Thursday, April 17, 2014

Boy, Snow, Bird

my library copy the day I had to take it back

Helen Oyeyemi is not a straight-ahead writer. She deals in the things that happen out of the corner of the eye - stuff you subconsciously know is there (or fear is there), but can’t quite see - she understands the strange obliqueness of fairy tales. It’s so frustrating to read reviews of this book on Goodreads that are upset because the blurb (UGH BLURBS) promised a retelling of Snow White and this is not that. I enjoy retellings, but I especially enjoy when a writer can take the spirit of a thing and fashion it into something new, wholly itself. It’s not Snow White just like it’s not Cinderella - the fairy tale similarities are in the telling and the relationships, not the exact logistics of the tale. Oyeyemi gets better than most the weird dark strangeness of a fairy tale, which is also the weird dark strangeness of life. Mirrors lie, small magics seem possible, curses are real, things appear to be what they are not and are not what they appear to be. But in all of the Oyeyemi books I’ve read (3 of 5), it’s possible for characters to become aware of their narrative in a way Snow White never could. It’s not about Prince Charming, it’s not about being good and pure of heart - it’s so much more complicated.

Boy is our heroine’s name. Her skin is white as milk, her hair so blonde it’s almost white. Her father, referred to only as ‘the Rat Catcher,'  has long soft hands, a penchant for poison and is one of the creepiest characters I’ve read in a long time. Boy grows up, runs away from the Rat Catcher, builds a new life and becomes stepmother to Snow (a beautiful child with a dead mother) and mother to Bird (also a beautiful child). COMPLICATIONS ENSUE. The jacket gives away what could be a spoiler, or could be someone’s point of entry into this book, so I’ll mention it: Bird is born with dark skin and thereby reveals her father’s family secret - they are light skinned African Americans (or ‘colored’ in this book since it’s set in the 50s-60s) and have been passing as white for years.

The book is primarily about women and relationships between women, which is another thing that makes it interesting and unusual in today’s literary landscape. Here’s Oyeyemi in a Guardian interview where she gets to the meat of the story:
"For me Boy, Snow, Bird is is very much a wicked stepmother story. Every wicked stepmother story is to do with the way women disappoint each other, and encourage each other, across generations. A lot of terrible things can come out of that disappointment. I also wanted to explore the feminine gaze, and how women handle beauty without it being to do with men, per se. The women all want approval from each other, and are trying to read each other. I also wanted to look at the aesthetics of beauty – who gets to be deemed the fairest of them all. And in Snow White that is very explicitly connected with whiteness. It had to be an American story because "passing" is an American phenomenon."
The book is divided into three sections (I think! I had to return it to the library so I don’t have it right here in front of me). The first is from Boy’s POV, then from Bird and Snow, and then back to Boy. I really enjoyed this book - its still sending out little ripples in my brain a week later and I expect it will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. RECOMMENDED!

Oh, wait! here's one more quote from the book - this is from the Bird section and doesn't really have much to do with anything discussed above, except how Bird is an excellent narrator: 
The note read BARBARA THOMAS IS FAST and inquiring minds wanted to know whether this was true, and what Barbara Thomas was going to do to try and prove her innocence. Louis looked as if he was feeling sorry for her, especially when I pointed out that the only way she could prove she wasn’t fast was by never kissing another boy until the day she died. But I couldn’t think of a better person for such a thing to happen to, so I laughed. Going to middle school in the same building as the high school students makes you see the reality. School is one long illness with symptoms that switch every five minutes so you think it’s getting better or worse. But really it’s the same thing for years and years. (p. 202)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Boy, Snow, Bird (moon, drunk)

As I am getting this post ready to go, the moon is busy being eclipsed by the earth and I can see it right out of my window which is pretty damn cool. Although all I can think of (of all the moon songs out there) is The Killing Moon, which sounds like it might be a bummer, but it is excellent and as moon songs go it is appropriately dramatic for a TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE.  (If you didn't know what was going on, a lunar eclipse would be terrifying.)


Okay, back to business. (There's just a sliver of white moon showing - soon it will be EVIL RED and my plans will come to fruition in accordance with the prophecy! Mwahahahaha!) (just kidding - I have no lunar agenda, but I am wearing a full cape/cloak and a diadem made from the bones of my enemies.) (okay, not really.)

**drunk update courtesy tavern patron who has apparently sloshed outside and has raised his eyes to the heavens* and I quote: "That's what I'm WAITING for!"  while I wonder if it's overkill to listen to The Killing Moon for the manyth more time. Answer: nope.)

FATE up against your will. 

** drunk update: "COME ON, BABY"  He sounds like he's really mad at the moon for making him wait so long, which makes me want the moon to take EVEN LONGER although there's something rather poignant about this intoxicated dude raving at the sky like it's doing something to make him angry on purpose.  The sky doesn't care, man. 


you guys, I really want to hear that song again and then I will put the rest of this post up. You know, the part about the book, which I really loved.

*** drunk update: "Oh, RIGHT ON. Baby!" (followed by inarticulate yipping sound. Maybe the drunk astronomer is actually part coyote and the full moon covering itself is a very confusing time for him. I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but that desire will evaporate if he keeps at this throughout the entire lengthy total lunar eclipse process.) 

Ooh, the moon's gone all black now! EXCITING TIMES. I was going to post a book review tonight, but now I feel like maybe I should do it in the morning so it's not all gunked up with my total lunar eclipse overshares. The book is Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, and the pictures in this post are (I guess, now) just teasers. The cover is really beautiful.

Now I'm worried about drunk guy because he has fallen silent. And I can't find the moon at all - did it move behind the tree? Is it dark forever? are the clouds coming in and salting this show? I think it's a combination of all of the above. I turned off all my lights (and turned down the brightness of my laptop): if I turn my head just right I can see the faint moon through the spooky clouds and leaves. I may go outside to assess directly.

report: the fog came in like a proper horror movie. I could still make out the eclipsing parts, but it's all blurry, like I'm looking at it through wax paper.

ha ha! I have made myself think of another song!! It was an accident, and I'm not really happy about it, so don't say I didn't warn you: Total Lunar Eclipse of the Heart  Turn around Bright Eyes

okay, now there is all fog and no moon so I am going to go to bed. Book post (for real) tomorrow!
There's nothing I can do, total eclipse of the mooooon.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

PSA Pap Rap

I saw this on twitter shortly after I got back from the gynecologist:TIMELY. The puppet Mary Wollstonecraft hype men made me laugh and I'm totally going to wear a skirt next time - brilliant idea!

Best in-video summary of the pap smear experience: "it ain't a thrill, but it's fine. Honestly, it's fine."

I would add  DITTO for Mammograms.  My advice for making it easier, (which is also stated in the video) is to remember that the people doing these up close and personal exams are professionals who have SEEN IT ALL a thousand times. Don't even worry for a minute.

here's some info on The ACA and women's health. It's important for people to talk about!

Back to book week(s) shortly!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

do not recommend

At work we have a staff picks shelf and it's very popular -  I love putting books that I've enjoyed on the shelf and passively introducing them to new readers. Some of us have been joking that we should have an Anti-picks shelf, or a Do Not Read shelf, but of course that would never work because one person's pick is another person's poison and so on. However, if there was one, I'd put Ripper by Isabel Allende face out on the middle shelf so everyone would know in one easy glance that this is one to skip.

I didn't start off thinking this way, of course. I haven't read all of Isabel Allende's books, but I've read at least three (Eva Luna, Daughter of Fortune, and Zorro) - enough to know she's  good and to make me excited to read something outside of her usual area. I was so looking forward to it, which only makes me feel silly now - but I'm trying to set aside that feeling and use my knowledge to warn others.


On the surface, what could go wrong? The marvelous Ms. Allende writing a thriller set in San Francisco? Sign me up! Alas, it was not meant to be between me and this book - we had an extreme lack of book/reader chemistry. Let me compile a partial list:

1. The main character's name is Indiana Jackson, she is a 'white witch' healer/ reiki massage therapist, aromatherapy expert, etc. All of that is fine, but Indiana Jackson for a name is not. I was waiting the whole book for her father (also a character) to say "we named the DOG Indiana" but it never happened.  She is patient, kind, and true of heart with messy blonde hair and a big butt, because of course. I read something that suggested Allende did this to offer a counterpoint to the usual tough crime lady, but this was just as cliche in its own way.

2. her 17 year old daughter is a beautiful (but doesn't know it) computer genius who is running an online game called Ripper. She and various characters from around the world solve crimes related to the game, until she decides to start solving crimes closer to home. How does she do this? ...

3. Her father (Indiana's high school boyfriend who knocked her up when she was 15) just so happens to be a police inspector. A police inspector who has no problem talking about current investigations and sharing crime scene photos with his teenaged daughter. (and apparently doesn't mind if she shares this info with her online gaming group.)

4. SO MUCH BACKSTORY. In historical novels, I get it. In a thriller, it kneecaps the momentum if every time any character tries to cross the page, first they have to unload their entire life story, work history, and opinion of the white witch (if they have one) before they are permitted to perform their plot related duties.

5. The book was almost 500 pages, and I don't think the plot really started moving at all until after page 300.

6. Most characters are paper thin, the cliches run the gamut from borderline offensive to straight up offensive.

7. When the plot finally started creaking into motion I thought "Oh my god, the killer better not be XYZ because it is way too obvious"

8. Guess who the killer was!

9. There's a former Navy Seal who is also romantically interested in/obsessed with Indiana (like every other man in the book), he's also a computer expert and CIA/NSA freelancer (of course), who performs constant acts of physical endurance like swimming in the bay in winter and riding his mountain bike to Mars. But it's not enough that he's a Navy Seal, he's not just from an elite unit, he's from Seal Team Six!! He's got a prosthetic leg and a retired active duty dog named Attila, who has metal teeth. (Attila should have his own book and get himself as far away as possible from the rest of this mess.)

10. Did I forget to mention Indiana's rich, much older winery-owning playboy boyfriend? Because she has one. He takes her to art galleries and the opera where she makes him feel young and virile again  because he gets to explain things to her like the droning docent boyfriend every woman wishes she had - he loves the contrast of his cerebral culture blah blah to her earthy white witch blah blah so much and this works so well for him he doesn't have to take pills for his erectile disfunction. (!!! ) (my eyes will never be the same after reading the limp/tumescent history of the playboy boyfriend.)

11. I was explaining the plot to a friend who had expressed interest in the book, and he said it sounded like a Jackie Collins novel from the 80s. I have yet to hear a more perfect encapsulation.

12. There is a plot device kitten in this book and she is saddled with the name Save-the-Tuna. Kitten, you should get your own book with Attila and the first thing you should do is ride your motorcycle to the animal courthouse and change your name. I bet the two of you would be better crime solvers, all things considered.

13. I'm not even listing some of the most egregious plot devices because I don't want to spoil anything if for whatever reason this does sound good to someone. But trust me - it's not so bad that it's good, it's just a long slog to the point where the book has finally run out of pages. I would have quit it much sooner if it hadn't been Allende.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

book week


I went digging around through my flickr pictures for some appropriate general book pictures and found this one - I pinched its cheeks and cropped out the pile of sneakers that used to be at the bottom; now you can just see the top of ONE sneaker and I'm unreasonably pleased with myself.

SO, right - I have decided that if last week was pictures of plants week, this week could be book week! It's my blog and I'll do what I want.

What are you reading? What are you excited to read? Any duds lately? I have my answers to these questions AND MORE.

Let's start off the week with an easy one - what are you reading? (I almost started off the week with only the above, but my goal is to quit being so squirrelly about writing about books.) As I was saying...

I just started reading Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. I loved both Mr. Fox and White is for Witching, but find myself not really in the mood to read this one, but read it I must because I checked it out from the library and it's due soon and a bunch of Johnny Come Latelys have put it on hold in the meantime. Why not in the mood? I don't know. I think I just want to read mysteries right now, which is weird because I went years without them.

But I started it and I'm loving it so far even though I know it's going to make me work.  More on this after I've finished it. Isn't the cover beautiful?

Friday, March 28, 2014

my imaginary estate

daffodil circle

I don't know what the weather is like where you are, but here it is raining raining RAINING. I have to mentally combat the weather before heading off to work, so here are three more pictures of some sunny flowers on a sunny day at the Oregon Garden. (Non-flower pictures will one day be featured on this blog, but today is not that day.)

So, I love this circle of daffodils under this tree. This is one of the things that makes me wish I had an acres-large estate so I could execute whatever whimsical plantings I fancied. (would there be shaped topiary? I don't know.)


...a little closer... that's the oak grove in the distance.


TA-DA! It's hard to beat the cheerfulness of a bright yellow daffodil on a sunny day. (or a rainy day, to be honest.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

spring day with frog(s)

People, I have a million pictures from the Oregon Garden. I am not limiting myself to posting three, but I'm limiting myself to posting three at one time.  I was there on Sunday to celebrate Martina's birthday and the weather could not have been nicer. It's still really early in the season yet for the garden (I've only ever seen it off season, which I hope to rectify this year) - so there were a lot of unplanted beds and dry fountains - but there was still so much to see! Like the frog above. He must have thought the paparazzi had come to town because we were all freaking out to get a photo of a frog on a motherflippin LILYPAD, only to notice when we got home that there was an even bigger frog also in the picture. (do you see him?)

I think I took technically better blossom pictures, but I like this one the best. I can't help it - I am a total sucker for the sun flare. (Maybe because we are in the cloudy season? Maybe because it's always 70s album cover time in my heart?)


They have an amazing conifer collection at the Oregon Garden - they call it a "conifer reference garden" and are going to expand it sometime in the next few years. I have no idea what this one is, but I LOVE IT. It looks a little lacy, and also like you would find it outside a mining camp somewhere.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

good time vernal equinox

yellow and orange


I have news and announcements - first things first: Happy birthday to Martina!  Since we were born in the same year I can say this: Every birthday gets us closer to becoming wise women who hold the important cultural knowledge of our past, like the complete lyrics to Wham! Rap.

March has been a busy month so far - I got to meet Maggie - she's just moved back to Oregon and already knows the best cake restaurant in Salem! I know this because we ate some - I still think about that raspberry chocolate ganache. I briefly wondered if it would be weird at all to meet someone I knew only through email and the internet, but it was not! Maggie's lovely, her little dog is a sweetheart, and I'm so glad she's living close enough to visit in person.

In other news, I think I finally have an answer to why I have been so lethargic about this blog and life in general: not enough blood in my blood! Events of the last month led me to the doctor that I'd managed to avoid since I got insurance (last July), and she told me I was anemic and to start taking  iron supplements. I feel so much better! It's only been about 3 weeks, but I already have more energy, my fingernails are recovering, and the black circles under my eyes are fading away. Hurrah! Anyway - if you're feeling inexplicably logy, make them check your iron!

With that extra energy I took a walk on Tuesday and here are some of the pictures. I love springtime.


This is on the sidewalk in front of my house - the horse chestnut branches are getting thick and twisty like they do every spring. Soon there will be enormous bright green leaves and then white flowers.
(the sky was like this when I set out, but half an hour after I got home it was bright blue and you'd never know it was threatening rain like this just before.)


ha ha! looking at this now all I see are what look like dried grass clippings in the candytuft, but what I saw when I stopped to take the picture was GREEN, pops of purple, lacy white, and a line of hot pink fallen camellias at the top. Maybe I was just tired and wanted to stop. (this happens.)


I like how all the wires look like they're coming out of this yield sign.


This forsythia is aggressively cheerful and I love it. You're not going to miss that one.

I love camellias in other people's gardens #springwalk  #pdx

CAMELLIA! I love how this looks against the white brick - I pretty much always love Camellias, especially in someone else's yard. (they are messy.) Anyway - this little vignette looked very fairy tale or story set somewhere else at the dawn of aluminum gutters to me.

Daffodil time #springwalk

Daffodils, man. They are so cheery without being as in your face as say, forsythia.

Headed in the right direction #springwalk

I'm sure this was to mark sidewalk or sewer repair, but I like to think someone wanted to make sure I knew I was going the right way.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

illogical landscapes

Here's a quote from Charlotte Gill's Eating Dirt, which I just read for book group.  It was amazing! I will limit myself to only one quote right now, but I could seriously quote something off of every page. The subject made it a 4 star book for me  (set in PNW, forestry, weird subculture, etc.) but her writing elevated it to 5 stars.

"Clear-cuts are illogical landscapes, lunar in their barrenness yet bristling with big texture. The bucked limbs, the twisted trunks, and the rotten heartwood. The logs worth less than the cost of the haul to market. Traveling through clear-cuts is an unstable, three-dimensional affair. Imagine a field piled thick with car parts, knitting needles, coat hangers. Imagine climbing through hurricane wreckage. Add slope and cliffs and waterfalls and weather. Our technique for walking is like jujitsu, performed with both the hands and feet. Slash is a forest's post-mortem revenge, a sharp-toothed terrestrial sea. It's not our fault, but it might as well be. Every day the land takes a bite out of us."

okay, I lied. Here's a second quote from page 101

"Perhaps our fatal flaw is inquisitiveness. We don't know how to let an opportunity go by. If an object exists in this world, it can't stay intact, unexamined, unused. We're biological capitalists. If it lives we've got to make the best of it. We've got to hunt, cook, and taste it. Whatever it is, we've got to harness and ride it, pluck it and transform it, shave it down and build it up. We just have to glue, mold, freeze, and melt it into something else that hardly resembles that thing in its virgin state. We've got to get our hands on every last scrap and transform it into something useful, even if we have a million of those things already. We've got to cut it down and wring it out until that final ounce is gone. "

Monday, February 17, 2014

curbside pony

Hitch yr pony

I think the Portland pony/horse project motivation can best be explained as "WHY NOT?  there's a horse ring right there and I have this plastic horse in my bag!"  All I know is I've been unreasonably charmed every time I've come across one. This fine fellow is right by where I park my car when I go to work - I'm glad there's plenty of grassland for him to graze upon.

How are things ? Things are good here, except I have fallen out of almost all outward communication  apart from ACTUALLY SPEAKING to people in person. It's weird and it feels like a loss because there are things that don't really fit in to conversation or that nobody wants to talk about or are just my fleeting interests or whatever and instead of expressing them in a blog post or email or (terrible) drawing or photograph I just breathe them in and there they stay. In some ways unsatisfying, but in other ways very nice.  Looking for a balance is what I'm doing right now.

(actually doing right now: sitting at my desk, which is covered with etsy domino debris listening to the wind howl out the window (we are having a wind storm!) thinking about how nice it is to make a blog post here about essentially nothing, but also thinking how nice it was when I went to bed before midnight last night and basically having a Ralph Wiggum moment. Goodnight!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

adventures like these

This is amazing. It's from a couple of years ago, but passed by my eyes again this morning on Twitter and I had to share it. Nature is astonishing!  And scary - these birds are so beautiful in flight but I would have been freaking out!! (this is what makes it an adventure…) I'm sure if I was in that canoe I would have sworn as much or more as these two.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

still January!



How are things?

For me, they are good. Here's right now:

  •  I just finished my temporary position at work and resume my regular schedule this week. I was happy for the opportunity and the $$, but will also be glad to get out in the stacks and back to my super flexible schedule again. 
  • I just (yesterday!) had two teeth extracted and am all propped up in a chair with pillows and blankets and a cat, fulfilling my medically advised "take it easy" prescription. I also have a face swollen like a chipmunk and the Lortab is making me itch, but it's all to a greater good so I'm down with it. PLUS, did I mention the blankets, the cat, the pillows, the book, the laptop, etc. 
  • I am deeply covetous of some expensive boots. I tell myself I don't need them (I don't) but then I see them disappearing slowly from the internet and I get a little panic in my feet. The mystery of late winter will be whether or not dollar logic prevails over boot desires. 
  • State of the Union tonight! I will be watching, will you? 
Like many, I'm not one for a list of specific resolutions, but there are some new year things that I'm thinking about. Such as…

  • this William Morris quote: “If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
  • while I was looking for that, I found ANOTHER Morris quote that speaks to me right now: “A good way to rid one's self of a sense of discomfort is to do something. That uneasy, dissatisfied feeling is actual force vibrating out of order; it may be turned to practical account by giving proper expression to its creative character.”
  • Making time for long books. 
  • wardrobe overhaul. More on this soon - I would really like to only keep clothes that I love to wear. This should be doable! (see W.M.'s golden rule above.) 
  • super excited about gardening this year. 
  • making things! clothes quilts jewelry photographs food etc!
  • adventures
  • friends
  • listening to albums and not just songs

Monday, December 23, 2013

rich girl

I did not do a good job blogging every day! Good thing it doesn't matter. I am trying this thing where I either a) forgive myself or b) try not to blame myself at all for dumb stuff that no one cares about.


ANYWAY. I ended up working a bunch more than I planned because people were sick and I felt guilty (note: I did not make them sick! I just have a generally guilty conscience for no good reason) and I also like my job and money. All of this to say: Holiday season so far is pretty good. I've seen a lot of friends, have hopes to see more and fa la la la la. I have eaten too much junky delicious and just plain junky food.  What I most want to do is sit on this lovely long couch in front of the christmas tree (where I am this very minute, 11:59 12/22) in my pajamas and read books for a week, but seeing people is good too.

Speaking of couches and reading for a week - I had the most lovely patron interaction this last week. A petite and stylish lady of middle years came up to the desk where I was working and heaved a giant bag of books up and started unpacking.  Because we are not supposed to talk specifics about what people are checking out unless they initiate it (patron privacy) I said "it looks like you had some success browsing!" She said (in a delightful french accent) that she had just finished a stressful bout at work and she and her husband were going to a cabin with no tv and no phone where she planned to lie on the couch all week and read novels. "I don't even know if I'll open all of these, let alone read them." I said something about how it was just nice to have the luxury of choice and she said that she loved LOVED the library because it "makes me feel rich" to be able to take out 15 books that she may or may not read and that her husband was doing the same thing for music and she felt very indulged indeed. There's a holiday for you! We wished each other joy of the season and off she went. I'm so lucky that many of my interactions are of a similar nature, if not quite so lined up with my exact personal feelings.

SO, I may or may not post again before Christmas but whether I do or not know I am wishing you well, wherever you are. May you find your equivalent available luxury!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

what do you consider fun? fun, natural fun

who needs to think when your feet just go? 

Something tonight made me think of Mariah Carey's Fantasy (below), which of course made me think  of this! Sometimes a person needs a little break from holy nights, angels singing, santa babies, reindeer, silver bells, bing crosby, silent nights, marshmallow worlds, chimneys tonight, angel gabriels, ETC. Tonight is the night I needed that break or the question would truly be whatcha gonna do when you get out of jail for throwing christmas CDs off of the overpass?  (I LOVE THIS SONG.)

It's just a little break, is all.

Here's Mariah on a roller coaster wearing roller blades in the 90s. If we want to make this into a christmas song, just imagine that the roller coaster car flies off and Mariah delivers extended vocal notes to children all around the world. Anyway - I know a lot of people grouse about how this uses the beat from Genius of Love, but as I recall she was always up front about how much she loved the original song. It's not like she was trying to sneak it, she was celebrating it. I don't consider myself a huge Mariah fan by any measure, but this song and (ha ha) her CHRISTMAS SONG are pretty dang great no matter how you slice it.

Monday, December 16, 2013

some Charley Harper birds

Let's have something lovely to look at, shall we? How about a few Charley Harper bird pictures? I agree! He made a lot of bird pictures - this is but a small sampling. 

I love the graphic clarity - shapes are simplified, but you can still absolutely tell what it's supposed to be. (a warbler.) (I mean, you can tell if you know what a warbler looks like. The pictures don't give magical powers of bird identification, although that would be super cool.) 

Elegant Egret. I love the delicacy of the plumes against that stark red-orange. 

Hello, fellows.