More lapsing for this totally irregular feature. March and April were not the easiest months ever. Alas, sheer exhaustion and course reading and grading kept me from doing much fun reading at all. However, work reading was also really, really fun this semester. Here’s what it looked like:
I’ve never been a Kurt Vonnegut fan. I always lumped him in with Kafka and Salinger and the other whiny men authors that all the teenage boy nerds I was friends with in high school liked – i.e. NOT FOR ME. This is, to my shame, the only book of his I’ve read. What’s funny is I spoke with him more than once while he was a writer in residence at my college and I really liked him. I saw him speak publicly a couple times and found him witty and intelligent. And yet, I didn’t read him. Anyway, fast-forward to last year when I was conceiving of the Sci Fi class I just finished teaching – everyone recommended this book to me. And, boy, were they right.
This book is engaging and funny and strange and very, very challenging. It imagines the serendipitous path that evolution will lead humans down over the course of the million years after a mass extinction event wipes out almost all humans. BUT! Galápagos is not your standard post-apocalyptic fare. It’s witty and sarcastic and rambly and really fun to read. Highly, highly recommend.
I already wrote about this last year, but it warrants mentioning again. It’s a book that really does bear rereading. Also, I interviewed Kim Stanley Robinson with a couple of my students this spring and he’s delightful. Go buy his books.
The love I have for Margaret Atwood is deep and abiding. Know that. This is the second book in her MaddAddam trilogy and follows the faith, actions, and movements of a small apocalyptic environmental religion as they brace for the “waterless flood.” It features a canon of environmental saints, hymns to the greatest and smallest creatures and religious justifications for both maximum handwashing and minimum showering. I really really love it and highly recommend it, but I think that Oryx and Crake is probably the best of the three in this trio. Start there, continue to this one and prepare to be somewhat disappointed by the third, MaddAddam.
I’ve read this one before, but thought I’d mention it here. It’s a good mystery and well suited to those brushing up rusty German or just learning to read German novels for the first time. Set in Switzerland just after World War II, it follows the convoluted investigation of a policeman’s murder and features political intrigue both local and international. I haven’t read it in English, but I assume it translates well. Good beach reading, maybe?
For work, but also for fun:
One of my students wrote a truly stellar thesis largely on this book. Until now, I had only read Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson and have always suspected I’d love every word she writes, but this confirmed it. This is a wonderful, visceral, funny, and strange feminist novel of love and relationships and loss. It made me laugh, it made me cry, and moments from that book will stay with me for a very, very long time.
This one had been on my list since it came out (TWELVE years ago), but who ever has time for a 1,000+ page novel? Well, another of my students wrote a thesis in which this book featured prominently, so I was on the hook to read it. And thank GOODNESS I had to read it. What a wonderful, beautiful, fully realized strange other world this book inhabits! I’m not going to lie: there were times when I thought hundreds of pages could have been cut and nothing would have been lost, but the last hundred pages or so demonstrated the necessity of every word that came before! Immensely satisfying. Also, it’s about to be a BBC miniseries, so you REALLY should read it before watching. Really. (Also don’t skip the footnotes.)
This one is different to everything above. Non-fiction, environmental(ist) writing. The subtitle is “Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World,” which tells you just about everything you need to know. I was just discussing yesterday how the writing is a bit grating (it constantly seems to shout “I TOLD YOU SO”) but that the optimism of the message is a relief after reading a lot of doom & gloom environmental hand-wringing (which is also totally valid and right). Basically it proceeds from the assumption that any proposed pre-human environmental baseline is false and that the constant demonization of “invasive” species and attempted preservation (via intensive intervention) of “pure” ecosystems is unproductive. It’s aggressively non-anthropocentric, which is a good thing, but I always worry a bit about factions in the movement. Can we really afford the amount of infighting that things like non-native species inspire? Anyway, it’s a good thought-provoking read and it IS nice to see a young woman making such a forceful intervention in the environmental discourse. </endacademicese>
Finally: Summer is here!
I have a whole big program of reading planned for the summer – some for work, some for fun, some for my own edification. If you have recommendations, leave them in the comments! Categories I’m especially interested in:
- Awesome, mind-blowing books by women (e.g. Wide Sargasso Sea, anything by A.S. Byatt)
- Literature dealing with/set in/about Ireland
- Really great contemporary German literature
- Really great literature dealing with the environment
- Non-fiction that’s as engaging as The Orchid Thief (No substance abuse memoirs, please. I’ve read enough of those.)
Spring is under way here in the Inland Northwest – bulbs are up in a major way, cherry trees are blooming, forsythia is out gangbusters. That means I should already be gardening at least a little bit, but I’m only dreaming at this point. With that in mind, here is a peek at some of the highlights from last year’s garden.
Way back on August second, Dan and I celebrated one year in our new home, in our new town. While it’s really, really hard to believe that a whole year has passed, when I look back at everything we’ve done and all that’s happened in that time, it’s amazing that it was only one year.
As you may know, we bought a wonderful house last summer that was in slightly rough shape (the result of it having been a student rental for a number of years and having sat on the market for a while) and immediately set to cleaning, sprucing up, and making it our own. And now, here’s what I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for: a run-down of everything it’s humanly possible to do to a house while both of you are working full time jobs and without spending very much money.*
- We moved in, our stuff arrived, we lived among boxes for a while. (I’m ashamed to admit there are still a few boxes – still packed – stashed here and there around the house.
- We also went and purchased our first tools.
- Carpet removal: Staples, staples, everywhere!
- A new stove was ordered to replace the old monstrosity.
- Bathroom #1: Why would you just not bother to paint bead board? (Ft. random towel racks that aren’t quite attached to the wall.)
- Beer-pong table –> dining room table, thanks to wood putty and spray paint.
- You say you can’t find an entertainment center you like?! Make one! (With designs by dad sent by email and lots and lots of helping via Skype.)
- Home office, or how pink walls do NOT go with a yellow ceiling.
- First efforts at gardening, mowing, realizing that you also have to maintain the OUTSIDE of a house.
- Guest room #1: In which unfortunate paint decisions were made (and have yet to be remedied)
- Master bedroom: Slightly less unfortunate paint decisions that are, still, somewhat unsettling. (And a big-ass curtain.)
- Forsooth! A rug! And a sofa!
- Parental help descends.
- Bathroom #1, part 2: Pink porcelain, begone!
- Hark! Do you hear a sofa delivery?
- Brass. Chandeliers. Ugh.
- Ceiling fans! (Did I mention it’s really effing hot here in the summer?) (And we don’t – yet – have AC.)
- Living room paint: Our best decision yet. But wasn’t that color supposed to be gray, not blue?
- In which we hang some things on the wall. (In one room.)
- Ahoy, rug #2!
- Our very first Christmas Tree (that isn’t just a roughly triangular rosemary bush in a pot)
- Oh, and about that rotten silver maple tree…
- Laundry room: you’re next.
- Kitchen hardware that depresses me – no more!
- In which we learn that kitchen sink plumbing needs to *stay* attached. And also not be installed backward.
- Things sprouting! We might have a yard!
- We took a break and ran away to Germany
- Guest room #2: The Scary Yellow Room
- In which we finally stack up all the firewood we gained from that dead silver maple
- Plants! Landscaping! Hurray, spring!
- Also, if we’re going to grow veggies, we need a place to do it. (Read: buh-bye arborvitae, hello raised beds)
- New fridge!
- A grill!
- Laundry room, part 2: a cabinet!
- Guest room #1 gains some furniture.
- Gardening gets going!
- Outdoor chairs!
- Mustache warning tape!
- During which we had a lot of house guests
- Parental help, part 2!
- Kitchen: a new windowsill, a microwave, an icemaker that works!
- Laundry room, again! A live-edge shelf for my orchids, a countertop for the cabinet, and some new shelves (inadvertently we made the laundry room the nicest room in the house.)
- We cleaned our windows for the first time ever!
- Porch swing!
- On a whim we painted the kitchen.
- 3:25: Hey gang! I’m LATE to the party! Can’t believe it! I got busy finally unpacking some boxes from our move (18 months ago – don’t ask). Here are a few links to get us started!
- Oscar Nominations!
- The GoFugYourself crew is live tweeting this year!
- Darby O’Shea is officially fully in support of #askhermore – Read about it here. Enough of the Giuliana “How did you diet?” and everyone asking only “Who are you wearing?”
- Harper’s Bazaar has a nice fashion slideshow being updated constantly.
- 3:36: As ever, I HAVE OPINIONS about who should win, even though I haven’t seen many of the movies. (NEXT YEAR IS THE YEAR TO FINALLY CATCH UP!)
- Best Picture: I’ve only seen three of the movies (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman, and The Theory of Everything) and I absolutely will not be seeing one of them (American Sniper – ugh). Of the eight, I WANT Birdman to win, but I think it’s unlikely. I wonder whether Selma’s too little, too late publicity might help it to a win? Or will Boyhood win again (after winning the Golden Globe). It’s also unusual that The Grand Budapest Hotel (which won the GG for comedy, oddly) is also nominated for Best Picture. I don’t see a clear frontrunner – you guys?
- Best Actor: Again, I loved Birdman, but I think that Michael Keaton (much like Benedict Cumberbatch) was more or less just playing himself. I think Eddie Redmayne is a lock – the Oscars love to reward roles that make one uglier/fatter/somehow radically different – and really it was an amazing acting job. I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see Steve Carell rewarded for his prosthetic nose.
- Best Actress: Seems like Julianne Moore is the one to beat and I’d be totally fine with that, even if I haven’t seen Still Alice.
- 3:59: I want one of Wolfgang Puck’s famous chicken pot pies.
- 4:00: ABC’s coverage finally starting. We’re without cable, so are missing the E! disaster interviews. I trust you’ll keep us abreast of the worst faux pas. Also, what was with the childhood photos, etc? Random and condescending.
- 4:06: Michael Keaton is not having any of this interview. Also Robin Roberts did NOT ask Chrissy Teigen about her dress. Maybe a trend?
- 4:13: BACK after ill-timed computer issues. Rosamund Pike is LOVELY and looks so, so much better than she did at the Golden Globes. I also could just absolutely listen to her read the phone book. Also no mention of her dress. I’m down with this, but also frustrated that I don’t know what anyone is wearing.
- 4:14: Eddie Redmayne is adorable. I love the freckles and the lovely blue suit.
- 4:15: Catching up: I love love Patricia Arquette’s dress, for all it’s somewhat predictable. Margot Robbie looks sensational, but maybe a touch informal? I mean, OSCARS. Marion Cotillard rocking a look that only a woman like her (i.e. slim, gorgeous, French) could really do justice to. (Though the back of it sort of looks like sweatshirt sleeves or something?)
- 4:19: Look! They’re talking about #askhermore! Well done!
- 4:19: Felicity Jones looks fabulous again! Dressed to win, but isn’t going to, almost certainly.
- 4:20: Cate Blanchett! BEAUTIFUL. Couldn’t see detail, but that turquoise statement necklace looks amazing.
- 4:23: Julianne Moore looks… Nice? SO washed out, though. And that second row of details hits her at her very widest, which is unfair if you’ve got that figure.
- 4:24: Felicity Jones: On closer inspection, I’m not SURE about the dress. The floofiness of the bodice seems to clash with the armor-y goodness of the shape. I do appreciate a dress with forty yards of skirt.
- 4:26: I’m over Jimmy Kimmel.
- 4:28: I LOVE LAURA DERN’S AWESOME METAL DRESS.
- 4:32: Now Robin is talking to Julianne Moore. Without the white background, the dress is better, but … eh. I don’t know. Her earrings, however, are perfection. I also always forget that she has wicked freckles. Love them. Also, Hooray Julianne for talking about Alzheimers.
- 4:33: It really is amazing how much more interesting these interviews are than the asinine BS on E!
- 4:34: Dakota Johnson is SO BLAND. Dress is great, but she’s so dull. Melanie Griffith is a little mutton dressed as lamb, but still has much more sparkle than her daughter. I do appreciate how they’re having a mother/daughter fight on the red carpet. Something tells me that this isn’t the first time they’ve had these questions tonight. Can we say SURLY?
- 4:37: Marion Cotillard is fabulous. You just know she’s going to be fabulous forever and ever. She already kind of has the poise of Meryl or Helen.
- 4:41: Kerry Washington’s dress is gorgeous.
- 4:42: Chirs Pratt and Anna Faris! Love them. Her dress is gorgeous, but her head is somewhat underdressed, I think.
- 4:42: Benedict Cumberbatch! White jacket makes me a bit uncomfortable. His (new!) wife looks wonderful. He’s charming. Continuing Alan Turing love, which is also really really nice.
- 4:44: A better look at Chrissy Teigen’s dress reveals that it has … DANGEROUS angles. Lupita’s dress … I mean, she could just wrap herself up in newspapers or something and look great, but I’m not sure about her custom Chanel. Eddie Redmayne’s wife looks terrified.
- 4:52: Over at New York Magazine: It’s Not Sexist to Ask About Clothes on the Red Carpet. Valid points. I think that there is a possible way to ask the question without making the WHOLE INTERVIEW about beauty. You can ask “Who are you wearing?” and THEN move on to something else. Obviously the biggest problem is the QUALITY of the interviews.
- 4:54: Reese Witherspoon talking about #askhermore. In support of it, clearly.
- 4:54: J Lo is in costume as J Lo again tonight. The barbie pink lipstic together with the tuberculosis chic eye makeup is a little weird close-up, though her face looks fantastic from far away. At least she left the body glitter at home tonight. (All of which is to say I LOVE her over the top dress. The one at GG – not so much. But tonight: awesome.)
- 4:57: Scarlett Johansson with the much-vaunted haircut (I WANT IT) and an INSANE neckline.
- 4:58: Lupita Nyongo – articulate and fabulous and WHOA she’s working on a movie with Mira Nair!! Dream team!
- 4:58: And an ad for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel! More of Violet and Isobel, but with modern hair!
- 5:00: I will never not be surprised that Joanna Newsome and Andy Samberg are a couple.
- 5:02: My cable informant directs our attention to Gwyneth Paltrow. I haven’t seen her yet, but am reminded of this other INSANE Goop Oscar Moment.
- 5:03: Emma Stone looks fab, but the very asymmetrical hair is challenging. And she totally geeked out over Mark Ruffalo, who is, in fact, dreamy.
- 5:04: In the interest of keeping things fair, Ethan Hawke is wearing a lot of makeup and appears to have hives on his neck. Dan says “he looks like he’s in a movie where they’ve aged him.”
- 5:05: Robin Roberts just said “Aye, matey” in response to Ethan Hawke calling the cast of Boyhood “gentle pirates.” Things are getting unusual.
- 5:06: Naomi Watts: I like her dress and i’m slavering over her earrings, but I HATE HATE HATE them together. Also, I forgot she was in Birdman.
- 5:11: This year’s Oscars broadcast is sponsored by Movies for Teen Girls: ads already for Hunger Games and Insurgent. Oh, and a really trippy one for Once Upon a Time. Apparently Cruella DeVille is now a fairy tale figure?
- 5:13: Bradley Cooper. Lately I just want to wash his hair. I also recently learned that he was in Sex and the City BEFORE Alias and I was so confused.
- 5:14: Okay, Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone both FREAKED out about Clint Eastwood. His movies just really don’t do it for me.
- 5:15: Faith Hill grew up all of a sudden. Dan is troubled by her visible sternum. I also feel like Tim McGraw is playing an unlikely presidential candidate.
- 5:17: Today in sentences that make no sense to me: “Lady Gaga Performing Sound of Music Tribute at Oscars 2015 in First Post-Engagement Appearance“
- 5:18: UGH KEIRA KNIGHTLEY AGAIN. TERRIBLE.
- 5:15: Lady Gaga in Azzedine Alaïa, whose name will never fail to remind me of Clueless. I kind of love the dress, but am not sure about the gloves. I am sure about her hair, though. HATE.
- 5:23: Jessica Chastain is basically wearing Julianne’s bridesmaid dress from My Best Friend’s wedding, but in blue.
- 5:25: Ooh, inside the theater now.
- 5:26: Okay. Gwyneth has looked WORSE (see above), but she’s also looked better.
- 5:27: The ad theme continues. Ad for the live action Cinderella. Lady Rose looks fabulous, but I wish someone had settled down with the oversaturated colors. We GET IT. It’s a FAIRY TALE MOVIE.
- 5:30: GO TIME! Neil Patrick Harris! Yay! I like the red backdrop.
- “Tonight we honor the best and whitest.”
- 5:31: Clint Eastwood doesn’t like musical theater, apparently. what a bitchy face.
- 5:32: Every opener for the Oscars includes that scene from North by Northwest. I like the shadow tricks, though. Really.
- 5:33: Anna Kendrick. Huh. JACK BLACK though! Yay!
- 5:35: WAIT WAIT WAIT, but why hasn’t Jack Black hosted the Oscars?
- 5:36: Dancing Stormtroopers!
- 5:39: Best Supporting Actor: I’m rooting for Ed Norton. It’s a heavy hitting category, though.
- JS Simmons! THAT was surprising. I’m going to call it now: Whiplash is going to win a LOT, possibly even best picture. Years like this where there isn’t an obvious winner, movies like this do well.
- 5:45: I love the NPH Oscar predictions shtick.
- 5:46: Liam Neeson should never have made Taken.
- 5:47: Introducing two Best Picture nominees at a time this year. Bold.
- 5:50: Both Dakota Johnson and Maroon 5 are devoid of charisma. Well matched. Also, I had legitimately never heard of Begin Again until just now.
- 5:57: Costume design. Always one of my favorite categories. I KIND OF think Maleficent should win. Winner: Grand Budapest Hotel. I’m okay with that.
- I ALSO always love seeing what the costume designers wear. Milena Canonero is On Point. Also Wes Anderson is SO PLEASED.
- 6:01: Grand Budapest Hotel wins makeup too. I think this is shaping up to be a Grand Budapest Sweep – UP TO BUT NOT INCLUDING BEST PICTURE.
- 6:07: I assume you all don’t care about this, but WordPress has made liveblogging easier since last time I did it.
- 6:08: Nicole Kidman looks fine. I hate the belt and her hair looks stressed, though.
- 6:10: You don’t often get a movie from Mauritania!
- In related news, I HATE how they give the Oscar for Foreign Film to the COUNTRY, not to the film makers. Dude is going to get dragged off stage.
- 6:14: I actually really enjoyed The Theory of Everything. It should absolutely win for Eddie Redmayne, but in every other way was just not as good as Birdman.
- 6:18: “Everything in Awesome” officially makes me want to see the Lego movie. Also, more Oscar shows need more Tegan and Sara.
- 6:25: I love that the Oscars still do short film awards. Seems like such a good call for the future of movies. But, on the other hand, where do you even see these things?
- 6:31: Viola Davis looks SENSATIONAL.
- 6:37: This Glen Campbell song is way, way too depressing.
- 6:39: Everyone always talks about the ads during the Superbowl, but man, they’re good/weird during the Oscars, too. This one, from Diet Coke, is fun.
- 6:46: Sienna Miller just did a thing with her face that made her look EXACTLY like Julianna Margulies. It was really weird. (And obviously pretty.)
- 6:47: Whiplash wins for Sound Mixing. This contributes to my theory.
- 6:49: American Sniper wins Sound Editing. It’s always a war movie.
- 6:51: Jared Leto: WE GET IT YOU’RE A ROCK STAR. NOW GET A HAIRCUT. Dan says “He looks like a sasquatch.”
- 6:52: Supporting Actress: I don’t have an opinion here. I also always pity anyone nominated opposite Meryl.
- Patricia Arquette on an awesome feminist rant and Meryl going bonkers in support. I could get behind this kind of thing happening all the time. (I know, yer all shocked.)
- 6:57: Dan just rightly pointed out, it’s kind of funny that Netflix is paying HUGE money to advertise House of Cards on TV.
- 7:01: I’m of the opinion that gloves are about to have a moment and that Amal Alamuddin Clooney was just ahead of the curve at the Golden Globes.
- Rita Ora and Lady Gaga are, of course, musicians and so are maybe expected to be a touch idiosyncratic, sartorially, but still.
- 7:03: Chloe Grace Moretz is just a kid, so she gets a free pass, but actresses everywhere: I ALSO APPRECIATE A DRESS WITH POCKETS. (I had them in both my prom and wedding dresses.) BUT! JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVE POCKETS DOESN’T MEAN YOU HAVE TO KEEP YOUR HANDS IN THEM. Also, her dress is unassailably cool.
- 7:07: Feast did look like the CUTEST movie ever.
- 7:09: Zoe Saldana looks beautiful. And like she’s probably still breastfeeding those babies.
- 7:18: President Cheryl Boone Isaacs responding to the Sony hack and not really responding to any of the diversity problems?
- 7:22: I mean, no Wes Anderson film should NOT win for production design. Really.
- 7:24: Idris ELBA! Hooray.
- 7:25: Cinematography: I REALLY want Birdman to win. Hooray!
- 7:30: Meryl introducing the Recently Deceased Montage. Gonna be a rough one this year.
- 7:39: Jennifer Hudson can SING. Damn.
- 7:41: Okay, and House of Cards is being used to advertise Samsung TVs. PS DO YOU ALL REMEMBER THAT HOUSE OF CARDS COMES BACK THIS WEEK DON’T FORGET.
- 7:43: Film Editing: Here I also really, really want Birdman to win.
- Whiplash. I don’t know guys. I think it might win.
- Seriously, I think that Film Editing is one of the most important categories. It can make SUCH a difference.
- 7:46: Those columns in the background are like a monument to 3d printing.
- 7:49: Jennifer Aniston’s dress is SO Jennifer Aniston I feel like I could have described it without ever seeing it. That being said, it’s also beautiful. Except for the one stupid, stupid transparent shoulder strap.
- Also, did anyone see Cake? Was her non-nomination as much a snub as some people think it was?
- 7:58: Full disclosure: I still haven’t seen Selma (I live in a town that didn’t give it much of a run, alas, and missed it), but it does seem like a travesty that it didn’t get more nominations. Maybe it should win.
- 8:03: It’s a NEW conductor for the orchestra! When did that happen?
- “Benedict Cumberbatch: not only is it the best name in history, but it is also the sound you get when John Travolta introduces Ben Affleck.“
- 8:05: Of COURSE “Glory” won. I mean, obviously. It would have been completely, utterly ridiculous for anything else to have won.
- 8:07: I said it at the Golden Globes and I’ll say it again: rappers should always give awards acceptance speeches.
- 8:11: In unrelated news, Lucy just went and got a drink of water and came back with her whole head wet. Not only her beard (which usually sucks up all the water from the bowl), but also the top of her head! What?
- 8:15: I love this montage of the best moments from The Sound of Music. I appreciate that they simply don’t mention the live TV debacle. ALSO, WHY LADY GAGA. ISN’T THAT THE WEIRDEST THING EVER?
- Totally playing it straight. I kind of wish she had come out in a cracked-out nun costume and that she would bust into a dance remix of “16 going on 17.” I mean, it’s LADY GAGA.
- Although, her eminence Julie Andrews would NOT be scooping like that.
- P.S. Carrie Underwood: eat it.
- 8:20: Julie Andrews simply walking on stage is enough to make me teary.
- 8:22: Is Alexandre Desplat the new John Williams?
- 8:23: What is this Mr. Turner movie and why haven’t I heard of it!?
- 8:29: Screenwriting. Birdman for original screenplay! Right? Must be!
- Okay. It’s time for Nate Silver: What are the correlations? Surely there’s a link between Best Screenplay and Best Picture?
- 8:33: Adapted Screenplay: The Imitation Game! That’s good!
- 8:35: All the big awards are all split up! It’s been a while since it was SO unclear which movie was going to win.
- 8:37: Acceptance speeches are really good tonight. First Common and John Legend, then Graham Moore (who is SO young!). I hope that the actors don’t disappoint.
- 8:41: Best Director: This should clarify some things. Inaritu! This is excellent. Wes Anderson is probably weeping in the corner. Picturesquely.
- 8:44: And another great acceptance speech. Really good this year.
- 8:47: Cate Blanchett is divine. DIVINE. Presenting Best Actor! Exciting! OF COURSE it’s Eddie Redmayne, but REALLY it was deserved. He was astonishing in that movie.
- 8:53: I’m over Matthew McConaughey. His acceptance speech last year was TERRIBLE.
- 8:56: And OF COURSE it is Julianne Moore. I want to see Still Alice, but I’m also pretty sure it’ll be too devastating.
- 9:00: Back to NPH’s Oscar predictions.
- 9:03: Why does Sean Penn get to present Best Picture? More importantly, are he and Charlize Theron still a thing?
- 9:04: I GENUINELY don’t know which film is going to win.
- 9:04: Sean Penn, steaming turd, just made an asshole green card joke while giving Inaritu his VERY DESERVED OSCAR FOR BEST PICTURE. No more Sean Penn, please.
- 9:05: BUT REALLY, hooray for Birdman!
- 9:07: Love Michael Keaton.
- 9:08: Only eight minutes over! That’s a wrap, folks! See you next year for the Golden Globes!
Today in history:
What was going to be a monthly feature last year lapsed. But now I’m back with renewed fervor! This year, I made a resolution to read at least one book for fun – alongside all my reading for WORK – per month. So far, it’s mid-February and I’m ahead of schedule. These are the pages that have been keeping me company of late.
I’ve become a MASSIVE fan of Kim Stanley Robinson lately. The first book that got me hooked was 2312, which is complete, utter genius. This one is a bit more linear, a bit less literary, but absolutely amazing. Telling the story of how humans settled Mars, it deals in depth with the ethics of terraforming and the difficulties of setting up a human civilization in a place that is extremely inhospitable to humans. Must read.
I’ll admit it: I’m not the world’s biggest fan of fantasy literature (I prefer fantasy films and often find fantasy lit way too earnest) and I only begrudgingly picked this up because one of my students is writing a thesis that involves it (so it’s also a quasi-work book, but I’m not going to be picky).
HOWEVER. This book was fantastic. It was a really quick read – partly because it’s compact (under 200 pages), partly because it’s written simply (although extremely well), and partly because about fifty pages in I found I couldn’t put it down. The world of Earthsea is beautifully rendered in text and maps, the characters are fully-realized, and the plot moves along at a good clip. I can’t wait to read the rest of The Earthsea Quartet.
I’ve long been an obsessive fan of Cailtlin Doughty (especially her web series “Ask a Mortician”). Anyone who is at all skeptical of the death and funeral industry in the U.S. and/or feels traumatized by experiences with funerals and the reality of seeing an embalmed loved one needs to read this book. It will 1. Confirm your doubts about the funeral industry, 2. Convince you that Caitlin Doughty is the only person who should be in charge of your body after death, and 3. By turns move you to laugh and cry. It is seriously a revolutionary book and I can’t recommend it enough.
For Work* (also fun!):
The classic of the time-travel genre. Admittedly not my favorite, for reasons of heavy-handed allegory, but it is a foundational text for SF and time travel and utopia. It starts slow, but quickly gets better about a third of the way through, then ends with more of a whimper than a bang, unfortunately. Still, it’ll only take you a couple hours to read and then you’ll be able to get a bunch of references you might otherwise have missed!
This, on the other hand, is one of my favorite all-time books, partly because of how great it is, but also in part because I really didn’t expect it to be great. A collection of stories woven together by interstitial text to create a history of Mars under human colonization, it records the decline of the Martian population, the rise of human civilization on Mars, and the eventual decline of humanity. The whole thing is amazing, but there are individual stories (“– And the Moon be Still as Bright,” “There Will Come Soft Rains,” “The Million-Year Picnic”) that are utterly arresting. Honestly, “There Will Come Soft Rains” should be required reading for all of humanity. Go read it, now.
The Drowned World
This one’s weird, folks. You may find you need at least a passing knowledge of both geological epochs and Freudian psychology to wrap your mind around this. Also, you may be tempted to read this as a climate change prophesy, but don’t be tempted by the rising seas and giant iguanas – this is no normal global warming narrative. Al Gore is nowhere to be seen. Mostly, it’s a psychological study with an occasional wicked sense of humor. Don’t read it too slowly and don’t read it at bedtime. This narrative is calibrated for maximum nightmare potential, even though it really doesn’t seem it while you’re reading. Take my word for it.
*You may sense a theme with these books: I’m reading a LOT of sci fi right now because I’m teaching a fantastic course on SF and the environment. If you want/need more recommendations in this direction, including essays, criticism, and short fiction, drop a line and you’ll get a syllabus.
You know, you think about Montana and you probably think (in no particular order):
- Robert Redford
- A River Runs Through It
- Robert Redford
What you probably don’t think right away is:
- Good Food
- Good Drinks
When Dan and I decided to run away for the weekend, our goal was just to get out of town for a few days, go someplace pretty and quiet and far away, and celebrate our anniversary! (6.1, for those who are counting!) What we found, though, is that Missoula is chock full of good food and drink.
Friday dinner: The Pearl Cafe
Delicious. No photos, because I’m kind of over restaurant photos (no, not always, but this weekend I was).
I had a delicious salmon special with corn risotto and we shared a beautiful cheese plate and scallops to start. Also apple ice wine. Very tasty.
Saturday breakfast: Bernice’s Bakery
We knew we were heading out on a long walk, so we stopped at Bernice’s for coffee and pastry. I had a fantastic, extremely almondy almond croissant and Dan had a pesto croissant and a blueberry muffin. Very, very tasty. They were, I think, yeasted croissants, so a bit heavier than your normal croissant, but so delicious. Apparently they have a baker who comes in and bakes croissants overnight.
Saturday lunch: Missoula Club
This is a very stripped-down, divey, delightful bar. It looks like it’s always been in business (like, always) and it’s clear that they stay that way by a) not offering much, but b) doing that little bit surprisingly well.
I had a single cheeseburger with swiss and a Moose Drool brown ale. Dan had a double and a second Moose Drool. It totaled $18. (Also, hey! No tax in MT?!)
Saturday afternoon surprise cocktail: Montgomery Distillery
We saw the sign and thought – Cool! A distillery! (I may not have mentioned that we now live in one of the top wine producing regions in the US. It’s fantastic, but it means that it’s all wine, all the time there.)
Montgomery Distillery makes three delicious liquors: Whyte Laydie Gin, Quicksilver Vodka, and Skadi Aquavit. They’re soon going to be adding whiskeys to the lineup, too!
Anyway, you walk in and it’s a delightfully sleek, but hipstery space with cushy seating and a lovely bar backed by shelves upon shelves of beautifully designed bottles. What was so exciting is that it’s not only a tasting room (yes, they do pour out dollops of their delicious wares, gratis) but also a pretty great cocktail bar. So, we tasted a couple tipples (The Aquavit was amazing. You’ll be hearing more about it.) and then had a delicious cocktail. I had a “Go gingerly” (gin, grapefruit bitters, grapefruit & lemon juice, muddled ginger & basil) and Dan had a Cucumber Saffron (cucumber, saffron, and red pepper infused vodka, honey, lemon, and soda).
Long story, short: GO TO MISSOULA AND TRY MONTGOMERY’S SPIRITS.
Saturday dinner: The Silk Road
Fantastic tapas style foods from all along the silk road (from Europe to Asia and back). Their menu changes regularly to keep it seasonal. Our favorites were a lamb garam masala curry and a middle eastern chicken dish. All wonderful. They also gave us a complimentary dessert for our anniversary! Really tasty cheesecake.
Saturday beer: KettleHouse Brewing Co.
A really cool local brewery. I had a Cold Smoke Scotch Ale (among my favorite-ever beers) and Dan had a Double Haul IPA (floral hops , ahoy). Fantastic beer. The space (their Southside location) is like a stylish garage and their logo looks more like a construction company than a brewery, but it’s shockingly great.
Sunday breakfast: Catalyst Cafe
A cozy space right downtown with a pretty extensive breakfast menu and really tasty coffee. I had a local seven-grain hot cereal and HASHBROWN CASSEROLE, oh yes. Dan had an omelette. Definitely worth a visit.
Also, should you go to Missoula, I’d recommend looking into Airbnb instead of a hotel. We found a great apartment for MUCH less than the best hotels in town and had so much space and privacy – it was wonderful.
Oh! And there’s also a great farmer’s market! Don’t miss that!
Here’s the next installment in this series – What I’ve been reading for the last month. This list includes two books that I read ENTIRELY FOR FUN, which was refreshing. I’d highly recommend both of them, as well as all the rest!
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – I expect most of you will have read this already. It was my first time and it was great, great fun. I will say that having seen the movie actually almost felt like it spoiled the book (I am NOT saying that the movie was better than the book, but that the movie effectively took the surprise out of some of the best moments in the story.). It’s a good, silly read and a great way to unwind from heavier material.
The Marriage Plot – Purely pleasure reading book number ONE. I read almost the whole of this book on the flight (and during layovers) back from Germany to the US last week. It is WONDERFUL. The story is riveting and ultimately satisfying without being too cloying or cliché. And for those of you out there who are literature students (past, present, or future) this book has a lot of delicious little literary theory moments. I mean, a relationship inspired by a class on deconstruction?! Wonderful.
Eine Frau in Berlin (English here) – This first-person account of the lives led by survivors of World War II in Berlin as the Russians rolled in is absolutely amazing. It’s beautifully written and absolutely heartbreaking. This book is one of the very best accounts that reminds us that not all Germans in the war were villains, not all of them were Nazis, and that, in fact, many of them were victimized as well. It is also unique for its focus on the lives of women immediately after the war, a time when most women were depicted only as Trümmerfrauen – women cleaning up the rubble – which has the effect of glossing over some of the less savory sides of living in the occupied city.
John Saturnall’s Feast – I’ll admit I haven’t finished this one yet, but I will say this. Historical fiction, witchcraft, cookery, and blurbs by A.S. Byatt. I’m sold. Also it’s a totally engaging story AND it’s not often you pick up a book that’s printed in two colors on every page! Fancy! Seriously. Read it.
Berlin: David Clay Large – The new definitive history of Berlin. Well written and researched, very readable.
The Ghosts of Berlin: Brian Ladd – A slightly more theoretical take on some of Berlin’s history, particularly focusing on architecture and design as expressions of problematic historical practices. I’d recommend this to anyone interested in architecture who is visiting Berlin. Or just interested.
More next month! Read on, friends!