Unexpected Embroidery Content

There are times as a reader when you pick up a book and you think you know exactly what you’re getting: this is an historical romance; this is a novel about a family. And you’re right, but you also discover that it is deeply about something else. That was my experience with the two novels below, novels which contained a surprising-to-me amount of high quality embroidery content.

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite (historical romance)
In the early 1800s Lucy, a scientist and an astronomer, has spent her youth helping her father with his work and publishing work under his name. After his death, she travels to London to apply to the Polite Science Society, a premier scientific organization of the day, and to try her hand at translating a French astronomy text. Turned away by the Society because she’s a woman, Lucy finds refuge with Catherine, a society widow who spent years supporting her explorer husband and is now interested in being Lucy’s patron. There is a lot here about the science of the era and the way it existed as a kind of gentleman’s pursuit; the roles available to women; and, for sure, the love that grows between Lucy and Catherine (this is a romance novel, so expect some steamy sex scenes). But I devoured it because of the detail lavished on Catherine’s hobby: embroidery. She embroiders maps, and botanical motifs, and the night sky on a finely woven scarf! The description of Catherine’s work made me hungry to see the way embroiderers blend colors, how elements of the natural world can be depicted, how craft becomes art. Continue reading “Unexpected Embroidery Content”

New Year, Do Nothing

The refrain “new year, new you” is a popular one around the first of the year, exhorting you to fix bad habits, set new resolutions, and generally get your life in order. Maybe it’s time for a change; maybe it’s time to read some books that help you focus on the joy and purpose of doing less. (Sure, this anti-resolution is still a resolution, but I like that it’s less focused on demonstrable achievement). Here are a few books to get you started.

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell
Called “a field guide to doing nothing (at least as capitalism defines it)” by her publisher, Odell starts by looking at how pervasive technology leads to 24/7 availability, which feeds into an expectation of constant productivity. How do you step back, divert your attention, and reclaim your right to do nothing? Odell has some ideas, as well as examples of how she has done it in her life.

The Art of the Wasted Day by Patricia Hampl
In this reflection on leisure, and more specifically on daydreaming, Hampl examines the ways in which quiet reflection feed the soul. Behind her own life of wandering and wondering, Hampl visits the homes of great thinkers of the past (Witman, Montaigne, Gregor Mendel) to reflect on how they wrote about and made use of often-solitary reflection. Continue reading “New Year, Do Nothing”

New Fiction Roundup, January 2020

Whether reading is part of your New Year’s resolutions, or already a tried-and-true habit, here are some new novels coming out in January 2020 to consider.

1/1: Lost Hills by Lee Goldberg – Recently promoted as the youngest female homicide detective in the history of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Eve finds herself faced with a crime scene of horrific carnage, but curiously absent of bodies, with just her instinct to go on and a lot of people looking for her to fail.

1/7: The Heap by Sean Adams – In this near-future dystopia, a 500-story building has collapsed, becoming The Heap. Except there’s a survivor, Bernard, somehow broadcasting a radio show from inside the wreckage. Can his brother find him, or will corporate interest prevail?

1/7: Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey – This novel about sex, violence, and self-loathing consists of conversations between women over 20 years in the life of an unnamed narrator.

1/14: Cleanness by Garth Greenwell – An American teacher, living in Bulgaria, grapples with the intimate encounters that have marked his time abroad and reflects on a life transformed by the discovery and loss of love.

1/14: Followers by Megan Angelo – Budding novelist Orla and aspiring A-lister Floss come up with a plan to launch themselves using social media; 35 years later, government-appointed celebrities live every moment on camera, and one of them discovers a buried connection to Orla and Floss. Continue reading “New Fiction Roundup, January 2020”

New Fiction Roundup – December 2019

Is the end of the year going by at light-speed for anyone else? It’s passing so quickly for me that I’m a week late in suggesting new fiction to check out this December.

12/3: Dead Astronauts by Jeff VanderMeer – In a City with no name, in the shadow of the all-powerful Company, lives converge in terrifying and miraculous ways. At stake is the fate of the future and the fate of Earth. By the author of Annihilation.

12/3: The German House by Annette Hess – Set against the 1963 Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials, this coming-of-age story follows a young female translator, caught between societal and familial expectations and her unique ability to speak truth to power, as she fights to expose the dark truths of her nation’s past.

12/3: Now You See Them by Elly Griffiths – Detective Edgar Stephens and magician Max Mephisto investigate a string of presumed kidnappings in the swinging 1960s in this fifth book in the Magic Men Mystery series.

12/3: The Peppermint Tea Chronicles by Alexander McCall Smith – Returning to his series set in the boarding house at 44 Scotland Street, summer finds the residents engaging in flights of fancy and pleasant diversions.

12/3: The Sacrament by Olaf Olafsson – The haunting, vivid story of a nun whose past returns to her in unexpected ways as she investigates a mysterious death and a series of harrowing abuse claims.

12/3: This Is Happiness by Niall Williams – In this intricately observed portrait of a community, the residents of the remote Irish town Faha celebrate first love, the return of a long-lost love, the arrival of electricity, and the end of the rainy season. Continue reading “New Fiction Roundup – December 2019”

Three books about military service in honor of Veterans Day

Veterans Day is a time for us to pay our respects to those who are serving or have served in the armed forces. To mark the day, consider reading one of these novels or short story collections that portray military experiences during the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bring Out the Dog by Will Mackin
In this collection of 11 loosely connected short stories, U.S. Navy veteran Mackin tells stories based on his own wartime experience serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. In their starred review, Library Journal called it “a well-plotted group of small fictions for readers wishing a feel for the reality of recent U.S. ground wars.” Continue reading “Three books about military service in honor of Veterans Day”