Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas from Troy's Work Table to you and yours!

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
—LUKE 2:1-7

Thursday, December 23, 2010


To make Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium's Zoolights fresh for me, I needed to look at the lights with "new" eyes. I found beauty in the the simple and the geometric.


We visited Zoolights at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium this evening. We arrived before the multitudes.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Polar Bear Night, story by Lauren Thompson and pictures by Stephen Savage


"The night is keen and cold."

These simple and crisp words begin the magical story of a polar bear cub that wanders out of her den and across the ice and snow of a nighttime arctic landscape.

The language throughout is simple and direct. The illustrations are also simple and direct, geometric and reminiscent of cut paper artwork.


The story is brief yet powerful. It resonates with young children. They can identify with the young cub as she explores her environment, with the safety of home within easy reach.

This book was a favorite of The Child during nightly story times as a toddler. We still read it every few months and enjoy its vocabulary and artwork. The child in your life will too.


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Sunday, December 19, 2010


Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences by Lawrence Weschler


Lawrence Weschler sees things. With exacting precision. With wild abandon.

Lawrence Weschler makes connections. Notices patterns. Notices similarities.

Lawrence Weschler observes and then shares those observations. We are all the better for it.


This book is an art book that marries image with text, image with image, art with essay, "classic" art with "popular" culture. It is also easily accessible, with Weschler treating us as fellow pilgrims and witnesses. There is no condescension or superiority on his part, only the joy of sharing what he sees with you and me. Furthermore, his "readings" feel open-ended even as they feel authoritative. He pleads a case without acting as final arbiter, which is refreshing.

It allows for imaginative play and pushes the reader to make his or her own assessment.


His examinations of genocide in Bosnia and the Solidarity movement in Poland and even the domestic tragedy of 9/11 and Ground Zero are smart. His ruminations on women and their bodies as portrayed in art and popular culture are thought-provoking. His juxtapositions of images to showcase their similarities are spot-on, even if novel.


The greatest pleasure of the book is how it allows the reader to see similar patterns and make his or her own connections between the disparate images encountered in the swirl of information that surrounds us in everyday life.

Lawrence Weschler allows us to challenge. To dream. To see anew.


Order your own copy from McSweeney's HERE.


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Friday, December 17, 2010


Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich


It is no secret that I am fascinated by crows and ravens. I like watching them interact with one another, with other birds, and with people. They are extremely intelligent.

We have a trio of crows that shows up at our home on Fridays and Saturdays around noon because they know that I will feed them on those two days. The small murder of crows that gathers near my workplace band together to harass a nearby bald eagle couple or the many small hawks that hunt the neighborhood grasslands and meadows. Some of them will call out to me in the morning when I arrive and get out of my car. On occasion, one of them will drop small items near me in some sort of game to which I haven't quite figured out the rules.


Bernd Heinrich is also fascinated by the various corvids. He spent four consecutive winters in Maine observing the behavior of local ravens, realizing they weren't quite the solitary animals that natural science has thought them to be. They aren't as social as crows, but spend more time together than previously thought.

In addition to personal observation and experimentation, Heinrich also draws upon and examines other sources to discover the intelligence and nobility that ravens possess. He delves into scientific, historical, literary, and mythological narratives in order to try to describe these large birds and their behavior. If you are fascinated with crows, ravens, or jays, then this is the book for you.


Bernd Heinrich is also the author of a subsequent book on ravens, Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds, which further fleshes out the lives of these majestic birds.


More information about Bernd Heinrich and his books is available HERE.


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Our local trio of crows—Forethought, Afterthought, and Thought—arrived today for lunch, on schedule, as they do most Fridays and Saturdays.

[1] Forethought, the bravest of the three, sits on the powerline next to the black walnut tree, waiting for old bread crusts to be thrown out the front door.

[2] Forethought and Afterthought take scraps of bread to the small pool that forms at the end of the driveway after a good rain. This morning, it had just recently thawed when they began to use it to soften the bread.

[3] A squirrel races by, hoping to get one of the crows to drop his or her bread.

[4] Thought joins Forethought and Afterthought, as does the aforementioned squirrel.

[5] Symmetry.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


The trinity peers down from the heavens, examining, watching the activity below ever carefully.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


The Savage Detectives and 2666, both by Roberto Bolaño


Roberto Bolaño is a force unto himself. This bears out when reading any of his novels, but especially his two greatest works—The Savage Detectives and 2666.


The Savage Detectives is the story of Juan García Madero, a seventeen-year-old poet living in Mexico City. He records his time with the flag bearers of the Visceral Realist movement of poetry, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, as they search for the "mythic" founder of the movement from a generation prior, Cesárea Tinajero.

The novel is filled with the brashness of youth; the discovery of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and death; and a violence that seethes beneath the lives of the visceral realists and their ilk, especially that of Belano and Lima.


2666 is a novel in five interrelated parts, really almost five novels sutured together by overlapping themes and characters. The core of the book revolves around the unsolved murders of women who work in the maquiladoras in the city of Santa Teresa, a "disguise" for the real unsolved murders of such women in the real city of Ciudad Juárez, a Mexican city once again in the news for its overt violence.

2666 is less concerned with youth than The Savage Detectives, as it is more concerned with exploring and navigating the bewilderment and loneliness and violence and mortality of middle age.


References to literature and the act of writing abound. In fact, they provide many of the most haunting scenes in both books. I will never forget the copy of Rafael Dieste's Testamento geométrico hanging from a clothesline for days, the character who placed it there coming back to check on it, to watch how it weathered (in "The Part About Amalfitano" from 2666).

Many of the references are real, while others are fake. Some of the enjoyment is trying to determine which is which.


It took me a long time to read each novel. I didn't want them to end. I wanted to savor them. I wanted to immerse myself in Bolaño's language (and that of his translator Natasha Wimmer) and stay there. I didn't want to return.


File under:
*Literature in translation
*Modern classics


The day begins as a murmuration of starlings gathers in the top of the tree, chattering to one another about the wind and wet.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Tonguecat by Peter Verhelst


It begins with the world being thrust into cataclysmic cold. Everything freezes. Multitudes die. The end of the world is declared. The religious nuts come out of the woodwork.

"After the Great Winter, the Great Thaw set in." (page 62)

The resulting floods wreak their own havoc.

In the midst of natural chaos, comes the kind made by humans. Terrorists are plotting against the monarchy. The king, however, is preoccupied with finding the Girl-with-Red-Hair, even as his subjects revolt and his kingdom falters.


Prometheus is introduced. Yes, the Titan Prometheus. He enters the city. He moves amongst the Tonguecats, storytelling prostitutes, and other people at the margins of society.

Prometheus is coming to bring fire, warmth, to a city locked in a new Ice Age.

From there, the story gets more convoluted and complex, with each of the eight main chapters being told by a different character, a different point of view. It all makes sense in the end, but takes some time and learning the rhythm of the tale to get there. The work is definitely worth the read.


The tale is a meeting of worlds and ideas. It is cyberpunk meets fairy tale. It is St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avilà meets Greek mythology. It is the coarse meets the beautiful. It is death and destruction meets hope and resurrection.


The prose of this novel, even in translation, or perhaps because of the translation, borders on the lyrical and poetic. My guess is that much of the credit goes to Verhelst himself, while some also goes to Sherry Marx's translation from the Dutch into English.


If you love the imaginative worlds and visions created in William Gibson's Neuromancer or Jeff Noon's Vurt or Kathy Acker's Pussy, King of the Pirates or Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red or the surreal landscape of any Steve Erickson novel, then this is a book for you.


File under:
*Fantasy/science fiction (yes, it straddles both)

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Barrel-Aged Brrrbon, a Winter Warmer by Widmer Brothers Brewing Company (as part of their Brothers' Reserve series)

22 ounce (boxed) bomber bottle, served in a snifter. 9.4% alcohol by volume.


The pour is a clear caramel orange with a thin white head that quickly dissipates. There is only the faintest hint of carbonation.

The first aroma is vanilla extract. The second aroma is bourbon. There is also an undercurrent of creamy butter.

The flavor is all bourbon. As I noted: "The bourbon of the barrels it was aged in is VERY strong on the first quaff. I will now resort to sips, which is probably where I should have started."


The flavor is mostly bourbon. I was hoping for more than that. The label claims that "soft oak flavors transition into a sweet yet slightly dry finish," none of which I seemed to encounter beneath the barrage of bourbon.


The finish that lingers (for a long time) is somewhere between bourbon and orange bitters. This is not the initial finish, but the finish that stays and informs for quite some time.


"Did you know that you just drank a beer that tasted more like hard alcohol and very little like beer? Yes, it tasted something like this. Yes, like this... Like this... This... Not exactly, but, hey, it's a memory, even if a recent one. What did you expect?"


As it warmed, the bourbon flavor became even more pronounced and too strong for me. I had to pour some of what remained in the snifter's bowl back into the bottle for safekeeping. Next time, I will remember three things: (1) drink it right out of the refrigerator to keep some of the flavor at bay; (2) serve it in the mini-snifter; and (3) sip it.


This beer is truly one note. Bourbon. And I don't drink enough bourbon to know if this even echoes a good bourbon or not.


As far as I remember, Barrel-Aged Brrrbon tastes nothing like the Brrr Winter Warmer, upon which it is based. I liked Brrr quite a bit, if memory serves me.


One interesting note is that this is the third beer in the Brothers' Reserve series. I have also had the first beer, Cherry Oak Doppelbock, which was great. On the side of the box, they mark which of the Widmer brothers, Kurt or Rob, is recommending this beer. Brrrbon is one of Rob's creations, while the Cherry Oak Doppelbock was one of Kurt's. I seem to side with Kurt, as far as (limited) taste goes.


This bottle cost me $12.99, which I was willing to pay, since I tend to like barrel-aged beers and had a good experience with the Doppelbock. At $9.45 per pint, however, I have to recommend that you spend your money on something else. You'll thank me later.


Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich


Voices from Chernobyl is a series of interviews with those who survived the world's worst nuclear reactor accident. Svetlana Alexievich interviews those in charge of the reactor, first responders, those dying from exposure to radiation, refugees from the area surrounding the meltdown area, persons who have secretly returned to their homes because it is the only place that they know and love. These stories are filled with anger and sadness and confusion. These stories are filled with mourning for the past and hope for the future.


There is not much more to say about the book, other than it needs to be read by everyone.


This is history. Let us not forget what happened. Read it as an act of witnessing, as an act of mourning with those who mourn, as an act of hoping with those who hope.


You can read a long excerpt from the book HERE.


Visit Svetlana's website HERE.


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Friday, December 10, 2010


The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon


Having suffered through a couple of major bouts with depression, one related to physical ailment and another standalone depression, I can emphatically recommend this book. My depression was nowhere near as crippling as that of Andrew Solomon, but I can hear echoes of my own dark times and my melancholy nature in the words that he writes.


This atlas of depression is just that. It's twelve major sections—depression, breakdowns, treatments, alternatives, populations, addiction, suicide, history, poverty, politics, evolution, and hope—peel back the skin of depression and poke about at all of the juicy bits of the corpse beneath. This book is encyclopedic in scope and personal in presentation, as Solomon walks the reader through a story that is universal while grounded in particulars, a story that is personal while allowing anyone to understand the pain that compels the author to share.

While the book begins with Solomon's personal struggles and discoveries, he pushes outside of himself (one of the best things for a depressive) and throws what little energy he has at exploring and explaining this darkness that holds him fast.


Mental illness oftentimes seems scarier than physical illness because we haven't been able to map the mind in the same way that we have the body. It is fear of the unknown that drives us to distance ourselves from those we cannot control or comprehend. Andrew Solomon has tried to strip depression of some of its allure and mystery and magic in order to make it more manageable and more tangible, and I am glad that he did.


I should note that it was partly due to reading books like The Noonday Demon and William Styron's Darkness Visible and Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression that helped to deliver me from my own cloud of despair and loneliness and anxiousness. In being able to see the pieces that hindered others, I was able to identify some of the same obstacles in my own life and begin to work around and through them.


For more information about this 2001 National Book Award Winner, visit


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Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Black Hole by Charles Burns


Forget zombies! They're overdone. It's mutants that will really win the hearts of your loved ones.


It's the 1970s and we are near Seattle. Teens are having sex and a strange disease is infecting them. They are spreading it by having intercourse. Each one is receiving a "gift" of an individual mutation. Some mutations are more overt than others, while some of the infected are able to pass as "clean" and virginal.


Black Hole is a book about sex and death, vulnerability and trust, the status quo and rebellion. The illustrations by Charles Burn are exquisite and worth the price of admission alone. His story is well-written, but it is the images that really give this novel life.

The black-and-white illustrations are rich and shiny, filled with the right amount of shadows and light. There is a lot of ink spilled on the page, which changes the way negative space works in the panels and on the pages, and is quite intriguing.

Read the book, then look at the book, then read it again, then look at it again, then...


The naked bodies that Burns draws are pleasant to look at. Even the mutant bodies are fascinating.


This book is for everyone who felt awkward in adolescence.

This book is for readers of The Believer magazine. (Charles Burns does all of the front cover art for the magazine.)

This book is for fans of Dog Boy and Big Baby.

This book is for comic book nerds who want some credibility.


File under:
*Coming-of-age tales
*Graphic novels

Monday, December 06, 2010


Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney


Do you know your "fell field" from your "field pattern"?

Can you distinguish between a "bog," a "fen," a "marsh," a "peatland," and a "swamp"?

Do you desire to know more about "boathook bends" or "oxbow lakes" or "peñas"?

Then Home Ground is the book for you. It provides "the distinctly American vocabulary that people use to characterize the country's landscapes" in an encyclopedic format. Authors such as Jon Krakauer, Luis Alberto Urrea, Barbara Kingsolver, Bill McKibben, Terry Tempest Williams, Elizabeth Cox, and Patricia Hampl provide entries on such landscapes and landscapes features while including historical information, etymological origins, settlement and usage, locations, geological provenance, and the like. These entries are seasoned with quotes from works of literature that include and/or further define some of the terms.


This is a book for the writer in your life. This is a book for an outdoor enthusiast or amateur geographer. This is a book for someone who loves trivia or pursuing knowledge for knowledge's sake.


You can preview pages of Home Ground HERE.

Soon you'll be impressing your hiking friends as you identify nearby "root wads" or stand in awe at the foot of a "talus slope."


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Sunday, December 05, 2010


Kama the cat exemplifies "honoring the Sabbath."

Saturday, December 04, 2010


I don't know what compels me to attend Puyallup's Santa Parade each year. Perhaps The Child's desire to attend, although I didn't have an excuse when we first moved to town.

Each year, this particular parade seems to be somewhat disorganized and lacking any real attraction. Yes, there are a handful of floats, depending on how one defines such features. Yes, there are one or two marching bands, although no junior high or high school from Puyallup was represented. And, there are too many businesses and car clubs for my taste.

Even knowing all of the above, with this year no different, we bundled up and huddled together with the rest of the citizens of the Puyallup Hills (North and South) and Valley to await the arrival of Santa.

The Pioneer Pavilion and a gorgeous sunset provided a great backdrop for the parade route.

Santa arrived on a vintage fire engine with Mrs. Claus at his side. (The Clauses are in the center of the picture, immediately to the right of the flashing red and blue lights.)


The Tangerine Bear, story by Betty Paraskevas, pictures by Michael Paraskevas


I fell in love with The Tangerine Bear as a bookseller. The story was well-written and compelling, the illustrations rich and vibrant.

I tried to hand-sell this book to every person who asked for a children's book recommendation. I read it to classes of kindergartners, first graders, and second graders. I read it alone at night when I couldn't sleep.

When The Child was born, I passed it along, sharing the story, reading it aloud to The Child at least once per week before bedtime. The book jacket became torn and tattered and had to be thrown away. And still we read the book every couple of months or so. And I make sure to sneak in a solo reading here and there.


The Tangerine Bear is an existential tale of a teddy bear who has been improperly manufactured. He doesn't look exactly like the other teddy bears. This leads to his ending up in the storefront window of a second-hand store in the company of Jack, a broken jack-in-the-box, and Bird, the inhabitant of a cuckoo clock.

Bear has to learn to love himself before he can allow himself to be loved by others. It's deep stuff for kids and won't hurt the adults that read the book to them.


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Friday, December 03, 2010


Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson


Autobiography of Red is a strange book.

It's a series of interrelated poems masquerading as a novel. Or vice versa.

It's a coming-of-age tale of a young monster.

It's filled with pain and longing and angst. Yet it's also hope-filled.


Autobiography of Red is an enjoyable book.

It's a play on the tale of Herakles (often better known as Hercules) slaying the ruddy monster Geryon. Instead, Geryon lusts after Herakles, who mistreats him. Herakles does "kill" Geryon, but it is on an emotional level.

It's my favorite book of poetry.

It's smart and funny and sad, just like life can be at its most robust.


Anne Carson is an intelligent writer who doesn't condescend to her readers.

She's accessible even as she expects you to keep up with her.

She's smart and crazy and necessary, in the same way that Eliot and Joyce are.

She's academic in background, mixing the classics of Greek literature and an enormous (and enormously informed) vocabulary with popular culture touchstones.

Her eye is exacting and detail-oriented and forgiving.


This book sings.

You need to read it.

Your brother and sister need to read it.

Your next door neighbor and your butcher and your barber and your favorite convenience store clerk need to read it.


File under:
*The Human Condition

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Who knew the geometries of seagulls? Who knew their love of angles, their willingness to play at lines?

Here is the church, the rooftop, the steeple (just out of frame). Here is the congregation—quiet, still, reflective.


Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case for a More Joyful Christmas by Bill McKibben


"Living a life of faith means , more than anything, putting something other than yourself at the center of your life. (Even for those who aren't religious, leading a mature life demands finding some focus other than yourself.) The great and happy secret of every guru, from the Buddha through the Christ, is that when you place God, however defined, at the center of your existence, you will become more fulfilled, not less."
—pages 65-66, Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben


In this brief book, Bill McKibben makes the case for spending less money on Christmas and spending more time with loved ones. He argues for homemade gifts, for a great meal, for stories shared with one another, for experiences.

McKibben lays out a history of Christmas and what that means for today. He asks us to consider trading in the Saturnalia that Christmas has become for a quieter festival. Where once the Saturnalia of the Christmas celebration made sense, as a way to celebrate in the midst of hardships and short-lived lives, now the quiet of a restrained yet joyful Christmas is welcomed in a world filled with constant stimulation and sensory overload.

I try to put pieces of the book into practice each year, but there are many gods of the holidays that attempt to thwart me: tradition, consumerism, peer pressure. Even though I have a long way to go before I truly make Christmas a "hundred dollar holiday," I am making progress, slowly but surely.


Find a copy of Hundred Dollar Holiday for your friend or loved one at Powell's Books of Portland.


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