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I’ll get on the bandwagon.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is, well, made of awesome.

I kinda got on the Sherman Alexie bandwagon, as an undergrad, when all freshmen were required to read his The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven. I liked it. Put it next to Plato’s Republic and it was pretty damn exciting. But I didn’t go out and gobble up all this other books. Plus I’m not the hugest fan of short stories. But you know me, I’m a sucker for YA. And for YA that everyone’s been raving about. And that wins the National Book Award.

Go find a copy and get back to me – Joe, put it on hold. Kitri, my (library) copy is your copy. I bet even Aunt Betty would like it (I know she’s an Alexie fan).

Here’s one of my favorite things about the book: almost everything that makes you laugh is also heartbreaking. This in no way makes it less funny, or less sad. It’s both, perfectly, at once. Just like the times when Junior is heartbroken but can’t. stop. laughing.

Also, Junior is a book kisser.

I grabbed my book and opened it up.

I wanted to smell it.

Heck, I wanted to kiss it.

Yes, kiss it.

That’s right, I’m a book kisser.

Maybe that’s kind of perverted or maybe it’s just romantic and highly intelligent.

While it certainly packs a punch, it’s a quick, engaging read and I think it would be equally engaging to high schoolers and adults. It’s one I could pick up and read through again, if I didn’t have so many others waiting for me.

Also, the 1 and 2 star reviews on Amazon are pretty diverting.   “The protagonist is too similar to all of those annoying protagonists in young adult fiction today,” says the 1 star.  Yes, they’re all so annoying aren’t they?  They’re not, you know, struggling with figuring out who they are and what their place is in the world.  They don’t have problems with friends or family or school or themselves.  They’re simply annoying.  Oh, teenagers.  Both reviews pick on the Catcher in the Rye similarities, but honestly I never thought of Catcher until Junior mentioned it on his list of favorite books.  Along with The Grapes of Wrath.  And Feed.  And Fat Kid Rules the World.  And Invisible Man.  And some others that I haven’t read.  But really, I was more struck by the inclusion of Steinbeck and Ellison than the others – you have poverty and you have race, pretty squarely represented.  Issues that are much more emphasized, I would say, than any similarities to Holden.

I am forever doing my school reading and chuckling over various things I come across.  This morning it’s the reminder that “patience and forbearance” are “traits that good reference librarians always have in surplus.”  (Celia Hales Mabry)  It shouldn’t be funny but it is.  I like reading things that would shake my family’s firm belief that I’m suited for librarianship.  Not that I can’t be patient and forbear, but that is perhaps not their idea of me.  Hmm?

In other news I have finished Rebecca and now I’m wishing I’d kept pace with the read-along gang because I’m dying inside not being able to talk about it.  I ended the book, um, confused.  Kind of like the time I had to read All Quiet on the Western Front in high school, and I didn’t realize there was an epilogue and thought “well, that’s an awfully vague ending – does he live?” until someone pointed it out to me.  Except Rebecca doesn’t have an epilogue.  Either there’s some intense vagueness going on or I missed a major clue.  Maybe I was reading too late at night.

Now I’m reading The Shadow Thieves which is alternately s l o w  and completely engrossing.  It’s heavy on the sentence fragments, which sometimes works and sometimes irritates.  The chapter on Hades turning into a bureaucracy had me howling, but other chapters drag out a bit too much, or maybe it’s the tone making the pace feel slower than it really is.  Still, I’m very curious to see where it goes.  I’m enjoying this doing-interesting-things-with-Greek-mythology trend in the kidlit world.

It’s time to buckle down to the school reading after a weekend of brunches, yarn stores, knitting, wine imbibing, movies, Thanksgiving dinners, out-of-town friends, in-town friends, and family.  Two more weeks till Christmas break – if only I’d kept up with things, I could sail through these two weeks!

I am leftoverless, unless you count the pie in the fridge.*  The leftovers haven’t even been cooked yet, since we ate a delicious dinner at my cousins’ yesterday, and my mom is making her traditional “we didn’t have Thanksgiving at home this year” low-key turkey dinner tomorrow.  So we can have all the leftovers our little hearts desire.

Yesterday’s food was pretty much perfection, especially considering my taste buds are numbed by the cold I got as soon as I got over my first cold.  Ugh.  I made a dark chocolate cream pie (from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion) which was delightful.   We sat around, drank wine, played cards, waiting for all the pre-made dishes to have their turn warming up in Di’s tiniest-ever oven.  (Fluxx words surprisingly well with a 3rd grader and a 1st grader, and would be even better if you took out some of the weirder rule cards.  In case you ever need to know.  Scrabble not quite so well, but perfectly fine if you give them suggestions and then make them figure out what the word is.  Oh, and tell them where on the board to put it).

As if in honor of the holiday, it’s suddenly gotten bitterly cold.  Okay, bitterly cold for Portland.   Wearing gloves in the car while you wait for the heater to kick in, keeping your coat on when you come home while you wait for the radiators to get that chill out of the air.  Leaping from bathmat to hallway carpet to avoid setting foot on the cold tile floors.

After a string of children’s and YA, I’m actually reading TWO adult books at once – I’m listening to Master and Commander in the car, which I’m enjoying although I could care less about nautical whatsis, and I’m reading Rebecca, which I’m whipping through after giving up on the skips-every-30-seconds audio version.

I’ve been commenting as I go along over at Bookshelves of Doom, where Leila is going through it 3 chapters at a time and taking excellent notes, but I haven’t managed to put together my own thoughts so I won’t join in at this late date (besides, I’m a little ahead and I would probably end up saying something spoilerific).  While I’m not a big fan of thrillers or scary stuff, I do enjoy old-fashionedly creepy things.  I blame an early middle-school viewing of Jane Eyre, which led to the Great Bronte Kick of my adolescence.  So Rebecca is quite satisfying in that regard, much like The Woman in White or Jane Eyre herself.  Speaking of, it’s been ages since I reread Jane.  I’m curious as to how sympathetic I would find her now, or if she, like the narrator of Rebecca, would make me want to slap her and tell her to get some guts.  I remember Mr. Rochester as being more of a dashing romantic hero than Maxim de Winter, but apart from that they do share some qualities.  Mr. R would get my pity vote, though, over Mr. deW.  Okay, I’ll stop before I go too far.

*As this post has gone on, more and more of the pie has ended up in my belly.  There will be less and less left to put back in the fridge.

When did I become the kind of person who writes an eight page paper when five are required?  Probably because it’s a ‘report on your experience’ paper rather than a research or opinion paper, but still…I was shocked to look down and realize I was on the 8th page without the end in sight.  Editing was called for.  I turned it in.  I’m free.*  Fastest paper ever.

To get myself in the Advent spirit, I made soup today.  I’d made a resolution to cook with dry beans, because really, I’m home most days and have plenty of time to sit around while beans cook themselves.  No need to buy canned for convenience.  So I was checking out the bean section and spotted a bag of cranberry beans (thanks, Bob’s Red Mill) which the copy claims are “much sweeter and more delicate in taste than common pintos or kidney beans.”  Oh, those pintos!  So common!  Not likely the lordly cranberry bean!  I suppose since most beans don’t really fall into the “delicate” or “sweet” categories at all, the claim to be sweeter and more delicate is possible.

Anyway…I bought the beans and then decided to make the recipe for Cranberry Bean Stew** on the back.  Except I just realized that I didn’t really follow the recipe AT ALL.  I halved it, and then I went crazy.  Here it is, with my changes in parentheses:

  • 6 oz cranberry beans
  • 6 cups water (I used 6 cups for a 1/2 batch to make it brothy)
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, thinly sliced (the celery stalks at midnight!)
  • 3 oz frozen or fresh cranberries (completely omitted, but I did throw in a sliced carrot)
  • 3 potatoes, peeled and diced (I used decent sized Russets for a 1/2 recipe)
  • 1 cup half and half (duh, it’s a fast.  Left this out and threw in a veggie bouillon)
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped (omitted, tossed in some assorted dried herbs)
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1 large clove of garlic, crushed (two cloves, oh yeah)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp pepper

Bring water to a boil in a deep pan. Add beans, onion, celery stalks, cranberries, potatoes, parsley, bay leaf, garlic, salt and black pepper. (I sauteed the onion & celery & garlic in a little olive oil before throwing them to the wolves, I mean beans) Boil rapidly for 15 minutes until brothy. Remove froth with a spoon and discard (there was no real froth, so I didn’t bother). Reduce heat, add half and half (omitted) and simmer for 1 1/2 hours (I copied this from the online recipe, but my bag says 2 1/2 - which is what I did) or until smooth. Put in blender for a smoother soup (nope). Serve hot with whole grain bread (probably some sourdough toast).

I haven’t eaten a bowl yet, but the broth is tasty.  Even with the full-salt bouillon cube I tossed in a fair amount of sea salt, so watch out.

*Free as in ‘the assignments that are due this Sunday are done.’  Not at ALL free as in ‘caught up with readings’ or ‘done with the quarter’ or ‘ready to graduate.’

**Why does Bob’s Red Mill claim that you can search their recipes, when any keyword search results in a huge list of every recipe on their website?  You only find specific recipes if you narrow it down by category and ingredients.  Why have a keyword search if it doesn’t do anything useful?

It’s all coming up so quickly.  First the National Book Award, and right around the corner the Printz, Newbery, Caldecott, etc.  Why do I love book awards season so?  I just do.  It’s always an added thrill if you’ve already read the winner, if you’re up on things and Have an Opinion.  Having an opinion apparently matters to me a good deal.  I’m already behind on the National Book Award since I’m STILL on hold for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  Of course, the adult awards I could care less about.

I’ve been looking back over the list of what I’ve read this year, and trying to remember which were 2007 titles and to pick out favorites.  I’d definitely like to see The Wednesday Wars pick up an award, and Feathers and If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period and Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree were none too shabby either.  I loved Laika, but the format pretty much prohibits it from the Newbery.  The Printz now, they know how to do right by graphic novels.  Book of a Thousand Days has potential.  The Invention of Hugo Cabret gets a lot of buzz, and I liked it, but I’m not necessarily rooting for it.  Story of a Girl and The White Darkness were both solid YA titles.  I feel like I must be missing something, either that or I’m woefully behind on my 2007 reading.  There wasn’t really a YA title this year that I LOVED like I loved dear Octavian Nothing last year.  Still, I’m getting very very curious.

Who decided Thanksgiving is next week?  That’s just crazy talk.  But, a good excuse to make a chocolatey pie.

In other news, the Advent fast is upon us and my fridge was not emptied of dairy products in preparation.  Waste not, want not, eh?  At least what I can’t make Kitri polish off.

Monday morning, drinking my coffee and feeling glad that I’m inside and not outside, where it’s blustery and rainy, declaring itself November.

I finally finished Half Life.  If you’ve read my review on Goodreads, you know I was heartily sick of it after a promising start.  Part of the probably that I’ve had Ha’Penny waiting for me for a week or so, and I’d done the delayed gratification thing long enough.  Where you have a book that you are pretty much sure you’ll love, so you don’t want to read it because then it will be over and what will you look forward to?  So it sits on your shelf as insurance.  Kitri is doing the same thing to Book of a Thousand Days.  But being bogged down at the end of Half Life had me desperate to start with the delicious sequel to Farthing, and so I skimmed through, tossed it aside, fixed myself some dinner, and sat down with Ha’Penny and a glass of wine.  And later, a lemon bar.

It was really really hard to put it down and go to bed.

Although I did manage to take a break to finish watching an overdue-at-the-library copy of Little Women, the childhood-favorite Katharine Hepburn version.  How could I have forgotten that it’s such a sob-fest?  From the very first scene – where Marmee helps the old man going to visit his last son dying the hospital!  Goodness.  It turns out that almost every detail, intonation, costume, and line was imprinted on my brain as a kid.  But I loved it as much as ever.  Just through more tears.  I’m turning into a softy as I grow up.

Then it was back to Ha’Penny and only managing to close the book when my eyes drooped shut.  I think that I might even have to give Walton’s fantasy a try…as much as I’m not a reader of, um, non-children’s fantasy, her alternate-histories are just too good to hold the fantasy label against her other books.

I started listening to Rebecca this morning for Leila’s The Big Read: Rebecca.  I’m doing the audio thing, listening to it around the house while I ate breakfast and tidied and such.  So far it definitely has the Jane Eyre feel to it – the less-privileged, inexperienced girl.  The older kind-of married man.  The house.  The slightly gothic feel.  Well-suited to today’s weather.

Last week I considered doing another year of NaBloPoMo-whatsit but decided that what with the way the weeks and months – let alone days – are careening past me, daily blogging seems well nigh impossible.  So, there you have it.

Today I’m holed up in my room, where I crank the heat up and not feel wasteful because I’m only heating one room.  The thermostat and I have a complex and tumultuous relationship.  On one hand, the electricity bill and my sense of wasting resources and my firm belief in keeping warm through striped socks, sweaters, and endless cups of tea and coffee, my faith in making do with less.  On the other hand, my cold toes and my lack of desire to live through the winter like Miranda in Life as We Knew It, huddled in a single room in all the clothes I own, under the comforter.  As a compromise, I’m huddling myself in a single room, with a perfectly reasonable two layers and the heat turned on.  I emerge to make coffee and unearth back issues of The New Yorker (what?  I had to read an article for class and finding my print copy gave me a break from staring at the computer screen).  The rest of the apartment is bone-chillingly cold.  Well, in comparison.

I like the idea of hibernating in cold weather.   Acknowledging that actual seasons are passing by outside.  Appreciating the various joys of summer and winter in turn.  (Which is much easier to do when the sun is shining, no question.)  I think we’re pretty spoiled in our degree of comfort.  Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy those comforts as much as the next person, but sometimes we need a little kick.  Like winter coming.

Let’s do an October book-roundup.

  1. Coraline, Neil Gaiman
  2. The House of the Scorpion, Nancy Farmer
  3. Understood Betsy, Dorothy Canfield
  4. Book of a Thousand Days, Shannon Hale
  5. A Certain Slant of Light, Laura Whitcomb (audio)
  6. Fat Kid Rules the World, KL Going (audio)
  7. Laika, Nick Abadzis
  8. Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List, Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
  9. Day of the Scarab, Catherine Fisher
  10. The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World, E.L. Konigsburg
  11. How It Happened in Peach Hill, Marthe Jocelyn
  12. The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri (audio)
  • A total of 12 books
  • 3 audio
  • Only one adult title finished – The Namesake, which I recommend – the book itself and the audio version.
  • I finished up Catherine Fisher’s Oracle series which I recommend to fans of juv fantasy/mythology.
  • For fans of fairy tale retellings, Book of a Thousand Days is a first-rate contribution.
  • For fans of wholesome old-fashioned-ness, you can’t go wrong with Understood Betsy.  How did I miss this one as a kid?
  • The one that hit me hardest was Laika.  You can’t read this and still be prejudiced against graphic novels.  One of those books like Octavian Nothing  (I can’t believe it took me this long to think of the comparison) that isn’t easy – it covers complex issues and it decently gut-wrenching – contains tip-top writing and storytelling, and really really stays with you.  Although ON didn’t have me in tears like Laika.

Mmm, coffee.  I haven’t had any in days – in fact, I haven’t really had caffeine at all in days – since I’ve been sticking to water, Throat Coat & the like, hot water with lemon slices and honey, and hot toddies.  Despite the stuffy nose, coughing, etc. I’m sleeping soundly through the night – thanks, hot toddy!  But Saturday morning – you’ve got to have a cup or two of coffee.  I can literally feel the caffeine working its way across my brain.

A new diversion – looking up various children’s book authors on the biography database my library subscribes to.  I’m particularly amused by what they name their children.  It’s also interesting to see what else they’ve done besides write.

I did the accidentally-leave-my-book-at-work thing again last night – I listened to Fresh Air podcasts through my break while I ate an orange, so the book never got taken out of the drawer, and then I just left it there.  Oops.  That was Half Life, which I’d had on my shelf for, oh…several months.  Long enough that I don’t think I’ll be allowed to renew it again.  Since June, according to the library.  JUNE.  It was time to finally read it, and it turns out I’m really enjoying it, although sometimes I feel apathetic when I get to one of the little inserts – lists, or articles, or what have you – that interrupt the story.  Otherwise interesting and enjoyable and smart, and wouldn’t I love to read enough books about conjoined twins to give them their own bookshelf on Goodreads?  How many would justify a shelf?  Right now I’m at two – The Girls being the other quite different and highly recommended one.

So, being Half Life-less, and apparently incapable of reading any of the other books I’ve started, I picked up The Red Shoe.  Which is interesting, but it hasn’t quite swept me up yet.

In the car I’m listening to my first Wodehouse – Carry On, Jeeves!  While I’m finding it hilarious, the stories are just a teensy bit repetitive.   I’ll try a novel next, but I’m overwhelmed by how many there are (and with no apparent good order to read them in).

Time to register for winter classes already…what happened to October?

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I love how much Ben loves vacations. I do not love half hour car naps on the way home.

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Everything was a "fish," even the sea lions.

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