Friday, December 03, 2004

Suddenly I feel so much smarter.

Monday, November 15, 2004

I also meant to say that I tried to add the comments feature to this blog but did not have any success--this is kind of a weird old template (you will all, I'm sure, have noticed the lovely cut-off title at the top--argh!) so it didn't turn out right. I'll have Odious take a look, because it would be fun to hear from my visitors.
Well, what a fun surprise! I was just looking at my cooking blog, and discovered that several people have left comments. The best part is that I don't know them, so that means people other than my family read the blog...or maybe that's the scary part. No, I'm happy to share my infinite wisdom with all and sundry--I just wonder how on earth all the connections get made. The blog world is nearly as small as my old network of homeschool magazine editors, where eventually everyone knows each other. Weird.

Anyway, I finally have a job, as a hostess at the new Melting Pot restaurant opening in Portland, which means that I may actually start getting things done. A lack of schedule often sadly means a lack of productivity, unless, of course, one counts as productivity watching TV and reading for hours on end, in which case I've been busy as a bee. We've discovered all the nearby libraries, so Odious and I have stacks of lovely new-to-us books in the bedroom and have been reading them avidly. I love how every library has just a few more of the books I'm always looking for, keeping me happy yet not entirely satisfied. For instance, I was pleased to find one of the Borderlands books at the Beaverton library (although unfortunately I'd already read the story by Charles de Lint), and thrilled to find Nina Kiriki Hoffman's short story collection Time Travelers, Ghosts, and Other Visitors at the Portland library. Both were excellent, but only made me eager for more...

Sunday, October 31, 2004

I'm not sure why I haven't kept up with posting. Heaven knows I've had enough time, and I've certainly been reading plenty as well. It's harder than it sounds not to have a schedule--the day sort of melts away when there's nothing one has to do. But I'll soon be back in the workforce, and most likely looking back longingly to these days of lounging about and reading fantasy novels.

I recently re-read The Gathering Storm, the fifth book in Kate Elliott's "Crown of Stars" series, and am now even more anxious for the sixth and last to appear. Much as I generally dislike getting into long fantasy series (even with my speed reading ability, a shelf-ful of two-inch thick mass markets is daunting, to say the least), with their convoluted plots and reams of characters, this one is actually worthwhile. I do think Ms. Elliott could have spared her readers some of the details and subplots, since 6000 pages is a lot to demand from any fan, and it's quite difficult to remember what has happened to each of the fifteen essential characters, but the skill with which she has brought each thread into her weaving is remarkable. And actually, the last book should be much easier to follow, since quite a few of the characters were either killed off or their stories resolved in The Gathering Storm.

I'm not going to attempt to explain the plot, since it would either take too long or be too generic to excite anyone (stalwart characters go on various quests to save their world), but Amazon might help if you're interested. Apparently some readers don't share my enthusiasm, but as I said, 6000 pages is a lot to demand.

Friday, October 15, 2004

I've been immersing myself in short stories lately, mainly because of our recent jaunts to Powell's and the number of bad anthologies I picked up there. Yesterday, however, I found the library (my wallet breathes a sigh of relief), and while our tax money seems to have gone to the building before the collection, I was able to find several things I'd been wanting to read. One was the latest from A.S. Byatt, a collection of stories called Little Black Book of Stories, which I read more or less in one sitting. Of course I inhaled them too fast, and will probably have to go back and savor them more carefully, but it's difficult not to gobble when the fare is so wonderfully tasty. There is a definite knack to short stories that, for lack of a better word, I call snarkiness--a sort of sly, wry humor that turns around at the end and elbows the reader in the back--and Byatt possesses it beyond a doubt. Someday, maybe, if I ever get to practicing, you'll see something from me like that.

Anyway, every story in this book is a gem. I particularly liked the first one, where two young girls sent away from their homes during WWII discover something bizarre and old and earth-shattering in a forest, and are forever after secretly affected by it; if ever anyone had an excuse for psychological hangups in later life caused by childhood nastiness, it was these two girls. Another story follows a doctor's concern for a young artist who is hired to decorate the hospital for Christmas and stays on afterwards, living in corners and creating strange and frightening sculptures with medical artifacts from the basement, and their disastrous but compelling love affair. The last story gives account of a husband dealing with the last stages of his wife's descent into Alzheimer's, detailing the small harmless ways in which he exacts revenge for her tantrums and messes, and the curious late-night visits of a beautiful woman who seems to know all about him and his wife. Every one made me shudder a little, and at the same time yearn for such talent.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Nina Kiriki Hoffman is a terrific writer. Unfortunately, however, it seems most fantasy readers don't agree with me, since few of her books are still in print and only one is readily available in bookstores (the newly-released mass market A Fistful of Sky). I just spent an irritatingly long time trying to find used copies of her short story collections online, but apparently they were published by a small press and have, even in this age of wonders and eBay, vanished from the reading sphere. So I suppose I must resign myself to continue my search for anthologies that contain her stories, though it's so much more difficult to appreciate them when sandwiched between authors who by some chance of blind luck became well-known and have all of their books still in print and stocked in bookstores. Not that I'm bitter.

During recent forays to Powell's, I picked up several anthologies for the sole reason that Hoffman's stories appeared in them (not, I must admit, that I scorned to read the rest of the stories!), and one in particular was really excellent. I enjoyed nearly all of the stories in Little Red Riding Hood in the Big Bad City (edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers), but Hoffman's was especially charming--a tale of that strange entity known to society as a mall. In fact, I think I have to quote from the beginning of it, as I found myself quite tickled.

Gwen hated the mall. It had eaten her three best friends when they were all in sixth grade, and even though it threw them up later, they had come back partially digested by shopping acid and were never the same. --"Mallificent"

Friday, October 08, 2004

Well, we made it to Oregon. We're happily settled into suburbia, in a cute little house with blue trim, a porch, and roses on the back patio. It'll do. Things are mostly unpacked and arranged, including all the books. We spent a happy day sorting and organizing, which has never really been done before and was desperately needed--now we actually have a nice library in our front room with everything arranged by subject (more or less arbitrarily). During this undertaking, of course, both Odious and I made new stacks of things to read, that had been buried or forgotten. One of them for me was Ellen Kushner's The Fall of the Kings, which I'd been meaning to read since we picked it up at a library book sale. Odious said he found it boring, as well as a little heavy on the buggery (which bothered me about its prequel, Swordspoint, also!), but I gave it a try anyway, and found myself completely immersed. I was disappointed by the ending, which seemed a bit of a cop-out, but the characters were well-developed and interesting and the plot fascinating (until it fell apart at the end, sadly). So I'm recommending it with reservations, if you liked Kushner's other two books.

This weekend we'll be heading into Portland for, among other things, a pleasant visit to Powell's Books. Now that we've moved, I feel liberated to buy books again!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Well, I finally finished Nabokov's short stories. I was appalled to log on after a whole month and see that that book had been on my nightstand for so long, but as always, I got distracted. It took a little while to get into Nabokov, anyway. Several of the stories were delightful and entrancing, while far too many others were just Russian. Actually, they were all extremely Russian, but some had other things going for them. I particularly liked the story "A Bad Day", about a boy from the country who goes to a birthday party at his cousin's house. He doesn't want to go, because he knows it will be awkward and unpleasant for him, but of course the grown-ups expect him to want to go. It's an interesting vignette of a child's life--perhaps more depressing than I like to think, but fairly accurate--and the ending was shockingly heartwrenching and unexpected (if you're somewhat oblivious, like me). I also enjoyed the story about the man whose doppelganger makes his life difficult and harried--this one has a good ending too. The best thing was that I got inspired to write some short stories, and in fact started one at work last night. It's based on an odd dream I had, and will perhaps appear in Kate-hill sometime soon.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

I believe it was Sarah Ban Breathnach who suggested always having three books on one's nightstand--one simply fun and light; one slightly more challenging that requires some attention; and one to study and learn from. This way you'll always have something that suits your present mood, without flitting, as I often do, from book to book and gathering great stacks next to the bed. Anyway, I've been trying to do this, and ended up setting aside a specific time each day to read something edifying. Since I need something to read while I eat breakfast, this seemed the perfect time for working through more serious books a chapter at a time, and I'm finding it an excellent practice. Besides giving me something to think about throughout the day, it also starts me off feeling productive!

Since starting this pleasant little habit earlier in the summer, I've read three terrific books and am just starting a fourth. The first book was recommended by my dear Meg--The Sacred Romance, by Brent Curtis and John Eldredge. Though a little too casual and chatty for my taste, the subject was thoughtprovoking and interesting, as the authors described a lifestyle that draws one closer to God. We don't usually think of a relationship with God as being romantic and passionate, but it must be in order to take part in all that He wants to give us.

My second book was Franky Schaeffer's A Time for Anger, which I found amazingly stirring and apropos despite its 1980's publication date. Many of the social problems and moral issues that still concern us today were fully blossoming at that time, and he addresses them with righteous anger and a call to action. He questions the apathy that modern Christians have fallen into--the mood of "tolerance" that seems to keep us from protesting the horrors and travesties that surround us. In particular he discusses the abortion holocaust that slips by general attention because even the staunchest pro-life advocates have been jaded into thinking of precious babies as mere fetuses and lumps of tissue. It's a book that will be on my mind for a good long time, and has already stirred me into speaking my mind more bluntly than usual.

A friend had sent us a copy of Hidden Art, by Franky Schaeffer's mother Edith (also the wife of the philosopher Francis Schaeffer and co-founder of L'Abri), and for some reason I couldn't get into it until I made it my morning read. Then I could hardly bear to read only a chapter at a time! With the premise that God is an artist, and the best way to worship him is to share in his creation by being artistic ourselves, she goes through all aspects of life with suggestions on how to become more creative and artistic. She doesn't necessarily advocate becoming a great artist, writer, or musician, but rather using those natural talents to enhance life and glorify God. A grocery list can be a creative outlet as well as a pleasant sight when it's decorated with a flowering vine or little cartoons of the needed items; evenings become pleasant and productive with an impromptu concert or singing circle; a house is more comfortable and welcoming when arranged with personal style and special finds; friends are always thrilled to receive long newsy letters filled with description, dialogue, and philosophical musings. Each chapter provides new ideas and fresh ways to brighten one's life and grow closer to God--I found it interesting, inspiring, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Monday, August 09, 2004

I just finished reading a really, really weird book. I’d read a few of Iris Murdoch’s novels previously, which were good but mostly unmemorable–The Nice and the Good, Under the Net, and I think one other. The Unicorn is really not in the same category. The best genre to which I can assign it is that of the Gothic novel, only in the 1960's instead of the 1800's. I’m not sure how much I want to describe it, partly because I still have to think about the sort of symbolism and metaphor of the situation and figure out exactly what happened, but I’ll do my best. The "unicorn" is a woman imprisoned by her husband in an incredibly remote house on the Scottish (I believe) coast, who has in turn imprisoned the group of people who care for her, keeping them under a mysterious spell. They are all enchanted by her in various ways, yet at the end of the book, when at last the spell is broken, it’s as if nothing happened. The mystery is shaken off, stowed beneath layers of normality, and they return to their respective lives. I don’t know why they’re not more changed or affected by the whole affair (which lasted seven years!), or if that’s the point... Hmm. More thinking is necessary.

"I have become unreal. You have made me unreal by thinking about me so much. You made me into an object of contemplation. Just like this landscape. I have made it unreal by endlessly looking at it instead of entering it."
–Iris Murdoch, The Unicorn

Perhaps, because it was so unreal, it was easier to leave behind–but if the characters haven’t learned anything, then what has the reader learned? I don’t usually analyze books so closely, but I really am baffled by this novel. I don’t know why it was written.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

So I suppose it’s now my turn to say a word about the opera, since Odious and Jack have written extensive reviews with which I mostly disagree. Odious and I just spent a month of Wednesdays seeing Beatrice and Benedict (Berlioz), Simon Boccanegra (Verdi), Agrippina (Handel), and Don Giovanni (Mozart), which I liked in that order. I am not an opera buff, and have no desire to be one–what I enjoy most is the experience of going to the opera, dressing up and drinking champagne in the parking lot and feeling sophisticated. However, this summer I have also enjoyed the operas themselves, with the exception of, I am sorry to say, Don Giovanni. That was the only opera on the program that I had any experience with, and that was limited to listening to the CD a few times while cleaning the house. Of course I knew the basic story, but little about the music or the motivations of the characters. Unfortunately Odious for some reason was unaware of my ignorance, and thus got rather shirty with me for asking him to explain his comments about the opera (assuming I was playing devil’s advocate). Once we finally got that worked out, we were able to have several good conversations about it that helped me understand why I didn’t like the production.

While the singers were excellent, and the music of course beyond reproach (I would have to agree that it may be the best opera ever written), the producers chose an interpretation that took away nearly all of the impact and depth of the story, to the point where it stopped making sense because the music and the acting were so contradictory. It’s one of the few operas where the music actually has plot–like most Mozart, the characters are expressed through the music. For instance, Don Giovanni’s seduction takes place within the music, as the key in which he sings takes over the keys of his victims until they are completely under his sway. Because of this, it’s impossible to change the genre of the opera (from tragedy to comedy, basically) without making it ridiculous. Odious’s observation, which I thought quite apt, was that perhaps the producers felt that the story was morally unfashionable, and that Giovanni as a bad man who refuses to repent and so is sent to Hell (which, incidentally, is a bad place) would not be taken seriously. Besides having a problem with people who try to adapt morality to current social trends, I have to say the alternative failed miserably.

All the characters were acted shallowly and farcically until their conflicting emotions inherent in the music and lyrics made no sense and the story began to lose focus. Leporello was played as a clownish rascal who bumbled about the stage and grabbed large handfuls of female flesh, which was vaguely amusing until I started paying attention to the creepiness of his position. He’s a man who hangs outside of bedrooms while his master seduces women, and keeps records of each seduction in a little notebook. That’s not exactly normal! And it’s certainly not funny, at least in my opinion. Donna Elvira was disappointing, too, as a conniving bitch who stormed about screaming at everyone, so that when she began falling back in love with Giovanni it came completely out of the blue. Giovanni himself was more effective, since it would be hard for him to come across as anything but suave and persuasive, but because no one thought of him as evil, he wasn’t scary. To me, a man whose power over women is nearly absolute, and who has no compassion or sense of wrong, is terrifying, and this Giovanni was merely alarming.

I wish I could have liked it better, since Mozart is so wonderful, but frankly I got bored and irritated. At least it made Simon Boccanegra a welcome surprise, especially since Odious had implied that I probably wouldn’t like it. On the contrary, while the music wasn’t as exciting as Mozart, the story was much more fast-paced and compelling because, being Verdi, there was no other possible interpretation. Verdi defies irony, and this opera is perfectly straightforward. The singers were excellent, especially Boccanegra–he had a quiet dignity that propelled the entire production. I didn’t like some of the things Amelia did with her voice, though Jack found it effective and impressive vocal control. To me it sounded inconsistent–she would go from waveringly soft to rich and full within a single song, which reminded me too much of Jewel in her first album.

Well, I hate to spend so little time on an opera I enjoyed, after writing paragraphs on one I disliked, but it was simply an excellent opera that I found completely entertaining and have very few criticisms of! I have more to criticize in the opera we saw next–Beatrice and Benedict–but I also enjoyed it even more. It was not at all what I expected, being more like a musical than an opera (probably why I liked it!), with the songs interspersed with the Shakespearean dialogue. Fortunately this worked very well, thanks to terrific actors as well as singers. The gentleman who played Benedict, while not able to rival Kenneth Branagh, was a wonderful comic actor with a perfect sense of timing, and he had a beautiful rich voice, so that watching him was pure delight. In particular, the scene at the beginning with him and Claudio and Don Pedro, where they talk about marriage, was highly amusing and very well sung–they managed to stay steady while running about the stage and getting into mock fights. Beatrice, on the night we attended, was sung by an apprentice rather than the regular singer, and it was unfortunately obvious. She sang well, though too softly, but was clearly not comfortable in the role and didn’t quite understand Beatrice’s motivations. To be fair, however, Berlioz’s adaptation sets her up as a more tragic character–one who is still bitter about being jilted by Benedict. As the opera program noted, much of the "ado" is left out of the opera, focusing instead on the relationship between Beatrice and Benedict, so I would have liked to see the regular singer for a fuller experience of the opera.

Don Pedro tried to take over the antic role that is rightly Benedict’s, instead of maintaining a certain amount of dignity that sets him apart from the other characters, but his fine voice almost made up for it. Claudio was just what a Claudio should be–mildly handsome, earnest, and nondescript, and Hero was about the same. Berlioz’s made-up character, Somarone, who takes the place of Dogberry, was very funny, although a half-hearted striptease during the party scene fell flat as a pancake.

I nearly forgot to mention the set, which sported a rippling yellow floor, slanting purple trees that I at first mistook for large quill pens, and, in the entire first act, several rows of red-clad dormitory beds (we were relieved when these finally disappeared for the second act). Odious liked the antic, Dr. Seuss-like quality it lent the opera, but I found it distracting and unnecessary.

Another pleasant thing about Beatrice and Benedict was that it was quite short–only 2 ½ hours with intermission. The next opera, Agrippina, lacked that appealing feature–3 acts, 2 intermissions, 3 ½ hours. Thank goodness it was Handel! Even so, the second act could have been cut almost entirely, as the plot lagged dreadfully and few of the songs were, in my opinion, terrifically interesting. However, I realized as we left that I liked it as much as Boccanegra, to Odious’s surprise. It was the only opera where the music engaged me more than the story (which was good, because the story was pretty silly)–even if Handel recycled all his music, it’s still Handel! Anyway, he wrote this opera at age 24, so it’s actually the original of more familiar pieces (when the overture started, I thought automatically, "oh, the Messiah!"), and I enjoyed every note.

It was also a treat to hear two fantastic countertenors–one was so good it took the whole first act for me to determine whether a man or a woman was singing. In fact, one of the male roles was sung by a woman, as is traditional now because of the lack of castrati. In Handel’s time, the oddity of castrati was what drew audiences to opera–more like a freak show than anything else. Still, I have to admit that the countertenors really made this opera worthwhile–it’s such an unearthly, androgynous sound that somehow suits Handel’s music perfectly.

I do, however, have to agree with Jack that it was somewhat disconcerting to hear such beautiful music and voices attached to such scheming, disloyal characters! The story and the music were so disconnected, especially, as Odious says, for those of us spoiled by Mozart. And yet at the same time it was effective, as an illustration of how easily people can be deceived (not, obviously, by 10-decibel asides, but by sweet voices and flattering words) and how often we don’t want to see what’s right under our noses.

The last opera on the program is La Sonambula, by Bellini, which is coming up in a few weeks. It’s already sold-out, so it should be good–we’ll see how it ranks with the rest!

Monday, August 02, 2004

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me... Odious is sitting on the bed, all dressed up to go out for my birthday dinner, while I lounge at the computer in shorts and t-shirt. It's too hot to get fancy yet! Anyway, I wanted to post briefly, since I've read several good books in the past week or so but haven't had time to write anything about them.

After a long time of believing Wallace Stegner to be a writer of westerns (don't ask me why), I finally picked up Crossing to Safety a year or so ago and absolutely loved it right off. I had Angle of Repose sitting on my bookshelf for quite some time before an acquaintance urged me to read it, but I didn't get into it as immediately as I did the other. That's partly because I was reading it in little bits and never got a good bite to savor, but also it started out a little slow. After a while, though, I became thoroughly engrossed, and greatly enjoyed the story. It's about Lyman Ward, a disabled 60-year-old man in 1970 who's writing a novel about his grandparents. His grandfather was a mining engineer and his grandmother an elegant society girl, so their marriage was quite a struggle in the rough West of the 1800's, detailed in a vast series of letters and other documents to be sorted through. The book switches back and forth between Lyman's life and excerpts from the novel, which is more or less historically accurate and a study of the marriage. I found it really interesting, though it was hard not to be irritated with the marital mistakes so clear from my omniscient view as a reader. Oliver and Susan Ward were astoundingly different people, and had a very difficult time relating to each other; yet even in its tragedy it's a beautiful story. However, I was most disappointed by the end of the book. I won't give anything away, since other than that it was a terrific novel, one to really sink your teeth into, but I hate cop-out endings like that.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Oh dear. And here I just said this morning that I wasn't buying any more books until we move.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

I decided to start a new blog today. For a long time I took up most of my journal pages with book reviews and food notes; then I started this blog, and that took care of the books, but I still tend to go on for pages about food. Hence, Milk and Honey (which is also the name I plan to give my future bakery/bookshop). And now I have room in my journal to write about the other things happening in my life! Hmm... this could get depressing...

My day yesterday was unusually uneventful, since I wasn't feeling quite up to snuff and so stayed quietly at home cleaning, talking on the phone (for more hours than I care to count up, although I did take the chance to do a little crocheting and sewing), and reading a book by Robert O'Brien called The Silver Crown. My previous experiences with this author were confined to Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (an excellent read), so I was pleased to find this reissue, which I quite enjoyed. It's a simple tale of a young girl whose life goes completely awry on her tenth birthday when she awakes to find a strange silver crown on her pillow. Donning it strengthens her belief that she is not just Ellen Carroll, but a queen--of what she doesn't yet know, but the consequent adventures lead her closer and closer to the answer.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

I have to say I wasn't overwhelmed by Reading Lolita in Tehran itself--it was interesting, but a little too scattered to capture me entirely, and the writing style kept all the characters very impersonal and unindividual (which was perhaps intentional to protect privacy). Also I was a little disappointed that the books read and taught by Azar Nafisi were not discussed more, and that their effect on the characters seemed unimportant. However, I did enjoy it, especially because it inspired me to read the books the author talks about.

I'd read The Great Gatsby as a teenager, but wasn't old enough to appreciate it--my memory of it was vague and slightly distasteful. I just finished reading it again today, and I am blown away. From the first page I was enthralled with the clean elegant prose and the strange intricacy of the characters' lives. This is a great novel, and I'm sorry not to have recognized that before.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Odious, Jack, another friend, and I had the recent pleasure of attending a book-signing and talk on Eagle Dreams at a lovely little bookshop in Albuquerque. We hadn't seen the author, Steve Bodio, or his wonderful wife Libby for quite some time, so it was quite a treat to visit with them as well as to hear Steve give more background on his travels described in the book. They were pleased to see us as well--I had the gratifying feeling of being a celebrity when Steve finally noticed us in the crowd and interrupted his talk with a delighted wave and greeting--and quickly introduced us to their other friends who had come as well. We met several falconers and a wonderfully adorable little girl named Grace, and got to see part of the extensive native bee collection that Steve has been working on for UNM, before heading out to a nearby bar for several rounds of cocktails and, of course, vodka shots. When one has just been hearing about a country where the staple foods are mutton and vodka, it's rather inspiring to go out and drink expansively. The frightening thing, as Jack remarked, was that after two shots of Ketel One and an impressively large cocktail each, we were all quite sober enough to drive--the dangers of living the restaurant life.

I had brought along the other two books of Steve's that we own, as this seemed the right time to have them signed for posterity, and handed them over at the appropriate time. After expressing surprise that we had found an original edition of Aloft (his 1990 meditation on pigeons and pigeon-flying), he opened it up to the title page to discover that it was already signed. While I was feeling mildly embarrassed for never having noticed, he read the inscription and realized that he had written it to a friend in 1992, over the weekend that he and Libby first met! So he signed it again, in hopes that Odious and I will keep it longer than Sana did, and we now own an interestingly historied book. Odious says that we almost have to sell it, just to see if the cycle continues, but I don't intend to let any of Steve's books out of my hands. Which I suppose is a recommendation in itself.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

I've been meaning to say something about Tamora Pierce ever since briefly noting that I'd read the first Protector of the Small books, but haven't gotten around to it until now. Well, after that first book, I gobbled down the rest of the quartet in a couple of sittings. When I went to Ohio a few weekends ago, I took along the third book (which didn't last beyond the plane), leaving behind the other three. Odious happened to pick up the first one while lazing about in bed, and met me at the airport with an insistent demand for the one I'd taken (to be fair, I did get a brief hug first). They are particularly charming books, with a compelling story and characters that become as dear as friends--definitely a treasure among children's literature, and indeed literature in general. This quartet follows the life of Kel, a young girl who is the first to be allowed to train as a knight, from her lowly beginnings as a page to her fateful adventures as a lady knight. Throughout it all she displays admirable self-control and determination, working towards her goal with single-minded motivation despite prejudice and pitfalls. I found myself rooting for her far more violently than I usually do for any character. While Pierce may not possess a fantastic writing style, at least in these books it's polished enough not to intrude upon the story.

The Immortals quartet, published previous to Protector of the Small, is unfortunately not so polished in style, but I enjoyed the story nearly as much, as it gives the background of one of the most intriguing characters in Kel's story. Since her mother's magic brought on the destruction of her family, Daine has done her best to avoid magic, including the small vestiges she seems to possess. After she is taken under the wing of the sorcerer Numair, however, she begins to learn that her magic may help to save the land from a dangerous threat. I spent most of our time in Eugene last month whipping through these four books, and found them well worth it.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

So far I've read two of Patrick O'Brian's books, and while I really enjoyed them, they both sure took me a long time to get through! With Master and Commander I got distracted, but with Post Captain I didn't read anything else and yet it took me nearly a week to read. However, I did enjoy it more than the first one, partly because it was, as Jack said, more Austenian in style. I've never been one for the men and boats stories, but O'Brian manages to make those parts of his books exciting and compelling (maybe because they usually catch up to whatever they're chasing, rather than pursuing a non-existent whale for hundreds and hundreds of pages!?!), and I found myself on the edge of my seat several times during Post Captain. What I enjoyed most, though, were the social exchanges and interactions that made up their lives off ship. In general what makes a novel interesting to me is the characters and their relationships, so it was nice to see so much of that in this book. It was especially neat to see the fluctuations between Jack and Stephen, and how their friendship won out when it really mattered.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

'Tis the season for weddings! I've traveled across the country to attend two in the past few weeks, and Jack is on her way to another this coming weekend. It's wonderful and joyous, but a bit tiring, I must say. I spent a brief weekend in Ohio, celebrating the marriage of a dear friend who became my pen pal 12 years ago and who I just met face to face at my own wedding six months ago; and then Odious and I took a week off to fly to Oregon for the wedding of another friend who worked with us for a short time last year. After a few days in Eugene for the wedding, where we had a lovely time and met some marvelous people, we headed up to Portland to scope things out and take a quick vacation. Besides eating at some fabulous restaurants (I'm not so upset about leaving Santa Fe now!), visiting the Western Culinary Institute (which I will attend starting in January), wandering through the beautiful Rose Garden (where I was thrilled to see the Rose Music fountain from Virginia Euwer Wolff's The Mozart Season!), and getting ourselves hopelessly lost amid the tangle of one-way streets and mysterious exits, we also spent some happy hours in the world's largest bookstore.

Powell's is also called the City of Books, and takes up an entire block in downtown Portland, as well as spilling over into a number of offspring stores across the city. It is a wonderful place. We spent most of our time in the science fiction/fantasy section, which is roughly a quarter the size of our local Borders store, with a brief foray into children's, and that took nearly three hours. Of course every shelf had to be combed carefully to avoid missing anything, since they stock used and new books together, and an out-of-print treasure was often hiding innocently amongst current bestsellers. We walked away with a huge stack of finds, among them a signed first edition James Branch Cabell, Tasha Tudor's A Doll's Christmas, a collection of folk tales by Richard Adams, and The Essential Bordertown. Getting them all home was interesting, especially since that was not the only bookstore we visited--at a hidden basement shop in Eugene that stocked mostly used philosophy and theology, we walked away with an armful of Chesterton, the Schaeffers, and Jacques Ellul.

So as you can see it was a highly successful trip, and I'm certainly looking forward to moving to Portland in the fall. In the meantime, however, I'm going to enjoy being home and back to a somewhat normal schedule.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

After reading a Writer's Digest special edition magazine about writing for children, I've decided that I really need to get back into that sort of writing. I've always enjoyed it, and for a long time intended to be a children's writer, but I haven't written anything in that vein for a while. Then I had an idea that Odious and I should write a children's fantasy novel together. We haven't yet decided what it should be about, but in preparation I started reading and rereading some children's fantasy (research is always important!). I love children's books so much--after reading them it seems pointless to bother with "adult" literature. Anyway, so far I've discovered a couple of excellent reads.

I'm already going to have to reread Peter Dickinson's The Ropemaker, because I started it while babysitting and consequently was interrupted too many times to absorb the beginning very well. Once I was able to settle down with it, however, I gobbled it down voraciously. The story is fascinating--a young girl named Tilja must go with her grandmother to discover why the magic is leaving their forest at home, and on the way they learn something quite unusual about Tilja that allows them to overcome all obstacles in their path. The characters are well-defined and interesting, and the writing crisp and clear. Highly recommended.

The unicorns in The Ropemaker got me inspired to reread The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge, which has long been a favorite of mine. The writing style is wonderfully flowery and verbose, with a dramatic flair that always delighted me. It suits this charming story perfectly, and is done with a masterful hand. Maria Merryweather is an orphan who goes to live with her cousin Sir Benjamin at the family manor, which has long been under a curse due to the quarrelsome nature of the Merryweathers. With the help of Robin the shepherd boy, the godly Old Parson, a well-spoken dwarf named Marmaduke Scarlet, the children of the village, and a menagerie of animals (who all seem to have a touch of magic), Maria charms the frightening Black Men who dominate the forest, reunites two long-separated couples, and solves the mystery that perpetrated the curse years ago. A truly delightful book.

I started reading Protector of the Small: The First Test yesterday afternoon, and found myself unable to put it down until I'd finished it. A long time ago I'd read Tamora Pierce's first book of Tortall, Alanna, and quite enjoyed it, though until recently I didn't know she'd written anything else. Turns out she's fairly prolific, and is working on a new series called Protector of the Small. I'm going to have to go to Borders today and get the rest of the books! Ten years have passed since the proclamation that girls may train to be warriors as well as boys, before ten-year-old Keladry of Mindelan, who has been trained since childhood in the Yamani martial arts, announces her desire to become a warrior. At the request of the master of the academy, she is put on a year's probation, to ensure that she will be able to keep up with the boys and prove her ability. It proves to be the most difficult year of her life, but through sheer determination and the stoicism learned from the Yamanis, she manages to complete the first test and receive an invitation to return.

I also read Cornelia Funke's The Thief Lord, which didn't impress me much. The story was too disjointed and confused, with some things that turned out a little too conveniently to be believable. Hopefully her newest book, Inkheart, will be better. Right now I'm rereading the third Harry Potter in preparation for the movie, and it's as good as I remembered it.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

I started reading The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath on our honeymoon (yes, Odious thought that was weird, too), but the only thing I found depressing was that the volume began with her journal from when she was eighteen years old. That a teenager could write with such insight and grasp of character, and provide such beautiful descriptions and pictures of her life made me feel highly unaccomplished. But then, as usual, I got sidetracked with other books for a few months. Then I watched the recent movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow, which was terribly disappointing. I felt the movie gave no background or reasons for what Sylvia did, and it focused on her jealousy of her husband and his consequent affairs, with little attention paid to her work and writings. The IMDB gives one of the working titles as "Ted and Sylvia", which would have made more sense; because it's just called "Sylvia", one expects more of a biography.

So I went back to the journals in order to gain a better understanding of what happened in her life, and what caused her to commit suicide. Unfortunately the last two journals, covering the last three years of her life, are either missing or destroyed, so the volume ends with a cheerful account of their life and neighbors in Devon, England. However, I did quite enjoy reading the whole thing, except the parts that devolved into random thoughts and fragments, and found it a very interesting look into her personality. She was extraordinarily driven to be successful, often making lists of ways to move up in the world and spend more time writing, so that she comes off as rather narcissistic. I can sympathize, however, since my own journals include similar injunctions; sometimes one needs a good browbeating, and who better to give it than oneself?

About halfway through the journals, I bought an edition of her selected poems so that I could read the ones she referenced, and that was also illuminating. I don't particularly care for her poetry, especially the early works that seem a little too obfuscatory, but there is some beautiful imagery as well as wonderfully skillful scansion. I'd like to read more of her prose (other than The Bell Jar), to see if it's as well-written as certain of her journal entries.

Monday, May 31, 2004

So if you've ever wondered what the Iliad is about, and thought maybe you'd just see the movie instead--get the Cliffs notes.

On Sunday night, after a pleasant barbecue with a group of friends, we decided to go to a late showing of "Troy" for a good laugh. While we knew it would be a poor adaptation, I at least was not prepared for the depths to which film creators can go. We were somewhat cheered, at the end, to see in the credits that it was only "inspired by Homer's Iliad", but that was a small comfort. I suppose the other moviegoers were unamused by our hilarity during the movie, but it was impossible to keep from laughing at Brad Pitt's "smell the fart" acting.

All the acting, in fact, was remarkably terrible, although it may be unfair to criticize the actors when the script and direction are so wretched. We did agree that Priam was excellently portrayed, even before I discovered that the actor is Peter O'Toole; but the rest of the cast got bogged down in soulful looks, heroic profiles, and cliched lines about honor, credibility (?), and posterity (yes, fine, Achilles, your name will be remembered forever, now shut up!!). There were a number of memorable lines, however, though perhaps not for the right reasons. I liked how they illustrated my favorite Odysseus epithet, "devious-devising", at the beginning when Boromir--I mean Odysseus--says to Achilles, "You have your sword; I have my tricks." I bet Patroclus knows about that sword--oh, wait, sorry, that whole relationship was neatly avoided by making the two cousins. Probably just as well.

Later Achilles rouses his men to battle by saying, "Do you know what lies on that beach? Immortality! Take it! It's yours!" Quite.

And then Hector rallies his troops with the code by which he has always lived his life: "Honor the gods; love your woman; defend your country!" Which I must say I actually liked, outside of an Homerian context--they're not standards espoused much nowadays, particularly the last one. It reminded me that patriotism used to be more than pasting bumper stickers on one's car and occasionally writing a letter to the editor.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the movie was that somehow the gods were not important enough characters to be included. Indeed, their existence was denied and disbelieved by a number of the characters--nearly all except for the fanatically wild-eyed priests and priestesses, and they kept getting proved wrong. So much for Paris being saved by Aphrodite in the nick of time; so much for the reason for Achilles' invulnerability; so much for the squabbles between Zeus and Hera that affect numerous outcomes of the war; so much for the guidance of Athene, etc, etc. None of that's important. What's important is watching Brad Pitt skip around the battlefield. Obviously.

And apparently there aren't any other important Greek playwrights, either, since their characters are so casually killed off. Too bad, Aeschylus, no Oresteia for you--it fits our plot better to let Briseis (yes, she's a character, just like Arwen!) stab Agamemnon. Oh, and Sophocles? It's a lot more interesting to let Hector take out Ajax than to let him commit suicide. Sorry.

So anyway, like I was saying, get the Cliffs notes. Or better yet, read the real thing. Then you can play the game!

Thursday, May 27, 2004

I spent last weekend in Colorado, celebrating one sister's graduation from high school and another sister's birthday. A beautiful drive through the spring green freshness of New Mexico and the fields of wildflowers in Colorado raised my spirits immensely, and it was a great treat to spend four days with my whole family. Meg and I whiled away more than a few hours sitting on the porch and solving all the world's problems--one of my favorite activities!

And I must extend congratulations again to my little sister Emily, the only one of four sisters to graduate from high school--you're the greatest, Em! The ceremony was refreshingly free of shenanigans, thanks to strict rules this year; all the students were dressed nicely and, with one exception, deported themselves in a dignified manner. Speeches were mediocre, save for that of the salutatorian, who stepped up with a brief, clever, heartfelt, and uplifting message that was surprisingly bold in its profession of Christianity. Kudos to GHS for approving a religious message at a public ceremony!

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

For some reason I never read Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising sequence as a child. Well, that's not entirely true--I did read the first book and possibly one of the others, as they were part of our public library's collection. I loved the first one and read it several times, and if I'd realized it was the beginning of a sequence I would have looked for the others. Anyway, I just rediscovered them, and wow! What a treat! It's always heartening to read children's literature and find it as good or often better than the junk available to adults. Reading these books was like re-reading The Chronicles of Narnia--they never fail to delight, no matter what your age. I wish the sequence were not so obviously pagan--if the author didn't insist on spelling it out I could be very happy in my ignorance--but other than that it's a terrific story with riveting characters. Now I have to get my hands on the Prydain Chronicles (Lloyd Alexander), as Odious and Jack assure me they are excellent.

Monday, May 17, 2004

I was trying to remember why it had taken me so long to read Eagle Dreams, and realized that I could blame it mostly on Odious! After he read it while we were in Hawaii, he immediately loaned it out to two different people before I got my chance; then somehow it ended up getting shelved upon returning to our house instead of going straight to my nightstand. I happened to notice it the other day while looking for something to read, and I can only say I'm deeply ashamed I waited this long.

The author, Stephen J. Bodio, is Peculiar's stepfather, so we have been privileged to know him and his wonderful wife for several years now. Visiting them in the tiny New Mexican town of Magdalena is an experience rather beyond description, and one I hope to have again this summer. As they now have five dogs in their 4-room house, in addition to birds of varying sizes, I'm not sure how visitors will be crammed in amongst the impressive library and vast collection of items and artifacts from around the world, but we'll figure that out later.

Steve has been an avid falconer for most of his life (he's written several other books on the subject of birds), and Eagle Dreams is a memoir of his travels to Mongolia and Kazakhstan in search of eaglers. Because he writes much the same as he speaks, it's a fast-paced and infinitely fascinating account, combining travel notes with descriptions of food and alcohol (mostly vodka) and, of course, eagles and the men who hunt with them. He seems to have a knack for meeting thoroughly interesting and odd characters, and just as much of a knack of portraying them to his reader.

Though I heard many stories of Mongolia as a child, through a young missionary based from our church in Colorado, it had never particularly grabbed my interest until now. And I must admit that it's probably the things least appealing to most people that draw my attention--the cold, the vast barren sweeps, the solitude, and the animal population greater than the human. Steve makes it all, if not alluring, certainly fascinating, and I believe I may have to add Mongolia to my list of places to visit.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Jack has an excellent post up on Utility, a topic we've been discussing a lot lately. That and a concert at St. John's last night have inspired me to pursue voice lessons, which I've been meaning to do for a long time--I need something unnecessary and beautiful in my life. And I hope everyone appreciates that I've refrained from making a joke about Odious after that last sentence.

Also, my sweet sister Meg has started a blog called The Journey Project. She's an awesome writer, with great insights on life and faith, so her blog is well worth visiting.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Books and food are my favorite things in the whole world. Oh, and of course Odious. Ahem. Anyway, having the first two combined is always a wonderful treat, whether it be eating while reading (many of my books have crumbs ground into the bindings) or reading cookbooks or other food-related works. I recently had the pleasure of reading Monsoon Diary, Shoba Narayan's memoir with recipes included. It's the best kind of memoir, like M.F.K. Fisher's, where the history of the author is told through the various meals and food experiences that shaped it. And then there are recipes.

The last time we were in London we were privileged enough to have a South Indian meal cooked for us (by a wonderfully motherly young South Indian woman), and I wished I could have enjoyed it more. Odious gobbled everything down, especially the lime pickle, but unfortunately I found the flavors and combinations too alien for my palate to immediately enjoy. After reading this book I'm inspired to try again, because Narayan's descriptions are mouth-watering--particularly because she herself takes such delight in them. I love the sensuousness of foodies!

Monday, May 10, 2004

As a reader, I adore Patricia McKillip. As a writer, I loathe her.

For writers like John Grisham or Brian Jacques, one assumes that the reason they publish only one book a year is because people would notice more quickly that they're just recycling plots. But somehow Patricia McKillip manages to pop out books at a disgustingly regular rate while still making them GOOD. I hate her.

No, actually I really like her a lot. Although her last few books have been a little too enigmatic for me, Alphabet of Thorn is fantastic. Odious says he didn't care much for it, but then he's been reading Heidegger lately, so that illustrates his taste (or lack thereof). [Looking over my shoulder, he protests that that's a low blow, especially since he just brought me a chocolate croissant. Yum.] Anyway, I liked Alphabet of Thorn because it was a good story and I could understand it. And who can resist the appeal of time travel? Certainly not the sorceress Kane, or so it seems to the young translator Nepenthe as she untangles the thorny words of an ancient manuscript to reveal an unbelievable story. While cranky mages question Nepenthe's lover Bourne about his involvement in his uncle's rebellion, and the strange young queen wanders around in the wood practicing invisibility, the nearly forgotten history of Kane and Axis, the emperor she loved, becomes more and more relevant to the present world.

McKillip's writing is, as always, elegant and evocative, and her storytelling abilities are superb.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Hmph. I was going to leave an irritated comment on the site, but realized that then I would be doing exactly what bothers me most about such people. Ranting and raving about those who don’t share one’s opinion is counterproductive and pointless, and happens a lot in Santa Fe (I’ve stopped reading the weekly Reporter because it just annoys the heck out of me). So instead of screaming about how narrow-minded and intolerant people are, I will instead post a defense of traditional marriage in hopes that a positive outlook will be convincing and helpful, and I’ll start with words far better than mine.

The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into inadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.

These words, which follow the well-known “Dearly beloved” in the marriage service found in the Book of Common Prayer, give a perfect summary of the solemnity and importance of marriage. Marriage is not merely a public commitment of love, or an arrangement for mutual financial benefit; rather, it is a sacrament, blessed by the church and witnessed by friends and family who are expected by God to hold the couple to their vows. This concept, “established by God in creation”, is something that seems to be slipping from our understanding, as groups of all sorts seek for recognition of their ‘marriage’.

The intent of marriage is for a man and a woman to become one, through avowal to each other and sealed by the Holy Spirit. Through marriage two people are stronger and better than they were before, as they help each other through life and provide stability for their family and community. It is a serious matter, to be well considered in prayer and discussion, and to be worked at and upheld. Yet it is also perfect joy, for two people to be joined under God’s blessing and to find delight and comfort in each other for the rest of their lives. A true marriage is something that can be counted on, that is strong and reliable and stable.

A civil union is not a marriage. The government cannot bestow blessing on a couple and wish them true happiness in a Godly life together. Only the church can do that, because marriage is and always has been a sacrament. However, marriage is also a fundamental building block of society. A man and a woman who have pledged themselves to each other, and who create a solid home in which they are happy and secure, cannot help but affect those around them in a positive way. Even a small degree of personal security gives one more ability to serve others, so that private harmony promotes public peace. A society based on such a firm foundation will only prosper.

And a society must be governed. For this reason, and because of the church’s fading influence, at this time it seems necessary for the government to consider its self-preservation, and define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, “honored among all people.” Our absolute need to maintain this successful tradition must be reinstated beyond a doubt lest our society crumble.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

I've always loved Madeleine L'Engle, but for a long time would only read her books about the Murrys. Then I discovered her inspirational writings, and decided perhaps I should branch out a little and give the Austins a try again. I picked up The Young Unicorns at the library the other day, and quite enjoyed it, though my original problem remains in that the Murry stories are much more comprehensible. Reading this book gave me the uneasy feeling that I was missing something important, as often happens--I'm always more interested in the story and characters than in any analogy or symbolism. Which I suppose is perfectly legitimate, and authors could hardly complain about such a thing, and yet I wish I were better at recognizing philosophy or a deeper meaning. Oh well. That's actually why I like novels, because if they're written well, the story will illustrate the philosophy without pedantry.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

I've been reading a lot lately, but, unfortunately for you (I suppose), haven't felt much like posting or even writing much at all. Instead I've been filling my non-reading hours with work, staying up late and then sleeping in, and enjoying the lovely wet weather we've been having here in the desert.

Let's see, what can I say about books today... I must admit my fare has been extraordinarily light and hardly worth mentioning. I've been in a bookbuying mood, which is bad for many reasons, especially since I keep getting sidetracked into a dozen books at a time. Oh, I know, I am reading something quite good and certainly worth recommendation--Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander. Odious and Peculiar saw the movie when it first came out, and Odious dove into the books soon after (Peculiar has already read quite a few of them). When Jack got interested too, I decided perhaps I should join the happy throng despite my usual dislike for stories about men and boats. We ended up buying and watching the DVD before I had a chance to start the first book, but the sweet wholesomeness of the movie inspired me to do so, and I am quite enjoying it. Of course, much of the time I have absolutely no idea what is going on, partly because of sailing jargon and partly because I've been reading it sporadically (it is good, but I just can't help getting distracted) and keep forgetting what's happening. Also the plot is a little scattered, and the book seems longer than necessary, but nonetheless it's excellent and I shall probably move on to the second at some point (particularly as Jack claims it is very Austenian in content).

Monday, April 12, 2004

I've been having fun researching midwifery lately, as a career I might later consider. It's such a fascinating subject, with lots of interesting books to check out. I just finished Spiritual Midwifery, by Ina May Gaskin, which was a lot of fun. Mrs Gaskin and her husband Steven founded a farm in Tennessee in the 70's, where expecting mothers still go for midwife assistance. The book is a collection of testimonies from the early years, as well as midwife instruction and theory, and I had a wonderful time reading all the stories of birthing. Especially enjoyable were the words "psychedelic" and "heavy" used to describe the various experiences!

I also read, just for fun, Karen Cushman's The Midwife's Apprentice, which is a sweet story with a few good tips on midwifery.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

My cat--the good one--is sitting very sweetly on my lap, purring under his breath and occasionally nudging me for an ear scratch, while I bounce about the Internet reading various things of interest. I just found, via Salon, an amusing website called Manhattan Waiter, with interviews of waiters in Manhattan. Some of it isn't very interesting, but much is quite funny, with anecdotes of wretched customers and revenge taken upon them. People do such amazingly annoying things when they go out to eat--it's as if they've never done it before. Being in the business myself, it's fun to read what others have to say, as in the book Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress, by Debra Ginsberg. I just loaned that to the hostess at the restaurant where Odious and I are currently employed, and she said her complaint with it was that so much of the author's real life was left out. I think that's because the focus of the book is on her profession, and the weirdness of it, but I agree that it makes the job sound like her whole life. In a way, like most jobs, it can feel like it! Especially when, as happened to me a few nights ago, some jerk chews you out and leaves you feeling like a rotting piece of lettuce smushed into the cracks of the floor. I doubt there's any other job where customers feel such license to leave their senses of courtesy and civility at the door--it's really appalling the things they will say or do. The only thing that made me feel better the other night was that the guy made a complete fool of himself and knew it, so much so that he left no tip at all as a last spiteful dig. Sometime I'd like to write a manual to teach people how to eat out--it'd at least be satisfying.

Friday, April 09, 2004

I have never cared much for poetry. Now, I'm well aware that it's because of a lack of exposure and education, but I've also never made any great effort to expose or educate myself. I find it frustrating to spend hours on a few lines of verse, especially when the meaning of it may not have been clear even to the poet. Also, like Tina in Tam Lin, I prefer to take poems literally--I have no reason to think that the man stopping by woods on a snowy evening is not simply a long way from home and bed. This is probably why I enjoy the poetry of Billy Collins so much, because his poems can be read simply and easily, as an evocative and beautiful picture, just as well as they can withstand scrutiny and study. I feel at home in his work, quiet and peaceful and comfortable.

Jack has a good post up about reading poetry, that it must be savored to be enjoyed. I agree completely, but I discovered a few days ago that one doesn't necessarily have to be in a quiet room alone, either. I had tucked Mr Collins's latest collection, Nine Horses, into my bag when I went up skiing last Sunday, and brought it out to read while I ate my lunch. Like most cafeterias, the one at Ski Santa Fe is large, loud, and dirty. I sat at a well-becrumbed table, surrounded by scruffy men eating chili cheese fries, and was utterly entranced by the poem "Love". It gave me chills, right there in that unlikely spot. I wish I could post the whole thing, but I'm afraid that would infringe copyright, so I'll just quote the last few stanzas.

"And the reason I am writing this
on the back of a manila envelope
now that they have left the train together

is to tell you that when she turned
to lift the large, delicate cello
onto the overhead rack,

I saw him looking up at her
and what she was doing
the way the eyes of saints are painted

when they are looking up at God
when he is doing something remarkable,
something that identifies him as God."

--Billy Collins, Nine Horses

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Once again Robin Hobb took over my life for a few days as I read the Liveship Traders trilogy. It takes place in the same world as the Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies, and occurs in between the two chronologically. While existing as its own full story, it also fills in some gaps from the other books, in particular about dragons. The best thing about Robin Hobb's writing is her amazing creation of characters that are wonderfully real in their consistent flaws and mistakes as well as their moments of brilliance. This is no less true for the dragons. There's no doubt that the return of these incredible creatures will change everything, but not in a way that any human could have predicted. Yet it must be--as the Fool says in one of the Tawny Man books, "The skies must have dragons." For once the humans must learn to take orders again as well as giving them, and humble themselves into being lesser creatures. It's strange how unjust that seems at first!

Only one actual dragon appears in this trilogy, in the last book, but serpents (dragon larvae) abound throughout as they try to find their way to the hatching grounds. Along the way they are confused by the mysterious liveships sailed by humans, some of whom are strangely capable of connecting and communicating with the serpents. Every creature in the trilogy is essential to the story, and the various plots intertwine and weave together into a seamless fate.

I end up feeling rather disjointed and disillusioned with this world after immersing myself in Robin Hobb's, so much so that sometimes I start reading faster and faster in the need to get my life back to normal. It's an unsettling experience, and one I've never encountered with any other author. And yet I can't help but recommend and rave about her books, in the hopes that they join the ranks of classic fantasy.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

I woke up much earlier than seemed necessary this morning, and after being walked over by restless cats until I was fully awake, I decided to re-read A Little Princess, which for some reason I had been thinking about. What a lovely little book that is! Though I still love The Secret Garden better, there's something so particularly charming and delightful about Sara Crewe. I was thinking, upon this reading, that really the reader should hate such a perfectly good and kind little girl, but what redeems her is the struggles she must go through to be so good and kind. It is not easy for her to be a princess, even when she is treated like one. Though she says that of course she is able to be good and kind when people are always pleasant to her, still she must watch her tongue when speaking to Lavinia or Miss Minchin. Yet, so she can completely understand what others are feeling and how best to help them, she needs the trials through which she goes to become a true "little princess".

Thursday, March 25, 2004

After watching "The Missing" last week, I found the book on which it was based at the library--Tom Eidson's The Last Ride, which I read this morning. The writing style is certainly that of a Western, and the story hadn't been changed much for the movie, but I enjoyed it fairly well nonethless. The religion argument between the heroine and her father was a little overdone, and was resolved agreeably but not satisfactorily; the movie's way of dealing with the problem rang truer as well as being subtler. The movie also, surprisingly, gave the characters more depth--despite Eidson's delving into history and motivation, I found it difficult to care much about his characters. But of course it's always difficult to read the book after seeing the movie. In many cases the book falls a bit flat, unfortunately.

I'm too tired and spacey to type accurately much longer, so I'll end by listing some other books I've read in the past week or so (mostly quick easy library reads):
Durable Goods, Elizabeth Berg--the first of three related books, which I accidentally read in backwards order, giving an interesting portrait of childhood and adolescence.
Girl Goddess #9, Francesca Lia Block--very odd little stories with extremely heavy-handed treatment of social issues.
Bloodchild and other stories, Octavia Butler--again, heavy-handed, though much creepier.
Children of the Storm, Elizabeth Peters--the latest Amelia Peabody mystery, which I enjoyed thoroughly as always.
Goat Song, Susan Basquin--an interesting though ultimately depressing tale of the author's adventures in goat farming.
The Whim of the Dragon, Pamela Dean--rereading the third volume in the Secret Country trilogy was enthralling and delightful, though I do wish Dean were contracted to write more mythic fiction rather than more Secret Country books. I'm also in the middle of rereading The Dubious Hills, which I like better but still not as much as her other two books.

Monday, March 22, 2004

So I've been gone for a while--so, that's the way things go. Now I'm back.

Spring is really here, despite the fact that it never really seemed to be winter this year. The season goes by so quickly here that I'm never satisfied; plus I only got to go skiing once thanks to this wasting disease. Anyway, the trees are starting to come out in that mist of barely-there green, daffodils are coming up in cheery clumps, and apricot blossoms are beginning to pop. I walked by one tree yesterday that had a frenzy of bees around it, enjoying their first taste of nectar this year. I've been thinking a lot about bees lately, having read A Book of Bees, by Sue Hubbell, as well as meeting a family in town who keeps bees in their tiny urban backyard. Bees are fascinating creatures, and the book was excellent.

I first encountered Sue Hubbell in her book A Country Year, a lovely account of her farm and life in the Ozarks, and was pleased to find this newer book about beekeeping, which was her source of income. She kept three hundred hives all over the state of Missouri, which, naturally, occupied her time fully, but she says that having two or three hives in one's back garden is really no more trouble than a dog or cat. And after seeing the hives kept by our new friends, it's clear not only that this is true but also that it can be done nearly anywhere. Even urban settings are usually well-provided with flowering trees and plants, and for the times when there is little nectar, a supply of sugar water in the hive keeps the bees going.

A Book of Bees is an excellent start for anyone interested in beekeeping, as it includes practical information on acquiring and caring for bees, diagrams of hives and their various parts, all seasonal activities such as harvesting and wintering, catching swarms, and the problems that may occur. All this is part of a story, well-written and absorbing, rather than a how-to guide, and is a wonderful inspiring read.

An amusing sidenote: An acquaintance of mine noticed the book in my bag one day and asked me if it was scary! She didn't quite seem to understand when I told her it was actually about keeping bees. Hmm. I think I have odd interests.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

I really tried not to compare Tracy Chevalier's The Virgin Blue to her Girl With A Pearl Earring, to give the former a fair chance, but now that I've seen the movie of the latter, this is a difficult thing to do. I'll have to read her third novel before I make a definite judgement of her writing, but I find it very hard to believe that The Virgin Blue came from the same author who produced the magic of Girl.

Chevalier's first novel has a complicated plot, with two stories from different eras weaving together, their heroines somehow mysteriously connected. It's a little too complicated. It's not quite a love story, nor yet a ghost story, nor yet a history, but rather hovers among the three without settling on one plot. The author didn't give herself enough leeway to tie up all the loose ends, so that there's much that is left unexplained, which, especially in such a story as this, is highly annoying. None of the characters were in any way likable, and most of them were particularly unpleasant. Worst of all, their cruel and immoral actions seemed to come out of nowhere--for the most part they were unexplained, random, and unresolved. I found it a disturbing book, and almost didn't finish it.

Later, on a positive note, I'll post about the lovely, lovely movie of Girl With A Pearl Earring...

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Back to the desert. Boy, do I like humidity! I never thought I would, having lived all my life in severely dry climates, but curly hair, moisturized skin, and pampered lungs are certainly things I could get used to. And I don't think I have ever had a more relaxing time than those ten days on Kauai--it was such a luxury to know that we never had to do anything we didn't want to! We did get in a lot of hiking, all over the beautiful island, and spent quite a bit of time on various beaches, but mostly we read. It was wonderful. Odious, of course, hurried through his books much faster than I through mine, so that we had to make an emergency run to Borders; however, he did NOT read all of Heidegger's Being and Time--I TOLD him he'd want beach reads, not nasty German philosophers. Ah well.

So I read the last book in the Farseer trilogy, Assassin's Quest, on the plane to Hawaii, which I think was a bad idea. I was so moved by it, so lost in that world, that coming back to this one was a dreadful wrench and horrible disappointment. I have not felt like that since The Deed of Paksenarrion--the lose and injustice of being torn from that world back to this one is a tragedy hardly to be spoken of. I am not easily moved to tears, yet I wept at the closing of the door, and at my helplessness to aid the people who suffered so and were not rewarded with the happiness they sought and deserved. There aren't many books about which I say this, and few of them are fantasy, but Fitz and Burrich and the Fool and Kettricken and Nighteyes are my friends. I don't know any higher recommendation that that.

I had taken the first two books of the following trilogy (The Tawny Man), and Odious breathed down my neck to read them next (he'd read the Farseer books previously); fortunately the third came out just a few days after we both finished those, and we raced to a bookstore to obtain it. The story continues after fifteen years of Fitz's self-inflicted exile, and brings the lives of all the characters to a conclusion I never would have thought possible. Again I wept for them all and felt lost coming back to this world. These are books that have gained a permanent place on our shelves--or they will when we finally get around to putting up a new bookcase.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

After a very long period of silence (I was working a lot, okay?), I appear briefly to announce another period of silence. My dear husband and I are off to Kauai in a few days to lie on the beach and do absolutely nothing for two weeks. I can't wait. Today we're going to Borders to stock up on fantasy novels, so I should have plenty to blog about upon our return. In the meantime, I've discovered Robin Hobb's Farseer series, which are really wonderful. Most fantasy readers are probably already familiar with these books, but for some reason I'd overlooked them until I picked up the first two at a booksale a while back. During this lingering illness (the wasting disease is still, well, wasting) I set aside my more challenging reads for some good entertainment, and burned through Assassin's Apprentice and Royal Assassin over a weekend. I don't always care for the typical "other world" fantasy, because it so often relies entirely on the other world for its fantastical elements. The world of the Farseer books, however, is rich and complex, with a fascinating story and great characters. I'll post more about them after I read the last two.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

I've just updated my links, especially the blogs. Since Jack and Miss Kate seem to have dropped off the face of the blogging world, I decided to delete their links, but that left my list rather depressing, so I added some of the sites I've been visiting lately.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

Robin McKinley has long been one of my favorite writers, even before I knew fantasy was a genre. I also love fairy tale retellings, of which she has done quite a few, but it's really nice to read something completely new from her talented pen. Sunshine captured me from the first page, and I read it in a fascinated gulp last week, as did Odious this morning. It's funny, however, that what sticks with me the most are the descriptions of Sunshine's life and surroundings, rather than the story itself, although that was very strange and interesting. This is usually the feeling I have with Charles de Lint, where I care less about the story than about wanting to live in his world; but I suppose Robin McKinley has never before written a novel in a contemporary setting, which makes a difference for me at least.

The story is about vampires in the near-future, which seems quite a leap from Beauty and the Beast, Sherwood, and Damar, but McKinley pulls it off with aplomb. Her heroine is a highly talented baker in a small village, in a world where "the Other" (vampires, werefolk, and further demons) are known, accepted as a part of life, and desperately feared. Thus it's never a good idea for humans to roam about on their own, especially deep into the woods, but Sunshine does it anyway--and therein lies the story.

I'll have to read it again to get a full sense of what happens, since like McKinley's other books there are several levels, but already I'd rank it above most of them. The writing is fantastic, the plot dramatic and compelling, and the characters a rich and motley crew.

Friday, January 02, 2004

The holiday season is over, which always makes me feel like life should settle down and get back to normal, but with the several-page-long to-do list and extra work coming up in the next couple weeks, I don't think that'll actually happen. At least I don't have to plan stuff anymore, or arrange people. Normally that's one of my favorite things to do, but a wedding, Christmas, and New Year's parties crammed into two weeks is a little much for my feeble brain, especially when my body is hampered with whatever wasting disease is currently infecting me. Fortunately it has given me the excuse to sit around and read quite a bit, though as usual not nearly enough.

I've found in the past few years that birthdays and Christmasses are not quite as exciting as they used to be, for several reasons, but mainly because I used to get great stacks of lovely new books from all and sundry. For me that's part of those holidays, but for some reason it hasn't been happening as much lately. I suppose people don't know what I'd like or haven't read, or simply that it would be too unimaginative a gift. In response, I think, I've started giving everyone else books in hopes that they will reciprocate. I love to get books--nearly the best gift ever! Even if it's something I've read or already own, it's still special to receive as something chosen because a friend liked it and thought I would too. Also my taste in books is so eclectic that I rarely come across something I really don't like, which is why it's fun to see what other people like and think I'd like, things I probably wouldn't have chosen myself but enjoy nonetheless.

Anyway, as you can probably tell, I didn't receive many books this year (only one, in fact--John Mortimer's Summer Lease, because my mother-in-law decided I needed yet another Italy book), but I did receive a gift card from Borders, also from my mother-in-law. So Odious and I spent the day after Christmas happily wandering around Borders, gathering up armfuls of random titles. Between the gift card and the bargain books, I walked out with a whole bag of books and only $18 debited from my checking account!

New acquisitions include:
Sunshine, Robin McKinley
Miracle and Other Christmas Stories, Connie Willis
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
Close Range, Annie Proulx
Her Infinite Variety, Pamela Rafael Berkman
The Seeing Eye, C.S. Lewis
also a new journal which I do not need.

The next day my very dear friend Kelly came up to Santa Fe for the weekend, and we browsed through Books and More Books, an excellent little used bookstore down the street from our house, where I picked up
Evelina, Fanny Burney
Gracious Living in a New World, Alexandra Stoddard
Herbs and Spices
Fragments: The Collected Wisdom of Heraclitus
Nothing to Declare, Mary Morris
The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Marianna Mayer
First Person Rural, Noel Perrin

And the book buying continued when we took Kelly back to Albuquerque on Sunday, as none of us could resist a quick stop at Barnes & Noble. However, we only had time for a few, so I won't list those, although one was a pretty cool book on soapmaking.

Note to self New blog to keep an eye on: The Book Nook