Please Hold

Attention: Reader. This blog post will be preempted for a very important message. Please hold.

Circumstances aligned in such a way that I have one sole goal for the day: finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

IMG_2866-0.JPG

It was too stormy to run (tornado watch); I’m not ready to grade; CW and I decided to avoid housework for the day.

This post comes to you from my couch, where I’ve been literally all day long. I started with coffee. Now I’ve worked my way to gin. I’ve got 100 pages left. Snape and Voldemort are in the Shrieking Shack, discussing wand lore. I’d better get back to it.

This concludes a very important message from your publisher. We will return to our regular programming tomorrow.

A Very Very Very Fine House

Why hello, and welcome to my home. (As Brenda Dickson would say.) We are here! We have moved in! Most things are put away and functional and settled. I love it. It took us a while to get things completely unpacked, partly because until recently I was finishing teaching my summer course and couldn’t do much to help around the house. This weekend, though, we finally had a few friends stop by and even hosted a couple of folks for dinner, so we had a little extra incentive to get things done. Oh, what’s that you say? Friends coming over? I guess I’d better move my underwear collection to a location other than the couch. 

I thought I’d share a few photos from around the house for those of you who get a thrill looking into other people’s homes (and really, who among us doesn’t?). Don’t worry, no one’s underwear collection is featured. Unless that’s what you came here looking for, in which case, sorry to disappoint you, ya weirdo.

As you might predict, get two English faculty types together and you’re going to have a lot of books. We’ve got them in every room. If that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right. How many books do we have? If this tells you anything, we even decided to make what’s supposed to be a dining room into a reading atrium. A room for books and the reading of books. Oh yeah. Our front room, with it’s high ceilings, tons of natural light, and pretty arches, is now one of my favorite spaces. A futon, a comfy chair, a shelf of my favorite books, and a beautiful collection of succulents. Who needs a formal dining room?

Succulents

Soilless Growth

Arches.Shelf of Favorites

Reading Chair

Buddha, etc.

In the living area, we’ve got books over here…

Books and Chair and Guitar

Books over there…

Books

And, in what was kind of a serendipitous little joke that seems to have stuck, we even have a whole shelf for just John Irving.

Devil's Tongue by the Window

The living room is big enough to fit our sofa/TV area plus a dining table, so we’ve just made it into a living/dining combination space. We tried several different arrangements, trying in particular to find a good spot for the couch, but in the end we wound up putting it back in almost the exact same spot it landed when we unloaded the truck. Oh well! When the weather gets cold (for approximately three weeks in January) and we want to use the fireplace, we may adjust it a bit.

Couch, Dining Area

Fireplace.Table

Ukulele.The Square Shelf

Daisies

We have tons of space to be cozy and read or watch movies in here, and I feel like over all, it’s just this great wealth of space: do I want to read in the reading atrium, or the living room? Or my workspace in the guest room?

Oh, right, we have a guest room, too. (ATTENTION: GUESTS! It is a lovely guest room! Please come stay in it!) I tried snapping some photos in there, but the light was too dim by that time, so I’ll have to share that later. Also not pictured: the bedroom, CW’s office, and the kitchen. Those rooms all shaped up very nicely, too, so maybe I’ll do a second installment of this house tour soon, if you’d like to see more.

In the meanwhile, I am busy enjoying the new space and relaxing. This weekend was the first opportunity I’ve had since my summer class started to spend a weekend here in town, not traveling, not moving, and not packing or unpacking. It was downright delightful! School will be starting before we know it, and this week we are heading out of town on a short getaway to visit some of CW’s college BFFs/teammates for a few days. We leave in the morning, and I fully intend to spend every minute of the trip as relaxed as possible. When we get back, school prep mode officially begins. I’ll steel myself and see you then!

Reading Report

One thing I have been loving with absolute abandon this summer is reading. I have been absolutely devouring books — mostly novels, many of them mysteries (you know how I do). My favorite place to read has been sitting on my patio with a glass of wine or a whiskey drink just at sunset. It’s divine, I tell you. Reading late at night in bed or lazily throughout the morning, with coffee, is also very, very good.

Let me warn you now, though, that what I am about to share with you are not what anyone would call “book reviews.” I do enough academic writing about books at work that here on the blog I prefer to share my thoughts and experiences about them with very little intellectualizing. I hope you will forgive me.

Today's Patio Reading

Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn

My mind kept hearkening back to Gone Girl after I finished it, so I managed to check out both this and Dark Places so I could continue delving into the dark and compelling characters Gillian Flynn creates. I’m a little obsessed with her right now, in fact. I loved this book, and the length of it (it’s a pretty quick read) inspired me to choose it for my summer class on detective fiction. The narrator of Sharp Objects is fascinating and, in some disturbing ways, relatable. One thing I really enjoy about Flynn’s writing is the prose: crisp, quick, witty, and wry. She strikes just the right note for this genre, in my opinion.

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

I read Dark Places next and really enjoyed it, too. The 1980s obsession with Satanic cults certainly rang some bells for me — I quite vividly remember my own (paranoid & mentally ill) mother’s obsession with same. The characters and the Missouri communities Flynn creates are so vividly realistic to me I feel like I cam practically smell them coming off the page. Recommended.

Time for some sunset patio reading.

State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett

I’d been meaning to pick up this book for a while, after having read some friends’ comments about it online. I found it didn’t go very quickly for me, partly because I never really connected with any of the characters (I don’t believe I need to like the characters to like the narrative, but in this case the characters only barely interested me, to the point where I couldn’t even drum up much emotion when one character is attacked by an anaconda and another character has to wrestle and hack said anaconda to death), and partly because I found the colonizing relationship between the American scientists in the book and the Amazonian people among whom they were living to be, well, highly problematic. You can take the girl out of the West-Coast-radical graduate program, but you can’t take…well, you know the rest.

My current read. Not sure about it yet, but I've heard some good things.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

I wanted to read and love this, but I abandoned it after about 20 pages. I didn’t dislike it — the abandonment had a little something to do with running out of online renewals from the library — but I didn’t find myself compelled to go on, either. I think I’d like to try it again, but not right now. There are other things that are more enticing at the moment.

Room

Room, by Emma Donoghue

I knew nothing about the content or plot of this novel before I began, but I became absorbed so quickly and so irrevocably that I stayed up late one night, starting it when I got into bed around 10:00 and not being able to put it down until 2:00 or so — and then only reluctantly. The next morning, instead of getting up, I stayed in bed until 2:00 in the afternoon finishing it. At one point I got up and made coffee, but otherwise: read, read, read, must read. I do love it when that happens. The narrator is often unbelievable and/or overly precious (it’s narrated by a 5-year-old-boy), but I was able to overcome any objections on those counts due simply to how gripping the story was. Plus: I was reading it the same week Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight were rescued. Life and art collide in a terrifying, all-too-real fashion.

Just finished this and SO glad I chose it for my summer course. Loved it. I would immediately set about reading all the other Ripley books, but I've got Dashiell Hammett and Georges Perec awaiting me re course planning.

The Talented Mister Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith

I chose this novel for my summer class without having read it — purely on the basis of the Matt Damon/Jude Law film I’d seen years ago. Well, plus I felt it was high time I read some Patricia Highsmith. It did not disappoint. As is always the case, the novel is richer and more complex than the book. Highsmith’s voice is delightfully crisp on the page, her prose both witty and dark. She makes Tom Ripley frighteningly real and surprisingly sympathetic. But then again, a lot of sociopaths are quite charming. I can’t wait for my chance to read the four other Ripley novels. Recommended.

Dashiell Hammett time.

The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett

Dashiell Hammett is a favorite of mine even though I haven’t read all that many of his novels — no one could ever believe I hadn’t read The Thin Man. Well, shut up all of you, because now I have! It’s the classic Hammett noir: lean and efficient prose, quick dialogue, twists, mistaken identities, and double crosses. And lots and lots of cocktails. But then he goes and makes it funny, too! My boyfriend and I happen to be watching some Veronica Mars lately, and I now see a lot of Nick and Nora Charles’ influence on the snappy (and often inappropriately flirty) dialogue between Keith and Veronica.

Today's patio reading selection. This is quickly becoming my favorite part of the day.

In the Woods, by Tana French

Let me say first of all that I wound up loving this book, and I shall make it my mission to read her follow-up novels just as soon as I can (though I have stacks of other books for both work and fun standing between me and that plan, dammit). I loved Rob and Cassie, the detective team at the center of this novel. The plotline was gripping and the storytelling seemed realistic in its use of detail, but not tediously so. The inclusion of entire interrogation-room dialogues, for example, lends the air of an authentically long investigation. The pacing reminded me a bit of The Killing, in fact, in that I felt we really were following the murder squad detectives through all the steps of their work. And yet the pacing still felt fast and I found myself anxious to get back to the book whenever I wasn’t reading it. The only negative, for me, is French’s prose style. I almost put the book down after reading the first three sentences:

Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small town 1950s. This is none of Ireland’s subtle seasons mixed for a connoisseur’s palate, watercolor nuances within a pinch-sized range of cloud and soft rain; this is summer full-throated and extravagant in a hot pure silkscreen blue. This summer explodes on your tongue tasting of chewed blades of long grass, your own clean sweat, Marie biscuits with butter squirting through the holes and shaken bottles of red lemonade picnicked in tree houses.

I’m glad I didn’t. (It isn’t all like this.)

Spent the morning finishing this.

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

I started this and finished it this morning, in another marathon reading binge. I’d heard so many good things about it and finally my library’s copy was available. I enjoyed reading it, but a good many things about it also annoyed me. I never read Eat Pray Love, but I sort of have a suspicion that this is the hiking version of that story, i.e., a privileged white lady who’s having some problems goes off somewhere to “find” herself. From what I hear, though, I take it that Cheryl Strayed is much less … that woman than Elizabeth Gilbert is.

Currently Reading (Wild, by Cheryl Strayed)

On another note, if you’ve known me for very long at all, you know that my love for the mountains of the west, the Sierras and the Cascades in particular, is deep. The High Sierras from Tahoe to Yosemite are where I spent many summers as a child and teenager, where I first camped, fished, learned to rock climb, found bear tracks, hiked in the woods both with my family and — occasionally, secretly — alone. The landscape of those mountains is (and this is difficult to describe, but) where my heart feels most at home — the only place in truly longs for. If you’ve read this book, imagine my feeling upon reading the section entitled “Range of Light,” where Strayed reached the High Sierras, and the events that ensued.

***

Well then. I have just started John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (a rare foray into young-adult fiction for me, not counting Harry Potter and Twilight) and it is calling me back to its pages. If you’ve read any of the above books, I’d love to hear your opinon!

 

 

Eat & Run by Scott Jurek

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently sent me copy of Scott Jurek‘s memoir, Eat & Run, to review. OH, IT WAS MY LUCKY DAY! I’d been wanting to read this book since I first heard about it, but hadn’t bought a copy yet.

Looking forward to reading and reviewing this! @scottjurekLike most people, I first heard of Scott Jurek through Christopher McDougall‘s Born to Run, the book that help launched the barefoot running craze and made average distance runners like me suddenly aware of the possibility of ultrarunning, the completely insane practice of running farther than marathon distance — thirty, fifty, one hundred miles. Or more. I’d only ever run as far as 26.2, but I was intrigued.

I had to learn more about the man who had become a legend, winning the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run seven years in a row, the 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon twice (that’s the one that goes through the extreme heat of Death Valley), the 152-mile Spartathlon three times (running from Athens to Sparta), and setting the U.S. record for a 24-hour endurance run at 165.7 miles. Oh, and he did all of this (and more) on a vegan diet. Suffice it to say, what I’d already learned about Scott Jurek had launched him to the top of my list of running heroes.

Reading Eat & Run just solidified his position on that list. Scott (with Steve Friedman), writes about his experiences in not only these events, but also about his childhood in rural Minnesota where he hunted and fished and developed his strong, persistent work ethic; his past as a competitive Nordic Skier, where he learned from his coach that “pain only hurts;” and his journey toward the healthy, whole-foods vegan diet that he now credits with keeping him training consistently and recovering quickly.

Eat & Run combines Scott’s stories from a life training and competing with advice for runners and healthy vegan recipes. Each chapter begins with engaging and entertaining tales from the trails, then includes a bit of advice and/or a recipe at the end. I found reading his race accounts to be entirely gripping, but, more than that, I found inspiration in his reflections on how his family shaped him, the things he learned from people in his life, and his thoughts about what running means to him.

I started running for reasons I had only just begun to understand. As a child, I ran in the woods and a round my house for fun. As a teen, I ran to get my body in better shape. Later, I ran to find peace. I ran, and kept running, because I had learned that once you started something you didn’t quit, because in life, much like in an ultramarathon, you have to keep pressing forward. Eventually I ran because I turned into a runner, and my sport brought me physical pleasure and spirited me away from debt and disease, from the niggling worries of everyday existence. I ran because I grew to love other runners. I ran because I loved challenges and because there is no better feeling than arriving at the finish line or completing a difficult training run. And because, as an accomplished runner, I could tell others how rewarding it was to live healthily, to move my body every day, to get through the difficulties, to eat with consciousness, that what mattered wasn’t how much money you made or where you lived, it was how you lived. I ran because overcoming the difficulties of an ultramarathon reminded me that I could overcome the difficulties of life, that overcoming difficulties was life.

If you’re a runner (or athlete of any stripe), I know you identify with that just like I do.

The advice sections of the book include topics like stretching, going easier not harder, getting enough protein, and improving your gait by hitting the right landing zone. His suggestions are practical and easy enough for any runner to implement — and hey, who doesn’t want training advice from Scott Jurek? Nobody, that’s who.

Scott’s recipes are all nutritious vegan food, including lentil-mushroom burgers, Japanese rice balls (onigiri), 8-grain strawberry pancakes, Minnesota winter chili, and a kalamata-hummus trail wrap. Sound good? To cook just like an ultrarunning champion, you have to do more than just avoid animal products: you have to embrace ingredients like nutritional yeast, spirulina, and chia seeds, and processes like milling your own flour or making hemp milk at home. Scott Jurek does not mess around. I’m eager to try a few of the recipes and (as you probably know) I’m already well acquainted with hippie vegan ingredients, but I may stick to using store-bought flours and milks for now. The way Scott cooks and eats is an ideal — a standard befitting an athlete of his experience and abilities — but I think the average cook, vegan or not, can probably make the most out of these recipes even without that homemade hemp milk. As I try some of the recipes in the future, I will keep you posted.

Phidippides

On Thursday evening I had the opportunity to attend a group run and book signing event with Scott at Phidippides (the world’s oldest running store, owned by marathon legend Jeff Galloway!). Luckily, Thursdays happen to be work-from-home days for me, so I was able to make the two-hour drive up to Atlanta. It was worth it.

The Runners 

Photo from Phidippides, via FacebookA huge group of runners gathered at Phidippides for the 6:30 run — I suspect it was just a few more people than they usually have for their weekly group runs. Just a suspicion. It was cold and grey and misty outside, with temperatures in the 40s. If you read my running posts, you already know this is my favorite weather for running.

CanopyWe set off through the sidewalks of Atlanta, making a loop through Piedmont Park, and down the flowering, tree-lined hill back to the shop. Scott warned everyone that this wasn’t going to be a tempo run — he wanted to start in the front of the pack, then go more and more slowly to work his way back and try to run with as many folks as possible. I don’t think everyone got the “Not a Tempo Run” memo, however, as there were a lot of pounding feet and heavy breathing around me, courtesy of people who were clearly trying to increase the pace. Or maybe they were just excited and trying to catch up to where Scott was up ahead. At any rate, I never caught up to him and wound up finishing the run with the more moderately paced runners in the back of the pack.

Scott Jurek 

Photo from Phidippides, via FacebookAfter the run, we gathered in a large room next to the shop for Scott’s presentation. We watched a short movie that covered some of the events from the book: Scott’s start in ultrarunning in Minnesota, his journey toward a plant-based, vegan diet, and his experiences running all over the world. Scott then spoke, telling us some of his stories with an engaging voice and sense of humor. He’s an easy speaker to listen to — confident and easy-going and friendly. He took questions from as many of us as he could, and we had a chance to get our books signed and our photos taken.

Advice for my next adventure.Oh just me and ultrarunning legend Scott Jurek. You know, chillin'. How we do. No big deal.Can you tell I had a great time? I did.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that if you’re already a fan of Scott Jurek, you will really enjoy this book. If you aren’t already a fan, don’t worry; reading Eat & Run will fix that.

Spring Break, "Light" Reading

We had a lovely trip to Mississippi to visit Clarabella and family, which included a stop along the way to watch some of the Division 2 College Wrestling Champsionships. CW has a college friend who was coaching there and a family friend competing, so it was perfect that the tournament happened to be taking place halfway to our destination, on the night before we wanted to go. Good timing!

Wrestling

So we spent one night there and then went on to Mississippi the next day. It was lovely. We entertained ourselves with great conversation and tons of laughs, as usual. We ate fantastic food (which I did not photograph), and drank well, too. They have this very cool whiskey decanter, which was one of the only things I bothered to photograph the entire time:

Pour

I suppose I was too busy having fun to whip out the big camera.

Gone-Girl-book-cover

I borrowed a couple of books from Clarabella, one of which was Gone Girl. If you plan to read that book and don’t want any SPOILERS, maybe SKIP THIS NEXT PARAGRAPH (AND MAYBE THE COMMENTS, TOO):

So, I finished Gone Girl in less than 24 hours. Quite the page turner! I was utterly engrossed by the plot and characters, both in spite of and because of their terrible, sociopathic nature. I’m pretty sure I’ve known at least one Actual Sociopath in my life (though it’s hard to tell, sometimes, isn’t it?), and I admit to finding that type of mind and that type of behavior just as fascinating as I do appalling and frightening. I think it’s fascinating because it’s so awful, you know? Who do you have to be to sail through life with no conscience, no guilt, no sense of responsibility to any moral or ethical code? I think you just have to be someone missing some important component of what it is to be a human living in a society. And do you think all that applies to just Amy in the book, or to Nick, too? Did you read the book? Want to discuss in the comments?

OKAY, YOU CAN COME BACK NOW.

Since we’ve been back in town, I’ve been reading, catching up on TV, and generally relaxing. I’ll have to get a little work done this weekend to prepare for the return to school, but for now I’m ignoring that. The only ingredient missing from my spring break so far is a little warmer weather. I’m quite tired of running directly into an icy wind every time I step outside. My weather app tells me that we’ll be seeing the 70s again starting tomorrow, and for once, I’m finally looking forward to it. Spring, I am ready for you.

Cooking with John Irving

9781400063840_p0_v2_s260x420I recently finished reading John Irving’s latest novel, Last Night in Twisted River, and I loved it. It had been a while since I read one of his, and this one is as good as any. It really reminded me how much I enjoy his fiction — the pacing, the character development, the warm-but-wry tone he often has. Even his afterword, in which Irving detailed some of his writing process, was great. I’m afraid to spoil anything about the plot by explaining too much, but I will tell you that writers writing about writing happens to be one of my favorite things to read, so it was right up my alley.

Tonight I’m making pizza at home, and — what? Yes, this information is relevant, so hold on. Anyway, as I was saying, I am making pizza at home, which involves my easy semi-whole-wheat crust (recipe here). In honor of one of Irving’s characters, though, I changed the recipe. There’s a whole plot point in Last Night in Twisted River where the cook character, Dominic Baciagalupo, in a moment of food-genius inspiration, decides he wants to add honey to his pizza crust recipe.  Reading the book, I decided I definitely wanted to try it myself. Reading about cooking always makes me want to cook (and eat), you know? So I Baciagalupoed that crust right on up. It’s rising in the kitchen right now and I think it’s going to be great. The consistency of the dough just feels right. Better than usual. All I did, if you want to try it too, was add a tablespoon of honey along with the warm water and olive oil. I’ll let you know how it goes.

At any rate, it got me reflecting — I think I also learned how to fire-roast a bell pepper from another John Irving novel, but I can’t quite remember which. There’s a scene where the main character is roasting a bell pepper over the flame on his gas stove and then peeling off the burnt skin, and then gets distracted, maybe when his son runs out into the street? Or when he realizes his son is missing? Or something with a son? Is that in a John Irving novel? I feel like it is. The sort of tender realism with which he writes about cooking in Last Night in Twisted River really reminded me of the bell pepper scene I think I remember. It might be in A Widow for One Year, I thought, but there isn’t a father-son dynamic in that book, that I recall. It might be in The Fourth Hand, but I think all I really remember from that book is the weird sex stuff. I don’t think it’s in an earlier novel, but it could be. Then it occurred to me that it could even be from Don Delillo’s White Noise.

So, does any of that ring a bell? Help if you can! Google could not help. If you know of anything, I’ll be in the kitchen tossing that pizza dough in the air and thinking fondly of Dominic Baciagalupo.

Dirge Without Music

I intended to post something here this weekend, but after Friday’s events in Connecticut, it seemed silly to do my usual thing here. I didn’t know what to say about Connecticut either, though, so I didn’t say anything at all.

Saturday, my friend Emma shared her thoughts along with this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, who happens to be one of my favorite poets. I thought I’d post the poem here as well, since it seems right.

“Dirge Without Music”

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, — but the best is lost.

The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

— Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1928