Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Just visited another blog, by, apparently, the "Grande Dame" of blogging (she wrote a book about it). I liked her article at the Guardian better, but the blog was interesting too.
Though recent posts would suggest otherwise, I have been reading. Unfortunately for you all, I'm reading Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy, which is 1350 pages long. Even for me that's a lot. And I'm trying not to let myself be distracted by other reads, because then I'd never finish this one, and I am enjoying it quite a bit. It's not quite as bad as a Russian novel, in that most of the characters don't have nicknames, but there are just as many of them and they're all somehow related.

However, I just remembered that I never posted about Middlemarch, which I whizzed through last earlier this month and thoroughly enjoyed. I'd read it before, of course, and immediately listed it as one of my favorites, but had forgotten just how good it is. George Eliot is brilliant! I don't quite know how to describe it, since "a look at life in an English village" could sound pretty boring, but Eliot's writing makes the reader a part of that life. Like an ear-to-the-keyhole gossip, one can't wait to discover how Dorothea will respond to her late husband's nasty will, or if Rosamond Vincey will succeed in capturing Dr. Lydgate's heart. And more than that, which characters will rise above their circumstances and become heroes, and which will hide their heads in shame at their own actions.

I read it like I do mysteries, or fantasy novels, with complete abandon and absorption, which was why I had to shake my head over the comment of a woman at work. I'd always thought of her as being fairly intelligent and knowledgeable, but when she noticed the book sitting on the table next to me, she said, as if carefully sounding it out, "Middle--march?" If, as I assumed from that tone, she had never heard of the book, she judged it by the cover (Penguin Classics) and the thickness when she then asked, "For fun or for class?" (By which I assume she meant school, not a desire for sophistication.) When I answered, "For fun," she looked very impressed and said, "Oh, wow!"

Don't people read?!?

Well, as you can see from my new name, I am now a wedded woman (I'll leave the rhyme to your imagination!). With friends and family still in town, and a nasty cold that took advantage of my stressed state, the fact has not quite had time to sink in yet, but Odious and I are having a lot of fun calling each other "my husband" and "my wife". Wonder how long our friends will find that cute!

So I'm sitting here at home by myself, pretending that the house doesn't need to be cleaned or the laundry folded or Christmas presents wrapped, and amusing myself as I haven't for a while by trying to find other interesting blogs. Blogger helped me out with a link to the British Blog Awards, which recognized several blogs that were at least readable--though I don't know if I'd visit them regularly. The problem, of course, is that each of these blogs sports a long list of links, some of which look interesting enough that I could spend all day following them. But I'm not that bored.

Anyway, I didn't read much of megnut (she's the co-founder of Pyra, the company behind Blogger, to give everyone their due), but it seemed tolerable, and I'm always a sucker for anything with the name meg. A Teenager Blogs kept my interest longer, despite being about nothing in particular. I do like reading about people's lives, but more so when we share common interests. I'm not sure if I'd revisit Going Underground again, but it was vaguely amusing and worth mentioning simply because I love the tube. Ever since I read 84, Charing Cross Road I've wanted to read Pepys' Diary, but it always seemed a little daunting. Of course it was only a matter of time before someone came up with the brilliant idea of posting one entry a day--with annotations, no less! I would prefer annotations on the same page as the entry, since following ten links for one short paragraph is really annoying with dial-up. I also checked out Belle de Jour, the diary of a London call girl, and this turned out to be a great mistake. It's not about her life outside of work. Blech!

Saturday, December 13, 2003

I just finished reading Near A Thousand Tables: A History of Food, by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. Of course I love reading about food no matter what, but this was a particularly fascinating read that I whipped through in no time. It's very accessible and interesting, with all sorts of tidbits and anecdotes. The author is a little too fond of bad jokes, and every now and then a random sentence appeared in a paragraph, as if he suddenly thought of something interesting and tossed it in without care for relevance, but overall he has a good flow and style. My favorite part was his discussion of the Columbian Exchange, when various food staples began to make their ways back and forth across the Atlantic. It's hard to imagine America without wheat or beef, but neither originated here; while Europe would not be the same without corn, potatoes, or chocolate.

I was surprised that the book didn't really inspire me to cook, or even to eat, but I did get the idea for tonight's dinner from the author's mention of the Native American triumvirate of nutrience: corn, beans, and squash. Since I had an acorn squash that needed to be dealt with, and some rather sad leftover black bean soup, I simmered it all up with a little frozen corn for a hearty dish served over hot cornbread. Not bad.

Went out with Odious today and got a cute little Christmas tree that just fits on our kitchen table (the only possible spot for such a decoration). It's sparsely decorated with multi-colored mini lights, a red wooden bead string, a few Pascha eggs, and a couple of ornaments from my grandmother, but it looks festive and has added the Christmas spirit to our abode. If only I had time to be in the Christmas spirit! With the wedding just a week away, I am burdened with all the last minute details that I desperately don't want to have to think about. Ah well.

Friday, December 12, 2003

More snow today, which is good since it was the opening day at Ski Santa Fe. Maybe next week they can open a third run. I'm still not used to the way people think about snow here, but I hoped this morning there might be a snow delay from the half inch that fell overnight. Sadly, it was an early and busy day as usual.

So I've been reading a lot lately, but since I've also been preparing for next week's wedding (!!!), haven't quite had time to post. Last weekend, when we woke up to snow again, I snuggled up in bed with The Long Winter, which has always been one of my favorites of the Little House series. My mother hated it, but she was never a big fan of winter, besides being claustrophobic. I think it's so wonderful that Laura Ingalls Wilder could make the horrible depression of that winter seem hopeful and cheery because of her family's strength and faith. The intrepid creativity of both her parents amazes me, as they draw on unfathomed wells of tradition and trust to provide for the family. I love reading about Ma making the button lamp, Pa nosing out Almanzo's seed corn, Laura looking out the upstairs window at the horses' hooves going by at eye level, and Almanzo and Cap Garland struggling through the snow to buy wheat and save the town. It's such a terrific book!

Sunday, December 07, 2003

He that goes to bed, and goes to bed sober,
Falls as the leaves do, falls as the leaves do, and dies in October;

But he that goes to bed, and goes to bed mellow,
Lives as he ought to do, lives as he ought to do, and dies an honest fellow.

Maria Edgeworth, Castle Rackrent

Saturday, November 29, 2003

I taught Odious to crochet yesterday. After a few hours of contortion and eyeball-popping, he caught on, and is moving right along on an only slightly deformed red scarf (I pointed out that he already owns a very nice red scarf, but apparently he wants two). So now we share a hobby! I suggested that he could teach me side kick in turn, but it's not going as well. I get bored more easily than he does.

We're at my dad's house right now, spending most of our time in front of the new woodstove (it's cold and snowy out), chatting and crocheting. It's a wonderful break, and I'm relishing it by reading very little. I did just read There's Treasure Everywhere, a Calvin and Hobbes collection; Odious said I was having way too much fun, as I giggled madly through the whole thing.

And now I must follow the inscrutable exhortations of my soul, and eat some more Chips Ahoy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Just to warn the gentle reader, this post has nothing to do with books. I've been reading a lot lately, but haven't finished anything of note, so I decided to proselytize a little instead.

If you're feeling charitable with the holiday season upon us, or if you're racking your brain over what to get the people who have everything, here are some ideas for making the world a better place.

Whether or not you agree with the political situation in which our country is embroiled, it's important to support the troops who give their lives to protect us every day. You can send a greeting via email to a member of the armed forces at, or sign a virtual thank-you card at To help service members stay in touch with their families, donate a calling card at

Unfortunately I just missed the deadline for Operation Christmas Child, which is a wonderful program that sends shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts to children around the world, but Samaritan's Purse has plenty of other opportunities for donation. Check out the gift catalog or the current Prayer Point.

Probably my favorite charity is Heifer International, a great organization that provides impoverished families with various farm animals. You can give a flock of ducks, a water buffalo, a llama, or, of course, a heifer, to a family in desperate need of the sustenance and income. I think this makes a terrific Christmas gift, as you can make donations in the names of your loved ones, and they'll receive really cute cards with a picture of whatever animal you chose.

Supporting a third-world child costs $28 a month. Give up two lattes or one cocktail a week, and a child will be fed, clothed, and educated. And receiving their letters several times a year is really neat--it's wonderful to see God's work going on. Visit Compassion International to give a child a Christmas gift he or she will appreciate for years to come.

Last but not least, Focus on the Family never ceases to blow me away with their incredible and untiring hard work. For a small donation you can give or receive a subscription to one of their magazines (Citizen is one of the best magazines I know of), and also check out their many books and other materials for really worthwhile Christmas gifts.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

I found Louise Dickinson Rich's book We Took To The Woods at the library while looking for Living the Good Life. For some reason its cover is very familiar to me, although I'm sure I never read it before--perhaps it was one of those that I saw so often at my hometown library that I just assumed I had read it. But I'm very glad I've read it now, as it was a lovely little narrative of life in the Maine woods. It was published in 1942, but it is available through A Common Reader, and I enjoyed it more than any of my recent reads.

It's hard to imagine anyone nowadays living such a secluded life (at one point in the book, Mrs Rich describes her first trip to "the Outside" in over four years!), but it sounds fabulous. The family was not entirely cut off from civilization, although during the in-between seasons of spring and fall, when the ice over the lake between their home and the nearest market was too thin to drive over and too thick to run a boat through, sometimes got very long and boring. But in other seasons there were lumberjacks, hunters, and hikers and campers, as well as a few neighbors, all of whom were perfectly likely to drop in for dinner at a moment's notice.

Each chapter of the book is titled with a question commonly asked of the Riches about their life--How Do You Earn A Living? Don't You Get Bored? etc--and Mrs Rich answers them fully, warmly, and humorously to create a truly enjoyable read.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Most junior French classes at St. John's read Madame de Lafayette's Princesse de Cleves at some point, as an example of French literature and fairly straightforward translation. As with most of the books I encountered at SJC, reading them now is so much more pleasant since I don't have to 1), think of something to say about them but rather think of what interests me about them, and 2), listen to other people's inane comments. And no, I'm not putting down St. John's. I really did love it there.

My point is that I found it terribly frustrating to have a discussion about The Princesse de Cleves because of my classmates' inability to fathom virtue. They accused Mme de Cleves of being boring and spineless for not giving in to her passions, when she is one of the few truly virtuous literary characters. I find it refreshing to read about someone who doesn't give in to temptation despite their constant barrage, and I would think others would feel the same. Apparently not.

Anything written about the French court is pretty weird, and serves to make me eternally grateful for not having been born into that time, but this book seems to me particularly steeped in gossip and intrigue. It's the story of a young noblewoman who marries a prince madly in love with her, who (unlike all other husbands of the time) continues to be in love with her throughout their marriage, despite her return of only mild affection. She believes herself to be incapable of love (and is hardly devastated by that belief, seeing the affairs and scandals going on daily around her), until M de Nemours, a dashing rake of a nobleman, appears on the scene. They are immediately mutually attracted, but she (unlike all other wives of the time) refuses to enter into an affair with him. Nemours does everything he can to persuade her, but she is steadfast even though every thought of him is a temptation. Finally she is so frightened by her passion that she confesses everything to her husband in the hopes that he will keep her away from the court and society. M de Cleves is overcome by the knowledge that, although she has not had an affair, she still is capable of being in love--just not with her husband. He eventually dies, supposedly of a broken heart, and because Mme de Cleves believes that Nemours was ultimately the cause of his death, she refuses to remarry despite her new freedom. After discovering the extent to which Nemours has been following and watching her (which touches her, oddly--in this day and age we'd call that stalking, but whatever), and enters a convent.

What's missing from this summary is the true accessibility of the characters--because of them, it's not just a French soap opera. Mme de Cleves is one of my favorite characters, and her husband is not the milksop he sounds. He loves his wife more than one would think possible, and that seems to me just as admirable as her strength. Nemours, on the other hand, is creepy and weird--Mme de Cleves is finally a little disturbed at the knowledge that he spied on her and then told what he heard to everyone at court--and it's rather incomprehensible to me that this was not her reason for rejecting him rather than the fear of betraying her dead husband.

It's really a fascinating book, in many ways, and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

I finally posted a second installment of the current story at Kate-Hill, if anyone's interested. It's taken me this long to discover that I did in fact have the whole story on disk--the hard drive only had about a quarter, so I was putting off typing the rest.
I was going to post about "Winged Migration", the excellent film about birds that I saw last week with Peculiar, Jack, and another friend, but Peculiar wrote such a good review of it that I'll just give a link. However, he did not mention two things that graphically illustrate the creepiness of the animal kingdom. In one scene an injured sea bird was set upon by eager-eyed crabs, until it disappeared under a squirming heap of jabbing claws. Later on, a particularly unpleasant bird called a skoa devoured a baby penguin right in front of its parents, who strangely did nothing but squawk in alarm and flap their ineffectual wings--well, ineffectually. My remark to the "Meat is Murder" folk: At least humans kill animals before eating them.

Peculiar also has an excellent review on the movie "Whale Rider", which I enjoyed, while not quite as much as he, fairly well.

After I told my future mother-in-law how much I'd enjoyed Under the Tuscan Sun, she scoffed a bit and said that there were so many better books in that genre--and then proceeded to send them all to me! A few weeks ago I received a box from Amazon full of books about Italy, which was quite a nice little surprise. Several of them I'd heard of before, since they'd been excerpted in a book I reviewed here a while back called Desiring Italy--narratives by Iris Origo and Lisa St. Aubin de Teran. Because the box came at a time when I'd just gathered up from our shelves a stack of books that need to be read so that they can consequently be gotten rid of, I haven't delved very far into Italy yet. I have, however, read the one most recommended by Odious's mother, viz. Paulo Tullio's North of Naples, South of Rome, and another called Within Tuscany, by Matthew Spender.

The descriptions of food in the former were so good that they made me feel hungry despite reading the book while violently ill with the flu. Italians seem to be always sociable, and what better way to socialize than through food? Tullio describes not only the meal preparations of pasta (an excellent pastime which we have enjoyed upon occasion) and other dishes, but also the killing and preparing of a pig, and the gathering of the entire town for a huge dinner at the local restaurant. Unfortunately the author lacks an elegant writing style, but after a while I got used to the roughness of his prose, and it almost seemed a complement to the subject.

Within Tuscany lacked the coherence of the other book, as the author seemed interested in every aspect of his local area. Because of this the book had no overall flow to it--a chapter on beekeeping was followed by a chapter on visiting Michelangelo's quarry followed by the history (such as it is) of the Etruscans followed by the sculpting of a crucifix for the local church. It was all interesting, but I had trouble getting into the book because it was so disjointed. Also I was irritated by the recurring presence of a captivating young woman who kept Spender's mind on things other than his wife and children.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

As you know, I've been looking for E. Nesbit's Five Children trilogy for some time now, but have never happened upon any new editions except for the first book. Well, to my delight, on our latest trip to Borders, I found not only The Story of the Amulet, but also a collection of short stories I'd never heard of before! Some of the stories in The Magic World are a little silly and preachy (what naughty Maurice learned from being turned into a cat), but most are quite amusing and enjoyable, like the story of the princess and the hedge-pig, or the story of the telescope that actually changed the sizes of whatever it was pointed at. Of course the best of E. Nesbit is found in the pages of Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, and The Story of the Amulet, but her short stories bear reading as well.
It's been a crazy week, full of people and activity. Of course I've still managed to find plenty of time to read, mostly as a survival tactic, but haven't had much time to post until now. It's a cold and snowy afternoon, perfect for snuggling down with new library books and afghans, with tomato soup and grilled cheese for lunch--which is, in fact, what I have just done. I'm about halfway through Robert Silverberg's Roma Eterna, a novel detailing what might have happened had Rome never fallen. So far he's had the Romans struggling along, only surviving by chance occurences and luck, which I suppose would be fairly accurate. It is, of course, silly (and I haven't even gotten to the part illustrated on the cover, with a man in a toga watching a rocket take off), and yet I must quibble.

Silverberg has what must be a common modern view of Christianity, that it just happened to take over civilization because of specific things falling into place. At the beginning of Roma Eterna, a historian is telling his friend about his current study on the Hebrews. He is excitedly positing his theory that their strange religion would have become a worldwide cult had their great leader Moshe not unfortunately died before leading them out of slavery and into the Palestine region. (Similarly, later in the book, a loyal Roman saves the world from another cult by having Mohammad assassinated--but this is not my point.) As if God would be thwarted by the death of one man!

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

It's always interesting to take a box of books culled from one's shelves to a used bookstore, and see which ones they choose. I suppose it depends a lot on sellability as well as shelf space and demand, but quite often the books I expect to be taken are discarded for those I have trouble remembering why I bought, and have no idea why anyone else would be interested in them. Anyway, I just took an overflowing box to Title Wave Books in Albuquerque, only to have the clerk pull out a meagre stack of mass-markets, bypassing the decent hardbacks and (admittedly bescribbled) various editions of Homer. Hmph. Well, the St. John's library can have the rest for their booksale in the spring--and I can't really complain about the books purchased by Title Wave, since they paid for the few paperbacks I wanted to buy.

Title Wave has been one of my favorite bookstores ever since I was introduced to the parent store in Anchorage (there are only two stores, one in Anchorage and one in Albuquerque--very odd to have lived near both of them!). It's a great store, crammed with books of all kinds for very reasonable prices, and apparently they also sell books online. The store in Anchorage was much more personable, being in an old house so that one wandered up and down stairs, around corners, and into nooks; however, it recently moved to a new site which I'm sure is nice because of its size, but can't have the atmosphere of the original. The Albuquerque store is also somewhat lacking in charm, although this is always forgivable when one discovers hard-to-find fantasy anthologies, obscure translations, or treasures of children's literature.

Monday, November 03, 2003

I've long had a fondness for Natalie Babbitt, as the author of the book that brought Odious and me together. When he found out that I'd read The Search for Delicious (which, I must admit, I had read simply because the public library in my hometown owned it, and while I thought it was good, never would have thought much about it again), he knew I was the girl for him. Well, it is always nice to discover odd little connections like that.

Anyway, I just read her book The Eyes of the Amaryllis, which was just as odd as her others but in a quieter way. It's the story of a young girl who goes to take care of her injured grandmother; as she learns why the old woman is so tied to the sea, she is pulled deep into the tale herself. My favorite aspect was the description of the house on the shore, cosy and shipshape against the sea winds.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

I've just spent the day cooking pumpkin, which involves cutting it into small pieces, steaming the pieces for nearly an hour (thanks to high altitude), scraping the flesh from the rind, mashing the flesh, and then spooning it into Ziplocs in careful measurements before storing in the freezer. It's a time-consuming but satisfying process, particularly as the results prepare for a winter of pumpkin pie, bread, soup, and cookies, all of which are quite tasty and even more so when made with home-cooked pumpkin. Later on I'm going to bake up a double batch of cookies for the Halloween party at work tomorrow (We're supposed to dress up. I'm going to wear my pajamas.), from a recipe out of the Sunburst Farm Family Cookbook. It's one of my favorite cookbooks--well, that's not really fair, since all of my cookbooks are my favorites--partly because of its recipes but mainly because of the pure amusement I get from it.

The cookbook was produced by the Brotherhood of the Sun, a Santa Barbara commune in the 1970's, which is quite enough in itself. Each section is prefaced with a note about their growing and cooking methods, the best ingredients to use, and so on, as well as occasional philosophical notes. My favorite is the "Eight Paths of Right Cooking" at the end of the book. I've just discovered that the book is available through Popula, for $12. I'm not sure if it's worth it, but to further intrigue you, here's the recipe for Pumpkin Cloud Cookies.

1/2 c butter or margarine
1 c honey
2 eggs
1 c steamed, mashed pumpkin
2 c whole wheat flour [or 1 c wheat and 1 c white]
1 t baking soda
1 t sea salt
2 t cinnamon
1 t mace [or nutmeg]
2 c chopped walnuts

Cream butter; add honey. Add eggs and pumpkin. Mix dry ingredients together and add to the rest, including the nuts. Drop on greased cookie sheet. Bake in 350 oven for 15 minutes. Makes 30 cookies.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

I used to be able to lie on my bed and read for hours and hours on end until I was dizzy and disoriented--and I would do it daily as long as my mother didn't interrupt me with her fears that I would become fat and lazy. I guess she was right. Anyway, I don't have much chance to do that anymore. Yesterday, however, was a blessed exception--I spent two hours in the afternoon burning through the Roald Dahl Omnibus, and then another two or so in the evening to finish it. What bliss! And they're such delightfully snarky little stories, too--just the way short stories should be. A few are a little too creepy for my taste ("Pig", "Skin", and "William and Mary"), but others such as the classic "Lamb to the Slaughter" and "The Great Automatic Grammatisator" can't fail to please the reader.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Every now and then I have to read some science fiction to remind myself why I don't read it regularly. It's odd to think that I used to read it quite frequently as a teenager, but I believe this was because I had not yet discovered that there was such a thing as the fantasy genre. And I will admit that there is some science fiction that I do enjoy, mostly Ray Bradbury's short stories, but for the most part I find it difficult to stay interested in tales of the future, since I have not yet read one that seemed to me believable. I can't believe that people could change enough to allow the sort of apocalyptic worlds such as the Matrix or even the Global Community, and I certainly don't believe in any sort of utopia; rather, it seems that life will continue much as it always has.

Anyway, this may be a slightly drunken ramble, and I will continue to my main point, which is that Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower had little to distinguish it from any other apocalyptic science fiction except for the "God is Change" religion. Of course, that was also the boring aspect of the book. I can't decide if the scripture developed by the heroine is actually a belief of the author, or if Butler was simply trying to imagine what a woman in these circumstances might turn to in her need for meaning. Either way, I kept hoping that Lauren and her compatriots would in fact meet their goal of colonizing another planet, but instead they made their excrutiatingly long journey along the California coast, avoiding the pyromaniac drug addicts to reach a place where they might possibly have a chance of building a community. Dull, sadly, and yet I read it with unusual dedication. Perhaps it was simply the expectation that surely, at some point, something had to happen, but sadly all that happened was that I finished the book.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Why is it that the second installment in a trilogy is nearly always the worst? The only exception I can think of is The Two Towers, which is my favorite of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (because of the Ents), but that doesn't really count because it wasn't written as a trilogy. Anyway, it's always been irritating to me that one has to suffer through the middle of a trilogy--that should be the good meaty part even if there's no climax or conclusion.

I can't remember if I posted about Peter David's The Woad to Wuin, the sequel to Sir Apropos of Nothing, but I found it much cruder and more contrived, with little of interest occurring and rather forgettable as a whole. The third book, Tong Lashing, however, while not as enjoyable as the first, is a nice ending to the story of Apropos, with fewer but better puns and a more coherent story line. I think one of my favorite things about these books is that not only is Apropos not a hero, what happens to him is realistically not black and white. The reader is never quite sure who is his enemy, or even if there is one--which is a nice change. And I like that the person with whom he falls in love in this book is the Ho of the Skang-Kei clan. Hee.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

At the moment I am entertaining my cat by alternately typing and swirling the cursor around on the computer screen. She's fascinated, sitting upright on my lap with her eyes fixed eagerly on the excitement I am creating. Hmm, she has also just produced an interesting stench--down, Lizzy, down!

Well, since I haven't actually finished a book for several days now, instead I'll recommend a CD I bought at Borders the other day. It was, I must admit, an impulse buy, but only a minor one since I've had Over the Rhine on my list for quite some time, ever since a friend introduced me to their music last year. Anyway, once I saw this CD it seemed silly not to buy it, since it was 2 discs for $15.99. It's the band's latest, called Ohio, and is rather more modern and streamlined than their older, more bluegrassy sound. The music is mellow and ballad-like, weaving in the musicians' backgrounds of country western, southern gospel, and rock and/or roll for a style all their own. So far my favorite songs are "What I'll Remember Most" and the title track, both on Disc 1; I haven't had much chance to listen to all of Disc 2.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Our small group of friends has been reading The Odyssey lately, as my readers know if they are also readers of Odious and Jack. I won't go into my thoughts on it, as these two have pretty much covered everything I had to say, except to insert a nice little quote which may well be Odysseus' reason for going home (to put forth an answer to a question that came up in recent conversation). Whether it is or not, I think it's the best sentiment in the book.

...then may the gods give you everything that your heart longs for;
may they grant you a husband and a house and sweet agreement
in all things, for nothing is better than this, more steadfast
than when two people, a man and his wife, keep a harmonious
; a thing that brings much distress to the people who hate them
and pleasure to their well-wishers, and for them the best reputation. Lattimore, lines 180-5

Anyway, I haven't gotten very far with The Odyssey because I got sidetracked by trying to remember what happened with Agamemnon. His infamous sacrifice comes up a lot, so I decided to go back and read Iphigenia at Aulis for the whole story.

What a weird play! It's Euripides' last and thus most cynical, as well as being unfortunately fragmented. Much of what remains is suspect, and the ending is almost certainly spurious, since a quote from Aelian suggests a much more logical and devious conclusion. I like the play, though, because nobody comes out of it retaining any sort of reputation at all. I can't say I ever thought much of Achilles anyway, but he's a real pompous jerk here, and Odysseus is just bloodthirsty. At first Agamemnon seems somewhat sympathetic, but then he caves in to his brother's emotional blackmail; and because of this I really can't feel terrifically sorry for him when Clytaemestra kills him off in Aeschylus' play (which of course I had to read next).

More than in any other Greek tragedy, the characters in Agamemnon have the disturbing quality of being completely isolated from each other. In between soliloquys that of course are not directed at anyone in particular, there are exchanges that appear to be dialogue (at least in that two characters take turns talking) but aren't at all. Perhaps it's not fair to use Cassandra as an example, but when she and the Chorus are talking, they might as well be on different planets for all the communication there is between them. But even Agamemnon and Clytaemestra are clearly (and deliberately) talking about two different things upon his homecoming, although it's also a classic example of passive argument--she's trying to get him to talk about something without actually addressing it herself, and he is refusing to acknowledge that he knows what's she's talking about.

It's a lot more fun reading Greek tragedies now that I don't have to; more and more I'm realizing the truth that freshman year is wasted on the freshmen.

Monday, September 29, 2003

So one of the reasons I read Under the Tuscan Sun was because I thought I remembered Odious's mother saying that she had quite enjoyed it, and I've always found her to have excellent taste in books. But to my surprise, when at lunch the other day I mentioned having read it, she wrinkled her nose and said that really if I was interested in that genre there were thousands of better books. She told me of several others, and promised to send them along, but I am not yet persuaded against Frances Mayes.
Yet another booksale last weekend has added a new pile of books to our overloaded house, as well as a stack of LPs--old Gilbert and Sullivan, opera, and jazz. Of course, we don't actually own a turntable, but you know...

It was a really great booksale, with a better selection of children's books than I've ever seen at such a venue. I went a little crazy, mostly buying picture books for the daycare where I work, but also pouncing on such personal treasures as one of my all-time favorites, The Maggie B., by Irene Haas. It's a wonderful story of a little girl who wishes one night for a ship of her own, and in the morning she awakes in the cabin of the Maggie B., along with a goat, a toucan, chickens, and her brother James (who was a dear baby). Together they have a perfect day, catching fish for their dinner, singing sea chanties, and weathering a brief storm. The illustrations are warm and cosy, and it's just the sort of ship I would have if I could.

I also found several books by E. Nesbit--The Book of Dragons, The Story of the Treasure-Seekers, and The Phoenix and the Carpet. Reading the last brought back fond memories of my childhood, when over and over again I would check out from the library a red hardback edition of all the Five Children stories. What a terrific trilogy that is! I can't wait to find a copy of The Story of the Amulet so that I'll own them all.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

So the other thing I found inspiring about Under the Tuscan Sun was, unsurprisingly, the aspect of building/renovating a house to suit one's ideal. (This is another reason why I will not see the movie--how on earth could such a thing convert to film?) Every two months, when I receive the latest issue of Mother Earth News, it provides further inspiration for future plans of building the perfect house. This is a common topic of conversation between Odious and me, as we have long wanted to build an energy-efficient, environmentally-sound house using many different ideas culled from Mother. Frances Mayes gave me even more ideas, though some I know will not be feasible in places of the world other than Italy, and I will have to incorporate her descriptions of terraced gardens and stone patios into my vision.

However, I don't think we would ever put ourselves through some of the nightmares that Mayes and her husband had to endure, caused in part by unfortunate choices in contractors. Seemingly simple renovations (restoring the original finish on chestnut beams, putting in new doorways, etc) turned into massive projects with months of clean-up that, despite the final satisfaction, don't quite sound worth it to me. Thus our plan to build a new house to our specifications (although Odious warns he will need to be allowed more than one try--I can just see a property somewhere in the West, littered with deserted environmentally-not-so-sound houses). On the other hand, the incredible discoveries the Mayeses made make their trouble almost worthwhile.

While stripping the paint in the dining room, they uncover an old fresco--a country scene that, while not a Giotto, is wonderfully charming. Later on, workmen dig through three layers of stone floor before unearthing the original, centuries-old, foundation; and every gardening venture reveals more Etruscan artifacts and wall-markings. This would indeed be amazing beyond belief, but having to endure smoking toilets (a misdirected water heating system), having to camp out in one room for months while the rest of the house is in utter turmoil, and dealing with disappearing workmen who leave behind all too apparent piles of rubbish, sounds like more than I could handle. Fortunately for us, however, it makes a delightful read!

Monday, September 22, 2003

This new site meter is very interesting--it's a little disturbing to find that people are not only visiting my blog, but also linking to it! So I guess now I should write something, although I'm feeling a little discombobulated having just endured a brief scare that I'd lost my wallet. Turned out I'd already taken it out of my purse about five minutes before. Hmph.

Reading Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes (and no, I'm not going to see the movie--please, Diane Lane?!?) has been very inspiring in several different ways. I always seem to get in the mood to cook just when I have no time and a completely different schedule from Odious, and this book only made things worse. Her recipes for baked peppers with ricotta and basil, folded peach tart with mascarpone, and even, I am ashamed to admit, rabbit with tomatoes and balsamic vinegar, have caused me to add a copy to my Barnes and Noble shopping cart. Of course it won't be the same without fresh ingredients purchased from an Italian market, but we can't all live in Tuscany, I guess.

I have more to say about this book, but will continue tomorrow as it is nearing my bedtime.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

So yesterday was Odious's birthday. His delight in the gift I gave him was a great vindication (ah, there's the word I've been trying to think of for a week now) of our upcoming marriage--I guess I know him pretty well. One of his favorite books has long been G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, which I have to say has never overly impressed me. It's not easy to find anymore, being fairly unknown, and to our great dismay his treasured copy was recently redecorated by my dear rabbit (almost his only flaw is his taste for books!). I felt guilty enough about it that it weighed on my mind for some time, and finally I decided to visit Alibris in search of a better copy for a birthday gift. What a terrific site that is! I much prefer it to, which delivered the wrong edition of the Chronicles of Narnia to my door a while ago--but I digress. To my delight I found that an annotated version had been recently published; a new, discounted copy was readily available and delivered within a week. As an added bonus, the annotator is Martin Gardner, whose notes on Alice in Wonderland have long been a staple of our library. Anyway, Odious was so pleased that he claimed it was the best gift he'd received since his first bike--I feel that that deserves a little self-congratulation.
Well, having installed a site meter for this page, I now feel compelled to post things with some regularity, and that, of course, means reading something of substance. Also, I suppose, bringing my brain to think about what I'm reading. Odious asked me the other day what topic I've been thinking about lately, and I was ashamed to say nothing, which is unfortunately true. I keep myself awake at night thinking about things like how to address the envelopes for the wedding invitations, and what to include on the wedding registry--it's very sad, and becoming obsessive. However, I think I'm doing well with not talking about it constantly with my friends, so I will try to do the same here.

I'm in the middle of a couple of books that will be worth discussing when I finish them, but until then I'd like to recommend Nick Bantock's The Forgetting Room. I'd read the Griffin and Sabine trilogy years ago, and loved it far more for the guilty pleasure of reading someone else's mail than for the story itself, although the artwork is fascinating. Then I came across one of the continuations to the trilogy during a recent library visit, and found that Bantock had written several other unrelated books. The Forgetting Room is a simple story, which is a little disappointing since it is set up as a quirky mystery, but the process he goes through of creating a painting is interesting and curious, and the evocation of a Spanish village is particularly good.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Yikes. It's been a while. But in my defense, a lot has happened lately. I am now the proud owner of a lovely diamond engagement ring! Oh yes, and also a fiance. Because of this I have to keep reminding myself that the rest of my life is still going on, and wedding planning is not all-consuming.

Another reason I haven't blogged is because I haven't been able to motivate myself to read anything challenging or thought-provoking. I have read some more excellent fantasy novels, in particular Nina Kiriki Hoffman's latest, A Fistful of Sky. Oh, and our computer has been doing weird things, including not connecting to the Internet. So I have to grab a few minutes here and there at library computers, which does little for my concentration. Anyway, I will be blogging more when I am able to do so.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Just as I was vowing to stop spending so much money (both mine and Odious's), Charles de Lint's latest book came out. So of course I had to buy it in hardcover--but it was definitely worth the price. Spirits in the Wires is set in Newford, but features some lesser known residents of the city. In fact, my biggest complaint about the book was that my favorite character Jilly never appeared. Still it was nice to get to know Christy and Geordie Riddell better, as well as their friends of unusual origin. The novel builds off a great story from Moonlight and Vines about Christy's girlfriend Saskia, who emerged one day from the wilds of the Internet--specifically the website "The Wordwood". The site was created by another Newfordian, Holly Rue, and some of her friends, but when it suddenly seemed to grow a mind of its own they lost contact and control of it. De Lint explores just how that happens in this new book, and it is a terrific read--definitely one of his best.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Since my mother informed me that she no longer wanted to provide storage space for me (perfectly understandable, but rather dismaying), I came back from CA with five boxes of books from pre-college years. This is, of course, just what I need--more books to cram our little house to bursting! I went through them the other day and managed to sort out a box to dispose of, as well as cleverly rearranging shelves to accomodate the rest. These activities always put me in the mood of wanting to read everything, and wondering why on earth I'm wasting my time doing anything but reading. Nevertheless, my reading has been shockingly intermittent lately (due in part to lack of sleep and a generally distracted mind), and I've managed to finish few books besides old childhood favorites and fantasy anthologies. Also I'm re-reading Anna Karenina, which is a marvelous book but for some reason is difficult to read for large periods of time. All this to say, when I finish something of note, I'll blog about it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

I recently got back from vacation, a lovely week in California at my mom's house where I did very little besides lounge about and read light summery books. I traipsed along with Annie Dillard through Pilgrim at Tinker Creek; skimmed halfheartedly through White Apples, Jonathan Carroll's latest; strolled through London with Inspector Wexford in Ruth Rendell's Murder Being Once Done; shivered at the re-released From a Whisper to a Scream, originally published under Charles de Lint's pen name for his darker novels, Samuel M. Key; and thoroughly enjoyed Past the Size of Dreaming, Nina Kiriki Hoffman's sequel to A Red Heart of Memories. But there were two books that were more than summer reading.

Bread Alone, by Judith Ryan Hendricks, is indeed a fluffy beach novel in many ways. It has a simple, predictable story, as well as a plotline that's been done to death--middle-aged woman is cast adrift after her husband ends the marriage, and must find herself while dealing with various other upheavals in her life. However, as I read it I found the plot to be almost incidental and secondary to what was really happening. During the divorce negotations, Wynter Morrison moves to Seattle to live near her best friend and to work in a small local bakery. Baking bread has always been one of her ways to relax, ever since she studied with a famous baker in France, and now she does it for a living, along with the oddly assorted women at the bakery. Reading about the bread-baking process is nearly as soothing and satisfying as actually doing it, and the included recipes only add to the charm. I attended my mother's book club meeting on this book, and while we didn't end up discussing it nearly enough, it was interesting to hear everyone's responses--nearly everyone loved it, for the same reasons I did. It's just a really nice story!

The other noteworthy book is in a completely different category, unsurprisingly. I'd been wanting to read Laura Hillenbrand's bestselling Seabiscuit since it first came out, but somehow never got around to it until the release of the movie. Since I prefer to read the book before seeing the movie, I took along a copy on vacation. The first part was a little hard to get into, since it covered the background and history of the people involved in the story, so after reading that I set it aside for a few days. Finally I returned to it, after having refreshed myself with lighter matter, and once sitting down I didn't get back up again until the last page. What an amazing horse! I've always loved horse stories, especially ones with racing scenes--nothing else can get me on the edge of my seat like a well-told equine struggle to win--and this was exceptional. Many of the descriptions choked me up, which is something that very rarely happens; I couldn't help by get teary over the incredible drive and courage of that funny-looking little horse. I'm still looking forward to the movie, though I am pretty sure how it will be dramatized and Hollywoodized, but there's no way it will compare to the book. Don't be turned off by the fact that it's a horse story--it's written for everyone to enjoy.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

It isn't often that I really miss being in school, and even when I do it's more for the social part than for the classes. The community of a college is such a strange and wonderful thing, where spending time with someone doesn't even require a phone call. I always loved the casualness of strolling over to someone's dorm room to hang out, or continuing a conversation after class, or even sitting in companionable silence over another wretched cafeteria lunch; whereas, in the strangeness of this in-between life I lead now, too much planning is required for time with friends, especially if more than one is involved. It's difficult to make friends and get to know people without the commonality of shared classes or dorm life, which frustrates me into thinking that a commune might not be such a bad thing.

Re-reading Pamela Dean's Tam Lin brought all these feelings to the surface (particularly because my first experience with the book was when Odious read it aloud to me during our freshman year in college), but I was surprised to find myself also missing classes and study. I think this was partly because St. John's was so lacking in the fields that particularly interest me; namely, literature and the English language. Janet, the main character in Tam Lin, is an English major, and many of her friends are studying Classics, and in reading of their gallops through poetry and strolls through Shakespeare, I realized how much I've missed out on and how much there is to learn. Unfortunately autodidactic study is difficult and often one-dimensional, but it will have to do until such time that I have money and inclination to return to school.

But this post is not all about the fact that I will be twenty-five in a few weeks and am wondering what I'm doing with my life--I'm also recommending a book! As always, Pamela Dean defies description, but in Tam Lin she has recreated the wonder and exasperation of college life, interspersed with moments of oddness that build up into what is literally a fairy-tale ending. The characters are strange and lovely and just the sort of people you wish you'd known at college, and utterly real and alive in a way only Pamela Dean can manage.

Monday, June 30, 2003

Another influence Natalie Goldberg had on me through Thunder and Lightning was her high recommendation of books by Wallace Stegner and Carson McCullers. (Actually, it might have been Barbara Kingsolver who recommended McCullers--I'm not sure.) So I checked out the collected stories of Carson McCullers, and while I prefer my short stories wry and snarky rather than depressing or disillusioned, they were, for the most part, worth the read. Then I picked up Stegner's Crossing to Safety.

Goldberg says that this was one of those books that she picked up every time she went into a bookstore, and put back down again after reading the sappy summary on the back cover. I would have done the same without her recommendation. Even as I began it I had some trepidation, with the unfounded notion that Stegner was some sort of Western writer; fortunately, I couldn't have been more wrong. Crossing to Safety is a beautiful story that I will not try to describe since a plot summary never captures the truth of the book. In the case of this book that is even more accurate, so I will just say that I could hardly put it down. I was sucked in by the complexity and feeling of the characters, the rich wash of the prose, and the compelling development of the story. Even that description sounds contrived and uninteresting, but I assure you that the book is anything but. Wallace Stegner will definitely remain on my list of books to seek out.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

In my two most recent reads I came across oddly connecting quotes that pertain to a point I made some time ago in my post on Richard Panek's book on astronomy, Seeing and Believing. J.D. Salinger says in Franny and Zooey, through Franny, that
Everything everybody does is so--I don't know--not wrong, or even mean, or even stupid necessarily. But just so tiny and meaningless and--sad-making. And the worst part is, if you go bohemian or something crazy like that, you're conforming just as much as everybody else, only in a different way.
While I think the answer to this problem can be found in the rest of the book, I wouldn't have understood it fully without this quote from Jack Finney's absolutely terrific time-travel novel Time and Again:
Today's faces are different; they are much more alike and much less alive... there was... an excitement in the streets of New York in 1882 that is gone... Their faces were animated, they were glad to be just where they were, alive in that moment and place... they felt [pleasure] at being outdoors, in the winter, in a city they liked... [they] moved through their lives in unquestioned certainty that there was a reason for being. And that's something worth having, and losing it is to lose something vital.
Of course there have always been cynics and pessimists, but I think it is true that many more people nowadays have been so disillusioned that they can think of nothing worth living for, and spend their lives in a constant trudge of distraction until they forget even that there should be a reason for living.

Something I like to do to alleviate the boredom of driving is to observe the faces of drivers around me, particularly when I am stopped at a stoplight and watching the traffic go in the other direction; and while it may just be that driving is not conducive to any sort of enjoyment, the expressions on people's faces are indeed nearly all alike. Even emotions such as anger or annoyance are rarely apparent; rather a uniform dull quality masks each personality. And I don't doubt that I often have a similar mask, despite my lifelong belief in the best reason of all. Humans in general find it too easy

to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy, like gambling, hunting, some absorbing show, in short by what is called diversion. (Pascal, Pensees)
Diversion is even more abundant in this era of satellite TV, video games, magazines, sexual promiscuity, self-help books, and the Internet; at least the Victorians had simple parlor games that required imagination and creativity for amusement. When we do think about what we are, or what reason we have for being, it is in the context of self; there is no destiny or divinity or even community. Philosophy is not quite dead, but even those who still take interest in it often miss the mark. I'm not sure there's anyone alive today who really grasps what it is to be a philosopher, but I think it may rest in that unshakable faith in something beyond the daily grind, and the ability to, through that faith, find excitement in the wonderful world in which we are so privileged to live.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Odious had a recent post (now, unfortunately, lost in the Blogger archives) concerning his two basic rules about wine, one of which is, drink what you like. As I have just drunk half a bottle of a decent little Italian wine, which I liked very much, I will deviate from my usual blogfare and expand on this theory to include music.

Nearly all the characters in the movie High Fidelity have a knowledge of music (at least in the very wide genre of rock) that astounds me. Even if I cared enough about any kind of music, I simply haven't the brain capacity to remember all those tiny details. It would be like remembering every chapter title in even my favorite books--these are things I just don't pay attention to. I have to admit a certain admiration for such single-minded people, even as I remind myself that they are singularly dull in anything but a movie.

So I started thinking about my music collection (which doesn't even exist in comparison to that owned by John Cusack's character), which is eclectic to say the least, but not nearly as interesting or obscure as many people's. But I don't care, because it's what I like. The two CDs most often in my stereo are Norah Jones and the Buffy musical soundtrack, and my most recent buys are Loggins and Messina's Full Sail (it all started with our friends' honeymoon stop in Lahaina) and Celtic Fiddles of Ireland, and I just bought tickets to the Santa Fe Opera's production of Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte. Happily disregarding Odious's second rule, that some wines are superior to others, I am content to enjoy the music I like--Sarah MacLachlan, Jewel, J.S. Bach (particularly the Brandenburgs and violin concerti), Dave Matthews Band, Anne-Sophie Mutter playing anything, Dido, Jaci Velasquez, John Coltrane, Suzanne Vega, Chanticleer, Dixie Chicks, the Duets soundtrack, Handel's Messiah, Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie... and leave the expertise to the experts.

Thursday, June 26, 2003

After a nice little chat with my mother about Charles de Lint yesterday, I started thinking about this wonderful genre of contemporary fantasy of which de Lint's books are a perfect example. My mother says that she doesn't think any other authors can compare, and I am inclined to agree, yet there is a surprising wealth of wonderful books in his genre that I've found recently. Thus I decided to put together my own (incomplete, of course) little list of what I consider to be the very best kind of fantasy--the kind that can be compared to Charles de Lint. The Endicott Scuttlebutt comes closest to describing it, as mythic fiction: ..."stories set in the modern or historical world...infused with mythic imagery, mystery, and magic...using timeless themes and symbolism drawn from world mythology, medieval romance, folklore, and fairy tales." So here are my favorite authors of contemporary fantasy/mythic fiction, followed by the titles of their books that I have read and/or preferred.

Charles de Lint, The Little Country, Memory and Dream, Moonlight and Vines
Pamela Dean, Tam Lin, Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary
Terri Windling, The Wood Wife
Jonathan Carroll, Sleeping In Flame, Bones of the Moon, The Land of Laughs
Emma Bull, War for the Oaks
Kara Dalkey, Crystal Sage
Neil Gaiman, Smoke and Mirrors, American Gods
Midori Snyder, Hannah's Garden
Holly Black, Tithe
Peter David, Knight Life
Elizabeth Hand, Waking the Moon, Black Light, Last Summer at Mars Hill
Nina Kiriki Hoffman, A Red Heart of Memories, The Silent Strength of Stones
Peter S. Beagle, Tamsin
Connie Willis, Miracle and Other Christmas Stories
Nancy Bond, The String in the Harp
Edward Eager, Knight's Castle
James A. Hetley, The Summer Country
Louise Marley, The Glass Harmonica

Monday, June 16, 2003

Recently finished reading Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones--what a pleasant surprise! For a book that begins, "I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973", it ended so sweetly and hopefully, yet without a hint of sappiness, that I felt briefly uplifted from our too-often tawdry society. For those of you who have not read this sleeper hit, the narrator is indeed dead, watching, from her heavenly view, the continued lives of her family and friends and recalling events from her brief life on earth. It's well-written, touching, and (most importantly) eminently readable and interesting. An excellent book to devour lying on the couch before an open window, while a summer breeze cools the house and a couple of cats sprawl lazily at your feet.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Every now and then I have to read an inspirational book on writing to make myself at least feel guilty about not writing, if not actually inspired to write. There's a shelf in our house dedicated almost entirely to such books--Elizabeth Berg's Escaping Into the Open, Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, The Writer's Home Companion, The Writer's Book of Days, and of course Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind.

Re-readings of the last two have never failed to inspire me, but it wasn't until I read her more recent work, Thunder and Lightning, that I felt specifically inspired. Perhaps it's because the other two books are focused on writing practice (which I find helpful but not as essential as Goldberg does), while this one takes writing practice and tells you where to go with it. It could also be because I'm struggling with my current work-in-progress, and any bit of advice is helpful at this point. Still it's always good to be reminded of simple things, such as, be sure to make your characters interesting or no one is ever going to want to finish reading your story; as well as hints on how to do such a thing.

I also thought that reading this book helped me to understand what it means to write what you know, but as I tried to put the idea into words, I became even more confused. However, I do think it has less to do with writing directly from one's own life and experiences, and more with relating what you write to what you know. And no, I'm not going to unpack that sentence--figure it out for yourself.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

This morning before I went to work I was reading Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman, about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, and got so involved that I was late for work and spent the whole morning looking forward to coming home and finishing the book. It was a nice feeling, and one that I haven't felt for a while.Though Winchester's style is a bit pedantic, it could hardly have been otherwise with such a subject, and actually makes the book even more interesting. Besides getting a vocabulary booster, I was reminded how impossible we would find life without dictionaries. Just imagine, Shakespeare had no idea if he was using words correctly, and no way of finding out; of course, that's probably partly why he made so many up. It's beyond my comprehension to live in a place and time where no standard for language exists. Okay, so I'm easily amazed, but what a blessing for us that philologists not only recognized but filled this great need.

Monday, June 02, 2003

For a quick and fun read, try Peter David's Sir Apropos of Nothing. It's a fantasy novel about an obviously unlikely hero who immerses himself in a fairy tale of great proportion by being not brave and honest, but devious, cowardly, and mostly in the wrong place at the wrong time. He encounters a myriad of strange characters along his journey, of which my favorites were the Harpers Bizarre, offspring of the Harpies and possessed of beautiful hypnotic voices. It's quite an amusing book--decidedly odd (though the sequel, The Woad to Wuin, promises to be much odder), with lots of clever puns and sly jokes.

"The recently slain knight also had his heart in the right place. This had turned out to be something of an inconvenience for him. After all, if his heart had been in the wrong place, then the sword wouldn't have pierced it through, he wouldn't be dead, and I wouldn't be in such a fix."

Well, maybe not so sly, but still funny.

Saturday, May 31, 2003

With a wedding this weekend and lots of old friends in town, I haven't had much time to post, or even to read anything of substance. I did recently revisit some old favorites, though, which I will share with you. Most people have heard of Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, but for some reason his other works are not nearly as popular. I remember being delighted as a child to discover the odd story Momo, which I just found again at our public library, and it's as good as it was years ago. It speaks against our instant gratification "microwave society" with the homogenizing of a town by the gray men, unnerving creatures that coerce people into saving time. Of course, the more time that's saved, the less time there seems to be. Momo, a little girl with the great ability to listen so that anyone in her presence becomes more creative, more talkative, and happier, is the only one who can save the town and her friends. My halting prose, as usual, does nothing to evoke the charm of the story, but it's well worth the couple of hours spent reading it.

Thank goodness Edith Pargeter was such a prolific writer! I only wish she had written more of her historical novels, though there are quite a few of them, but her repertoire of mysteries (written under the name Ellis Peters) is impressive and utterly enjoyable. I haven't read all the modern-day ones, although I am very fond of Inspector Felse, but she certainly achieved true excellence in the Brother Cadfael series. I'd been thinking about the last one, The Holy Thief, for reasons I can't now remember, so I picked it up the last time I was at the library, and happily immersed myself in monastic life at the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in medieval Shrewsbury. While the mystery is by no means unpredictable, it is also the least important part of the story. Peters' language is so beautiful, and her characters so rich and larger-than-life, that they usurp the plot wonderfully. This is also an interesting story because it deals with the divinity of saints, a belief I have never espoused, but which is tenderly played out with the unassailable faith of those it affects. Don't read this one first, though, as it is the last in the series and relies heavily on the plot of the first, A Morbid Taste for Bones (with which I intend to familiarize myself soon).

Monday, May 26, 2003

Halfway through The Marriage of Sticks, I was ready to write a paean of praise for Jonathan Carroll. Then I finished it. I can't say that it was bad, exactly, because I did enjoy it, but the direction in which I thought it was going was so much more fascinating than the direction in which it actually went. Carroll raised the idea of a person who completely screws with destiny by making choices other than her predestination. While this is not a concept I believe in, it was very interesting and I would have liked to see where it could go. Instead the plot took a nosedive and ended with a conclusion that didn't make any sense, seemed like a cop-out, and was frankly boring.

But this is not to discourage you from reading Jonathan Carroll's works. Sleeping in Flame has been on our bookshelf for quite some time, but for a long time I didn't read it because I had it confused with a travel book (for no apparent reason). Finally one day there was nothing else to read, so I picked it up, and, once I started, couldn't stop. It's a deft re-telling of "Rumpelstiltskin", complete with Carroll's interest in reincarnation, weird careers (I want a job in his world), and Vienna.

Then I read Bones of the Moon, which connects nicely with Sleeping in Flame, following a woman's adventures through her dreams, which turn out to be much more real than she suspected. One of the main events in this novel is that the main character has an abortion, and the direction the plot takes because of this is very interesting. I'm pretty sure Carroll did not intend to espouse a pro-life message, but I realized that there was really no other option. To make an abortion one of the main events of a novel requires looking at it as a trauma (at least for it to be believable). The natural question that follows is, why is it a trauma? And, of course, the natural answer to that question is that a human being has been murdered. While Carroll's character says that she personally regretted her decision but that for other women it would have been the right choice, the reason for her regret is that she killed her little boy and now he only exists in the dream world. Funny how what's right is also what makes sense.

After that I read After Silence, which I've put completely out of my head because it was dumb and boring. So I'm two for two, with another in my stack. The Land of Laughs promises to be fun--we'll see how it turns out. I'd also like to get a hold of his latest work, White Apples, but one of my summer goals is to be frugal, and our library has not yet acquired the book. Patience is a virtue, but alas, not one I possess. Looks like I'll be spending some time reading furtively in Borders.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Just got back from seeing "The Matrix Reloaded," and all I have to say is-- LAME!!! I know you're all going to see it anyway, so I won't give anything away, but, man, I could have bought a book with that $7.50.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

Italy has always been on my list of places to visit, and was bumped up to first as I've been reading Desiring Italy, essays by women writers collected by Susan Cahill. Some, of course, tend towards the dull side, but most are vibrant and evocative, bringing the delights of Tuscany, Firenze, Emilia-Romagna, and Venice to life. Thus, if ever I have money again, I will be visiting this wonderful land. And reading of the lovely Miss Kate's adventures only makes my desire stronger--I want to travel, to have interesting settings for the perusal of interesting books.

Monday, May 12, 2003

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Check it out.

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Just finished the most recent installment in the Series of Unfortunate Events, The Carnivorous Carnival. I started the series a few summers ago, reading the first five in a couple of days, but as the new volumes keep coming out, I begin to lose my initial interest. The concept is excellent, and Lemony Snicket is an amusing author, but he never gives quite enough story to fill out the clever quips, puns, and etymological asides. In fact, each book is exactly the same, with a different setting, and the poor Baudelaire children never get any further in their quest to solve the various riddles that surround them. I'm wondering if there will actually be an end, or if Snicket will blithely continue to produce the series until he comes to an unfortunate demise.

Saturday, May 10, 2003

It was Peculiar who first introduced me to Rebecca West, with the lovely little novel The Return of the Soldier. My next venture was The Thinking Reed, which found its way onto my list of favorites, and just recently I discovered The Fountain Overflows. For some reason it was at the bottom of my library stack, perhaps because I thought it would be a more serious book like her others that I've read. To my delight it was quite different, being an enthralling story about a highly unusual family in the early twentieth century.

The narrator is the third daughter, Rose, whose voice is refreshing and reflective as only a child's can be; she is a promising musician, following in the footsteps of her mother and her older sister Mary. Unfortunately the oldest child, stunningly beautiful Cordelia, is not such a musician, though she and many others firmly believe her to be, and she torments the family with her mawkish and sentimental violin playing. The youngest, Richard Quin, could be a virtuoso if he applied himself, but he prefers eclectism and the affection showered on him by the entire family and particularly his ne'er-do-well Papa. The family is poor and strange, and thus shunned rather by the general populace, but still they enjoy themselves much more than anyone they know, and have much more interesting adventures than proper gentlefolk.

The oddest thing about this book was something I've noticed before but never thought about directly, and I am very glad it is becoming less and less the fashion. For a very long time the purpose of a family was simply to keep Papa happy--to act, while not quite like slaves, a bit like a harem. Because he was the breadwinner (and, like Mr. Aubrey did in this book, could conceivably leave were he displeased), everything had to be arranged and orchestrated to make a home pleasant just for him. Of course everyone else wanted to be happy too, but little sacrifices were always made--a good book laid aside because Papa wants a game of chess, or pork instead of lamb because that's what Papa likes, or conversations on politics rather than music or gardening. It's bizarre, and not a little annoying.

Friday, May 09, 2003

The best thing about Bridget Jones's Diary is where she describes her mother leaving the following message on her answering machine (very loudly and clearly): "Bridget Jones's mother."

Annie Dillard's mother, portrayed brilliantly in An American Childhood also had some interesting phone eccentricities--upon receiving a wrong number call, she would hand over the phone to one of her children with the instruction, "Your name is Claire", or simply, "It's for you."

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Coming out of Edith Pargeter's Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet is like surfacing from a mountain lake--everything is bright and loud and strange, and you've forgotten you're not a fish. By any other hand, Pargeter's writing style would be melodramatic and overdone, but instead it is magical and hypnotizing, describing people too beautiful to live and delving deeper into characters than one ever thought possible. This has been on my list of favorites since I first discovered it as a teenager, and this recent reading proves it even better than I remembered.

The four books span the lifetime of the second Llewelyn, Prince of Wales, who sought peace and unity for his country and lost it all through no fault of his own. His loyal companion and birth brother, Samson the clerk, is the narrator of these events as well as a minor protagonist himself, weaving his own tale of unrequited love throughout the tragedy of the brothers of Gwynedd.

It's so difficult to review books such as this because the plotline is historical (and thus not easily summed up) and because every sentence seems traitorous to the true beauty of the work. My greatest reaction to this reading was towards those left behind at the end, the families of Llewelyn and his brother David, who were unfortunate not to die in that they were kept miserable for the rest of their lives with only memories of the greatness that had briefly shown among them. At least in fiction, one has the luxury of imagining happier endings for tragic characters, but my heart was wrenched at the realization that all this really happened, and all those beautiful children were locked away from the world because of their fathers' sins.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

I haven't posted for a while for several reasons, the main one being that I simply didn't feel like it. Also I've been busy, and sauntering through a work of 800+ pages so that most everything else I've read this past week has been brief and not worthy of note.

Recent forays to used bookstores have filled a new bookcase with fantasy novels and other little treats, one of which I was pleasantly surprised by. Black Cats and Broken Mirrors, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers, is a collection of short stories about superstitions, written by various authors known and unknown. Nearly all of them are excellent, and I particularly liked the first one, "How It All Began", by Esther M. Friesner, which makes Joseph (of the Coat of Many Colors, aka the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) the father of all superstitions in a clever and amusing tale. Also included are a lovely story by my new interest, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and one of my favorite stories by Charles de Lint.

This is one of the very few anthologies I've read where nearly all of the stories are worthwhile--it's a keeper, and definitely recommended.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Any reader of short stories is familiar with "The Yellow Wallpaper", by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, but unfortunately the rest of her work is not widely known. I recently finished Herland and Other Stories, which I found to be clever and delightful. "Herland" is exactly what it sounds like--the tale of a female utopia, completely implausible as are all utopias, but amusing nonetheless. My favorite part was her description of the clothes designed by these uberwomen, with "pockets in surprising number and variety". Yesterday I was wearing a dress that always makes me happy, not just because it is comfortable and flattering, but because it has pockets!! Why is women's clothing so lacking in pockets?--oh right, because it's all designed by men...

All of the short stories address the emancipation of women in some way, and I found them surprisingly progressive, as well as intelligent and interesting. An unusually rebellious woman herself (she and her young daughter left her husband in the late nineteenth century, and she supported herself by writing and lecturing, becoming one of the leading speakers on women's issues and socialism), Gilman encourages women through her stories, not necessarily to leave their homes, but to find the courage to work and become economically independent. Many of the stories portray older women whose children have left home, and who are inspired by various means to open boarding houses, training schools, or women's clubs; and through the success of these ventures, they overcome the doubts of their husbands or relatives, and are in turn inspirations to other women around them.

I particularly liked the story "If I Were A Man", about a young wife who suddenly finds herself in the body of her husband, allowed to observe the world from his perspective for a day. In the end she works through him to speak out for the rights of women, but what was more striking was her revelation that, in this body, she is the right size--that everything has been arranged to fit the male figure. She revels in having pockets, possessions, and responsibility. Another excellent story is "When I Was A Witch", where a young woman wakes up one day with the power to wish punishment on all who deserve it, and is highly successful in improving the state of society until she tries for the really good wish of emancipating women--and her power deserts her.

What underlies all these stories, and particularly "Herland", is the necessity of equal education. To the uberwomen, education and continued learning is the highest goal of their society, and this desire keeps their will focussed. Gilman enlightens her characters with new ideas, and they are eager to share this wisdom and teach other women to be independent and free-thinking. In other words, they are working towards becoming citizens.

Saturday, April 19, 2003

On this Holy Saturday we celebrate the baptism of a very dear friend into the Russian Orthodox faith. Congratulations, Erin!
"I'm tired of reading, in educational magazines, 'Teach Your Students to Develop Self-Awareness'. I don't want my students to develop self-awareness--I want them to study chemistry!" --The Rev. Dr. Robert Dinegar, Curmudgeon
And now, the gentle reader might ask, what is the solution to yesterday's rant against compulsory public education? Fortunately I was reading Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's For the Children's Sake at the same time as Dumbing Us Down, and can give, as Gatto also did, the wonderful option of homeschooling. The daughter of Francis and Edith Schaeffer (of L'Abri fame), Macaulay builds on the foundation of Charlotte Mason's philosophy (a vast subject which I will touch on in a later post), giving a picutre of education exactly the opposite to Gatto's and, I imagine, very close to what he desired.

As I have said before, teaching a child is simply providing him with the tools to learn, and Macaulay shows this in her outline of a curriculum based on "living books" (literature and other works written by a single author truly interested in sharing their knowledge, as opposed to textbooks) and a love of learning. The three R's are indeed important to the creation of a free citizen, which is why we still insist on teaching them, but children must be allowed to love reading, to love writing, and to love the intricacies of mathematics. How else are they to educate themselves if they do not possess this love, and how are they to be free citizens if they cannot or will not educate themselves?

One of the impossibilities of public schools is the growing expectation that teachers can take the place of parents--that is, that everything can be taught in school. In contrast, homeschooling gives the teachings of morality, ethics, "self-awareness", sexual education, etc, proper context. Children learn by example; thus, a lesson in honesty is much more effective when a child sees his parent tell the truth than when he watches a video or demonstration in class. Also, as Macaulay explains, children are rarely confused by differing viewpoints in such matters when they are kept at home. They more easily develop will and reason through this contextual, exemplary teaching and through encouragement to figure things out for themselves.

Homeschooling provides such a richness of learning that children become not only academically stronger, but wholly stronger as well. This is what education is supposed to be.

Friday, April 18, 2003

Okay, I'm against public education now. John Taylor Gatto convinced me in his book Dumbing Us Down, which is a collection of speeches given after being presented with various Teacher of the Year awards. I can't imagine why anyone would keep nominating him for these awards when he responded with such scathing declamations against public schools, making it perfectly clear that he believes these institutions to be absolutely wrong and unnatural in every respect. From the very beginning the intention of compulsory public schooling was to separate children from their parents, yet another step in the process of categorizing our society. Just as children are locked away in schools all day, old people are placed in nursing homes, Indians on reservations, the poor in shelters, and working adults in their tall windowed boxes. Everyone has a category, so no one is required to think or learn for themselves. Community has been replaced with networks. And think of all the economical gain! Why, without these networks and tidy categories, we would have no need for therapists or indeed much medical science at all, the entertainment industry, the fashion industry, pornography (and there goes 98% of the Internet), ever more sleek and seductive automobiles... Society as we know it would indeed collapse without public schools.

The words in Gatto's speeches drive home again and again the point he is desperate to make--public schools turn children into automatons, not people. We insist that to be true citizens, people must be taught the three R's, and yet what typical adult can honestly say he reads more than advertisements, email, or the front page of the newspaper? What typical adult writes more than, again, emails (and there, of course, he uses the best of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar, not to mention a rich content), or brief notes and lists? What typical adult uses more arithmetic than a quick headcount or a glance at monthly bills--and higher math, if it ever resided in the brain, departs at graduation!

Besides, these basics of education do not require anywhere near 13 years of schooling. Gatto claims that once a child is ready, he can be taught to read in one hundred hours--and the process takes even less time if the child is encouraged to learn the skill on his own! Children are eager and willing to learn, their brains are programmed to learn and absorb knowledge; yet public schools have been devised to squelch every natural autodidactic impulse. If a child is lucky, he first leaves home at five or six, to enter kindergarten. He is shut into a room with a strange adult, more strange children than he can count, and nothing that belongs to him. He spends each day being herded from one incomprehensible and boring activity to the next, being taught more than anything else to share toys designed for only one child, to stand in line, to wait his turn, to suppress emotion, and to memorize meaningless facts.

Once this child reaches a more structured class, he is taught to work at the same pace as everyone else (too fast, and he is bored; too slow, and he is dumb), to switch his brain from Ancient Egypt to long division at a moment's notice, and to compete for the teacher's attention. Encouragement and discouragement comes through red letters or numbers written at the top of a workbook page, and acceptance from the equally mindless children around him. These have been my experiences, in the few times I have unwillingly found myself in a public classroom. Having been homeschooled, I am more aware of these atrocities, and have always felt that it must be like hell. Public schools, through association, quite effectively shut off any natural desire for learning and produce helpless automatons who must be shuttled through the rest of their lives. Of course, as always, this is not a general statement--I have many acquaintances who struggled through public school and emerged with knowledge and a desire for continued knowledge, but they were fortunate enough to possess genius or family that drove and inspired them.

I'll end this lengthy post with an interesting anecdote from Gatto's book. When Thomas Paine's Common Sense was first published (before compulsory education was instituted), it sold 500,000 copies to a population of 3 million. Fifty percent of that population was slaves, and another twenty percent indentured servants. Now there's a bestseller!

Sunday, April 13, 2003

Sorry for the long silence--Internet weirdness again. I'll post at length tomorrow; in the meantime, the fun stuff I've been reading in the past couple days includes Louisa May Alcott's Plots and Counterplots, early potboilers that are wonderfully Gothic and melodramatic; the delightful and definitive work on gnomes by Rien Poortvliet; Gogol's short stories ("Diary of a Madman" is decidedly odd, and "The Overcoat" is quite amusing); and Pack of Cards, more short stories by Penelope Lively, which are clever and snarky and most enjoyable.

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Running out of bookshelf space seems to me a fairly normal occurence. But running out of space in which to stack books when there are no more shelves? A library book sale today left us $70 poorer, and about 50 books richer; unfortunately, it also means another trip to the grocery store parking lot for more milk crates. I'm overwhelmed and appalled by the sheer volume of books being rapidly accumulated in this house, but, on the other hand, I would have it no other way. There's something wonderfully satisfactory about owning a hefty percentage of the books one wants to read, as well as being able to immediately produce a book when it comes up in conversation. And yet... soon our only available space will be in the bathroom, which wouldn't bother me except for the steam damage. Perhaps bibliophiles should not pair up, although the other options are probably worse. I guess we'll just never be able to move.

Our best finds of the day include an illustrated dictionary and concordance of the Bible, as well as Strong's Exhaustive Concordance with Greek and Hebrew dictionaries (yes, two concordances, but at $15 total for two massive hardbacks it was not to be passed up). Also a 1928 biography of Francois Villon (apparently worth $150, bought for $0.75 -- I love book sales), a lovely copy of Vanity Fair, Three Jacobean Tragedies, Maria Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent, Genghis Khan and the Mongol Horde (Landmark Books edition), A Documentary History of the United States, Boswell's London Journal, Biblical Demonology, and many other treasures as well as the usual handful that will be read and re-donated to next year's sale.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

After reflecting sadly that too few authors are interested in the genre of mythic fiction, I was delighted to stumble across an author new to me, who, while not in Charles de Lint's league, is wonderfully bizarre and fascinating. My favorite thing about Nina Kiriki Hoffman's A Red Heart of Memories is the nonchalant way in which fantasy elements enter the story. Some of the characters are, naturally, surprised by a brick who turns into a witch (he was helping the wall rebuild itself, of course) or the embodiment of magic artistic talent (a gold substance that can be formed into any shape desired), but Hoffman writes as if there is no reason for the reader to be surprised by these things. This stratagem might not work in other cases, but she does it beautifully, and I hope that this book is only the first in a long succession of her works that find their way to my nightstand. And I must give credit to Terri Windling's lovely site for directing me to Hoffman and several other new authors who I am also eager to read.

Monday, March 31, 2003

I am much comforted after reading Alice Thomas Ellis's A Welsh Childhood. I've always loved reading memoirs, but they make me feel slightly inferior for not being able to remember every detail of my childhood. Unlike Proust or Marcel Pagnol, who seem to recall perfectly conversations held decades before, Ellis is refreshingly honest. While remembering an uncle who was wonderfully funny and always kept her in stitches, she admits that none of the things he said remain with her. At the end of the first part, which describes her idiosyncratic childhood, she remarks, "I have absolutely no faith in history since my memory of my own is so vague, conflicting and confused... if it wasn't for remembering the clothes she wore I would doubt that [my child self] ever existed." I'm inclined to agree, at least with the part about mistrusting history.

The second part of the book I found a little more interesting, perhaps because it was less scattered. It takes up after her marriage and production of seven children, following the difficulties of managing her own offspring as well as several strays in a damp and ancient house in the hills. Because they had no fridge or any way of getting to the shops regularly, cooking options were limited and her descriptions of everyday meals made me cringe (spam curry?!?). Everything was hard, and there were always crises, yet she remembers the time fondly, recognizing that it was happy despite outward appearances. It made me realize that perhaps a lot of parenting struggles today arise from having too few children. That sounds strange, but when there are so many small bodies that all one can do is "throw pieces of cheese at them as they run through the kitchen on some important mission", there's less time to worry about whether they're getting all the things they need.

After spending my work hours with children who have been raised with the best intentions so that every creative or imaginative impulse is carefully directed towards a more productive pursuit, it was refreshing to visit a friend last weekend when I was in Colorado. The above quote came from her as we sat in her kitchen surrounded by happy busy children amusing themselves with books, drawing, stick horses, animals, and musical instruments. Of course they are loved and given as much attention as possible, but more importantly they are allowed to discover the world for themselves. Children like these and like Ellis's may certainly come up with games or pursuits that seem questionable to an adult's eye (I can think of several from my own childhood that must have made my mother gulp a little, but I'm grateful that she didn't try to intervene), but in doing so they learn to think for themselves.

I read an article in Focus on the Family magazine the other day that spurred this train of thought, as the author listed results from a study on parenting and the things parents believe their children need to be taught--honesty, religious faith, prudence, and other such "values". It all comes back to the Meno, I suppose; Socrates' understanding that virtue simply cannot be taught should be more widely circulated. Everyone agrees that children learn by example and imitation, yet so many parents worry about how to teach and guide their offspring. I've come to believe that if one already possesses the qualities desirable for children to acquire, and believes them completely, they will be apparent in every action and thus available for children to observe and assimilate. If one builds a good house on a strong foundation, everyone around will be able to see it.

Reading Ellis's book only strengthened this burgeoning idea in my brain. The whole family is happier when the children are given, while not absolute license, the freedom to live and play and learn on their own. There is much that they do need to be taught, but it should never be done in a condescending or hypocritical manner. Give them the tools to become free citizens, and then let God and nature do their work. Instead of worrying about whether your children are being taught the proper "values", keep busy making sandwiches, as Ellis did, and try to appreciate happiness when you've got it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Okay, our Internet connection is back, and I'm back from a quick visit to see my dad this weekend. While away, I re-read Terri Windling's excellent fantasy novel The Wood Wife. It's so good that it makes me very irritated that the author spends all her time editing fantasy collections. The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, which she edits along with Ellen Datlow, is quite good, but I do wish Windling would give herself more time for original writing. Like Charles de Lint, she writes what they call mythic fiction, which has always been my very favorite genre. Unfortunately not many authors have mastered, or even been interested in, this genre, so I snap up anything I can find. The Wood Wife is the story of a poet turned journalist who inherits her hero's house and land in Arizona, as well as his unpublished writings and the unsolved mystery of his death. Maggie Black finds herself in a completely alien landscape and way of life, which becomes curiouser and curiouser when her eyes are opened to the spirit world and she is drawn deep into it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

I have several things to post, but our Internet connection is doing weird things, so I'll have to wait a while. In the meantime, I read through one of Iris Murdoch's short novels, The Italian Girl, last night, and was, if not deeply enriched, at least briefly entertained. I wish that I enjoyed her books more, since her life was so interesting (the recent movie was excellent, though I must say I think so partly because of the wonderful English cottage in which she spent her later years); however, so far the only others I've read are Under the Net, which I only vaguely remember and wasn't too impressed by, and The Nice and the Good, which I enjoyed quite a bit. Anyway, right now I'm at the library and am going to look for her biography, about which I hope to post at a later time.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

I'm feeling better about the towering stack on my nightstand after reading in Realms of Fantasy that Robin McKinley is currently working on "about eight feet of books". Actually, I spent my last few days off reducing my stack to a modest two or three (Independent People, is, I'm sorry to say, going back to the shelf unfinished, and I'm trying to decide about Blackberry Winter), although I'm not sure how virtuous that is since I also hit two different library book sales recently and have started new stacks on the floor. I was so happy when we finally acquired some two-by-fours and cinder blocks so that all our books could be respectably displayed away from the voracious nibbling of my pet rabbit. It couldn't last long, especially in the event of book sales.

I've been trying to finish library books (there is, of course, always an urgency about these, since they must someday return to their rightful home), so I haven't read too many of my book sale finds, but so far my favorite is the Common Reader regular The Hills Is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith. However, it defies description, so I can't say much about it except that the tale of an English writer seeking a rest cure in the Hebrides in the 1950's is delightful and highly amusing.

Today I started in on Barbara Holland's In Private Life, which is unfortunately a little too desperate to be funny. Her musings about her life as a housewife are very realistic, but she seems unable to make the choice to change her mood, or to try to be anything but wild-eyed, harried, and severely depressed. I did enjoy the list of sentences to which a mother's daily conversation is limited ("Go back and wash them again", "Brush your teeth", "Where does it hurt?", "I said no", etc.), but the opening description of scanning pantry shelves every evening in a desperate search for something to put in a casserole was too much. True, doubtless, but overwhelming in unadulterated form. Her wilfully helpless point of view reminds me unpleasantly of the things I didn't like about Anne Lamott, especially in Operating Instructions. I suppose I shouldn't speak too strongly, since as yet I have not been a wife and mother, but in general one's mood and point of view are dependent on will--in other words, you can change the way you look at and feel about things.