Friday, July 21, 2017

Braiding Sweetgrass

Botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about humanity’s damaged relationship to the natural world in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.

“If time could run backward, like a film in reverse, we would see this mess reassemble itself into lush green hills and moss-covered ledges of limestone. The streams would run back up the hills to the springs and the salt would stay glittering in underground rooms.” 

“Never take the first plant you find, as it might be the last—and you want that first one to speak well of you to the others of her kind.” 

“The land is the real teacher. All we need as students is mindfulness.” 

“We need acts of restoration, not only for polluted waters and degraded lands, but also for our relationship to the world. We need to restore honor to the way we live, so that when we walk through the world we don’t have to avert our eyes with shame, so that we can hold our heads up high and receive the respectful acknowledgment of the rest of the earth’s beings.” 


Just as I finished reading Kimmerer’s book, I came across this article which only reinforces her thesis. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Summer Reads

The high temperature lately has been 77 degrees, which counts as sweltering in the Seattle area. However, the sun is shining. Brightly! Consistently! So midway through July, I’ve conceded it’s summer.

These books have just become available on my Overdrive wait list, and so by default, comprise a summer reading list of sorts. Whether historical or contemporary, fiction or memoir, they all captured my attention and provided the most essential quality of any good summer read – escape.

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Who thought this was a good idea? By Alyssa Mastromonaco

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

We were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter


Need a second (or fifth) opinion?






Friday, July 7, 2017

Tell the Wolves

I suspect this week’s challenge intended for me to read a romance of the bodice-ripper variety. However, Tell the Wolves I’m Home is a romance of the not-a-dry-eye-in-the-house variety.

It’s 1986. Greta and her sister June are having their portrait painted by their uncle Finn. When Finn’s farewell kiss on the top of the head causes June to wash her hair three times, the reader is reminded of the early, fearful days of the AIDS epidemic.

Finn dies. June mourns the loss of not only Finn, but their trips to the Cloisters and afternoons spent listening to his Requiem recordings.  

When Finn’s prized Russian teapot shows up on her doorstep, June discovers Finn had kept his relationship with Toby a secret during all those visits to his (actually, their) apartment in the city.  
Toby and June begin meeting to share stories of Finn and to help one another through their loss. As Toby’s own health begins to deteriorate, the whole family must come to terms with the man Finn loved.


Carol Rifka Brunt captures perfectly not only June’s teenage rebellion and sadness, but the complicated relationships that make up a family. Through Finn’s loss, she begins to realize her parents are people with feelings and dreams, not just stressed-out accountants. She learns more of her mother’s sacrifices and the artistic gifts she shares with her brother. Most importantly, she learns she doesn’t have a monopoly on love.

Friday, June 30, 2017

“Everything is under control”

I first read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in July of 1992. It was the summer before my senior year in high school. Along with reading, my diary recounts days spent babysitting my two-year-old sister, practicing piano and typing, making dinner using a new-fangled product called Boboli, taking tennis lessons, listening to Janis Joplin, and accompanying my mother to her doctor appointments for the baby due that August.

My 17-year-old assessment of the book? “Very, very creepy. It seems almost possible.”

My 42-year-old assessment? “Very, very creepy. It seems almost possible.”

Using my new-fangled Kindle, I highlighted the following as plausible:

“It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the president and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time. Keep calm, they said on television. Everything is under control.”

“Better? I say, in a small voice. How can he think this is better? Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse, for some.”


“As the architects of Gilead knew, to institute an effective totalitarian system or indeed any system at all you must offer some benefits and freedoms, at least to a privileged few, in return for those you remove.”

Friday, June 23, 2017

Be Frank with Me

To Kill a Mockingbird –type novel Pitch is on every school’s reading list. Author Mimi Banning retreats from the limelight never to publish again. Or so she thought. 

After losing her money to a Ponzi scheme, Mimi is given no choice but to write another book. Her publisher hires Alice Whitley to fly to California and watch over Mimi’s 9-year-old, so she can complete the task.

Alice has her hands full with Frank. A fan of movie-inspired fashion, arcane trivia, and routine, Frank charms as much as he exasperates. With the help of Banning’s friend and part-time handyman Xander, Alice is able to entertain, console, and care for Frank. Xander entertains Alice.

Frank, who can expound on the national dance of the Dominican Republic, the link between tax filing day and the Titanic, and the works of Picasso, doesn’t do so well fitting in.  A bullying incident at school requires him to abandon his top hat for the guise of a normal kid - khakis. This doesn't do much for his spirit. 

Alice's solution is to give Frank a break from school. All is going well, or at least not any worse. Mimi even comes close to finishing her book. However, an ill-timed birthday present for Frank proves disastrous for everyone. Mimi disappears, and Mimi’s publisher, Mr. Vargas, is forced to fly in for the rescue.

The novel’s romance, humor, and sleuthing are punctuated with bits from old movies, Frank’s trivia, and Alice’s insecurities. It’s as madcap as it is heartwarming. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Cogmakers

In middle school, I had a trio of teachers who were all in their first or second year of teaching.  Filled with youthful enthusiasm, they let us do things like sauté mushrooms over a Bunsen burner. They also let us play games, mostly review games, but still games.

Probably one of the only facts I retained from 8th grade science was a trick for remembering the difference between latitude and longitude that came up during one review game, mostly because it resulted in not only my cheeks, but my whole entire scalp, face, and neck blushing bright red. In middle school my hair was long enough to get caught in the metal rivets in the seat backs. To demonstrate longitude, the teacher pointed at me and said,"See, the lines go up and down like her long hair."

I haven’t given much thought to longitude since putting down my pencil on the last science test I took. However when faced with the challenge to read a nonfiction book about technology, I was intrigued by a book called Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel.

“The measurement of longitude meridians…is tempered by time.” Seems straightforward enough until you remember that before the 1700s, there wasn’t a reliable time keeper that could be taken to sea.

By 1714, this problem of calculating longitude had become so pressing that a reward was being offered to the one who could solve it. Various methods were considered: lunar distance, magnetic compasses, signal boats at sea, and yes, wounded dogs.

Enter English clock maker John Harrison. Harrison succeeded in developing, over the course of his lifetime, several clocks that proved seaworthy - clocks that ship navigators know as chronometers.

Sobel sets out this curious history in a readable, fascinating, dare I say, page-turner. Not once did I feel compelled to blush.

Friday, June 9, 2017

"And you don't feel you could love me/But I feel you could."

I’ll gladly read any book that begins with an epigraph quoting Paul Simon. After reading the collection of stories Single, Carefree, Mellow, I’ll gladly read anything by Katherine Heiny.

Reminiscent of books like The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank, the pleasure is in the telling.

Most stories examine either an affair or the fall-out from an affair. There’s Nina who finds out the neighbor she has been seeing has been involved with another neighbor. There’s Josie who expresses the frustration of googling an ex’s ex.  She asks, “Do you know how many women there are in Boston named Lisa who work as paralegals and have red hair and potentially went to Billy’s high school?” Finally, there’s Maya who appears in several stories dealing with her dog’s illness, affair with her boss, and nascent pregnancy.

Some stories rely on the rare second person pov. This usually makes me think of books by this author, but in this case evokes a confidant – a parent, like you, sitting on the bathroom floor thinking, “All that stands between you and champagne is the bedtime story.”


After the kids are asleep (and the champagne has been downed), this book will do quite nicely for your own bedtime story.