Happy October to All!
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McGaugh Family at the Peltzer pumpkin farm, October 28, 2015: Locutus of Borg, Steve, Belle, and Little Red.

Fulfilling my lifelong wish of going as “through the town” Belle this year for Halloween, I am excited to portray a character whose love and voracity for reading are so close to my own. Bill, as Locutus of Borg, is my modern sci fi Beast this year; one of our deepest personal connections in our real life marriage has been our utter love of reading widely across genre and discussing the ideas and philosophies in that reading together.

What’s in Belle’s basket?

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I have been joking that I am Post-Modern Belle this year. If I had started on my costume earlier, I could have updated her look a bit to reflect a modern sensibility. What would steampunk, sci fi Belle look like?

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As it was, I spent nothing new on my costume, which is comprised of: my mom’s old, passed-on dress which had a square neck but which I changed here; my white beach cover up peasant blouse; my long sleeve white t-shirt tied by its arms to make an apron; and my Mock Trial competition shoes, which are currently 18-years-old. Waste not, want not, right?

October has been busy! I am NOT a fan of the phrases like, “I am too busy for such-and-such.” I hear this quite a bit with respect to exercise, though my favorite comes from my friend Lisa, a knitter. She was once told in a bank by the teller who saw Lisa’s knitting that, “I just don’t have time for that.” Well, excuse me. Let me put your hobby/passion down as being unimportant AND give pap at the same time.

Anyway, we all have the same hours in a day and how we allot that time is some magic alchemy of duty, choice, sacrifice, exhaustion, and above all, prioritizing. Time management helps, but sometimes we have to choose one love over another. This month, partway through, I put down my books for almost a week leading up to the Long Beach Half Marathon, choosing to focus extra time on that passion. We’ve also enjoyed multiple trips to a couple different pumpkin patches, hikes, a Foo Fighters concert (Bill and me), a trip to the San Diego Civic Theater (Kate and me) to see Phantom of the Opera, San Diego Ballet’s performance of Le Carnaval des Animaux (Kate, Eric, and me), and quite a bit else. Not to mention the many full days we are putting in homeschooling… Both children’s soccer schedules have kept me hoppin’, and I have been completing full weeks of running and swimming.

So even though I wish I could create a second self to read ALL the time and transmit that knowledge and pleasure into my original self’s brain, I have to take what I can get.

I enjoyed seven books this month, and they were all over the place in terms of genre. I am deeply involved in Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy at this point, having finished two of the three novels this month. I want to finish the third and then move onto Diana Nyad’s book, for which I have been waiting for at least half a year.

Therefore, I’d better buzz as quickly as possible through this little blog recap, so that I have just a wee bit more time before the two soccer games this morning to start Cities of the Plain.

The October Seven:

1. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (fiction, 1992)

“It was always himself the coward abandoned first. After this all other betrayals came easily.” 

Two young men, full of romantic ideals about a dying way of American life, search out the rugged west in Mexico. Once they cross the border in this coming of age story, though, they realize that idealism must often yield payment in blood and loss. This is a book about the cowboy spirit, one I find not limited to the male experience as I, too, feel the wanderlust and hard-working, romantic ideal alive and well in myself…especially at this phase in my life. McCarthy’s novels have entwined themselves into our hikes through Anza-Borrego SP and beyond, through our homeschool studies of Native American life and our focus this month on freshly made masa tortillas and southwest dinners most nights this month. Characters in McCarthy novels are always sharing food as a way of offering a counterpoint to a harsh and unforgiving world. I’ve been reading about the species in the natural world McCarthy describes, often seeing them up close as my children and I have adventures in this world. The Border Trilogy—all about the symbolic lines we cross as we create ourselves—is, in my opinion must-read literature.

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Reading All the Pretty Horses around the campfire at Manker Flats on Mt. Baldy, after hiking with my sister-in-love Ashley and the kiddos up to the Ski Hut.

2. California State Parks: A Day Hiker’s Guide by John McKinney (nonfiction, 2005)

In truth, this was only one of the many guide books I’ve been reading and research online I’ve been doing this month as I plan adventures and learning opportunities for Katie and Eric and myself. So when I wonder why I didn’t get more books read this month, I realize I need to remember how many reading hours were put into this type of research. It’s been substantial, something I can do after the kids are in bed at night. I used one of my Tuesday-the-kids-are-in-enrichment-so-I-have-two-hours-at-the-library time and dedicated that to perusing. This guide I actually finished, and I hope to own a copy soon.

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I need to check the Muir back out last month—I did not end up getting to it this time.

3. The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare (historical—kinda—fiction, 1983)

“Bring white boy bird and rabbit. White boy teach Attean white man’s signs.”

This is the second time I’ve this book; this time Eric joined us, as this was one of Katie’s literature pieces. The basic (trite) plot is this: Matt and his father move to settle the wilderness (that would become Maine) in 1763. Matt’s father then departs to get the rest of the family from Massachusetts, leaving teenager Matt alone to guard the cabin. He falls on hard times, makes friends with the Native Americans, and learns to survive.

I just cannot bring myself to like this book, despite how solidly it seems to be ensconced on children’s lit lists. Not only do I find the hackneyed plot a bore, but the way Speare writes the Native Americans offends me. I am not the only one to recognize this; I later researched to discover if other scholars feel the same way. It has almost no modern sensibility, to me. Every page has the feel of some white woman writing caricature. Even in the quote above, this is the stereotypical characterization of Native American speech patterns. She gives the word “squaw” to the mouths of these Native Americans; this word is highly problematic, and if you want to see how a single word can inspire controversy, research the debate about it…

Not my favorite, but I took every opportunity to discuss the effects of the settlement movement on the Native American population. We asked difficult questions while reading. As with any material, the discussion is the key to its value.

4. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (nonfiction, environmental science, 1962)

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will ensure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

“How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind?”

Years ago one of my most precocious and rebellious AP students—who could write a “9” level paper on any subject, by the way, despite being expelled from various campuses—carried around Rachel Carson for days, and he recommended I read this book. He was right. Both dated and yet still so relevant, this jeremiad rocked the pesticide industry and machine after its publication.

Carson clearly believes in inspiring a sense of wonder and awe at the beauty around us in order to get us to care. I did appreciate her somewhat moderate approach: she does allow that there is a tricky balance in preventing pest-borne diseases and letting nature run its own courses. She rejects the western religious idea that nature was created to be subordinate to man—an idea that, I, too, think needs to be absolutely jettisoned from our cultural viewpoint. We are PART of nature, and, as the species with perhaps the greatest awareness of the future, we are also the natural stewards of this nature. Human arrogance cannot end soon enough.

5. Hear the Wind Sing/Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami (fiction, August 2015 English trans.)

“We fell silent again. What we shared was no more than a fragment of a time long dead. Yet memories remained, warm memories that remained with me like light from the past. And I would carry those lights in the brief interval before death grabbed me and tossed me back into the crucible of nothingness.”

This book really is two books—novellas—in one. Both were originally published in Japanese in 1979 and 1980, respectively; the first he wrote as an entry for a competition after a mythic moment in which he was at a baseball game and had a vision of sorts that he would become a writer in later life. (Up until that time, he has spent his 20s opening, owning, and operating bars). Reading the press lead up to this release, one understands that Murakami is as aware of creating his own myth as he is of his stories. Visions, birds, serendipity, music, fate—these are themes and motifs in his fiction works, as well.

I’d been waiting and waiting for this release, which had been out of print for more than 30 years: How would an author’s earlier works inform my reading of his later works? After the dastardly disaster that was Go Set a Watchman this summer, you’d think I might be more gun shy of such a thing.

Delightful. A must for hardcore Murakami fans, of which I am one. Even from so early on, though 1Q84 and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle are, to me, so much more literary, the nascent Murakami wasn’t so newborn. Here was an author already well developed. In the foreword, I relished his description of his writing process for these (writing in a second language, for example, to force himself to pare down his wordiness). And wells definitely make an appearance!

Even better: our little local library had a new copy!! I had already checked out my books that day when I saw in on the newly released shelf. I scooped it up and checked out again!

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Happiness one morning after a run and a swim

6. The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy (fiction, 1994)

“There is but one world and everything that is imaginable is necessary to it. For this world also which seems to us a thing of stone and flower and blood is not a thing at all but is a tale. And all in it is a tale and each tale the sum of all lesser tales and yet these are also the selfsame tale and contain as well all else within them. So everything is necessary. Every least thing. This is the hard lesson. Nothing can be dispensed with. Nothing despised. Because the seams are hid from us, you see. The joinery. The way in which the world is made. We have no way to know what could be taken away. What omitted. We have no way to tell what might stand and what might fall. And those seams that are hid from us are of course in the tale itself and the tale has no abode or place of beind except in the telling only and there it lives and makes its home and therefore we can never be done with the telling. Of the telling there is no end. And . . . in whatever . . . place by whatever . . . name or by no name at all . . . all tales are one. Rightly heard all tales are one.”

Young Billy Parham crosses from the United States into Mexico border three times in this novel, each time building thematically on the time before. This is a book about how tales and the stories we tell ourselves take mythic shape. McCarthy’s prose captivates me. A good portion of the book is in untranslated Spanish, interspersed with English. Grateful for my background there.

There is a torturous beauty in the desolate landscapes he writes. There are stories-within-the-story. McCarthy’s work descends from classics like The Odyssey. I am head over heels. McCarthy, Murakami, and Vonnegut are perhaps my favorite authors of all time.

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Reading The Crossing after taking my children to the ballet last weekend

I wish I had read more this month, but it’s not a bad list, all told. I am savoring what I have been reading. Staying up too late. Sneaking in bits and pieces here and there.

7. By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder (historical fiction, 1939)

“We’d never get anything fixed to suit us if we waited for things to suit us before we started.”

One of my least favorite of the series, this one is a bit darker than the others. But I love the cuddle time with my two babies. We are now on The Long Winter...

And here is a sample from ONE week of items I read with my children:

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So, imagine four weeks of stacks like these! We try to read quite a bit!

Happy Halloween to all. And Happy Reading in November!

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