Nostalgia and the New Mexican Desert

Enjoy a review from Katie as she continues to work through her Reading Challenge:

ultimaNostalgia is a funny thing. I tend to get swept up in that warm, slow, nap-in-the-afternoon feeling far more than I should, but I can’t help it. Remembering the better days seems to be an involuntary reaction that will inevitably lead to me being a little old lady regaling my grand-nieces and nephews with long stories having no point and no plot—kind of like this sentence.

I recently went back to Phoenix after a year of living in Washington to watch my youngest brother graduate from the high school I attended. I would be seeing family and good friends after more than a year of being away, and there was also the possibility of seeing some of my old high school classmates. (Spoiler Alert: I actually did not see any of my old classmates so they were unable to see how adult and hot I’d become.)

When I was in high school I participated in Academic Decathlon which is basically the Nerd Championships consisting of seven tests (arts, science, music, math…), an interview, a memorized and impromptu speech, and an essay surrounding a particular topic each year. In my sophomore year of high school the topic was Mexico, and the book we had to collectively read was Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. This is why I have chosen this novel as my “Book I Have Not Read since High School.”

I was excited about this book because AcaDeca (as we called it) holds a lot of good memories for me. Rereading books is an opportunity to recall specific memories as I find that books hold impressions and thoughts and feelings so I don’t have to. Bless Me, Ultima is also a coming-of-age story which perfectly sets the mood.

Antonio Marez is constantly caught in the middle of his parents’ plans. His mother wishes him to become a priest to bring honor to her farming family. His father wishes for Tony to become a vacquero (cowboy) like he himself was long ago, and to live in the Llano (the New Mexican desert). Tony does not know what he wants, but he does know that he loves Ultima. She is a curandera (a person who is a mix between a priest and a witch) who has come to live with Tony’s family and to use her magic to heal the town folk. The intense mix of religious superstition and magic creates an interesting dynamic which fuels much of the story’s conflict.

The entire book teems with magical realism as Tony struggles with his parents’ wishes, with growing up, religion, and navigating the complicated social network that is his circle of friends. Anaya’s cast of colorful characters and detail-oriented descriptions draw you deeply into the story, causing you to feel as Tony feels. He even makes the desert sound like a desirable place to live which (for me) is quite the task.

High school was a difficult time for a lot of people. I got through relatively unscathed (college is another story), and books like Bless Me, Ultima made everything a whole lot easier. While it was true that books were my constant companions, the character study I was able to conduct enriched my life beyond words. I would recommend Bless Me, Ultima to those who want to remember what it was like being a kid — the drama that was real and the drama that was blown out of proportion. As I struggle to be an actual real-life adult, it’s nice to remember that it was hard to be a kid too sometimes, but it was worth it.

The Big Tiny

Enjoy the latest from Katie as she continues to work through her Reading Challenge:

I am obsessed with tiny houses.

There, I said it. I love them and I want to build one of my own someday. This is a fairly recent development in my life. Tiny houses have been in the back of my mind for a while but I never really paid them much notice. I’m not quite sure how this all happened but one day I was reading an article about people who decided to live in tiny houses (I’m talking 250 sq. ft.) and the next I was checking out a stack of books and drooling over those unique, tiny bundles of joy. I may not have baby fever but I certainly have tiny house pneumonia.

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bigtinyI recently read Dee Williams’ Built-It-Myself memoir, The Big Tiny, and this book could not have come into my life at a better time. Williams lives in Olympia, which places her lovely book in the category “A Book Set In Your Home State” on my reading challenge. Not only was this convenient for blog writing and reading challenge purposes but it also instilled the absurd notion that I could one day meet the author and become best friends with her.

I love so many things about Dee’s writing. It is personable, warm, humorous, heart-breaking, inspiring and so very interesting. In addition to discussing her construction process, Dee allows us to share in the pain and fear she suffers as a woman with a heart condition. The passion and sheer stubbornness she exhibits while trying to construct a home for herself and her adorable Australian Shepherd RooDee, even while navigating the pitfalls of medical issues, is incredible.

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The anecdotes she interwove with discussions of the building process were just lovely. Not only did I get concrete ideas and jumping off points for my own tiny house but I got to see the creation process through the eyes of a woman I now very much admire. It’s very clear in her writing that she is a joyful human being with abundant zest for life. While her preference for living without things like running water or indoor plumbing is not something I care to emulate, I do hope to capture something of her spirit and drive.

I am glad that I read about other tiny houses before delving into Williams’ book as I now know just how customizable they are. Paring down your possessions and space does not have to equate to living without things like Internet, hot water or a normal toilet. This relieves me because I’m not sure I could live without Netflix.

I recommend this wonderful little book to anyone who is curious about tiny houses or who really enjoys stories about people and their resourcefulness. I was so impressed reading about the work Dee did on her own to make her tiny house happen. The amount of bumps and bruises she sustained was shudder-inducing, but the love that she expresses for her little house made me feel what I know to be true—that building a tiny home is worth every struggle, every ache and stubbed toe. Her contentment (despite occasional longing for a shower of her own) soothes me. I know that my tiny house is still far in the future and I’m okay with that. Right now I’m happy with designing my own house and booking a trip to stay at the tiny house hotel in Portland. If Dee’s book taught me anything, it’s that the important things require hard work, but boy are they worth it!

My Reading Challenge

Enjoy this post from our new contributor Katie:

Last year I read 121 books. My goal was 75. This year my goal is still 75 but I want to do something a little different than just push myself to read as many books as I can. So I decided to take a reading challenge. The list that I decided to go with comes from Pop Sugar and it has a really nice variety of topics that I hope will provide a unique reading experience. Check it out here at  http://www.popsugar.com/love/Reading-Challenge-2016-39126431.

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Not everything I read will be chosen in order to meet the challenge. For example, I read Super Mutant Magic Academy just for fun without intending to use it to check off a box, and it is now one of my favorite books.

Super Mutant

Most of the books I read last year were graphic novels. Currently I read graphic novels almost constantly, but before last year this wasn’t the case. The library in my college town was woefully underfunded and graphic novels are expensive. I was overjoyed to find that our library here in Everett has a wonderful graphic novel selection that not only has many of my favorites but also allows me to find new and interesting ones to read. This is why I read The Wicked and the Divine Vol. 1: The Faust Act as “a book from the library” for the reading challenge. I want to help bring awareness to the amazing and diverse and beautiful story telling that is the graphic novel.

Wicked

The Wicked and the Divine has been on my To-Read list for quite some time. When I saw that it was at the library I picked it up immediately. I was unprepared for just how much I was going to enjoy it. I’m frequently drawn to books that take interesting twists on mythology, such as the Percy Jackson series which is one of my favorites. The Wicked and the Divine takes place in a universe where 12 gods return to Earth every 90 years. They live for two years and then perish. In this particular cycle, each of the gods is a rock star. I found some similarities with their styles and certain current pop stars/celebrities today, but you’ll have to read it to find out which ones.

The main character is a mortal girl named Laura who follows the gods almost obsessively. She is a huge fan and tries to go as many concerts as she can. We are privy to her thoughts as she interacts with the gods and becomes involved in the dangerous world they inhabit. An interesting twist is that their divinity is not necessarily obvious. Much like current celebrities and pop stars, their god-like qualities could easily be attributed to stardom, loads of money, and special effects. Not everyone is convinced that they are in fact actually gods (though we the readers know better).

The gods cover a wide variety of pantheons. This current cycle has Lucifer (as a woman — my favorite), Sakhmet (my other favorite), Minerva, Baal and others as they get revealed through the story. As I read I became emotionally invested in these characters. It’s so easy to like them, but they are also complex. All of the gods and side characters are brought to life vividly by the beautiful and colorful artwork. It’s incredible. The storyline balances heartbreak and happiness with ease as the plot develops. I was unprepared for so much fun and drama, but I can’t wait to read more. I have a feeling that this series is going to break me (in a good way).