The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival – John Vaillant (2010)

This was, unusually for a reread, another great all-encompassing reading experience which managed to allow me to travel to the far eastern reaches of Siberia to follow the events that happened in a small struggling village deep in the forest. It’s what happens when humans and predators (of the animal sort) have to overlap due to reduced natural environment and resources, and it’s what can go extraordinarily wrong when this situation occurs. 

Vaillant is a well-respected journalist with work printed in prestigious outlets such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic, and his writing demonstrates his skill in how he handles the text. He was born in the U.S., but has lived in Vancouver for some time now, and most of his books cover current topics with a focus towards the natural environment. 

As mentioned, I’d read “The Tiger” before (preblog), and, being a little fed up with the never-ending sun and heat of the West Texas summer, I was searching for a read that would take me to a cooler location, even if it was only in my head.  Combine excellent writing and wordsmithing with an amazing true story, and you’ve got me. 

John Vaillant

The narration is mostly placed in eastern Siberia, in the area known mostly for logging. It’s sparsely inhabited (with ref to humans) and is a very harsh environment with temperatures regularly falling deep below freezing for weeks and months at a time. Only the hardy survive. 

Logging has been significantly reducing the forest (called the taiga) and there is widespread poverty amongst those who live there. Limited resources make people and animals desperate and the shrinking wild land makes it much more likely that human activity will necessarily overlap with natural boundaries already well established. 

It’s because of this growing overlap that Vaillant can write this riveting story. Amur tigers used to be quite a frequent sight in this region, but their numbers had been falling over the years. Already a predator, one of the local tigers had attacked and killed one of the villagers. But why? After decades of living quite peacefully together, each in their own world, what happened for the tiger to attack the man? And why did the tiger not only kill the man, but rip him to shreds, much more than would be necessary just to make sure he died? Absolute shreds.

When another villager has a similar hair-raising encounter (but this time he survives), the local nature reservation agents become alarmed. When the tiger starts behaving as though he (or she) has a personal vendetta against particular villagers, the occasion starts to take on a new level of importance. The villagers live deep in the forest and they would have little chance of staying alive without venturing into the surrounding forest for food and fuel… And why was the tiger suddenly paying attention to them? 

The book covers quite a short space of time, calendar-wise – perhaps one month or so – and through Vaillant’s careful and descriptive reporting style, you as the reader are taken along on the journey as local experts try to combine modern-day science with years-old traditional folklore to try to understand why the intricate balance has been thrown off between these two otherwise fairly symbiotic parties. 

By the time that I turned that last page, I was full of admiration for everyone involved: the tiger himself (who was only doing what years of evolution has taught him to do – plus a little personal vendetta-ing combined), the villagers (again, desperate straits) and the nature agents who were brought in to solve the conundrum. It was an extremely fraught situation but with climate change continuing to worsen at this point, I would bet that these sort of natural world overlaps will become more and more common as resources shrink. 

Quite an amazing story – even for a reread! Now, I’m adding Vaillant’s other work to my other TBR… 

The Lady and the Panda – Vicki Constantine Croke (2005)

Subtitle: The true adventures of the first American explorer to bring back China’s most exotic animal.

Strolling around the library bookshelves, I happened upon the biography section and then within that, the biographies-which-include-animals-somehow section. Oh happy times. I’m always up for an animal read, but combine that with the life story of an interesting woman doing exploring during 1930s Shanghai? You had me at hello.

This is the joy of browsing at the library. I had no idea this book (or topic combination even existed)… I’m psyched to go and dig around and find more treasures the next time I visit there.

So – about this title. As the subtitle briefly mentions, it’s a biography of American Ruth Harkness, who went to China to bring back to the U.S. its first live baby giant panda. At this time in the world, giant pandas were just being brought to the fore for the general public across the world, but the few pandas who had been brought to the West by (male) explorers had been killed for their skins. No one had even considered the possibility of bringing a live giant panda, let alone a live baby one. Add to that, the story of a neophyte female explorer traveling through bamboo forests without much support, financial or otherwise. There lies a fascinating tale…

Harkness with two of the young giant pandas she traveled with. (Credit: Mary Labisco.)

Some background: Harkness, quite a wealthy socialite, had met her husband at parties in NYC and he had been swept up in the exploring craze of the time. The hubby had planned several long trips to faraway places, including China, but on one of those trips, he became ill and then died.

Harkness had only been married a couple of years by then, but with her money, newly widowed and rather at a loss for something to do, Harkness picked up the exploring reins left behind by her husband – much to the horror and disbelief of her well-heeled friends and family. (Plus – she was a woman! Who had ever heard of such a thing?)

This tracks Harkness’s preparations (what little there were) for her first exploration trip. China at that time, was not that well-known by a lot of the West and so Harkness’s choice to travel to this mostly-unknown destination by herself to finish up what her husband had started was hard to believe for many people.

It’s really a fascinating story. Harkness doesn’t really seem like such a likable person, but she was determined, she didn’t know what she didn’t know yet and so in her view, this was just another adventure to a new place. This lack of knowledge really helped her, I think, as she wasn’t aware of some of the major difficulties that would lie ahead. Ignorance is bliss.

And she wasn’t the only Western explorer racing to bring back a live giant panda to worldwide zoos. There were other more-experienced and more well-funded men who were also in the race, so not only was this a project running against time and resources, it was also a gender-based race as well. The odds were heavily against Harkness.

Harkness appears to have been one of the few Western explorers who truly respected China and its people. Once she was there, she felt as though she had arrived home, and this connection pulled her through some of the more-challenging parts of the months-long journey. She also really cared about the well-being of the actual giant pandas that she found (compared with the other explorers who saw them only as a product, dead or alive).

It’s a fascinating read since it covers so much: the Jazz Age, Shanghai (from both the expat and the native perspective), the cultural mores of the time, and the numerous moving pieces that make up a lengthy exploring venture.

Croke is a sympathetic author and has done her research. She uses a lot of primary sources as reference material along with interviewing various Harkness relatives, even traveling with some back to China to retrace Harkness’ travels and to walk some of the same paths.

There are a few patches when Croke crosses over into FanGirl territory, but to be honest, Harkness was an admirable person in many ways so there’s not much wrong with that. Besides, the enthusiasm is well-balanced with less-savory aspects of Harkness so it worked for me.

This was such a good read about an interesting person at a time when much was changing across the globe. Add baby giant pandas to the mix, and it was a fun title to dig into this summer.

Recommend it.

Random note: I happened to be using a bookmark from the World Wildlife Fund, and their logo is a panda. Worlds colliding! 🙂

Catching up: Midsummer edition

Well, well, well. Summer school has started and is now halfway over, so that’s why there’s been a drop in posts the last fortnight or so. It’s very fun to teach but I must admit that it definitely eats into my day, what with grading, prepping PPTs, and general admin, so reading seems to have fallen off the last few days. It’ll pick up in two weeks (when summer school’s over). Phew. 

Thought that this would be a good time to catch up with some of the more notable summer reading titles that I haven’t yet blogged about, so here you go. These haven’t been the only books I’ve read, but they are the books that have left an impression on me over the last few weeks or so. 

I am becoming pretty interested in autobios and biographies, so as I was strolling through the library shelves, I was drawn to a short biography of children’s author, Richard Scarry. My twin was very interested in Scarry’s books when we were growing up and so I picked this version up. It wasn’t a heavy-duty serious solid biography, but more of a conversation or dialogue with some of the people who knew him so it ended up a pretty lightweight read which was fine, since I was a bit brain-dead at the end of the semester when I read it. 

Then, I wanted to read from my TBR pile, so pulled a fairly recent buy for me called The Thrill of It All by Joseph O’Connor, mainly because of two things: it was about a (fictional) music group from the eighties and the book was partly set in Luton, which is a fairly nondescript quite industrial town near to where I grew up. It’s not a town that leaps to mind for many authors and so when I saw that O’Connor had chosen it, it immediately went on to the list. 

It was a fun read that I gobbled down in just a few days and covers the life and evolution of a small group of friends who make up a band in their teenaged years and what happens to it (the band) and them as it evolves over time. Sad, funny – lots of great pop culture refs for those of us who came of age in that decade PLUS it kept mentioning landmarks that I had heard of. Well written story which kept me turning the pages. I’m on the lookout for more O’Connor (who’s actually a big Irish author so not sure why the attraction to Luton!) 

That was followed with a rather ponderous effort at reading Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers on my kindle. I’m about halfway through it right now, but it’s been put down for a week or two so I’m hoping that I haven’t lost the impetus to finish that title before I forget all the characters and what they’re doing!

Since it was summer and my brain was on holiday for a bit, I wanted a quick read that was also well written, so picked up Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley Underground which was an enjoyable romp and also gave me lots of examples of good grammar examples to show in class. (I know. Strange but true.) Features more of Tom Ripley’s adventures and was just a good read overall.

Then I soldiered through a nonfiction by Jonathon Raban called Hunting for Mister Heartbreak. I’d really appreciated one of Raban’s other reads (called Badlands [no blog post] about North Dakota, I think), so was rather hoping to replicate that level of read. I’d also enjoyed a book by Raban called Coasting (when he sails in a small boat around the coast of UK)…

Hunting for Mister Heartbreak was set to be a good read, going by the narrative arc: English man travels around America trying to find the essence of American-ness is various places, from the Florida Keys to the Deep South and in between. 

This book didn’t reach the same level of greatness that Badlands and Coasting did, though. I’m not sure why. Maybe this was an earlier volume and he hadn’t got his swing yet? There was quite a lot of him philosophizing about things in a rather superior way, and I think I just got tired of him judging the places and people who surrounded him. It just didn’t really come together and seemed more of a patchwork quilt just thrown together to create a bigger work. So-so, if you ask me, but another off the TBR pile, so that’s good. (I might be done with Raban now though.) 

Then summer school prep and the semester actually beginning which has meant more time prepping for class and grading work. I have a really good bunch of students this semester – summer school students seem to be a different breed than the long-semester ones and I’m enjoying the experience – but it’s definitely crazy-fast-paced for us to fit all the material in. Then, when summer school finishes in a couple of weeks, I get another couple of weeks off to recover and plan for the fall semester and then the school year begins again. I just adore teaching! (I hope the students enjoy it as well. :-}

Random Vancouver pics…

Side by side contrast view of old hotel vs new one.
Fairmont Vancouver Hotel (with green roof). The old and the new co-exist happily in Vancouver.
A lovely face shot of hotel dog, a yellow Labrador.
A very sweet hotel dog who hangs out by the concierge desk at the hotel.
An example close-up of some aboriginal native art.
Example of aboriginal art at the UBC Museum of Anthropology.
Pic of random guy having lunch in the architecturally interesting rooftop garden at VPL.
Great place for a lunchtime break at the VPL (in their rooftop garden).
Pic of some more aboriginal art on the street.
Example of some First Nations art style…
Pic of trans-welcoming bathroom signs.
Sign of the inclusive times in Vancouver: welcoming all at the VPL bathrooms.
Photo of lady on Vancouver street giving her pet duck a ride on a shopping trolley.
The lady taking her duck for a walk on the streets of downtown Vancouver. Because why not? 🙂

Active outdoor Vancouver…

View of Capilano Suspension Bridge as it crosses the chasm below. Lots of fir trees!
The Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vancouver. (Pic from park website.)

Set in the lower left corner of Canada, British Columbia’s flagship city of Vancouver seems to have the best of everything in its location: close to the Pacific Ocean, close to mountains, plenty of green, easy to get to (good to and from airport transportation), friendly people… Plus, the locals tell us that it’s pretty moderate, despite being so north: medium summer and medium winter… (unlike Toronto, according to a couple of people, where temps are really hot in summer and really cold in winter. Is this true?)

Situated as it is on the west coast, Vancouver is also full of outdoor active choices, and the SuperHero and I wanted to make the most of some of these whilst we were there. Of course, limited time and finances meant that we couldn’t do everything, but after researching, it looked like the two things not to miss were both achievable and super-fun.

Our first outdoor adventure was a quick trip to the northern part of Vancouver and its surroundings to visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Set in the Canadian rainforest (which I hadn’t realized that Canada has), this national park features a lovely old cable bridge (which really sways) and a treetop wooden track which allows you to see the rainforest from high up in the canopy. (What a great idea.)

Birds-eye view of the wooden suspended path that takes you through the rainforest canopy at Capilano Bridge Park.
Part of the treetop wooden path that gives a birds-eye view of the canopy. (Pic from park website.)

I wasn’t really expecting that exciting a ride from the cable suspension bridge, but you know what? It’s actually much cooler than I had anticipated so poo on me for thinking that.

The bridge spans a large gorge (I think is the right term?) and is wide enough for two fairly typical height-weight appropriate people (or one rather large person). It’s built using cables so the bridge actually sways in the wind and wobbles from side to side, so you’ll probably need to grab the handrails at time to steady yourself and the view is outstanding. (Not recommended for perhaps very old or unsteady folks…)

Once you reach the other side of the cable bridge (which is the first thing to do when you enter the place) and have survived the overly-dramatic groups of teenaged girls walking across (:-)), then you get to go on the Treetop Adventure experience (which is the wooden track high up in the tree canopy that gives you a super-great view of life as a bird/squirrel). It’s sounds very plain-Jane, but is in fact a really nice experience as you get to look down and around from an unfamiliar view. (Plus – it’s so green!!)

And then towards the end of the trail, there’s a big climb up some stairs to reach a glass overhang than gives you a view of the rocky chasm right beneath you. Honestly. If you get the chance to see this place, it’s worth the effort to get there.

(And – what is really helpful is that the place provides a free shuttle from downtown Vancouver by the harbor so you can just jump on to that and get there really easily and cheaply.) Totes enjoyable.

Pic of bike-rider view of coastal bike path that hugs edge of Stanley Park.
The bike path that hugs the coastal edge of Stanley Park – fantastic!

The next day was also a super-fun outdoor experience when we rented assisted bikes (i.e. bikes with a little motor attached) and rode the wide and well-maintained bike path that takes you from, again, the downtown harbor to the nearby Stanley Park, a huge outdoor park place which juts out into the ocean with a well-designed bike/roller-blade path (separate from the walking path) to follow that hugs the coast.

(Note: You might want to take a light jacket with you since, due to the off-shore winds, the temp can get quite a bit lower than it is downtown. We could have used one each…)

The park is a lovely ride and has occasional stops for a quick coffee or similar, and the views are simply amazing. The bike rental place provided a lock, helmets and a map, and then it’s up to you. (Bike rental places are pretty easy to find, so no shortage of those.) Since we opted for the motor-assisted bikes, it wasn’t strenuous and kept it fun. We had a great time, to be honest. Worth doing and pretty affordable since the only thing you pay for is the actual bike rental, and our ride took about 2.5 hours in total.

After that, we hung out at the harbor for a bite to eat and to watch the cool sea planes land on the water, and then it was back to the hotel.

Vancouverites: thank you for a lovely and welcoming visit! We’ll be back. I’m curious how you guys handle winter! 🙂

Pic of five large painted totem poles in front of small patch of forest. Varying heights and designs.
Some of the authentic totem poles throughout Stanley Park.

Bookish Vancouver highlights…

A panoramic view of Vancouver's harbor and the sea planes.
Panoramic view of Vancouver Harbor downtown.

As is my tendency, I walked around Vancouver during my recent visit looking at the city through a bookish lens: always fun to do, and found some fascinating (and impressive) literary hangouts.

I’m always up for a visit to a local independent bookstore, and a quick search online yielded the nugget that the Indigo bookstore was quite close by, and although it’s not that well sign-posted externally (so easy to miss), it’s a treasure trove of literary loveliness inside the actual store.

View of inside Indigo bookshop.

It’s a well-lit haven of all things to do with the written word, including books (with a special focus on Canadian authors/lit which I found very helpful), but also a pretty well-stocked supply of other authors, big and small, and the usual selection of book-shop extras such as blank journals and other stationary accessories. (These were lovely though, so I’m not knocking it at all.)

I had entered with the intention of buying a title by a Canadian First Nation/aboriginal author, but when I asked an associate, she pointed me to the tiniest display of Canada-related books. I was confused as to the small choice since this place is one of the premier bookshops in Vancouver, so I looked at the selection and then looked up and there, before me stood a whole WALL of Canadian authors/books which had a much larger selection.

After pondering why I hadn’t been pointed to this huge display of possible reads, I mooched over to see what they had – such riches by authors new-to-me and old, but since luggage space was at a premium on this trip, I ended up buying just one book. (They did however have a sale on Moleskin notebooks – sales are rare! – so I ended up buying one of them for 20 percent off. (Seriously – there are never sales for Moleskin journals and notebooks. Never (at least in my experience).)

Pic of written welcome statement to !ndigo bookshop in Vancouver.

(Since Canada uses dollars (except they’re Canadian dollars – of course), I kept forgetting to translate prices to U.S. dollars so at first, everything seems sooo expensive, but when I finally remembered to do the exchange rate, things were actually pretty good prices. Sigh. I was such a tourist.)

External view of Vancouver Public Library. (Looks like a variation of the Roman colluseum.)

Another free afternoon later in the week yielded a happy visit to the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) which is, to put it mildly, a FANTASTIC space for readers. Seriously. It’s one of the most modern and biggest libraries that I have ever visited. Floor after floor of literature and numerous other community services (even a musical instrument lending collection (should you need a banjo or a flute, for example).)

The VPL was amazing on each floor (and there were nine floors!). They had writers-in-residence positions (along with a focused Indigenous Writer position), they had so much light and space for its patrons, and get this magical option: they had a roof-top garden available for everyone. This wasn’t just an afterthought as well: it was landscaped with trees and plants, provided shade and tables and chairs (along with benches) and the view was stupendous: you were almost sky-high with all the notable surrounding architecture, some of which buildings also had roof-top spaces for their tenants. I’d never seen anything like it. Even better, it was free and available for anyone in the community.

View of fantabulous rooftop garden available at VPL.
Rooftop garden at the Vancouver Public Library. Be still, my heart. (View from rooftop garden in below.)

(Curiously, Vancouver is a very clean city. I didn’t see that many trashcans so I’m not sure where Vancouverites put their rubbish, but perhaps this is sorted out by the commonly available and comprehensive recycling cans? Not sure.)

In case you’re still wondering, I really enjoyed Vancouver!

(For more info about my Vancouver experience, try this post.)

View from one perspective of the VPL rooftop garden. (Pic of close-by residential building with gardens and balconies on high stories.)
Image of display of VPL's musical instrument lending collection...
The musical instrument lending library display…

Oh Canada…

Canadian flag fridge magnets on display in shop.

Earlier in the year, I happened to be very lucky to learn that work would be amenable to funding my attendance at a professional conference to be held in Vancouver. (Canada? Yes please.) After jumping through the required administrative hoops, I soon found myself in a plane seat heading for the Great North. Good stuff.

The actual conference occurred for the first half of the week, and then I opted to stay a few more days to meet up with the Superhero and see what we could experience in the metropolis of Vancouver. So much to choose!

One of the first places that we visited (and actually, this was pre-conference as I’d also arrived a bit early) was the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Vancouver doesn’t support Uber or Lyft so we were forced to either pay for a taxi (big bucks) or figure the journey out old-school by public transportation (meaning mostly buses). (No biggie but did take us by surprise a bit.)

Luckily, it was pretty ok to figure out bus schedules and pick-up places etc., but it still took quite a long time to actually get to the UBC campus. In the end, it was so worth it as the university has a gorgeous location full of plenty of trees, public art and close to the sea. (What a treat for this person.)

Close-up pic of a wooden piece of art  showing First Nation's symbols and colors (from University of British Columbia-Museum of Anthropology).

The actual museum itself was modern and well organized, so kudos to those folks. The most interesting section (and the one where we spent the most time) ended up being the Great Hall section where it was focused on the local First Nation people’s experience in the region. This included totem poles which were fascinating!

I happen to live in West Texas and Native American tribes were common throughout our region, but these were Plains tribes who commonly moved around and also did not have access to plenty of forest for totem poles so the poles were a new thing for me.

One thing that I hadn’t realized about totem poles is that there were usually several poles outside the dwellings of prominent people in the tribe’s community. I learned that these important houses would have two totem poles outside their front entrances, so although I think it’s inaccurate to report that each village was a forest of totem poles, there were definitely more than just one (which is what I had originally thought).

Each totem pole is carved with significant symbols that tell a story related to the family or individual outside whose house these poles would stand, and when I saw the poles in the museum standing in this awesome display area, they looked very majestic. They were huge – much taller and more sturdy than I had thought, but then that would make total sense as I think the Vancouver-area tribes weren’t that nomadic (at least compared with the West Texas tribes.) (Plus the no-trees thing which is significant around these here parts, pardner.)

This was a fascinating area to explore as it was all very new for me, and I loved it. The museum also focused on aboriginal/First Nations artists as well, so we were introduced to such luminaries as Bill Reid, a modern First Nations artist whose work was solid, beautiful and meditative in a way with strong connections with the natural world. (And slightly randomly, the place also had big collections of ceramics…Not sure of this connection with anthropology but there you go… ?)

Pic of sculpture, The Birth of Man by artist Bill Reid. Wooden carving.
Sculpture by Bill Reid: “The Birth of Mankind”. (At the UBC.)

So, after walking through the museum, we had a bite to eat at the small museum cafe (great food, btw) before we visited the nearby Nitobe Memorial Garden, a 2.5 acre Japanese garden also on the UBC campus and about a five-minute walk from the museum. This was gorgeous: incredibly green (so many different shades of green!) and serene, with a lovely winding path over bridges and around the different park spaces.

Before my trip, I hadn’t really put it together in my mind how geographically close Vancouver actually is for visitors and immigrants from many of the various Asian countries, but of course it is. (It’s actually closer to these countries than LA since the land sticks out a little bit around Vancouver.) Thus, there were absolutely tons of overlap between the different cultures and how they existed in Vancouver. (Another cultural layer to uncover for us!)

More to come, but don’t want to overstay my welcome with you with all this travel news. Suffice to say, we had a fab time. 🙂

Photo of serene Japanese garden, the Nitobe Japanese Garden, with stone wedding lamps, a small bridge and lots of trees and plants.
A view in Nitobe Memorial Gardens in Vancouver. Worth a visit!

Parable of the Sower – Octavia E. Butler (1993)

Image of book cover for Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower.

Following on with the POC reading theme and wanting some dystopian world to read about, I picked up Parable of the Sower (no “The”?) by Octavia E. Butler. Written as the first of a two-book series, this sci fi novel was published in 1993, and received a lot of critical acclaim including being selected as the 1994 NYT Notable Book of the Year (along with other lit awards). 

So – all signs pointed to a good read (as was an earlier of another Butler book) and I’m happy to report it was – enough so that now I’m searching for the second title (Parable of the Talents). (My library doesn’t seem to have that title but I’m probably going to have to take advantage of their great interlibrary loan program since I haven’t seen it on the shelves yet.)

(Random aside: In fact, there was also supposed to be a third title to make it in a trilogy, but it seems that Butler had serious writer’s block about this, and although she started this third novel a few times, it never materialized into a finished product. (However, I totally get and respect the writer’s block problem. No problem with that. 🙂 ))

The plot for this particular spec fic/sci fi read revolves around a young woman (variously called “girl” and “woman”) called Lauren Oya Olamina, who lives in the U.S. (or what used to be that nation) during the 2020s.

(This is not so far into the future as to be unbelievable and was one of the many points that really sold the novel to me. I love it when people invent worlds just a squidge off-center from real life as it is right now. Plus – I love that Butler is sensitive to the vocabulary she uses to describe her characters.)

Back to the book: Lauren has been living with her mum and dad and sibling in a small community, gated and walled to protect them from the marauding aggressive outsiders who surround them, trying to survive in the external extremely dog-eat-dog world caused by governmental collapse and all other economic and societal systems. 

As the troubles start to move closer to her small community, Lauren starts to seriously plan to move north to keep in front of these dangerous gangs. But how to do that?

Another new wrinkle has the introduction of new street drug called “pyro.” Pyro had the effect of making the act of setting a fire akin to the experience of really good s*x for its users, and so, of course, to “chase the dragon,” lots of these outside marauders end up being quickly addicted to it, making life difficult and challenging for everyone else. 

Along with this increasingly unpredictable situation is the fact that Lauren also possesses hyper-empathy, a human condition thought up by Butler which gives the individual the ability to feel the pain (and other sensations) from people she witnesses. Thus, if someone close to her vicinity gets hurt, both that person and Lauren experience the same amount of pain even if Lauren was only a spectator at the incident…

This can make it tricky for Lauren to be really effective when someone is very hurt as both she and the patient may be incapacitated at the same time – another complication to consider for both her and any future travelers in the group on her already-precarious northward journey.

Fully aware that the future task (and all its dangers) will be easier if she can get a small group together, she invites the brother of a neighbor along to add power in numbers. Planning continues apace, but when the pyro vandals burn down her own home (and others) which ends up killing most of her family (and that of her friend) one night, the goal to migrate north to safety gets moved up sooner than originally planned. It’s too dangerous to stay where she is right now…

Another great twist for this fast-moving plot is that there is also a vast shortage of water, so it’s an expensive but necessary product and has to be used carefully. This situation doesn’t help the pyro problem (not enough water to put out the frequent fires, people dealing with scarcity and all its related issues), and so the whole situation starts to get a little incendiary for all. (See what I did there? 🙂 )

With nothing for which to stay, the small group starts to journey north to reach Washington or Oregon where it rains more, pyro is not yet a “thing”, and life is (hopefully) not quite so difficult.

The plot then follows the ragged group as it gains members (and loses some) and treads along the miles of abandoned highways in their efforts to reach their own promised land up north. And how does it end…? You’ll need to read it to see! 🙂

(You know, this novel reminded me in some ways of the poor old Joads in Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” (1939) which describes a similar quest to reach the promised lands of California. I’ve read Grapes quite a few times, but it was mostly during grad school and that was a LONG time ago. Maybe I should refresh my memory to see if there are more overlapping homages to Grapes or other books in this Butler title…)

An excellent read, whether you dig sci fi or not… This might also be a really good book for someone not familiar with spec fiction in which to dip. There’s no robots, no Star Wars, no dragons. Just a good solid narrative arc that really made me care about the characters and pulled me in as a reader for a couple of days. Recommend this.

For another Octavia E. Butler read, try Kindred (review).

Summer time and the livin’ is easy…

Photo of hand holding slice of yummy watermelon with blue sky behind it. Summer!
Credit here.

Summer has been in full swing for a few weeks now, and since I’m faculty, I am privileged to enjoy a long break. It’s only my second faculty summer so it’s still quite new for me, and I have to admit that it’s a very nice set-up. 🙂

School finished up in mid-May with getting those final grades in, graduation and sorting out the related debris from the semester. Then I chillaxed a little bit (in between doing some heavy-duty yard work), and prepared for a week-long trip to Canada, Vancouver in particular. (You know how I likes me to over-prepare in pre-researching our destinations that don’t revolve around a beach.)

So, I completed those front beds (and their numerous rocks), I planted some marigolds in a pot (and they are still alive). Worked pretty hard on a difficult (and ultimately impossible for me) jigsaw puzzle, so now have donated that to the FoL folks. (Maybe one of them will have more luck.) It was a shame as it would have been a good image at the end, but oh my. For some reason, I wasn’t that thrilled with it and so passed it on to another loving home. There’s more in the cupboard when I’m moved by the puzzle spirit! 🙂

I’ve also been reading, but not at quite the usual manic speed. (It’s hot in Texas right now. Did you see that Paris was over a 100 degrees the other day? Yikes. And not much air-conditioning. Even more yikes.)

Just a note to let you know that I’m back and there’ll be a few posts in the upcoming days about books, Vancouver and anything else that comes up.

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Summer Catch-Up: Flower beds and books (of course!)

So I’m at the beginning of summer break (woohoo) which is a great gift for faculty. All the graduates have gone off to explore their worlds and I have a space until the beginning of July to hang out and do stuff (or not, as the case may be). I wish I could share this with you all though.

So, what exactly have I been doing? Well. Let’s see…

I have redone the two flower beds in front of the house. This included removing every single river stone from each bed, planting some annuals in front and filling some gaps in the boxhedge, and then I’m now putting each of those river stones back in place. (Phew. A huge job for me, but it will look good when it’s done. See photos below for updates on progress.)

Flower bed #1 (after all stones pulled out). Ready for planting annuals and putting stones back.
Flower bed #2: halfway through the process (now completed).

I’ve also been reading, naturally, so seeing as it’s summer (and the living is easy :-)), I thought I’d just do some reviewlettes to keep caught up with the titles.

I had a fun read of R.C. Sheriff’s Greengates (1936), a domestic mid-century novel about an English couple who have to (re-) find themselves after the husband retires. Nothing too deep and meaningful, but just a good solid read. Just right after the end of the semester…  

I had a lovely peruse through a coffee table book on modern interior design and yearned for some of these rooms. (Unfortunately, I don’t happen to have one zillion dollars at the moment, but when I do… Yes.)

Called Interiors: Inside the American Home and edited by Marc Kristal (I think), these were not your average American home. No sirree bob. It was more along the level of perhaps the Kardashians, but it was still enjoyable to look at how the designs were for the rooms, and learn more about my own style. I can still pull the pieces of design that I really like and integrate it into my own home, yes?  

In the mood for short stories, preferably speculative fiction and by a POC, I went looking for some more Nalo Hopkinson and came from with the library edition of Mojo: Conjure Stories, an anthology edited by Hopkinson. This is a collection of short stories written by a variety of authors across the globe, but all POC and written through the lens of Caribbean and AfAm magic. (Magic is a little bit of a stretch for me to read, but the majority of these stories were fine… Only a few didn’t make the cut, in my opinion, but that’s to be expected with an anthology.)

Overall, this was a fun read so I’m open to reading more along those lines in the future.

And now I’m choosing my next read. Which one, which one… ? (Plus – finishing the flower beds!)

Oh, and plus this: I’m off to Canada in a couple of weeks for a conference, so been reading about Vancouver (where I’ll be)… Cool beans.