Tag Archives: travel

My Summer So Far, In Reading

My summer has been crazy. I have been on the go so much I’ve hardly had time to think. I actually did the math, and in a span of exactly 30 days, I was in 9 distinct airports and took off and landed no less than 23 times. The novelization of my life might refer to this epic thirty-day-period as “Two Weddings and a Baby Shower”, with an afterword entitled “Four Time Zones Apart: Vacation and Work Travel With 24 Hours Between”.

But on the bright side, with all that airport and airplane time, I read six books!

Before the Air Travel Extravaganza, I was working on a post to let you all know ahead of time the reasons for my absence, but the post was scrapped, mostly because I was afraid that my real and actual joy at being able to do all of these things and go all of these places — for and with people I love — would be overshadowed by my melodramatic dread of the attendant exhaustion (and the huge life changes that each trip represented to me).

And I’m glad I scrapped it. “Kill your darlings” is what people who know say about writing, and in this case my darlings were allusions to Robert Frost poems. Thankfulness is a much better use of my time (when compared to melodramatic dread, not allusions to Robert Frost — poetry is never a waste of time).

Let’s talk instead about those six books: here’s what I read, in no particular order, and typically random!

nfrol_coverNo Fond Return of Love, by Barbara Pym. How I would have loved to have actually known Barbara Pym. I like to think that she and I would have been great friends, if only because I see something of myself in each one of her heroines, who one imagines must each have something of her in them, too. While this particular book of hers was not (in my opinion) quite at the same level as Excellent Women or Jane and Prudence, it still offered such little gems of perfect expression as “the rather perfunctory tone in which social invitations not meant to be accepted are sometimes issued, and to which the only suitable reply is a murmur.” For me, reading one of her books is like reading a long, storied letter from a friend with whom I entirely sympathize.

therook_coverThe Rook, by Daniel O’Malley. A woman wakes up in the rain in a London park, surrounded by dead people, with no recollection of who she is. She soon discovers that she is a high-ranking member of a secret organization in the British government tasked with keeping supernatural forces in check, and that she has extra-special supernatural powers of her own. If you’re not already intrigued, then my raving about wry writing (which reminded me of watching recent Doctor Who) probably won’t convince you to read this super-fun book (first in a planned series). A few hallmarks of a first novel were outweighed by the novel’s being refreshingly without so many of the characteristics that seem to plague so much of recent science fiction/fantasy: there was no annoying romantic triangle (or romance of any kind), and there WAS a confident heroine getting stuff done — on her own, to boot. MORE LIKE THIS PLEASE.

deathofbees_coverThe Death of Bees, by Lisa O’Donnell. The story of two sisters, Marnie and Nelly, opens with Marnie’s confession: “Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved.” Set in urban Glasgow, it’s the story of Marnie and Nelly just trying to get by keeping the secret of their parents’ deaths until Marnie’s next birthday, when she’ll be legally old enough to take care of Nelly herself. Keeping that secret proves harder and harder as neighbors, authorities, and their parents’ drug dealers start asking questions. This is not The Boxcar Children: there is a hefty bit of Glaswegian grit in this story. While it might not be quite urban fiction, it certainly had similar themes and content. Somehow it still managed sweetness, though — if you can get past the grit and you enjoy coming-of-age stories, this book may be for you.

tntysm_coverThe Next Time You See Me, by Holly Goddard Jones. “Lives of quiet desperation” is what springs to mind when I think of this book. The story is told from multiple points of view: a young girl, a loner, finds a dead body in the woods and keeps it a secret; a schoolteacher’s wild older sister has gone missing; an older man works in a local factory; each of their lives and the lives of others in their small Kentucky town will converge as the search for the missing sister escalates. Really more of a slow-burn character study than a true mystery or thriller, each of the characters was finely drawn and even sympathetic — but it doesn’t shy away from or understate their sadness and hopelessness, and while I’m not sorry I read it, I would probably never read it again.

habits_coverHabits of the House, by Fay Weldon. Fay Weldon was the author of the original “Upstairs Downstairs” — and because I love both period dramas and comedies of manners, I confess I had high hopes for this particular book. But I found it disappointing, and I’m having a hard time pinpointing why. At the end of 1899, the Earl of Dilberne and his family stand on the brink of total financial ruin. Their only hope is to secure a lucrative marriage for their son, who is only interested in keeping his mistress happy and his automobile in working order. Maybe I found it dissatisfying because almost every character was portrayed as having few (if any) redeeming virtues; and although I actually rather liked the American heiress the Dilberne family targeted, I could only picture a future of disappointment for her married to the future Earl of Dilberne. It is entirely possible, however, that I was just tired.

never_coverNever Have I Ever: my life (so far) without a date, by Katie Heaney. I decided to read this book after discovering the author’s contributions to The Hairpin, a series called Reading Between The Texts, in which Katie and her friends analyze text message conversations they’ve had with boys (it is seriously one of the funniest things on the Internets and if you’ve been single at all in this century you can probably relate to these conversations). I believe I can say unequivocally that if you enjoy those analyses, you’ll enjoy Ms. Heaney’s book. There were so many times reading the book I laughed out loud and felt like Ms. Heaney and I should be really good friends because we have so much in common, except she’s funnier.

So my list began and ended with an author I should like to call a friend. What about you? Has your summer been as out-of-control crazy as mine? What have you been reading?

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The Day the Lord Has Made

the view from my seat

Last week, flying home from visiting my sister in Dallas, I had an entirely new, unpleasant flying experience: tornadoes. Tornadoes are rare where I’m from, and so while I can tell you what to do in the event of an earthquake (we had drills when I was in elementary school — and then again when I started working in a skyscraper in downtown Seattle), the first things that come to mind for me with tornadoes are Joplin, Missouri, and The Wizard of Oz.

The day I left, the skies were darkening and rain was definitely on the way as I arrived at the airport to fly home. My sister had warned me that in Dallas the airlines frequently will do their best to get you off the ground ahead of the storm – boarding as quickly as possible and so forth. I am one hundred percent in favor of this plan, so I boarded promptly and was sitting, seatbelt fastened, looking out the window, watching the rain, when I saw lightning.

I believe it is against regulation to take off or land when there is lightning in the area, but my sister had told me that these storms come up quickly and breeze right through, usually, not lingering long in any location. I sat in my window seat in the second-to-last row of the plane, hopefully gazing out the window and waiting for the storm to pass.

Pretty soon after we were all boarded, stowed, and seat-belted, the captain announced that we were going to be sitting for a few minutes and he would have more information for us shortly. A few minutes later, he announced that we would be deplaning due to tornado sightings in the area. “Take with you everything you’ll need,” he said; “basically, just take everything with you.”

Deplaning started with the unaccompanied minors. Last week seemed to be spring break for many school districts across the United States, so there were quite a few unaccompanied minors on the plane. Then the general deplaning process began.

Pretty soon the hail started. A man in my row on the other side of the plane had his computer out and was watching the news. “Tornado just picked up a semi trailer,” he said. At this point, I started to get scared. Unfortunately I’m one of those people who puts on a brave face if I am with people I know (unless the situation involves creatures that creep or dart) – for instance, if my sister had been with me, I would have stayed as calm as possible for her sake. But something in my reaction system changes when I am by myself, and all I could think was, “If it picked up a semi trailer it could probably snap this plane in half.”

Deplaning seemed to be taking an unreasonably long length of time; and I don’t think it was just my fear making me more impatient than usual, because soon the flight crew announced, “Please hurry, deplane as quickly as possible; there is a tornado at the airport.” At this point I started to shake a little.

A minute or two later the hail was literally the size of golf balls, and it sounded like golf balls hitting the airplane. By the time there were only three rows ahead of me left to deplane the plane had started shaking from the wind, and there was an enormous clap of thunder. And then at last we were moving, off the plane, into the terminal. Airport police were going up and down the terminal, moving people back from the windows. I had no idea where to go – I know the bathroom entrances at DFW are tornado shelters, as at most other airports, but they had told us to stick close by our gate in the event the storm passed quickly so that we would be able to hear announcements. (If ever there was an airport in need of a PA system upgrade, it would be DFW. I can’t hear a darned thing from their gate agents, and I’ve been in and out of that airport quite a few times now.)

So I wandered for a bit – the sky was as dark as I’ve ever seen a sky in the daytime. Most people didn’t seem to be terribly worried – but I, having no experience with tornadoes, had no gauge. And then, in the midst of my wandering, I passed a man who was sitting on the floor singing “This is the day that the Lord has made”. I didn’t recognize the song, but I recognized those words. They’re from one of the Psalms:

This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

I wish I had stopped right there – to rejoice and be glad in my own quiet way. Instead I kept wandering. I made a teary phone call to my dad, feeling that at least one of my parental units ought to know what was going on. My dad reminded me that we knew the One who is in control. Eventually I situated myself in between two half-walls, and a woman came to stand next to me. She had been visiting her sister also, and I asked her if she was used to tornadoes. She told me, “You know, we just have to trust the Lord.”

I was reminded three times to turn to the Lord, the only real source of comfort I know, in this moment of distress. To my shame, it took all three reminders before I did so.

See the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. For He commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind…Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and He bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm.

O give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good: for His mercy endureth for ever.

Thoughts About Flying

This week I’m in Los Angeles for work, and flew down Sunday evening through Salt Lake.

Flying out of Salt Lake, the sun was just setting, brilliant pink, over the ridges of the mountains that ring the airport. You know how some sunsets are a range of colors tumbling one after another? This one was all pink, chased down by deepening shades of blue. We flew through several layers of clouds, and I watched and marveled at the brilliance of that pink pushing through the variable gray-blue gloom of the clouds. It was so beautiful, and I lack the words to do it justice.

Sadly, electronic devices were not yet permitted, so you’re stuck with my sad description.

I find very little about flying these days enjoyable, but one thing I still enjoy is landing at night: how as the plane descends you approach this broad, flat expanse of lights. Some of the lights are moving, some stationary; and as you gradually get closer the lights and the flat expanse shift, and you can start to see structure and dimension, almost like portions of the earth are rising up to greet you. I like to think how those still and moving lights relate to people; maybe someone is walking underneath that streetlight; perhaps the garbage is being emptied in that office window; or how the light spilling out of a living room window might be waiting to welcome someone home.