What A Terrible Bowl, What A Beautiful Bowl. (Adventures in pottery)

This post is a bit random, travelers. But I’m quite proud of my work and I wanted to share.

My mother and I recently finished a five-week pottery class. We’ve taken one before several years ago but we forgot to pick up our finished pieces, which we’ve always regretted. So we made plans to take another class before I left and this time we’d be sure to reap the fruits of our labor.

All of our pieces turned out very well for us being beginning potters. My pride and joy, however, is my Decemberists-themed bowl. Marvel at my (and my mother’s) artistic abilities!

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 A lovely, leafy platter for holding juicy fruits and veggies.

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Earth-hewn garden stakes for hearty herbs.

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A square, blue bowl for tasty treats.

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An outdoor water bowl that isn’t a piece of tupperware.

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Dragonfly jar for tiny things.

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Festive spoon rest with self-aware label.

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What a terrible world, what a beautiful world. 

~Ren

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Review: If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? by Kurt Vonnegut

if this isn't niceI feel like Kurt Vonnegut is an author that people either love or they hate. Some people will try and make you feel bad for liking him and other people won’t understand how you don’t like him.

I’m not ashamed or embarrassed to say I love Kurt Vonnegut. I won’t say that all of his books are literary masterpieces (mostly because I haven’t read them all and also because no one is that good). But my love of Kurt Vonnegut extends beyond the many many books he’s written. The bits and pieces I’ve learned and discovered about the way he lived his life and how he saw the world endear me to him even more than his fantastic and bizarre stories.

There aren’t many books I’ll read over again but Vonnegut is one who’s works I’ve made a note of picking up again later in life. It’s been true for his novels and it is true for this collection of speeches.

After I finished If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? and reflected on it for a bit, I found myself thinking that Vonnegut has some qualities similar to Douglas Adams. (This thinking was likely brought about by my recent reading of Dirk Gently’s adventures.) In many of his speeches, Vonnegut starts off in one place and then meanders down a path of tangents and side notes that at the same time distract and still build on the story he started out with. And in the end, the reader is still left feeling like they learned something. But, in my case at least, the reader is also left scratching their head wondering if they really did learn something, and if they did, what is it?

That’s why I say I’ve made a note to re-read Vonnegut’s books later in my life. On the first read I took what I could from the story but I was left feeling like there were things I hadn’t quite grasped, that I had missed or not been made aware of yet.

The clear theme in this collection is the question posed in the title, “If this isn’t nice, what is?” Vonnegut mentions it in several of the speeches, attributing the line to his uncle Alex.

Vonnegut writes:

“My uncle Alex Vonnegut…taught me something very important. He said that when things were really going well we should be sure to NOTICE it. He was talking about simple occasions, not great victories.

Uncle Alex urged me to say this out loud during such epiphanies: “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

I think this is such a lovely idea. Cliche as it might seem, often people do spend too much time waiting for big things to happen, life-changing events that make you feel on top of the world, things that turn your whole life around. And those are great moments, but they don’t come along very often. Life is made up of the smaller moments, the ones we often take for granted. That’s where our happiness really comes from and more often than not we forget that.

Like Uncle Alex did a young Kurt Vonnegut, I would urge you to notice those moments in life, those simple occasions, and when you do, say to yourself, “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

~Ren

Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

A.J. FikryAdmittedly, this was a book I brushed aside thinking it would be too much of a cozy read. Something soft and boring that didn’t really challenge me. But then a friend recommended it to me, told me it was about a guy who owned a bookstore, so I figured I’d give it a try. And go figure, I really liked it.

When I mentioned I was reading it to another friend of mine, she told me it was a modern retelling of some old tale, the name of which I forget now. The premise of the story is sweet enough: a curmudgeonly hermit is drawn out of his seclusion and self-destructive lifestyle when a child is left to him and he decides to keep her. And his life turns around for the better. But what I think the book is really about is not the power children have to change your life, but the power that bookstores have to change your life. Doesn’t that sound like more fun?

This book relies heavily on character development to move the story forward. Not much happens action-wise to drive the plot. But you become invested enough in the characters that you want to keep reading even though nothing much takes place outside the tiny island of Alice.

There are a variety of characters, each with interesting back stories that criss-cross with one another’s, help build their personalities, and explain their motivations. There is love, unhappy marriages, an unfortunate death, robbery. But even with all the bad things that happen to the characters, good things come along in the end.

Each chapter is headed with a brief sort of book review for various stories. At first, I just thought this was a fun little idea the author had added since the main character owns a bookstore and most of the story takes place there. But then, something is reveled at the end (which I won’t spoil) and it explains exactly what those little book review sort of things were and it just broke my heart! I mean, the whole end was pretty heart-breaking. However, there was a silver lining.

Again, I won’t get into specifics as I don’t want to spoil anything, but hopefully what I say next will make sense once you read the book.

The book ends the way it begins. There is a cyclic nature, a sort of pattern that is being created and the bookstore is right at the heart of it. Bookstores, like people, and like books for that matter, often come into your life at just the right time. And when they do, they can completely change your life, usually for the better.

As I finished the last page and closed the book, I felt a tightness in my chest, like my skin and bones were working extra hard to keep all the love from exploding out of my body. Everyone should have a bookstore they feel at home in. Bookstores, and the people in them, have a touch of magic to them that makes life better. I hope you all have a bookstore you love.

~Ren

(As an after thought: I also really enjoyed the book as I myself work in a bookstore and I enjoyed all the ‘inside bookstore humor’ as it were.)

Review: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

dirk geDirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency is the first in the Dirk Gently trilogy, the slightly less well-known series by Douglas Adams. Like Hitchhikers, this book feels completely random and scattered and yet completely connected (which is a very appropriate phrase considering Dirk Gently’s belief in the, ‘interconnectedness of all things’).

I haven’t come across another author who achieves this cohesive randomness quite like Adams does. The book starts out introducing you to the most bizarre assortment of characters each in a rather mundane situation and then somewhere along the line all the threads meet and intertwine in to this curious tapestry of oddities and intrigues. Adams proves Dirk’s belief in the interconnectedness of all things by showing the readers it is in fact an actuality.

Keeping in true Adams fashion, the whole book was steeped in distinctly British humor, very understated in its pure ridiculousness and constantly presenting even the most perplexing situation in the most matter-of-fact ways. The characters, while not fleshed out in a more traditional way throughout the book, are each still unique and their differences in personality interact well with the other players in the book.

Dirk Gently wont appeal to all readers. Fans of Adams: for sure. Widely read sci-fi fans: probably. Lovers of British humor: most likely. I personally am looking forward to more of Dirk Gently’s adventures. Next stop: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. 

~Ren

Hayden’s Playlist

Hello Booklovers. I wanted to follow up my review of Playlist for the Dead with a post about the songs utilized in the book.

I called upon YouTube to help construct a playlist, Hayden’s playlist to be exact, containing every song mentioned in Falkoff’s book. Just click the link below and have a listen.

Play All.

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Review: Playlist for the Dead by Michelle Falkoff

A book with a heavy music element? Yes please!

playlistI can be pretty picky about what teen books I read. Which seems a little silly to me sometimes because I’m pretty sure most of the books I avoid I only do so because they sound too much like whiny teen drama as opposed to…not whiny teen drama? I don’t know. What I’m getting at is that all the teen books I read do have a heavy drama element but that fact wasn’t splashed all over the back cover of the book, thus making it an immediate turn off. Kind of weird, but it’s how I roll.

So! This book deals with issues like teen suicide and bullying and loss. Pretty heavy stuff, but I think Michelle Falkoff did a very good job of not undercutting the seriousness while still keeping the book on the lighter side. And all of Sam’s (the main character) reactions and responses to the death of his best friend were realistic and relatable (that’s a lot of ‘r’ words).

The whole story was very sad and at the same time very heart-warming and insightful. It’s a bit odd, but that seems to be the way with tragedy. It fractures your life and rips things away from you, and it’s painful and confusing and there’s lots of anger. But once you get through all of that, you stitch your life back together into something else, something beautiful and hopefully you’ve come out the other side having learned something you didn’t know before.

I agree with Sam when he said, “I’ll never get over this.” Some things are always going to stay with us and sometimes the hurt will come back. I don’t think I’d ever ask someone to “get over” the death of a close friend or family member. The important thing to do after something like that is to simply move forward.

Moving away from the heavy stuff, I really enjoyed the musical aspect of the story. All Hayden leaves for his friend is a playlist. Each chapter is headed with one of the songs. I knew several of them and have made a note to check out the ones I wasn’t familiar with. I liked that an overarching theme of the book was to listen, something I think many people could be better at. I also liked, for more personal reasons, that this book coupled a tough moment in life with music. I think, at times, music can be a better tool for healing than people can.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go listen to The Shins “It’s Only Life” on repeat for the next 20 minutes.

~Ren

The Illusion of Control

I’ve caught myself being a little overly philosophical over the last day. So, of course, I had to write a blog.

I awoke yesterday, one of my precious and ever elusive days off, with a list of things to accomplish by the end of the day. And I’m quite proud to say I checked everything off that list by 5 that afternoon!

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What got me thinking all philosophical-like was the moment after I purchased my two new suitcases. Sounds odd, I know, but hear me out. After I found the model and sizes I was looking for, picked out two uncharacteristically bright colors, and checked and double-checked that each bag met the required measurements, I opened up my cart to see the grand total.

Both bags were on sale and mom had supplied me with a promo code that saved me an extra $20 bucks so it was a significantly lower number than it could’ve been. But the cost was still high enough to use up most of the paycheck I’d just deposited. What was a borderline broke bookseller to do?

Dammit, I bought the damn things! That’s right, a statement worthy of two expletives.

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Yes, I bought them. I also bought a bus ticket that day. And it felt so good to do it! Even if I was spending money I didn’t really have to spend and even if I still have months until the actual bus trip, it felt good to do something, to feel like I had the ability to make things happen, to exercise control over the things happening in my life. It felt damn good.

It’s funny, because even though I felt like I was making progress and getting things done (which I was) I’m still in the exact same place as I was before I hit the ‘Proceed to Checkout’ button. I’m still stuck waiting for three months, counting down the days until October 26th, stuck between here and there. But at least for that short moment, I felt like I was moving forward.

Control is a funny thing. We can create in our minds, believe it, but still be right where we started. It seems to be another method of self-soothing. Click some buttons on a screen, pay some money, get some new suitcases that will sit empty for weeks to come and feel like you achieved some goal. We tell ourselves we’ve just moved one step closer. It’s like the pre-action before the actual action.

If you’re wondering what my point is with all this I’m not entirely sure I have one. Just making some general observations about life and the human condition. If I’ve learned one thing in my time, it’s that humans often lie to ourselves. I guess that’s not all bad, though. Sometimes it seems to be just what we need.

~Ren