Monday, December 28, 2009

2010 Resolution and Reading List

1. Resolution: Volunteer. I was a little burned by my last experience, but I'm resolved to find a way to share my love of reading with young people. Whether they want it or not! But hopefully they will :)

2. Reading List: I'm so fortunate to have so many good books to work through! Here is the top of the pile:
- The Republic, Plato (which I need to read in honor of one of the best teachers I've had, and so that now, as friends, we can talk about it)
- The Last Queen, CW Gortner (the excerpts of this are just lovely, I can't wait!)
- East, Wind, Rain (which I bought because it was repped by a potential agent; that didn't work out but I still want to read it)
- The Rebels, Sandor Marai (as I continue my fascination with Hungarian culture, all sparked by my wonderful Hungarian friends)
- Women Building Peace (on my Christmas list, but from a long time ago - am I still the young idealistic feminst I was? We'll see)
- Mentors, Muses & Monsters (this and the other wonderful books on writing that I have. I'm excited to work on improving my craft)
- research for the next novel (ok, I get to be a little mysterious about that)

Those plus my reads for the Historical Tapestry Challenge - so much reading! What a joy. I worry sometimes that I'll die prematurely, and won't have had a chance to do all the learning and growing I would have, a large part of which will come from books!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Home in the Snow

The beautiful snow is now going to give way to grey slush and treacherous ice, so I thought I'd post a picture to show how lovely it was at first. Or at least how heavy! This is 16th Street, where we live. On a clear day, you'd see the White House at the end of the road.

We walked around on Saturday in the storm and it was amazing how many people still insisted on being out and about driving, including a taxi cab spinning its wheels to no avail, and a Prius that looked destined for disaster.
The best part about the storm, of course, was getting to stay home and read (especially when I got an extra day off today!). I finished Life and Death in Shanghai which was just awesome, really inspiring. I really couldn't say enough good things about it - her brave story will live with me so long as I have mental capacity to hang on to it. This morning, I finished Anita Brookner's Altered States which was probably the most lonely book I've read in ages, if not ever. I'm glad I wasn't alone when I read it or I might have become rather depressed. Now I'm flirting with a few other choices. What a lovely weekend.

Ok, I couldn't resist posting a photo of our cat, Nuublay. So cute!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Temp

It was his last day. The boxes were packed, the coffee stains wiped from the desk, the papers all filed or shredded. It's true, they had hosted a breakfast for him three days before, and it was a nice breakfast. Rich pancakes and sweet, salty sausage served up by a cozy diner, just a few blocks away. "You've done a great job, we really appreciate your dilligence," they told him. "Funny that it ended up being what, nearly a year and a half?" "Two years," he replied. "You were just great," they told him. "Just great." He enjoyed that breakfast, even though it was mostly in silence while they talked to each other. They did pay for his meal.

On the afternoon of his last day, he ran into a few of them in the hallway. They were bundled up, heading out for coffee. "Oh yeah, your last day! Be sure to stop by and say farewell," they told him. "I'll try to come over before you leave," a nicer one said. He nodded. "Thanks."

He had enjoyed the two years. The assignment was much longer than he'd anticipated, and the work, even though it was mundane, was a joy compared to his previous assignment as a telephone receptionist, a mere conduit, no one's destination. Here he had responsibilities, and people came to him to ask questions.

The sun set before the day closed, and as his office dimmed, he waited, watching the clock march towards his conclusion. No visitors came. He sat in silence, then picked up his box, glanced around to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything, and walked out.

The cold outside was bracing, and he wished he had leather gloves, any gloves, to protect his fingers as he gripped the cardboard box. He took a deep breath and launched himself forward.

"Hey!" A voice called. He kept walking, the voice tuned out, intended for someone else. "No, wait! I wanted to catch you but got stuck in a meeting." He turned to see the woman who had supervised him, measuring his productivity in folders filed and cases referred, standing shivering in the cold. Her arms were wrapped around herself, little protection from the winter, and a white envelope dangled from her hand.

"I wanted to make sure you got this," she explained, holding out the envelope. "A reference. You were great, really you were. So hopefully this will, I don't know, explain. Help make sure you get another job you like. I know you liked it here." Her voice trailed off, and she looked at the ground.

"Oh, wow, well, thank you. Thank you very much." He bobbled the box around so he could grab the envelope, and managed to slide it under the lid. "That's nice of you."

"Well, I'm freezing, I'd better run back in. But good luck, I mean it."

He nodded, and watched her hurry back to the glass sanctuary of the lobby. He smiled the whole way home. A reference. Someone else's praise, solidified and permanent. He didn't notice the cold, not for a long time.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Honolulu, by Alan Brennert

This is for the Historical Tapestry challenge - letter B.

I grabbed this book in a five-minute panic at the library, and I'm grateful I didn't have any more time to peruse the shelves. The cover to this book turned me off - it looks like an Asian sexual fetish story - but because I couldn't find another historical fiction book written by a Mr. or Ms. B_, Honolulu won by default. Now that I've met Jin, learned about her homeland in Korea and her efforts to make a life in early 20th century Hawai'i, I'm definitely glad I was in such a rush.

Jin starts off life as a young girl named Regret, for her parents' feelings upon welcoming her to the world. She has greater ambitions than Confucian Korea smiles upon, and so she strong-arms her way into some luck and adventure. That takes her, as a "picture bride," to Hawai'i, where she meets the man who selected her picture from the pile. It's hardly love at first sight, but Jin ("Gem," as she now calls herself) vows to make the best of it.

The book follows Jin's life in Hawai'i, as she and the young society there work to make their ways. Jin watches, close but on the sidelines, as Honolulu struggles to come to terms with its racially-mixed identity, and she shares with the reader her own struggles.

The writing is often lovely, with evocative sentences like, "Her hair was mostly white, with a few strands of black threading through it like old memories." The prose occasionally wanders into purple, stretching the credibility of a first-person narrator who has had little education (though she treasured what she found) and speaks English as a second language. But, we can ignore these excesses for a tender and moving story.

My largest gripe with the book is the narrator's insistence on spelling out Korean and Hawaiian traditions to the reader, introducing expository paragraphs that break up the narrative. There are more graceful ways to explain habits or cultures foreign to the reader, and it reminded me too much of the author behind the curtain. Fortunately, these fade away as we get to know Jin and, in the end, her story and lovely personality make for a memorable, enjoyable read.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Basement Gem

This week is so busy that I worry I won't be able to even complete half of the things on my to-do list. When life is stressful, it's extra-inspiring to hear about little blips of joy, even if they happen to a stranger. Last night, at an amazing concert, I slipped into the basement of the venue to gulp down some water from the fountain. As I was doing so, I came across a woman on a cell phone. She was practically radiating excitement, her words laced with awe.

"And the first reading is tomorrow!" She told her invisible interlocutor. "But that's the only reading I can make for two weeks, because of the thing at [prominent local performance venue]. Oh, I didn't tell you about that? It's a dream come true! They're paying me $200 to sing in two shows there! They're actually going to pay me!"

I walked away smiling. I was happy for her - she'd apparently just been picked for a play, and on top of that was getting paid to do something she was thrilled about. What a nice thing to find in the basement.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Holiday Spirit

I find that, somewhat to my surprise, each year I get excited about the holidays. I'm not really religious, so it doesn't hold that meaning to me. I don't like commercialism and worry about the environment, so that's kind of a downer on the Earth/culture front. But in spite of that, I love the first sense of crisp air, the anticipation of family gatherings, the sugar cookies and the sparkling tree lights that December brings. This year, husband and I have decided (was he joking? I wasn't) that perhaps we should focus our celebration on the Winter Solstice - an annual occurence that I do find meaningful. Not for any pagan reasons, but just because it's a natural marker for the conclusion of another four seasons. (Ok, maybe that's slightly pagan. But I'm not leaving any offerings for the winter sprites. Santa is the only one who gets my cookies!) A friend today introduced me to Yalda - the Persian winter holiday. I look forward to learning more about it.

One of my favorite parts of the season is sending out Christmas cards. Snail mail - lovely. Snail mail of charming images on classy paper - even better! This year I'm adding a rubber stamp to seal them. ::sigh:: I need to boil some mulled wine and watch the snowflakes come down. And then read a book.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Library Adventures

I ran - literally - to the library after work today (ok, I alternated running and walking because I was wearing dress flats and because I didn't want to look like a dork). I wanted to make sure I got there before it closed because I needed to find a historical fiction book written by someone whose last name ends in B. Why? The Historical Tapestry Challenge. And because I love (love love love) going to the library and pulling random books to read. Ok, it's better when it's not crammed into 3 sweat-filled minutes before the library closes, but it's great regardless. Libraries remind me of being a kid, when walking into one was like walking into Possiblity, and coming home was always accompanied by an armload of Promises of Fun. Though thinking about that does now make me sad that instead of reading secretly under the sheets of my bed with a flashlight until my parents caught me, now I self-enforce my own bedtime 'cause I have to be functional in the morning. Oh well. Even so, I was so happy walking victoriously out the library, lights shutting off behind me, that I bought myself not one but TWO bottles of wine. (Of which I drank 1 glass. Adulthood. Sigh.)
Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma