Summary: A collection of short stories in the speculative fiction genre
Content warning: “Rosamojo” includes some scenes of child abuse; the rest of the stories aren’t necessarily traumatic but involve a great deal of sexuality
Recommended audience: Readers looking for #ownvoices works
In-depth thoughts: There were a lot of cool ideas in this book that ended up suffering from overly workshopped, possibly way too abstract writing. (Hence the C2+ language rating.) In a lot of ways it reminds me of Freshwater, but where Emezi takes that abstraction and works with it until you get it, grounding it with concrete language and imagery and deliberate call backs to specific mythology, Salaam just leaves it all out there, confusing and weird in a world that seems to be entirely of her own creation but without any rules or explanation.
The stories are the strongest when Salaam remains more or less in this world: “Marie,” “Rosamojo,” and “Ferret” were probably my favorites, as well as a very short piece about ants whose title I can no longer remember and that no one else seems to mention in their reviews so there it is. A trilogy of short stories focus on moth-like aliens who can take a human form and who harvest nectar from humans, most often by seducing them. The premise is unique enough that it really deserved to be its own book rather than a handful of short stories. And unlike almost everyone else, I didn’t care much for the first story (“Desire”) or the last one (“Pod Rendezvous”). “Desire” is just too distracting, caught up as it is in what is (as far as my Googling can find) a fictional mythology and an unusual-and-completely-unnecessary narrative structure. The same can be said for “K-USH” and “Battle Royale,” though people tend to rave less about those two. (I wonder if people pick up the book, read the first and last story, and then declare that they’ve read the whole book?) “Pod Rendezvous,” like the nectar-gathering moth aliens, had so much in there that it should have been a proper novel rather than an overly long short story. A story should be as long as it needs to be, and “Pod Rendezvous” was definitely the wrong length.
Overall, a disappointing collection. It wasn’t bad, but I made the mistake of going in with impossibly high expectations.
I took the bus from Best Chemist Friend’s back home and spent most of the day packing up books and running errands for Swedish friends (by way of being a taco sauce mule).
This day was a Wednesday, a day I usually spent at bar trivia with friends. But since it was probably canceled because of Musikfest, and because ex romantic entanglements made it potentially weird anyway, I stayed at home and went swimming with Best Chemist Friend instead, discussing outliving our heroes and becoming grimey hippies. Afterwards my mom took us out to dinner, since this was the first she had seen Best Chemist Friend (essentially an adopted daughter for her) in years.
There are so many new places to eat that didn’t exist when I was growing up here, or even four years ago. The restaurant Mom took us to was one had existed when I grew up, but was for sale when I left. Now it’s a restaurant again, with new owners and a new name but much of the same atmosphere (from what I can vaguely remember). I finally had my first Yuengling of the trip, and now I was really home.
My goal for the next day was to drop off a few boxes of books at the library, and then hit up Musikfest with a friend and former co-worker. My go-to library for book cast-offs, the Quakertown branch of the Bucks County library system, wasn’t taking donations at the time, so I had to go on a little adventure to find a home for my books.
I thought, for a moment, of sending them to the huge thrift store in Hellertown, but I like to give books to “book places” before “generic stuff-unloading places.” I decided to try the Riegelsville library next, since it was closest to home and near a new cafe that’s supposed to be pretty good.
When my brother and I were still really small, my mom took us on a drive to try to find this same library. It’s easy to see from the main road, but then actually getting there isn’t exactly intuitive. (And, of course, she was doing this in the age before GPS and smartphones.) She drove around for a while before giving up, and from that point on she just patronized bookstores with us instead of the local library. I don’t remember this at all, though; it’s just a story she told me once when we were driving through Riegelsville for some reason or another.
I thought about that story while I drove around the back roads of Riegelsville, looking for the same library, wondering if I’m following the same random no-outlet residential streets Mom did when she was trying to do exactly what I was doing. I had been to this library twice before, for library sales, but years ago. My memory was dim, and this time there weren’t any helpful signs up or large crowds of people and activities going on. I pulled into the only non-church, non-residential parking lot around and then realized this was actually the library—it shares space with the all-purpose Riegelsville Municipal Building.
And by sheer luck Thursday was of the three days of the week that the library was actually open. With some help from the library staff, who were setting up an event in the community room on the first floor, I maneuvered a cart out to the car and unloaded the first round of boxes.
I stopped a while to wander through the nearby cemetery and look at the familiar landscape, and also snap some pictures. There was a driver here delivering other books to the library; I absentmindedly watched him take a photo of some butterflies hovering near the flowers. It was just a damn nice day.
After I had my fill of sunshine and cemeteries, I stopped at the Someday Cafe.
The building that now houses the Someday Cafe and Roastery had been sketchy and abandoned for my entire life. It started life as a car dealership back in the 40s or 50s, then became a dance studio, but all of my memories of it were as a sky-blue vacant building that was perennially for sale. At some point, someone tried (and failed) to turn it into an antiques shop (despite there already being another antiques shop right across the street), so I remember lots of junk sitting in the windows.
It’s really gratifying and cool to see the empty, abandoned space I remember from childhood turned into something like this. And I would have killed to have this kind of not-at-home space during high school. It’s just three miles from my house; it’s not completely inconceivable that I could have walked there if I really wanted to, except that the roads between here and my house have no shoulder and are not at all made for pedestrians. But still.
Not everything is better, of course. The abandoned paper mill across the street, which I’d always wanted to sneak into, is long gone. 🙁 So is my favorite used bookstore, which is now a bridal showcase, of all things.
After packing up a few more books, I meandered into Musikfest. This time I planned to spend the night (as opposed to accidentally doing so the last time I was here). I had my Musikfest mug in hand, complete with drink, and wandered around Main Street and the venues down by Monacacy Creek while I waited to meet up with Kelly and for SsingSsing to start. SsingSsing was the group I was easily the most excited to see at the festival. Glam rock + Korean folk music = WHAT THE HELL BUT ALSO YES.
Kelly and I enjoyed the show a lot, but unfortunately there was no merch table at all, so we couldn’t pick up an album or t-shirt or patch to sport our love. After show, we walked around for a little we disappear back to her place to use her bathroom and refill our mugs.
Back at the festival, Kelly grabbed some kind of cheese steak in a cup thing from a vendor and we sit and talk about Life, the Universe, and Everything. I love the work I do now, and I love the students I have now, but there is always a level of professionalism to maintain that isn’t the same as being coworker-buddies with someone. The conversations I have with my students are rewarding and interesting in their own ways—I learn so much about other cultures and traditions and food—but it’s hard to be someone’s teacher and be someone’s friend. Of course, I also have the privilege of dictating my own schedule and doing the vast bulk of my work in my pajamas, so you know, swings and roundabouts! Talking to her and then Best Chemist Friend is the perfect way to round out a day full of errands and music.
This was a book that I bought at a library sale I don’t know how many years ago. After falling in love with Walden in high school, the similar premise of this book (memoirs of living alone in the countryside) intrigued me. Yet somehow I never got around to reading it until I was going through my books to ship across the ocean. Out of all of the books I hadn’t read yet but really wanted to, this was at the top of the list. So I tore through it during my last days in Pennsylvania and up the highways to Albany, then ended up re-homing it to my friend and hostess in Maine.
Author: May Sarton
My GoodReads rating: 5 stars
Average GoodReads rating: 4.17 stars
Language scaling: B1+
Summary: May Sarton’s account of a year of living in the country
Recommended audience: Those interested in poetry and memoirs generally; those interested in queer writers specifically
In-depth thoughts: I could tell that I had started and stopped this book at least a few times: the first few entries were familiar to me, and I had dog-eared a page or two. Younger Me wanted to like this, or wanted to be the kind of person who liked this, but I guess she needed a few more years to be able to really get into it. Now Me couldn’t put this book down.
There isn’t much that happens, which is what you can expect from something titled Journal of a Solitude. That might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it was mine, at any rate. There is also a directness and simplicity to her writing that pulls you along, and which is probably especially beneficial for English students. I think it’s exactly the kind of cozy book that makes for perfect winter reading.
Appropriate that I decided to get back to my travelogues this week: the next book in the queue to be discussed here is what I read in the library that day: Murder in Retrospect!
Author: Agatha Christie
My GoodReads rating: 3 stars
Average GoodReads rating: 3.96 stars
Language scaling: B2+
Plot summary: A young woman about to marry hires Hercules Poirot to clear the name of her mother, who was convicted of poisoning her husband some years ago.
Recommended audience: Mystery buffs
In-depth thoughts: As I mentioned before, this book was a selection for my Facebook book club. I was surprised to learn that many of the members had never read an Agatha Christie novel before, or even seen one of the innumerable screen adaptations! I went through a huge Agatha Christie binge in middle school. This was about the same time I went through a big band jazz binge as well, so I guess I was a little old lady in a 13-year-old’s body.
Even during my pubescent enthusiasm, I never tackled all of the novels and short stories. (Our school library only had so many books, after all.) Murder in Retrospect (or Five Little Pigs, whichever title you prefer) was one that I hadn’t originally read, so I was excited to read it. I had a nice afternoon in the Bethlehem Public Library doing just that: reading. I finished it in one sitting.
I still love a good Agatha Christie novel, even today, but I have to admit that this one was a little disappointing. There are lots of recurring secondary characters that make a Poirot novel what it is—Miss Lemon, Captain Hastings, Inspector Japp—and none of them make an appearance. The nature of the mystery also means that the bulk of the book is everyone repeating their testimony of the same day. This is, of course, part and parcel of any mystery, but because this is a cold case (or rather, an already-closed case), there’s nothing else for Poirot to go on, nor is there any sense of urgency. Without any clues to inspect, without any banter with Hastings or Japp, and without the possibility of bringing the true murderer to justice, Murder in Retrospect is more repetitive and less fun than the Christie novels I read when I was younger.
If you’re a mystery buff, you can’t go wrong with an Agatha Christie novel. Even a bad Christie novel is still pretty fun; I’ve always like Christie’s writing style just as much as her mysteries. The repetition in this story might be helpful for English students, but there is also the danger that outdated vocabulary might pose something of a hurdle. (I can’t recall anything particular as I sit down to write this, but with a book initially published in 1942, I’m sure there are a couple of outdated vocabulary choices.)
Overall, I’m a completionist when it comes to writers I like, so I’m glad I read it. I don’t think Murder in Retrospect will be a novel I pick up again, though.
After a busy weekend full of social activity and sight-seeing, I take it easy for the next few days at my parents’ house. I spend my first morning back just putzing around the house and going through the books I had packed up four years ago (surprise, there are more that I can bear to part with!), and then I drive to Lost River Caverns to catch up with my old boss and coworkers and do some shopping. It’s busy, at least compared to what I would have expected mid-August, so my old boss tells me to just help myself. I must give off “I work here” vibes still; people ask me questions about how to get to the bathrooms or where things are.
The inside is all done up and it looks fabulous—so much better than when I was still working there—and I linger a while to talk to my old bosses and coworkers and some of the new shop ladies and guides. Everything is familiar despite the fabulous makeover and once again I miss my weirdo minimum wage retail job.
Next stop on the agenda is the Bethlehem library. I don’t bother driving in during Musikfest; I just wait for the bus (have I gone full European native?) and meander towards the library from the parking/bus hub. There’s no Amerikaplatz next to the library anymore, which I don’t like (fond memories of Tea Leaf Green and Royal Noise Brigade at that stage), but I suppose the library employees appreciate the new-found quiet. I pick out a book—Murder in Retrospect, or Five Little Pigs, which is my Facebook book club’s August choice—and sit down and read, and alternate my reading with checking Facebook and talking with friends on gchat.
After I finish the book, I wander through Musikfest, grab a “Marga-mead-a,” and head down to Volksplatz to wait for The Skatalites. I sit through The Hillbenders, a bluegrass act, and enjoy them enough to buy an album as roadtrip soundtrack/thank-you gift for my ride up to Maine. I totally sneak a preview listen later and the album is way more straight country, and kind of worse, than their live performance. 🙁 For me, the highlight of that show was probably a high-energy cover of MGMT’s “Kids.” I had spent the whole day being sad and moody over leaving Austin, and that moment was the point where I started to maybe feel like not everything was a total garbage fire.
Then, after time to change sets and move the first rows of chairs out of the way, The Skatalites come on, and I dance my heart out. They do their cover of the James Bond theme and I get a powerful hit of high school nostalgia. I had listened to their version of the incomparable movie theme a lot in high school, but this was in the days of Napster and people being really ignorant and slapdash with labeling artists (“Wish You Were Here” by Oasis? Really?), so I was never sure if it was actually The Skatalites. I went into the show with zero expectations I’d hear that song, so it’s a nice surprise to hear that opening bass riff.
Later in the set they also do the theme from “From Russia With Love” and I wonder: is that a coincidence or a political statement? Other covers include “A Message To You, Rudy” and “Three Little Birds.”
I ducked out in the middle of an encore to make sure I could get a bus home, only: surprise! The late bus I thought was running wasn’t, so I dropped in at a friend’s instead. Not the most gracious way to make an entrance from across the ocean (“I can’t read bus schedules, Tesia, can I crash your guest bed?”) but friendship is magic! And I’m stopping by home to celebrate Tesia’s PhD, after all. It’s not super late, but I still conk right out.