Bellingham Circus Guild: Aerial Showcase

On December 5, Husband and I joined my parents for a performance of the Bellingham Circus Guild, apparently a well-respected local venue for regular people to learn juggling, acrobats, and the like. This was the annual Aerial Showcase, a big deal (we’re told) because all the rigging required for aerial performances means they rarely get to do much of it at one event (or at all).

The 9-10 acts we saw took place in a warehouse in the southern part of town, a nice big space clearly purpose-rigged with all kinds of equipment (not just for aerials) and big roll-top doors and giant skylights that I bet are lovely in daylight. We paid $15 a head to get in, which I am happy to pay considering all the gear and overhead – and all the skill exhibited.

What the heck is this aerial stuff? It was mostly women, in mostly tight clothes (leotards and the like, with sequins etc.), on a variety of rigs, including your more “standard” aerial silks:


…a big steel hoop:

…a single rope:

…again a more “standard” trapeze:

…and chains and hammocks. (Not all of the above pictures come from Bellingham, and none are mine. See links for sources.) It was wild. Acts began with the more basic – newer members of the Guild – but they were absolutely super impressive. I liked feeling like these were real people, like I could do this (with a LOT of work). And they got more and more intense, with these women (there was only one man, half of a couple-act) releasing the silks (or whatnot) to fall and be caught in their own web – clearly one needs to be very confident that one has arranged the silks properly!! Wow. I was exhausted, and in fact the last 2 (or so) acts were kind of lost on me, after being so emotionally involved, excited, and frightened for these impressive performers – I didn’t have any energy left for the last few! It was really something, some of the best stuff I’ve seen. Very athletic, obviously – all core strength (think about the rings that the male gymnasts do in the Olympics), and often sexual or at least sensual in nature, too. Beautiful, strong, athletic people, with grace and rhythm, and definite showmanship. Remarkable, memorable, incomparable. And again, inspirational: anybody (you or I!) could sign up to learn this stuff, although slowly & with much effort, obviously. I was over the moon. Cirque du Soleil was everything even more – more flexible, more outrageous – but you know, not more impressive. If anything, this was more awesome, because it was so intimate – in such a smaller, informal space, but also intimate in that I felt like these were just regular people I could bump into at the grocery store. And I sure hope I do.

2014: A Year in Review

I’ve reviewed a few years now (2013; 2012; 2011), so we can do some comparisons.

Of the 135 books I read in 2014…

  • 44% were nonfiction (45% last year)
  • 44% were by female authors (48% last year)
  • of the 75 novels I read, 33% were historical fiction, 20% were mysteries or thrillers, 24% were miscellaneous fiction, and 15% were fantasy. (Last year 37% were mysteries, 10% were historical fiction and the rest included classics and misc.)
  • only 13% were audiobooks. (23% last year)
  • 20% of the books I read came from the library, and a whopping 71% were review copies; the few remainders were either ones I already owned or were gifts. (Last year, 35% of the books I read came from the library, 43% were review copies, and 14% came from my personal collection.)
  • I read 135 books this year, compared to 116 last year.

For the very *best* books I’ve read this year, see New Year’s Eve’s post.

How have my reading habits changed? Well, perhaps the biggest change is in all those books I read for review, over 70%. I did this on purpose, as part of my plan to quit my day job and move across the country (!). This trend will likely continue in the foreseeable future. It’s been a little tiring at a few moments, but overall is nothing I regret: I mostly get to read and review really good books, and I still love my job. I do regret the books I haven’t read yet, though. Currently begging for attention, for example, are Hemingway’s True at First Light and The Fifth Column; the remainder of Snyder’s Practice of the Wild; a fuller version of Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac; and all these:

(click to enlarge)

(click to enlarge)


(and more). Sigh.

Also, you’ll see that I listened to fewer audiobooks. I spent my working year of 2014 taking the train to work rather than driving (hooray!), which let me read or listen; I can only guess that accounted for a lot of this change. I quit my job in October, too, which has left me with almost no audiobook time: just cleaning & gym time, is about it, since I don’t spend any time commuting any more. I miss my audiobooks, and have so many good ones loaded, too. I guess I should put in more gym time? New Year’s resolutions…

And, my fiction choices seem to have moved away from mystery/thrillers, in favor of historical fiction. I can’t quite explain the shift to hist fict, but I have made a conscious effort to read fewer mysteries. Aside from the outstanding ones (ahem), they can all begin to really sound alike.

What about you? How has 2014 stood up to your reading years in the past; and what do you foresee in the near future?

Whatever that may be, I wish you a happy new year, and happy reading!

best books of 2014

My year-in-review post is coming, but first, as the year ends, let’s take a look at the very BEST books I read in 2014. As usual, these were not necessarily published in 2014 (although several were).

(* are audiobooks.)

Those that received a rating of 10:

Those that received a rating of 9:

There were lots of 8s, too – it’s been a great year. I had a very hard time choosing a short list of examples for you, so please be satisfied with The Drunken Botanist*, Euphoria, Wayfaring Stranger, The Fish in the Forest, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, The Kind Worth Killing (by Peter Swanson, review to come)…

What did YOU read this year that’s blown you away?

vocabulary lessons: The Voices by F. R. Tallis

If you’re interested: see other vocabulary lessons as well.


photo credit

cornice (photo credit)

Where Grizzly Years taught me technical words for the natural world, The Voices taught me a few architectural ones. (An old, spooky house figures significantly. But of course you’ll have to wait for the review.)

“There were marble fireplaces, carved banisters and exquisitely moulded cornices…” cornice: “1a: the molded and projecting horizontal member that crowns an architectural composition; b: a top course that crowns a wall; 2: a decorative band of metal or wood used to conceal curtain fixtures.”

corbel (photo credit)

corbel (photo credit)

“Christopher went over to the fireplace and examined the maculated red marble surround. Even the corbels had been carefully crafted.” maculated: “marked with spots” and corbel: “an architectural member that projects from within a wall and supports a weight; especially one that is stepped upward and outward from a vertical surface.”

“Laura raised her head and looked through the architrave.” architrave: “the lowest division of an entablature resting in classical architecture immediately on the capital of the column; or the molding around a rectangular opening (as a door).” So she looked… through the doorway?

“Every compliment Simon collected seemed to bespatter Christopher’s own achievements with ordure.” ordure: “excrement; or something that is morally degrading.” Mmmm, a fancy word for poo.

“Gilt mirrors, brocade curtains and benighted oil paintings, yards of intricately patterned carpet, chandeliers and classical figures on columns, deeper an deeper, the rooms went on and on.” benighted: “existing in a state of intellectual, moral, or social darkness.” So the oil paintings are… not very good?

“The trees became monochrome as an eldritch dusk intensified.” eldritch: “weird, eerie.” Indeed!


What have you learned in your reading recently?

vocabulary lessons: Grizzly Years by Doug Peacock

If you’re interested: see other vocabulary lessons as well.


grizzlyUnsurprisingly, Peacock taught me a number of new words in this book, generally of the technical & outdoors variety.

“…grizzlies can walk lightly over a thin crust, distributing their weight evenly on their plantigrade feet…” plantigrade: “walking on the sole with the heel touching the ground.” Which makes sense, as Peacock later writes: “I squatted and traced the outline of the grizzly’s rear foot in the crusted mud. How humanlike it was.”

“Not a single tree decorated the lacustrine benches.” lacustrine: “of, relating to, formed in, living in, or growing in lakes.” A parallel to ‘riparian’, then?

“I dropped down to explore the little mountain, half evenly timbered, half steaming rhyolite and broken andesite.” rhyolite: “a very acid volcanic rock that is the lava form of granite”; and andesite: “an extrusive usually dark grayish rock consisting essentially of oligoclase or feldspar.”

“We passed two tiny azure tarns beginning to melt in the weak spring sunlight…” or “I wondered if anyone had ever visited those four lonely tarns.” tarn: “a small steep-banked mountain lake or pool.”

“High above, I saw the broad wings that had startled the bovid…” bovid: ” any of a family (Bovidae) of ruminants that have hollow unbranched permanently attached horns present in usually both sexes and that include antelopes, oxen, sheep, and goats.” I knew ‘bovine’, of course, but was thrown to see ‘bovid’ (here, referring to a mountain goat); I thought bovine meant cows, specifically. I guess this word is a little more inclusive.

“A spine of dolomite ran off the range of peaks and continued down the mountain as a bedrock ridge.” dolomite: “a mineral CaMg(CO3)2 consisting of a calcium magnesium carbonate found in crystals and in extensive beds as a compact limestone.”

“We set up our tent, locating it out of the wind on the carpet of Carex.” Carex: “a vast genus of almost 2,000 species[2] of grassy plants in the family Cyperaceae, commonly known as sedges.”

“On an island to the south, melanism has prevailed in a species of jackrabbit living among gray andesites and scabrous vegetation.” melanism: “an increased amount of black or nearly black pigmentation (as of skin, feathers, or hair) of an individual or kind of organism.”

“Grunion appear on the beaches of the northern Gulf from February to April after the big tides of the full moon.” grunion: “a silverside (Leuresthes tenuis) of the California coast notable for the regularity with which it comes inshore to spawn at nearly full moon.” Okay, but what is a silverside?? The “Concise Encyclopedia” entry, a little further down the same page, is more helpful: “Edible Pacific fish (Leuresthes tenuis) found along the western coast of the U.S. In the warm months, it lays its eggs in beach sand during a full or new moon when the tide cycle is at its peak. The young hatch and enter the ocean on the next spring tide, two weeks later. Grunion reach a length of about 8 in. (20 cm).”


What have you learned in your reading recently?

simpatico

Simpatico: not quite the same as synchronicity, although there is overlap. From Merriam-Webster:

Definition of SIMPATICO
1: agreeable, likable
2: being on the same wavelength: congenial, sympathetic

I am thinking of books that read alike (synchronicity) as well as readers who appreciate the same thing (simpatico: being on the same wavelength; sympathetic). Readers who read alike, if you will.

I was considering this concept while reading Doug Peacock’s Grizzly Years the other day. I came across a passage about living and traveling in wilderness, and how Peacock felt it was similar to being in combat: “treading lightly and staying invisible.” How he prefers to bushwhack off established trails, himself. And how he empathizes with a grizzly bear fleeing a bigger grizzly:

The same thing used to happen to me back in Southeast Asia [during the Vietnam War]: whenever the shit really hit the fan, when it looked as if we were about to be overrun and it became a matter of everyone for himself, my first impulse, or perhaps instinct, was to slide off alone into the jungle and keep going until I found vegetation thick enough to hide in, a sanctuary where I could ride out the hunt for Americans. So I thought I knew what it might feel like to be outgunned by bigger bears.

Peacock’s thinking about wilderness got me thinking, and one of the first thoughts I had was, my dad needs to read this. I thought about the books I’ve insisted he read (rather than just recommended). There was Fire Season: I remember saying, look, dad, just go out and buy a hardback copy and read it, and if you don’t love it I’ll buy it off you. (He loved it.) I repeated it with Dirt Work, which also turned out well. I think I’m going to put Grizzly Years into the same category.

Pops and I are often simpatico in our reading. Not perfectly overlapping, of course – far from it – but I often find myself thinking, he needs to read this. And judging from the emails I get with assigned reading from him, I think he reacts similarly, similarly often.

The same day that I had these thoughts about Peacock’s writing, ForeWord Reviews shared the following article via social media: “When You Love A Book Because of Who It’s From”. I found the idea intriguing: that a recommendation from someone I love or respect could actually improve that book in my eyes. (As it turns out, the article is more about romantic love – that special someone and shared reading experiences. Not so personally applicable to me; Husband is not a reader and we have a beautiful and full life anyway; but I’m happy for the article’s author and her partner.) I have not experienced this first-hand. Recommended books sometimes work, and sometimes don’t, but these successes and failures don’t correlate with how much I love the recommender. (See: that one book recommended by my Grammy who I adore, that I could not read.) I do have trouble parting with a (physical) book that was a gift from a loved one. But as far as enjoying the insides? No, I think I’m pretty clinical about that stuff. The one exception is my Shelf Awareness editor, Marilyn, who sends me books to read with varying levels of confidence and is pretty much spot-on – she’s amazing – but then, that’s her profession. It’s less… emotional, on her part and mine.

What about you? Is your reading enjoyment colored by the person who recommended the book? Do you have a reading friend, or romantic partner, who is so simpatico that you can absolutely rely on his or her recommendations?

Stay tuned for my review of Grizzly Years, and hopefully Pops’s as well.

on children’s books

In another episode of synchronicity, I was already going to write this post (for reasons below), when Shelf Awareness shared this item of “book candy”: 10 Children’s Books That Made Us, tagline “these beloved images and words defined the boomer generation.” Let’s be clear: I am not a boomer, but the child of boomers. So I was a little surprised to see that I grew up with all 10 of the books listed. Part of article author Linda Bernstein’s point was that boomer children loved these books enough to share them with their children, of course, so I can’t be all surprised. But still… I thought I was a Goodnight Moon baby, not that my mother was. Still fresh for me, you see. In fact, it was first published in 1947 – who knew? I guess that’s one definition of a classic: timelessness. I know there are new children’s books for every generation, and I know some of them are excellent (I’ve heard. I’m not a big reader of kid’s books myself), but I do hope that new parents are still turning to such geniuses as Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak for their children’s reading development and enjoyment.

But back to our regularly scheduled programming.

In reading Great Bear Wild by Ian McAllister (excellent!! but wait for my review at Shelf Awareness to learn more), I was charmed by discussion of the unique, complex, and surprisingly human-like social structures of wolves. This resonated with me because I remember clearly reading (and rereading) Julie of the Wolves, a kid’s “chapter book” by Jean Craighead George, and a Newbery Medal winner. Here is my plot summary, strictly from memory, so feel free to double-check me… a young girl (~13 years) escapes a forced marriage in an Alaska village into the tundra on her own. She has a few basic survival tools & skills, but of course finds herself in trouble in the winter, until she is adopted by a pack of wolves – not without her own efforts at observing them, mimicking their gestures of submission, and begging for food and help. They save her. And the reader learns a good deal about wolf packs.

This got me thinking about others in the category (children’s “chapter books”) that I loved, that I read and reread, and that helped form my love of reading. As a child, I read lots of books – lots! – but this is the list of those that still come to my mind, fondly, today.

  • Eva by Peter Dickinson
  • Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
  • The Borrowers series by Mary Norton
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books
  • of course, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  • Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series
  • Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books
  • The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
  • The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren
  • Hatchet (and others) by Gary Paulsen
  • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
  • Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

(Perhaps unsurprisingly, when I browsed the list of Newbery Medal winners, I found several of these titles there.)

What do you remember fondly from your childhood? Do they still resonate with you today?

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