Tag Archives: reading


I left a library book on the Max yesterday. Specifically, I left Shadows by Robin McKinley on the red line train at Beaverton Transit Center, as it ended its westbound run and switched over to the eastbound. It was about 8:40 in the morning, I was carrying coffee and a tote bag and an umbrella and my phone. I had been reading the book at the beginning of my commute, but then set it aside to do something else, thinking I’d get back to it before I arrived. It was wedged between my left leg and the wall. When the train got to Beaverton TC (which always comes before I’m expecting it, and I have to switch there for the blue line), I got up with my coffee and tote bag and umbrella and phone, and walked off without the library book.

I’m describing this in excruciating detail in order that I might feel every little grain of salt I’m rubbing into my own wound. I left a library book on a train. The ignominy of this is large. Big ignominy.

Oh, I’ve forgotten a detail that makes it even worse. It wasn’t even my library book. It was a loaner from a friend who finished it early and knew I had it on my hold list.


The worst part, of course, is that I was only about a third of the way through, and it was zipping right along and I was loving it, and now I can’t read it until I can get another copy, or until I spend $9 and change on a Kindle edition. Which I’m not going to do, because, well, I’m not. Robin McKinley’s great with the vocabulary and the vivid and unexpected characters who are chock full of normal human details and feelings in the midst of their epic magic thing. But not even to punish myself will I spend $9 on the Kindle edition. Having to wait for another copy to roll up the library hold list is punishment enough.

But I can’t stop wondering what’s happening to this book in the meantime. It was pointed towards the airport when I left it. Did someone find it and think it looked interesting and take it somewhere fun? Did somebody pick it up and return it in a library drop box (this is Portland, I’d bet money there’s one of those at the airport)? Is it still sitting on the train? Was it there at the end of the day, and did the driver find it during a final sweep, and drop it in lost and found where it will lie unread forever and its soul will slowly die? Did a kid find it and stash it in her backpack, where it will sit for the next eight months, in a bath of gum wrappers and nail polish and nickels and pens until she finds it at the very end of summer vacation and reads it and falls in love and can’t stop telling all her friends about it and they’re all totally over it and wish she’d shut up about the main character who loves dogs just exactly as much as she loves dogs and how she doesn’t really like her stepfather either and did you guys know that origami figures can ward off evil?

I hope that one’s the one. I’ll happily pay to replace the book that never returned if that’s the one.

the beekeeper’s apprentice, by laurie r king

It’s January 31, the last day of my What I’m Reading posts. I missed a handful of days around the middle of the month, but I’m kind of shocked I managed to do this almost as planned.

I just finished The Beekeeper’s Apprentice today. Laurie King’s novel is a bit difficult to classify: I’m not sure if I should call it a mystery, a historical fantasy, young adult fiction, or something else. Her protagonist is Mary Russell, a teenager in Sussex, England during the first World War. Ms. Russell meets the retired Sherlock Holmes, and finding herself presented with a mind as sharp as her own, becomes a sort of apprentice to the master criminologist.

Under normal circumstances, I really dislike the use of an existing literary character by another author, particularly when it’s one I know and love so well. I came across a glowing recommendation of the Mary Russell series on a blog recently (I think it was either feministing.com or Salon.com’s Broadsheet, but I can’t find the link now), and since I was embarking on a whole stack of pleasurable holiday reading, I added the first book of the series to the pile. Given my prejudices, I was mostly expecting to be irate from the get-go, but I was surprised. Mary Russell is that somewhat implausible character of fiction – orphaned, wealthy, brilliant , well-spoken and determined; but she is also well-written and likable. Sherlock Holmes as written by Laurie King is surprisingly intact (mostly). He’s lost something of his famed misogyny, obviously, since he’s taken on a teenage girl as an apprentice, but King navigates that neatly by setting Mary up as the first intellectual equal Holmes has ever encountered (apart from his brother, Mycroft, and his notorious nemesis Professor Moriarty). He’s intrigued and challenged, and pursues the friendship in spite of himself.

The mystery plot is ordinary, but it held my interest. There were a couple of spots where a contemporary turn of phrase or coy literary device were jarring, but I have to say I didn’t really care. As a feminist hero, Mary Russell is something of a treat, and I had a really good time reading this. Two thumbs up.

the best american nonrequired reading 2007, ed. by dave eggers

The Best American Nonrequired Reading series is a favorite of mine for train reading. The series includes lists, short stories, comics/graphic novels, tv scripts, essays, memoir and other nonfiction pieces that were published throughout the collection year. I’ve chosen 2007 because it’s the one I read most recently, but they’re all great. The series is edited by Dave Eggers, and the pieces are chosen by high school students from the San Francisco Bay area who participate in Eggers’ writing center.

My favorite pieces from this collection are a profoundly upsetting story about Hurricane Katrina, called “American Cheese,” by Joshua Clark, and a short story by artist/filmmaker Miranda July called “How to Tell Stories to Children.” There’s also a hilarious list called “Best American Names for Horses Expected to Have Undistinguished Careers.” Great stuff.

the wellspring: poems, by sharon olds

My introduction to Sharon Olds’ poetry was in May of 1995, when her poem “January, Daughter” appeared in the New Yorker. One of my favorite professors had just had her first child, and I clipped the poem out of the magazine to give to her. The spare intimacy of it was striking. She is the most physical of poets – her work is sharp and uncluttered, but will move you so powerfully into the realm of an idea or belief that you feel it in your body. I have all of her books of poetry, and choosing this particular one to recommend is really mostly random. I’m basing my choice on the fact that I wanted to use a specific poem here, and it’s in The Wellspring. Like a lot of Olds’ work, it’s both funny and devastating; it feels light, but you’ll notice it hanging around later on.

Forty-One, Alone, No Gerbil
by Sharon Olds

In the strange quiet, I realize
there’s no on else in the house. No bucktooth
mouth pulls at stainless-steel teat, no
hairy mammal runs on a treadmill–
Charlie is dead, the last of our children’s half-children.
When our daughter found him lying in the shavings, trans-
backwards from a living body
into a bolt of rodent bread
she turned her back on early motherhood
and went on single, with nothing. Crackers,
Fluffy, Pretzel, Biscuit, Charlie,
buried on the old farm we bought
where she could know nature. Well, now she knows it
and it sucks. Creatures she loved, mobile and
needy, have gone down stiff and indifferent,
she will not adopt again though she cannot
have children yet, her body like a blueprint
of the understructure for a woman’s body,
so now everything stops for a while,
now I must wait many years
to hear in this house again the faint
powerful calls of a young animal.

created in darkness by troubled americans: the best of mcsweeney’s humor category

McSweeney’s humor writing is one of those magic treatments that can improve the worst day – kind of like the Swedish Chef. This gem in Short Imagined Monologues is still making me giggle. A couple of years ago, some genius over there at the Internet Tendency thought it would be a swell idea to collect the really, really, really funny stuff and put it in portable paper form as Created In Darkness By Troubled Americans. This is great, because I can carry it around in my bag. Kind of an aspirin for the soul. Travel-size endorphins, accessible at will.

Grab a copy, and immerse yourself in lists (Words That Would Make Nice Names for Babies, If It Weren’t for Their Unsuitable Meanings; Canceled Regional Morning TV Shows). Or maybe a nerd diatribe (On the Implausibility of the Death Star’s Trash Compactor). In case you’re not already convinced by these three titles alone (and don’t forget the read the Steampunk monologue linked above), here’s a sample list (lists are my favorite McSweeneyism – they’re so efficient):

Subjects My Dad Doesn’t Like and Will Discuss At Length If Raised
by Kate Harris


The blue rug my mother bought for the front room

People borrowing things from his shed

The motion picture Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Food courts

Sugar that has been spilled on the kitchen tiles

Alternative medicine

The fact that the cat is putting on weight

Odors that can’t be explained