Happy Birthday, Pim!

I cannot quite believe I am writing that down, but if I look at the dates it is true: my little baby turned one year old on Monday.

We had a small celebration with his grandparents, aunt, and a few acquaintances on Monday, and expect a larger group of friends and family on Sunday (it will be so busy for out little one; we have our fingers crossed that he will actually catch some sleep..).

As always, I was busy trying to juggle work and decorations for the village festival (which seems to coincide with Pim’s birthday from now until who knows when) as well as preparing for his birthday. It wasn’t perfect, but I certainly tried:

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We decorated with lots of garlands and balloons (the picture doesn’t really capture it, since it only shows part of the room), that were all utterly fascinating to Pim. One of his current favourite pastimes is to point at objects, hear their name, and to be carried to them so he can briefly feel them — and so that is what he did with his birthday decorations. I also put up lots of pictures from the past year. Initially, I wanted to copy Michelle’s idea of putting up the number one in pictures, but I ended up simply putting a random collage of pictures on our glass doors in the living room and kitchen, because I couldn’t make a number work in our living room without damaging paint etc.. It still looks nice and really festive though, and I loved going through the pictures and revisiting some of these moments on the eve before Pim’s birthday, particularly as I haven’t been able to find the time to put together his actual photo book yet *blushes*.

I also made Pim a cake as well as a mock one for cake-smash purposes. The cake smash wasn’t a huge hit with Pim, but to be honest we had kind of expected it. He doesn’t really enjoy getting dirty and he is usually incredibly careful with things, and so instead of going for a full-on smash, he continued to carefully touch the cake with his fingertips, study his hands, and then frown a little as if he didn’t quite know what to make of this. Ah well, it made for some lovely pictures anyway. And it does capture his current personality remarkably well.

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And anyway, Pim did enjoy doing “Hip, Hip, Hooray” in front of the cake. Every time we use that line he looks around so happy and proud with his arms in the air. And it, of course, made us proud too. We hadn’t expected him to do it in front of a large “audience”, since he usually reserves his clapping, waving, hoorays, kisses, and cuddles (the words he seems to associate with actions) for a more intimate setting.

As seems to be the case for most babies, Pim had little interest in his gifts. We had a small slide wrapped in the living room when he entered, but he only wanted to point and stare at the decorations when he first entered the room. After a little while he also became interested in the slide (we thought), but it turned out he only wanted to touch the balloons we had taped to the present. The tearing noise of wrapping paper couldn’t even interest him, he was so overwhelmed by the general state of the room. However, once the present were unpacked, he loved them! We had puzzled over what to get Pim for weeks. He had already received the two things we were sure he would love a month prior from others: a wooden activity cube with Pim’s 3-month-favourite: a wire maze on top, and a ball track. Traditionally, babies receive a sandbox, but the summer is almost over and as I said, Pim doesn’t like to get dirty.. and so we hadn’t a clue what to get him until he suddenly became obsessed with the baby slide in the pool last week. Of course, he can’t really  use the slide as it is intended to be used yet but he loves it when we place him on top and let him mock-slide downwards. Also, it will be a nice addition to the still-being-renovated garden next year. Others also made quite a good judgement of toys Pim would enjoy, and we will continue to swap them up in the following months–year. He was particularly keen on the gift he received from my sister in America, which was extra nice given that she couldn’t be there.

Overall, I think the birthday went really well. I was, of course, a bit overwhelmed and emotional by the end of the day. Honestly, I wasn’t quite ready for the day to arrive and I also wasn’t quite ready for it to be over. I wish we could have celebrated Pim’s birthday all week. To make it last. Or to make the growing up so fast stop, perhaps? In that sense, I am glad we’ll be able to repeat the experience on Sunday.

Reading, the blog, and everything else

Changes picture

Ever since Pim was born, I do not get to read as much as I would like. It is not just taking care of him, but also organising ways of seeing each other as a couple, finding time for sports, or just having time to do nothing for a while. I think we can say that my life has changed since Pim. In incredibly good ways. But it also means reading fell a victim. And I do not think I can ever fully remedy that. So it is time for the blog to change. Little by little. If I ever want to be able to maintain a blog again.

The first step was changing my blog title a few days ago. It no longer reads “Iris on Books”, but has been changed to “Iris, Books, and More”. It is a minor change, and I do not think any of you would have noticed if I hadn’t written it down here. But it is important for me: it means I might find the breathing room to actually write posts again, without feeling trapped by my own restrictions.

Yes, I am sorry to say goodbye to bookblogging-as-bookblogging. But I think I may say that what I had managed to build years ago has faded away little by little over the past two years anyway. From a professional standpoint, my blog had not been a book blog for a long time. But from a personal one, it still was — and probably still is.

Here’s the thing: I could try to rebuild the blog to what it once was. But honestly? I think I might be lying to myself just a little every day. I just do not feel as free to write about books now — less than I used to anyway.

So what will change? Books will hopefully probably still be a large part of what I write about. I am still a reader — I just do not read as much as I used to. I would also like to share other things I care about: politics, PhD life, motherhood, household stuff, random thoughts, anything really.

I know that some of you might not want to bother with that sort of thing, and I understand. To those: thank you for reading my blog in the past, and for the interactions we shared.

To those who might stick around a little longer, I also want to extend a thank you. The blogging community has supported me through a lot, and I have made a number of friends through this outlet that I absolutely cherish. Hopefully, this -sort of- fresh beginning will be a way to reconnect.

There are still things I am unsure about: I would like to keep the backlog of Iris on Books, I would like for people to be able to find me on twitter through the name they know me by.. and so, I am as yet undecided on whether to start anew somewhere else, or to stay here. And what to do about the URL, and the like. Sometimes i feel the change should be more substantial than changing the blog title, at other times I don’t. So yeah.. this is an ongoing debate I am having with myself.

Recommendations Wanted: Books/Stories about Refugees and Migration

Would any of you know good books/stories/op-ed pieces on refugees and/or migration?

Because.. I cannot help but feel I should do *something*  in my own inadequate way, with all the news about refugees and the *ahem* not-so-friendly policies. And for me, doing something always begins with reading. I have already asked my colleagues about some more scholarly pieces, but would love to know if there is any fiction or perhaps also non-fiction that I should look into.

I feel — or rather, hope — it will be superfluous, but, honestly, no “there’s no room here”, “let’s leave them to drown” pieces, because I see enough of that going around on twitter and elsewhere, and I just do not agree, nor do I have any interest in reading about it.

Three years ago, I read Marie Ndiaye’s Three Strong Women, and as I noted back then, I did not like it as much as I knew I should. Nevertheless, the third story, the one about a woman named Khady, who tries to travel to Europe, still echoes through my mind from time to time. And I cannot help but recall it, whenever I see the news. It learned me to see so much more clearly something I unconsciously always knew: that migration is a difficult undertaking and that we in Europe are forever talking about it from a position of privilege. The circumstances and emotional reverberations were never quite brought home to me so vividly as it was in this story.

So, I am looking for more of these. Stories that bring the human, emotional, lived experience back in the picture — lest we forget that these are people and not news items or you know, all these crazy terms being used in media & politics.

If there’s more interest, I might even compose a list for others to browse.

Top Ten Books on my Summer TBR

Planned reading is not at all my thing right now. I mostly just grabs whatever suits my fancy, and I usually end up discarding about 3 books before I finally settle down to read one that feels right. However, I do enjoy making lists. And summer always feels a little more relaxed despite still having to do a lot of work. So why not enjoy the thought of summer by attempting to compose a list.

So, here goes: 10 books I imagine I’d like to read in the upcoming months, barring a few more specific ideas that I am pondering at the moment and that will probably mess this all up again:

top10 Summer TBR

(I am still coming to grips with Picmonkey, so hopefully my collages will start looking better in due time).

From top left to bottom right:

  • The Long Song by Andrea Levy
  • Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
  • A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson
  • The Favorites by Mary Yukari Waters
  • Mr Rosenblum’s List by Natasha Solomons
  • The Madwoman on the Bridge by Su Tong
  • Frangipani by Célestine Vaite
  • The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp by Eva Rice
  • The Summer without Men by Siri Hustvedt
  • Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Basically, this is a mix of books that have been on my shelves for a good long while and that I have meant to read for forever, but that I somehow never get to. It also involves a test of whether I should keep them on my TBR at all (e.g. Mr Rosenblum), and attempts to face illogical awe-of-status that turns into fear-of-reading (e.g. Siri Hustvedt, Amitav Ghosh). Generally, I just picked books that make me happy by just thinking of reading them. That should serve as a good point of departure right? Only drawback? I think the Eva Ibbotson looks a little bit more like a winter than a summer read if we go by its cover, but I know Ibbotson is the kind of writer who I generally like at whatever point in time.

toptentuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish and encourages sharing lists of books around a certain theme or topic each week.

The Short and the Sweet (1), or, Catching up on Reviews for 2015

While I have not read many books this year, I cannot say I have encountered any that have disappointed me thus far. So instead of focusing on the negative, let me hold on to that thought. While all of these books thus deserve proper posts, I think it is best to catch up before hopefully moving on to full posts somewhere in the future. So, below: the short and sweet of four titles read in 2015.

The short and sweet 1

Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim
I read two books by Von Arnim this year, one of my go-to ereader authors providing contented leisurely reading at night. Vera, however, is a lot darker than the previous works I have read by Von Arnim. I have experienced before how Von Arnim is a master in playing with my expectations, my fervent hopes for happy endings, and sometimes letting them down by sticking closer to the everyday reality for women. In case of Vera, which revolves around a controlling and abusive husband, this quality of Von Arnim makes for a haunting read. Gripping, emotional, and therefore very very worthwhile, but definitely dark.

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
was the book I opened on my ereader after finishing Vera. It took me quite a while to finish this reread, because of lots of stuff in my life that left very little time for reading. However, finally rereading this book at a much quieter pace than last time left me able to appreciate it much better. Conclusion: I’d loved to have been there with these four ladies on their holiday, made their acquaintance, and learn a little from their ability to refocus on what life has to offer us. I am thinking I should make The Enchanted April one of those books I reread every few years.

Miss Buncle Married by D.E. Stevenson
The same goes for the Miss Buncle books, really. These are my perfect comfort reads. Miss Buncle is the kind of character you’d wish was your friend. The humor provided by Stevenson lifts me up and the general atmosphere of the book just breezes coziness. Honestly, sometimes I wish I could stay in Miss Buncle’s world forever. There were tiny moments when the book gave me pause, as it seems very quick to assert conventional gender roles and conceptions of manliness and womanhood in places. But then Miss Buncle, through her observations, tone, and personal style, distracted me from it. Or perhaps it is that she is never victimised per se, and asserts her own happiness within this framework which was of course the daily reality for most people for a very long time. I am not saying it is a comforting thought, and there are political implications to the dreamy comfort-read quality of books that reassert gender patterns in a gentle manner, but I enjoyed the book all the same. Does that make sense? I hope it does.

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
Even though I haven’t read enough of these types of books, I think I can conclude that historical fiction with fantasy elements are my cup of tea. Particularly when they explore women’s position both through this historical context and the fantasy elements. Shades of Milk and Honey certainly fits that bill, although it is hardly as strong as for example Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw. Jane Austenesque elements feature heavily in this story, which was something I appreciated. However, I did feel that the characterisation was sometimes a little flat, and the ending a little too fast to my taste. A very enjoyable read that was nevertheless not perfect, and I haven’t quite decided whether I want to continue with the series.