Sunday Sum-Up

So this week was up and down. It marked my last pottery class. We spent most of our time glazing or otherwise decorating our pots and cups in between playing with a cute dog (one of the students brought her dog because her neighbors were going nuts with the fireworks, and the poor pup was terrified) and eating cookies. It was a good way to end a fun class.

On Independence Day, I went over to friends’ for dinner and fireworks. I didn’t light any of the fireworks. I just tried to photograph them. That didn’t go well, and it all ended when I’d had enough of  being bitten by mosquitoes. I went inside just in time to watch my friends send up five of the six artillery shells they’d bought. The last one did not launch properly and blew up about five feet off the ground, which made for a loud and unpleasant surprise. While one of my friends screamed quite shrilly, no one was harmed.

Friday was an awful day. It started out just fine, but I’d been at work for about fifteen minutes when our internet service went out and remained out all day long. I spent far too many frustrating minutes on the phone trying to get through to our internet provider and got precisely nowhere. While my coworkers did manage to get through, they got different stories about what was wrong. Our service was finally restored Saturday morning, and all the tech could say was “X happened, and I have no idea why. Everything’s working now, though, so have a nice day”.

It was enough to drive a girl to drinking. Or to the bookstore. I went to the bookstore. Naturally.

I finished three books this week! Two of them were novellas, so I don’t feel like this was a mind-boggling feat. The first was Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic, which I loved!  Sjón’s Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was is good, but a little strange. I was expecting the strangeness, but the very ending was just weird and it was hard to tell what, exactly Sjón meant there, even though I read the last couple of pages a few times to try and figure out what had happened. Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom is an amazing and somewhat disturbing novella set in New York in 1920. It has hints of H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos, and while I have a love/meh relationship with that particular flavor of horror, The Ballad of Black Tom is one of the best Lovecraftian tale I’ve ever read.

 

My current reads include Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and I just picked up Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister today after it came in for me at the library. I’ve never read any of Mark Lawrence’s other books, but I’ve only heard good things about Red Sister. It is apparently another teenage-girl-assassin book. My track record hasn’t been very good with that type of book, but I’m looking forward to this one.

Looking at these covers side by side, I realize just how different they are. Their similarities? They are both about young women, and both are written in English. We’ll see if they share anything else.

I found another podcast! LeVar Burton ReadsIn this podcast, LeVar Burton performs short works of fiction, mostly science fiction (which surprises no one), with some sound effects and a bit of music to help set scene and mood. I’ve only listened to one episode so far, The Lighthouse Keeper, but I loved it and plan to listen to more of them later today. It is a little weird listening to it, given that I watched both Reading Rainbow and Star Trek: The Next Generation, both of which he starred in. I’d watch Star Trek: TNG one night, and then watch Reading Rainbow the next day. It was strange to watch Geordie LaForge talk about kids’ books, but my six year-old self got over it quickly enough. LeVar Burton Reads is the grown-up version of Reading Rainbow.

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Sunday Sum-Up

I can’t complain about the weather this time. It’s been absolutely gorgeous. No one is running their air conditioners, everyone’s windows are open, and the neighborhood kids are spending their evenings outside. Fireflies are everywhere, and so too, it seems are playful dogs. In other words, it’s practically paradise around here. I’ve been taking advantage of the break in the hot weather by taking walks around a nearby college campus. With classes out for the summer, it’s incredibly quiet and full of singing birds, chirping crickets, the nightly cicadas, and the chatter of the occasional offended squirrel.

I’ve gotten a lot of reading done this week, finishing up both The Soul of the Camera by David duChemin and The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. They are both excellent books.

The Soul of the Camera stays away from technical information. There is no talk of aperture or shutter speed or back vs. front-lighting. The camera itself is treated like the tool it is, and duChemin talks about the photographer’s importance in the making of the image. It’s your vision that creates the photograph, he says, it’s your ability to be patient and wait for the right moment to unfold in front of you. It’s your ability to see the world around you and pay attention to how things are that makes a memorable photograph. The camera is secondary to that. If you’re interested in the art and craft of photography beyond the basic technical skills, I would highly recommend The Soul of the Camera.

My current reads are Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain, a book I downloaded during an exceptionally slow and boring day at work today, and Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas which downloaded automatically after being on hold for me for several weeks. I keep hearing about Sarah J. Maas’s books and about how  much people like them, so I figured I would give them a try. I haven’t started on Throne of Glass yet, but I should be able to start it fairly soon, since I’m three-quarters of the way through Medium Raw. 

I have to admit I’m a bit dubious about Throne of Glass. I mean, it involves a tournament of thieves and assassins, people who would logically be doing their best to not be found by royal officials. There is also a love triangle, which makes me roll my eyes, but I’ve heard that it’s relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. I haven’t really read any other ‘teenaged assassin’ books so as long as it’s better than Robin LaFevers’s Grave Mercy, it will be the best of that particular type of book I’ve ever read (note: I hated Grave Mercy. I thought the main character was a temperamental dolt who should have been taken out by one of her fellow teenage-girl-assassins, because the other girl was far more interesting and way more intelligent).

But in the spirit of trying new things, I’ll give it a go.


I did not finish Glen Cook’s The Black Company. I gave it about 80 pages, but I never could connect with any of the characters- not even the narrator, Croaker- and it always felt like things were coming out of the blue, event-wise. Like, they’d be chilling in their quarters, and someone was suddenly poisoned, and then half a page later they were conducting a raid on a rival company’s stronghold. I never could get a grasp on the world, its geography, or its history, culture, or ideals. Not really, anyway. It just seemed like everyone was trying to kill everyone else, and then, ‘look! Were-creatures are on the loose! We’re going over here now so we can ignore the were-creatures!’. I know a lot of people love this book and the ensuing series, but it just didn’t connect with me. There is an upcoming television show based on it. I’m hoping it will be a good one, and that I’ll like it more than the book.

Sunday Sum-Up, or The Best Laid Plans of Mice

This week was an example of best plaid plans going somewhat awry. Not awry in a terrible way. More like, “I planned to do this, but I guess I’m going to do this other thing instead”. Part of it was due to the weather, which went mad with storms on Thursday and Friday, with Friday’s storm throwing hail, heavy rains, wind gusts of up to 88mph (100mph in Omaha, where several houses were destroyed), and a small tornado that touched down just three blocks from my apartment! Three blocks! And the tornado sirens didn’t go off!

Luckily, it was a very small tornado and touched down in an open field that belongs to the University’s agricultural college, so there was no damage. Around town, a lot of trees, tree branches, and power lines were downed and a lot of people lost electricity. It was not as bad as it could have been, though. No one was injured, even though this was a huge storm system that swept across the entire eastern section of the state.

Yesterday was thunderstorm-free, though it was cloudy all day and started raining off and on again. I had made plans to see the Flatwater Shakespeare Company’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor at a park near where I work, but I decided not to because of the rain. It’s an outdoor production, so lousy weather is definitely a factor. Fortunately, it’s running for another couple of weeks, so I have more chances to see it.

Hence, ‘the best laid plans of mice’:

 

I went to the theater to see two movies this week! That’s more than I usually see in a month! First off was A Quiet Passion starring Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle.

imagesThis was an odd movie. It had a stellar cast and beautiful locations, but it was presented and shot very strangely. The actors spoke in turn without interrupting each other, even when they were angry, like they were in a play instead of a film. And while the language was period appropriate and went right along with the costumes and sets, it sounded strange coming out of their mouths. So while it was good overall, I don’t think I’d recommend A Quiet Passion unless you are a die-hard Emily Dickinson fan.

 

 

I had to take my car in for a lengthy repair on my day off, and because Panera prefers to refrigerate their customers, I decided not to stick around and read like I had planned to do. Fortunately, there was  a movie theater nearby, so I decided to go see a movie instead of slowly freezing to death while reading at Panera.

The movie I saw:

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Let me start by saying that I hadn’t intended to see this when it came out. When they announced it way back, I thought, “Oh. Another superhero movie. Great”.  I was going to let it pass me by, when I saw a post about it online regarding the fact that it stars a woman and is directed by a woman (and also, the screenwriter is a gay guy). The commenter stated that seeing Wonder Woman was like having the scales fall off her eyes regarding superhero movies. Finally, she said, there’s a superhero who isn’t being portrayed specifically for the male gaze. It’s not all T&A, or stick-thin actresses in corsets and stiletto heels. Here, the Amazons are powerful women with a range of skin color and body types, all of them with actual muscles, looking like they could wade into a battle and kick everyone’s ass. And who was leading them? Hippolyta, played by Robin Wright, a 51 year old woman in an action role in Hollywood where women are considered ‘old’ when they hit 30.

And can we talk about Gal Gadot as Diana? Another woman with muscles! And she’s not a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl with an All-American accent. She’s obviously from ‘somewhere else’ (aka Themyscira), and that’s the way it should be. She’s an Amazon warrior. She shouldn’t sound like she’s from Iowa. Her armor, too, fits the character. The short skirt and sleeveless top don’t seem like they’re meant to show off her body so much as to mimic the armor of ancient Greek warriors. You know, like the Spartans who held off the massive Persian army long enough to let the rest of the Greek city-states gather to defend their homeland. And maybe there were a couple of missteps in the film, but they weren’t enough to bother me. I loved Wonder Woman.

Something else notable…  the battle scenes- with the Amazons on the beach of Themyscira, and later with Diana charging the German forces by herself- honestly made me cry. Not because some syrupy emotional element had been added in, or because I was scared that Diana was going to die or anything like that. It was because- finally– there is a portrayal of a woman warrior who can lead the charge, wield a weapon as well as any man, and fight for what she believes in without needing a man to speak for her or defend her. I didn’t realize how much that would mean to me, or how it really has been lacking in Hollywood. Historically, women have been warriors. Viking, Anglo-Saxon, Sarmatian, and other cultures I can’t think of right now have graves of warrior women that have been found, and more will be revealed as archaeologists and historians go back and test the DNA of the bones found in previously unearthed graves.

Diana, Princess of Themyscira, might have been an anomaly when she was first dreamed up, but history is coming to show that she is not such a lonely figure after all.

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Now, onto books! I finished Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe, Roshani Chokhi’s The Star-Touched Queen, and Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. The Glass Universe brings many women scientists out of obscurity and describes how their work- often derided as mere drudgery- was truly revolutionary and in many ways laid down the foundations of modern astronomy. Thanks to Edward Pickering, who hired the first women at his observatory at Harvard, many women were able to get their start and contribute to the study of the stars.

Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything is pretty much that. He discusses nearly every branch of science, goes into their history and talks about the various scientists (and their oddities) who contributed to their fields, and discusses the field itself. Physics, quantum physics, biology, chemistry, geology and others all get their say in this book, which is written with the same sort of wry humor as the other books I’ve read by Bryson.

 

I’m still working on Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, which I had to put aside for a bit so I could finish up A Short History of Nearly Everything before it was due back at the library. I’m looking forward to delving further into The Bear and the Nightingale! I haven’t gotten any further into Glen Cook’s The Black Company. I’ll try to get through more of it this week.


My pottery class is going well. It helps that we all have a background in art and have done at least some work on the potter’s wheel, so the teacher isn’t have to start with the “What is clay?” lecture. We dove right in, and the technique mostly came back, even though it’s been years since I had a lump of clay in my hands. The next class is tomorrow night, where we’ll learn about trimming pots.

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Proof that we are, indeed making things and not just eating cake and drinking beer (though we’re doing all three).

Christmas Decor

I don’t do much decorating for Christmas. I have a small apartment with very little storage space to begin with, and I work extra hours during the holidays. When I get home for the night, I don’t want to spend my time putting up a host of sparkly decorations that my cat is going to knock down anyway. So my Christmas decorations are minimal.

DSC09980As in, I have two. A figurine of  a penguin in a Santa hat, and the little owl (pictured here). Everything else in my life is all done up for Christmas- work, stores, and friends’ houses, so I don’t feel the need to put up a bunch of stuff that I’ll have to store for eleven months. I find the holiday spirit for home in things like peppermint hot chocolate, mulled wine, and brightly frosted cookies.

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I’ve finished reading a couple of short books of poetry- E.E. Cummings’s 100 Selected Poems, and Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair.

Cummings is a constant surprise. His writing seems so childlike, and yet the actual poems can be about war, a near loathing of humanity, or sex. Neruda is just sexy.

I’m in the middle of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Like most of my books, I bought my copy at the local used bookstore. I don’t know who gave up this gorgeously illustrated, near perfect condition book, but they’re missing out- on poetry and small works of art bound together into one slim volume.

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