Monday, September 12, 2011

Cracking Spines on September 12th

I didn't write anything about yesterday. Anything I could have said wouldn't be anything compared to Steph or Kat's posts on the subjects-- please read their heartwrenching tributes. My words pale by comparison.

I do feel compelled to note that I started blogging on September 11, 2001. I didn't write anything about what happened. I had spent hours curled in my room, wrapped around stuffed animals from my childhood, watching the events unfurl on television. Every channel. Every minute. When I couldn't bear any more I went to the computer. And I started a blog. I've been blogging (admittedly through different mediums) ever since.

On September 11, 2011, I didn't turn on the television. Couldn't. Didn't blog. Avoided the Internet. Avoided the tributes, the pictures, the stories, the epitaphs. I read. All day. I dragged a blanket and a few beers out to the yard and was lost in someone else's words. The day passed quietly.


Thinking of yesterday-- which must happen when I opened my computer to deal with the backlog of email, blog posts, and headlines that had piled over the weekend-- and how I spent it reminded me of where I was roughly a year ago. Remember the Spine Cracking Poll? In a nutshell for new readers, I was in a reading drought though I was reading everyday. I was reading an abundance of blogs, news articles, etc.-- but I wasn't reading books. I was stockpiling $1.00 books from thrift stores and yard sales and they sat, sadly, on the bookshelf.

This year, I'm happy to report The Great Nicki Reading Drought is over-- at least, for now. I've given myself the meager goal of reading at least one book and one play a month, no matter how much work I have to do. And damn it, I've been doing it. Even in June and July, the months so busy I barely breathed (July, in particular, was so busy I worked straight through the 4th of July weekend).

So for my fellow book lovers out there-- you know who you are-- I present my Summer Reading List of 2011.

Cracked Spines: Summer 2011 Edition

All images taken from Amazon in the hopes that both the company and authors won't mind I'm pimping out and linking to their products.

  1. The Sweet In-Between by Sheri Reynolds.

    Full disclosure: I studied with the brilliant Sheri Reynolds in college and she remains one of my all-time, absolute favorite authors. If you like Carson McCullers-- deceptively simple Southern prose with a beating heart and a sharp mind-- you'll love Sheri Reynolds. Start with Rapture of Canaan, a book so brilliant it caught the busy eye of Oprah herself (she chose it for Oprah's Book Club in 1997).

    The Sweet In-Between was no exception. Beautiful writing, breathing characters, a silent, subtle theme running like water underneath her prose.

    There's a quote from the book that I find myself repeating, over and over, when I'm having one of those days that makes me want to rail against the bars, smash the glass, or bury myself in a deep sleep until I wake up when things are better: But sometimes you have to pass a day - in one way or another - just to get tomorrow. It isn't the most memorable quote in the book, nor is it the best. But that quote keeps me running on those dark days. And I pass those days, in one way or another, just to reach tomorrow.

    And eventually, in one way or another, the tomorrows come.

  2. Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande.

    Would I recommend this book to everyone? No.

    Would I recommend this book (about a doctor enduring a Boston-based residency) to significant others of doctors just beginning a Boston-based residency? Yes, yes I would.

    I'd also recommend this book for med students, pre-med students, or anyone who wants an intelligent, well-crafted view of medicine. Insightful.

  3. Fluke by Christopher Moore.

    My first Christopher Moore. Don't look at me like that. Two years ago I rented a Moore novel on audiotape to pass the time on a long trip home to Pennsylvania. The audiotape was so damn funny I stopped it after Chapter Two, determined to experience Moore in a setting that wouldn't call for me to tune out every few pages in order to not die on the freeway.

    I bought Fluke in a Virginia used bookstore only to discover a receipt tucked into the pages from a Mystic bookstore. Odd that a book left New England, traveled to Virginia, and landed in my belongings-- only to end up carted back to New England in a UHaul.

    In short, Fluke is a hilarious whale of a tale about a brilliant whale scientist, a loveable photographer, a cute-as-hell research assistant and a whale that says "Bite Me" on its tail. Complete with a science fiction twist.

    Was it funny? Yes. Did it contain anything I ever wanted to know about whales-- and more? Yes. Did I love it? Yes. Do I suspect it's Moore's best, given what I've had a taste of in the past? No. No, I don't.

    Still, fantastic.

  4. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace.

    Wallace has received a metric ton of critical praise, especially after his untimely death, so I don't know if I need to add to the thunderous applause. I'll say this: he inspires me. He's one of creative nonfiction's best and brightest. As a creative nonfiction gal myself, I'm a ready fan and a wide-eyed worshipper.

    However, I will readily admit that I skipped an essay or two in this collection. Tennis doesn't interest me. My apologies, Mr. Wallace. However, "Getting Away From Pretty Much Getting Away From It All" and the book's namesake essay were so absolutely fantastic they made the book's purchase well worth it. If you want to read the most hilarious send-up of a Caribbean cruise you will ever read, buy this book. Or save yourself a few dollars: get it from the library instead.

  5. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
    by Barbara Kingsolver.

    I will not gush about this book. I will not gush about this book. I will not-- okay, just a little gushing.

    This book is probably the most boring book you'll ever read in your life unless you are absolutely envious of turkey butcherers and families who spent 90% of their free time planting, harvesting, cooking, and canning. I am one of those loony people. My weekly trip out for fun? It's not the movies, the bar, or the golf course-- it's to the farmer's market. It is, honest to God, the highlight of my week. Even loonier, I am a from-scratch addict. I make my own tortillas. I make my own tomato sauce, my own mayonnaise, my own BBQ sauce, my own stocks. I make my own crackers, for Chrissake. 

    So, being the sustainable food nut that I am, I read with rapture about chicken raising, mozzarella making, and turkey sex-- yes, turkey sex. It was one of my most informative, joyous reads of the year. But, like I said, unless you're a self-proclaimed food loony like me, it probably has the appeal of a book about mothballs.

I'm currently reading The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers.

If you feel the need to tell me any spoilers, I will find you and I will cut you.

It's your turn. I'm ALWAYS looking for new titles-- in fact, thanks to Brent's suggestion, I picked up a copy of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs for a whopping $.50 at a recent library sale. What are you reading? What have you read this summer? Who's your latest favorite author?  And are the Hunger Games really as good as everyone says they are?

Note to my oh-so-fabulous guest posters: the guest week should (cross your fingers) begin next Monday! I'll get a schedule out later in the week.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

the lost summer: part one

Some days I think summer just passed me by this year. Whistled on past while I was unpacking. Waved from the window as I counted the pennies in my bank account, depleted from the move. There were no afternoons spent sunning at the beach, no August ice cream dripping down my wrist, no picnics, no barbecues, and that sin of all sins for a gal with the wanderin' blues, no road trips.

Yet there was a summer spent here, no matter how fleeting-- afternoons under a tree reading with a glass of wine in my hand and the dogs at my feet. Backyard clambakes. A trip-- however brief-- to see Nantasket Beach. An outdoor music festival, a brewery tour, a Sunday afternoon at the vintage market. Ripe tomatoes-- yes, tomatoes-- this was the summer I discovered however I may still loathe the inedible cookie-cutter variety found in the grocery store, a fresh-grown tomato from the farmer's market is indeed a wonderful thing. 

In fact, I went on a culinary tour of New England this summer, sampling mahogany clams, debearding mussels, shucking corn, unshelling husk cherries, gorging on blueberries, and yes-- boiling my own lobster. 

There was a summer spent here. Such a short summer, compared to my April-October summer seasons in Virginia, but there was a summer-- a fleeting, startled summer that was as good as any I've known.

 Scenes from the Lost Summer: Part One-- Before Boston

The Great Janes Island Camping Adventure (more on this later) 

When I first moved to Virginia, I fell in love with two things: a.) the miles of rolling shoreline within walking distance of my new home and b.) she-crab soup. I said goodbye to both of these things at the Virginia Beach She-Crab Soup Classic.
After tasting dozens of local restaurants' she-crab soup varieties, I can safely say I'm an expert on the cuisine-- so much so that Derrick and I made our own batch before leaving the state (complete with our own fresh-caught crabs)

Forget lobsters-- give me a pile of hot steamed blue crabs any day.

Saying goodbye to the my true shellfish love, the blue crab

Gorging ourselves at the Chincoteague Seafood Festival

The house-hunting trip to Massachusetts on a shoestring budget, where we stayed at a dive hotel and shivered through cold, rainy weather-- in the packing whirlwind, we'd forgotten our coats. 

The upside of the trip was falling in love with the South Shore-- and finding our dream single family home with a backyard on our last day of house-hunting for less money than the smaller apartments we were convinced we'd be stuck with. It was the biggest stroke of luck we'd had all year.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy concert-- complete with AUTOGRAPHED RECORD (and plenty of ridiculous swing dancing)


Memorial Day trip to picnic at my grandparents' house in Delaware-- and to see their brand new, insanely adorable puppy

The very last forbidden cookout on our apartment balcony

 Summer rain window-watching sessions in the old apartment

 Derrick's graduation from med school

 ...and losing our minds in the moving insanity. 


Two Quick Things:

1.) Because of a pesky draft and because I can't count, the last post was #94, not #95. We folks here at the Loaded Handbag sincerely apologize for any inconvenience.
2.) I've already received some guest posts and they're fabulous! Remember to send your guest post masterpieces to theloadedhandbag (at) gmail (dot) com. With @ & . instead of (at) and (dot), of course.