2016 in Books, February

I’m beginning the draft of this post on February 22 with the hope that I will not be pregnant much longer. My girl is full term, and I would really like to bring her into this world sooner rather than later. I’m occupying some of my waiting time with reading, but mostly I spend spare moments sleeping. I wish I could bank these naps, but instead I’ll settle for getting them where I can. [UPDATE: Nope, it’s Leap Day, and I’m still pregnant. So very pregnant.]

  • Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History by David Christian
    • So I heard this story on NPR in January about Dr. Christian, big history and education. My first thought was, “Wow, that’s exactly how our story line for the new permanent exhibits are organized.” I told my boss, and what has followed has been two months of reading, talking, philosophizing and writing about how this well-articulated paradigm melds with what we were already planning. In general terms, this method examines how natural and human history are intertwined into one larger narrative. Big history is also about asking questions along the story line and being upfront about the tentative nature of some answers. Taking a long view of the past also makes it possible to confront questions of race, gender and class within the development of larger systems. It was a geeky discovery that got us re-fired up about a project many years in the making.
  • The Farm on the Roof: What the Brooklyn Grange Taught Us about Entrepreneurship, Community, and Growing a Sustainable Business by Anastasia Cole Plakias
    • I read this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. Plakias takes her readers on an enlightening tour of what it takes to start a profitable business in an unlikely location. While the story line of the book clearly focuses on urban farming, she also lays out practical advice on beginning any type of small business. I especially appreciated that she addressed how Brooklyn Grange has changed to accommodate economic realities without losing its focus on being a 3P (people, planet and profit) enterprise deeply rooted in their local community.
  • 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
    • A book about jazz and difficult people and unfortunate situations. Also about family and the past and how we move forward. It was a good read.
  • The Outside World by Tova Mirvis
    • I loved Mirvis’ first book–The Ladies Auxiliary–so I jumped at a chance to buy this one at a book sale. Like her debut novel, The Outside World deals with questions of identity and religion. What I enjoyed most about this book is the complexity she gave her characters. She allowed everyone who was willing to change to do so. Some of them grew towards each other, others moved away. Mirvis may have set her novel within an insular Orthodox Jewish world, but her characters and their desires struck me as intrinsically true regardless of the outside worlds they inhabited.
  • Rethinking the Museum and Other Meditations by Stephen Weil
    • This book is a solid 26 years old and features several essays about different aspects of museum work. I read it because I use some of Weil’s pieces when I teach museum studies and I wanted to see if there were any in this book that would be good for undergraduates. It was also an exercise in historiography and being a well-read professional.

Dear Blue Bear,

Dear Blue Bear,

I feel like the time has come to get some things out in the open. You came to our house two years ago, the same week as your constant companion. His aunts sent you to him at the same time they sent flowers to me. I’d like to say it was love at first sight, but newborn eyes aren’t that keen. You spent a lot of that first year floating around the house–in and out of the toy box, occasionally making the trip to your boy’s grandparents’ house.

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At some point during the last year, that erratic orbit became magnetic. One day, he saw you and decided that you were the one he needed. From that day on, you have never been very far apart. You sleep together and go on adventures. You have a “special” seat on top of the trashcan where you wait for him when he plays outside. He wants you to wear a hat and socks when it’s cold, and he reads you his favorite books. In fact, some of his most loved stories are the ones where the main character has a companion like you, books like Corduroy and Me…Jane.

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The first thing I want to clear up is that I’m sorry about your name. I thought that calling you “Blue Bear” would give him a chance to name you himself. Unfortunately, he just heard “Blue” and ran with it. You also smell. I know that it is unavoidable since you get so much love each day. The reality that a lot of that love includes being shoved in a toddler mouth is just gross. I do try to bathe you whenever laundry times out around nap time because we both know the sadness that would ensue if you couldn’t sleep with him. Unfortunately, that happens less often then it should. Again, sorry.

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I also want to say thank you. You have given me a window into my boy’s feelings that I didn’t anticipate. He won’t always tell me when he is sad or tired, but he never hesitates when I ask him, “Is Blue sad?” You also give him comfort when I am not there to kiss his bruised knee or sing him a lullaby when he has a bad dream. You are the piece of home that he can take with him wherever he goes.

I know that he is branching out to other stuffed companions these days–including the equally poorly named Brown Bear and Cat–but he keeps coming back to you. You’re his friend, and I’m glad he has you to take care of.

Love,

His mom

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Here’s a bit of honesty for you: I don’t like being pregnant. There’s this weird pressure to be in good spirits (which is impossible to be at all times no matter the state of your uterus), deny the anxiety of impending childbirth (which really hurts) and be ok with people who are not medical professionals asking you if you’re dilated (which is super off-putting).

I am extremely grateful that I have not had fertility issues and that I have the ability to bring  babies into the world. However, actually being pregnant is not my idea of a good time. The third trimester practice contractions, getting stuck on the couch, constant need to waddle to the bathroom aspects of being this close to meeting my girl are not fun.

Granted, it is fun to watch her foot move across the top of my belly and daydream about holding her and singing her lullabies. To me, pregnancy is a necessary means to a much desired end. It is also one of the few times when the journey is most definitely not the destination. The past 37 weeks have certainly happened. Now I just want to meet my Louise. Because that is the point of all of this anyway.

2016 in books, January

For all but the last weekend of this month, it was too cold to be outside. However, it was perfect to lay my hugely pregnant self down on a couch, cover up with a blanket and escape into books.

  • Tenth of December: Stories by George Saunders
    • My LibraryThing secret Santa sent me this book, which arrived on Christmas Eve. I have done SantaThing twice, and each time my Santa has picked out a book that I never would have found on my own but that I truly enjoyed. Saunders is a phenomenal writer, and his short stories feel complete regardless of their page length. The characters are complex and have to ask and answer hard questions, frequently in disturbing circumstances.
  • The Animal Kingdom: A Very Short Introduction by Peter Holland
    • We’re working on a new permanent exhibit about evolution, the tree of life and phylogenetics. It’s complicated and fascinating. My boss is the one doing the hard research, and I read this book so that I will be able to be a good editor as the drafting begins. Incidentally, the fact that I get to read books about evolutionary biology makes my job even better.
  • Run by Ann Patchett
    • Run is a novel about adoption and family secrets. I usually love Patchett’s books, but I had a difficult time getting invested in this story.
  • Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
    • This book was my first time reading Anna Quindlen, and I anticipate that there will be more of her books in my future. The first half of the book struck me as a cozy story about a likeable family–one that shared many similarities to my own. The second half hit me like a punch in the gut, and I stayed up way too late to see how it would end.
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
    • My friend Rachel loans me young adult novels after she reads them. While I’m a fan of YA fiction, I also need to intersperse it with other genres. Rachel makes sure that the best ones she reads make their way onto my radar. The format of this novel was unusual. A teenager receives thirteen audio cassettes recorded by a classmate who recently committed suicide. The narration alternates between her voice on the tapes and his thoughts about what he is hearing. It is fantastic.
  • ContamiNation: My Quest to Survive in a Toxic World by McKay Jenkins
    • I received a copy of this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program. McKay Jenkins offers us a frankly horrifying look at the toxins that surround us daily. Jenkins demonstrates through exhaustive research that chemicals are an ever-present reality in our homes, offices, cleaning supplies, toys, lawns and drinking water. While the author does an exemplary job showing how the problem developed and the havoc that it can wreak on human health, there is a dearth of practical solutions to limit personal chemical exposure. He does make some suggestions, but, ultimately, the reader is left with the understanding that while there is clearly a problem, a solution is far from certain. It did make me think about where the things I buy come from and to look for product that are phthalate- and paraben-free.
  • Imagined London: A Tour of the World’s Greatest Fictional City by Anna Quindlen
    • The travel literature sub-genre makes me happy so when I found this book in my neighborhood Little Free Library, I grabbed it. Unfortunately, it was not a particularly interesting read. I am not as well read as the author so a lot of her observations about locations featured in English literature did not resonate with me. Except for 221B Baker Street. That one I got.
  • The Circle by Dave Eggers
    • I could not stop reading this book, and since I finished it, I have not been able to stop thinking about it. If you’re familiar with Dave Eggers, you know that he is an author who makes you think about the larger implications of his stories. In The Circle, a woman begins working for a social networking company (like a mixture of Facebook and Google on crack) that is steadily taking over how people worldwide communicate, purchase goods and think. As I read, it struck me how bizarre it was that characters were giving over so much of their autonomy and sense of self to a company. Then it struck me that while the conditions Eggers established were far-fetched, the implications of where social media is taking us were not. It raises questions about privacy and memory that I believe are far from settled in our current digital age.
  • Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang by Chelsea Handler
    • I found this one in my neighborhood Little Free Library. Frankly, I’m not ever sure of what to make of Chelsea Handler. Sometimes her material makes me laugh out loud; other times her jokes fall incredibly flat. This book was what I expected–frequently funny, always irreverent.