Two nice things: witches like saints & harvesting the moon.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 7.00.22 PM1. Isabel Allende is one of my all-time favorite authors. House of Spirits has always felt like a more feminine version of my favorite book, One Hundred Years of Solitude. I know my love for magical realism has always made me seem a little immature—espeically compared with the “serious” literature majors I knew in college, who preferred texts that felt impenetrable to me, walls of text made by dead white men with axes to grind and bones to pick. But goddamn it, I like what I like, and what I like is crazy, New Agey, magical shit. Stories where cats walk on two legs and newts have sexy, sophisticated romances and snowy sculptures come to life.

But enough with my dumb, pretentious, self-critical rambling. Allende is wonderful and everyone should read her. She makes femininity feel like such a powerful thing—witchy and earthy and crude and delightful and free. I love how she writes women. Her female characters are round, and I mean that both in the literary sense and the curvy sense. I’m currently reading her memoir Paula, and it really makes me appreciate the power of female companions, friends, lovers, daughters, etc. Here’s one of the best quotes:

Witches, like saints, are solitary stars that shine with a light of their own; they depend on nothing and no one, which is why they have no fear and plunge blindly into the abyss with the assurance that instead of crashing to earth, they will fly back out. They can change into birds and see the world from above, or worms to see it from within, they can inhabit other dimensions and travel to other galaxies, they are navigators on an infinite ocean of consciousness and cognition.

Damn, girl. That makes me want to be a witch, like, yesterday.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 7.21.42 PM.png2. The second person I’m vibing on today is Bruce Monroe. He is a Pennsylvania-based artist who makes striking installations. The top image is “Moon Harvest,” a visual pun that projects images of the moon onto bales of hay. “Shower of Light” is the second image (directly above). He also uses CDs frequently in his installations, which, when placed together, turn into giant reflective surfaces that look like oversized sequins, glittery and fractured. Check out his other work (and find out where you can see one of his luminous pieces in person!) by clicking here. 

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A little reminder of what’s important.

stuart little

“How many of you know what’s important?”

Up went all the hands.

“Very good,” said Stuart, cocking one leg across the other and shoving his hands in the pockets of his jacket. “Henry Rackmeyer, you tell us what is important.”

“A shaft of sunlight at the end of a dark afternoon, a note in music, and the way the back of a baby’s neck smells if its mother keeps it tidy,” answered Henry.

“Correct,” said Stuart. “Those are the important things. You forgot one thing, though. Mary Bendix, what did Henry Rackmeyer forget?”

“He forgot ice cream with chocolate sauce on it,” said Mary quickly.

“Exactly,” said Stuart. “Ice cream is important.”

— Stuart Little, E.B. White

Calling something a “kid’s book” or “children’s literature” should be the highest compliment. After all, I don’t know anything that taught me so much about bravery and kindness as spending time with Lewis Carroll and E.B. White and Tamora Pierce and J.K. Rowling and Roald Dahl. Kid’s books are brilliant. And sometimes, kids are brilliant, like little Mary and Henry, who answered Stuart’s question just right.

Plus, it’s worth nothing that E.B. White had an awesome sense of humor in his everyday interactions, too. Just look at how he turned down a rather impressive offer from an earlier POTUS: Continue reading

I want to move to Iceland for the Jolabokaflod.

wild reindeer
Every year, my mom gives me a book for Christmas. She gets me other things, too, because my mom and I share a tendency to over-gift, but the book was a constant. As a child, we were often allowed to open these packages on Christmas Eve. We only got one gift early, and it was always, always a book.

I thought this tradition was unique to my family. Turns out, it’s a common practice in Iceland. Books are such a standard present in that cold country that it spurs a surge in publishing in the months leading up to the holiday. This wonderfully literary ritual even has a name: Jolabokaflod, or the “Christmas Book Flood.”

According to this NPR article, Iceland is an extremely literary country. Not only does every Icelander aspire to write a book (hey, me too!) but the average citizen buys more books than the typical American. “If you look at book sales distribution in the U.K. and the States, most book sales actually come from a minority of people. Very few people buy lots of books. Everybody else buys one book a year if you’re lucky,” says Baldur Bjarnason, a researcher who has been following the Icelandic publishing market. “It’s much more widespread in Iceland. Most people buy several books a year.”

Several books a year? Okay, that doesn’t sound like that many, especially to a book-horder like me. But it is a fairly big difference. Literary culture, on the whole, is much more significant in Iceland than in America. Perhaps this explains why so many Icelanders believe in elves (aka the Huldufólk, or “hidden people”). Maybe people who read more fairytales are more likely to believe in them. Or perhaps just reading in general opens your mind to the weird and wonderful possibilities of the world—magic not excluded.iceland cabin

“I loved reading and I wanted you kids to love books,” said my Christmas-crazy mom when I asked her whether she knew about this Scandinavian ritual. “A lot of people have the tradition of singing carols, which is what I did as a kid. Reading books to you kids was something we could do all together.” We’ve never been a musical family (I’m particularly tone deaf, though my brothers aren’t exactly talented in that department either) so reading it was.

There are a lot of holiday rituals I don’t observe. I’m not religious, nor do I imagine that will change (I don’t believe in elves, either, though I sort of wish I did). But a tradition that revolves around giving—and getting—brand new reading material? That’s my kind of Christmas.