Sunday, May 4, 2008

here's wishing you the bluest sky

Book log time! Since the things I'm knitting are a) gifts or b) maybe possibly going to be submitted to Knitty one day. And I haven't cooked anything blog-worthy all week.

Knitter's Almanac, Elizabeth Zimmerman, 1974. I don't usually claim to have "read" knitting books, as I don't really count a pattern book as "reading" but this delightful little volume is really more like a journal with some knitting thrown in than a pattern book. It's the first EZ book I've owned, and I can see why she has such a following in the knitting community: she's smart, funny (in that wry, transplanted-Brit sort of way) and completely on your side. I enjoyed her little asides directed towards the reader and how she simultaneously elevates the craft of knitting to art and emphasizes that it's art anyone can produce. I'm trying to curtail the knitting-related spending, but when I give myself a knitting budget again, I think I'm going to be hunting down a few more of her books.

Worlds of Exile and Illusion, Ursula K. LeGuin, 1964-1967. Three novels in one volume, I read this both to expand my exposure to LeGuin's work and as preparation for writing again. I love how LeGuin has such a sense of the vastness and the continuity of history, how she can link events separated both by hundreds of years and light-years and show you the connectivity among the events, without beating you over the head with it. She's great at world-building, but her characters - like many seem to be in SF - are not particularly well-fleshed out. I was reading this with more of a critical eye than I usually do with fiction, and so I noticed the lack of vivacity her characters have - the reader has a good sense of their motivations, but maybe not for what lies beneath their motivation. Definitely an entertaining and thought-provoking set of stories, but I think LeGuin's preference for the short story shows through here: these seemed to be more novellas than novels.

James Tiptree, Jr: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, Julie Philips, 2006. I'm not quite finished with this one, but it's a biography of one of LeGuin's contemporaries and friends, so it fits here, I think. I first heard about Tiptree from the Tiptree Award, "an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender." James Tiptree, Jr was the pseudonym of Alice Sheldon, a Chicago socialite, CIA agent and psychologist who wrote speculative fiction throughout the 1960s and 70s. Tiptree was secretive and conducted all his SF relationships (many of which turned into deep friendships with editors and other writers, including LeGuin), via letters, and didn't meet any SF colleagues in person until his mother died and correspondants deduced that from that week's obituaries that Mary Bradley, whose obit listed as a survivor her only child, Alice Bradley (Mrs. Huntington) Sheldon, was in fact Tiptree's mother. I haven't actually gotten to that part of the biography yet (but Mary is very ill, so I imagine it's coming), but even if you have no interest in SF, this is a fascinating work. Alice Bradley Sheldon was a remarkable and, really, tragic woman - from her behavior and writings, she was probably bipolar, and bisexual if not lesbian - in an era that didn't really understand either. She led a riotous and richly full life - and a lot of that was probably an underlying mood disorder, but it makes for interesting reading, especially when filtered through Julie Philips' perspective as a woman writing in 2006, and reflecting at length upon the positions, freedoms and restrictions women had over Alli's lifetime, which spanned from 1915 to 1987. I highly recommend this and if anyone would like to borrow my copy when I'm done, just let me know.

The Omnivore's Dilmenna, Michael Pollan, 2006. I'm not sure I can say anything about this book that hasn't been said already, but everyone who eats in the developed world really ought to read it. This, with Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, further sold me on the "locavore" movement. The way food gets grown, transported and consumed in this country is really appalling when you look at it, and the only reason it's worked for this long (since the 1950s or thereabouts) is that no one really had looked very closely at it until now. I think (from my very limited perspective since I wasn't, you know, there) that the organic movement in the 1960s and 70s was reaching for this point but didn't quite get there. And I'm not sure if the research and the information was really possible to obtain to put it all together until now, now that we have a better understanding of the environmental cost of fossil fuels, and how soil architecture works and more independent agencies taking a look at what's going on in terms of our food production. And I don't think it's so much the pesticides, etc, that are the problem -which is why I've always been kind of wishy-washy on the organic thing - but it's the way in which our crops and food animals are being fertilized and growth-hormoned and what-have-you past the point of healthy growth so that they require such intense levels of pesticides and antibiotics to survive: that's the root problem. I've been idly compiling a mental "required reading" list for the post-industrial age - in terms of understanding how our society and our economy works and doesn't work and how it suceeds and fails and why - and this is close to the top of that list.

Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance, Atul Gawande, 2007. I still haven't read Complications, but I will have to look it up. I breezed through this, and I enjoyed it a lot - it was interesting to read a surgeon writing for a lay audience from my perspective as someone within the medical field. I appreciate that there are physicians writing about these issues, and forcing change from the inside: I've found there's a lot of resistance among existing doctors towards even conducting performance-based outcomes research, let alone grading/judging/paying doctors based upon those outcomes. But I think it's coming, and frankly, I think it's past due - every other profession in this country is pretty consistently evaluated on their performance in one way or another, and it's the worst kind of arrogance to state that our profession is so special we can't possibly be judged by a standardized metric and we're all performing at the very top of our abilities. Because we're not, and no matter how you look at it, just the act of evaluating performance makes people perform better. Which was part of Gawande's point, I think, and it's certainly something the medical profession - and its consumers and customers - need to hear.


Well, that got a bit long-winded. Events of note in real life, short form, include:

- Ben and I celebrated our "T -1" anniversary on April 25th - less than a year till we get married! We had a lovely dinner in (truffled wild mushroom risotto, which was pretty tasty if I do say so myself) and brainstormed ceremony/vows ideas, which was fun. And also made us realize - again - that we started dating in high school. We were going through this little worksheet thing for vows ideas and it was all "talk about your first date, about how you met each other." And we met on the stage crew for the spring musical and our first date was going for ice cream at Mr. Shane's and I had to be back home at 9 pm because my parents were terrified that I was out with a boy and there was just so much cognitive dissonance there. But it was a lot of fun and while we don't have anything actually written down yet, we have (just less than!) a year and a good sense of what we want from the ceremony, so I think we're in good shape.

- Relatedly, we went to the Unitarian Universalist church last Sunday, and really enjoyed the sermon - a very interesting mediation on the whole Jeremiah Wright thing that I was going to blog about before I got sideswiped by the cold from hell last week. I really enjoy the UU perspective and position as religion/spirituality as a basis for fueling social justice and I think we're both pretty comfortable with the idea of finding a UU minister for the ceremony (and possibly as a spirtual home for our family thereafter as well.)

- Okay, I did say this was the short form, so: starting my family medicine AI tomorrow! (Two months solid of doing what I want to do. I can't wait.)

- Still looking for a place to live in June, but have two possible people from Craiglist and one from the plea I posted in the NYC Ravelry forum, so I'm feeling a bit more settled about that.

- Spent the weekend hiding from the rain by doing laundry and gift-knitting. And rewatching LOTR: The Return of the King. Now I'm off to the gym and the grocery store. How can you all stand the excitement of reading about this?? :)

title from "Better Things," Dar Williams. How is this song not on YouTube?

1 comment:

Sarah Rettger said...

Didn't you meet during Guys & Dolls, when he was always hanging around rehearsals? If so, let me remind you, dear, that you were in that show, and I have costumed pictures of you to prove it!

(Don't cringe - your costumes were better than mine, except for the gold Barbie dress I wore in one scene.)

Also, re the whole Wright thing, take a look at Frank Rich's column from today.