When It’s Actually Winter…

So Plinky asks what’s on my winter reading list. And then gives space to search for the image of one book, and not the list I was expecting. So I’ll do it here.

  • Thirty Days Hath September

That cover is not the right book, nor do I know why it pops up. Mine (rather, the library’s) was authored by Dorothy Cameron Disney and George Sessions Perry. The library version just has green library rebinding with a nifty almost tropical pattern.

Of course I found it when they sent me to straighten the mystery shelves, though I’ve managed to avoid them for so long. But at least I didn’t have to go far, only through the H section…otherwise my reading list would be even longer.

“When glittering Jenny Iverson, New York career woman and owner of a successful cosmetics business, invited herself to one of the labor Day week-end parties that climax the season for summer residents along the Connecticut shore, she not only wrote her own death warrant, but also sealed the fate of at least two other persons in the group of sophisticates who were to have shared her company during the holiday.” 1942

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  • The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm

Written by Nancy Farmer, this is actually a Newberry Honor Book that I actually read. Way back then, I even read it twice I loved it so much. Only vague memories of what it may have actually been about remain, but I recall awesome characterizations, and then I caught a reference to it on the tvtropes page somewhere, maybe under nightmare fuel, and of course had to try it again.


Cover of

The Ear


“Inspired by Shona mythology, Tendai’s odyssey in the Africa of the future—and, suspensefully, the past—crackles with action. You won’t forget its vivid cast of chracters (black, brown, white, and in on case blue), the Mellower or his mother, the rustling, shadowy vlei people, the strangely endowed detectives, or the three children themselves. And you’ll be surprised to find that a classical tale of courage can be so funny.”

  • Una Storia Segreta: The Secret History of Italian American Evacuation and Internment during World War II

I want to start this off with “well, obviously this is interesting” but I have such varied reading tastes that I have no idea whether my interest is obvious or not, beyond the fact that it is a book and therefore readable.

Anyway, I’m fascinated by history in general, which means every time I’m sent into the History section at the library I come out with a minimum of five more books to add to the reading list. So maybe I should ask for special dispensation. Except all the other librarians have the same problem, but with less time to read. I don’t think I’d get much sympathy.

Though the Japanese internments are still a popular subject, especially in California, and I’ve at least heard about the problems German-American’s faced, I’ve never come across anything mentioning the history of Italian-Americans. When I first saw the book, I was even taken by surprise. (Which, really, I shouldn’t have been, because if there’s an excuse for prejudice for people to act on, they will find it.) Una Storia Segreta seems also to be first an anthology of original writings, too, which I like. I’m not sure if they’re primary documents or not, but since I know nothing else about it, might be more illuminating and interesting than just a textbook.

What the Italians faced wasn’t truly like the Japanese experience of internment camps. That’s not what I find interesting. It is interesting when they aren’t mentioned hardly at all, and I’m not sure why they’d still bother to whitewash the situation like that.


This sign was hung in post offices and in gove...

Image via Wikipedia


“1942, the first full year of World War II for the United States, was a time of fear and uncertainty for Americans of Italian descent. Wartime regulations required that 600,000 Italian “resident aliens” carry photo-identity cards, restricted their freedom of movement, and forced an estimated 10,000 along the West Coast to relocate. Local police searched homes for guns, cameras, and shortwave radios. Within six months after war was declared, 1,500 Italian resident aliens were arrested for curfew, travel, and contraband violations, and some 250 were imprisoned in military camps for up to two years. Even some naturalized citizens had to leave their homes and businesses because the military decided that they were too dangerous to remain in strategic areas.”

Those are just the library books (and none I’m reading currently, library or not), and so I may well end up checking out more. But I rather hope not. Because I have lots of my own books yet to read. And a few borrowed. Those first I think:

  • No Plot, No Problem

By the founder of National Novel Writing Month, Chris Baty. I’m going to be participating in NaNoWriMo again this year, only this time I fully intended to finish. I even have an idea and can’t wait to start. The idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in November, that is to say, a first draft. Though I’ve technically started this book (several times, even) I’m counting it, because I’m going to read the second part properly—it’s got a few chapters set by week for the writing itself. So it counts.

  • Secret Societies: Inside the World’s Most Notorious Organizations

An oddly dull, cheap-looking book, despite the almost luridness of the subject matter, I have little to say by this particular book by John Lawrence Reynolds, because it just has a cool title and an interesting subject. Usually such a subject is going to be interesting regardless, but I’ll have to actually start first before I make up my mind.

My books, on the to-be-read pile, are numerous. I was going to say something clever, but I can’t think of anything. But I will mention a few I want to get to first.

  • Fingersmith

Sarah Waters wrote this novel, which I picked up because it sounded like it had an interesting storyline, and frankly, it had a pretty cover (there may have to be a separate post on that later, if I can remember whether I’ve actually written it before, and if not, I can remember to actually devote a post specifically and only to that phenomenon).

  • A Reliable Wife

Well, a book that right on the back states the two characters want to kill each other. Or maybe only the wife does? Either way, Robert Goolrick’s novel does have an interesting premise. Can’t judge it by the back cover description though, because it does indicate (to me) that there’s a switching of point of view between the male and female characters. If it’s not first person I could probably live with it, but—well, what am I saying? I don’t want to doubt it before I’ve even started!

  • The Somnambulist

Jonathan Barnes’ novel sounds fa-scinating! (please try to read that last word with the enunciation of a flamboyant-type television character). But my first thought on reading the description was that it sounded like a homage to Sherlock Holmes, only without any direct references. So there seemed to be clues, but nothing certain. So I want to find out if there’s an “easter egg” hunt of references behind the scenes, if it’s a deliberate play on the character, or if it’s mostly just innocent.

What with the kind of effect Sherlock Holmes had on popular consciousness, I can’t say wholly innocent unless Mr. Barnes is completely oblivious.

Of course, I found it when I was in the Sherlock Holmes section of my cycle of obsessions, however, references aside, it does sound like an interesting work. And in this case, no spoilers please! I actually have a sense of mystery with this one, and that doesn’t happen very often.

And then, gosh, there are so many more. Reading is a depressing endeavor, once you get behind.

Don’t Tell Me You Started That Today

….well, yeah.

“That” was actually one of those Star Trek books, can’t remember which, and my brother asked yesterday because he caught me about 3/4 through. And I did not answer “well, yeah” even though I wanted to.

Because that was actually the third such book I’d started that day. Over the past week or so, when my fandom mind switched back to Star Trek from, I think, Sherlock Holmes, I have reread about eight Star Trek: TOS novels. And my reply to my brother when he asked was not sarcastic because, though I read them quickly, I’ve read them all before. Yes I read fast, but I admit in this case I’ve been skimming some…especially in Demons, which has a monstrous Mary Sue character–McCoy’s in love with her and Spock mind-melds with her, AND she has wild red hair and is a super genius. Yeah, I think I only picked it up again because, well, because I’d forgotten how bad she was. There were a few acceptable peril situations however…

Where was I going with this again?

Ah yes. I used to read lots. And then I got trapped by fan fiction, and probably read much less–this was, believe it or not, me be geeky, and more being burned out with college classes and assigned readings. While not as much, such reading is much more exhausting, and I think I was simply burned out for a while, even following graduation.

After graduation comes no job, and me volunteering at the library. So there are lots of books for me to read–including a rather large pile from a buying ‘spree’ a few months back when I did have a little extra money: some, well, now as I try to count them there are almost twenty. Plus the eight books I have yet to finish from the library (I’ve started three).  I do pretty well in keeping up though, at least until my fandom brain takes over–hence the Star Trek. But fandom, at least, is fast reading. When you’re talking series books that don’t have to build characterizations or mostly even worlds, they can go much more quickly. Well. That doesn’t actually count if they don’t get the characterizations right, which is very much a subjective thing now that I think about it. Let’s just go with: they read faster.

In seventh grade, I had a teacher, Mr. Prim, who had some one-page project to measure our reading speeds. I tested at 1200 wpm. The text, I distinctly remember, was from Huckleberry Finn. And I’d read it before. Even then, I remembered that passage. The other passage was from The Prince and the Pauper. I’d read that too. So, I’m not sure how accurate a measure that was.

Although I suppose I can use it to argue that even then I could be called fairly well read (though I couldn’t say that now). Even in fourth grade I’d tested with an ability to parse sentences and paragraphs at above a 12th grade reading level. See, our school had a program called “AR” reading (Accelerated Reader), and after you read a book, you would take a test, and that test would tell you how well you comprehended the test. I scored badly on Les Miserable only because I though, ooh, it’s a hard book, I should make sure I internalize it, and forgot the specific eye colors involved. Also, 1984 changes entirely from middle school to college. That’s a simple example, but you have to realize a program is flawed when it classifies Hemingway at a 4th grade reading level. Whatever “interest level” you give it.

Sans second digression, though I don’t know my “true” reading speed, although one interest test called it 700 wpm, I do read faster than the general population. Which is something like 200 wpm and really, really slow. To me. Poor general population, no wonder you can only read seven books a year. I can’t keep up.

Reading quickly of course has much more to do with general reading habits. And in my case especially, interest in the material. Because novels I can power through in, oh, four hours on average. Or three maybe? Time flies, anyway, so I start reading and them I’m done and depressed because it was over all-too-quickly. When I was rereading the first two Rogue Agent books before reading the third when it came out, I finished all three in one day, two? because I kept putting them down. Stopping takes up plenty of time, no matter how engaging the story.

Non-fiction books take longer.

Which is really hard for me to accept because I love them. I love checking them out. I love buying them. But they just take so long to read. And unlike fiction books, for me, harder to give up. There’s always the chance I will grow out of my fiction books, especially since I love those in series: like Rogue Agent, or Robert Asprin’s Myth books. Actually, those are still going strong, and you’ll pry my Terry Pratchett paperbacks from my cold dead hands (I’m taking the hardcovers with me), but I just managed to give up my Dorothy Cannells and Aunt Dimitys from middle school. But though nonfiction books may become outdated, they never lose information. Even if it’s just historical value.

Like my weird attraction to science books. The Fly in the Cathedral, books like that. I rarely, rarely read them, but I love to have them for when I want to read them. And I will eventually. I really will.

So between reading too quickly, and having an active fandom attraction, I both gather too many books, and don’t read enough. Fortunately, books last. Maybe not hundreds of years, but long enough for me to get around to them. Or maybe my theoretical kids, that I’m not sure I want, but at least I have an excuse for those Hardy Boys and John Bellairs (<–he’s awesome, look him up!).

The Lava Beds: Site of the (Forgotten) Modoc War

Originally just called “Lava Beds,” posted on Blogster on 5/11/09, slightly changed

I suspect every town has it’s local legends. Important bits of history, really, that the rest of the world has managed to forget, that never made it through the ages. My home town has a few, not very famous, so we have, to a certain extent, co-opted the Lava Beds and the Lava Beds War.

The Lava Beds National Monument is located in Siskiyou County, CA, and I grew up only a few hours from there. Actually in Modoc County. The area is a result of the volcanic activity from the Medicine Lake shield volcano, which is actually the largest shield volcano by volume in the Cascade range. Medicine Lake Volcano has been dormant for about a thousand years. Run by the National Park service, the Lava Beds National Monument is on the northeast side of the volcano, and shows off some of the more spectacular remnants of the area’s history. At the park, visitors can explore several caves, the result of complete and collapsed lava tubes.

Though I lived up there for years, I never really went to the Lava Beds, though my parents took me and my brothers once when we were small. Our flashlight wasn’t strong enough to actually see the caves that time, so we just scrambled happily over the surface rocks. So, last week, I dragged a friend of mine all the way up north and went to see it again–always wanted to be a splunker.

It wasn’t a traditional “nice day.” The wind was up and the sky overcast, and it was not much warmer than inside the caves. From 139, the park is about a 16 mile drive, 12 miles through the Modoc National Park, on a rather less than well-maintained road. It feels like it must have been forgotten, and although it has obviously been patched, there are still great gaping holes in the asphalt. Even though the park is open all year round, this road may not be, as it it doesn’t get winter maintence. The park, though, seems to be better funded than the national forest. Once you cross the border the road is much nicer. Then you have to drive to the visitor’s center to pay for a week pass, but it’s only ten dollars. Most of the caves are arranged around a main drivable “loop.” Unfortunately most of the easy caves are off of the main loop, and a further drive.

Because my friend and I aren’t even hikers–and even forgot our hardhats, we went for the easy caves. Naturally, the first one we chose was the Sentinel Cave, which is one of the few, or only, caves open to visitors with two entrances. It was actually a fairly easy walk, but the Lava Beds Park is in the high desert, so between the elevation of 4000-5700 feet above sea leve and the dry air, so it was quite a workout. Anyway, though the trail was fairly clear, one is apparently allowed to try the other branches (which we didn’t), but just because there was a trail, it was still rough. Lava caves aren’t like caves in limestone, there were lots of loose rocks and boulders, and some really steep steps. It was also REALLY DARK. Very dark. So there wasn’t much walking and looking at the scenery at the same time. You can watch where your feet are going, or see what the cave looks like. And once we made it through, we went back a second time.

Pictures really don’t do it justice, at least not with my camera. This is as close as I could get.

After Sentinel Cave, we walked the 3/4 mile to Big Painted cave and a little farther to Symbol Bridge…well, I dashed over to Symbol Bridge for a quick look. I’m glad I did, because the cave painting (to me) was far clearer than at Big Painted Cave. I’m still not sure I saw anything at the there, and barely anything at Symbol Bridge. But it did remind me that people actually lived there, and travelled there, even though it’s fairly desolate.

The Lava Beds don’t just have cool caves, the area was the site of the Modoc War. Anyone remember that? Don’t feel bad, I had a history professor who’d never heard of it either. At any rate, at the time, 1872-1873, it was in all the papers. It was the only major “Indian” war that was fought in California, and it was the only time that a US general in the regular army was killed in battle (Custer doesn’t count because he wasn’t a general when he died. So there–yeah, I don’t get it either). The US government forced the Modoc tribe to a reservation with the Klamath tribes, ignoring the old rivalries–which of course flared up again. So “Captain Jack,” or Kintpuash (one spelling) led a group of his people to their old home, but the government aimed to force them back to the reservation. Instead, they fled to the Lava Beds, where for more than six months 60 Modoc warriors held off ten times their number of US troops. Eventually, Captain Jack was betrayed, and he and several of his top warriors were hung.

The tribe gave it’s name to the county, and the general gets a little unincorporated town–Canby–with barely a few hundred people. Oh, and a cross…on a hill.

It can be hard to find information on the war so here are a few links:

Lava Beds National Monument Official Page

with a free book on the Modoc War, and a brochure(pdf).

Because Fiction Has to Make Sense

I seem to find nonfiction much more interesting. I still read plenty of fiction, of course. Particularly mystery series, like the Gideon Oliver series, which is awesome. Aaron Elkins can delelop a character that will occupy only two pages of the entire book, and I will know that character more throughly than some main characters…I will not name names–usually books with characters like that are forgotten easily.

Anyway, I’ve always been more prone to picking up books at library sales and used bookstores in the nonfiction section. These are the books that are most likely not to be read, but also far more likely to be kept. I can go back and read and skim, flip through and re-read more often. I remember them more. And I think I might just enjoy them more.

Today I went to the library–surprise!–intending to just drop off two books that I’d convinced myself to give up, but of course I found my way in, and out again with three more books. All three from the nonfiction section.

The first book I picked up, though not one I checked out, was about barbed wire through the ages. Below that was wallpaper throughout American history. Just above was a Sears catalog from 1908. Oh the things you can find in the library!

One shelf over from came the self help books from organizing time and workspace and another shelf, parenting.  Actually, my first forays into nonfiction came from the self-help section. Like most teenagers, I thought I ought to be depressed, and therefore liked to read about it. The most basic of depression books tend to be about how not to be depressed, and so I ended up with books like “Depression for Dummies.” Another oddly ironic title, however, it still didn’t last long.

From the heath care self-help books I moved on to the how-to-write section. I should note here that I rarely, if ever, read these books in order to take their advice, but more out of simple curiosity into what the writer’s thought about their subjects. Most, naturally, consisted of what is known as “common sense” despite its rarity, and yet some authors could be surprising eloquent about how best to punctuate a sentence.

Grammar books can be awesome. I suppose I shouldn’t use such a careless adjective twice in one post, but it fits, and I don’t need too hard to think of something else. It’s likely why I focused on the editing side of things. I have no trouble with judging. As for grammar books, however, I stole one from my parents that was fun to read, but terribly out of date. For the layperson, and everyone else, though, there is Eats, Shoots & Leaves. By the way, did you know that some people don’t believe in the ampersand? Fascinating. (Seriously, read the link)

Mostly, right now at least, I’ve been focusing on histories, biographies, and architecture.  Actually, mostly architecture, house plans, The Victorian Country House, things like that. I love architure. If there wasn’t so much math involved, and it didn’t involve so much schooling, and if I’d know anything about it before graduating high school, I would have become an architect. When I’m driving through town, I look out for the houses, they way they’re built, the style, the era, the condition. I just really love architecture, particularly of older homes. I really don’t know why. But the library has lots of books just on house plans, and ideas on kinds of houses, and I just keep checking them out.

I may be a dork because I like the Sims, but at least it lets me pretend to build houses.

An even better park of the ampersand comments, here. I suppose nobody actually follows these, but really ought to. It’s far better than anything I come up with. Which, I suppose, is always why I’m linking to that site.

Great Minds

Have messy desks.  –It’s on a mug, it must be true.

I rather doubt that I have a great mind. But I do have a messy desk. Well, perhaps not “messy”–there are too many papers and a few receipts that I haven’t filed yet. Mostly it’s the twenty plus library books sitting on top.  Unfortunately, the height of twenty plus library books is too much height for a comfortable workstation. Also an unstable one.

So the mess left over has mostly corrupted the top of the dresser, and it’s spread into the bookcase (which is also on top of the dresser). But the bookcase has resisted nearly all but books so far, and the few small invaders have only inspired a few half-hearted rebels.

Part of the problem is simply too much stuff. Not books, so much. As far as I’m concerned, if there is enough room on the bookshelves to hold all the books, however well-stacked, there are not too many. Library books are not a factor in the equation. It’s too much…stuff. Things like pads of paper, ummm, I really don’t know what else…I have little boxes to keep track of my earrings, slides of my art, my camera, a screwdriver…lots of little things without a real “place”. Admittedly, all such things could find a place, and be put away, and not a mess. But because they’re all little things, it’s just going to take awhile. What you get when you just get lazy for a month (or two).

I think I’m inherently messy, though. Surely that counts for something. As an excuse that is…take for granted for now that nature won in the nature vs. nurture debate. I just can’t keep up with myself. Whether I’m bored or distracted, or both, I like to keep plenty of things to do around to go back and forth.

It appears I’m attracted to messy hobbies. Cluttered ones anyway.

As has surely been made evident elsewhere,  I am rather fond of my computer. I like to play the Sims…which many people who find out don’t understand, but I try not to begrudge them that.  I can’t comprehend sports myself. And while the computer fairly self-contained–as a laptop–computer ‘attachments’, as it were, are not. In fact, should I like to play my sims in the living room, I have to have it plugged in too. And I like my mouse.  I keep the printer in my room though, and because my dock isn’t working it’s stuck in my drawer along with my keyboard, lots of accompanying cords and a cd player for a car.  Hopefully soon I’ll be able to afford it in my car…the current one is a little touchy, don’t let him know I said that.

Of course I like to read. Really, though, like is the wrong word. Not quite obsession, almost a habit, but entirely more compulsion-al. If I see a book, I have to pick up, or nearly always. I won’t always read it, but I at least have to pick it up. No personal leanings toward nonfiction or fiction, or any particular genre. Nonfiction is nearly always fascinating, unless the author is simply terrible. Otherwise the subject matter can make up for most other mistakes.  Still reading the pencil book for instance. Turns out it’s about the development of the pencil as paralleled by the development of engineering (as the subtitle suggested), and it is, well, fascinating. Love reading about architecture, biography, the sciences, oddly enough. As for fiction…character is everything, really. I love to reread series, at least when I’ve had enough time in between to forget.

Let’s see. I used to think I would be an artist. From the time I was maybe in second grade, or so I have convinced myself. Now art can be a fairly simple hobby. Technically, all that’s really needed is some kind of writing utensil and a surface on which to use it. Or if you want to go post-modernist, either one alone or neither. I’ve never understood it myself. But I like all the different mediums, to experiment with each, though not so much all together. This means: pencils, pens, colored pencils, soft pastels, oil pastels, watercolors, acrylic and oil paints–in addition to the accouterments: erasers, sharpeners, chamois cloth, paint brushes, easels, blending stumps, etc., etc. And then to store not just the various surfaces on which to work these mediums, but to store the finished pieces as well. And mostly forever, since a lot of it I just can’t toss.

I also knit…or rather, occasionally try to teach myself to knit, I suppose I don’t quite qualify as a true knitter yet. Mostly I have no idea what I’m doing. But it’s not the neatest hobby either. I’ve got quite a lot of yarn stored for those future projects most of which lack patterns so far. But it takes up lots of space, and is something of a pain to carry around. At least the finished stuff can be useful.

So while my desk is only not messy because it’s piled too high with books, underneath the desk is a knitting bag, my computer is on the bed, and easel is set up in the corner. (It’s a work in progress, I swear!) Maybe not a great mind, but at least I keep it occupied.