Field Notes, vol 18
Whew! I have no idea where March has gone, somehow swallowed in family, flare-ups, knitting, and future plotting. Spring was officially welcomed with a return to wintry temperatures and fresh snow, which I have to admit I just love. When I open my blinds in the morning, I’m always secretly wishing for that specially overcast sky that snow brings with it. I’m impressed with the songbirds, who go about their business even as the temperatures drop, and the robins are back. Just yesterday, I noticed some tiny purple flowers pushing up in the grass beside the sidewalk, so spring is continuing to arrive. It can take all of the time it pleases. It’s the polar opposite of south Texan springs, which race headlong into summer, much to my chagrin, since spring is glorious there and by far my favourite Texan season. My mother gleefully reports it’s already hitting eighty degrees.
My trip to D.C. and NYC is suddenly less than two weeks away! Once again, if you have any tips (I’ll be focusing on Manhattan in NYC and the classic tourist areas of DC) for favourite budget restaurants, cafes, bookstores, quirky museums, photo walks, or anything else, I’ll gratefully receive them. And meet ups are a distinct possibility as well (a group of us are already plotting one for DC)! I’m terrible at remembering who lives where, so I’d appreciate any reminder e-mails (astripedarmchairATgmailDOTcom).
After I get home, I have yet another plan, although this one is of a distinctly homebody nature. I’ve decided, after four happy years with Thistle (March 18th is my dog-iversary), that it’s time to expand my little household. And the expansion shall go in a feline direction. Thus I’d welcome any tips from cat owners too! I’ve begun doing lots of reading, and have so far absorbed that cat ownership is nothing like dog ownership, so it will be great fun to get to know another species better. Let’s just hope Thistle agrees…she has a certain feline nap buddy over at Debi’s, which gives me more confidence. I met the cat for the first time yesterday; her foster mom brought her over to the apartment, and at the end of our hour-long meeting, she had already decided that my place was a perfect place to curl up and receive some chin scratches. Of course, it took far less than an hour for her sweet, delicate, but confident ways to win me over! She’s four years old, so we’ll be jumping right over the tricky kitten and adolescent stages, and I know her personality’s already settled. Here are a couple of photos (take with my phone, not my real camera, so not the best quality): I took the first one, up top, and she became curious about the noise the phone’s shutter made, as shown in the next photo below. So precious! You can’t see it here, but her eyes are a soft, luminous blue. I’ll make the proper introductions once she’s settled in, but I’ve already chosen a name, and it continues the nature theme.
I’ve been reading too, real books! Almost as if I were a book blogger. ;)
I haven’t posted about Once Upon a Time challenge yet, now on its ninth year, but I’ve been on a magical realism kick & plan to ramp up my fairy tale and fantasy reading in honour of it. The very first version, back in 2007, was one of the first reading challenges I did as a baby book blogger! That and Carl’s fall challenge are still my two favourites. Hopefully I’ll manage to get a book list up before I leave, although between trip planning and trying to finish knitting one more spring-like beret for said trip and cat behavior researching and cat accessory shopping (yes, my cat will have her own piece of furniture, in addition to all of mine), I’m going to be disturbingly busy. And book list posts take ages, with all of the links and covers and annotations; luckily they’re fun!
As I’m short on time today, rather than talk about all of the books I’ve been reading, I’ll just do the magical realist ones. They’d both be perfect ways to dip your toes into fantasy, as they also have ‘literary’ qualities and deal with ‘real people’ living ‘real lives’ which are suddenly brushed by what could or could not be magic. And they’re both wonderful, compulsively readable books!
First is Spirits of the Ordinary by Kathleen Alcala. Magical realism is often associated with Latin American authors, and Alacala is a Mexican-American writer. This book is set in northern Mexico/southern Texas, in the late 19th century, and combines all of my favourite aspects of Latino magical realism with a feminist sensibility, in the sense that “feminism is the radical notion that women are people” (that marvelous phrase was coined by Marie Shear, according to a quick internet search). Let’s face it, there are some South American authors I could name who don’t seem to have realised this yet.
Anyway, Spirits of the Ordinary centers around a family in the small village of Saltillo. Zacarias, the husband, comes from a hidden Jewish tradition (being a Spanish colony, Mexico had its own Inquisition and forced conversion of Jews) and feels irresistably drawn to the desert, abandoning his family to wander in search of gold for months at a time. Estela, his wife, is tired of not having a dependable partner to depend on; when Zacarias leaves again, taking yet more of her dowry money, she takes the radical step of severing their finances, essentially becoming a single mother. We follow both of their journeys, as they change and grow over the next few years, and we also get to intimately know other members of their family, from Zacarias’ mother, mute since a teenage coma during which angels spoke to her, to Estela’s younger twin siblings, a brother/sister pair who refuse to fall in line with societal gender roles.
This is magical realism at its very finest, and I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it.
I noticed Angels of Destruction by Keith Donahue on the shelf and became very excited; I read his debut novel, The Stolen Child, which is all about changelings, not long after it came out and loved it. I didn’t realise he’d written another one! This one also has an unusual child at the center, one who may or may not be an angel in disguise, as well as an exploration of mother/daughter relationships, identity, faith (in people, fate, God, etc.) and how we can get caught up in events without really noticing that will change our lives. I was hooked from the first page, and effortlessly fell in love with all of the women and girls at the heart of the book. Very occasionally Donahue makes a gender binary ‘common wisdom’-esque pronouncement that annoyed me, but I think it happened 2-3 times, and it didn’t detract from the many kinds of women and positive relationships between them that he portrays. His writing style is a bit folksy, so those pronouncements were likely a stylistic device more than anything.
One of the things I loved most, other than the characters and themes, is how wonderful Donahue is at describing everyday, homey pleasures. There are little details to his writing that add up to incredibly satisfying settings. As someone who is very much affected by the little joys of my apartment, I couldn’t resist such moments. His prose is beautifully constructed, but feels natural instead of over-done. Here are the opening lines, which capture the feel of the book wonderfully, and show his descriptive powers in action:
She heard the fist tap again, tentative and small.
From the cocoon of her bed, she threw off the eider down duvet and wrapped a shawl around her shoulders against the winter’s chill. Alone in the house, Margaret took the stairs cautiously, holding her breath to verify that the sound at the front door was not just another auditory hallucination to disturb her hard-won sleep. On the fourth step from the bottom, she peered through the transom window but saw only minatory blackness and the blue reflected light of moon and stars arcing off the cover of new snow. She whispered a prayer to herself: just don’t hurt me. …
Margaret pressed her palms against the oak to deduce the presence on the other side, without seeing, without being seen, and on faith undid the locks and swung wide the door.
Don’t you want to know who was waiting for her on the other side? There’s nothing I love more than a book that combines thoughtful themes with compelling characters and beautiful writing: Angels of Destruction does this. Keith Donahue has written two more books as well, and I’ll be reading them sooner rather than later.
I apologise for taking so long to reply to comments on my last post. I hope to do that later today or tomorrow, but right now I must get Thistle outside for her morning walk. I hope you all are well, and that no one gets too pranked on April Fool’s!