June Reading

So not my most successful month in terms of quantity.  Ten books, one a re-read, and one I didn’t finish because once I got halfway through, I had to admit I wasn’t feeling it.  Here’s my list along with some observations:

I don’t honestly know where I’ll go from here.  I need to read the Salman Rushdie, and a couple of other ARCs, and Glinda is raving about The Last Temptations of Iago Wick, so I need to get back to that.  I have way too many books in my TBR pile.

Anyway, onward to July.


Review: Believe Me, by Eddie Izzard


I’ve been dragging my feet a bit on this one because… ahmmm, well I’m not entirely certain what it is I feel about it.  So let me give you a bit of background on this one.

Glinda has seen the Believe documentary and said that she had no idea how the director (Izzard’s former girlfriend) managed to make him seem dull.  This comment kept coming back to me as I listened to the audiobook because I found a great deal of it to be dull.

It’s not that I don’t love Eddie, I do.  I think he’s a freaking genius.  It’s not that he hasn’t done a lot of interesting things.  He absolutely has.  He’s a man who, by his own admission, pushes himself to do the things that scare him because he knows that way lies both success and strength.  But as I listened, I found myself thinking, “Wow, you’re just not all that interesting when you’re not performing.”

I really can’t put my finger on why I think that.  There’s nothing specifically that I can point to beyond this being not entirely what I had thought it would be.  I recently listened to John Cleese’s autobiography and loved it, so it’s not me not being interested in their lives that’s the problem.  But perhaps the problem might have something to do with the fact that, apart from one huge exception, Izzard never truly lets us inside.  I never had the sense that he was telling us how he felt about his life except for one thing: He has never gotten over the death of his mother when he was six.

I do get that.  I feel it.  I was in my fifties when my parents died and I can’t shake the pervasive grief and sense of loss I still feel years later.  But that loss seems to be the single driving force behind everything he does.  He even says as much. Kudos to him for understanding that about himself, but that feels like the most he’s willing to give us.

No, he doesn’t owe us self-evisceration, I absolutely don’t expect that.   My expectation was to find him as engaging and entertaining about himself as he is on stage, and I learned that he is very, very different from his stage persona.  Being transgender is a big issue for him, and yet I still don’t think I have an understanding of how he feels about it.  I know what he thinks, I just don’t know what he feels.

There’s a thread that runs through the entire book that’s very telling, or at least it is to me.  God doesn’t exist.  It comes up so often that I had the sense that he was saying what I did when I saw my parents’ minds falling apart: I wish there was a god so I could spit in his face.  I’m not as actively hostile these days, but I am not a believer, and doubt I ever will be.  He’s still angry with a god he doesn’t believe in, and that’s a rough place to be.  But to listen to that, over and over, is difficult.

So, in spite of all this, I would still give the book four stars because he really is a freaking genius, and a man who has done incredibly inspirational things throughout his life.

Side note: This was the 80th book I finished this year, which was my goal for June.  I hope to finish 160 by the end of the year, though I’m only going to upgrade my challenge to 150.  I don’t want to get to the holidays and feel a lot of pressure.  Still, I’m pretty proud of myself.

And then this happened

Because I’ve been depressed and anxious, knocked down by illness and the drugs that are supposed to treat all of the above, things have gotten away from me over the last year or so.  I don’t cook that much now, though I have rediscovered my Salad Whisperer talents recently.

But today I stumbled on a recipe for something called “Nordic Stone Age Bread,” over on Facebook.  (Pam either posted it or commented on it.  Either way, I saw it.)  It intrigued me because it was basically nothing but nuts, seeds, and eggs.  I’m a nut-eater now, though wasn’t when I was young.  Tastes change.  Anyway it looked simple so I hauled out all the nuts and seeds I had stockpiled and threw a batch together.  Also put together a bag of nuts and seeds for a second loaf, and tossed it in the freezer.

IMG_20170629_154722It was as easy as it looked.  I lined a loaf pan, heated the oven, measured out the ingredients and mixed, then baked it for an hour.  This is how it turned out.

It has no leavening so what you put into the pan is what you get out, no more no less.  And I don’t suppose I need to talk about how dense it is.  It’s nothing but nuts and seeds held together with egg, how could it not be dense?  I worried that it would be brittle and not cut well, but I cut a thick slice and a thin one and they both came out perfectly.  In fact I’m now thinking that I could cut some thin slices and toast them in the oven for a bit to make crackers.  Or maybe not.  There is a link to a similar cracker on the bread recipe page, and I plan on trying that as well.

IMG_20170629_161111Once cut, the next step was tasting it.  By itself it has the flavor of roasted nuts, and a nice texture.  It won’t give you much more than that, so toppings were the next order of business.  In spite of it being all nuts and seeds, and therefore a relatively high fat food, I tried a schmear of butter on it as well as a bit of queso fresco.  The butter added nothing to the mix, though it was sweet butter.  Salted might have tasted better.  The cheese was very good on it, and I think it would stand up to much stronger cheeses like aged Cheddar, a good Swiss, and even Parmesan.

Then I tried it with jam, and it was excellent.  Jam and queso was also very good.  I would say that this bread could easily be served as a sweet or a savory depending on topping.

IMG_20170629_161140It could also be made sweet or savory.  I’m thinking seriously about chopping up dried fruit and adding it to the mixture, with maybe a touch of honey.  Maybe.  Herbs or spices would go well in this too.

It’s crazy filling.  You are not going to be able to eat a lot of this at one sitting, and a loaf may keep you in nut bread for half of ever.  I cut my loaf in half and froze part since the recipe suggests that about a week in the fridge is all you can hope to get out of it.

I would suggest you experiment once you have this recipe down.  It says you must use a ratio of 2 cups of nuts to 4 cups of seeds, but I didn’t exactly do that because I saw no clear reason for it.  I think what you need to do is make sure that you only have about 2 cups of whole nuts, and that the rest of what you put in is in small pieces.  That’s why it holds together.  If it was all whole or halved large nuts, it would fall to pieces when you cut it.

Just FYI, I used almonds, walnuts and some praline pecans, which added no sweetness to the mix at all.  Seeds: chia, flax, sunflower, sesame, and pine nuts which are actually seeds. I had a bit over 6 cups of dry ingredients but 5 eggs were enough to hold it all together.  Do not skimp on the salt!

Disclaimer: I am not gluten-free, or on some kind of paleo diet, and the term “clean eating” makes me want to punch someone.  I am not big on food fads (gluten-free is critical for people with celiac disease.  The rest of us can actually do ourselves harm by eliminating it from our diet.) so my interest in this recipe comes from my curiosity about how this would work, and from my love of nuts and seeds.

Yeah so, it looks different, right?

Glinda, left. Tracy, right. Alderman Tim asked us if we were drunk when he saw this.
A few years ago, Glinda North and I started a blog entitled Those 2 Nice Girls Next Door where we planned to document our lives here at what we’ve named Villa Allegra, but which should probably be called Crazy House (about which, more in a minute.)  We posted sporadically, and it was mostly me (Tracy), who did, though it was about the two of us more often than not; things like the cake we baked for our 102 year old neighbor, or adventures in Christmas cookie baking.  But we’re not very good at keeping up a blog, so I thought, why not combine Buh? with T2NGND and talk about all of it?  Life, books, (Glinda is a voracious reader as well.) cats, the strange things that happen here.

We have odd pets
Which brings me to the subject of Crazy House.  It seemed a pretty normal place when we moved in, but over the years, the stuff that we’ve discovered — not ghosts or anything like that, though by rights we should have one, since someone died in our basement — have made us scratch our heads.  One of the most common refrains is “Why the hell did they do it that way?”  By which we mean, why did the previous owners make the choices they made?  What were they thinking?

Don’t get me wrong, we both love this place, and a lot of its eccentricities are endearing.  Just not all of them.  I’m used to the idea that my bathroom tile got laid by someone who was winging it, and that the electric bills may never make any sense, but the garden, cute as it seemed when we moved in, has been a nightmare of bizarre layout and plant choices.  Eh, each to his/her own, right?  I’m certain that anyone who walked into either living room (we share a two-flat, which is known as a duplex everywhere but Chicago, I think.) would wonder what we were thinking to paint our walls those colors.  Mine is peacock blue, Glinda’s is a rusty orange.

Leo and Auntie Glinda
Me and Peebie
We share our lives with Tommy, Buckaroo (Glinda’s boys), Peebie, and Leo (My two) and, well, they’re cats.  If you’re familiar with them, you know they contribute to the crazy.

Buckaroo in a Van Gogh cosmos
Perfect Tommy







We’ve also raised butterflies, had bunnies born in our rose bed, housed a number of birds and one squirrel (see header) in a bowl under our porch roof, and named the huge water bugs that occasionally inhabit our basement (The Gigantor family.  Just FYI.  They pretty much don’t come up here anymore since Peebie dismembered one and left him in the hallway as a warning.)  In fact we name just about everything.  All our roses have names, so do our clematis, and a number of trees and shrubs — Blanche, the magnolia; Miss Pete, the pine that would not die.  We like our home and the things in it.  I recently got tired of being spooked when a small centipede would dash across the bathroom floor late at night, so I named him George and told him to carry on hunting but not to bother the cats or me.  Last I ever saw of him.

10355534_10152486290947215_1516047475929045461_o[1]This is our life.  I hope Glinda will contribute posts, but if not, I can always show you photos of her being odd, like this one of her doing Wolverine hands at Thanksgiving.

I’m going to continue to talk about bookish things here, but because that’s all part of my life as well, all this belongs together, I think.  You’ll find that the old posts from the T2NGND blog have been imported into this one, and I think they’re fun, so you might want to read some of them.  Or not.  Depends on why you’re here, right?

So greetings from Crazy House.  We hope to amuse you if nothing else.

Our Zen alter-egos. Glinda/Tiger, left; Tracy/Bear, right.

Book haul, and some thoughts about the contents


So these arrived today from two different sources.  Yes, I’m buying a lot of books.  I think it’s a desperate attempt to make up for the fallow years.  I will slow down eventually, but when the prices are this good and I find things I’ve been wanting, eh… it’s one of my last surviving comforts.

IMG_20170627_142313First off, The Barrytown Trilogy by Roddy Doyle.  For some reason I never imagined it would be this big even though I knew it was a collection of three novels.  It’s one of those doorstop books, something you could also use if a robber broke in and tried to steal your books.  You could hit him with it.  “Stealing books?  Okay HERE!  HERE HAVE THIS ONE, YOU JACKASS!!”  *sounds of book striking human head, whimpering (not mine)*  Somehow I think Doyle might approve of that scenario.

The novels here are loosely connected by being stories of the Rabbitte family of Dublin.  All have been adapted for film, though I’ve only seen The Commitments and The Snapper. I enjoyed them both and always wanted to read the novels they’re based on, so now I’m going to do it!  Of course I’ll report on them as I do.

IMG_20170627_142037Next up is a collection of Grantchester mysteries.  In case you watch the PBS series (I do, I love it) and don’t know, what you’re seeing is based on a number of short stories by James Runcie.  I’ve read the first collection, and had been thinking fondly of getting more.  The start of the new season propelled me in that direction.

The stories are set in the post-war years, and revolve around an unofficial partnership between Sidney Chambers, an Anglican vicar, and Detective Inspector Geordie Keating.  The characters have a lot of depth, don’t always do the right thing (This week on the TV series, something happened that made me gnash my teeth and growl, “No!  You’re both better than that!” Which is silly because they’re just human beings after all.) And the mysteries are solid and intriguing.  If you’re a mystery fan I really recommend them.

IMG_20170627_142234Then there’s the wholly unknown quantity of 2 A. M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino  According to the blurb it’s the story of a nine-year-old aspiring jazz singer.  How could I not want to read that?

Well okay, it could be horrible in spite of all the superlatives that were used in the blurb I read.  Or it could be not to my taste.  But I figure we have to take chances sometimes, right?

And then, briefly, there’s The Women in the7cc3e0a0d7fdce736dd7af9ae0c9ce9df2d03c57[1] Castle by Jessica Shattuck which arrived yesterday via my local library hold.  I stopped re-reading American Gods to start this (about which, more in a sec) and so far it’s hella good.  I’m not sure where it’s going, but that’s also good.  I hate predictability in my reading.

51OO9ObRt8L._SL300_[1]So about American Gods… yeah.  Yesterday I decided to cancel my Audible membership.  It costs $15 a month and I could really stand not to have to pay that all the time.  I had some credits and had to use them up before cancellation, so I picked up the audiobook of American Gods, and as soon as I finish the Eddie Izzard, I’m going to give it a listen.  Why?  Because I have learned to love the complimentary quality of different media interpretations.  I love this book, and I love the TV series.  I’m anxious to see what I’m going to get out of the audio version.  Because I will get something different from it.  The only thing that I’m not thrilled about is that Neil doesn’t narrate a version of this.  Granted it’s George Guildall and I like his work, but still, all Neil is good Neil.

51TqKROqx3L._SL300_[1].jpgAlso purchased with credits: Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hansen.  Hansen wrote Seeds which I loved, and yes I realize this makes me look like Queen Nerd, but tough.


Hunger, by Roxane Gay, because I’ve been wanting to read Gay for a while now, though I don’t quite feel up to Bad Feminist.  And then, if you know me, you’ll know I have some body issues.  Okay, I’m fat.  If you feel the desperate urge to stop here and say rude things, don’t bother.  I no longer care what you think, k?  And that’s why I want to know how Roxane Gay deals with the same issues.

61uE18J1sVL._SL300_[1]Dubliners by James Joyce was a choice I made a bit ago, when I posted a quote from The Dead for Bloomsday.  Many years ago I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and though I remember little about it, Joyce’s work has always called to me even though I now find it difficult to read.  (Don’t get me started on Ulysses.) But because I’ve found that many things become more accessible via audiobook, I decided to give this a shot.  If it works, I may attempt Ulysses again.

61icX45IftL._SL300_[1]And the last audiobook was The Modern Scholar: Unearthing the Past: Paleontology and the History of Life, by Dr. Jeffrey W. Martz.  This year has brought me to a new curiosity about paleontology, and this book got some excellent reviews.  I’m looking forward to it.

The punch line to this whole thing is that once you hit “Cancel” on Audible, they give you the option of putting your account on hold for a few months.  You still get all the perks, but you don’t pay a monthly fee.  I’m curious to find out how many times I can put it on hold before they say “‘ang on sec, you can’t do that!”

IMG_20170627_142210And the last book I want to talk about is Don’t Knock the Corners Off, by Caroline Glyn.  It’s no longer in print, so I had to search for it, and found it via Biblio.com.

This is a book I owned for years.  I discovered it either late in my grade school years, or early in high school.  Either way it spoke to me because it was about a girl who didn’t fit it.  Yeah, that’s the classic YA trope, isn’t it?  I’m not like everyone else.  But we all seek the characters who we feel are most like us, and I found that in Antonia Rutherford.

One day, a few years ago, a friend told me about a little girl she knew who was being bullied at school.  I don’t even really recall the circumstances, but I was moved to write to her and tell her that she’d survive it (I had) and I sent my copy of the book to her figuring it might have been a comfort as it had been to me.

No, I don’t actually know what happened to her, I never got a response, but then I didn’t expect one, so it’s not a big deal.  Sometimes you put things out into the world just because you need to, right?  You pay it forward.

So cut to a few weeks ago, and something, don’t recall what, reminded me of this book.  I went looking for it and found that most of the copies out there were priced out of my range.  Like WAY out of my range.  But I found one that would cost me $10 delivered and I thought that it was worth it to me to have this back on my shelf.  I’d just snagged a copy of The Day I Became an Auto-Didact, another one of those hang-on-to-it-forever volumes, and I thought I’d like to put a shelf of those books together to help shepherd me into my dotage.  So this just arrived:


Yes, Caroline Glyn wrote this when she was 15.  It made her an instant sensation (though the fact that she was Elinor Glyn’s granddaughter was probably a factor.)  At 20, Caroline became a Poor Clare.  She was dead by the age of 32.

The physical copy of this book is the sort I love.  Ex-library, often read, well-loved, a bit grimy, with supple pages.  Old books are wonderful; really so much better than brand new ones.  Sometimes they fall open on their own to the most interesting passages.

Anyway, it’s been a good couple of days for book hauls, and I really wanted to share the love.  There’s so much to know, to learn, to absorb, to enjoy.  Thank you, brain, for giving all that back to me.

Kirkus Review of Don’t Knock the Corners Off

Caroline Glyn tribute by an old boyfriend

Elinor Glyn – Wikipedia

The Barrytown Trilogy – Wikipedia

The Grantchester Mysteries – Wikipedia



So, one of the advantages of your actual physical pain?  It doesn’t usually give you a lot of time to worry about your emotional pain.  Today is hot and humid, and rain has been threatened since Wednesday.  And my joints ache.  I dragged myself around the kitchen this morning, feeding the cats and making myself coffee, and muttering “ouch, ow, jeez that hurts!” a lot.  On the upside, I can take aspirin for it, and I haven’t had a single over-the-top anxious moment yet today.

And with this greeting me as I sit down to work, how much misery could I reasonably be expected to construct for myself?  There’s something about a little foot sticking out from under a blanket, that eases one’s mind.  Peebie is under her blanket and all is right with the world.  Also, Leo has stopped acting so weird, so that’s good.

416RvkJH10L._SY346_[1]And last night I started an ARC by Salman Rushdie, entitled The Golden House which is due out in early September.  My first instinct, when I put it down, was to ask myself why I’d never read his work before.  It’s so warm and personal, and even beautiful.  Now I want to read All His Things. You know how that is, right?  I’d quote some of it to you, but since it’s an ARC (Advance Reader Copy, for those who don’t know), and not proofed, I really can’t.  But I would like to.  I would like to seduce you into reading his words because I think you will fall in love with them.

Fortunately there seems to be a ton of Rushdie books available through ThriftBooks at very reasonable prices, so I’m going to put all of them on my wishlist and work my way through.

And it occurs to me now that I’ve been terribly fortunate this year in that I’ve discovered a lot of writers I truly enjoy and want to follow.  I’ve liked Victor La Valle for a long while, of course, but only this year began to read him in earnest.  I loved Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow, and thought I didn’t like his earlier book, I’m still open to reading anything he has to say.

Kij Johnson, Kate di Camillo, and Nnedi Okorafor were all happy accidents for me, but I owe thanks to Barbara Young for my introduction to Ariana Franklin, and to The Housemate for introducing me to the wonderfully strange world of Jeffrey Ford.  Thanks to Neil Gaiman for recommending Lavie Tidhar, a wonderfully transgressive author, and to the wild enthusiasm of so many people for introducing me to Coulson Whitehead, Kathleen Rooney, George Saunders, and Min Jin Lee.

Some of the other authors I’ve read this year may or may not prove to be favorites, but that’s okay.  If even one of their works resonates with me, I’m that much  richer for the experience.

Hmmm, that was nearly as helpful as the aspirin.  Thanks too, to my perennial assistants, Peebie of the Jellybean Toes, and Leonardo di Floofi, who has not let fame go to his head.  he’s still the same little guy who has to touch the computer when I’m trying to work.


Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

510SEx3k77L._SY346_[1]I’m not a huge fan of the family novel, but the readers on Litsy were so unanimous in their love for this book, and because I had wanted to expand my reading this year, and mainly because I got it for $1.99 during one of those one-day sales on Amazon, I took the chance. I’m so happy I did.

The game of Pachinko is used as a metaphor for how we live our lives, taking gambles which sometimes pay off, and sometimes don’t.  It can be colorful and exciting, and it’s certainly something about which many of us obsess.  In this story, people gamble all the time, some are fortunate, like Sunja, who is rescued from infamy by a young man whose life she helped save.  And in fact, as hard as Sunja’s life has been, there have always been people there for her, there have always been opportunities, often unlooked for, like the random bounce of a Pachinko ball as it spins through its maze of pins.

Sunja and her family are Koreans living in Japan before, during, and after WWII.  They are perennial outsiders in what is a highly insulated society, yet manage to make their way through hard work and determination. Some of her family slip away, some cling to life and make it work for them, and its not always who we might expect in either case. Some make their mark, looking past their social position to the status that success can bring.

Pachinko is very much about the expectations people have of themselves and of each other, and yes, it’s very much about family.  But for once I wasn’t put off by the formulaic treatment inherent in a family story.  Even the family members I didn’t like I liked, if that makes any sense.  And in the end, the story was satisfying which is all I really ask of a novel.

When Anxiety Comes a-Knockin’

I had a weird epiphany the other night while sitting up fretting over my sick cat, (Leo has an eye ulcer. It’s been horrible for him, rough for me.) and wondering why my anxiety levels seem to start at 8 and go to 11 these days.  I don’t think I’ve always been an anxious person, but in the last couple of decades, it’s become almost a defining characteristic.

Part of it was learned from Mom who was weirdly anxious.  She seemed serene about most things, but the strangest things could set her off into an endless loop of what-ifs, often connected to something she’d done.  “What if the pesticide I used in the garden killed that poor robin I found out there?” was one of her favorites.  It evolved into, “I heard her singing her last song before I killed her.”  Not that it stopped her from using pesticide on her roses, so I suspect the guilt and drama was in some way fulfilling.  And I get that because that’s how I use guilt.  I am always much worse inside my own head than anyone imagines.

But another part of it has to do with my circumstances. I spent most of my life as a part of a small, virtually closed unit.  My world was bounded by my parents and my home.  I had friends, good ones, but none of them ever really became a visceral part of that unit.  And then my world began to fall apart.  My mother, who was insulin-dependent, began to show signs of dementia, my father of congestive heart failure and crippling arthritis.  There were accidents, hospital stays, operations, and their health declined to the point where they were both virtual invalids who could leave the house only in a wheelchair.  Both suffered from dementia by then.  My mother’s was more advanced, and only late in the process diagnosed as Lewy-Body Dementia. (Leave it to Mom to get some kind of fancy dementia.)  My father suffered from plain old Alzheimer’s, but then he was a plain man and didn’t hold with a lot of fru-fru diseases.

Mom hallucinated.  A lot.  One of my favorite stories has always been about the day she called me over and  whispered, “Do you see those people on the couch?”  Of course there was no one there, but that day I didn’t feel like arguing about it, so I said, “Yes.”  Then she said, “I don’t mind them being here, I just wish they’d phoned first.”  On the upside, I could tell her the same joke every damn day and it would still make her laugh like she’d never heard it before.  You get your laughs where you can when you’re a caregiver.

Dad just suffered quietly, so quietly in fact that I didn’t even realize how far his cognitive powers had declined until one day he didn’t know how to use the ice dispenser in the fridge anymore. I still can’t find anything to laugh about in that.  He was my rock and I was seeing it crumble into dust.

Eventually I was forced to put them in nursing care.  When I would lie awake praying for a carbon-monoxide leak to kill us all, I knew I was pretty close to cracking.  Dad only lasted a few months, Mom a couple of years.  I redecorated the apartment, turned into a “prepper,” someone who preps for disaster, and blamed myself for killing them, like they’d still be alive at 113 and 112 if I hadn’t put them in a nursing home.  Like they would have gotten better. Right.

When they died, and I sold their place for a whole lot of money — I freely confess that I was in a great position at that point, and wanted revenge on the buyers for reasons which I’m not going to go into here.  They were good reasons though, trust me.  And I bought a place of my own and used up most of that money fixing things that needed fixing.  I was determined to make a new life.

So here’s the thing: I’ve done that.  I have a nice home which I share with a dear friend and our wonderful cats, and while I don’t have much money, I do have a job I enjoy, and I’m getting by.  So what’s the problem?  I feel like I’m always standing outside this life thinking, “But it’s not MY life.” When we moved here, I wanted to clean everything.  I was insane about cleaning.  Once that was done, I pretty much just stopped.  If asked, I’d say, “But that wasn’t MY dirt.”  My dirt… actually my mess, is something I can live with.  I’m not proud of that, but somehow it makes sense that it exists, this mess, because I don’t really feel like it matters.  This isn’t my life.  That’s gone.

Yes, I know it sounds crazy.  You live your life, right?  Maybe not.  Maybe you go through so many changes and lose so much that nothing feels familiar anymore.  Nothing feels safe anymore.  I felt safe with my parents.  No matter how awful things were outside, I could come home and there would be this little unit.  The apartment was its physical boundary, and we were its emotional boundary.  And the reading thing, which I’ve talked about before, that was my deeper comfort zone, and it was gone as well.

At this point I want to stop and say something directly to anyone who reads this and thinks, “What a whiny, privileged baby she is!”  I am not asking for your sympathy, so fuck your judgement.  What I’m doing here is explaining that sometimes you can feel like an outsider in the life you live.  This has nothing to do with privilege, anyone can feel it, and the anxiety and depression that goes along with it.  Understanding that there is a dissonance in the way you live may actually help you find your way to a more genuine life. I’m lucky to be able to divide the stages of my life so neatly that I can see where things got off track for me.

Now understand that I’m not hating the life I do live.  I’m just not comfortable in it and I do so want to be.  I don’t feel safe and I don’t feel as if I understand it. There’s nothing anyone else can do about this so no one needs to feel guilty, or feel any sort of need to help in any way.  This is my problem to wrestle with, and now that I’ve verbalized it, I may have a leg up on making things better.  I am reading again, after all.  That’s something, right?

So if this helps anyone understand their own anxiety and depression, I will feel as if I have done a bit of good in this world, and sometimes that’s the best we can hope for.  Good luck to all of you.


Review: The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula Le Guin

41bl2ognhpL[1]It was probably forty years ago that I first read this book in a science fiction as literature class at Northeastern Illinois University.  It was taught by Tom Hoberg, one of the most interesting professors I’ve ever encountered. (I can still recall the names of the teachers who made a difference to me in those years, and maybe one day I’ll do a retrospective just to honor them.) He led off the class with this book, and even though I’d read SF and fantasy all my life, it was a remarkable introduction to a body of truly great science fiction writers and their work.  I’m not sure I adequately appreciated how ground-breaking this novel was.  I’ve heard it said that Le Guin didn’t do a very good job in creating an androgynous society — a criticism that even Le Guin admits may have some truth to it — but for the time in which it was written, it was about as bold a statement as I could ever imagine.

For those who have been living under a rock since it was first published, TLHoD is a first contact story.  It’s about Genly Ai, an emissary from a body of united planets called The Ekumen , who has come to the planet Gethen in order to convince them to join that group.  Gethenians are androgynes who enter what they call “kemmer” once a month in order to breed.  When not in kemmer or pregnant, they go back to being androgynes.  A Gethenian can enter kemmer as either male or female, they can sire children or bear them.  Most have done both. Because Genly Ai is a human male, this state of affairs is difficult for him to comprehend, and adds a layer of visceral difficulty to the already complex task of learning the cultural norms of a new world.

Much of the novel focuses on Ai’s relationship with Estraven, a lord of Karhide who has been helping him try to win over the Karhidish king.  Through political intrigues, a banishment, imprisonment and escape, and a long and fearful flight through some of the bleakest parts of a bleak country in the dead of winter, Ai and Estraven are forced to drop the walls of custom and meet as human beings.  And this is what the novel is ultimately about: crossing the boundaries of our differences to see the essential humanness of another person.

Since it’s been about 40 years since I read TLHoD, I can’t tell you what I thought if it then, save to say that I loved it.  What I can tell you now is that it remains timely in terms of its political content, its message about gender and other differences between people, and also because it is a book written by a woman in what was once a sausage-fest genre.  To some degree, that Le Guin knocked down the boys’ club  door and helped to pave the way for so many wonderful women writers in this genre might be its greatest legacy.

This is not to deny the value of the story itself, a story which still moves me, which made me cry again even though I knew what was going to happen, a story that made me think more deeply about not just gender but about the human condition.  It is not a book to dismiss for being dated or having shortcomings that are only important in retrospect, but rather one to read and cherish.

Review: The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, by Christopher Edge

26202647[1]Albie, who has lost his mother to cancer, and who feels neglected by his bereaved father, decides that if the many worlds theory is correct, then he can find his mother alive in a parallel universe if he can figure out how to hop between them. To that end, he discovers the Quantum Banana theory, and begins jumping into parallel universes looking for the one person he desperately wants to be with. Along the way, he encounters other versions of his friends and family, and even of himself, he has adventures, and he learns a few things about family and love, and loss.

When I was growing up, one of my favorite books was “A Wrinkle in Time.” When I read the description of “The Many Worlds of Albie Bright” I couldn’t help but be reminded of that old favorite. A story about a smart kid who goes searching to other worlds/universes to find a lost parent? Heck yeah. And yet in many ways the two books couldn’t be more different. Albie’s story is far less serious than that of the Murray children, the writing is direct and unpoetic, and there’s a hella lot of sciencing going on in the narrative. The only problem that I had with this book, in fact, was wondering if a child reading at this book’s level would get even the simpler scientific explanation of quantum physics. Since I’m not a nine year old, I came to no conclusions, but I can tell you that I got a kick out of it.