Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Book Stack ~ August 2021

 A monthly post about my progress toward finishing a very large stack of books. Past months' posts:



Oh, August was a read-ey month! I'm already feeling nostalgic about the time spent in the hammock with some of these titles (though today, the first day of fall, is warm enough to lie in the hammock, it seems like much more of an indulgence to do it in September than in the summer,  doesn't it? I'll have to change that mindset, before winter comes).

Poetry 
I got briefly back into my habit of reading poetry first thing in the morning, with an older book by Pattiann Rogers, Generations. These poems are utterly gorgeous, though I have to admit to being at a loss as to what they were about most of the time. Though the language and the structure is all accessible, the themes are perhaps (though I'm not entirely sure) metaphysical.

Fiction
Last month's fiction was mostly of the mystery genre, with one older book, Detection Unlimited by Georgette Heyer, a classic whodonit, with a wry detective inspector and an entertaining if somewhat confusing cast of characters (a lot of them had names that start with H), and a good number of red herrings. The other two I picked up after I attended a (virtual) crime fiction conference this summer (the authors were panelists). Death in D Minor by Alexia Gordon is a fun cozy mystery, with a couple of fun ghosts, about an African American classical musician living in Ireland who finds herself caught up in art theft and murder. The Cipher by Isabel Moldonado is about an FBI agent who becomes the target of a serial killer. I usually prefer amateur detectives to police procedurals, but it was super interesting to see inside the workings of an FBI unit, and the main character was every bit as relatable as an amateur. This one fell just inside my disturbing/psychotic killer line. If you have a low tolerance for that sort of thing, you might want to pass, otherwise I'd gladly recommend all three of them to mystery lovers. 

One non-mystery I read was The Nest, by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney. I picked it up in a Little Free Library in a friend's neighborhood several years ago--mostly because I was attracted to the robin's-egg blue cover--but never got around to reading it until now, which explains why I'm so far behind the times on this 2016 bestseller (but it's a book from the actual Stack, which is exciting!). I enjoyed this multiple point-of-view story of a family of four adult children grappling with the loss of their inheritance (the "nest" of the title), thanks to the reckless actions of one brother. It's a great example of many protagonists in one story, each having his or her own narrative arc, and each changing by the end (except, I would argue, the main protagonist who stubbornly refuses to change).

Nonfiction
Two more books from The Stack--Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald (author of H is for Hawk), which is a beautiful, melancholy, moving collection of mostly nature-based essays, and My Other Ex, a collection of essays about former best friends edited by Jessica Smock and Stephanie Sprenger. I really like anthologies where you can delve into numerous takes on the same topic. As with all such books, some of the essays are better than others, but overall I found it a strong collection that made me think more deeply about friendships I've let fall to the wayside over the years.




Finally, to round out July's swimming theme, I read George Saunders's A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, which isn't about swimming at all (except for a single paragraph of a Chekov story--"Gooseberries") but rather a deep dive into six lessons in short story writing from four great Russian writers. It's positively brilliant and beautiful and it makes me wish I could spend all my time reading and writing short stories.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Book Update ~ Page of Praise


It's been a while since I've updated you on the progress of my book, Uphill Both Ways: Hiking Toward Happiness on the Colorado Trail. So how about a little peek behind the scenes? In June I received the copy editor's suggested changes--they weren't huge, just some suggested word choices here and there, a bit of misused capitalization and hyphens, an extremely confusing number vs. numeral convention. I found that I wanted to rewrite my epilogue quite a bit, since that was the last thing I had written and so it hadn't gone through the endless rounds of edits that the rest of the book had before going to the publisher. Also it was meant to be "current," and much had changed between February and June. Most troublesome were the gear tables at the end, making sure I'd gotten all of the brand names correct (why is it that companies--especially outdoor gear companies--must abuse spelling, spacing, and capitalization so egregiously?) and second- and third-guessing my own math on the weight of items.

Last week I got one more round of copy edits from my editor (more overuse of the hyphen) and I saw the draft cover design. It's so pretty!!! I can't wait to share it with you...and I will share it with readers of my newsletter first, so if you're you're not subscriber, be sure to sign up. The file my editor sent me for review was one long, continuous document with the full text of the book and little coded tags for the design team to use for inserting illustrations, photographs, maps, etc. The first page of the document was mostly blank with the following text at the top:

{~?~page of praise to come}

That's that page (or more) inside the cover of most books where other authors and reviewers wax effusive over the text of the book you have in hand, otherwise (and not very attractively) known as "blurbs." My blurbs started coming in in June, all from writers I admire so much, some of whom I know well, others who were scary to contact (and no, I never did hear back from Cheryl Strayed's publicist about getting a blurb from her). June was an otherwise difficult month, a the-bastards-are-getting-me-down kind of month. I'd often start my day like a cartoon character, floating a few inches above the ground, high on a beautiful blurb, only to, a few hours later, also like a cartoon character, have an anvil or a grand piano fall from a second-story window and flatten me into the sidewalk. I can't imagine how I might have peeled myself back up again if not for the stream of blurbs coming into my inbox.

So it occurs to me that we all need a page of praise, not just writers and not just about our books, but all of us should maintain a running list of kind words, compliments, and good deeds that others bestow upon us. And we should all make it our work to fill up the pages of praise of the people in our lives, to counteract the bastards who, let's be honest, are working overtime to get us all down. So next time someone does you a kindness, write it down, save it in an email file, or store it in that part of your brain you turn to when the going gets rough, and then pay it forward, help to fill someone else's page of praise.

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Friday, August 27, 2021

Book Stack ~ July 2021

 A monthly post about my progress toward finishing a very large stack of books. Past months' posts:

I would say I've pretty much given up on making progress on reducing the size of the Book Stack, especially now that I've boxed them up and shoved them in the closet, but this month I read a couple, which you'll learn about next month. In the meantime, here's a rundown of the all-new books I read in July.

In the nonfiction department, I read on the theme of swimming: Waterlog, Roger Deakin's lush and entertaining account of swimming his way around the lakes, ponds, locks, wet meadows, pools, and seashores of Britain and Why We Swim, an account of the history, health benefits, and some unusual events and traditions in human swimming by Bonnie Tsui. I loved both and, inspired by both, I dug out my goggles and started making a twice- or thrice-weekly swim the length of a local pond with a friend of mine.

For fiction, I was in mystery mode again. My mom sent me the second in Barbara Ross's Jane Darrowfield series: Jane Darrowfield and the Madwoman Next Door, which was a fun read; the latest lady cop book, Dear Miss Kopp, in which Amy Stewart pulls off the brilliant feat of carrying off multiple storylines and solving several mysteries entirely in letters written to or by the Kopp Sisters; and Recipes for Love and Murder, by Sally Andrew, which I found by happenstance on a clearance table at my local bookstore and which I loved so much: lush descriptions of the South African countryside, a lay detective, a complicated murder mystery, and so many delicious recipes (I don't always love the cozy mystery trope of incorporating food and recipes into the story, but Andrew pulls it off brilliantly, without pulling the reader out of the story, or boring her, and she had me drooling over lamb curries even though I'm a vegetarian).

What are you reading this month?

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Solitude



C and the boys left Monday morning for a nine-day hiking adventure along the Appalachian Trail through the 100-Mile Wilderness and to the top of Mount Katahdin. They left at just the right time--I was in danger of smothering my children, both literally (with a pillow) and figuratively (with excessive mothering).

I have written before, and I'm sure I'll write it again, that when my kids were tiny babies, my rapture for them was matched only by my desire to escape them. I'm beset by similar equal and opposite feelings for them again now that they're 16 and 20. Like most families, we've been blessed and cursed with an excess of togetherness over the past year and a half, thanks to the closures and constraints placed on schools and workplaces. While in many ways that's been wonderful and a true gift, I also find myself somethings thinking, Please grow up and go away to college, soon.

At the same time I'm afflicted with a maudlin nostalgia for their childhood years and a near-panic that we didn't do all the things we should have done when they were young, before they were grumpy and resistant to everything, and the things we did do, we might not have done just right. So it was time--for us all to get some space from each other, for them to go off and climb mountains and do some male bonding, and for me to revel in a little peace and quiet at home, alone, for the first time in as long as I can remember.

And, oh, have I been reveling. Nothing remarkable has taken place, nothing out of the ordinary, but the number of times I need to clean the kitchen daily has been cut down by a factor of ten, and it's been so blissfully quiet that I can actually hear myself think. Despite the quiet, I haven't accomplished quite as much writing as I imagined I would. It's funny how my job could take me away from home for ten to eighteen hours a day, but now I can't seem to wring more than three or four hours of writing out of a single day. Part of it is distraction, both of the electronic variety and the analog--the world outside is so dreamily magical right now: fledgling broad-winged hawks, clearwing hummingbird moths, painted lady butterflies, mushrooms of every color and shape. I need to get out there and check on things on a regular basis. Part of it is stamina--I'm not used to focusing for such a long time and my brain gets tired. And part of it is some combination of anxiety that I'm working on the wrong project and that I don't deserve to have this time, and doubt that whatever I work on will amount to anything.

To avoid burrowing too deeply into my own head and to quell those doubts and anxious feelings, I take myself to water every day--swimming the length of a pond three times a week with a friend, paddling solo on another pond followed by Indian takeout, a small poolside gathering with friends. I'm conscious of not wanting to give away too much of my time while also avoiding making myself crazy with my own company. The fleeting nature of this period of solitude also bears on my mind--they'll all be home on Tuesday, and then I'll have to recalibrate again, find ways to work amid the chaos.

In the meantime, I'm being gentle with myself. I won't write a novel before the week is out, but I did write a couple of scenes and figured out some character stuff (important things, like the narrator's name!). I also finished reviewing a manuscript I put on hold back in November and rewrote one final essay for it. I'm balancing butt-in-chair time with play-outside time (and lie-on-the-bed-reading-a-book time). The one thing I haven't made time for so far is doze-in-hammock time, which I plan to rectify this weekend!

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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Upcoming Workshops ~ Story Mapping

It's been a long while since I last gave a nature journaling workshop (thanks, pandemic), but now I've got two coming up, one in August and one in September, bot on the theme of story mapping.

A story map is a visual representation of a journey that may include:

  • a map depicting the route followed (which may be highly stylized and need not be to scale)
  • locations on the map where interesting things were sighted or took place
  • illustrations of scenery, flora and fauna seen along the way, and companions, among other things
  • lists of birds, wildflowers, or other elements of nature
  • anything else the story cartographer wants to use
Story maps can be made both while on the journey or after the fact.

Last summer, when all of my adventures took place close to home, I had a lot of fun making story maps of  kayak trips on local ponds and lakes. Mapping these trips deepened both my observation skills and my enjoyment while on the water. Even though I may not remember a lot about any of these trips, I only have to look at my maps and all of the details come flooding back to me.


I'm super excited to share this journaling technique with two groups this summer and fall.

The first workshop will take place on Saturday, August 7, at Hidden Valley Nature Center in Jefferson from 1-4 p.m. We'll be walking the Crossbill Loop and journaling as we go. Register here.

The second will be part of the Nature Journaling in Acadia conference that will be held at the Schoodic Institute September 19-21, a three-day extravaganza of nature journaling workshops and activities that is going to be positively amazing. Register here.

I'd love to see you at one of these workshops!


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Book Stack ~ June 2021

A monthly post about my progress toward finishing a very large stack of books. Past months' posts:


The theme for June's reading was mystery and suspense, mostly because I wanted something scary to read in the tent when we went camping over Memorial Day weekend, so I bought the bottom three books in the photo. I don't know why I thought I'd have time to read three books. As it turned out, I only read a couple of pages of two of them. It also turned out that none of them was all that scary, but they were good.

The Whispering House, by Elizabeth Brooks, is a modern gothic with innocent heroine, big scary house, mysterious male. Even though it wasn't that scary, it had a nice amount of suspense. I have to admit to being a little bothered by the bad boyfriend element to the suspense, but I suppose that's what Heathcliff and Mr. Rochester were as well, and maybe Max de Winter also, so I guess it's part of the Gothic tradition.

The Unquiet Grave, by Sharyn McCrumb, a fictionalization of a historic murder of a young woman. I used to read a lot of Sharyn McCrumb, but it's been a while, and I forgot what a master storyteller she is. She weaves history and local color into a fascinating tale.

Careless in Red, by Elizabeth George, picks up after Inspector Linley's wife is killed and he goes on a long hike on the Cornish coast to try to numb his pain. Despite the lurid red cover, this one wasn't too scary, either, and there wasn't much about the hike (I was really hoping for a tent-based nail-biter to read while in the tent). But Elizabeth George is also a brilliant story teller, so it was a page-turner even without the chills. I'm discovering that I'm not a huge fan of the multiple-point-of-view novel, but this one is very well done, with each character drawn uniquely and with a distinct narrative voice, so that it's not confusing about who is who and why they're in the story--you just trust that their purpose will become clear in time.

Unspeakable Things, by Jess Lourey, I ordered after a crime conference I "attended" remotely, Lourey being one of the presenters. In it the young narrator tries to solve the mystery of who is kidnapping and molesting boys in her neighborhood while also living in fear of being hurt herself. It was good and suspenseful if not downright creepy.

Not one of these books counts toward diminishing my book stack, since I purchased them all, my resolution to buy no fiction this year having flown completely out the window.

What have you been reading lately?

P.S. If you're wondering what's going on with my book, I'll be sending out an update in my newsletter this Friday. To be one of the first in the know, sign up here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Island Time


The last weekend of May we returned to Hermit Island, where we've gone every May since the twins were toddlers, missing only two years (last year, because of the pandemic, and the year before, because I had to work). Now that my kids are so old, I'm cognizant that every time we do something together as a family, it could very well be the last time. So nothing was going to prevent me from making this trip happen, not work, not weather.

And, oh, did the weather try (as did work). True to form, we had a cold, rainy weekend, despite this having been the driest, sunniest, most beautiful spring and early summer I've ever witnessed in Maine. (We're willing to rent ourselves out to go camping in any drought-stricken locale to bring on the rain.) Sunday night it downright poured, though most of the heavy rain kindly contained itself to times we were in the tent. And you know what? It didn't matter. We've done the drill a million times--keeping everything inside the tent or car, packing extra clothes and blankets, huddling around the fire to stay warm.

The weather didn't dampen the fun, although we didn't do a lot--we didn't hike to the head of the island or bike along the lagoon. I did a bit of lazy birdwatching. We sat on the beach and watched the waves. We cooked and ate--a lot. As much as I wanted to get all nostalgic for those camping trips past (you can see a photo progression of them here), and those freaking adorable little campers, I decided that camping with big kids is even more awesome.The boys had a friend and their bikes, and they careened off to the beach whenever they felt like it. Zephyr made beef stew and Emmet fixed cocktails for the mamas. They split wood and set up their own tents and hauled water (complainingly, as always) and finally learned how to wash camping dishes.

I recently was posed the question: when was the last time you tried something new? I racked my brain for a long, long time before I came up with something (sailing lessons, two years ago). I suppose a pandemic isn't a time to try new things, so I'll use that as my excuse. And now that the worst is over, and we're all finally vaccinated, it's probably time for me to get out there and try new things (or at least leave the county). But there's also something to be said for revisiting the same thing from a new perspective, and with taller kids.


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