Xenogenesis

lilliths_brood_cover_artI recently finished reading Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy, and just had to share.  Published under the collection title Lilith’s Brood since 2000, it is made up of three novels: Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago.  Butler is an excellent storyteller, with a “hard science fiction” bent in this trilogy that is satisfying as well as thought-provoking.

The series takes place in an interesting sort of dystopian future, where humans have destroyed Earth and each other almost completely.  An alien race steps in to save what is left, hoping to trade genetic material to ensure the survival of both humanity and themselves.  The aliens believe humankind, if left unaltered, contain a “Contradiction” between their high intelligence and their hierarchical nature that will lead to eventual demise in every scenario, as was already proven by our destruction.  A fascinating thought to consider, isn’t it?

While my own personal prose style preference strays closer to that of Amor Towles, thematically Butler does a masterful job of exploring sexuality, race, species, gender, and humanity — deftly and also in an entirely un-preachy way.  While decades old at this point, Lilith’s Brood is almost frighteningly relevant to us today.  Are we doomed to obliterate ourselves without some kind of outside intervention?  Can our intelligence outweigh our hierarchical strivings?  Is our stubbornness a boon or a hindrance?  It may be that history will have to play itself out before we can answer these questions, but Butler gives us a powerful nudge to think about these things sooner than later — all tied up in an engaging alien-encounter package.

Octavia Butler cover art by John Jude Palancar.

The Last Romantics

“We believe in love because we want to believe in it.  Because really what else is there, amid all our glorious follies and urges and weaknesses and stumbles?  The magic, the hope, the gorgeous idea of it.”

–Tara Conklin, The Last Romantics

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This past weekend I devoured the new novel The Last Romantics from Friday night until late Sunday.  Quite frankly, I didn’t want to put it down.  Tara Conklin does a masterful job of drawing us into the lives of four siblings, weaving a story I found both arresting and vividly meaningful.

Spanning from their childhood in the early 1980s through to a slightly dystopian 2079, the Skinner siblings deal with the sudden death of their father, their mother’s depression that follows they call only “the Pause,” and the lives they lead in the years that follow.  Conklin deftly explores what love means, and loyalty — how family ties bind and break, pull and twist us into the people we become.  Romantic love is peppered into the narrative, but the overarching theme is familial love, how it shapes us, and the heaviness and the light which it carries.

Conklin’s writing reminds me of Barbara Kingsolver by way of Lauren Groff, yet with her own voice and style that make for a deeply engaging novel, one that resonated with me long after I turned the last page.  A rich, rewarding read.

Three great design books

Right now there are so many inspiring books on design to choose from!  If I had to pick three right now, I’d be diving into these handsome volumes.  Each has a unique point of view, but all feature amazing, quirky, beautiful spaces that I’d love to pore over again and again.  Coincidentally, all three are by incredible women that I am proud to support.

It’s Beautiful Here by Megan Morton

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This is Home: The Art of Simple Living by Natalie Walton

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The Alchemy of Things by Karen McCartney

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Modern Art Desserts

After admiring the cover and peeking inside virtually every time I visit Blue Bottle Coffee Co., I finally picked up a copy of Caitlin Freeman’s Modern Art Desserts.  I am so glad I did!  Freeman’s book is a gem.  Formerly of Miette, Freeman clearly knows her way around amazing desserts — backwards, forwards, and sideways, in fact.  What made this cookbook stand out for me was the fact that is not only full of stunning recipes, but also it serves as both a personal memoir and a mini-guide to some of the works at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  While Freeman and her beautiful desserts are no longer at SFMOMA, the cookbook that resulted from her tenure there is a pleasure for the pastry enthusiast and art lover alike.

Each dessert is presented with a photograph of the pastry, an image of the artwork it was inspired by, information about the work and the artist, and Freeman’s own experiences creating the dish.  Then follows the recipe, with clear, clean instructions.  Many of the recipes are quite aspirational — the complex Mondrian cake, for example, takes a whopping two days.  However, specialized supplies and ingredients are sourced in the book, out-of-the-ordinary equipment is highlighted and explained, and a section early on gives a great rundown of both the ingredients and cooking tools you’ll likely need throughout.  Freeman somehow manages to make incredibly complex recipes seem both aspirational and accessible.  Mixed in with culinary feats like the Mondrian cake are slightly lower key options like trifle, sodas, popcicles, and even a savory snack or two, so there are certainly options for those who prefer to measure their recipe timing in minutes or hours rather than days.

Overall I was surprised and delighted by Modern Art Desserts.  It is a diverting read above and beyond being a good cookbook.  If you’re a modern art fan, give this one a whirl.  Freeman has given us candy for the eyes and the taste buds in equal measure.

Dog Songs

While I was blissfully meandering in a bookstore in Seattle, I stumbled upon Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs.  I find her work to be meditative, insightful, and beautiful, and this slender volume about dogs did not disappoint.

 

Some of the poems seem to be simple, lyrical observations, but gradually you find yourself drawn into contemplations about life, love, and the simple joys and sorrows of being.  I read the whole book in a single quiet afternoon, my dogs sleeping at my feet — and in hindsight, I cannot think of a more restorative way to spend a Saturday.  Oliver’s keen eye and unabashed incorporation of nature into the fiber of her life make Dog Songs a unique entry in the canine companion poetry milieu.  A quietly moving read.

Hey, Seattle (part II)

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Welcome to Part II of my little Seattle guide, with things to do and places to stay.  If you missed Part I you can read it here for all kinds of great places to eat!

Visit:

Pike Place Market

No visit to Seattle would be complete without a stroll through the public market.  Amazingly fresh seafood, bites of all kinds (see! told you more food!), beautiful flower stalls, and the original Starbucks location await you here.  Grab a salmon pâté piroshky from Piroshky Piroshky, walk down to pick up some smoked salmon from Pure Food Fish Market, and then wander as you munch.  You can duck upstairs to Storyville Coffee to escape the bustle for a few minutes if you like.  Oh, and I highly recommend a stop at Le Panier before you leave — this boulangerie and patisserie offers the best pain au chocolat I’ve had since Paris.

 

Seattle Art Museum

With an excellent permanent collection and innovative exhibitions, SAM is well worth a visit.  The museum “contains nearly 25,000 works of art from around the world. Dating from antiquity to the present, the permanent collection represents a wide range of global cultures and historical perspectives.”  The current temporary exhibit, Double Exposure, is worth a look even on its own; it is a satisfyingly nuanced look at portrayals of Pacific Northwest native peoples over the last 150 years.

 

The Elliott Bay Book Company

This bookstore in the Capital Hill neighborhood has been serving Seattle for over four decades, and is a delight in every way.  Highlighted local authors and subjects, quirky giftware for the bibliophile, and an on-site cafe make for a lovely afternoon.  Despite the likelihood of an overly-heavy suitcase, I had to bring three books home with me.

 

Melrose Market

Melrose Market is like the teeny tiny well-curated cousin of Pike Place.  Meats, liquor, shellfish, homewares — all can be found in this little urban refuge.  Sitka and Spruce is located here, as it the most excellent homeware store Butter Home.  I wanted one of everything!  Their art prints and jewelry in particular caught my eye, but their are tons of other fun things to be had in this lovely little shop.  Visit if you can, and then grab a cocktail at Still Liquor.

 

Segway Tours of Seattle

Perhaps a little cheesy and touristy, but so much fun!  We spent a morning touring the city center by Segway, and got to see so many great spots.  The Space Needle, Lake Union, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center, and the Museum of Pop Culture were highlights, but the running commentary from our excellent guide was no less interesting.  We actually walked back to the Gates Foundation Discovery Center for a closer look later in the afternoon, which proved to be both fascinating and inspiring.

 

Seattle is the city where Nordstrom was founded, so you can visit their original store location for kicks (and excellent shopping).  And the Chihuly Garden and Glass is definitely on my list for next time.

 

Stay:

Seattle is full of both excellent hotels and great AirBnB choices.  This visit we stayed at the Ballard Jungalow and had a delightful stay.  The host is kind, and her home is just the kind of serene escape I was craving.

If I you prefer a hotel, I have heard nothing but good things about the ever-hip Ace Hotel Seattle.  Reasonable prices, great vibes, and a great central location make this one a great pick.

Thank you for such a lovely week, Seattle!  We had so much fun and can’t wait to return!

 

Little Free Libraries

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I’m back from Seattle and will have a post about that delightful city soon, but in the meantime, let’s chat about little free libraries.  On our trip we stayed in the charming Seattle area of Ballard, and I saw tiny free community libraries whenever and wherever we walked.  They perched near the street in front of homes like oversized birdhouses, beckoning curious readers and fostering a lovely sense of community.  I. Was. Smitten.

After a bit of research, I found that Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring a love of reading by inspiring book exchanges all over the world.  Statistically, children growing up in homes without books can lag about three years behind their peers with lots of book access, and these tiny neighborhood gems aim to bridge that gap by providing 24/7 access to books in areas where they might otherwise be scarce.  Currently Little Free Library has over 70,000 libraries in 85 countries, with millions of books borrowed annually.  On their site they offer free instructions for building little libraries, support for obtaining free or discounted books to stock them, and a store where you can buy kits and pre-built models if you’d rather not build one for yourself.  On the user end of the spectrum, their site offers a map to help people find and share books wherever they are.  So great!

It makes me deeply happy that people are building their communities around a shared love of reading this way.  If I didn’t live so close to a good public library, I would add one to our yard.  Maybe I still should?  Either way, I know there is a thriving network of tiny libraries in Ballard, WA, to inspire me.