These dancers performed sitting down, as if in a boat. It was exceptionally beautiful.
It’s a little difficult to explain my rational for visiting Alaska in winter – and why in February.
Another amazing performance. I bet my captions get dull, quickly.
I’d go into the rational but it involves rental car pricing (August is incredibly expensive) and the collection of frequent flier miles (United is changing the rules on how they are awarded, effective today – March 1, 2015), to name two major variables.
Three dancers getting into their dance.
Given my constraint set, I decided that I wanted to go before the end of February – and that because I’d already been to the southernmost point of the fifty United States (note the careful wording there – this is a critical point to be expanded on in the future), I also wanted to go to the northernmost point of the United States, which is Point Barrow – I’ve covered my visit to that spot in my first Barrow, Alaska post.
Sorry about the fuzziness of this photo: this was a young kid wearing the most amazingly beautiful coat — unfortunately I never got a clear shot of it.
So I started examining my calendar. And reading up on all things Barrow – only to notice the announcement of Kivgiq 2015 – the Messenger Feast. With Kivgiq announced, my Alaskan dates were settled: I wanted to see it.
The audience appreciated this woman’s dance so much that she had to perform it again. I helped cheer her on.
I could try to explain it in my own words, but, to be honest, I’m just going to cut and paste from the Iñupiat Heritage Center’s description of area celebrations:
Kivgiq, the Messenger Feast, February (every 2-3 years)
Kivgiq was traditionally celebrated after a successful year of subsistence hunting. Kivgiq was hosted by an umialik, or whaling captain. It’s called the Messenger Feast because in ancient days two messengers would travel to a neighboring village to invite the residents to the festival. In modern times Kivgiq is hosted by the North Slope Borough in the regional hub town of Barrow. It takes place in February every 2-3 years and it consists of three days of Eskimo dancing, feasting, trading, and story-telling. Dance groups from across the North Slope Borough come to dance, and sometimes our neighbors from Greenland, Canada, and Russia come as well.
Kivgiq was fantastic – although, to be honest, I’m neither good at understanding dance nor do I speak Inupiat. About the main thing I noticed, after the beating of the drums, was that most of the dancers did not actually move their feet more than a couple of inches – if that. Most of the movement was in the upper body and arms.
Telling a story through dance.
Kivgiq was held in the Barrow High School Gym – I’d guess there were about 400 or 500 people there (although it’s hard to judge—but the gym was packed) watching dance troops from communities all over Alaska’s north slope and Canada perform.
Another amazing performer doing her thing.
Without a doubt some of the dancers were incredibly talented – and whenever a really good performance was presented, the audience went wild. I can recall at least two performances being repeated after loud audience cheers.
For many of the dances, the audience was invited to participate — this was one of the large group dances.
About the only downer – from my perspective – was that Wednesday was devoted to Christian choral music. So I ended up skipping Kivgiq that day in order to preserve my sanity. If I were to do this again, I would make a point of being there for either the first day or for the last day – but not set up a trip that spanned the middle of the event.
Clearly kids (and elders) were at the center of the celebration — with these five kids being the stars of one dance.
Click here to see my complete Kivgiq Flick Set.
I’ve been busy reading – this time Alaskan themed.
Wow—last time I mentioned the number of books that I’d read this year, I was up to 13. Since then, I’ve lost count — although it turns out to be ten more books!
Rather than present these in order read – I am going to start with the two paperbound books that I’ve read and then work my way through the rest.
While at the Top of the World Hotel, in Barrow, I picked up two children’s books: (book 14) Kumak’s Fish: A Tall Tale from the Far North and (book 15) Charlie and the Blanket Toss. These are both charming books that are clearly products of the Alaskan experience – and possibly not books I would probably give to children in Germany – or even many other parts of the United States.
That said, Kumak’s Fish is benign: it’s a story about a community coming together around ice fishing. It is, as the title admits, a “tall tale.”
Charlie and the Blanket Toss, on the other hand, gets into trouble with German values on page 1:
Charlie heard his father’s happy shout. He knew what it meant: a whale had given itself to the people.
Page 2 really causes headaches: “Every family in the village would enjoy some fresh boiled whale meat and maktak, the skin and blubber.”
While I’m not a whale hunter (or a hunter in general), I personally don’t have any issues with what the Iñupiat do: it’s a way of life that has happened for thousands of years, and the number of whales they take is few – and the meat is shared across the community, with everything used for something.
The book tells a very nice story with a very nice ending and is well written for a book that targets the youth of northern Alaska.
On the Kindle I tackled two other books based on Alaska, (16) My Name Is Not Easy and (17) “the Alaska Sampler 2014.”
My Name Is Not Easy, by Debby Dahl Edwardson, is a fine piece of literature, aimed at high school kids. When I say literature, I mean literature. Without a doubt this is the finest book that I am talking about in this blog post – and probably the best book I’ve read so far this year. The book tackles the timeless themes of what happens when white man takes native peoples under their wings to “educate” them. In this case, native Alaskans sent to boarding school where they were forbidden from speaking their native language.
I was caught off guard when I realized Project Chariot was a focal point of the book. This actually relates back to book number 4 of the year, Proving Grounds: Project Plowshare and the Unrealized Dream of Nuclear Earthmoving, and one I read last summer, Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America. (And, I might note, ties directly into my Master’s Thesis on Project Wagon Wheel in Wyoming.)
The book tackles a number of aspects of this cultural clash in a powerful and engaging way, including the unauthorized adoption out of an Alaskan boy to a family in Texas.
My Name Is Not Easy is excellent.
The other Alaskan book, Alaskan Sampler 2014, was a mixed bag. None of the work in the book really spoke to me – at least as far as I can remember right now. That said, the price was right: free. And one can barely object to free books.
I also read (18) Berlin: Portrait of a City Through the Centuries – as promised in my last reading update. This book started well, but as it reached material I knew, I started detecting inconsistencies in information and started doubting the quality of the underlying research and writing. Unless you’re reading this for a book club, I probably wouldn’t bother.
Among the other books I read (19) Double Header: My Life with Two Penises, (20) Hold The Line: Inked 1, and (21) Off Campus (Bend or Break). These appealed to my prurient side. Double Header started out fine – due to luck in the womb, Diphallic Dude has two penises – and he has an active sex life. Unfortunately the book is repetitive in the last third, repeating material from the first parts. Glad I read it, no need to re-read it. The other two prurient novels are trashy gay romances. Hold The Line features a marine (I think) who takes a road trip with a friend of his brother; it’s adequate for what it is. Also adequate is Off Campus – not great writing, but not awful either.
I read (22) Safety Tips for Living Alone (part of Electric Literature) after one of my friends mentioned that he was reading it. This is part of a broader discussion about governments that think they know best but forget the laws of nature – in this case, Cold War worries and a tall tower off the coast of Long Island. It’s a well-written, short, book that I would recommend to anybody who blindly trusts authority. Authorities don’t always know what they are doing.
Blindness (book 23) got put on my stack at the recommendation of a colleague. Apparently the book has won some awards. I think it’s trash – it has a very negative view of how people behave and how people learn – if they learn. The societal collapse proposed in the novel seems farfetched at best.
My current book (number 24) is the XYZ Affair – this is a romance novel that I picked up for some reason – probably because it is set in Wyoming, and I am a sucker for anything set in Wyoming. I’m a couple chapters in and it’s not that bad.
I’ve been a bad blogger. Sorry.
But now a few words about Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, and where I started my adventures in my fiftieth State. I had two stays in the city – three nights, then my trip to Barrow, followed by another two nights in Anchorage.
Anchorage as seen from my 22nd floor room at the Anchorage Hilton.
Given that it was winter, I got an excellent rate at the Anchorage Hilton, which is located downtown. Thanks to online check-in, I snagged a room on the 22nd floor of the Anchorage Tower (the hotel has two buildings) with stunning views of the mountains that provide a beautiful backdrop to the city. Overall, I would rate the view from the high floors of the Anchorage Hilton as the second best view I have ever had in a hotel, the best being Twenty-One Whitfield in Hong Kong.
However, with the huge plus of the amazing view, came a somewhat faulty heating system. Unwilling to trade the view for a functional heating system, I did get two blankets delivered – so including the one in the closet, I slept comfortably under three blankets.
There were some downsides to the location – it was not within walking distance (at least in winter) of the two gay bars in Anchorage. I was too tired and/or cheap to get taxis to go. I did not rent a car during my first three night set because I expected to find enough to do within downtown Anchorage.
This was, perhaps, a bit optimistic.
The front half of the Anchorage Museum. If you have a Bank of America card, it’s free on the first Saturday of the month.
The key attraction downtown is the Anchorage Museum, which is in two parts: the back half that includes a lengthy exhibition on the history of Alaska, focusing on politics. The front half has a floor dedicated to the native communities, based culturally/geographically. This was an excellent exhibition. There were some temporary exhibits while I was there, the highlight being one called “Cabin Fever,” focusing on what it is like to survive winters in rural Alaska, especially in times past.
Without a car, I found Sunday a bit dull.
The second time I was in Anchorage I had a rental car. Let me say, up front, I’m not a fan of driving on snow, especially slushy snow. It’s actually rather anxiety inducing for me, so I was not necessarily in the best of spirits after driving around town.
With the car, I made it to a number of places I wouldn’t have otherwise made it to, including the Alaska Zoo (small, but fun), the movies (I saw American Sniper on Valentine’s Day, which was surprisingly good and – considering that it was Valentine’s Day – packed), and a University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves ice hockey game. The home team got smashed.
Food wise, two places come up repeatedly in my research: Moose’s Tooth and Glacial Brewhouse. My word of advice: skip both. Moose’s Tooth was packed when I was there, but the pizza I had was unremarkable in every single way: the crust was entirely forgettable and the toppings (their own special creation) lacked any flavors at all.
Glacial Brewhouse, on the other hand, was better – the food was flavorful and interesting, but paled in comparison to my favorite Anchorage restaurant.
When the menu says this about the bread, you know the restaurant is actually going to be good.
This is the asiago halibut dish that I ate — I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of tomatoes, but I ate some and the dish, as a whole, worked remarkably well.
After discovering the F Street Station, I ended up going there a total of four times because it was so incredibly good. I had a special: asiago halibut, which was to die for. The fish and chips – perfect. The crab sandwich singlehandedly justifies a trip to Anchorage. My last meal there was a steak special that – I just cannot describe how good the meals at F Street Station were.
Alaskan Oysters, shucked right in front of me, when seated at the F Street Station’s grill.
I would certainly visit Anchorage again – and I would make a point of eating at F Street Station again. But I would probably not brave Anchorage in the middle of winter again. Given that I do not like driving on snow, I would probably aim for September – hopefully before the snow falls, but after tourist season.
More on Barrow in the near future.
Generally speaking, I’m a flaming Liberal.
Except when it comes to guns and hunting. And this is where my stances are complicated. Guns are, generally speaking, bad. They deserve heavy regulation. There’s no need for anybody in New York City to carry a gun.
In Barrow, Alaska, where I am now, hunting and guns are an integral part of daily life.
I’m at Point Barrow, Alaska, here. This is the northernmost point of the United States; although in winter, if you’re not an expert, it can be hard to tell the snow and ice covered land from the snow and ice covered Arctic Ocean. It was -33C out.
My first day in Barrow I dropped a pretty penny to get a guided tour up to the northernmost point of the United States. My awesome tour guide showed me around town, took me past the (only) gas station (north of $7 a gallon), past the high school football field (did I see it? I saw where it is – but the snow and ice is rather deep this time of year, so no, I didn’t), past the college, and then off the road and onto the Arctic Ocean.
He told me a lot of interesting stories – and it became readily apparent to me that he’s a hunter: whale, bear, and ducks, to name three components of a much more widely varied diet than I have back in Berlin. He even said that the quality of hunting is one thing that he loves about living in Barrow.
After a quick spin around the local grocery store, it dawned on me that I too would be a hunter if I lived in Barrow: food prices in the supermarket here are eye-wateringly high, while hunted food comes at an advantageous price.
(Another thing: restaurants here are also equally expensive and, generally speaking, not really good. The best food I had was at the Bakery/Mexican take out place next to the whalebone arch. Unfortunately I do not know its name.)
My arrival in Barrow and exposure to the hunting lifestyle is not without personal precedence: earning my BA and MA at the University of Wyoming exposed me to people who hunt – and who eat the meat. After six years, I arrived at a place where I despised trophy hunters but am fine with people who eat the animals they hunt.
(I was also proud of the fact that I convinced an NRA member that UW’s mascot, Pistol Pete, probably shouldn’t aim his gun right at little children and pull its trigger, even if all that happens is a little white flag pops out that says “bang” – at least something like that existed back when I was going to Cowboy games on a regular basis)
Which put me in a quandary of sorts: I like the piece of art below:
Various animal skins, including seal and polar bear, along with ivory, make up this piece of art.
It’s made of skins of several animals, including polar bears and seals. It also has ivory in it. It is, in a word, a gorgeous piece of art that had a price tag of a mere $250.
But here’s the thing: It fits perfectly into the Alaska lifestyle. It wouldn’t garner a second glance in Wyoming. I could probably even hang it in Denver – and, assuming I have decent, globally thinking, friends, I could probably even hang it in New York City.
But I don’t think I could hang it in Berlin.
Holy Cow! I’m holding a snake!
Today is, for me, a 32 hour day. I plan on spending it sleeping, reading, napping, some other activities, dinner, and sleeping.
How does that sound?
In other news, apparently back in 1982 I wasn’t too afraid to hold a snake. Which is pretty groovy. I probably wouldn’t choose to do so today.
Finishing Geek Love (book number five, from my last report) took a bit of effort. Honestly, it was a struggle toward the end – at some point I decided had to finish it because I’d read two-thirds of it; at the three-quarters mark I thought to myself that surely I could do it; and ultimately I was glad it was over. The book clearly has legs and speaks to somebody, just not me.
After that I picked up the far more delightful Stoner. Stoner falls into the realm of academic novels (a la David Lodge, Richard Russo, or Tom Sharpe; to name three men. Janet Smiley’s Moo is a female author) that I usually adore. The novel was great, but it took awhile to ease into – the professor’s life, both at home and at school, was messy. For people in academia, this is a gem that is probably overlooked because it is a wee bit dated – published in 1965, but focusing on academia as it existed starting in the 1910s.
For something completely different, The Dating Game, was a nice gay romance novel – lighthearted and sweet.
From there I delved into Picture Me Gone, a teen novel focusing on the mysterious disappearance of the friend of a girl-detective’s father. Honestly, this was a nice, mindless, read somewhere on my last trip to America. It’s not left much of an impression on me.
Following that was Shirts and Skins, a collection of short stories all centered on the same character in Hamilton, Ontario. It’s an interesting watching Josh grow up, struggling with his family, his work, and his sexuality.
The worst book out of this set was Brightflame Accension – a fantasy novel, whose author seems to be under delusions of grandeur. It was clearly written by somebody who thought he could write the next Harry Potter series. What came out is an insipid book with some of the most stilted dialogue, unbelievable descriptions, and a plot that is about as exciting as watching grass grow. I kept hoping it would get better. It never did.
Perhaps I would have thought worse of Stepbrother Dearest had it not followed such a horrid book. I found Stepbrother Dearest to be surprisingly graphic (actually, really graphic) about a relationship that develops between a girl and her (completely unrelated genetically) stepbrother. It had some nice moments, but the writing was not always convincing.
While watching people board a plane in Germany, I saw somebody carrying a book entitled Scrum – so I picked a book named Scrum – and it turned out to be a gay romance of sorts set in Denver. This was completely mindless and saved from being the worst book of this set by the aforementioned really awful book.
Currently I’m reading The Fence And Then The Trees. It’s good. It’s very good – and the author, JF Smith, has a really good track record. I’ve read four other books that he’s written and all have been engaging. I actually put off The Fence And Then The Trees, both in buying it and then reading it, because it was set in prison and I tend not to enjoy these kinds of stories. This one has all the negative prison elements that one might expect, but the way it’s presenting is not grating at all. Yes, there’s prison rape, yes there are fights, and yes it’s not a pleasant place, but the story works. I’m just over halfway through… and I expect to finish it pretty quickly.
My next book will be a big one: Berlin: Portrait of a City Through the Centuries – some 400 pages of Berlin history, which only serve to bring my hometown alive.
As currently envisioned, 2015 is going to have a lot of travel – and virtually all of it vacation.
The past week and a half, I was stateside, hopping around: Las Vegas to see a college friend; San Diego to see ex-Berlin friends and a college friend; and Bloomington to see – well, to see Bloomington friends. I stopped in Indianapolis to see an ex-Jena friend on my way out of town.
The cherry on top was seeing one last college friend at Chicago O’Hare during my layover. He was also making a connection – mentioning it on social media.
Zion National Park – I have incredible memories of this place from when I was a child. It is still impressive now that I’m a grown up.
Las Vegas is, as any sane person knows, a depressing city if you go there for its purported purpose. Fortunately my friends extracted me from the city (I’d had no really strong wishes as what to do), taking me to a cabin in the woods of Utah – with the added bonus of driving through Zion National Park – where I met several of their friends (a total of 3 couples, 3 kids, and me).
Let me just say: Zion may be the most beautiful national park in the US. It certainly is more awesome and amazing than it’s neighbor to the south, the Grand Canyon. I have incredibly fond memories of Zion from a childhood trip that I took with my parents – a string of national monuments and parks in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. Zion was the next to last stop and by far the best.
The time spent at the cabin in the woods was incredibly relaxing and laid back: drinking wine around a campfire, munching on some American snacks that I hadn’t had in years (Cheez-It are more disgusting than I remember), and playing Cards Against Humanity. I actually did surprisingly well at Cards Against Humanity – I own a set of the game, but since it requires strong English skills (and American experiences), I’ve not actually played it in Berlin.
A set of early morning flights and I found myself in San Diego. My first day (Martin Luther King Jr Day), I spent with ex-Berlin friends. We enjoyed the scenery of Sunset Cliffs, delicious fish tacos at Oscar’s, a bit of wine drinking around a bamboo table, and amazing Italian food in Little Italy.
San Diego has amazing scenery.
Fish Tacos at Oscar’s.
My second day in San Diego, I explored Ocean Beach for a few hours, including walking to the end of the pier. There are two awesome things about the pier: first it lets you walk out to where surfers are surfing to watch them up close – or even from the ocean-side perspective. I managed to get some very nice shots. The other awesome thing about the pier is that it has a restaurant – where I had an early lunch: one fish taco and one lobster taco with a spectacular view of San Diego and the ocean.
Surfing at Ocean Beach.
Another Ocean Beach surfer.
My early lunch was this: Fish Tacos (one fish, one lobster) on the Ocean Beach Pier café.
Dinner was with my college friend and his family – I’d never met his wife or his daughters before – all were very nice. However we split up fairly early: he and I were both hitting the road obscenely early on Wednesday.
Wednesday was, essentially, a travel day for me. Going east within the USA eats up entire days: I left San Diego at 6:30 in the morning and, with a short hour long connection in Houston, got to Indy just after 4 in the afternoon. I was in Bloomington at 5:45 in the afternoon.
This was after an argument with the rental car agent who tried first to upsell me to an SUV for $12 a day – “I’m only driving to Bloomington, why do I need an SUV?” and then the roadside assistance for $6 a day – “I’d rather gamble that I will have to pay to have the tire changed for $100 than pay $6 a day. While I can afford $100, I cannot afford $6 a day every time I rent a car.” I really despise the rental car experience – the constant attempts to sell me more insurance, to pay for a “better” car (trust me, a mid-sized car is far better than an SUV), and – with some companies – an urgent desire to know what hotel I’m staying at (Sorry, I’m not telling—I don’t want you to steal the car I’ve rented).
Sorry – off topic rant. Bloomington is Bloomington and other than Wednesday night dinner alone, all my lunches and dinners were with fantastic people.
Wee Willie’s on Walnut — French Toast with a side of biscuits and gravy — might be the most perfect breakfast on the planet.
I even made it to the Back Door – Bloomington’s only gay bar – Friday night to meet up with an ex-roommate and his boyfriend. What an amazing couple they are. I was thrilled to see how happy my ex-roommate is – and how awesome the boyfriend is. About the only downside to the Back Door was how INCREDIBLY LOUD THE MUSIC WAS. It was challenging hearing people who were right next to me. I really do miss Uncle Elizabeth’s – the downtown location. Uncle E’s was such a sedate, civilized environment – rarely was the music too loud. Perhaps what I miss most about Uncle E’s was one of the regulars (and sometimes bartender) who was quite attractive.
My last full day stateside, I popped up to Indy – stopped at the Fresh Market for their amazing honey roasted Thai cashew nuts (it’s safe to say, I’m an addict) – and then hung out with my ex-Jena friend and her husband. For dinner we stumbled into Las Casa de los Mariscos Mexican Grill (7940 Michigan Avenue). Honestly, it’s the first restaurant I’ve ever been in the USA where I had serious trouble communicating in English with the wait staff – but the struggle was worth it. I cannot tell you what I had, but it was an amazing seafood stew that came out in an enormous bowl that was far bigger than the one pictured on the menu.
Happily my trip home was uneventful – save for the excitement of seeing another college friend who happened to be transiting O’Hare at the same time I was.
With regards to my pals at United: they’re doing a great job. Of the eight flights I took with them, six were substantially early, one bang on time, and one a mere 10 minutes late (mainly due to ground related weather issues).
I feel a bunch of rants coming on – so in no particular order:
First: On Facebook I hate people who send out blanket invitations to every event they’re hosting or interested in. News Flash: I don’t feel special – or actually “invited” – when all 1,000 of your friends are invited. Actually, come to think of it, I’m not really sure why we’re friends.
Second: I must congratulate BVG and S-Bahn Berlin for coordinating the route closures and construction. S-Bahn Berlin is closing the S1, S2, and S25 through the heart of the city starting Friday evening (lasting through May), leaving only replacement bus service. BVG is working on the U6 and U7 lines: The U7 will have replacement bus service between U-Möckernbrücke and U-Hermannplatz, a segment that includes U-Mehringdamm, the connection point to the U6 (and Currywurst). The U6 will be down to pendelverkehr (a single shuttle train that goes back and forth) between U-Hallesches Tor and U Platz der Luftbrücke – running (in theory) every 12 minutes. Woe unto people trying to travel through the heart of Berlin this weekend.
Third, part 1: Last night I saw “Queer Porn Shorts” – a film evening associated with the Porn That Way exhibition going on at the Schwules Museum* (See Baby… #Berlin is Porn That Way; #glbt porn that is… for my mini-review). The theatre was packed – standing room only – for this collection of films. I lost count of how many films there were, but suffice it to say that in the queer / feminist space there are “porn” films that are not porn but are actually poorly thought out art projects that lack much merit in either the art space or the porn space. Many of the films run together in my mind (or have been completely forgotten) resulting in a confused mish-mash of impressions. I do remember that some of the films were blessedly short. There were a couple of authentic queer porn – absolutely meeting the definition of porn – films shown toward the end of the evening. Perhaps the best film of the evening was Biodildo 2.0 – a genuinely queer pornographic film that managed to not only be pornographic (and erotic) but also surprising and amusing.
Third, part 2: The hosts of the Queer Porn Shorts did not respect the audience sufficiently. I had no objections to the brief panel discussions about the films, but I wish they had started on time – a program that starts at 10:30 in the evening shouldn’t have too much of a delayed start: the last U-Bahn running in my direction was at 12:55 – the event ended at 12:36. It also started about 20 minutes late. I’ll grant that there are night buses that run the u-bahn routes, but they are less frequent and slower. This might not matter for people who don’t have jobs, but for somebody like me who wants to be (or must be) at work early in the morning after sufficient sleep, minutes count when trying to catch the last u-bahn home.
Fourth, part 1: Last week I went into the Steam Room at my gym – a woman in there claimed it was “too hot” – so she wanted to keep the door open. News Flash: When you keep the door to the steam room open, it’s no longer a steam room. It’s neither steamy, nor hot – the two defining characteristics of a steam room. The idiot in question – I might note – had been in the steam room for roughly 30 minutes – and left the room in a huff when I objected (both in German and English) to leaving the door open.
Fourth, part 2: People who use scented oils in the steam room are also annoying. I don’t care which scent it is, it’s disgusting. I used to think that a tiny amount of mint might be OK – and it probably is – but most of the assholes who use scents in the steam room fail to understand the concept of moderation. Saturday I walked into the steam room and in five seconds the MINT SCENT OMG was already inside my nose and eyes. Sometimes there’s so much MINT SCENT OMG that I actually feel chilled – remarkable when considering how measurably hot the steam room usually is (provided some idiot hasn’t left the door open).
Ah… now that I’m feeling better, I thought it was time to update everybody on what I’ve read – since I am keeping track of books that I read in 2015.
Book number two was, as I feared, embarrassing: BAMF (SJD Peterson; Kindle) – a gay romance novel. Unfortunately it was not particularly well written. Its main role was to provide relief while I was reading Pioneer Girl – Pioneer Girl took serious effort and a lot of time, but was incredibly serious.
Glory and B*llocks: The Truth Behind Ten Defining Events in British History by Colin Brown was my third book – strictly speaking I’d read part of it last year, but had to put it aside for some reason. The book explores ten years in British History, trying to outline why any given year was the most important: 1215, 1415, 1588, 1688, 1815, 1833, 1928, 1940, 1948, or 1982.
Never having studied British history, it was almost all new to me – even 1982, which happened when I was 8. Safe to say this was the year of the Falklands War – and it was the least interesting year. But among the rest, there are some interesting issues to debate. I’d argue that either 1940 (World War II) or 1948 (Establishing the NHS) was the greatest year of modern Britain. Looking backward at the earlier years – Magna Carta, Azincourt, Armada, and so on – these are harder to judge.
The fourth book was Scott Kirsch’s Proving Grounds: Project Plowshare and the Unrealized Dream of Nuclear Earthmoving – a history of the plans by the US Government to use nuclear bombs (“nuclear devices”) to build harbors (in Alaska and Australia), cut through mountains to build highways and railroads (hello I-40—but never actually carried out, or build canals (hello Mississippi and Central America).
I, of course, have much more experience with one of the last Project Plowshare proposals, Wagon Wheel in Wyoming – which I wrote my Master’s Thesis about. I also read Scott Kaufman’s Project Plowshare: The Peaceful Use of Nuclear Explosives in Cold War America last year.
Proving Grounds covers the earlier years of the program using a geography rubric – it’s interesting, but not as engaging as Project Plowshare. To somebody seeking a readable primer on the topic, I’d recommend Scott Kaufman’s book. Proving Grounds is a bit too technical.
The next book in my reading pile – the fifth of the year – is Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. Currently I’m two-thirds of the way through it. Written in the 1980s, I’ve never encountered it before. Before I started reading it, I knew nothing about it – but what a crazy ass book. It’s about a family of circus freaks and related chaos. There are two main stories being told, both featuring the most of the same family members.
I’m pretty sure I’ll finish it this week – and I’m not sure I’d actually recommend it to that many people. It’s got something to recommend it (and it’s stood the test of time), but I’m having trouble putting my finger on exactly what.
By count: I have 16 unread books on my Kindle and 8 physical books. Many of the Kindle books should be read over the next month or so – although I will probably add books to that “pile” – and I know of at least two more books getting added to my physical stack in the near future.
I’ll never get completely caught up – but having this list on my blog is motivating me to read more.
Thursday and Friday were great.
Until I went to bed Friday evening. And then I thought to myself – I must be getting sick – there was that tattletale sign of a mild sore throat.
And so it was: Saturday I woke up feeling like crap. Which continued through Sunday and Monday. I was so out of it this morning that I stayed home – and spent most of the day sleeping.
Really, the only plus side to feeling terrible is the sleep that comes with – two lengthy naps today. One in the morning, one in the midafternoon.
And I’ve done some reading – but not much. It’s been more of a TV binge watching kind of illness for me.
While sick, I’ve been cooking at home – and, consequently, cleaning another shelf in my cupboards. It’s a bit distressing how much food I buy but never cook in time – the ingredients seemed like a good idea at the time, but once on the shelf, they are all too easily forgotten, gathering dust.
I need to reign in my propensity to buy ingredients that look good but lack a specific near-term use.