Houseplant Adventures

Some of you may have noticed an increase in houseplant photos on my instagram feed. Those who know me in real life might have been able to encounter them, either at home or at my office. But the reality of things emerged when I was discussing plants with a friend who I considered to be A Plant Person, and we both realized that I might own more houseplants than he does! (His credentials are still stronger, though, since he also has a beautiful outdoor garden.)

In light of this, I thought it was time to show my whole plant-loving self to the world. (Also, I have been collecting reference sources, and have been taking photographs to track and learn about my plants, so it’s only right that I compile those here, on this blog that is nothing if not a searchable extension of my brain.)

Is that enough of an introduction?

39 books finished in 2016: The Half Has Never Been Told

39 books finished in 2016

It’s audiobook season! So many roadtrips this month, and I decided to tackle this 10-hour monster. It was recommended by a friend, an English professor, and the book was much more academic (read: dense, boring) than I might have tackled otherwise, but the content was incredible. The subtitle, which you can’t actually read in this photo: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism.

more than one side to
American History
this one is less known

As an Ohioan who remembers touring homes that were part of the Underground Railroad during our American History lessons, I tend to approach the history of slavery in my current Virginia town with feelings of smugness and distance. This book tackles that early, implicating everyone in the growth of slavery – Northerners and Europeans, though they may have been morally opposed to owning slaves, were quick to invest their money in slave ventures. (What shrewd investor wouldn’t? Nothing pulls a profit as quickly as an industry with free labor!) The first few chapters described the slave-dependent cotton expansion as an investment opportunity, and detailed the commodification of human bodies. This narrative of wealth and economic growth overriding questions of morality can be applied many places in the modern world.

A few other chapters dug deep into the narratives of individual slaves, detailing the ways their lives and families were constantly upended and shattered as these “resources” were moved from one farm to the next, and describing the effectiveness of torture and abuse as motivational tools. One chapter dove into the mental and physical adaptations necessary to increase cotton-picking productivity, and I would read another book about the ways this relates to the industrial revolution, and the quest for efficiency that continues today.

The end of the book got a bit too caught up in political history for my liking – I most enjoyed the portions that were told from the perspective of slaves themselves – but I understood the desire to explain the social, economic, and political spheres that led to the Civil War.

So even though I claim this book was boring, it sparked a lot of thought and conversation. Clearly I don’t know what my nerdy heart wants.

(Check out this great HuffPo summary if you want to hear more about the book.)

38 books finished in 2016: My Name is Red

38 books finished in 2016

sets out to describe
complicated mysteries:
art, faith, and murder

This particular book, a selection for the book club which has mostly disbanded, was difficult to read (and I wish the book club was still around for further discussion). Though it was written in English*, it wasn’t written in a way that was hugely accommodating/accessible to Westerners. None of the cultural norms or foreign words/phrases were explained in any way. Obviously, I do not EXPECT this to be the case with books, particularly when I’m reading them specifically for exposure to foreign cultures. But the distance between myself and this book drew my attention to how frequently OTHER authors write in a way that accommodates Western readers. The rhythm of this book never became natural to me as a reader, and I am hugely aware of how much I do not understand about this culture. Thankfully, I have another book by this author, so I will have another opportunity to learn, but I also think it would be helpful for me to dig into some historical facts so I can better understand.

A little bit about the plot: it’s a murder mystery, set within a guild of manuscript illustrators/miniaturists in the Ottoman Empire.  Each chapter is from a different perspective – some were from the murderer, some from observers, some from the victims/suspects – which made for an interesting narrative.

*Did a bit of research and discovered that this book was TRANSLATED to English, which helps explain some of the difficulties in reading.

37 books finished in 2016: The Fire Next Time

37 books finished in 2016

WHY HAD I NEVER READ THIS BEFORE NOW? The things he was saying about our society, 50 years ago, are still mostly relevant, and that’s a shame. Honestly, the fact that I, a white person, hadn’t heard his words before, is part of the reason.

I wish I’d read the physical book, because there were many things I would have underlined, quoted, shared. But it’s probably better that anyone who hasn’t read this book does. The first chapter – a letter to his nephew – is beautiful and profound and terrible and seems to have been the core inspiration for Between the World and Me. The second chapter, though, was equally powerful – it tells a story of the time James Baldwin met Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam. It was particularly fascinating to read this having recently finished The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

No haiku. Just a request for recommendations of other books that speak to the American story that don’t show up on required reading lists.

36 books finished in 2016: Tangible

36 books finished in 2016

I have no memory of this book, but I know I read it, and probably underlined things inside. It’s super short! It was assigned reading for a class at church, and I think I missed the meeting when we discussed it so I can’t even borrow the insights of others.

But hey, I support the premise!

(One of the most profound observations from this book project, over the years, is the discovery that I’m mostly uninterested in instructional books. It’s particularly profound because I feel like I have read A LOT of them in my lifetime, and it seems to be a very popular thing within Christian culture. But they are generally dull to me, and I’m much more likely to be formed/changed through stories – fiction, yes, but also through compelling tales of non-fiction.)