Thursday, June 16, 2022

First Lines: May 2022 edition

Below are the first lines of the three books I finished reading in May.  It’s a small list, but the list of offenses against women and against humanity in general were large last month.  And we had an election.  I won my seat on the Democratic Committee (unopposed). The entire state’s Republican party elected an anti-democracy anti-woman insurrectionist White Christian nationalist as their candidate for governor.   It’s no wonder I can’t concentrate on reading.



Book 1

I have a pact with myself not to think about money in the morning.  I’m like a teenager trying not to think about sex.  But I’m also trying not to think about sex.  Or Luke.  Or death.  Which means not thinking about my mother, who died on vacation last winter.


Book 2

There was a dead girl in my aunt’s bakery. 


Book 3

A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door, kept repeating over and over:

“Allez vous-en!  Allez vous-en!  Sapristi!  That’s all right!”



The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

Writers and Lovers by Lily King. published 2020.  282 pages.

Maybe this is a good book, but I was not in the mood for it.  Given the month’s news about our impending loss of reproductive rights, I did not want to read about contraceptionless sex that apparently had no consequences.  That’s so last century.  I read it for book club but was unable to attend the discussion.  Sometimes the discussion can totally change my mind about a book, but I didn’t have that boost this time.


Book 2

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher. published 2020.  306 pages. 

The tagline on the book says, “Siege.  Sorcery.  Sourdough.”  This was an enjoyable read, given all that is going on in the real world.  It was a page turner at times.  This author also writes under the pen name Ursula Vernon.  The book seemed to me to have moments of clarifying relation to our actual world.  As the author notes in the Acknowledgements section:  “Ironically I am publishing this in the midst of COVID-19, when we all started making sourdough at home and then started protesting police brutality.  Suddenly a twelve year old book was actually relevant.  Go figure.”   I read this book in paperback format, which was a welcome change from reading on the kindle. 


Book 3

The Awakening by Kate Chopin. First published 1899.  162 pages. 

The original title was A Solitary Soul.   The writing style reminds me of another writer, but I can’t place the memory.  The narration is deeply internal to the main character’s thoughts and realizations, all of which seem counter to the prevailing societal norms.  Perhaps the opening lines said by the parrot give a hint of this.  “Allez-vous en!” means “go away” – just what a solitary soul would say.   Google Translate  says “Sapristi!” means “Holy Shit!” 


This short novella was originally condemned for portraying adultery without any moral judgment. There was evidence that the book was banned from a library in 1902.  It was not published again until the 1970s, with the advent of the feminist movement.  All the strictures of being a wife and mother in her time hem in the main character.  I have to admit it is a bit crushing to me that she seems willing to abandon her children. 


Not Finished Yet

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  Translated by Larissa Volokhonsky, Richard Pevear.  First published 1879.  This translation first published 1990.  796 pages.    Up to about page 300 (37%) by end of May.


Did not finish 

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn. published 2021.  645 pages.

For TOS book club.  The book didn’t grab me, but this might be more me than the book.


The Invention of Yesterday: A 50,000-Year History of Human Culture, Conflict, and Connection by Tamim Ansary.  Published 2019.  449 pages.

I heard this author on some podcast I listened during the Insomnia Hours of the Night, and the premise sounded interesting.  In the book, the author made broad claims about humanity without adequate evidence, in my opinion.  He drew conclusions from ancient Eur-Asian history.  No attempt to see if the claims held up for the ancient history of people in the Americas.  I gave up on this book.


Sunday, June 5, 2022

Weedy Thoughts

The so-called Hillside Garden

The Common Household Husband and I went outside on this day of uncommonly gorgeous weather.  We examined a part of our yard.  This particular plot is what we call “the hillside garden”, a short steep slope near the front of our yard, leading up to the neighbor’s yard. It may not merit being called a garden, as it has poor soil and is too steep to easily pull out weeds or plant new plants.  In the past 20+ years I constantly battled to grow anything beautiful there. Last year I gave up, and now it is overrun with grass, would-be green onions, large nasty-looking weeds, and evil-looking thorny thistlies.  

The same section of Hillside Garden in 2008.
There was columbine, azalea, phlox, and allium (unknown bulbs)

For some reason, this plot of land is deemed to be “my” garden.  I said to the CHH, “This part of my garden used to have phlox and day lilies and snow-in-summer.  Now look at it.  I think the guy who put the mulch on covered up all the good stuff.”

CHH:  I pulled out a lot of things yesterday.

Me: (eager to cast my gardening sins onto anybody else)  Did you pull out any phlox?  Do you even know what phlox looks like?  Nobody knows what phlox foliage looks like.

Phlox, 2011

It’s hard to face the truth, but verily, verily, the sorry state of this garden is not due to anything the landscaper did, nor to the actions of the CHH.


For the desire to do good gardening lies close at hand, but not the ability. For I have erred, and strayed from the ways of good gardening like lost earthworms. I have followed too much the devices and desires of my own heart, sitting around lazily reading novels and looking at cat memes on the internet. I have left undone the weeding which I ought to have done; And there is therefore no health in this garden.

- The Book of Exertions 7:18-20

Then we turned to examine the plot that CHH claims as “his” garden, which is on the eastern side of the house.  For this strip of garden, about two feet wide and running along the side of the house, a few years ago we brought in some excellent soil from elsewhere and started a new garden with fresh and bright new plants.

The Husband's Garden flourisheth.

CHH  Look how wonderful my garden is doing!

Me: Yes, it is.  

His garden is overflowing with healthy plants and many cheery yellow blooms that I don’t know the name of, and vibrant dianthus, which I do know the name of.  This plot requires almost no weeding, and there are no weeds evident now.   

I looked more closely at one spot. 

Photo credit: Common Household Husband.
He titles this photo "Suspicious Mounds".

Me: That’s an anthill right there.

CHH: No, it’s not.

Me:  It’s an anthill.

I was a bit alarmed because of past unpleasant gardening encounters with stinging ants.

CHH:  How do you know?  Are you an epitologist?

Me:  (I paused to try and understand this new field of study)... Umm, what? That’s an anthill, for sure.

CHH:  Are you an epidemiologist?  I mean are you an epistemologist?  How do you know this is an anthill?

Current weeds at the top of the Hillside Garden.
Capitalizing it makes it seem like it should
be in a novel.  Those green onions
could have been ornamental onions, 
but instead, they are a mess.

At that moment, my weedy thoughts had paralyzed my brain’s vocabulary synapses.  I wanted to correct these second and third fields of study that had been introduced in the conversation, but at that moment I could not think of the word “entomologist”.  So instead I studied the anthill more closely, hoping that I had the right glasses, ones that would enable me to see if there were any ants.  A lot of my life these days consists of not having the right glasses on, and not being able to remember the right word.

Me:  Look. There’s one ant, two, three, and another one.  It’s hard to count them because they are moving around.  This anthill is very close to the house.  (A horrible thought occurs to me.)  The ants are probably crawling up inside the wall of the house at this moment!  We’ll have to notify Netflix next time they come out.    Wait, not Netflix…

CHH:  We have to notify The Culligan Man.

Me:  Terminix!  We have to notify Terminix. 

A quick glance at Dr. Google reveals that ants are mostly good for the garden and yard, helping to protect plants against other harmful insects, and also aerating the soil.  These ant mounds are quite close to the house, though, so we have a decision to make.  The likely outcome is that Ant Inertia will move in, and the formicidae will be left alone.

Phlox and hyacinths growing in the
Hillside Garden, 2019