Wednesday, December 24, 2003
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?!?
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 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
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
Saturday, November 29, 2003
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
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 www.operationdearabby.net, or sign a virtual thank-you card at www.defendamerica.mil/thanks. To help service members stay in touch with their families, donate a calling card at www.operationuplink.org.
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
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
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
Peculiar also has an excellent review on the movie "Whale Rider", which I enjoyed, while not quite as much as he, fairly well.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Saturday, October 18, 2003
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
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
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
...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
household; 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
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
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
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
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
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
Saturday, August 09, 2003
Wednesday, July 30, 2003
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
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
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
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
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
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
Saturday, June 14, 2003
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
Monday, June 02, 2003
"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
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
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
Sunday, May 18, 2003
Monday, May 12, 2003
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Sunday, May 11, 2003
Saturday, May 10, 2003
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Saturday, April 05, 2003
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
Monday, March 31, 2003
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
Tuesday, March 18, 2003
Thursday, March 13, 2003
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.