Summer 2010 in review and Kook

First the book, then the summer in review...

Kook: What Surfing Taught Me About Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave by Peter Heller was an over-a-month page-at-a-time bedtime read for me. And for the most part it worked well that way. The one night when I reached for it during 4am sleeplessness and he was describing the slaughtering of whales, well, that didn't work so much. However. Mostly, it was great, in that it captures the adventurous spirit of a guy who has done a lot of running around alone, and now takes on both surfing and couplehood (SPOILER: marriage, in fact) at the same time. I appreciated the unconventional approach to life that this portrayed, and the author, while not a deeply introspective type, did manage to catch himself being a crappy partner more than once. But the real appeal was the landscape, the descriptions of waves and surfing, and the appreciation of our oceans. Heller has been an activist in defense of marine wildlife, and he sprinkles the adventure with healthy doses of reality about how seriously the oceans are in trouble. And this was before the BP oil flooding of the gulf. He describes coastlines in California and Mexico vividly, highlighting the differences between them. The fact that (SPOILER) his last reported surfing attempt nets him both a tubular wave and six stitches gives you something of the flavor of the whole book.

And now for something completely different. It occurred to me recently that, hey, I have a blog. I know, I know, this seems a little silly, but what I mean is that I could, occasionally, seasonally, capture some of my own adventures for the sake of posterity and celebration and all that. I'm not looking to transition this into being some kind of online journal. But, occasionally, I though I might post some pics. As fall is well underway, with the official season having started on Thursday and everything (with a full moon, no less), I thought I'd take a brief tour back through the highlights of summer 2010.  If you're here for the books, then you'd probably want to skip this part.

Summer started with a big, mysterious back/leg injury for me in May, so our trip to Chicago had to be delayed for a month. So, in the meantime, I grew some peas in the garden. Carefully. In a raised bed, I'm glad to say.

It was a slow first month, but it picked up!  First there was the marvelous play Aquatown and Andrea who directed it.  Meeting her and hosting the cast party was a delightful experience, of which I wish I had pics.  Then came a party at Richard's (for Boyd's visit) where Jerry found a cat who loved his beard and I enjoyed meeting Richard's partner for the first time.  Plus a motley assortment of other folks.

i haz a beard

(I don't have pics of the Mikki/Ellen birthday shindig either, unfortunately, but that would go well with this.) 

Then, finally, in late June instead of late May, I had healed enough to get to Chicago for our anniversary trip.  Ben found us the most spectacular hotel ever, called The Wit.

Ben at The Wit

And the next day we went to the Art Institute and then to Millenium Park for the Bean and some live music...

Ben and a duck
Ben and Bean
Me and a lovely beer @ Karen's Cooked (great vegan restaurant)

And finally to good old MCA with its raucously painted steps.  Ending with dinner at Frontera Grill.  Best Mexican food since, well, Mexico last December.

Then we left Chicago proper and spent a fabulous day and night at Sof and Nadeem's house.  So glad we did all that, even though it took some serious recovery time!  Worth it.  Totally worth it.  

In July, Laura and Todd created an insane feast experience for a bunch of us as Golden Harbor, which does indeed harbor insanely good Chinese food!  I had thousand year eggs and tried the duck feet dish (but couldn't really handle it).  Was glad I tried, and gladder still to have the opportunity to try so close to home.  I really wish I had a pic of Laura, but every time I got out the camera S. was nursing, so I'm going to keep those off the internets.  Here are some of my other extraordinary peeps at that party.

Danielle is often a blur in my photos, but Marie and Beth are not.

But she's in focus here

Me and Meadow!  She was post knee-surgery
Cope and Walter had an amazing party at the Crystal Lake boathouse and lakefront there.  I didn't get pictures of the Volkswagen-sized bubbles that some of the fancy bubble folks created.  Nor did I get me and little S. hanging out much, though we spent a lot of quality time there.


I love Ben's expression.  Classic.
I'm not sure when this happened, but at some point there was this incredible bonfire at Kord's house.  We were safe about it, and extra careful with the babies (though it looks dangerous, there were 2 trenches, an adult sitting right behind that play structure, and several others to the left).   That fire was big and hot and intense!  

L., Lorien, and Kate

Kord at the grill.  Crazy good italian sausages!

And we bought a water table for S. to have to play with at our house, and this was a night when Lorien joined us with L. too.  But this next pic, at least with Laura, Todd, and S. on our screened porch, could have been so many terrific nights from this summer.


And Ben and I went to see Anna and Lorene's band, Duke of Uke, at one of the downtown Champaign festivals.

Then came Melanie's wedding, which was absolutely gorgeous.  Though Ben couldn't go because his knee was hurt, which (he reminds me) was the side effect of the double-carpal-tunnel onset.  Sheesh.  Great summer, but what a bunch of injuries...

Melanie and Vince
My goofy friends Danielle, Mark, and Susan

And finally came my birthday bbq bash, which was a total blast.  Wish I had more pics of the crowd, especially the Gengler bunch and all the kids playing together.  But I was very grill focused, so the camera escaped me. 
Me with my new birthday grill!  Local organic meats only for this party.

Todd, Joe, Kord

And that's summer 2010, or at least all that's fit to print about it!

Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones

I'm a Jones fan from well before the Harry Potter crazes, and this book, while not one of her absolute best, will not disappoint.

The adventure begins when Aidan's grandmother dies and he arrives on Dr. Andrew Hope's doorstep. Aidan is hoping to find Andrew's grandfather, whom his own grandmother had urged him to find should anything ever happen to her. Andrew has only recently inherited the place from his grandfather, and though he has long been part of a magical family, he seems to have forgotten much of the magic his grandfather taught him as a child. Aidan, on the other hand, seems to be brimming with magic and is overjoyed when he is able to show Andrew the trick of looking at things without glasses in order to see their magical elements. Together, and along with a colorful cast of friends, household servants, and local villagers, they set about restoring the old estate to its former glory. This includes cleaning the "enchanted glass" in the shed/abandoned chapel, which until recently has housed an old an rather ill-tempered lawnmower.

Jones' books are often crowded with colorful characters, and this time the identities of those in the crowd are part of the mystery. "Counterparts" from the realm of "those who don't use iron" (read: fairies) begin to appear, and Andrew in his good-natured and slightly clueless way takes them all in, just as he took in Aidan. What appears to be a property dispute with a cranky Mr. Brown turns out to be a magical feud between Andrew's recently inherited magical realm and the realm of the fairies; Mr. Brown is none other than Oberon himself. And he is angry that Andrew is gathering the counterparts from the human and fairy realms together.

Jones is great at providing plausibly happy endings that are nonetheless realistic. In this, she is perhaps a master of juxtaposing the humor of the mundane (from dirty boots and gardening sheds to an unrepentant dog) with classic battles of good versus evil. Though Andrew appears tame, the moment at the Fete when he exercises his true powers resonates through the village and stops the narrative in its tracks. Though he's bumbling and mild-mannered, it's impressive when he comes into his true inheritance as the guardian of this apparently mundane but actually highly magical village. Aidan too comes into his own too, though with a twist. He may be the son of Oberon, and therefore a threat to the fairy king's throne, or, well, he may be something entirely different. Again, Jones juxtaposes classic fantasy themes with the mundane realities of illegitimate offspring in the real world. I won't spoil it, but let's just say Jones demonstrates that there's just as much mystery in finding one's true origins, whether they lead to the realm of faerie or to the exploits of a rebellious teenage mother.

Highly recommended to Jones fans and to anyone who like complexity in both characters and plot twists to track as well as cozy British mysteries. Jones does it all with aplomb.

did I miss anything?

This is something I read, and it is hilarious!

Coming soon, Diana Wynne Jones' latest book...

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The long-awaited final book of the Hunger Games trilogy is out and being read by millions, I'm sure. I'm one of them. I read it a little over two weeks ago, and online discussions with facebook friends kept me thinking and mulling before posting. It is clearly a book that can be read several ways, depending on your feelings about the first two books.

So I'll briefly recap my take on the first two books in order to give context for my analysis of the third one. Hunger Games was brilliant, surprising, and in some ways now looks almost light compared to the books that followed. We see our heroine Katniss stand in for her sister Prim as their district's representative to the Hunger Games, a bloody spectacle in which young players are trapped in an arena until they kill each other off, all broadcast for the entertainment of the political leaders and populace of the all-controlling Capitol. Katniss emerges victorious and saves her friend Peeta too, and we get a very few pages of possible victory savoring in the second book, Catching Fire, until they announce a new game played among victors of the previous games. Though it was a little less engaging than the first book for me, it was nonetheless a riveting and page-turning read to see how Katniss once again saves herself and Peeta from almost certain death. The arena this time is itself a complex puzzle that the players have to understand to survive. At the same time, Katniss is pretending to be pregnant with Peeta's child, and they are pretending to be in love, except that Peeta made it clear long ago that he'd have her if she'd take him. Also occupying Katniss's torn heart is Gale, her childhood hunting friend whose strength she has relied on to keep her family alive while she was at the games. Of course, Gale wants her too.

Mockingjay is a breathtaking and well-written conclusion, in which these games and the protests over them (in part due to Katniss's unusual playing strategies, saving rather than killing a fellow player) fuel a civil war. We find Katniss and her entire home of District 12 either killed or displaced to the top secret District 13. And Peeta is a prisoner in the Capitol. And everyone she ever loved having been killed or displaced is basically the most optimistic part of this novel. Other reviews have noted the persistent obliteration of hope throughout this book. And what I'll say is that, while that is accurate to civil war and even to the larger political situation Collins has created, it doesn't follow the tone of the first two books. From a hopeful story of teen-girl-beats-machine, we're thrust into the dark world of political ambiguity and brutal violence on the streets. District 13 is bombed, the Capitol becomes a war zone, Katniss realizes that her allies in 13 are torturing her former makeup crew from the previous games... even Gale, stout-hearted to this point, is shown to be more violent than expected. And since Peeta has been tortured and has all but lost his mind, Katniss is very very alone. As one friend said, this really became a war story.

Rather than the amazing teen hero who is uncannily able to fight and survive hunger games, we see a girl broken, over and over, who nonetheless has to go on and make decisions as the symbolic leader of the revolution. This is the only logical reason I can offer for some of the more underdeveloped plot points at the hurricane-speed ending. The one that bugs me most is Katniss voting to continue the hunger games, the very institution she has been bent on destroying. In the end, she also choose to be with Peeta rather than Gale, a decision that would have been more satisfying if we had been given more substantive glimmers of her emotional or logical deliberations (or both).

So it's a successful conclusion that isn't entirely a success for this reader. But that's okay. I can admire Collins' brilliance at both character and plot while also being a bit dissatisfied with how she chose to develop those in her last book of this fine trilogy. I've been a fan since Gregor the Overlander, and I'll be eager to read whatever she writes next. Along with millions of others. :)