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some books and subjective stars

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Saturday, February 26, 2011
Finally, some books! If I ever want to get through my 2010 list along with my 2011 list, I'm going to have get moving. I thought it might be useful (for myself as much as anyone) to put up a general description of my personal goodreads rating system. It's all so subjective - one person's three might be someone else's five, etc. etc. Anyway, here's mine (subject to change):

ONE STAR: I doubt I'll ever write up a book that gets one star -  if I hated it this much I don't think I'd finish.

TWO STARS: this would be for a book that's got a good premise but fails to deliver, or a disappointing book by an author I know can do better.

THREE STARS: This is a good, solid, would recommend it to someone but probably not everyone rating.

FOUR STARS: I like it a lot/ love it. What keeps a four star book from being a five star book (aside from how I'm really stingy with five stars) is that there's some little bit that I think could have been better, or maybe it reaches me intellectually but not emotionally or the other way around. I like it a lot, though.

FIVE STARS: I REALLY LOVE IT YOU GUYS! It's so good and if I think you'll like it, I will be relentless suggesting it until you give up out of sheer exhaustion. It will be so good you won't even hold my disgraceful behavior against the book. (Have you read Jane Eyre yet? You probably should! It's long, so start now.)

and now, today's books: 

Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay - (for my nonfiction book group). This is an interesting subject, but I found the book to be as frustrating as it was intriguing. It's meant to be a combination travelogue and a history of color; while it contains these elements, it's also full of speculation and presumptive guessing that never quite landed for me. I love travelogues, I love natural history, I love adventure, I love imaginative leaps. You'd think this would be a slam dunk, but I found her digressive ruminations on what people might have maybe been thinking when they may or may not have done such or another thing to be distracting. She lost me on the first or second page with sentences like this one (talking about a monk in a medieval Florentine prison): "Perhaps he paused for a moment before doing something that was probably forbidden to him as a prisoner of the Vatican(…)" It goes on, but that perhaps so close to the probably in a work of nonfiction made me crazy. 

The subject is fascinating - how pigments are made, where they come from, how they were used, what makes them valuable, where they're found in the world. She often took tremendous risks to do her research (I'm thinking specifically of visiting Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 to see the lapis lazuli mines) and I respect the legwork that went into this - if only more editing had gone into it! I think there's a good book on the natural history of color somewhere in here, as well as a collection of short stories based on her ruminations and wild-ass speculation. I wish it had been a little tighter; I wish she'd talked more about the travel - it was mentioned just enough to be tantalizing, but never satisfying. I should note that there were people in the group who LOVED this book, but most of them hadn't read the whole thing, only the chapters on their favorite colors. Maybe reading it straight through was my mistake. THREE STARS.  (read Jan. 2011)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Twilight (Season 8, # 7): I don't even know what to say about this except WHAT?! I've been getting these from the library so I don't have the earlier volumes to look back on, which might be helpful with the sense making. Or maybe it makes NO SENSE no matter where and when you look.  When season 8 is all done I'll gather them up and do a re-read. At this point, I'm always happy to see the old gang from the series, but WHAT?! Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should, and that's all I'll say about that right now. THREE STARS, with hope that the last volume will exceed all my FIVE STAR DREAMS.  (read Feb. 2011)

Silent in the Grave (Lady Julia #1) by Deanna Raybourn: This book set in Victorian London features a plucky, first-person lady detective in the form of one Lady Julia Grey. Lady Julia's husband dies and foul play is suspected; being the clever, independent-minded woman she is, she assists the handsome, dashing, mysterious yet irritating personal inquiry agent Nicholas Brisbane to solve the case. "To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching on the floor." Oh, Lady Julia! Don't ever change. 

I liked it - plucky, first-person lady detectives are one of my favorite things - I recommend it if you also like these things! However, I will offer some caveats: first, the book started very slow - during the early chapters it wasn't bad enough to abandon but was taking its sweet time to get anywhere. I think this is often the case in first-person stories which are intended to be the start of a series: we have to meet the protagonist, then we have to meet the large cast of characters as she encounters them - most of whom will be returning at some point so they require even more time to set up. This takes a while - it's an investment - but once things got underway the pages started turning faster and faster. Second caveat: if you're bothered by anachronistic heroines in historical fiction, this is probably not the book for you. Lady Julia reminds me very much of a 21st century woman (with modern, enlightened attitudes to sex, class, and race) who has traveled in time to the era of bustle skirts and scandalous decolletage. For some reason it doesn't bother me when she does it. So yes, - the book started slow, had some ludicrous plot developments, not to mention the psychic, multi-talented, polylingual hero who plays the violin, sings, boxes, fills out a white shirt, and solves crime - but as soon as I finished it I put the next one on hold at the library. I'm excited at the thought of having a new series to read. I give it THREE STARS, but it's a solid THREE PLUS.  (read Jan/Feb. 2011)

Brutal Beauty

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Friday, February 25, 2011
Woooo! Looks like there is a documentary (just came out) called Brutal Beauty about Roller Derby in general and the Rose City Rollers in particular. I haven't been to a bout in a while, but it is SUPER FUN and I recommend it if you're looking to holler, cheer, listen to arena anthems, possibly get beer spilt on you, and leave the arena feeling like you could lift a car. (also top notch people watching!)

an afternoon

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011
lake Billy Chinook

It was bananas today at work! I only worked 5 hours (3-8), but it was go go go go go from the moment I stepped into the building. We were closed yesterday so the book drop was a tremendous volcano of material all day long, etc. etc. etc. AND YET it was an awesome day. I got to give a little boy his first library card - he was half-shy, which means he let me talk to him and would talk some in return, but he had hold of his mom's jacket so he could pull on it if he got into a bind. ADORABLE. Then I replaced a card for a six year old who really REALLY wanted a new card, but wouldn't say why. Her mom told me it was because she had baby handwriting on her old card and it embarrassed her - so, I switched it out. She was very pleased at how much better her name looked. Then I got to sign up at least three adults for library cards. It's funny how some days I don't do any, and other days I do a lot.

NORA "I Remember Nothing" EPHRON UPDATE: I did continue reading (but only at work on my break) and it got so much better! Maybe it's just the first chapter that's Andy Rooneyesque. The chapter I just read was about her life as a young journalist for the Post, which was fascinating. Quotes when I have it in front of me. FUN FACT: she dated Charles Portis of True Grit (the novel) fame. But I haven't read any of his books yet.

(the photo above is of a finger of lake Billy Chinook in the Cove Palisade State Park. It was in the summer and doesn't really have anything to do with anything I wrote today. I just like the ribbon of road to the left of the lake. Further left - out of frame - is a waterfall.)

I can see it right now

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011
The moon is shining (reflecting?) right out my window - currently [checks moon widget] 78% full and waning gibbous. Just a moment ago it had some spooky cloud action going on, but now it's shining bright and alone in a black sky. Let's make that a very dark blue sky - it looks black, but I know it's really that slick and tricky darkest blue found in mismatched socks the world over.

We are finally (allegedly) going to have some winter weather - there's supposed to be snow on the valley floor by Wednesday!

(cloud update: they are back, and now my moon looks like it's outside of Dracula/Frankenstein/ Any Classic Monster's castle. Why do monsters live in castles?  I just need some bats and maybe a wolf howling. Let me turn on some music and see.. Oh, wait! I know this moon play by play is pretty ridiculous, but the cloud has swallowed the moon ENTIRELY. It's gone! It's back! There are slow moving spooky clouds intermittently obscuring the moon, which is very white if I didn't mention that before. In my mind, Walter Cronkite and Howard Cosell are taking turns giving commentary. GONE. Like it never was there. This is some kind of crazy mind-trip. I should probably go to bed.)

thursday bullet points

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Thursday, February 17, 2011
• Last night our team won at trivia - this is exciting because there were only two of us (we're usually at least 4)  vs. 7 other teams. WOOOO! Then I wonder if being so excited about winning trivia isn't a little sad, then I'm sad that I would think that. (It's sad times here in my brain - I'm just lookin' for excuses to be disappointed, which is ... sad.)

• I think all this brain sad is coming out of some job anxiety - they're doing a recruitment soon that I will (finally!)  be eligible for and I'm torn between thinking YES, THIS IS MY CHANCE, HURRAH in all caps and thinking that I will screw it up in some wah wah sad trombone Charlie Brown fashion. I have to give myself a Cher-slap snap out of it talk and I'll be able to focus. Just expressing the worry helps.

• More book write-ups soon! I have the rest of my 2011 books mostly caught up, I just need to find pictures and delete as many exclamation points as I can without passing out. (aaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!) Then 2010  - or maybe I'll mix it up. Who knows what could happen?!

• I want new clothes, but I don't feel like shopping or sewing. In the meantime, I'm making new combinations out of what I already have. It's fun, but I'm ready to do a massive closet cull and start over. I think this is an early symptom of spring fever.

• Started reading Nora Ephron's new essay collection on my break today. Have made horrifying discovery that she may, in fact, be Andy Rooney.  Although if she were Andy Rooney the book would probably be called "Newfangled? No, Thanks." instead of "I Remember Nothing."We'll see - I'm not sure I'm going to finish reading it this time around.

Jane Eyre

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011
I said I was going to write up the books I read last year, and I still am, but... I thought maybe I'd do the ones I've read so far this year first. The first book I finished in 2011 was JANE EYRE, which was amazing. 

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë: I love this book! I'd never read it before, but it's one of those books that exists in the culture to such an extent that it felt like I already had. This feeling was misleading. The notion I'd had was that this novel was a dark and stormy romance with the bulk of the story focused on Jane's attachment to the brooding, hot-tempered man of mystery and tight trousers, Mr. Rochester. (I've also always envisioned him with enormous black eyebrows, which at least turns out to be correct.) This notion was partly true - Jane cares for Mr. Rochester, so of course he's an important element - but the story belongs entirely to Jane and her life. What I love best about it (right now, anyway) is that in circumstances elevated or degraded, she's her own person who acts and makes decisions derived from her strong sense of herself. She can and will make the hard choice if she believes it to be the right choice. I was struck over and over again by how modern Jane's attitude was - not what I expected at all.

The novel is also beautifully written: seriously gothic, smart, funny, spooky, atmospheric, and romantic as hell. Read it if any of those things sound good to you! I recommend either the lovely Penguin Hardcover Classic clothbound edition (not only is it a wonderful book to read, it's also impressive as a decorative object - see the picture), OR the illustrated Dame Darcy edition, which has excellent spooky ink drawings and some color plates. (of course any edition will do, but these two are fantastic and readily available.) 

I know I haven't gotten into any real specifics of the story, but that's because I don't want to spoil it if you haven't read it yet. It seems a sort of silly precaution for a book that was first published in 1847, but... just read it! It's long, but it flies by.  My rating: FIVE STARS.

For more information about why Jane is awesome, please read this Laura Miller piece on Salon. To see more of the Penguin Classic clothbound books, visit Coralie Bickford-Smith's  website.

my head hurts

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Sunday, February 13, 2011
FANCY CAPTIONS possible now in blogger. I had no idea!

BAROMETER WARS: It's like the heat miser and the snow miser are having a fistfight in my skull, but since we're talking about Portland, it's their mild-mannered, temperate cousins the rain consortium and the blue sky brigade having a slapfight instead. They're all ruled by Evil Lord Barometer anyway. What did I ever do to him? 

river world

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011
columbia river
Saturday morning they called me early to ask if I could work. I was still asleep when the phone rang (long night of broken sleep) and was unable to disguise it which makes me crazy. I wish there was a pill I could take or an exercise I could do to sound instantly, perkily awake. (I suppose I could keep a bucket of ice around and dump it on my head, but that seems like too much planning, too much work.) ANYWAY  - long story not much shorter, I didn't go to work on Saturday, but I decided that since I didn't I should have an adventure instead.

columbia river
I rousted the usual suspects and after much dithering, we decided on the river. Rooster Rock is one of the first places we landed - I'd never been there before! As you can see, the river was a good choice.

columbia river
It was foggy and atmospheric. There was hardly anyone else there.

In the summer, all of the many parking lots are full, full, FULL - but not today.  There are alleyways of trees between all the asphalt. I'm sure they're lovely in the summer, but differently from how they're lovely in the winter.

columbia river
I walked down one million steep steps to get to this. As always with one million steep steps, it was fine on the way down. I wanted a helicopter for the return, but I had to climb back up instead.

I am 100% bananas for the colors in this photo - the little bit of orange, the blue, the wet wood.

I think the tide was in.

columbia river
Here's more. I didn't see too many birds, but that was probably due to my lack of stealthiness. ("How many freaking stairs are there, anyway?" and "oooh, look at that! No, THAT!" etc.)

columbia river
I love the fog on the water. I know it's just a thing that happens all the time, but I have to tell you in all the times I've seen the Columbia river ( a lot of times!) I've never seen it look quite like this.

winter trees

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011
trees at the oregon garden
These trees are from the Oregon Garden (near Silverton) a couple of weekends ago. I like the bare branches and the winter-colored sky.

trees at the oregon garden
It was later in the afternoon - maybe 5 o'clock? Maybe earlier, maybe later. It doesn't really matter.

reflecting pond
This one is a reflection, which is why it's upside down. They have these great reflecting ponds that are actually part of their water purification system or something like that. (I didn't make that up, right? It sounds right...)

reflecting pond
here you can see the beds inside the pond. I like that there's more variety of blue in this picture, but it doesn't do much for me compositionally.  I also like the little bit of texture provided by that slight ripple in the water.

winter green

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Sunday, February 06, 2011
pine drop
I uploaded some pictures this afternoon, and these two remind me most of the weather right now. It's dirty and wet, green and brown. Actually pretty typical for winter in the pacific northwest. This top one is a little blurry, but I decided in the interests of not driving myself completely crazy, I don't care.

pink purple

I love these colors! The purplish pink, the green, the little touch of golden orange and brown against the grey, the flash of bright green at the top. LOVE THEM.

Some things I did this week:

•got dressed up for work. I've been wearing jeans for a long time and I wanted to wear a skirt, so one day I did. My outfit was super cute (in case you were worried), but holy crap I had forgotten how many layers are actually involved when a skirt is deployed under 50 degrees. I question the wisdom of wearing a new bra that kept jabbing me in tender places, but other than that I think it's an experiment I will replicate at some point.

•witnessed my written record. Boxes and boxes of old journals and letters and notes from years past erupted from the basement. I forgot that I even KEPT a journal (notebooks) for many of these years. I didn't give a thorough reading because this was a consolidating boxes kind of job rather than an examination, but I read enough to be amused and a bit concerned that my journal writing style has changed so little! The journal I keep now is a program on my computer rather than a notebook, but still.

In the aforementioned Pile of Papers from my Past, I found what remains of my Duran Duran poster motherlode. Hee hee hee! It made me laugh and feel light and happy just looking at it - funny how that goes. For all the doubters and those who said they'd never last, may I remind you that they are STILL TOGETHER.  I also found so many notes and letters from friends at school, and many letters from my dad. He was a great letter writer! He would have been a great blogger, actually. The one I read started out with a description of things around home (my sister and I were both away at school), details about what trouble the cat had gotten into, etc. and then it veered off into a long explanation about what was wrong with the H. Rider Haggard book he was reading, a general history of Haggard, and then something about Queen Victoria. Oh, and some swearing! He would have loved the idea of smuggling swears into a place where they were rarely (and never legally) uttered.

Another surprise was a folder full of drawings that I don't remember making, but looking at them I know I did them. They're not great, but they're not terrible either. I just got the new Lynda Barry drawing book from the library, so maybe I'll get a pad of paper and a pen out and mess around. WHO KNOWS?