What I did on my Thanksgiving Break.

I had the entire week off, which was very welcome. I had great plans, and spent the week in a happy combination of work and sloth. A lot of little projects got finished around the house. The biggest one was painting a wall in the living room. It was pretty exciting to see how the color changed the room. I’ll get an entry about it up on the “ours” blog soon.

I spent Thanksgiving with the BroMAunts (Brother, Mother, Aunts.) I’ll get an entry up on the “ours” blog about that too. Thursday night, I stayed over at my mom’s house so we could go with the Aunts to the Rickreal Christmas Bazaar. The town of Rickreal is outside of Salem, so we had a nice drive there. The Bazaar was great, though had mostly nothing I wanted or needed. Do you have a need for crocheted booties to keep your feet warm? Do you long for booties in U of O or OSU colors? This was the bazaar for you! There were three or four booths with your choice of booties in a vast array of colors. There was also a huge booth with many, many, many decorative toilet seat covers. Do you long for a “roll in the hay”? Then the booth with the plastic bag with some hay and a toilet paper roll was for you.

In the car afterward, we were reviewing the highs and lows. They did have some nice stuff, especially some handspun yarn and more than a few quilts I would have liked to have. But there was some pretty bad stuff. The cruelest use of craft items? The room fresheners that were really cute craft teddy bears that some delusional woman had dipped in scented wax. The poor things were strange colors and just looked sad, all covered in wax like that. We laughed hard about them. I found the most useless item to be “Table Leggins.” which were decorative covers for your table legs. You could get them to match your table décor. They were the biggest waste of money that I have ever seen, aside from those poor bears.

Saturday and Sunday were mostly slothful. I walked to the library to return a boatload of books, and found “Friends” Season 6. I wasn’t sure what season that was, and you can’t tell from the case, but I got it anyway. While I was cooking my first ever brisket, I watched most of the whole season. I finished it the next day. It turned out to be the last season I watched in its entirety, but it was still funny. It’s the one that starts with Ross and Rachel getting married in Las Vegas and ends with Monica and Chandler’s proposal.

Because of my work/sloth combo, I was ready to go back to work on Monday. Yay for an entire week off!

Metropolis: A Novel. Elizabeth Gaffney

Frank Harris is an German immigrant in post-Civil War New York City. His name isn’t really Frank Harris, but it becomes that after P.T. Barnum’s stable, where he works as a stableman, burns down. He escapes the fire, but is fingered as the arsonist. To avoid that charge, he falls in with the Whyos a New York City Gang. He’s not the hardened criminal the Whyos think, so how will he survive in the gang?

This was a great novel, very full of historical detail. I particularly enjoyed the Whyos and the Why Nots—the corresponding girl gang—as they used their musical talents to carry out their crimes. Frank Harris is a great main character. He is a bit idealistic, but also fairly canny. There’s a great bit of socialism and feminism mixed in. I loved this book. I rank it in the top 10 this year.

Storage & Shelving Solutions: Over 70 projects and ideas that fit your budget, space and lifestyle. Readers Digest.

This book rocks! It is so cool that I took it over to show my brother on Thanksgiving. By the time I finished pointing out all the cool projects, he suggested I buy the book. Which I will, if I don’t get it for Christmas. You will most likely see a project or two from this book appearing in my house. For instance: floating shelves. You know how they get them to float? By using hollow core doors. They also have several projects for adding storage between the studs in interior walls. Which is very cool. You don’t know how cool it is until you see the pictures. Very ingenious stuff in here.

Rattled. Debra Galant

I can’t read the entire blurb on the front of this book–part of it is being covered up by a library bar code–but the part I can read says: “…of New Jersey what Carl Hiaasen did for the swamps of Florida.” Because I like Carl Hiaasen’s swamps of Florida, I picked up this book. I am very guilty of judging books by their covers, and I went for it. The fact that Tom Perrotta said it clinched the deal. I really like his books.

So Debra Galant doesn’t quite do for the whatever of New Jersery…etc. It was a pretty okay book. Heather and her husband buy a McMansion in rural New Jersey. One day while her handyman–a lifetime resident–is working in her backyard, Heather sees a rattlesnake. She screams for the handyman to kill it. He does, and it turns out to be endangered. Heather is arrested and hijinks ensue.

The book follows Heather, the handyman, the head of a local conservation group as well as the developer of the subdivision as they all react to the crime. In a Hiaasen way it is supposed to show the silliness of the rural/suburban divide. Mostly, Heather comes off as shrill, stupidly entitled and demanding and thus, the last 5 pages of the book when she is supposed to be a good and normal person ring a bit false. It was a good diversion, though.

Eleanor Rigby. Douglas Coupland

I came across Coupland’s Miss Wyoming in the Cambridge library early in the century and quickly read all of his books. I love his writing style, his quirky characters, his sometimes supernatural plot lines and the fact that he loves to set his books in Vancouver, B.C.

This book is about Liz, a person so settled in her loneliness that she has the email address EleanorRigby@something.com. It is also about Jeremy, a young and troubled man. What do these two people have in common? I’ll leave that to you to find out.

This was more of a caring, Microsurf-ian novel than a sci-fi Girlfriend in a Coma-ian type novel. I liked it, though.

Bizarro has been cracking me up.

Our paper has a darn good comic section. I read a lot of the comics on the 2-page spread, but last week Bizarro was funny.

This first one made me laugh because when I was young and Speak and Spells were popular, we had one. I was a bit hopeless at it, and had endless troubles with “Level One”

“Spell Angel.” It would say.

“A-N-G-L-E” I would type in every time.

“In-cor-rect.” If you had a Speak and Spell, you know what it sounded like. “Try a-gain.”

I would furrow my brow and type again. “A-N-G-L-E.”

The Speak and Spell never got tired of my continued misspelling of this word. It would just continue on, “In-cor-rect. The cor-rect spelling of Angel is. A-N-G-E-L.” And it would move on. After all these years, I still pause and visualize the word “angel,” or “angle” before I write them.

Note. If you clicked on that Speak and Spell link, you may have been as delighted as I was to see the box. “Makes spelling what it should be–fun!” What an hopeful slogan that was. Advertisers. So jaded on the inside and optimistic on the outside.

The humor of this comic depends on if you have a “Friendly Retired Guy” in your life:
I actually laughed out loud on the train when I read this. My father was a friendly retired guy long before he was retired. I have several memories of him going out on a walk after dinner and returning ninety minutes later to report that he’d been talking with the guy 15 minutes down the street for an hour or so. He can start a conversation with anyone, anywhere.

Don’t Die, My Love. Lurline McDaniel

When I was younger, I loved, loved, loved Lurline McDaniel’s books. Six Months to Live, about a 13-year old girl that gets leukemia, was a particular favorite. All of McDaniel’s books deal with teenagers put in a tragic situation. They usually don’t have happy endings in the “everyone gets better” sense. I came across this book in our school library and was thrilled to find it, having forgotten all about the joy of reading McDaniel tragedies.

In this book, Julie and Luke have been sweethearts since the sixth grade. Luke is a star football player and Julie’s dad is the football coach. After the football season is over in their Junior year, Luke begins to feel run down. It turns out to be Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The rest of the book explores how everyone accepts or doesn’t accept Luke’s battle with the disease. Will he get better in time to lead the team for his Senior year? Will Julie be able to have a life with a boyfriend with cancer? Will her mother ever get off her back about choosing a college?

It was a pretty typical McDaniel book, though I loved the “message” Luke gave Julie at the end of the book. It was a surprisingly touching scene. I think these books a great for teenagers who want to explore life’s potential tragedies in a safe environment. Especially teenagers who want to read sad stories.

The god of animals. Aryn Kyle.

I’ve been deciding for days if I like this book or not. I think I’m leaning toward “sort-of.” This is a coming-of-age story of Alice, a 12-year-old girl whose father breeds and trains horses. Her mother never leaves the house, but stays upstairs in her room all day. Her 17-year-old sister Nona has recently run off to marry a cowboy she just met. This is bad for the business, because the sister was the talented rider, who could lure in girls for lessons.

This story deals a lot with class. Alice’s father is mostly a jerk, but more because of life circumstances. The business is hard and he doesn’t know how to do anything else, so he will do anything to make his barn work. After the departure of the sister, they only have one riding client, which they hope will bring more clients. Due to their lack of clients, they are forced to board horses which brings a group of wealthy women to their barn. They spend afternoons drinking and grooming their horses, but never riding them.

Over the course of the book we see how Alice adjusts to her sister’s disappearance and the family’s lack of money. Saviors appear and disappear as the book winds on, in the form of grandparents, a rich horse owner and, surprisingly, her sister’s husband. I liked how Alice accepted her family’s tragic flaws and just kept working. I suspect this may be based on the author’s own life. I also liked how complex the characters were, especially the father who was both a gentle soul and a tyrant. The writing was good, with especially good descriptive language. The class issues were very well drawn too. Obviously, if you are a horse person, this is a book you should read. So, overall, a good book, but dark enough to keep me from really liking it.

The invisible circus. Jennifer Egan.

The story of a girl, Phoebe, who sets out at 18 in 1978 to trace the last journey her sister took at age 18 in 1970, before she fell from a cliff in Italy. It apparently was made into a movie of the same name in 2001, starring Cameron Diaz. I won’t be seeing it. It was an okay book, but I have a feeling which parts of the book were over dramatized for the screen.

Pat Conroy said on the cover, “If there were justice in this world, no one wold be allowed to write a first novel of such beauty and accomplishment.” I would say that is overstating the case by a lot.

Soon I will be invincible. Austin Grossman.

I had this book on hold for a long time at the library, but it was worth it. It was like a comic book without the pictures and with better writing. This book follows Dr. Impossible, an evil Super Genius as he battles the Champions, a group of superheros including Fatale. Fatale is the newest member of the Champions, part human, part robot. The book had a great plot, and also let you see the human side of these “super” persons as in this excerpt where Dr. Impossible is talking about what went wrong with his only girlfriend.

“I guess she got bored with me. Some nights on the island, it’s beautiful–tropical constellations, jungle sounds, and luminous fish. But when it’s five in the morning in the hideout and you can’t sleep, and CNN’s stuck on another economic summit, well, that’s another feeling. You’re blacked out and can’t work because some hero team is trolling the South Seas, the heat is unbearable, and it’s an hour until dawn, the slow tropical sunrise over the lagoon, and you’re thinking about how far you are from home, and that this whole thing was maybe not such a brilliant idea after all, but there’s nothing you can do about it now.

“My style of work takes a lot of preparation. I building things and test them out. I have to order parts, or cast them myself. I have to pull all-nighters to debug my robot’s pathfinding routines before an invasion. It isn’t that interesting to other people.”

I loved this book so much it made the next three books I read entirely unreadable. Fabulous.