June Reading Summary

I’ve got the worst fucking impulse control. The library book drops and the Barnes and Nobles reopened this week, which means I got rid of a stack of books and bought even more books and also a couple of new bookmarks because I buy too many bookmarks.

Also, BN had this sign in the SF section. I died.


June Reading Stats

Books Finished:

  1. The Book of Longings – Sue Monk Kidd
  2. The Girl with the Louding Voice – Abi Daré
  3. SPY X FAMILY 1 – Tatsuya Endo
  4. Dune – Frank Herbert

Total Pages Read: 1,528

If I hadn’t been reading Louding Voice with Jennicorn, I’m not sure I would’ve kicked the reading slump that carried me most of the way through June. Fortunately, since we were buddy-reading, I had greater motivation towards the end of the month and even managed to finish Dune, which I spent most of June avoiding. It didn’t actually take me a month to read it; I zipped through the bulk of it during the last three days of June because I went on a mental health staycation on July 1 and didn’t want Dune hanging over my head during my break.

I’m not really sure why I had such a hard time motivating myself to read Dune, because I actually liked it despite the long rambling chapters that Paul, Jessica, and Liet-Kynes spent lost and hallucinating in the desert. (For the record, those were super fucking long and not a lot of fun to read.) I didn’t really know what to expect from the book and it had some of the hallmarks I would expect from a book written in the ’60s, but overall it held up pretty well mostly because of Chani and Alia my god I need a book that’s just about them being the total badasses that they are. Also I fell hard for the sandworms because they’re nosy and unintentionally destructive and now I really want one for a pet so I can feed my enemies to it.

Next up: Dune Messiah. All of the Dune Chronicles books except for Messiah average 500-700 pages and I have no idea why they have to be so long. My mom’s already told me God Emperor of Dune is the next best after Dune and that’s fourth in the series, so I’ve got a ways to go. Good thing the movie isn’t coming out till December. 😖


Current Reads

I’m currently at 331 pages for July, helped along by my staycation and the week-long readathon I’ve been participating in, both of which have greatly boosted my motivation. I also learned that I’ll be off all of next week as well, which I was less pleased about, but, hey, more time for reading!

Last night I decided I’d start trying to read 100 pages per day, at least for the month of July, which hopefully will help speed me through the rest of the Dune series and keep me from falling into any reading potholes. July got off to a strong start thanks to Heart Berries, which was beautiful and excruciating and short enough for me to finish in one day, and I really want to keep the momentum going for as long as I can. I think it’ll help if I establish a book calendar and don’t waste time dithering over what I’m going to read next. I’m at 50/60 books and have a good shot at making it to 75 if I stay on target, so let’s do this thing!!!

Reading Now

  1. Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi
  2. Miss Iceland – Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

Not to break my arm patting my back, but my reading choices this year have been spot-on so far. There’s been some ups and downs, of course, but I haven’t read anything that I would say was truly awful, which makes a nice change from last year. Last year ended with me slogging through The Amber Spyglass, which – along with The Subtle Knife – was some of the worst crap I’ve ever read. I made it through the His Dark Materials series out of sheer spite, which is really a pity because I loved The Golden Compass. Unfortunately for me, I also read the Chronicles of Prydain right before His Dark Materials, and it was so. Fucking. BORING. I feel like I might have enjoyed it at least somewhat if I’d read it as a kid, but even that I kind of doubt.

Anyway.

2020’s reading choices have been a lot better than the ones I made at the end of 2019, and my current reads are no exception. Homegoing starts with two half-sisters born in Ghana in the eighteenth century and then follows their descendants as they make their way to America. The book is structured as several interconnecting short stories; each story follows one character through one defining moment in their life, after which their story ends, unless they appear in another character’s chapter. You’d think there wouldn’t be enough time to get attached to the extensive cast, but you’d be so wrong. I’m planning to finish this one tonight, because it’s endlessly fascinating and almost impossible to put down. (I also really appreciate the inclusion of the family tree at the very beginning, without which I might be slightly more confused.)

Miss Iceland has also been good to me so far, though I made the same mistake I made with Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and assumed Miss Iceland would be lighthearted fun. It’s not. However, since it talks about LGBTQ rights, I’m not inclined to complain. (I also managed to snatch the only copy on the shelf at BN when I went looking for it. Coincidence? Fate? Either one works for me.)

Miss Iceland is the story of Hekla Gottskálksdóttir, a young woman in early-1960s Iceland, who was named after a volcano and wishes to become a published writer. To that end, she packs a copy of Ulysses, a typewriter, and her first manuscript and takes the bus from her family’s farm to Reykjavík, where she moves in with her queer friend Jón John. So far she’s encountered sexism, harassment, and homophobia (against Jón), and if she doesn’t get published by the end of this I’m going to scream.

I’ll admit that I don’t love the writing. It’s full of things that normally drive me crazy, but I’m not sure if that’s specific to the author or if it’s a general style among Icelandic writers. Despite my issues, however, I really love this book so far, and it’s making me want to read Ulysses. It’s also making me want to investigate traditional Icelandic literature, which the characters reference frequently.

Reading Next

  1. The Forest of Wool and Steel – Natsu Miyashita
  2. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes – Suzanne Collins
  3. Monkey Beach – Eden Robinson
  4. Conjure Women – Afia Atakora
  5. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I’ve had The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes on my shelf since it arrived in May and I haven’t heard amazing things about it, so I kinda wanna get it over with because it’s kind of a chunkster and there’s a lot of other things I want to read. Wish me luck, I’m hoping it’s not too disappointing. If it’s at least better than Mockingjay, I’ll be satisfied.

I have much higher hopes for Americanah: I read Purple Hibiscus back in April, so I already know I like Adichie, and I’ve also heard good things about Conjure WomenThe Forest of Wool and Steel was totally random, but I fell in love with the cover because I do judge books by their covers and I like Japanese literature, so I had to order it. Monkey Beach I’ve already read, but that was about 12 years ago so I figured a refresh couldn’t hurt.


General Life Update

This week has been a lot better than most of June, which I suppose shouldn’t surprise me because that’s generally what happens when I actually take time for myself. I honestly thought I’d just be vegging on the couch this week, but I’ve actually been surprisingly productive. So far during this staycation I’ve gotten rid of my library books, visited the bookstore three times, gone to the beach, eaten in an actual restaurant that served the best crab cakes I’ve ever had, gotten a pile of reading done, and bought a new shoulder rest for my violin. Vera’s gotten into a bad habit over the years of ejecting my Kun shoulder rest, which is why she now wears a girdle.

TRY EJECTING THAT ONE, VERA. (Which, now that I’ve said that, she probably will. 😞)

In other news, I finally watched Hamilton for the first time! (Yes, really.) I’ll be the first to admit that I wouldn’t pay hundreds of dollars for a Hamilton ticket because I wouldn’t spend that kind of money on any ticket, but I love the production streaming on Disney Plus. The smackdown between Jefferson and Hamilton was hands down my favorite scene, and I’m looking forward to the DVD. The only trouble is that now I’ve got fucking George III’s fucking song stuck in my head gorrammit 🤬


Random-Ass Brain Fart

I bought reusable face masks yesterday. This was not the brain fart.

The brain fart happened when I walked into the Arlington CVS and came face to face with racks of wine and for a hot second thought that Virginia really was a different place until I realized that I was in fact standing in a Target that happened to have a CVS in the back. #headdesk

On the bright side, my masks were accompanied by this hilariously misspelled sign, which made me feel somewhat better about myself.

Book Bites 2

I have got to learn to bake scones.

Scones seem to be a predominant theme in cozy mysteries, or at least in the ones I’ve been reading over the last couple of weeks. First there was The Secret, Book & Scone Society, which features a bakery that specializes in “comfort scones” completely customized to each diner. Then there was Brownies and Broomsticks, whose protagonist regularly bakes cheddar-sage scones. Fortunately for me, Brownies and Broomsticks at least had the decency to include recipes in the back.

I’ve been curious about cozy mysteries for a while and liked the general idea of the genre, so I finally decided to investigate. And I can’t mince this: the writing really threw me for a loop. My judgement of books is generally predicated on the quality of their writing. If the writing is bad or typo-ridden, it’s very unlikely I’ll give the book a good rating. The fact that I gave the first two books I read four stars apiece is a testament to the addicting nature of the stories, and possibly also to my newfound ability to lower my standards. (Look, that tends to happen as you get older and more disappointed with the world. I’m not proud of myself, I’m just saying.) I had originally planned to give each book three stars because that was what I honestly thought they deserved until probably about the last quarter, when everything suddenly became fascinating and the endings turned out to be extremely satisfying. I don’t know how they managed to hook me in, because the writing was uniformly awful. The prose was dumb. The dialogue was bad. The first two books read like they were ripped off of Wattpad. One of the three seemed to have a typo every other word, either because it wasn’t proofread or because the proofreaders didn’t know what they were doing. Two of the three had at least one serious error involving a homonym. I get that we’re all human and there’s only so much we can do, but the number of errors I’ve found in these books is ridiculous. It’s almost like the publishers are cutting out the proofreaders so they can print these faster, though it wouldn’t surprise me if they were.

In any case the writing clearly hasn’t put me off yet because I’ve read two of these things and am working on a third, so I suppose we’d better get on with it.

Obvious obligatory warning: There are spoilers.

Theme of the week: Cozy mysteries.


To Helvetica and Back
Paige Shelton

I’m a graphic designer and a card-carrying type/print nerd, so To Helvetica and Back seemed like a great place to start. This was the one that most convinced me that proofreading is not A Thing anymore, because it has at least one major continuity error, the prose is repetitive, and it gratuitously dips into the pluperfect several times mid-scene for absolutely no reason. There were innumerable typos that I would consider common among native English-speakers on the internet, but which are inexcusable in a professionally published work. It also became clear to me that Shelton doesn’t know the difference between “discrete” and “discreet.”

The valley was spectacular though. You could see part of the monastery’s walls and a few discrete houses around the perimeter.

Generally I take it for granted that most houses are separate units, given that we’d be calling them townhouses if they weren’t, so I’m assuming the intention here was to describe the houses as unobtrusive. I weep for the future of English.

The trouble for me, at least as far as abandoning this book and my headache went, was that the story was irritatingly addicting and I needed to know what was going to happen because I’m nosy as hell. The narrator, Clare Henry, is a mid-to-late-twenties (I think?) dork who works at The Rescued Word, a typewriter repair shop owned by her grandfather, Chester. Her duties also include restoring vintage books, selling stationery, and supervising her 17-year-old niece, Marion, who handles the custom stationery orders. They have a resident cat named Baskerville, son of their first cat, Arial. This shop is fucking GOALS. The details are something that Shelton actually did really, really well, because the type nerd in me was screaming like a little girl and wondering why The Rescued Word couldn’t be real and in Maryland. (And then, like the type snob I am, I started thinking I would’ve named my imaginary cats Avenir and Aperçu. Go figure.)

Clare and Chester generally have a quiet time at the shop, but things turn upside down when they discover a dead body in the alley out back of the shop, and they get swept into a murder investigation. Along the way Clare discovers strange numbers and letters scratched into the bars of a client’s typewriter and meets a hunky geologist, Seth Cassidy, who asks her out after she restores his copy of Tom Sawyer. I normally don’t go for romance, but this one was unobtrusive enough that I didn’t mind it. It was an important part of the story, but it didn’t overtake the plot. Seth was adorably dorky and apparently makes a mean lasagna, and I actually really liked him, even though I was suspicious of him for half the book. Their relationship almost seemed to be going a little too smoothly, though from what I’ve seen from both Helvetica and Book & Scone that seems to be somewhat typical for the genre.

Overall this book was kind of a mixed bag. It was riddled with typos, the dialogue was clunky, and the prose was just cringey, which is a shame because the book was actually genuinely funny.

Jodie honked the horn, causing Seth to jump and turn toward us.

Jodie smiled and waved. Seth waved hesitantly, until Jodie pointed at me in the passenger seat. Then Seth smiled and waved back confidently.

“It’s a wonder anyone has ever wanted to date either of us,” I said without moving my lips from a smile.

JFC. This is what I meant when I said these books read like they were ripped off of Wattpad. I loved this exchange until I got to “without moving my lips from a smile.” That sentence should have ended after “I said.” If Shelton was really convinced that I, the reader, would not understand that Clare was joking without her help, then she maybe could’ve written “‘It’s a wonder anyone has ever wanted to date either of us,’ I said, still smiling,” or something similar.

My other major gripe was that the plot was pretty predictable. There were a couple of twists that I didn’t see coming, but the general shape of it isn’t hard to grasp when you see these numbers:

11111438802966NW

I’m not sure why everyone in the book had such a hard time figuring out what these were. I mean, come on, those are clearly coordinates. Even if you don’t know how many digits there are in coordinates – I didn’t – the NW should give it away, and did give it away in my case. Given that there were coordinates scratched onto the typewriter and given that somebody was murdered shortly after demanding said typewriter, it wasn’t a big stretch to figure out that those coordinates probably led to a treasure of some kind. (Spoiler alert: I was right.) It also seemed clear to me that Seth would be able to identify those numbers, which he was.

Despite all these problems, I thought this was a good first installment: it was interesting, it was funny, it was easy to read, and it introduced me to an engaging cast of characters. I love The Rescued Word and I wish I could live in it. I probably won’t be pursuing this series, because I read the synopses of the next two books and wasn’t wildly intrigued, but I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things during this quarantine and may very well change my mind about this.


The Secret, Book & Scone Society
Ellery Adams

I usually don’t buy scones unless there’s literally nothing else to eat in the bakery case. This book is going to change that because Merlin’s Beard I really want a scone right now.

The story is narrated by Nora Pennington, a thirty-something woman living in Miracle Springs, North Carolina. Miracle Springs is a healing destination, and Nora has established herself as the owner of Miracle Books, a defunct train depot that she bought and turned into a bookstore. Her store is packed with books and shelf enhancers (tchotchkes used to brighten up the bookshelves), and she also provides comfortable chairs and coffee for those who want to sit and read. She calls herself a “bibliotherapist,” which means she helps people overcome their private issues by recommending a certain set of books for them to read. When a prospective client is murdered, Nora is called in to give a witness statement and connects with June Dixon and Hester Winthrop, who also met this client shortly before his death. Despite their testimony, the death is ruled a suicide by the corrupt sheriff, and the three women form the Secret, Book & Scone Society along with Estella Sadler, who owns the salon next door to Miracle Books. Together they make it their mission to solve the case and ultimately succeed, sharing their most intimate traumas with each other throughout the course of the book.

Bad news first: The writing in Book & Scone was just as cringey as it was in Helvetica, and the dialogue was pretty bad. On the other hand, there weren’t as many typos, so maybe it went through some form of proofing, and the book overall is funny and interesting, though the characters tend to fall into archetypes more easily than they do in Helvetica. There’s the shy, traumatized woman who just wants to keep herself to herself and avoids men like the plague. There’s the “town Jezebel,” who dresses provocatively and dates whatever she can get her hands on but – surprise! – has daddy issues. There’s the one obligatory character of color, who literally seems to be on her own as far as diversity goes. There’s the former “good girl” who made a mistake and became estranged from her family. And there is, of course, the evil real estate agency whose leadership has been popping in and out of each other’s beds and defrauding  local townsfolk on a grand scale.

Honestly, I don’t mind the archetypes too much. The characters were still fairly engaging, even if they were a bit flat. I don’t really know what it is, but I didn’t get into them as much as I’ve gotten into others; still, they weren’t unsympathetic, and they didn’t ruin the story, though they could on occasion be irritating.

“If you threaten those things, Estella, he’ll be your enemy. And what if we’re not around to rescue you the next time he gets angry?”

“I’ve never needed rescuing. I’m no helpless princess,” Estella snapped.

Before June could reply, Nora performed a referee’s time-out gesture.

Gag. Personally I would’ve said “Nora made a time-out gesture,” but that’s just me. And the thing is, Estella did need rescuing. She baited a terrible man and then started asking him stupid questions like “Just how ruthless are you, Fenton? Would you pay someone to push your partner in front of a train?” What the fuck? I thought these women were supposed to be smart. It’s true that Estella was smart enough to make sure she wasn’t truly alone with this man, but luring an entitled prick to a pool at night, stripping naked, and asking him really unsubtle questions about his possible role in a murder doesn’t seem smart to me. What exactly was the plan if her friends hadn’t been there? Would she have been able to fight him off, or was she banking on her friends to save her? Did she have any plans in the event that he, oh, I don’t know, maybe came to her salon after hours and tried to assault her again? Fill me in, Estella, because I’m kinda lost. I’m a huge fan of the “I Rescue Myself” thing, but I really don’t think the poolside interrogation would’ve ended well if June hadn’t intervened.

Of course, none of this really matters, because I will be continuing with this series. I can complain as much as I want, but in the end I can’t resist a series based around a bookstore and a scone shop. There’s two more books after this one, so I’ll be all set when the fourth one comes out in January. Maybe I’ll even have learned to bake scones by then. We’re still in lockdown and you can learn a lot when you’re bored, so the sky’s the limit.


Brownies and Broomsticks
Bailey Cates

I’m only on page 123, but Cates writes better than Shelton and Adams and I’m a sucker for witches and bakeries. The story is narrated by Katie Lightfoot, a 28-year-old pastry school graduate who’s just signed on as the head baker at Honeybee, a Savannah-based bakery owned by her Aunt Lucy and Uncle Ben. Aunt Lucy and Katie’s mother are hedgewitches, which means Katie is too, because it’s hereditary. Their powers deal primarily with herbcraft, which is why Katie has always had a green thumb, to the point where she jokes that she couldn’t kill a plant if she tried. While preparing for Honeybee’s grand opening, Katie meets Mavis Templeton, a grouchy old bitch who threatens to shut down Honeybee before getting her neck broken, most likely by somebody whose life she ruined. To be clear, I am 100% onboard with this. The back cover describes Mavis as “curmudgeonly.” This is an extremely generous term. I was picturing an endearingly crabby old man with a heart of gold. Mavis Templeton is a wealthy, entitled c*** who has no qualms about using her money and influence to shut down businesses, get people blacklisted within their industries, and just generally destroy lives. She can’t even be bothered to pay the full catering fee she agreed to in writing, and that kind of behavior infuriates me. She gets bumped off on page 32 and that’s still not soon enough because she is genuinely awful and I will be so pissed off if I get asked to feel sorry for her later. The book is kinda hinting that she might become more sympathetic later.

My overall impressions so far have been positive. I really really really love the premise. I had a feeling going into this book that this might be the one cozy mystery series that really gets me invested in the genre, because it’s pretty much what I was looking for. It’s funny and easy to read, it’s not badly written, and it has a magical bakery and a little black Cairn terrier named Mungo the Magnificent, who might or might not become Katie’s animal familiar. (I figure it’s either that or he’s a human who crossed the wrong witch, but I’m okay with that as long as he stays a dog.) If you don’t know what a Cairn terrier is, look them up because they’re seriously adorable. There are amazing foods scattered liberally throughout the 123 pages I’ve read, including but not limited to fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, crab cakes, spicy rice and beans, and peanut butter swirl brownies. There’s a couple recipes in the back, which I fully intend to try because SCONES. There’s even more than one character of color.

My main problem is pretty major, but I’m not actually sure if it’s a problem. Shortly after moving to Savannah, Katie mentions that she only sleeps for an hour at night but doesn’t seem to suffer for it.

For a while I’d wondered whether I was manic. However, that usually came with its opposite, and despite its recent popularity, depression wasn’t my thing.

Okay.

Not gonna lie, I had a full-on “You wanna run that by me again?” moment with this one. I had to wait almost a full 24 hours to cool down. I don’t want to rush into judgement, because I know I wouldn’t want my entire character to be judged by one misfired joke. Cates is clearly trying to be funny here. I know a failed joke when I see one, and this one is a failure of monumental proportions if it means what I think it means.

The trouble here is that Cates is suggesting that depression is a choice. She is implying that people decide to become depressed because they think it’ll make them cool. As somebody who has been living with a mental illness and will continue to do so despite the large body of people who think mental illness is self-indulgent and can be overcome through sheer force of will, I find this incredibly offensive and patronizing. Depression is not suddenly “popular.” The fact that celebrities have been increasingly talking about their struggles with depression and other assorted mental health issues doesn’t mean that depression is trendy or cool. Depression has probably been around since the dawn of man. We just notice it more nowadays because it is becoming more socially acceptable to talk about your feelings. The stigma is by no means gone and it’ll take a lot of hard work and social change to improve general attitudes towards mental illnesses and the people who have them, but we’re sort of getting there.

Of course, this isn’t necessarily what Cates meant to say. I don’t want to assume ill intent from bad phrasing. Maybe she just wanted to point out that more people are openly suffering from depression than before and it came out more flippant and dismissive than she intended. Maybe she thought it would be funny and didn’t have the background to consider the full ramifications. Maybe she’s suffering from depression herself and this is how she copes with it. Maybe in the future Katie will meet someone with mental health issues and acquire deeper empathy. (That one doesn’t seem too likely because these things aren’t that deep, but you never know.) I don’t have the context to make this call. This is the first book I’ve read of the Magical Bakery series, and the first of Cates’ works. I don’t know her, and I don’t know her style well enough to say if she was poking fun at depression. She hasn’t mentioned it since page 8, so I’m trying not to let it ruin my enjoyment of the rest of the book. On the other hand, if she did indeed mean it exactly how it sounds, then she and this series can go to hell. She is of course entitled to her own opinion and she has every right to write what she wants, barring hate speech, but I have the right to choose not to read things that piss me off.

My only other problem so far has been the slightly old-fashioned attitude towards courtship (Katie meets two hunky-dunkies, one of them keeps insisting on opening the car door for her and helping her down from his truck), but Katie likes it and that’s all that matters since she’s the one being wooed. The book has a host of promising female characters who all have names and talk to each other about something other than men and the men have all been playing supporting roles, so I don’t really care about this one.


Final Thoughts

Overall I’ve been enjoying this new genre (which isn’t new to other people, but is new to me). Cozy mysteries haven’t really been on my radar until fairly recently, and, yeah, they’re silly and cheesy and kinda dumb, but they’re also engaging, addicting, and pretty fast-paced. I like that each installment is quick and doesn’t require you to pay too much attention. I like reading about all the foods these characters eat, particularly in Brownies and Broomsticks. Of course the problem with that is that it makes me hungry, but yesterday I was prepared. I feel like I’m going to end up pursuing the Magical Bakery series with or without my qualms because any book that gives me an excuse to bake brownies is all right by me. For some reason I was really in Kitchen Mode yesterday and I wanted glass noodles and brownies, so I ended up making a three-course dinner for myself and my parents. We started with tofu with pickled mustard greens, which I made with both silken and medium-firm tofu, then had spicy glass noodles with ground pork (ma yi shang shu [蚂蚁上树], “ants climbing a tree”). I know, weird names, but I swear they’re both amazing and they don’t have ants in them. After dinner I made the brownies and omg they were AMAAAAAAAAZING. 😭❤️ We usually don’t make brownies but I’ve been craving them recently, so my mom brought home the Ghirardelli chocolate chip brownie mix.

So good. ❤️❤️❤️

Quarantine Day 62

I realized today that it’s been three months to the day since my quarantine began. That would explain why I no longer know what year it is.

I’ve been watching a lot of Try Guys and GoT lately and it does things to your brain, which is why I decided I needed to draw Margaery wearing Blake Lively’s 2018 Met Gala dress at like 2:30 a.m. Overall I’m pretty pleased with how she turned out, even if I did get lazy with the details. Mostly I’m pleased that I actually can draw something other than fat little people in onesies. Maybe I’ll clean her up later, though to be perfectly honest I probably won’t.

I also suffered a rather rude shock when Rusalka referred to my duck as a goose, which led to some rather hysterical googling on my part, during which I (1) concluded that the duck was a duck and (2) ran across an article about a blind, bisexual, and polyamorous goose. Go figure.

But I digress.

Lately I’ve been rolling around between numbness and irritability, which I mostly figure is the quarantine’s fault, though this hasn’t exactly been a cheerful year. At the same time, it worries me when people talk about reopening because I really don’t want us rushing into the projected second wave. On top of everything else, Maryland got hit hard by The Pollening right after the May polar vortex (???), which means itchy eyes and marathon sneezing. I hate spring.

On the slightly brighter side, things have evened out a lot work-wise since my last quarantine update, which is good because four of my projects ganged up on me and decided they all wanted to be shipped this coming week. I also finished Empress Dowager Cixi, so I finally got to start on some new books!

May has been pretty slumpy so far, but I got my second wind after finishing Cixi and celebrated by jumping into three books I’ve never read before. I haven’t gotten too far in any of them, but omg The Book of Longings is so good!!! I peeked at the first page when it arrived and liked what I saw, and later found it really hard to put down. The writing is gorgeous and I love Ana, and I can’t wait to see where this goes.

The Map of Salt and Stars is another one I’ve been looking forward to – I put it on hold at the library but then we went into quarantine, and I finally lost patience and ordered it from BN. I’m not really sure how I feel about this one yet, but I’m only 25 pages in and it’s very promising so far. I also started To Helvetica and Back, which has been sitting untouched on my shelf for years. Helvetica is my first foray into cozy mysteries, which is a genre I’m fairly certain I’ll love, and I’ve mostly been enjoying it, but I also keep getting distracted by the plethora of typos. Are cozy mysteries not usually proofread? The mistakes I keep finding in Helvetica are things that should’ve been caught, and they’re making me seriously wonder if I need to read the rest of the Dangerous Type mysteries. I really really really wanted to love Dangerous Type, but if this is a typical sample of the author’s writing I may have to pass on the rest of the series. Either way, I’m at the stage where I’m trying to finish Helvetica quickly so I can get back to the more promising books. I’m currently four books short of my goal of reading 15 books by the end of May, so I really need to get my ass in gear.

In food-related news, I’ve been eating extremely well, which is one of the bright spots amid the general quarantine gloom. This helps both me and the local restaurants, so I don’t feel too bad about going out because I want these places to still be around when we reopen.

Taiwanese popcorn chicken was one of the first things on my list:

THIS CHICKEN IS SO GOOD and now that I’m looking at this picture I’m legit thinking about hotfooting it down to the Taiwanese joint tomorrow and picking up some chicken and maybe a mango ice smoothie oh no oh no 😭 Now that I’ve said that it’s probably going to happen because I have the self-control of a five-year-old.

Mother’s Day weekend was a particularly good time, because we finally had an excuse to visit the new(ish) Choong Man Chicken in Germantown. The curry snow onion chicken was exactly as amazing as I remembered, and the nice people at CM threw in a couple of tubs of pickled daikon. I have a severe weakness for pickled daikon, and this one was particularly good. If you ever want to bribe me, feed me pickled daikon. I wish I were joking.

Not pictured: maguro sashimi from our favorite Japanese place, fried chicken wings, rice, curly fries, Japanese potato salad, and EVEN MOAR DAIKON PICKLES. It was a really good Saturday. Then on Mother’s Day proper we had homemade chili burgers and the leftover CM curly fries, because my mom happened to find a recipe for a copycat Tommy’s chili. We’re not actually sure if this is an accurate copy because Tommy’s is in LA and we don’t exactly have access to LA, but we’ve all agreed it’s amazing anyway.

Celebrations in quarantine have been pretty good so far because we can still pick up nice treats, like these cakes I got for my dad’s birthday:

And the Lindt chocolates I grabbed while I was at CVS, because I’d just read that damn Chocolat book and it really made me want chocolate:

And these adzuki donuts and mini stroopwafels, which I picked up by chance because that’s just who I am as a person. I didn’t even know stroopwafels could be that small but they’re really good so you sure as fuck won’t see me complaining 🤣

Rounding out the post with more pics of the Senior Nap Manager, because obviously I don’t photograph her enough.

Good night, world. x___x

March Reading Summary

I know. I’m late.

I had the foresight to summarize my February reading on the first day of March, but now we’re halfway through April and it only just recently occurred to me that I hadn’t yet made a March reading post because this quarantine has been kinda killing my motivation. While I don’t object to the idea of staying inside and never going anywhere, it’s actually made me less productive because the TV’s always on and there’s Pokémon to be caught and a huge backlog of Forged in Fire episodes to watch. Look I’m not proud of myself okay 😭

Anyway: today I happened to be unusually motivated, partly because it’s the weekend but mostly because I decided I was going to support my favorite sandwich shop, which makes the best tuna sandwiches I’ve ever had.

This was a very good decision, because it motivated me to clean up the hideous black holes that my bookcases had become, not to mention all the random-ass books that were scattered around my desk and on the floor.

Apparently it’s been a while since I’ve dusted the black bookcase, because two of my bookends left prints on the shelf. I was amused.

I was originally going to go through my books and see if I wanted to donate anything to make room for all the new books I bought but haven’t read, but then I realized that I haven’t read probably about 90% of the books on my shelves and I didn’t actually want to give any of them away, so I ended up opening up a new shelf on another case and moving all the anthologies there. This somehow turned into me pulling all the books off their shelves, dusting the shelves, and putting all the books back in alphabetical order by author. I mean, it’s not like I’m going anywhere.

OMG I ACTUALLY HAVE SPACE……………………..FOR MORE BOOKS

I even had extra room on the new anthologies shelf for my library books, so now they’re not blocking the children’s section anymore!

Unexpected hazard: I kept knocking my duck off her shelf and just narrowly catching her. I’ve really gotta find a better home for her.

Bonus: I actually did manage to find a pile of books to donate.

PROGRESS. 🥳


March Reading Stats

Books Finished:

  1. The Great Passage – Shion Miura
  2. Snow & Rose – Emily Winfield Martin
  3. The Lake – Banana Yoshimoto
  4. The Girl in Red – Christina Henry
  5. The Dove’s Necklace – Raja Alem

Total Pages Read: 1,531

My March page count is significantly lower than my February page count, but February was padded out by twenty 200-page mangas, which really added up fast. In February I only read three books that I would consider “real” and in March I read five, so I’m pretty pleased with my progress. Even if it doesn’t happen within the next year or so, I want to eventually get to the point where I don’t have to rely on mangas to meet my reading goal.


And now, a moment of silence for my expectations.

The Dove’s Necklace
Raja Alem

Warning: Spoilers and a lot of confusion.

March’s crowning achievement was the completion of The Dove’s Necklace, which was………really something. I’ve never been this upset by a book, not even when I was slogging through The Amber Spyglass. The last time I wrote about The Dove’s Necklace, I thought I was going to love it because it was supposed to be “nuanced as a Nabokov novel.” The main difficulty that I for some reason did not anticipate is that I usually don’t understand Nabokov novels.

I think part of the problem was that I just didn’t get this book. I know absolutely nothing about Arabic history and culture, and I kinda get the feeling that the book would’ve made more sense if I’d been better informed. It didn’t help that the prose did indeed remind me of a typical Nabokov novel, in that it was so intricate that I spent most of my time trying to figure out what the author was saying. I hated all the characters, didn’t always recognize them when they popped up, and ended up doing a blitz read just so I could finish the book without getting hung up on the prose. I skimmed through the five-page character monologues and neverending emails/diaries so fast that I might as well have skipped them, but I think I caught most of the major points.

I missed a lot of finer details while I was blitzing, but the gist of the story is that a young woman is found naked and presumably murdered in the Lane of Many Heads, a low-income neighborhood in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The case is assigned to Detective Nasser al-Qahtani, who learns that the victim may be either Azza or Aisha, two young women who grew up in the Lane of Many Heads and recently went missing. Over the course of his investigation, Nasser reads the extensive love letters Aisha has written to her German boyfriend and gradually becomes obsessed with her. In a parallel storyline, Azza’s childhood friend and adoptive brother Yusuf learns that he is descended from a family that had something to do with the key to the Kaaba, most of whose history I have forgotten.

As far as I can tell, the dead woman in the alley was Aisha. I’m 99.9999999% sure that Aisha jumped off the roof following the stillbirth of her illegitimate child, and that Azza, who was secretly seeing a wealthy property developer named Khalid al-Sibaykhan, took advantage of her suicide to fake her own death and run. Azza briefly alludes to Aisha jumping, and also has disturbing memories of helping Aisha both deliver and bury her child. The other possibility is that Aisha was murdered by her runaway husband, who found her naked and video chatting with her boyfriend, but she seems to have fought him off and I’m not sure if he went back after that. Either way, Azza runs away to become al-Sibaykhan’s mistress and doesn’t directly appear in the story until the last third of the book, when she is introduced as Nora. I wish I could say she’s happy and fulfilled, but she is in fact trapped in a deeply unhealthy relationship with a man who thinks nothing of selling her into prostitution as a punishment for running away from him. And, at the end of the book, nothing changes: though Azza turns out to be a talented artist and starts putting on exhibitions of her work, though Yusuf unexpectedly appears and tries to get her to run away with him and she almost makes it out of the parking lot, she balks when she realizes that Yusuf is accompanied by Nasser, who turns out to be al-Sibaykhan’s personal assistant. Her story ends with her walking back into al-Sibaykhan’s office, with the understanding that she is going to be punished, while Yusuf is incapacitated and either arrested or killed by Nasser.

This was what pissed me off more than anything, because I struggled through 500 pages of Arabic philosophy to end up in exactly the same spot. Azza is back with al-Sibaykhan, Yusuf is back in jail, and al-Sibaykhan is still going to bulldoze the Lane of Many Heads. I understand why Azza went back. I understand that she had nowhere else to go and would probably not have been safe from al-Sibaykhan even if she had found somewhere to hide. I understand that she had nothing of her own and would not have been able to live off her art. It’s certainly a realistic ending, but it also means that after a 500-page slog there’s zero payoff. The other major obstacles for me were Yusuf’s articles and Aisha’s babbly emails, which extensively quoted D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love and often came with several multi-paragraph postscripts. I’ve never been a fan of the Character Writing Letters device, and this book did not change my mind.

This isn’t to say that the book was bad. I would call it upsetting rather than bad. The prose, though hard to follow, was (when I understood it) lovely and often funny. My favorite part was probably the Lane of Many Heads, which was treated as a character unto itself and often served as a narrator. I may not have been able to appreciate this particular book, but I’m definitely going to look up other Middle Eastern writers. My reading list to date has been very homogeneous, but that’s going to change. I’m tired of visiting only one part of the literary globe.


Miscellaneous Reading News

I’ve told myself all along that I wouldn’t make an Instagram just for my books, which is why I now have one. 😬 I decided this week that I wanted a dedicated bookgram so I could spam everybody with gratuitous book pics connect with the reading community on Instagram without random junk pictures getting in the way, so my book photos will be posted on bookycnidaria moving forward. If you know any good bookgrams I should follow, please let me know. My follow list is rather sparse at the moment.

Quarantine Day 27

Well, here we are.

It’s been 27 days since the office shut down, 21 days since my last post, 12 days since Maryland was ordered to shelter in place, and 10 days since I last wore shoes. Today it occurred to me to mark the first day of quarantine in my work planner, you know, for posterity or something.

Don’t come after me if they don’t get better, I’m just speculating.

I can’t say the quarantine has drastically altered anything that I’d normally be doing, since I have no life and weekend staycations are my jam and I’m that person who makes up excuses to avoid going out, but I do start to go slightly bats when I can’t drive off whenever I want, so I now have planned excursions every couple of weeks. This week Jennicorn and I took advantage of Krispy Kreme’s Be Sweet Saturday and went halfsies on a box of donuts, because we’re adults and we make excellent decisions.

I have no idea who needs to hear this right now, but Krispy Kreme is running a quarantine deal where if you buy a dozen glazed donuts on a Saturday you get a second box for free. Jennicorn agreed to split the cost of one box, so we each ended up with a dozen donuts for five bucks. I also got to see Jennicorn face to face when I dropped off the donuts at her house, which was really nice. As a card-carrying modern-day suburban hermit who was social distancing way before it was cool, I sometimes forget how nice it is just to hang out, even if you’re six feet apart and separated by a door.

Other than the quarantine, life has been going pretty much the same as usual. My main hurdle so far has been learning to telework, which I’ve honestly never done because I’ve never been essential enough or permanent enough to be trusted with company equpiment. I normally wouldn’t be teleworking even in this job, but in this case we had no choice, so I’ve spent the better part of the last month trying to figure out how to balance work and life without getting them tangled, and it’s been a trip. The biggest problem was that it took a while to get used to the idea of being barred from the office, because my first day of telework was an unqualified disaster. Everything in my life seems to like to stack up at once, so the week we went into quarantine was also the week I was telecommuting for the first time in my life, setting up my new work laptop, trying to figure out how to get the server to work, and shipping three difficult projects, none of which seemed to want to die a quiet death. I’d pulled all my files off the server and loaded them onto the laptop beforehand and thought I was ready, but then I actually got started and realized that between the server, the volume and complexity of the edits, and my wi-fi speed, there was no conceivable way to ship from home. This did not have a happy ending: it ended with me running to the office around noon on Monday after spending thirty minutes trying to open one file, and then staying at the office till 10 pm and getting in the cleaners’ way. Then on Tuesday I told myself I was going to stay home for the whole day, but my resolution cracked like an egg when I realized I’d completely failed to package a crucial InDesign file while I was in the office on Monday. Since I’d been allowed to go in on Monday, I sneaked back in on Tuesday afternoon and got in the cleaners’ way again. On Wednesday I finally figured out how to get around the wi-fi problem and stopped going into the office for every little emergency, which means I’ve been pretty much camped out here for the last month.

I still haven’t completely figured out the work-life thing, partly because there are currently zero degrees of separation between my bedroom and my office, but mostly because I had eight projects shipping during the first three weeks of quarantine. This past week was much more relaxed; those eight projects all got shoveled out the door, so I was able to slow down and take it easy for a bit. It’s a lot easier to balance work and life when you’re not working late every night and I get to wear sweatpants to work and have a nice lunch if I feel like it, so things aren’t too bad right now. I’ve also gotten to spend more time with my new coworker, the Senior Nap Manager.

Teleworking isn’t always the greatest, but the Senior Nap Manager keeps me on track and reminds me to take every day as it comes. As frustrating as work can be, I keep reminding myself how lucky I am to have a steady job that lets me work from home. I can’t imagine what kind of trouble I’d be in right now if I hadn’t found this job, if I’d been working at Papyrus up to the day it went bankrupt. As much as I complain, I’m still glad to be here. I’m glad to be part of a team that works hard and doesn’t mind when I prank them on the team forum, which I did last Wednesday. It took a little while for the joke to sink in, but they got it eventually. 🤣

PSA: Always check your pockets. I left my violin in my pocket on laundry day and she shrank in the wash. Worst. Day. Ever. 😭😭😭

And now, since I’ve run out of things to say and I do kinda miss going out, here’s a couple of pics from the last time (I think?) I was in a restaurant:

……….I really need to clean out my phone.

Book Bites 1

It’s been a fucking long-ass week.

It seems strange to say that we’ve only been in quarantine mode for a week, because it already feels like we’ve been doing this forever. The office is closed, the entire creative team has been teleworking since Monday, and we’ve started a New Thing on the blog, which Jennicorn aptly named quaranticles. The world may be falling apart and we may all be in the middle of a story that was probably written by a ten-year-old with a cynical imagination, but at least we can still blog about it.

While we’re at it, I’ve started a new thing too, which I’m naming Book Bites. This can be literally translated as “short little half-assed reviews of books that I meant to review in great detail on my honor I did but I’m really fucking tired so this is what you’re getting instead.” If you really wanna go for my underbelly, you could probably translate it even more literally as “tiny rants cobbled together from my goodreads forum posts,” though I really hope you don’t.

Obvious obligatory warning: There are spoilers.

Theme of the week: Books That Made Me Want To Eat. This was actually a coincidence rather than a formal theme.


The Great Passage
Shion Miura

I LOVE THIS BOOK SO MUCH. I don’t usually use the word “charming” to describe books. That’s changing today. This book is charming.

To summarize, Kohei Araki is a lexicographer who has spent his entire life pursuing words and found a career compiling, editing, and publishing dictionaries. (Also, sign me tf up.) He is currently embroiled in his struggle to publish The Great Passage, a dictionary dreamed up by himself and Professor Matsumoto, an elderly linguistics scholar. To this end he recruits Mitsuya Majime, an exceedingly awkward 27-year-old word geek, and trains him as his successor. The book has two stages: it introduces Araki and goes through Majime’s first months as a lexicographer, then jumps ahead 13 years to the final two years of publishing The Great Passage. In the 15 years that it takes them to finally publish The Great Passage, they are joined by extra staff swiped from elsewhere in their publishing company; Majime meets and marries the girl of his dreams, who is as single-mindedly focused on her career as he is on his; and Professor Matsumoto struggles with old age and esophageal cancer.

One of the things I love the most about this book is its complete lack of internal drama. There are issues that have to be resolved, but everything is very civilized and there’s no fighting or even angry shouting. The characters are genuinely invested in their work and go out of their way to help each other. There are three very gentle romances that don’t involve screaming accusations, name-calling, or any of the other unpleasant quirks romances tend to accrue. Even after a critical error is discovered in the final stages of the publishing process, everyone pitches in to meet the deadline and nobody gets thrown under the bus. It’s lovely. This may be my Japanese genes talking, because this book is very Japanese. I can’t even articulate why it feels so Japanese. It just does. It also feels very anime in places, particularly the part where Majime checks out for five minutes after his dream girl asks him out, and actually there is an anime version and with any luck I’ll be able to hunt it down and watch it.

And, though this usually doesn’t happen, I love all the characters. They’re not described in the depth you might find in, say, A Song of Ice and Fire. They’re more like sketches than paintings, but those sketches are all you need. I don’t know how Miura does it, but by the end I even liked Nishioka and I never thought I’d like Nishioka. I especially love Majime, who even in his forties is still awkwardly, childishly cute. I love that he writes his future wife a rambling 15-page love letter with lots of Chinese poems and classical references and it works. I love that that letter is included in its entirety at the back of the book, with commentary from Nishioka and Kishibe. I love that his wife, Kaguya, is a professional chef holding her own in a male-dominated field and that after the time jump she’s running her own restaurant. There are so many elements in this book that are just so cool, from the characters to the word analyses to the obligatory Pokémon reference. This is, as has been stated, a thoroughly Japanese book.

Favorite scene:

“It’s a nice day. You want to go somewhere?”

“Where?”

“How about Korakuen?”

His heart started pounding hard enough to knock his soul right out of his body. This must be what was meant by the phrase ten ni mo noboru kimochi, “being on cloud nine,” literally “rising to heaven” with joy.

In that moment, the difference between agaru and noboru became clear. Words that had been floating in chaos swiftly grouped themselves into interlocking sets.

There’s a long passage after this in which Majime rhapsodizes about the difference between agaru and noboru, which I for hopefully obvious reasons will not be transcribing here. Go get the book yourself. It was really cute.

Second Favorite Scene:

He was the genuine article. Araki looked on with admiration. It had only taken seconds for Majime to work out the underlying meaning of shima. Back when he’d put the same question to Nishioka, the results had been dismal. Nishioka had never considered any possible meaning but “island,” and his answer had been “something sticking up from the sea.” Appalled, Araki had yelled, “Idiot! Then the back of a whale and a drowned man are shima, are they?” Nishioka had looked flustered and then laughed foolishly. “Oops. You’re right. Gee, that’s a tough one. What should I say, then?”

Things This Book Made Me Want To Eat: Soba. I really want soba. Somebody please give me magic powers so I can summon a bowl of soba. Don’t quote Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration at me, idgaf.


The Girl in Red
Christina Henry

Official rating: 3.75 stars. I was wavering between 3.5 and 4 and finally settled in the middle.

Somewhat appropriately, the last book I read before the office shut down was about a plague. The Girl in Red is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, only Red is a twenty-year-old sci-fi geek walking 300 miles through an apocalyptic plague-ridden world to get to her grandmother’s cabin. I kept waiting for a wolf character to show up, but none did, unless you count the toothy creatures that are never actually explained. In retrospect, I suppose Sirois qualifies as the hunter character, though he doesn’t actually do anything and Red is the one who kills the maybe-wolf.

This was my first Book of the Month read, and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I LOVE IT. On the other hand, the writing drives me bananas because Henry writes like an engineer. For context, I’ve spent a good chunk of my professional life translating giant engineering reports into a form of English that most English speakers can understand, and one thing I’ve noticed is that engineers like to throw in as much information as they can to make sure that their readers really get what they’re saying. There are (so) (many) (parentheticals). The unnecessary title casing is really irritating too. I feel like Henry could have made her point without Title Casing Everything She Could Think Of.

It’s a real pity about the writing, because otherwise this book is so good. I really really really love Red. She is intelligent, iron-willed, and tough as hell. I love that she’s a walking encyclopedia and isn’t shy about sharing what she knows. It is so refreshing to see a heroine who (1) speaks her mind, (2) doesn’t hesitate to defend herself, and (3) isn’t pushed around by an overbearing supernatural boyfriend. No offense to YA fans, of course.

My biggest frustration, apart from the writing, was exactly the same as Red’s frustration, because I spent most of the book wanting to give Adam a good kick. I could really feel her frustration with her family’s apparent inability to understand the scope of the problem, and with their refusal to take her warnings seriously. I wanted to scream when mom took off her mask and started breathing in the infected air, and then again when they heard a truck pulling into the yard and Adam’s first impulse was to go to the window to see who it was are you fucking kidding me how can they see a pile of burning bodies in the middle of the street and still not understand 🤬 I actually was honestly hoping he would end up in one of those quarantine camps he really wanted to go to, because he was seriously cramping Red’s style. The whole thing with the chest-bursting-parasite-that-might-be-a-Xenomorph was so creepy that I stayed up watching YouTube videos till three in the morning for two nights in a row because I couldn’t go to sleep. At the same time, I was grateful that the book wasn’t just a rip-off of Alien because that’s really been-there-done-that and it would’ve been beyond lame if the book had spent all its time gently parodying sci-fi movies and then ended up exactly the same way.

Then I actually finished the book and I was livid because you can’t just dangle a toothy monster in front of me and then not tell me why somebody thought it would be a good idea to breed it in their lab. Don’t get me wrong: I’m really glad that Red, Sam, and Riley made it safely to Grandma’s house. I’m really glad that there actually was a Grandma who was demonstrably alive and still inhabiting her house. On the other hand, what the f*cking f*ck is the deal with those monsters?! I get that the book is skewering sci-fi/Chosen One conventions and that, realistically speaking, there is no real reason for Red to learn about the origins of the parasite and the Cough, but COME ON! Why was the parasite created? Was it supposed to be a weapon? How is it getting into people in the first place if it’s able to come bursting out of their chests? Is it related to the Cough at all, or is it just unhappy timing? How many of it are there? I would suspect that the government was injecting it into people with their little tranq gun thingies, but they seemed pretty bent on rounding up and destroying as many parasites as they could find, so that seems unlikely. Either way, this book needed to be at least 100 pages longer because somebody’s got some splainin’ to do. At the very least I feel like Red is owed an explanation for the thing that killed her brother, but I also suspect that that’s one of those things the author intentionally left unanswered because she doesn’t know it herself.

On the plus side, I liked the story. The writing may have dampened my enjoyment of it somewhat, but it was still a good read. I love the part where they stumble across D.J. and he feeds them bibimbap. I love how chill he is even when he’s the only one left in town, carrying on with his life while the kidnapping militia is running riot. I kept waiting for something bad to happen after Red separated from her group and abandoned her pack, but I was glad that nothing did. It was good that not all of her suspicions turned out to be true. I wasn’t really a fan of the 2x-Sirois-deus-ex-machina thing, but, since this is kind of a parody, I’m okay with it.

And, although I’m disappointed that Red gave up on finding out about the parasite, I can understand why the author went in that direction. Red is not, as she says herself, a hero or a Chosen One. She’s a young woman who’s trying to reach her grandmother’s house. From that perspective, I’m okay with her not learning absolutely everything. I’m maybe being too forgiving, because I love Red so much. I loved the total slaughter of Toothpick and his band, (1) because they deserved it and (2) because I am unspeakably sick of wimpy, self-righteous characters who find themselves in mortal peril but somehow still suffer a crisis of conscience along the lines of “Oh no! Who am I to try to kill these people who are trying to kill me/my loved one(s)???” and end up getting themselves and/or others killed or injured. Red knows what needs to be done and she does it, and I really respect the hell out of that. She may not enjoy it, but she’s not stupid enough to let her conscience get her killed.

On a completely unrelated note, now I really want bibimbap. 😬

Life Goes On

Welcome to adulthood. You get excited now when you use your day off to buy a new keyboard and go to the Korean market.

That keyboard was not cheap!!! 😭💔 Unfortunately I really needed a keyboard with a number pad, which makes life a lot more pleasant, and even more unfortunately my new computer did not come with one because Apple really knows how to soak you for every penny. Of course the real tragedy here is that I decided that I needed an expanded keyboard and immediately ran off to buy one but we won’t get into that ORZZZZZZ

Anyway, the reason I ended up at the Korean market was that I’d stumbled across a recipe for ganjang guksu (Korean soy sauce noodles) and wished to try it immediately but did not have somyeon noodles. My brother was moving home from Atlanta that weekend and our parents had driven down to help him move and I had the run of the kitchen, which is a polite way of saying I should probably never be left on my own ever because shit like this happens:

It was really good.

I was also left alone with Her Imperial Majesty Empress Zuri, who was Very Displeased with the snow that showed up around the same time as her late-night walk. It was only a few flakes, but she has spindly legs and almost no fur and overall it wasn’t a good experience for her.

On the bright side (for me), I caught her using the sleeping bag I bought her for Christmas! I’m not actually sure she knows what it is or how to use it – it took her a while to get used to it when I first put it out for her, but after a couple of hours she curled up inside it and we couldn’t get her out. Since then I haven’t really seen her use it, but suspect that she uses it as a substitute for a human lap when no human laps are available (i.e., when we’re all out of the house). Since that was its intended purpose, I suppose it’s worked out.

In this case she had to resort to the sleeping bag because I ran off for a few hours in the middle of the day and didn’t return until almost dinnertime. Everything always seems to stack up on the same damn days, and on this particular weekend Heather and I had already made plans to visit Historic Savage Mills, doggie or no doggie. I was mildly concerned that I might come back to find little doggie gifts on the floor, but luckily that didn’t happen and we still managed to see a lot of fun stuff.

This trip was a definite improvement over the last time I visited Savage Mills, (1) because I had company and (2) because we saw a lot more and also got food.

If you offer me a hot sandwich with ham and melted cheese, the answer will always be yes. :3 My favorite store (after the bookstore, of course) was probably the one with these rubber stamps, which took me straight back to the 90s:

I really wanted to buy stuff at this store but I’ve always been terrible at traditional media so there wasn’t much point. We also saw this hysterical sign outside a bridal consignment shop:

and of course it wouldn’t be a shopping trip if I didn’t pick up at least a couple of new books 😬


Reading Corner

YOU GUYS I FINALLY FINISHED A BOOK FROM MY TSUNDOKU SHELF OMG /flails

To be totally honest, I love reading, but I really, really love being able to obsessively track every page online and set actually realistic goals. On Saturday I finished Memory of Fire: Genesis, and today I remembered to remove it from the tsundoku shelf. I mean I’ve already added at least five other books to the tsundoku shelf, but still. PROGRESS.

Genesis was already discussed and extensively quoted in my last reading update and doesn’t need to be reanalyzed here, but it was really, really good. I highly recommend this book, both to people living in America and people with an interest in pre-Columbian history and mythology. (And, uh, maybe don’t read it while you’re in a good mood cus it’s gonna bring you waaaaaay down.)

On a slightly less progressive note, I have now read 23 of the 60 books I’m planning to read this year. Four of them were regular adult books without pictures. The other nineteen were mangas. This is mildly embarrassing because, even though mangas are books, the long-term plan is to be able to hit my reading goal without needing to include mangas. That’s in the future, though, and in the meantime I’ve had 25 Soul Eaters sitting on my bookcase for years and years and years. I think I must’ve gotten up to book five or six before I stopped reading them, but now I’m up to nineteen and am almost done with the series. With that in mind, I thought it would be a good time to look back on the series to date and say What the fuck?

I don’t know if other Soul Eater fans feel the same way, but one thing I’m noticing is that the conflicts don’t last very long, and it’s kinda starting to bug me. There are extended story arcs and side villains and Medusa is definitely still fucking around with her black blood experiments, but most (if not all) of the arcs so far seem to have been resolved very quickly and easily. The bad guy turnover rate is ridiculous. At the beginning of the series, there are a few minor antagonists who either get defeated quickly or turn out to be DWMA teachers in charge of remedial lessons. Medusa is introduced as main villain and puppet master, but is seemingly killed during the first major battle. She and her team manage to release Asura, who seems like he’s all set to become the next main villain, but he quickly fucks off to god knows where and hasn’t come back so far. Medusa later comes back by stealing a little girl’s body, which she inhabits while we are introduced to her sister Arachne, who also seems like a good candidate for main villain. Then Arachne dies a few books later and it turns out she was only a side villain and the other major villain is in fact Noah, only then Noah dies too and now I don’t know what the fuck’s going on.

This is what I’m talking about when I say all their problems get solved way too easily, because Arachne and Noah were presented as powerful antagonists but in the end went down with hardly any fight. The battle scenes were extremely short. I loved the idea of using Soul’s music to turn Arachne’s own web against her, but Maka should not have been able to defeat her as quickly as she did. It makes slightly more sense for Noah to be defeated fairly quickly because he was up against a handful of powerful Meisters and didn’t seem to have any fighting abilities of his own, but Arachne’s defeat was incredibly anti-climactic and disappointing. It was one of those defeats that had me going “I bet she’s got some other trick it couldn’t be that easy,” but she had no other tricks and it really was that easy. I suppose I can’t really count Noah out just yet since Medusa came back and all and Noah did have access to a lot of demon stuff, but now Gopher’s run off with the Book of Eibon and I wouldn’t put it past Ohkubo to make Gopher the new villain even though he couldn’t villain his way out of a paper bag.

I feel like I should clarify here that I actually have been enjoying Soul Eater and have also been rewatching the anime, but I’m not a fan of the villain situation and I wish Arachne had had more of a role because I really liked her and all she did was wait around and work on her magic before Maka chopped her head off. It’s also not really clear to me why everyone and their mom wants to absorb Asura, or what they hope to get out of it if they succeed. What is the long-term goal here? I’ll admit I’ve been reading these really quickly because, like I said, there’s 25 of them, so it’s possible I’ve missed things, but I wouldn’t mind some more clarity with the general plot.

P.S. Justin is pissing me off and he needs to go. 🤬

2020 Vision: Use It

It’s officially 2020.

And in honor of the saying, “Hindsight is 2020,” I have some shit to say.

  1. Whatever and whomever you left in 2019 (or even years before that) can stay back there. Not everyone is meant to stay in your life forever, and whether time has simply caused you to part ways or they’re toxic and you burned that bridge after you crossed it, recognize that it isn’t worth your time and energy trying to maintain every single relationship. In 2020 we are letting sleeping dogs lie. My personal rule is that if someone wants to walk out of my life that’s fine; I will even hold the door. But I don’t do second chances. Once someone’s gone they have to stay that way. They made their bed and they have to lie in it. Life’s too short to go in circles that are really downward spirals with people who have already told us at least once that we don’t matter to them. When people show you who they are, believe them and act accordingly. Give that time and energy to your ride or dies. They’ll always have your back, and you get better ROI from investing time and energy into those relationships that you know are solid.
  2. Diets are dead, okay? By all means, make a healthy lifestyle change but enough with the “quick fixes” and marketing schemes. I’m sick of this shit. No more fucking gummy bears or shakes or teas or wraps or whatever the fuck some Insta-famous or reality tv celeb is trying to sell you. The only thing they’re selling is you out to immoral companies that use marketing tactics instead of science to eat away at your mental, emotional, physical, and financial health while doing nothing for your actual health. Knock that shit off. Stop letting them make money off of your insecurities. Stop letting them tell you something is wrong with your or needs to be fixed and buying their bullshit. If you want real advice on your health and wellbeing consult a medical doctor or licensed registered dietitian. Not an online trainer, not a YouTube video, not an Instagram model, not anyone trying to sell you anything. You are perfect just as you are, and we aren’t listening to anything else from anyone else. Which brings me to number three…
  3. Toxic people, if you didn’t leave them behind already, they gotta go. The guy you really like who gaslights you? Boy, bye. Your relative who always has a comment on your appearance? Should learn how to shut up if they don’t have anything nice to say. Your coworker who always wants you to cover for her and defend her even when she drops the ball but she never makes an effort to NOT drop the ball? Not anymore, satan. Arguing about dumb shit with strangers online? You know you feel bad afterwards even if you’re “right” – your mental and emotional health are more important (and frankly your eyes could use a break from the screen time, no matter how cute your blue light glasses are). Feeding trolls and clowns and asshats is like getting into a zoo animal’s enclosure. In case we haven’t learned already, it’s a terrible fucking idea don’t do it (but also like, what part of the fence and the “KEEP OUT” did you miss?).
  4. Do SOMETHING new this year to take better care of yourself. I don’t know how to tell you this but all of us are only getting older and shit’s only gonna get harder (oof, what a pun). But seriously; I don’t care if it’s as simple as “drink more water,” “get more sleep,” or “move more.” If you have the financial means to get medical treatment if something goes wrong, use it instead of being stubborn or lazy and letting a small problem become a big problem. Stop eating take-out five nights a week and start meal prepping real food. Seriously, your wallet and your stomach will both thank you. The body you have is the only one you’re ever gonna have. Start acting like it.
  5. Love people louder. If there’s a hard lesson I’ve learned over and over and over again it’s that no time is promised to us or anyone else. It’s a damn miracle we all made it to today. A lot of people didn’t. Don’t miss opportunities to tell the people you love that you do. You never know when your last chance will be, and I can guarantee you that leaving things left unsaid is a special kind of aching burden to carry once someone is gone. So give that person a call, send a letter or a card, go spend an afternoon with them. Time is our most precious commodity. Spend yours wisely.
  6. Find things that set your soul on fire, and give them the time you give Netflix or whatever other non-constructive pastimes you waste untold hours on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of this, too (arguably more than anyone). But spend more time doing shit that makes you happy. Dance, write, go somewhere, go outside and do something (hike, kayak, ride a bike, whatever), cook, read a book, explore your area. Do things that make you happy and make you a better you. If for no other reason than when someone asks what you did last weekend you’ll have more to say than, “lol watched netflix.”
  7. Keep learning. I’m not saying go become a master of Kung Fu, a musical savant, a Michelin-rated chef, and learn two new languages. But maybe try to read more books, keep tabs on global news, try new cuisines, listen to different TED talks, take an art class, pick up a new hobby… make your brain work a little harder and it’ll pay you back in spades when you aren’t a mushy-brained vegetable in a few decades. You might also find it gives you more to think about and more to contribute to conversations (at work, with friends, with family, et cetera). No more awkward silences for you, friend.
  8. Stop being so damned hard on yourself. I don’t care if you didn’t get that promotion you applied for or you haven’t cleaned your place in a month or forgot your grandma’s birthday. Don’t beat yourself up. Life’s full of obstacles and distractions and even though technology can help us be organized it cannot make us infallible (besides, that’d be boring AF). We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to forget things even if they’re important to us. We’re going to hurt someone’s feelings even when we didn’t intend to. We’re going to drop the ball, miss the mark, whatever. It’s okay. It happens to everyone all the damn time. Don’t believe the seemingly “picture perfect” life of people who are on social media posting photos of their vacay in Bali and their #blessed bullshit. Those people don’t always fit in their jeans or get to work on time, either. Don’t worry about other people, just worry about yourself. And frankly if you’re doing your best you’ve got nothing to worry about anyway.
  9. Laugh more. You can do this with videos online, sure. But I personally highly recommend getting your laughs from real life, in real time, right in front of you. This is coming from someone who laughs if she trips walking on flat, stable surface, so bear with me here, but learn to laugh about it. Find the humor in the every day. I laugh when people misspell things (at work, on signs in store windows, etc). I laugh when I leave one room and go to another and can’t remember why. I laugh when my coworker makes a face when one of our peers is being obnoxious (whose idea was open office spaces, honestly?). I laugh when my cats are being goofy (you ever seen a cat on catnip?). Life’s just a lot easier when you find the humor in it.
  10. Just fucking be a decent human and be environmentally and socially conscious, okay? Recycle, turn your lights off if you don’t really need them on, unplug shit when you’re not using it, don’t leave your heat or your AC on some ridiculous temperature if you’re home by yourself (seriously walk around naked at that point no one cares), try to reuse if possible, use fewer disposables and single-use items, don’t run half-empty loads of laundry or a half-empty dishwasher, don’t have your existential crisis in the shower and waste water, don’t waste water when you’re brushing your teeth or doing the dishes, either… you get the picture. And let’s be honest, we know that corporations are the biggest polluters, but we play a role in that. Want palm deforestation to stop happening so orangutans can keep their homes and we keep healthy forests? Me, too. So stop buying peanut butter and coffee creamer and other products with palm oil in them and find alternatives. Don’t like the climbing temperatures, over-flowing landfills and abuse of laborers? Stop buying fast fashion and fast food. Want to reduce your carbon footprint? Buy local, in-season produce and products when available (bonus points: this also supports your local growers, artisans, and economy). We aren’t getting another planet to live on, so let’s not trash this one. Waste not, want not. Just kidding, I want a planet that’s not simultaneously on fire and going underwater due to rising sea levels. Thanks, pollution-fueled climate change.

February Reading Update

If anyone is keeping track, I now have a bookshelf named tsundoku. This is specifically for books that I’ve either bought or received but haven’t read. In the spirit of Fulfilling New Year’s Resolutions, I borrowed two more books from the library, which I also so far have not read.

On the bright side, I finally organized my bookmarks. #headdesk

Before

After

Anyway…….

General Reading Update

My 2020 goal of reading 60 books got off to a rocky start when I failed to finish any books for most of the month of January, with the sole exception of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which I started reading last October and finally finished on January 2. I have literally nothing to say for myself except that it’s a fucking long-ass book and I got hit hard by the Harry Potter doldrums halfway through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. If you’ve already read these books and you’re trying to marathon them as an adult for old times’ sake, all I can say is don’t.

Owing to the Harry Potter Fatigue (YES THAT’S A THING) and the general reading slump I’ve been in since last year, I fell about three books behind over the course of January and then quickly shot up to three books ahead by reading the first five volumes of Soul Eater in four days. I knew I’d have to pad out my reading goal with mangas, but I didn’t think I’d have to resort to them that fast. 😭

Currently Reading

I thought I’d start a New Thing here, which I’m naming Karo Reads It All. This tag will be for the posts discussing my current reads*, so please do come back if you’re a dork like me and you like to stalk other people’s reading lists! KRIA is the result of a thought I literally just had like a second ago, which is that I should make a specific tag for myself because I really love talking about what I’m reading to keep myself accountable and on track.

Update 3/25/2020: Karo Reads It All has been renamed Wyrd Bookshelf to allow more than one Wyrd Gurl to take advantage of it.

* Note: I will not be tracking mangas because I typically read those in one sitting, and I’m more concerned about my ability to finish books that don’t have pictures.


Memory of Fire: Genesis

The tsundoku quest got off to a strong start with Eduardo Galeano’s Memory of Fire: Genesis, which I started reading on the train on January 18 while on my way to see a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor (which, by the way, was excellent).

I spotted this completely by chance at my favorite secondhand bookstore and immediately knew that it had to come home with me because it’s quoted in the epigraphs in Cat’s Eye which is one of my most favoritest books EVERRRRRRRR yeah okay I’m a nerd but you knew that

When the Tukunas cut off her head, the old woman collected her own blood in her hands and blew it toward the sun.

“My soul enters you, too!” she shouted.

Since then anyone who kills receives in his body, without wanting or knowing it, the soul of his victim.

The quote came out pretty early in the book. I was excited. 🤩

Anyway, to be completely honest: I’ve been reading this book in stages because it is gorgeous, riveting, and absolutely inFUUUUUUUUUURiating. Never read this book if you’re in a bad mood because it’ll put you in a worse one and you’ll end up hoping in your heart of hearts that Columbus and Cortés and all the rest are upside down and inside out and burning somewhere in the deepest pits of hell.

I’m not saying don’t read it at all. I think this is a book that every American needs to read at some point. I can’t speak for its historical accuracy, especially as it is set during a confusing and poorly documented period of history (and even more especially as the author describes himself in the preface as “a wretched history student” and then goes on to say that he is a writer rather than a historian), but it still needs to be read because it offers a Latin American perspective on the creation of the New World. It also goes back through the history and mythology of some of the Native American tribes whose worlds were destroyed the minute Columbus set foot on American soil. Not gonna lie, some of these stories actually aren’t that nice. There seems to be a lot of kidnapping, murder, and theft. 🤣 This one is my favorite so far:

Resurrection

After five days it was the custom for the dead to return to Peru. They drank a glass of chicha and said, “Now I’m eternal.”

There were too many people in the world. Crops were sown at the bottom of precipices and on the edge of abysses, but even so, the food wouldn’t go around.

Then a man died in Huarochirí.

The whole community gathered on the fifth day to receive him. They waited for him from morning till well after nightfall. The hot dishes got cold, and sleep began closing eyelids. The dead man didn’t come.

He came the next day. Everyone was furious. The one who boiled most with indignation was his wife, who yelled, “You good-for-nothing! Always the same good-for-nothing! All the dead are punctual except you!”

The resurrected one stammered some excuse, but the woman threw a corncob at his head and left him stretched out on the floor. Then the soul left the body and flew off, a quick, buzzing insect, never to return.

Since that time no dead person has come back to mix with the living and compete for their food.

Some more quotes that stood out to me:

Sacrilege

The six are burning as a punishment and as a lesson: They have buried the images of Christ and the Virgin that Fray Ramón Pané left with them for protection and consolation. Fray Ramón taught them to pray on their knees, to say the Ave Maria and Paternoster and to invoke the name of Jesus in the face of temptation, injury, and death.

No one has asked them why they buried the images. They were hoping that the new gods would fertilize their fields of corn, cassava, boniato, and beans.

Moctezuma

Moctezuma has sent great offerings of gold to the god Quetzalcóatl, helmets filled with gold dust, golden ducks, golden dogs, golden tigers, golden necklaces, and wands and bows and arrows, but the more gold the god eats, the more he wants; and he is advancing toward Tenochtitlán, dissatisfied. He marches between the great volcanos, and behind him come other bearded gods. The hands of the invaders send forth thunder that stuns and fire that kills.

The Capital of the Aztecs

Emperor Moctezuma, who opens the gates of Tenochtitlán, will soon be finished. In a short while he will be called woman of the Spaniards, and his own people will stone him to death. Young Cuauhtémoc will take his place. He will fight.

“People Very Generous with What They Have…”

The Spaniards imagine that the Indians will cut them into pieces and throw them in the stewpot, but in the village they continue sharing with them the little food they have. As Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca will tell it, the Indians are horrified and hot with anger when they learn that, while on the beach, five Christians ate one another until only one remained, who being alone had no one to eat him.

Atahualpa

Before the iron tourniquet breaks his neck, [Atahualpa] weeps, kisses the cross, and accepts baptism with another name. Giving his name as Francisco, which is his conqueror’s name, he beats on the doors of the Paradise of the Europeans, where no place is reserved for him.

Don’t Try to Convert Me

This is one of the many, many things that’ve been making me mad while I’ve been reading Genesis, because I’ve never been down with the idea of going to another country and telling the people who live there that their religions suck and yours is the right one. While I support freedom of expression for every religion that doesn’t actively endorse harming other people, I draw the line at people who start trying to push their religion onto everyone else. It’s one thing to offer to teach someone who specifically expresses interest in your religious beliefs, but it’s another thing entirely to forcibly convert entire populations. Even just talking about it is making my headache worse so I guess this is as good a place as any to wrap up.


The Merry Wives of Windsor

As an antidote to the rage and gloom, I also started reading The Merry Wives of Windsor!

I started with the library’s copy but quickly found I didn’t care for that particular edition, which gave more room to the explanatory footnotes than it did to the play itself, so I ended up buying a different edition when I went to see the stage show.

I have to be honest: I’ve never been an avid Shakespeare scholar. It’s gotten easier to understand him as I’ve grown older, but a lot of his language and references still leave me in the dark, even if I’m able to follow the general gist of what the characters are saying. Case in point: I really struggled with the beginning of Merry Wives and wasn’t able to finish the play before I saw the show, but I’m actually really glad it worked out that way because the play is a lot easier to understand now that I have the context provided by the show. (Of course, I’m also having trouble motivating myself to finish this one because Reading Slump. Go figure.)

Buddy Reads

I tried out a handful of buddy reads for the first time last year. I’ve never tried them before and am not sure I’ll continue because one of them was successful, one of them was partially successful but later fell apart, and the rest of them turned into me reading the book/series and discussing my thoughts on the forum while everyone else read part of the book/series and then spent the rest of the time discussing the reasons they hadn’t finished it. The only buddy read I haven’t finished yet is my Harry Potter buddy read, which started with a group of us rereading the Harry Potter series and then slowly devolved to one of us reading the books and two of us offering excuses. To be clear, I am not that one because I read the entire series growing up and they’re pretty much lodged in my head. This is why it was a bad idea for me to join: I know the books too well, I’ve developed Adult Opinions about them, and I’ve found that I have a lot of problems with them, which may be a subject for a later post because I currently don’t have the energy for an in-depth analysis.

Also, to be very very clear, I still love this gorram series SO much. It formed a huge part of my childhood/teenage/young adult reading list, I know every story by heart (except maybe Order of the Phoenix cus that one was definitely my least favorite), and I find it shocking when I run across people who either haven’t read or don’t remember the series like what do you mean you haven’t memorized Goblet of Fire how do you even live with yourself 🤣

Final Thoughts

That’s all from my reading world. What’s on your nightstand?

I Went Out and Didn’t Die

恭喜發財!!!

It’s the year of the rat, and with any luck we can treat this as the official start of the year instead of January 1, because my year began well enough and then started sloping gently downhill after the first week. 2020 hasn’t been particularly convincing so far, but the year of the rat got off to a solid start with the help of one of my favorite cooking blogs. If you don’t follow them already, gtfo my blog and go take a look at them because they’re seriously amazing.

In case anyone is wondering, this was the crispy scallion ginger salmon I was planning to cook for New Year’s dinner for the better part of two weeks:

And this was the I-Really-Really-REALLY-Want-Fried-Noodles-So-I’ll-Make-Those-Too-Because-This-Is-My-Dinner-Goddammit gai see chow mein that got added to the menu at about 11 a.m. yesterday morning because I make good life decisions:

Look, I can’t help it. They were delicious. They wanted to be made. My mom loves these noodles so much that she was stealing them by the handful and eating them straight off the platter before I’d even put the sauce on them. I have a jar of homemade chili oil in the fridge that goes really well with fried noodles and needs to be eaten. I’m Cantonese. I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY FOR MYSELF.

Anyway.

I was going to call this post 2019 Social Round-Up, but I Went Out and Didn’t Die seemed like a much more appropriate title. Picspam and my 2019 social calendar are  behind the cut.

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