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Field Notes, vol 13

September 30, 2014

It’s about time I introduced you to my new apartment! It’s a sweet little studio in a building built in the 1920s, filled with sunlight all day, and just right for me. I love it dearly. I’m not quite done arranging it, especially as I’ve yet to put anything on the walls, but I trust you can overlook that. It showed up a bit in my video from last week, but that angle is not its best advantage: the pictures I’m showing you now are more true to life. In my opinion anyway. If you mouse over the photos, captions should appear, and clicking will enlarge a picture. Also, I have these in a gallery template that works best if you’re looking at the blog instead of in a feed reader, so please click through. I realised after uploading these images that I forgot to photograph my walk in closet, kitchen, or the beautiful view from my windows. I’ll have to do another post then, but for now, welcome to my apartment!

I love the apartment for its own sake, but I also love it for being so near a hundred acres wood. Thistle and I visit almost every day, so last Saturday I took along my camera to share it with you. My soul relaxes every time I’m here: I connect with forests, particularly the deciduous kind, in a way I find difficult to explain. But this tree love has been with me since childhood, and its strength has much to do with why I uprooted my life, left behind my family who I deeply love, and am now a resident of the northeast. Not pictured, but just as important: the chipmunks are bustling about, preparing their larders for the long winter, as are the grey squirrels. Robins are everywhere, chirping, pecking at the ground, and rushing into the trees when you get too close. Occasionally you might notice the woods are strangely silent: look up, and if you’re lucky you’ll find a hawk.


It’s funny: the woods are still green, but the sidewalks of my neighbourhood are covered in rustling yellow leaves, as trees begin to turn there not half a mile away. I’ll have to take some photographs of my neighbourhood too, as I also go on daily walks through it. It’s a sweet place that makes me smile, all the more so as I enjoy the feel and smell of leaves crunched underfoot.

I intend to tell you about my reading too, but I need to limit my typing as my hands have been sore lately. So I shall be back tomorrow to do so. I just didn’t want to delay this post any more! I hope you enjoyed the peek into my new surroundings.

Library Loot: September 26th, 2014

September 26, 2014

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Video

Titles Mentioned

  • Anna Dressed by Blood by Kendare Blake
  • Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
  • Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn
  • Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce
  • Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith
  • Before the Poison by Peter Robinson
  • Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
  • White as Snow by Tanith Lee
  • The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino
  • Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke
  • The Lottery: the Adventures of James Harris by Shirley Jackson
  • Done Wrong by Eleanor Taylor Bland
  • Spirits of the Ordinary by Kathleen Alcala
  • The Women’s History of the World by Rosalind Miles
  • The Needle’s Eye by Marla Miller
  • Dreams of Africa in Alabama by Sylviane Diouf
  • Space Chronicles by Neil deGrasse Tyson
  • Summer World by Bernd Heinrich
  • The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen

Remember I haven’t made a video in over a year, but it was fun to be ‘chatting’ with y’all about library finds again. I can’t make these posts as elaborate as I used to, due to the arthritis, but hopefully the video on its own is somewhat helpful, and the list should let you look into any book that catches your eye!

A R.I.P.-ing We Will Go

September 24, 2014

Quite belatedly, I’m officially joining Carl’s R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX event. I’ll be doing Peril the First, or at least four books. I drew up a rough list on Monday, after poking about other people’s plans, and doing a bit of independent research for more POC author options, and yesterday celebrated my first visit to my new library by gathering a little stack. I had to be sensible, and not gather a giant stack, as I get around via my feet and the bus now. ;)
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With the addition of four that I was able to check out as ebooks, and one freely available in public domain, here is my list, with the categories I’m guessing they fall into:

  • Before the Poison by Peter Robinson (suspense)
  • Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (horror)
  • White as Snow by Tanith Lee (dark fantasy)
  • The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino (dark fantasy)*
  • Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke (suspense)
  • The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson (suspense)
  • Done Wrong by Eleanor Taylor Bland (mystery)*
  • Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson (dark fantasy)*
  • Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake (horror)*
  • Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce (dark fantasy)
  • Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (supernatural)*
  • Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe (gothic)

It can be a bit of a challenge to turn up genre POC authors, so in case anyone else also tries to read diversely & wants to join in the R.I.P. fun, I thought I’d also list a few of my past favourites for easy reference (I’ve also starred which ones on my list this year are POC). This is off the top of my head, and by no means comprehensive, but it’ll give you a start at least! And all of these books I really enjoyed, and in many cases passionately loved, of course. Oh and I have to mention one that isn’t by a POC author, but deals beautifully with GLBT issues & mental health stuff, while also being one of the creepiest, addictive, most fascinating meta-fiction books I’ve read in quite awhile: The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan. So good! And manages to make mermaids terrifying. I must do a post on it, but until then, you should add it to your lists.

lavinia-portraitRIP92751Thriller/Suspense

  • Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie
  • Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber
  • Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

Gothic

  • True Murder by Yaba Badoe (not published in the US but easily available from Better World Books: it’s worth it!)
  • Bruised Hibiscus by Elizabeth Nunez

Dark Fantasy

  • The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin

Supernatural

  • The Vampire’s Beautiful Daughter by S.P. Somtow
  • The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi
  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • The Between by Tananarive Due (The Good House, also by her, is one of the creepiest haunted house stories I’ve read, but it was too much into the horror genre for my tastes. If you don’t mind horror though, that’s a good one to try!)

Mystery

  • A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn (darker)
  • Dead Time by Eleanor Taylor Bland (darker)
  • The Young Widow by Cassandra Chan (lighter)
  • The Spy in the House by Y.S. Lee (lighter)
  • Death at Rainy Mountain by Mardi Oakley Medawar (lighter)

The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate (thoughts)

September 22, 2014

The Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate
I loved Martha Southgate’s debut novel, The Fall of Rome, and I’ve been meaning to read more of her ever since. This past weekend, I checked out The Taste of Salt electronically, loaded it up on my Nook, and curled up. I wasn’t disappointed: although short, this is a compelling read that left me with tears in my eyes at the end. The emotions are just so raw, and somehow made more powerful by our narrator’s determinedly detached voice.

That narrator would be Josie Henderson, raised by ambitious parents in a middle class black neighbourhood in Cleveland, who has loved the ocean since her ocean-free childhood (Lake Erie wasn’t enough for her), and is now a successful marine biologist. At the point the story opens, she’s in her later thirties, feeling professionally more solid after years of working to establish herself in a field dominated by white men. As things have come together in work, though, they’ve fallen apart in her personal life: her father was an alcoholic throughout her childhood, and now her brother is also an addict. She mainly copes with this by avoiding her family, but when her mom directly asks her for help, Josie’s forced to return to Cleveland, dredging up old memories in the process.

The book reveals itself in bits and pieces, but it reads as if Josie is keeping a diary for herself, trying to figure out what exactly is going on and how she feels about it. The format is of a traditional novel; I’m talking more about tone. She is very much a scientist, steeped in objectivity and data gathering, and her voice reflects that. It’s interesting too: as a child she read fairly extensively, due to her parents’ influence, but she never became a bookworm, and now as an adult she prefers reading ‘useful’ nonfiction and rarely touches novels. So the way she speaks about the events is almost deliberately free of many storytelling devices, the kinds of things I would unconsciously use in describing my own life, simply from a lifetime of novel reading. The times she does attempt to add more narrative, she prefaces it with musings on it as a device. I’m very impressed with how Southgate manages to pull this off, because I’m sure she’s a reader in her own life. I love it when the narrative voice is an integral part of the story, and it certainly is here. Occasionally the point of view shifts to other characters, and their tones and diction are all different and easily identifiable (one of my readerly pet peeves is when a novel has multiple narrators that all sound the same): it makes for excellent reading.

I was also fully invested in all of the characters: Josie of course, her parents and brother, her husband, and later her coworker all lived vividly in my mind. I cared about what happened to them, and I empathised with them all. This is another testament to Southgate’s authorial ability, as I’m not generally terribly empathetic to characters whose bad decisions make others miserable. While my little plot summary might make this sound like an ‘issues’ novel, really it’s a novel about the humanity within each of us, and how we try to reach out to each other, and how sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. I loved it, and I hope that more people pick it up, especially those readers who read primarily white authors. While The Taste of Salt is very much a universal story, it is grounded in Josie’s experiences as a black woman, and those specifics are important. Which is not to say I recommend it as a ‘black novel’, rather as an excellent book that will encourage empathy among all those who read it, a quality we can always use more of. Anyway, I do hope Southgate has a new novel in the works; as it is, I only have one remaining (Third Girl From the Left).

P.S.: I really don’t care for the cover, not due to its aesthetics, but because of how it fails to relate to the book. I don’t think it captures the spirit of the book at all, because of its very prettiness. This is a novel that consistently dives beneath the surface of things, and I think the cover does a disservice.

Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunmore (thoughts)

September 19, 2014

Talking to the Dead

Carl throws the best challenges, and the ninth edition of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, which reminds us all to devote our autumnal reading towards scaring ourselves silly, is currently running. I haven’t officially signed up yet, as the move soaked up all of my free time, but when I approached my unpacked books yesterday, looking for a good one to start, I had it in the back of my mind. And when my eye fell on Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunmore, I knew it’d be perfect.

I’d read two Dunmore’s novels before this, and both were perfect examples of their form: gothic (A Spell of Winter) and ghost (The Greatcoat). I bought this one from Better World Books on the strength of my love for those novels, and I didn’t even bother reading the publisher blurb first. All I knew before I began reading was that it had an exquisite cover and someone from Washington Post found it terrifying.

The prologue/s opening sentence confirmed its RIP worthiness:

The newer graves lie full in the sun, beyond the shadow of the church and yew tree.

I was soon lost in Dunmore’s writing-lush yet precise, and the powerful voice of her (perhaps unreliable) narrator, Nina. After the prologue, the story opens with Nina arriving at her older sister Isabel’s house, to help her with her first baby. It was a difficult birth, and there’s a subtle sense of uneasiness about the house, centered around Isabel, that heightens as the book continues. Faced with her new nephew, Nina begins to remember her own younger brother, who died in infancy of crib death, and the childhood games she and Isabel used to play. This is certainly not a horror novel, but Dunmore is a master at the kind of psychological creepiness that gets under your skin, until you find yourself holding your breath as you turn the page, in fear of what might happen next. Both Nina and Isabel are strange women, uncanny in different ways, and the very strength of their relationship feels eerie.

The book is also luscious: Nina loves to cook and eat and the way she talks about food will have you longing to sit at her table.

They are not the right apples, but I won’t get better in the tail end of the season, before the new apples come in. They must be cut evenly, in fine crescents of equal thickness, which will lap round in ring after ring, hooping inward, glazed with apricot jam. The tart must cook until the tips of the apple rings are almost black but the fruit itself is still plump and moist. When you close your eyes and bite you must taste caramel, sharp apple, juice, and the short, sandy texture of sweet pastry all at once.

I ended up staying up late last night to finish it: every time I kept thinking ‘just one more chapter’ until suddenly it was over. This was an incredibly written, perfectly satisfying novel: it has gothic and dark fairy tale veins running through it, but at its heart are Nina and Isabel and how powerfully real they feel. It confirms Dunmore as one of my favourite authors, and I can’t recommend Talking to the Dead highly enough.

Suggested Companion Reads

  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson: is it possible to discuss an eerie sisterly relationship without hearing echoes of “Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep? Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!”? If you haven’t read this novella yet, you need to.
  • The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi: can’t get enough of creepy children? Here’s a story all about a strange little girl who meets an even stranger one.
  • Disquiet by Julia Leigh: a strange little book, once again centered around an off kilter family in an isolated home, featuring a woman who’s just given birth. It’s much weirder, and leaves much more to the reader’s imagination, than Talking to the Dead.
  • True Murder by Yaba Badoe: this is another gothic novel, although centered around children instead of adults, that includes dark past deeds. It’s set in a boarding school and lives up to all it promises.
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins: more sisters, more suspense, more R.I.P. fabulousness.

Tuesdays

September 16, 2014

Three weeks ago today, I found an apartment I loved and received approval on my application.

Two weeks ago today, I flew home to Texas to begin packing.

One week ago today, I watched movers load up all of the boxes and my furniture into a moving truck.

Today, I’m sitting in my new apartment, almost done settling in.

Tuesdays must be good days for me.

(My internet is supposed to be hooked up tomorrow, after which I will share photos and get back into regular posting.)

Beginning the Next Chapter

September 4, 2014

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photo credit

Hello everyone! I promise I plan to get back to blogging eventually, but it will have to wait for a bit longer, because in exactly ten days I’ll be moving into my very own apartment. :D After a year and a half of dreaming of moving north, I can’t quite believe it’s all happening so quickly (I just got home from apartment hunting late Tuesday night and will be heading off in a big truck next Wednesday), or that I found a little place that is almost exactly as I imagined it in my daydreams, but I couldn’t be more thrilled about it. I feel so deeply fortunate, to have a family that will do anything to help me change my life, and friends who might as well be family offering oodles of support as well: thanks to all of them I’ll soon be calling the Great Lakes region of New York home. There shall be snow! And woods! And falling leaves! And chickadees!

Gratitude doesn’t begin to describe my feelings towards my family & friends for making this possible.  And of course there’s nothing better about good news than sharing it, particularly with all of you: while I haven’t been around as much in the past year, I still think of the book blogging community as home. I’ll definitely be sharing photos and stories once I’m settled, but in the meantime, I’ve got to pack up my life and take care of all those incidental bureaucratic necessities, not to mention drive across the country with my mother and a certain little dog. And that’s just the beginning of this grand new adventure!

Under the Weather

July 29, 2014

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photo credit

Some type of cold aspiring to impress its bubonic plague cousin has interfered with my plans to jump back into blogging. I’ve spent most of the past four days horizontal, in the vain hope that if I stay still enough and quiet enough, the coughing and congestion and malaise would get bored and leave me alone. At least the earache has given up, leaving mere tinnitus in its place. Y’all, this thing has me fondly recalling my last bout with the flu. Who knew colds could be so vicious?

Once I feel better I’ll respond to comments & tell you about more books. Until then, at least the internet is full of cute puppy pictures.

The Sharing Knife Quartet by Lois McMaster Bujold (thoughts)

July 23, 2014

The Sharing Knife
Forgive me for being rusty.

Back in April, I took a drop spindle class at my local yarn store. I ended up being the only student, and towards the end of the first lesson, my teacher casually mentioned that the heroine of one of her favourite fantasy books spins to pass time. Of course my ears perked right up (fantasy? textile arts? together?), and when I got home I checked my library’s website for The Sharing Knife. It turned out to be a quartet of books, all available in electronic versions, so I averted by eyes from the truly unfortunate covers (an advantage of ereaders), downloaded the first one (Beguilement) and began reading.

I will admit, the opening had me skeptical. A young, small, cute woman named Fawn is on her way to make her fortune in the city, having run away from home. Unfortunately, she meets some trouble on the road, and is rescued from an almost-rape by Dag, a tall, powerful older man who is the loner type. There’s instant chemistry between them. At this point, all of my alarm bells were going off, but I was too comfortable to get up & get another book so I stuck with it a bit longer. And thank God I did: Bujold is definitely a feminist and from that unpromising beginning crafts the story of a relationship that empowers both sides (including Fawn’s sexual empowerment, which is handled with grace and skill), while being set in a fabulous fantasy world inspired by the 19th century US Great Lakes frontier (but without guns). Over the four books, everything from ethnic identity & traditions to culture clashes to patriarchy to individual growth and more turns up. And the story telling is so good: I couldn’t turn the pages quickly enough (thank goodness I could download the next book instantly each time).

A little taste of the world: there are two main ethnic groups. The Lakewalkers are modeled more on Great Lakes area Native Americans (and yes, I realise that there are lots of different tribes, all with their own culture; I apologise for the generalisation): they’ve been living in the area since time immemorial, are traditionally itinerant, moving with the seasons, have community-based ideas of wealth and property, and are matriarchal. They also have this incredibly cohesive cultural tradition all based around one idea: they need to find and destroy any malices that appear. These malices are all that’s left of a technologically and magically advanced culture that existed centuries ago and suddenly collapsed: the Lakewalkers are descended from the survivors, and as such feel guilt for the malices’ existence & obliged to destroy them. Malices appear out of the ground and slowly become bigger and stronger as they feed on life forces around them (plants, animals, humans…anything that’s available): they also morph into different stages, almost like sped up evolution, based on what they’re consuming. If they’re found when they’re young, they’re relatively easy to kill, but if they manage to stay hidden through several ‘molts,’ it becomes more of a challenge. So bands of Lakewalkers patrol all over, but the Lakewalkers are few and so feel constantly harried trying to keep up: young Lakewalkers travel around to different camps, serving in the patrols, with more populous camps sending more patrollers to the sparsely populated areas that also happen to have more malices. There are so many implications of this, and Bujold explores them beautifully: I especially was fascinated by the way this makes having children a key Lakewalker duty and how that plays out in a matriarchal instead of patriarchal society. Either way, only a sharing knife can kill a malice: I won’t tell you how they’re made, as Bujold reveals that at a perfect pace in the first book, but I will say that they are sacred, surrounded by rituals, and essential to Lakewalker culture. Oh, and the Lakewalkers are telepathic: they’re able to read the emotions of everyone around them & keep in touch with each other that way. It’s not exactly like speaking on a telephone, though, and some are born with stronger abilities than others. There’s also a bit of telekinetic ability going on, with Lakewalkers able to connect with both objects and, sometimes, influence others’ thoughts and actions. They can also heal via the mind. They are very insular, holding themselves aloof from the Farmers, whom they often consider inferior.

Farmers are essentially settlers, so the European immigrant equivalent, although in this instance they’re invited on to the land & aren’t trying to kill off the Lakewalkers. Farmers have no telepathic or telekinetic abilities (which means they can’t block Lakewalkers from reading their minds or even controlling them), and many think that malices are bedtime stories. They farm and build towns and create new technology, and they have the patriarchal and individual wealth/property traditions of Europe (younger sons have to go find their fortunes, daughters marry into other families, etc.). In a fun twist, they’re the ones who have nature names, not the Lakewalkers. ;) They are generally horrified by Lakewalkers, considering them cannibals and mind controllers and generally eerie, but once again they almost never talk to them. So stories get passed around instead. While the Farmers lack psychic/magical abilities, they also have far more advanced technology and more comfortable lives than the Lakewalkers, who devote all of the energy to the malice threat.

Due to this lack of general communication, Fawn and Dag’s relationship not only serves as a fabulous romance, but also as a way to explore culture clash. Dag has served on patrols for an unusually long time and has had far more contact with Farmers than most Lakewalkers. Even before he finds a more personal reason to connect with their culture, he’s decided that Lakewalkers should try cooperating with Farmers to make malice hunting easier. After all, malices are most likely to appear on Farmer land, and if Farmers recognised the signs and could alert the Lakewalkers earlier, it would save trouble later. But Lakewalker tradition is all about secrecy & pride & being a ‘chosen people,’ so Dag’s swimming upstream with his arguments.

Oh wow: I’m at one thousand words! I could talk about these books for hours (in fact, does anyone want to do a book club-type read a long/discussion via e-mail? I’d happily reread these: just leave a comment and I’ll set something up), but I’m likely running on too long. I’ll just mention one more thing I adored: while there are dramatic malice battles, I loved how much everyday life Bujold includes. Fawn does typical Farmer tasks, from canning and cooking to spinning and knitting, and even in stressful situations will do things like tidy another woman’s pantry so she won’t feel hopeless on coming up & seeing so many smashed jars. The first two books focus on Farmer and then Lakewalker culture, while the last two have more of a quest feel: in fact, the third book is all about a river journey on a barge down their Mississippi-equivalent! Who can resist a river trip (says the fan of Three Men in a Boat…)? There’s just so much readerly FUN: I kept finding myself squealing with excitement.

These books are both comfort reads and thought-provoking ones, and they quickly launched Bujold into the ranks of my favourite authors. I’ve now read all of her other four fantasy books and am almost through with her first sci fi book; she’s actually known for that sci-fi series rather than her fantasy. I’m not a sci-fi reader, although I realise my inheritant flinching at words like space ships and aliens is just as silly a prejudice as those who flinch at words like magic and gods and thus don’t read fantasy. The fact that I voluntarily began reading a space series with the eyebrow-raising name of the Vorkosigan Saga, and am in fact enjoying every moment of this first book, should tell you how much I love and trust Bujold at this point. I’m even willing to follow her to the edge of the galaxy. ;)

If you’re a thoughtful reader looking for an engaging summer read, or a feminist who enjoys romance, or a fantasy buff tired of medieval Europe inspired setting, I can’t recommend these books highly enough! You will have to overlook the covers (I seriously considered leaving this post image-free), which seem to get worse for each book, but I suspect that you’ll soon find yourself so hooked you won’t care. Even if you don’t usually read fantasy or romance, these books might change your mind. It seems a shame to miss out on such great reads because of a kneejerk reactions to different genres: I almost didn’t use the word ‘romance’ in my post so as not to alienate potential readers. But that seemed to be feeding into the idea that the only way for genre books to be taken seriously is to call them ‘literary’ instead. These are fantasy books, romance books, and full of literary merit. I am so glad to have discovered them and such a wonderful new-to-me author. I’m just surprised she’s not a blogosphere darling already.

Hello Again

July 17, 2014

Floral Couch
Oh dear. I always feel so embarrassed about my blogging breaks, which for the past two years have seemed just about endless, that I’ve put off returning to blogging this time for just that reason. But I miss you. I miss gushing about books out loud instead of just in my head. I miss all of the learning and laughter and challenging perspectives and vitality of this community that have helped me grow into a better woman than I’d otherwise be. So here I am.

I believe this time a return is sustainable, as I’m typing this on a desktop mac instead of my old laptop. A separate screen and wireless keyboard allows for a much more ergonomic set up, and the newest Apple operating system includes all kinds of useful accessibility features, even a dictation program.

As for me, I’m still living in Texas for now, still hoping to move to upstate New York within the next few months. At first I was terribly upset to have missed my ideal May deadline, but eventually I tired of those feelings and decided to embrace the good things of summer. I’ve been creating homemade popsicles, wearing breezy clothes, enjoying the long summer twilights, learning to distinguish birds by their songs, gorging on local peaches, and spending a lot of quality time with my family. The weather has kindly colluded in my enjoyment by staying overcast much of the time and limiting itself primarily to highs in the nineties instead of hundreds.

Of course, I’ve also been doing a lot of reading, both in print and via audiobook, which are the perfect accompaniments to the knitting I now find myself addicted to. The same weekend I brought home the new computer, I also found a little couch whose botanical pattern has tempted me to rename my blog as A Floral Sofa. The subsequent room rearrangement turned out to be perfect for summer, and I spend many a happy hour knitting and reading while watching out the window, as geckoes and birds go about their business. It’s funny how such a fairly small thing can impact daily life so much, but my couch (which only cost fifty dollars plus a couple of backbreaking sweaty hours getting it inside) has done so.

My new computer has done so too, and now that I’ve conquered by feeling of shyness, I look forward to catching up with all of your lives as well, happy in the knowledge that I can read blogs to my heart’s content without destroying my hands. And oh I have so many books to tell you about. I cannot wait to begin.

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