Books in August: 

With the exception of My Life in Middlemarch, this was harshly violent, often disturbing month. Taken in context with the real world, I’ve been in a strange place. 

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: Kelsey attended a webinar that identified this book as the next big YA title, which put it on my radar. The inside flap instructs readers to lie about the ending. I won’t give anything away, except to say that if you go into it (like me) knowing absolutely nothing about the plot and the premise, you will not be disappointed. Given how GOOD it is, though, you’re likely to start hearing about it. Read it before anything is spoiled for you. 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt: A Silvia-Conor book club title. Throughout the book, I constantly felt cheated by having Richard the Wet Blanket be our narrator. As the least interesting member of the murderous group (not a spoiler; it’s on the book jacket), I mostly wanted to smack him and say, “Hey! Dude! Can you PLEASE go follow Henry? Don’t let Camilla off the hook! GET SOME ANSWERS. If you’re going to visit Francis, then how about you ASK HIM WHAT HAPPENED.” Groan. Very enjoyable, though, and left me feeling creeped out and unsettled for days after (in the best way). 

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead: Middlemarch is THE novel of my heart and mind. In the big pile of books that mean something to me, it sits high and heavy. It is the novel about which I’ve written well over a hundred pages, and could write hundreds more. I never tire of its themes, complexity, or ambiguity. I never tire of Dorothea Brooke. The memoir element in My Life in Middlemarch was interesting without being disruptive; the connections made between Middlemarch and Eliot’s writing life / family life were well-researched and enriching. Mead’s book was a present from Elena, and I’m grateful that it came from her. Good books are all the more wonderful coming from someone you love. 

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra: Holy cow. This book is a straight up WALLOP to your heart. Another Silvia-Conor book club title, and the stand out from this month. I am embarrassed to admit how ignorant I was about the First and Second Chechen Wars, but Marra gently builds in historical context. Though A Constellation of Vital Phenomena describes torture and the horrors of war in unflinching detail, it is filled with scenes of surprising beauty, hope, and joy. About fifty pages in, I asked Conor, “is this one of those books that creates real people in lyrical prose so that it will hurt more when terrible things happen to them?” He declined to comment. 

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn: Having read and enjoyed Gone Girl and Sharp ObjectsI went for completion here. It feels very much like Flynn’s middle book (just like Sharp Objects felt like her first book). Flynn’s Jenga tower narrative structure continues to be exciting, and I am all about her shifty lady narrators. 

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith: Whether on the train, bus, couch, or bed, I was always falling asleep while reading The Cuckoo’s Calling. It took me a while to recover from Pacific Standard Time, but there is also an awful lot of quietly described quiet conversation going on in this book. After all, most of the first few hundred pages was, “there was no murder” and “maybe it was murder,” “unless it wasn’t,” “fair point, let’s have a beer.” Still, Cormoran and Robin are a great team, the mystery was solid, and I’m a sucker for a procedural. The Silkworm, I’ll be seeing you, soon. 

I see you there, Watson. I know what you are thinking. That cake is for Conor’s birthday, and you’re not getting a single bite until the party. 


[As I wander off, Conor catches Watson exactly one second before he attempts to shove the whole cake into his mouth. Rascal.] 

Garden update: 

  • My mind and heart may be in denial about the end of the summer, but there is no arguing with ripe sunflower seeds. When the birds are sneaking off with them, then it is time to harvest. They are laying out to dry. After that, I’ll roast half and save the rest for next year. 
  • I finally gave up on the corn. Tiny ears had formed, but they were going nowhere. I’ve replanted all the free containers with kale and carrots for the Fall. 
  • A random squash plant showed up while I was on vacation. There is no way any squash will ripen before winter, but I don’t have the heart to pull the plant. I’ll leave it there to do as it likes. 
  • My Magia Rosa tomato plants is suffering from an aphid attack. I briefly considered battle tactics, but then decided to leave it alone. It’s nearly September, and what happens, happens. 
  • Next year: pepper farm all the way, every day. 

book meme :D

Tagged by rollingsreliable, internet friends forever.

Rules: In a text post, list ten books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take but a few minutes, and don’t think too hard — they don’t have to be the “right” or “great” works, just the ones that have touched you. Tag [ten] friends, including me, so I’ll see your list. Make sure you let your friends know you’ve tagged them.

  1. Middlemarch, George Eliot
  2. The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman
  3. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  4. A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  5. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke
  6. The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan
  7. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling
  8. Jane EyreCharlotte Brontë
  9. Flush, Virginia Woolf
  10. The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin

Tagging… sarahbeecardiganqueen, jeanlouiseandpeas, katherinewoodlandgoddesswealthypizzalover76silencehastens, soyable, bookowl, conorhanick, qpy

At home and in LA with Elizabeth, a blur of snacks, books, naps, and pictures of Watson. 

In Santa Barbara: tacos, sand, and music halls that look like they were made of cookies. I’m crossing my fingers for more summers in Montecito, sharing a beach with Oprah. 


  • That time Watson, a baby corgi, and a frenchie chased each other down the beach. Basically the ultimate stubby-puppy trifecta.
  • That day Erica, Valerie, and Elizabeth came to visit and we packed several days of wine tasting, beach-going, and eating things into one. 
  • Relatedly, Watson joining us for all of the wine tasting in the Funk Zone. Thanks for being the dog friendliest, Santa Barbara!
  • That time our jaws DROPPED watching the auction at a gala climb into the $30K range. Though, for an evening with Carol Burnett, that’s reasonable? 
  • Hanging out with percussionists in the back, and having one of the Music Academy fellows whisper to me, “all of Conor’s students LOVE him.” Awwwww…
  • Oprah

Watson meets the Pacific Ocean and has mixed feelings. 

Lummi Island: perfection from sunrise to sunset and all the hours in-between. 

Garden update: Loganita Farm edition

Before dinner, Blaine took us on a tour of Loganita Farm. Managed by my new gardening idol, Mary von Krusenstiern, the farm supplies 100% of the produce for The Willow’s Inn; if there are no onions growing, then no onions are used. Currently, Blaine and his chefs are working on dishes featuring squash and eggplant. 

While there, we picked nasturtium flowers to be served that night and shared a beautiful tomato. 

Dinner at Willow’s Inn

In describing our dinner at Willow’s Inn, I try to explain that every dish is sort of like — stay with me here — being a giant bear with giant paws. So I’m a bear and I’m wandering through the island and I see some berries. Since I’m a bear, I’m not going to pick them off one by one; I’m going to grab the whole branch, and take a big bite. That bite will have berries, leaves, and maybe some nearby flowers. If I eat a lamb, I will likely get some grass, too. And maybe I dig up a potato, but there’s still some smelt on my paws, so that works out well for me.

Then, after failing to sell this absurd comparison, I mostly wave my hands around in a way that says, “I have no words.” 

There were eighteen different food events. This is what happened. 

Conor and I have spent much of the summer apart. While I’ve been in New York, he’s been performing and teaching in Charleston, Santa Barbara, New Mexico, and Pittsburgh. Though we have a successful arsenal of long distance relationship coping mechanisms, this was, well, not the best. Fortunately, we had the brightest light at the end of the tunnel — visiting Conor’s cousin Blaine and his fiancé Raquel on Lummi Island, WA. 

Lummi Island is a stunning, magical place. It is also home to Blaine’s restaurant, Willow’s Inn. While our dinner there was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip, every single day was like wandering through some dreamy best version of our happy places. We threw rocks at rocks; picked blackberries; and climbed mountains with Sophie and Susie, Watson’s fluffy cousins. Raquel showed us how to find agates and Blaine made us salmon. We ate salads at 1am and biscuits near to noon. One night, we all fell asleep for three hours waiting for Blaine to get home from work. Then, woke up to eat grilled cheese sandwiches and watch strange percussion videos. I think we saw a seal and I think some of the sheep looked like cows. We talked about Watson too often and made lots of promises to bring him with us in the future. 

On our last morning, we woke to find that the bright sunshine of the previous days had faded to misty shades of gray. “It feels like Ireland,” I said. 

"We should go to Ireland," Conor said. And then a second later: "or, come back here. We should probably come back here." 

Garden update: My mom’s garden edition!

Setting aside jealousies over Californian weather and an actual yard, I’ve been eyeing those sweet potato leaves and goji berries. Both are difficult to find fresh, and the flavor payoff is high. 

Bookmarked garden goal for next year, growing more Asian plants. 

I went to Hunter College last week to meet some of the librarians; they’ve been getting together over the summer to talk about instruction and graciously invited me to join their conversation. I suffer from big time impostor syndrome, especially when it comes to my area of research. The work we’re doing is exciting and feels meaningful, but I’m joining collaborators who have been working together for eight years. It’s also drawn unexpected attention in the last year due to being cited in ACRL’s drafts of the new framework for information literacy for higher education. Much of my anxiousness falls away once we start really talking about Threshold Concepts, and I’m so grateful to have such generous and thoughtful colleagues within CUNY. 

After briefly admiring the view from their pedestrian bridge, I went to Dylan’s Candy Bar. It was total chaos. Everywhere I wandered, I could hear those familiar negotiations taking place. “No, no, let’s not get gumballs. How about fruit snacks?” “Honey, can you make sure they don’t get too crazy with the jelly beans?” “You can each pick out a lollipop and one other thing.” 

Sure, it was sort of embarrassing to be there alone, waiting for my turn at the sour tape bin, but it was also a power rush as I realized, “I AM AN ADULT. I CAN BUY AND EAT AS MUCH CANDY AS I WANT.” I’ve already used most of my Flexible Spending Account balance on a cavity filling from March, though, so I kept things reasonable. 

Dental insurance limitations notwithstanding, I wish I could tell my childhood self that our adult life leads to a fluffy Conor and even fluffier Watson in Brooklyn, librarian meetings in Manhattan, and access to seven different grapefruit flavored gummies. 

The minute I read Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for brownie ice cream sandwiches, it seemed obvious: of course you should make ice cream sandwiches from brownies. Of course this should happen, immediately


Anonymous asked:

Agree with you about Henrietta Lacks. You should check out a really great podcast that NPR's RadioLab put together. They actually have two versions - one specifically around touching base with the family and all the weird drama around that and another on tumors that features her story. It's really well done and it's a great excuse to check out RadioLab if you haven't already.


Thank you! I love RadioLab and their storytelling style (excepting the “yellow rain” story), but those episodes weren’t on my radar. I went into a long Google spiral after finishing the book, but I bet those episodes will be more satisfying.