We finally made a choice about how the kids will be attending school during the first quarter amidst the pandemic.
We are under no obligation to validate it and fellow parents – neither are you.
This all sucks, big time. Everyone has different situations professionally and financially and by-and-large our leaders failed us. We’re all just doing the best we can with the options available. If you’re panicked, frustrated, angry, sad over back-to-school: I am too. Always up to talk and commiserate, however your kids are attending this fall.
For what it’s worth our kids will be going for the first 10 days so they can get to know their teachers and get some in-person instruction on using their chromebooks for remote learning, which they’ll switch to until we reassess in mid-October for the second quarter. 10 days is the time set by our district to stick with one method or the other – so 10 days in and one and half months remote. It is an imperfect plan, but still at least reduces exposure over the next 9 weeks, while acknowledging other needs.
Eleanor is starting kindergarten and I’ve lost so much sleep and cried many tears processing this.
I do want to say that I feel the folks in our public school system have had their hands tied and are doing the best that they can. We are so proud of the work our elementary school has put into keeping kids safe, using classroom cohorts, and with masks on.
“I heard a bird sing In the dark of December A magical thing And sweet to remember. ‘We are nearer to Spring Than we were in September,’ I heard a bird sing In the dark of December.”
Oliver Herford, I Heard a Bird Sing
I’m not a Christian, nor is my husband, but we celebrate Christmas. It’s kind of gross, I know. Ingenuine and dishonest. The holiday has so permeated our culture, particularly here in the Midwest, that I don’t have the heart to rip it away from my children. I’m not strong enough to deny them the tree, Santa, or jingle bells. Judge that for what you will.
I still feel, however, a need to be spiritual during winter each year – and not just in discussions of gratitude, giving, and family joy (which are also important) but in a deep and old way. I believe strongly in honoring the land and the earth. I don’t have any defined beliefs regarding what lays beyond our world and my suspicions vary day to day. One thing I’m sure of though, is that the cycle of the earth and the ground beneath our feet deeply matter in some ancient way.
To be clear, while it appeals to me somewhat, I’m not Wicca or Pagan either. I’m simply an agnostic descendant of Scandinavians who likes trees and experiencing all the seasons. It’s not a flashy station with a settled dogma, but it’s mine and here we are.
For the past few years I’ve held a special Winter Solstice dinner for my children by candlelight – this is the traditional “dark dinner” where we light every candle in the house and turn off every light bulb. We “light the night” to welcome back the sun as our days begin to stretch longer again. This year I added yule log decorating, some historical discussion of winter holidays that existed before Christmas existed, creating our own solstice lanterns, and a “moon walk”. The day was truly something special between my kids and I (my husband had to work that evening, but did join us for a follow up dark dinner the next evening).
I rarely require much decorum or silence my kids, but I asked for some while I read a few poems about nature, winter, and introspection. They agreed that serious moments, while potentially boring, “make things feel important.”
From our crafty family to you yours – Love, light, joy, and reflection.
“I speak cold silent words a stone might speak If it had words or consciousness, Watching December moonlight on the mountain peak, Relieved of mortal hungers, the whole mess Of needs, desires, ambitions, wishes, hopes. This stillness in me knows the sky’s abyss, Reflected by blank snow along bare slopes, If it had words or consciousness, Would echo what a thinking stone might say To praise oblivion words can’t possess As inorganic muteness goes its way. There’s no serenity without the thought serene, Owl-flight without spread wings, honed eyes, hooked beak, Absence without the meaning absence means. To rescue bleakness from the bleak, I speak cold silent words a stone might speak.”
I very excitedly and proudly announced earlier this year that I was beginning my PhD studies in Political Science after spending six months prepping for and taking the GRE and writing my application. It felt like a romantic return to my youth and optimism preparing for and starting law school 10 or so years earlier. In August I, rather self-assuredly, got started. I enjoyed it. I truly did – until about the fourth weekend and family dinner I had to miss. I quickly became (even more) exhausted and guilt ridden.
In October I deferred my admission to the program and stopped my studies. The reason is multifaceted but boils down to that exhaustion. At work I’ve recently been promoted – continuing to run my program while additionally launching and running a new privately funded center. I thought I could add studies to my plate right now, but it was already too full. Between my work, my travel schedule, and my class work the most important people in my life were paying the price: my children. My husband still got me after 10pm when I could no longer keep my brain focused enough to work or study, but my children were asleep by the time I relaxed.
I love my career and my interest in the PhD wasn’t related to making an immediate career shift. I love learning. I want to enjoy continuing my education, but instead I was rushing, overwhelmed, doing the minimum, and stressed.
One does not have to get a second doctorate-level degree and here I was acting as if it was the worst and most necessary burden. Then, when I did finally break and leave my course, I only told those in the department and my closest friends and family – embarrassed to have quit something.
So here I am, telling myself (and you), that not everything has to happen right now. I’m allowed to not want to be exhausted. I’m trying to unlearn that exhaustion and success must go hand in hand. Dissertations and statistics will still be there in 5 years and I believe I’ll start again – I know myself well enough to know I won’t let it go forever – but right now my life is in a sweet spot. My children are young and interested in my time. My career is demanding, but manageable and flexible. My marriage is strong and filled with laughter.
It’s OK to stop and enjoy it, rather than chasing the next credential – which isn’t what I wanted from the experience in the first place.
I read a lot. Like, a lot, a lot. Throughout the year I look forward to writing this post – when I start a book I think “will this be one of my favorites for the year?”
Most of the books highlighted below were not released in 2019, that is just when I read them. Like my 2017 and 2018 book posts, I also want to preface this post with some information about me as a reader. I read mostly fiction narratives of the fantasy, mystery, science fiction or romance variety. I very rarely read non-fiction books (outside of research for my work). I also listen to many audiobooks (currently re-reading Little Women) and I count them here. I read a lot while traveling and I travel very often work. I count graphic novel volumes as a book but not individual comic books/issues. Also I included a few of the chapter books (books read in multiple sittings and are 75+ pages) I read with my second grader (though he is now reading many on his own).
Logistics aside, I want to share my favorites of the year and hope that others will share theirs! A full pictorial list of everything I read this year is below too. My reviews are brief, because seriously, time is a hot commodity, but I have also shared the GoodReads description.
In no particular order, my top ten favorite books I read in 2019:
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.
Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.
Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.
Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.
Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.
My Review on August 13: I’m a McGuire fan girl and I’ve read nearly every story she’s set out to tell me. In the author’s note in the back of this book she acknowledges this novel wasn’t something she had to skill to write until now. Yes. As a reader we get the pleasure of watching talent grow, deepen, and turn great into holy shit that was cool. The characters here are reminiscent of her prior uses of cryptology but exist in a different way, seemingly in an unconnected universe. She uses some of her favorite magical tools from stories past but in a way that’s more dark and grounded. This book isn’t a fast paced adventure, it’s a slow burn. It’s a thinker and gave me some strange, strange dreams.
Though, admittedly, in their San Francisco adventures I silently hoped they’d run into October.
My comments today: Like I said in August, I’m a McGuire fangirl. I read four McGuire books this year and picking one is a challenge, but this novel is a standout and I’ve already sung the praises of the October Daye and Wayward Children series. The blurb doesn’t do this one justice. It’s haunting, complex, unsettling, smart, and emotional. A true standout. Not to mention my sweet cousin met Seanan at a book signing in San Francisco and got me my very own dedicated and signed copy! Squeal!
Calypso by David Sedaris
If you’ve ever laughed your way through David Sedaris’s cheerfully misanthropic stories, you might think you know what you’re getting with Calypso. You’d be wrong.
When he buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, Sedaris envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And life at the Sea Section, as he names the vacation home, is exactly as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: it’s impossible to take a vacation from yourself.
With Calypso, Sedaris sets his formidable powers of observation toward middle age and mortality. Make no mistake: these stories are very, very funny–it’s a book that can make you laugh ’til you snort, the way only family can. Sedaris’s powers of observation have never been sharper, and his ability to shock readers into laughter unparalleled. But much of the comedy here is born out of that vertiginous moment when your own body betrays you and you realize that the story of your life is made up of more past than future.
This is beach reading for people who detest beaches, required reading for those who loathe small talk and love a good tumor joke. Calypso is simultaneously Sedaris’s darkest and warmest book yet–and it just might be his very best.
My Review on November 19: This is a book about aging, family, and humor. Not always easy, often sad, and usually relatable. One of his best yet.
My comments today: I “read” this via audiobook – which is how I recommend consuming all Sedaris at least once. His voice amplifies his meaning.
Circe by Madeline Miller
In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.
Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.
But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.
My review on July 16: I can’t explain exactly why this felt like a real page turner to me, as it’s primarily focused on her exile and lore I was already familiar with, but somehow I couldn’t put it down. I’m not entirely satisfied with the conclusion but it’s also precisely what I would expect from this book. Circe is not always a particularly sympathetic character and her story is not necessarily a strong or inspiring‘s one so much as one about discovery, loneliness, and developing a sense of self.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Days before his release from prison, Shadow’s wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.
Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break.
Scary, gripping and deeply unsettling, American Gods takes a long, hard look into the soul of America. You’ll be surprised by what – and who – it finds there…
This is the author’s preferred text, never before published in the UK, and is about 12,000 words longer than the previous UK edition.
Finished on July 6, my comments today: I mean, duh, this one of the best books I’ve read. Gaiman is master of the surreal. I started this one as an audiobook check out from the library’s database service, which is 20+ hours. When I went to renew it had been removed! No! I was on the road at the time and picked up a used copy at a great local bookshop in downtown Colorado Springs. It was a weird feeling to switch from listening to reading in between, but actually made for a pretty intense and rich experience with this novel. I really enjoyed Gaiman’s forward on this, discussing his trip across the U.S. while writing this. It captures America in a hard, cool way.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. Hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.
When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk–grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh–Miryem’s fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar.
But Tsar Mirnatius is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and her two unlikely allies embark on a desperate quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power, and love.
Channeling the vibrant heart of myth and fairy tale, Spinning Silver weaves a multilayered, magical tapestry that readers will want to return to again and again.
Finished June 22, my comments today: I also strongly suggest Novik’s other book in this universe, Uprooted. These are fairytales, but the characters are flawed, interesting, and real. It’s a charming, if not occasionally unsettling, take on fairytale romances – but don’t get it wrong. These are not love stories. In this novel the relationship between Miryem to all those around her is the most interesting. Wanda’s story is moving but also inspiring. The Staryk king and his kingdom are well thought-out and crafted.
You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day
From online entertainment mogul, actress, and “queen of the geeks” Felicia Day, a funny, quirky, and inspiring memoir about her unusual upbringing, her rise to Internet-stardom, and embracing her individuality to find success in Hollywood.
The Internet isn’t all cat videos. There’s also Felicia Day—violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely homeschooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become the ruler of a new world… or at least semi-influential in the world of Internet Geeks and Goodreads book clubs.
After growing up in the south where she was “home-schooled for hippie reasons”, Felicia moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and was immediately typecast as a crazy cat-lady secretary. But Felicia’s misadventures in Hollywood led her to produce her own web series, own her own production company, and become an Internet star.
Felicia’s short-ish life and her rags-to-riches rise to Internet fame launched her career as one of the most influential creators in new media. Now, Felicia’s strange world is filled with thoughts on creativity, video games, and a dash of mild feminist activism—just like her memoir.
Hilarious and inspirational, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is proof that everyone should embrace what makes them different and be brave enough to share it with the world, because anything is possible now—even for a digital misfit.
My thoughts on May 28: I read a lot of these “individual essay actresses memoirs” at this point, and I have to say I found this one to be one of the most charming. We are big fans of many of her projects and I’ve casually followed her career for years. The last few chapters get particularly real and honest.
I Might Regret This: Essays, Drawings, Vulnerabilities, and Other Stuff by Abbi Jacobson
From the co-creator and co-star of the hit series Broad City, a “poignant, funny, and beautifully unabashed” (Cheryl Strayed) bestselling essay collection about love, loss, work, comedy, and figuring out who you really are when you thought you already knew.
When Abbi Jacobson announced to friends and acquaintances that she planned to drive across the country alone, she was met with lots of questions and opinions: Why wasn’t she going with friends? Wouldn’t it be incredibly lonely? The North route is better! Was it safe for a woman? The Southern route is the way to go! You should bring mace! And a common one… why? But Abbi had always found comfort in solitude, and needed space to step back and hit the reset button. As she spent time in each city and town on her way to Los Angeles, she mulled over the big questions– What do I really want? What is the worst possible scenario in which I could run into my ex? How has the decision to wear my shirts tucked in been pivotal in my adulthood?
In this collection of anecdotes, observations and reflections–all told in the sharp, wildly funny, and relatable voice that has endeared Abbi to critics and fans alike–readers will feel like they’re in the passenger seat on a fun and, ultimately, inspiring journey. With some original illustrations by the author.
My thoughts on March 22: I legitimately laughed out loud and had to gasp-back tears throughout this book. This is an honest book and a personal journey. This is not your standard “famous person writes a memoir collection of essays” though there are certainly chapters that focus in on parts of her life, it’s overall a story about a road trip from New York to LA after some challenging personal events. Can’t recommend this enough to every 30-something woman in my life.
My comments today: Have you watched all of Broad City yet? (stop reading and go do so) Love women bold, salty, vulgar, unashamedly complicated and flawed? Finding yourself? Lost yourself? Go on this trip with Abbi.
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
The three laws of Robotics: 1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm 2) A robot must obey orders give in to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3) A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
With these three, simple directives, Isaac Asimov changed our perception of robots forever when he formulated the laws governing their behavior. In I, Robot, Asimov chronicles the development of the robot through a series of interlinked stories: from its primitive origins in the present to its ultimate perfection in the not-so-distant future–a future in which humanity itself may be rendered obsolete.
Here are stories of robots gone mad, of mind-read robots, and robots with a sense of humor. Of robot politicians, and robots who secretly run the world–all told with the dramatic blend of science fact and science fiction that has become Asmiov’s trademark.
My comments January 29: Another science-fiction revisit from my youth, though it was copyrighted in 1950 before my mother was even born. Several of these remarkable short stories take place in 2015 and 2021 (and beyond). Asimov imagined a much more evolved world; one humans were probably capable of achieving but didn’t. Regardless I love these robot stories. Such fun here, mixed with psychological interest, social metaphor, and great science fiction. Did I mention a major character is a woman? Who is a scientist and discussing her career? 1950s sci-fi got there y’all. #SusanCalvin
My comments today: A cool thing about hitting your mid-thirties is the opportunity to revisit books you read 20 some years ago as a teen. You can learn much about who you are and how you have grown and changed through books. Different takeaways, different lessons, different likes and dislikes, same story. Humans are cool as hell.
Descender, Vol. 1: Tin Stars (although I recommend all volumes) by Jeff Lemire (Writer), Dustin Nguyen (Artist), Steve Wands (Goodreads Author) (Letterer)
Young Robot boy TIM-21 and his companions struggle to stay alive in a universe where all androids have been outlawed and bounty hunters lurk on every planet. Written by award-winning creator, Jeff Lemire, Descender is a rip-roaring and heart-felt cosmic odyssey. Lemire pits humanity against machine, and world against world, to create a sprawling epic.
My reviews by volume:
Volume One: Immediately an emotionally compelling story and Dustin Nguyen’s art is unbelievably beautiful.
Volume Two: Seriously excellent storytelling. Relatively heavy sci-fi with many characters but the art, storytelling, and lay out keep everything quite clear while still being incredibly visually compelling. Enjoying these volumes a ton.
Volume Three: This volume jumps around in the timeline quite a bit, which made it harder to sink into from a story-continuity perspective, but also filled in a lot of really important parts and answered questions I didn’t know I had about the plot. Nguyen’s art just gets better and better. Effie/Between Queen is just stunning.
Volume Four: The first issue in this volume – with the three paneled pages telling the three different stories that cover about 30 minutes of time – are breathtaking both in art and in storytelling.
Volume Five and Six: These are simply gorgeous and complex, thoughtful storytelling. Best original comics I’ve read in a while.
Carpe Jugulum (Discworld #23) by Terry Pratchett, Nigel Planer (Audiobook Narrator)
Mightily Oats has not picked a good time to be priest. He thought he was there for a simple little religious ceremony. Now he’s caught up in a war between vampires and witches, and he’s not sure there is a right side. There’s the witches — Agnes, Magrat, Nanny Ogg, and the formidable Granny Weatherwax… And the vampires: the stakes are high but they’re intelligent — not easily got rid of with a garlic enema or going to the window and saying “I don’t know about you, but isn’t it a bit stuffy in here?” They’ve got style and fancy waistcoats. They’re out of the casket and want a bite of the future. “From the Trade Paperback edition.”
My comments June 17: Knocked out the audio book on my road trip today. Some of my favorite quotes:
“Repent!’” Nanny Ogg went on. “Repent? Me? Cheek! I can’t start repenting at my time of life. I’d never get any work done. Anyway,” she added, “I ain’t sorry for most of it. Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum (Discworld, #23)
“And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.” “It’s a lot more complicated than that—” “No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.” “Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes—” “But they starts with thinking about people as things…” Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum (Discworld #23; Witches #6)
“He grinned. It was the sort of grin that Agnes supposed was called infectious but, then, so was measles.” Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum (Discworld #23; Witches #6)
My comments today: I think I may finally be emotionally prepared to read Pratchett’s final novel, which happens to be focused on my favorite Discworld character, Tiffany Aching. This man was a honest, witty, genius. Thank goodness he wrote so many damn books.
Even as a relatively heavy user of Facebook I suspect very few people will even notice I have deactivated my account. It’s not deleted, but it’s not there either. It’s a little confusing but FB clearly makes it a thing.
Our lives have a lot of “inputs.” I felt that maybe I needed one less information input in my daily life and attempts to simply stop checking it as often failed.
Are you a working parent of young children passionate about your career? Sucks, huh?
I kid, but I get questions about career balance relatively often and I have funneled my advice into three key realities I try to live by. Because this is the internet, I’m going to preface this post by saying I’m not comparing outside-of-the-home working parents to working-from-home or stay-at-home parents. I wouldn’t dare enter that corner of internet comments. Rather just the self-derived advice I’ve come to live by that I’ve articulated primarily while on panels or speaking to recently graduated alumni (or panicked pregnant people).
(1) Guilt is not a merit badge. You don’t have to wear it. It is OK to simultaneously love your job and your kid(s).
(2) You don’t have to say yes to everything to feel successful – professionally or with parent groups, sport teams, and schools. Edit ruthlessly for meaning and purpose to your life.
Stop equating “exhausted” with “successful” (I’m working on this one big time).
(3) Frame all professional decisions with the understanding that no matter how indispensable you are at work, if you get hit by a bus they will ultimately replace you.
Your family can’t.
Finally, most of these are true whether you have kids or not. Balance is not something achieved and then archived. It’s a widely flailing place we rarely hit consistently. The best we can do is keep our feet firmly planted on the ground, stop trying to “keep up” with those around you, and do the best quality work you can do: at your office and in your home.
2018 was a year of going, building, hustling, and learning. From speaking at the Museum of Flight in Seattle in January to launching our NASA project in DC this fall, exploring my own state, trusting my expertise and my scholarly pursuits, my first sprint triathlon, my fourth official half marathon, and high rising ropes courses. The bed rock to all of this was a growing and deepening relationship with my husband and our children, who spent a lot of time camping in a tent this year.
In 2019 I want to do more staying. Not necessarily literally “staying,” as I still have to travel some (but hopefully less) but focusing on quality over quantity and understanding that “more” doesn’t always have to be the goal. Last year I hustled for my career, this year I want to be strategic and mindful. I want to sit and be present with my husband and my kids more often.
I want to focus less on “impressive” and more on impact.
I want to continue to spend lots of time outside and sleeping in the tent.
Love and light to all if you! Make 2019 a good one and honor whatever experiences 2018 laid at your feet.
December 10 2018 | I set a goal of reading 100 books in 2018, which I completed sometime in November and I expect I’ll finish another few. Like my 2017 post, I want to preface this with some information about me as a reader. I read mostly 300-500 page fiction, usually of the general narrative, fantasy, mystery, science fiction or romance variety. I very rarely read 600+ page or non-fiction books. So before everyone is all “how do you have the time?!” know that I can polish off a 300 page science fiction novel in about 2-3 nights. I LOVE audiobooks and I count them here. When I’m walking or running, books are often my companion. I read a lot while traveling and I travel a lot for work. I loathe airports and books absorb me, so I turn to them while flying. I usually knock back 3 books per trip. Also, I count graphic novel volumes as a book. I do not count individual comic books/issues. Also new this year I included all the chapter books (books read in multiple sittings and are 75+ pages) I read to/with my son. I’m going to continue to include the books and graphic novels I read with him – and eventually our daughter. He has started reading entirely independently this year and we’ve joined a parent-child book club. It’s remarkable to share this joy with him!
That is all to say, I surround myself with words and fantastic stories unapologetically; it was not hard to read 100 books this year, given how books infiltrate my life.
In addition, I want to start logging all the amazing (and some “meh”) children’s picture books I read with my daughter. I haven’t yet decided whether to start a seperate GoodReads account to track these or if I should just set my goal at 250 and include them in my general count. Details, details.
Logistics aside, I want to share my favorites of the year and hope that others will share theirs! A full pictorial list is below too. My reviews are brief, because seriously, time is a hot commodity but I have also shared the GoodReads description.
Finally, one last note, most of these books were not released in 2018, that is just when I read them.
As I mentioned, finishing my goal doesn’t mean I’m going to stop reading until 2019, so please, join me on Goodreads and finish out 2018 with me!
In no particular order, my favorite books of 2018:
The Power by Naomi Alderman
GoodReads: In The Power the world is a recognisable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power – they can cause agonising pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.
This extraordinary novel by Naomi Alderman, a Sunday TimesYoung Writer of the Year and Granta Best of British writer, is not only a gripping story of how the world would change if power was in the hands of women but also exposes, with breath-taking daring, our contemporary world.
Elsbeth’s Thoughts: This book, and a couple specific scenes, still haunt me or make me pause often. This is an amazing book. Easy to consume, creative beyond measure and undeniably impactful. I was interested in it because Alderman was an editor for one of my favorite science fiction website and also wrote the storylines for Zombies Run – a popular interactive running/walking app where the runner participates in an unfolding Zombie scenario (it is cool as hell for runners). Anyway, this book is wild, at times hilarious, at times hard to read, and not at all what you expect it to be. Is is a feminist manifesto? Maybe? Does it explore the human condition and the inherent good and evil in us all? Absolutely.
Binti (#1-3, Trilogy) by Nnedi Okorafor
GoodReads: Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.
Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.
If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.
Elsbeth’s Thoughts: This is simply excellent science fiction that includes diverse, rarely seen in literature, representation. I cried during these books. I empathized with Binti. I judged her. I loved going on this 3 book adventure with her. The audiobook performance is suburb and adds to the novels. These are short reads, almost novellas, but some of the best science fiction I read this year.
Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan
GoodReads: From one of America’s most critically acclaimed graphic novel writers – inspired by true events, a startlingly original look at life on the streets of Baghdad during the Iraq War. In his award-winning work on Y THE LAST MAN and EX MACHINA (one of Entertainment Weekly’s 2005 Ten Best Fiction titles), writer Brian K. Vaughan has displayed an understanding of both the cost of survival and the political nuances of the modern world. Now, in this provocative graphic novel, Vaughan examines life on the streets of war-torn Iraq.
In the spring of 2003, a pride of lions escaped from the Baghdad zoo during an American bombing raid. Lost and confused, hungry but finally free, the four lions roamed the decimated streets of Baghdad in a desperate struggle for their lives. In documenting the plight of the lions, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD raises questions about the true meaning of liberation – can it be given or is it earned only through self-determination and sacrifice? And in the end, is it truly better to die free than to live life in captivity?
Based on a true story, VAUGHAN and artist NIKO HENRICHON (Barnum!) have created a unique and heartbreaking window into the nature of life during wartime, illuminating this struggle as only the graphic novel can.
Elsbeth’s Thoughts: If you’ve never read a comic book or graphic novel volume that brings you to tears you’ve missed out on the best of the medium. This story of the lions who escaped the Baghdad zoo in the bombing Iraq in 2003 contains some of the most beautiful illustrations I’ve ever seen in comic art juxtaposed against one of the most gut wrenching (and remarkably written) stories out there. Vaughan has earned his accolades in this industry – this book tells the story of the true and varied costs of war, and the reality of being wild and “free,” in a more nuanced way than any text-only novel possibly could.
Neverwhere and The Graveyard Book, both by Neil Gaiman
I’m lumping these together, though they are not related in any way beyond being by the same author. I went on a Gaiman binge this year. These two were the captured me in the biggest way – though everything I’ve read by him is starting at a baseline of excellence.
Neverwhere on GoodReads: Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.
Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.
Elsbeth’s Thoughts: Richard Mayhew is so painfully relatable, likeable, and little depressing. The world Gaiman creates here is gritty, ruthless, exciting, scary, fantastic, and somehow a little appealing. This is a great book and to put to bluntly, I just enjoyed the hell out of it. It was a fun ride, and one I suggest others enjoy.
The Graveyard Book on GoodReads: After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.
Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family…
Elsbeth’s Thoughts: This was the first of Gaiman’s youth/children’s books that I have read. I’ve seen Coraline of course, but not read the book. This is not for young children, but I’m very excited to read it with my kids in a few years (thinking ages 8 or 9). This is gruesome little tale that is full of love, heart, and mystery. The book is split into sections, which are sort of full little stories into themselves. Bod is a charming character who sticks with you. The twists and turns actually managed to surprise me – and I think it helps I love graveyards.
Here is the review I wrote immediately after listening this book: “I listened to the audio version of this and I cannot recommend that enough. Listening to the author read his own words about this beautiful, unique coming-of-age story about a boy raised in a graveyard was beyond moving and compelling. The end had me smiling through tears. I wanted to run to my kids schools and hug my babies, telling them to go explore and enjoy this great big world. I think my son (and especially my preschooler daughter) are still much too young for this book, but I look forward to sharing it with him when he is closer to 8.”
Night Watch (Discworld #29) by Terry Pratchett
GoodReads: For a policeman, there can be few things worse than a serial killer at loose in your city. Except, perhaps, a serial killer who targets coppers, and a city on the brink of bloody revolution. The people have found their voice at last, the flags and barricades are rising…And the question for a policeman, an officer of the law, a defender of the peace, is: Are you with them, or are you against them?
Elsbeth’s Thoughts: Let’s start with these two quotes from the book:
“Don’t put your trust in revolutions. They always come round again. That’s why they’re called revolutions. People die, and nothing changes.”
“There were plotters, there was no doubt about it. Some had been ordinary people who’d had enough. Some were young people with no money who objected to the fact that the world was run by old people who were rich. Some were in it to get girls. And some had been idiots as mad as Swing, with a view of the world just as rigid and unreal, who were on the side of what they called ‘the people’. Vimes had spent his life on the streets, and had met decent men and fools and people who’d steal a penny from a blind beggar and people who performed silent miracles or desperate crimes every day behind the grubby windows of little houses, but he’d never met The People… People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness. And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it wasn’t that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people.. As soon as you saw people as things to be measured, they didn’t measure up. What would run through the streets soon enough wouldn’t be a revolution or a riot. It’d be people who were frightened and panicking. It was what happened when the machinery of city life faltered, the wheels stopped turning and all the little rules broke down.
And when that happened, humans were worse than sheep. Sheep just ran; they didn’t try to bite the sheep next to them.”
The final resolution of this novel was quite as bleak or depressing as the above quotes, but this particular portion of the book really impacted me in a way that many novels haven’t recently.
It did something books always should: It challenged some of my ideology and self-perception.
I sometimes fancy myself a revolutionary but as an attorney I appreciate order, logic, and even-thinking. As such Vimes deeply appeals to me, but his thoughts on “revolutions” spoke to me in a way I’m not used to. It is not pure cynicism, but rather a so-complex-it’s-simple world view.
Keep in mind, this is still part of the Discworld universe and lives in the land of fantasy – which in many ways made its social commentary even more striking and hard to swallow.
We all know Pratchett was good, but novel after novel I find I’m self saying “God damnit he was SO good.”
The Tiffany Aching Series, starting with The Wee Free Men (Discworld #30), by Terry Pratchett
Like Gaiman, I couldn’t pick one Pratchett book. I already highlighted Night Watch as a stand alone, but I’m putting the Tiffany Aching books together. They include, “The Wee Free Men,” “A Hat Full of Sky,” “Wintersmith,” “I Shall Wear Midnight,” and Pratchett’s last ever novel that I have not yet had the heart to read, “The Shepherd’s Crown.”
Tiffany is special. Just so, so, importantly, wonderfully, powerfully specially.
GoodReads: An inner series in the Discworld saga. This set of books are about Tiffany Aching, a witch-in-training with only a frying pan and her common sense and the Wee Free Men.
Elsbeth’s thoughts/favorite quotes as posted to GoodReads immediately after reading:
The Wee Free Mean:Tiffany Aching is who I’ve wanted to be (and who I’ve sometimes felt like) since I was 9 years old myself. Again, these novels, laughs, wit, tears, and irreverent intellectualism. Pratchett was a master.
A Hat Full of Sky: “Rain don’t fall on a witch if she doesn’t want it to, although personally I prefer to get wet and be thankful.” “Thankful for what?” said Tiffany. “That I’ll get dry later.””
A young woman named Tiffany is changing my life. The power in these novels, set in whimsical fantasy, is moving, bone deep, and thoughtful in a way that can only have written in a spirit of joy and contented acceptance of the world. Terry Pratchett challenges readers not to be anything but themselves, which forces you to realize, your true self is your strongest self.
Wintersmith: “This I choose to do. If there is a price, this I choose to pay. If it is my death, then I choose to die. Where this takes me, there I choose to go. I choose. This I choose to do.” Oh Tiffany. How you’ve reached me and moved me.
I Shall Wear Midnight: “If you have let pride get the better of you, then you have already lost, but if you grab pride by the scruff of the neck and ride it like a stallion, then you may have already won.”
Tiffany Aching has made me a better, happier person. Oh, the power of words on a page.
Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire
Pride and Joy (OG Runaways #1) by Brian Vaughan
Runaways, Vol. 1: Find Your Way Home by Rainbow Rowell
Plutona by Jeff Lemire
Speakers of the Dead: A Walt Whitman Mystery by Aaron Sanders
My phone is pretty old, in modern terms anyway. I’m multiple iphone generations behind. The new OS’s take more space and I have to comb through and dump or delete things to keep storage free. This constant review of my “data” as it were brings something into focus… beyond just, “I should probably upgrade my phone.”
In combing through my gallery tonight to make storage space, I realized that one month ago today I was leaving Austin to head into San Antonio. A week prior to that I was at NASA headquarters and then helping to run one of the largest space law specific conferences in the country – where we announced that we’d been awarded a NASA pilot program grant. Since then I’ve driven rural highways in Kansas, worked with students and attended the American Ballet Theater in New York City, and enjoyed the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. I took my kids trick or treating this week. Tonight I read them 7 books and I rocked my baby girl while I sang to her. This month I’ll be in my place, showing students rural Nebraska and showcasing the critical telecom and broadband infrastructure that keep modern agriculture alive. In December I’m back to DC. In January I’m speaking in front of colleagues from law schools around the country in New Orleans. And so on. I’m always in motion. I visit Universities and military bases all over the U.S., and soon abroad.
I don’t “have it all.” That’s a cliche proverb by now, but I’m “having all of it.” Every last bit. Lately, when someone casually says “how is it going?” I’ve been responding, “I’m exhausted.” It is true, but it’s not complete. I’m taking a moment now to reflect on my infinite gratitude. My position has taken me all over this country in the past six years, but my thankfulness extends beyond travel. I’m having my life. I’m in the driver’s seat.
While in the Chicago airport I received an email that several of my co-workers at the law college had nominated me for an internal award for those who show dedicated service to building our institution; for dedication to our students and our mission. Our Dean, a leader who I respect and invests in his team, selected me from these nominations. Sitting in a dirty airport terminal on a Friday night, away from my kids, cleaning discarded gum off my bags (ugh), I had tears streaming down my face. They believe in me – because I believe in Nebraska.
The prairie is in my bones. I love where I am from, though I didn’t always. When I was 18 if you’d told me I’d be buying a house and raising my family just one zip code over from where I grew up I’d have been horrified. Foolish girl, bless her. She was impulsive, focused on fun and attention, and well, didn’t get into many schools. Nebraska held her. I found my undergraduate education at a small local liberal arts school. I could have left for law school, I got into several schools, but we didn’t. I had reasons, talking points, but I really couldn’t tell you why my husband (then fiance/boyfriend) and I didn’t take that opportunity to move. Educated here, living here, raising my kids here, the open horizon is just a part of who I am. My children are having a picturesque life, and I’m more than a little obsessed with their awesomeness.
I have a career that is growing and changing and taking me to places and opportunities I never anticipated. I’m sometimes restless, being human and all, and around that time some unusual and surprising thing comes along that keeps me engaged and growing where I’m planted.
Life isn’t perfect. I’m tired. I gained all my weight back from my last weight loss (shrug). I forget to do things. Emails sometimes go unanswered. I put my foot in my mouth almost daily. I drink too much cheap wine (see also; weight gain). I sacrifice things I don’t want to – I’m not the best friend, sister, daughter, wife, co-worker, or mother I know I could be if I could any one of things the attention it deserves. I absolutely miss events and important moments in my children’s life because I’m working (that one is the real knife in the gut).
But here it is – I’m having it all of it.
All of life. The excitement of professional growth. The deep bonds of building a family with a partner I cherish. The fulfillment of raising children… the patience and tolerance built from raising children. The ups the downs, the joy.
All of this, one zip code over from where I started. That, right now, is something I’m in awe of.
A friend posted to my wall on Facebook yesterday shortly after Trump’s declaration of the creation of a Space Force at the Space Council meeting (primarily dedicated to space traffic managements move to Commerce) asking for my reaction. Since yesterday afternoon I’ve seen plenty of memes mocking the idea.
In quotes below is my response to my friend. My expertise is still developing and growing, but here are my two cents, mostly intending to simply clarify the need (and long-time existence) of security threats in space.
“Despite a lot of folks laughing at Trump thinking this sounds ridiculous, it’s actually not (this is not an endorsement of him, to be very clear on that key point), in fact it has been discussed for awhile. Also, know that we haven’t yet seen an actual directive, only the verbal announcement at the council meeting which most of us were watching for the space traffic management directive. Anyhow, back to the space force, for context, earlier this year the House and Senate’s proposals on space organization differed significantly this year: the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 called for the organization of a Space Corps by January 1, 2019 a proposal that was not adopted in the Senate version of the bill and which was opposed by Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Following that there has been significant (if not a bit predatory) criticism on the US Air Force’s handling of space and their procurement process. The USAF has too many friends in the senate to get something like this through there but this directive bypasses that. Related, lots of folks seem to think this is ridiculous and I admit “space force” sounds that way. But I urge people to keep in mind the entire satellite industry including our military space assets. This is a major part of our national infrastructure. In fact GPS satellites are responsible for validating every financial transaction happening electronically in the country. Security of both commercial and public sector assets in space is fundamental to our national security. Further, wars are already fought and space, not with space ships but via satellite nudging, jamming and interference – given the new tech it is a major part of the new war-fighting mission set. Personally I felt the US Air Force was up to the task with some new organizational planning but others obviously felt differently.”
To clarify one of my points above, the administration can’t entirely bypass congress. Trump will need Congress to rewrite Title 10 of the United States Code that specifies the roles and missions of the armed forces.