Field Notes, vol 14
As I wandered the woods today, I also wandered into the future, daydreaming about what my thirty three year old self might wish me do spend the next few years doing. I cannot wait to be thirty-three, as I love the number three and multiples of eleven; indeed knowing my thirties were ahead was my one consolation for having to give up twenty-seven, and being three to the power of three. To be honest, my older self was quite pleased with me; after all, I’ve moved her north, which has made daily life so much more pleasurable. She didn’t have any big surprises in store for me either: no marriage or children or dramatic changes. Perhaps she’s acquired a cat. Generally, we agreed on the structure of a good life, and most of what she advised me to do was already on my list. We talked about time, how sweet a consolation it is while living a life so circumscribed by illness, and how best to spend the time. Eventually we circled back to our younger self, in love with the liberal arts and longing for a dozen majors. I mentioned that I’d been feeling a draw towards poetry lately, my hope of taking up the violin again, and how novels like Tam Lin and Gaudy Night have resonated so deeply. The best solution seems to be to once again celebrate the liberal arts, being a student of everything. Of course, I’ve been doing this in a desultory way for ages. But my older self gently suggested that a bit more formal structure might not go amiss. I promised to take it under consideration.
Which is all a roundabout way of saying, I’m committing myself to three days a week of blogging: Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. If I manage more frequent posts, that’s lovely, but if nothing else I will be here then. The other days I’ll likely be visiting your blogs, leaving and replying to comments, and perhaps writing bonus posts if I feel particularly inspired and my hands allow it.
Have I mentioned how much I’m loving the season? To be honest, it’s my first primarily deciduous fall since 2002, and I can’t imagine how I went so long without one. I took my camera along to the woods yesterday and delighted in being able to take cliched photos of red and yellow leaves, of the woods all decked out in its autumnal finery. The robins have departed, while crows seem to have taken their place. Some afternoons, a murder of them wheel overhead of the woods. There’s a pair that spends time near my windows, and I love the cawing. We didn’t have crows in my part of Texas. I haven’t baked anything pumpkin yet, but that will be remedied soon: next time I visit the grocery store I will stock up.
To be honest, I’ve been more of a knitter than a reader this week! I did end up finishing Fly By Night during the readathon, although I certainly did more chatting and snacking and frolicking with Thistle in the yard than reading. ;) The only other physical books I’ve read this week are White as Snow by Tanith Lee, a treat to myself when I felt unwell one morning, and Dreams of Africa in Alabama by Sylviane A. Diouf, the nonfiction book I was in the middle of during my post last week. I found it excellent, both for its fascinating peek into the lives of every day people, and for her treatment of slavery. There is a hugely problematic way to write and talk about slavery in the US, that essentially depicts slaves as pitiful, tormented, squashed objects. It’s the kind of approach that led my niece to say last year, after a unit in her second grade class on slavery, that she was so glad she didn’t have black skin. Hopefully you can see why that’s a problem. Diouf never does that: while she describes with a clear eye the context of the late slavery era in the Deep South, including the endemic racism, and then analyses the Reconstruction era that turned into the lynchings and disenfranchisement of the early twentieth century, and certainly never romanticises slave owners, she consistently portrays all of the people as just that: people. They are subjects of their lives, responding to a situation in the best way that they knew how, sometimes finding success and sometimes not, but always worthy of respect, not pity. I already knew and trusted her approach from reading Slavery’s Exiles, and I was not disappointed. Well, I have to admit to one disappointment: I only have one adult history book of hers left to read (Servants of Allah); I hope she’s working on another one! She’s also written children’s books, for a variety of ages groups, which I intend to read with my niece. In all, I can’t recommend her enough as a stellar historian: do go get her books if you love history. It’d be interesting to read one of her books alongside Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, a recent novel that resists easy generalisations about slave women, and either Kindred or Beloved. Zora Neale Hurston is also mentioned in the Diouf book, so her memoir would be another good addition.
White as Snow by Tanith Lee was on my R.I.P. list as dark fantasy, and it certainly qualifies! This is an uncanny book, full of violence (both sexual and otherwise, although the rapes are not written in a salacious way, if that makes sense, and feel essential to the story), insanity, half-glimpsed pagan rites, and wintry woods. I adored it. Lee brilliantly integrates both the Snow White fairy tale and the ancient Persephone myth, setting the story in an ambiguously medieval Balkans, and exploring questions of gender, class, age, social outcasts, and more. But never in a didactic way; it’s the type of book that creates questions, instead of dictating answers. While lots of terrible things happen, ultimately I was left feeling well satisfied, not depressed, and I definitely want to read more of Lee (this was my first experience with her). If I were in my dream book group, which would read at least three books for every meeting, I’d pair it with The Dancing Goddesses by Elizabeth Wayland Barber, a delicious work of interpretive history with a focus on women from the same area of Europe, and Baba Yaga Laid an Egg, for more Eastern Europe strangeness featuring triplet goddesses and witches.
I also read three audiobooks this week. My hands are getting quite exhausted, so I’ll keep this brief. First, The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater, which is a sequel to Raven Boys. I didn’t care for it as much as the first one, as my favourite characters didn’t get as much starring time, but I certainly kept finding things to do that would let me keep listening! So I still liked it, and I have high hopes for the third one. I don’t think that it’s available on audio yet, so I’m on hold for the ebook. Then I finished The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri yesterday. While there were aspects I liked, I ultimately thought it was overly ambitious. In creating such a large cast of characters and following them over such a long period of time, I don’t think Lahiri left herself enough room for any of them to really come to life. There was a lot of telling, not so much showing, and ultimately it felt like the characters were wind up dolls going about their business instead of people. I found certain aspects so promising, and I was disappointed when it didn’t quite deliver. The final audiobook was my bedtime one, a reread of Anne of the Island. I’ve been a kindred spirit of Anne since I was very young, so I have nothing but pleasure from reconnecting with her! This time I thought it’d be neat to reread the series in the order it was written (vs internal chronology), so my next bedtime audio is Anne’s House of Dreams.
I forgot to take any photos of books this week, hence all of the woodsy ones instead! I need to get back into the daily photography habit; yet another thing I’ve let slide as I adjust to life on my own. I think I’m settled enough to begin picking these things back up, which is nice. I hope all of you had a lovely week! Just for fun, here’s a silly mini-collage of Thistle. One beauty shot and two action ones of previously mentioned frolicking. ;)