Book 12: Smoke and Mirrors

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman
Book: 12/52
Completed: November 2, 2015
Purchased: Borrowed from Francis

This might be my favorite short story collection that I’ve read. The collection includes poetry, sci-fi, horror, and degrees of fantastical encroachment upon reality. I loved thumbing through the intro and pairing up the stories with the backgrounds that Gaiman provides for each. It really went through the writing process and felt personal to Neil Gaiman.

Most significantly, this book put me in the mindset to start writing my own fiction again. Reading about the author as a character provided a tremendous amount of creative inspiration for me.

As I complete this review, it’s been nearly 2 months since I read the collection. As such, it’s hard for me to recall why my favorite stories were the most impactful. Make sure not to miss The Wedding Present, which is nested within the introduction. Also of note is The Goldfish Pool and Mouse.

Would I read more by this author?: Such an enthusiastic yes.
Rating: 9/10

Avalon

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Book 11: World War Z

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World War Z by Max Brooks
Book: 11/52
Completed: October 26, 2015
Purchased: Goodwill

Occasionally compelling but generally dry, World War Z steered clear of action despite heavy military themes. This book sure made me loath acronyms.

The sociopolitical commentary was so heavy handed that it severely dated the book.

The zombie fighting was interesting during the 5% of the book that actually addressed zombies.

If you would read a book about the gradual restructuring of the governments of the globe after a near-catastrophic event, which is delivered in a way that prevents you from becoming attached to any characters or experiencing the “human angle,” this book is for you. It wasn’t for me, which is a particular let down because I’ve heard nothing but good things about it, and I picked it out especially for Halloween. Oh well.

Rating: 5/10

Avalon

Book 10: Alexandra

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Alexandra by Valerie Martin
Book: 10/52
Completed: October 21, 2015
Purchased: Goodwill

Alexandra is a quick and captivating read about a middle aged man driven down a rabbit hole by lust. Set in (and presumably near) New Orleans, the reader is privileged to puzzle out the motivations of a cast of characters with a murderous secret. While the tone of the story travels far from where it begins, it knows what exactly it’s doing. I enjoyed this book. It ended very cleanly. I’m uncertain whether any of the characters are likable or even hatable, which I think is a testament to how well written they are.

Would I read more by the author?: Yes.

Rating: 8/10

Avalon

Book 9: Sex at Dawn

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Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá
Book: 9/52
Completed: October 19, 2015
Purchased: Barnes and Noble

Eep! Those paying attention will notice that I completed this book almost 2 weeks after book 8. Francis and I had extended visitors from Brooklyn who kept us very busy, but I as of today I have officially caught up. I even managed to avoid buying more books to add to my book queue! However, I do still have my review posts to catch up on.

I purchased Sex at Dawn sometime around 2012. I had always been interested in human sexuality, and was let down that it was rarely touched upon in any human behavior courses that I took during college. There was a time when I considered specializing in sexual disfunction in graduate school. So when I came across this book at a Long Island Barnes and Noble one night, I was very excited to read it.  At the time, I was in an unhealthy relationship that lacked emotional and physical intimacy, and I wanted desperately for it to work. Sex at Dawn‘s directness about the futility of long term relationships was a bit too much for my denial to handle. I couldn’t make it past the introduction without crying, so it sat shelved for years.

I’m not exactly sure why this book followed me across 5 moves, while many of my favorite books were donated.

Shortly after we began seeing each other, Francis went on a two-month road trip around the United States. Along the way he began listening to the Savage Love Podcast, a snarky PNW-based sex and relationship advice column featuring Dan Savage. The podcast has become a bit of a joke in our household because of how often Francis quotes it or forces me to listen. I promise that this is relevant.

I added Sex at Dawn to my 52 books challenge knowing that once I began, I would HAVE to finish, no matter what feelings it unearthed. (I mean, I made it through Pedagogy, right?) I was relieved when my reading of the introduction went smoothly. I was even excited to continue! Satisfied, I closed the book and studied the cover for the hundredth time to discover the most prominent review, top center, was a glowing accolade from Dan Savage. My edition also includes bonus content from his interview with Christopher Ryan. Clearly there was a time and place for me to read this book, and I had found it.

Now, on to my review.

I am very happy to have finally read this book. Its arguments are thorough and fact-based. The book itself is readable and not overly-technical. I have some academic background in evolutionary psychology as well as anthropology, and didn’t find this information overly simplified. In fact, most of the information was novel to me. I can’t remember the last time I was exposed to new ideas (book, movie, lecture, etc) and felt so compelled to SHARE what I was learning. It was downright exciting to put this book down after a paragraph and look around eagerly for someone to teach my new fact to. (Surprise answer- it was only ever Francis. We need Oregon friends badly.)

The most crucial component of science is remaining ever-critical, and so I believe the authors would appreciate my skepticism. While the book presents a cornucopia of evidence, it’s hard not to remember the author’s own warning about seeking evidence that supports our preexisting suppositions. I would like to see more literature to support their arguments from additional sources- particularly sources who might have stronger academic qualifications. The puzzle pieces in this book fit together a little too cleanly.

My primary issue with this book is that it urges us to take an open-minded approach to how we view monogamy and pair-bonding, but still perpetuates that sex and relationships are between a male a female. Although it mentions female sexuality it’s impossible to ignore that the vast majority of the emphasis is on men and masculinity. They support that females have a higher sex drive, but still frame female sexuality in terms of males. I also find it disappointing that the authors attribute all of society’s decline to the rise of agriculture, but suggest absolutely no way to improve upon modern society to remedy these issues. The implication is that, short of a mushroom cloud reverting us to a hunter-gatherer society, we’re all totally screwed to be poorly paired and sexually unsatisfied. Since the authors boast their healthy relationship with one another, surely there’s something prescriptive they could add.

Would I read more by this author?: Sure! Although it might sit on my shelf for a while.

Rating: 8/10
Avalon

Bend Weekend

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In September, Francis and I made a weekend trip to Bend, OR. The previous weekend was Labor Day, and separate wedding obligations meant that we were apart. Even though we’ve been relying on each other for all of our social needs since moving out here, spending time together as a couple still requires some degree of intentionality. After the bridal party stress, a couple’s weekend was welcomed.

We set out early on Saturday morning, with some slight delays due to puzzling out our new bike rack. We planned a hike at along the way– 8 miles round trip, mostly level incline. The trail passed waterfalls before circumnavigating mounds of lava flow.IMG_5978

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Our turnaround point was a beautiful alpine lake where we had sandwiches and soaked our feet in the icy water until it was time to head back. I returned my shoes to my feet with great reluctance. IMG_2684

The return trek passed quickly, as it always does, and we resumed our motorized journey.


My first impression of Bend was that it was quaint and clean. Less bicycle friendly than Eugene, but more grown up. We passed several breweries and a park on the way to our lodging, and overall it seemed like an affluent and quiet place. Our motel was nicer than I expected, and made us regret that we weren’t there with friends. We had two Queen sized beds and a Twin for some reason. I was particularly fond of the way that the decor didn’t quite match. It felt like visiting the house of your friend’s grandparents. Not posh, but very clean and someone had clearly been thoughtful in their intention of making it a nice place to stay.

After our hike, we were a bit torn as to whether addressing our body odor or hunger was more pressing. We opted to shower before heading to Deshutes Brewery. We had brought our bikes specifically so that we could enjoy the Bend craft beer scene without worrying about getting back to our motel, but my sore legs and unfamiliarity with the town layout won out and we opted to drive.

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Dinner at Deschutes was wonderful. We sat on their upstairs balcony and had a view of the sunsetting tangerine over the mountains. Dinner felt very private and Francis and I both went a little overboard with 2 appetizers and 2 entrees.

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After dinner, coffee was urgent. With over an hour to kill before the main event, we were exhausted. We drove to the theater early, which miraculously shared a parking lot with a Dutch Brothers Coffee stand. Finally, my first Dutch Bros.!! For those unfamiliar, Dutch Bros. is a drive thru coffee chain that saturates the Pacific Northwest. I can now say that their ice coffee is en pointe.

So we parked, and sipped, and fought over Spotify to share music with one another. We told each other stories about our lives before we resembled the people who we are now. These moments are so frequent when you first fall in love with someone, and it’s always wonderful when they continue even when things grow familiar.

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We two, slightly more awake, headed into Volcanic Theater Pub to watch Hump!, a traveling greatest hits of submissions to Dan Savage’s Hump! Festival from the last few years. For those of you who do not know, Dan Savage is a popular sex and relationship advice columnist whom Francis is a bit of a fangirl for. Hump! is an annual amateur adult film festival where people can be “porn stars for a day” (their video submissions are destroyed after being privately screened.) I’m fairly open-minded, but I had no clue what to expect or how weird the films would be. Obviously the films were very adult in content, and so I have written a separate post of my thoughts on the experience here.


I can never sleep in on the Weekend (much to Francis’s annoyance), so the next morning was an early one. We debated where to have breakfast (it seems like there are almost no BAD choices in Bend,) and finally decided to brave the heavily warned against lines of the Victorian Cafe. The choice was obvious, as it topped every Breakfast in Bend list that we Googled over coffee in our drowsy motel bed. And what luck! We beat the rush and were able to get a seat right away, which was almost disappointing because there was a lovely outdoor bar and fire pit where I wouldn’t have minded lounging.

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Our decadence carried over from the previous night. We ordered eggs Benedict to split as a starter, an apple gorgonzola omelet for me (huge) and a duck and eggs chimichanga for Francis (more huge.) I’m actually salivating as I remember this meal. We were able to eat al fresco, and the weather was absolutely perfect. Francis had an Earl Grey that came in a beautiful sachet, and I had a bloody mary that was more good than great.  We took our time, watching the line grow as we enjoyed our food. After that we headed home to Eugene. I would have liked to stay and explore using our bikes, which were still securely strapped to the car.

It was difficult to say goodbye to Bend, but the drive home across the Cascades distracted from the disappointment. We were able to have car band practice, which is one of my favorite things that we do on long drives. Francis pulls out his ukulele and allows me to pretend to be able to sing for a few hours, tolerating all but the worst of the anxiety that it triggers. We also brainstormed our costumes for Rose City Comic Con in Portland the following weekend, deciding to go as characters from the video game Borderlands that we occasionally co-op.

This was a perfectly recuperative weekend that I will always remember as one of our best. I’m eager to return to Bend soon, perhaps when the snow transforms it into a ski town.


Enjoy Francis’s perspective on the weekend on That Thing I Did, his video blog!

Avalon

Postcards


This is the first post of in my “Simple Pleasures Series,” which feature items that bring me a disproportionate amount of joy for the expense or amount of effort they require. I hope that they inspire you to brighten your day as well! First up… Postcards. They are a wonderful way to break the monotony of someone else’s day, to inexpensively fill your living space with art, or to just pack away in a box to peruse on a rainy weekend.

During the massive downsizing that occurred before we moved, I unearthed boxes of postcards that have been zigzagging across the country with me for years. Lately I’ve had a lot time on my hands and find myself missing people from back East, so I’ve been making an effort to finally use these cards for their intended purpose. (My secondary motivation is that I feel like getting rid of them totally gives me permission to refresh my collection!)

If you feel inspired to start your own postcard stash, I’ve written a guide highlighting my favorite places to stock up:

1. Art museum gift shopsI first began collecting postcards after a class field trip to The Frist Center for Visual Arts in Nashville. Museum shops are such amazing places to acquire unique items. Always make sure to save enough time during museum visits to hit the gift shop!!

2. Book stores My absolute favorite postcards have come from used book stores, such as Tsunami in my new town of Eugene, OR, Half Priced Books in Houston, TX, or McKay’s in Knoxville, TN. There is almost always a rotating display near the register which often feature local artists or photographers.

3. Etsy This is a newly discovered postcard resource for me, but I LOVE it. So many talented artists and photographers offer smaller, much less expensive versions of their prints. My tactic is usually buying a set and sending out all but my very favorite one. I recently purchased three from seller Lupen Grainne, who I cannot recommend enough. The photo quality and content are gorgeous, as was her packaging, which is such an appreciated touch. I even received a free bookmark with my order, which I really needed for my book challenge. I look forward to ordering one of her larger travel prints as soon as I can pick one– she has hundreds of amazing photographs to choose from!

4. Antique shops This is for a slightly different sort of postcard collection of mine. I like to display the messages on the backs of vintage postcards. You can usually also find blank ones that were never sent, but I enjoy reading the personal notes. Every once in a while, I luck out and find one covered in lipstick!

Do you collect postcards? If so, where do you like to buy them?

Avalon