Tag Archives: The World Without Us

2014 Q3 Reading Report

My 3rd Quarter in reading was excellent. So far, the Re-Reading Project has really added so much to my annual reading. Even the books I’m reading for the first time have an extra edge now because I think about them in terms of whether I’d ever re-read them. Or, am I so invested in reading them that I’m willing not to read or re-read something else? It’s been kind of a game-changer. So much so that I’m considering continuing it into 2015. Not monthly the way I did in 2014, but sporadically. We’ll see… In the meantime, here’s my 2014 3rd Quarter Reading Report.

July

The Secrets of a Scoundrel, Gaelen Foley – Since I’ve outed myself as an occasional reader of romance novels in May’s Re-Reading posts, I might as well confess that I bought Foley’s newest the week it came out and spent an evening with the last book in her Inferno Club series. I’ve read a lot of romance authors in my time, but Foley is the only one I consistently buy new, as soon as they come out and read right away. I always consider it a mini-vacation, some entertaining reading that is for no other purpose but to enjoy. She’s writing great middle readers books with her husband under E.G. Foley and I’ve been having a lot of fun sharing these with the son of a friend. She’s a terrific writer, whatever name she publishes under and whatever genre she’s working within.

Dorothy Must Die, Danielle Paige – Another confession: I’m a sucker for a good book cover. This one is terrific and really illustrates the “hook” of this book: Dorothy has returned to Oz, gone mad with power and must be brought down. So, basically, I had to read it because I was curious about where this story would go. And it’s a really weird one that never went quite where I was expecting. I was a tad bored at times, but mostly I ripped through the pages. It got really good right before the end and then (damn) I realized it’s the first book in a series. Why do I keep doing this to myself? There’s a prequel available digitally, called No Place Like Oz.

Strangers, Dean Koontz – Read the Re-Reading post here.

The Queen of the Tearling, Erika Johansen – Something big was going on in my personal life and I needed a really good, absorbing story to distract me. I was trying to track down a copy of A Game of Thrones from the library (I need to get my own copies), but they were all checked out. Most of my books are in storage, so I turned to a pile of ARCs towering alongside my one remaining bookshelf and picked up a book I’d almost given to a friend to read, but had decided to keep. The next 24 hours and the rest of the world disappeared as I got sucked into The Queen of the Tearling. It’s simply one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time. It’s 400+ pages and I stayed in on a Friday night to read it, then I was actually disappointed there wasn’t more to read Saturday night. I didn’t want to leave this world. I’ve had the ARC for months, but it just came out, so after I read the last page, I took to Twitter and saw that a lot of people were feeling the same way I was at that moment: rabid for the next book in the series (groan). There’s also some backlash – mostly people seem to object to the marketing campaign around the book, which compares it to GoT and Hunger Games. The ARC informs me the movie rights have already been sold and Emma Watson will star. The nerd in me is breathless in anticipation.

Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman – I’ve seen a few episodes of the t.v. show and liked it, but mostly I wondered how a memoir about being in prison would be handled. It was a compelling read, mostly because Kerman doesn’t pity herself or expect her reader to. She mostly focuses on the women she was incarcerated with, the community that helped her survive her time in prison. The tone is calm and rational, at times light-hearted, but it still made me enraged by the current prison system: the inherent racism and discrimination (Kerman admits she most likely received better treatment in prison and a lighter sentence because she’s white), the waste of financial resources, as well as the waste of human resources. As I read and finished the book, I couldn’t stop talking about the book and Kerman’s points about the prison system and I ended up having some really fascinating conversations.

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh – My new book group selected this book. I fought against it, partly because I’d read it earlier this year and partly because I’d found the “white sections” (focusing on Brosh’s depression, etc.) pretty rough reading. But, I was outnumbered and it was our first book club selection. So, I re-read the book and the “white sections” were even tougher to handle the second time around, but this time, I got to talk about them with a great group of women who felt the same sense of connection with Brosh’s work. My connection with it is often unsettled and uncomfortable, but the other women in the group seemed to mostly take the stance, “Thank God someone is saying this out loud, on paper, for real.” We laughed a lot and it was a wonderful night.

Black and White, Dani Shapiro – My writing style isn’t a thing like Dani Shapiro’s, but as I was reading, I so wished I could write like her. I admire her writing immensely. It’s quiet and stripped down, yet fierce and vibrant. This story, about a famous photographer mother and the daughter she photographed nude throughout her childhood, was so painful and beautiful. It was utterly necessary.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson – Jenny Lawson is basically Allie Brosh meets Toni McGee Causey, hysterical and hyperbolic. Sometimes, I’d get a bit impatient with the storytelling (because it goes around in circles and on and on forever), but mostly I was laugh-snorting out loud and too damn entertained to mind that she wrote a book as if you were having one long, booze-infused conversation with her. With photographic evidence. Like with most comedy, there’s some real pathos buried underneath the humor and I admired The Blogess all the more for letting us see it.

August

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin – Once more, in the midst of a bunch of nonfiction reading, I was longing for a distracting novel and I turned to my pile of ARCs. This one was published in April, but though I picked it up “late,” I found that, as usual, I picked it up at just the right time. It’s a relatively slim book, but covers about 15+ years of a man’s life as he moves from isolated grief to become a central figure in a family and a community. I was continually surprised by how much story was packed into the book, yet it still felt light and easy, even when it was dealing with almost unbearably sad subjects. Writing a story that reads this effortlessly is hard work, I’m lucky enough to have learned, so the easier I skipped through the book, the more impressed I was with Zevin’s storytelling abilities. I could easily see this becoming a movie, something like Big Fish meets Amelie meets Chocolat.

The Young World, Chris Weitz – I’ve stumbled upon some very good dystopian Y/A and fantasy lately, each very good but each the first book in a series. So annoying cause I get hooked on the first book and then I have to have patience till another (and another…) come out. Anyway, this is another of those titles, written by the director of About a Boy, among other movies. The story is so easy to imagine as a movie and since Weitz is a film director, I was curious about why he decided to write it as a novel. I feel like the book answered my question. As the characters are searching for something vital in a library, they have a conversation about the value of books over electronic information/cloud storage. The characters in books have a longer life span than most people who live in our world and pretty much everyone in The Young World. It was the kind of perfect fictional moment that made me want to hug Weitz by hugging his book. So yeah, now I’m impatient for more books set in this world.

Lord of the Flies, William Golding – Read the Re-Reading post here.

The Kiss of Deception, Mary E. Pearson – I was talking books in a Facebook thread and mentioned how much I liked The Queen of the Tearling. A friend of my friend’s commented that she liked this book better. I looked it up out of curiosity and then immediately requested it from the library. I’d read 50+ pages just a couple of hours after I picked up from the library and finished it over what was a pretty active weekend. It has a lot in common with The Queen of the Tearling, but is also very different. Both feature royal girls fighting/embracing their destinies in a fantasy world that may actually be our own world hundreds of years in the future (I got that vibe from Kiss and TQotT drops some serious hints in that direction). Anyway, The Kiss of Deception is very compelling and also the first of a series (alas, more patience on my part).

The Ecstasy of Surrender, Judith Orloff, M.D. – This book applied to pretty much every aspect of my life the last few months. It took me a few weeks to read because I was trying to absorb as much of it as possible (and I was late returning it to the library because I had to finish it before I left for my trip). If you want to know more,  watch the TED Talk that was the origin of the book, though it’s just a taste of what the book entails.

Animal Farm, George Orwell – Read the Re-Reading post here.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury – Read the Re-Reading post here.

An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir – I snagged this ARC before leaving on my Residency Road Trip. Something about it called out to me and I felt like I’d need an engaging novel at some point on this trip. Because it’s 400+ pages, I thought it’d be my fiction counterpoint to all the nonfiction I’ll be reading during September. But, I picked it up after I finished my August Re-Reading and I quickly got caught up in it. I read the first 100 pages relatively slowly (in about a day) and then quickly read 300 more pages in a few hours, unable to sleep because I was so engrossed in the characters and the world. On one hand, I’ve never read anything like this and on the other, it reminds me of A Song of Ice and Fire, The Queen of the Tearling and The Kiss of Deception, all “dystopian” fantasy stories set in some ambiguous alternate or future world that also feel like ancient myths and legends. The characters are constantly faced with impossible emotional and moral decisions and I care enormously about all of them. The one trouble with reading a book so quickly is when you never want to leave the story and you’re booted out by the last page. Since this book is coming out next April, it looks like I’ll have to wait a long while for the next book in the story (for surely there will be one since two of the major characters are setting out on an epic journey at the end). I’ll definitely be on the lookout for an ARC of the next book so I can pick back up with these characters as soon as possible.

September

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith – I listened to the audio book of this one on the way from ATL to Soaring Gardens and it was the perfect companion for such a long trip, at least for me. As I learned years ago when I spent three weeks driving twelve hours each day, the best audio books for drives are those that are so interesting they keep you awake, but easy to follow while paying attention to, you know, the road. I was *almost* done when Anne and I arrived at the house, so after we made dinner and unpacked, I sat in the library and finished listening to it. I have to say, I was a bit disappointed with the wrap-up of the mystery at the end of the book, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters and story for days after I finished. I’m hoping to listen to the next Cormoran Strike book, The Silkworm, on my way back home. [Since Robert Galbraith is a pen name for Joanne Rowling, a.k.a. J.K. Rowling, I’d held off reading these books for a while. I was scared I wouldn’t like her non-HP books. But, no more fears here. She’s just flat-out a great writer, whatever she writes, under whichever name. And I think it’s brilliant that she wrote them under a male pseudonym.]

Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton – Read the Re-Reading post here.

Blind Faith, C.J. Lyons – I read Lyons’ Broken last quarter and really enjoyed it, so I bought copies of the three Caitlyn Tierney books as my pleasure reading during the residency. Blind Faith is a solid thriller and like with Broken, the writing is great, so I’m carried along with the momentum of the story, racing to figure out what’s going to happen next. Perfect to balance out the other reading I’m doing here at the residency.

Twelve Minutes of Love, Kapka Kassabova – A mutual friend recommended I read this tango memoir after I told him I had started dancing and writing about what I was learning from tango about my relationships. I ordered it forever ago, but wasn’t quite ready to read any tango books. When it was time to pack for the residency, I knew I should bring some of the tango memoirs and academic texts I’ve been collecting. Then, a tango friend started quoting sections of the book once I got to Soaring Gardens and it zoomed to the top of my to-read list. I was reading both with a professional mind (to situate my own writing on the spectrum of already existing work) and also personally. I enjoyed the book quite a lot and also appreciated it, how hard the gossipy, accessible tone must’ve been to achieve and sustain through the work. It was a quick read and teaches you about tango as you read, so the casual, curious reader can enjoy it as well. However, it was all the richer for me as a tango dancer, finding similar moments and realizations within the experiences of a dancer with a very different background than me. There’s a great book trailer you should definitely check out.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot – I’d meant to read this book when it was first published, but it’s taken me four years to do it. Just goes to show that there’s a time for every book in each person’s life. It coincided brilliantly with two other books I was reading at the same time: Jurassic Park (above) and The World Without Us. Though Henrietta Lacks covers a lot of complicated scientific information, it’s immensely readable, very accessible. Beneath all the science, it’s a human story. I was intrigued in particular by the way that Skloot included herself in the story (she developed relationships with Lacks family members over many years) without ever overshadowing their story and that of Henrietta Lacks. The beating heart of the book was always the story of the woman behind the infamous cell line, and her family. If anyone one is interested in what’s been happening since the book was published, as I was, there’s a wealth of information on Skloot’s website.

Black Sheep, C.J. Lyons – The first book featuring FBI agent Caitlyn Tierney began from the P.O.V. of another female character, who shared the narrative. This book also features a case with another female character central to it, but as Tierney is the returning character and it deals with tragic events from her childhood, she carries the book a bit more solidly. I like this structure, and as both of the cases so far have been unofficial, it places Tierney squarely within the “rogue agent” subgenre of thrillers and mysteries. Rogue agents are generally male, so it’s refreshing to see her operate as both a woman in a male-dominated field (which also includes the criminals) and as a smart investigator. This book also flips the usual script by making Tierney wary of commitment, trying to break it to her boyfriend and mother that she’s married to her job. While it pretty typical (and realistic) that a female agent would have to defend this choice repeatedly, it’s not typical at all to see one portrayed as being ambivalent about marriage and family. Only problem with this book is that it was a tad too short. I’m glad I have the next one to dive into immediately.

The World Without Us, Alan Weisman – This was one of the the books in the library at Soaring Gardens. I picked it up idly, but was immediately intrigued and engrossed by the premise: what will the world look like if the entire human race suddenly disappeared? How will nature react to our absence? You might assume this would be a depressing book, and it is in some ways, but not the ways you’d expect, probably. The most repeatedly depressing aspect of the book is the realization that we’re the bad guys, that we speed up survival of the fittest and evolution with technology, create poisons and products that don’t biodegrade and we don’t know how to dispose of safely. While we should make more strident efforts to “save the planet,” it’s not really for the planet’s sake, but for the own. The planet’s schedule is a bit different than ours and it has a lot more time to sort survive than we do. Beyond that depressing aspect of the book, it was absolutely fascinating and unexpectedly jovial (in a dark humor sort of way). This is the kind of book that takes a lifetime to research and write. Or several, as Weisman introduces us to an intriguing cast of characters, many of whom have jobs and passions you’ve probably never considered.

Hollow Bones, C.J. Lyons – This last book in the Caitlyn Tierney series shares the same format, splitting the story between Caitlyn and another woman at the center of Caitlyn’s investigation. I like that all of the “victims” that Caitlyn is helping are strong women in their own rights who are also trying to investigate and survive their situations. A character from the second book recurs here in very satisfying ways. The setting is really interesting, the crime really upsetting (organ harvesting) and the whole story moves at a quick pace. While I’d read more books about Caitlyn’s investigations, I’m also pleased with where she’s ended up in this book.

So that’s the 3rd Quarter. My 4th Quarter is already shaping up to be very strong. For instance, randomly, all three of the books I’ve read so far in Q4 were written by women whose first names start with the letter J. That wasn’t planned, by the way. 🙂

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Filed under books, Quarterly Reading Report, review, The Re-Reading Project, what I'm reading

The Residency Road Trip: Soaring Gardens Week Four

This is the last week at Soaring Gardens – at least this time around! I’m determined that I’ll come back at some point and work in this space again.

Day 22

Woke late and lingered with a book over breakfast. It was a mild, beautiful day, so I decided to spend time with the four Barnum & Bailey Ringling Brothers programs that I found here. Since I can’t take them with me, I took 100+ photos of each one, trying to archive the text and photos for my research down the line. They really are the perfect programs for my story, from 1977 and 1980-1982, giving me a good window into the circus that my characters inhabit, which I wasn’t alive yet to witness. Here’s the 1977 cover, to give you an idea:

1977 cover

I spent the afternoon re-reading an essay from my graduate school days, as part of prep for a fellowship application I’m finalizing. To take advantage of the last of the afternoon light, I took the nonfiction book I’m reading out to the hammock. The squirrels and chipmunks were jostling walnuts and apples from the trees and they were landing with loud plops all over the lawn, so I held the book over my head as I read, just in case.

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We’d agreed earlier to work through dinner again, so I had leftover beef stew and kept working on the fellowship application into the late evening (lots of pieces to puzzle out!). Around midnight, Anne and I had a whiskey nightcap and a meal of leftovers (the chicken curry and coconut rice, some cucumber and sauerkraut, raita).

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Day 22 late snack

Afterwards, we played my family’s rummy (I won) and regular rummy (Anne won, much closer game this time around). Tomorrow’s a big day, so we tried not to stay up too late.

Day 23

After breakfast, Anne and I headed off for our big day of adventure. You see, it’s her last day here at the house, so we decided we’d go visit some of our favorite places, take lots of pictures and eat lunch at a restaurant halfway to Tunkhannock. So, we got fully dressed, put makeup on and everything. Not exactly the first time this month, but a pretty rare occurrence lately. It was a beautiful day and as we drove to the orchard first, we both noticed that all of the leaves are changing colors! It’s like we were visited by Bob Ross in the night because it was suddenly Autumn! Riding shotgun, I was taking pictures like mad, but of course none of them do the day justice. However, you might enjoy this short video of what Anne and I encountered when we stopped the car to admire a herd of cows (I don’t know what made me start a video right then, but it ended up being perfect timing).

We had a field day at the orchard. I bought two half bushels of different kinds of apples (I’d bought a half peck last time and it hadn’t been nearly enough), plus gourds and peppers.  I might’ve only bought one kind of apple, but the savvy ladies at the orchard handed me an apple of a different type to try and after walking around eating it, I had to take some home with me. Anne spent time inspecting the pumpkins before getting a few to take home with her for Halloween decorations.

Pick one, before they turn into pumpkins! Um, wait...

Pick one, before they turn into pumpkins! Um, wait…

Afterwards, we went by Four Seasons again and had a grand conversation with Tina and the lady we’d met the last time we were in, about a fire we’d passed last time and the neighbors. Gossiping at the farm stand, just like we live here all the time! I scooped up some produce and meat for my last few meals here and we headed out.

Black and tan

Black and tan

Ginger cider

Ginger cider

So, after picking up postcards at The Fireplace last week, I just knew we had to come back for a meal. It’s like a German pub, all dark wood, fireplaces, curio decorations and, of course, beer. It was so strange to order food and let someone else cook it, after the last month of meals. Nice, but also weird. The food was good, as was the dessert we shared, a British toffee pie. Very, very rich. We were both incredibly sleepy by the time we got back and even a short nap didn’t help much. So, I went on a walk down the road, to capture some of the new red foliage. Compare this next picture to Day 11‘s and you’ll get an idea how much new red we’ve gotten lately.

Autumn has arrived!

Autumn has arrived!

During my walk, I heard gunfire, shotguns firing up over the ridge. Joanne said she suspected the neighbors were practicing, now that the season’s about the start. I assume she means deer. I told a friend recently that I wasn’t sure how I felt about guns, but I’m pretty sure that the people firing these guns have every intention of eating what they kill, or giving/selling it to people who will eat it, so that seems far less offensive than the gunfire I might hear in the city. It was very loud, though! The shots echoed back  down the ridge. It was quiet again, and getting dark as I headed back to the house.

After the walk, I was much more awake and went into the studio to get some work done. I finished my fellowship application and did a bunch of research for the next part of the book I’m writing, discovering something about my tango journey that I hadn’t realized before: I began dancing September 6th, 2011 (not in August, like I’d previously thought). So it’s been my tango anniversary month while I’ve been here at Soaring Gardens.

Our evening game of rummy was pretty wacky, with both of us getting weird hands and odd scores. She still won, though! Since it was our last night together here, we made a party of it and played pretty late.

Day 24

So, the morning was spent talking to Anne as she packed to leave and once I finally woke all the way up, I started cooking lunch for us. I grabbed green tomatoes from the garden and cooked them up with some greens and cooked some quinoa as well. Finally, I cooked an egg for myself since I knew Anne planned on eating the rest of the smoked herring (blech). It turned out to be a nice last meal together, here at the house.

Day 22 lunch

Day 24 lunch

After lunch, Anne hit the road. I puttered around and did some work for my job back home. Then, I went into the studio. At first, it was very sad to see it empty of all of Anne’s paintings and supplies. But the light was beautiful, so I decided to move all the furniture and make myself a bit more room to dance. I just had a blast dancing in the studio pretty much all afternoon. I also wrote and read a bit, soaking up the sun as it filled the space with light.

I went back to the house and made myself a meal of the last of the beef stew. I went outside to enjoy it and just then, started to feel lonely that Anne wasn’t there to share the meal. But as I contemplated my aloneness, the mower fired up on the other side of the house and I wasn’t alone anymore, as Dalton had arrived to mow all the lawns.

Day 24 solo dinner

Day 24 solo dinner

The last few nights, I’ve been trying to capture how beautiful the sunsets have been, mostly in vain. I think I might’ve finally managed to get one that conveys something of how gorgeous they are:

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In the evening, I watched the first episodes of Dancing with the Stars while I finished preparing the last round of “tokens of my thanks” that I’m sending out to the fundraiser contributors. And then it was time for solitaire!

Day 25 

Today, something very upsetting happened. I was upstairs getting ready for my day when there was suddenly a tremendous crash. It sounded like half the house was collapsing. I dashed downstairs to see what caused the sound, but nothing seemed amiss. And then, I realized what happened when I stepped out onto the back patio and saw a very large, very beautiful, very dead bird curled up under the window box by the table where we’ve eaten most of our meals this month. I spoke briefly with Burton, the jack of all trades around here, and he said he’d come later in the day to take the bird away. After asking how he would handle it, I told him I’d take care of it. After all, I’ve been pretty good at critter disposal in the past. I got the large shovel out of the garage and was completely undone by the process of getting the bird onto it. I burst into tears and sobbed the entire way down the alle and to the apple tree beyond it. But I was glad I had done it, once it was over. Such a shame and, weirdly reminiscent of one of the sections of the book in the dinner picture last night.

I spent the rest of the day in the studio: dancing, writing and reading. I finished two books today, both of which I’ve been reading for a while (I’ve been keeping a different book in most rooms of the house).

In the evening, I spent some time cooking my go-to comfort food: spaghetti. This was the second time I made my own meatballs this month and I think I’m never going back to pre-made meatballs again. The spaghetti I’ve made here has been the best I’ve ever made. It was, like most things I’ve cooked this month, very spicy (cherry peppers, Crystal).  I suppose that cooking spicy food has been my way of answering my homesickness.

Day 26 dinner

Day 25 dinner

After dinner, I had a Skype conversation with a friend, which I’d scheduled so I wouldn’t feel lonely after a full day and a half on my own. Then, I watched the second week’s episodes of Dancing with the Stars and played more solitaire (I lost some and I won some).

Day 26

Today, I danced, read and wrote in the studio. I also worked on a few things to smooth my transition back home.

Three colors of tomatoes

Three colors of tomatoes

Day 25 dinner

Day 26 dinner

In the evening, I used up the last of the orange tomato, most of the green tomatoes I’d picked from the vine on the patio and a red tomato and together with a cherry pepper and a jalapeno, part of a red onion and some cilantro, I made another salsa. This is now one of my favorite things to prepare. I seared the last pieces of salmon and made some quinoa and had a very tasty, spicy meal.

For dessert, I made one of my favorites from the month. I certainly have enough apples for it.

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I spent the evening reading and plotting one last surprise for the contributors of my GoFundMe campaign. To be revealed soon…

Day 27

As you can probably tell, the days are going a little faster here because there’s less to distinguish them from each other. Even more so because I’m eating leftovers and haven’t had a conversation with another person for about 48 hours straight.

Today is my last full day at Soaring Gardens, so I spent most of the morning and early afternoon walking around, taking pictures of everything. Including, this photo shoot for my “syllabus” of my residency reading. The picture below features every single book/magazine/program I’ve read this month. While I didn’t read them all cover to cover, this is all of the reading material I’ve encountered during my stay. The painting is a self-portrait by Ora Lerman, who left her house, this house in trust for other artists to enjoy. And what a gift it has been.

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After lunch (finished the spaghetti), I worked in the studio until late afternoon. Then, it was time to get ready for tango!

I suppose this is what’s called Indian Summer, because though all the leaves have been changing colors drastically, the last few days have been so mild, even warm! I’ve been in heaven, strolling around in t-shirts. Very glad I could wear a light dress and not worry about all those layers like last time. I even took a selfie:

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At first, I was a little sad that I would miss magic hour at the house on my last full day, but as I drove down, I realized this was the best experience. The drive is beautiful, most especially at this time of day, after 4:30 as the blazing sun was hitting all the changing leaves. Plus, this time I could really admire the view the whole way because I knew where I was going. Here are two pictures that I pulled over to take, before I reached the highway:

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Once again, I have been super lucky because the tango group in Factoryville is hosting another phenomenal couple of instructors: Anton Gazenbeek and Jody Person. Anton and Jody’s class was incredible, their performance even more so. This time around, I knew more of the dancers, which was nice, and it was the last Tango in the Tent for the season! How serendipitous that I could experience it.

I didn’t need GPS on the way back (except for the super-dark section around the airport, before you reach the highway). Because I was more familiar with the road at night, I was able to spot a rabbit that almost ran into the road and watch him decide to turn around and hop back into the woods.

There were so many bad radio options that I found myself listening to bad 90s pop for a few minutes, before the signal became too thready (thankfully). Then, (more serendipity), I caught the Saints-Cowboys game. I was instantly homesick. And yelling at the top of my lungs when Jimmy Graham fumbled. Last season, I couldn’t watch the games because I figured out we lost whenever I did. This season, I suspect I need to start watching because I think they’re not doing so well without my attention. That’s all gonna change as soon as I can get back and start watching the games at Pelican Bay again.

Day 28 

I woke up early, at least early considering how late I’ve been sleeping here at Soaring Gardens. So much to do! Laundry, packing and cleaning. Yoga and writing in the studio, just to spend a tiny bit more time there. I’m already running late for when I’d hoped to be on the road, so I’ll leave you with that. The rest of Day 28 will be included in a traveling post and there will also be one last surprise for the contributors to the GoFundMe campaign. More soon!

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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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