being Indiana, you wouldn't have known it. By the time I headed home from work yesterday, the snow was falling in earnest, and the traffic was creeping along. Half an hour later, when I got home, I paused to drool over this gorgeous moment:

Spring, schming.

It'll happen soon enough. In the meantime, the only thing for it was to do my chores, hunker down, light a candle, drink some wine, and relish the hygge moment. (Yup, I'm one of those people. I loves me some hygge.)

Finally, a cozy home of my own. God help the poor fool who ever tries to talk me out of this lovely life I've been given.