Archive for Book Review

Two posts in one!


The particular genius of Laurie Perry, AKA Crazy Aunt Purl, is that she is able to convey complex emotional moments with quirky but exquisite illustrations and colloquial language. She doesn’t need elevated tones in order to be serious, and she doesn’t need jokes in order to be funny. (Usually.) When I read her writing, it’s as though she’s in the room, but in reality no one communicates that well in conversation. She has an ability to be naked on stage – metaphorically, people – that I envy deeply, as I am generally too afraid of judgment or confrontation to put my own crazy out for public consumption. That’s why I write fiction – because I’m not as brave as she is.

And now she has a book out! I bought it last night and read fifty pages before falling asleep with it on my chest. You all should read it too. You can get it at Amazon, but I would personally advise getting it at your local bookstore instead, because Amazon can’t seem to keep it in stock. That’s how great it is.

In honor of Laurie, and because she specifically requested it when I saw her last night, I will now post ultrasound photos taken this morning. When we saw the babies on the screen, they were bouncing all around. I watched each little hand and foot hit the edge of my uterus, and I tried to feel it as it happened, but alas, no success.

Baby 1

Baby 2

The doctor got better photos than these, which showed the babies measuring at 12 weeks 4 days and 12 weeks 6 days, but she kept them for herself. Pooh.


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A Room of One’s Own

Annika posted today about having a place to keep her crafting supplies. I was inspired today, though, not by her main point, but by the beginning of her first paragraph.

I have always felt that the whole Room Of One’s Own business was suspect and possibly nonsense. First of all, why women specifically? I’m sure it makes sense in the context of the time when Virginia Wolfe was writing — women were not respected, and the idea of a room of her own was probably the kitchen. But now? I’m not sure it’s so relevant.

First, let us be clear on the fact that I adore Annika and everything to do with Annika, and if I go more than two weeks without snuggling Annika, or her son, or both simultaneously, I begin to twitch and sweat from withdrawal. That having been said.

I do not think I exaggerate when I say that A Room of One’s Own is one of the most important books in the history of English Literature. In Woolf’s time, a (middle- or upper-class) woman’s “sphere” was considered to be the home, which was of course also the sphere of everyone else who lived there. So while men generally had a study, or at least the freedom to leave the house unencumbered by offspring, women had no space in which to keep things just for themselves, or space to work without interruption from children or husbands or other domestic botheration.

What better characterizes a classic than timelessness? In 1929, Woolf asserted that “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” She singled out these criteria because they were precisely the two things that women of her social class could not take for granted, while men of her social class could. For a contemporary parallel, one need look no further than the New York Times. In an article called “The Opt Out Revolution,” Lisa Belkin discusses the phenomenon of well-educated, upper-middle-class women who choose to leave the workforce and stay home with their children. There are as many reasons for this choice as there are women who make it, but the common fact is that women who do not have independent income are uniquely vulnerable to whatever financial mishaps befall their partners. In cases of divorce or widowhood, they are at a distinct economic disadvantage. Woolf’s contention is that only with her own money and, indeed, a room of her own, can a woman writer be similarly equipped to her male counterpart.

Women still do the vast majority of unpaid domestic work, and are still widely expected to sacrifice any need for privacy once they have a child. For a writer, such a thing is simply impossible. A writer must have some degree of privacy in which to work. Even a coffee shop is more private than the common room of your home. In a coffee shop, it is expected that people around you will respect your solitude, will not ask you to fix them a sandwich or help them hang curtains. I, and many of my friends, are fortunate in having enlightened male partners, who take on their fair share (or, in my case, more than his fair share) of domestic responsibility. But that does not negate the need for a “room of [our] own;” it simply increases the likelihood that we will actually get one.

A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf (1929)

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Yesterday, when Lawyer came in, he cheerfully announced that I was to meet with some clients today. In their office. An hour or more away. Oh – and I had to draw up all of their estate documents by the end of the day. Which is fine and all, but it means I didn’t get through much of the Pile of Doom. And today is my knitter’s – I mean “file clerk’s” – first day, so I’ll be supervising her all morning.

Thankfully, Elsewhere tagged me with this meme, thereby providing me an easy out for today.

1. One book you have read more than once

The Just So Stories, by Rudyard Kipling. O, my Best Beloved, I have
read it at least a thousand and three times. Most recently, while walking with Husband to brunch, I read to him the stories of How The Rhinocerous Got His Skin, How The Camel Got His Hump, and The Cat Who Walked By Himself. Most astounding to relate, I read aloud as I walked, and did not fall down.

2. One book you would want on a desert island.

How to Survive On A Desert Island. Or perhaps The Swiss Family
. Because I’d need all the tips I could get.

3. One book that made you laugh.

The Treehorn Trilogy, by Florence Parry Heide. Treehorn is a small boy with a unique outlook on the world. Sometimes he shrinks, much to his parents’ irritation.

4. One book that made you cry.

The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffeneger. A book about love across years. Husband and I read it together, trading it back and forth, and as we read we said over and over again, “it’s about us!” Then we reached the end, and said tearfully, “it’s not about us.”

5. One book you wish you had written.

The Last Unicorn, actually written by Peter S. Beagle. I would also
cheerfully take credit for Little, Big, by John Crowley.

6. One book you wish had never been written.

Pick anything by Ann Coulter.

7. One book you are currently reading.

The Passion of Mary Magdalen
, by my friend Elizabeth Cunningham.

8. One book you have been meaning to read.

The Life Of Pi, by Yann Martel, on Miss Kendra’s recommendation.

9. One book that changed your life.

The Armless Maiden, a collection edited by Terri Windling, of the Endicott Studio. This book really opened up new ways of telling stories for me.

10. Now tag five people:

You, you, you, you, and you.

Now my knit – er, File Clerk is here, and I must go pretend to be all grown up.

Edited to add: I have an idea – why don’t y’all pick one or more of these questions and answer them in comments?

Also: The typewriter is bent on my destruction.

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Literary Tuesday

Soylent Green is Corn! The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by
Michael Pollan

When my parents came to visit in May, it was clear that my stepfather
had Gotten Religion. “You have to read The Omnivore’s
Dilemma,” he gushed. “It has completely changed the way I eat.”

I reluctantly promised, dreading what I might find inside its pages.
You see, I’d already completely changed the way I ate. Several times.
When I was twelve, I followed my best friend into vegetarianism,
promptly fell off the wagon, and rededicated myself a year later. At
twenty-two, just out of the hospital and feeling woozy, I began to eat
meat again. Over the next several years I dove into Atkins, lapsed
into South Beach, abandoned all hope (and gained twenty-five pounds)
with McDonalds and Burger King, de-toxed (and lost twenty-five pounds)
with Whole Foods, and eventually settled into a comfortable routine I
liked to call “Not Worrying About It.” So it was with some
trepidation that I began to read.

My anxiety was well-founded. Pollan’s book traces the history of four
meals, which he calls in turn Industrial, Organic Industrial,
Grass-Fed, and The Perfect Meal. In each section, he delicately
weaves together the story of the development of modern North American
gustatory culture with his personal adventures in consumption. The
resulting picture isn’t pretty.

We are, asserts a biologist quoted in the first chapter, “corn chips
with legs.” From soda (high fructose corn syrup) to hamburgers (cattle are corn
fed, which leads to all kinds of problems) to fresh cucumbers
(corn-derived wax), Zea Mays is everywhere. The most highly
subsidized crop in the United States, an industry invested in
producing cheap, well-preserved foods would be foolish not to
use it wherever possible. The result? Pollan’s Industrial Meal, from
McDonalds, is revealed by a mass spectrometer to be made mostly of
corn – in fact, the menu item which contains the least amount
of corn is the French fry, at 23%.

The rest of the book is no more heartening. To eat well, it turns
out, is both a complicated and an expensive proposition. Whole Foods,
that paragon of Health and Nature, is revealed to be a
less-than-perfect compromise between what is good for the individual
and what is good for the planet. While foods found there may not
contain pesticides, they may well have traveled over 500 miles via
fossil-fuel-guzzling, smoke-belching vehicles in order to rest,
deceptively pristine, in a rustic-looking crate.

Pollan devotes his longest single chapter to this phenomenon, which he
terms “Big Organic.” This chapter, in fact, was my only sticking
point in the book. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of
Four Meals
, would seem, from the table of contents, to contain
only three. Its subdivisions are: Industrial/Corn,
Pastoral/Grass, and Personal/The Forest. The Big
Organic chapter reads as if it had been written after the rest of the
book, when Pollan realized that the tense marriage between Organic and
Industry would not fit neatly into any of the three sections. Thus, it
has been squeezed into the second section. Nor does the culminating
description of the Organic Industrial meal rate its own chapter, as do
the other meals, but rather is only briefly described before an
agonized debate over the ethics of Big Organic, summed up with the pat
sentence, “Oh well, at least we didn’t eat it in the car.”*

After reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I have once again changed the
way I eat, though not completely. I still shop at Whole
Foods, though I make a more concerted effort to buy local produce and
meat whenever possible. I don’t eat less processed food, but then I
ate very little before reading the book. I have not eaten red meat,
nor will I again in the foreseeable future, unless I am certain that
it is grass-fed. The biggest boon I have received from this book is
my increased awareness of the route my dinner has taken to reach my
table, and for that I am grateful to Michael Pollan. My husband may
not share my gratitude, however, as he is heartily sick of my new
mantra: “Did you know there’s corn in that, too?”

*Lest I seem overly critical, the subject of this chapter is immense,
and truly requires its own book. I hope Pollan writes that book; I
look forward to reading it.

Research Assistant
My Research Assistant

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