ON THE BOOKS WE SHARE

I’m becoming an aunt this year, and like the bookworm I am my first thoughts on hearing the good news were “what books should I buy for the baby shower?” and “I knew bookmarking that site with all the bookish onesies was a good idea.”

Sharing books can be a very poignant act. I helped teach several of my younger siblings to read with my favorite books, and we bonded over our enjoyment of the characters’ hijinks. Days with Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel, Ivy Cottage (of the Biscuit, Buttons, and Pickles Series) by E.J. Taylor, Laughing All the Way by George Shannon and Meg McLean, and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak were all particular favorites. Especially Frog and Toad. Even today, when I pass on books I’ve loved to friends, family, or even acquaintances, I feel a sense of excitement and camaraderie that’s hard to beat. When you and your friends have read and loved the same book, you’ve expanded your friendship beyond this workaday world and into whatever exciting new realm exists between the book’s covers.

To put it lightly, I am more than excited to share the worlds and stories I’ve come to love with my little niece or nephew in the years to come. But while I wait, I thought I’d share my mental list with all of you. So, here are just a few of the books I hope to share with my family’s newest addition:

Infant-Toddler Years

I’ve already mentioned early-childhood favorites like Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad series and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, but I’m also looking forward to sharing classics like Beatrix Potter’s tales and A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh series. Oh, a Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, because who doesn’t love that book?

Early School Years

When the little niece or nephew is old enough to read, I’ll want to share the books that helped me develop my sense of self what now seems like way too many years ago: The Ramona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary, everything by Roald Dahl (but especially Matilda), The Boxcar Children books by Gertrude Chandler Warner, and the Hank the Cowdog series by John R. Erikson.

Middleschool Years

This is where the fun really starts, because this is when I get to introduce the kid to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and basically everything by E. Nesbit (especially The Five Children and It). These books were the source of my make-believe sessions for years and years.

Junior High and High School Years

Most people don’t look back on adolescence fondly, and I think that means it’s a time when we really need books that speak honestly about the world and help us come to grips with everything we’re going through. So, in these years, I’d like to share Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, Junot Diaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Gardens in the Dunes.

There are a LOT of books I didn’t list here (the Victorian novels I teach, the sci-fi and fantasy novels I binge read every chance I get, the random bookstore finds that bowl me over and leave me with a new perspective on the world), but as I realized while writing, it’s hard to know what to share until you know the person you’re sharing with. Personality is a huge factor in book recommendations, even and especially with family. So I’ll look forward, for now, to reading Days with Frog and Toad together and playing all the rest by ear. Maybe I’ll recommend Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and maybe I’ll recommend Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy. Who knows?

 

Rereading Great Expectations 1000 Miles From Home

The first time I read Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1861), I still hadn’t left my home town. I was either finishing up or had just finished a Master’s degree, and I had a lot of time on my hands. Reading Dickens felt like a productive and enjoyable use of my time, and I found myself falling hard for Pip and his world–the Ram-Pages, the Pumblechookian annoyances, everything.

Reading through it now, my affective experience is immensely different. And, I’ve come to realize it’s precisely because I no longer live in my hometown of twenty-four years. I left home, just like Pip. So, if now I really think Pip is an a**hat of immense proportions, I now also no longer have the comfortable ability to look down on his a**hattery as if I have no part in it. I feel uncomfortable reading about Pip because, every now and again, I see a fragment of myself in him. Like Pip, I left home with “great expectations.” His were a fortune and life as a gentleman, and mine were a PhD and whatever that brought with it–but both of those things effectually reclass the individuals to whom they apply.

Funny how time and distance can change the way one experiences a four-hundred page novel that, theoretically, hasn’t changed for 165 years.

Like Pip, my new experiences and expectations have necessarily affected the ways in which I relate to old friends and family. Like Pip, I’m often struck by regret and wish these changed  relations weren’t the case. Like Pip, I find myself unable (or unwilling) to do much about it. I want to, but I’m distracted. I want to, and try to, but I don’t know how. A call now and then, a letter now and then, a visit now and then. All of these just remind me of how different everything is, how impossible it is to go back. Ergo, I must consider myself, like Pip, a bit of an a**hat.

Except, everyone else is changing, too. They can’t go back to the way things were anymore than I can. In fact, they are all working toward their own “great expectations,” and, probably, struggling with their own attendant regrets. Nobody, not even Pip’s pal and provider Joe Gargery, is sitting at home unchanged. So maybe it’s time I cut Pip, and myself, a break. Maybe, in the great bildungsroman of life, this is just another lesson all of us learn as we’re growing up.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (It’s Autumn guys, Winter can just deal)

A couple of weeks ago, despite the fact that my oral exam was just a few days away, I felt inspired enough to write a poem. This poem:

My New Mexico Soul
Raised in a drought of color
Of the musky scents of growing things
Drinks in these crimson trees
Dancing in the dappled sun
Scattering confetti leaves
Like the very sight is a secret sin.

I learned very early
To paint in a palette of dust and stone
Using tumbleweed yellows and
Caliche greys, shading with the color
Of angry thunder clouds, near-black on the horizon.
I learned to see the beauty in the infinite shades
Of bone and clay, of obsidian and sand.

So this verdant landscape, a riot of greens,
Of gold and red and passionate plum,
Frightens as it entices, a siren song
Of sensory delights, meant for woodland things.
Will I lose myself, my chalk-dry desert bones
In a forest dripping, rife with untold splendors
My starving soul glutted on too-rich fare?

What inspired me to this rhapsody? THIS:

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Biking through slow-motion blizzards of leaves. ALL THE COLORS. Clear blue skies and bright, warm sunshine. This is autumn splendor. And, while I miss the smell of roasting green chiles that accompanied fall in New Mexico, this resplendent show makes me feel a bit less sensorily impoverished by the loss.

Excuse the shaky videography:

THE BEST Roasted Garlic, Potato, and Broccoli Beer Cheese Soup

I adapted this recipe from The Craft of Stone Brewing CoBut I knew I wanted a chunkier soup, so immediately decided I needed to add broccoli and potatoes.
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Roasted Garlic, Potato, and Broccoli Beer Cheese Soup
Serves 8

1 cup unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 large yellow onion, diced
8 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups vegetable stock
11/4 cup (14 fluid ounces) darker/higher alcohol content beer (I used some my spouse made)
1 3/4 cup whole milk
3 heads roasted garlic
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 1/4 pounds sharp white Cheddar cheese, grated (a little bit less is okay. I mixed it up and added smoked yellow cheddar, too)
2 small heads of broccoli, chopped

6-8 small potatoes

Melt 3/4 cup of the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, whisking briskly to avoid lumps. Cook, stirring frequently, until the flour takes on a light blond color, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, steam the potatoes for 4-5 minutes.

Melt the remaining 1/4 cup butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Stir in the onion and minced garlic and cook just until the garlic is aromatic, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the broccoli and potatoes, cook for another minute or so. Add the vegetable stock, IPA, and milk. When the liquid begins to simmer, stir in the garlic,paprika, and cumin. Whisk in the flour mixture. Add the cheese a handful at a time, whisking after each addition, until melted and smooth.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately, garnishing each serving with some of the chives or thyme or whatever floats your boat.

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