What We’re Reading

Dear Kristen,

Procrastination looks good on Little Mister!  I loved his costume! Simple. Clever. And unique!

We weren’t so clever or unique – but simple was the name of the game.  Batman and Tweak.

Costume Recipes:

Batman: pajamas with a homemade cape attached with safety pins to the shirt. Perfect for Little Man.

Tweak: Found it on the internet, bought it, and it arrived at our doorstep.  It doesn’t get much easier than that!  What do you do when your daughter insists she wants to be a green bunny engineer from her favorite TV show (Octonauts)?  Well, you don’t try to make a light green sweatsuit with bunny ears, that’s for sure!

So people thought she was the Easter Bunny or weren’t sure what to think.  But she was happy.

And reading is making her happy, too, so I thought I’d share what we’ve been reading of recent.  Munchkin is entering the world of reading all on her own (little squeal of delight!) and so we’ve been working to have fresh, exciting library books available and fun things to explore!

Munckin’s Recent Reads

  1. Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems.  51olbjkb2bel-_sx363_bo1204203200_I think I’ve mentioned these before – but there are a variety of them and she can make out many of the words all on her own.  She also has a quick memory, so she can usually recite it after the second reading…so then I’m not positive how much reading is being done….
  2. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein.  51o8luyt2il-_sx378_bo1204203200_Silliness and rhyming out the wazoo – all good things!
  3. Hop on Pop by Dr. Suess.  51clhaltlfl-_sx355_bo1204203200_We got this as a listening book at the library.  God bless audio books!  But seriously, if I had to read Hop on Pop as often as she listened to it, I might go slightly nuts.
  4. The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit by Emma Thompson.  51gthz-af4l-_sx385_bo1204203200_Another audio book, but since Halloween is over, Christmas books can come out!  And her brother likes this, too.

Little Man’s Recent Reads

  1. Little Blue Truck (any of them) by Schertle and McElmurry. 51m07baimtl-_sy448_bo1204203200_“Boo Truck!” is how he asks and its adorable.
  2. Frankenstein by Adams and Oliver. 519fcmyv-ll-_sy498_bo1204203200_“Monster!”
  3. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Martin and Archambault. 51hsu2qlyhl-_sx378_bo1204203200_“Boom! Booooommmm!”  He likes singing the alphabet song at the end, which is awesome with his gibberish.
  4. Anything his sister is reading……which makes for epic fallouts….. Is it better that they are fighting over books?

So there you have it!  Reading with the 5 and 2 year olds is bringing delight and smiles.  Today, I’m giving thanks for those moments of joy. (And for coffee.  I’m giving thanks for that, too.)

Geeking Out – Anime (Well, really Miyazaki movies)

Dear Erin,

Thanks for the last post. I know what you mean about reading what your students are reading – that’s how I came to read Twilight. I don’t know if it made me relate to them more; it certainly made me worry about them more, and it made me very aware of my book snobbery. I could see why it was popular, but I could also see why it was dismissed by so many people as well. (And I didn’t think those people were wrong.)

Let me tell you a little story about my Tuesday. A good friend came over to give me a break from the boys, and I decided to go to the library. I had just finished this book:

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and it felt so good to be reading I wanted to keep that feeling going. (By the way, have you read this one? It’s probably for an audience of about 9 or 10. Fun, though.) But I wasn’t sure what to do with my time at the library. I wandered here and there, tried to remember authors I had been thinking of reading (couldn’t); checked the lists I’ve been keeping on my phone for just this time (nothing looked good). And finally, I said to myself, “What were the YA books I know Erin’s read and enjoyed? Because I don’t want anything much more complicated than that, and I trust her judgment.” And after a little googling and a little wracking my brain, I remembered a couple of series.

But the library didn’t have either of them, so I ended up getting kind of a random assortment and left. Went to get lunch, sat down and read the first chapter of Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana. And then I read your post.

Talk about timing. But at least I now have the list for the next time I get to the library!

Anyway, you mentioned on Tuesday that a lot of the books on that list have “strong female leads.” Did you know that that’s one of the identifiers Netflix has assigned to our taste in movies? And the suggestions they gave to build on that identifier used to include the movies of Hayao Miyazaki.

Ok, so I know I’ve written about my love for Miyazaki on this blog before here and here*, and more broadly about similar anime here, but it’s been awhile, and there’s no denying that this is something I really do geek out about. Not all anime, of course: As I experience it, it’s really more of a stylistic choice than a genre, and plenty of stories are included under this umbrella that have no relevance to my interests. But for those that do, the style often adds a layer I enjoy – usually a layer of the fantastical or whimsical.

Looking back over this series, it seems I’m a fan of the non-naturalistic. I like a train driving through an ocean (Spirited Away)

chihiro-train

and little forest spirits whose heads click around like clocks (Princess Mononoke)

kodamas

and gangly steampunk gardening robots (Castle in the Sky).

10-laputa

You know, things that would be difficult to do well in a live action movie but that fit right in to an animated movie and have personality in spades because they’ve been created and hand drawn.

I suspect next week’s entry won’t disprove this trend.

*Those posts go into significantly more detail about this topic.

And Done.

Dear Erin,

So last time I told you about the startitis. And this Friday, I’m proud to say that I actually finished two things!

Neither of the ones I highlighted, but they still count. (And those, too, are moving along. I haven’t yet ripped anything out.)

The first is this:

B2's Blue Puerperium

It’s been mostly dead done for a couple weeks, but taking that final step and giving it a bath and its buttons took a ridiculously long time, which wasn’t helped by the fact that I put it in a drawer (“someplace safe”) and then forgot where I had put it. So it took a little while to find again.

Pattern: Puerperium, again. One of my favorites for brand new babies (Proof #1, Proof #2, and those are just the ones I’ve posted here.) A pleasing look, an easy pattern, few ends to sew in, quick to do, and highlights variegated or semi-solid yarns nicely. The only slight hassle is sewing on seven or eight buttons, and that took less than an hour last night, so it’s a very slight hassle. Yarn: Cobblestone DK by Neighborhood Fiber Co. in color “Olde Towne East” (aka “blue”). Was a little stiff to work with, but it softened up in the bath, though it lost plenty of dye in the process as well. Still a deep, rich blue, though.

The second thing finished this week was a book. (I know!)

Book DP Drank Here

Sorry the picture’s a little blurry – cell phone, don’tcha know. This is my procedure for remembering what I’ve read this year, instead of keeping them on a shelf. When I finish, I just take a picture of the cover and record the info later on. Maybe if it’s an impressive enough grouping at the end of year, it’ll make a cool collage. That empty shelf is never going to get filled up – at least not for four or five more years.

Anyway, a fun book here. I’m not sure if that’s only because because of the Dorothy Parker quotations sprinkled throughout or not, but they certainly contributed. In the story, a dying but cantankerous writer, whose career long ago crumbed because of plagiarism allegations, has attracted the attention of several people, who all want to use him for their own ends. One among the group is the ghost of Dorothy Parker who doesn’t want to “move on” but is bored hanging out by herself at the bar of the Algonquin Hotel.

The story is cute, but the characters are the strength in this one. Plot reveals are telegraphed pretty clearly, so I have to think they’re not really the point. On the other hand, each character is an individual, and their behaviors and motivations are more or less believable and consistent with an understandable psychology.

It’s not as compelling as the book I read previously (not discussed here), but it’s also an attempt at something lighter than that book – more comic and every day (despite the notable presence of a ghost) – so, again, I don’t think page turning compulsion is really the author’s point.

Also cleared out some bulky items from the house, so overall, a satisfying week. I hope yours has left you with a similar sense of accomplishment and that your weekend is spring-like and fun.

Ooh, Shiny!

Dear Erin,

Maybe Gibbs is keeping you busy so the time until spring finally arrives doesn’t seem so very long. I’ve been thinking about spring here: the bug to have everything clean has bitten, although not so much the bug to make everything clean. I just need to track down one of those fairy tale cleaning services – “house cleaned and items repaired while you sleep!” Or maybe some startup here in the valley is working on a self-cleaning house and needs someone to test their prototype. I’ll ask Charles to look into that.

Also, I have a slight case of “startitis,” (the desire to start new project after new project after new project without finishing any of them) which comes every now and then. Maybe it’s due to spring, maybe something else.

I’ve started two new books recently: first one, and then when that one required a little brainpower, the second. I also started Little Mister’s Christmas stocking:

cross stitch 1

I really wanted to make him a Christmas stocking, both because that’s a tradition in our family and because Mom’s have always come out both beautiful and personal. It might have made sense for me to knit him one, since that is my chosen craft, but I just didn’t like any of the ones I saw patterns for. So I’m cross stitching it – a craft I haven’t done for years – and while I know the finished product will be worth it, I also know I won’t be returning to this craft as a habit. It’s a lot of work for a tiny amount of progress at a time.

So, of course, in addition to that, I also had to start at least some knitting:

rust mobius 1

And I’m already second-guessing this, too, so I’ve been toying with the idea of also starting about four other projects, not to mention various organizing and decluttering projects also simmering away in my fantasy life. (I have a 2-year-old; my fantasy life only has to do with making my real life easier right now.) You know, because that means anything will actually get done, especially if I keep second-guessing what I’m doing and ripping it out.

So right now, it’s all about the shiny and new. I’ll need to stay away from stores, because if this goes on, the next time you hear from me, I may have tried to buy out the stock of every book, gardening, furniture, craft, clothing, and housewares store around. A lofty goal, but probably not one I should pursue.

 

On Re-reading a Good Book

Dear Erin,

I started this yesterday, but as you will see, it’s long and I ran out of time. Let’s hope the kids stop with the “havoc” and don’t move on to “let[ting] slip the dogs of war.” We don’t need extra chaos during the rest of this month. I have to admit you seem to have me beat with the diaper removal. Little Mister has never done that – yet. This could be because the diapers we usually use fasten around the back, but it probably has more to do with the fact that our house is cold so he’s almost always completely dressed. Therefore, no access.

20151209_095820

Ready to go, go, go!

I’ll admit to not feeling much of the Christmas spirit yet. Most of my head space is filled with visions of deadlines rather than dancing sugar plums. I’m dragging my feet about decorating: it just seems like a big, highly breakable mess that we’ll only see for a little while, and I’ll spend the entire time fretting that LM will get into it. I’m sure there are creative ways to get around that; just haven’t given them much thought yet.

I am trying, promise. Made a batch of spritz cookies and fancy hot chocolate yesterday. And I have plans to make Danish this weekend. Put on the Muppets during lunch, and will do some more (online) shopping this evening. So, that’s something, and hopefully it will be enough to jump start the feelings to go with the truth my head knows of the Joy of the season.

—-

But instead of me spending the entire blog post whining, I’d rather talk about something (completely different) that I found kind of fascinating in the last few weeks.

My third time reading Jane Austen’s Emma.

Perhaps you might say (if you were not you), “But how can the third time through the same book be fascinating in any way?” The answer of course is: A worthwhile book (such as Emma) has something new to show you every time you revisit it, and that is even more true if you yourself have changed between readings.

I first tackled Emma probably in college, or possibly high school but I didn’t really “find” Jane Austen – as I remember – until college. And it was a painful, awful thing to read. Not that it wasn’t funny, and not that it was poorly written. But Emma herself was so painful to watch lord her status over everyone else and then brutally hurt some of the defenseless people around her. I couldn’t stand her, and similarly I couldn’t stand self-centered Mrs. Elton or bossy Mr. Knightley or whiny Mr. Woodhouse or needy Harriet Smith. I would guess the only person I enjoyed at all was Mr. John Knightley because he’s sardonic and just shows up in the story to make sarcastic, funny remarks, then leaves without getting too entangled with the people of Highbury.

So for years Emma was my least favorite Austen book. I even liked Mansfield Park better, and I suspect very few people would say that. But the second time through – for a class in grad school; yes, there were some perks to being in grad school – I saw the story and the characters through a more sophisticated critical lens, and it wasn’t quite so bad. I was also probably 7 or 8 years older, which I’m sure helped as well. Emma herself was still somewhat distasteful, but Mrs. Elton is more or less toothless and therefore ridiculous; Mr. Knightley is more honorable and less bossy than I had remembered him; Mr. Woodhouse is certainly still someone who takes a lot of patience, but so many people love and accommodate him that he must have some redeeming qualities; and Harriet is just very young. It wasn’t so bad; I developed some, though still very little, affection for the novel, and I started to see it as having its own pleasures, irrespective of any of the other books.

And this time? This time I found a lot to love in the protagonist, the world and people around her, and the art with which their creator brought them into being. Every single one of them, and Emma most of all, is a realistic character. They’re all flawed and some of them do real damage to one another and to themselves, but their motivations are so recognizable and their psychology so real and human, that they can be understood and even (sometimes) forgiven by the reader.

The pleasure of the book increased for me with more education, but it increased even more, I think, with my greater maturity and experience. The first time, I felt Emma’s flaws personally and wanted her to be perfect because so-called “good” characters were supposed to be infallible (and yes, now I’m embarrassed that I thought that childishly into college, but on the other hand, it’s not an unusual mindset for people that age). The second time, I saw her as a clever but still uncomfortable construct (one of the perils of grad school education – you can get really good at seeing the machinery and lose the point of that machinery). The third time was the charm, as I was able to see her with double vision – as an amazingly drawn character and as a true-to-life, unique young woman.

I look forward to the fourth time through. I wonder what I’ll discover then.