- I have lived in Nebraska all my life, and thus have experienced some strange weather. Christmas Day tornadoes. Softball-sized hail. Derechos. Thundersnow. All sorts of weather weirdness. But Monday brought my first encounter with muddy rain. A dust storm in Texas sent dust and dirt high into the atmosphere where it combined with a storm system coming over the Rockies. So we got muddy rain. Red mud. A film of it settled onto our cares, making it look like they had rusted across the course of the afternoon.
- My hours at work shifted a little bit. I go in an hour earlier and go home an hour earlier. This means I get an actual evening. Huzzah! The extra morning hour goes by in a flash, since I’m not fully awake then, so the whole work day feels like it passes more quickly. It was especially nice this week because I had more sunshine to enjoy thanks to the time change.
- The main performing arts center downtown streamed a free concert last night: the Philadelphia Orchestra featuring Gil Shaham presented Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, which I haven’t listened to in full since I saw it at the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London several years ago. So it bought back all sorts of memories of that performance, plus the bittersweetness of not being able to see a concert with my sister for the past year and a half (we usually see at least one live performance each year, but thanks to the pandemic, we haven’t seen anything since The Phantom of the Opera back in Fall 2019). On the other hand, there is a certain memorable strangeness of watching a concert in my pajamas while the cats are up to their usual hijinks.
Obligatory Mina Photo:
Doesn’t she look majestic?
I have new downstairs neighbors. They’re fine for the most part, but sometimes in the evenings it seems as though their favorite past time is slamming doors as they go in and out. It’s annoying at best to have your quiet evening be randomly disrupted by doors being slammed and loud conversation that echoes up the stairwell as they head off to wherever.
Mina agrees with me, I’m sure, because she has taken to dashing around the apartment for about ten minutes after midnight. I enjoy the pitter patter of little cat feet, and I get a certain sense of vengeful satisfaction, knowing the downstairs neighbors are also hearing Mina running about, though I’m sure they are less entertained. But I figure that we’re looking at a noise for a noise. And mine is far less disruptive.
What I Finished Reading Last Week:
- Persian Pictures: From the Mountains to the Sea by Gertrude Bell
- Tolkien Treasures by Catherine McIlwaine, J.R.R. Tolkien
- Giving up the Ghost by Hilary Mantel
- The Hidden World of the Fox by Adele Brand
Persian Pictures is a collection of essays that cartographer, explorer, and negotiator Gertrude Bell wrote during her first trip to the Middle-East. It’s full of beautiful writing and descriptions of places like Tehran at the end of the nineteenth century. Bell’s British background really shows itself off in some unfortunate comments about the people of the region, but you can also see the nascent love for the people and places where she would spend the rest of her life.
Tolkien Treasures provides a bare description of Tolkien’s life, as it is mostly a collection of reproductions of Tolkien’s illustrations, going back to the 1920s, when he was really beginning to develop the stories that turned into the legendarium of Middle-earth. It’s a short and sweet collection that provides a nice overview of Tolkien’s art, but if you want something more in-depth, I’d check out McIlwaine’s book, Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth.
Giving up the Ghost is Hilary Mantel’s memoir/autobiography. It is as beautifully written as all the other books of hers I’ve read, and is just as tense as something like Bring up the Bodies or A Place of Greater Safety, as– if you know much about Mantel’s life– you know certain terrible things about her health and the doctors’ many misdiagnoses of her condition. Mantel does not present herself as some wonderful person– even as a child. You understand her perspective perfectly, even when she is her worst self. It was fascinating all the way through. If you’re curious about Mantel’s books but are intimidated by the length of her historical works, try Giving up the Ghost to see if you like her writing style.
The Hidden World of the Fox is a lighthearted overview of foxes, how they have adapted to the modern world, and our relationship with them. It is not an in-depth exploration of fox behavior or anything like that, so don’t go into it expecting that. But if you’re looking for some basic information about foxes (particularly foxes in the UK), this is a good book to start with. It would also be a good book for older children who are curious about the wildlife they might encounter in their own back yards, at the park, or walking down the street.
What I’m Currently Reading:
- Walk the Wild With Me by Rachel Atwood, audiobook narrated by Matthew Lloyd Davies (65%)
- The Shaping of Middle-earth (The History of Middle-eart #4) by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien (101/400)
- The Bookseller of Florence: The Story of the Manuscripts that Illuminated the Renaissance by Ross King, ARC provided by NetGalley (4%)
I’m most of the way through Walk the Wild With Me, and I’m really curious as to what Nick is going to to about everything that’s going on, and how all the loose ends are going to come together. I’m enjoying Atwood’s take on faeries, the Robin Hood legends, and the history of King John’s reign over England. There are thoroughly unpleasant figures on both the faerie side of things and the human side, and what I think is a far more realistic depiction of the flexibility of the Medieval mind, which is not always as rigid or religious as modern people assume.
The Shaping of Middle-earth so far is a collection of early drafts of The Silmarillion, so while the great stories of the legendarium are there, they don’t play as prominent a role here as they do in the first three History of Middle-earth books. It’s kind of amazing how little the primary story of the First Age didn’t really change. It was just the details and names that changed as Tolkien ironed out his languages and the family lines.
I’ve only just begun The Bookseller of Florence, and so far so good. I always enjoy a good biography whether the author is intending to tell their audience about a specific person, or is using that person as an anchor point to describe the era in which they live. So far, Ross King is using the life of Vespasiano da Bisticci as an anchor point to describe the intellectual world of early fifteenth century Florence.
The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, translated from the Italian by J.G. Nichols
Facing the thought of reading another 500+ pages of little parables and amusing tales about con artists tricking their way into sainthood, corrupt bishops, and all sorts of other religious satires and whatnot, I decided I just wasn’t into it and put the book away. It’s okay. I’ve made it this long without reading The Decameron. I’ll be fine if I end up never reading it.
What I Plan to Start Reading This Week:
- The Empress of Salt and Fortune (The Singing Hills Cycle #1) by Nghi Vo
- The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
To celebrate the shift in my working hours on Monday, I went straight from work to the library. It was great. Instead of having to rush around to look for things in the last half an hour before close, I got to wander about and look at things on my own time. How extraordinary! So I might have gone a smidge overboard in picking up books, but most of them are short. I decided I wanted to get through some of my TBR’s shorter titles available to me from the library. So I checked out seven books. I may not get to all of them before they’re due back (and before a flock of spring ARCs descends on me), but that’s okay. It’s not like I won’t be able to get them from the library again in the future.
I finished pillowcase #1 last Sunday! I knew my seams and hemlines were a little wonky as I didn’t mark the lines very well, but once I finished felling the edges and pressed everything, I saw just how wacky my stitching was. It’s all quite wavy, but the stitches themselves are incredibly strong– even from a rank amateur like me. So even though nothing is really on a straight line, I’m still quite proud of those strong seams.
I’d planned to cut out and begin stitching the second two pillowcases, but the weather decided to be incredibly gloomy most of the week. Gloomy to the point that, though I woke up around 8:00AM both of those days, I thought it was still night because of how dark it was. Because I needed plenty of light to line up patterns and cut things, I did not get to cut out the patterns. So I still have roughly two yards of beautiful blue linen folded up and waiting for enough light to get the second two pillowcases set up. I’m hoping to get enough light for that today, as it’s supposed to be gloomy again this week.
A while back, I bought two big skeins of wool yarn to make the Vasti Shawl from my Icelandic-inspired crochet pattern book. They lived in the yarn basket until this week, when I balled both skeins so they’d be ready to start the project. I’m so unsure of this pattern, as you start in the center of the longest row and work outward from there. It looks baffling, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out in the end. And if not, I have some friends who can do really complex crochet work, so I can consult them if I need to.
And because I’m me and I look forward to projects way down the road and because I realized a while back that my first attempt at the Frode Shawl– which I thought was perfectly fine when I finished it– was incredibly crooked because I used very textured yarn which made it difficult to count the stitches (137 in each row), and so as I went along I added one stitch to each row, which make it not at all rectangular the way it was supposed to be. But because I like the way it looks overall, I’ve decided that I’m going to remake the shawl in a different yarn that isn’t so textured. I’ve picked out a few different bulky yarns from KnitPicks.com, so it’s just a matter of deciding on material and color. I’m not sure yet what I’ll do with the first shawl. I’d feel weird donating it to Goodwill or something like that, as I’m not sure that the workers would realize that it’s meant to be a piece of sort-of clothing (also, there’s the weird feeling of “Here. I screwed this up. You can have it”), so I may just donate it to the animal shelter. A lonely cat or dog won’t care that it’s crooked. They’ll just be happy to have something soft to lie on.
Which, by the by, sounds like a good use of the two skeins of bulky yarn living in my closet that I always forget are there…
About That Writing Thing:
I finished chapter seven, and went right on to chapter eight the next day. Hooray! I’m back to my favorite POV character, and it makes it so much easier to write the story, since his state of mind and the way he uses words just flows onto the page. He’s a wiser, more wordly person, whereas his fellow characters are, for the most part, soldier-types who are plainspoken and while they are open-minded for their time and place, they don’t ponder the world around them as much as my favorite does.
I’m quite happy that the story has turned back to him. It makes the writing more fun.