4 Notable Reads from 2013

I used to be an avid reader, devouring books by the truckload. Classic literature, chic-lit, crime novels, spy thrillers, historical fiction, creative non-fiction, traditional non-fiction – it didn’t matter, I read it all.  But in recent years, my appetite has waned.

My problem is two-fold: 1) too much academic reading tends to diminish my desire to read for pleasure; and 2) as my own writing evolves, I find myself increasingly critical of the works I read, and incapable of suffering bad writing for the sake of a story.

That last part makes me feel like a pretentious jerk.

And perhaps I am.  But more likely, its just that over the years, my taste in reading material has become more discriminate.  I think it’s only natural.  I mean, twenty years ago, I drank fruit flavored wine coolers because they tasted like punch and provided a nice little buzz.  Today, I have learned to savor and appreciate the bouquet of a full-bodied Cabernet without devolving into a drunken train wreck – usually.

In 2013, I made a point to read more.  I participated in author Patricia Burroughs’ Embarrassment of Riches – TBR Challenge.  I did fairly well, though about halfway through, I began to turn away from the books I’d been meaning to read, and moved toward new titles.  But I read, and that’s all that really matters.

I completed about a two dozen books.  Not a huge amount, but it was a decent start.  I finished working my way through Daniel Silva’s complete body of work.  Some were good, some were not.  Against my better judgment, I was suckered into reading Dan Brown’s latest – hated it.   I also discovered that I’m not a fan of Tom Clancy’s written work, which was disappointing; and I found the classic Sherlock Holmes adventures to be a bit tedious – also a grave disappointment.

Despite this, there were a handful of titles that I did enjoy – very much, in fact.  Here are four that left an impression (in no particular order):

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith (a.k.a J.K. Rowling):  At the risk of provoking the wrath of my limited readership, I have a confession: I am not a Potter fan.

I’ll give you a minute to digest that tidbit.  

Are we good?

Cuckoo was an impulse buy, picked up at the last-minute while standing in a ridiculous line at my local big box booksellers.  I brought it home and did with it what I usually do with such purchases – I put it on my nightstand and left it to collect dust. Two months later, after reading a couple of historical books on religion and ready for a change of pace, I plucked it off the nightstand, wiped away the dust bunnies, and prepared to be underwhelmed.

I confess.  I never read the jacket blurb.  If I had, I might have delved in sooner. Imagine my shock when I discovered that the main character was a down-on-his-luck gumshoe.  I’m a big fan of the whodunit – Edgar Allan Poe, Carolyn Keene, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Ellery Queen (Dannay and Lee).  I spent my formative years devouring every such novel I could dig up at my local library.  While my friends were reading Sweet Valley High and Beverly Cleary, I was immersed in detective stories.

Needless to say, I was captivated by Galbraith’s (Rowling) Cormoran Strike.  There was an old-school feel to him that called to mind Chandler’s Philip Marlowe – smart, capable, a little fucked up.  The plot was compelling, the pace typically British – slow but persistent, the conclusion satisfying and not altogether obvious.  I was at times irked by Rowling’s general writing style, but it was nothing too traumatic, and easily overlooked by my need to discover the killer.

I am not often surprised by a book, so to that I say:  Bravo, J.K. Rowling.  Bravo.

I hear there will be a follow-up.  I look forward to it.

The English Girl – Daniel Silva:  I did not intend to read this novel when it was released last July.  As I said above, I’d just spent the better part of six months entrenched in Silva’s work, and was suffering from burnout.  I pre-ordered a signed first edition, of course.  How could I not?  It’s Daniel Silva.  Duh.  But I did not set out to read it immediately.

Then it was delivered.

I read it over the course of two days and loved it.  What struck me about this particular offering was Silva’s move away from the formulaic plot structure that seemed to dominate most of the Allon series.   He brought back a key character from early on, Christopher Keller, who first appeared in The English Assassin as a former SIS officer turned contract killer hired to eliminate Gabriel.  One of the great things about Silva is his knack for writing bad guys in a sympathetic light – he makes them human.  I was intrigued by Keller from the outset, and knew there was a certain depth of character in him begging to be explored.

In The English Girl, Silva brings Keller into the fray by forcing Gabriel to elicit the assassin’s help in finding a missing woman for a well-connected friend.  It’s a contentious arrangement, and one that rewards the reader with some witty and off the cuff banter.  Moreover, he brings to life a certain professional rivalry that highlights their individual strengths by forcing them to work in conjunction with one another in order reach a common goal.  It’s fascinating to watch, and really gives this thirteenth Allon novel some meat to go along with the usual potatoes.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth – Reza Aslan:  I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating:  I am not an overtly religious individual.  Sure, I was raised in the Catholic church, received all of the necessary education to achieve a certain standing within the Church, but at my core, I lack the deep sense of spirituality required for unconditional faith.  That being said – I am drawn to religious history, particularly how it relates to the social, political, and economic development of civilizations.

I stumbled upon Zealot while listening to NPR during an afternoon commute.  I was intrigued by the author and found some merit in the premise he presented.  I picked up a copy during my next visit to my favorite booksellers – and if truth be told, I believe this to be the visit I also acquired The Cuckoo’s Calling.

There is a certain aura of controversy surrounding the book.  The author’s Islamic faith has caused some in the media to question the legitimacy of his claim that Zealot is an unbiased biography of Jesus – the man as he was in first century Palestine, not the revered figure we know from Christianity and the Bible (for a bit of context and a good laugh click here).  Given the author’s extensive education and employment history, I am apt to dismiss such questions as right-wing rhetoric.  Though, I did have a professor who lectured that there is no such thing as an unbiased retelling of history.  As humans our worldview is influenced by emotion, education, and experience, and thereby, naturally skewed.

It’s a valid view, and I think one that holds true with this book.  Nonsense aside, I did enjoy the book very much.  Vivid in its descriptions, it read like a novel, filled with all those things I love: murder, intrigue, and betrayal.  It was well-researched with a clear point of view.  If I were to have an issue at all, it would be with Aslan’s dismissal of the Apostle Paul’s importance to the evolution of early Christianity.  He tends to lay most of the credit at the feet of James, brother of Jesus.

This would be the point where my own biases come into play.

Gone to Texas: A History of the Lone Star State – Randolph Campbell:  When I moved to Texas as a teenager in the late ’80s, I went through a period of culture shock.  Texas was unlike anywhere I had ever lived.  I often equated it to moving to a foreign country – you might reside within the borders of the United States, but it’s a whole other world down here.

I always wondered why.  What gave Texas its tenacity, its iron will, its independent spirit, its unabashed balls of brass?

Last semester, I took a Texas history course, and Gone to Texas was the required reading. Unlike other course readings, this one didn’t have that textbook feel.  Campbell’s writing style is easy and fluid, a bit tongue in cheek in places, and at times, ironic.  He provided a fantastic survey of the state, spanning more than four and a half centuries – from the first ill-fated Spanish expeditions, to Coronado and La Salle, to the rise of Spanish occupation and the establishment of the first missions, to Mexican independence and Anglo infiltration, to Moses Austin, Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, and Santa Ana, to the battles of Gonzales, Goliad, the Alamo, and San Jacinto, to the rise of the Republic, Annexation, Secession, and the Civil War, to the age of cattle, the oil boom, and beyond.

Whew.  That’s a lot of history.

It was great book, and even though I paid an exorbitant amount of money for it (that’s a blog for another day), I’m glad I read it.

As for Texas, I think John Steinbeck captures the essence of the state best:

“I have said that Texas is a state of mind, but I think it is more than that. It is a mystique closely approximating a religion. And this is true to the extent that people either passionately love Texas or passionately hate it and, as in other religions, few people dare to inspect it for fear of losing their bearings in mystery or paradox. But I think there will be little quarrel with my feeling that Texas is one thing. For all its enormous range of space, climate, and physical appearance, and for all the internal squabbles, contentions, and strivings, Texas has a tight cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section of America. Rich, poor, Panhandle, Gulf, city, country, Texas is the obsession, the proper study, and the passionate possession of all Texans.”
― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America


Embarrassment of Richest TBR Challenge – July check-in

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I have intended to read, but never got around to picking up.

Given the size of the pile I have amassed, I aim to get through 24 of them before the end of the year – a silver level accomplishment.

So what have I read this month?

Sherlock HolmesA Study in Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle:  I have mixed feeling about this one.  While I did find the characterizations of Watson and Holmes engaging and enjoyed the visual of these two in the context of their time period, the mystery itself was less than gripping.   I was bored – plain and simple.   Bummer.

Mark of the Assassin – Daniel Silva:  Ugh.  This is Silva’s second novel and first attempt at serial work.  I started this one last month.  At the time of my June check-in, I was a few chapters in and not really feeling it.  I had hoped that once I was able to cleanse my brain of Dan Brown’s Inferno and the crushing disappointment of the Unlikely Spy,  something would click.  Wrong.  I read about half of it and walked away.   I didn’t like it.  I tried.  I really, really did, but I couldn’t connect with the characters, there was no depth or development, the writing was scattered and at times, repetitive.  Maybe in a month or two I will try again and things will be different.

Doubt it.

Progress toward goal:  12 1/2 of 24.

So what’s up next:

Hunt for Red October – Tom Clancy.  This has been on my TBR list for years.  I love the movie – it’s one of my favorite – but I’ve never gotten around to picking up the book.  I hear Clancy can be a little on the dry side…we shall see.

Currently, I am very close to finishing Silva’s thirteenth Allon installment, The English Girl No, I wasn’t suppose to read it right away, but I couldn’t help myself.  It’s good, too.  Really, really good.

Of course, it a new publication and doesn’t count toward my end goal in this challenger.

Double bummer.

What’s on your nightstand collecting dust, begging to be read?

Summer reading

I usually spend the first few weeks of summer wrapped in the warm familiarity of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.  It’s an annual tradition born out of my desire to escape the drudgery of months entrenched in academic reading, and in an effort to recharge my wilted brain with something frivolous.  What could be more frivolous than hanging out poolside, the scent of chlorinated water and sunscreen wafting through the air, a margarita in one hand and a tattered copy of Pride & Prejudice in the other?

Not much, right? 

The prospect of frolicking through Georgian England with the Bennett clan should make me feel all warm and gooey inside.  Yet, this year, it doesn’t appeal to me at all.  It seems my rebellious self is protesting our journey down that well-worn literary path and is intent on lobbying for something new.  I suppose it’s to be expected.  Eventually, even the staunchest chocolate lovers crave a little lemon meringue. 

Of course, this leads to a troubling dilemma: 

What am I going to read poolside this summer?

I toiled with the answer to this question for quite some time.  My reading list usually consists of a gentle mix of historical non-fiction, contemporary (and/or Cold War era) spy novels, and familiar classics.  Occasionally, I will throw in a current commercial bestseller or a traditional whodunit to keep things interesting.   

Of late, I have spent a great deal of time enveloped within worlds created by a few of my favorite authors:  Daniel Silva, John le Carre, and Agatha Christie.  And to be completely honest, I’m a little burned out.  Sure, Silva has a new Allon novel dropping next week, and I pre-ordered a signed copy months ago, but I doubt I will dive into this latest installment anytime soon.

After barely surviving Dan Brown’s Inferno, and given my disinterest in Pride & Prejudice, I was beginning to fear that summer would come and go, leaving me wanting.  Then on a recent lazy Saturday, the answer to my reading dilemma came to me in a burst of unfettered brilliance.  It was one of those scorching days, too hot to venture outdoors before sunset.  My daughter and I were doing what we usually do to beat the heat – watching a Netflix marathon, camped out on the couch, noshing junk food.  

Our poison of choice – Sherlock Holmes. 

We started with the BBC’s Sherlock, meandered through CBS’s alternative take, and ended with Guy Ritchie’s quirky blockbusters.  As I watched, I was struck by the complexity of these two characters (Holmes and Watson) portrayed in vastly different settings and time periods, yet seemingly interchangeable.  I wondered what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have thought of our modern take on his iconic hero and sidekick; how would they stack up to their literary counterparts;  would I even like Conan Doyle’s Holmes and Watson after growing accustomed to the contemporary screen – big and small – versions?

I decided to find out.

Summer reading dilemma solved.

“Excellent!”…

“Elementary.”

Embarrassment of Riches TBR: June Check-In

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I have intended to read, but never got around to picking up.

Given the size of the pile I have amassed, I aim to get through 24 of them before the end of the year – a silver level accomplishment.

So what have I read this month?

The Unlikely Spy – Daniel Silva:  As I said in last month’s TBR blog entry, this is Silva’s first novel and a bit of a departure from his later work.  Set during WWII and based loosely on actual events, Unlikely chronicles a German spy’s mission to obtain intelligence regarding the anticipated Allied invasion of France (D-Day), and British efforts to thwart such an effort by leaking false information through a network of double agents.  It’s a complex story with a great many players told from numerous perspectives.  So many, in fact, it becomes very difficult to differentiate between the characters and their motivations.  The female antagonist – aka the German spy – was the most interesting character in the entire novel.  She was strong, resilient, and sympathetic.  Her motivations were clear, and even though she did kill a few innocent Brits when her back was to the wall, I found myself rooting for her success.  Then Silva killed her.  In the most blasé fashion, as if it were an afterthought, he eliminated her and moved on without a backward glance.  The story went to shit for me after that, and was topped off by an ending that was a real blow to my intelligence as a reader.  I hate that.

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie:  I have read my fair share of Agatha Christie over the years.  My favorite, and one of my top five favorite books of all time, is Murder in Mesopotamia.  So, it’s a little shocking that Murder on the Orient Express, arguably Christie’s most notable effort, remained steadfast on my TBR list.  Until now.  As always, the queen of murder weaves a riveting story complete with an impossible crime, an eclectic cast of characters (though they have more in common than one might think), and an improbable conclusion.  And she makes it work.  Brilliantly.

Inferno – Dan BrownInferno is by far the worst book I’ve read since…well…the Lost Symbol.   It started out promising.  I like a novel that drops the reader right into the action and Brown certainly accomplished that, but once you get past the initial  flash and bang, the story becomes heavy on tell and light show.  I know what you’re thinking:  It’s a Dan Brown novel – telling is part of the equation.  I get that, but in this case it’s boring, poorly written, and redundant.  How many times does Brown recount – frame by frame, word for word – the contents of the mysterious video sent by the bad guy to the unknowing accomplice?  Four.  It’s almost as if he has no faith in the reader’s intelligence.  That pisses me off.  Do you know what else pisses me off?  Making the reader (me) believe one thing then revealing it was all an orchestrated illusion thereby voiding the entire beginning of the story – the only interesting part of the entire book.

On a side note:  Dan Brown could do with a stint in adverb rehab; and it should be a crime to use the word ubiquitous and the phrase “sea of humanity” more than once per novel.

Just a thought.

Another note:  Inferno is a new publication and doesn’t count toward my goal in this challenge.  Bummer.  Such suckage should count for something.

Progress toward goal:  11 of 24. 

What’s next?

A Study in Scarlet – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

What’s on your TBR list?

Embarrassment of Riches TBR: May check-in

Better late than never.

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I have been intending to read, but never got around to picking up.

Given the size of the pile I have amassed, I am aiming to get through 24 of them before the end of the year – a silver level accomplishment.

So what did I read in May?

  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carre:  I’m a sucker for a good spy novel, and le Carre’s George Smiley just might be my favorite fictional spy of all time.  Tinker is set in the early seventies and weaves the reader through a spine-tingling maze of betrayal and treason as Smiley seeks to discover the mole within the “Circus” – a mole channeling operational intelligence to the KGB.  The plot twists and turn as Smiley works to corner his prey, and in the process, exposes each of a wide cast of characters’ deepest, darkest secrets.  I loved this book, though perhaps not quite as much as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which was a work of pure genius, but Tinker is definitely true to the brilliance of le Carre’s mastery of the genre.

Albright

  • Prague Winter:  A Personal Story of Remembrance and War:  1937-1948 by Madeleine Albright:  It took me a while to get through this work of non-fiction – three months, perhaps.  That’s not to say it wasn’t a good read.  It was.  I just found it tedious.  Albright is a thorough writer with a quick wit and offers up an unexpected barb or two to lighten up the heaviness of the period, but she tends to bury the reader in too much prologue and back history.  The personal stories about her family experiences, memories of the war, and unrealized Jewish heritage were fascinating, though.  I’m glad I took the time to finally finish it.
  • I also finished Gospel of Freedom by Jonathan Rieder.  Gospel is an interesting work that puts King’s iconic Birmingham jail letter into historical context.  This was a new approach to this letter to me.  I have read it before, but always from a literary perspective – audience, prose, etc.   It’s not my favorite book on King, but I think any criticism I have stems from the writer’s tendency to ramble.  Of course, this a new publication and not from my TBR list, but…

Currently reading:

  • The Unlikely Spy by Daniel Silva:  I believe this is Silva’s first novel, and not at all what I was expecting.  It’s set during World War II – didn’t see that coming; probably should have read the cover blurb.  It’s also told from so many points of view, I have trouble keeping track of who’s who.  Unlike his Allon novels, the hero is lukewarm and somewhat uninteresting.  I find myself drawn to the female antagonist even though I know she is the enemy.  She’s so much more engaging.  Perhaps this is Silva’s intent.  He has done this before – painted the bad guy in a sympathetic light, though not to this extent.  We shall see how it ends.  I will report back.
  • Mark of the Assassin by Daniel Silva:  Six chapters in and I haven’t met the hero yet.  I don’t hold out much hope.  It is obvious that Silva hasn’t hit his stride yet.

Progress toward goal:  9 of 24 read.

I need to step up my game.

So, what are you reading?

Embarrassment of Riches – March check-in

At the beginning of the year, I decided to participate in the Embarrassment of Riches reading challenge hosted by Author Patricia Burroughs.   The goal of the challenge is to make a dent in that stack of books I have been intending to read, but never got around to picking up. 

Given the size of the pile I have amassed, I am aiming to get through 24 of them before the end of the year – a silver level accomplishment.

This month I read:

Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva.   I went into this book thinking it would be the story of head spymaster Ari Shamron.  I’m not sure where I picked up that notion, but as it turned out – not about him at all.  I have to say, I liked this one well enough but Silva committed a few plot sins:  1) He introduced a painting in the beginning of the novel, only to let it be forgotten until the wrap up at the end.   2) He killed a character in much the same way he did in a previous novel (The Defector).  3)  The conclusion and epilogue were overlong and burdensome to the story as a whole.  Despite this, I did find it entertaining, though a little redundant at times.

silva_largeFallen Angel by Daniel Silva.  Where to begin with this one?  I can tell you that after five consecutive Allon novels, this one was a chore to read.  In a departure from previous novels, Fallen Angel begins with a murder mystery.  Allon is brought in to investigate the death of a Vatican staffer, at the behest of the Pope’s personal secretary.  The story meanders briefly into the black market world of antiquities, offers the obligatory attempt on Gabriel and Chiara’s lives (sadly they missed her again), and pretty well flounders around in very familiar territory.  It was at this point I walked away from it – for about two weeks.  I honestly didn’t think I was going to be able to finish it.  Then, I gave it another go.   I’m glad I did because at the mid-point, the story took a turn and ended up in Jerusalem.  It is there, among the three Abrahamic faiths’ most sacred sites including the Temple Mount/the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the via Delorosa, the Western Wall, and the Mount of Olives, Gabriel unwittingly uncovers a plot that will most assuredly result in a third intifada.  When the plot is foiled, the story returns to resolve the murder mystery that was left hanging in the balance.  Thankfully, Silva took pity on his readers and wrapped up this useless plot element in a timely fashion.

One interesting note of the story:  Silva delved into the mysteries and controversies of “temple denial” – the denial of the existence of King Solomon’s first Jewish temple.  It’s a subject that I am not all that familiar, and it piqued my interest.  I smell a research project brewing.

Progress toward goal:  7/24

I am officially caught up with Silva’s Gabriel Allon series.  Just in time, too.  The English Girl will be released in July.  I think by then I will have recovered from my Allon fatigue.

So what’s up next for April?

I am still prodding my way through Madeleine Albright’s Prague Winter.  It’s a very interesting read, just not a quick one.  Maybe I will finish it in April.  Maybe not.  In addition, I’ve decided to give Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game a shot.  Everyone I know has read it, and they all rave about it.  I feel left out, so I will give it a go.  It’s not my usual fare, but after three solid months of Daniel Silva, I need a change of pace.  I’ve also started a compilation edited by George Mann entitled The Encounters of Sherlock Holmes.  It is a new book to my list, though, and will not count toward this challenge.  I wish it did.  I am enjoying the hell out of it.

What’s lying around on your nightstand waiting to be read?

Things I learned this week (month)

I learned this week (and last…and maybe even the week before that):

…that there is an old saying in Bohemia (Czechoslovakia):

“When a Czech owns a goat…his neighbor does not yearn for a goat of his own; he wants the neighbor’s goat to die.”

I’m currently reading former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s Prague Winter: A Story of Remembrance 1937-1948In the first few chapters, she chronicles a good bit of Czech history, delves into Czech culture, and explores their predilection for a humanitarian driven lifestyle.  It seems to me, though, their giving nature has its limitations – especially when it comes to coveted livestock.

…that I am grateful that 1) I no longer have small children; 2) that my daughter is a gentle, well-behaved soul; and 3) that I am blessed with a husband who usually understands stating the obvious is not always the correct course of action in a tense situation.

Strange sounding, I know.  Let me explain.

We recently returned from a short spring break trip to San Antonio.  It’s a fun city in the heart of Texas, with a good variety of attractions that can appeal to a whole range of interests – be it the arts, family fun, or just boozing it up down on the River Walk.  Of course, no visit is complete without the obligatory trip to Sea World.  Personally, I’m not the amusement park type.  I would much rather spend my vacation time sipping on a frozen fruity cocktail on a warm sunny beach, or capturing the beauty of a botanical garden with my camera, or exploring a historical landmark  and trying to figure out how to work it into my current WIP.  Sadly, when it comes to family time, one must learn to embrace the art of compromise.  So, off to Sea World we go.  We were joined by thousands of our not so closest friends – some with big obnoxious kids, some with small obnoxious kids, some with no kids – just plain obnoxious personalities.   As an eternal observer, and because amusement parks are all about standing in endless lines where I must endure the invasion of my personal space, I took the opportunity to learn from those around me.  The most valuable lesson of the day:

  • Giving a three-year old a king-size bag of M&Ms at ten in the morning will result in a series of successive events;
    • increased hyperactivity (child);
    • stern reprimands (mom);
    • whining (child);
    • decrease in patience and energy level (mom);
    • rapid crash, additional whining with pitch elevation (child);
    • bribes of more candy capped by threats of harsh discipline (mom);
    • meltdown of cataclysmic proportions complete with screaming, thrashing, and tears – tone now ear-splitting (child);
    • demands for support from father figure who had wandered off to avoid the impending explosion (mom);
    • Poorly timed parental criticism, “You shouldn’t have given him that candy.” (dad);
    • hate filled glares followed by expletives then stony silence (mom);

Of course, silence isn’t always golden.  As I stood in line, I could see the wheel in her mind turning as her eyes bored a hole through his skull.  Scheming; plotting; planning.  How could she do it?  When should she do it?  Could she get away with it?  Did she have a plausible defense?  How hard could life in prison really be?

that the Catholic Church has a new leader.  I don’t really like to talk about religion on the blog.  It can be a polarizing subject that sometimes brings out the worst in people.  I believe religion is a personal endeavor and should be spared societal judgment.  Unfortunately, not everyone sees things my way.  I was raised in the Church, though I haven’t practiced in many years.  I don’t feel Church doctrine correlates with my worldview, and by and large, I lack the traditional spirituality that comes with unconditional faith.  I’m more of a good Karma/bad Karma kind of person with a healthy dose of superstition thrown in for good measure. You know that whole “spit in the wind…” thing.  However, I find the entire process of electing a new pope utterly fascinating.  I love the ritual of it; the politics of it; the clandestine nature of it.  It’s the stuff of novels – add a little murder and mayhem and you’ve got yourself a bestseller.  Oh, wait.  Daniel Silva and Dan Brown already did that.

Damn them.

…that historical geology is a science of many faces.  This week it is masquerading as biology.  My head is filled with biological classifications – kingdom, phylum, class, family, genus, specie.  I’ve done this sort of thing before – in high school biology.  I did alright, and I liked it well enough.  But somehow classifying animals I knew and understood seemed so much easier.  These fossils are a pain in my ass.  They all look the same; their names all end in –ite or -pod.  Half of them look like clams but are not related to the clam in any way.  I find that suspect.  Also, if it looks like sponge, acts like a sponge, then it is not a sponge.  Seriously?

Dr. M:  It is very easy to see the difference between this trilobite from the Cambrian and this one from the Ordovician.  See the eyes; the shape of the back-end?

Me:  No.  No, I do not.  I see a brown lumpy bit of rock.

Dr. M:  Oh, you found the coprolite.

Ew.

…that my daughter does not appreciate unsolicited conversation with strangers anymore than I do.  This weekend we went to see (hear) the Plano Symphony.  While we were waiting for the performance to begin, the woman sitting next to my daughter began to engage her in a bit of small talk.   Megan listened politely to the woman, answered her questions guardedly, and cast a few glares in my direction.  At the end of the night, while waiting for our car, my daughter commented on her experience:

Megan:  Mom, that lady made me feel socially awkward.

Me:  Get used to it.  Happens to me all the damn time.

Megan:  Great.

***side note:  If you live in the Dallas area, and have the opportunity to check out the Plano Symphony – do it.  They are fabulous.

…that after reading five Daniel Silva (Gabriel Allon series) novels since the beginning of the year, I have come to the conclusion that I do not like Gabriel’s wife, Chiara.  There are many things I admire about Silva’s writing – his penchant for strong memorable characters; his knack for brevity; his enviable grasp of show vs. tell.  However, I am baffled by Chiara’s evolution from Gabriel’s leather clad, motorcycle riding guardian angel to nagging fishwife who has forgotten the complexity of her husband’s chosen profession – a profession she shares.  I know it’s pretty drastic of me, but I keep hoping Silva will do the humane thing and kill her off.  At least it would shut her up and Gabriel could go about the business of saving the world in peace.

…and last, but not least, this week’s awww moment is brought to you by this spotted leopard we stumbled upon at the San Antonio Zoo.  I have posted a different shot of him, but I think this one is my favorite.  He appears to be looking right at me.  Such a beautiful animal.

IMG_1936