Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas! After a tedious drive through Portland this afternoon we rescued two sisters from the airport, and tomorrow will head up to my mother's house for a long weekend of feasting and fun. I can't wait. This week has been tough, for various reasons, and I really need the distraction of, well, Christmas. There are only two things that keep this weekend from promising perfection--one is that we are missing a sister, who has stubbornly decided to see what a holiday without her family is like. The other thing is a little silly, but I never like to leave my kitties at any time, and even though I know they have no idea it's Christmas, it feels sort of treacherous to leave them behind while we go have fun. What I'd really like is for everyone I love to be altogether in the same place, with nobody missing anything or anyone. But I guess that's for a life after this imperfect one.

Anyway, be well, be safe, and be happy. Share the love of Christ and rejoice in His birth!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

It's official: my husband and I are library junkies. Since we moved to this apartment in July, we've gotten into the habit of walking up to the library about three times a week, which feels slightly excessive. Sometimes I even check out books I know I won't ever read! Anyway, as a special treat for our anniversary today, we decided to drive over to a bigger library branch (don't worry, we're also going out for a nice dinner in about an hour), where we spent well over an hour wandering the stacks, every now and then meeting up to check out each other's treasures. We were worse than kids in a candy store; we were addicts. I found myself snatching books off the shelves as if it had been months since I'd visited a library (instead of last Saturday--yes, three days ago) and as if I'd never be in one again. And yes, we have been to this branch numerous times, but somehow today it was like a whole new world.

So this is what I found:

The Haunted Hotel, Wilkie Collins
"In the year 1860, the reputation of Doctor Wybrow as a London physician reached its highest point."

Making Your Small Farm Possible, Ron Macher
"When you are disking a field to plant corn, the sun is shining, and the earth smells fresh, you are probably not thinking about whether that process will make you money."

Onions in the Stew, Betty MacDonald
"For twelve years, we MacDonalds have been living on an island in Puget Sound."

The Gypsy, Steven Brust and Megan Lindholm
"There is something about the sound of the tambourine."

How To Start A Home-Based Craft Business, Kenn Oberrecht
"Among the many businesses that can be operated from a home, craft businesses are particularly suitable."

Blackbird House, Alice Hoffman
"It was said that boys should go on their first sea voyage at the age of ten, but surely this notion was never put forth by anyone's mother."

The Tooth Fairy, Graham Joyce
"Clive was on the far side of the green pond, torturing a king-crested newt."

Fitcher's Brides, Gregory Frost
"Crack! goes the whip. She flinches at the sound."

Child of a Rainless Year, Jane Lindskold
"Color is the great magic."

Isabel's Daughter, Judith Ryan Hendricks
"Once in history class I made a time line."

Launching Your Home-Based Business, David H. Bangs, Jr
"Do you dream of throwing in the corporate towel and having only yourself to answer to?"

The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Third Annual Collection
"The day that Donna and Piggy and Russ went to see the Edge of the World was a hot one." (Michael Swanwick, 'The Edge of the World')

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Reader beware: I've had coffee this morning. Odious and I do not drink coffee often, for the good reason that it makes both of us astonishingly unproductive. We spent over an hour at the dining table talking about our house plans; all well and good, but nothing actually got done. And since we have Christmas packages to box up and mail, gingerbread men to be frosted, and 7-layer bars to bake, coffee was perhaps a bad idea. On the other hand, I'm in a much better mood than I was upon waking.

Unrelated things that popped into my head as the coffee hit my bloodstream... I know most of you already read Odious and Peculiar, but for those of you who don't I must recommend this post. It tickled me exceedingly. The game was fun, too, though it took a little practice to give useful answers to the questions.

And (I told you this would be unrelated), with sufficent support, Diane Duane wants to write a third feline wizard book. If only I had $20 to pledge toward it at this point! Maybe in a few months... I've previously recommended the first of these books, The Book of Night with Moon, but it's certainly worth mentioning again. Most books with animal protagonists I find annoying; Watership Down and The Wind in the Willows are hard acts to follow. Diane Duane, however, makes feline wizards not only believable but probable; her writing has made me view our cats in a very different light. She has the ability (which I and most other people do not) of writing about animals as people without anthropomorphizing; that is to say, her feline wizards are cats, not humans in cat form. It's quite a remarkable talent.

Finally (these really should be separate posts, but I'm feeling lazy), I had a chance to play I'm Neek last night. I was in bed reading Nine Horses, as a pleasant compromise before I can get hold of Billy Collins' latest collection, The Trouble With Poetry, and one of the poems inspired me to get up and find my copy of Coventry Patmore's poetry. While I was up I grabbed the other book I was reading, and as I re-entered the room I realized that I was the only person in the world to be holding both Coventry Patmore and Wilkie Collins' No Name at the same time. Neek indeed.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

So Semicolon wants to know more about my list of novels that don't make you want to kill yourself. Always happy to oblige! Of the five she mentioned, I've previously reviewed Bread Alone, The Deed of Paksenarrion, and Tam Lin. The review of Bread Alone includes a decent synopsis, but the other two are not so clear. Both are fantasy novels, I'll say right off, since I know there are those who don't enjoy the genre. The Deed of Paksenarrion, by Elizabeth Moon, is a "sword and sorcery" fantasy, about a young girl who runs away from her father's sheep farm to join the army. Paks is one of my favorite characters ever, because she is really and truly good without thinking about it; she knows what is right and she follows it unerringly. After such a description one would expect her to be boring, but in fact she is one of the most interesting and multidimensional characters in the fantasy genre, and her story unusual and thrilling. This book also deals with religion better than any other fantasy book I've read; it is an integral part of the world, and, despite being polytheistic, is realistic and believable. I should mention that it's quite long, being actually a trilogy (Sheepfarmer's Daughter, Divided Allegiance, and Oath of Gold), and has two companion novels (Surrender None and Liar's Oath); this is not a problem for me, being a speed-reader, but be forewarned that these are the sort of books that keep you glued to the page.

Tam Lin has a similar quality, though it also benefits from careful perusal and multiple readings. Pamela Dean's writing is deceptively clear and simple, yet numerous tricks and treasures lie below the surface, as well as more quotes than anyone could possibly identify (even the author, though the attempt has been made). I'm not sure why I chose this one for the list rather than her most recent, Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary; perhaps because Tam Lin is slightly more accessible for those new to Pamela Dean. It falls into the category of contemporary or urban fantasy, also known as mythic fiction, set in the modern world yet always on the edge of Faerie. When Janet Carter matriculates at Blackstock College, the world of Faerie is far from her mind; and indeed throughout most of the book there is little to cause her (or the reader) to suspect how close to it she is. The group of odd young men with whom she and her roommates become friends (and further) are only a little odder than any students at a liberal arts school, although the head of the Classics department is decidedly out of the ordinary. Still, it is only small things (the ghost of a female suicide, strange Halloween parties and costumes, the young men's names) that are clearly not part of a normal college experience, until the spectacular denouement in which the ballad of Tam Lin becomes a reality.

I suppose Possession could be called a fantasy, since (to my mother's and my great annoyance) the Victorian poets whose lives it follows are NOT REAL. This is to keep you from searching everywhere for their works. Ahem. Anyway, other than that it's straight literature, even with A.S. Byatt's particular style and lyrical prose. I will warn you that this is a long book as well, only because it's easy to get bogged down among the Victorian poetry and minutiae of the story; once you get to the end, however, you will understand why I've included it in my list. It has indeed been made into a movie, with only moderate success--there's simply too much to be translated to the screen. An unlikely pair of scholars, one interested in the fairly popular poet William Ash, the other in the barely known Christabel LaMotte, find their research paths crossing as they read letters, journals, and stories of the two Victorians, until more than one surprising secret comes to light.

I'm not quite sure how to approach a description of In Pursuit of Love. Putting it on a list of novels may be somewhat misleading, since it is the highly autobiographical account of the Mitford family, a crazy group of utterly dissimilar characters. The book is quite amusing to read, but living in the family sounds like hell, with the inept parents (the shouting father who hunted his children when foxes were scarce and the loving but inattentive mother) and seven wild children, who all grew up so different as to make one question their relation to each other. It's generally to be found in one volume with its sequel, Love in a Cold Climate.

Bread Alone I've already summarized pretty well, in the link above, so I'll just add here that I recently reread it and can hardly think of anything better to recommend for a light entertaining read. The descriptions of the bakery are particularly delightful to me, but the whole story is sweet and enjoyable and certainly does not make you want to kill yourself.

Friday, December 09, 2005

It took me a while to finish Their Eyes Were Watching God. This was partly because the book was so unlike what I'd expected; the back cover blurb implied that while the main character had to survive two difficult marriages, the love she finally found was true and meaningful. Boy, if I ever meet a man like Tea Cake, I'll run in the opposite direction. Janie had only known him for a little while before he stole her money and sneaked off to gamble it, and that was only the beginning. Granted, she went with him because she wanted to, and enjoyed the life they lived, but from a practical point of view, he took her from relative prosperity and made her work alongside him in the fields. He beat her up at least, once, too, and she didn't seem to mind! And if they had meaningful conversations, it was all in dialect, which grows tiresome to read. I suppose all in all it was a "classic of black literature" (talk about damning with faint praise), but it was so different from my expectation that I found it slow going. Ah well.

Other than that, I've been gobbling up mysteries and crime novels--grey weather puts me in the mood for books that grab me and don't let go. And now that I'm among the unemployed, all I want to do is read... Oh yes, I too have been laid off by the oh-so-charming family-owned restaurant. While it may very well be for the best, it's still irksome. Fortunately I'm still giddy with freedom and don't much mind yet!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Semicolon listed the Christmas songs she doesn't like, after reading which Odious gave an excellent demonstration of what he does to people who sing "Jingle Bell Rock". Sometimes he overreacts to things.

I have to say, I really can't think of any Christmas songs I hate. After a while I do get tired of them, but probably the only ones that make me roll my eyes at the opening bars are "Jingle Bells" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town". Mostly I just love Christmas. I love shopping for gifts for the people I love, putting up decorations (my Christmas lights are currently shedding a cozy glow from our balconies), baking goodies, attending Advent church services, planning gifts for those in need or choosing a charity, making my own gifts, writing Christmas cards, reading all the delightful Christmas stories and watching our long list of movies... it's a good time of year.