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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 November, 2016

my-brilliant-friendMy Brilliant Friend (The Neapolitan Novels #1), by Elena Ferrante – My second attempt at catching Ferrante Fever was much more successful!  I’d tried to read My Brilliant Friend awhile back and gave it up after about 50 pages.  This time, I pushed through to that magic 100-page mark and found, just as I’d hoped, that the story hooked me.  Elena and Lila are two friends growing up in a tough Naples neighborhood in the 1950s and 60s.  My Brilliant Friend follows them through childhood and adolescence, as Lila changes from the scrappy ugly duckling into the beautiful, desired swan, and Lena struggles to hold onto her own identity outside of the friendship.  I loved this and can’t wait to whittle down my library pile so I can get to the next in the series.

the-fire-this-timeThe Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, ed. Jesmyn Ward – I’d heard great things about this book of essays, collected from some of the most brilliant writers of color working today, and it was every bit as astonishing as I’d been told.  The Fire This Time is a hard look at the experience of being black in today’s America, and it can be fairly uncomfortable to read as a white reader.  But I am firmly of the opinion that we all need to be made uncomfortable periodically, and that The Fire This Time is a necessary, bold, brilliant book that should be on every American’s reading list, no matter the color of their skin – but especially those out there who need to be reminded of the personhood of others.  Which, sadly, seems to be a lot of people these days.

crowned-and-dangerousCrowned and Dangerous (Her Royal Spyness #10), by Rhys Bowen – As I often do after finishing a particularly hard or wrenching read, I reached for a cozy mystery as a palate cleanser.  This time, it was Crowned and Dangerous, the most recent installment in the adventures of Lady Georgianna Rannoch.  When we last left Georgie, she was speeding toward Gretna Green with her true love, Darcy O’Mara.  Sadly, this volume finds Georgie and Darcy foiled in their attempts to elope when Darcy spots a newspaper article reporting that his father has been arrested for murdering the rich American to whom the ancestral O’Mara home – Kilhenny Castle – has been sold.  Darcy immediately rushes off to Ireland to see what can be done for Lord Kilhenny, and Georgie follows soon after.  I love Georgie and Darcy as a crime-solving duo, and this was a fun ride.  Can’t wait to see what Georgie gets up to next!  (Can she move back into Kensington Palace, please?)

before-we-visit-the-goddess-9781476792002_hrBefore We Visit the Goddess, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni – I’d read another of Divakaruni’s lovely, lyrical novels – The Palace of Illusions – a few years ago and was delighted to learn of this new release.  Before We Visit the Goddess tracks the relationships of three generations of mothers and daughters – Sabatri, elderly and ailing back in India; Bela, recently divorced and lonely in America; and Tara, Bela’s lost and dysfunctional daughter.  It was a slim but lovely novel, bittersweet throughout.

22698568The Invasion of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling #2), by Erika Johansen – When we left the Tearling, the Mort army was at its gates, provoked into war by Queen Kelsea’s rash decision to undo a treaty signed by her mother, Queen Elyssa, which required the Tear to provide slaves to neighboring Mortmesne on a monthly basis.  Now the invasion has begun and as Queen Kelsea struggles to manage her court and evacuate her people from the Morts’ path, she begins to have visions of a time before the Crossing, and a woman named Lily.  Lily’s story is missing from Kelsea’s history books, but it is clear there is some connection between them, and this connection may hold the key to Kelsea’s ability to save the Tearling from destruction.  I really enjoyed The Invasion of the Tearling – after liking, but not loving, the first in the trilogy, I found this second installment riveting.  The Lily segments were particularly enthralling, bringing the dystopic elements of the story to the forefront as they did (and scaring me senseless after the election).  Now I am itching to read the conclusion of the trilogy (and have only Googled “The Fate of the Tearling release date” approximately seventeen million times).

the-fishermenThe Fishermen, by Chigozie Obioma – Four young brothers, taking advantage of their father’s extended absence for work, steal away from school to fish on the banks of a nearby river.  One day, the brothers encounter the local madman, who makes a prophecy that convinces the eldest of the brothers that he’s destined to be murdered by one of his other brothers.  The Fishermen takes the story of Cain and Abel and transplants it into Nigeria of recent times.  It’s a gory, blood-spattered story that only gets gorier and more blood-spattered as the pages turn.  I read it with my eyes popping out of my head and couldn’t look away, although it was not my usual reading material and definitely not for everyone.  (If you have a weak stomach, as I do, be forewarned.)  The Fishermen was very hyped around the time of its publication, and while it wasn’t really my cup of tea, I appreciated the outstanding writing and can definitely understand the accolades it received.

the-audacity-of-hopeThe Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, by Barack Obama – President Obama’s musings on the American dream and public policy had been on my to-read list for awhile, and I finally grabbed it from the library in mid-November.  I was craving some words of sanity after a completely insane election, and the President’s thoughtful, reasoned discussions of all aspects of American life, and the policies that govern them, were just what I needed to read.  It was fascinating to consider this book from the perspective that I now have, after eight years of the Obama Administration, knowing what he was able to achieve (same sex marriage! eliminating bin Laden!) in light of all the opposition with which he had to contend.  (And his words on the failure of the Republican legislators to make the compromises necessary to govern seemed clairvoyant.)  The Audacity of Hope gave me plenty to consider – and now I can’t wait for the presidential memoir that I’m sure is in the offing.

americanahAmericanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieAmericanah is the story of two lovers.  Obinze is Ifemelu’s first love, and he hers, but time has passed.  Ifemelu has been living in America, studying for advanced degrees and writing a popular blog called Raceteenth, examining race relations in America from the perspective of an outsider.  Obinze spent time in London but is now home in Nigeria and has made his fortune, married and welcomed a daughter.  When Ifemelu decides to return to Nigeria, she must confront changes in the country itself, and mirroring changes in her relationship with Obinze. So, this was a beautifully written and completely engrossing book. Adichie’s musings on race, class, immigration, politics and more are fascinating and well-formulated. My only complaint was that the book was a bit too long – in my opinion, the plot – while excellent – wasn’t quite hefty enough to carry almost 500 pages of text. Still, I loved every moment of the reading, and can’t recommend it highly enough.

I can’t believe we’re into December already! Seriously, where has the time gone?  November was a great reading month with some wonderful challenges to my perspectives from Jesmyn Ward and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, interspersed with good escapist reading (visits to the Tearling and with Lady Georgie!). The escapism was particularly welcome in light of how crummy reality was in November. And now, on to December. It’s looking like a busy month, what with the holidays, but I’ll make time for reading as I always do. I have ten books left to reach my goal of 100 for the year, so I will be feverishly turning pages until New Year’s Eve if that’s what it takes!

What was the best thing you read in November?

diverse kidlit

In 2016, I set a goal to read more diversely both to myself and aloud to my kids.  As this year has unfolded, celebrating our differences has become more important than ever.  2016 has brought unspeakable tragedies born out of hate and ignorance – and the best way I know to fight those evils is to read books celebrating love and diversity.  This month’s diverse kidlit choice is Thanking the Moon, by Grace Lin.

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Thanking the Moon is a sweet, simple depiction of a Chinese-American family celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival.  The Moon Festival is traditionally a harvest festival that is celebrated in accordance with the lunar calendar – this year it fell on September 15th.  Even though the festival date for 2016 is long past, Thanking the Moon seemed like a great pick for a month in which Americans celebrated our own harvest festival – Thanksgiving.  As we talked about what we were grateful for in our own lives, I made sure to share with Peanut that there are other traditions that celebrate harvest festivals and holidays focusing on gratitude.

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In Thanking the Moon, a family prepares to celebrate with a moonlight picnic.

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They begin by unpacking their picnic hampers – stuffed with mooncakes and pomelo, among other treats – and setting up an honor table.

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They also unpack festive decorations – including luminous lanterns.

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And a young girl prepares tea for the family.  Grace Lin is both the author and illustrator of this book, and I absolutely adore the loving lines of her illustrations.  The sky is alive with swirls, the gold glimmers on the young girl’s blouse, and the tea looks good enough to drink right from the page.

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The family sends the moon their message of thanks and their hopes for the year ahead – much like we, last week, reflected on the good things in our lives and our hopes for the future.

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The final illustration in the book pans out to show the hillside full of families celebrating with picnic hampers, honor tables, mooncakes and tea of their own.

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Even the endpapers of the book are exuberant, depicting a list of items for use in celebrating the Moon Festival.  (I spy Asian pears – my favorite fruit!)  Lin also helpfully includes a couple of pages of explanation of the Moon Festival holidays, for parents who don’t celebrate but wish to introduce their children to the holiday.

We have so enjoyed reading Thanking the Moon in this season of gratitude!  It’s been a delight to point out the lovely illustrations and spend time discovering – together – a holiday about which neither Peanut nor I knew much before picking up the book.  Lin is a phenomenally talented artist, and her charming illustrations make a perfect complement to the simple prose – no more is needed.  After reading Thanking the Moon I did some online research and discovered that the little family depicted in the book also stars in other Grace Lin books about Chinese and Asian holidays.  We’re definitely going to be checking those out!

What diverse books did you enjoy in November?

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Hey there, my friends.  Happy belated Thanksgiving to my American readers, and happy new week to everyone!  Hope you all had a wonderful weekend, and that those of you who were celebrating last week had a fun and safe holiday, filled with all the jellied cranberry sauce you could ever wish for.  Sorry for being out of touch last week!  We were called out of town for a family memorial service the weekend before Thanksgiving – our family suffered a loss which wasn’t entirely unexpected, but which still left us all bereft.  So it was good to all be together to remember as a family, and then to have a few more days together to reflect on what we are all thankful for.

In between all of the family and holiday stuff last week, I squeezed in a surprising amount of work (still not everything I’d hoped to get done – that never happens) and some fun.  Steve and I let my parents put the kids to bed one evening, and snuck away for a date night to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which we both LOVED.  And we had a lovely quiet Thanksgiving with my parents (well, quiet-ish; it couldn’t be entirely quiet when one of the dinner guests, who shall remain nameless, has exuberantly discovered “CHEERS!” – drinks everywhere – and also decided that it’s more fun to pile Thanksgiving food on your placemat than to actually eat it).  And on Friday, I spent a fabulous mamas-only day with my high school BFF.  We got coffee, ate pie for breakfast, and watched all four episodes of Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.  (We were able to do this without conflict, because we were both Team Logan.)  It was a refreshing week, spent with family and friends, and now it’s back to the grind.

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As for reading, I basically kept up my normal pace last week, which was pretty good considering it was a holiday week.  (The days when holidays meant laying around and reading for hours on end are in my past, and probably my future, but certainly not my present.)  After I finished The Invasion of the Tearling, I picked up The Fishermen, which I’d been wanting to read since it was released (last year?).  I liked it, but didn’t love it, so that was a bit of a bummer considering all the hype that it got.  Still very glad I read it!  The next book choice was a bit of serendipity that turned out to be just what I needed.  I’d meant to turn to Here I Am, the newest release from Jonathan Safran Foer (and a library hold I couldn’t renew).  But I finished The Fishermen in the car on the way to Albany, with several hours left in the journey, and Here I Am was packed in a bag in the trunk.  So instead I picked up The Audacity of Hope, President Obama’s well thought out, erudite musings on public policy (I’d checked it out of the library and it happened to be in the front seat pocket, well within reach when I needed it).  President Obama’s sensible, reasonable thoughts on the policies he believed we need most in order to lift the whole country were a joy to read, especially after an election season that has been anything but reasonable (and in light of the four years we have to look ahead to – ugh).  It was also fun to read the little snippets he gave into his life as a U.S. Senator – I’m now eagerly anticipating the memoir I’m sure is coming after he concludes his term as President.  The Audacity of Hope took me a little longer than usual to read, given all the family stuff we were doing at the same time, but I enjoyed every minute.  I finally finished it up on Thanksgiving day, and after a little shuffling decided to return a few library books unread (I can always check them out again, or that’s what I’m telling myself) and grabbed another book I’ve been meaning to read for ages – Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  I’m only about 100 pages in, but I am completely wrapped up in the story.  It’s turning out to be one of those books that I can just disappear into until something jolts me out of the gorgeous writing and I realize that an hour has passed while I was miles away in Nigeria.

Well, this was lengthy.  Even lengthier than usual, I think, which makes sense since I’ve been unplugged for a week!  I’ll leave it there.  Coming up this week on the blog, I’ve got plenty of fun bookish content.  On Wednesday, I’ll have my diverse kidlit pick for you – I’d hoped to get it up last Wednesday, but that didn’t happen.  Oh, well, Wednesday is still November, so we’re getting this one in just under the wire!  And on Friday, my November reading wrap-up – and then it’s full steam ahead into the holidays!

Happy Monday, my friends!  What books were you thankful for last week?

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As an inveterate reader, I’m always on the hunt for more books to add to my collection.  Sometimes I think Steve probably wonders why I bother to buy books, since I am also addicted to my local library.  What can I say?  I love using the library, but I also love seeing books lined up on my shelves, their spines neatly facing outward, reminding me of all the possibilities and new worlds for exploring from the comfort of my couch.  I’m choosy about the books I do buy – since I have limited shelf space and a limited budget, I want to make sure that the books I add to my collection are worthy of taking up room in the bookcase and dollars out of my wallet.  But there are so many books that meet that standard, that I am never lacking in options and no matter how many books I buy, my list never seems to get any shorter.  (Funny how that works.  I blame Penguin Random House, which keeps reprinting classics in beautiful new editions and taking my money.)

Since I try to be a generally responsible person, some time ago I decided to make a rule for myself: I am allowed to buy two books per month.  That’s two books regardless of the cost, so a Folio Society hardcover counts the same as, for example, a BL Crime Classics paperback in this exercise.

This seems like a reasonable rule to me.  It’s not as if I’m likely to run out of reading material on my own shelves – I have so many unread books already.  And even if I did, there’s always the library.  Restricting myself to a creep of only two books per month won’t slow down my actual reading pace at all.  And it gives me something to look forward to – I usually postpone buying the month’s books until the very last day, and spend all the days leading up to that in a delicious anticipation of trying to choose.  (I’m an INFP.  The process of examining all the possibilities is a thrill for me, particularly when it comes to new additions to my personal library.  It’s actually making the decision that is painful – even when I know that I’m going to have another bite at the apple in the next month.)

That said, I am also a lawyer.  So it is impossible for me to adhere to a book-buying rule without coming up with a host of loopholes that allow me to buy way more books than the actual rule says.  A rule is not worth the paper (or screen) it’s written on unless it has at least ten exceptions, amirite?  Here are mine:

  • Books that I pre-order don’t count.  I mean, how do you know what month to assign them to?  You can’t count a pre-order to the month in which you order it, because you’re not going to get it right away.  And you can’t count a pre-order to the month it’s paid for, because you didn’t order it that month.  Best to just exempt pre-orders from the rule, I think.  It’s too confusing otherwise.  And don’t you dare point out that you can pre-order a book during the month it’s released.  I reject your reality and substitute my own.
  • Comics don’t count.  Don’t ask me to explain why they shouldn’t.  Sometimes the Executive makes a rule or carves out an exception for no apparent reason.  Just chalk this one up to chaos.
  • Books I buy when I’m having a bad day don’t count.  If I’m struggling through a rough week, I should have a little retail therapy if I want and need it.  I wouldn’t buy a scarf and count it toward my monthly book total, so books bought under the same circumstances shouldn’t count, either.
  • Books I buy when I’m having a good day don’t count.  Sometimes I successfully get through a tough week, or I accomplish a goal I’ve been working towards, and I think I deserve a treat.  In this case, again, I don’t think that should count as a regular book purchase.  See scarf example, above.
  • Kindle books don’t count.  I mean, how would you even quantify this?  When I buy every book Elizabeth Gaskell has ever written for a total of $0.99 for the entire library, am I supposed to then refrain from buying books for the next year?  Don’t be silly.  (I will say, if I bought a new release on Kindle and paid something like $9.99 for it, I would count that.  But all I ever buy are classics for a dollar or two, or sale ebooks from Modern Mrs. Darcy‘s daily Great Kindle Deals emails.)
  • Books I buy for the kids don’t count.  Obviously, they’re not for me.
  • Books that I buy on vacation don’t count.  If I’m traveling and stop into a cute little indie bookstore, I give myself license to shop.  It’s souvenir shopping, okay?  If I ever make it to the Persephone or Folio Society bookshops in London, you can bet I will be leaving with an armload.
  • Books that I buy during the Folio Society’s semi-annual sale don’t count.  I shouldn’t even have to explain this, y’all.  Those deals come along twice a year at most.  If I can get a Folio Society hardcover edition on deep discount, and I passed up that chance, I’d fully expect my family members to have me committed.
  • Slightly Foxed back issues don’t count.  Because they’re not books!  They’re not books so it shouldn’t matter that they cost more than a lot of the books I would otherwise be buying.
  • Books I buy with birthday or Christmas money don’t count.  Again, I refer you to my scarf example.  If I got a windfall and used the money for a pretty scarf, I wouldn’t count it toward my monthly book quota, so books bought with gift money also get exempted.  (But what if I buy a scarf that is printed with text from a book, like my Jane Eyre scarf?  The head spins.  Best not to think about it and just buy more books instead.)
  • Books that I buy for special occasions don’t count.  If I buy a Penguin Christmas Classics edition (I think I’m still missing one) or a volume of poetry for National Poetry Month, those are exempted from the quota.  Because I said so.  (I did count Poems Bewitched and Haunted toward my October book quota, even though it is a Halloween book.  How virtuous am I?  I should probably reward myself for that good behavior by buying another book.)
  • Books from the library book sale don’t count.  I mean, $2.00 Nancy Drew hardbacks?  How am I supposed to keep track of that?
  • Catch-all exemption.  I don’t want to box myself in, so let’s just say if I have a good reason, as determined in my sole discretion, then it’s on like Donkey Kong.

To answer your question, no I don’t think that this list of exceptions is at all irrational or unmanageable.

Do you have a book-buying rule, or is it basically a free-for-all?

 

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Dear kids,

Last week, an important election took place.  You were only vaguely aware that it was happening – little girl, you knew, thanks to school, that something called an election was taking place and that Mommy hoped that Hillary would win.  But you almost certainly didn’t comprehend much more than that.  Little boy, you had no idea any of it was going on, because you’re not even two.  You’re just happy to be here.

Little girl, you know that Donald Trump was elected and that Mommy wasn’t happy about that.  You don’t know who Donald Trump is or why Mommy wanted the other candidate to win, and perhaps by the time you are old enough to understand, this election and the next few years will be an interesting chapter in your history book – about America losing its collective mind for awhile – and nothing more.  Perhaps we will have succeeded in bequeathing you a better world.  I hope so.

I have thought about what I would like to tell you – or the future versions of you – about this election.  I thought about not writing anything at all.  I thought about writing you something private, that I would share with only you.  (Future you, again, of course.)  But I think that I need to write this as much as you need to read it, so here it is.

First, some hard truths.

The 2016 election was a long and stressful season for everyone in America.  That’s true no matter what candidate they supported.  Ultimately, our candidate lost – but it was more than that.  This wasn’t a sporting event.  This wasn’t the Sabres (those poor Sabres) leaving us to console ourselves with another round of “maybe next year.”  This was more than the disappointment of a normal election cycle when your candidate loses.  The election of 2016 resulted in the elevation, to the highest office in the land, of a man who has openly bragged about sexually assaulting women, who has mocked the disabled and our veterans, who has built his empire on the backs of working people, who has gotten rich by refusing to honor his contracts with small business owners, who is proud of not paying federal taxes – that means he’s proud of not playing by the rules that Daddy and I have to play by and that you will one day have to play by – who has threatened to tear apart families, build walls, and turn away refugees (the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” that our Statue of Liberty vows to welcome) because of their religion.  These are not the values of our family.

We value honesty.  We value work.  We value respect.  We value the dignity of every human soul.  We value the right of our fellow Americans to speak freely and worship as they see fit.  We value the humanity of every one of our neighbors, no matter the pigment of their skin tone.  We value the marriages and families of our LGBTQ+ friends.  We value the fundamental right of all to live in peace and without fear.

These are our family values, and it is more important than ever that we hold them tight.

That said, I don’t want you to read this and think that everyone who voted for Donald Trump is bad, and everyone who voted for Hillary Clinton is good.  Lots of people who voted for Trump did so for reasons that have nothing to do with hate or bigotry.  Many people feel discouraged or forgotten, or they’re worried about their jobs.  I hope and believe that these people, who voted for Trump despite his rhetoric and not because of it, will speak up and tell him that they are going to hold him to the standards befitting the presidency.  Trump says that he wants to be president for all Americans – and I do hope he means that, although I am not optimistic and I am still deeply worried about your United States, kiddos.

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Next, some hard truths for you, little girl.

You are privileged in many ways.  You are a white, upper middle class child in an affluent suburb.  But you are also a girl, and someday you will grow up to be a woman and while I would love to shield you forever, there are certain things that will probably happen to you.

Let me give you an example.  A few weeks ago, I was crossing the street in front of our family dentist’s office.  I was in a hurry, because I was late for an appointment, and the light was about to turn – so I was rushing.  As I crossed the street, a man shouted “Smile!” at me.  I ignored him, because I am of the opinion that I do not owe smiles to every random stranger on the street.  Not getting what he wanted, he yelled out “Be polite!”  I (politely) continued to ignore him.  He then snarled, “Bitch.”

You will grow up someday, and you will probably also encounter strangers who believe that you owe them your beautiful smile.  You do not.  And if you choose to withhold it, you may also hear a foul word thrown your way.  You will probably do what I did – continue to ignore him, walk a little faster, and breathe easier when you reach the safety of the dentist’s office.

You may be mommy-tracked at work.  You may see a man with less experience get promoted over you.  You may be asked on dates by random guys on the street, guys who may get mean when you turn them down.  You may have someone grab you, not even ask, and “just start kissing” – as the new President-elect has gloated he does.  These are all things that have happened to me.  This was why I was so upset last Wednesday.  Because the election results made me feel as though half of my fellow Americans think that’s acceptable, and it is not.

Now, a promise for you.  Or really, a renewal of a promise, because this is what I told you when you were born:

I am your mom, and I will always be here for you.  I will smooth your path if I can.  I know where the stumbling blocks and holes are, because I walked up ahead to do reconnaissance for you.  I will hold your hand, I will be your guide if you’ll let me, and I will always have your back.  If you want to walk on your own for awhile, I’ll let you, but know that I’ll be right there on the path too, if you need company later.  I’ll never stop telling you that you are smart, and capable, and brave, and compassionate, and loved for the bright little person you are.  When Daddy sings you songs he’s made up about the Mars rover, he’s telling you that you’re smart.  When I read you stories about bold, brave, adventurous and independent girls like you, I’m telling you that you’re capable and strong and in no need of any prince to rescue you.  And if you ever need me to, I’ll put on my spikiest stilettos and kick some ass on your behalf.

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Your turn, little boy.  I have some hard truths for you, too.

You have been born into a world where you are going to have many advantages based entirely on the fact that you are white and male.  You are privileged beyond the wildest dreams of most of the rest of the world.  Like your sister, you are a white upper middle class child living in an affluent suburb.  But you have an advantage that she doesn’t: you’re a boy.  You’re going to grow up to be a white American man (probably), and as Peter Parker’s uncle would say, “with great power comes great responsibility.”  When you have privileges that you’ve done nothing to earn (and I say this with nothing but love in my heart for you, little one) you owe a duty to wield those privileges with compassion and honor.

So here’s my promise to you, again a renewal of the promise I whispered in your ear as I held you in my arms, only a few days old, watching snow fall outside of your nursery:

I will teach you to be a good, honorable, decent man.  I will teach you to respect all people, to acknowledge the humanity of everyone you meet, to treat the planet and its inhabitants with kindness and to behave with dignity toward women, people of color, our LGBTQ+ friends, and those who cherish religious beliefs that are different from yours.  In short, I will hold up Daddy as the example to follow.  I will show you how to walk with responsibility on our Earth, and I will do the same – I will do my part in passing down to you a home that is clean, fresh, and filled with as many whales as possible (because I love whales).  I will hold you accountable and I will demand that you be the best of men, because you are my son and I love you more than life.

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It’s been a rough week for many of us, and we’re in for a rough time ahead.  Our family is lucky in that we will probably emerge pretty much unscathed from this presidency.  I wish I could say the same for other families, and for the environment.  Close to home, I promise to do whatever I can to shield you from what the new President-elect represents (which shouldn’t be too terribly hard, because you’re babies).  I can’t shake the feeling that we really messed this one up.  Sometimes I catch myself wondering if I could have done more.  Yes I voted, and I’m proud of my vote – but could I have helped out in some other way?  I was so wrapped up in living, and working, and parenting, that perhaps I didn’t do enough.  I won’t be asleep at the switch anymore – that I promise you both.  We’re going to wake up tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and we’re going to declare with every action that our family believes in a diverse America, that we want to live in an America where all are welcome and all are safe, and we’re going to insist that our leaders protect our wild places and respect our neighbors.  Finally, we’re going to teach you to do the same, so that when you grow up, you can just look back on all of this and say, “that was weird.”

Love,

Mom

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Well, that was interesting.  So, how’d you all weather the election storm?  I’m guessing probably about as well as I did – which is to say you freaked out and fell screaming into a black hole of thinkpieces about the dismal fate of humanity.  As you all know, I have been a fan of HRC for a long time, and I proudly cast my vote for her on Tuesday – but despite our votes, and despite the fact that she’s up about 1.8 million votes in the popular vote total (with millions more ballots still to be counted, mostly on the stalwart blue West Coast) we have instead a President-elect who rode to office on a tide of bigotry and misogyny.  (Tell us how you really feel, Jac…)  Suffice it to say I’m disappointed, discouraged by an electoral system that has outlived its usefulness, horrified by the reports of people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, religious minorities and other groups being targeted for hate crimes and bullying and especially horrified by the President-elect’s refusal until the eleventh hour to disavow the crimes being committed in his name.  (And I think his disavowal was lukewarm when it did come.) We’re in for a really hard few years, friends.  A really hard few years.

Anyway, this weekend we mostly laid low.  I’m pretty beat down and depressed by the turn of events, and – very unusually for me – I didn’t want to do much.  I’m exhausted; Steve was traveling for work last week so I had to fly solo and balance the kids and work on my own without help for four days, which always takes a lot out of me.  Plus I haven’t slept too well in the past week – now why might that be?  So we just hung out at home, mostly.  We took a couple of walks around the neighborhood – including our usual weekly stroll to the library, and a walk down to the waterfront to see El Galeon, which has been visiting the harbor for the past week.  Other than that, I just wanted the comforts of home.  We did a lot of playing in the kids’ rooms, I worked on some unpacking and food prep, and we relaxed and tried to rest up for another week ahead.

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What with all the news pieces I have been reading this week, I haven’t spent much time in between the covers of an actual book.  I finished Crowned and Dangerous, the latest “Her Royal Spyness” mystery from Rhys Bowen, early in the week and enjoyed it very much, as I always enjoy a visit with Georgie.  On Tuesday I picked up Before We Visit the Goddess, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, whose 2012 book The Palace of Illusions I had read and loved.  (She has a long bibliography, as it turns out!  I’m going to have to seek out more of her work.  Her writing is so beautiful.)  Although Goddess is short – only just over 200 pages – it took me almost a week to finish, between watching election coverage, reading news article after news article, and general fretting (not to mention working full time and taking care of both kids full time while Steve was away last week).  I finally finished it late in the week and turned to the next new release on my library stack, The Invasion of the Tearling (second in the Tearling trilogy).  But I still can’t seem to focus, despite having loved the first book in the trilogy.  My library stack continues to grow and is totally out of control, so I have to buckle down, log off Facebook and block The Atlantic (I would never) and get to reading.

Hopefully I will be able to turn off the news and get back into my book world, because reading is the most comforting thing for me and so I really do need that.  When I do finally manage to sit down and read The Invasion of the Tearling, the next book on my agenda is (finally!!) Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen.  I’ve heard such wonderful things and I can’t wait to read it at last.  And after that – I don’t know!  Maybe Bloodline, the new book about Princess Leia.  Maybe something else.  We’ll see!

On the blog this week, some slightly more organized thoughts about the election on Wednesday – maybe; I’ve scheduled the post, but I could still change my mind and take it down – and then something light-hearted on Friday: my book-buying rule and a list of exceptions that render it basically meaningless!

How are you holding up this week, my friends?  And what are you reading?

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One of the most delightful discoveries of my new job is that my firm is populated with avid readers.  This is not a surprise – when I interviewed, one of the attorneys made a joke about Franz Kafka, and I instantly decided, these are my people.  But it’s been such a joy to find so many other book lovers at work and in two months at my new job I’ve already had more ecstatic water cooler conversations about Pride and Prejudice than in my entire career leading up to this job.  One of the most ardent readers I’ve met at this job is – again, no surprise here – the firm librarian, who works three doors down from my office.  It took about two weeks for me to discover that she is a true kindred spirit.  And it was she who told me about Will and Jane: Shakespeare, Austen and the Cult of Celebrity, a special exhibition on display for two months only at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

“They have The Shirt,” she reported breathlessly.

It’s on.

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Would you believe I’d actually never been to the Folger Shakespeare Library?  I had wanted to go for years, but didn’t make it in the entire time I lived in D.C. from 2003 to 2013.  Visiting the library was high on my list of things to do upon moving back, and a Jane Austen exhibit gave me the perfect excuse to go.  Not wanting to miss out, I dragged Steve and the kids out first thing on Saturday morning of the exhibition’s final weekend.

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I loaded Peanut in the stroller and literally – literally – skipped down the sidewalk with her, I was so gleeful at the prospect of finally making it to the Folger, and making it in time to see Will and Jane.  On our way up the ramp, we stopped to snap a picture of the serene garden.  I could totally picture myself lounging on the grass with a copy of my favorite Shakespeare play – Macbeth.

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First stop when we got inside was the theatre.  They were actually holding a children’s event in the theatre, and there were kids of all ages reenacting scenes from Romeo and Juliet onstage when we stepped through the doors.  My little drama queen didn’t want to get up on the stage (doesn’t she know her mother once placed second in a school-wide Shakespeare competition? there’s a family tradition to uphold, kid!) but she did consent to a selfie inside the hallowed halls of the Folger Shakespeare Theatre you guys.

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Enough stalling.  We left the theatre, turned into the exhibition hall, and There. It. Was.

The Shirt.  Bestill my beating heart, THE SHIRT.

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I can’t imagine that I have any blog readers who don’t know this, but since the question came up on Facebook, NO DAD, THIS IS NOT THE PUFFY SHIRT FROM SEINFELD.  The Shirt, as all Janeites know, is Colin Firth’s iconic white shirt worn in the lake-jumping scene from the 1992 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet.  (You can see her on the screen just behind The Shirt, in the picture up above this one.)  A few things about The Shirt, which I am qualified to comment upon now that I have stood in its rarefied air, sort of (it was behind glass – boo):

  • Initial disclaimer: as most of you no doubt know, the lake scene is not in the book.  But I suspect Jane would have approved.
  • The Shirt was every bit as magical as you would hope.
  • I was inches away from fabric that touched Colin Firth.  I WAS INCHES AWAY FROM FABRIC THAT TOUCHED COLIN FIRTH.  I WAS INCHES AWAY FROM FABRIC THAT TOUCHED COLIN FIRTH.
  • It was dry.  This was less disappointing than you would expect, because it was still pretty adorably wrinkly.  According to my firm librarian, the staff at the Folger Library told her the shirt couldn’t have been kept wet (by such means as a mister, for example) because it would damage the fabric.  And of course, we can’t have that.
  • I WAS INCHES AWAY FROM FABRIC THAT TOUCHED COLIN FIRTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Steve was shockingly unimpressed.

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I mean, look!  He’s wearing The Shirt and he’s about to jump in the lake and get all wet and emerge looking brooding and disheveled!

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All right, all right.  Enough about The Shirt.  You may find this surprising, but there was a lot more to the exhibit than just Colin Firth’s wardrobe.  The theme of the exhibition was how a “cult of celebrity” grew up around both William Shakespeare and Jane Austen, and how Shakespeare’s celebrity influenced and informed Austen’s work.  It was a fascinating take on both geniuses, and there were tons of cool artifacts.

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Such as the playbill from a production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice that Austen saw performed in London in 1814.  Worlds colliding!

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As is to be expected from the Folger Library, the exhibition also included a number of books of varying age and rarity.  How stunning is the iconic peacock cover of Pride and Prejudice.  Wish list, if I was a billionaire!

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There were examples of how Shakespeare’s and Austen’s celebrity has lasted over the centuries – such as these grave rubbings from their respective tombs.

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An illustration of how Austen’s image has been polished and altered to create the iconic Austen of today – starting with Cassandra Austen’s sketch of her sister and reworked posthumously until the popular image on the left came to be.

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And examples of how both Austen and Shakespeare’s images – and those of their characters – have been coopted into everything from collectible figurines to children’s toys and literary kitsch – like these bobbleheads and action figures.  (And Jane Austen band-aids!  Weeeeeeeird!)  They also had a copy of the “Cozy Classics” Pride and Prejudice board book – but in what I considered to be a shocking oversight, were lacking the books from the BabyLit series, even Good Night Mr. Darcy!

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And of course, interspersed throughout were truly exciting bits of BBC memorabilia – like the wedding bonnet worn by Jane Bennet in the final scene, when (spoiler alert!) Jane and Elizabeth marry Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy, respectively, in a fabulous double wedding.

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Will and Jane was everything I had hoped for – and more.  I’m delighted that I was able to make it there before the exhibition closed (even if I went down to the wire) and now I’m itching to re-read Pride and Prejudice (maybe I’ll pull out the gorgeous illustrated edition I bought a few months ago!) and get back to the Folger Library to see what it looks like when not devoted to a special exhibition.