Engaged Reading: Post #1

Good afternoon, dear pond readers! Thanks for joining me at the pond on this Summer day. At last, I’m giving myself permission to sit down and write out my thoughts on the first books I’ve finished reading from my Engaging Books list. I will post these thoughts over on the Goodreads discussion as well so please feel free to chime in at either forum with your own thoughts, the more the merrier. I am breaking up my thoughts into separate posts so that you won’t be scrolling for days. Enjoy!

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Geese from a Chinese tomb exhibit by E.A. Schneider

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood [311]

I read this book over the course of the first week in October 2016. I tell you this because I believe that reading this book during the tumultuous 2016 U.S. presidential election added an extra layer of poignancy to a book that is perennially relevant. It’s also a page-turner. My thoughts on this are extensive, kinda ramble-y, and hopefully spoiler-free.

Handmaid’s Tale makes me feel so grateful for my life and so hyper-aware of how easily the right set of things could go wrong to take it all away. This book feels real in many ways as good genre should.  So much of Gilead reminds me of ISIS and how they treat women there. The misogyny makes me think of Trump and his loathsome ilk. The rhetoric of certain feminists in the book and their longing for a world of no babies and no men also struck a familiar note; it’s something I’ve heard before. The best part of the story is its small, human scale. I like that Offred never tries to be a hero. I like that she is a flawed, petty human just trying to survive in horrific circumstances while feeling incredibly guilty about surviving. The comments that Offred makes about forgetting loved ones, grief, loneliness, waiting, and mourning for the past are beautiful and relatable. As I read, I found myself rooting for Offred to be able to escape to safety to finish living a small life with flowers and cats, but, it is okay if she didn’t, because she told her story and that helps all of us better understand our own. My husband got extra hugs during the week I read this, and afterwards, to thank him for being an incredible man as far from awful as can be.

I told my mom extra thank-yous for being such a wonderful, fierce role-model. Offred’s mom reminded me of mine in some ways. The outspoken passion for equality coupled to maternal devotion struck home. My mom stayed home but I never saw her as idle; she was a community advocate, volunteer, amazing seamstress, cook, and was always shoulder to shoulder with my dad fighting for us no matter what it was. Mom also made sure that I had feminist trading cards, made me a Nellie Bly costume (I still have it in my closet!), and made sure that as a family we went to Seneca Falls New York to walk through the entire Declaration of Sentiments monument together. It was awesome. My parents to this day resent me calling them dynamic super-heroes; I think they see this as an unrealistic pedestal, but, they are, and reading books like this kinda just reinforces that image. Sorry, Parental Units, but, you’ll always be my superheroes.

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Snow leopard by E.A. Schneider

Reading this book also made me feel more grateful for my job, the fact of its existence, and that I work with so many amazing people, most of them women, every day, even if we’re facing some hard, scary economic realities. The ease with which technology was leveraged to force women out of the workplace to create Gilead chilled me to the bone with its plausibility. The following thoughts flirt with spoilers so you might want to skip to past the cave picture. Continue reading

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Spring Reading

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Seagulls watching lake Michigan’s waves by E.A. Schneider

Hello, dear pond readers! I hope your spring is off to a terrific start. Here in the upper midwest we are enjoying a roller coaster ride of weather. I woke up yesterday to a world newly blanketed in snow but left the house in the afternoon to blue skies, green grass, and pleasant breezes. What else is there to do but dress in layers and smile? Read, of course.

My reading is off to a slow start but I’m plugging away. My Goodreads goal this year is 52 books, one a week for a year, but, as Goodreads is in the habit of reminding me, I am six books behind schedule and only through 13% of my goal. I’m sure I’ll catch up eventually.

Here’s what I’ve read this year so far with some brief thoughts:

  1. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
    1. Elements of this book are incredibly poignant and interesting, Carson is a good writer, but others are clearly outdated relics of the time. As a historical artifact, this is a good reference but I don’t know that I needed to read the whole thing to get an understanding of it and its importance to history.
  2. Uprooted by Naomi Novak
    1. This is an enchanting fairy tale with a bevy of strong female characters. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to find their way through the deep, dark woods with a stellar heroine.
  3. The Eye of the Heron by Ursula K. LeGuin
    1. A lot of heavy political and social theory questions are being discussed in LeGuin’s usual thoughtful, character-driven stylish prose. The elegance of this book astounded me, she packed so much into such a brief novel.
  4. Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
    1. This book is beautiful, the ending brought me to tears in a good way. But, I think the impact of the book suffered from Mitchell’s reluctance to  commit fully to the weird and wonderful of his premise. Bone Clocks is also at least 250 pages too long for what it is doing as a narrative.  Though, Mitchell is a master of voice and dialogue so even a rambling, indulgent section is a pleasure to read.
  5. Shaman by Sandra Miesel
    1. I bought this book for the cover art (I will be doing a separate post geeking out on the artistry of book covers soon) but I actually found its content to be shockingly resonant to my life experience as well as a genuinely entertaining story. The ending veered a bit from what I thought it was building towards but it was a fun piece of fiction all the same.
  6. The Father Christmas Letters by J.R.R. Tolkien
    1. Absolutely charming! Tolkien’s labor of love for his kids is incredibly beautiful and sweet though some of Father Christmas’ adventures do veer in some unexpected directions. I highly recommend this for all Tolkien fans but I don’t think they have a general audience appeal.
  7. Kwaidan: Japanese Ghost Stories by Lafcadio Hearn
    1. This book was mostly a charming collection of spooky pieces of folklore, albeit a poorly copyedited collection in the edition I read, until the final chapter on ants. Things got weird. After an entire book pretty much devoted to a translation of folklore with only little asides for context, the chapter “Ants” had pretty much no folklore and consisted of Hearn’s utopian musings on the virtues of ant societal life as inspired by Herbert Spencer. I have to say that I was not expecting that and it was a weird way to end the collection. The foregoing stories were lovely overall and I can see the enduring appeal of the collection.

I’m in the midst of reading Stars in my pocket like grains of sand by Samuel R. Delaney but I haven’t started reading anything else yet. What about you, dear pond readers? What are you reading this Spring? Do you have a goal for reading this 2016? Leave a comment below and thanks again for stopping by the pond.

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Sun, ice, and seagulls by E.A. Schneider

The Temporal Advancement Phenomenological Paradox

I have recently discovered this delightful blog and I want to share it with you, dear pond readers. I found this particular post quite affecting and funny. Enjoy!

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Let us ponder the paradoxically obvious. Alan Jacobs is a teacher who is older than his students. To wit:

In one of my classes we’re reading McLuhan’s Understanding Media, and today I called my students’ attention to this passage… I pointed out to them McLuhan’s implicit claim: that he stands in the same relation to the new electronic age as Tocqueville stood to “typographic man.” He is an acute observer of the world he is describing to us, but not a native of it, and his slight distance is the key to his perceptiveness. I asked them to be especially attentive to his metaphor of “the spell” – and then I told them, “Basically, McLuhan is applying for the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher for our entire culture.”

Most of them looked blankly at me.

The deftness of his analogy demonstrates that Jacobs is likely…

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