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Field Notes, vol 14

October 26, 2014

field notesAs 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.

P1130492Which 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.

P1130525To 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.

P1130498White 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.

P1130539I 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. ;)

25 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2014 3:13 am

    Your dog is ridiculously adorable and I love your photos. Autumn is my favourite time of the year, I love being able to “revisit” it when it’s spring here. :)

    • October 28, 2014 5:44 pm

      Thank you Maree! :) I hope you’re having a beautiful spring; that was my favourite season in Texas.

  2. Jenny permalink
    October 27, 2014 3:15 pm

    Have you read The Forest Unseen, by David Haskell? It’s nature writing of the best kind, about a small section of old-growth deciduous forest. I think it’s something you might really enjoy.

  3. October 27, 2014 5:29 pm

    I love it that you’re planning to blog more! I’ve been trying to get into a fantasy faerietale like book but the one I’m reading at the moment doesn’t do much for me. White as Snow sounds great especially since I live so close to the Balkans (well, Transylvania isn’t really Balkan so yeah). I might give it a go if there’s time this week.

    Thistle is a sweetie! Hope fall lasts a little longer there (Eastern Europe is freezing over I think)+we never do get tired of pictures of leaves :)

    • October 28, 2014 5:46 pm

      Which one are you reading Jo? There’s so many different styles for fairy tale retellings! I’ve had very good luck w Terri Windling’s series in general though.

      You live closer to the Balkans than I do! I hope you enjoy White as Snow; it’s definitely stylised and dark. ;) We’re definitely still in fall for now, although at nights it drops below freezing sometimes. I suspect having a great lake here helps slow down the fall, since it takes a bit longer to cool, perhaps. (This might be entirely wrong!)

      • October 28, 2014 7:35 pm

        “Tender morsels”- It definitely has an interesting subject and the writing is really strong, just got to a point where my anxiety about my daily tasks crashed with other books that caught my attention. I will try again later when my mood doesn’t affect my reading so much.

        I will tell you about my experience with White as Snow when I get to it.:) I get so many book recommendations from you so thank you so much!

        Haha, meteorology is not my strong point (indeed, I do rely on sticking my head out the window instead of checking the weather report-yes, that does prove to be a bit problematic sometimes).
        For someone who lived in Scandinavia last year I do complain a lot about the cold (November should still be about nice colors and occasional warmer days, not grey and gloomy).

  4. October 27, 2014 8:12 pm

    I haven’t read anything by Sylviane Diouf, but she sounds great. I’m finishing up The Indigenous People’s History of the United States, so I need a fresh book for depressing bedtime reading. I’ll see if I can grab one of hers next time I’m at the library!

    Do you count the crows? Which version of the counting rhyme do you use? I like aspects of all of them — “seven for a bitch, eight for a whore” sucks, but “Nine for a funeral, ten for a dance” is lovely.

    Thistle’s a cutie, and I hope you like Blue Lily Lily Blue! It’s shorter than the others, which makes me sad, but if you’re not as much of a fan of Ronan, there’s less of him in that one. I mean less of his point-of-view — he’s around a lot, but you’re never in his head. And Adam’s less angry, which is nice.

    • October 28, 2014 5:47 pm

      LOL I save my depressing reading for the afternoon; bedtime reading is only for things that can’t possibly give me nightmares.

      Diouf is oddly not depressing despite the depressing subject matter; perhaps because she respects the subjects so much?

      I’m sad to hear Blue Lily Lily Blue is shorter; when I finish it I’ll e-mail you so we can gossip over the series! Ronan was my least favourite in the first book, but by the end of the second I was very impressed with how he was written. Relieved to get out of his head though. And I’m so glad to hear Adam changes again, because I was quite pouty about him in the second book.

  5. aartichapati permalink
    October 27, 2014 10:00 pm

    Hi! I love this conversation you have with your older/current self. Happy birthday to you! It seems like you and New York are getting along well :)

    Diouf sounds amazing – thank you for bringing her to my attention, I had never heard of her.

    • October 28, 2014 5:48 pm

      Thank you! Although it’s only my half birthday. ;) I’m sure you’ll enjoy Diouf, although Dreams of Africa in Alabama is sort of an immigration story. LOL

  6. queenofthepark permalink
    October 28, 2014 5:07 am

    Loving the Autumn shots as we move into mid Spring ourselves.
    This is a specially delightful post Eva, and Thistle is a crucial ingredient, a natural for the camera. so glad that your new home is suiting you so well

    • October 28, 2014 5:49 pm

      Thank you! Thistle actually loathes cameras, so for every shot of her looking somewhat near the lens/being still, I have at least ten of her squirming around to avoid it. Unless I remember treats, then she’ll stare as lovingly as I could desire. ;)

  7. readerbuzz permalink
    October 28, 2014 6:00 am

    One of the trickiest parts of blogging seems to be finding a pace that works for us. I’m also trying to focus on just reading the books that really work for me. Tricky.

    Here’s my blog.

  8. October 28, 2014 7:44 am

    I am certainly adding White as Snow to my TBR! I hope your new schedule works for you. It has been so nice having you “back”. Beautiful pictures!

    • October 28, 2014 5:50 pm

      I hope it does too! I almost panicked when I sat down to write today’s post (it’s a Tuesday) and at first nothing came & it sounded so stilted. Luckily I could just delete those paragraphs as warm up once I got in my groove, but if I hadn’t made the public commitment I probably would’ve given up. Structure’s good for me!

  9. October 29, 2014 2:06 pm

    I don’t have anything special to contribute other than I loved this post and that I’m 33 right now. It’s a wonderful age to be and I’ll be sad when I have to let it go next month for 34.

    • November 2, 2014 4:59 pm

      Aww any comment is a contribution Raquel! Thank you. :) I’m glad to hear 33 is wonderful; I hope 34 is just as good for you!

  10. Amanda permalink
    October 29, 2014 5:56 pm

    Thistle looks so happy. I love the unrestrained joy I see in pets when they are loved. I always love all of your pictures. I also wanted to study everything possible in college.

    • November 2, 2014 5:00 pm

      Thank you Amanda! Thistle was thrilled to be able to tear around a yard unleashed! :D

  11. November 17, 2014 8:18 pm

    I haven’t been reading my blogfeed for about a month, and so I was delighted to see this accumulation of posts from you. The Diouf book sounds great and you describe the problematic way of describing slavery so well. I could not finish White as Snow as it was too depressing for me. I have liked dark fantasy before, such as Kim Wilkins’ Veil of Gold, but this one just seemed unremitting misery, so I abandoned it, understanding it was a matter of taste.

    Thistle looks like she could be a dog in a Disney animated classic!

  12. November 19, 2014 12:05 pm

    Man, I miss trees. I grew up in a national forest and while city life is fun and fulfilling, I don’t think I’ll ever stop craving those trees. Your photos are great, especially the ones of Thistle!

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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