I’ve joined something called the “Vermont 251 Club.” The goal is to visit each of the 251 towns in Vermont. There are no rules. If you pay dues to join, you get to use their not-very-good website. Here’s my home page. I paid extra to buy a scrapbook. It’s spiral bound and lined and lists every town with a quarter page or more for taking notes. I’m printing out actual physical copies of my pictures and pasting them in. Yeah, with glue! I don’t know, I’m down on the entire Internet these days. I didn’t want this silly little project to be just another collection of selfies floating around. I wanted an artifact. And not all the pictures are even going to be selfies. Was a time when people just took pictures of what was around them. I don’t have to prove to anyone I was in each town. I know I was there and the project is my own little game.
The End of the End of the Earth by Jonathan Franzen
The book is about 50% birds, and I’m really just not that into birds, or nature or conservation writing. So, I skimmed a couple of chapters.
He’s good when he is writing from a personal perspective. I enjoyed his chapter about living in NY in the early 80s, and particularly the bookend chapters. The first was a kind of retrospective explanation/apologia/accounting for an essay previously published, where he got pissed at the Audubon Society for trying to get people to focus on climate change instead of more immediate concrete actions that would more directly help birds; and the essay itself was reprinted. Maybe one or two sentences could have been toned down; but I really thought it was a perfectly good essay and I’m sorry people all piled on him for writing it, calling him a “birdbrain” (har, har) and even a climate change denier (please).
The last essay really made my day, even though it WAS partly about birds; it was a recounting of a pricey expedition to Antarctica, and his sighting of an Emperor Penguin. I even read the good bits to my husband. It was interspersed with reminiscences of the uncle who had left him the money that made the expedition possible, which really didn’t belong; and I’m just tired of recollections of dead old relatives and pathos in general. So this essay was an exceptional instance of wishing he’d skip the personal stuff and get back to the birds.
Exhibit A: Viking Socks. And do they ever look like Viking socks, i.e. something out of the 6th century. The author of this pattern needs to bone up on 17-th century heel-turning technology.
Exhibit B: More of my (should-be) patented multi-color homespun 100% mohair yarn.
Eat a Little Better by Sam Kass
I didn’t realize this was basically a cookbook when I bought it for my Kindle; I thought it was just a food philosophy book by the Obamas’ personal chef. Happily, it is a recipe book but ALSO a book about food, and food policy, and cooking for the Obamas. It made a nice sequel to the Michelle memoir.
I loved Kass’ philosophy, summed up in the subtitle: Eat a little better. Just a little better. Marginal improvements! One less meat dish, one more whole grain, whatever works for you; and it will add up.
And I liked his emphasis on finding ways of cooking that work for real-life families, peppered with anecdotes of what Sasha & Malia (& Barack) liked and what they turned up their noses at. (Michelle just seemed so thrilled to have someone cook for her family, she loved everything.) However, that particular emphasis seemed to wane as the book went on. We started out with a philosophy of ease and simplicity and lots of great, simple ideas for cooking vegetables; and ended with soaking beans and sprouting lentils and a recipe for “Couscous with Olives, Piquillo Peppers, and Pine Nuts.” A real crowd-pleaser for the pre-teen set, I’m sure.
Sam Kass wasn’t just the Obama cook. A chef trained in Europe, he was also President Obama’s senior advisor for nutrition policy and Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move!” executive director. I liked hearing about his experiences trying to write policy, and his digs (har har) at the potato lobby. I liked hearing everything he had to say. Great read.
Educated: a Memoir by Tara Westover
Did we really need another GLASS CASTLE so soon?
It kept me reading – you can’t help but root for her. But it got so repetitive. How many times can we mentally scream, “NO, TARA, NO!” No, do NOT go get another ice cream with the guy who broke your toe and habitually shoves your head in the toilet! This will not end well! How many times can we think, “OK, now she’s starting to get it, finally!” and then read “So I went home for Christmas.” You WHAT?! “STOP GOING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, TARA!!”
Best takeway came on the penultimate page: “Guilt is never about THEM. Guilt is the fear of one’s own wretchedness.”
Painted, courtesy of Ms. Mary Hill.