20 August 2021

Bookishness / Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore

Land of miracles
Holds dark secrets betrayed.
Hero, where are you?

It sometimes takes a single word to spark an intrigue, and in Kristin Cashore's latest book, that word is zilfium. During an age of exploration, the backward kingdom of Monsea discovers a shiny new neighbor: the eco-tech country of Winterkeep. This frosted nation is filled with airships, democracy, telepathic beasts, and more: mysteries surrounding the energy-producing zilfium, mysteries that some would kill to protect. Winterkeep (Graceling Realm Book 4) is a rather refreshing read after the disappointment that was Jane, Unlimited (2017), with the vivid world-building and intrigue that Cashore is known for. But the moments of moral preachiness and plot unbelievability distract from what is otherwise a new exploration of the Graceling Realm.

07 August 2021

Changes for email subscribers

A view from a plane, with sculpted clouds below and an impossibly blue sky above.
Looking beyond, at 50,000 feet. From my first flight since January 2020.

Hi folks,

This PSA is rather late, but for those who receive email updates from this blog, Feedburner will be discontinuing their automatic email subscription service for the Blogger platform this month. I've been considering some alternatives, so if you receive an email from me later this month from a different email service, do pay attention because you may need to resubscribe to continue receiving updates (which I certainly hope that you will!).

RSS feed readers shouldn't be affected, but watch this space regardless because I might be doing some more blog maintenance in the future.

Seriously, website and blog maintenance can sometimes be a pain, especially juggled in the midst of other pains. But this site has needed some TLC for a while, so I hope I can show it some additional care in the coming months. It's called Building Beyond, after all -- building beyond current limitations, building beyond into new things -- even including a more functional blog post delivery system.

More soon, dear readers.


04 June 2021

Bookishness / The Theft of Sunlight by Intisar Khanani

There is no looking away from injustice.
The only choice is to journey into the dark,
in the hope of bringing light. 

I'll be upfront, dear reader: I've had quite a bit of trouble writing this review. Perhaps my writing barriers are due to an excess of love because I fell into The Theft of Sunlight and want you to love it, too. So I will try to be straight-forward -- just as Rae, the no-fluff protagonist would be.

I read The Theft of Sunlight (Dauntless Path Book 2) by Intisar Khanani in a heartbeat, prior to its release in March. Just as Thorn (Dauntless Path Book 1) has the persistent Princess Alyrra as its backbone, we have Rae at the helm of Theft. I loved Alyrra's quiet strength, yet I am now thoroughly part of Team Rae. She's the older sister you wish you had in your corner, with such a fierce protectiveness for those she loves that she becomes relentless in her quest to find her best friend's missing sister and solve the mystery of the snatched. A country girl taking on kingdom-wide challenges? Rae is no mage or fae, yet she steps up to the intimidating task.

27 May 2021

Rainbow people and golden mountains

My niece and husband are reading side by side on a couch. The girl's face is covered by her open book (The Rainbow People), while the man's face is concentrated on the book in his lap (The Power and the Glory).
Do not disturb. Thank you.

Recently, the Tall Man and I visited my family for our first face-to-face meet up in nearly a year and a half, which is a long time for adults but a seeming eternity for kids. I planned to bring some books for my niece and nephew -- affectionately referred to in my head (and here) as Little Peep and Big Peep. I scanned my bookshelves to assess my old favorites. Some had made the long journey from my childhood home to college, then grad school, and now would be making the full circle back. Perhaps one of them would become a Peep favorite, too!

After making my selections, I packed a box and headed off. Once we gathered together, though, all was forgotten amid the flurry of hugs and dim sum. My brother's sheepdog remained at the Tall Man's side as he petted her with one hand and ate with the other -- the ultimate in multitasking. Then I felt a wet tongue lick me from elbow to shoulder, and I jumped in my chair. It was hard to tell whether the dog had fully accepted me as part of the family, or if she just wanted a bite of my fluffy char siu bao.

It was only later, after taking refuge from the scorching sun, that the box and its contents resurfaced. I was resting in the bedroom when Little Peep brought the parcel upstairs. "Goo-Goo,"* she said, plopping the box down on the bedspread beside me, "Uncle [Tall Man] told me to ask you which book I should read."

14 May 2021

Journeys, battles, spoons, and other metaphors

A woman holds a handmade sign that says "#Millions Missing" in red ink. The lower part of her face is partially covered by the sign, and the part you can see is half in light, half in shadow.

"Think of yourself as a healthy person who just happens to be sick," a doctor told me.

"I've seen many patients like you. You're ambitious and a high achiever. Find some ways to deal with stress, and you'll get better," another said.

Yet another specialist told me, "Stop telling yourself the wrong stories. Keep fighting, and you'll be back to your normal life soon."

So many medical professionals suggested how I should think in those early years of chronic illness. Yet, I struggled to formulate my own words and thoughts. At times, I literally could not speak. It took immense effort to sit up, let alone haul myself to a doctor's office on the other side of campus. I was overwhelmed by full body pain, pressing fatigue, and roiling brain fog (a state of cognitive dysfunction).

A healthy person with a side of sickness? It felt like the infection that had triggered this onslaught had already devoured my body and mind, leaving me a husk of myself.

Battle talk. Normalcy. Monsters and destruction. Language is powerful. Metaphors and stories help us understand our world and circumstances, in the hopes of recognizing ourselves and getting recognition from others. The right words can encourage empathy, assuming that a glimpse of another's experience will lead to compassion.

Great, right? The more metaphors, the merrier? Well... it's complicated.

19 April 2021

When your computer can read your mind


A cut-out comic strip from PhD Comics called "Should Be Writing," lying on top of a keyboard

Here's an oldie but a goodie from Jorge Cham, longtime friend and Virgil to haplessly lost grad students. Yes, I did cut this out of a printed newspaper many years ago when I first started my thesis work. Yes, I collect and keep the most random things. But this little scrap has staying power -- at least until the material itself disintegrates.

I invite you to save this image ...

... In case you need evidence that HAL is, indeed, in our immediate future.

... In case you need extra motivation to do what you need to do ... even if you already know you need to do it.

... In case you need evidence that spiraling thinking is not helpful. (Wait, it is helpful. No, it's not. I really should stop thinking about this.)

... In case you'd like to take your writing and yourself less seriously, even though it is your LIFE and you will never survive if you don't finish.

View of wall above my desk, showing 2 partial paintings, a comic strip, and 2 drawings.
My perpetual writing reminder perched above my desk, alongside creative works by talented friends (and me, too).

#motivation #psa #computerscantalk

25 March 2021

The necessity of letters and National Letter Writing Month

An open notebook with "National Letter Writing Month" written above two pages filled with hand drawn envelopes
My visual letter writing log for National Letter Writing Month 2020

It's been such a heavy week, heavy month, heavy season upon season. And yet we're not meant to carry it all alone. One tradition that has sustained me in this past year is letter writing, putting pen (or pencil) to paper and mailing a hello and a paper hug. The month of April, National Letter Writing Month, supercharged my letter writing habits last year, and I'm glad it's around the corner yet again. It's a time to celebrate the connections that a handwritten word can bring, to express some gratitude, to lament together and encourage one another. Plus, it's simply delightful! Who doesn't love getting mail?

I've been a habitual letter and card writer since I was a kid. I still have boxes of correspondence from classmates and penpals (aka notes passed in class or scribbled letters) stashed away somewhere, revealing my friends' shared obsessions with Sanrio, Lisa Frank, wide ruled paper torn out of spiral notebooks, and other popular stationaries of my youth. (They also featured LOTS of stickers and exclamation!!! points!!!)

But the start of the pandemic made me long even more for connection, when a unmasked greeting or a trip to see family and friends was logistically difficult or simply not possible. So last April, I joined the Write_On campaign and wrote a letter a day -- as short as a single quote on a postcard to multi-paged letters. That daily practice me feel a little lighter and hopefully gave some light to others.

This year I plan to celebrate by write cards and letters during the month of April, whether part of an official challenge or not. Will you join me? It's not necessary to send 30 pieces of mail. The idea is to simply write and spread some joy. Plus, if you are in the U.S., we have the added bonus of supporting the postal service!

Here's a little round up of my favorite letter writing supplies and inspirations:

02 February 2021

Bookishness / Thorn by Intisar Khanani

Cover of the book, Thorn. To the right: Thorn (Dauntless Path Book 1) by Intisar Khanani, published March 24, 2020 by HarperTeen. Genre: Fantasy, Audience: Young Adult. Below, the Bookishness logo

Read _ For the second time, right before starting The Theft of Sunlight (eek!).

A princess finds her voice,
realizing that courage is more than skin deep.

2020, what a year.

When the stay-at-home orders first clamped down last March, I wasn't able to read or do much of anything. You can probably relate. Even though I'm used to spending a lot of time at home due to remote working and the boundaries of chronic illness, it was still an abrupt halt, couched in a haze of confusion and fear. I felt displaced from my everyday life. Then I was literally displaced from my home when I went to shelter in place with my parents for a few months. It was a sweet time with my mom and dad, for sure, but it was also a hard time -- a time of exile that continues well into 2021, although I am thankfully home and reunited with the Tall Man.

Books eventually became my solace again. I read THORN by Intisar Khanani right before the chaos fully set in. Little did I know how much Alyrra's story of persistence, clawing her way out of darkness towards the light of justice and hope, would mean in those days. It became one of my favorite reads of 2020.