30 May 2009

Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever by Joel Derfner

I had never before seen somebody I admired understand what was expected of him, choose to act otherwise, and be happier for it. For the first time in my life I realized that it was possible to reinvent oneself.

A few weeks ago, I was flipping through some old issues of Publisher's Weekly in a desultory fashion, vaguely hoping something fantastic would jump up and say "read me, woman!" when Swish caught my eye. This essay collection did not get a good review in PW, but the book's title and the review's reference to knitting were enough to have me reaching for an inter-library loan slip. And a good thing, too. Swish turned out to be just the right mix of funny and introspective -- exactly what I needed in my continued recovery from Bad Novel Brain Fog.

Joel Derfner has been celebrating his gayness since he was six years old at summer day camp, and hasn’t stopped since. On the way to becoming The Gayest Person Ever, he has been an aerobics instructor, musical theater composer, go-go dancer, and a member of the gay cheerleading squad. He also knits fabulously. In his essay collection, Swish, he covers everything from his relationship with his mother to "transformational ministry" (ex-gay movement) in a way which is both extremely funny and brutally honest. I recommend this book to everyone -- especially that bits about knitting and the essay on Exodus's transformational ministry.

Swish: My Quest to Become the Gayest Person Ever by Joel Derfner (Broadway Books, 2008)

27 May 2009

"Dragon whips tail."

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman (Viking, 2008).

Eon is the first book in a fantasy duology, The Two Pearls of Wisdom, from Alison Goodman, an Australian novelist previously only known to me as the author of ALA Best Book Singing the Dogstar Blues. I picked Eon up seeking relief from Burmese Days and more than willing to follow a plucky teenage heroine into danger. I've always had a weakness for plucky teenage heroines, you know.

Eon tells the story of a young student who has spent years training to be selected to become the next Dragoneye -- a position of great power and wealth. Eon, alas, carries two great burdens to the testing grounds. First, he is a cripple -- this carries a great stigma in his society and he is considered unlucky to be around. Secondly, he is a she -- females are forbidden to study magic and Eona will be quite brutally executed if the truth is known. Eon must hide her secret and cope with her deformity while picking her way through dangerous snarls of Court etiquette and thwarting a plot to overthrow the Emperor!

I liked this novel so much I stayed up until three in the morning to finish reading it. Yes, the plucky heroine sucked me in, but the soul-searching and world-building held me fast. Set in a mythical land reminiscent of ancient China, Goodman has created a unique and compelling novel. Fans of Tamora Pierce's Alanna or Sherwood Smith's Crown and Court Duel or Lian Hearn's Tales of the Otoro series will probably like this book, as well as anyone interested in Eastern cultures. Or dragons. Or plucky heroines. I look forward to reading the next book in the duology, Eona: The Last Dragoneye.

(That said, I have to admit that the sexual overtones in Ido's possession of Eon gave me the creeps and I'm not sure I would recommend this novel to readers under 14).

25 May 2009

"Truth, Justice, Freedom, Reasonably-Priced Love and a Hard-Boiled Egg!"

The scent rolled over him.
He looked up.
Overhead, a lilac tree was in bloom.
He stared.
Damn! Damn! Damn! Every year he forgot. Well, no. He never forgot. He just put the memories away, like old silverware that you didn't want to tarnish. And every year they came back, sharp and sparkling, and stabbed him in the heart. And today, of all days ...
It's 25 May! Time to start re-reading Terry Pratchett's Night Watch!

20 May 2009

Birdie @ My Window

We have several American Goldfinches visiting our yard this spring. Aside from this inquisitive girlie, most of them have been hanging out at the pole feeder. I would have thought she was too big for the window feeder, but she seemed pretty content.

Sheer torture for the cats, of course!

19 May 2009

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

Life's not all beer and skittles.

As we all know, The Well of Loneliness is the grandmother of Lesbian literature. It tells the story of sexual invert (lesbian) Stephen Gordon whose sexual leanings are ruddy obvious from a very tender age. She falls in love first with a maid and then later with a neighbor, but that relationship goes badly and she is forced to leave her home. Eventually, Stephen goes to France where she serves as an ambulance driver in World War I and falls in love with Mary Llewellyn. Alas, their love is complicated by social inhibitions and comes to no good end.

If The Well of Loneliness sounds depressing, that is because it is. It is also rather beautiful and enraging. Yes, after I finished reading this novel, I admit I wanted to go tip some cars over and set them on fire. And then re-read the novel.

Irritatingly, many of the issues raised in The Well of Loneliness are still issues we face today. Whether it is safe to have a public relationship. Whether one may marry and have children. Whether one may manage the death of a loved one. Issues from 1928, still on the table today.

That said, The Well of Loneliness isn't just a "message" novel. It is also a beautifully written romantic tragedy full of enough determined characters and purple-y prose to entertain any lover of chunky historic novels.

RYOB Challenge 2009: Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness (Avon Books, 1981)

15 May 2009

Pretty, Pretty Curtains

Pretty much ever since we moved in, I have been toying with the idea of quilted patchwork valances for my sewing room. I've daydreamed over many a pattern and fat quarter bundle, but never been able to commit. A lot has to do with the ugly bubbling red and white walls of my sewing room. It's hard to imagine anything looking pretty against them.

Last weekend, I had some kind of brainstorm while browsing Fabric.com in the middle of the night and ended up ordering a jelly roll of "Nouveau" by Sentimental Studios for Moda and two yards of Wilmington Prints's "Essentials Scroll" in light ivory. Alas, by the time the fabric arrived, I had forgotten my brilliant plan! What was I supposed to do with these fabrics? Why had I not jotted down notes? Oh noes!

Today, I unrolled the strips and held them up to the window and, against the bright light of the afternoon, they were beautiful. So beautiful that I decided to bite that darn bullet and piece some valances ...

Every time I started to panic (and I panicked quite a lot), I just held the strip set up to the windows, oooh-ed a bit at the play of light through them, and went back to my sewing machine. The tops are done now -- it took about three hours to cut and piece the two of them -- and now I have to wrap my head around quilting them. I want them to have a bit of body, but not be too stiff. The thin cotton batting I normally quilt with is, I think, too thick for this and so I wonder if felt might work ...

Probably, I am over-thinking a pair of valances.

Lest you think I spent all my time fretting over fabric, I also made turkey soup from the carcass of the one I roasted on Wednesday. The soup, while very basic (turkey with mixed vegetables and barley flakes), is quite flavorful from its afternoon adventure on the stove top and will probably not last long in this house.

I was also smart enough to keep some of the turkey meat back for "Turkey Enchiladas" and we will have the enchiladas for Saturday's supper with a bit of green salad and beer.

03 May 2009

Gardening By The Book

vintage usda gardening posterI started a small vegetable garden and am considering starting a container garden on the porch. Because I can't just do something without reading all about it first, I've been making good use of the library's gardening collection.

Last fall, I built a small (3x9) bed. I had planned on using the method described in Patricia Lanza's Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding! (Rodale Books, 1998), but it wasn't going to work for me as I had no moist compost or yard waste to contribute yet. Instead, I put about an inch of moistened newspaper down to smother the grass/weeds, then peat moss and manure into the bed. I let the bed sit over the winter and, a few weeks ago, worked in some compost, dirt, and Miracle-Gro Garden Soil. It's a beautiful looking bed.

Another useful book has been Mel Bartholomew's All New Square Foot Gardening (Cool Springs Press, 2006) which has quite destroyed my fear of overcrowding. Following Bartholomew's instructions I should be able to get an astonishing amount of vegetables from that one bed. The lettuce seedlings are certainly thriving while taking up much less space than usual! What else can I pack into that bed?

Bush beans, bush cucumbers, and many varieties of tomato! There are many other things I would love to try growing, but I am sticking with the advice of many gardening writers who say I should start with easy things I know we'll eat.

The library has lots of books on container gardening and I've browsed enough of them now that I want to try a few containers, too. One of these weekends, I'll get a couple rectangular planters to edge the porch and fill them with peppers and herbs -- Lanza's Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces (Rodale Books, 2002) and Georgeanne Brennan's Little Herb Gardens (Chronicle Books, 2004) should come in handy, here.