Friends! Phoenicians! Fellow Book Nerds!

AZ Booksale 2014 1_FeistyHarriet

Friends! Phoenicians! Bookworms! Lend me your ears! Or, your eyeballs! Your scroll fingers? Or…well, this is getting kind of macabre, I don’t want a pile of body parts, just pay attention mmmkay?

This Saturday, February 11, is the annual and legendary VNSA Used Book Sale in downtown Phoenix. The basics: half a million books–HALF A MILLION!–organized by genre then alphabetical by author (mostly), lined up on HUNDREDS tables and stacked in open boxes underneath, hardbacks are usually $2-3, paperbacks $1-2, and fancy coffee table or art books are $5-10, depending on the title/size/etc. All books are half price on Sunday. They’ve got classics, a huge kid’s section, history, biography, cook books and hobby books, sciencey books, rows and rows of fiction. Books are collected via donations throughout the greater Phoenix metro area all year long, and volunteers organize and run the book sale. All proceeds go towards literacy in Arizona. Friends, this is the best thing that has ever happened to me.

AZ Booksale 2014 4_FeistyHarriet

So. I’m the nerd who sleeps in the parking lot on Friday night to ensure an excellent place in line, and because it’s the kind of nerdy thing that makes me happy. If you show up at 8:00 am when the doors open, you’ll probably wait 60-90 minutes in line…maybe? I honestly don’t know, the latest I’ve ever arrived was 4:30, we waited 30 minutes after the doors opened, but it wasn’t worth trying to wake up at 3:45, I’d rather stay tucked into my parking lot sleeping bag (with ear plugs and eye mask) until 7:00, thank you very much.

Anyway, I feel liked I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it, this is my Black Friday, the day I buy the most things, but they are all on a SUPER deal, and proceeds help ESL programs and 1st grade reading groups and Title 1 students get up to grade level. Yep, this is my Thing.

In their Rare Books inventory for this year they have a limited, numbered edition of My Mortal Enemy signed by the author, Willa Cather!! WILLA CATHER! A few years ago they had a first edition Huck Finn for auction. Ya’ll, if only.

I don’t shop the rare books room, I rub elbows with the other bookish plebeians amongst the stacks (and stacks and STACKS!). You are welcome to join me, this year, next year, whenever. I think this is my 9th year attending the Book Sale, it’s not going to be something I give up. Read about my other tips for Book Sale attendance here.


All The Books I Cannot Read

You know that millenial-generational thing, FOMO? Fear Of Missing Out? I have that, kind of, but about books. When I stop to think about it I get genuinely upset when I think about all the books in the world that I will never have time to read. There are so many stories, so much research, so much to know about, and I will never be able to do more than scratch the surface. As I continue to add title after title to the list of books I want to read I become more and more aware of how little I actually know. There are millions and millions of stories I’ll never hear, and zillions of facts I’ll never understand or even comprehend that such information exists , so I will never question. The weight of all the knowledge that exists is both sunlight and soul-crushing, it feeds and inspires me and feels exclusionary; I’ll never know it all.

Thus, I love reading, I love discovering a new-to-me, fascinating topic and devouring a bunch of books about it before moving on to another. I love to return to favorite topics year after year, increasing my knowledge base about, for example, Charles Darwin, or life in North Korea, or neuroscience, or notable feminists, or the reign of the Russian Romanov tsars, or whatever. I do tend to skew heavily towards non-fiction, and typically the novels I have read are not new releases, I usually wait a few years until the initial hype is gone to determine whether or not a fiction book has staying power. If it does, I’ll take the bait; otherwise, I’ll pass. As I’ve gotten a bit older I have honed in on the type of book I like and generally choose ones that will fall into that category from the get-go; so I feel like I am enjoying reading more than I have previously, and I’m reading more, but that has everything to do with the books I start in the first place.

Currently, my “To Read” list is over 400 titles long and I typically add 6 or 7 new ones each week. It’s a never-ending cycle of falling behind. One of my favorite daydreams is that I would be able to download vats of information directly into my brain. I just want to know ALL THE THINGS! And then I want to relate seemingly unrelated pieces together and think about it for a while.

For example: There are a lot of similarities between slavery in the United States and the repressed lives of citizens of North Korea, both in how the people live, think, the psychological damage, and the struggle to transition into a more self-sufficient and independent existence. Am I saying they are equal, absolutely not, but a super repressed regime creates citizens who are in many ways slaves to their government and without free access to information they are unable to imagine a different life. There are many programs in China and South Korea that are dedicated to helping North Korean refugees settle into modern life, including learning about money, what a debit card is, and re-learning basic world history. North Koreans have been so repressed for so long they have very little culture outside of what the Kim family has allowed. Enslaved Africans in the American South had a lot of their own cultural pieces and stories and history, and they could clearly see their own slavery in comparison with free whites. So, again, not equal, but the similarities are so fascinating to me!

Yes, this is what keeps me up at night. Literally. Whether I’m thinking about modern slavery, or the science vs religion debate, or gender discrimination, or the amazing psychological and communication abilities of elephants.…or just about all the things I’ll never know. I lose sleep over this and it seems the only cure is tucking my nose into a book until the wee hours of the morning when my eyes won’t focus anymore and my body demands sleep and wil no longer accept an argument about elephants or Romanovs as an excuse.

I am a sick person, terminally ill with a non-curable disease: I want to know everything in the world. (I also want to see and travel to everywhere in the world, but that is another ailment to discuss on another day.)

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Fort Sumter, Charleston, South Carolina

Fort Sumter, South Carolina

Fort Sumter, a tiny island fortress in Charleston Harbor, is the site where the Civil War began. The first shots fired in 1861 were by the Confederate army, they blasted Fort Sumter until it surrendered a day-and-a-half later. Over the next four years the fortress was reduced to rubble in battles and was not abandoned until Sherman marched his army through the South on his way to Atlanta in 1865.
Fort Sumter, South Carolina

I’ve read quite a bit about the South and the Civil War, but most of my knowledge is about the war in and around Virginia and Pennsylvania, what I know about the South is mostly gleaned Gone With the Wind. I loved being able to wander around the island, see the massive canon that were used to fire on ships, other islands, and the city of Charleston. I am still amazed at how large those guns are and their range is impressive.

Fort Sumter, South Carolina

After Fort Sumter was blown to bits, it was never rebuilt. What remains is the foundations of what used to be a several-stories high building that housed troops and supplies for weeks on end. It makes the broken walls and shattered bricks all the more eerie, imagining hundreds of men living and fighting in layers on top of you.

Fort Sumter, South Carolina

Fort Sumter, South Carolina

My visit at Fort Sumter was fairly short, but as there is very little to see–the whole island is really covered by the ruins of this fort and a small museum–I didn’t mind. A massive rain storm was rolling in and I was more than happy to get back on the ferry and back to (below sea-level) land before that tropical storm hit in full force. If you go, you have to buy your ferry tickets separately and probably in advance, they tend to fill up quickly via online sales, especially in peak tourist seasons.
Fort Sumter, South Carolina

Also, I think it’s time I refocus some of my Civil War reading on areas and battles farther south, I was embarrassed at how little I knew. (I’m a nerd. I know. It’s part of my charm.)

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Mammoth Site, Hot Springs, South Dakota

Earlier this spring a friend and I went on a 6-state road trip throughout the Midwest. After 3 days of rain and a number of foiled plans for our outdoor and national park adventures, we stumbled on to a completely indoor and therefore dry attraction and immediately decided to stay. This was one of the more awesome parts of our trip, partly for the lack of blinding rain, but also because it was just so dang cool.

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The Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota is a live paleontology dig site where scientists are painstakingly excavating bones from dozens of mammoths, both North American Columbian and woolly varieties. The museum is fantastic, the informational video is short and full of interesting facts, and there are a ton of activities for kids.

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Why are there so many mammoth bones in one location? Well! Let me tell you! (Nerd alert!)

Once upon a time, thousands and thousands of years ago during the Ice Age, there was a sink hole here that was eventually filled with a warm, spring-fed pond with all sorts of delicious, tender plants growing around it. Many, many mammoths (all of them young males, btw) climbed in for a drink, a swim, or a snack and slipped down the steep, shale walls and were unable to ever get back onto dry land. So they starved and/or drowned and settled to the bottom of the pond, only to be covered by more mammoths who were looking for juicy green snacks and a warm bath. Eventually the graveyard-pond filled with dirt and sediment, the spring was diverted, and the bones were preserved in hard-packed mud.

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It’s important to mention that these are not fossilized bones, they are very brittle, very dry, and a lot of care and expense has gone in to securing the site and constructing the giant museum over the dig so work can continue year-round without exposing these fragile remains to harsh South Dakota winters (or day and days and days of rain). This is a museum that has been done right, it was so interesting with lots of information and interactive components.

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This is a skull of one of the mammoths with tusks intact (doesn’t it look like a giant squid?). Each skeleton is named, the skull above is of the giant Napoleon Bone-Apart (ha! puns!) and one of the best preserved skeletons they’ve uncovered so far. It was so awesome to be able to walk all around the open pit and see the different parts that scientists are working on and studying.

MidWestRoadTrip_Mammoth Site Hot Springs SD_feistyharriet_June 2015 (4)Looking down into the pit from the catwalk over the top. It is amazing what they have done in the last 60 years using primarily dental-type tools, dry brushes, and tiny little instruments. As they uncover remains they measure and test and research them, often making molds of the bones to help preserve them. Science is awesome, ya’ll!

I’m not gonna lie, my inner geek got all sorts of giddy-excited about this unplanned stop. If you are in western South Dakota I highly recommend spending two hours here. During the summer they have a number of activities where kids and youth can become junior paleontologists and actually do some excavating and digging, more info is on their website.

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Carhenge, Nebraska

Years ago I heard about a magical place in western Nebraska and since then have dreamed of visiting. What’s in western Nebraska, you ask? I mean, besides corn and more corn? Stonehenge, but created by a (wacked out?) artist and not by ancient druids, and made with vintage American automobiles painted gray.

Behold, Carhenge.

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Is it kitschy? Yes. Is it part of what makes the miles and miles of midwest highway pass more quickly? Yes.

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Did I absolutely love it? Yes. Completely.

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Carhenge is just outside Alliance, Nebraska; my friend T. and I didn’t spend a lot of time in town (we had some mostly decent Mexican food, camped in an RV park behind a motel, and bought breakfast at the little grocery store), but Carhenge was one of the highlights of our multi-state, 2,000 mile trip.

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I did a little reading up on the artist, Jim Reinders, and his henge-y masterpiece is as close as he could replicate to the actual Stonehenge. Turns out vintage American automobiles are very nearly exactly the same size and shape as the hewn rock columns the druids used in ancient Britain.

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Other adventures in South Dakota coming soon; additional Carhenge photos here.

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