lisapeet 2020: Read 'em if you got 'em
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Hi all, and Happy New Year!
I'm lisapeet, real name Lisa Peet—I know, very imaginative—and this is my third year on CR. I live at the very top of New York—the north Bronx—and work at the bottom of Manhattan. Not quite a born-and-bred New Yorker, but I've lived in various spots around the city since the ink on my high school diploma was dry, and I'm in my mid-50s now.
I'm married, have a grown son who's in the middle of his second year in medical school at St. George's in Grenada, and have a motley crüe of pets: one dog, age 14-1/2, and four cats—16, 12, 2 or 3, and almost a year and a half. We lost two dear cats in 2019 and gained one, and I'd like our population to just stay stable for a while (famous last words).
I'm an editor and journalist, covering news about libraries—public, academic, and special (but not K-12). It's as cool a job as it sounds, also super immersive and it often owns my life (the hour-plus commute each way doesn't help when it comes to a major lack of free time, but it's good for reading). I'm also a site proprietor at Bloom, a website that focuses on writers (and others) who first published after age 40, or who radically changed genres. I'm always interested in hearing about authors who fit that bill, so if you've read anyone whom you think I should know about, please drop me a line. I also write book reviews here and there around the web and a fair amount for Library Journal, and would like to get back into longer-form reviewing again at some point, but again—that time thing.
I read widely and randomly—literary fiction (including short fiction and work in translation), nonfiction of most kinds (esp. science, history, nature, culture), good historical fiction, some poetry, memoir and biography, essays, literary criticism, graphic novels and collections. I don't read much in the way of genre but do like to go outside my zone and enjoy well-written mysteries, thrillers, etc. YA rarely, but not ruled out.
Not sure I really have enough time for hobbies these days, but I do like to bake, write physical letters, sketch, and do fun NY stuff when I remember that that's why I'm here. I drive an old car, my politics are left of center, and I like cheese a lot. My 2019 thread is here.
I have a few low-key reading goals for 2020, outlined here. I don't read to hit numbers, which strikes me as similar to making notches on a bedpost—for me it ain't the meat, it's the motion. I read all the time, but I'm not a fast reader, and I only read stuff that interests/engages me. Life's too short to finish a crappy book.
The image above is Betye Saar's Black Girl’s Window, 1969, which I just saw in an exhibit of her work centered on that particular piece at the Museum of Modern Art. She's a wonderful artist—political, exuberant, intelligent—and I recommend any show with her in it that you can catch (the one at MoMA is only up until this Saturday, but if you're in the NYC area, go!)
DAMN! I wish I was in NYC so I could go to MoMA right now.
Eager to follow along and excited about checking out Bloom
Happy New Year! And my daughter just got a cat, so she’s in 7th heaven.
Thank you, everyone, and Happy New Year back! I'll be following your reading as well.
>8 tonikat: Trying to suss out which LP you mean... all I can think of is Lisa Peet, which would be too egotistical even for me. Or long-playing 33-1/3 records? Of which I have many many, so yes.
>9 arubabookwoman: Oh good, glad she found a cat! Let me know if she's ever in the market for a second—I'll probably have another stray by then.
>11 tonikat: Oh, she's interesting. And what a hooky song—thanks for that link. But no, I just had the expression in my head. So many cultural references floating around in my brain after more than half a century of consumption... I don't know where half of it originates. But I looked it up, and the phrase dates back to WWII, when cigarettes were rationed and officers would tell soldiers to "Smoke 'em if you got 'em" when there was a break or—more in line with how I think of the meaning—when there was some kind of unavoidable delay or snafu. It's been almost 20 years since I smoked, so books will have to do the trick.
Nice to see a Betye Saar picture! I love her art so much.
Hope it's a good reading year!
>14 dchaikin: Now that guy I know!
Happy New Year, everyone, and thanks for swinging by. I'm following you all as well—haven't had the time to stop by and say a formal hello on everyone's thread but you'll see me around.
Happy New Year, Lisa! I'm a MoMA member, and I'll probably pay it a visit when I visit my parents next month, weather permitting.
Not getting much reading done this week because... sigh. Copied from Facebook:
Our dear friend and companion Dorrie left us on Wednesday, after more than 14-1/2 happy years on the planet, most of them with us. Her departure from this plane was calm and peaceful, at home in her bed, with us and her little cat Iris at her side.
Dorrie had a beatific smile, a contagiously joyful attitude, and an enduring love for hikes, ear rubs, and cat food. She was gentle with small children and cats, loyal to her human and dog friends, and the best buddy we could ever hope for. Walks with her, even in the cold and the dark, were always a pleasure—when she would turn her sweet, serious face up to us in acknowledgment of her name, something interesting, or just a thought she had, it was a beautiful thing.
We found her on Petfinder in 2005, and agreed to adopt her without ever meeting her, on the strength of her lovely face alone. We were not disappointed. She was endlessly loving and made friends wherever she went, gave copious kisses, and she had the softest ears. Dorrie, you are so missed. We love you.
My mom died yesterday morning (also not unexpected), and Jeff's dad died last Thursday. This hasn't exactly been an auspicious start to the new year.
I miss Dorrie horribly. More than I can say.
I'm so sorry. That's a lot of loss in a short span of time. Dorrie had a wonderful life, full of love and security with her pack.
Wow. That is a lot to deal with in a short period of time. My thoughts and prayers go out to you, Lisa.
>20 lisapeet: Oh, Lisa. That's a devastating amount of loss. I had a year like that once, and it's terrible. Take comfort in the friends at home. Lie in bed and let them warm you. Do routine things and read charming and cheering books. How about some Discworld? or maybe Wodehouse?
I'm so sorry for your losses, Lisa. A single loss is overwhelming enough, but coming in a pack like that... I hope you can find some books that distract even if comfort is thin on the ground.
Thank you all. Folks have been incredibly kind—flowers, soup, cheese, chocolate, biscotti, donations in both my mom's and Dorrie's name (alz.org and Petfinder, respectively), calls, cards, texts. My son and his girlfriend are here now, and though he’s back to school in Grenada on Tuesday for a few more months, it's really nice to have them here now.
I have a lot of catch-up work to do this weekend—I'm working on two print features that have hard deadlines and a piece for Bloom that goes up Tuesday. But I'm at least 2/3 through the most deadly print feature—a report on our Budgets & Funding survey—that I hacked away the hardest part of in tiny pieces over the last two days. The other two pieces should be easier, and hopefully a good distraction. It'll be weird to have my Sundays back, which I usually spent visiting my mom—and they were always nice times, so I'll miss those trips in equal measure to being glad to have a full weekend again for the first time in three years.
Dorrie leaves a huge hole in our household and lives in general. Just walking into the kitchen and not seeing her there still pierces. It'll get better over time, but wow, it's hard.
Haven't been getting a ton of reading done, just little bits, but I'm hoping once I get all this writing done I can settle down with a bunch of new (and old) books.
Lisa, sorry for so much loss in a short time. I'm glad your friends & family are supportive. Hugs & prayers for comfort & peace.
Thanks, everyone. Taking deep breaths here, day at a time, etc. I filed my LJ feature yesterday evening, and when I finally opened the author's answers to my questions for the Bloom Q&A I need to put together today, they were just fantastic—so that will be a light lift, and actually a pleasure.
Lest anyone think I'm only thinking of my lovely dog, here's a photo of my lovely mom:
Godspeed Rhoda Cohen, 1928-2020. Wonderful mom, lover of risqué jokes, beautiful lady.
>32 lisapeet: What character in that face! She looks comforting. What did you like best about her?
>32 lisapeet: That is a lovely photo of your mother, Lisa. I've started to take photos of my mother, who is experiencing progressive dementia, so that I can remember her while she is still "there".
>34 kidzdoc: Great idea Darryl! When my mom died we realized she had often been the family photographer, and had to work to find a photo to put on her life board, as well as at my niece's wedding a few years later.
>33 sallypursell: My mom was intensely loving, never withholding, and always supportive. There were times when I felt smothered or over-parented (mostly in my teens and 20s, of course), but as I get older I realize that there's nothing to prepare you for life like enough love. She encouraged my inquisitiveness, my love of reading, and my love of art, and she told me I could do anything I wanted, and that all helped make me a confident, secure adult capable of good relationships and with a lot of love to give. She always went her own way, and encouraged me to do the same. I'm only realizing now what great ballast she provided me with.
>34 kidzdoc: I visited her in the nursing home almost every week for three years and took a photo pretty much every time, so I have a lovely record of her and how she changed over the years. I'm so glad I did.
>36 lisapeet: Great photo of your mom. I am glad you felt her as a positive force in your life. Hard when so much loss comes all at once. Work can be a blessing! Best in the hard days ahead.
I'm so sorry to hear of your losses. Beautiful photos of Dorrie and your mother. My thoughts are with you.
Thanks, everyone. Talk about a lesson in meeting grief head-on, huh? The wheel turns.
Late to your thread (and others these past few days), so I'm only just catching up on your awfully sad news now, Lisa. I'm really sorry you've had so much heartache landing all at once.
I loved your tributes to both your mum and your dog. Keep digging deep into that resilience.
Finally finished a book this year: Susan Stinson's Spider in a Tree, an oddball little gem of a book about puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards in 18th-century Massachusetts, and his battles over orthodoxy in the church. I like books about faith, and people's struggles and glories with it, and this a great example of the genre. Stinson clearly drew a lot from Edwards's own writings and tight research, which sometimes makes itself obvious, but more often helps set the stage for a believable series of struggles on the part of her characters: Edwards and his large family, including his beloved and devout wife Sarah, their relatives and fellow Northampton townspeople, and a tight-knit circle of slaves.
I've heard of fire-and-brimstone preaching and the puritans, of course, but this brought the concept to life in a vivid and human way. Slow paced but lovely. Pair this one with a book I have sitting on my desk at work, The World Is Great, and I Am Small: A Bug's Prayer for Mindfulness.
Found via a Lithub feature, 26 Books From the Last Decade that More People Should Read, recommended by Elizabeth McCracken.
Edwards is a curiosity. The book sounds terrific. And what a wonderful list in that link (Although The Bone Clocks does not belong). It might be fun to prompt CR for our own list like that.
>43 lisapeet: That is a wonderful list. I've added a few books to my wishlist.
I'm even later in reading people's threads. I am so sorry you've had such a rough January, losing family members. It's good to hear that your son's presence has been a help and that you can distract yourself with work and some reading. Hoping the rest of your year is peaceful.
I’m so sorry for your losses. Your mom sounds like she was a wonderful parent—how fortunate you were! And I’m sorry for the hole the loss of Dorrie is leaving in your life right now.
Thank you, everyone. It's been a sad few weeks. Getting back to work has been good, both for the return to normalcy and the distraction. Such a cliché, but it's really nice to hear from people, either by email, text, phone, social media, physical letters and cards, and all the little food gifts. We have such good friends (and I have good coworkers), and feeling their presence at our backs has helped a lot. You all are part of that, so thanks.
Lara Williams's Supper Club was a quick read, which is probably a good thing. There was some really nice writing here, and particularly about being an outsider. I liked the theme of women's friendships, younger women empowering themselves through their own rituals, and all the food writing. But the constant swerve back to misery porn kept me from liking this as much as I would have wished. I think if I'd been a couple of decades younger I'd have enjoyed it more, but the through-line of the ways that the narrator, Roberta, found to squash and deny herself were oppressive. To pull out one of the book's main themes: like seasoning a dish, trauma and anxiety in a novel can be really effective when used judiciously. I found the flavor here overpowering.
Now on to Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, recommended by a good friend out of a conversation about the way novelists write about faith (cf above Spider in a Tree) and the act itself of keeping house, which I was thinking about a lot for an interview I just did for Bloom with the novelist Jen Beagin. She was a great subject—thank goodness, because last week I couldn't have dealt with a reticent Q&A or any kind of essayistic heavy lifting. Instead, she cheered me up with her forthcoming, and often very funny answers. (I hit all my writing deadlines this horrible month... work really is a balm for me.)
Anyway, this is much more up my alley and also just what I need to read right now—gorgeous, immersive prose. I'm finding myself rereading sentences just to savor them.
I like Robinson, but haven’t read Housekeeping. I view her a writer trying to carefully resolve an impossible conflict, and working within that mindset. She’ll certainly have a better sense of how to flavor her work.
Hi Lisa, I just found your thread. I'm sorry for all your losses. My mom died a couple of years back and it took a while to get used to not being able to call her up. Also, my wife and I lost our dog, Yossarian, at the end of October, so I know exactly how hard that loss was for you, as well. Glad you've finally been able to get back into the reading routine. Cheers from northern California.
I'm quite behind on people's threads so this feels very late, but I'm so sorry for your multiple losses and thank you for sharing some of their stories.
Thank you, friends, for all the nice words. They really do help, more than I'd anticipated.
I found Housekeeping beautiful, and perfect for me this dark month. So much death in my life right now, I couldn't help be moved by this tale of watery transubstantiation, need, loss, and love where love finds itself. A library book, but I think something I'll end up buying just to dip in and out when the spirit moves me.
I'm a bit surprised I didn't encounter this book when it first came out 40 years ago, and glad I didn't. I wouldn't have been a good reader for it, either literarily or experientially. It's a good mid/late life book, I think, when your edges have been worn off a bit. Definitely will be a favorite for the year.
Glad you enjoyed and encouraged by your review. A book I would really like to read.
Read, but didn't love, A Short Philosophy of Birds. It had some interesting facts about birds, but the philosophy side was overly simplistic, along the lines of nature = good / man = bad (or out of touch, or overthinking things... you get the idea). I wonder if it didn't lose a little in translation, as well, because the tone was less philosophical than vaguely scolding. Beautiful illustrations, though, and true to its title it was short.
Now, because I want distracting (and because my library hold came in), it's time for a thriller: Leigh Bardugo's Ninth House.
I finished Leigh Bardugo's thriller Ninth House, and was completely engrossed in it while it lasted, though it sagged a bit under its own weight in the last quarter or so. There’s a lot of violence and other dark stuff that other reviewers have rightly pointed out are triggering, none of which bothered me—I'm pretty callous unless animals are involved—and I enjoyed all the wacky magick.
What did annoy me, though, was that this turns out to be the first of a series, and the book ended on a complete cliffhanger of a note. I’m not a huge fan of series in general (Dorothy Dunnett notwithstanding) and would have appreciated an actual resolution to the story, with the next book optional. But this is a bit outside my usual genre so maybe I should be have expected it, or at least be a better sport about it. I did appreciate all Bardugo’s good research—the Yale/New Haven setting was a lot of fun. Some of it was just plain over the top, but mostly it was a good ride. And as browned off as I am about the “to be continued” aspect, I’d pick up the next one. Sucker.
About to start Patrick Radden Keefe's Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland on my commute home. Feeling no little trepidation that the library hold will expire before I've finished—it's a longish book and I have nine days—but we'll see. I've been dying to read this for a while now, especially since I heard him talking about his reporting and writing process on the Longform podcast.
>61 lisapeet: Look forward to your take on Say Nothing. Dancing around that title myself.
I finished Say Nothing with about 36 hours to go on my hold—not a stretch after all, since it was riveting. Really terrific narrative nonfiction—well written, thoroughly researched but not dry because the pacing and focus are so nicely calibrated. The Troubles were ongoing for much of my adult life, but I only really had a sketchy picture of who the players were and what was going on. This is a close-up look at the power dynamics at both a personal and macro level that not only explains a lot but makes it all very vivid and immediate. Fine stuff, and highly recommend to anyone interested in well-done long form journalism.
Now reading Ibram X. Kendi's How to Be an Antiracist, because the times seem to call for some doubling down on being better.
>64 lisapeet: Thanks for the rev on Say Nothing.
Just having another chat with some other group in how we try to deal with our own impotent rage and look for constructive ways to lessen the slings and arrows of of our current Outrageous Fortune.
I took a short break from How to Be an Antiracist to read Laura Van den Berg's newest (upcoming) short story collection, I Hold a Wolf By the Ears for an LJ review that I'd like to actually file on time for once. It was a terrific collection that mines the overlap between loss, grief, and horror... which, when you think about it, is a pretty broad swath. The stories are deceptively dense, packed with strata of their narrators' lives, and they both demand and reward careful reading. Some common themes emerge—Van den Berg's female narrators are often less functional younger sisters or daughters (there's a lot of mileage to be plumbed from that one—plus I still remember the feeling well—so I have no issue with her bringing the trope out a few times), the often unsettling or destabilizing effects of travel, natural disasters, death, and that thin membrane between the supernatural and the just weird. Great stories, very well written.
I really hate the cover, though.
Now back to the Kendi, which is surprisingly immersive for a polemic (not to give it short shrift by calling it that, either).
Lisa, I’ve only just found your thread, somehow. I’m so sorry for your losses; what a difficult start to the year, all at once. The way you write about both your mom and Dorrie is beautiful, and brought tears to my eyes. Sending you my very best wishes.
>67 rachbxl: Thanks, Rachel. It's been a rough few weeks, easing up a little but still sad. I loved them both so.
On a completely different note, I finished How to Be an Antiracist, which is a smart and definitely necessary book, and though I knew a lot of the basic premises around the antiracism and areas of intersectionality Kendi examines, I found it really useful to have those thoughts laid out point by point in organized fashion. He scaffolds each area with his own autobiography, outlining how he has grappled with his own racism, and is very, very careful with his words so there isn't any confusion as to what he's saying. While it slows down the progression some, I think that's ultimately for the better. There's a certain cadence to his writing that recalls a preacher's intonation, which—again—slows it down, but also serves its purpose. For me, it's a good set of definitions to have under my belt for the purposes of checking myself and weighing my words, as well as being an effective template to look at these times. Kendi's a good historian, which adds both substance and value to the book, and I'm glad I read it.
I'm also very glad that I work in a place where doing this work is important, and people care about it and really center it. I know that's not the norm at all, and I feel fortunate. Also that the work I do is at least somewhat on that continuum—libraries may be a small corner of the big world, but I'm able to write as an ally, and that's a really good thought.
Now on to Curious Toys, which I put a hold on because someone somewhere recommended it.
>71 lisapeet: Excellent review, thanks. I will add this to my reading list.
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