F You Very Much: Danny Wallace

“In 2015, after 27-year-old Omar Hussain left his job at a Morrisons supermarket in Buckinghamshire and fled the United Kingdom to join the radical terrorist jihadist group ISIS, he was extraordinarily disappointed to find out how rude they all were.”


—-

Early in this nonfiction book, I write down that I thought it might be a book-length subtweet. 

There’s nothing “sub” about it. 

Children of Exile: Margaret Haddix

“We weren’t orphans after all.”


—-

I bought this book just because it had Freds living in Fredtown. 

The Burning Girl: Claire Messud

“YOU’D THINK it wouldn’t bother me now.”


—-

I love Claire Messud’s books, even if nothing exciting happens. And in this one there is excitement, but it’s filtered through a gauze somehow, filled with melancholy and nostalgia. 

I’ve been thinking for days about Goya painting in Spain while the French fought. I now want to draw a giant timeline to see what kinds of things were going on at the same time that I’d never thought of before. I also wonder if we will ever be the same now that the world has shrunk so much that Thai children in a cave can be on our phones in our pockets at the beach. Maybe we (certainly Americans) actively ignore more things because we are built to have an unknown battle happen five hundred miles away. 

Also I’m wondering if any author who makes a character called Mrs Robinson gets the song stuck in their head fir the year. 

Amberlough: Lara Elena Donnelly

“At the beginning of the workweek, most of Amberlough’s salaryfolk crawled reluctantly from their bed—or someone else’s—and let the trolleys tow them, hungover and half asleep, to the office.”


—-

This is another book flavored with politics, this time in a whole bother world. One with spies and burlesque troupes. There were a million little touches I liked: “suits like a tailor” and “troubles hanging on my tie” made me want to make up my own. 

The open sexuality of the book was refreshing, though under threat. I was 227 pages in before I caught the idea that the use of “straight” as slang for a cigarette might not just be because of its shape. 

Leadership and Self-Deception: The Arbinger Institute

“It was a brilliant summer morning shortly before nine, and I was hurrying to the most important meeting of my new job at Zagrum Company.”


—-

Seems strange that a book that’s carefully written to be from the point of view of a character (this is not a regular nonfiction collection of anecdotes, data and history; it’s a long long bit of exposition) is credited to an institute. 

But maybe I just can’t get out of the box. 

Your Brain at Work: David Rock

“An avalanche of emails.”


—-

This is a book about using your brain wisely. I think I was most surprised about the sections talking about how the brain uses up energy/needs fuel for different kinds of thinking. 

A few things struck me as interesting and a few things struck me as crazy (The woman used in examples decided not to look st emails until the last hour of her day? That is inconceivable to me.). Certainly a book that suggests that offshoring is a good solution to a cost problem isn’t going to endear itself to me. 

I liked the idea that using visualizations or at least scrawling on a white board cans let us store references and use less energy trying to keep the whole thing in our head. I think this might be useful for noting things i want to remember to say or drill into instead of trying to juggle the need to not forget that very important point with listening or making the current point. 

There was one suggestion that I haven’t completely processed because it just seems so rude, but maybe it’s a good idea:

“When running a conference call, it might be helpful to be explicit about who is paying 100 percent attention and who is doing other things. When a topic comes up that requires full attention from a specific person, that person can be alerted that their full attention is required.”

Well, internet, I’m going to go do sunerging else. Alert me if you need my attention 


The Judge Hunters: Christopher Buckley

“Balthasar de St. Michel was contemplating his excellent good fortune at having such an influential brother-in-law as Samuel Pepys when he looked up and saw the head of Oliver Cromwell, mummifying on a pike.”


—-

The next line is, “Revolting, he thought.”  For a person who is recording thoughts on books using first lines, this is a tempting morsel. Alas, the morsel is not appropriate. 

This book is an odd mix. There are witty barbs like this one about America after the arrival of Europeans, ‘“This was no virgin land, Mr. St. Michel,” Winthrop said gravely. “It was a widowed one.”’  But once you are settled into the comic feel, you get passages like this:

“The man staggered back, nose broken, spurting blood. Smith fired. The shot went through the constable and into Huncks’s shoulder. Huncks bounded toward Smith as he tried to reload. He swung his pistol at the side of the man’s head, crushing his skull. Smith fell to the ground, dead.”

I suppose this is all laid out in those first two lines. 


I only know 2 phone jokes

...so what do I do next?





The Broken Girls: Simone St James

“The sun vanished below the horizon as the girl crested the rise of Old Barrons Road.”



This was good, a modern mystery with gothic elements about a death in the 90s and one in the 50s. 

The current day section reminded me of Laura Lippman. The parts from the past reminded me of A Separate Peace. With ghosts. 

Baltimore Blues: Laura Lippman

“On the last night of August, Tess Monaghan went to the drugstore and bought a composition book—one with a black-and-white marble cover.”


—-

This is the first of a series starring Tess Monaghan, former reporter, rower, and self-made detective. It takes place in one of my hone towns and in spite of the murders was filled with nostalgia for me. 

“I like Bob Dylan and those folksy, waifish bands on ’HFS.”  This is a book set in the 90s, when WHFS was my favorite station. The days of Weasel and Damien. Three songs that shared a common leitmotif. I won a CD from that game and visited the station. I didn’t meet any of the DJs and I don’t even remember the CD. I was hoping for Lowen and Navarro, I’m sure. 

The bits about rowing on the Patapsco were interesting. I’ve taken many walks down in the state park, but I associate rowing more with the Potomac. I’d like to visit her aunt’s bookstore. I’m not enough of a mystery fan to rate the case itself, but I’m happy to read more of these. 

Now all I can do is dream of birthday cannoli from Vaccaros. 

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo: F. C. Yee

“So I didn’t handle the mugging as well as I could have.”



Aside from the first line, I only highlighted one line from this book. What might that mean? It means that this book held strong to my attention throughout. This was a fun book. 

It’s the story of a high school girl who balances competitive academics with her discovery that she is the weapon of a god. I don’t even know what to say about it; it was clearly gripping. 

The other quote only jumped out at me because it indicates she is clearly from the Bay Area:

“Hon. That’s how pathetic I was. I was a hon.”

Well, that is to say, she clearly isn’t from Baltimore or she’d have been proud!

Another Phone Painting Starts

We've had a lot of rain these last few weeks and, unusually, February had some days that were almost nearly freezing. So I haven't been out to the ole shed to put brush to canvas.

That changed today!

Birthday Tree 2018

I don't know what it is about this year, but I'm way way behind on everything.

Especially on my birthday tree.

Huh, I went back to look at last year and I didn't post until 15 April. Of course, I think I bought the tree much earlier, I just didn't get around to posting. This year, I'm posting on the day I bought my new tree, which I haven't planted yet.


This is a Scarlet Angel's Trumpet. I'm excited to read now that I'm already home with the thing: "All parts of Brugmansia sanguinea are poisonous." Oh, well, I'll try not to eat or smoke it.

You'll see in the background that last year's tree, a fig. It didn't die yet, but it still only has three leaves. (It had more until the late summer hit and I failed to water it properly.)


2016's lime tree seems to be doing well enough (although it got a tinge of yellow on the leaves when the nearly almost freezing weather happened). It actually has flowers so I'm hoping this is the year it starts helping me make margaritas. (The broken up pottery is from the outdoor table that was left here when I moved it. I've removed the top in anticipation of a project this year. I put them into the pot to break the fall of the hard rains so that the soil doesn't get so compacted.)


2015's olive tree continues to be the best of the bunch. No olives last year, but I'm hopeful for martinis this year. I pruned it, so it doesn't look like it's grown as much as it did over the year.

Company Town: Madeline Ashby

“Hwa wondered if today was the day she would finally get to finish that sorry son of a bitch once and for all.”

—-
I liked this book all the way to the 90% mark. It’s a well-developed world with an SF/mystery that builds well and has the right pace. But it lost me right at the end. 

In addition to a town built on tech-cluttered ocean platforms, this book has some good descriptions. Like this one:

“All these years later, he was still a pallid, fishlike man, with a weird gawping mouth”

It probably didn’t help my reading to have picked this up so close to the school shooting, so the school shooting in the book was hard to take. (Not that there’s all that much distance from a shooting these days.)

Weather

It rained for about thirty minutes today. I think it’s the first time this year and comes after a week of nights in the 30s. 


The second floor neighbor two houses down apparently forgot it ever rains and left a hot grill open to the sky. The coals provided gobs of smoke for us all to enjoy. 

Update:

Apparently the power lines forgot what rain was, too. Without power tonight for about a half hour. It’s very dark here without the lights. 

A Wrinkle in Time: Madeleine L’Engle

“It was a dark and stormy night.”


—-

I had forgotten that L’Engle used this as her opening line. 

This is a book I had liked as a kid, and I was worried that it would not hold up. And it certainly has more common tropes than I’d like: The Mrses W withheld useful information, the hero discovers she had the answer all along & love conquers all, useless parents, etc. 

On the other hand, neither of the boys save the day; it’s up to Meg. I thought that her moment of disillusionment when she realizes her parents can be flawed was well done. It’s good to see a book against conformity and safety. 

I seem to remember liking the sequel, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, better, but it’s hard to remember. It might very well be that I just liked the title. 

One thing I had not remembered at all: the religious references. It might be that some of them were not familiar to me as strictly Christian because I didn’t grow up with a lot of music and Psalms (in my early years, at least).  But it’s chock full of Christian language (though Buddha gets a mention). 

Other random notes I took while reading:

— Beauty is mentioned a lot early on 
— Tesseract!
— “Meg felt that she would have liked to kiss Mrs Whatsit, too, but that after Charles Wallace, anything that she or Calvin did or said would be anticlimax.”
— “It’s my worst trouble, getting fond. If I didn’t get fond I could be happy all the time.” Ain’t it the truth?
— ‘ “Tell me,” the beast said. “What do you suppose you’d do if three of us suddenly arrived on your home planet.” “Shoot you, I guess,” Calvin admitted.’ Some things don’t change quickly. 

Overall, I’d say this primed me for the movie. I’m interested in how/if they’ll do some of the imagery about darkness and if they’ll keep Charles Wallace weird. 

A Painting Ends

At the end of the year, I started a new painting. And now I’ve finished it. 




This is a smaller painting. It’s also about as close to a self portrait as I am likely to ever get. Acrylic on Canvas, 8”x8”

It’s very hard to find a public telephone to use as a model. 

Infomacracy: Malka Older

“The sign on the defunct pachinko parlor proclaims 21ST CENTURY, but the style—kanji in neon outlined in individual light bulbs? Who does that?—suggests it was named at a time when that was a bold look toward the future, not a statement of fact that has been accurate for more than sixty years.”



This is cyberpunk for the 538 crowd. It wants you to believe that it’s about Information: a sort-of fact-checking Google in the future. A semi-secretive organization that most of the world has ceded control of its elections to. 

I went a little crazy with hyphens there, didn’t I?

The book is really about elections. It’s not even, really, all that interested in government. It wants to try to play with an alternate strategy for conducting elections, a kind of micro democracy where the world is grouped in clusters of 100k voters. 

This book wants to talk about elections (and polling) so much that I wonder if it ran a losing campaign for student council in high school and hasn’t gotten over it. 

I’m doing a bit of anthropomorphising there, but more than any book I’ve read in recent days, _this_ book wants, I think. It wants to talk about elections; it wants to examine the decisions of voters who vote against their own best interest; it wants to convince you that it’s hard to inform a public that doesn’t wish to inform. 

I know that sounds dry. And it sometimes is.  But this book is filled witt humor. I enjoyed the journey, though it had its fits and starts, because of the people along the way. Especially Ken.  Let’s end with a different quote:

“She’s beyond attractive. Ken wonders if she would stab him in the leg.”

Gunslinger Girl: Lyndsay Ely

“They dragged in the dead scrounger in the fade of the afternoon, tied to the last truck in the convoy.”


—-

Don’t know why, but I was expecting something futuristic with a Western flavor, but we ran the gamut from Mad Max to Barnum & Bailey to romance — spoiler, the brooding male love interest isn’t the poor did you think he is! — but it never quite felt like a Western. 

It’s not fair to judge a book based on what I _expected_ it to be. It has no idea what my expectations are. 

But still, I made exactly two notes for the book, so I’ve got little to say. It moved along at an ok pace, the story of a city at the edge of a postapocalyptic regime run by a woman with a circus was what it was, and the characters were ok. 

I will say that the author was willing to kill off characters, and I always respect that.  But the fact is, I didn’t really mind when they died, so I suppose this one didn’t engage me. This will be the biggest test of my experiment — if I remember this at the end of the year, I suspect it will only be because I wrote something down. 

The Crash of Hennington: Patrick Ness

"She smelled dawn even before the sun looked over the horizon."

---

This is one Weird book. It's strange, yes, but it gets less strange as it goes along. No, that isn’t exactly right. It becomes more familiar as it goes along. It’s not standard Weird. I suppose it’s post-apocalyptic strange?


Let’s start with The Crash. They aren’t cows. I thought they were cows. They aren’t.  But they are normal animals. Amd they’re an indication that something is different about the world. 

The rhinos and the heat. 

The book walked me down a primrose path. It started to convince me that a possible solution to our world filled with conflicts rooted in centuries-old resentment and whatnot would be to erase our memory of all the past. But it seems the point is that people have destruction inside that has nothing to do with history. 

And so this book is grim. 

It’s a little bit American Gods, some BSG. Too  much golf-course owning politician.  

But overall: grim. 

Bluebird, Bluebird: Attica Locke

“GENEVA SWEET ran an orange extension cord past Mayva Greenwood, Beloved Wife and Mother, May She Rest with Her Heavenly Father.”



This mystery novel about a Texas Ranger will likely sit in my mind for some time. Not so much because it was well written (though it was) or because it made me crave fried pie (it did) but because of the underlying tension between a hostile environment and the desire to hold onto home when home is that hostile environment. 

That tension is on my mind lately as we go through our current national crisis. I see how easy it is for us in the safety of our coastal enclaves under a shared blanket of comfortable liberalism to look on those parts of the country with populations that skew heavily to those hostile to my beliefs and wonder, how can people who are hurt by the environment stay there? How is it that Alabamans of color and/or liberal bent stay? 

It’s also easy to be shallow and see it in merely economic terms or believe them in other ways trapped against their wills. But I’m certain that’s not really the case for everyone. So what is it keeps them there?

In this book we follow a Texas Ranger of African American descent. He has had and continues to have the opportunity to leave East Texas. In his investigation, we can certainly see many reasons that he would be safer in other parts of the country. And yet he doesn’t want to leave. He wants to fight against the evil in his state. It’s why he joined the Rangers. He wanted to stake his claim to his home. 

For me, I generally identify more with the young widow. I was born in the South and moved around a bit. Everywhere, I’ve been an outsider and it suits me. But it means I have no real concept of home in the way that people talk about having particular soil in the blood. 

So for me it’s good to have examples who are self-aware enough to know why they choose to stay and to make that decision consciously. It’s a good reminder for folks who wonder why our liberal friends want to stay “behind enemy lines”.  They are doing the harder work of fighting to make things better, refusing to be chased out of their own homes. 

There’s honor in that, I know. Still, I’m also craving fried pie. 

Another Painting Begins...

Not much daylight, so it's hard to make much progress. (I paint in a shed outside.) But I've started a new painting.



EOY: Reading

When I look at this picture of the 36 books I read this year, I can't help but wonder am I really absorbing any of these.



11:15 F:M (by book count)

So here we are at the end of the year. I'm going to try to write 2 line reviews for every one of these books without looking at anything but the cover to see if I got any of it. If I'm wrong, blame my memory. Wish me luck:

A Closed and Common Orbit

A sequel to the excellent The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet where the ship AI tries to live on a planet. It had interesting gender stuff, but not as interesting now that we're off-ship.

Just One Damned Thing After Another

I don't think I remember this. I keep thinking of scenes from the Nunslinger series.

The Forever War

I don't remember this one either. I keep thinking of scenes from Old Man's War.

Rose's Run

This one is about a First Nations woman, her family, and a sexy new boss. There was a mystery, but Rose overcoming her own feelings of inadequacy are the core of this very good book.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Sisters live in their house. This is a creepy book.

In the Woods

The protagonist investigates a murder that happens in a patch of woods that he had a bad experience in as a kid (and he keeps it from everybody). I really didn't like how he treated his partner.

The Glass Key

I know this was a mystery. I remember nothing about it.

The Lady in the Lake

Same. Was one of these Philip Marlowe? Oh, wait, this one had a cabin on a man-made lake.

Every Heart a Doorway

I think this one was an alternate world/portal thing. It had a school in it maybe?

Star Nomad, Honor's Flight, Starseers

A series about a strong woman with a ship and a crush on a cyborg, plus a chef and a missing child. I wouldn't say that Buroker's books are deep, but they always drag me in and make me want to read more. Still, I'd start with the Emperor's Edge series.

Redshirts

An examination of how and why certain characters wind up dead in a Star Trek-like world. It was ok.

Song of Time

Dang, I wish I remembered this one. Even looking at the cover doesn't remind me of a single thing.


The Stolen Child

I read this one because it was written by the wife of the LibraryThing founder. It was spooky and very American-in-Irelandy.

Chalk

I think this was a supernatural one and it might have had to do with chalk in the ground, not on a board.

Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War

Two books from the Expanse series, which I remember because I watched the series on Amazon, which goes up to the first half or so of the first book. I don't remember what happened in the second book. Maybe Saturn or Jupiter started going bad?

The Puzzles of Peter Duluth

Early twentieth century detective.

East of Eden

Story about a family living in the Salinas Valley over the generations. I enjoyed visiting places I've been (the stretch from King City to Salinas is just a few hours north of me) but I'm not big on sins of the fathers novels.

A Burglar's Guide to the City

A non-fiction examination of how architecture and urban planning can be seen through other eyes. Very interesting.

The Best of All Possible Worlds

I don't remember this one much, except that it had some sort of government-sponsored team of researchers and I think a love story.

The Glimpses of the Moon

I'm sorry, Edith, I don't remember your book. I loved My Antonia and Alexander's Bridge, though.

Slade House

Siblings feed on unsuspecting souls to live forever. I didn't like the episodic repetition of the attacks over the years.

Mars Evacuees

Children sent to Mars to study how to make war to help protect Earth from invading aliens. I liked the goldfish robot.

Luna: New Moon

Oligarchs on the moon. I read this because I read something the author wrote about figuring out cocktails on the moon. Would have liked more cocktails.

His Majesty's Dragon

Patrick O'Brian with dragons, I guess.

The Rest of Us Just Live Here

My favorite of the year. Imagine how the other kids in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the ones not in the Scooby Gang) try to get through high school. Very witty and also well-done characters.

Six Wakes

A mystery on a generation ship, where clones are killing each other. Slow.

The Princess Diaries

From Carrie Fisher. What can I say?

Parable of the Sower

This would have been my favorite of the year if I wanted to count books I'd read before. Superb, and also a little too resonant for today's climate (but hopeful, in the end).

The Accidental Sorcerer

Another protagonist learns he can do magic, if I remember correctly. Something about harbor towns and kings and weather.

Curse of the Spellmans, Revenge of the Spellmans

Light, fun reads narrated by a less-than-self-aware member of a family full of detectives. She's on the edge of unreliable narrator, but not so far in that it spoils my enjoyment.


Yep, my memory is terrible. I need to start writing about books again. I think that'll help my retention.

Wow



Have I really been quiet since September? I need to get back to writing. The practice is important. 

Too much work travel this year, I guess. Last week i was in LA. I got to spend a few days 30 miles south of the fire in Ventura and 15 miles west of a fire on the 405. The Ventura (Thomas) fire kept me from coming home up the 101.  I drove up i5, which added a couple of hours, because it’s longer and because there was a fire along the 5, too. 

I’ve really adopted the “the” in front of road names. I find this odd because I could never bring myself to say Nevada City the way the locals did. It just felt pretentious of me, like coming back from France and spouting off about Paree. 

Before I left today, I stopped in Morro Bay for a flu shot. Here’s a picture of Morro Bay’s crab pot Christmas tree. 



I went to the drug store and was shot by a certified immunizer! She commented on the weather (which was gorgeous). I noted that I hoped the wind died down. This led to the fires, of course. I mentioned I had been down there. She said that they were set on purpose by people throwing flares at the grass. I shook my head and said “What’s wrong with people?”

She said, “Well the truth is, we let too many people into this country who don’t like us.”

I was stunned. I didn’t want to have a political conversation at a drugstore. But what are you supposed to do? Even after having lived in Nevada County, I forget that California isn’t all hippies. I feel bad that I didn’t fight the woman. At least it wasn’t a public conversation. Would you have said anything?

I just said, “Well plenty of people who are born here don’t like us.” I should have mentioned that I was in Vegas last month. I was there for a conference in Mandalay Bay. It was surreal how everything just seemed normal (except for all the Vegas Strong merchandise). 

What a world.  

Well, as we stumble blindly into this holiday season, I hope for peace on earth and goodwill to all, but I wouldn’t place a bet on it. 


Big Falls Hike

This weekend's hike was down on the other side of San Luis Obispo up in the Santa Lucia Wilderness.


Along the way, I had to drive across a creek several times. I even had to drive in it for a bit at one point:


I tried this hike earlier in the year, but the creek was too high for my car to get through. I have a four-wheel drive car, but it isn't high-clearance. I've not driven it into deep water.

The hike was a good one. It was less than two miles to Big Falls, but it was good climbing, so a good bit of exercise.

Here is the view from the top of Big Falls.


When I say from the top, I'm being literal. The waterfall was completely and utterly dry. Here's a view from the bottom.


It was a good hike, but I can't imagine how I'd get up there when there's water.