Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thousands of words, thousands of yards....

This past week has been pleasantly busy - I have about a thousand words of my research project manuscript (and another thousand words for the IRB), I've been working on several knitting projects and I had some quality reading time. I'll update my book log later this week, probably, but I did want to get some new knitting pictures up here!

So, after much talking about it, I purchased some yarn for Henry and cast on!

The yarn is Aussi Sock in Oak Moss (complete with cute koala picture!) from Susan Yarn up on South Taylor. I've knitted 6 rows of the pattern, plus the cast-on. (Which I loved, by the way, and will totally use again when the time is right. It makes a little picot edge with no sewing required - there is no bad there.) I've already picked out the waste yarn, because it was annoying me endlessly, and a word of advice for anyone knitting this: use a waste yarn that doesn't split. Like, at all. Ever. There was some cursing involved in picking it out.

The abandoned sock re-discovered last week has been proceeding apace - I finished it off and have a few inches of its mate. You'll notice the heel is kind of weirdly puckered - this was, apparently, one of the socks I knit before I learned how to properly pick up the gusset stitches, which may be why I left it to comtemplate its flaws in solitude. My tension is also completely off from Sock #1 to Sock #2 but I'm just going to roll with it. If I never wear them, at least I'm getting back in the sock-knitting mood after never wanting to knit a sock again after the Medrith's Little Lace episode. (A 20 row chart! What was I thinking?)

I also had a very exciting yarn find today, but I'm going to wait until I can photograph it properly before I post about it. I will say this: there were $15 spent, and I am now in possession of a couple thousand more yards of fingering weight wool than I was this morning.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Seafoam Stitch scarf

It's done! I finished the last few rows and added the fringe while at the Stitch-n-Bitch yesterday at Phoenix Coffee, up on Lee. This was my first time at the SnB, and Karen and I went together - we has a lovely time and met several really amazing and welcoming knitters and crocheters. It was a fun afternoon, and I hope to join them again.

Here's the requisite finished object photo. (Thanks, Ben, for the photography!) I was too lazy to change into scarf-appropriate clothing, so just imagine it's actually cool enough to be wearing it.

Pattern: Modified from the stitch described in this post, the scarf was 37 sts wide. I wrapped the yarn once, twice and thrice to get the stitch pattern - as written above, I found the stitch too loopy.

Yarn: Debbie Bliss Pure Silk, in bright pink (I used about 2.5 skeins)

Needles: 6 mm/size 10 straight bamboo

This yarn is deliciously soft, and I can't wait to wear this for real -I think it will be a great fall and spring scarf for those days when it's just cool enough to warrant something snuggly.

Next up will be Henry for Ben, and a return to another unbloggable project. Oh! And while photographing my stash yarns for Ravelry (which I still can't quite believe I did), I came across a stalled sock from ... first year, maybe? It's plain stockinette in a blue-and-gray self-striping yarn from Elann, and although I don't quite remember the pattern I was using, I can probably just wing its mate. I brought it along yesterday and knit two or so inches between the SnB and movie night at Karen and Brandon's. I'm remembering again why I like no-fuss sock knitting.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Back Home

Ben and I had a lovely mini-vacation yesterday! His company had purchased a block of tickets to the Indians vs the A's last night, and so we joined his coworkers for dinner and drinks before the game down at Jacob's Field. (We won! Go Tribe! ....and I've officially been living in Cleveland for a long time.) After the game, we headed over to The Corner Alley, which is this great combination of restaurant, martini bar and bowling alley. We'd been once before, and it works unexpectedly well - they've built the place such that there's really almost no noise from the lanes, and the dining area is visually separated from the bar-and-bowling area, and it's just a lot of fun. (And for the record - their creme brulee martini? Totally worth the drive downtown.) I haven't really been down to East Fourth much, and I was pleasantly surprised - the street is closed to car traffic between Euclid and Prospect and it has this almost European feel:

(Photo taken from - I managed to forget my camera last night.)

I had somehow missed the fact that The Corner Alley, the House of Blues, Lola and Flannery's (all places I've visited and enjoyed) are all right on the same little pedestrian street here.

The reason this excursion became a mini-vacation, though, was that we didn't have to schelp back to the east side at 1 am, but stayed at the Hyatt downtown (which is right across the street from the Corner Alley). Ben's boss has been singing the praises of Priceline, and we scored a room at this lovely hotel for $35! Click this link to see the hotel lobby - the first floor is all shops and restaurants, and the hotel itself is very quaint and 1920's looking on the outside (the doors to the rooms had letter slots! Soldered shut now, but still) yet the rooms themselves are modern and very nicely done.

We had a lovely time, and I was completely charmed by Cleveland's downtown - we joke about the Rust Belt, and there is some truth in that, but downtown is really revitalizing itself. We had dinner, watched the game, went out for drinks and then back to our hotel, all happening within half a mile of each other. And though there were definitely people around - last night's game was sold out - the crowds were still manageable, unlike what a similar evening would have been like in New York, for example. And the hotel room cost $35! Which still blows my mind. Anyway, we had a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the opportunity to play the tourist at home.

In knitting news, I am determined to finish the silk scarf this weekend - all that fringe makes me want to cry, but I will be brave, because it will be pretty. I've decided to nix the beading - I think I'd probably just end up smacking myself in the face with it, and really, that's no fun for anyone. And I'm on the hunt for some suitably drab dark gray sock yarn with which to knit Henry - I promised Ben a scarf last April, and, well, it's getting to be that time of year. The idea of a 452 stitch 24 row repeat terrifies me a little, but the pattern does seem to be one of those that seems way more complicated written down than it will actually be to knit. We'll see how it goes.

Edited to add: It seems I have unfairly slandered my beloved - once he saw a forest green yarn held against his gray coat, Ben decided to go for a little more color in his winter wardrobe. Which thrills me, because the mere thought of knitting an entire scarf in fingering weight dark gray yarn made my eyes hurt. So - thanks, Ben! (And sorry about the drab thing.) We'll be buying yarn tomorrow....

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Made Like Bread

You know, I really can't remember the last time I was able to read so much for pleasure... maybe during high school? This research block thing is suiting me just fine.

The Lathe of Heaven (Ursula K. Le Guin, 1971) This novella deals with George Orr, a man whose dreams become reality, changing both past and present. I enjoyed it - the premise was unique and I found the novel intriguing. I actually read this a few weeks ago, and while I thought this was an interesting read, I don't know that it made much of an lasting impression on me, overall. A solid novella, but not one to which I'll be returning. (Of course, having been written over 30 years ago, the elements that now seem a bit trite could certainly have been ground-breaking; I'm not terribly familiar with the history of SF.) Oh, but! I almost forgot: this is the origin of a quotation I've known for years, without ever knowing the source, and which is even more poignant in context: "They said nothing of any importance. They washed up the dishes and went to bed. In bed, they made love. Love doesn't just sit there like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; re-made all the time, made new." (p. 153) I had heard the last line quoted, but I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of this declaration with the simple descriptors of any night at home with a partner.

Pope Joan (Donna Woolfolk Cross, 1996) I had read this sometime during late middle school/early high, and was pleased to run across it again. According to her back-of-the-book bio, Cross isn't originally a novelist, and it shows in the often predictable subplots. However, the main story is remarkable. Written as historical fiction but clearly well-researched, the basis of the book is the legend of Pope Joan: a woman who, sometime in the mid 800s, became Pope and reigned for two years. In her afterword, Cross provides evidence for the historical basis of the legend, which she believes to be true. The novel itself suffers from some idolization of the main character, reminding me a bit of Jean Auel's Ayla. (Joan is a master scholar, a priest, a physician, and singlehandedly responsible for re-introducing reason and logic to Rome. Et cetera.) But overall, the story is great and well-told, and if the point that Women Can Do Anything is a bit belabored, I'm kind of okay with that. I remember feeling the same way when I read this circa age 14 - I could see that this novel was written with a purpose and agenda in mind, but it was still an excellent story and an agenda I could get behind. Additionally, Cross has clearly done her research regarding quotidian life in 800s Europe, and while I am no expert on such things, there was nothing that rang false, and I thought she did a great job of putting you in that place and time with detail that was relevant and never seemed forced or gratuitous.

The Things They Carried (Tim O'Brien, 1990). I had read Going After Cacciato in high school and always meant to look this up, so when it turned up of Barnes and Noble's sale table, I snagged a copy. I sailed through this, and probably read it too fast for proper appreciation, but I will definitely be re-reading. It is, at first glance, a collection of short stories written about the Vietnam war, but I think it is best described in's review: a "sly, almost hallucinatory book that is neither memoir nor novel nor collection of short stories but rather an artful combination of all three." There's an almost ... drunken feeling to the book, the consequence of an unreliable narrator who freely admits to his unreliability and, indeed, revels in it. Favorites among the group were "How to Write a True War Story," "Style," and "The Things They Carried." But the following passage, from "Stockings," caught my attention: not an original simile, perhaps, but I really enjoyed O'Brien's descriptive economy of speech, and since I seem to be quoting today:

"Henry Dobbins was a good man, and a superb soldier, but sophistication was not his strong suit. The ironies went beyond him. In many ways he was like America itself, big and strong, full of good intentions, a roll of fat jiggling at his belly, slow of foot but always plodding along, always there when you needed him, a believer in the virtues of simplicity and directness and hard labor. Like his country, too, Dobbins was drawn toward sentimentality" (p117).

Traveling Light (Katrina Kittle, 2000). I read this book first during my sophomore year of college, I think, or possibly the spring of freshman year - my roommate Rachel, a native of a Dayton suburb, recommended it to me since the author is essentially from her hometown. After reading The Kindness of Strangers, I picked it up again. The novel is about Summer, a young woman who has moved back home to care for her brother Todd, who is dying of AIDS. On re-read, I actually didn't like Summer all that much - her existential angst is a bit less appealing now than when I was 19 - but all the characters are exquisitely drawn. It's another heart-wrencher, but this one is much less bleak than The Kindness of Strangers, and overall, it's a wonderfully crafted first novel. I enjoy Kittle's works, I think, because her artistry is not in her prose, but in her characters, who feel incredibly immediate and real. Her language is good and doesn't get in the way of her story at all, but ... I don't find myself quoting bits of her novels but rather thinking about her characters. And that maybe sounds like a criticism, but isn't - I enjoy that she can people her novels so effectively with layered and nuanced individuals; no character, no matter how peripheral, seems wasted or one-dimensional. She's an excellent story-teller, and I think this novel is a great example of that ability.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My other expensive and time consuming hobby

The unbloggable knitting proceeds - although I really need to get back to my seafoam stitch scarf and finish it up, as it's getting cool enough here to start wearing it. Since I've started knitting, I definitely appreciate the charms of cooler weather more!

Since I have no pretty knitting pictures to post, I'll share a recipe for my roasted red pepper cream sauce instead. I know Lola was asking after this, so: free to a good home. I meant to take pictures when we made this pasta over the weekend, and failed to do so. But this sauce ends up being a delightful bright orange color, and it looks great with some chopped parsley sprinkled over. It's not entirely my creation - my roommate Jane, when I studied abroad, made her family recipe a few times, and I loved it. This version is what I've cobbled together from my memories of her recipe, plus the addition of garlic and some spiciness. Now that I think about it, I don't think she bothered with a roux, either, and just blended all the cream with the peppers, but if you're using milk rather than cream, the roux helps to thicken the sauce nicely.

Roasted Red Pepper Cream Sauce

1 medium yellow onion, roughly diced
3 red bell peppers, roasted with skins, seeds, etc removed* (or 1 12 oz jar of same)
3 cloves garlic, roughly minced
1/2 - 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (depending on your heat tolerance)
3/4 c milk or cream, divided (I've used 1% milk just fine here)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
Parmesan cheese, black pepper, salt, to taste
1/2 c chopped parsley leaves (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan; saute onion, garlic, red pepper flakes and black pepper until onions are softened and translucent. Roughly chop the peppers and add to onions, heating through. Place mixture in blender, add approximately 1/4 c milk/cream and blend until a smooth puree is achieved. Reserve in blender.

In the saucepan, melt butter over medium heat; add flour and cook the resulting roux, stirring continuously, for 2-3 minutes. Slowly add the remaining milk/cream in several-tablespoon increments, stirring well and allowing the sauce to thicken.

Once all the milk/cream is incorporated, add the onion-pepper mixture back to the saucepan, stirring well to combine and heating through. Season to taste with additional black pepper, salt and/or Parmesan cheese.

Toss over 1 lb dried pasta, cooked, and garnish with chopped parsley (or, in our house, more Parmesan cheese).

*To roast bell peppers, I usually core and seed the peppers, slicing them top-to-bottom into thirds or quarters. Line a baking sheet with foil, place the peppers skin side up, and stick under a preheated broiler for 6 to 10 minutes, until the skins are completely blackened. Fold the foil tightly around the peppers and let them sit for 15 or so minutes, to steam the skins off, then peel them when they're cool enough to handle. I particularly love this method because a) I don't have to hunt around for a paper bag, b) I don't have to turn the peppers around constantly while in the oven and c) the baking sheet doesn't get covered in sticky pepper juices. I am all about the easy clean-up. Those of you lucky enough to live with gas appliances get to just scorch them on the stovetop, but this is a pretty good method for those of us with electric ranges.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hmm. Thursday Odds and Ends

(I'm obviously going to need work on coming up with titles to these things.)

I've been sick the last few days (nothing like an upper respiratory infection to get you in the mood for fall!), so I haven't really done anything exciting or blog-worthy. I was feeling crappy enough that I didn't really want to read or knit. This may have been due to the fact, however, that the current book is Tolkien's The Silmarillion and no knitting is more tedious to me than the back half of a scarf.

However, I do have a cool link to share! Denise McClune wrote today about the concepts of "kind," "nice," and "good" and the differences among them. Interesting stuff. I was reminded while reading that I do want to look up Stephen Post's new book, Why Good Things Happen to Good People. Stephen was a co-lecturer for the bioethics class I took freshman year, and the faculty member of our weekly Science of Clinical Practice class during the first two years of med school. His research is primarily on altruism, which is just a cool topic to be studying, and his descriptions of the book sounded interesting.

I do have a few knitting projects percolating that, unfortunately, will be un-bloggable, as they are gifts for people who might potentially be reading this. (And now all eight of you think you're getting knitted goodies. Um. Maybe? Leave a request in the comments :) ) Photos may be published when the gifts are given, though, just to prove I haven't been a slacker.

Well, I think that's all that's happened recently - I'm going to go back to work and try to make up for coughing my way through working hours earlier this week.

Edited to add: Ooh! I'm a culinary genius! Well, not really, but I just made a very yummy lunch out of leftovers that I'd like to make on purpose sometime. I had made stuffed acorn squash last night, and had leftover stuffing kicking around (rice, quinoa and bulgur wheat with diced onions, eggplant, apple and a ton of spices) that I mixed into this afternoon's Campbell's Select butternut squash soup. The soup was not great on its own (more salt than squash, I think), but with the stuffing mixed in, the saltiness was somewhat tempered and soup became nice and sludgy. Or, err, hearty, I guess. Like a stew. Anyway, it turned out to be pretty tasty, and I'd like to try this grain-and-squash soup concept again, so I figured I'd jot it down here so I might actually remember it.

Monday, September 10, 2007


Got my invitation to Ravelry today! I don't have a ton of time to play today, but I set up my profile and linked my Flickr account - my user name is theraveledskein over there, too. Happy knitting!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

"Heaven ain't close in a place like this"

The Killers' concert was indeed delightful - their energy kind of lagged toward the middle third of the set, but the first and last 6 songs or so were phenomenal. I think part of the slowness at mid-show was that the songs from Sam's Town just aren't as high-energy as Hot Fuss and there was some dissonance involved with mixing more ballad-type music with straight-up, drums-and-bass rock. I thought, too, that the front end of the show was pretty heavily weighted with their radio singles, and that the crowd kind of got what they were looking for a little too early. But despite the pacing issues, the concert was a lot of fun, and I'm glad we were able to go.

Tonight Ben and I are going over to Karen and Brandon's for a potluck - Karen's parents are in town, so that will be fun. I'm in the process of making eggplant roll-ups, but while my eggplant slices are cooling, I thought I'd update my book log.

Measuring Time (Helon Habila, 2007). This novel is set in modern-day Nigeria, and is the story of two twin boys living in a largish village, Keti, some distance from Lagos. LaMamo becomes a professional soldier and Mamo, who ends up being the main character, becomes a historian and writer. I enjoyed this immensely - Habila's writing is spare and his words carefully chosen. Now that I've been thinking about pacing above, I realized that the pacing of this novel worked well for me - the chapters are all each only a few pages long, and the tone is well-suited to the story he's telling.

I took a course in Nigerian literature in undergrad, but we focused there on the immediately post-colonial era, and the native fables and folkstories that predated contact with European cultures. It was particularly interesting for me, then, to see a portrait of Nigeria today, reading about the problems with the current government structure and the quotidian experiences of village life. I was used to reading stories set within the traditional family and village structure of Igbo society, and so it was interesting to see how European and Christian influences have changed that society. The first example, of course, was that the twin boys were permitted to survive infancy, and the familial structures in the village seemed to be modeled more on the Christian practice of one wife per husband versus the traditional compound style with several wives in each family. But even beyond my interest in Nigerian literature, the characters were well-crafted and engaging, and I thought the story was interesting.

The Kindness of Strangers (Katrina Kittle, 2005). This book ... basically kicked the crap out of me. I started it yesterday night, and literally could not put it down until I had finished. It's a novel about incestuous sexual abuse, and it's very raw, emotionally. It's told from varying 3rd person limited POV, and it's ... powerful. I've read Kittle's other two novels, and she has this overwhelming talent for putting you right there with a character, which is a heart-wrenching experience when that character is an eleven-year-old boy whose parents have been sexually abusing him for years. And it's not heart-wrenching in an Oprah's book club, tear-jerker bestseller sort of way, but as if you're actually there watching this horrifying situation come to light. It resolves not happily, necessarily, but as well as it could, and the whole novel just feels so incredibly real. I feel about this book as I feel about the movie Traffic, maybe - I can't say I enjoyed reading it, because there's nothing enjoyable about the story she's telling - but I am incredibly glad I read it. It makes you feel exactly what it must be like to be in the middle of a tragedy, right down to the overwhelming anger you'd feel towards nosy Carlotta in the bakery and the it's not true, this can't be happening to me feeling of having something like this unfold right next door. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who could stand to read it, but I think you have to be ready to have your feet kicked out from under you. This is a novel I'm going to be thinking about for years.

Clay's Ark (Octavia Butler, 1984). This - I'll have to read again, I think. I liked it, but I kind of blew through it to see how the plot turned out. Part of the problem was that I knew that this novel was part of the Patternist series, but I hadn't known that it was more of an offshoot than a continuation - I kept waiting for the characters I knew to appear, and didn't realize until about halfway through that this was going to be an entirely separate novel from the preceeding ones. I really don't have any concrete thoughts on this yet, so I will definitely be re-reading, but I think I might wait a little while to do so.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Friday Odds and Ends

I've deviated a bit from the knitting news in the last few posts, mostly because there's nothing that exciting going on. The Seafoam Stitch scarf proceeds, and I've almost finished the second skein - I think I'll knit 2.5 skeins worth, and then add a substantial fringe to it. (Ben and I are rewatching Season 4 of the West Wing, and this has been very good for my knitting productivity.) I'm contemplating mixing fibers on the fringe - maybe adding some silk embroidery floss (not divided) in different shades of pink, or perhaps some beads, but we'll see how ambitious I get.

An idea for a shrug has been percolating for a while, and I think I'm getting close. I liked the construction technique Iris used in her Jellyfish pattern, but knitting it all in one direction like that would drive me crazy, I think. (The pattern on the sleeves wouldn't be symmetric.) So I was thinking of knitting something similar: cast the back on, increase at each end, divide for the bits at the top, then pick up each sleeve from each edge and knit from there. It would still avoid most of the seaming, and the sleeves would match better. I want to use the 50/50 silk/merino blend I bought at the LYS sale a few months ago, but I'm not sure if my 3 balls of worsted weight could be stretched into a shrug. I'm thinking lace on size 12 needles or something.

Oh! Here's a cool news story: a seventh-grade schoolteacher takes pictures in space. For some reason, this really got me thinking about the whole Web 2.0 cultural revolution, which has made it so ordinary for ordinary people to do extraordinary things, like write an encyclopedia or, you know, publish a blog. It still blows my mind sometimes, how incredibly interconnected our knowledge base is becoming. Even with something as admittedly low-tech as knitting: people have been doing this for thousands of years, but now, instead of having to apprentice myself to a knitting guild master, I can read a bunch of blogs and instructions that generous people have shared and teach myself. Of course, launching a weather balloon and taking photographs isn't quite the same thing, but I think the ambition to do so is rooted in the same gestalt that's been building over the last decade: it's no longer exclusively the fashion houses and the publishing companies and the aerospace engineering firms that are setting the trends and furthering the accomplishments of science, it's us. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. It's a pretty amazing societal change, and I'm glad I've gotten to be around to watch it start.

On a less navel-gazing note, Ben and I are off to the Killers' concert this evening, downtown at the Wolstein Center. I'm looking forward to seeing them perform. I'll also probably do another book log post this weekend. (I made the mistake of starting The Kindness of Strangers last night at 11:30, and I couldn't sleep fall asleep until I finished it. At, oh, about 4:30 this morning.) But I think my pizza dough is ready to be punched down and shaped, so... that's it for now.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

International Blog Against Racism Week

I was recently talking about IBARW with Sarah (it happened in the first half of August), and discovered it was mainly a LiveJournal thing, not an across-the-blogosphere event. So, mostly for Sarah, but also for my own reference, the LJ community is here and the account with all the links and posts tagged is here. To be entirely honest, I had thought initially that the premise was naive at best and kind of stupid at worst - how do you blog against racism? But it ended up being an incredibly interesting event, with a number of practical discussions on, first, how to notice racism (the more subtle instances, obviously, that someone possessing white privilege may not even recognize as racism per se), and second, how to retrain one's thought patterns and implicit assumptions. The event organizers also complied a wonderful (and huge) list of references and resources, which I have been slowly perusing. I have not studied race and racism in any serious way, and it's very possible that there was nothing new said, but it was certainly a teachable moment, raising one's awareness thing for me.

A cool offshoot of this event was the formation of the community, Writers of Color 50 Book Challenge, wherein members are attempting to read 50 books over the next year by writers of color. I haven't joined, because there is no way in hell I'll be able to read any 50 books over the next year, but I thought it was an interesting idea, and I've been skimming the reviews.

It is startling, once I stopped to think about it, how deep the divide is between "white" literature and that written for a non-white audience. At Borders (and at the public library), there's the "Literature" sections and then the "African-American Literature" section, the "Gay and Lesbian Literature" section, etc. That division may be good and useful - highlighting the existence of such works, and displaying them prominently - but it also reinforces the implicit assumption that "Literature" is written by white heterosexuals, and everything else needs a qualifier. The other effect, which I've noticed before, is that I'll tend to drive by the "African-American Literature" section because I feel both that a) it's somehow not "for me" and b) that I "don't belong". I've definitely gotten some sidelong looks from fellow shoppers when I do stop by the African-American Literature bookshelf, and it's ... uncomfortable. I've been thinking about this entertainment divide every time I go to the Severance movie theater, where the trailers are all for completely different movies than the ones I see at Shaker or Cedar-Lee theaters, both of which serve a more predominantly white audience, but it's more recently that I've been pondering that same division in written entertainment as well. (Also, see this entry in Overheard in NY.)

At any rate, I thought the most useful part of IBARW was that I actually starting thinking about these issues, which is a step in the right direction. Like I said, I really have zero training in the "-isms," and so it was a good starting point, just becoming more aware of my own implicit assumptions, etc.

Book Log

I've been seeing these around, and since I've actually had enough free time to read more than 3/4 of a novel lately, I thought I'd jot down some notes on the books I've been reading recently. I'm completely out of practice with actual literary criticism, so this will be more my thoughts and reflections than anything else. This list comprises what I've read over, hmm, the last 3 weeks or so. I may do this weekly, if I can manage to read enough in a week to make it worth it. Maybe biweekly.

Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert Heinlein, 1961). I actually pulled this out again a few weeks ago in order to tipsily quote things out of it at Karen. (Er, sorry about that, hon.) But I ended up re-reading it again in its entirety. This is one of my "go-to" books, that I read over and over, and I was shocked to realized I hadn't read it since starting medical school. (In high school and college, this probably got read every 6 months or so.) It's not a good book, in the sense that the plot is carefully constructed or that the characters are well-depicted, or even internally consistent, and it's horribly sexist and homophobic in places but... it's one of the best meditations on the human condition - and what it means to be human - that I've ever across. Thoughts and phrases from this book just stay with me, in the way that poetry or quotations from religious texts do; they have that quality of simplicity that signifies something different every time you come across it. Some of these are one-off lines ("Obscurity is the refuge of incompetence" "'Love' is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own" "Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition; they're almost incompatible") and some are longer paragraphs that manage to express exactly my own personal philosophy on a number of topics. It's an incredibly thought-provoking novel, and I find something new in it every time I read it; I'm glad I was prompted to pick it up again.

Bee Season (Myla Goldberg, 2000). This was... weird. I found it engaging and difficult to put down, but I'm not sure the author was saying anything I particularly needed to hear. I found the characters one-dimensional, even at the times they were clearly supposed to be Very Deep and Troubled, and... I don't know. I didn't not like it, but I'm not sure that Goldberg achieved her purpose - whatever it may have been. (The overall plot, without giving too much away, is that the younger, less gifted daughter discovers a real talent for spelling. The development of this talent brings to the forefront the background level of intrafamilial conflict, and the family members react to this in a number of ... fairly bizarre ways that I didn't quite feel were reasonable developments.) Hmm. I think I enjoyed this book more when I was actually reading it, but I don't think it holds up very well to reflection. Not one I'd re-read.

Mind of My Mind (Octavia Bulter, 1977). This was very good. I inhaled this book in one 3-hour sitting, and I'm continually amazed by the tight spareness of Bulter's writing. This was actually a first read for me (I was just talking with Sarah about how I've been rationing Butler's works, especially now that she's passed away, because I enjoy knowing that there's more of her work out there), and it's set, hmm, probably a hundred years or so after Wild Seed, which I had read a number of times previously. I thought the plot was engaging - twisty but believable, as is Bulter's style - and I ended up liking the characters. I'm interested to see how this fits within the rest of the Patternist series. I did think this novel was very plot-driven, and lacked the more meditative, reflective side of Bulter's later works. Told mostly in dialogue, and from a cycling limited 3rd person POV, Mind of My Mind was interesting, but I wouldn't say it was ground-breaking, and certainly didn't have the cultural and societal insight and commentary that draws me, again and again, to the Parable novels. I'm curious to see if my thoughts on this novel change once I've read Clay's Ark and Patternmaster.

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year (Ed. Jonathan Strahan, 2007). I was thrilled to see a story by Connie Willis in this collection ("D.A."), which ended up being good but certainly not my favorite of the bunch. Neil Gaiman's "How to Talk to Girls at Parties" I had already read here, and I enjoyed it more on re-read, but I'm not sure it deserves the buzz it's been generating.

I thought Cory Doctorow's "I, Row-Boat" was phenomenal, and I need to look up his novels. (The main character is a sentient rowboat, who tends to human "shells" - bodies that are available for tourists to download their consciousness into, in order to vacation in the tropics - and he's an Asimovist, following this religion the AIs have made, founded upon Isaac Asimov's famous Three Laws. How can you not love that?*)

Similarly, Ellen Klages' "In the House of Seven Librarians" was marvelous - a story told as a fable about "a young girl raised by feral librarians" (cited from the editor's preface to the story). Feral librarians! I worried that the story would not live up to such an intro, but, to my glee, it did.

Walter Jon Williams' "Incarnation Day" is another story from this collection that has stuck with me, also - now that I think about it - with the downloadable consciousnesses, but told from a very different viewpoint: that of a young girl with a penchant for the works of Samuel Johnson, who was conceived as a computer program and who becomes a legal person only when she is accorded the use of a body. This story became a insightful discussion about what confers "humanity," and it possessed an engaging plot and excellently crafted characters. Another one whose novels I'll be tracking down.

I'd say the anthology as a whole was good, and definitely a worthwhile read. From what I could tell, it was organized semi-thematically, which I didn't love, as it seemed after a while that you would read the same story three time in a row, only interpreted in different ways. There were 24 stories in all, clocking in at just under 500 pages; I can't speak to whether these were truly the "best" short stories of the year, since I haven't been reading more recently published SF at all, but they were consistently good and occasionally superlative.

To Say Nothing of the Dog (Connie Willis, 1998). This was another re-read. I scored a copy of this book at the Raleigh-Durham airport, from the used bookshop whose very existence delighted me to no end. This is a cute little jaunt of a novel, the premise of which is a quest to locate, using time travel, the bishop's bird stump (it's this ... thing, that no one can describe except in terms of its ugliness), in order to properly store the Coventry Cathedral, which had been destroyed during WWII. Combining SF and historical fiction, this novel is just fun - it's hilariously funny and a Romance in the classic sense of the word.


I'm almost positive I'm forgetting a few here, beyond the knitting books that I haven't included, and there are a few novels that I've almost finished, but I think that's it for now. The most bizarre thing about writing this post? I actually knew the copyright dates for almost every work before I looked it up. I didn't realize that was information I actually stored about books.


*In the interest of full disclosure, I find it necessary to say that my junior year research thesis for AP English was on Asimov's Foundation series. I ... may be a bit of geek, and I'm definitely a geek for Asimov's SF. Just sayin'.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Fun over the holiday weekend

The weather here in Cleveland has just been absolutely perfect over this past weekend.... I've found myself going for hour-long walks just to be outside. Ben has been in New York this weekend visiting friends, so I've been rattling around the apartment on my own, but I have managed to have fun. :)

Saturday we went raspberry picking at this great little farm, which was a ton of fun. Karen, being much more on top of things, remembered to bring her camera, so you can check out our massive haul of raspberries and other fun photos of the day here. (Thanks, Karen!) I still have about a quart and a half of berries in the fridge, which will have to be either frozen or turned into something else very soon. I'm actually not that fond of raspberry jam, unfortunately, so... there may be pie in our future.

In knitting news, the scarf grew tremendously last night after I got home from the bar and watched Battlestar Galactica until 2 am. (....what?)

The way this stitch stretches, I think I'm only going to need two skeins, which makes me regret not knitting it wider. Sigh. At least I will definitely be able to add a fringe. However, I think I will eventually buy a cone of silk yarn from Colourmart and make myself a full-size wrap in this stitch. (I'm envisioning something similar to Nereides, but knit with a laceweight mohair yarn held together with the silk. I think I would just want to pet it constantly.) It's not quite mindless knitting, since I have to look at it when I'm dropping the yarnovers, but it's simple, it's knitting up super fast, and I do like how this stitch stretches prettily both vertically and horizontally.

And, oh, I almost forgot! A picture of my birthday presents in action:

I am so unbelievably delighted with how wonderfully this whole ball-winder and swift setup works. I want to wind up all the yarn I own into little yarn cakes, but then I know I will inevitably lose ball-bands and then I will end up with a mess of prettily wound yarn about which I know nothing. So. I will wind yarn as I go, but oh, I'm having lots of fun.