Culling Cookbooks

Cookbook culling can be challenging. You have to be in the right mood of course, and it helps if you have a lot of time. The one thing the pandemic has given me is plenty of time, so when the mood to cull struck, I dove right in.

It started with the church basement ladies cookbooks. I needed a bit more room on the bookshelf, and I wanted it right away. In these situations, one picks the low-hanging fruit. I have a lot of church basement ladies cookbooks. Some I got from my mom, a couple were gifts, some I got at garage sales and such, plus I think they multiply on their own. I easily found seven to part with (one of my mom’s I kept because she had written a lot of comments in it, and it makes me smile), and I had the space I needed. Mission accomplished.

Oh, but it felt so good. What about all those apple cookbooks? Do I really need four apple cookbooks when I have a favorite I use all the time? (I decided not—the one will do me fine.) At this point, I decided to be methodical, going left to right on semi-organized shelves.

Start with easy: My Moosewood cookbooks and similar ilk. As expected, I kept most of these, although I did get rid of one Moosewood book about fancy vegetable sides, and another (non-Moosewood) book that was beautiful but contained recipes that I was pretty sure I’d never make.

Then came grains, which are such basic building blocks, I kept four of my cookbooks. Beans, my favorite building block, fared even better—I kept all seven. Beans—there are so many things you can do with beans!

Two of three soup cookbooks got culled, because I realize I almost never get soup recipes from soup cookbooks. I get them from all my other cookbooks. But it seemed prudent to retain one soup book.

I surprised myself on the potato cookbooks—I was sure I would keep the fat one with a lot of recipes and eschew the much thinner book with perhaps a tenth of the recipes. Wrong. The short book had far fewer recipes, but it had several I wanted to make. The bigger book—not even one!

If it sounds to you like I went through each book page by page, indeed I did, with the intent of “indexing” them. This is something I do with most of my new (to me, though they are more often used than new) cookbooks—I go through and make note of all the recipes I want to make, and I put them on a big (or smaller, depending) sticky inside the back cover. This is a great short cut. It isn’t foolproof, because preferences change over time, but it’s also fun to do—nice bonus.

In the course of culling my cookbooks, I’ve found several unindexed books. They go in a separate section on the bookshelf. This is also part of the culling process, but the mood to index a book is different from that to cull, so it goes in a stack and the culling goes on. Later in the evening, I will index a book or two.

Here’s a book I’m looking forward to indexing: The Victory Garden Cookbook. I have several vegetable cookbooks (just getting to these) and can you imagine a better time of year to be looking at vegetable cookbooks?

There is so much fun in this project: I’m making space on my bookshelf, reducing clutter, passing along some really good cookbooks to others and maybe getting some store credit at one of our local used bookstores into the bargain. (Independent bookstores offer much better prices than Half Price Books, and cookbooks are often in demand. I always take my cookbooks to local indies.)

I’m also getting excited about cooking again. I generally don’t like cooking in the summer because I’m a heat wimp, and each summer, I fear I’ll never want to cook again. But already I am longing to cook. The other day my neighbor said her green beans are coming in, would we like some? It took me a few minutes, but I found the recipe for minestrone casserole (think thick minestrone soup) done in a slow cooker.

Green beans? Yes, please!

Reading Local

The June book theme is Reading Local. For us, that’s Minneapolis, Minnesota, and pretty much anything in the Upper Midwest. It can be a local author or a local setting (ideally, both). It also includes books with the word local in the title (e.g., Going Local—which is the title of several different books, I just found out).

I had planned to start the month with The Art of the Wasted Day, by Patricia Hampl, which seemed like the perfect pandemic read. But then George Floyd was killed by the Minneapolis police. Protests and riots ensued; here, and then across the world. The protests have continued but the riots and looting have stopped. The protests must continue, and we must not let this go until systemic change happens.

Suddenly, reading The Art of the Wasted Day didn’t feel like the right read at all. Instead, I took something a bit more timely off the shelf: A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, edited by Sun Yung Shin. Sheila (my book-theme cocreator) and I are discussing it this week. Like most edited books, it was a mixed bag. Some pieces were really moving, some painful, one I didn’t understand (this of course, bears revisiting). One, about Minnesota Nice, whacked me right between the eyes.

I followed that up with Hood Feminism, by Mikki Kendall (she is from Chicago—definitely the Upper Midwest). I’m about a third through, and am getting a good education. I’ve been a proud feminist most of my life, but I am now questioning that pride. It’s a little gut-wrenching, to be honest, but Kendall is making really good points. I don’t know where I’ll be at by the end of this book, but I am appreciating the journey.

In the poetry realm I’ve finished one book, and it has a title I absolutely love: Like the New Moon, I Will Live My Life, by Robert Bly (from Minnesota). This is the second of his poetry books that I’ve read, and I liked it a lot.

Fiction has been a bit of a romp. I started with Leave No Trace, a thriller by Mindy Mejia (Twin Cities). This is a very compelling book if you are able to engage in a strong suspension of disbelief. With that (important) caveat in mind, it’s a great summer read. I followed this up with Fever in the Dark, by Ellen Hart (Minneapolis). This is the 24th book in her Jane Lawless mystery series, set in south Minneapolis (and yes, I have read the prior 23).

A thriller followed by a mystery requires a palate cleanser, so I went Fishing With RayeAnne, by Ava Finch (Minneapolis). I found out while reading the book that Ava Finch is a pen name for Sarah Stonich. (Oh! I just checked online, and I see Stonich has republished it, Fishing! under her own name in March of this year. I got the Ava Finch copy a few years ago.) I had no idea Stonich is a local author.

What next? Tough call. Right now, the leading contenders in fiction are The Blindfold, by Siri Hustvedt (who lives in New York, but grew up in Minnesota and still has family in Northfield); Once in a Blue Moon Lodge, by Lorna Landvik (Minneapolis), a long-time favorite author of mine; The Waking Land, by Callie Bates (all I know about her location is “Upper Midwest”), in case I feel like fantasy; and Shelter Half, by Carol Bly (Duluth)—I loved her nonfiction book, Letters From the Country, and am curious if I will like her fiction as well.

As for nonfiction, I’ve still got a ways to go on Hood Feminism. But, should I have time, right now I have three primary contenders: The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, by Kao Kalia Yang (St. Paul), which I’ve been meaning to read for years (it’s gotten a lot of attention both locally and nationally); Ignorance Ain’t Got No Shame, by Tracy Lenore Jackson (Minnesota), a memoir that looks like it will be difficult to put down once I pick it up; and Give a Girl a Knife, by Amy Theilen (northern Minnesota), a food memoir. But then again, maybe I’ll go for something beautiful: Tempt Me: The Fine Art of Minnesota Cooking, by Kathryn Strand Koutsky and Linda Koutsky. Take a look at it: a feast for the eyes.

Happy Reading!

My City Is on Fire

Here’s what it’s like to live in Minneapolis right now: scary and heartbreaking. I woke up this morning wondering if my favorite bookstore was still standing (it is). A lot of buildings around it weren’t, though, and lots that are still standing had looting and serious damage, including fires.

Many storefronts are boarded up (most, in some neighborhoods). We drove from Minneapolis to Edina (a tony inner-ring suburb) to find a newspaper this morning because newspapers apparently weren’t delivered to many stores in Minneapolis or St. Paul (or our house). We stopped at a Holiday gas station, and they did have newspapers, but they didn’t have gasoline. The pumps were turned off.

On our return, I noticed another large gas station. It was open, but the windows were boarded and the pumps there were also closed. Many things are closed. Target, Walgreens, CVS, post offices, banks. Not in all locations, but pretty much all of the ones in this area. Shopping malls are closing.

The mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul have imposed curfews between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. I, personally, was relieved to hear that.

Mind you, I’d be out there protesting too, if we weren’t in a pandemic. Not participating in the violent looting, of course, but acting with the 99% or so that are peaceful. I appreciate the peaceful protesters. But I am having a very hard time dealing with the looting and the violence and the property destruction. These are opportunists, I think to myself.

But then this afternoon, after returning from Edina with our treasured newspapers (both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press are required), I read this in the Strib editorial:

A riot is the language of the unheard.”

That stopped my brain and opened up my mind. It’s a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. He detested violence, but he understood it.

The police officer who put his knee on George Floyd’s neck for more than 5 minutes has been charged with murder and manslaughter. For a system that typically moves at a snail’s pace, that is swift and none too soon. We’ll see if it makes a difference.

What does one read in such circumstances? Before all of this started, a few days ago, I had planned to read The Art of the Wasted Day, by Patricia Hampl, as my next nonfiction book. It seems perfect pandemic reading. But it doesn’t quite fit for today. I looked at my shelf, and pulled out several books, mostly comforting, to pick one, but I ended up with two. For comfort, I chose Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, by Kathleen Norris. For edification (and discomfort) I added A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, edited by Sun Yung Shin.

We have much work to do here. There is much to rebuild, much to mend. And much to learn.

Blue Jay Training

I enjoy birds at the best of times, and in these stay-at-home times, they are helping me keep my sanity. I spend a lot of time at the little blue table that looks out on the backyard. I do most of my reading and writing there, where I spend nearly as much time looking outside as I do looking at paper.

I feed the birds and put out fresh water daily, and they reward me by showing up. One bird that doesn’t show up as often as I’d like is the blue jay. Maybe every two or three days I see a jay, usually getting a drink. I’ve tried putting out peanuts to attract blue jays, but the squirrels always get to them first. After a few trays of peanuts to the squirrels with nary a blue jay sighting, I decided on a new approach.

I waited until I heard a blue jay (they are quite vocal), and then I went out to the garage and got the peanuts. But by the time I put the peanuts out, the jay had left. I tried that a few times to no avail.

This morning it occurred to me: Bring the peanuts in the house. If you go outside with peanuts in your hand…. Well, blue jays are smart. I figured, the blue jay will associate me with the peanuts, and I will thus train the blue jay. So I went to the garage and filled a little container with peanuts, enough to last through the weekend (given the jays only show up every few days).

To my utter delight, a blue jay showed up within the hour. I was busy writing, and I hear this blue jay shriek. There it is, right in the little tree, six feet from the window I’m sitting by. I grab a few peanuts and hurry outside. The blue jay flies off. But not too far—just to the fence. I take a step out. The jay flies into the neighbor’s yard. I can still see it. It can see me.

I wait until it’s watching, and then I toss the peanuts, one by one, onto the sidewalk, clack! clack! clack! clack! Then I scurry back into the house. Within 30 seconds, the jay is grabbing a peanut. Like squirrels, blue jays stash food and come back for it later. This jay got all four peanuts stashed before the squirrels had any idea.

I am quite pleased. My plan is working much better and faster than expected!

About an hour later, I’m writing and I hear a blue jay trill. I look out the window and there is the jay, sitting in the little tree. I grab peanuts and bring them out. The jay flies off. I locate it, and toss the peanuts, clack! clack! clack! clack! Back in the house, the first peanut is gone before I get to the window.

On the third visit, the jay just sat in the tree until I noticed. I went out with a few more peanuts. Again, the jay beats the squirrels. So far, the squirrels haven’t gotten a single peanut. Unheard of.

But I decided silence wasn’t the best approach. After all, I spend less than half my time looking out the window.

It came back four more times (one time shrieking repeatedly on the overhead wire, which would have roused me out of even the most compelling book). Seven times I went out with peanuts. The sixth and seventh time, the squirrels showed up, and the jay lost one, and then two.

So it seems I got exactly what I wanted. The blue jay calls when it wants peanuts.

But I wonder: Who trained who here?

Even more, I wonder if it will come back tomorrow. Stay tuned!

The Winter Birds

The first bird I saw this year was a cardinal. A male cardinal. A gorgeous flaming bright red male cardinal.

An auspicious start to the year, don’t you think?

Along with the cardinal on New Year’s Day, I also saw house sparrows, a red-bellied woodpecker (heard before seen, as they often are—so vocal and beautiful!), many crows (heading to roost), and a white-throated sparrow (I am so pleased to have overwintering white-throated sparrows!).

After that strong start, a few days later I saw my first dark-eyed junco of the year—cute round little puffballs. The same day, I saw a downy woodpecker at the suet out back. Score one for the suet! Mostly the squirrels get it (they are very persistent, gnawing through that cage) before the birds get a fair chance.

On January 5, my best backyard sighting of the year: I was puttering about the kitchen when I saw something much larger than usual zoom through the backyard. I grab my binocs and Sibley’s (conveniently right by the window) and the bird lands in my neighbor’s tree. I have a perfect view. A Cooper’s hawk! It swooped down into my neighbor’s yard, most likely plucking up a songbird (my neighbor also puts out bird food and water all winter, so we’re a nice little winter oasis on the block).

The next day, I welcomed my first black-capped chickadee of the year to the yard. I actually went out and got a new feeder this year specifically to attract chickadees, and it works! This morning they were busy at the feeder. They’re so fast they’re hard to count. There were at least three, but I think maybe five. Delightful little birds—the smiles of winter. I would feed birds just for the chickadees alone.

Then in dribs and drabs I added sporadic birds. A blue jay (so common last winter but a rare sight in the back yard this winter), rock pigeons, a white-breasted nuthatch (another favorite winter bird that hasn’t been as common as usual this year), Canada geese (which I usually hear before I see, and then glimpse flying overhead as I’m writing at my table), and finally at the end of January, goldfinches.

In early February I went birding with a friend. Not much—it was a cold day—but a bit. We started at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge (they have birdfeeders set up near the visitor center, and you can watch from the warm inside). When we first got there, a wild turkey was wandering around under the feeders, a bit of a distraction from the scads of chickadees, juncos, blue jays, woodpeckers, and nuthatches.

After that we went to nearby Fort Snelling State Park, where we happened upon half a dozen trumpeter swans! The visit to the park paid for itself in happiness (actually, the MN annual state park sticker of $35 is a really good deal; now we can bird at Fort Snelling, which is practically in our back yard, all summer, or go to any state park at all—67 to choose from). I have a feeling this could be a very happy birding year.

And last but certainly not least, my most recent bird of the year: bald eagle. These beauties are here year round, and I saw this one as we were crossing the Mississippi River.

There are plenty of common winter birds I haven’t seen yet: hairy woodpecker, house finch, purple finch, mallard, and starling, to name a few. Before long, birds will start coming back. It seems ducks appear as soon as there’s open water.

A couple of weeks ago I heard the cardinals’ spring song. Oh how welcome that is!

Can the red-winged blackbird be far behind?

Pronouns, She Said

The October reading theme is pronouns (e.g., he, she, they, we, me, I, us, etc.). This is a great theme, rich in possibilities. Unfortunately, I’ve been otherwise committed to library books and reading groups and haven’t yet made much progress.

I have finished one book, I Still Dream About You, by Fannie Flagg. The book was fine, but Fannie Flagg is in a difficult position with me, because Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café is one of my favorite books (the movie is good too, but not so good as the book), and now every time I read Fannie Flagg, it’s no Fried Green Tomatoes. However, I Still Dream About You did have Flagg’s signature humor, and I would add that she’s in fine form on that count in this book. There were at least four times I started laughing so, I had to stop reading. Not a tee-hee or under your breath heh-heh, but neither a guffaw. Rather, a long chuckle that’s almost a giggle. A chuggle?  Not many books make me laugh out loud, much less invent a new word, so I’d have to say I Still Dream About You was definitely worth my time.

Currently in progress: So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. I’m reading this to discuss with Sheila, and while I’m not far into it, I can tell I’m going to learn a lot (of course what I don’t know about race is immense, so that isn’t difficult). I kind of think it might change the way I think about race (as of p. 33).  I’m also reading Republican Like Me: How I Left the Liberal Bubble and Learned to Love the Right, by Ken Stern (part of my ongoing effort to understand and help bridge the partisan divide).

In poetry, I’m reading You and Yours, by Naomi Shihab Nye. I recently loved her book The Tiny Journalist and am appreciating You and Yours as well.

I only finished Fannie Flagg a couple of days ago and have yet to pick up a new novel. Top contenders (as of this moment; it will be different by the time you read this):

  • Sister of My Heart, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
  • The Love of My Youth, Mary Gordon
  • Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Why She Left Us, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

One of the best things about the reading theme is that it brings to my attention books that have been on my to-read shelf for years. The above books have been patiently waiting for 18 years, 12 years, 6 years, and 15 years, respectively. Before I started the reading theme, I mostly read the books I had most recently purchased. And since I purchased more than I read, a lot of the books over the years have gone unread. (I happily have my problem under control now and purchase far fewer books than I read.)

Back to pronouns. Other books I’m looking at for nonfiction (the elite of the moment):

  • Call Them by Their True Names, Rebecca Solnit
  • Through No Fault of My Own, Coco Irvine
  • Rage Becomes Her, Soraya Chemaly
  • This Much I Can Tell You: Stories of Courage and Hope from Refugees in Minnesota, compiled by Minnesota Council of Churches and Refugee Services
  • I Could Tell You Stories, Patricia Hampl

Of these, I’m most interested in Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Voices. This book isn’t a diatribe but a broad look at how women are allowed to express (or more often, repress) their anger, complete with more than 60 pages of notes and an index. Even as a woman who has experienced this, I think it will be eye opening.

Perhaps not coincidentally, it is also the most recently purchased book of the bunch, having been in the house a mere two months. The Solnit is relatively new, at 1 year. Irvine has been around 4 years, and the Refugees for 8. Hampl is the outlier here: I’ve had this since 2003. I’ve read many of her other books since, but still not this one. Perhaps this month?

Poetry at the top of the pile:

  • The Way She Told Her Story, Diane Jarvenpa
  • They Tell Me You Danced, Irene Willis
  • I Think of Our Lives, Richard Fein
  • The Girl with Bees in Her Hair, Eleanor Rand Wilner
  • Combing the Snakes from His Hair, James Thomas Stevens

Here there is no question, Jarvenpa will be next. She’s local, and I’ve already read several of her books of poetry, usually focused on nature. She’s also a musician (in the name Diane Jarvi, and in fact she sang at our wedding 12 years ago, so I’m a little biased).

And I will admit the only reason I included the last two poetry books is that I love the titles, most especially one above the other. It’s tempting to shelve those two together, even though I’m obsessive about alphabetizing my poetry. And for those of you that are interested in such things, I’ve had these books for 1, 13, 14, 11, and 13 years, respectively.

We’re in one of my favorite times of year, autumn—so beautiful. Yesterday we drove across the Mississippi, and the leaves in the river valley are seriously starting to change. Gorgeous, even on a cloudy day. On a sunny day it will be stunning.

Happy reading to you all—enjoy the fall!

Backyard: Disaster Area or Nature Refuge?

My back yard has never looked worse. The red-twig dogwoods are out of control but are also being invaded by stray elms. The wood and wire compost bin is at a serious slant. The grass is knee high, and there are plants/weeds growing that seem to be new to the yard this year. I was going to hire a landscaper to come in and clean it all up, but that didn’t work out.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. In any given summer, I usually get an occasional juvenile robin or two, and on lucky years, I see juvenile cardinals.

This year has been a bumper crop. A few weeks ago I started seeing a couple of young robins (spotted breasts), usually with one of the adults. But not just occasional this year. Not daily, but nearly so. Always two young ones. And then today, I saw at least four juvenile robins, possibly six (they were flying around and I couldn’t count them all at once). So many youngsters was a first for my backyard.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw what I thought was a female cardinal on the back feeder. Turned out to be a juvenile cardinal (they look like females but have dark beaks rather than the bright orange of the adults). I haven’t seen any since, but even one sighting is welcome, as they don’t happen every year. And there’s plenty of time to see more.

A week ago I got a happy surprise: baby wrens. Fledged, mind you, and able to fly, but small and oh so fast! At first I thought they were mice, the way they scurried on the ground (there were about four of them). But then one flew, and their cover was blown. I’ve had a house wren visit every summer, but this is the first time I’ve had a wren family. How fun!

Today, I was sitting at the blue table and a woodpecker was hanging out on the large downed tree branch I’ve been meaning to take out for about two weeks. But what was different about this woodpecker? And is it a downy or a hairy? On closer look, this is something I have but haven’t seen before. A hairy woodpecker, yes, but different, with red on the front of its head (the forehead) instead of the back. A quick look at the field guide confirmed I’d just seen my first juvenile hairy woodpecker.

The catbird returned (the same one? not sure) a few weeks ago, but then I didn’t see or hear it for quite some time. But about four days ago, it showed up again, and has been back daily since. I am hoping that perhaps I will see some baby catbirds sometime down the road here. (That would be another first!)

This is the first summer I’ve ever noticed young chipmunks—two of them, at least. Like the baby wrens, exceptionally fast. Another fun sighting.

The narrow part of the yard that runs along the side of the house is happily overrun with common milkweed. It’s growing up here and there all over the yard, but it’s quite dense on that side of the house (such that it’s falling over the sidewalk, but I certainly don’t want to pull it, so I try to prop it up). Monarchs are a common sighting in this part of the yard, lots more than last year, and often several at a time.

So, there it is. I look at my yard and flinch. And then I look at my yard in wonder. I’ll let you know if I see any baby catbirds.

The Beautiful Day

Today is a beautiful day. In Minnesota, you feel guilty for staying inside on such a beautiful day (even if you’re sick, you at least try to sit in the sun). And here I am, sitting inside writing, feeling guilty. Mind you, I’ve spent much of the day outside. I’ve been for two bike rides, done some gardening (such as it is here in April), spent some time birding at the river, and also did a little birding in the yard.

I think the first bike ride was the highlight of the day. I didn’t get out on my new bicycle much last year, and I’m bound to make up for it this year. While riding up the river road biking path, I saw a very large bird swooping low—vulture or eagle? I lost the one that swooped, but when I glanced up, I saw what was clearly a turkey vulture soaring, soon joined by the other. I was pleased, as I’ve already seen an eagle this year, and the vulture was new to my year list.

After biking at a brisk pace for a distance not quite far enough to make my legs rubbery, we stopped and rested and chatted for a bit. Before long I found myself distracted by the birds I saw flitting through the trees, and try as I might I couldn’t focus on conversation. So I decided to go to the river later and do a bit of birding (I didn’t have my binoculars with me on the bike ride—why do I ever go anywhere without binoculars in spring?)

After our equally brisk ride back, I rested for a bit, but the beautiful day and the call of the birds lured me out before long. I rode down to the river, picked a spot, sat down, and waited for the birds to reappear after the disturbance of my arrival. Sure enough, after about 20 minutes, birds started coming around. Not a lot of them—it was mid-afternoon, not the best time for birding. Still and yet, I saw my first yellow-rumped warbler of the year, as well as an eastern phoebe. Also a northern flicker, ruby-crowned kinglet, and I heard a red-bellied woodpecker laughing. Slowly floating down the river was a group of northern shovelers.

Earlier today, I was outside at the cactus, uncovering it (again—after I had to recover it mid last week for our winter storm). I could almost feel it stretching towards the sun. I got the bulk of it done, and hope to finish the rest yet tonight (it stays light until after 8 p.m. now!). I also uncovered (again) the rhubarb, which is much further along than it was five days ago when I covered it back up. Rhubarb bread is around the corner (with cinnamon and nuts—yum).

I’ve had a few spring migrants in the backyard. For the last 10 days, I’ve had three fox sparrows, which have totally captivated me. They’ve been here pretty much all day for those 10 days, and I’ve been quite diligent about putting out fresh water and seed of various sorts (and also graham crackers). This is a particularly important time to feed birds, as often their common sources of foods (insects, buds, seeds) haven’t arrived yet or are sparse.

Several days ago, as I was watching the fox sparrows under the dogwoods, spouse came up, pointed out the window and asked, “What’s that?” to a bird that was about three feet away from my nose. A beautiful male purple finch! I’m glad I saw him then, because I haven’t seen him since. I have house finches quite often, but the purple finch is rare in my yard.

Robins are plentiful this spring, but I’m still awaiting the return of the house wren.

Do you think if I unplug the heated birdbath, winter will return?

Looking for a Few Good Men

March is drawing to a close, and I’m starting to anticipate the April reading theme—men. I’m quite excited about the possibilities and have been looking forward to this particular theme for quite some time. This is men in a broad sense, including any book with the word “man” or “men” in the title, also boy, mister, Mr., father, uncle, etc., or a proper male name.

The one book I’m most singularly excited about is Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era, by Michael Kimmel. With the resurgence of white supremacy and white nationalism (which are not just men, but men are the primary face) and the continuing school shootings (and other mass killings) committed primarily by white men, I am quite interested to see what Kimmel has to say. Bear with me while I quote a wee bit on this from Kimmel’s book (it has a really good index):

Take a little thought experiment. Imagine all the rampage school shooters in Littleton, Colorado; Pearl, Mississippi; Paducah, Kentucky; Springfield, Oregon; and Jonesboro, Arkansas; now imagine they were black girls from poor families who lived instead in Chicago, New Haven, Newark, Philadelphia, or Providence. Can you imagine the debate, the headlines, the handwringing? . . . . Yet the obvious fact that virtually all the rampage school shooters were middle-class white boys barely broke a ripple in the torrent of public discussion.

If it’s as interesting (and data-driven) as I expect, you will likely be hearing a bit more from me about Angry White Men. Other nonfiction books I have in the stack:

  • Men We Reaped, Jesamyn Ward
  • Five Men Who Broke My Heart, Susan Shapiro
  • The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, Hooman Majd
  • My Father’s Paradise, Ariel Sabor
  • Priestdaddy, Patricia Lockwood
  • Reading Judas, Elaine Pagels & Karen L. King

I think that’s a nice selection. A little heavy on memoirs, but I do like memoirs, and they’re all pretty different. My fiction list is a bit longer, though I have been much less diligent in my search for fiction. There are just so many of them!

  • The Hanged Man, Francesca Lia Block (YA)
  • Mister Pip, Lloyd Jones
  • Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, Susan Elia MacNeal (mystery)
  • The Bachelors, Muriel Spark
  • The One-in-a-Million Boy, Monica Wood
  • Bruno, Chief of Police, Martin Walker (mystery)
  • The Mostly True Story of Jack, Kelly Barnhill (YA, local author)
  • The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, Phaedra Patrick
  • Jim the Boy, Tony Earley (note the double win here)
  • The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Alice Walker

A nice selection, I think. Though maybe I should look at the SF/fantasy shelf for a possible addition. It seems to be the only thing missing.

Poetry is surprisingly skimpy in the male realm: only seven books after looking through six shelves of poetry! Interestingly, I scanned just two shelves for female titles and came up with nine! What is it about poetry that makes it so female oriented? I checked, and I have about equal numbers of male and female authors, so it’s not that. However, most (though not all) of the female titles are written by women. Poetry on men:

  • The Silence of Men, Richard Jeffrey Newman
  • The Gentle Man, Bart Edelman
  • Narrative of the Brown Boy and the White Man, Ronaldo V. Wilson (note the double win)
  • Now That My Father Lies Down Beside Me, Stanley Plumly
  • Gabriel, Edward Hirsch (one of my favorite poets)
  • Martin & Meditations on the South Valley, Jimmy Santiago Baca
  • The Throne of Labdacus, Gjertrud Schnackenberg

There is much to look forward to in April!

I’ve been enjoying my geographic peregrinations this month. I visited both coasts: The San Francisco Haiku Anthology, New York (Will Eisner), and Another Brooklyn (Jacqueline Woodson). After New York I hopped up to Maine (J. Courtney Sullivan) with a stop in Radio Free Vermont (Bill McKibben). I also spent quite a bit of time in the Heartland (Sarah Smarsh) and the Kitchens of the Great Midwest (J. Ryan Stradal). I have recently left the country for Rain in Portugal (Billy Collins). Spring in Portugal is lovely.

Quick bird note: Spring in Minnesota is pretty good too! Yesterday I saw my first chipping sparrow as well as my first white-throated sparrow of the year. Spring migration has begun!

Spring in Minnesota

March in Minnesota is often mostly winter, but this year the official spring actually feels like spring. Today I went outside in a light jacket to put out birdseed and fresh water. It was so nice out, I found myself picking up winter trash and cleaning up around the compost bin. I moved a stepping stone to the muddy area, and rescued and cleaned a water dish frozen out over winter. Then I started to pull the leaf mulch off the rhubarb until I got to a layer of ice. Time to let the sun do its work. Honestly, there’s just not that much you can do in a Minnesota yard in March.

And then I glanced at the south wall of the house. The cacti are coming back to life! I had worried about this a bit over winter, especially with the polar vortex. I didn’t mulch them as well as usual last fall (because I mauled them the previous spring when I was raking off the mulch) and feared they wouldn’t survive polar vortex and record-breaking February snowfall. But a glance showed me otherwise: Several pads were rising up—I love this miracle of spring.

In a wee bit of awe, I went to check out the full patch (I’m trying to cover the south wall of the house). A bit more mulch than I remembered. I found a twig and used it to gently move leaves off the cactus pads. Most of the pads are still flat on the ground (they seem to almost melt in winter; the first year I was sure they were dead, and was shocked as anything when they came back even bigger and stronger the next spring). And a couple of years after that, they flowered, and continued to spread. When they started to cover the sidewalk, I clipped one off and set it in a bit of a scrape in the rocks. “Back to nature,” I thought. Indeed back to nature: It took root and grew that very summer and started its own vigorous plant the next spring. That’s when I got the idea of a cactus bed on the south wall of the house. It’s coming along nicely.

Also in the land of spring: The cardinals have paired off. No more large groups of them coming and hanging out for much of the day. Ditto for the robins. The juncos are now few and far between. I miss the groups, but the trade-off is worth it in song: Yes, the birds are singing again! They certainly haven’t hit their peak yet, but the occasional robin song and chickadee dee are definite signs of spring, along with the frequent drumming of the downy woodpeckers. There will come a time later in summer when the cardinal calling at 4:30 in the morning does not make me smile, but in March, the birds are the vocal heralds of spring. I cannot help but love them.

I saw my first chipmunk of the season today. An immediate flash of pure affection. So cute. And a few hours later, after I had put out birdseed, I also remembered what little hoovers they are. One chipmunk can clean out a seed tray in record time. They put squirrels to shame. Chipmunks have huge cheek pouches where they store the seed they vacuum up. Then they hie off to their cache, deposit their feast-for-later, and go back to the banquet for more.

Nature. Wily Nature. It makes my heart sing.