When You Reach Me

The next book selected for my holiday reading season is Rebecca Stead’s Newberry award-winningWhen You Reach Me. Though I don’t often read young adult fiction, the magical nostalgia of this novel drew me in. The book hinges on the favored middle school tale of A Wrinkle in Time, but in this case the sixth-grade protagonist navigates the streets of 1970s New York, not a different time dimension. Her experience is equally unnerving and full of interesting characters, from the laughing man on the corner to the classmates that waver before her eyes. The shift occurs in her own perception of situations and people, and it’s that shift and belief that allows her to comprehend the end, where one life begins as another one reaches its extraordinary end.

I Was Told There’d Be Cake

With the family gatherings required by the holidays now past or postponed due to weather, I’ve turned toward my second winter break past time – catching up on the reading that I’ve meant to do the rest of the year. Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake arrived at the top of my stack, as the most recent book club selection and an appropriate subject given the healthy dose of eating in recent weeks. As the title suggests, the book of essays meets the basic requirements of light reading, but leaves something to be desired. It’s not overly sweet, but peppered with sarcasm and wit.

Crosley approaches most essays from the stance of telling family secrets, usually her own, but they turn out to be no more sinister than a few dozen plastic ponies hidden under the kitchen sink. The eccentric collection of stories occupies a similar space, ranging from summer camp to first apartments, all complete with crazy characters. She handles small problems in unusual ways, with potentially catastrophic consequences, but when the inevitable doesn’t occur, the end becomes endearing.

The personal essays remain relatable, and therein lies their strength. They make no claims to be for everyone. But for a twenty-something writer who is finding her voice, they provide a taste for more to come.

The Great Indoors

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We become homebodies this time of year, taking a break from the walks to and from work and the weekend hikes to spend time with family and friends. Of course, the after Christmas storm in the Washington DC metro-area contributed to this indoor inclination. Even the dog barely ventures outside, but when she does, she’s wearing her Lands End pet squall jacket that appeared under the tree just in time. In the morning slush, she gave a pitiful look that might translate into doggie-boots next year. For now, the coat is enough of a super hero, a cape that makes her conquer her fear of cold rain.

Our other recent adventures have included a night-time trek through Zoo Lights, where the entire stretch of the main path of the zoo becomes a bright display of wrapped trees and timed effects. The trail ends at its normal kid-friendly petting zoo, where the barn animals contently start through the slated gates of their stalls. They are the only animals on display at this time of day, but the admission remains free, so it’s a nice holiday diversion from the lights of the city. The zoo strategically opens some indoor exhibits to provide stops for warmth and nourishment, and one of the favorite stops for our party of six came in the unexpected display of lego trains and buildings, most of which the men already owned at one age or another. Some of which remain on display in my apartment today.

Our shopping excursions took us through the territory of Bass Pro Shop in Hanover County, Virginia, so we couldn’t resist a quick diversion to the great outdoor store. Again, our attention centered on a side attraction, this time in the form of a giant salt-water aquarium that serves as the bar backdrop in the adjoining Islamorda restaurant. We enjoyed Sunday brunch while staring at species of fish, some of which we have at home in a smaller form in our own 40-gallon tank.