Cultural Landscape Foundation
Omstead Parks

The Opposite of Loneliness

Last night I finished reading a book titled The Opposite of Loneliness. It is a collection of short stories written by a Yale graduate named Marina Keegan, who died in a car accident five days after her magna cum laude graduation.

Marina could really write. She had a play being produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job lined up with The New Yorker. It’s such a devastating tragedy for someone, anyone, to die so young, with so much life ahead of her. To celebrate her and her writing, friends and family put together a book of her stories.

The first few stories felt very young to me, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep reading. But, I did, and the rest of the stories blew me away. This young woman was wise beyond her age, with powerful words and impressive insight.

My takeaway? Spend time doing things you’re passionate about. Don’t put off that thing you’ve been wanting to do but have never made time for. Marina put time into her writing, and her words live on.

 

 

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Book_Club

Interview with a Book Clubber

Books clubs are awesome. I don’t care how many I already belong to, if someone asks me to join another, I can’t say no. The benefits of a book club are numerous. It can provide a community, intellectual stimulation, friendship, a place to take a break from life, a place for self-expression, etc. But, best of all, it another excuse to read more books, often novels I might not have chosen to read on my own. I’ve just recently joined a newly-formed, book club at work, made up of co-workers, which will be interesting.

My friend and co-worker, Kristine, has been in one book club for years, so I decided to ask her a few questions and get the down-low on her experience.

 

How did your book club get started and how many months/years has it been in existence?

I, along with my friend Stephanie, met our friend Mindi several years ago at a scrapbooking event. We instantly hit it off and eventually learned that the three of us had something in common besides scrapbooking: reading! Oh, and food! So, we started a book club, informally named Food For Thought, and it’s been around since 2008. Our goal is to read a book chosen by an active member once a month and meet for dinner at a restaurant to discuss the book. Usually we try to choose the restaurant based on the theme of the book (and sometimes we choose the book based on the restaurant), and sometimes we just go to the restaurant and not read at all.

 

Have you ever had to kick anyone out or wanted to?

We’ve actually never had to kick anyone out! We’re a very casual book club. We don’t take attendance or dues. We don’t even require that you read the book. We have a lot of members who come and go, but there is a pretty solid core of us who attend almost every gathering.

What are y’all currently reading?

Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins

 

What has been your favorite book?

It’s hard to choose just one. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin was probably my favorite.

 

 

Least favorite book?

The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson

 

 

I know you sometimes pick themed restaurants to go with your book theme. What are some of the best pairings you’ve had?

I think one of the most memorable ones was when we read Life of Pi and had dinner at an Indian restaurant. It may have been our first or second meeting. O,h yes, and that one time when we had Korean BBQ after reading what ended up unanimously being our least favorite book, The Orphan Master’s Son. At least we had a good time and enjoyed the food!

 

What is your favorite part of being in a book club?

Since starting the book club, I’ve made some great friends who have become an important part of my life. Also I’ve discovered books and authors I probably would’ve never found otherwise. In general, I think being in a social club like a book club offers pleasant surprises.

 

My grandmother is in a book club. Maybe I should interview her next week! Do you have a book club experience to share?

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1930s World Map

Euphoria & State of Wonder

If you enjoy books with strong female protagonists who are brave enough to venture to uncivilized parts of the world with the intent to study and understand different cultures, then you’ll love these two books. Strong female authors, strong female characters and incredible adventure.

Euphoria

Set in Papua, New Guinea in the 1930s, Lily King’s Euphoria is the unique story of three anthropologists who lived with and studied tribes along the banks of the Sepik River.

American Nell Stone is a published and well-known anthropologist who is traveling with her jealous Australian anthropologist husband, Fen. They run into an English anthropologist named Andrew Bankson, who has been lonely and suicidal and living with the Kona tribe. He is drawn in by the married couple and helps them find a new tribe, the female-dominated Tams, to study along the river, and thus begins a convoluted love triangle between the three. The intricacies of their relationship, along with the nuances of living in a foreign place and learning a new culture, makes this story a fascinating read.

Cool Fact

What I didn’t realize until after I read the book, was that this story was based on the true life of Margaret Mead, a respected and controversial American anthropologist, which is pretty cool. It encouraged me to find out more about Margaret Mead, once I found that out, and I’m inspired by her life and accomplishments. Her pediatrician was Dr. Spock, and her research influenced his book on parenting, which was hugely popular when it came out in 1946 and revolutionized child care and rearing.

 

 

State of Wonder

Euphoria reminded me of another awesome book, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, which I read three years ago and LOVED. It also had to do with westerners living with tribes. Dr. Marina Singh has to travel deep into the Amazon rain forest to search for her mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, a researcher on the verge of a major fertility drug discovery, who has gone missing. Marina finds her living with the Lakashi tribe, where women continue to get pregnant and birth healthy children long past the usual child-bearing ages.

This story is about a journey and science, and it’s an amazing adventure. It was riveting and fascinating, and I love Ann Patchett’s writing. She traveled into the Amazon for research on this novel, and you can tell that from her vivid descriptions. I felt like I took a trip into the Amazon rain forest along with the characters. And that’s one of the things I love most about reading, that ability to travel without leaving my home and to feel so transported beyond my everyday life.

Cool Fact

Ann Patchett is friends with Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things. Turns out, Elizabeth Gilbert started a novel about the Amazon and decided not to finish it, ended up comparing notes with Ann Patchett when she was halfway through State of Wonder and they realized, when they compared notes later on, that they had eerily similar story lines! And Elizabeth Gilbert told Ann Patchett that ideas fly around looking for homes, and when the idea hadn’t worked out with her, then it had gone to Ann. I love that idea of plots and story ideas fluttering around our heads like the golden snitch, looking for the best home.

 

Have you read either of these novels? If not, does one or the other appeal to you more?

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Decidedly Delicious!

This book was a delicious read.

Never have I read such a delectable story, full of food and mystery and a complex cast of characters. You can tell the author, Ruth Reichl, loves food, and her experience as a food writer and restaurant reviewer has added a flavor to her writing like no other I have read. I could almost taste flavors and feel the texture of the food in my mouth.

Here’s the story:

A young woman with an amazing palate, but who won’t cook, leaves college to take on a position as assistant to the editor of a food magazine called Delicious! which operates out of an old mansion in New York City. The magazine staff and other people she meets in New York are all well-fleshed out and interesting, and just when you’re settling into the story, we find out that the magazine goes under, and she is the only employee left, kept on to deal with the magazine’s guarantee. In between taking on a side job working in an amazing cheese shop and answering customer calls in the Delicious! mansion, our protagonist finds a hidden room and discovers letters that lead to a fascinating mystery.

My thoughts:

I can’t express enough what a wonderful book this was. It was just such a delight, with a mystery, wonderful characters, romance, history and food that just accentuates the story line. If you want a savory feast of a read, you should check out this book. I can’t remember how I found it, I think through some rabbit trails in Amazon searches, but it was one of the best books I’ve stumbled upon this year. Delightful and delicious!

 

 

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It’s All about the Audio (Books)

Confession: I’ve never been a huge fan of audio books.

I think this audio book aversion stems from one I bought from a sale bin at the bookstore one year for a road trip. The female narrator spoke in an almost comical, deep voice for the male parts in the story, and it drove me crazy. However, I had a great audio book experience with the first five Harry Potter novels on audio in the past and LOVED those. The narrator, Jim Dale, has a fabulously rich voice and wonderful British accent.

That was the extent of my audio book experience in the last ten years … until it recently occurred to me that my long and boring daily commute would be a tad less stressful if I lost myself in a book. And so, in the last year, I’ve listened to the unabridged versions of the following audio books:

  • Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
  • Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • Bossypants by Tina Fey
  • Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris
  • Yes Please! by Amy Poehler
  • Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • What I know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey (I actually just started this one.)

With the exception of Wild, all of the above books were narrated by the actual author, which was a real treat. My two favorites were On Writing and Eat, Pray, Love.  The rest were good. Okay, more than good. They were funny, interesting, informative and entertaining. I enjoyed them all!

Given the choice between reading a book or listening to a book, I prefer to read. But, depending on the circumstances, audio books can be a convenient and enjoyable alternative. And now that we’ve gone mobile and can listen to them on our phones, it opens a world of opportunities. Anything that can help make boring tasks (like commuting) more interesting is a big win in my book (pun intended).

In other words … I now love audio books.

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Four Nights with the Duke

So, um, yeah, I read a romance novel over the weekend called Four Nights with the Duke. It was not my usual reading material, but more along the lines of something I would have read as a teenager. However, it was entertaining, a fairly quick read and pretty juicy.

As far as plots go, it was the usual damsel in distress blackmailing a handsome duke into a marriage of convenience to outsmart the evil uncle story. The duke and his glorious manhood seduced the large-bosomed, tipped with nipples like ripe strawberries, lady who happened to also be a virgin. Ahem. There ‘s lots of passionate, mind-blowing sex.

The usual cast of characters joined our oversexed duo; a drunk but utterly wise and charming uncle, the protective best friends, a crippled young heir, the cruel butler, the jolly butler (yes, both) and an untamed Arabian stallion. And this group faced the usual hurdles, with characters fighting their own feelings or doing what they think is best for other characters without discussing it with them first, etc.

With all the action, intense feelings and, well, sex, it’s hard to believe this book’s timeline was only about four days long. But it was a raucous four days. Whew.

 

Let’s be honest. We don’t read these books for their intellectual stimulation. Romance novels are fun, light reads. And this one fulfilled it’s purpose.

I’m actually considering starting a book club just for reading romances. Think how much fun the group discussions would be! “How many times did the author mention his glorious member?” or “Did her bosom heave too much?”

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New-World Speller from 1922

On one of my trips to visit my mom in Virginia, I ended up at a wonderful antique, vintage-hip store called Lucketts, in a restored, 100-year-old general store in Leesburg. It was a wonderful place to explore and spend a Saturday afternoon, imaging how many things I could put on my walls or what I could purchase to decorate every nook and cranny in my home. I saw so many cool vintage furniture pieces and decorations, but of course, I gravitated toward the old books. And I ended up buying one, the New-World Speller published in 1922.

 

Old BookOld Book 2

 

The book is made out of some sort of cloth, a little worse for wear, and the pages have a yellowish-brown tinge … it’s just glorious. I could easily get hooked on buying old books. And this little speller, for grades second through seventh, has some real gems, such as this page:

 

Old Book Indian

 

 

and I don’t know about you, but I didn’t sew, wash clothes or iron when I was in second grade.

 

Old Book Days of the Week

 

Each section has a message for the kids of that age. To the third grade children it says the following:

“The smallest word has some unguarded spot,

And danger lurks in i without a dot.    

– Oliver Wendell Holmes

Did you ever think what a wonderful thing a written word is? You join a few letters on paper and the word tells somebody else what idea is in your mind. Be sure that you join the right letters. If you look out for the “unguarded spot” in each word in the Third Grade, you will soon be able to use these wonderful tools in an independent way. Form the right habit now

 

The second grader who owned this book in 1922? Her name was Gladys Cook. She even signed her book:

 

Old Book signature

 

Some other tings I found in it that you probably wouldn’t find in our present day school books were:

  • Cookie spelled “cooky”
  • Mention of a stick of candy that only costs one cent
  • Ninepin
  • Iceman
  • A queer game

Finding a ninety-three-year-old school book like this makes me wonder what people ninety-three years from now will find from our school books that strike them as strange. Maybe the fact that we had physical books?! While I have a Kindle and love the convenience, there’s nothing like holding an actual book in your hands.

After this find, I may have to search for more old books in estate sales and antique stores. This is, by far, the oldest book on my shelf at the moment. Do you own any old books?

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Cultivating Thought

One of my favorite places to eat is Chipotle, mainly because I love their burrito bowls. They also have had some pretty cool advertising, with an app game and a haunting infomercial set to the song Pure Imagination. However, the thing I most admire about their brand image is their Cultivating Thought literary packaging.

Literary packaging.

Chipotle’s cups and bags display original writing from comedians, thought leaders and authors, illustrated by different artists. That’s pretty cool. Most the bags and cups I get from restaurants have the brand name or advertising of some sort. Not literature. And in a world full of advertisement, from our phones to our clothing, it’s pretty cool to see a company do something original and creative like this.

Must a cup, or bag, suffer an existence that is limited to just one humble purpose, defined merely by its simple function?

Chipotle’s goal with this initiative:

We’re hoping this will allow people to connect with the musings of these writers with whom they may or may not be familiar and create a moment of analog pause in a digital world, provoking introspection or inspiration, and maybe a little laughter.

My  bag had something from the Joy Luck Club best-selling author Amy Tan.

Amy Tan Punched

 

I couldn’t help but Tweet about it, and of course, they responded, because they are killin’ it on social media.

 

I fed both my body AND my mind at Chipotle. Can’t say that of many places!! (and no, I was not paid or asked to support Chipotle, and I bought my own meal. I WISH I could advertise for them!)

Have you seen any brand take this kind of stance with literature?

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The 5-Year Journal

In February, I bought a book called Q&A a Day: 5-Year Journal.

 

It has 365 pages with a different question/writing prompt for each day and lined response areas for five years-worth of answers. You can see over time how your answers have changed … or haven’t. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, because I love the idea of seeing my answers over five years, but I decided to hold off starting until yesterday, my birthday.

The question for April 21 was “What do you want to say when someone asks ‘What do you do?'”

I’ve wanted to be a lot of things over the years. I wanted to be Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman for a while. I really wanted to be a doctor for a while, and I still think about that often. I also find veterinary medicine appealing.  However, my official answer is one that has stayed pretty consistently the same throughout most of my life: I want to say I’m a writer, an author, that I have a published book. Despite this being an almost life-long desire, I haven’t set goals or moved forward much in pursuit of this. And that’s disappointing, but all is not lost. I am a writer. I have published a short story. My time isn’t done yet, I can still do this. Right?

I’ll be interested to see what my answer is to this next year. And the year after that. And five years from now.

What about you? What’s your answer?

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Jodi Picoult Tweeted Me!

Last week I sent out Tweets to about 15 best-selling authors asking them the same three questions, and the only one who responded was Jodie Picoult. But … Jodi Picoult! I had a total fan girl moment.

 

 

This was really exciting for many reasons. One of those being that the book she’s currently reading is one I’ve read, All The Light We Cannot See, and it’s a beautifully written book. It has a rather unique story line, following a young, blind French girl and an orphaned German boy during WW II.

 

Jodi Picoult though … she’s an amazing author. A MASTER storyteller! And I happened to have read her most recent book, Leaving Time, which was one of those books I devoured. It intertwined the study of elephants with a young girl’s search for her missing mother. I learned so much about elephants. They are fascinating, intelligent and empathetic mammals. I’ve always been impressed by elephants, but I learned so much more about them in this book.

 

One of the central characters helping the girl look for her mom was a psychic, and the plot line ventured into the unknown a bit, which I also found fascinating. The subject matter (elephants!), the excellent writing, the character development and the mystery … all of it worked for me. Jodi Picoult has dabbled in the paranormal before in her book Second Glance, which I also read and enjoyed.

I may try to Tweet more authors, to find out what they are reading or see what they have to say. One of my favorite parts of using social media is how much more accessible it has made some authors. Do you follow any of your favorite authors in social media?

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