I did not, on New Year’s Eve, make a resolution to be cozier in my little corner of the world, but that seems to be what is happening this winter.
So way back in my college years, when I got my first apartment, I bought a floor lamp for my living room. It was nothing fancy and had served me well for nearly twenty years, but it was starting to get a little wobbly and a little flickery- neither of which was helped by Mina, who decided that it would be fun to climb onto one of the three lamp covers to see what it was all about. Needless to say, the already-wobbly lamp was not up to holding the weight of a ten-pound cat climbing onto one side, and the whole thing fell over– cat, bulbs, and all– and hit the radiator at three in the morning.
Imagine me, if you will, trying to keep two cats out of the shattered remnants of a lightbulb while I struggle to 1) keep my bare feet out of the glass and 2) find my shoes and turn on a different light so I can go get the broom and clean everything up.
It’s funny, now that a couple of years have passed.
But the lamp’s decline was accelerated by its cat-induced fall, and by the end of 2022, I’d had enough. So I did a bit of shopping around and bought a new lamp this week. Putting it together was interesting as the manufacturer decided to hide the directions, but I had a picture of it on the box and the screws were of different enough lengths that I was able to puzzle it all out and get the thing put together. Then, when I was about to put the lampshade in place and so found the directions, I was able to see that I’d put everything together correctly.
So I have a new lamp that doesn’t randomly flicker and is far less likely to fall over– and it even has a little shelf to put a mug of tea! It’s the little things that make me happy. And my living room is super cozy now, thanks to this one little change.
Obligatory Mina Photo:
Mina has found the new year to be quite cozy, too. She is unimpressed by the new lamp, but she does enjoy the new arrangements of blankets on her chair, the couch, and next to the radiator. I’ve been going through things and found a couple of cheap blankets I’d put away ages ago and forgotten about. I swapped one out for the big fluffy afghan on Mina’s chair (which used to be my reading chair) and moved the afghan to the couch, and had the slightly ragged white one set aside to donate to the animal shelter. Then Mina claimed it, so I put it on the floor next to the radiator in the studio where she’s just been laying on the wood floor. She spent most of the day on that blanket on my day off, so I think I’ve found a winner for a new cat bed– and I didn’t have to buy or make something new for her!
It’s coziness all around in this little household, which is a good way to start the year.
What I Finished Reading Last Week:
I’m not going to go over everything I’ve read over the past two weeks since my last Sunday Sum-Up, so you’re just going to have to be happy with finding out what I’ve finished so far in 2023.
- Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith, audiobook narrated by Peter Noble
- The Adventure of the Gloria Scott by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- The Medieval Kitchen: A Social History with Recipes by Hannele Klemettilä
Over a few days at the end of 2022, I went through a sizable portion of my library’s nonfiction audiobook selection and added about 75 titles to my TBR on Libby. They’re from a variety of topics so whether I’m in the mood for a book about dogs or evolution or history or whatever, there will probably be something I can download right away to listen to. Other Minds was the first of these that I checked out, and it was a fascinating look at (mostly) the octopus, its intelligence, biology, and the evolutionary pressures that made it what it is today. I have a greater appreciation for these clever animals now, and I’d like to learn more about them. I’ve heard that Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus is phenomenal, so maybe I’ll check that out later this year. But anyway. If you’re interested in ocean life or the octopus in general, I recommend this book.
I am subscribed to the Letters from Watson substack, which is sending out a portion of a Sherlock Holmes story every couple of days or so. The goal is to make it through the entirety of the Holmes canon this year now that it is entirely in the public domain. I’m not sure how they’ll work with the novels, but as I own those, I can read them for myself if they’re not sent out as part of the substack. This week’s story was ‘The Adventure of the Gloria Scott‘, in which Holmes recounts one of his earliest adventures where he aided a college friend whose father was being threatened by an odious figure from his past. There is very little mystery in this particular story, but it does shine a light on how Holmes got his start as an investigator. It’s odd to imagine the famous detective as an oddball university student, but here we are. I think we’ll be getting the stories in chronological order, based on when they take place in Holmes’s life. I know the last entry stated which story we’ll be getting this coming week, but I can’t now remember what it is.
I received The Medieval Kitchen for Christmas last year and was utterly charmed by it. Not only is it a gorgeous book full of many color illustrations of manuscripts, paintings, and tapestries from the Medieval era, but it also provides a number of Medieval recipes reworked for the modern kitchen, as well as showing just how varied and flavorful the Medieval diet was, whether you were a peasant or a king. It’s a common misperception that people (mostly peasants) ate flavorless porridge all the time and that wealthy people used spices to cover the taste of rotting meat, but Klemettilä dispels these myths and others, showing that people of the time had a varied diet of fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy, grains, herbs and spices with an array of flavors that rivals the modern table. It’s a rather niche subject, but if you’re interested in food history or want to branch out in your cooking, I’d recommend this book, too. I know I’ll be trying many of the recipes this year.
What I’m Currently Reading:
- Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel (127/416)
- How to: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems by Randall Munroe, audiobook narrated by Will Wheaton
- Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Faeries by Heather Fawcett, ARC provided by NetGalley
Beyond Black is about Alison and Colette, two women who end up together thanks to Alison’s ability to speak to the dead. She makes her living as a psychic medium touring England, while Colette manages her career. The two women are vastly different from each other but are united in needing each other. So far, I’ve seen how both Alison and Colette grew up and sort of stumbled into lives they didn’t want, and how they met and ended up on the road together. This is not a happy story by any means. The two women aren’t wandering about England having a grand old time. They’re both haunted, whether literally (in Alison’s case) or figuratively (in Colette’s), and I have a feeling that these hauntings will catch up to them both in potentially tragic ways. Beyond Black is so clearly a work of Mantel’s, as the style that was at its height in Wolf Hall is on display here. I’m taking this book slowly because it deserves to be savored.
I’ve been following Randall Munroe’s online comic series XKCD on and off again for years, but I haven’t read all of his books yet. That changes this year. I downloaded the audiobook of How To, not realizing that Will Wheaton is the narrator. I don’t think Munroe could have asked for a more perfect person to narrate his books, because Wheaton gets the humor and nerdiness of Munroe’s absurd answers to everyday problems. For example, there is a multi-part response to “How to Throw A Pool Party” that involves suggestions that involve buying thousands of liters of bottled water on Amazon and then nuking them to quickly open them all to fill the pool in time for the party. Obviously, this is not a rational way to fill a pool. But that’s not what this book is about. It’s about explaining complicated scientific ideas in a straightforward and ridiculously funny way so that you accidentally learn about math, physics, and other sciences while simultaneously having a good time.
Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Fairies is a fantasy novel about an Edwardian-era professor who travels to the remote island nation of Ljosland (it’s Iceland, but a fantasy Iceland) in order to study the Hidden Ones, or faeries, who live there. Emily is trying to finish up her extensive encyclopaedia detailing the various faeries that live across Europe. Along the way, she encounters terrible weather, criminal sheep, other people, and of course, faeries she’s never encountered before that could be the end of her if she makes the wrong move. Her quest to document all the Faeries of Europe is not helped by the arrival of her rival, Wendell Brambleby, who may or may not be a fae lord in disguise. So far, this book is delightful. It’s clear that Fawcett loves old faerie tales and has absorbed the lore over the course of years. These faeries are not the sexy, immortal fae who inexplicably fall in love with teenage girls (as we’ve been constantly getting from certain YA and new adult authors). The faeries of Emily Wilde’s world are the devious, often unpredictable kind who could provide you with freshly-baked bread at any time, or haunt your dreams and make your life a living nightmare if you cross them. And Emily is the type of academic character who makes me want to sit her down with a cup of tea and say, “Emily, dear, I know you’re very intelligent and hard-working, but here are some things about life that you’re missing”. I’m hoping to finish this book later today, as so far it’s been a wonderful story.
The One I Didn’t Mention:
If you’re friends with me on Goodreads or StoryGraph, and you’re paying attention to my “currently reading” list, you’ll notice that I didn’t list one of my current reads: War and Peace.
Why not, you ask?
Because I’m participating in a yearlong read-along with about 850 people on a Discord server, hosted by my Bookstagram friend, Simon. Simon is a big fan of slow reading and loves War and Peace, and because I’ve been enjoying reading a few pages of classic novels at a time thanks to substacks, I decided to take the plunge and join Simon’s read-along. I bought a Penguin classics clothbound edition with Anthony Briggs’ translation (which is often recommended to people reading War and Peace in English for the first time) and opened it up on New Year’s Day. We’ll be reading roughly a chapter a day (though many of us have been reading ahead) and discussing the characters, events, history, and philosophy of the book as we go.
So far, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the book. It’s funnier than I had expected, full of lively characters- some of whom I already adore, and some I’ve been glaring at- and dry observations. I’m not worried about the massive cast of characters (there are some 500 named parts), as I’m accustomed to fantasy series that also have a wealth of named characters. I don’t know yet how I’ll include War and Peace in my sum-ups, or if I’ll update you all with my experience every couple of weeks or so. But I’ve got time to figure it out, and in the meantime, I’ll enjoy catching up on all the gossip at Anna Pavlovna’s parties and roll my eyes at Prince Andrey and Pierre’s ridiculous antics.