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.