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the golden compass

This past week was the twentieth anniversary of The Golden Compass, which was one of the most profoundly influential books I read growing up. (Hard to believe I read it 19 years ago, at age 12!) It's a re-telling of Milton's Paradise Lost, but it's also a wonderful adventure story, a thinly veiled critique of the Catholic Church, and a celebration of secular humanism. (At 12, I only picked up on the second.)

I love this quote from the book, which surfaced on this Vox article (also worth a read):

There are two great powers, and they've been fighting since time began. Every advance in human life, every scrap of knowledge and wisdom and decency we have has been torn by one side from the teeth of the other. Every little increase in human freedom has been fought over ferociously between those who want us to know more and be wiser and stronger, and those who want us to obey and be humble and submit.


district gems: cherry blossom season

This is my eighth spring in D.C., and I've never gone to see the cherry blossoms. I mean, I've seen them, but I've never, ever, ever gone down to the Tidal Basin to take a walk. The season comes and goes very quickly, and it's always felt like I had something else going on during the one weekend a year that they're in peak bloom. In retrospect, I was probably just lazy. But you get complacent when you stay in a city for a long time! 

Since moving back, though, I was determined not to miss it this year. I obsessively checked the reports as to when peak bloom would take place. The dates get moved around every year (cherry blossoms are fickle beauties), but it was particularly early and unpredictable this year due to a recent spell of extra funky spring weather. I even checked the live cherry blossom cam every day, where you can see what the foliage around the Tidal Basin looks like! Last weekend, when we started getting a bit of wet snow on Sunday, I bit my nails and worried about whether all the cherry blossoms would be killed off. 

Yup, crazy. 

So yesterday morning, which was the second day of peak bloom, Aaron woke us up at 4:30am. (I know.) As the saying goes, make hay while your toddler is having a sleep regression—so after getting ready for work and packing a quick breakfast for Aaron, I bundled him up in my trusty sling. He was so disoriented but excited to be out, before the sun was even up. We took the Metro, which was filled with sleepy commuters, to the Smithsonian stop and walked to the Tidal Basin from there. 

It wasn't exactly my idyllic vision: there were pretty significant groups of people, but nowhere near the scale that the Tidal Basin will see over the weekend during normal hours of the day. But still, a beautiful time to get some photos, and some really lovely light. Aaron had a blast counting ducks and looking at the airplanes flying into National Airport. His main gripe was that the "cherry blossoms" he was promised did not actually yield the red stone fruit he loves. Life is hard when you're a toddler!  

I'm posting this right away, today, so if you've got some major self-discipline, you can get up tomorrow or Sunday morning and head over right away. It's breathtaking, and it would be a shame to miss.

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2016 in books, book 10 and 11: san juan edition

I know—that's a beer. But there's a book in there too...? There was a lot of drinking and reading on my trip, here and here

Before I left for Puerto Rico last weekend, I was—well, still am—in the midst of the largest, heaviest library book on record (go figure). It was Dan Simmons's "The Fifth Heart," which I'll write about a bit next week, since I imagine I'll finish it sometime after this weekend. I tried cramming it into my big bag, but with a 9 pound camera and lens, a small makeup bag, and a laptop for backing up my photos, it just didn't fit.

Enter: the newsstand at Reagan National! Somehow, when confronted with the usual lackluster selection at the airport bookstore, I can justify buying not one, but TWO books that I'm not even sure I would have read otherwise. They ended up being cheap paperbacks, so that was their selling point, but I genuinely enjoyed one the way there, and only got through the second as a nervous distraction from a really choppy flight on the way home.

First up, What She Knew: Honestly, I really enjoyed it. It's a thriller in the tradition of Gone Girl and the lesser known Afterwards (I enjoyed both of them). They're light reads, but well written enough to keep your attention. I read nearly the entire thing on a three hour flight to San Juan and finished up the rest while there.

(N.B.: Next time, do not pick a book about a missing child when you are away from your actual child.) 

Second up, David & Goliath: I'm not sure there's much to say about the book except that it is unclear whether or not Malcolm Gladwell reads what he writes. He tends to write about interesting phenomenons, but I'd rather have a deep dive on one or two of them rather than a string of eight or nine, all tenuously tied together with a thesis so broad as to be disprovable. 

It does, however, make for an excellent distraction on a bumpy flight home, but I'll go for two gin & tonics instead next time.

And that's it for this week. Nothing too thoughtful or difficult, but I'm really loving my current Dan Simmons historical mystery, and hope to finish it (my twelfth! twelfth book of the year!) next week. 


2016 in books, book 9: the autobiography of malcolm x

Just started this book—consider me approximately sixty years behind the times. And if you haven't read it, it's probably time.