Thursday, March 31, 2005

I'm mad at Eleanor Cameron. I was really enjoying The Court of the Stone Children until I decided to look up the French artist Jean Louis Baptiste Chrysostome who features greatly in the novel. After twenty minutes on the Internet, I was forced to admit that he does not exist--she made him up! It makes me so mad because I loved the descriptions of his paintings and really wanted to see them to help me appreciate the story. It's just like A.S. Byatt's trick in Possession. Well, it was a good book anyway--a story of a little girl who wants to be "something in a museum" (a curator), and whose love of things from the past helps her to solve a two hundred-year-old mystery.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Personality Disorder Test Results
Paranoid || 10%
Schizoid |||||||||||||||| 66%
Schizotypal |||||||||||||| 58%
Antisocial |||||||||||| 50%
Borderline |||||| 22%
Histrionic |||||| 30%
Narcissistic |||||||||||| 46%
Avoidant |||||| 26%
Dependent |||||||||| 34%
Obsessive-Compulsive |||||||||||||||| 66%
Take Free Personality Disorder Test
personality tests by

Huh. This actually seems pretty accurate, after reading the descriptions of the disorders, although I definitely don't think I'm schizotypal. Schizoid and OCD, though...

Via Badaunt

UPDATE: Odious also took this test, but decided not to post his results as they were... um... rather more extreme than mine. Oh, the shock.
After watching the new Bollywood film "Bride and Prejudice" (an excellent movie), I was inspired to check out from the library the work of two Indian authors, Jhumpa Lahiri and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Though the former has apparently won some award or other, I found her short story collection, Interpreter of Maladies, greatly inferior to all the books I've read by the latter. Divakaruni possesses the knack of creating rich stories and sympathetic characters while evoking culture and heritage and country in her style. Of the two books I just read, Sister of My Heart and its sequel The Vine of Desire, I liked the first one best even though it was clearly intended to have a sequel. The story follows the relationship between Anju and Sudha, girl cousins raised in the same house and so close they are more like twins in their intuition and intimacy. As they grow older the bond between them necessarily changes with experiences, but love, tragedy, secrets, husbands, pregnancy, and a move to America cannot keep them apart. I loved Sudha and the core of strength she possessed that kept her from compromising herself when she saw how harmful it could be, and I wished Anju had learned from her instead of retreating into victim-mode. Together the two books provided an interesting portrait of people who allow things in life to change them and people who change themselves.

Friday, March 25, 2005

I like Mother Earth News a lot. It's practical, useful, and inspiring, and it encourages individuals to change the world by starting in their own homes. Hence I'm disturbed when an article seems to contradict the purpose of the magazine with a statement like this:
...the environment has lost some of its sizzle as an electoral issue. The biggest issues in the last election appear to have been terrorism, the Iraq war, abortion, affordable health care and gay marriage. Although anyone looking back on this election 100 years form now will see climate disruption as vastly more important than any of these issues, few people voted in 2004 on the basis of climate policies or any other environmental issues. April/May 2005
Besides being impossible to prove, it's unrealistic--let's fix the whole world first, then worry about the problems right here at home, in our hearts and our families. I'm quick to agree that our planet is in trouble (though perhaps not as dire as one might be led to think), but so is our society, and claiming that one issue is greater than the other could be catastrophic. What's the use of saving the earth if we neglect the children of God? Do we really care more about the baby whales than the baby humans?

Environmentalism is important--the slaughter of innocents should no more occur in the wild than it should in abortion clinics--and at this point we probably do need loud-mouthed leaders for the cause, but they shouldn't try to emphasize one issue by scoffing at the others. What Mother Earth News tries to do is tremendously effective when it works, and that is to teach people to live their individual lives as if they were as important as the entire world. God requires us to be good stewards of every aspect of our lives--we can't neglect one thing in favor of another.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Once again I learn that not everyone can be a writer--or a good writer, at least--no matter how interesting the story to be told. I picked up On the Wing hopeful of a captivating narrative about falcons, but sadly Alan Tennant doesn't possess the knack for such an endeavor. His story is an unusual one, and I enjoyed reading about his travels, but he made the mistake of keeping too close to the actual experiences. There was no plot, no over-arcing connection to bind the adventures together. My editing fingers always start to itch when I read something like this that could have been so much better!

Yet I wouldn't discourage anyone from reading the book. Alan Tennant is a falcon research who spent several months following the migratory route of falcons from Texas to Alaska, and then back down to South America. It's a fascinating adventure as he and his pilot rattle across the country in a plane rather like the Millenium Falcon--they cross borders semi-legally, make emergency landings in the jungle, fly through a raptor "freeway", and are ecstatic every moment that the radio transmitter beeps and keeps them on the trail of the falcons. I couldn't bring myself to care much about his on-again off-again relationship with his long-suffering girlfriend, and the book ends on a note more bitter than sweet, but it was certainly worth reading--as is most anything about falcons.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Lars Walker says what I've been thinking about literature, and tried to express in my post on Virginia Woolf.
I found this meme at The Library of Babel, who in turn found it at The Little Professor. Which authors have you read ten or more books by?

L.M. Montgomery (she's the winning author on our bookshelves for number of books we own by one person--it's something like 25)
Charles de Lint (he's in 2nd or 3rd, vying with James Branch Cabell)
Louisa May Alcott
C.S. Lewis
Agatha Christie
Ellis Peters/Edith Pargeter
Charles Dickens
Jane Austen (if you count absolutely everything she wrote, including juvenilia and letters, I think that's somewhere around ten)
Ruth Rendell
Tamora Pierce
Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm
Maud Hart Lovelace
Beverly Cleary
Patricia Wrede
Elizabeth Peters
Patricia McKillip
Roald Dahl
E. Nesbit
Laura Ingalls Wilder
William Shakespeare
Madeleine L'Engle
Gladys Taber
A.S. Byatt
Robin McKinley
Elizabeth George
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Marguerite Henry
Walter Farley
Connie Willis
P.G. Wodehouse

That's all I can come up with for now, though I'm not including the various authors of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, etc. It's not as long a list as I would've expected, but of course, there are the authors who I would read ten books by if they'd written that many (yeah, Brontes, I'm talkin' to you).

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

You may have noticed the Mind and Media logo on my sidebar, just below the links--yes, I am an EXCLUSIVE REVIEWER. That's right. Ahem. Anyway, Mind and Media is a new business intended to help promote Christian authors via the blogging world, as well as being, in my understanding, a bit of an experiment to show how much of an impact blogs can have on advertising. I came across it either on Brandywine Books or a subsequent link, and thought it sounded like fun--get free books, talk about them on the blog, and, of course, become an EXCLUSIVE REVIEWER.

So I got my first book the other day. I'm supposed to post a logo of it, but can't figure out the HTML yet--maybe later. It's called Seeds of Destruction: Planting Destruction of America's Children, written and self-published by Georgiana Preskar and available from Amazon. First of all, the subtitle has got to go. It doesn't make much sense, and sounds as the author's goal is to destroy America's children, when in fact she's crying out against that destruction by society. Secondly, I'm beginning to realize that it simply isn't true that anyone can be a writer. Setting aside the issue of simple sentences and poor punctuation, there are people who just don't know how to tell a story. Ms. Preskar begins the book with an introduction that seems to lay a good foundation with the information that her town was just another quiet town until one man made national news by trying to get rid of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Great, thought I, so she's going to start here and show how our society is corrupted by these small actions. Then the first couple of chapters describe her and her husband's desperate grief when their son leaves for college. Besides being thrown off course, I found it disturbing that her son living 20 minutes away dragged her into such devastation and aimlessness. Maybe I'll understand when I'm a parent...

So far I've skimmed through nine chapters of the book. While I do agree with her general view that society is corrupting children, she needs at the very least a good editor (the book was edited by her family), or ideally a ghost writer. She doesn't know how to focus or create an argument, so each chapter leads to a new tangent and fresh rant on Nazis, homosexuality, TV violence--it's too much. I'm disappointed, because it sounded like an interesting book, but we'll see if things improve as I continue to read.

I should also mention that Mind and Media would like to have as many bloggers involved as possible, so visit the website if you're interested in receiving free books!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Sherry of Semicolon has asked if Virginia Woolf is indeed a militant feminist and hence to be avoided, or if she should take her daughter's advice and read her books. Now, in my somewhat vague mind militant feminism has something to do with bra-burning, so I'm not quite sure how to answer the question... I always take a book with me to work, since there is usually some down time where I haven't anything else to do. The servers, if they're not too busy either, will often come up and ask what I'm reading, and one guy in particular is always very interested. After a phase in which I'd brought in Elizabeth Gaskell, Virginia Woolf, and various other women authors, he asked if I ever read anything written by a man or if I was a feminist. Well, of course I read things written by men, but I didn't really know how to answer him either, partly because I find such labels limiting. Hence my highly articulate response: "Uh...I don't know." Another server standing nearby asked, "Well, do you shave your legs?" "Heavens, no!" said I promptly. She turned to the first server. "She's a feminist." This is the long way of saying I don't really know what a feminist is. I believe in the equality of human rights for everyone--men, women, children--and I think all three have been subjected to injustice over the course of history. If I'd lived--I was going to say during the time of suffrage, but really any time before now, I would certainly have joined in the women's rights movement, and I'm glad to live in a time when I can vote and get a job and support myself if necessary. On the other hand, I don't really want a career or success--just a family and quiet home life. But I think that's the goal of feminism, to give women that choice.

Virginia Woolf was concerned about the role of women in society. She gives examples of the common view of the time throughout all her novels, but I think most shockingly in The Voyage Out. I'd have to speak up too if I heard a real person say what Mr Dalloway does, in reference to suffragists picketing Parliament: "Nobody can condemn the utter folly and futility of such behaviour more than I do; and as for the whole agitation, well! may I be in my grave before a woman has the right to vote in England!" To make it worse, his wife agrees with him. Woolf found it imperative to reveal this idea of women as inferior, and call, in her own way, for equality. She does not claim that men and women are the same, but that they deserve equal basic human rights and acknowledgement.

That said, there's much more to her books than the subject of women's rights, just as there's much more to Dickens than the issue of poverty. I think all authors have some sort of social commentary woven into their writing--it's part of literature and part of life. We can learn so much from fiction that is more difficult to learn from philosophy and theology texts; after all, Jesus knew what he was doing when he told parables. But Virginia Woolf also has much to say, as I mentioned in my previous post, on the progression of life and thought within a seeking mind. Her writing makes me feel more myself than most other books, and more aware of my thought process, growth, and femininity; furthermore, like Jane Austen, I feel her effect on my own writing style. For these things I value her, as well as for her sparkling prose and rich characters.

I just discovered Vita Sackville-West, who is similar to Virginia Woolf (they were friends) in her writing and subject matter. Rebecca West and Willa Cather are also excellent authors of the period.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

I was feeling a little hungry for food writing the other day, so I picked up one of my favorites--M.F.K. Fisher's The Art of Eating. It's an omnibus of five of her books, some of which are amusingly revised. I like them all, but I think my particular favorite is The Gastronomical Me, mainly because it gives her personal history with food. It gets a little odd at the end, with vague mentions of her various partners in later life, but I always like reading about people's childhoods, especially the unusual ones.

How To Cook A Wolf was a welcome read as I'm trying to feed us economically--she describes how to cook cheaply yet still eat well. Of course, there's also the recipe for "Sludge", a dish for one's most impecunious times that I hope never to try. But it's good to be reminded that an excellent meal can be made of, for instance, eggs and a few vegetables--omelette, frittata, souffle, etc. Though I wouldn't call my cooking gourmet, I tend to think of beans and rice as my only options for inexpensive rations.

Serve It Forth is fun--a look at food throughout the ages, with much time spent on the oddities of medieval courts. It's interesting to realize how ideas about food have changed over the years. Even some of the things Fisher mentions as a normal part of her diet fifty years ago seem a bit unsavory to me, though not nearly as bad as the popular medieval seasoning of the liquid from fermented fish guts. Yum!

I read Consider the Oyster trying to think of the main ingredient as something other than the slippery, rubbery, briny, sandy object I gamely swallowed a couple of years ago after Odious and Peculiar had assured me of their merits. I want props for that willingness to try it, since afterwards I heartily agreed with Jack's description of the taste as like "licking the ocean floor". Anyway, I'm sorry I can't enjoy them with the same ecstasy that others, especially Fisher, seem to, but I must say they really are among the most disgusting things I've ever had in my mouth.

Not much to say about An Alphabet for Gourmets--sort of a smorgasbord of commentary, with various recipes. Fun, but not her best. Still, the entire collection is worth reading, and necessary for anyone serious about food.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

After making an attempt to read Kate Dicamillo's The Tale of Despereaux and finding it unpleasantly self-aware and poorly-written (maybe I should've read the whole thing, but I really don't know how it got a Newbery Award!), I was hesitant about Because of Winn-Dixie. Oddly enough it was the review of the recently released movie that inspired me to try the book, and I am so glad I did. I read it straight through when I was sick the other day, and it brightened my morning tremendously--I even laughed out loud several times, which rarely happens. Everything about the story was so sweet and genuine--a perfect children's book and an excellent one for adults to pick up now and then. I think one of the things I like about juvenile fiction is that it reminds me how the world can be viewed innocently and optimistically, and how rewarding simple things can be. If only we could keep that childlike ability to approach everyone in the same way, without the judgmental and critical qualities that grow with age.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Well, I thought I was done blogging for the day, but then I went surfing and found some memes to try and stuff to link to... so enjoy, you get extra for once.

Quite a few folks have done the meme about the first five movie quotes to pop into your head, so I won't try to attribute it to anyone. Here are mine--and this was hard (but fun), I'm not good at these things:

1. "'I know I'm different, but from now on I'm gonna try to be the same.' 'Same as what?' 'Same as people who aren't different.'" --What's Up, Doc?
2. "I'm so degradatated!" --Little Women
3. "That'll put marzipan in your pie plate, Bingo!" --Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 6
4. "I'll always remember what she wrote in the card--'Jesus loves winners.'" --Drop Dead Gorgeous
5. "She can have them--yes! I'll take them to her!" --The Two Towers

There are a couple other things I want to post, but I'm expecting a call about a job sometime this afternoon and don't want to stay online too long. So I'll save the rest for later, and end with this link to Semicolon's list of 100 things to do when you're bored.
Well, looks like once again my mother's gotten me hooked on something. She's been staying with us for the past month while she works on renovating the farmhouse she just bought, and as a treat after the long days of labor she's reading "potato chip" books--mysteries and thrillers of various ilk. I'm not sure what made her pick up Minette Walters, but as soon as she finishes one she has to stop at Barnes & Noble for the next. Anyway, she seemed so involved that I had to try one for myself, and of course burned through it in a night. More of a crime novel than a mystery, The Ice House is much darker and more twisted than any book I've read previously, yet I found myself addicted! I may not make them a steady diet, but I've already
picked up The Dark Room and will probably have to go through the rest that my mother's bought.

What I particularly liked about The Ice House was how much information was simply assumed by the detectives, the supporting characters, and, naturally, the reader. The main characters made it all too easy for generalizations to be made about them, which I found an interesting psychological trick. Also, while I love Inspector Wexford, Adam Dalgliesh, Benson and Stabler, etc, it was nice to see some detecting perhaps closer to reality. The officials on the case were far from sympathetic or objective, and often almost vindictive, while the other characters showed continued depth throughout the novel as well.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

I've been thinking about titles. It's always been difficult for me to come up with meaningful titles for my own stories--it's definitely an art, and one that I think few people possess. Certainly many writers have needed great help from their editors in choosing appropriate ones (which of the following screams classic to you--The Great Gatsby or Petruchio in West Egg?). One of the things I don't like about fantasy and mystery novels is that the titles often have so little to do with the story that I can't remember, after reading them, what they're about! Then, of course, there are the exceptions where the title is a succinct summary of the plot and adds little meaning or insight.

I began thinking about this as I was pondering a post on Virginia Woolf's The Voyage Out. Someone had asked me what the book was about, and I realized that in many ways it is indeed a voyage out. It's exactly the right way to describe the book, which is the story of a young girl "coming of age", if you will, beginning as a literal voyage on her father's ship with family friends who help draw her out of her innocent childhood into some understanding of life. Though the first of Woolf's novels, it has the same dexterity as later ones in illustrating the growth and progression of human life and thought. She tends to write about people who choose to progress, and are surrounded by many who have stunted themselves in a variety of ways; in this novel, the heroine Rachel seeks to know life and become someone, while her supposedly liberal and open-minded friend Helen is caught in her own web of superiority and cleverness.

Though I've never disliked any of Virginia Woolf's books (except perhaps The Waves, which, while again possessing an excellent and self-descriptive title, was rather too abstract for my pedestrian tastes), I particularly enjoyed this one and will be glad to peruse it again. I was surprised to find that Clarissa Dalloway was one of the secondary characters--and I didn't care for her at all! I assume it was the same woman as in the later novel, and perhaps Woolf decided to plumb her depths and discover what lay beneath the proper, party-giving, social veneer. Most illuminating. There's another interesting title--there's not much to the novel besides Mrs Dalloway, and it is at once who she is and who she is trying to escape. Neat. Then there's A Room of One's Own, although maybe that's cheating since it's not a novel, but it is the central idea of the book. I can't say much about To The Lighthouse, since it's been too long since last I read it, but again I think it's literal as well as symbolic.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Since the kind nod from Brandywine Books, I've had a flattering number of hits that have shamed me into posting. I've spent the past week reading about three books a day (it was kind of a bad week), yet I haven't much to say about any of them--mostly fantasy and juvenile fiction. Not that those aren't worth reviewing, but when I read that many at a time they all sort of blend together. A few of note:

Jenna Starborn, by Sharon Shinn. Oddly enough, an SF retelling of Jane Eyre. One of those things that either really works or really doesn't, and somehow in this case it worked. While the author stayed fairly close to the story, simply updating the time period, she cleverly changed a few things that made it her own yet kept the same feeling and atmosphere of the original. I really liked this, and will certainly try Sharon Shinn again.

Cart and Cwidder and Drowned Ammet, by Diana Wynne Jones. These are the first two books of the Dalemark Quartet, and I'm not quite sure how they're going to tie together, other than the common thread of rebellion and revolution. However, both were excellent stories on their own, which I always appreciate in a series, and Jones has a great style. (Also she grew up in Thaxted, a lovely little village in England that I was privileged enough to visit a few years ago.)

The Worldwide Dessert Contest, by Dan Elish. A very old favorite from my childhood--a funny, lighthearted story of a man who keeps coming in last in the dessert contest because at the last minute his desserts always turn into other things like trampolines, knee pads, super glue... Enter the rhyming Captain B. Rollie Ragoon and his roller-skating apple pies! Lots of fun.

The Winter Oak, by James A. Hetley. The sequel to The Summer Country, which I liked a great deal. Both are just the kind of fantasy I enjoy--urban, or mythic, as it's called. If only the characters weren't always abuse victims... Ah well. The scientist witch/cyber pagan in these books makes up for that.

Treve, by Albert Payson Terhune. I picked this up at a used bookstore in Portland for 35 cents! His Lad of Sunnybank books were among my favorites as a child, and this is one I read as well but didn't remember. A sentimental, manipulative, and perfectly wonderful story about, of course, a collie, and two men who own a sheep ranch.

A Stir of Bones, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. This is a prequel to a couple of her other books, which I won't name because her titles are much less memorable than the books themselves and I can never keep them straight. Anyway, it's about 4 children who discover a haunted house, and is a good backstory though somewhat thin on its own.

There are a few other books I want to post about at greater length, but as they are somewhat more edifying literature I think I will save them for another time.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Turns out Hugh Laurie is nearly as funny as P.G. Wodehouse! Makes me want to see the episodes again as well as reread the books, but since we just went to the library and I again ended up with a huge stack, perhaps they'll wait for another day.

Via Brandywine Books.