Jen Mason-Black – Author

Jen Mason-Black is a wanderer through nature and stories, these are her good things.

Good things to read.

Island of the Grass King by Nancy Willard. I received this book in 1980 as a present from my homeschool penpal. I read it repeatedly, then set it aside until I had kids and realized it was just as awesome to read it as a parent as it had been to read it as a kid. The story of Anatole and his search for the unique fennel that eases his grandmother’s asthma, it involves an island with touches of The Tempest, and a group of traveling companions that include a watchful cat, an animated teapot, and a glass girl with a whistle for a heart.

Saffron and Brimstone  by Elizabeth Hand.  While I love Hand’s novels, it’s her short stories that haunt me. I love the space she leaves for reader imagination, the deeply inhabited characters. There’s a realness to her unreal that often has me going back to reread a story as soon as I am through.

China Mountain Zhang  by Maureen McHugh. My test of how much I enjoy a book is how ready I am to read it again, and how often I might do so. China Mountain Zhang comes off the shelf at least once a year, and has been doing so since my husband brought it home from a class on Utopian/Dystopian writing many years ago. A future Earth, a colony on Mars, all of our weaknesses and strengths shaping a reality that feels utterly plausible, one in which pain exists, but hope does as well.

Good things to watch.

Another Earth.  Not likely to appeal to those looking for hard scientific fact (there just happens to be another Earth that just happens to show up on the horizon one day?), it nonetheless is one of my favorite recent movies.  Is there anyone out there who hasn’t, at one point or another, wished for an alternate life? For the chance to redo a misstep and see what the future might have held?

My Neighbor Totoro. The first Miyazaki film I saw, and still my favorite (though Spirited Away runs a close second). Two little girls, the spirits of the forest, a sick mom, and the fierce love of families. Ooh, and the cat bus, too!!

The night sky. There’s nothing like the vastness of the night sky to remind me how much more there is to this whole life thing than the little pieces I experience. From my desk I can watch the moon rise at night. In the backyard I can lay out on a blanket with the kids and watch meteor showers, and bats, and fireflies. A definite benefit to rural life.

Good things to use.

Just Soap. I’m lucky to live in an area with both a strong campaign to buy local products and a lot of creative entrepreneurs.  Just Soap is a great example, and a wonderful product. Real soap, smelling like real things (Cinnamon Clove is my favorite), and powered by bicycle. Yup, a pedal-powered stirring process to keep everything even more eco-friendly. Good stuff, made by good people.

A compass and map. I like letterboxing. I like geocaching. I just don’t love them in quite the same way that I love orienteering. There’s nothing quite like spending hours in the middle of nowhere with a map and a compass, and an understanding of how to use them.

A headlamp. They actually come in handy for all sorts of things—camping, power outages (all the time where I live), walking out to the compost on a dark night—but I use mine almost exclusively for reading late at night. I started when my kids were babies and I needed something I could turn on and off without waking everyone up. These days, they make it possible for me to have a middle of the night insomniac reading episode without waking up my spouse. I know there are book lamps, and little bed lamps, but nothing works as well for me as my Petzl headlamp.

Connect with Jen Mason-Black on Twitter, @CosDrift.


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