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.