For the third paperweight, this one, I decided to use the optic mold. This is a star-shaped mold that tapers to a narrow point. I believe it’s made of aluminum. After rolling my first gather of glass in the frit and melting the frit into it, I put the jack glass-side down and push, incising …
This was a book club selection about a story that encompasses what for many of us would be the ultimate nightmare. What if your only parent abandoned you? What if you lost your beloved child? It concerns Deming and Polly Guo, sometime residents of China and New York and about their identity as immigrants or as rural Chinese. Polly has Deming out of wedlock in the U.S. and sends him to be cared for by her father in China, having him return when Deming is nearly five years old. Then she abandons him again when he is 11, an act that Deming (who is adopted and renamed Daniel) doesn’t comprehend.
The first part of the book is all in Deming/Daniel’s point of view. He’s not doing so well. Despite having affluent adoptive parents, he is unwilling or unable to attain their version of success. He’s dropped out of college and is dropping the ball on their carefully-finagled second chance. He’s underemployed and nearly broke, living in New York with a band that may or may not take off and a mountain of hidden gambling debts. I kind of understood, because it has to suck to be abandoned by your mother. I also kind of hated him for being such a screw up and disappointing those who cared about him.
The second half of the book is from Deming’s mother’s perspective. Or, to be more accurate, his mothers’ perspectives. It tells the story of Kay, and about how she wanted to adopt a child and about how she felt about Deming/Daniel. She’s sympathetic, even when she’s making decisions that show her blindness to Daniel’s particular pain. The novel also deals quite a bit with Polly/Peilian’s story. It has a long way to go to make her sound sympathetic. Most people respond to a mother abandoning her child with revulsion; that is considered nearly unforgivable (while a father abandoning his family isn’t good, but so common as to be unremarkable.) We hear how hard Polly has to struggle, as a rural Chinese citizen illegally working in the city, as an illegal immigrant working in New York, and what happens to her after. Would any of us, the reader wonders, have fared better?
Perhaps obviously, racism and bigotry both subtle and overt is a recurring theme in the novel. The characters are often categorized as being the wrong kind of people. Rural Chinese is not as prestigious as city Chinese. Legal immigrant isn’t the same as illegal. Mandarin is better than Funzhouese. Outside of New York isn’t as good as New York, and within New York, Manhattan is better than the outer boroughs. There’s a lot of subtle bigotry, for example when Kay and Peter pressure Daniel to get a college degree, not realizing that their ideas of the superiority of college education implicitly imply that the place Daniel came from is inferior. They want to save him from his culture. There’s also the amusing way people treat exotic cultures; the New York diners are wondering if their Chinese food is “authentic” while the Chinese people Daniel encounters take him to an “authentic” New York style pizzeria.
This is really everything you want in a novel. It’s got a compelling story, believable and complex characters, and enough new ideas to bring up thoughts and discussion.
Stuff fascinates me. Why do we accumulate stuff, what is our relationship to it, and why can our relationship get to the pathological stage? I’m a child of people who are, well, if not hoarders, certainly on the spectrum of that, and I have a touch of it myself. Within the past few years, my pendulum on this spectrum swung the other direction as I had to declutter to an almost minimalist state for a cross-country move. After reading Marie Kondo’s book and getting rid of most of what I owned, my relationship to my stuff changed and it has become a subject I’m fascinated by. This book went to my “to read” shelf the moment I heard about it.
One of the best things about this book is that the author is also the one who did the first-hand research on it. I really respect that. Frost spent time visiting his subjects and did quite a bit of the social work involved in helping them. He shows sympathy for his subjects and it’s clear he genuinely likes most of them personally, even if he’s at times disgusted by their homes (the story about the roach-infested apartment would disgust anyone.)
Frost categorizes the hoarders into different types of people, that is, people who hoard for different reasons. Some of the most tragic cases involved children who hadn’t yet learned to handle any of their disorder, like the girl who cried when she lost mud off her shoe and the girl who compulsively steals things and won’t give them back. This isn’t a self-help book. While Frost gives some insight to how these people feel about their belongings, why it’s so difficult for them to part with things we’d consider trash, there isn’t much help for changing. Change comes only very slowly and has to be instigated by the afflicted person. One insight that he offered was that people don’t really see their own clutter. When asked to draw a map of their house, they’ll ignore rooms that are impassable because of stuff; they literally don’t see it. Sometimes all it takes is looking at a photograph of their own home for people to jolt out of their selective blindness.
This is a very well written book about a problem that everyone knows about and many people suffer from (sometimes second hand) but very few people have ever learned anything about from a valid psychological viewpoint. Frost seems to imply that people are like this because they’re born like this, not that something causes it (though genetics can play a part). I think that when more books are written on this subject, they’ll all contain this title in the bibliography. It’s not a life-changing book, and I don’t have any solid takeaways in terms of my own life, but it’s a good introduction to a subject which fascinates me.
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
Humor doesn’t always work well in books, especially if the comedian is used to stand up. But Jenny Lawson works well in the written word. Her tone comes through, her humor works and instead of feeling like I was reading the depressing memoir of a person who thinks they’re hilarious but really needs help, I was reading a hilarious memoir of a depressed person who knows she needs help. She owns her crazy, owns her depression and mania, and owns the fact that she is not like other people.
Some of the things Lawson does seem bizarrely plausible and hilarious, like when she wakes up in the middle of the night and decides to make the cats waterbeds. Lawson uses her husband as a straight man as a foil to her wacky shenanigans. Other of her exploits just seemed affected and ridiculous, like dressing up in a kangaroo suit because she was in Australia. Mostly her off-kilter logic made me laugh hysterically. The obsession with taxidermied animals was both hilarious and unsettling, and I had to remember not to read about it while eating. Taxidermy is basically sculpture using a dead animal.
Lawson also talks frankly about her mental illness and depression, providing a somber note to what is otherwise a wacky and whimsical memoir. I don’t think it detracted from the book. She also name-dropped a few times, which I found off-putting. All in all, I think this is a funny book and I recommend it. If you don’t find it funny, you are probably just too healthy and normal.
I read this book because my friend told me about it, saying it was her favorite book while referencing her beet tattoo. I really love this friend and wanted to know what she loved about this book; if not for her, I would have quit many times. This author is unlike any other I have read. This book is unlike any other I have read. I did not enjoy it, though I can admire some of the skill that went into it.
Pros: The writing on a sentence-by-sentence level is full of some of the most imaginative analogies I’d read anywhere. I thought I was good at analogies, but Robbins really goes to extremes. The weather in New Orleans is like an obscene phone call from nature. Flames dart from the boughs of a funeral pyre like finches from hell. A woman wears a smile you could mail a letter in. They got tiresome after a while, but they were impressive.
Also, the story itself is wacky and whimsical and weird. It involves beets, the god Pan, a Pagan king, perfumers and a cult of people trying to find immortality. They’re all strung together in ways that eventually make sense. Well, sort of. It’s still wacky, but at least all the various plotlines eventually connect.
Cons: I didn’t like any of the characters. Most of them felt either cardboard or wacky or disgusting, or sometimes all three. Even when someone wore a whale mask or was divorced from a famous accordion player, they tended to run together for me because I didn’t really know what anyone wanted. I didn’t really empathize with them because I didn’t really feel like most of them were trying to do anything worthwhile. There wasn’t much of a plot. They were just kind of talking in circles about philosophy. Priscilla was trying to do something (we weren’t told what) and she wanted money to do it, but we didn’t know why or what she hoped to gain by it. For the first half of the book I only cared about Alobar’s story because at least he had challenges to overcome. I didn’t like him though. I thought he was gross. I mean, I’m sure it was appropriate for the time and place, but he impregnated a 14-year-old and then later abandoned her and the kids he’d made. Sex with kids is where I draw the line (even if they’re married.)
The biggest con for me was the lechery. I don’t consider myself a prude, but this felt like porn. It wasn’t even erotica, because it didn’t turn me on, it just made me curl my lip and at more than one point exclaim out loud “Jesus, that’s disgusting.” Not a single woman was described without some reference to her jiggling boobs, moist vulva, fragrant vagina, supple perineum, meaty thighs or whatever could lower her to the level of “something to have sex with” rather than “a human being.” The sex scenes (frequent) felt like watching a cheap porn between unattractive actors, because the relationships (even that between Kudra and Alobar) felt shallow to me. Alobar seemed like a randy dude who turned into a cantankerous old man who (poor lad) no one would fuck (we were supposed to pity him, though no one sleeps with an old woman, and when Kudra dares to get older, Alobar is aghast). The LeFevres were indistinguishable from one another in my mind, because I kept waiting for them to matter to me and they never did. Dannyboy Wiggs, or Wiggs Dannyboy, was the most disgusting of the lot. I felt visceral revulsion at any scene with him in it. An old dude with an implausible name who lapses in and out of an Irish brogue so he can seduce a woman impressed by his money. I guess that’s the mark of a powerful novel, that it can inspire such strong feelings in its readers.
One of the main themes of the novel was its long philosophical treatises on the subject of smell, having a true heart, and immortality. One cannot become immortal without having a true heart, by which the author’s characters meant mostly “a strong desire to fuck women.” Even Priscilla fucks a woman, though she doesn’t seem to really be into it. Alobar starts to age, despite his super immortality powers, in part because he hasn’t got anyone to have sex with. And yet, I think many men find it somewhat of a relief when they get old enough that their sexual desire tapers off. Call me old fashioned, but beastial rutting seems like it would eventually get old. After hundreds of years of marriage he never has (or seems to want to have) children with Kudra, but it’s the sex he misses when she’s gone. For me, that would be like a thousand years doing prep work in the kitchen, and not a single meal in the dining room. Compared to the true joy of meaningful relationships with friends and family and work that improves the world in a significant way, sex is just party tinsel.
I mostly glossed over the philosophical treatises. I found them puerile and dull, based on old science and not convincingly strung together. For example “information gathered from daily newspapers, soap operas, sales conferences, and coffee klatches is inferior to information gathered from sunlight. (Since all matter is condensed light, light is the source, the cause of life. The flowers have a direct line to God that an evangelist would kill for.)” It goes on for pages and pages like that. Whatever. Honestly, for much of the book I felt like I was being mansplained at by a dirty old pervert who thought (very incorrectly) that he was not only the smartest person in the room, but that he had figured out the secrets of the universe, and he was telling them to me so that I’d be impressed enough with his genius to suck his cock. When I wasn’t rolling my eyes, I was curling my lip in disgust.
This wasn’t my book. I found it vulgar and pretentious, with forgettable and unlikeable characters and not much of a plot. (The connection between K23 and immortality seemed tenuous at best, and the Pan-shaped bottle simply a McGuffin.) I can see why people would be fond of his analogies and whimsical philosophy that they’d like this writing style, but the crude and constant references to sex ruined any leeway I might have given the meandering story.
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
I enjoyed this book quite a bit for the fantasy elements, but especially for the vivid portrait of life in rural Russia back in the days when boyars still gave tribute to the khans to keep the horde at bay. Even Vasilisa, the daughter of a feudal lord, worried about hunger and cold when the winter stretched too long. The descriptions of the landscape and the changing of the seasons were the strongest and most compelling part of the book.
The characters were slightly less compelling. Vasilisa is the strong, brave heroine. Anna is the shrinking and deceitful stepmother. Constantine is the flawed and sinning priest. Vasilisa’s father and brothers and sisters are alternately for or against Vasilisa, like battles she can either win or lose. We’re never meant to (and I didn’t) develop any sympathy for Anna or Constantine, never give much thought to how Olga or Irina view situations, and the brothers are pretty much pawns, excepting Alexander who becomes a monk.
The plot kind of creeps along for the first 60% of the book, with nothing but the rich description to carry the reader along. Vasilisa is born, she grows up. It’s like the “farm boy learning he’s the subject of the great prophecy” story, but with a boyar’s daughter. Vasilisa understands how the world works and she’s the only one who knows that without the house spirits, they’ll be undefended when the dark god comes.
She’s not a real girl like you could imagine meeting, she’s just a heroine. I think that the characters could have been fleshed out a lot more. Anna could have been fascinating and sympathetic. After all, she’s got the sight, just like Vasilisa, and she’s the daughter of a prince, married off against her will. There could have been alliances between her and the other women in the house. Vasilisa could have wavered in her sympathy towards Anna and vice versa. Surely in a land where people are locked inside for months at a time lest they freeze to death, there would be drama and political factions. But no, this is a simple fantasy story with a familiar plot?
I got this book from Audible. The narrator starts doing a normal voice for the description and a Russian accented English to narrate the speech. It didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. In fact, I quite enjoyed it after a while, though there were times in which the Russian accent bled over into everything.
When I had an hour left of the book and there hadn’t been what I considered a solid resolution, I started to despair that it was the first of a trilogy and that there would be some horrid cliffhanger. Fortunately, the book ends well enough that I felt content to leave it at that. It was not advertised on Audible as the first of a series, and I wouldn’t have bought it if I had known it was the first of a series. But, I’m glad I listened to it. I did enjoy it, just not enough to make a three-book commitment.
This was my second paperweight I made at the one-day workshop I did in May. My idea was to quickly pull a bird into shape out of the hot glass I’d gathered. This is easier said than done. My bird quickly became a melted taffy impersonation, and it was all I could do to loop …
The paperweight class I’d signed up for at the Mesa Art Center, though cancelled three times in a row, went off fine the fourth time I registered for it, and I was able to make three paperweights. We were having trouble with the crucible kiln not clicking shut properly, and the glass got too cool, …
This was one of the cups I threw with my share of the batch of porcelain that some of our classmates mixed up. I had some of Kurt Weiser’s cobalt underglaze that Bridget Harper (my ceramics teacher and friend) cadged for me. I’ve done underglaze or stain on porcelain many, many times. This is a …