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December in April

No, this post isn’t about the weather (even if it has been unseasonably cold lately).  On Saturday, I had a long-cherished dream come true for me, and I want to tell you all about it.  This is a completely rambling and self-indulgent post, so buckle up.

I saw The Decemberists!  I have been listening, dancing, and living to the beat of Colin Meloy, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query, Chris Funk and John Moen for [lucky] thirteen years now – they’re my favorite band (or at least my favorite currently-active band, since my beloved R.E.M. betrayed me by breaking up before I got to see them play live) but I never thought I’d actually get to see them in person.  Until January, when I realized that they’d be making a stop at the Anthem in D.C. on their Your Girl / Your Ghost tour.  Tickets for the VIP fan experience went on sale two days later and I was READY.

The VIP experience was incredible and worth every penny of the more expensive ticket price.  It started at 4:00 p.m. with sound check, then the band played two songs for the fans and answered a bunch of questions (no one asked them what their favorite books were, which was disappointing, but one person asked what musical they would like to put on – since their songs are very melodramatic and theatrical – and they answered Jesus Christ Superstar).

There were only a handful of people with VIP tickets, so it was a really fun and intimate way to engage with the band.  I was there on my own – Steve was waiting for the babysitter, and was joining me for the concert later, and I was sad he missed it, because he would have loved it.

I was basically weeping with the joy of being less than ten feet from Colin Meloy.  You guys.  I WAS LESS THAN TEN FEET FROM COLIN MELOY.

They played The Crane Wife, Part 3, which is one of my favorite songs – and an old one, from their 2006 album.  I started listening to The Decemberists in 2005, so The Crane Wife was the first album of theirs that I bought on release day, and I fell hard and fast for it.  Hearing The Crane Wife, Part 3 played live LESS THAN TEN FEET FROM MY EARS (we do need to keep focusing on that part) was a thrill I never expected to experience.

After the “VIP fan experience” was over, we were ushered out of the venue and back into the rather disorienting sunlight, and told that we’d be getting a fifteen minute head start on the rest of the crowd if we came back to the VIP door before showtime.  Since the floor was flat and our tickets were for general admission, this was a very big deal to 5’0″ me.  My miniature self was not going to see anything unless I was right at Colin’s feet.  So I made it my mission to be one of the first people into the venue.  I spent a few minutes poking around Politics & Prose, then grabbed a sandwich, called Steve and got in line by the VIP door.  Steve arrived around 6:00 to join me in line, and we were about the fourteenth and fifteenth people into the venue.  I made a break for the stage and secured a spot along the front railing.  Mission accomplished.

Before long, the general admission doors opened and the folks poured in.  It’s funny, because whenever I make the mistake of mentioning my love for The Decemberists to my friends and family, I’m invariably met with blank stares, and sometimes a “Who?!”  But clearly, there are other Decemberists fans in D.C.  I was with my people.

Two things: (1) the Anthem is a super cool new performance venue!  We loved it and will definitely be back – not in a month for Fleet Foxes, as cool as that would be, but we will be back; and (2) you know you’re at a Decemberists concert when a not-insubstantial percentage of the crowd whips their books out while waiting for the opening band and between acts.  I saw a lot of mystery novels – unsurprising, given the band’s fondness for singing about murder and espionage – including a British edition of Dorothy L. Sayers in the row behind me; its owner and I engaged in an animated conversation about the importance of having one’s books match on the shelf.  And then it was time to put the books away, because–

Colin!  Jenny!  Nate!  My face made lots of excited noises.

You guys. It was. The show. Of a lifetime. They played all but one of the songs off their new album, I’ll Be Your Girl – which delighted me, because I have been listening to it pretty much nonstop since it dropped, and I really love it. (It doesn’t top 2011’s The King is Dead, for me, but nothing could. It’s close, though.) But they mixed in a ton of old stuff, too – Rox in the Box from The King is Dead; The Shankill Butchers, O Valencia! and Yankee Bayonet from The Crane Wife, and more. (Colin introduced Yankee Bayonet by asking the crowd “Who wants to hear a ghost story?” and then – not getting the wild cheers he was clearly expecting – “That was kind of a tepid response. What if it’s a Civil War ghost story?”) And there was a spirited rendition of The Bagman’s Gambit, which was a huge hit with the crowd because, dude, D.C. – the lines “on the steps of the Capitol” and “I was working for the government” and “in a bathroom stall off the National Mall” got the biggest cheers.  (Colin even stopped singing to reflect: “You guys really like bathroom stalls.  I don’t even know if there are bathroom stalls off the National Mall.  Are there?  Or did the Republicans take them away?”)

The band’s audience interaction was really on point.  After the final chord of Cutting Stone died away, Colin mused, “The last song was about a cutting stone but this next one is about cutting… people.”  Sensing mayhem of the Shankill Butchers variety, the crowd roared.  “I thought you’d like that,” Colin deadpanned back.  Later on, he announced that we were going to have “a little State of the Union” before launching into Everything is Awful, which he turned into a call-and-response concluding with “A heterosexual white male telling you that things are awful!” – to which the crowd sang back “la da da da da, la da da da AWFUL!”

They also had the whole venue singing along to Sons and Daughters, another old favorite; “it’s really better as a singalong with as many people as possible; let’s sing so loud they hear us on Capitol Hill,” Colin urged, and then seven thousand people sang in one voice, “hear all the bombs, they fade away,” and I don’t think I was the only one who was moved to tears.

I’m going on and on and on – and on – here, but this concert was a dream come true for me.  Or not even a dream come true, because even in my wildest concertgoing dreams, I don’t have a spot right by the stage.  And the best part was – the band gained another fan on Saturday.  Steve was vaguely aware of their existence, mainly from listening when I occasionally turn them on in the car.  (They’re my go-to music for all occasions, but I generally only inflict my own taste on Steve when I think I can definitely get away with it, i.e., when I’m on the way to the hospital to have a baby.)  But he was cramming for the show, listening to their newest album and really liking it, for the month leading up to the concert – and when we left the venue, his grin was almost as big as mine.  (He did say it was the chillest concert he’d ever been to, which I chose to take as a compliment.)  I’m telling you, guys.  There’s something about this band, when they can create a brand-new fan with a full night of sea shanties, Civil War ballads, and working in vocab like liminalaugurtrystpurloined and dirigible – all words they sang on Saturday.

It also didn’t hurt that they performed Ben Franklin’s Song, lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and sent to Meloy by Miranda after Ben was cut from Hamilton.  Lin wrote the words, Colin and the folks wrote the music.  Because, according to Colin, “Lin-Manuel Miranda gets whatever he wants,” and “he apparently wanted Ben Franklin’s Song to be Decemberist-y.”  Steve is a huge #Hamilfan, and this gave The Decemberists instant cred.  And they’ve been featured on our favorite show, Parks and Recreation, which sealed the deal.  Well – actually, I think their new song, Severed, was what really sealed the deal for Steve.  But I don’t care what it was – my husband now loves my favorite band.  That’s good enough for me.

I told you this was going to be self-indulgent.  But I can’t stop myself waxing rhapsodic about this band.  They have been the soundtrack to my life for thirteen years.  I’ve spent a lot of time belting out their songs in the car, dancing to them on the rare occasions I’m home alone, and hearing Colin Meloy’s voice in my head at every epic moment in my adult life.  (Except for law school graduation, which was narrated by The Shins.  But that’s a story for another day.)

So I’ll leave this long, rambling love letter to The Decemberists as they left us, with The Mariner’s Revenge Song, the finale from Saturday night (and I suspect the finale of every concert, because what a way to go out, right?).  I highly recommend watching this whole video.  But if you only have a few minutes to spare, fast-forward to about minute 6.  Right before the “screaming like you’re being swallowed by a whale” begins.

What’s your favorite band?  How much do we love The Decemberists?

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Alright, alright, it’s Monday, so fine.  I guess we will do this.  Even though all I really want to do is rewind the clock and go back to Saturday night, which I spent dancing and singing along with my husband in the front row at a Decemberists concert.  And feeling like the luckiest girl alive, even after a rough, rough Saturday full of Peanut tantrums and legal research.  It was all worth it to see my favorite band strumming away at songs I’ve loved since 2005.  And to share it with Steve, who normally doesn’t agree with my taste in music, but who is a newly-minted Decemberists fan after a fabulous night.  I’ll tell you all about it on Wednesday, though, because I just had to relive the whole thing in an epic long blog post (almost as long as one of the Decemberists’ twelve-minute mini rock opera extravaganzas).  Sunday was a fun day, too.  For one thing, I wore my concert t-shirt from the night before.  For another, it was a gorgeous day and we spent the morning at Mount Vernon with my parents and our dear family friends.  Of course there was a steady soundtrack of Decemberists tunes playing in my head all day – but that’s not actually that different from every day.

  

Reading.  I’m having just the loveliest, most serene reading streak.  Earlier in the week, I blazed through My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues.  I love a good bibliomemoir, and this one was really enjoyable.  Then I picked up another library book, which I was really excited about reading, but put it down after one chapter because it was riddled with expletives and I just wasn’t in the mood.  I turned to Life in the Garden, Penelope Lively’s garden-memoir-slash-history-slash-literary-exploration and am loving it.  (Plus, look at that cover.)  Along with it, I’m almost done with the current Slightly Foxed and have been inspired to pick up Swann’s Way based on one of the articles.  It probably won’t happen anytime soon, but the idea is percolating.

Watching.  Had a fun discovery this week, thanks to a Facebook video share in the Drunk Janeites group I frequent – Cunk on Britain.  For the uninitiated, there are just a few episodes available on this side of the Pond (via YouTube, so free!) but it’s a mockumentary-style progression through the history of the British Isles, starring the hilarious Diane Morgan as historian Philomena Cunk, whose take on history is brilliant and side-splitting.  (A sample: “Henry of Eight was best known for his chronic wife addiction.  He had six wives, all called Catherine.  He was a Catherine-oholic, or Catholic for short.  After he killed all six Catherines, he got bored of killing wives and he had to come up with a new way to get rid of them, so he invented divorce.  The Pope didn’t like that, so Henry divorced him and invented a new religion, which is easier to do than Popes like to pretend.”)  You get the drift.  And she delivers her lines completely deadpan, in the brogue-iest of Yorkshire brogues.  It’s madcap and wonderful.  Go watch it!  Cunk on Britain.

Listening.  Some podcasts, probably, but more to the point, I am listening to The Decemberists.  All the time.  Sometimes (like on Saturday night) I am listening to them LIVE IN CONCERT!  Other times, I am listening on my earbuds, and other times I am just listening to the soundtrack in my head, which is mostly selections from The King is Dead.  I will tell you all about the concert (literally, I am going to tell you all about it) on Wednesday, so get ready.

Moving.  Well, there was a lot of dancing on Saturday.  And a lot of walking on Sunday.  I’m a weekend warrior at the moment, and not even a very enthusiastic warrior.  But if Peanut keeps having tantrums like she did all day (ALL DAY) Saturday, I’ll probably resume my running habit just to get away from the house.

Blogging.  Going to be a fun week.  Gigantic recap of Saturday’s concert coming to you on Wednesday, and on Friday I’ll have one more poem to close out National Poetry Month.  No teasers for you this week, because I haven’t chosen a poem yet.  I was planning to end with Tennyson, but his poems are loooooooong, man.  So we’ll see.

Loving.  I will be a broken record for awhile, but this week I am especially loving The Decemberists, after that incredible concert.  I could barely sleep on Saturday night for being so happy, and on Sunday I promptly downloaded the few items I had on CD only or didn’t have at all, so I could keep binging on their special brand of literary reference-peppered indie folk rock baroque pop.  Man, I just love them so much.

Asking.  How totally right am I that The Decemberists are the best band currently playing?

WEATHER REPORT

The home thermometer last night
Went down to 4 and stayed,
Doing all this by Fahrenheit
And not by Centigrade;
Subtracting 4 from 32
One estimates with ease
We had a frost the whole night through
Of 28 degrees.

The war has spoilt a lot of things;
We’re full of “rights” and “wrongs;”
And almost everybody sings
The most appalling songs;
But what infuriates me most
Is simply that I’ve lost
The opportunity to boast
About my “second” frost.

For in the happy days of old
One scanned the news to see
If Littlehampton were as cold
Or Looe as hot, as we.
But now comparison is gone–
Not least of Hitler’s crimes
Is that he put the kybosh on
The weather in The Times.

Ah me! those spirited reports
(“Sunny A.M., but cool”)
From all the popular resorts–
E.g., from Pontypool.
How much allure a breakfast lacks
Unable to begin
With temperatures min. and max.,
Particularly min.

I crack the still unrationed egg,
I carve the rationed ham,
I know it’s cold in Winnipeg
And cold in Amsterdam.
I munch the sparsely-buttered toast,
I stir the tasteless tea,
But know not (what intrigues me most)
The min. at Brightlingsea.

The home thermometer went down
To 4; it really did.
Can Colchester or Camden Town
Produce a lower bid?
Thermometers at Heckmondwike
Of similar design–
Can they show mins. remotely like
This minimum of mine?

Penarth and Peebles, what of them?
They have their frosty spells;
And doubtless it is “cold A.M.”
At Troon and Tunbridge Wells;
It may be that Aldershot
A heat wave has begun.
I doubt it.  But it matters not–
The war has spoilt the fun.

So, just to keep the record right,
I’ll mention it once more.
The home thermometer last night
Went firmly down to 4.
Which 4 must stand alone.  Ah, me!
The triumph I have missed with
No hopeful 5 from Bridge of Dee,
No 6 from Aberystwyth!

 ~ A. A. Milne, 1940

I have been on a bit of a World War II poetry jag – if you can call two books of war poetry a jag.  One of the two was A. A. Milne’s Behind the Lines, a sort of memoir-in-verse of the first nine months of the war.  Milne structures the book as a book entirely of poetry, with some end notes – no more than a paragraph – after each poem, in case the reader wants to know what was on his mind when he was writing the verses in question.  (In the introduction, Milne helpfully points out that if one is in a hurry, one can skip the explanations.  Because sometimes you just HAVE to get to the next poem, amirite?!)  Anyway, “Weather Report” is my favorite of the bunch, because it strikes me as The Most English Thing Ever, to take things like rationing and blackouts in stride but to draw the line at not being able to engage in forecast-related one-upsmanship with the next village over.  Don’t worry too much about Milne, though.  In his notes after “Weather Report,” he gleefully notes that he has two thermometers that often show different readings (which he speculates might be due to one being closer to sea level? or newer?) so he is still able to talk temperatures with the gardener.  I know you were concerned.

Spring in Virginia is truly glorious – and I say that as someone who considers it my fourth favorite season (allergies, mud, rain) – even for me, there are delights to be savored.  Not least of the delights: the Bluebell Loop Trail at Bull Run-Occoquan Regional Park.  I’m sure it’s a pretty walk year-round, but during the one or two weeks per year when the bluebells are in season, it’s something very special indeed.

Shall we embark?  To get to the bluebells, you’ve first got to cross over a long boardwalk that takes you back, away from the road and into the woods.

Juuuuuuuust when you’re beginning to wonder where they are, they appear!  Thousands of bluebells, stretching as far as the eye can see in every direction.

As Peanut said: “It’s like being inside a Monet painting, Mommy!”

Just off the trail is a sweetly bubbling brook, straight out of the Hundred Acre Wood or Avonlea, with thousands more bluebells growing riotously all over the bank and back into the woods.

I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves.  They can communicate the beauty of the trail far better than my poor words can.

Such sweetness.

And such gorgeousness!  We walked along slowly, savoring every glimpse of blue, because it’ll have to last us a year.  The bluebell season may be short-lived, but it’s a favorite spring tradition for us, and we’ll be visiting this trail every spring for as long as we live here.

Do you have a favorite annual hiking tradition?

Hello, hello, hello.  Hello, new week.  I am not ready for you – am I ever?  I gave myself almost a three-day weekend, taking Friday morning off to hike.  (WHAT?!)  The bluebells on the Bluebell Loop Trail were peaking this weekend, but Sunday’s weather looked gross and we had Saturday plans, and I’ve been working so much lately, so we said “the heck with it!” and took advantage of the stunning weather on Friday morning to go traipsing through the bluebells.  (Pictures on Wednesday.)  I was back at the keyboard on Friday afternoon, but it was such a relaxing way to ease into the weekend.  Saturday was another glorious one, but I spent most of the morning indoors – Peanut and I had tickets to Disney on Ice.  (I hear those thuds of you all falling off your chairs at once.  Be a little subtle, people.)  Peanut had been begging for months, and I finally caved, so on Saturday morning Steve packed Nugget off for a haircut and a trip to the zoo while Peanut and I drove out to Fairfax to see the show.  It was totally overwhelming and I’d be lying if I said it was fun for me, but Peanut loved every second and that’s what counts.  The things we do for the kiddos we love, right?  Sunday was dreary, but we squeezed in another short hike at Mount Vernon in the morning – the animals are out! – sprinting for the car just as the skies opened up.  We spent the afternoon and evening cuddled up at home – reading, napping and baking banana muffins.  Ahhhhh.

 

Reading.  Such a fun reading week, y’all.  I started the week by finishing up The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (nominally the sequel to 84, Charing Cross Road) and loved it.  Then I tore through It’s Hard to be Hip Over Thirty: And Other Tragedies of Married Life in one day – funny and heartfelt poems about marriage and motherhood in the 1960s.  On Tuesday, my copy of Space Opera arrived – a publication-day delivery, as Catherynne M. Valente is an automatic pre-order for me.  I’ve been slowly working my way through it, savoring her beautiful writing and wacky imagination, all week.

Watching.  Not very much.  Yesterday Steve lamented that we are not currently in the middle of any shows, and nothing looks particularly likely or appealing right now.  (We could resume Grantchester, but we’d have to dig up the BluRay.)  I’ve been in the mood for light ‘n funny, so when we do curl up with a TV show, it’s old standby Parks and Recreation.  We’re just watching random re-runs.  (Sexy Dexy strikes again!)

Listening.  A smattering of book podcasts (I’m forever catching up) and plenty of Decemberists.  The concert’s next week!

Moving.  Two hikes this week have definitely helped my step totals.  Mount Vernon is surprisingly hilly, too.  Other than that – once again – not enough.  I spend way too much time wishing I had a more flexible schedule or just a little bit of time to myself to run or do yoga, but it’s just not happening.  I’m relying on walking and hiking, and chasing Nugget around various playgrounds, right now.  The good news is my Fitbit thinks I exercise.  So I guess that toddler-chasing must be getting my heart rate up from time to time.

Blogging.  Bluebell pictures on Wednesday, and another poem on Friday.  (It’s a fun poem and a bit silly – I hope you like it.)

Loving.  I have really been enjoying the “Tea Reads” podcast series from Miranda and Sophie of the Tea & Tattle Podcast.  The episodes themselves are bite-sized (ten to twelve minutes each) and each one focuses on a short read – generally an article or poem – that can be completed in the amount of time it takes to drink a cup of tea (hence the name of the series).  I loved Miranda and Sophie’s discussions of a Financial Times article on bibliomemoirs (and was inspired to seek out My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues, one of the titles Miranda mentioned) and their comments on a John Betjeman poem about railway travel (I’ve not read any Betjeman yet, but I have two of his books – Summoned by Bells and Tennis Whites and Teacakes – and both are high on my list).  There’s a new “Tea Reads” up featuring Mary Oliver, and I will definitely be savoring that one this week.

Asking.  What are you reading lately?

i am a little church

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
–i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth’s own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope, and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)

~e.e. cummings

I’ve posted this before but I can’t resist posting it again, because it’s a favorite of mine, and it contains the line I love best of all the poetry I’ve read (which, admittedly, is not much): “i wake to a perfect patience of mountains.”  There are plenty of articles and books and blog posts that analyze this one; I’m not going to do that.  I’m just going to say that I think this poem comes closer to saying all that needs to be said than pretty much anything else ever written.

Reading Round-Up Header

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby.  I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book.  Here are my reads for March, 2018

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?, by Kathleen Collins – I’m not sure how I happened upon this slim volume of short stories, but I’m glad I did.  Collins was an African-American playwright and filmmaker, apparently quite widely known, and very well-regarded, in the world of drama, theatre and film.  Since that is decidedly not my world, I’d never heard of her until I learned of this book, published posthumously.  In it, Collins writes of people like herself – artists, living in New York City, making their way through relationships and ambition and the social scene.  The writing is luminous and the characters are fully realized, which is a hard thing to do in the short story format.  Short stories are, as you all know, not my favorite – but I really enjoyed this.

Winter in Thrush Green (Thrush Green #2), by Miss Read – There is really nothing I like better than a big cup of tea and a meander through one of Miss Read’s beautifully drawn English villages.  In this installment of the Thrush Green series, the reader is taken through a change of seasons in the village, and with it, some changes in the faces from the last book.  As autumn settles in, Ben and Molly Curdle are married but gone, off traveling with Curdle’s Fair.  Dr. Lovell has taken over the medical practice, married Ruth, and the two are expecting their first baby.  There’s drama – a new neighbor and a possible romance for the vicar, plus someone has bashed the schoolteacher over the head and stolen her jewelry box; Paul Young suspects Sam Curdle.  There’s joy in the Lovells’ new little one and in love for the widowed vicar at last.  And once winter settles in, there’s snow and a daring rescue of Dotty Harmer from her cottage.  In short, everything you could want.

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America, by Morgan Jerkins – Hmmmm.  What to say about this book?  I had heard wonderful things and it mostly lived up to the hype.  I like the personal essay as a literary genre, and I am particularly interested in reading about the experiences of women of color.  There’s no doubt that Jerkins is an incredibly talented writer, and I found most of the essays in this collection informative and moving.  I thought that her essays about race were the best; the female and feminism-focused essays were not quite as strong, in my opinion.  I did try to keep in mind that I was reading about someone else’s experience, and that her reactions to certain things (like breakups) were different from what mine would be because she was coming to them with a different set of life experiences.  There was one essay, though – about a medical procedure, and you’ll know what I’m referring to if you’ve read the book – that I cannot un-read.  And I really wish I could.

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff – So, I just had to read this because everyone in D.C. is talking about it.  I’m not sure what to say about it here, though – seems to me that everything has been said.  I’ll just note that while certain details in the book (i.e. confusing Mike Berman and Mark Berman in the Four Seasons breakfast scene, and misidentifying Wilbur Ross as the nominee to head DOL, when in fact he was nominated for Commerce) are incorrect – likely a function of rushing the book to publication – if even a third of what Wolff writes is true, dayum.  And not in a good way.  I really wish I hadn’t had occasion to read Fire and Fury.  I wish I worked in a Washington, D.C. that was going about its regular business under President Hillary Clinton.  I wish my friends who are career government employees (and I know a lot of them – thanks to law school and my own stint at DOL I have friends or acquaintances at DOL, Commerce, Justice, Education, State, GSA and quite a few of the smaller agencies) weren’t so downtrodden and depressed, and that the rest of us weren’t constantly reevaluating our emergency plans.  But I wasn’t not going to read this book.

Young Jane Young, by Gabrielle Zevin – I was heartily sick of politics by the time I finished Fire and Fury, but library deadlines dictated that I had to tackle Young Jane Young next.  Fortunately, it was a fast and fun read and it only took me a day.  Jane Young wasn’t always Jane Young.  Years ago, she was Aviva Grossman, a Congressional intern who had an affair with her married boss.  The affair came to light, of course, as they so often do, and Aviva took the fall while the Congressman emerged unscathed.  Finding herself unemployable, Aviva changed her name, moved to Maine and became a wedding planner.  But now she has decided to run for Mayor of her small town – against a notorious local jerk – and the truth is bound to come out.  So, I found Young Jane Young engaging but the central plot was kind of unbelievable.  Not the affair part – see above, I live in D.C., I can totally believe that everyone in Congress is having affairs – but I just couldn’t believe that Jane ran for public office.  I get that she loved politics and that the other guy would’ve been a nightmare, but she spent eighteen years keeping her head down and her identity a secret, and then threw it away?  Does not compute.

Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, by Carl Safina – This one had been on my list for a long time.  Safina is a conservationist writer who is clearly passionate about what he does and has some serious writing skill, too.  Beyond Words is organized into four sections: there are sections on elephants, wolves, and killer whales, and somewhat confusingly a section on Safina’s dogs and the sea birds near his home (interesting, but could have been condensed into an introduction or epilogue; jammed in the middle as it was, it kind of broke up the rhythm).  Safina analyzes animal social behaviors and spends considerable time interviewing experts to conclude that these animals are “who” animals – they have their own family lives, means of communicating (killer whales have distinct language that varies by group, which is a documented fact), and emotions.  I thought Beyond Words was beautiful, moving, sad and inspiring.

African Short Stories, ed. Chinua Achebe – I have been meaning to read Achebe’s classic, Things Fall Apart, but I thought this collection of short stories, collected and edited by him and to which he contributed one story, would be a good place to start.  I liked, but didn’t love it.  The main weakness of the collection is that the quality of the stories is extremely uneven.  There are some – such as Achebe’s offering, and one by Jomo Kenyatta – that are really breathtaking and outstanding.  There are others that are sort of middling, and a few that are just really, really bad and one that was completely unreadable – as if the idea was to go for a Ulysses-style effect, but without the skill or panache of James Joyce (and I am not a Bloomfan).  It’s a short book, so not a huge time commitment, but I have to think there are better collections featuring African writers.

Slightly Foxed, Volume 3: Sharks, Otters and Fast Cars, ed. Gail Pikris – My slow read-through of all the back issues of Slightly Foxed continues.  To be honest, I don’t remember much about this one, beyond the titular essay on a biography of Gavin Maxwell, who sounds like a real character.  (It didn’t make me want to seek out the biography, but I did note that the Folio Society publishes Maxwell’s A Ring of Bright Water and Slightly Foxed has his memoir.)  The other essays were a little less memorable – I think the magazine is still hitting its stride in issue 3, and clearly it has done so, as issue 57 just arrived on my doorstep not long ago.  But Slightly Foxed does offer reliably excellent writing, and each issue contributes a few more titles to my inflated TBR.

Love, Hate and Other Filters, by Samir Ahmed – I came to this one hoping it would be 2018’s answer to The Hate U Give.  I’m not sure it’s quite in those heights, but it was still excellent.  Maya Aziz is a high school senior who loves filmmaking, dreams of studying at NYU, and is crushing on the captain of the football team (of course).  But she’s also Indian, and she’s not sure how to tell her strict parents that she doesn’t want to go to college close to home and become a lawyer.  (Don’t be a lawyer, Maya!)  And she’s Muslim, and finds herself and her family in danger when a terrorist attack a few hundreds of miles away brings out the latent hate in her own community.  So – I liked this, but as I said, it wasn’t quite at the level of The Hate U Give.  There was a tiny bit too much romance – I counted three possible love interests for Maya – and it distracted from the more important issues that Maya was dealing with.  Still a great read, and I blew through it in 24 hours.

1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, by W.C. Sellar and R.J. Yeatman – I had kind of a rough week at the end of the month – nothing serious, just a couple of disappointments – and needed some levity, and 1066 and All That fit the bill perfectly.  Sellar and Yeatman present a madcap journey through British history, from the Romans to World War II.  Along the way we learn about the Magna Charter (a Good Thing), efforts to amuse Queen Victoria (a Good Queen), Mary Queen of Hearts (a Romantic Queen), Anne of Cloves, and more.  There were also “test papers” after each chapter, asking questions like “What convinced you that Henry VIII had VIII wives?  Was it worth it?”  It was a lot of fun, and I giggled throughout.

In looking these over, I had a busy March in books – and I spent more than a week on Beyond Words, because it’s long and complex and happened to hit during a particularly busy week at work.  Looking back, I think Beyond Words was also the highlight of the month, although I also really enjoyed the time I spent with Love, Hate and Other Filters and 1066 and All That, and no hours with the Slightly Foxed quarterly are ever wasted hours.  On deck, I have some excellent stuff to share.  April is National Poetry Month, and I’m on a major poetry kick at the moment, and have read some really lovely volumes already this month.  More to come!