Thoughts and an excerpt from East of Eden by John Steinbeck

So I’m reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I read it when I was 13 years old in middle school and at that time, I remember it as a continous puzzlement of mentally pleading to the characters, “Noooo, don’t do that!” over and over again. I felt like everybody in the book was a slow moving train wreck and when I finished it, I felt “bothered” by it but wasn’t sure how. It felt like a Grimm’s fairy tale with no happy ending. I didn’t understand how people worked (and probably still don’t; see: autism) in the book and couldn’t compare it to real life because no one acted that way in my small 13 year old world. I realize now that no 13 or 14 year old would “get” it, not in a “been there” way.  I believe there is a time to read certain things (but I wouldn’t forbid anyone reading, though).

I’d recommend reading East of Eden with at least 30 years’ of life experience. Reading this book in my 40s is another thing entirely. Now, I feel like I understand it. And I wonder if all the women in Steinbeck’s life were “suspicious of fun”, “had no spark of humor and only occasionally a blade of cutting wit”, “a pale inside-herself woman” on which “no open laughter raised the corners of her mouth”. We haven’t even gotten to Cathy yet. I’m on page 132, and I don’t remember what happens next. I’m hoping there is a woman that isn’t miserable or evil or drab, a woman with strength, personality, joy, openness, warmth, and a moral compass. I want to tell Steinbeck that women can have all of those qualities and it wouldn’t threaten anyone’s masculinity, but this could be the 2020s talking to the 1950s. Anyways…

This is a beautiful and introspective book at times. The writing is snappy, flavorful, and sensory. The language is nowhere near as hard as Ulysses (I’m still working through that one). It’s very palatable if one wants a see a master of description at work. The setting and the characters are drawn so well that I can sense their essence. What really is worth reading are the small sections of… Ponderance?

There are sentences that I do agree with and ones I don’t. But I just had to share this whole section – I have no recollection of reading this in middle school; it probably went over my head – but now these are my favorite parts.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell

“Beneath every history, another history.” – p. 61

“It matters what name we choose, what name we make.” – 165

“There is a world beyond this black world. There is a world of the possible… The moment is fleeting. But insight cannot be taken back. You cannot return to the moment you were before.” – 189

“A man’s power is in the half-light, in the half-seen movements of his hands and the unguessed-at expression of his face.” – 331

The fate of people is made like this, two men in small rooms… This is how the world changes: a counter pushed across a table, a pen stroke that alters the force of a phrase… ” – 566

Books I’ve Finished or Read Since January 1, 2022

Circe by Madeline Miller
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Piranesi by Susanna Clark
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynn Jones
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Stars are Not Yet Bells by Hannah Lilith Assandt
Fall, or Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephensen
Light by John M Harrison
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
The Impossible Climb by Mark Synnot

Light by M. John Harrison

“… Somewhere between waking and sleeping, ‘rents’ had become ‘tears’ and this, he felt, summed up the life of his whole race.” page 15

“Circus was in the streets. It was inside people’s heads. Eat fire? Everyone was a fireeater. Everyone had geek genes and a story to tell. Sentient tattoos made everyone the Illustrated Man. Everyone was high on some flying trapeze issue of their own.” page 163

“The more you deny the forces inside, kid, the more they control you.” page 224

“They’d driven themselves past the norms of their relationship, they had no idea what to make of each other. He didn’t want her to be healthy. She didn’t want him to be reliable or good-natured.” page 241

The Year of Mind, Body, and… Wallet

Without really meaning to, I’ve decided to try to make this a year (or more) of mind, body, and wallet. Meaning that during the same time frame I’ve somehow decided to 1) focus more fully on fitness, 2) read at least 10-20 books of “literature” for 2022, and 3) limit my spending.

The fitness backstory: 2021 was a year of surprise medical problems. From the months of March to May in 2021, during what I felt was a giant positive upswing in my fitness journey (I was looking fit, toned, and strong; I was using my Olympic weight set), I started bleeding. Like, a lot. I was hemorrhaging. I had to go to the Emergency Room twice because the first time, I’d lost a quarter of my blood volume and the second time, I was well on my way to losing half my blood. Both ended up in hospital stays. I got put on different medicines to try to stop the bleeding. They never worked completely. In May, I underwent a hysterectomy and everything that was wrong in that part of my body was taken out. And after I healed (3 whole months for full healing), I had to deal with weakened muscles that ended up in back pain for which I went to physical therapy. After a few more months, I finally felt ready to start my fitness journey over. But during these months, I had gotten out of shape and weak. I wanted to be strong again. I really started rock climbing regularly and did some light weights to start, but it was in December that I felt strong enough to really take my 20- and 30-pound dumbbells seriously. So for 2022 I decided to finish what I’d started 1.5 years ago.

Reading: 2021 was also a year of loss. Like I mentioned before, I inherited a few old books from someone who was gone too soon due to Covid and never visiting the doctor, like, ever. Reading Ulysses (I’m now halfway through it) has ignited within me a desire to read more literary fodder, as in anything that’s not a “quick airport book from a tiny newsstand.” The types of books that you don’t have to think about. I do enjoy the relaxed non-heavy read. But, it’s not like I’ve never read anything substantial. I went through a beatnik phase and a William Faulkner phase. I had a Tom Robbins phase. I took Philosophy classes in college (which forced me to read Plato, Aristotle, Hume, etc.) and I read stuff like Bertrand Russell for fun. My high school had me read a lot of classics because it was 3 years of Honors English and 1 of AP English. But there were still books that were out of my reach or kind of slippery because I was simply too ADD to focus on them. But now I’m 2 decades older, my ADD is controlled, and I have the time and the life knowledge to tackle books I’ve missed. Which books? Well, I’m not sure yet. There are lists of books all over the place. My first thought is to balance the reading so that I’m not reading War and Peace and Anna Karenina at the same time, that there is a difference in time, place, author, and culture. I’d also like to read across genres and points of view. Variety is the spice of life, they say.

So far this year I’ve finished Circe by Madeline Miller and Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. (One of those was deeper than the other.) I’ve got Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino*, All Systems Red by Martha Wells*, Dune, and Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier* on rotation. And of course, Ulysses. From the library I have one Neal Stephenson book, Fall, or Dodge in Hell. On my “next” list is A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu*, and Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. On my bookshelf are Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, and the writings of H. P. Lovecraft. There are even more books in my Kindle and on my ebook “to read” list. My intention is to pick books that can make me pause and think, but sometimes, I’m not sure every book I pick will do that. Circe was a lot simpler read than I had thought; it was good but not as dense as I thought it would be. (I’d recommend Galatea by Madeline Miller as a more thoughtful read). In any case, I’m sure I’ll write about the things I read.

The wallet: Suddenly one day I pondered if I could do an entire year of “no spending”. This was after the splurging I did in November and December to set up my workstation at home with 2 4k monitors and a docking station. I also bought a bookshelf. Not to mention everyone’s holiday gifts. Then one day after Christmas, it hit me that I could try to do a “no spend” month where I didn’t buy anything on impulse or that I didn’t really need. I wondered how much money I could save. I thought about what were “approved” spends and “bad” spends — and if you’ve never thought of this before, it is an enlightening exercise. For people doing this, the first thing they must do is to make lists of what’s a “need” versus a “want”, what’s okay to spend on, and what isn’t. (One can look up “no spend year” and find a million links and social media about the topic.) I read this Forbes article to start.

What’s nice about the No Spending thing is that it’s personalized, for the most part. I, for instance, do not need the latest game console or video game, because nothing I do depends on that. Someone else might. Someone else might not need shampoo and conditioner, but I do, or else my hair turns into a giant, out-of-control tumbleweed. I can broadly put down in the “approved” list things like medical bills, medicines, things for health maintenance, insurance, and things for health improvements. Other “approved” spending includes food (nothing carb-loaded or deep fried), gifts (dollar limits depending on what the gift is for), car maintenance, house maintenance, vacation, and replacements for things I already own if they are used up or worn down, like soap. It’s easy to write “No late-night Amazon browsing” and remember it, hence, cutting out the possibility of ordering something half-asleep. Also, it’s easy to remember “no more clothes” and “no impulse buying”. This past week, this “resolution” has reared up at Target, Best Buy, and the grocery store, successfully convincing me to not buy something just for the sake of buying it. It was both difficult and empowering. Once January is over, I’ll try February. I’m hoping that eventually, this will turn into a habit and my wallet will be happier for it.

*Books that are ebook or library loans will have priority.

Words from Madeline Miller’s Circe

You can teach a viper to eat from your hands, but you cannot take away how much it likes to bite.

Page 99

… perhaps no parent can truly see their child. When we look we see only the mirror of our own faults.

Page 325

He does not mean that it does not hurt. He does not mean that we are not frightened. Only that: we are here. This is what it means to swim in the tide, to walk the earth and feel it touch your feet. This is what it means to be alive.

Page 406


I’m on page 3 and I already want to weep.

In the lives of emperors there is a moment which follows pride in the boundless extension of the territories we have conquered, and the melancholy and relief of knowing we shall soon give up any thought of knowing and understanding them. There is a sense of emptiness that comes over us at evening, with the odor of the elephants after the rain and the sandalwood ashes growing cold in the braziers, a dizziness that makes rivers and mountains tremble on the fallow curves of the planispheres where they are portrayed, and rolls up, one after the other, the despatches announcing to us the collapse of the last enemy troops, from defeat to defeat, and flakes the wax of the seals of obscure kings who beseech our armies’ protection, offering in exchange annual tributes of precious metals, tanned hides, and tortoise shell. It is the desperate moment when we discover that this empire, which had seemed to us the sum of all wonders, is an endless, formless ruin, that corruption’s gangrene has spread too far to be healed by our scepter, that the triumph over enemy sovereigns has made us the heirs of their long undoing.

Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino

Happy Holidays

Sorry for the long gaps in posting here. I’ve had a birthday, then Thanksgiving, and was preparing for the holidays (2 days left!). Also, work seems to be ramping up a little bit due to everyone doing things at the very last minute.

Here are a few things I looked up this week:

The pharmacokinetics and the pharmacodynamics of cannabinoids. (for work. seriously!)

Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.


The College Board: 101 Great Books Recommended for College-Bound Readers. This list is a bit outdated in parts, and it does not include a lot of current (21st century) literature. This list is also not very diverse in terms of culture.

The 21st Century’s Greatest Books (according to the BBC). I’m so glad White Teeth made it on there; I read it when it first came out and thought it was awesome, but it seemed like no one else read it or heard of it. I read Wolf Hall when it first came out, loved it, and everyone liked it as well. Strange how these things are.

How to Make the Best Sugar Cookies. It calls for a lot of cream of tartar, and I recommend to put that whole amount started in the recipe in. I didn’t because we barely had enough of it, and upon baking, my cookies spread out too much. I probably didn’t put all that flour in as well because flour is messy and I got some of it on the counter and on myself.

How to Make Peanut Sauce (as with recipe blogs, the recipe is at the bottom of the post). I don’t like ginger so I didn’t put that in. I also didn’t have limes, so I substituted for lemon juice. Sometimes people add some sort of spice in this. I don’t like spicy, so I didn’t put any chili flakes or sriracha sauce in. (I think I might be part supertaster because I can taste every ingredient in this after I made it). The result was pretty good still. Maybe it’s one of those recipes that you only put in things that you like after the soy sauce and honey.

NYT’s Royal Icing recipe. I had to add some water to this recipe because the amount of wet materials in the recipe wasn’t enough to make the whole thing manageable.

The Best Books Since 2000.