Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Monday, October 29, 2012

On the Bookshelf—Review of The Casual Vacancy

I just read J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy over the weekend, and I'm raring to review it so no Monday Manifesto today.

It would be easy to spend this post comparing The Casual Vacancy to Harry Potter, but I'll try not to. I'll just say three things:

1. Rowling has, thankfully, cleaned up her adverb use since HP.
2. It's a bit disconcerting at first to hear our beloved author of children's books use certain terms referring to female genitalia.
3. This is in no way the sort of book that includes a wise old man spouting about how love is the greatest magic.

Now we've got that out of the way, on to the review!

The mistake ninety-nine percent of humanity made, as far as Fats could see, were being ashamed of what they were, lying about it, trying to be somebody else. Honesty was Fats' currency, his weapon and defense. It frightened people when you were honest; it shocked them. Other people, Fats had discovered, were mired in embarrassment and pretense, terrified that their truths might leak out, but Fats was attracted by rawness, by everything that was ugly but honest, by the dirty things about which the likes of his father felt humiliated and disgusted. Fats thought a lot about messiahs and pariahs; about men labeled mad or criminal; noble misfits shunned by the sleepy masses.
—from The Casual Vacancy

This is not the sort of book I'm normally drawn to (contemporary fiction, realistic fiction, politics), not the sort I normally pick up off the shelf and say "this sounds intriguing." The dull-as-rocks flap copy doesn't help either: "A big novel about a small town..." But I am so glad I read this book.

The basic plot is this: When Barry Fairbrother dies, different factions vie to put someone in his spot on the council. But this plot is merely a canvas on which to spin out the lives of the characters: failing marriages, abusive fathers, midlife crises, school bullies, heartbreak, addiction, dirty secrets. The young striving to overcome the faults of their parents but with plenty of faults of their own, their parents plodding through life, just trying to hold it together.

The book doesn't have a protagonist or clear antagonist, just a large rotating cast of characters. Every single character is so complex, so well drawn, each a mix of likable, sympathetic, flawed, mean. Howard Mollison is manipulative and uncharitable, but he's jovial and so endearing in his deerstalker cap working at his delicatessen. Sixteen-year-old Fats is intelligent and confident but also very cruel as he searches for a naive sense of authenticity. Krystal Weedon isn't just the vulgar and savage daughter of a heroin addict, she's funny and brave, can lead her rowing team to victory, and loves and cares for her younger brother. Even the dead Barry Fairbrother, who could easily be idealized post-mortem, is not perfect.

And it's all held together with razor wit, sharp insight, and beautiful precise language.

Well done, Rowling, well done.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sundry Sunday—Webcomics

If you've read my blog long enough, you know I love Kate Beaton and her webcomics. She doesn't post very often now she's doing tours and making books and who-knows-what, but the two quizzes she posted recently are hilarious. Here is part of the Queen Elizabeth Quiz:

6. Let us have black teeth because:
-It makes the smallpox scars less the first thing that people notice
-It's fashionable, unlike scurvy, which is disgusting
-More sweeties please

Here is her first set of quizzes and the Halloween quiz.

A great webcomic I just discovered this week is called Leftover Soup by Tailsteak. This is a comic with a storyline. The cast of characters include a gameboard-making chef savant, a D&D playing computer technician, and my favorite, a polyamorous vegan with the sense of a humor of a 12-year-old boy (despite being a 24-year-old woman). The comics aren't afraid to approach serious topics, to discuss religion and morals and whatnot, but every post ends with a punchline. You can find the first Leftover Soup comic here.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

On the Bookshelf—Four Halloween Storybooks

Here are four storybooks to get you and your kids in the mood for Halloween.

Humbug Witch by Lorna Balian. This book from 1965 is about a witch who can't seem to do anything right—she can't cackle, or fly on a broom, or make magic potions.

Cute pictures and an amusing story with a surprise ending. The witch's giant head started to creep me out by the end of the story—she reminds me of a villain in a Studio Ghibli film.

Old Devil Wind by Bill Martin Jr, illustrated by Barry Root. One dark and stormy night, a ghost starts wailing, a candle starts flickering, and the wind begins to blow...and blow...and blow...

Dark ambient illustrations. Repetition in the text will make this a fun read-aloud with little kids. I love the logic of this book: "Stool, why do you thump?"..."It is a dark and stormy night. Ghost wails and so I thump."

Dorrie and the Haunted House by Patricia Coombs. This is actually part of a series, but I've been having a little trouble getting a hold of the others. Dorrie is a little witch with mismatched socks who lives in a house with a tall, tall tower. When the witch and wizard community gets in a pickle—the Blue Ruby is stolen by bandits—the Big Witch tells Dorrie she can't help and needs to stay out of the way of the grown-ups. But when Dorrie wanders into a ghost-filled house, a surprise is waiting for her that might just change the Big Witch's mind. Fun pictures, an endearing protagonist, and an imaginative world. I'd love to join Dorrie at the end of the book for ghost stories and pancakes with purple syrup.

Los Gatos Black on Halloween by Marisa Montes, illustrated by Yuyi Morales. On el día de los muertos, the monsters come out. Los gatos hiss, las brujas fly, las tumbas open. But by the end of the night the monsters will meet the scariest thing of all.

Fun rhyming text studded with Spanish is paired with gorgeous, lively pictures in rich colors.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

In the Garden—Bulb Planting

I planted nine snowdrops, four pink impression tulips, six tulips simply called "pink and black," four Easter bonnet daffodils, four Peter Stuyvesant* hyacinths, and one iris. Last year I planted my tulips and daffodils in rows; this year I clustered them in groups of three. You're supposed to plant bulbs to a depth roughly three times their height. At the bottom of each hole I mixed organic bulb fertilizer with loose soil. Once buried, I layered on compost, then gave them a good dousing of water. The leftover compost I sprinkled over my strawberries and last year's bulbs.

I'll cover the entire garden in dead leaves soon, but the garden doesn't look ready to sleep yet. Tomatoes are still ripening on the vine, all my tomatoes and the pepper plant are flowering as if they haven't noticed the freezing temperatures at night, and a creeper that looked dead during the hot months has turned green and started flowering again.

Also, it snowed today.

Also, here are pictures of my sunflower and mums:

*Fun fact! Peter Stuyvesant was the Dutch Director-General of New Netherland from 1647 to 1664, whereupon New Netherland became New York.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Manifesto Monday—To Libertines

The Marquis de Sade's introduction to his Philosophy in the Bedroom isn't exactly a manifesto, and while I wouldn't advise exactly emulating the characters in his work, I love the gusto of the writing, and the sentiment.

from Philosophy in the Bedroom by Marquis de Sade

To Libertines

of all ages, and of every sex, and of every inclination; it it you to whom I dedicate this work. Your passions, which the cold and dreary moralists tell you to fear, are nothing more than the means by which Nature seeks to exhort you to do Her work; surrender to these passions, therefore, and let the principles enumerated herein nourish you.

Lewd women: emulate the voluptuous Saint-Ange; submit yourself to pleasure's divine laws and ignore all which contradict them.

Young virgins: emulate the fiery Eugénie, throw off the restraints of your ridiculous religion, spurn the precepts of your idiotic parents; yield, instead, to the laws of Nature which logic describes, and to the arms of those who would be your lovers.

Lascivious men: follow the crafty Domancé; acknowledge no government save that of your desires, no limits save those of your imagination; and learn from him that it is only in exploring and expanding the sphere of your tastes and whims that you will find true pleasure.

To all: let us realize that we have been cast into this woeful life without our consent and have been assailed from the dawn of consciousness with the sophistries of those who would gain from our confusion; if we would snatch a brief moment of pleasure—if we would plant an occasional rose along life's rocky path—we must sacrifice everything to the demands of our senses; this is the lesson of the Bedroom Philosophers....

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Great Outdoors—Kamiak Butte

A bit of the view from Kamiak Butte, Moscow Mountain on the left.

About 45 minutes northwest of Moscow, Idaho is a nice little hiking and camping area in Washington called Kamiak Butte, named after Chief Kamiakan of the Yakama tribe. What is now just a forested high point among farmland was once both sea and mountaing: The glittering reddish rocks of the butte were once an ancient seabed, and later the butte was part of a mountain range, until it was covered by a tertiary lava flow of basalt.

 A short hike, it's a somewhat steep 1/2 mile or so to the ridge. You can wander around on the ridge, sit on a bench of rock enjoying the view. The elevation here is 3,641 feet, the second highest point in Whitman County. You can see for miles all over the Palouse, from Moscow Mountain to the town marked by the Kibbie Dome to Pullman and even farther, making you realize just how close to each other are Moscow and Pullman. From this height, the Palouse hills are mere dips and swells, a mosaic of shadow and sunlight. A tiny truck drives down the highway that brought you here, and over there you spot a tractor moving.

In June, Kamiak Butte boasts birdsong and lots of wildflowers, a lovely hike. In October, it's fierce sunshine and chill air, silent but for one frog croaking. After leisurely enjoying the ridge, loop back down on a moist shadowed trail, invisible spiderwebs catching on your chin, and every once in a while Palouse farmland peaks through the evergreens, golden and luminous in the almost-setting sunshine. Before you leave, down by the parking lot take a quick swing on the swingset and slide down one of the slides.

If you'd like more information on visiting Kamiak Butte, go here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

On the Bookshelf—Review of the Chemical Garden Trilogy


Wither, first book in the Chemical Garden Trilogy, by Lauren DeStefano
Young Adult
Post-apocalyptic, Dystopian

On Saturday I read Fever, the second of the Chemical Garden Trilogy, in a single day, lying in bed listening to the wind in the autumn trees, eating chocolate. I think I read the first book, Wither, in a similarly short time in August. And now I'm anxiously awaiting February 12 when the third book, Sever, is published.

Imagine a time in the future: Scientists and doctors have found a way to fix genetic defects in babies. A generation of healthy, long-lived individuals is born. They in turn have children, but when this new generation matures, the women die at 20 and the men at 25. Every successive generation dies in their early twenties. Scientists can't figure out what's wrong.

Now there are only that first super generation, in their sixties and seventies, and the newer generations, all under 25. Orphanages train children to do the tasks adults normally would. To ensure the species survives, birth control has been outlawed, men take multiple wives, and girls become brides as young as 13. Some of these girls come from bride schools, girls who yearn to become the bride of a wealthy man. But many are forcefully wed, kidnapped off the street and sold to the highest bidder. Those who are not chosen are shot and left in the gutter.

This is the story of Rhine. Sixteen, an orphan, she is stolen from her twin brother and chosen as one of three brides by a young man named Linden. She enters a world of wealth and privilege with her sister-wives, but she knows she is little better than a slave. All she wants is to escape and return to her brother, the only family she has left. While plotting her escape, will she slowly succumb to the luxury that surrounds her? Will her old life become but a dream, as she is lulled into complacency by good food, maids at her beck and call, fancy parties? Will she forget that the shy but endearing Linden is both husband and captor?

But worse than all that is the looming threat of Linden's father, a doctor bent on curing his son's short life expectancy at any cost, a puppet master pulling strings in the background, enacting who knows what horrible experiments, hiding secrets in the basement.

And still, Rhine's life is ticking away. Just four years until she reaches twenty, just four years until she faces death, if she survives that long.

A post-apocalyptic YA, I feel The Chemical Garden Trilogy is a more feminine Hunger Games. It is better written than most YA, the prose elegant and contemplative and colorful. Rhine is intelligent and full of verve, just as a heroine should be. I love the bond that slowly grows between her and her (sometimes mysterious, sometimes annoying) sister-wives. Housemaster Vaughn, Rhine's mad scientist father-in-law, is seriously creepy. Oh yeah, and one of the servants is an attractive and sympathetic young man Rhine would like to get to know.

The second book of the trilogy is just as good as the first, at times colorful and haunting, at others frightening and disturbing. I found myself becoming nostalgic along with Rhine for situations in the first book (can't give more detail than that, spoilers!).

If you enjoy YA, The Chemical Garden Trilogy is well worth your time.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Manifesto Monday—Thirty-two Statements About Writing Poetry

Is it Monday? I think it's Monday. In the hope it's Monday, here's a manifesto.

"Thirty-two Statements About Writing Poetry"
Marvin Bell

1. Every poet is an experimentalist.
2. Learning to write is a simple process: read something, then write something; read something else, then write something else. And show in your writing what you have read.
3. There is no one way to write and no right way to write.
4. The good stuff and the bad stuff are all part of the stuff. No good stuff without bad stuff.
5. Learn the rules, break the rules, make up new rules, break the new rules.
6. You do not learn from work like yours as much as you learn from work unlike yours.
7. Originality is a new amalgam of influences.
8. Try to write poems at least one person in the room will hate.
9. The I in the poem is not you but someone who knows a lot about you.
10. Autobiography rots.
11. A poem listens to itself as it goes.
12. It’s not what one begins with that matters; it’s the quality of attention paid to it thereafter.
13. Language is subjective and relative, but it also overlaps; get on with it.
14. Every free verse writer must reinvent free verse.
15. Prose is prose because of what it includes; poetry is poetry because of what it leaves out.
16. A short poem need not be small.
17. Rhyme and meter, too, can be experimental.
18. Poetry has content but is not strictly about its contents. A poem containing a tree may not be about a tree.
19. You need nothing more to write poems than bits of string and thread and some dust from under the bed. 20. At heart, poetic beauty is tautological: it defines its terms and exhausts them
21. The penalty for education is self-consciousness. But it is too late for ignorance.
22. What they say “there are no words for”–that’s what poetry is for. Poetry uses words to go beyond words.
23. One does not learn by having a teacher do the work.
24. The dictionary is beautiful; for some poets, it’s enough.
25. Writing poetry is its own reward and needs no certification. Poetry, like water, seeks its own level.
26. A finished poem is also the draft of a later poem.
27. A poet sees the differences between his or her poems but a reader sees the similarities.
28. Poetry is a manifestation of more important things. On the one hand, it’s poetry! On the other, it’s just poetry.
29. Viewed in perspective, Parnassus is a very short mountain.
30. A good workshop continually signals that we are all in this together, teacher too.
31. This Depression Era jingle could be about writing poetry: Use it up / wear it out / make it do / or do without.
32. Art is a way of life, not a career.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

In the Garden—Autumn

I love autumn. I think the transition seasons—spring and autumn—are my favorites. Autumn blew in one evening a couple weeks ago, with dark winds that made me think of tornadoes.

When I first feel autumn in the air, the whole world seems different and wonderful; that crisp air has an ambiance aided by layers of memory. There's nostalgia for autumn in Bellingham: walking down S. College Drive with Katie, wind buffeting us backwards, the rows of trees with their changing leaves; a pot of mulled apple cider on the stove of Lavender Corner and pumpkin muffins in the oven, warm spices in the air; listening to the Hazards of Love while it storms outside. But there's also memories from first moving to Idaho, the little joys autumn would bring me that punctuated my loneliness as I slowly settled in: the vibrancy of fall sunshine, different in Idaho than on my side of the mountains; listening to a Halloween station on Pandora while painting a giant Miller Lite can for a costume exchange; carving a pumpkin, sticking a glow stick in it, and putting it in front of my apartment to lure in trick-or-treaters, my first residence that was accessible to costumed children*; making mummy dogs for the first time.

Right now fall is at its best—the reds of the leaves contrasting so beautifully with the green still on trees. This is what I call Mabon season, or sometimes Mabon moving into Samhain—we can break out cozy scarves and cardigans, the leaves are a gorgeous rainbow echoed by yellow and russet mums in planters, but there are still petunias overflowing from pots and the farmer's market is still full of apples and pears and sweet corn and jewels of concord grapes, and we can still relish the last of the plums.

One of my strawberry plants in my garden is valiantly flowering, hoping to lure in a bee. My sunflower is blooming like there's no tomorrow. Despite the leaves of my tomato seeming to rot on the stem from the cold, tomatoes are still turning orange on its vines. My other two tomatoes, barely holding on all summer, had finally started flowering in September, giving me last-minute hope, just before the cold snap came and ruined it all. I bought a pot of russet mums, and they cheer up my doorstep something wonderful. This late in my Idaho career, I'm only putting energy into perennials I can take back to Washington with me, these chrysanthemums and my flower bulbs included.

I'll plant more bulbs soon, a few tulips as well as some snow drops and an iris I bought at the Lentil Festival. I'll check the stores for dark purple hyacinths I can pair with bright daffodils, and then all spring I can giggle to myself and make Homer allusions and toss my hair. I've been debating whether it's better to plant bulbs in a waning moon or waxing moon, and finally decided on waxing. Clear nights lately have displayed a lovely crescent moon (reminding me of someone who once called the crescent moon God's fingernail), and after Monday's new moon I'll get those bulbs in the ground.

The end of October will be a good time to dig grass and weeds out of the stepping stones around my house, and then tuck my bulbs in with a layer of compost and leaves before the cold of winter.

What's your favorite part of autumn?

*No trick-or-treaters came.

Friday, October 12, 2012

On the Bookshelf—Two Adorable Children's Books

Need a dose of cute? Try these books:

Panda and Polar Bear by Matthew J. Baek

Little Polar Bear lives on top of an icy cliff. One day he falls down the cliff and discovers himself in a warm green world he never knew about. He soon makes a friend, a little panda bear, and the two of them play games and have fun. But Polar Bear misses his family. Can he and Panda find a way for him to get back home? What will happen to the two new friends?

The two bears, inventing games and having fun, are just like two real kids. The illustrations are lovely, the bears adorable. And there's a surprise at the end of this story about two different worlds interacting.

Bears on Chairs by Shirley Parenteau, illustrated by David Walker

Possibly the most adorable book ever. Four stuffed bears (Calico Bear, Fuzzy Bear, Yellow Bear, and Floppy Bear) find four chairs that fit them perfectly. But what happens when Big Brown Bear comes? What if Big Brown Bear wants to sit down? Told in fun rhyme and illustrated in pretty pastels, this story will teach your child the joys of sharing. But who cares about moral lessons for children when you can look at pictures of the cutest cuddliest bears ever?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Monday Manifesto—If You Want to Write

I'm about to work on a story I have due this week, and to get me in the spirit I just re-read the first chapter of Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write, published in 1938. The book is more of a writing manifesto then a book of technical help. It's lively and passionate and funny. Whether you write or paint or sing or bake cakes, whatever it is you do, Ueland can tell you a thing or two about doing it with gusto.

from If You Want to Write

I have been writing a long time and have learned some things, not only from my own long hard work, but from a writing class I had for three years. In this class were all kinds of people: prosperous and poor, stenographers, housewives, salesmen, cultivated people and little servant girls who had never been to high school, timid people and bold ones, slow and quick ones.

This is what I learned: that everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.

Everybody is talented because everybody who is human has something to express. Try not expressing anything for twenty-four hours and see what happens. You will nearly burst. You will want to write a long letter or draw a picture or sing, or make a dress or a garden. Religious men used to go into the wilderness and impose silence on themselves, but it was so that they would talk to God and nobody else. But they express something: that is to say they had thoughts welling up in them and the thoughts went out to someone, whether silently or aloud.

Writing or painting is putting these thoughts on paper. Music is singing them. That is all there is to it.

Everybody is original, if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself. But it must be from his true self and not from the self he thinks he should be. Jennings at Johns Hopkins, who knows more about heredity and the genes and chromosomes than any man in the world, says that no individual is exactly like any other individual, that no two identical persons have ever existed. Consequently, if you speak or write from yourself you cannot help being original.

So remember these two things: you are talented and you are original. Be sure of that. I say this because self-trust is one of the very most important things in writing.


You must practice not perfunctorily, but with all your intelligence and love... A great musician once told me that one should never play a single note without hearing it, feeling that it is true, thinking it beautiful.

And so now you will begin to work at your writing. Remember these things. Work with all your intelligence and love. Work freely and rollickingly as though they were talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at all know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sundry Sunday—Alex Day, Psy, and John Green

Here are three videos and a quote I've been digging this week.

  • This music video by Alex Day is awesomely geeky. The bits in front of the spinning color background crack me up. After watching the video a couple times, I found myself singing it to myself.

  • Technically, I've been digging this Psy video for two months. And chances are you've already seen it, since it's become hugely popular. But in case you haven't seen it. Any time the gentleman and I hang out, there is a good chance one of us will start singing "Heeeeeeeeey sexy lady..." or start riding an imaginary horse. We've even discussed being the two guys in the elevator for Halloween; that guy in the elevator is just so happy, and wonderful, and he makes me so happy.

  • And finally, a couple things from John Green. By now, you probably know I adore John Green. He is funny and insightful and so very smart. Here's a recent video about what to do with your life: 

  • And here's a quote:

You can buy the poster with the quote here.

What are you digging this week?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Manifesto Monday—Pigeon Manifesto

Welcome to Jujubes and Aspirins' new tradition of Manifesto Monday! If you wondered why last week there was no manifesto, it is because I haven't had internet and only posted on the days I had time to visit a computer lab.

This week's manifesto is an excerpt from Michelle Tea's poem "Pigeon Manifesto." You can read the entire poem here.

from "Pigeon Manifesto"
Michelle Tea

The revolution will not begin in your backyard because you do
not have a backyard...

The revolution will begin at your curb, in the shallow pool of
shade that is your gutter. The revolution will begin with the
pigeon bobbing hungry in the street—it is now your job to love
her. It is now your job to not avert your eyes from her feet, your
job to seek out and find the one pigeon foot that is blobbed in
a chemical melt, a pink-orange glob, a wad of bubble gum. The
pigeon splashed in a pool of chemicals laid out to kill it because
so many of the people hate the pigeons. This is now why you
must love them. We must love the nature that does not make it
onto the Discovery Channel, onto Animal Planet. We must love
the nature that crawls up to our doorstep like sparechangers
and scares us with the thickness of their feathers, their mutant
feet and orange eyes. Someone could have made dinner with the
rice on the corner but instead they sprinkled it on the curb with
the hope that hungry pigeons ate it, and that the grain would
expand in their stomachs, tearing them open, felling them in
the street, plump and feathered and dead in the gutter. I think
perhaps this does not even work, because I watch the pigeons
peck at the rice and fly off on grey wings. I hardly ever see
them dead in spite of how many people try to kill them.

Pigeons are doves. They are rock doves...
...What you might not know is when you call a pigeon a
rat with wings you have given it a compliment. The only thing
a rat lacks is a pair of wings to lift them, so you have named the
pigeon perfect. When you say to me I hate pigeons I want to
ask you who else you hate.