Canaries in the Coal Mine

During these horrible times, I haven’t known what to say about what’s going on in our country. Because I hardly recognize this place anymore, though I know darkness has been broiling, hardly under the surface at all, for years. Decades. And because whenever I’ve begun to compose a Facebook post, a blog post, it has felt contrived. As if I needed to say something just to say something, just to match my eloquent friends. And sometimes, even for someone like me who loves words dearly, words aren’t enough. We can’t let them be enough. Words now must be used in tandem with action, with advocacy, with protest. I cannot abide violence in any form, but I fervently believe in peaceful protest. And protest we must, because nothing will change if we don’t change it. If we, the people of this country, don’t recognize the cruelty and injustice we allow, we generate, every single day. We must abolish this racism, this violence within ourselves and our society, and we must abolish any legislation that enables it.

Words aren’t enough, but these words are important:

We must not pretend that the countless people who are routinely targeted by police are isolated. They are the canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere. –Justice Sotomayor

Stay safe and don’t lose hope. We can change this country.

The College of William and Mary, Part 2

Cue the theme music:

I knew it had to be William and Mary from the moment I first saw the campus last summer. When I realized Jamestown is a few miles away, Colonial Williamsburg mere blocks away. When I bought a sweatshirt, having not even applied yet.

When I took the call from Williamsburg, stumbling into an empty office at work to hear I’d been accepted. And then sobbed like a fool as I told my coworkers, called my parents, my sister.

When I walked onto campus last February for the open house and felt at home. With the program, the professors, the students, in the old brick history building.

It’s the place for me, in short, and I’m glad to tell you I’ll be entering their yearlong history MA program in August.

I can’t wait for this magnificent adventure to begin, but in the meantime, I’m soaking up DC, filling out forms, preparing to move, and studying for the required language exam (college German, why have you forsaken me?).

Talk to you soon.

Changes

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It struck me recently, in my usual in-denial-until-the-last-minute way, that going to graduate school means leaving DC.

I took a walk at dusk today and stopped at all my haunts: the soldier on horseback pointing his copper arm at the Capitol, the dry cleaners with the pink awnings I once wrote a story about, my old row house with the Portuguese landlady living downstairs. I saw the woman with the little dog who is a Chekhov character in linen pants and a bob. I stumbled over the same broken cobblestones I always do.

It’s taken me almost three years, but I’ve built a life for myself here. I have a neighborhood, a house, work, friends, colleagues, people I recognize on the sidewalk. I have haunts.

And to leave, having struggled in earnest to get to this point, is sad.  But the other thing I’m realizing lately is that this is what life is. You build it as best you can, and then a corner crumbles away or a new life is waiting that’s better or you can’t bear to stay. We’re always moving on in one way or another.

“Life is change,” says a note from my grandfather written in my middle school graduation card. I found the card a few weeks ago, when I was in Minnesota and attempting to clean out the junk drawer I spent twenty-two years filling. If I believed in fate — sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t — I’d think that I was supposed to find that card again, now that I’m facing a similarly daunting change.

In a little over a month, I’ll be walking at dusk in a new town. And everything will begin again.

PSA: Wyndham Resorts’ “Fly Away Getaway” Flight Vouchers Scam

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Yesterday afternoon I got a phone call from New Hampshire.  I ignored it, as I do most calls from unfamiliar numbers (they’ll leave a voicemail if it’s important, right? Then I can call right back).  This caller left a voicemail.  And after listening to it, I called him right back.

I had entered a drawing at a beer festival last month, hardly knowing what I was entering (it was a beer festival … ).  Apparently, the form I filled out with my name and contact information had been selected, and I had won, from Wyndham Resorts, four airfare vouchers.  One of the best prizes given out, said the man on the phone.

Now, I see you shaking your head.  Hold up on that for a second, because I can assure you, alarm bells were going off in my head, too.

But as the man talked, my prize sounded better and better.  The flight vouchers were good for two years.  We could fly to any of 31 destinations, including Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Europe. We weren’t required to stay at Wyndham Resorts when we traveled. There was no purchase necessary for me to claim my prize.  I simply needed to show up at my local Wyndham, in Alexandria, VA, show them my confirmation email and ID, and I would be given my vouchers.

And then, things spiraled.  When I picked up my vouchers, I would be given a tour.  There was no obligation to purchase anything, but they wanted to show me their gorgeous facilities and inform me about the Wyndham Club, a timeshare opportunity.  This tour would take a few hours.  I began to think of Gilligan, who never came back from his three-hour tour.  But it was just a tour, right?  Sure, they might pitch the timeshare, but I’m not one to be talked into anything I don’t want to do.  I would simply hear them out, say no, collect my prize, and leave.

I called my parents to tell them the news, which, despite what’s coming, was a happy, happy moment.  I’ve thought for a long time that if I were ever able, I would like nothing more than to take them and my sister on a grand family vacation.  We were lucky enough to take trips when I was growing up — including memorable boat trips across the Great Lakes, speaking of Gilligan — but we’d never gone anywhere really epic together, like Hawaii, the Caribbean, or Europe.  To be able to make this happen for all of us was a dream come true.

My parents have never been ones to say outright “you’re wrong” or “you’re being naive” to my sister and I.  They respect our judgment as adults, for which I am grateful.  But I could tell they were cautious, even more so when my mom texted me after we hung up: “You should google the name of the company.”  Then she sent me an article she had found on the “Wyndham Resorts Timeshare Scam.” I googled. And I found testimonial after testimonial warning against attending these timeshare pitches, including this one:

Sure we wanted to get a free gift, but the 45 minutes presentation turned into a 5 hour of guilt tripping, name calling, pushy and unpleasant meeting with a three different representatives.

The phrases “aggressive,” “insulting,” and “won’t let you leave” came up a lot.  People were pressured to disclose their salaries, relationship status, and plans for having children, and many signed up for a timeshare without reading the fine print simply to make the harassment stop.

The more I researched, the more restrictions on my prize I discovered: all travel arrangements had to be made through Wyndham; you had to stay in your destination for a minimum of days; you could choose your hotel, but from a list, meaning you would pay more than you would if you planned the trip yourself.  In fact, the high cost of lodging would likely nearly cancel out the value of the flight vouchers.

So, still a little reluctantly — the allure of a free lunch is strong — I sent an email to Wyndham relinquishing my “prize.”

Because after all, if something sounds too good to be true … well, you know.

 

(Photo source: Pan Am)

What I Learned From Applying to Master’s Programs

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I spent three months last fall/winter applying to graduate school, and — as tends to happen when you dive into something you’ve never done before — I learned by trial and error. And by begging friends for advice/their personal statements/their souls.  And by googling.  Lots and lots of googling.

And I got in!  To every school I applied to, somehow, miraculously.  Probably because I picked a really nice font for my CV, but also possibly because of some of the revelations below.

I hope you find them useful if you’re just starting the application process. And if you’ve been down this road before, I hope you’ll shout out your advice in the comments.

What I Learned From Applying to Master’s Programs:

1. You don’t need to know exactly what you’ll write your thesis on … but you should know your area of interest. To give an example, in my personal statements, I wrote that I was interested in studying the experiences of women living in early America.  That’s pretty broad, right? But knowing even that little bit allowed me to find programs that had at least one faculty member specializing in women/gender/sexuality during that time period. Further, when I attended graduate program open houses I always asked — wringing sweaty palms in my lap —  whether I needed to have an MA thesis idea ready before classes started.  The answer I got from every single professor? Absolutely not. In summation, there’s room in an MA program to find your niche, though you can’t find a program that will suit your interests unless you know what your interests are.

2. When choosing where to apply, it’s mostly about the faculty. As I allude to above, it’s vital that you apply to programs with faculty whose interests overlap with yours. This makes sense when you think about it: you’ll need an advisor who can actually, well, advise you on things like which primary sources and scholarly writings to take a look at and which theses have already been taken (tough love, baby).  Not to mention, when it comes time to defend your thesis, you’ll want to defend it to people familiar with your topic.  The vast majority of graduate programs make it easy for you to learn about their people: websites contain faculty bios, often including lists of publications, areas of interest, and current research. Knowing that a professor is working on a really cool project you’d love to be part of is also something you may be able to mention in your personal statement, admissions interview, etc.

3. But the little things count, too.  When I first started researching schools, I mistakenly thought “atmospheric” qualities such as school size, location, and campus vibe didn’t matter as they had when I was searching for undergraduate schools.  This is graduate school, I proclaimed, I’ll be there to learn how to be a historian, nothing more.  Campus experience is for 18-year-olds. Thank goodness I came to my senses; even as a graduate student, of course I wanted to love where I was. I found that I was drawn to quirky, small schools in quirky, small communities just as I had been at 18 when I attended my beloved liberal arts university on the prairie.  Go figure.

4. Only apply to schools you want to attend. I felt some pressure, initially, to apply to as many schools as possible in order to increase my chances of getting in somewhere. I also considered applying to schools I wasn’t interested in just because they were good schools. I soon realized, however, that I didn’t want to go somewhere just to go somewhere or just because it had a good reputation. I wanted to go to a school and be part of a program I would be excited about and challenged by. I narrowed my list of schools down to five: a few I knew I could get into, a few I was pretty sure I could get into, and a few dream schools that were long shots. That’s not to say that five is the magic application number you should strive for; I have friends who found ten schools they wanted to apply to, and friends who found three.  Just make sure every school you apply to is one you would be eager to attend.

5. Make a spreadsheet to track moving parts. Applications require a lot of paperwork, and what’s even more challenging, they require paperwork from other people. Beyond crafting personal statements, writing samples, and CVs, you’ll also need to send your GRE scores, request transcripts from previous institutions you’ve attended (and if you studied abroad, as I did, doing so is extra complicated), and request letters of recommendation from former professors and employers.  Ensuring that all parts come together to meet the same deadline requires good communication and follow-up on your part.  A spreadsheet will help you stay on top of requesting, reminding, and submitting. Here’s what mine looked like (click to enlarge):spreadsheet

6. When writing your personal statement, tell your story. Several kind friends sent me their personal statements so I could get a sense for how one is written.  I was astounded by how different each person’s approach was! What ended up feeling most natural to me was to focus on telling my story. I wrote about how my undergraduate fascination with Virginia Woolf got me thinking about historic women’s perspectives, how working at the Library of Congress helped me fall in love with public history, how moving to the East Coast sparked my interest in colonial America.  Within these narratives, I found ways to play up my research and work experience.  I concluded by explaining what I hope to accomplish in graduate school (learn more about colonial women’s experiences and prepare for a career in public history), and why _____ school is the right place for me.

7. Don’t be afraid to ask your undergraduate professors/advisors/mentors for help beyond letters of recommendation. This piece of advice relies on you having maintained good relationships with your undergraduate professors/advisors/mentors.  Maintain those relationships, people! Not only for your future benefit, of course, but also because they’re good people, and trust me, you’ll want to keep knowing them after you graduate (professors’ social media posts are the best, for one thing).  After three of my undergraduate professors agreed to write letters of recommendation for me, I asked if they would mind also taking a look at my personal statement and CV. Having gone through graduate school themselves — not to mention having helped many other students through it — their advice was invaluable. And because they taught me and know me well, they could actually say things like, “You should mention this research experience,” or, “Let’s dial it back a little with the Virginia Woolf rants. You’ll scare the selection committee.”

8. Pepper the graduate directors with questions.  That’s what they’re there for.  In fact, they’re being paid extra to be a resource for potential and current graduate students. They will be happy to tell you more about the program, or to refer you to other faculty, staff, and current students who can answer your questions. I recommend you make contact with the graduate director of every program you’re applying to; they’ll always give you insight you can’t find online.  And if they’re unresponsive or unhelpful?  Well, that tells you something about the program, too.

9. Your writing sample doesn’t have to foretell your Master’s thesis.  I agonized about my literary analysis-heavy writing sample.  It was the most impressive research and writing I’d done as an undergraduate, but I was convinced it didn’t contain enough history for a history application.  In the end, the topic of my writing sample hardly mattered; programs mostly wanted to know that I could do primary source research and synthesize that research into a well-argued paper.

10. You’re a better candidate than you think you are. I’ve implied it, but let me say straight out that I was extremely insecure about my prospects as an applicant, for two primary reasons: I was an English major, not a history major (would they believe me when I said I loved history?!), and I didn’t go directly to graduate school from undergrad (would they believe me when I said I was committed to earning a graduate degree?!). I doubted myself so completely that when my phone rang and it was the William and Mary graduate director, I was utterly convinced I was about to be rejected. By phone. But to my great shock, my nontraditional route worked in my favor.  The graduate committee actually appreciated my “real world” experience, and the analytical and writing skills afforded by my English degree.

Now, that’s not to say that going straight from undergrad to graduate school is a bad idea.  In many ways it would have been more convenient to earn an MA at age 23 and to jump right into a career path I was sure about (not to mention, to do all this while still covered by my parents’ insurance … 26 is now looming). But the thing is, as a senior in college I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I needed those three years to figure it out. I’m grateful that the schools I applied to seemed to understand.

My point here: don’t sell yourself short.  If you want a graduate degree, if you’re willing to work for one, if your past experience speaks to this drive, then believe that the schools you apply to will see this.

You can do it!

 

Related:

How to Do Well on the GRE

College of William and Mary visit

A flashback to my first day of college in 2009. Oh, baby Holly. You have so much to learn.

Being Alone Among Others

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Do you ever take yourself out on dates?

It seems like an odd notion, maybe: you’re with yourself 24 hours a day.  It’s not like you have catching up to do.

But self dates are more than your run-of-the-mill alone time.  They’re a declaration: you’re telling yourself that you deserve more than space; you deserve a treat.  They’re about indulging in things your everyday self seldom allows, perhaps because of cost, time, or amount of organization required.  Most vitally, self dates are about being in public: you’re boldly entering a “third place” where “one goes by choice to be alone among others.”

My self dates usually involve a movie or show.  Plus dinner my favorite way: nothing fancy — I don’t want to be bothered by frequent water pours and check-ins — and with a good book propped open in front of me.

I especially love to see movies in theaters by myself.  It’s fun to go with friends to the blockbusters, but often, I prefer to completely immerse myself in the story, unconcerned with who’s next to me, or who’s holding the popcorn, or who I feel the need to whisper witticisms to periodically. I like the feeling of sharing the movie watching experience with strangers as we react together, but simultaneously maintaining my own island.  I like walking out of the theater by myself when the movie is over.  If it was good, I’ll mentally try to stay in that world for as long as possible.  If it was bad, I can criticize it to myself without being disagreed with (because sometimes it’s nice to win every argument).

On my last self date I went to see Spotlight with half of a Jimmy John’s sandwich in my purse.  I hadn’t been able to finish it before showtime, and wasn’t about to let it fester in my purse for two hours, so to the shock of the elderly couple next to me, once the lights went down I took out the mound of meat and cheese.  I tried to be subtle, but it’s hard to be subtle when you smell like a deli and the wax paper wrapping crackles. The sandwich was sublime, but the truly transcendent moment was when I found I didn’t care who saw me eating contraband in a movie theater.  What’s more, I didn’t care even without a buffer of friends around me.

Last night, I took myself out to Chop’t for a salad, eaten with the Eragon in front of me.  I brought Eragon because I like it, pilfered Lord of the Rings content aside.  I didn’t feel the need to bring a more literary tome.

After dinner, I went to see the musical 110 in the Shade at Ford’s Theatre.  The play was disappointing.  Its message was that a woman is worth what a man says she is, and even then only prettiness and marriageability count.  Still, I sat rapt and comfortable, as there was no one next to me to worry over: do they think I have no taste for choosing this play? Do they actually like it? Should I pretend to? Do I have Chop’t breath?

I spent intermission listening in on the conversations near me.  I peered into the Presidential Box, and was distracted for several minutes imagining what Lincoln would think could he see this modern audience.  I perused the gift shop, taking my time over heavy biographies and dish towels with “Mr. Lincoln’s Favorite Pecan Pie Recipe” emblazoned upon them.

When the show was done, I walked slowly into the quiet air, past closed stores and over steaming grates.  I didn’t know where the Metro stop was, exactly, so I followed other folks leaving the theatre, and in this way, found what I was looking for. I hadn’t been concerned; it was a night of strolling, of neglecting Google Maps and texts and the other ways we keep track of one another.

And in this “third place,” this off track, I felt most in synch with myself.

Sidewalk Finds

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Things I’ve Found on the Sidewalks of D.C. and Carried Home

2 bookshelves

12 books

A sauce pan

A nonstick skillet

A roasting pan with removable rack

A toaster

Oven mitts

A clothing rack

A desk (schlepped through Winter Storm Jonas)

[Update 6/2016] a framed Degas print from the Met (found on the way to dinner. Carried for two miles. Didn’t drop, amazingly.)

[Update 7/2016] a wooden shelf, painted white

Need a random household item?  Give me a week.

 

P.S. May the Fourth be with you!

P.P.S. It’s hard to believe that exactly a year ago today, I was just beginning to think about graduate school.  And now I’m really, really going.  More on that later.

Friday

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Friday at last!

Who wants to dive out that door into the ocean with me?

This week has been punctuated with something I’ve never had to deal with before:

Allergies.

Apparently DC is a virtual island of terrible allergens.  Even those among us — like myself — who didn’t have allergies in their native states are often struck down upon moving to the District.

Truthfully, I’ve always considered allergies to be sort of silly.  You sneeze a few times, maybe pump your inhaler, and you’re fine.  But after the awful cold-that-isn’t-a-cold I’ve had this week, I feel you, allergic friends.  I feel you.

Suddenly, every beautiful green thing looks like the enemy.

Someday I hope to look at a blooming tree without cringing, but in the meantime, we have some things to talk about …

Before Wild: outdoor adventure memoirs written by women.

Pre-Revolution Russia, in color.

Trying to explain mansplaining.  Boy, do I know mansplaining.  My favorite (and simultaneously least-favorite, because it was painful) example was on a first date at the National Zoo, when the man I was with walked ahead to every enclosure so he could quickly read the plaque and then lecture me on the animal.  I’ve been reading since I was 5, thank you very much. It got even worse when he decided to tell me all he knows about the Library of Congress.  I work there.  He doesn’t. There wasn’t a second date.

Shakespeare’s obituaryà la The New York Times: “According to the images that survive of him, Mr. Shakespeare was on the balding side and looked surprisingly good with an earring.”

Chernobyl 30 years later, in pictures.  I look at these and wonder whose ledger that is, who last slept in that bed …

F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota.  Remember that time I stalked his Summit Avenue apartments? You think I was lying about that roll into the bushes.  I was not.

You know that heartachy feeling when you’ve finished a beautiful book and can’t think what to do next?  This book finder might help.  It makes recommendations based on what you’ve already read and loved.

Speaking of book heartaches, last night I finished the stunning When Breath Becomes Air.  Pick it up on a day when you can lie in bed and read the entire thing (it’s only 200 pages long), and don’t skip the forward or the epilogue; they’ll make you cry, too.

 

What are you up to this weekend?

I have some highly secretive Mothers Day plotting to do, Claritin to gobble, and a dress to buy.  Because darn it, I want a new dress.

Have a good one!

P.S. For those of you suffering through finals right now: keep your heads upYou will survive.

 

Image source: Rooms By the Sea, Edward Hopper, 1951, Yale University Art Gallery

Note: This post isn’t written on behalf of nor endorsed by the Library of Congress.  Nevertheless, it’s a magnificent place.  Come visit sometime.

How to Dance

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Lean in, my friends; I am about to divulge a great secret.

Great secrets, as you (and Wes Anderson) know, cannot exist without context.  Here’s context:

No one in my immediate family can dance.  We just can’t.  My sister and I took tap dance lessons for a few months when we were little, but quit after I declared that if I had to go heel-toe to “The Monster Mash” one more time, I would lose it.  That is, I said something of the sort in nine-year-old language.

(Here it might be tangentially noted that no one in my immediate family can sing, either.  “Happy Birthday” at my house makes the dogs whine.)

On Saturday night, knowing my family history, and knowing even better my sorry coordination, I was dreading what was to be a night of dancing on H Street.

But to my surprise and delight, it was there, on the crowded dance floor at Little Miss Whiskey’s, that I discovered the secret to being a successful — or at least socially acceptable — dancer:

Imitate the people around you.

If their arms are up, your arms are up.  If their hips move, your hips move.  There is a delicacy to this aping, of course.  Any move that can be described with the words “drop it” should not be copied.  The other key is that you must not get caught.  I find it helps to start dancing five seconds after your friends start dancing.  Then you can imitate their moves from five seconds ago, lessening the chance that they’ll discover what you’re doing.  Moonwalking over to the darkest corner of the room and remaining there — watching, imitating — is another effective evasive manuever.

So there it is.  The dread of Wedding Season Dancing has lessened before your very eyes, I hope. The world has cracked open a little more, I hope.  Surely climbing Everest and finally finishing that novel in your top left desk drawer are next.

Have a great week, everyone.

 

[Photo source: Still from Silver Linings Playbook]

What I’m Reading

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Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Synopsis: Two soldiers on opposite sides of a galactic war fall in love.  Pursued by their enemies, they struggle to keep their young daughter safe.

Review: I’ve only within the last year dipped a toe into graphic novels.  I began with Congressman John Lewis’ March, progressed to Fun Home, gave superhero comic books a shot (unsuccessfully, but I’ll try again someday), and have now taken Lin-Manuel Miranda’s recommendation and started the epic series, Saga. I’m hooked, my friends.  Saga is smart and engrossing, and harks back to the likes of Romeo and Juliet and Star Wars while still feeling fresh.

I’ve read the first three volumes, and am currently biting my nails waiting for the others to become available at the public library. People of DC, give up volume four!

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The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen

Synopsis: Kelsea has grown up in isolation, trained to be queen of the Tearling, and warned that she’ll likely be assassinated before she has the chance.  Now nineteen, she’ll attempt to claim her kingdom from the grasp of her regent uncle and an evil sorceress.

Review (so far): All hail book club for getting me out of my comfort zone! My dabbling in the fantasy genre is mostly limited to Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Harry Potter. Please refrain at this time from pelting your computer screen with small, hard snack foods.

I read the first paragraph of The Queen of the Tearling and considered skipping book club this month.  And then, in a crazed, late-night thirty minutes, I read eighty more pages.  And now I can’t put it down.

I love and loathe being proved wrong so dramatically.

I won’t say that The Queen of the Tearling contains particularly unique or beautiful writing, but what Ms. Johansen does well is putting us inside Kelsea’s head and revealing the secrets of the Tearling to us as they are revealed to her.  In other words, the novel unwinds in such a way that you can’t put it down.  Which is a beautiful thing in its own right.

I do worry about this “evil sorceress” character, as she sounds like a cliché waiting to spring upon us, but we shall see.

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The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, by Rinker Buck

Synopsis:  Rinker Buck and his brother Nick spend a summer in a covered wagon, traveling the Oregon Trail from St. Joseph, Missouri to Baker City, Oregon. The book is about their adventures — alternatively poignant and hilarious — and about the Trail itself, past and present.

Review: A blogger I like recently called this book “the most boring book [she’s] ever read,” citing Rinker’s* ‘history of the mule’ chapter as an example.  This made me want to cry. What, did you think the Oregon Trail was all bells and whistles?  More like mules plodding and wind blowing day after day after day, with the occasional cholera outbreak or trampling to give you something to journal about.

Snark aside, she’s entitled to her opinion. 

But what she disliked about Rinker’s book is what I like most about it: there’s room in this book for explaining the history of the mule and for introspection about the author’s relationship with his father.  There’s room for dangerous windstorms and Muir-esque scenery descriptions.  There’s room to meet the people who allow — often with utter delight and hospitality — a 19th-century-style wagon to park in their front yards for the night.  This book is as wide open as the prairie and as varied, too.  It’s a journey memoir, my very favorite kind of story (see Wild, A Walk in the Woods, Into the Wild).

*Rinker is such a magnificent name that I couldn’t abandon it in favor of the more respectful “Mr. Buck.” I hope you understand.

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Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver

Synopsis: Yes, that Barbara Kingsolver. Did you know she’s a biologist as well as a novelist?  And that she’s a memoirist as well as a biologist as well as a novelist? Ms. Kingsolver and her family, after moving to rural Virginia, decide to spend an entire year eating only what they grow themselves or is produced locally, with a few exceptions (like coffee). Animal, Vegetable, Miracle alternates between Ms. Kingsolver’s narrative, her husband Steven’s reports on science and the food industry, and her daughter Camille’s perspective and recipes.

Review: This book made for a heated book club discussion: Ms. Kingsolver’s writing is often self-deprecating, even more so sarcastic, but it’s a difficult business, telling people how and what they should eat. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral didn’t handle this subject as gracefully as it might have, instead tending toward preachy. Camille, for example, writes of judging peers in her college’s dining hall, even being rebuffed after telling them what they should be eating (you don’t say?), herself sensibly nibbling on greens from the salad bar.

I won’t argue with Ms. Kingsolver’s message: I agree that eating locally and sustainably is the best for the environment and for us, the eaters.  But I also know that privileged are those who are able to do this. Ms. Kingsolver lives in a rural, fertile area.  She has land.  She has the means to purchase heritage seeds and animals.  She and her husband work flexible hours, and have two school-aged children who are often home to help tend to the farm.  We’re not all so lucky, and I would have enjoyed this book more had that fact been addressed.

More book reviews:

What I’m Reading, January 2016

Lesser-known young adult fiction I love: part 1, part 2