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Field Notes, vol 17

March 9, 2015

field notes

We’re nine days into March, and spring has suddenly arrived. The songbirds know it; despite a snowfall on Saturday, they spend their time chittering in bushes and trees, especially the evergreens. The icicles know it, dripping in the brighter sun and temperatures above freezing for the first time in ages. Even the clocks know it. I seem to be the only one who cares about the vernal equinox, which gives us another eleven days of winter. Let’s not rush things.

sprig

Taken quite recently, but on today’s walk I noticed most of the snow is gone from this hedge.

This outer shift is mirrored by an inward shift; it began in the latter part of February and has now begun to unfurl. After a couple weeks spent dreaming and scheming about a grand European adventure, I did some soul searching, and realised that I was falling back into old habits. One of my coping mechanisms when I was younger, and my illnesses took away most of my choices about life, was to plan epic trips I’d go on one day. A fairly innocuous coping mechanism to be sure, and as a result I can chat with you about the best games parks in Zambia or the night markets of Bangkok, but I don’t need it anymore. I am living just where I want to be, for the first time since I was twenty-two. I don’t know how long this good fortune will last, and it seems a shame to miss out on a month of my first Northeast spring, especially May, when presumably we’ve gotten over the slush and to the good bits. The world will always be there, changed, but still. Such romantic adventures can wait a bit; for now, I’d like to go adventuring closer to home. After all, I moved to upstate New York because I love its natural world and sense of history (both bigger and personal; my mother’s family is descended from immigrants who came to farm in this region). I also love being within a train ride of big cities, big enough to be known worldwide, that I’ve yet to explore. And of course, I love my new, smaller city, and have just begun to scratch the surface of what it has to offer.

One of my favourite moments of my daily rhythm is my afternoon snack, which somehow gives my apartment the air of a coffee shop and makes me feel oddly decadent.

One of my favourite moments of my daily rhythm is my afternoon snack, which somehow gives my apartment the air of a coffee shop and makes me feel oddly decadent.

It took several days of wrestling with myself, but once I’d made the decision to spend my spring here, I felt at peace. I began to turn my attention to the here and now; instead of future adventures, I spent time and energy sorting out the apartment. I’ve put hung decoar and pictures and art on the walls (including a quotation by one of my favourite authors; any guesses who?), rearranged the cupboards and closets, and in the process begun to put down those first delicate roots. A lifetime of moving has made me hesitant to put nails in walls, but I pulled out a hammer and got to work. I’m amazed at how much my mood is lifted by decorated walls, and how much easier the reorganising has made my daily life, with what I need most frequently is just within reach. I did some early deep spring cleaning, and the sparkling result makes to easy to keep up with weekly cleaning maintenance. I’ve loved my apartment since I saw it, but now it feels like an organic part of me, and I feel deeply happy and content every time I walk through the door. Every aspect of daily life is just a bit sweeter, and I’m so glad I put forth the effort and energy. Of course, it’s still a work in progress, but isn’t everything? The trick is to enjoy the process, I suppose. And yes, I’ll be inviting you on a photographic tour soon!

I had an arts and crafts afternoon last week and dyed this yarn, wool from a sheep called the Blue Faced Leicester, with Koolaid! Now I'm knitting it into a pair of socks.

I had an arts and crafts afternoon last week and dyed this yarn, wool from a sheep called the Blue Faced Leicester, with Koolaid! Now I’m knitting it into a pair of socks.

I am still going on a spring adventure, in case you’re curious. It will just be to Baltimore, D.C., and New York City, and done via train instead of plane. I’m still terribly excited and will still be putting my backpack to good use. Feel free to share any suggestions, bookish or otherwise, for any of those cities! Or e-mail me if you’d like to meet up.

The Seeker by R.. ChestertonMarch has so far turned out to be a more organic reading month too; being bookish feels effortless again. First I read The Seeker by R.B. Chesterton as an audiobook, finishing it over the course of two days (apartment sorting lends itself well to audiobooks). It’s a suspense novel that pays a bit of homage to Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw: told entirely from one point of view, it’s never quite clear to the reader whether the ghosts are real or in the narrator’s head. Did I mention the narrator is a literature grad student who took a cabin for the winter to work on her dissertation? Who can resist a bookish heroine? If you’re looking for a solid evil ghost tale (that includes creepy dolls! I love creepy dolls!), with a wonderfully wintry New England setting, souther Gothic undertones, and a smattering of Thoreau and the Transcendentalists for fun, you should definitely try this out. There are a few uneven bits, the ending felt a touch too abrupt, and there were several instances of hugely problematic depictions of mental illness (minor to the overall story but no less icky for that), but in my opinion it lives up to the promise of its cover! I enjoyed the audioversion too; I came across it while randomly browsing Hoopla. I decided to try it out, but wasn’t expecting too much, so I was pleasantly surprised. I’ll definitely be reading more of R.B. Chesterton’s books (a pseudonym for the author’s creepier novels) when I’m in the mood for a good, old-fashioned scare. And she’ll definitely be on my R.I.P. list this year.

Forests of the Heart by Charles de LintI next picked up a hardcover version of Forests of the Heart by Charles de Lint, part of his Newford series. I discovered de Lint in 2007, when I first began book blogging and joined the Once Upon a Time Challenge. I loved him, and the way he creates distinctly North American urban folk/fairy tales and began working my way through the Newford series (not a traditional fantasy series, but all books set in the same fictional city inhabited by the same characters, who might be major characters in one and minor in another, sort of like Trollope’s Barsetshire & Palliser books) in published order, but somehow I fell out of that habit. I think what happened is I read the two books he published under a pseudonym, which were both much darker, and they left me with so disturbed I ended up with a bit of an aversion to him. Luckily, last year I read his Jack, the Giant Killer retelling, as I’m treating myself to all of the Fairy Tale Series, edited by Terri Windling (I have yet to read a bad book from that series, all written by different authors, so if you’re a fantasy lover as well, you ought to look it up), and it reminded me of how much I love his regular books. So I popped over to his section on one of my library visits, and chose this one based mainly on the title. My heart has a forest too. It turned out to be a real treat, combining First People/northern Native American folklore with that from the Southwest’s traditions (both pre- and post-Spaniards) and Irish legends; in other words, a cultural mixing similar to the immigration that’s shaped my country and de Lint’s Canada. It felt wonderful to see that diversity valued and respected, and nothing in his various depictions set off any racist/stereotyping alarm bells for me (granted, I’m a white woman, so that’s the judgement of an outsider, albeit who has read a smattering of Native American and Latin@ authors, including nonfiction about cultural appropriation/privilege issues), and I was certainly concerned about such possibilities when I began it. Of course, any fantasy book is going to invoke certain mythic or folklore figures, and play up cultural differences for the sake of the story, but all of the characters are individuals, and all of the belief systems felt equally valid, if that makes sense.

It’s tricky to talk about such issues without a hundred disclaimers, isn’t it?But I think it’s important to try to do so, however clumsily. The novel itself is what I think of as classic de Lint: most of the characters are outside of mainstream North American society (musicians, artists, etc.) and poverty of various kinds is depicted. I really love that, to be honest; it’s nice to break out of the middle class mode. There are lots of strong women, several of whom have curly hair and big eyes and tiny bodies that they are prone to dressing in oversized men’s clothes (lol; if authors have a type, that’s de Lint’s). People make mistakes, which they can sometimes fix, and sometimes they can’t. Love and respect are powerful forces, although the darker sides of human nature are powerful as well. There are wonderful descriptions of folk music. And the intersection between the magical world and the real one is just around every bend. Oh, and there are trees. I do love trees.

If any of that appeals to you, and you’ve yet to discover de Lint, definitely give him a try. If the sheer amount of options in the Newford books overwhelms you, you can always start with a standalone. Both Jack, the Giant Killer and The Little Country are my favourites that I’ve read so far, but I haven’t read them all yet. ;) If you’re already a de Lint fan, rest assured that Forests of the Heart is very satisfying. I’ll be picking up more of his books, and sooner rather than later. Especially since the OUaT challenge is just around the corner!

Oh dear. I’m at 1600 words already; I’ve been working on this off and on between running down to switch out laundry loads. I’ll talk about just one more book tonight then; tomorrow I’m off to stay with my grandmother, who has no internet, and I’m not sure how long I’m staying. So this is likely my only chance to blog this week, unless I get better at blogging from my phone. So feel free to read this post in chunks if it’s too long for one session. ;)

the night counter by alia yunis4If my first two reads fell into fairly obvious genre categories, my third, The Night Counter by Alia Yunis, falls squarely into the ‘magical realist, immigrant epic family saga’ one (I also read it as an ebook, so it provided yet a third format for reading to my month). I say that with affection, as I find that genre irresistable. ;) Yunis, like most of her characters, is Lebanese American. I believe The Night Counter is her debut, and I really loved it; I know that sometimes, like any genre, these books can feel stale or too stereotypical, but this one manages to have all of the expected tropes but still be engaging and touching. I had a great time getting to know Fatimah Abdullah, an octongenarian who immigrated from Lebanon to the US upon her marriage at eighteen, and went on to have ten children. 992 days ago, Scheherazade appeared to her, and Fatimah knew she had 1,001 days to tell stories of her life, and then she would die. The book follows the last few days, and in between Fatimah’s stories, Scheherazade peeks into the lives of the children and grandchildren and occasionally great grandchildren Fatimah mentions. The reason this works is that Yunis is fabulous at making each character’s narrative voice distinct; a pet peeve of mine is when a novel has multiple narrators who all sound the same, even if their thoughts are different. I want each narrator to have their own rhythm and style of speaking; Yunis delivers an impressive range! And while they certainly span a spectrum of US destinies, they all feel real, instead of like the products of a writing workshop (you know what I mean if you’ve read much contemporary ‘literary’ work). There’s a lot of humour in the book, including bits that had me laughing out loud, although there’s pathos as well.

Ultimately, it’s the kind of book that uses its wide range of characters to delve into how we create our lives, and the stories we craft out of whatever raw material we’re given, although it does so in a lighthearted way. All of the characters felt terribly real to me, and they made the book a real joy to read. I’m beginning to sound like a broken record, but I definitely want to pick up more of Yunis’ work and would recommend The Night Counter to any story lover. This is her only novel so far, but she’s making a documentary about olive oil and Middle Eastern women that I hope I’ll be able to watch.

As you can tell, I’ve had a really wonderful reading time so far this month. Circumstances have currently slowed down my reading, and made me more likely to reach for a novel than nonfiction, but when I am able to pick up a book, I’ve had nothing but good experiences so far.

What about you? Has March been full of favourites? Anything you’d especially recommend?

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30 Comments leave one →
  1. March 9, 2015 9:10 pm

    Oh, I so wish I still lived in New York so we could get lunch! Maybe one of these days our visits to the city will coincide — that would be lovely.

    • April 2, 2015 1:19 pm

      I’m still internally pouting that you don’t live in NYC any more, for just that reason. But let me know when you’re visiting, as I’m only a train ride away, so might be able to make it out!

  2. March 9, 2015 10:53 pm

    No offense, but I burst out laughing at your first sentence! :P Don’t you fret, dear, winter is not over. Unless this is a very odd year indeed! There will be more snow, don’t worry. Not the almost every day kind of Jan. and Feb., but there will be more. (We’ve had snow on Mother’s Day twice in the past decade–not measurable snow, mind you, but believe me you do not need to say goodbye to winter yet.) As much as Rich wishes we could. :P

    • April 2, 2015 1:19 pm

      You reassured me greatly, and obviously you’ve been proven right! hehe Did you see there’s snow forecast for this weekend? April snow: whee!

  3. March 9, 2015 11:18 pm

    Wonderful post and wonderful for you to be so happy and in the right place for you. And thanks for all the new books and authors to track down for my own reading pleasure.

  4. March 10, 2015 8:27 am

    So nice to hear that you are happy in your new life and circumstances. There’s a lot to be said for being content where you are. Love your Cafe Du Monde mug. Wouldn’t you just love a little coffee with chicory and a beignet right now? Take care.

    • April 2, 2015 1:20 pm

      I actually haven’t been to New Orleans yet: the wonderful Chris sent me the mug. But I hope to get there in the next few years; it’s very high on my list of US dream destinations (the Pacific NW is the other one)!

  5. chowmeyow permalink
    March 10, 2015 8:31 am

    Lovely post! Spring in New York is one of the loveliest things to experience – both upstate and in the city. If you’d like any NYC recommendations let me know.

    A few things I love to do every spring in NYC:
    – Walk The Highline
    – Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and along the Brooklyn waterfront
    – Visit the Cherry Blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden
    – Go to the Brooklyn Flea
    – Browse the book carts outside of Strand

    • April 2, 2015 1:21 pm

      Thanks! My hotel is very close to the Highline, so that’ll be nice. I have to admit, so far I think Texan springs are better, just because they’re no slush or mud, lol, but I bet NY Mays are delicious, whereas in Texas May is already summer really.

  6. Jody permalink
    March 10, 2015 2:31 pm

    I love how you dyed your wool with koolaid !

  7. March 10, 2015 5:33 pm

    Do let me know when you’re going to be in DC. I’d love to meet up.

    DC has some nice bookstores, but for visitors, the museums are really the thing to see. The Folger Shakespeare library, which I still haven’t visited (!), might be a particularly good choice, but all of the Smithsonian museums are worth a look if you’ve never visited them. If you come when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, they make quite a beautiful sight.

    • March 23, 2015 9:31 pm

      Let me chime in regarding your proposed stop in DC. I’d love to meet up as well, and hopefully at the same time, as I haven’t seen Teresa in a while. I’ll send an email.

      • April 2, 2015 1:22 pm

        Taking notes for the suggestions! And Christy, thanks for getting the ball rolling on the meetup. :D

  8. March 10, 2015 6:44 pm

    Hey! I have that mug. haha. Or, at least… I did. Small world. I am looking forward to spring but it is better if it comes gradual… We will have flooding if it happens too fast!

    • April 2, 2015 1:22 pm

      I bet we have the mug for the same reason! :D I hope your spring thaw went well; ours was definitely gradual enough to avoid flooding.

  9. aartichapati permalink
    March 10, 2015 11:19 pm

    Ooh, you could do a comparison of the Smithsonian and NY Museums of the American Indian. I found them both very interesting, and I think you would, too.

    I am sad you are not going to Europe only because we could have planned together, but I am glad you are so looking forward to your domestic travels, too. I have only recently started to realize how much the US has to offer, and I’m looking forward to discovering more of our own country and continent.

    • April 2, 2015 1:23 pm

      Oh that’s a cool idea Aarti! I knew I wanted to go to the Smithsonian one because of the neat restaurant, so I’ll add the NY one to my list. Enjoy your trip to Europe; this way I get to pick your brain when I eventually get over there! :)

  10. March 11, 2015 3:29 pm

    Love your field notes! They’re full of insight, wonder and beautiful pictures! March has been good so far reading wise. Still going strong on contemporary lit (Zadie Smith, Khaled Hosseini-can’t believe it’s only this year that I got around to reading him) and plans to return to some classics.

    I’d be happy to show you Romania (well, at least parts of Transylvania) if Eastern Europe’s on the list when you decide it’s time to travel.

    • April 2, 2015 1:23 pm

      Oh thank you Jo, both for the compliment & the kind offer! Bulgaria’s very high on my destination list, and Romania’s right next door. That would be so fun. :D

  11. March 12, 2015 9:41 pm

    I so loved reading about your decision. There’s a quote I love which seems to fit.
    I would like to start a movement for travel in your own back yard. There is always something new around the corner of a country road, and it’s fun to explore. Besides … you can go home at night and sleep in a comfortable bed.
    Gladys Taber
    Stillmeadow Seasons 1950

    • April 2, 2015 1:24 pm

      Thank you Nan! That’s a very true quote. I always start to miss my bed after a week or two; it’s decked out total princess-in-the-pea style, so no hotel bed can compete.

  12. March 13, 2015 8:33 am

    I really enjoyed this post. You make upstate New York sounds very nice. I’ve only read one by Charles de Lint. I enjoyed it fairly well, but I need to give him another go sometime. Be sure to visit McNally Jackson on one of your NYC trips. It’s my new favorite bookstore in Manhattan.

    • April 2, 2015 1:25 pm

      Upstate NY is very nice! :D And I’m adding that bookstore to my list: thank you!

  13. March 17, 2015 6:32 pm

    Oh I must go back to De Lint. Like you I read a handful of his books and then stopped, but I never read one I disliked. My favourite was The Onion Girl. Just beautiful.

    • April 2, 2015 1:25 pm

      The Onion Girl was the first one I read! Totally out of order, but I adored it. :D

  14. March 29, 2015 11:23 pm

    I am glad you mentioned my new fav author, Anthony Trollope and The Chronicles of Barsetshire. I have read several De Lint books and like them; the ones where they live in a huge “house” the size of many city blocks. Read them a few years ago. I am following you on bloglovin.

    • April 2, 2015 1:27 pm

      Yes, I love that house too! And thanks for the follow. :) Trollope is very addictive. Once you read Framley Parsonage, you have to put Jo Walton’s Tooth & Claw on your list. It’s inspired by the plot, so a Victorian domestic story, but the Victorians are dragons instead of people. It sounds really gimmicky, but it’s actually incredibly well done; dragon physiognomy impacts their culture, etc. And it’s a page-turner! Walton is a big Trollope/Victorian lit lover herself, and that comes through for sure.

  15. April 1, 2015 9:26 am

    Love this post – just reading it makes me want to add to my pile that sits at the ready…books, books books. Enjoy your visit to NYC. Love Spring, and this is the first one I’ll miss – unless I get busy and plan a trip there too!

    • April 2, 2015 1:27 pm

      Hah: every time I read a book blogger’s post my TBR pile expands! :D

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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