If it isn't obvious by now, I'm currently working on reading the rest of Haruki Murakami’s novels. I started with Wind Up Bird Chronicle in April 2008, and have only two left at this point. After finishing A Wild Sheep Chase it appears that there is some benefit in reading them in order, as this book and Dance Dance Dance share a few characters and locations. But the plots aren’t connected, so it probably doesn’t matter.
A Wild Sheep Chase is Murakami’s third novel, but is the first that is easily available in an English translation. Like the others, it slowly works it’s magic so that by the time strange things start happening, it seems normal. And the usual Murakami themes (solitude, cats, isolation in nature, etc.) are in evidence. But the whole thing doesn’t quite come together as well as in later novels.
Still, it is a very enjoyable book, and it’s fun to spend time in the strange worlds of Murakami’s characters. South of the Border, West of the Sun is next, and then After Dark. I should have no trouble finishing them in time for the English release of 1Q84.
This year Andrea got invited to speak at the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival. It would have been the sixth or seventh time we’ve been to the Festival, and it’s always a great time and a nice vacation for both of us. Because of all the dogs and cats, it’s hard for us to travel together, so most of our vacations are solo affairs while the other person takes care of the animals.
Unfortunately, as we were packing to leave, we discovered that our cat Caslon was sick with some form of feline lower urinary tract disease. That’s another way to say “a cat that can’t pee.” He got antibiotic and anti-inflammatory shots in the hopes that it’s an infection causing a bladder inflammation. We also need to keep him isolated so we can monitor what’s happening, and give him twice daily 100 ml subcutaneous fluid injections to hopefully keep things moving. As you can imagine, this isn’t the way I’d imagined spending the next four days.
The good news is I already took the time off from work, so it’ll give me a chance to catch up on some projects. The arctic entryway needs trim above the tile and around the windows and doors, and I’d like to build a more permanent setup for my standing desk at work.
A month ago, we noticed that our pump was coming on when we weren’t using any water. We immediately suspected the toilet because there was no evidence of water anywhere (on the floor, leaking under the house, etc.), but when we shut off the water supply to the toilet before going to bed, the tank was still full of water in the morning. The gaskets in our kitchen faucet were starting to fail, and it was occasionally leaking down the stem of the faucet, so we replaced the cartridge hoping this would solve our water problem. The faucet works a lot better, but we were still losing water.
We tried turning off the pump at night to confirm we really were losing water, and when we got up in the morning, we had no pressure. The combination of turning off the pump and the toilet supply resulted in no loss in pressure, so the leak was somewhere in the toilet after all. It wasn’t the flapper valve (or the tank would be empty in the morning), and we didn’t see any drips or leaks, so the supply must have been leaking into the top tank somewhere under the water and draining into the bowl where we didn’t notice it.
The obvious fix for this is to replace the stuff in the tank. But the toilet didn’t really work very well anyway, and used the full 1.6 gallons per flush. Andrea installed a dual flush kit that was supposed to use less water for liquid waste, but it didn’t work: the lower “number one” button didn’t release enough water into the bowl for it to actually flush. 1.6 gallons of water doesn’t sound like much, but we’re currently paying 10 cents a gallon for water, so we’re spending more than a dollar a day just to flush the toilet. We have an outhouse, but because we’re so close to Goldstream Creek, it can’t be in the ground and needs to be pumped out whenever it gets full. So our best option was to replace the leaking toilet with something that won’t leak, and uses less than the standard 1.6 gallons of water per flush.
The two current strategies to lowering water consumption in a toilet are to make the top tank smaller so less water is used for every flush, or to implement a dual flush setup where a small amount of water is used for liquids and the full volume flushes solids. Consumer Reports doesn’t give the dual flush models very high ratings, mostly because the bowl isn’t rinsed as well when so little water is used. As a result, we decided to get a toilet that uses a smaller top tank (1.28 gallons per flush). The highest rated model by Consumer Reports is an American Standard one-piece “Cadet 3,” but the local plumbing place and the box stores didn’t have that model in stock. Getting one shipped to Alaska would have taken more than two months. The next place models were the two-piece version of the Cadet 3 and the Kohler Cimarron. Consumer Reports gave the Cimarron slightly higher marks overall, with better bowl cleaning but worse solid waste elimination ratings. While we were in the store, we went to the web site for the company that rates toilets for solid waste elimination (www.map-testing.com) and consulted the latest ratings (from April 4th (!)). The Cimarron was better rated for this statistic (1,000 vs. 800), so that’s what we got.
Installation went smoothly. Thus far, we’re satisfied. What is surprising about the toilet is how fast it flushes. It empties the top tank into the bowl in less than a second, and the bowl empties almost immediately after that. It seems that the strategy is to dump almost all of the top tank water into the bowl as quickly as possible to eliminate waste, and use the small amount remaining to wash down the bowl. So far so good! We’re saving more than three cents each time we flush, and hopefully we will have many fewer double (and more…) flush events.
Montana 1948 is a book published by Milkweed Editions, a non-profit press that attempts to “nurture and publish transformative literature.” I’m not sure what that means, but this is the second Milkweed National Fiction Award winner that I’ve read (The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck is the other). It’s a short little book told from the first person perspective of an adult recounting events that happened when he was twelve. It’s a simple story about family, small towns, and how each of the characters react to acts of violence against Native Americans in their community.
The main character maintains some distance from the events that take place—“I felt a contentment outside human society that I couldn't feel within it.”—and so he allows the reader to draw their own conclusions about what drives the other characters to do what they do. The author is very good at evoking the feel of the time and place of the story. An enjoyable read.
It’s a good looking book too, with a slightly shorter and wider page size than is typical, and a nice thick shiny cover. It’s typeset in Perpetua, which is a font I like, but I felt like the italics were too small for the body text (see the image below). I’m not sure how this would happen unless it’s an intentional feature of the font set. It looked funny to me.
Thus far in 2011 I’ve read three books. I finished Paul Auster’s Invisible, and read Girl Factory by Jim Krusoe on New Year’s Day. I read a few raves of the Auster book, and I’d put it in a very long list of his better books. Maybe not in the top five, but one not to miss if you like his writing. Girl Factory was excellent. After I finished it, I wrote to myself: “Highly entertaining, and the main character had a great voice. New favorite book of 2011, one day into it.” Two weeks later and I’ll stick to that opinion.
The book I just finished, while watching the Bears thrash the Seahawks, was Tana French’s Faithful Place. I can’t remember why I picked it up, but I probably should have known by the style of the dust jacket that it wouldn’t be quite my taste. It’s in the crime genre, and was a little too filled with the stock and trade of that category for me. Even so, the characters are spectacularly well fleshed out, and the sense of place was great. I don’t know anything about the lower class rowhouses of Dublin where the action takes place, but I had no trouble filling the blanks from her detailed descriptions.
Anyway, it wasn’t really my thing, but if you enjoy literate crime fiction, this is a book I can recommend.