Book Corner 2020.48

by Ben Ehrenreich

Disappointing. I don’t even have any good quotes bookmarked. It reads much like somebody’s “notebooks”, and I guess I should have taken the title more literally, but I’d been expecting something a little more coherent. Ehrenreich spends about half the book reporting from Joshua Tree, and the other half from Las Vegas where he is temporarily living due to having earned a fellowship there. The book is best describing the desert; his love for Joshua Tree shines through. Naturally, Las Vegas is described as being like some circle of hell. It’s so miserable to read; I get it, Vegas is crazy horrible, but you’re presumably there for a reason, right? The institution that hired you, your colleagues, surely there is some beauty or bright spot to be found? COULD WE HEAR ABOUT IT? Likewise, the guy seems to have the biggest horror movie scrolling on his phone’s Twitter feed. He’s always putting in asides where he looks at his phone and sees somebody being decapitated or watches the polar ice caps melt before his eyes; and again I wanted to shout, STEP AWAY FROM THE PHONE, DUDE. You don’t HAVE to subscribe to these horrible things. You don’t even have to be on Twitter! Sorry, I am probably missing some deep, dark beauty enveloped in this book, but it obviously didn’t find me. (  )

What’s Real

Mount Mansfield, Underhill, Vermont; the highest things get around here.

I walked to the top of my road today. If I lived at the top instead of at the bottom, and I could step outside every morning and see this mountain, it would do joyous wonders to my perspective. I can imagine doing it before or after reading the morning news. I’d just step out, listen to the quiet, look at the timeless mountain, breathe the clean air, and to hell with the BS.


I can’t wait for this book to come out. I listened to a podcast tonight about it with the author, Virginia Postrel. I’m going to be interested in every single page. I know the author from the days when I used to read Reason magazine and she was the editor. I also read another one of her books, over 20 years ago. I’m very happy that as part of her research she learned how to weave on a hand loom, and took dye classes as well. I loved sitting on the floor listening to her talk about textiles while I sorted my carded fibers.

Book Corner 2020.47

by Mohsin Hamid

I don’t know what to say about this. It wasn’t my kind of book. It went from horrifying to sad. 


Addendum: I was coming down with Headache the night I wrote this and gave it short shrift. I could at least illustrate my commentary with representative quotes.

It started as horrifying: Saeed and Nadia are living in an unnamed nation being taken over by “militants.” Regarding how life can seem to go on in a normal, mundane way even when your nation is collapsing: “[O]ur eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings & middles until the instant when it does.”

[This was particularly depressing to me in light of a piece I read a few weeks ago arguing that we are already living in a failed nation. Lots of aspects of life may seem to be going on as normal, but that’s normal even in a failed nation. The piece was allegedly written by someone from Sri Lanka, where they had a civil war.]

And after the two of them escape, we go from the horror to the sad, as we get to read about the decline of their relationship: “…not unlike a couple that was long and unhappily married, a couple that made out of opportunities for joy, misery.” Ugh.

And: “[O]nce begun such cycles are difficult to break, in fact the opposite, as if each makes the threshold for irritation next time a bit lower, as is the case with certain allergies.” Ugh.

And finally, “…tension ebbing & flowing, & when the tension receded there was calm, the calm that is called the calm before the storm, but is in reality the foundation of a human life, waiting there for us between the steps of our march to our mortality, when we are compelled to pause and not act but be.”

Book Corner 2020.46

by James Meek

A wonderful story and a wonderful read. We follow the journey of a motley group of pilgrims attempting a venture from the Cotswolds, England to Calais, France, in the year 1348. Among our group:

– Lady Bernadine, daughter of Lord of the manor in the small town of Outen Green, who ventures forth to escape an odious arranged marriage and chase down her erstwhile paramour, Laurence Hacket

– Laurance Hacket, who is eventually encountered and added to the group, who turns out to be perhaps not all Bernadine hoped for and dreamed of

– Will Quate, good-looking young labourer, whose bondsman/freeman status is vague, and who journeys to Calais to join the fight against the French as an archer

– Hab, lowly pigboy back in Outen Green, who follows Will because he’s in love with him, and spends most of the book cross-dressed as his “sister” Madlen

– Thomas, Scotsman by birth, now scribe and proctor of a church in Avignon, France, to which he now hopes to return (I wasn’t clear what brought him to England in the first place)

– A band of archers with whom Will has thrown his fate, each one more grotesque and morally questionable than the last

– Cecile, or “Cess”, a Frenchwoman raped and abducted by the archers back during their last round of fighting in France, now a captive of one of them, the one who goes by the name of “Softly”

But I encourage you to Google “1348” and “plague” to see the main character of the story. OK, never mind, I’ll tell you: in 1348, the Black Death arrived in England.

The story is good enough, but what is hypnotic is the writing. Will, Hab/Madlen, and the archers speak an English untouched by any French or Latin. Bernadine’s speech is replete with French flourishes, Thomas’ with Latin. But to the lowly, words we today find mundanely English such as “doubt” or “punish” have them staring with incomprehension, protesting, “Too many French words for me”.

The story’s narration takes place alternately from the perspective of, and in the language of the archer contingent; Thomas; and Bernadine/Laurence. Here’s a random sample of the writing when the archers are the focus:

“The drum beat faster, Mad sang of a freke who went with an elf, and Sweetmouth hopped with two high-born maids who laughed so hard they had to hold each other to keep from falling over.”

And Bernadine:

“‘Had I passed Laurence a message saying I desired him to ravish me of my family and marry me in secret, I’m sure he would have responded.'”

And Thomas (whose passages are all excerpts of missives he is writing to two people back home named Marc & Judith):

“‘What, Judith, is the significance of my indulgent confession that I desired to be desired by you, carnally as well as spiritually?'”

There’s just a taste of how the story goes. I thought the switching between the different voices, which is done frequently, sometimes three times per two pages, was a wonderful device for moving the tale forward, and I delighted each time in hearing the different perspectives. The characters of Bernadine and Madlen were particularly deep; Laurence comical, seeming closest to a modern-day personality; Thomas a bit inscrutable (he’d like that word). I admit I had a little trouble juggling all of the archers’ backstories, real names, and “ekenames” (nicknames). Follow them all through the English countryside, and try not to freak out too much as you watch “the pest” (pestilence) following them as well… (  )

Other Goats

We visited another angora goat farm today in South Hero. This one looked a lot like Bennie.
Seeing other angora goats is always uncanny! They look just like ours but not quite! Which feels weird.

The subject line “Other Goats” is kind of an inside joke. Like 20 years ago there were attempts at what was then the Fair to have angora goat shows. And this one year, we were the only ones who showed up. So the judge had to award us the ‘prize’ but she indicated that she really thought we should get “other goats.” (She had some kind of accent.) We have laughed at that ever since because she didn’t say “better goats.” Merely “other goats” – ANY “other goats.” Because our goats were pretty pitiful; they weren’t even purebred.


It’s OK to grieve what’s lost.

I grieve for:

  • Trying out new restaurants
  • Sitting at a bar with X with a couple of interesting beers waiting for food to come
  • Montreal
  • Boston
  • Planning a vacation
  • Cirque du Soleil
  • Our annual bike down the St. Jean Richilieu
  • New York
  • Extreme Beer Fests
  • Getting my eyebrows done
  • Hitting downtown Burlington and being able to enter places & pick a restaurant at whim
  • Seeing my mother-in-law in North Carolina for the holidays
  • Having Tgiving at Ruth & John’s
  • The Route 66 road trip I was supposed to take with Maggie
  • My High Holydays at sheep & wool

And I am grateful for:

  • Food. Lots of it. The good stuff.
  • That I enjoy cooking
  • Takeout
  • Books
  • The library & Phoenix bookstore are still functional
  • Fiber to make beautiful things with
  • Healthy goats who don’t even know what’s going on
  • Vermont – never been more grateful for you than this year
  • My health
  • My marriage
  • My home
  • That I have always worked from home and can continue to do so

Alcohol purchases are up something like 10-20% in Vermont, I think I read. FB is full of memes about how drunk we are all getting. But in fact I’m drinking less than ever. Without going out, I don’t find myself sitting there with a tempting draft list waiting for food to come. I was never big on drinking at home in the first place. I’ve cut back now more than ever. For me, the pleasure of alcohol is how it makes me happy in a social situation or a one-on-one. I particularly like wine on an empty stomach with some carbs – i.e. red wine at an Italian restaurant with your bread basket waiting for the food. The booze + carbs is a good combo for me. And I just don’t indulge that way at home. I’d rather eat calories than drink them. I’d rather have a good dessert. Because drinking doesn’t make me feel good per se, or let me really forget any of the problems of the world. So why do it? I have less and less reason.

Thoughts in Progress

Avoid this paragraph if you don’t want anything depressing: the other day I listened to a podcast featuring an expert other than Dr. Osterholm (yes, I cheated on him). It was a Dr. Foege and here’s what kind of depressed me. He recently worked with the CDC to come up with four phases of prioritization for getting a hypothetical COVID vaccine. And basically, people like me and Xopher, who aren’t essential workers, don’t have pre-existing conditions, etc.? We’re last in line. Next, the hypothetical vaccine is not likely to be 100% effective, far from it. So even with vaccines, we all still have to wear masks, avoid crowds, and socially distance. So wait a minute. We’re all pining for the vaccine, and even once it gets here, and even once WE get it, it still won’t change a damn thing about our day to day life? What will? Apparently, we can all only get back to “normal” when the virus is effectively eliminated. Take a look at how many assholes live in this country, who are so uncooperative with mitigations strategies as to be openly hostile at times. Think long and hard about how long it’s going to take to effectively eliminate the virus under the conditions we’ve got.

Told you it would be depressing.

I’m not done yet. Time for my workday to begin.


I really am crazy about this one. I put all the colors down the center, rather than trying to keep them separated, as I had been doing lately. It definitely came out ‘muddier’ but I think I prefer it. Also in case you haven’t noticed I am now using colors that are closer to each other on the color wheel, rather than the sharply contrasting colors I’d always tended to pick in the past. Again, ‘muddier’, or shall we say more subtle. The family now – ordered in a way designed to most flatter, and to suggest skeins that could be purchased (ahem!) in combination to Make Something Beautiful:

Speaking of “Make Something Beautiful,” I’m considering making that my business name. Wiseacres Farm can stay the name of the goat breeding operation. The fiber arts can be rebranded. “Make something beautiful” is always my sentiment when anyone walks away with any of my product.