Book Corner 2020.23


Black Is the Body by Emily Bernard

For book club. Local professor of black studies writes observational essays. I liked the shout-outs to Vermont, at first. It gradually became clear though that she does not feel at home here, and I started to feel judged. As an adoptee, I also enjoyed the segments about adopting her twins. Other than that, it was hard to feel interested. ( )

Book Corner 2020.22


Bending Reality by Bernice Kelman

Really Chris?  You read a book mostly dictated by an energy force calling himself “Sir Garrod”?

Well, a lot of it, yes, I did.

Because it was given to me by my neighbor, the author, Bernice, with whom I’ve lately set up a weekly grocery shopping date.

And at least half of it, I skimmed or skipped.  Not of interest.  And yet… the underlying message is nothing wacky, nothing hard to get behind, nothing more simple than… love.

And I like that she – or, she would correct me, he/she/it, Sir Garrod – supports the theory of parallel universes, a favorite of mine.  To wit:
“Consider that this is a central path and that as you move along this path, every time you come to a decision-making point, you are at a crossroad where you create alternate versions of yourself that each explore a different decision.”

There is stuff in physics that suggests that indeed every ‘decision’ made by a quantum particle simultaneously goes both one way and the other, forking off an infinite number of universes.  So you see, scientific basis!

Seriously, it’s just a vision I like… it gives me a calm feeling to envision the dominoes of the universe all hitting each other, my path just being one path of dominoes among infinitely many.  Maybe this is what “belief” is, or spirituality, or somesuch.  Do I “believe” this?  What does “believe” mean?  That word has always rubbed me the wrong way because in practice it always seems to mean, “I aver this is true even without evidence.”  If you had evidence, you wouldn’t say “I believe…” you’d just say the fact that’s true.

All I can say about my parallel universe theory is that it could be true and I like to think about it.  Whatever that makes me – spiritual, wack – is what I am, so whatever.

But this is my own sidetrack, and not the central message of the book.  The central message is what Jesus was trying and failing to get us to do from the beginning: love one another.  Just love.

Gives me a warm rosy glow when I’m tipsy just before bed, but so hard to do in the glare of the morning.



Book Corner 2020.21



I really enjoyed this. The protagonist is a 60-something-year-old male recently retired and divorced. He spends his time in his char, drinking beers, watching bad TV, eating horribly unhealthy foods by the sackful, and avoiding people. He dislikes his ex-brother-in-law who insists on visiting him, and seriously considers changing his phone number to avoid his daughter. His life turns around when he impulsively adopts a dog. I just really loved this story. ( )

PS  I own it physically and am willing to lend.

Book Corner 2020.20


Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

This was very tough to get into, and I’d say for the first 25% I was ready to abandon it. It started out very thinky and talky and I was afraid there’d be little plot. I kept giving it another shot because it was for book club. I felt like she felt about reading Kerouac on page 76: “I read like I had to finish an infinite bowl of lukewarm soup.” It was the kind of book that would throw a word at you like “edulcorated.” I’m 50 and I’ve polished off a fair number of books. This was a new one on me.

I’d say about halfway through, the plot got strong. About 75% of the way through, though, I wasn’t at all sure anymore. But at the end, I just said: Wow. It was just plain beautiful and powerful.

Do you want the plot? Couple, 10-year-old boy, and 5-year-old girl drive from NYC to the southwest for the father’s research project on Apaches and the mother’s attempts to help an immigrant locate her two missing undocumented little girls. First half or so is narrated by the mother. The ‘marriage is ending’ – this plot point is part of what gave me intense dislike in the first 25%, but let me not start complaining about that. Second half or so is narrated by the boy. I don’t think I’ll give away any spoilers, but things do happen.

I have to on balance give it only 3 stars because it threatened to lose me so often. ( )

Book Corner 2020.19


Emma by Jane Austen

Write a review of EMMA? Well, as long as I am permitted to write three very dull things indeed, I should have no problem. Why, I am as sure to write three dull things the moment my fingers touch the keyboard, am I right?

Austen’s best story, IMHO. The annotated edition from Harvard is as usual superb. I absolutely love how he makes frequent reference to both the excellent Gwyneth Paltrow 1990s movie version, as well as CLUELESS from the same decade, the latter being for sure my favorite Austen adaptation ever. I know there is a new 2019 movie adaptation as well which I must see for completeness’ sake – somehow, as I don’t stream and they don’t seem to make DVD’s anymore.

Two of my favorite quotes from this work:

“Oh, Miss Woodhouse, for the pleasure of sometimes being alone!”

And, “One half the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other half” – I had that on a t-shirt once. ( )

Book Corner 2020.17


Northanger Abbey: an Annotated Edition

Jane Austen at her best – so much better than the humorless MANSFIELD PARK, whose annotated edition I read earlier this year. Jane as narrator is just a barrel of laughs in this one. I bookmarked a few of my favorite quotes.

“Mrs. Allen immediately recognized the features of a former schoolfellow and intimate, whom she had seen only once since their respective marriages, and that many years ago. Their joy on this meeting was very great, as well it might, since they had been contented to know nothing of each other for the last fifteen years.”

“It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how little it is biased by the texture of their muslin, and how unsusceptible of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull or the jackonet.”

“The expectations of his friend Morland, from the first over-rated, had ever since his introduction to Isabella, been gradually increasing; and by merely adding twice as much for the grandeur of the moment, by doubling what he chose to think the amount of Mr. Morland’s preferment, trebling his private fortune, bestowing a rich aunt, and sinking half the children, he was able to represent the whole family to the General in a most respectable light.”

The annotations are mostly excellent. Quibble, after a while it felt like they became downright harping on the lack of feminine power in Austen’s society, constantly conjecturing whether in this passage or that she was commenting on it, insinuating on it, etc. ( )

7-Apr 8-Apr 9-Apr 10-Apr
Did you stay home today? Curbside burgers & beer Yes, 100% Curbside Mexican Yes, 100%
What was for dinner? Curbside burgers & beer Ravioli Curbside Mexican Leftovers
What business or charity did you support? Curbside burgers & beer Single Pebble gift card & employee fund Curbside Mexican Sweet Clover (advance order)
7-Apr 8-Apr 9-Apr 10-Apr
Positive test results 308 324 336 336
Positive test results* 575 605 628 679
Total tests conducted 7,129 7,749 8,181 8,657
Deaths+ 23 23 23 24
People being monitored 46 48 47 44
People who have completed monitoring 767 773 777 781
Hospitalized patients with COVID-19 29 35 33 32
Hospitalized patients under investigation for COVID-19 51 40 44 43

Check that out – one curve, for one day, in one state, has been flattened!

Book Corner 2020.16


Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Warning, spoilers.

Niamh is an Irish immigrant whose family all perishes in NYC, so she’s sent west on an Orphan Train. She has various miserable placements but comes out all right. The story of her youth is juxtaposed with a modern-day story where the 91-year-old Niamh, now Vivian, connects with a troubled teenager.

This is a lightweight story where the characters are either Good or Evil, and you see everything coming from a mile away. Except one thing – although you knew that Niamh would reunite eventually with Dutchy, a boy she met on the train going west, I did NOT expect her to literally go to bed with him within hours of their reunion. I mean, I thought they’d go for a drink or something.

The story of Niamh’s loss after loss culminates with the biggest loss of all: she has a baby and gives it up for adoption. This lets the book end with a mother-child-grandchild reunion where everyone is wonderful and looks like each other. Swelling violins, please.

I read this because it was a gift from my step-mother-in-law. I kept reading it because I did want to follow the Niamh story. As always tends to happen with books that interweave two very different stories, however, there’s always one I like better; and hence the other one keeps cropping up as a mere annoyance. Old Lady Vivian of course is attached to all her old keepsakes and of course she and troubled Molly eventually achieve a deep bond. I didn’t care, I wanted to see how the orphan turned out. ( )

PS  I think it’s time for some more Jane Austen.

Did you stay home today? Yes, 100%
What was for dinner? Chili mac
What business or charity did you support? James Beard Foundation Relief Fund
Chittenden Positive test results 164
Vermont Positive test results* 321
Total tests conducted 4,495
Deaths+ 16
People being monitored 153
People who have completed monitoring 645
Hospitalized patients with COVID-19 30
Hospitalized patients under investigation for COVID-19 45

Book Corner 2020.15


Fibershed by Rebecca Burgess with Courtney White

Nice photographs, and an immensely interesting topic – doing the “locavore” thing for textiles. But the text! I admit I skimmed a lot. I just could not focus. I was consistently amazed at how the authors could make such a fascinating topic such a dull slog of a read. Growing flax for linen, naturally colored cotton, natural dyestuffs, alpaca cooperatives – every time I turned to a new chapter about something I thought “now THIS is finally going to get interesting,” nope. Another page of text I could not get through.

Too bad, because it is a fun topic. As someone who raises fiber animals and makes yarn and loves weaving, I could be and should be the first to be all gung-ho about local textile production. But there seem to be lots of reasons it’s different from food, in terms of the future of truly localized sourcing and production. Reasons they didn’t really get into in this book. Or maybe they did. Honestly, I can’t be sure. ( )


Book Corner 2020.14


Vanishing Fleece by Clara Parkes

Clara Parkes buys a 676-pound bale of raw wool and sees it through to the finished yarn stage, by means of several differing mills and dye shops. Kind of the Michael Pollan of yarn. Basically, this book should have been titled, “Hey, Chris, Over Here”.

Clara buys her wool on shearing day from a farm in New York state. She sends some of it to Bartlett Yarn in Maine, some to Blackberry Ridge in Wisconsin, some to a big mill called S&D, some to a precious-sounding two-person natural dye studio in California, some to a big chemical dye company in Biddeford, Maine. It’s FUN!

The mills and shops are all wildly different, and give her wildly different results, almost all of them wonderful. Bartlett gives her a pleasing yarn she describes as being like “oatmeal,” in contrast to the lovely yarn Blackberry gives her, which she compares to “jasmine rice.” I thought those were knockout descriptions.

Clara’s excitement is palpable. On the floor of one vast spinning mill, she says she feels like she’s been shrunk to miniature size and let loose inside her Mom’s Singer sewing machine. Another great description!

I liked that Clara is based in Maine and visits places I’m familiar with, like the dyeing company in Biddeford – haven’t visited them per se, but I do think I was in a brewery next door last summer.

I may try more of her books – she seems like a super-fun fellow-wool-traveler! ( )

Book Corner 2020.13


Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

In 1927, an 86-year-old ex-slave living near Mobile AL tells his life story to interviewer Zora Neale Hurston. His words are recorded as heard, in local southern dialect. Cudjo Lewis was born Kossula in West Africa; captured and sold into slavery, and transported across the ocean in the famous ship Clotilde. Yes, America had abolished the slave trade decades before; this was all done hush-hush. Kossula lived over 5 years as a slave; then freed by the Civil War he built a house, and lived with a beloved wife and six children – all of whom predeceased him, each parting more tragic than the last. While this is undeniably a painful tale to read, the fascination of hearing first-hand the experiences of a black American of that time period who was African-born and can remember and relate his childhood experiences, his capture, his transport, his time enslaved, and his experiences since, makes the read a powerful and moving experience and more than just a sad slog. ( )