Mountain Day (repost)

I originally posted this last year on my old blog, but here it is again!

Today is Mountain Day. What is Mountain Day? You may rightly ask. I attended Mount Holyoke College. Every year, on the first really nice day of the fall, the Mary Lyon bells ring out to signal to the slumbering campus that classes are cancelled. Everyone then boards shuttle buses to Mount Skinner, to climb to the top and eat ice cream served by the president of the college.

Yes, this is a real thing! Not a figment of our collective lady-imaginations. It’s pretty much the best tradition, second only to the Laurel Parade, and maybe singing Bread & Roses around Mary Lyon’s grave.

I’ve been thinking about Mountain Day a lot lately. I think about it every time there’s an article about The Entitlement Generation/Generation Me/Jesus Christ These Milleniums are Lazy. I thought about it a lot last week, as I talked with a college friend who just this last Sunday was widowed. I thought about it a lot when I got the email this morning from the Alumnae Association, saying that today is Mountain Day, and then checked my twitter feed and found out that the U.S. Government apparently also wanted to celebrate Mountain Day and decided to give itself the day off. (Obviously that’s a very simplistic description of what is happening.)

Mountain Day, on the one hand, is a fun vacation from your cares. You get the day off class. You get ice cream. You get the beautiful view from a mountain of the Pioneer Valley spread below you like a green hippie paradise. But on the other hand, you have to walk up a mountain to get the ice cream. And it’s not the most intense mountain ever, but it’s still a mountain, more hill than any of us New Yorkers encounter on a daily basis. (Unless you live in Inwood.)

Mary Lyon believed in exercise and exertion. She encouraged Mount Holyoke Seminary students to walk at least a mile every day. In addition to being a fun day of relaxation and skiving off class, Mountain Day is also a chance to test yourself, to challenge yourself to do something you don’t usually do. And yes, the mountain is a fairly easy climb, and yes, there’s ice cream as a reward, and yes, a lot of people spend the day sleeping instead of climbing the mountain. But the option is there, and the fact that so many MHC women choose to walk up to the top is something great.

So yeah, these articles about how everyone my age is a lazy, entitled jagoff are partly true. Some people do choose to sleep in instead of waking up when they hear the bells ringing. But many more choose to climb the mountain. Or work three part-time jobs. Or go back to graduate school, or volunteer. For many of us, especially MHC students, every day is Mountain Day, where we get to choose which one we’ll be.

N.B.: My first year I climbed the mountain, but my friends and I decided to be idiots and climb up what we thought was a trail instead of following the road like every single other person was doing. We arrived several hours later at the top, ice cream long gone, sweaty as hell, but with a feeling of idiotic accomplishment.

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August 2014 Reading

Books Bought August 2014

Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
Persuasion by Jane Austen

Books Read August 2014

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 by Christopher Clark
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Days of Blood and Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #2) by Laini Taylor
Night’s Honor (Elder Races #7) by Thea Harrison
Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Good Books by Nick Hornby
The Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia Laing
The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner (half)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (half)

I was totally prepared to moan and groan in this space about how little I had read in August. For some reason I was convinced that everything I had touched remained unfinished- I think it’s because of the pile that is growing next to my bed of books I’ve started and then put down. That’s actually only true of two books, so I’m feeling much better about myself. It is true, however, that most of my completed reading happened at the beginning of the month, and that is due entirely to three factors: First, I agreed to judge a contest, for which I had to read a large number of books in quite a short amount of time. Second, over Labor Day weekend I spent three days in my apartment doing nothing but combing through partial and full manuscripts that I had requested over a quite long period of time. Third, I discovered the iPhone game 2048 and its various flash permutations. (Tom Hiddleston 2048, Sexy Chris Evans 2048, etc.)

Now, I am not a gamer of any sort, by any stretch of the imagination. I gave up on Angry Birds, the last computer game I gave a serious stab at was Myst back in the 7th grade, and I have the eye-thumb coordination of a blind, thumbless creature. But I am obsessed with 2048. I have only beaten it twice, and the closest I have come to the 4096 tile is 2048 with an adjacent 512. (If you are obsessed with 2048 like I am, and if you have played it ever you are probably obsessed, you know what that all meant.) Something about it is inexplicably soothing and yet also anxious-making. This wave of obsession of mine is a throwback to when I would play Windows solitaire for hours, starting over when I could make no more moves. I don’t have the highest of high scores – I think it’s somewhere in the 27Ks – but damn if I haven’t been playing practically every subway ride or long elevator wait. And thus, little reading has happened!

Still, August was not too shabby, book-wise. Early in the month I re-read The Hot Zone for mystifying reasons relating to the current Ebola epidemic. Hot tip: if you are a person who doesn’t deal well with body horror, do not read this book. The opening chapter, which describes expat Charles Monet’s death from Ebola, is one of the most horrifying, deeply upsetting things I have ever read. Let’s just say you’ll never look at an airplane barf bag the same way again. Early in the month I had an afternoon to kill and so spent it in a Barnes & Noble reading Olivia Laing’s excellent book about writers and drinking. The Trip to Echo Spring is troubling, illuminating, and hilarious by turns, and is well worth a read for anyone interested in the Fitzgerald-Hemingway school of getting shitfaced. Sometime that month I also read this fabulous article from the Hairpin about Jean Rhys– one of the weaknesses, if there are any, of Laing’s book is that the focus is overwhelmingly on male drunks, when Rhys’ story shows us that women can be just as destructive to themselves and others while on the sauce as their male counterparts. So now I want to go out and read Rhys, which I will no doubt do in the ample spare time I have coming up. Pardon me, I have to get this 32 to combine with this 64.

I’ve written before about how much I love Thea Harrison’s Elder Races series, and so I won’t go on at great length about Night’s Honor, except to say that I stole the ARC off a colleague’s desk and haven’t given it back (and don’t intend to – sorry, Amy!). I will read anything Harrison writes. The Elder Races series features great worldbuilding, compelling relationships, and a lot of hot sex. What else do you need in a book?

Well, Sometimes you need dry facts about how freaking crazy Serbia in the 19th century was, so I finished up Christopher Clark’s mammoth tome The Sleepwalkers last month. Clark does such a clear and excellent job of drawing together seemingly-disparate threads from each country to demonstrate how the whole damn thing happened. Hell if I can summarize it for you though, so I recommend checking it out if you’re into that kind of thing, and have some time before Agents of Shield comes back on TV. It’s out in paperback now, and weighs about four pounds less than the hardcover, which should be added incentive. All that Austen and the trip to Bath in July led to my re-read of Persuasion in a lovely copy I picked up from Book Court in Brooklyn (when I went in to try and find Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, which I still haven’t managed to lay my hands on.) Persuasion is, I think, my favorite Austen. Mostly because it’s basically Pining: The Novel, which is one of my very most favorite things to read. I guess maybe I love the idea that you can want something that you think you’ve lost forever; that you can be surprised when that thing comes back to you.

My half-finished books this months are books I love but for whatever reason put aside. I read half of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay at the beach the weekend before labor day. I love this book, and had somehow completely forgotten about the golem in it. Swordspoint is – well. Swordspoint is amazing. Lush and beautiful and adventurous. Full disclosure: I know the author and her lovely wife, both of whom I met at Sirens a few years ago and promptly began a stealth mission to befriend. So far my campaign seems to be succeeding.

That’s it for this month- it’s the fall, which means that Publishing school is back in session, so there are more events and cons and things in my future. I’m looking forward to reading Robert Jackson Bennett (a DMLA client)’s new fantasy City of Stairs at some point, as well as finishing the aforementioned half-read masterpieces. I also just found a list of about 100 books on World War I that I hadn’t read before, so, that might happen, too. In the meantime, I’m going to tab over to the game of 2048 I’ve got going to see if I can get past the Captain America tile. The glamour of agenting, folks!