reading: Caleb’s Crossing

It makes for a happy, little winter project when you find a writer you like who has a manageable backlog of titles.  This year, I was introduced to Geraldine Brooks’ particular brand of feminist historical fiction when gifted People of the Book this past Christmas.  I finished it with a surprisingly rapid pace, and was struck by Brooks’ imaginative interpretation of the distant past while still maintaining the measured, conservative analysis of ‘what it must have been like’ back then.

The format of People of the Book was all over the place, by design, since the story relates the life of a religious text over the course of 600 years in a handful of countries.  Caleb’s Crossing, however, meditatively focuses on the inner thoughts of one young woman living in colonial Martha’s Vineyard.  Bethia (the main character) is quite progressive for her time, stealing Latin and bible lessons by overhearing her father and brother’s daily discourse while she does her woman’s work.  In this way she also learns Wopanaotaok, the native language of the tribe that already lived on Martha’s Vineyard before it was even called that, and excels at it even over her learned father.  Her grasp of the language opens doors to her that are inherently forbidden for a woman and 17th century Christian.

The relationships of the people set out early in the novel grow and develop throughout its pages which is interesting enough, but what is really fascinating is the portrait Brooks’ paints of a woman during this time who should dare to use her mind, even just a little.  Bethia eventually finds herself working in the buttery (what the heck is that?  Sounds delicious…) at the newly founded Harvard College, stealing lessons once again through the adjoining window from president and professors while she attends to scrubbing pewter tankards with sand and baking bread, which these characters eat endlessly, as if nothing else exists in Puritan Massachusetts which, to be fair, is probably true.

I’m a skeptic, so when I read historical fiction I view the ‘historical’ part of the genre as a guideline the author uses and nothing more — though Brooks has made intensive research on all aspects of her novel. Imbuing historical truths (i.e. a Wampanoag man attending Harvard in the 1600s, which is by all accounts and documents true) can lead to confusion if the reader doesn’t have an active awareness that ‘this didn’t really happen’ but, oh look, ‘this actually did.’  Brooks does an excellent job of clearing up the solid truths, inspirational stories and out-and-out fabrications at the end of the book, which I totally appreciated.

The really positive part of reading historical fiction is that it has made me want to pursue more works of non-fiction on this story, the historical figures mentioned, and what Massachusetts was like 400 years ago.  I lived in Boston for 6 years but couldn’t have given a wharf rat’s ass about history (I actually lived right down the street from Paul Revere’s house, who is a whippersnapper compared to these characters) but Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing has ignited the learning spark.  Thank you!

Next time I find myself at the book store I’m seeking out Year of Wonder which I have been saving for last (I won’t be reading March, since I haven’t read Little Women and really don’t feel like doing so) since plague, disease and trauma are one of my favorite things to read about.  No joke!

little homes everywhere

Today I’ve been making myself at home in familiar places.  Going back to things I know really well often takes the edge off a bit.  If you read back a day you can tell I’m a little on edge.  These certainly helped:

my playlist at work today:

consisted of albums i’ve been listening to for…

greetings-from-timbuk-3-e127358423311125 years…

joni+mitchell+-+ladies+of+the+canyon+-+(front)15 years…

Rabbit Fur Coat…and 5 years.  There’s nothing like knowing all the words from beginning to end to get anchored.



I also managed to get to the book store on my lunch break, seeking out another tome from Geraldine Brooks, whose writing I was recently introduced to, I basically love her.  I’m glad I found Caleb’s Crossing as a pre-owned hardcover, because those look cooler on the shelf and I’m nervous about reading the one she wrote about the dad from Little Women since I never read that.  And I feel like I’d need to read Little Women in order to read it.  So I’ll read the one about the plague next… then decide what to do after that.  I know little girls are supposed to love Little Women… but Alcott, Bronte, Austen… all snoozers to me.  Go figure.  Oh yeah!  The used hardcover was $9.97 but the guy at Bull Moose rang me up for just under $7.00.  I guess their used book prices are constantly changing, so in the event that they’re less the cashier can give you the lower price.  If it’s higher?  No sweat, you get what the price tag says.  That’s so awesome!  Buy local.



Lastly, one new thing — for Christmas, we got my mother-in-law a pattern for this cowl from Quince & Co., a Maine-based yarn/pattern company, and when she finished it I offered to block it for her at work since we have industrial steamers here.  I found it surprisingly easy with the help of the steamer and this online tutorial that really took the mystery out of blocking for me.  I used to use pins, towels, etc… but I might just throw down $180 one day for a steamer of my own if I really get in to knitting.  I’ve been voracious in the knitting department, practically devouring this blog for the last couple of days.  I love this girl, and I don’t even know her!  I’m working on this dress for Kiley right now, and hope the pattern goes smoothly so I can add my own modifications the next time I make it.  I paid $2 for it a week ago, but it looks like it’s a free download now, so get it while you can!  Totally worth the $2, by the way, but free stuff still rocks.

reading: ‘people of the book’

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

My Grammie is a fantastic book giver.  Every birthday, Christmas and sometimes just because she gives a book that is either totally related to something you’re actively interested in at the time or, in this case, a phenomenal read.  I love it when she gives the latter, because it is often something I wouldn’t have picked off the shelf myself, but almost always can’t imagine having missed the opportunity to read it.

This year, I opened up People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.  I’m only about a chapter or two, but so far as I can tell it’s an artful work of historical fiction.  The work follows the life of the Sarajevo Haggadah backwards, in to time, in all its former ownerships and near-tragedies.  The Sarajevo Haggadah is the oldest existing Haggadah… before starting this book I had no idea what a ‘Haggadah’ was but I do have a particular fondness for very old, illuminated texts no matter what they are.  Because the main character in People of the Book is an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist book restorer the novel gets in to the nitty-gritty, finding hairs and insect wings in the binding of the book, tracing origins to enlighten the reader even more about the volume’s history.

image from the sarajevo haggadah, source:  treasure quest, click for link

image from the sarajevo haggadah, source: treasure quest, click for link

Fortuitously, I’m one of those people that find the History or Discovery channels on the television and can leave it there for hours, just soaking up all the imagery.  Granted, most of the programs on those channels leave you wanting in the content department, but Brooks certainly will make up for that.

Brooks is the author of some other historical fictions, including March which is a closer look at the story of the father from Little Women, both of which I hear are wonderful books.  There are some huge gaps in my literary education, and L.W. is one of them… so I’m sure it’s great.  The book on her list that got me salivating, though, is Year of Wonders, which was recently featured on a particularly boring episode of the Diane Rehm Show that we had to turn off on our way to Vermont last week.  Don’t worry, though, it’s just the show that was boring and not what seems like an great historical fiction about a town in England that was quarantined in the 1600s due to a plague outbreak.  Awesome!  Also horrible, but historical accounts of extreme situations, the plague being kind of the king of extreme situations, are really interesting to me.  So if everything works out with People of the Book I’ll start with Year of Wonders next.

Mmm, winter reading.  I’ll get my peppermint tea, fleece-y blanket and hot water bottle ready for some serious book bliss!



We Are Safe While Sleeping print by PhizzWizard on Etsy, $18.

This is just a formality. My terribly lonely little blog has been gasping for air, and attention, in the last few weeks.  My cats have been pawing at the bedroom door wondering what the heck happened to everyone (they can’t go in there, boyfriend is allergic).  The pile of dishes, mail and clutter has been steadily growing.  What happened to Audrey?

Truth be told, in the late days of February I become a hibernator.  I’ve done nothing, literally nothing creative for about two weeks.  This is a dry spell for me.  I lurk around my house in the dark after reading chapters and chapters of murder mysteries, glancing at the unattended to-do-tasks (open mail, put laundry in hamper) as if it’s the novel incarnate, but this time the killer is a seeping sense of domestic failure and artistic gloom.

Oh, so sad, Audrey!

So what have I been doing, then?

In addition to dreaming of summer, we’ve been indulging in reliving the Sopranos from Season One.  I’ve been reading “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and I’m 20 pages away from finished after staying up until 3:30am last night (on a school night!)  We’ve ventured out in to the not-that-cold to visit pizza joints, Indian food oases and dive bars with delicious breakfast.  On Saturday I lived vicariously through a MECA student who photographed Kate with  her Toyo (I miss my Toyo!) field camera at her apartment.  Like an arty vampire, I watched her frame photographs, direct her subject, snap — and probably feel super satisfied with herself.  Jealous.

After some guilt I expressed about being a puddle of inactivity, boyfriend reminded me that no one should expect anything of me at this point in the winter.  God damn it, he’s right.  I’ll tend to my Etsy responsibilities as needed but much energy needs to be stored so I can hit Spring with the full force it deserves.  I think I may start drawing because it’s non-committal and totally fun.  Dishes be damned:  I just won’t throw an elaborate dinner party any time soon.  Kate lent me the second book in the series I stayed up like a zombie reading and I will absolutely finish one (tonight) and dive right in to the other (probably tonight through 3:30am again).

Then there’s the matter of The BIG THAW.  Wow, I am so excited about it but at this point there’s nothing I can really ‘do’ until February 28th when all the applications are in.  My amazing artists are working on the poster design as we speak, applications are coming in daily (all are amazing, I hope we have room for everyone!) and I’ve already divided up the floor layout to figure out the numbers we can accommodate.  But this is what I need to focus on, this is the big deal of 2011.

I refuse to feel guilty about sink scum or scattered shoes this week.  If I get to them, I get to them — if not, who really actually cares?

Then there’s the matter of feast and famine.  I learned long ago (after four intense years of art scholarship) that you can’t go-go-go all the time at art.  Some people can, but they are totally insane and don’t have the best living/hygiene/sanity standards among us creative people.  After art school I took an entire year and a half not touching anything creative before coming to my senses.  Perhaps a busy December marked with the flourish of creating a craft sale out of thin air in January made this relaxation in February completely necessary.  Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.  Perhaps in a few weeks something will pour out of my hands so freaking fantastic that not washing my hair for three days seems totally justified!

I encourage everyone reading this to join me in a night of sloth, eat potato chips off a bowl perched on your stomach, wear the same shirt to bed that you wear to work the next morning.  Hibernating solidarity! The bears would be proud.

Breeding Reading

Thank goodness.  You know when there’s something you care about but you keep on forgetting to be enthusiastic about it because you’re so damn tired from being enthusiastic about 50 other things?  I learned, this morning, that for me that thing was reading.  Not reading like “Oh, here’s a book by my pillow, I’ll read that as a substitute tranquilizer,” but reading like “Why are my hands glued to this book?  I can’t put it down!  I love to read its pages!!”  That kind.  Fabulous Allie from Broke207 wrote this post about LibraryThing based in Portland, Maine.  Wahoo!  I read her post, clicked the link, half-heartedly signed up and then saw what the website had to offer.  All of a sudden, I remembered how much I like to read, learn about new authors, new lifestyles, cry irrationally at bad romance novels and laugh (and snort) obnoxiously at short stories while boyfriend is trying to cook dinner, play video games, write a song, etc.

In addition to offering conversation forums on any and everything book-y, LibraryThing lists local events and has a library feature where you can list ‘your books’ which at this point I’m just starting with January and tracking my bookwormy progress through the apple of literary selections throughout the year.  Some genius obsessive compulsive candidates on there have fantastic numerical goals for this year:  “75 books in 2011!”  “13 books this month!”  “I’m going to read 5 books today!”  You… inspiring… asses.  Let’s just say I’m going to read a MILLIONTY books this year and if I don’t make it then at least I will have read very close to a millionty books.  LibraryThing (in addition to all its other offerings) will be the visual progress to this end.  Let’s bring it full circle and say I’ll even try to write a little about them here on my L.E.D. blog so that you all know I don’t just hide in my attic like Bart’s Twin Brother hunched over a workbench and bottle caps all the time.

Outside Lies Magic, by John Stilgoe.

Wow.  I’ve literally been reading this book for 5 years.  And it’s not even that long, page-wise.  Here’s the scoop:  John Stilgoe is a Harvard professor who teaches ‘wandering.’  Which is a pretty ding dong damn hard subject for a bunch of 18-year-old over-achieving pencil pushers to wrap their steel-trap minds around.  (Settle down, I love Harvard AND her crazy students who don’t know how to look both ways in while jaywalking). Hard for them mostly because it involves unlocking the door on the steel trap.  Stilgoe explores the methods of observation while wandering and elaborates on histories as they relate to infrastructure: railroads, the interstate, fences, power lines ad infinitum.  Or so it seems – this book is seriously less than 150 pages but every time I finish a few pages I have to think for a long time about the implications of its content.  I’ve fully digested most of this and am about 10 pages away from finishing (and probably starting again).

How did I come to know about this book?  My sophomore or junior year in college our teacher assigned it as required reading for the class as the subject matter really speaks true to photographers and artists, if no one else.  I spent the entire four years of secondary education as a Wandering Major.  I remember a keen sense of time/space as I walked Huntington Avenue my first weeks in Boston – to look up and catch a woman shaking a white blouse out of her window (wrinkled?  freshening up?) against a dark gray rain-wet roof and pale gray sky.  Trains intersecting as a stranger in a red coat walks towards me.  Photographer on a walk without a camera:  sad.  This is what Stilgoe starts to get at but he approaches it in a much more Harvard-y history way.  Can’t blame the guy for playing to his audience!

Slow Eddie, by Bruce Jones

You may have seen me drooling uncontrollably about this book before.  Thank you, Kate Sullivan-Jones‘ Dad, for writing a book that combines all the things I love about serious, thoughtful novels that contemplate overarching lifelong concepts AND soap operas a la Twin Peaks.  The book starts off by piquing the intellectual’s interests in very compelling ways (suicide, lust, longing) and finishes with some serious “Oh yes!  I love romance and cute things!” without going Danielle Steele on me.  It turns out, Kate says, that his Dad is secretly a teenage girl.  Awright!  Once when I went over to my father’s house and saw the really fantastic mess he’d created he said he was regressing to age 9 for awhile (awright!) but nothing as juicy as regressing to a 17 year old girl.  That is unique, and that person should be a writer.

In addition to being well-written and introducing characters that you become really invested in, Slow Eddie takes place on the Cape and in my book that’s local, so I love it.


That’s it for now.  Kate lent me The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  It’s a murder mystery that takes place in Sweden and that’s really all you need to know for now.  I’m excited because this book is huge, or huge-ish so it will make me look smart when I read it in public places, which I plan to, because that is what being a Booky McGee is all about.