The Mall (and Reads and Recs)

November 24, 2014 § 4 Comments

The Mall of America isn’t my favorite place, but my camera likes it:

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Some recently read works and pieces you may enjoy:

  • Climate Change Threatens to Strip the Identity of Glacier National Park” by Michael Wines (The New York Times, November 22, 2014) — A disturbing gaze into the future, where it’s predicted Glacier National Park’s ice packs will melt in the next few decades, primarily due to climate change. The implications are troubling and enormous, ranging from water shortages to the alteration and possible destruction of a vital ecosystem.
  • Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher (2014) — So good I read it twice. The story unravels over the course of an academic year. A caustic, yet devoted, professor writes letters of recommendation for students and colleagues (some deserving, some not) for fellowships, jobs, and awards. Although his requests often go unheeded or have unintended results, kindness nestles up against his obnoxious attempts to mend long-ended romances and help a depressed but supposedly talented student publish his novel. I laughed often at the protagonist’s pompous and sarcastic diatribes, but an unexpected ending topples the professor’s facade and lends a bittersweet quality to the narrative.
  • Falling Short: Seven Writers Reflect on Failure” by Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Anne Enright, Howard Jacobson, Will Self, and Lionel Shriver (The Guardian, June 22, 2014) — This article about failure in writing also touches on everyday defeats, especially in love and relationships. It serves as a good reminder that sometimes success is fraught with despair and doubt, and it also argues that when we’re failing, we’re likely headed in the right direction.
  • Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson (2014) — I flew through this nearly 500-page novel about a troubled rural Montana social worker trying to protect kids from broken homes while fumbling through his own crumbling family life. Each character is deeply flawed but displays glimmers of possibility and grace as evidenced in the social worker’s developing relationship with a mysterious and paranoid Ted Kaczynski-like loner and his son who are convinced the world is ending.
  • An Open Letter to the Guy at My Gym Who Screams When He Lifts Weights” by Jonathan Kime (McSweeney’s, November 9, 2009) — The reason why I avoid gyms. Seriously.
  • A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely (Rolling Stone, November 19, 2014) — An infuriating report on the prevalence of sexual assaults at the University of Virginia. The primary focus of the article is a woman who was gang raped by privileged frat boys. She is one of many whose accusations have been mishandled or casually dismissed by the university. The UVA administration’s indifferent behavior coupled with ineffective action is just one part of the problem (UVA keeps information on sexual assault as secretive as possible to avoid being seen as a “rape school”). The other obvious concern is criminals walking free and perpetuating a culture where sexual assaults are best kept quiet for fear of retaliation or ostracism.

Dear Committee Members Fourth of July Creek

Pop Color (and Reads and Recs)

November 17, 2014 § 7 Comments

Little color exists in Minnesota these days now that the leaves have dropped, dried, and been enveloped in snow. This made today’s Photography 101 assignment, “Pop of Color,” challenging, for even human-made color is elusive in this climate.

A few scraps of color peeked out from the drifts and dried stems as I walked a mile in the bitter cold just to find something bright and shiny. I’m content with what I found but worry it’s going to be a long winter of photographing outdoors if natural color won’t rise again until April or May.

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Some recently read works and pieces you may enjoy:

  • From Poems to Paragraphs” by Donald Hall (Slice, Fall 2014/Winter 2015) — An aging poet laureate and essayist reflects on the art of writing and how his fading mind and body affect his process and work. A lovely, and informative, essay for writers of any age and genre.
  • Hannah and Andrew” by Pamela Colloff (Texas Monthly, January 2012) — A painful, true tale of an adoptive mother wrongfully accused and convicted of her troubled child’s bizarre death.
  • A House Is Not a Credit Card” by Bethany McLean (The New York Times, November 13, 2014) — A cautionary opinion piece about the trouble with cash-back refinancing — a problem that should have been addressed during the housing crisis but seems poised to return again due to the lack of regulations and restrictions on using one’s home as a piggy bank.
  • How We Look When We Look at a Painting” by Peter Schjeldahl (The New Yorker, November 13, 2014) — Frederick Wiseman is a genius documentarian, and it’s comforting to see him still churning out perfection. His latest documentary subject, “National Gallery,” focuses on the London museum of the same name, and the film, like all of Wiseman’s work, does not include voice-overs or interviews. Schjeldahl describes the film as eavesdropping on museum-goers and art lovers as they revel in the works that move and fascinate them, leaving the audience to wonder how each interprets a painting or sculpture or relic, how it forms their thoughts, how it heals their hearts.
  • The Humans by Matt Haig (2013) — This book wasn’t on my radar until it came up as this month’s selection for a local community book club some friends and I attend semi-regularly. I had no interest in reading it, turned off by the science fiction plot — an alien is sent to Earth to destroy the person who solves a mathematical problem that will advance humankind and allow human beings to, among other travesties, eventually travel between galaxies and destroy the universe because, well, humans just kind of screw things up (e.g., relationships, wars, the ozone layer). Yet in the end, I was surprised by how much I liked this story and the complicated evolution of an alien who grows to find human qualities preferable to that of his own advanced species. He even finds wonderment in our inherent flaws and disappointments, including the ability to love, which with death or a relationship’s end, leads to unspeakable grief and loss. An uncommon take on what it means to be human.

The Humans

Reads and Recs (and the First Day of Snow)

November 10, 2014 § 2 Comments

Some recently read works and pieces you may enjoy:

  • A Car, a Camera and the Open Road” by John Leland (The New York Times, September 15, 2014) — An article that feeds my desire to jump in my car and travel back roads, abandoned places, and forgotten rural outposts to photograph an America most don’t care to see.
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1985) — I wouldn’t say I loved this novel. I’ve wanted to read it for years, always drawn to the title more than anything. The prose is divine if not a little melodramatic. I’m not quite sure I bought the love story at the end, but it was still a good read.
  • Oldies but Goodies” by Ian Parker (The New Yorker, November 10, 2014) — A sweet reminder of the luscious landscapes and confections painted by Wayne Theibaud and currently showing in a retrospective at Acquavella Galleries in Manhattan.
  • The Outcast” by Rachel Aviv (The New Yorker, November 10, 2014) — An article about Sam Kellner, a Jewish man who went outside his Hasidic community in Brooklyn to have a respected elder at his synagogue investigated for molesting Kellner’s son and other boys. Instead of being lauded, Kellner was the object of backlash from a community that prefers to resolve disputes and crimes without the interference of outside entities, i.e., the police. An interesting look into the culture of and corruption within the Hasidic community, fueled and supported by the politicians the community’s leaders endorse.
  • The Sparrows in France” by Aja Gabel (The Kenyon Review, Fall 2014) — An essay about the preparation and consumption of ortolans — a delicacy in France — entwined with remembrances of the writer’s father preparing exquisite dishes and ultimately losing his ability to eat and enjoy food because of the ravages of esophageal and stomach cancer. Allusions to birds’ souls and last meals and the ways we avoid and accept death round out this beautiful piece.

Love in the Time of Cholera

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The patterns left behind of leaves that fell before, during, and after our first snow of the season:

Reads and Recs (and the Daily Photo)

September 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

Fall descends and the calendar fills up, but I still find time to read. What I’ve read and loved in the last week:

  • Freedom in 704 Square Feet” by Sandy Keenan (The New York Times, January 22, 2014) — I don’t need or want a big house, and this article allows me to dream of the small place I one day envision building myself.
  • A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride (2014) — Have you read this? I need to debrief. The writing style gave my mind a workout, and it wasn’t always clear who was being talked to or about (none of the characters’ names are provided). The difficult stream-of-consciousness writing along with the dark topics — incest, a brain tumor, sexual recklessness, child abuse — are not for the weak of heart. It’s receiving rave reviews, but not everyone will like it — I’ve noticed on Goodreads that several reviewers gave up on trying to decipher the prose. But it’s probably unlike anything else you’ve ever read, and for that reason, I recommend it.
  • How to Deal with Prerace Anxiety” by Mackenzie Lobby (Runner’s World, September 19, 2013) — I’m running a 10-mile race on Sunday — my longest-distance race since a marathon nearly 20 years ago. I’ve followed a great training program all summer, and I know I’m ready. However, nerves often get the best of me, and on top of that, I’m dealing with an old Achilles injury that is rearing its supremely ugly mug in these final days. The tips in this article should help me arrive smiling at the starting line and perhaps even cross to the finish.
  • Kicking the Facebook Habit” by Richard Morgan (The New York Times, September 27, 2014) — I loved Facebook for about six months when I first logged on in 2007, but my affections have drifted into the love-hate realm these last several years. I’m not quite ready to quit cold turkey like Morgan did, but I’m slowly moving away from it (and onto Twitter, which is just another social media monster whose relevance I question). The article is worth a read if, like me, you struggle with the disparity between our Facebook versus our real selves, and whether or not it all just feels like a game of one-upmanship.
  • Southern Gothic: Hunting for the Peculiar Soul of Georgia” with photography by Alec Soth (The New York Times Magazine, September 28, 2014) — Alec Soth is one of the best photographers around. I’ll read anything about him, especially if it contains his work. A great companion to this piece is “States of Mind: Why Alec Soth and Brad Zellar Went to Georgia” on the NYT’s “The 6th Floor” blog, which includes an interview with Brad Zellar, the writer of the LBM Dispatches on which he and Soth collaborate.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

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Power station:

Power station

Reads and Recs (and the Daily Photo)

September 15, 2014 § 1 Comment

A Gabriel Garcia Marquez novella. Articles on homelessness in St. Paul, final photos of the World Trade Center in the months before 9/11, and how to live in Manhattan (conclusion: it ain’t cheap).

What I read last week, why I read it, and why I liked it (and a quote to entice you):

  • What I read: Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1981)
  • Why I read it: Since Garcia Marquez’s passing in April, I’ve wanted to read one of his books. When a recent article named this one of the best novellas ever written, I decided it was time.
  • Why I liked it: The reader discovers in the first sentence what will happen at the end, that Santiago Nasar will be killed. What we’re left asking, however, is why and also why no one tries to stop the ambush and murder, for abundant chances arise. A friend of Nasar’s narrates the story 27 years after the murder. He acts as an investigator piecing Nasar’s final hours together, ultimately discovering the role each character played in Nasar’s life and death and how his violent and untimely demise still haunts the main characters years later. Garcia Marquez’s simple, beautiful writing keeps the reader disbelieving the murder will occur because of the murderers’ reluctance at times to follow through with the plan and the ridiculous reason (at least in today’s world) for insisting on it (to restore a lying woman’s tarnished honor).

“All the many people he ran into after leaving his house at five minutes past six and until he was carved up like a pig an hour later remembered him as being a little sleepy but in a good mood, and he remarked to all of them in a casual way that it was a very beautiful day.”

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

  • What I read:As Homelessness Overwhelms, Dorothy Day Center Struggles, Plans” by Tim Nelson (Minnesota Public Radio, September 9, 2014)
  • Why I read it: Plain and simple, I, like most, worry about homeless people, especially those living in Minnesota’s cold climate. I drive by this center regularly and have noticed a growing number of people congregated outside its doors.
  • Why I liked it: The story emphasizes the desperate and growing need to house the homeless in St. Paul. Nelson focuses on the lack of services Dorothy Day provides, as it was never meant to be a homeless shelter, but it has become the place where 80% of homeless in the city go to get off the streets at night. The good news is a new center is being built to deal with the increased need, but it won’t open for another four years. And there doesn’t appear to be an alternative plan to serve this growing population in the meantime.

Dorothy Day was never supposed to be this way. It was built in 1981 with just two bathrooms, providing meals and services just during the day — with no sleeping accommodations. Now, as many as 250 people sleep inside each night, most on mats on the floor. Dorothy Day provides 80 percent of the shelter to homeless single adults in Ramsey County. It started turning people away for lack of space three years ago….’Every time I go in there I get sick,’ [Leticia Bell] said. ‘The ventilation system is not equipped for housing people up in there. So, all night long, all you hear is people coughing and in the morning, you can’t breathe, you can’t talk.’”


  • What I read:How to Get to Manhattan? Save, Save, Save” by Joyce Cohen (The New York Times, September 11, 2014)
  • Why I read it: I’ve contemplated a move to Manhattan in the recent past, and I’m always curious how people go about finding and buying an apartment there. The moment I saw the headline, I was intrigued.
  • Why I liked it: “Like” is a strong word. A better description is it opened my eyes wider than they already were to how expensive it is to live in Manhattan. I was pumped at first, thinking the buyer’s price range, though steep, was manageable ($450,000 for a one-bedroom apartment). Then the article began talking about the additional monthly cost of maintenance ($800-$1300), and my heart sank. Again, nothing I didn’t already know, but a reminder I didn’t appreciate.

“[Anna] Gole, analytical through and through, came of age during the financial crisis. ‘It was scary and it motivated me to work at something I was interested in,’ she said. ‘While other kids were talking about happy hours, I was talking about mortgage rates.’”


  • What I read:Take Picture” by Nick Paumgarten (The New Yorker, September 15, 2014)
  • Why I read it: It’s an absorbing profile that includes haunting photos of Windows on the World and the World Trade Center towers taken in the summer prior to the 9/11 attacks, and it touches on the search for Konstantin Petrov, the man who took them.
  • Why I liked it: This story has everything — photos, mystery, themes of art and loss and perseverance. A lot is contained in this five-minutes read.

“For whatever reason, this Petrov had turned an archivist’s eye on the banalities of an office building and a sky-top restaurant, which, though destroyed in one of history’s most photographed events, had hardly been photographed at all. The pictures were beautiful, too. Devoid of people, and suffused with premonitory gloom, they made art out of a site that most New Yorkers, at the time, had come to think of as an eyesore.”

New Yorker

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Fall colors, inching closer:

Red leaves and sky

Post-Rain (and Nightstand 2014: Week Twenty-Eight)

July 7, 2014 § 5 Comments

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What I’m reading this week:

The Housekeeper and the Professor

Bloom (and Nightstand 2014: Week Twenty-Seven)

June 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

My mom grows beautiful flowers, and her peonies are among the loveliest of her blooms. A bouquet of pink and white blossoms from her garden is nearing the end, but it’s still stunning.


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What I’m reading this week, including a series on World War I from The New York Times. I won’t get to all of the new pieces and archived articles, but it’s definitely worth a look if you are as fascinated by that era and the senselessness of the war as I am:

The Snow Leopard

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