Tag Archives: The Re-Reading Project

Quarterly Progress Report: 2015 Q1

Alright now, it’s been a while. You and I both know this, so I’m just ‘fessing up. Since I’ve been pretty quiet this year and because two of my favorite regular posts are the annual end of the year homework and the quarterly reading reports, I thought I’d just smash them together to create a quarterly progress report. Whether this will be a one-timer or a series remains to be seen – let me know what your thoughts are, if it’s something you’d like to see again or not.

Updates on 2015, my life and goals so far:

1. This blog: I’ve been writing and maintaining a blog fairly consistently since 2008 and it’s been a lot of fun. I started out writing 10+ posts a month, sometimes as many as 20-25 during NaNoWriMo in November. The world of blogging has changed so much since 2008, as has my personal and professional life, so there have been different iterations of this blog in that time and that’s the beauty of it, I think, watching it stretch and mutate to become what is most necessary and fun for me at any given time. I think the blog will be undergoing a new iteration soon and I’m in a phase of figuring out what I need from it. I’m crowdsourcing information from a group of other bloggers (look for their links on the right, under Band of Bloggers) and I would genuinely love to know your thoughts, whether you’ve been reading for a long time or catch the occasional random post, whether its in the comments or privately (my email is on my bio page).

2. My low-key New Year’s resolution: During the last few years, my email inbox has become a terrifying place, unproductive and chaotic, a black hole into which good information and correspondence have disappeared. Last year, I had more than 2,000 unread messages in my inbox (not in folders, inbox). Without quite intending to (at first), I started doing something about this late last year, picking up steam as I went. I stopped subscriptions to a lot of email newsletters, switched from daily to weekly in some cases, and deleted dozens of emails in batches. When 2015 started, I had fewer than 200 emails in my inbox, going back to 2012 and I have been steadily dealing with these, as well as developing better and faster data and correspondence management techniques that work for my personality and schedule. As I write this, I have fewer than 25 emails in my inbox, the oldest one is dated 3/1 and I intend, moving forward, to keep it that way. This might seem like an incredibly tedious, nerdy and anal retentive task to update you about however, this took so much patience and I feel such a sense of accomplishment that I just had to mention it.

3. Reading and re-reading: After the blowout success of last year’s Re-Reading Project, I had plans to keep going with new titles and more guest posts. I think a project of the same magnitude of last year’s, especially without having a list of titles in advance or any prep done, was just too overwhelming. The book titles I’d planned to read at the front end of the year were all massive and depressing and I just couldn’t do it in the depths of the winter. I haven’t re-read a single book this year. And on the reading front… well… I’ve been slacking off there, too. I’ve read some really amazing books this year, which I’ll tell you about in the Q1 Reading Report soon. I started off with 10 titles in January, a really decent number. But then I only read 5 in February. As for March…I haven’t finished a single book in March, which is an entirely unprecedented experience in my life (to my recall). I *have* been reading, of course, but mostly articles and excerpts of other work (Delanceyplace newsletter is one I kept, as well as the Smithsonian newsletter and NPR’s book and music podcasts). I’ve been reading one massive encyclopedia-esque book since last year and browsing some other books. Also, I sat down and read through the first 60+ pages of the memoir and have been recently re-reading the blog as part of my impending revamp. I’m sure I’ll finish at least one actual physical book this month… [I actually finished reading 2 books since I began writing this post.]

4. Home sweet home: In early 2014, I moved for the second time in 6 months and spent the rest of the year in a tiny temporary apartment. It was a hot mess when I first moved in and after some renovation and the repurposing of things I’d had forever, as well as things I inherited from friends when they moved, it became my home. It was in an area of town I’d never spent much time in and had always gotten lost in before, yet I started digging the neighborhood almost immediately. It was never supposed to be permanent, but it suits me so utterly, which has taken me by surprise. It was looking like I’d have to move again (3rd time in 18 months), so I started 2015 completely devastated, having realized how much I loved the place and how hard it was going to be to find a new home. Then, on my birthday, I got the news that I could stay for the foreseeable future. Very often, I look around my cozy apartment and think, “I’m so glad I live here.”

5. Eating right: One of my proudest moments of 2014 was when a friend looked in my fridge and said, “Hey, what’s with all this green stuff?” It’s only gotten “worse” (or better, more like) since then. I am now cooking and preparing the majority of my meals, eating at home far more often than I eat out. While I did eat canned soup for lunch pretty much every workday for three months (winter sucks, y’all), most every other meal was prepared using fresh and local ingredients. At the farmers market on my way home from work last week, I was telling the tomato vendor about the great sandwiches I’ve been making with her tomatoes and her market neighbor’s bread, as well as the kale from the vendor at the far end of the market. I told the baker (who’s become a friend) how the 8 people at the recent Peauxdunque retreat ate off one of her loaves of rustic white bread for two different meals (breakfast, paired with homemade apple butter and dinner, alongside my spaghetti). I let the citrus man talk me into a second bag of grapefruit on the promise they’d keep well in the fridge for weeks (and his grapefruit are so sweet I never use sugar on them). While I’ve been cooking quinoa without incident for a while, I was so excited to cook dinner for a friend that I cooked waaaay too much and then had to share several more meals with friends just to get all the quinoa eaten up. Happy accident. This has become my hobby, entertainment, passion, all in one, which makes for a very good investment.

6. Writing is my life: I’ve streamlined my life a great deal in order to write as much as possible. I get up at 5:30 or 6 a.m., get to the coffeeshop when it opens at 6:30 and write for an hour before work. Sometimes I meditate before my writing session. After work, I come home and cook dinner and prep the next day’s lunch, occasionally meditate, maybe talk to some friends or watch a movie and go to bed pretty early. I still dance tango once or twice a week, but that’s been pretty much all of my socializing outside my house. (Except for occasional literary events like Delta Mouth and the Tennessee Williams Festival). Except for going to the farmers market, I do nothing else regularly. This hibernation worked very well for me during the winter when it was miserably cold and got dark so early. I’ll probably be shaking it up a bit now that it’s getting warmer. But I know that, despite not being a morning person, I really treasure my hour of writing in the morning (even if the hour is actually only 15 or 20 minutes because I’m running late), so I will work hard to maintain that habit.

7. Traveling: Despite my craving for stability and structure, I really love the way travel shakes things up, energizes me and throws everything into a bit of chaos. I’ve already traveled twice this year. First, 36 hours in Portland, Oregon for ValenTango (and to see my brother) last month. Then, two days on a “ridge” near Nashville for Peauxdunque’s annual writing retreat last weekend. I’ve also recently spent a weekend in Baton Rouge, which was an odd and wonderful “staycation” experience in a city where I once lived for several years. It was a blast from the past that united family, friends from several eras of my life, a literary reading, a tango house party, a visit to a museum and several drives through campus. I hope to visit Atlanta soon and maybe carve out some time for a New York City adventure. Let’s see.

That’s the nuts and bolts about what’s been going on the last three months. You’ll be getting a Q1 Reading Report soon and perhaps a reinvigorated, reconfigured bragging on post (or series…). In the meantime, don’t forget to comment or drop me a note about what you’ve enjoyed about this blog and what you might like to see more of here and from me.

 

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Filed under Baton Rouge, food, literature, musing, NaNoWriMo, New Orleans, The Re-Reading Project, what I'm reading, writing updates

My end of 2014 homework

This is the fifth time I’ve wrapped up the year with some homework, originally assigned by Jamey in 2010. This is my chance, as the year winds down, to reflect on the past and plot the future, to remind myself everything that’s happened and everything I’ve achieved. It’s become my favorite new year tradition.

The 14 Struggles and Successes of 2014

1. I re-read. This time last year, the Re-Reading Project was a scribbled note at the back of my journal. After deciding to re-read 12 influential titles (all originally read before the age of 16), I stuck with it and, throughout the year, I re-read 21 books and 10 friends joined me, writing essays about books that are important to them. I didn’t finish my planned book for December, the only title from the original 12 that wasn’t re-read this year. However, I consider the Project a smashing success because of all of the amazing experiences I’ve had re-reading and all of the tremendous guest essays. Plus, as I suspected, re-reading pushed me to read more. Last year, I read 67 books and this year, I’ve read over 100. And it looks like I’m going to continue it next year, with a different handful of titles.

2. I moved for the second time in six months. This time, I moved to a brand new part of town. I’d always said (and thought) that I hated Mid City, because I inevitably got lost around here and I have a great sense of direction. From day one living here, I stopped getting lost and started finding my way in multiple senses. I’ve made a cozy, impermanent, perfect little home here for myself and while I’ll probably have to move again soon, I know now that I absolutely love Mid City and it’s been an invaluable lesson.

3. I applied for writing residencies and submitted my work like it was a full time job. Because it was, for the first time, my main job. I even got all organized and efficient about it, too.  (I gave up my t.v. in this second move and hardly missed it, I was so busy reading and writing).

4. I ate and cooked healthier. This has been a slow process, several years in the making, but I had a few conversations last year with tango dancers about juicing and hypoglycemia that pretty much pulled everything together for me. I read a few books that blew my mind. And I started eliminating as much sugar and processed food from my diet as I could on a limited budget and without the energy and time to change everything completely. It started with small changes (no sugar in coffee, especially the sugary iced coffees I love) that grew into bigger changes (lots more veggies, mindful of “sugary” fruits, more nuts and grains). I’m now a regular at the closest farmer’s market to my house, I make most of my meals at home and I’ve noticed that cutting down my sugar intake has made me taste and enjoy food so much more. So when I do eat some sugar, it’s a real treat. Sometimes, it’s hard and I really have to make sure I eat small meals/snacks regularly or I crash badly (but this was always true, I just didn’t know how to manage it). The end result is I’m healthier than I’ve maybe ever been and I’m still working to be healthier.

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5. I read the first chapter of my memoir at Peauxdunque’s  second Yeah, You Write, alongside amazing writers.

6. I assisted with the organizing of the New Orleans Tango Festival, which was an exceptional, educational, entertaining experience. I got to meet, dance with and just hang out with so many incredibly talented dancers. Next year’s festival is already gearing up and I am so excited, even though it’s still six months away! Opportunities like this one really helped make me a better dancer this year.

7. I traveled a lot this year. I went twice to D.C. and got to dance at two different milongas. I spent more time in Atlanta and got to take lessons with teachers there. I danced in Philadelphia and in the middle of nowhere on a airfield. I even spent more time in Baton Rouge. While all of the trips weren’t necessarily motivated by tango, I managed to dance wherever I went. All of this travel, while related to the turmoil of this year in many ways, reminded me how much I really love visiting different cities, the openness it brings to my life. I want to make travel a priority in the future. Until D.C., I hadn’t flown in a few years and I haven’t been out of the country since 2007, so I think that’s gotta change soon.

8. I attended an artists residency, Soaring Gardens. I wrote about this quite a bit on the blog, so I’ll keep this one short. Except to say that my month staying at Soaring Gardens with the artist Anne Canfield was everything I needed and utterly transformative.

9. I “lost” NaNoWriMo. This year’s novel was a silly and fun murder mystery that came to me while I was in Pennsylvania. I was excited to write it, but it never came together. I only wrote a few thousand words on that project, but I’ll never consider this NaNoWriMo (or any other) a failure. I always learn something trying to write 50,000 words in a single month. This is why I totally won this year: during November, I started waking up at 6 or 6:30 a.m. to write for a half hour, 40 minutes, an hour, before work. I wrote over 10,000 new words on the memoir. I kicked ass during those early morning writing sessions, getting more done in an hour than I’ve gotten done in whole days set aside to write. What’s even better is that I’m still writing for an hour most mornings.

10. I finally got meditation. Meditation has always been something I understand would be good for me, but it’s been a recipe to fail in the past. I meditated a little, though not formally, while at the residency. Mostly, I journaled like crazy and spent a lot of time in my own head, sitting still outside. In November, while I was *not writing* my murder mystery for NaNoWriMo, I also completed a meditation challenge. It finally clicked for me this go-round and I had a breakthrough about what meditation looks/feels like and how it can help me.

11. I worked on my novel again and while it’s still unfinished (those pesky last 30 pages of the third draft are killer), it’s in very good shape. Meanwhile, I’ve made some great progress with the memoir this year. I blogged more than I have in a long time and published a few reviews and interviews. And, a short essay I wrote will be published in an anthology. I’m looking forward to seeing all of my work in a tangible form that can be shared.

12. I asked for help. I’m not good at this or, I haven’t been in the past. It was very, very hard, but when it looked like I wouldn’t be able to go to the residency, instead of giving up, I launched a GoFundMe campaign. I was utterly blown away by the generosity and support I received. Even when people couldn’t donate anything or much, their notes of encouragement bolstered me. Beyond the fundraising campaign, I’ve received so much help this year (financial, emotional, physical) and after I decided to stop being a basket case about it, I started to accept it as graciously as I could, because everything this year would have been harder or impossible without the help I received.

13. I survived. Historically, I have not managed change well. 2014 was full of transitions, a constantly shifting field. Most of it was positive. Several changes were incredibly sad. Good, bad, positive, sad, it was a lot. I moved for the second time in six months and spent the whole year uncertain how long I’d stay, not just in my apartment, but in New Orleans itself. I fell in love and while the relationship didn’t work out, it changed everything. I wrote my first poem in almost a decade and started journaling hardcore again. I attended two funerals, the first of my life, and I worked hard to support people I cared about through their grief. I freelanced and took on a new role as a salesperson, but I didn’t work on a single movie, though I considered positions on two huge films. My sister’s second son was born, as were the children of friends in the tango community. Three of my friends’ 12 year old sons are now taller than me (no matter how much I grow as a person, I’m just not physically getting any taller). Friends graduated, got married, changed jobs, left town. This year, I struggled to survive all of the changes. Next year, I look forward to thriving. I have ideas and dreams and I’m working on making them plans and realities.

14. I put my writing first. While I’ve never actually given up my writing or stopped completely, I’ve let jobs, relationships, living situations, etc. structure my life and then I fit my writing in between whatever else seemed like a bigger priority at the time. This was the year, for better or for worse, that I decided that my writing, my own goals and plans, had to establish the structure of my life and everything else needs to support my writing. It was really messy and difficult, but I know it was a lesson worth learning. Where I live, who I love and spend time with, what I do to make money, none of this can change who I am: a writer. So all my decisions from now on are going to be made with that in the forefront.

2013 was a rough year and 2014 was, if anything, even rougher. But in the midst of the struggle, as Maurice recently reminded me, is the sublime. I’m ending 2014 stronger than I started it, confident and determined. I’m ready to let go of 2014 and very excited for 2015.

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Filed under Atlanta, Baton Rouge, family, food, freelance work, Friends, musing, NaNoWriMo, New Orleans, tango, The Re-Reading Project, The Residency Road Trip, travel

The Re-Reading Project: The Book I Couldn’t Re-Read

This time last year, I had a small sheet of paper taped into the back of my journal with a list of twelve books jotted out. My plan was to re-read one of these twelve books each month in 2014 and write about the experience, what I remembered from my original readings and what I discovered reading them now. I’d first read almost all of these books before I was 16 (when I moved to Louisiana) and while I’d read most of them only one time, I counted them all as favorite, influential books.

In January, I quickly fell in love with the project and read 9 kids’ books. I was in the middle of moving for the second time in six months, so I think I was a little nostalgic for childhood and a semblance of stability. It was a lot of fun, in the middle of chaos.

February found me in my new home and brought me company in the project: my friend Maurice re-read an influential book of his own and wrote a guest post. I re-read a Japanese fantasy translated into English.

March brought a guest post from my sister Aimee, re-reading an author she introduced me to and who I would re-read later in the year, as well as a post of my own about re-reading a speculative anthropological romance novel.

As April opened, I re-read a gothic romance while on a train to visit my new love and my friend Missy re-read a philosophical horror novel I’d never read by an author who also wrote a series of books I almost re-read this year.

In May, I confessed to my history as a reader of romance novels and I re-read my first “real” romance novel, by a writer I’ve never read again, and then re-read a romance by a writer whose mysteries I still read, conflicted though I may be about enjoying them.

June saw me at my love’s house, re-reading a young adult trilogy by an author who disappeared for ten years and then became wildly popular again as two of her series were made into t.v. shows. My friend Mary re-read folk tales right around the same time her book of poetry inspired by folk tales was published.

July brought me heartache, but I pushed on and re-read a horror novel by the author my sister introduced me to at age ten and my friend Noel re-read another horror novel by a more famous horror novelist.

August took me back to school, re-reading three books I was assigned as a student, one of which I hated and one of which I loved, and I got on the road for the Residency Road Trip. Blogger Lisa re-read another canonical tome that impacted her.

September was an oasis of calm, of thinking, reading and writing and I re-read a speculative science thriller and my friend James re-read a magical realistic family saga by an author who died this year.

In October, I returned to “real life” and New Orleans, wrapping up the Residency Road Trip and settling back in. I struggled to re-read the book I’d originally scheduled for October and at the last minute changed it to a magical realistic romantic tale as my Peauxdunque cohort Emily re-read a romantic Civil War saga.

During November, I conducted my own private NaNoWriMo and happily re-read an adventure tale based on an ancient Iraqi folktale while another Peauxdunque cohort, Joi, re-read a gothic horror novel about suburbia and family (not written by Gillian Flynn).

December finds me in a familiar place – swimming through chaos and uncertainty. My friend Rachel re-read a satirical science fiction novel and I struggled, once more, to re-read the book I’d originally scheduled for October: a fantasy novel published in 1992 by an author who has switched to writing mysteries. (If you can guess what the book is from that description, let me know.) I’ve always remembered this book as one of my favorites, though I might’ve only read it once (it’s recorded in 1996, when I was 14, but I find it hard to believe I only read it one time). I was excited to re-read this book all year long – it was one of the first titles that went on my list. Several times, as I read other books, I thought of this book. There’s an artist protagonist, so I thought it would be perfect after living with an artist for a month at the residency. But, as I dove in, the book never really caught my attention. I was fifty pages in when I started again this month, so I had a head start and I still couldn’t get invested. It finally got a bit more interesting when I passed the 100 page mark last night, but I’m a firm believer that there is a time for every book in a person’s life. And I finally had to admit that I’m just not meant to re-read this book this year. Maybe next year.

This year, I re-read and wrote about 21 books (rather than the 12 I’d originally intended) and my friends wrote 10 fabulous guest essays about books they re-read. Interesting stats: of the ten guests, eight are women and two are men. Even more interesting: I’ve only read 2.5 of the 10 books my guests re-read (the .5 is for Mary’s folk takes because while I didn’t read her edition, I’ve probably read most of the stories), though I have started reading, but never finished, half of them. I didn’t assign any of the titles my guests picked, though we did discuss them in advance and I sometimes scheduled them according to what I was re-reading (Noel in July most notably).

It turns out that the Re-Reading Project is going to continue, with a new slate of books and in a different form. Let me know if you’re interested in re-reading and writing about your experience and stay tuned. In the meantime, you can use this post as an index (or scavenger hunt, if you prefer) for all of the essays for the 2014 Re-Reading Project. 

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Filed under books, Friends, musing, New Orleans, The Re-Reading Project, The Residency Road Trip, travel, what I'm reading

The Residency Road Trip: Soaring Gardens Week Two and Three

After my Week One post, it turns out, I’m addicted to chronicling our stay here at Soaring Gardens, so I kept photographing our meals and other miscellany of note. Here’s a recap of Week Two and Three of our stay. Enjoy!

 

~Week Two~

Day 8

Today, I spent most of the morning reading and doing some housekeeping for my job back home, just so it won’t be a complete mess when I get back. It was chilly in the house, but warmer outside because the sun was out, so I read outside to warm up. I’m reading a book about tango and it got me thinking about the book I’m here to work on, so I was taking notes and underlining like a madwoman (in a hammock). I wrote a bit on the bench by the studio (the office from Day 7) and a car kept going by on the street up the hill, slowing down near the house. I went up to find out what was going on. The driver was looking for the neighbors and I was able to direct him there, but just before he drove off, he looked at the studio and said, “That’s a weird house.” He was already gone when I rebutted, “It’s a studio, actually.” Very strange. 🙂 In the afternoon, I walked on the front lawn, listening to music and still pondering the book’s structure. It was a very contemplative day. Anne rehashed her chicken and red sauce dish with some eggplant and linguine and that made a nice dinner.

Day 8 dinner

Day 9

Woke up from a very strange dream this morning. That’s happened a bit while I’ve been here. I told Anne about the dream while we ate breakfast and she suggested it might’ve been related to our conversation over dinner last night, which made sense when she said so. After breakfast, I had an errand to run at the neighbors’ house. Mrs. Neighbor had come over and introduced herself on Day 2, our first full day, but I’d only seen Mr. Neighbor from afar as he walked their dogs. I walked up to their house (which used to be the barn for the house where we’re staying, when it was all one big farm) and introduced myself and he said, “Are you the writer, or the painter?” and then he asked me how my work was going and we had a lovely conversation about books, their dogs and Korean movies. Afterwards, I went back and got some work done. In the afternoon, Anne and I went into Meshoppen, following Joanne (the gardener)’s directions to Marty’s Market, which she said has a nice meat selection. We got a nice big steak and some fat chicken breasts, for meals we’re planning later in the week, as well as some sauerkraut and mushroom pieroges, and other necessary items. For dinner, I cooked the chicken, mozzarella and spinach sausages Anne brought with some kale and purple sauerkraut and Anne made the pieroges.

Day 9 dinner

Day 9 dinner

Every day, it’s been getting colder and I’d been feeling worn down. By the end of the day, when Anne and I watched Wall-E (instead of our usual evening rummy game), I was full-out sneezing.

Day 10

I slept pretty late and when I finally got up, it was a rainy, rotten day. But I felt a bit more energetic than yesterday and Anne had left me a get-better treat:

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Because it was cold and wet and I was sick, I set up in the studio (very warm and beautiful), making a nest for myself and my notebooks on the floor in front of a window. I wrote and read there in the late morning and afternoon and when Anne went on a hike, I spent a half hour or so dancing on the great wood floors in the studio. The sun came out in the late afternoon, so I read on the studio’s porch and admired the view.

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I worked at the table in the kitchen while Anne made dinner. My work was administrative, mostly correspondence, and I found out the identity of the mystery apple baker. It was Suzanne, one of the residents at the house last month. For dinner, Anne grilled the steak, made some sweet potato fries (with aioli) and veggies. It was very, very good and the wine on the table was one of the best so far, a Malbec. I put together a simple sweet treat for us after dinner.

Day 10 dinner

Day 10 dinner

Vanilla bean ice cream with toffee milk chocolate bits

Vanilla bean ice cream with toffee milk chocolate bits

 

 

 

 

That evening, I vegged out, watching tango videos, in anticipation of taking a class I found in a nearby town. More on that later. I went to bed early-ish and Anne worked late in the studio. No rummy this evening.

Day 11

I was feeling more energetic in the morning, so I decided to walk down the road a ways (passing no traffic, except for threIMG_3900e guys on two 4-wheelers). Instead of taking the road back, I cut through a meadow (seen in the pic) and then walked through the woods alongside the road, trying to stay close to it. But I couldn’t actually see the road (or hear it, without traffic) and winding through fallen trees and underbrush, I was further away than I’d thought by the time I decided to hike up to the road.

This fallen tree looks like a sea serpent!

Doesn’t this fallen tree look like a sea serpent?

And it was a hike because the road climbs up. But, I have a good sense of direction and I’d been careful to always keep the road on my left, so I came out  of the trees just one property over from the house. I was exhausted, though. And thirsty! I’d overestimated my energy level after being sick the last two days. So, I recovered on the swing in the mudroom and read some more of the book about tango, then ate lunch.

After lunch, Anne and I went by Four Seasons to pick up some fresh produce and we had a very interesting exchange with Tina, who runs the farm stand. First, I told her that Diane said hello. Diane was originally supposed to be my housemate and we were both scheduled to be here in August. I ended up here in September with Anne and Diane stayed at the church, a second property nearby that’s also part of Soaring Gardens. Tina said hi back to Diane and then asked if we’d gone by the church yet and met the couple staying there. We hadn’t known anyone was there, but she said they’d just been in, saying they hadn’t found the house yet. So, after dropping Anne back off at the house, I grabbed a bread pan (Tina mentioned they needed one) and the directions to the church and I headed off on an adventure. The church is just a few miles away and I was finding my way fine, except that the dirt road that the church is on apparently changed names recently. So I passed it twice and went almost all the way to Meshoppen looking for another likely white church on a dirt road. Finally, I called ahead and confirmed that was the church alright, so I headed back and had tea with Janet and Greg. They followed me back to the house so they could check it out and meet Anne.

Farm stand haul: purpley-green tomato, black raspberry jam, Amish butter and cherry peppers

Farm stand haul: purpley-green tomato, black raspberry jam, Amish butter and cherry peppers

After they left, I wrote for a little while in the studio with Anne and then went into the house to make dinner. This meal was inspired by a conversation with Joanne in the garden earlier in the week when she told me about making chicken breasts stuffed with ricotta cheese and veggies. I couldn’t stop thinking about putting this decadent dish together and our trip to Marty’s Market was partially inspired by my wanting to cook it.

Day 11 dinner

Day 11 dinner

I stuffed the chicken breasts with ricotta, mushrooms, basil, slices of tomato and cherry peppers (both seen in the pic above). I sauteed the rest of the mushrooms and Anne made a tomato/cucumber salad to go with it. Please note that the chicken is garnished with some of the cherry pepper and the pieces baked inside made the whole breast nice and spicy. Since it was pretty cold, we opted to dine inside tonight. Our dessert was sinful: a chopped local red pear over the last of the ice cream, with melted dark chili chocolate. 

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After dinner, we both worked very late in the studio. I think I’ve figured out the structure for my tango memoir, after some tailoring the past few days and I researched and made notes for the timeline of the first section of the book. I worked till about midnight, then read for a bit while Anne finished up. Then, we met for a super late and long game of rummy. And, I won for the first time! It was pretty exciting. Here’s the proof, our score sheet, which Anne illustrated:

Emilie's 1st rummy win

Day 12

Today was a rainy, dark, cold day! I ended up working in a new space: the corner of the dining room where there’s a little table and a comfy chair. I spent the morning and early afternoon there, breaking for a tasty lunch, which consisted of a thick slice of the purpley-green spicy tomato (stuffed in the chicken last night) on cheese and a peanut butter and black raspberry jam sandwich, utilizing the last two pieces of the pumpernickel.

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Jayne’s Orchard opened today and we’d been planning on going by, so even though it was a gross day, we went. I was a bit melodramatic and put on four layers: a thin turtleneck, a thermal with a hood, a thin sweater and then my raincoat. My excuse is that I just got over being sick, but really I’m just a wuss when it comes to being cold. It was worth going out in the chilly, rainy day. We scooped up some corn, honey and the most amazing apples at the orchard. We bit into them the second we were in the car – they just begged to be eaten.

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The sun actually came out a bit after we’d gotten back from the orchards, so I took my tango book out to the studio patio and soaked up what sun I could. After about an hour, I went back to the house to make dinner, something easy that would use up some of our leftovers and some of last bits of everything. So, I made a pico de gallo (most of our remaining grape tomatoes, the last cherry pepper, a jalapeno, cilantro, red onions and fresh raw corn), cooked the last chicken breast (marinated in Crystal and pepper, with some cilantro) and heated up the last of the steak from two nights ago. As I was cooking, Janet and Greg popped by to return the bread pan and before they left, I gave them some of the McIntosh apples and directions to the orchards. When Anne came in from the studio, she cooked some spinach and heated up the corn tortillas. The sun had made a full appearance by this point, so we took it all outside.

Day 12 dinner

Day 12 dinner

Day 12 dinner (also)

Day 12 dinner (also)

Afterwards, Anne and I jointly concocted what is probably one of the most decadent (and still somewhat healthy) desserts ever. Using some of the maple syrup Anne brought and a little of the whiskey I’d brought, not to mention some of the Amish butter, we cooked one of the McIntosh apples from the orchards, along with some blueberries from Blueberry Haven. Then, Anne took the leftover ricotta cheese, mixed in some half and half and a tiny bit more syrup and we combined the two for this amazing dessert:

IMG_3940After putting everything away and cleaning the kitchen, we went back for the second shift. Me, back to the dining room corner and Anne back to the studio.

new spot

We played another late game of rummy and I won again! I think the secret to beating Anne is playing when I’m hyper late at night and Anne is exhausted. 🙂

Day 13

I stayed up very late finishing a book, but still woke up fairly early because the sun was shining brightly through my windows. After breakfast, I set up in the office and worked on my Jurassic Park Re-Reading post most of the morning. I’d told Anne that I thought I’d have a big late lunch since I would be at the tango workshop around the time we’d normally be cooking and eating dinner. She said she’d join me and cooked some salmon, made a tzatziki sauce for it and served it with corn on the cob. It was delicious. In the picture below, you can’t really see the salmon on the front plate, so look at the plate in the background.

Day 13 dinner

Day 13 lunch

After lunch, it was hard to pick an outfit that would be warm and give me the freedom of movement I need to dance. It was a chilly day and I knew it’d get colder once the sun set. Finally, I settled on dance pants under a dress with a pashmina and a coat. No picture of that, unfortunately for y’all. 🙂

I left early because I wasn’t sure if I’d get lost on the way, plus I had some errands to run in Tunkhannock, since I was passing through. I guess I should say that I was aiming for a place called Factoryville. When I’d been pining for tango a few nights ago, I did an Internet search and found out there is an event every Sunday in September called Tango in the Tent. Factoryville is only about 45 minutes away, and the dancing takes place on the grounds of a small airport, of all places. I was extremely lucky because I found out that the class today was being taught by Johana Copes and Joaquin Besga. So, of course I had to go!

My errands went quickly and I didn’t get lost at all, so I was a bit early to the class. Mike, one of the organizers, showed me and another early bird around the house and the property behind it. It was the magic hour around these parts: the sun starts going down and gets very hot and everything just blazes up in color. Here’s a photo, to show you what I mean:

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It was just ridiculously beautiful. There were small planes landing on a runway on the right side of the photo above, as well as tangueros and tangueras arriving, all dolled up for dancing. Pretty much the instant I arrived, the hosts (Mike and Karen) found out I’m from New Orleans and told me about hosting Alberto and Valorie here a few years ago. The world really is very small and the tango world is even smaller. Thousands of miles from home, in an entirely new tango community, there are connections to home through this dance I love so much.

The night was fabulous: a good class, new friends, live tango music and tasty food. It was so good to dance again – it’s been weeks since I danced last, in Atlanta, and even longer since I’ve danced with my home community in Nola.

It was so dark when I headed back to the house! Earlier in the week, knowing that I was going to be coming back in the dark tonight, Anne and I drove back from Marty’s Market via the route I’d take and noted landmarks I could still use in the dark. And when I headed down to Factoryville, I was very careful to note the landmarks and mile markers again. Anne was on standby to come rescue me if I needed it, but I had absolutely no trouble making it back. All of our advance scheming paid off!

I was buzzing after my wonderful evening, so Anne made us a late, light snack and listened patiently as I talked all about tango, tango, tango!

Day 14

Slept in a bit today and then spent the day working in the office and reading. I finished the book about tango I’ve been reading the past week or so. I’d gotten a late start and got caught up in my day, then realized that Anne and I had decided to keep doing a big, late lunch instead of our dinner feasts. I didn’t have anything defrosted or planned for the meal, so while Anne headed off the the farm stand, I made a big egg and veggie scramble. When she got back, she cooked the greens and made a salad.

Day 14 lunch

Day 14 lunch

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I redeemed myself a little bit by cutting up the last of the peaches and putting it on some ice cream for us. Great dessert. After the late lunch, I joined Anne in the studio and worked there the rest of the day.

~Week Three ~

Day 15 

Spent the morning working in the office. Janet and Greg came by again and brought dark chocolate nonpareils with them (kind and evil, all at once). Since I haven’t included a photo of the office yet, here’s what I see on the desk as I work:

This coffee mug is becoming a bit like the gnome in Amelie, isn't it?

This coffee mug has become a bit like the gnome in Amelie, hasn’t it? 🙂

For the big, late lunch, Anne made BLTs with some bacon she got at the farm stand yesterday, and a cabbage and apple salad. For dessert, we had ice cream with some nonpareils sprinkled on top.

Day 15 lunch

Day 15 lunch

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After our meal, I spent the rest of the day working in the studio again: basking in the sun on the porch off the studio as I wrote in the afternoon and enjoying the quiet companionship of a shared workspace in the evening. After our work was paused for the day, my short rummy winning streak came to an end. I played well, but still somehow managed to get some pretty low scores.

Day 16

Felt pretty sick again today. Anne asked me earlier if I had a cold or allergies and I said, “Honestly, I think it’s a bit of both.” But it’s very strange how I’ll have full-out cold symptoms and no energy one day and then next, I’ll be a bit better, and then feel sick again the day after. I’m definitely dealing with some allergies, though. And it’s tough for me to stay warm, unless the sun comes out and then I just try to soak it all up. My cheeks have been pink for the last few days because of the sun bathing (and maybe the cold, too).

Anyways, I did some work for my job back home early in the morning and then read a bit, finishing one of the nonfiction books I’ve been reading. In the afternoon, I wrote on the bench underneath the studio’s porch (see Day 7), enjoying the sun. Then, I went put together today’s big late lunch, making meatballs and using the spinach and mozzarella ravioli again, cooking them both in a cream of artichoke. We finished off the cabbage and apple salad with it.

Day 16 lunch

Day 16 lunch

Maybe I’ve got tango on the brain, but doesn’t that salt and pepper shaker set look like a couple dancing?

Climbing the hill

Climbing the hill

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At the top of the hill

In the late afternoon, I went on a walk down the road a ways and up a hill. I wondered what I would see from the top. By the time I reached the bottom of the hill and started back to the house, the sun had lost a lot of this brilliance and it was starting to getting dark.

I spent the evening watching tango videos and writing some correspondence. Then, I went to the studio and did a bit more work there. Anne slaughtered me, again, in our evening rummy game.

Day 17

First thing, I drove into Tunkhannock to run some errands I hadn’t been able to do on Sunday (post office, liquor store). Even though this was only the third time I’ve driven “to town,” it’s starting to feel familiar, so I can really enjoy the scenery as I go. On the way back, I stopped at the Welcome Center for maps and postcards and the lady there told me to go by the Fireplace Restaurant for more postcards. It was a bit after noon and the smells in there were amazing, but I couldn’t stay for lunch, sadly. Had ice cream melting in the car and a big late lunch to get to. I did take a different route back to the house, though and pulled over to get a picture of the amazing view.

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I suspect that the hill towards the right of the picture, in the background and all lit up, is the hill I climbed yesterday.

Day 17 lunch

Day 17 lunch

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Back at the house, Anne made BLTs again with the awesome bacon from the farm stand. She made a spicy aioli this time, since I don’t like straight mayo, and it was really, really good. The tomatoes are orange ones, also from the farm stand, that look like apricots when sliced up like that. We cut up the biggest of the McIntosh apples, cooked it with some maple syrup, butter and whiskey, and added it to some ice cream. Maybe the best dessert ever.

I’d gotten mail! One of my good friends in Nola had retrieved my Poets & Writers, which got waylaid before my mail forward went through, and he sent it to me with a sweet card. I have felt so bereft without it all month! Here’s a photo of me enjoying the magazine on the studio porch. It’s turned to the page that announces this same friend’s contest win.

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I spent the evening working in the studio. I have to admit, I was a bit worried about the Scottish Independence vote tomorrow. I have some friends who live there and I enjoyed my time in St. Andrews seven years ago. I’ve always wanted to go back. So, I wondered how this vote would affect the lives of my friends in Scotland, as well as my ability to visit them and travel in the country. Anyway, as has become ritual, we worked pretty late and then settled in for a game of rummy. Anne won, once more.

Day 18

In the morning, Anne and I planned the big meal and a visit to the farm stand over breakfast. She set off, running the two miles to the farm stand (using a more direct route that I’d suggested might cut through near the house and sure enough, it did). I left a while later and scooped her up on the road close to Four Seasons, where we encountered not Tina, but a new lady. We had a great time visiting with her, scooping up some mint and seeing what is definitely the largest potato I’ve ever encountered. In the picture below, you can get a sense of the size of this thing by the scale and tomato (pretty large itself) in the background.

Award winner?

Prize winner?

Back at the house, I decided to go ahead and cook the big meal. I’ve discovered during this month that I really am naturally more alert in the evenings, so I tend to get more creative work done in the studio after the main meal, in the warmer late afternoons and quiet nights. I’m generally more distractable during the mornings, less focused. I always knew myself to be a night owl, but I wondered if it was still true. Guess so.

Day 18 big meal

Day 18 big meal

Yum

Yum

I chopped up a bunch of our veggies and peppers, many of which were on the verge of going bad, and made a spicy salsa. It looks a bit like a mango salsa in the picture below, because I used one of the orange tomatoes (seen behind the potato above). In addition to the tomato, I added some of the blueberries and corn for sweetness, to balance out the Crystal sauce, cherry peppers, cilantro and jalapenos. I seared some salmon and Anne cooked some spinach, which took on a lot of flavor from the salsa when we put it all together. It was very tasty. Anne cooked one of the Honeycrisp apples from the orchard, along with some blueberries, in whiskey and red wine. Here’s a picture before we’d even put it on the ice cream, because it was already so gorgeous (and delicious).

I had more mail, this time a care package from my mom, including a copy of Entertainment Weekly. It was two weeks old, from all the forwarding, but I was so glad to have it anyway! Of course, the cover story is on The Walking Dead and I already have a hard enough time not thinking about zombies while staying at here at the farmhouse, so I skipped that story.

The studio was nice and warm in the afternoon, so I got to work and stayed there the rest of the day, till just before midnight. Here’s a picture of what my workspace looks like in the afternoon – it’s a bit of a greenhouse right there in that corner, by all the windows. It gets downright hot, which is how I like it.

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During our evening rummy game (Anne’s on a winning streak), we had a great conversation about realism, magical realism and surrealism in both literature (my work) and visual art (hers), as well as the work of Haruki Murakami. Anne’s a big fan, but I’ve only read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (and a ton of interviews), so she recommended a novel of his for me to read. We’ve had a ton of these interdisciplinary conversations the past few weeks and it’s all been very fun and useful.

Day 19

Had another slow morning: eating breakfast, reading and cleaning up a bit. Very Saturday-ish kind of activities. It was a nice day today, not cold at all, so we threw open the doors and windows to enjoy it. It was especially nice in the kitchen, between the open front and back doors. It was very breezy and just very pleasant.

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Day 19 big meal

Doesn't look like much, but was very good.

Doesn’t look like much, but was very good.

I spent some time with the big meal today, a variation of my beef stew recipe.  I played around with the gravy and it ended up being pretty thin, more broth-like, but it was very rich regardless. The veggies were all still pretty crisp, which I love. I used two different kinds of potatoes, which needed to be used up, as well as one of the cherry peppers and, of course, Crystal (couldn’t resist). Even so, the stew wasn’t spicy, just flavorful. Anne made a beet, cranberry and carrot salad. And afterwards, I made a variation of s’mores, with gingersnaps instead of graham crackers and some chocolate caramels that Anne picked up at the farm stand the yesterday. Surprisingly, this was spicy, plenty of ginger in the snaps.

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I have a stalker out here, a chipmunk who likes to creep close and then dash away whenever I realize he’s there. There’s no reason to believe that this isn’t multiple chipmunks, but I feel pretty sure it’s the same darn one. I haven’t been able to get a photo of him. Till now. I came across him sunbathing in the backyard and though he knew I was there, he didn’t run away this time.

Alvin? Is that you?

Alvin? Is that you?

The sun came out and I spent the afternoon on the studio porch, writing and letting my hair dry after a shower. It was just absolutely beautiful and I enjoyed basking in it. After the sun set, I went back to the drafting desk in the studio and worked till midnight again. Neither of us was very tired, so we had a big Saturday night: a whiskey nightcap and a *very* close game of rummy (she still won), then Egyptian Rat Slap (I slaughtered her) and then I taught her a family variation of rummy I hadn’t played in years (she picked it up fast and almost beat me). What hooligans we are. 🙂

Day 20

We were hoping the orchard was open this morning, so we took a drive out there. Alas, it wasn’t, but it was a pretty drive regardless. We passed a total of two vehicles roundtrip (if you count a tractor in one of the fields).

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Once again, it’s not too cold, so it’s been a nice weekend to walk around and enjoy the sun, meditate and think. We decided to skip the big meal today and each eat leftovers as we worked. I spent the evening in the kitchen, brewing up a “detox tea” and doing some research for the memoir. The rainstorm that’s been brewing for two days finally started. Anne came in, made a Greek salad for a late light meal and we had some of the tea as well.

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Day 20 light snack. Anne’s with smoked herring on top…

...mine without smoked herring.

…mine without smoked herring.

After the snack, we both worked till pretty late, well after midnight. Our rummy game was very close tonight and I was in the lead every hand until Anne swooped in at the end and stole the game. But I won both of our very quick Egyptian Rat Slap games after that. One of these days, I’ll beat Anne at rummy again…

Day 21

It rained most of the night and was cold again in the morning. But what a mild, pretty weekend! Anne went into Tunkhannock today, so I spent the morning dancing in the studio. Can’t let my tango walk get rusty! It’s been good to have all this time to practice on my own, but I certainly miss dancing with and seeing my tango friends. The days were pretty slow for a while there, but now that we’re nearing the end of Week Three (and the residency), they seem to have picked up speed.

Day 21 big meal

Day 21 big meal

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After Anne returned from Tunkhannock, she used the cookbook she brought to make “Chicken Curry in a Hurry,” along with some cucumber raita. We opened up a Malbec. It was all delicious! Our dessert was two ripe bananas I’d frozen before they could go bad, chopped up with the chocolate sauce we made. Yum!

And then, into the studio we both went, to work on our respective art. We were there, working, most of the evening, till about midnight once more. It’s been a pleasure to share a workspace with Anne all these weeks, and to see her paintings develop and change every day. It’s remarkable how much the two art forms are similar, and all the ways in which they differ.

Tonight’s rummy battle was one of the most heated yet, with several hands that took us into negative scores. Well, me. Anne had to take points off her score one hand because I went out sooner than expected, but overall, it was the worst slaughter yet. Afterwards, we played a full game of my family’s variant of rummy. Well, I say my family’s because I played it growing up and my aunt taught me and my mom, but I haven’t discovered whether it’s an official version or not. Anyway, I beat Anne, but she got better with each hand, so it’s only a matter of time till she’s lethal in this rummy, too.

Hope you enjoyed reading about Week Two and Week Three here at Soaring Gardens. You can read about Week Four next Tuesday, so stay tuned!

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Filed under food, musing, tango, The Re-Reading Project, The Residency Road Trip, travel, writing updates

The Re-Reading Project: Jurassic Park

Introduction: “The InGen Incident”

The late twentieth century has witnessed a scientific gold rush of astonishing proportions: the headlong and furious haste to commercialize genetic engineering. This enterprise has proceeded so rapidly–with so little outside commentary–that its dimensions and implications are hardly understood at all.

Biotechnology promises the greatest revolution in human history.

Prologue: The Bite of the Raptor

The tropical rain fell in drenching sheets, hammering the corrugated roof of the clinic building, roaring down the metal gutters, splashing on the ground in a torrent. Roberta Carter signed, and started out the window. From the clinic, she could hardly see the beach or the ocean beyond, cloaked in low fog. This wasn’t what she had expected when she had come to the fishing village of Bahia Anasco, on the west coast of Costa Rica, to spend two months as a visiting physician. Bobbie Carter had expected sun and relaxation, after two grueling years of residency in emergency medicine in Michael Reese in Chicago.

She had been in Bahia Anasco now for three weeks. And it had rained every day.

I first read Jurassic Park late in 1996, within a few weeks of reading many of the other books in the Re-Reading Project. Here’s a tiny snapshot of my reading at the time.

Diane Hoh’s Med Center: Flood (a Y/A medical thriller)
Lord of the Flies and Fahrenheit 451 (probably for school)
-another Med Center book (Fire)
two Harlequin romances
Jurassic Park
-the first book in L.J. Smith’s Night World series
-another Med Center book (Blast)

Within a few more titles, I’d read two more Re-Reading Project books that will appear later this year and a novelization of the remake of the film Sabrina. This is all to say that I was reading young adult and adult titles, romances and thrillers, fantasy and medical-themed titles, classics and schlock all at the same time. I was voracious and I didn’t discriminate. It was, in many ways, all the same to me.

And, Jurassic Park is a little bit of all that (except maybe romance). It’s a story Michael Crichton had originally conceived as a screenplay about a graduate student and then later a novel told from a child’s p.o.v. and it became a multi-viewpoint narrative mostly featuring adults. It’s a thriller, a medical-themed fantasy, now a new “classic” and will always contain some strong elements of schlock.  It was almost everything I wanted to read when I was fourteen going on fifteen.

I re-read Jurassic Park and read the sequel The Lost World, as a more cynical 21-year-old, almost done with my undergraduate degree and primarily writing, by this point, screenplays. When Jurassic Park was first published in 1990, Crichton was already a successful author, a few of his books had been turned into movies and he’d directed one himself. He’d already written the first feature screenplay version of what would become the pilot for the t.v. show E.R. But most of what we remember him for now would come after Jurassic Park was published. When I re-read the book in 2003, more of his books had been turned into movies and I was fascinated by adaptation, so I was probably interested in that aspect of the book, how it matched the Spielberg movie (a decade old when I re-read the book).

For the Re-Reading Project, I grabbed my original copy of Jurassic Park, a paperback version from 1991, the same copy I read in 1996 and again in 2003. Books like this are a special bit of time travel. IMG_3861They can take you back to former versions of yourself, living their lives in a world that no longer exists. But back to the point…

For all Crichton’s experience with film, Jurassic Park is both a highly cinematic and thoroughly uncinematic book. Cinematic because it has a killer hook (cloned dinosaurs in an island theme park terrorize a small group of humans trying to contain them!) and so many of the scenes are highly visual, easy to imagine and get absorbed by. It’s one of the few instances when the film version is “better” than the book, because while the book was a good one, smart and visionary, and completely necessary for the film to exist, the film corrects many of the “problems” with the original text, most of which probably contributed to its success when it was published.

We open with an Introduction alluding ominously to the “InGen Incident,” but mostly reading like non-fiction. It’s unclear who’s speaking as the tone journalistic, almost academic. Then, we get a Prologue following a doctor, Bobbie Carter, (not a character we’ll ever seen again), as she experiences something very odd on her vacation/visiting physicianship in Costa Rica. Is this the main character? we might ask ourselves. Nope.

Then, we’re into the “First Iteration,” the first section of the novel proper (not really) and we meet a family of three who experience something else very strange on a beach in Costa Rica. After this, we meet some other minor characters, most of whom we’ll never see again, as we track an odd animal and later a tissue sample of this animal, through the wilderness and medical labs. It all feels mildly ominous and a little boring. It’s a dumb way to open a book, especially a thriller, at least in modern thinking. But it bears a striking resemblance to a common trope in medical thrillers whereby an infection spreads from person to person. Did it exist in fiction/film before Crichton used it in Jurassic Park, or did he invent it?

We’re in the “Second Iteration,” 30 pages into the book, before we meet a main point of view character, Dr. Alan Grant, a paleontologist, and then we meet his graduate student Ellie Sattler (smart, sexy but engaged). [Sidenote: we’ve now met almost all of the female characters: Dr. Bobbie, the aging- and weight-obsessed wife Ellen Bowman and some lab techs. Dr. Bobbie and one of the techs have small but pertinent things to do in the lead-up to the main story, but they never return. We’ll meet a young girl (a very annoying, baseball obsessed daddy’s girl who repeatedly gets everybody in hot water with the dinosaurs) later in the story, but other than that, Dr. Ellie is it. She does some interesting things toward the end of the book, but stays annoyingly quiet during conversations in which she would’ve had an expert opinion. The film corrects this by beefing up Dr. Ellie’s role and casting the awesome Laura Dern and also switches the ages of the girl and boy grandchildren so that the girl is the older one, the computer nut who saves the day. There are some conversations in the book about only boys liking dinosaurs and the younger boy remains the dinosaur fan in the movie, too.] Back to the main point – it takes a lot of pages to meet the main characters and they’re never fully developed. The story is more important than the characters, for the most part. The film collapses two male characters into one and builds the character development a bit more by skipping a lot of this preliminary story or building it into the main story as we’re introduced to the park.

Part of what made Jurassic Park such a hit at the time was the exploration of cutting-edge technology (computers and cloning) that’s extremely dated now. Crichton included diagrams and technical charts in the text to make the story feel a bit more real. All of this helped make the book a bestseller at the time, but bogs the story down in retrospect. All of that page space could’ve been devoted to character development (for instance, almost all of the chaos theory element in the book is explained by Ian Malcolm and the way in which he relates this information forms his character). But Crichton focuses so much on the cool technology aspect of the book (which was bound to become dated), whereas the film specifically addresses the human element within the technological crisis (universal and timeless), which makes the film “better.” Mostly because it has weathered the test of time better (almost 25 years for the book, 21 for the film).

Crichton is brilliant with story, not typically a great wordsmith. But he can certainly be philosophical, lyrical, almost poetic at times. And funny. For instance, in the middle of the T-Rex attack, Dr. Grant and Ian Malcolm talk in the car:

The rain pounded on the roof of the car. He listened for the little girl, but he didn’t hear her anymore. The two men sat in the car, listening.

“Was it the girl?” Malcolm said, finally. “It sounded like the girl.”

“It did, yes.”

“Was it?”

“I don’t know,” Grant said. He felt a seeping fatigue overtake him. Blurred through the rainy windshield, the dinosaur was coming toward their car. Slow, ominous strides, coming right toward them.

Malcolm said, “You know, at times like this one feels, well, perhaps extinct animals should be left extinct. Don’t you have that feeling now?”

“Yes,” Grant said. He was feeling his heart pounding.  -pg 189

And later, Malcolm is again needling and philosophizing, this time, in conversation with Dr. Sattler.

“What does one of your excavations look like a year later?”

“Pretty bad,” she admitted.

“You don’t replant, you don’t restore the land after you dig?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

She shrugged. ‘There’s no money, I guess…”

“There’s only enough money to dig, but not to repair?”

“Well, we’re just working in the badlands…”

“Just the badlands,” Malcolm said, shaking his head. “Just trash. Just byproducts. Just side effects…I’m trying to tell you that scientists want it this way. They want byproducts and trash and scars and side effects. It’s a way of reassuring themselves. It’s built into the fabric of science, and it’s increasingly a disaster.”

“Then what’s the answer?”

“Get rid of the intelligent ones. Take them out of power.”

“But then we’d lose all the advances–“

“What advances?” Malcolm said irritably. “The number of hours women devote to housework has not changed since 1930, despite all the advances. All the vacuum cleaners, washer-dryers, trash compactors, garbage disposals, wash-and-wear fabrics…Why does it still take as long to clean the house as it did in 1930?”

Ellie said nothing. -pgs 285

It’s interesting that these are the two passages that struck me on this re-read. While so much of Jurassic Park‘s technology is so very dated now, almost 25 years later, so much of the book’s contents was before its time. Crichton, through Ian Malcolm in particular, was cautioning the scientific world, and all of us, really, because it’s a bestseller accessible to popular culture, about man’s hubris and arrogance.

When I first realized that re-reading Jurassic Park would coincide with my residency month, I was amused because they seemed distinctly unrelated. But I’ve found so much of my experience here echoed as I was re-reading. The nights are very dark here in rural farmland and the cicadas are always humming. Their sound is so constant and massive, it suited the mood of the book perfectly. Also, two of the non-fiction books I’ve been reading concurrently with Jurassic Park were in serendipitous and unforeseen dialogue with it – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (about gene and cell engineering, similar biotechnology to Jurassic Park) and The World Without Us (a book length thought experiment about the human impact on the planet and how long it would take to recover from our presence). [9.18.14 Update: Near the end of Henrietta Lacks, the film version of Jurassic Park comes up when Henrietta’s daughter Deborah shows a VHS tape to the author and cites it in connection to the way her mother’s cancer cells are being used by science.]  I swear I did not plan this. I borrowed Henrietta Lacks from Anne’s house in Philadelphia because I’ve been wanting to read it and I picked up the second title here at the house’s library. But still, I suppose it’s no accident: the unconscious is a powerful thing.

I don’t think it particularly relates to my own creative endeavors (at the moment), but these are topics that I’m fascinated by and also, though none of these books is particularly new (Henrietta Lacks is the newest, from 2010), they have a lot to say about what’s going on right now.

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The Residency Road Trip Leg Two: Atlanta and the road to Soaring Gardens

So, at the end of the Leg One post, I had just arrived in Atlanta and was anticipating my time there, catching up with family, old friends and the ATL tango community. And just as I suspected (and hoped), it was a very full week.

I spent a lot of time with my parents, including the evening of their anniversary. Since I don’t have a t.v. in New Orleans, visiting my folks always includes lots of t.v. watching: my favorites like Falling Skies and So You Think You Can Dance, shows my parents love like Rizzoli and Isles and Who Do You Think You Are?, as well as new shows we checked out, like Legends. It was a lot of t.v., but we also prepped for my journey to Soaring Gardens. It almost felt like they were sending me off to camp, at times. When I was home, I also worked on a freelance story, wrapping that up and a few other tasks, before I left for the residency.

And I read. Fahrenheit 451 for the Re-Reading Project, which scarred me for a few days. It was hard not to look at everything around me through that lens. And when I was done, I picked up an ARC of a fat fantasy novel that doesn’t come out till next April. I thought, because it was such a dense story, that I’d sip at it slowly throughout my residency month. Instead, I gulped it down in about 36 hours, reading the first 100 pages in maybe about 24 hours and 300+ in less than 8 hours. It was so good – look for it in the 3rd Quarter Reading Report next month.

You're free, Rocco!

You’re free, Rocco!

I caught up with an old friend I hadn’t seen for ten years at one of my favorite hometown restaurants. He wanted to know all about the residency and the memoir and it was very cool talking about it with a friend from my young adulthood. I celebrated the 12th birthday of one of my oldest friend’s sons, to whom I’m bit of an auntie or godmother. I spoiled his dinner with ice cream, helped him set his pet turtle free at the neighborhood park, had dinner with his family and took him to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a blast from my own past. It was quite a day.

And I tango’d three nights with the ATL community. When I first arrived, I saw that the *only* milonga during my stay was on my last night, which I’d planned to spend with my parents, so I reached out to folks I knew and got the skinny on classes and a house party, hosted by a friend who used to live in Baton Rouge. So I had the opportunity to take classes with two different sets of ATL instructors (Clint y Shelley on Monday and Angel y April on Wednesday), which was a phenomenal experience. And then I enjoyed a relaxed tango house party on Friday. It’s too bad I missed the milonga on Sunday, but I loved my week of ATL tango.

I set out for the next leg of my trip early in the morning on Labor Day, so early it was pretty much still night. Even so, it took me so long to get to Philadelphia! I had fine weather, but I stopped a lot and drove slowly most of the way, listening to a long audio book as I went. I’ve made this drive before, or at least most of it (I’ve gone as far as D.C., years ago), and it was pretty terrain, wildly different than my usual drives.

No rest stop adventures this time around, but I had a nice stop at a Cracker Barrel in Virginia for a late lunch and a long, good talk with a friend while I ate. And then I arrived at the home of my residency housemate, the artist Anne Canfield. This sweet lady and her husband fed me and put me up for the evening in their gorgeous home. I was swooning over the art and the books and the house itself most of the time I was there (even in my sleep). I could’ve stayed there a month!

The next day, Anne and I ran a few errands and set off for Soaring Gardens, a few hours from Philadelphia. On the way, we stopped for lunch at a super efficient and bizarre (to me) cross between a rest stop and convenience mall right off the highway. Where I had a Philly cheesesteak sandwich for lunch. I’d almost forgotten!

Yum!

Yum!

This last few hours of the journey felt a bit like a roller coaster, what with all the curvaceous, mountainous highway and all the other drivers going 15-20 miles over the speed limit and my super heavy car. It was some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever seen, so that almost made up for the constant fear of driving off the road down the side of a mountain.

And then we were in farmland, traversing narrow drives through acres of corn and fruit trees and small ponds by the road. Until suddenly, we turned onto a drive and there was Soaring Gardens.

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The Re-Reading Project Guest Post: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At the time, Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.

1982. Dublin, Ireland. I was a young, naïve kid obsessed with books and movies and tennis, and my buddy, Joe—home from his tennis scholarship in the States—was all MC Hammer pants, the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” Bolivian marching powder references, and going on and on and on about this book you’ve got to read! We’d shared a love for reading since meeting the year before at the tennis courts of a local club, and loved nothing better than to plow through some Kundera, or lengthy John Irving tome, and head to the city center to catch the latest French or German movie at the art-house cinemas.

Before he left to return to school in Kentucky, he passed over his tattered copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, telling me how it was going to change my life.  With Joe back in America, the end of the summer meant more of my dull retail job and the unraveling months of a failed relationship with a heart surgeon’s daughter. So, I picked up the book and read the first paragraph and was mystified by the language and the exoticness. I flung the book into the corner of my bedroom and forgot all about it until near Christmas, I told myself, “If Joe recommended it, then it has to be good.”

Second time around, I dug in the pile of dirty tennis clothes and towels in the corner of my bedroom and uncovered the musty copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude. I read the first paragraph, kept going, and read on into the night. The wind shook the leaves of the banana trees, the old suits of armor clanked in the darkness, and I read on. When Remedios the Beautiful ascended into heaven I knew something magical had happened. And on I read, until around four in the morning, I became Aureliano Buendia, his eyes mine, and the pages turned until the last fantastical sentence sent me into silence for a long time.

[S]he watched Remedios the Beauty waving goodbye in the midst of the flapping sheets that rose up with her, abandoning with her the environment of beetles and dahlias and passing through the air with her as four o’clock in the afternoon came to an end, and they were lost forever with her in the upper atmosphere where not even the highest-flying birds of memory could reach her.

Joe and I are still in touch, less so lately, but always connected by words, images, and music. Every few years I return to Solitude and take that journey once again to Macondo, to the language and the poetry of Marquez, to Melquíades and his gypsy troupe, and to the long, simmering days and nights of the familiar territory of Gabo’s imagination.

This past spring, I went back to Macondo, to the firing squad and the twenty adobe huts, to the humid, stinking jungle and the mysterious time of mass amnesia, and this time I noticed things were clearer, more defined, sharper than in previous readings. Before, the confusion of Buendias, their maddeningly similar names, the hodgepodge of relatives jostling to have their voices heard, all came across to me in a more understandable manner. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m an older, slower reader now, and the rush to turn the page I experienced as a boy no longer takes place, but I was more at home in the mysterious surroundings of Marquez’s world. And maybe it’s because Gabo, el maestro, has departed our world and returned, himself, to the universe he wrought so magnificently from his imagination. I like to think of him there, in the pages, an active participant in his own narrative, condemned, as is Aureliano Buendia, to live out his afterlife in the pages of his greatest book, “condemned to one hundred years of solitude,” and without “a second opportunity on earth.”James Claffey

***

James Claffey hails from County Westmeath, Ireland, and lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA, with his family. He is the author of the collection, Blood a Cold Blue.

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The Re-Reading Project: Animal Farm

Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes. With the ring of the light from his lantern dancing from side to side, he lurched across the yard, kicked off his boots at the back door, drew himself a last glass of beer from the barrel in the scullery, and made his way up to bed, where Mrs. Jones was already snoring.

As soon as the light in the bedroom went out there was a stirring and a fluttering all through the farm buildings. Word had gone round during the day that Old Major, the prize middle white boar, had had a strange dream on the previous night and wished to communicate it to the other animals. It had been agreed that they should all meet in the big barn as soon as Mr. Jones was safely out of the way. Old Major (so he was always called, though the name under which he had been exhibited was Willingdon Beauty) was so highly regarded on the farm that everyone was quite ready to lose an hour’s sleep in order to hear what he had to say.

I was fifteen when I first read George Orwell’s Animal Farm. It was a strange year of reading – classics in school, YA and Harlequin romances, horror and mysteries. I was omnivorous in my reading and that’s pretty much remained the case. It’s more fun that way.

While I remember liking Animal Farm in school, I think I knew even at the time that I wasn’t fully absorbing it. It seemed more accessible than a lot of what we were reading in class, but even then I could tell I was only skimming the surface. Still, I liked it so well that I held onto my copy all of these years. It’s been on all of my bookshelves, though like many of the Re-Reading Project books, I hadn’t re-read it since I was fifteen. When I put 90% of my books into storage earlier this year, I kept out the books for the Project.

Animal Farm

After re-reading Lord of the Flies, Animal Farm was refreshing. I read most of it while getting my car serviced for my Residency Road Trip. I’d remembered the broad strokes of the book fairly well, I found, but I’d forgotten (or never noticed) the subtleties of the story (what did become of Snowball? he “ran off” so much earlier in the story than I had remembered).

Along with Lord of the Flies and the last classic I’m re-reading this month, Animal Farm is classified as (among other things) dystopian fiction, though it’s clearly part of a far different wave of this sub-genre than the current offerings. It’s also classified as political satire and Orwell himself called it a “fairy story,” which makes sense if you define fairy stories by their portraits of ambiguous morality and the trope of depicting animal characters in place of human ones.

Perhaps I read Animal Farm too quickly for it to make much of an impression on me, because I found myself appreciating it more than enjoying it. I could see the incredible influence it’s had on other books, films, pop culture, etc. since it was published. As quick of a read as it is, it also feels like something Orwell could’ve written in an afternoon. While I know as a writer that this effortless feeling is in fact very hard to achieve, it can be a little too easy to dismiss the result. I realized that Orwell’s essays, many of which I read while in grad school, are probably much more impactful to me these days.

But an interesting thing happened a few days after I finished my re-read of Animal Farm. While watching the film Snowpiercer, I kept flashing back to various parts of the book, thinking: “Wow, I wonder if the director/graphic novelist consciously pulled from Animal Farm or if it’s so deeply entrenched in our global culture that it just popped in unconsciously?” On reddit and IMDb, there seems to be a pretty heated debate about whether or not comparing Animal Farm and Snowpiercer is appropriate. And then there’s this very smart comparison and breakdown of both Snowpiercer and Animal Farm. The author uses specific examples and real world examples to illustrate what I suspected instinctively as I watched the film.

Serendipity is an interesting thing, leading me in this case to re-read Animal Farm and watch Snowpiercer around the same time and both were enriched by the other.

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The Re-Reading Project: Lord of the Flies

The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon. Though he had taken off his school sweater and trailed it now from one hand, his grey shirt stuck to him and his hair was plastered to his forehead. All round him the long scar smashed into the jungle was a bath of heat. He was clambering heavily among the creepers and broken trunks when a bird, a vision of red and yellow, flashed upwards with a witch-like cry; and this cry was echoed by another.

“Hi!” it said. “Wait a minute!”

The undergrowth at the side of the scar was shaken and a multitude of raindrops fell pattering.

“Wait a minute,” the voice said. “I got caught up.”

The fair boy stopped and jerked his stockings with an automatic gesture that made the jungle seem for a moment like the Home Counties.

The voice spoke again.

“I can’t hardly move with all these creeper things.”

The owner of the voice came backing out of the undergrowth so that twigs scratched on a greasy wind-breaker. The naked crooks of his knees were plump, caught and scratched by thorns. He bent down, removed the thorns carefully, and turned around. He was shorter than the fair boy and very fat. He came forward, searching out safe lodgments for his feet, and then looked up through thick spectacles.

“Where’s the man with the megaphone?”

I’ve reproduced so much of the opening here, because it only felt right to get to the moment where Piggy is fully introduced, in addition to Ralph, as they are the two primary characters of the book. In a way, the whole Re-Reading Project has been leading here, to Lord of the Flies by William Golding. When I first decided to do the project, this was the first book I knew I had to re-read, because it is the one book that I can remember actively hating. I read it once, freshmen year of high school. I liked other required reading: Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451, CandideNative Son and even The Scarlet Letter and Grapes of Wrath. I geeked out over The Swiss Family Robinson. But I hated Lord of the Flies. When quizzed about why, I would cite an enormous plot hole that I felt the book contained. As the years passed, I couldn’t remember the specifics of this plot hole or why I hated the book. I wondered what I would think of it now, as an adult. Which led me to wonder the same about other books and thus, the Re-Reading Project was born.

For all of that, I was dreading this re-read as much as I was anticipating it. I’d hated this book for so long and I expected to be bored. I’ve never owned a copy of the book (I read a library copy, I believe, in high school), so last month I started keeping an eye out for a copy at the used book sale and bookshops. Then, right on time, I found a copy on the take-a-book-leave-a-book bookshelves at a coffeeshop I frequent (with a bonus cover from Marathon Man by William Goldman tucked into the back). It was the same version I remembered from school, the iconic one with the boy’s savage face peering out from the leaves.

IMG_2949

As I re-read, I very quickly found the source of at least 60% of my teen self’s dislike for the book. It is very British and I don’t remember learning anything about British culture while reading the book in school. Now that I’m a lot more fluent with British history, speech patterns and school structure (thanks mostly to yes, the Harry Potter series, as well as British writers like Lisa Jewell and Marian Keyes) I have a more solid understanding of what the heck the characters are talking about and the social structure the boys imitate unconsciously (and abandon) throughout the book. It’s a book about a bunch of boys who talk and behave like aliens, at least if you’re a teen girl in the 90s.

Also, it’s a little boring (more so if you’re a teen girl in the 90s with no context). Though I’m a woman in my 30s now and I understood a lot more of what was going on, I was still often bored. A good indication of boredom: it took me a week to read a book that’s less than 200 pages (I recently read a 400+ pg book in 24 hours). That’s a pitfall that parables are prone to, as the characters are relatively flat and are meant to represent personality types or ideologies. I didn’t really invest in any of the characters, either as a teen or as an adult. They’re not real people and are not meant to be, but represent aspects inherent in all people and cultures. But, after years of watching Survivor, I was fascinated by the conflicts that developed between the characters and later became insurmountable. As the story progresses and the stakes are raised, the story becomes more gripping.

At times, the descriptions are absolutely breathtaking. Golding could certainly write. But even when the action picks up and the boys are terrorizing each other, details are omitted or it’s hard to follow what is being done, to whom and by whom.

I had remembered (spoiler?) that Piggy died, but I had conflated the way in which he died with Simon’s horrific murder. I’d forgotten entirely that one of the littluns (with a purple birthmark on in his face) disappears, with barely any mention. Here’s another issue I had (have?) with the book: too many characters who are essentially background sketches. Because the book is a parable, the characters are only brought into focus when/if they’re needed and it’s unclear exactly how many boys are marooned on the island and how long they are there. It could be a week or six months. The only reference to time is the growth of the boys’ hair, but this is mentioned fairly early in the book, in Chapter 4. So, Chapters 1-3 are the first few days or week after they’re marooned and then we fast-forward a few weeks/months and the rest of the action takes place thereafter.

The lack of specifics was very frustrating to me as a teen and fairly frustrating to me on the re-read. I’ve grown to believe that the more specific the story, the more universal it becomes and I kept reaching for something to ground me in the story. But, as a parable, it consistently refuses to provide specific markers for its readers. In a way, this has worked well for Lord of the Flies, as it has remained a timely commentary about the darkness in the human heart for 60 years and has been listed on numerous Top 50 and Top 100 reading lists. But it won’t ever be a book I’ll turn to for entertainment or enjoyment.

One last thing that I find interesting about Lord of Flies now, almost twenty years after I first read it, is that it’s considered dystopian fiction, a genre that’s having a bit of a heyday now (as with the vampire resurgence brought about by Twilight, a lot of people like to pretend that the dystopian trend is brand spanking new, but it’s really not). A lot of new dystopian fiction is being published for young adults (though adults like me read it also), and Lord of the Flies is still taught to young people, and has influenced writers for decades.

What makes Lord of the Flies dystopian, I wonder? The barely referenced nuclear war that happens on the margins of the main story? The attempt by the boys to build a society for themselves on the island? The failure of this society, which is based on the society they have left behind? The main argument of the book seems to be how quickly humans can devolve from civilized beings into ungoverned creatures. There doesn’t seem to be a cure for our base nature, except for civilization, yet the book seems to be saying that society and civilization are doomed to fail (the boys are rescued by Naval officers who find them by chance while fighting their own adult war).

Dystopian fiction appeals to young readers, and is important for them to encounter, because it allows them to question their society and government by depicting an extreme example that is often not too far removed from their own reality, a world that they did not set into motion but must be governed by regardless. Dystopian fiction, especially what is published now, often depicts young people at the mercy of society and then fighting back, taking charge. This fiction allows young readers to realize that society is constructed and mutable, and hopefully wakes them up to their own responsibility in designing better social structures.

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The Re-Reading Project: Strangers

November 7-December 2 1. Laguna Beach, California Dominick Corvaisis went to sleep under a light wool blanket and a crisp white sheet, sprawled alone in his bed, but he woke elsewhere–in the darkness at the back of the large foyer closet, behind concealing coats and jackets. He was curled in the fetal position. His hands were squeezed into tight fists. The muscles in his neck and arms ached from the tension of a bad though unremembered dream. He could not recall leaving the comfort of his mattress during the night, but he was not surprised to find that he had traveled in the dark hours. It had happened on two other occasions, and recently.

Dean Koontz is, hands down, one of the most influential writers on me as a person and a writer. Which was kind of an awkward thing to take into graduate school, my devoted passion for genre books and authors, particular an author who some have disparagingly referred to as a knock-off Stephen King. He seems most often compared to Stephen King because they’re both prolific authors, writing popular horror around the same time, often mining the same themes and tropes (in fact, Strangers and The Stand have always seemed to deal with many of the same elements and themes). This long-running comparison between them, at least by the fans of each writer, may be the reason that I never finished a Stephen King book till I read Carrie for a college course in 2001 (I read On Writing the next year and they remain the only books of his I’ve read). Anyway, Stephen King has the better track record when it comes to films and t.v. versions of his work and I think that actually has a lot to do with how they’re both perceived in the public consciousness.

I last read Strangers around 1997-1998, so I’ll say I was 16. While it was the last time I read it, I must’ve read it at least once before that and I’ve always remembered it as my favorite of Koontz’, after Lightning. Since I’d re-read Lightning more recently (2009), I decided to re-read Strangers for this project. Also, Strangers helped me identify a theme of Koontz’ that I started to see in most of his books: the coming together of strangers to form a family unit. While it is most obvious in this book, you can find variations of it in pretty much all of his work.

His first hardback bestseller, Strangers was published in 1986. It features 12 primary characters (according to Wikipedia, I’d say at least 4 of them are secondary characters), most of whom have 3rd person chapters from their perspective. The first half of the book focuses on these characters as their lives are falling apart because of a variety of disorders and maladies they can’t explain. It’s not till the second half of the book that almost all of the characters come together and start to figure out the puzzle of what happened to them collectively.

The book was a bit dated when I was reading it in 1997-1998, but nothing like it is now. Similar to what I discovered when I re-read Lightning in 2009, I found that Strangers reads like a period story now, very much a product of its time. The story would be very different if it was set now, but I enjoyed that aspect of the story. It was a bit of a time capsule, a reminder of the way things used to be, and how drastically technology has changed the way we connect to other people since the 80s.

IMG_2908 I re-read my original paperback edition, putting some serious creases in the spine on this go-round because it took me about two weeks to read it. Yes, I have to confess, I was disappointed to find upon re-reading that I was bored for most of the first half of the book. I didn’t particularly care about the two main characters among the twelve (Dom and Ginger), who just seemed too good and uncomplicated, despite their troubles. Koontz takes about 300 pages to ratchet up the tension and I think probably 150 or 200 would’ve been more than fine, even with as many characters as he had. But once the characters started coming together, I reinvested in the story. My memories of what happened were sometimes very distinct and clear and others times very imprecise. But I remembered very early the gist of “what happened” to the characters and it was satisfying to see that I remembered correctly. However, after the long build-up about what had happened to these characters, the resolution was way too quick, almost an afterthought.

I read and collected copies of all of Koontz’ books, up till about 1997 and Sole Survivor and then I didn’t read another Koontz book through most of college, according to my reading records. I re-read Oddkins in 2004 and then read The Taking the same year, and was blown away. I started listening to the Odd Thomas series on long road trips and really enjoyed Innocence last year. I think he was a prolific, but inconsistent, writer when I was a kid and first fell for his books. But now that I’m adult and comparing the early books I loved with his more recent titles, I think it’s safe to say that he’s become a better writer over the years. His characters can still tend to be a bit too black and white, “good” or “bad,” but he will always know how to tell an interesting story, build lots of tension and entertain the reader.

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