I really like lists. They’re just so SATISFYING. I had a little time on my hands each evening for the past few weeks, so I’ve been gradually going through our books and cataloging them in a Google Sheet. (Yes, I know there are apps for that, but for reasons of my own, this worked better.) It’s incredibly therapeutic. We have over 1300 books, not counting comic books (which I’ve been afraid to touch–that shelf is…daunting). Listing them has been really useful for discovering books we have waaay too many duplicates of (*cough* The Wizard of Oz *cough*) or books we really should get rid of. A pilgrimage to Ed McKay’s will shortly be in order, methinks.

I leave Tuesday for Virginia Beach to run another conference, which should be far more fun than usual since the Hubs is on fall break from teaching and gets to come with me! While I’m gone, check out these cool links:

I stayed up till the wee hours last night (this morning), finishing Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck. I expected to love it because Buck’s skill is matchless, and this book was no exception. The book is a fictionalized account of the life of Tzu Hsi, the last empress of China, a formidably intelligent and manipulative woman. She ruled for 47 years until 1908. Having just read Under Heaven, which takes place in the 8th century, I was struck by how similar Imperial life was in the 1800s. And that was Tzu Hsi’s main struggle: change was coming to a country that had seen little change in over a thousand years. Buck does an excellent job of humanizing a figure who could otherwise be seen as a power-mongering villain; the reader ends up rooting for Tzu Hsi throughout her lengthy and impressive life. This portion of Buck’s introduction sets an apt tone for the book:

Her people loved her–not all her people, for the revolutionary, the impatient, hated her heartily and she hated them. But the peasants and small-town people revered her. Decades after she was dead I came upon villages in the inlands of China where the people thought she still lived and were frightened when they heard she was dead. “Who will care for us now?” they cried?

This, perhaps, is the final judgment of a ruler.

You know what I love? A lanky schoolteacher with gorgeous eyes. But aside from my husband, here are some other things I’m in love with lately.

Stranger Things. Guys. I know I’m late on the bandwagon, but I am now FIRMLY ON THE BANDWAGON. I marathoned this little show (the first season is only eight episodes) in two days and am yearning for more. I haven’t watched a show this good (acting, music, story, characters, the whole shebang) in a frighteningly long time. Creepy, but not too scary, and hits all the right 80s nostalgia buttons. Season two will air in 2017, so catch up on the first season now.

Overdrive. Download the free app on your phone, enter your library card info, and you instantly get access to your library system’s ebooks and audio books on your phone, tablet, or computer. You can download the books directly to your device or stream them, and after two weeks, the books return themselves. I’m currently listening to The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett during my commute. So cool!

Hasfit. The Hubs and I do three of the 20-minute workouts a week, mixing it up, and they’re pretty tough. We blithely kicked off with an intermediate workout when we first started and realized pretty quickly we’d bitten off more than we could comfortably chew. We’ve worked up to them now, and while I’m sure our downstairs neighbors don’t love us jumping around like lunatics, it’s a great way to stay in shape when it’s just too darned hot to run outside.

These links:

Goodreads. You know how the villain in cartoons lounges on a pile of cash? That’s me and books lately. I’ve been luxuriating in reading more like I’ve done in years past (as opposed to the aberration of the least couple insane years). As a result, I’ve been spending way more time on Goodreads too. They’ve changed a few things around recently and I’ve followed some new folks, and overall it’s just been tremendously enjoyable.

Granted, not everything I’ve read has been great. In the Days of the Comet by H.G. Wells was singularly disappointing. One can just barely call it science fiction (you could blink and basically miss the comet itself, contradictory to the implications of the title), although I didn’t have a Goodreads shelf for “preachy socialist claptrap” so I had to stick this book somewhere. The titular comet is merely a vehicle for Wells to rant endlessly about the evils of capitalist modern society and how abolishing the ownership of private property will solve everything. EVERYTHING. The comet’s gas trail somehow changes nitrogen to some other gas (?) that makes people nobler, wiser, happier (??) and initiates worldwide reform literally overnight (???). The comet gas makes people other than human, in other words. Very little of human nature remains, although we’re expected to believe that the comet gas just “cleared away” the trammels of old ways of thinking to enable people to be as they always were underneath. One wonders if Wells has ever actually met another human being; the naivete levels in this book astound. The book plays out the idea of the abolishment of individual ownership to a degree I wouldn’t have expected but which is obvious in retrospect: if nothing is yours, that would extend to romantic relationships as well, so your spouse isn’t really yours, and anything goes. But it’s okay because now everyone lives in communal utopias unfettered by such droll, inconsequential matters of respectability. The frame narrative around the story is nonsensical as well, but that was the least of my complaints after struggling through the whole book. The only reason I didn’t completely demote it to one star is because Wells’ language is beautiful in parts (when he’s not sermonizing), and his intelligence isn’t completely dampened by all of the dull preaching.

In contrast, I enjoyed The Legacy of Heorot by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes far more than I expected, and found myself devouring it late at night at a frightful pace. I’ve not had great success with books by two authors in the past (they always seem to be plagued by inconsistent characters and general sloppiness), so I assumed three authors would be even worse. Pleasantly, in this case, not so! The story’s premise is basically Beowulf in space, which sounded deliciously pulpy to me. It ended up being a more sophisticated and nuanced book than I anticipated. The characters are all ridiculously flawed people and quite unlikeable, but by the end I found myself surprisingly attached in spite of it. Still not brilliant literature, and the characters’ obsession with sex (while understandable in the context of a colony trying to perpetuate itself in the face of low numbers) felt downright juvenile, but I’d give it up to a 3.5-star rating. There’s a sequel or two that I may check out one day.

At last, I read The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman. I read Cushman’s Catherine, Called Birdy eons ago and had been meaning to read her other incredibly well-known book since I was 12 years old or so. Only took 17ish years! I wish I’d read it when I *was* 12–I would’ve loved it. It’s a blink-and-it’s-over read; I got through it in an hour or two. The book is an un-sugarcoated look at medieval village life for a young girl without any prospects, but it’s not consumed by bleakness at any point. Excellent YA historical fiction!

Wow, folks. Homemade beef jerky is the best. We’ve been using our dehydrator like crazy, and I pretty much only stopped munching because my teeth were starting to hurt from gnawing on dried meat. Guess I wouldn’t have made a great cavewoman.

I spent a lovely Labor Day with a great friend, and we grabbed lunch at Neomonde to take to the JC Ralston Arboretum. Catching up was excellent and much-needed, and we got to see one of the new pieces of artwork, this brilliant mirror tree:

We were joined by my friend’s two-and-a-half-year-old, who, having grown up on a farm, is possibly more self-sufficient than I am, and eminently more fashionable. My friend says he already knows what death is (impossible to hide on a farm, really), and I look gleefully forward to him traumatizing his playmates with honest answers about the world and where food comes from. The beef for that jerky didn’t just materialize at the grocery store…

Links:

Today I’m off to another friend’s housewarming party in a bit, but first let me tell you about two amazing books I finished recently!

Books:
My husband had picked up Merlin Dreams by Peter Dickinson years ago on a whim but hadn’t read it. I’m enjoying going through our combined shelves now, reading new-to-me books that I’ve inherited by marriage. I’m used to knowing my shelves very thoroughly, so it’s exciting to stumble upon intriguing tales I didn’t know were in the house.

What a gem I stumbled upon here! This book is lovely, both visually and in terms of the storytelling. The artwork is done by the incomparable Alan Lee of Lord of the Rings fame, and they’re beautiful.

The stories are even more so. This book is labeled YA for some reason (perhaps because it’s illustrated), but the depth of the stories is impressive, and I think adults might appreciate their subtlety even more. Not a dud amongst the collection, all of which are loosely bound together by the theme of Merlin’s dreams. Arthurian fans will be in heaven, but you could read and fall in love with this book even if you’d never heard of King Arthur.

I love the author Robin McKinley, and Peter Dickinson was her husband. He passed away last year, and I can’t help but think how sad it would be to love and lose the creator of such beautifully spun tales.

I finished Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay last week too. “Exquisite” is frequently the word that comes to mind when attempting to describe Kay’s works. Unsurprisingly, I loved this book, as I’ve loved everything by Kay that I’ve read (I still haven’t read two or three of his works). His research is meticulous, his command of language positively poetic, and his characters utterly fascinating. The setting is utterly different from other Kay books: the equivalent of 8th century China during the Tang dynasty.

Linhtalintinh’s review of the book already does an exceptional job of tracing the connections between events/individuals and their historical counterparts, so I won’t attempt that here–but do read her insightful comments.

I will say, though: Under Heaven is more flawed than most of Kay’s works, which surprised me. Character development is Kay’s strong suit–so strong, in fact, that if anyone else had written this story, I still would’ve been fairly impressed–but he set his own bar too high with previous works. The characters here do not breathe realism in quite the same way, nor are their choices ultimately consistent with the personalities we’ve come to expect from them. Pacing was downright sluggish at times, which I also don’t associate with Kay. And there was a certain authorial self-awareness bordering on pretentiousness in the language that rubbed me the wrong way.

It’s still gorgeous. Go read the book.

I was ludicrously behind on reviews for books for the last year or so, and I finally, finally got all caught up! I’ll spare you the massive string of copy-pastes here, but you can check all of my reviews out (if you’re so inclined) here on Goodreads. Just scroll down on that page for reviews. I’m currently reading Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay and losing my mind over how good it is, per usual with Kay’s books.

Life has been quietly enjoyable lately, but I’ve realized that doesn’t make for very enjoyable stories. Reading more, working out more, eating better, and enjoying more quiet time is better for living but boring for blogging!

So here are some fun things from the internet instead.

I made a very weird discovery a few weeks ago.

Do you ever get a tingly scalp feeling during a haircut or a head massage? (I thought that feeling was universal, but it seems that it’s not–people aren’t sure what percentage of folks experience it.) I recently learned that the same feeling can be triggered by some incredibly RANDOM stuff. I noticed that when listening to certain people’s voices or even while watching tutorials, I would get a similar feeling. I was moderately weirded out by that, so I did some Googling.

It turns out that that tingle is called autonomous meridian response (ASMR), and it can be triggered by the craziest things–which are different from person to person. I thought this article was rather informative, if bizarre. I sat mesmerized by an 18-minute video of some lady folding towels. Most of the rest seemed too strange for me (not that watching someone fold towels for 18 minutes isn’t strange), but I could’ve watched her fold those towels all day. There is a massive online community of people who make videos solely dedicated to inducing ASMR in other people. But the truly odd thing is that many people can’t feel anything. The video comments are a combination of, “Holy cow, this feels amazing!” and “What is this? 18 minutes of towels? I don’t get it.”

ASMR is almost frighteningly relaxing, and I’ve been incorporating it into stress management with great success, though it’s very difficult to talk about it with other people without sounding perfectly insane. It is the best thing for insomnia, though! When the Hubs is away, it usually takes me an eon to fall asleep, but not since I found towel-lady’s videos.

I went to a lovely movie night at my friends’ farm last night, and we saw The Little Prince, which was sweet and unimpressive by turns. Some beautiful animation in parts, but the tacked-on story felt, well, tacked-on. And not very sensical. Still, it was a delightful evening full of tea and blueberry lemonade and good conversation.

I finished Sourcery by Terry Pratchett recently and enjoyed it immensely. My reading of the Discworld series has been scattered and incomplete–of the 41 Discworld novels, I’ve only read eight or so. My very favorite Pratchett novels are actually his Bromeliad trilogy, but I enjoy a romp in the crazy Discworld universe too as long as I don’t read too many of them too close together. There’s a certain incoherence to some of them that is dizzying after too much exposure. Sourcery held together better than many, though, and made me want to dig up more Pratchett.

Music I’ve unearthed lately:

I once had a professor who said he lets history sift his reading list for him. If a book has been around for 25 years and is still considered good, he’ll read it, because odds are that it’s not a waste of his time. He didn’t have time to read bad books. I am in complete agreement with that strategy (though I don’t follow it as religiously as he did). The result is that most of the time I am woefully unaware of contemporary fiction, and sometimes I miss really cool current stuff because I’m busy reading Dickens.

For example, I was completely unaware that someone had basically already written A Cinder’s Tale, but as a kids’ book! I ran across Interstellar Cinderella online completely by chance, and I’d love to read it someday and see how it compares. It looks amazing, and exactly like the kind of book I would’ve loved as a kid.

And here we have part 2 of intriguing things I’ve found on the internet!

Fascinating:

Know this:

Hilarity:

Books:

Contrary to the impression conveyed during the last couple months of blogging, I don’t actually dress up in costume every week. No madcap adventures to report this week, although I did see Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the North Carolina Museum of Art outdoor movie screening last night, which was good fun. I’m also reading Njal’s Saga, which is where the post title comes from. Much wisdom (and weirdness) in those Icelandic sagas!

I frequently used to post cool links I had found on my adventures around the internet, so I thought I’d squeeze in another post like that for the first time in a while. Some of these have been bookmarked waiting for their moment to shine for so long that they’re probably irrelevant, but on the off chance you haven’t seen them…

Know this:

Hilarity:

Fascinating:

Books:

History:

Geekery:

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a 1920s-themed party! I adore a good costume party and will dress up for any excuse. A good friend came over early so we could attempt some vaguely 20s-esque hairstyles.

The finished flappers:

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As you can see, that Kool Aid hair dye is nowhere near washing out. Looks like I’ll be a semi-redhead for a good while. Blondes beware, if you attempt the same thing!

The party was lovely, and included blackjack (not for actual money, naturally), dancing, live music, and good conversation. Everyone really went all-out on the costumes, which made it even more fun.

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The Hubs is exceptional at accents, and he maintained a great Chicago gangster accent all evening–quite the accomplishment.

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My husband went to a week-long teacher development class at Harvard, and I caught a cheap flight out to Boston to join him for a few days.

The flight out was eventful, which is something desirable in stories but not in real life. I was supposed to connect in Newark and then go on to Boston, but as we landed, the pilot told us we were not in fact in Newark, but were in Philadelphia, because there might be a fire in our cargo hold. Fire trucks zipped up to the plane, and we were told to stay in our seats with our seat belts buckled, which is exactly the opposite of what I would want to do if I were on a burning plane. Fortunately, they couldn’t find a fire, so we were taken to a hastily cleared gate. From there, less fortunately, we had to take a bus to Newark, since Philadelphia thought it was nice we stopped by for an unscheduled visit but had no plane to give us to get us to Newark. After a lengthy bus ride to Newark, I finally caught another flight to Boston and got in about 5 hours after I had intended. But the plane didn’t explode, so that was nice.

On my first day, I visited the Longfellow House/Washington’s Quarters in Cambridge.

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Looking good for its age.

Lots of cool history here! For example, the smithy from Longfellow’s poem lived just down the street, and when the chestnut tree in the yard was cut down, the neighborhood children were quite upset. Longfellow had a chair made out of the chestnut tree and invited the kids to come by and sit in it and get a free copy of the poem. Long before Longfellow, Washington occupied this house during the siege of Boston in 1775-1776.

I met my husband and some of his coworkers for lunch at Darwin’s Ltd. (yummy) and spent some time in Goorin Bros. Hat Shop. I puzzled out the subway system enough to get myself over to Brattle Books, a book store established in 1825 featuring rare old books. The interior was great, but my favorite part was the outside book lot:

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Now that’s what I’m talking about.

I bought an Ellery Queen mystery for $1 and read it in the grass at Boston Common before meeting my husband for dinner in Chinatown. Lovely day!

The next day I met up with my mother’s cousin, who is a nun with an infectious laugh and an impossibly upbeat attitude. Together we toured the Robert Shaw Memorial, Granary Burying Ground, King’s Chapel and King’s Chapel Burying Ground, and the Old State House.

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We took a Boston Massacre tour, walked around Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, and had a lovely time. At one point, someone doing interviews on the street asked us if we would share our thoughts on the feud between Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian. I said, “She’s a nun and I’m a bookworm, so we don’t really have an opinion.” He turned on his heel pretty quickly.

That evening, we met up with my husband for dinner at Warren’s Tavern, a favorite watering hole for many a founding father, which was named after Dr. Joseph Warren who was killed at the battle of Bunker Hill.

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Looking a little worse for wear after a long, hot day of walking, but happily full of good food!

My flight home on Friday morning was uneventful, but my husband’s flight that evening was terribly delayed, so I picked him up from the airport after 2:00am. Tired folks! See you next time, Beantown.

You seem to have stumbled upon a storytelling of ravens. Watch for falling collective nouns; you may find a wing of dragons or a charm of hummingbirds caught in your hair. Hardhats are recommended.

my read shelf:
Stephanie Ricker's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)