Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Merry Christmas everyone!

An email from Sherry at Semicolon reminded me that I'd dropped out of the blogging world without any explanation, so I thought I'd post quickly to let anyone who still visits know what's happening. Odious and I usually decide to make a whole bunch of life changes all at once, and this year has been no different. We finally moved out to the country a few weeks ago, just in time to prepare for the birth of our first baby next month. We're tremendously excited and looking forward to meeting little Sam or Rose; I will be sure to post updates and photos after the great occasion. In the meantime, while Internet service is still sketchy out in the boonies, I'm no longer working and will have a little more time on my hands. Since I've been reading lots of good stuff, perhaps I'll return to blogging--I do miss it!

Monday, September 18, 2006

I'm coming off a long phase of reading junk. Fortunately the realization that I was getting tired of it came along with the realization that filling my brain with nothing but pot-boilers (books and TV) was taking a toll and making me feel very depressed. I need more to chew on than Ruth Rendell, Alias, and Law & Order! So I took myself in opposite directions by beginning George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, which has been sitting on my nightstand for months, and renting the extraordinarily fluffy film "50 First Dates". It was good to think about real characters; it was good to laugh out loud.

So Peculiar thinks that I read every book I buy. Ha! If I didn't have constant access to libraries, I might, but those plastic jackets and spine markings have a pull on me that exceeds even the lure of smooth new paperbacks or rough-edged secondhand hardcovers. Since I'm not at home right now, and most of our books are packed up in hopeful preparation for moving, I don't think I can put together a list of ten books I've bought and not read, but I can probably come up with a few.

I've probably owned Rebecca West's The Birds Fall Down longer than Peculiar has, but it's now in a stack to read instead of on the shelf! I don't know why I've procrastinated on it, since The Thinking Reed is one of my favorite books--maybe I should check it out from the library...

I've had Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl, by Harriet Jacobs, only a year or so--I bought it as part of a buy-2-get-1-free Barnes & Noble deal, because it looked interesting.

This one may not count, since I have read bits of it, but I bought a copy of the Apocrypha my sophomore year of college. I intend to read it all, I really do! Just not today.

Annie Dillard's The Living has only been in my possession since the last library book sale (this spring?). I've only read her non-fiction, so it should be interesting; this may be next after Deronda.

That's all I can think of right now; maybe I'll update tomorrow from home.

P.S. Sherry from Semicolon warned me from bothering with Christopher Paolini's Eldest; she was right. I checked it out from the library, sat down and read about 2 chapters, and chucked it back in the return slot. Bor--ing!

Friday, August 25, 2006

Since I first heard about Christopher Paolini's novel Eragon, I figured I should probably read it out of homeschooler solidarity if nothing else. I picked it up a few times at bookstores, but wasn't interested enough to buy a copy, and its surprising popularity made it difficult to find at the library. Finally a couple weeks ago I saw a copy in one of the library displays and decided to check it out. Reading it made me wonder why I hadn't pursued publishing any of my fifteen-year-old scribblings! I wanted to rewrite almost every sentence, and as for the subject matter--there's little that can't be directly traced to well-known fantasy sources, mostly Tolkien.

For those who don't know the story, a teenaged boy named Eragon stumbles across a strange stone in the forest only he is comfortable entering. Unsurprisingly for the reader, the stone soon hatches a dragon that must be kept hidden from Eragon's family and fellow villagers, since dragons are believed to be extinct. But it's hard to conceal (and feed) an enormous flying creature, and all too soon Eragon is attacked by dark hooded riders and the bestial Urgals. Enter Gandalf/Professor Dumbledore/Obi-Wan Kenobi/wise yet mysterious advisor, who refuses to share his history yet expects Eragon to trust him fully. Back and forth across the Empire they flee, pursued by Nazgul and Orcs, trying to escape the Eye of Sauron--er, excuse me, all-powerful Emperor Galbatorix (who came to power by kicking his rival in the crotch during their final battle--clearly, supreme evil)--and figure out how Eragon can become a full-fledged Dragon Rider.

It's truly a story written by a fifteen-year-old boy. Nearly every conflict is solved with violence, even the most minor of surprises. It's not long before Eragon discovers his dragon-enhanced magic, which mostly means that he can kill things from a distance. So he does. People get mad at him, but it doesn't really help. Clearly the best enemy is a dead enemy, and anyway, it's more exciting that way. Thus most of the book is taken up with traveling and violence, until finally they reach the Mines of Moria and receive a brief respite while Paolini writes the next book in the trilogy.

To be fair, I've got Eldest on hold at the library, and am interested enough in Eragon's story to read the whole thing and find out what happens next. Hopefully the author's writing will improve with age, and perhaps he'll even branch out into original territory. I just can't help thinking what I thought about Charles de Lint's recently published first stories--there's a reason for practice, and first drafts, and rejections. After a while, you get better! Paolini seems to have the stamina for fantasy novels, and probably could produce something of merit in time, but it's kind of unfortunate that his first attempt is out there to embarrass him forever.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Though I originally started this blog to recommend books, I've found it's so much more fun to not recommend them. If I like a book, I feel that's all I have to say--read it, you'll like it too. But if I don't like a book, well then I have to tell you exactly why!

And Odious thinks I should share my outrage (since I shared it with him) concerning a fantasy novel whose reviewer had the gall to deem it "in some ways reminiscent of the Newford stories of Charles de Lint". Ha! I'll readily admit that Charles de Lint may be somewhat lacking in elegant prose and flowing style, but at least he has the knack of creating characters with whom I want to be friends, and neighborhoods in which I want to live, and stories that can be completely captivating. Not so David Herter.

I shudder to think what his first novel must have been like, as one assumes authors get better as they go along. Evening's Empire is his second attempt, and I really can't imagine what the editors at Tor Books were thinking when, first of all, they chose to publish this book, and second of all, they apparently fired their copy editors.

When I first read Ruth Rendell's excellent story, "From Piranha to Scurfy", I could immediately relate to the main character, whose self-employment consists of buying newly released hardbacks, reading them for errors, and writing polite letters to the authors to inform them of all mistakes. I sympathize now even more. My first inkling that David Herter might be overrated came when his protagonist mentioned that he was writing an opera to be produced in Santa Fe on March 17.

Only if he didn't actually want anyone to come to it!

As anyone who's ever been to the Santa Fe Opera knows, the opera house has no walls. The front of the building is completely open to the outside, which is marvelous and stunning and great fun (I still remember the coinciding thunderstorms during Janacek's "Katya Kabanova"). It also means that the opera season runs June-August, for the very good reason that nights during the rest of the year are far too cold for outdoor performances.

So it seems Mr Herter has not done his opera homework. And Tor Books needs to hire more copy editors. Indeed, they seem to have allowed this book to be published without editing of any kind. Useless conversations, sentence fragments, and clumsy style abound, but it wasn't until I read the description of a woman "gliding ebulliently" over the dance floor that I nearly threw the book across the room.

I'm currently composing the first draft of my letter to David Herter: "Dear Sir, Please stop writing." And my email to Tor Books: "To Whom It May Concern: I would like to offer my services as a copy editor." I'll keep you updated.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

"A woman of seven-and-twenty," said Marianne, after pausing a moment, "can never hope to feel or inspire affection again..." --Sense and Sensibility

I'd forgotten what extremes Elinor and Marianne are, as if Jane Austen set out to create caricatures for her title. Their temperaments are so defined that I think it would be difficult to spend any time with them, which I've never felt about any other Austen characters. I do believe Marianne is the only person I've ever seen actually fall into the depths of despair. When Elinor enters Marianne's room after Willoughby's rejection letter has arrived, Marianne thrusts the packet in Elinor's hands, presses a handkerchief to her mouth, and "fairly scream[s] with grief." Once she falls in love with Willoughby, nothing else can entertain her; when he is absent she has interest in nothing; and after his rejection she cannot even see another person without falling into another paroxysm. Elinor is remarkably compassionate towards her; I'd be inclined to give her a good smack.

Compare these reactions to Elinor's state when she learns that Edward Ferrars has been secretly engaged to Lucy Steele the whole time he has been acquainted with the Dashwoods. She is, naturally, shocked at the news, but instead of retiring permanently to her bedroom, does her best to rationalize the situation and gain an understanding of what must have happened between the two young people. Of course she is unable to share the knowledge with anyone, since Lucy has entreated her to keep the affair secret, and yet it is difficult to imagine that anyone could be capable of fashioning such perfect composure. She can even bring herself to mention the matter again to Lucy, and discuss it calmly despite suspecting the other girl's jealousy.

Odious thinks that their temperaments build off each other: that Marianne increases her passion and emotional state because she thinks Elinor should express herself more; and Elinor retreats into her rational shell because she wishes Marianne would be more restrained. There is certainly some truth to this, but I still wouldn't enjoy an afternoon with them as much as I would with the Bennetts.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Paul's henhouse is better than ours.

Well, okay, maybe not better, necessarily, but it does look like he actually measured stuff and had real plans and all that. I had been inclined to think such things were overrated, but after spending two days digging into subsoil with a trowel because our site was much farther from level than we'd thought, I decided maybe we should consider having pretty detailed plans once we're ready to build an actual house. But the Olin P.T. Younger Memorial Chicken Fortress stands proud, and is certainly not going to be blown away by stray breezes. And once we paint it a delicate pink, no one will notice the miscut plywood.

I recently said to Odious that I didn't want to post about a particular incident because I wanted to keep this a book blog rather than an online journal. Well, since I really don't feel like posting about books today, I'll tell you about the latest farm adventures instead. The chicken fortress will indeed be done once we get around to painting it, and the chicks are due next week. And not only do we have a real bee hive, it's now filled with real bees! (Or at least it was on Monday; we have not heard to the contrary.) Odious and I picked up our little nucleus Monday morning--a gently buzzing wooden box that turned out to be not quite as well-built as one might hope. Fortunately only a few escapees met sad deaths before we got the crack covered and made the rest of our 1 1/2 hour journey safely.

Once at the farm, Odious cavalierly slung the bee veil over his head, scorning the sturdy yellow gloves provided with our starter kit from Dadant, and strode with manly purpose out to the hive. Prying the lid off the box, he stared down for a moment at the the three frames swarming with docile but nervous bees, then turned to me and said in a tone that he claims was not more high-pitched than usual, "Why don't you go get those gloves?"

Bees are not difficult creatures, but they don't like to be fussed with. Any dealings with them should be brief and assured, and beginning beekeepers are, understandably, anything but. Despite the croonings in French (don't ask me), the bees were somewhat disturbed by their transfer. I still have a red welt on my temple, and Odious, with more French, pulled seven stingers out of various extremities. He's still immoderately enamored of the petits soeurs, though he's decided to take them rather more seriously next time.

Our next project? Rabbit hutches, for those freakiest of animals. Odious drew up the plans yesterday during a store meeting, where he was also presented with a customer service award. His prize? A $50 gift card, which will certainly come in handy. And a medal. Yep, that's right. The kind that hangs round your neck. We're going to hang it in a place of honor. I'm just disappointed he didn't get a plaque.

Friday, May 12, 2006

I crossed another book off my 2006 list the other day--Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie. I liked it enough that I'll probably try An American Tragedy too, although I'm not sure exactly why I liked it. For one thing, there were too many similarities to The Jungle--the sort of descriptions one reads with horror, and characters that one wants to believe could never exist. But there was also the same fascination that drew me quickly through it, watching the downfall of one character and the rise to glory of another.

And yet it doesn't take Dreiser's blatantly obvious ending to show that Carrie is actually somewhat lacking in glory. Throughout the book she lives by following other people, which serves her better than perhaps it should, but she never really thinks about what she might want, or what sort of person she might like to be. It may not be possible to consider these things when one must find a way to make money or starve, but Carrie's character is so different from the others in the novel that it's surprising that she is so willing to go wherever she's led.

In the end Carrie ought to be happy, in her secure position as a well-respected actress, with all the money she needs, a bevy of friends, and a posh hotel apartment, but, of course, she's not. How much better off is she than her seducer, Hurstwood, who comes to quite an unfortunate end? Dreiser says not much, and I have to agree.

Friday, May 05, 2006

My mother raised me well: I get more excited about a library booksale than almost anything else in the world. Despite getting to bed later than planned last night, I bounced up this morning ready to dig through other people's trash and find my own treasures. There's something so intoxicating about a room full of cheap, random, disorganized books--I feel a little crazed sometimes, trying to see everything at once before anyone else beats me to it.

Odious and I arrived at the library this morning 15 minutes before it opened. To my surprise we were the first ones there, but then I remembered that most people are not like Johnnies, willing to stand in line for an hour or more just to be the first one to caress and pore over those precious tomes. Most people are also not like my mother, who signed us all up to volunteer when she discovered that assisting the librarians with set-up meant first crack at the books (not to mention a 50% discount--I remember driving home, sated, with a carful of boxes that cost us somewhere around $40).

I think if I went through and counted, I'd find that at least half of our substantial personal library consists of 50-cent rejects. While a number of books gleaned from these sales have been re-donated (paperback mysteries, disappointing sci-fi, accidental duplicates), we've gained quite a few prizes. None, perhaps, as exciting as Steve's signed first edition rarity (it was not a book I'd ever heard of, but apparently quite valuable), but I think the James Branch Cabell set I nabbed for Odious our freshman year may be one of the reasons he married me. And who wouldn't be pleased to count among their possessions lovely old hardback classics, dedicated with swooping Victorian penmanship, to "dearest Ida" or "Augustus on his twelfth birthday, with love"? And of course there are the completely random finds, like the collection of satirical mini-biographies of famous authors, illustrated by Edward Gorey, that fell into my hands at the last sale.

What did I find today, you ask? Well, sadly, nothing much. We had only a scant half-hour to buzz through the room, but even so I saw a lot of books from the last sale(this library has highfalutin ideas about booksale pricing). So, aside from a couple nice gifts for people who read this blog (hi!), I picked up Ann Radcliffe's gothic novel The Italian, the basic writings of Freud (well, he's interesting!), a Katherine Anne Porter novel, several collections of short stories (D.H. Lawrence and Willa Cather), and possibly something else that I'm forgetting. Odious's finds included a computer book about 3 inches thick and a new-to-us Arturo Perez-Reverte.
He's happy, but I'll be going back on Sunday...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Books by Women Meme

Just BOLD those you’ve read, ITALICIZE the ones you’ve been meaning to read and ??? the ones you have never heard of (or wish you had never heard of? Or the ones you wonder, "why is this book on this list?")

Alcott, Louisa May–Little Women
Allende, Isabel–The House of Spirits
Angelou, Maya–I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Atwood, Margaret–Cat’s Eye
Austen, Jane–Emma
Bambara, Toni Cade–Salt Eaters ??
Barnes, Djuna–Nightwood ??
de Beauvoir, Simone–The Second Sex
Blume, Judy–Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret
Burnett, Frances–The Secret Garden
Bronte, Charlotte–Jane Eyre
Bronte, Emily–Wuthering Heights
Buck, Pearl S.–The Good Earth
Byatt, A.S.–Possession
Cather, Willa–My Antonia
Christie, Agatha–Murder on the Orient Express

Cisneros, Sandra–The House on Mango Street
Clinton, Hillary Rodham–Living History?????????
Cooper, Anna Julia–A Voice From the South??
Danticat, Edwidge–Breath, Eyes, Memory??
Davis, Angela–Women, Culture, and Politics??
Desai, Anita–Clear Light of Day??
Dickinson, Emily–Collected Poems
Duncan, Lois–I Know What You Did Last Summer??????????
DuMaurier, Daphne–Rebecca
Eliot, Geroge–Middlemarch

Emecheta, Buchi–Second Class Citizen
Erdrich, Louise–Tracks
Esquivel, Laura–Like Water for Chocolate
Flagg, Fannie–Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Friedan, Betty–The Feminine Mystique
Frank, Anne–Diary of a Young Girl
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins–The Yellow Wallpaper

Gordimer, Nadine–July’s People??
Grafton, Sue–S is for Silence
Hamilton, Edith–Mythology
Highsmith, Patricia–The Talented Mr. Ripley
Hooks, Bell–Bone Black??
Hurston, Zora Neale–Dust Tracks on the Road
Jacobs, Harriet–Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Jackson, Helen Hunt–Ramona
Jackson, Shirley–The Haunting of Hill House
Jong, Erica–Fear of Flying
Keene, Carolyn–The Nancy Drew Mysteries (any of them)
Kidd, Sue Monk–The Secret Life of Bees

Kincaid, Jamaica–Lucy
Kingsolver, Barbara–The Poisonwood Bible
Kingston, Maxine Hong–The Woman Warrior
Larsen, Nella–Passing??
L’Engle, Madeleine–A Wrinkle in Time
Le Guin, Ursula K.–The Left Hand of Darkness
Lee, Harper–To Kill a Mockingbird
Lessing, Doris–The Golden Notebook
Lively, Penelope–Moon Tiger
Lorde, Audre–The Cancer Journals??
Martin, Ann M.–The Babysitters Club Series?????????????
McCullers, Carson–The Member of the Wedding
McMillan, Terry–Disappearing Acts
Markandaya, Kamala–Nectar in a Sieve??
Marshall, Paule–Brown Girl, Brownstones??
Mitchell, Margaret–Gone with the Wind
Montgomery, Lucy–Anne of Green Gables

Morgan, Joan–When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost??
Morrison, Toni–Song of Solomon
Murasaki, Lady Shikibu–The Tale of Genji
Munro, Alice–Lives of Girls and Women
Murdoch, Iris–Severed Head
Naylor, Gloria–Mama Day
Niffenegger, Audrey–The Time Traveller’s Wife
Oates, Joyce Carol–We Were the Mulvaneys??
O’Connor, Flannery–A Good Man is Hard to Find
Piercy, Marge–Woman on the Edge of Time??
Picoult, Jodi–My Sister’s Keeper
Plath, Sylvia–The Bell Jar
Porter, Katharine Anne–Ship of Fools
Proulx, E. Annie–The Shipping News
Rand, Ayn–The Fountainhead

Ray, Rachel–365: No Repeats???????????
Rhys, Jean–Wide Sargasso Sea
Robinson, Marilynne–Housekeeping??
Rocha, Sharon–For Laci??
Sebold, Alice–The Lovely Bones
Shelley, Mary–Frankenstein
Smith, Betty–A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Smith, Zadie–White Teeth
Spark, Muriel–The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Spyri, Johanna–Heidi

Strout, Elizabeth–Amy and Isabelle??
Steel, Danielle–The House
Tan, Amy–The Joy Luck Club
Tannen, Deborah–You’re Wearing That??
Ulrich, Laurel–A Midwife’s Tale
Urquhart, Jane–Away??
Walker, Alice–The Temple of My Familiar
Welty, Eudora–One Writer’s Beginnings
Wharton, Edith–Age of Innocence
Wilder, Laura Ingalls–Little House in the Big Woods

Wollstonecraft, Mary–A Vindication of the Rights of Women
Woolf, Virginia–A Room of One’s Own

Saturday, April 15, 2006

I'm trying to remember why exactly I was so eager to acquire employment. Oh, right, the dwindling bank balance... If only work didn't interfere so much with my life--it's really quite vexing. And despite working in the same building--within winking distance--of my dear husband, the time we have together has shrunk to car rides and sleep. Perhaps because of this I find myself growing even more affectionate towards him (ah, absence), although I think it also has something to do with reading the much-maligned Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.

Yes, I was a scoffer too, but the book's got merit! Even Odious agreed that there was something to it, though he complained about the generalization. Unfortunately such books require a certain degree of generalization, and in this case John Gray, PhD, has gotten pretty close to the mark. His analogy of Martians and Venusians quickly ceases to amuse, but there is much within this book that I found helpful and enlightening. It gave me a little window into the male psyche (don't worry, guys, just a little one!) that has been tremendously freeing. Because I understand his reactions and intentions better, I can stop worrying about whether or not he's okay and just enjoy the fact that I have a fantastic husband who does laundry and dishes without being asked as long as he's allowed to play computer games!

I think the most interesting thing to me was the realization that relationships got difficult right around the time the word "relationship" started to mean something. Marriage as a friendship and partnership is a wonderful development for which I am truly grateful, yet it carries a myriad of problems. Men and women now seem to rely on each other for everything, which can be trying because of our differences. Communities and families have changed so that a husband and wife are expected to provide support of all kinds for each other, and sometimes it doesn't work out so well because we don't understand each other. While appreciating "relationships", we need also to seek out other supports as well as learning more about the differences between men and women. So, if you can get past the shame of carrying this book up to the counter of Barnes and Noble or your local library, I do recommend it--the guy's got some decent ideas.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

My dear husband has just gotten me hooked on a YA fantasy series: Midnighters, by Scott Westerfeld. After mentioning that the books were quite enjoyable, he left the first one lying temptingly on the coffee table, where I picked it up in innocence this morning. Now I'm blogging instead of starting the second one, because there's no way I can finish before going to work in 45 minutes. But maybe I should try... Nope, I'll be good and save it for my lunch break--oh yeah, that's a great idea.

The series is based on a concept that reminds me of various other books and movies--nothing terrifically groundbreaking. But Westerfeld's style is gripping and fast-paced, with Nancy Drew-like short chapters ending in cliffhangers so that it's nearly impossible to stop reading, even when you have to drive your husband to work in five minutes. It's the story of a handful of teenagers in Bixby, OK, where every day lasts twenty-five hours. At midnight there's a secret hour that most people don't know exists, which these kids use for exploring and learning more about the history of the town and the other creatures that inhabit the darkness. Four of the kids have specific talents, but the new girl seems to be an anomaly when she first arrives in town. The first book, The Secret Hour, introduces the kids and builds up to the discovery of Jessica's talent, while the second, Touching Darkness, goes further into the mystery of the darkling creatures. I can't wait to immerse myself in it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I've been told my last post was a little odd--apparently I should stick to books and keep musings like that for my journal. Ah well.

Fortunately I have several books to mention--I've read some good stuff lately. Last night I finished Richard Wright's Native Son, which perhaps I shouldn't categorize as "good stuff"; however, I read it in two days. I hated it, first off: the story was grim and depressing and the main character unbelievably awful; and yet I found it strangely compelling. At the beginning I expected it to be one of those books I'd have to force myself to read a few pages of each day, spurring myself on with competitive thoughts of crossing it off my list, but instead I was drawn in, reading great chunks at a time in a disturbing eagerness to learn what might happen next. Odious said he put it down in disgust at the first gruesome occurence; perhaps I'm more bloodthirsty than he! Whatever the reason, I found Bigger Thomas's story an interesting one. I was going to say his descent into madness, or corruption, was interesting, but since his entire life was one of corruption and degradation, the crimes he committed were almost an ascent. Through the guidance of Mr. Max he became aware of himself and his reasons for doing things, and though that certainly didn't help him much, the story is effective in a way I wouldn't have supposed.

Now, the other book I was going to discuss is too different to include in the same post, so I'll return to it later. Thanks to the weirdness of our new work schedule, I'll be spending a lot of time in the Lake Oswego Public Library, which has excellent computers, so posting may be more frequent.

Before I go, however, here's a joke I read this morning, courtesy of Elle Jay, who got it from someone else. I just love jokes like this.

A neutron walks into a bar. The barkeeper says, "For you, no charge!"

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Godfrey: May I be frank?
Irene: Is that your name?
Godfrey: No, my name is Godfrey.
Irene: Oh. Well, be Frank.

--My Man Godfrey

So I'm going to be Frank: I'm having a hard time with these posts from Jack and Odious. When I first read Pascal, I thought he was exactly right about the human urge to be distracted from wretchedness, but it's only recently that I've realized I don't have that urge. Oh, sure, there are times when I watch TV or read a mystery novel because I don't want to think about cleaning the house, but for the most part, if I'm wretched I'm just wretched (and everyone knows about it). My journal entries will certainly attest to my tendency towards self-flagellation, while my husband will attest to my tendency towards tackling problems the second they arise--in parking lots, bathrooms, hiking trails, and other random spots. I have an almost pathological fear of turning a blind eye to things that bother me, much to his dismay. Why is this? I don't know, but it's certainly linked to my often brutal honesty. I can't hide my feelings; I can't pretend things are okay when they're not; I can't spend very long being wretched. So I pour out all the things simmering in my head--to God, to Odious, to my mother, to my journal--and then, pretty much, I'm okay. And that's just the way I am. This, too, is the way I am, that I have to make sure to add the disclaimer that I don't think Jack and Odious are wrong, far from it--I just don't understand.

Okay, so now I'm going to stop being Frank and go back to being Godfrey--er, I mean Kate.

Mental Multivitamin linked to this list of books "every adult should read before they die". If you can get past the shocking grammar of that sentence, here's the list (I've read the ones in bold):

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Bible
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkien
1984 by George Orwell
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

All Quiet on the Western Front by E M Remarque
His Dark Materials Trilogy by Phillip Pullman
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
Tess of the D'urbevilles by Thomas Hardy
Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
The Prophet by Khalil Gibran
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Middlemarch by George Eliot
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzenhitsyn

Apparently I've got eight to go--not bad. Of course, I doubt I'll actually read those eight, other than All Quiet on the Western Front and possibly The Time Traveller's Wife because my mother recommended it. It's certainly a bizarre list, but then, librarians are an odd bunch. (I think I'm allowed to make that comment since I once was a librarian, or at least a library assistant. Anyway, no offense to Librarianne!)

And how I am doing on my own list? Well, I've gotten a bit distracted by reading at whim lately (mostly Elizabeth George, I must admit), but I think for three months' progress I'm doing pretty well. So far the best has been Death Comes To The Archbishop. I'm always surprised at how good Willa Cather's novels are, and I don't know why I should be--of the eight or so that I've read, there hasn't yet been a doozy. Her prose is clear and lucid and elegant, and her characters so thoughtfully created that they make me want to cry; I can't recommend her enough. I'd shied away from this book previously, for reasons lost to my memory, but I loved every word of the quietly good priest's life.

And finally, I've found some books that I REALLY want. I was reading The Old Schoolhouse homeschooling magazine at Borders today, and discovered this website and these lovely books illustrated by a homeschooler whose name is so familiar that I believe she was the friend of a friend years ago. At some point I will purchase at least one of her books, but I've had my splurge for today (no, not at Borders--at a restaurant supply store. I bought a pizza cutter, a fine mesh strainer, a pastry brush, and a rubber spatula--oh so exciting). Later, after a few more paychecks have rolled in...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Jack is back! That, and the exhortation that it is my duty to recommend books to my friends, and a day off, all combine to put me in front of the computer determined to write something.

I've been reading Elizabeth George's mysteries as if there were an infinite supply; after getting off work yesterday, I read two. No, I didn't do anything else. It was nice, but I think I might be ready for a break, which is good because I think I've reread them all within the past few weeks. Besides this potato chip fare, I've been reading more Iris Murdoch, who I like quite well. I'm not sure why she isn't a more well-known writer, because her style is unusual and seems to have affected literature in general. It may be, however, because she wrote so many novels without producing any that particularly stand out from the rest; it'd be difficult to choose one for a high school English class or a 100 best novels list, for example. Indeed, of the five or six that I've read, it's hard to choose a "favorite" or even one that I'd say was specifically well-done. For the first time I'm having the experience of liking the author more than her books, or maybe outside of her books.

If I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be one I read a few weeks ago--An Unofficial Rose. I might never have picked this one up, since our library branch doesn't have it, were it not for a book of essays I found at Powell's last year. I believe I mentioned it at the time, since I'm always pleased to find anything by A.S. Byatt. This book, Imagining Characters, is a collection of discussions Byatt had with a friend, a psychologist named Ignes Sodre, and has proved quite fascinating and insightful on Mansfield Park, Villette, and The Professor's House thus far. Because the two women discuss the books so deeply, I wanted to read each book before reading its companion discussion, so that's why I sought out An Unofficial Rose.

One might make the claim that Murdoch's books aren't really about anything--there's not much of a plot to summarize or a conclusion to analyze. But before you turn away with a yawn of disinterest, let me say that in my opinion, they're about something crucially important and largely misunderstood. In The Magus, John Fowles says that "Men see objects and women see the relationship between objects"; well, Iris Murdoch had astonishingly clear vision. In all her novels she explores the strangenesses of relationships and the way people interact with each other, to an almost excruciating degree. To her there is nothing more absorbing than the ways people live their lives, and I'm inclined to agree.

If I were to attempt a summary of this novel, it would read something like a soap opera episode (the blurb on the back of my library copy was appalling): When Hugh's wife dies, he decides to go back to his mistress Emma. Emma's companion, Lindsey, is having an affair with Randall, Hugh's son. Randall has a fight with his wife Ann and leaves the house. His daughter Miranda flirts with her cousin Penn who is visiting from Australia. Mildred, a family friend, has designs on Hugh because her husband Humphrey is gay. Humphrey takes Penn to London. Felix, Mildred and Humphrey's son, has adored Ann for years, but so has the vicar. Randall convinces Hugh to sell his beloved painting so that he can use the money to marry Lindsey. Hugh finds out that Emma is dying.

Are you reeling yet? The novel actually wasn't that hard to follow, partly because the relationships are so clearly delineated that they define the characters. Here's a slightly more lucid review; and do look for the book by A.S. Byatt as well, especially if you've read or plan to read any of the other novels she discusses.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

There are many things for which I could blame my month-long disappearance, but the truth is I simply haven't been in the mood. I'm going to try from now on to post once a week, which I think is a fair goal. But in the meantime, as a little gift to you in apology for my absence, here is the poem I wrote this morning.

I stand before the shelf of slouching books,
cocking my head to scan the lazily leaning spines,
and pause in my search to wonder what it's like
for Sylvia Plath and Proust to live next-door.
Do they talk of a child's drowsy morning sleep
or eternal sleep? At night, in the flash of
passing cars, do they murmur to each other,
remembering things past--two lives, one brief,
one six volumes long, both deeply introspective.
Their conversation is surely more companionable
than that of Patrick O'Brian and Flannery O'Connor,
who simply stare at each other, awkward and at sea,
with nothing at all to say. But Dickens and Dumas
make up for them, filling the long days with
story-telling contests, bartering descriptions
and comparing characters, each wilder than the last.
Faulkner and Fitzgerald fight constantly,
while Virginia Woolf hunches over her knitting,
trying desperately to ignore the jovial,
chuckling P.G. Wodehouse.
But here, now, is the book I'm looking for.
I slide Anna Karenina from the shelf
and go off to bed, leaving Mark Twain
to stretch his arms in relief and invite Thurber
to come over for a frog-jumping contest.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Yikes, I didn't mean that last post to be so depressing. I just get tired of the doomsayers! The end may very well be nigh, but that doesn't necessarily mean things are any worse than they've ever been. Different, yes, but worse? Frankly I'm perfectly happy not to have to test my faith against lions and gladiators.

I was thinking about sinning clergy while reading The Way of All Flesh. There are many examples of the subject in the novel, the greatest being the serious emotional abuse that Theodore Pontifex, a well-respected clergyman, inflicted upon his children, but the one that particularly struck me was the practice of buying a living. This concept comes up all the time in English literature (the privilege supposedly taken away from Wickham in P&P, for instance), and it's a bizarre one. Taking orders was a career like any other during that time, one for second sons or less-privileged men, rather than a calling. And if you wanted a good place, you'd better have some cash available. Is this really any better than current clergical sins? Can we claim that people in the 19th century were really more devout or Biblically literate? More of them may have been able to recite their chatecism, but I'm not sure that counts, and they certainly didn't all go to church. The narrator of The Way of All Flesh didn't, nor did several of the other characters, and even the protagonist rejects Religion in the end.

Speaking of the time frame, I realized that the reason I liked this book so much was because it didn't really belong on a list of modern novels. While it was published after the turn of the century, Butler actually wrote it in the 1870's, so it's set in an era in which I feel right at home. It's a good novel, too, though it begins weakly; I nearly despaired when after the first 50 pages I still wasn't sure who the hero was. Actually I think it ends weakly too, but that may be intentional. As I said, the protagonist rejects Religion, but he never really understood it in the first place. He never had a relationship with God, so he couldn't sever it; rather, he turned his back on the church and his father's idea of Religion. And I can hardly blame him.

Poor Ernest Pontifex grew up under the tyranny of selfish and narrow-minded parents. He was sent to a school that seemed indifferent to providing moral strictures or regulations of any kind until forced, and the aunt who befriended him died suddenly. The woman he fell in love with turned out to be a drunkard, and his desires to live a quiet, simple, common life were trampled by everyone around him. The narrator, an old family friend, comes off as Ernest's savior, but only in a material sense. In the end Ernest is just as lost as he ever was, and maybe that is the way of all flesh.

Oh dear, this post is depressing too.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

This post from Librarianne reminded me of a similar list given to my Bible study, of seven indicators that a nation is in trouble:

1.All rules broken
2.Bibical illiteracy
3.Sinning clergy
4.Uncontrolled lust
5.Sinning leaders
6.Deceitful prosperity
7.Excessively litigious

It's easy to read these lists and find oneself nodding with recognition--"Yes, it's true, that's exactly what's happening, our nation is in trouble." Well, this list was compiled by a Biblical scholar studying the book of Hosea. All these things were happening around 2700 years ago! When in history has there been a time when everything was really good, when everybody obeyed the laws, knew their Scripture, controlled their lusts? When have all leaders and clergymen been upright moral beacons? Haven't there always been people who gained wealth through illegitimate means and brought ridiculous lawsuits to court? I could go on to Librarianne's list, but you catch my drift. We live in a fallen world peopled by fallible beings who make the same mistakes over and over and over again. Yeah, we're in trouble. So what else is new? According to Solomon, nothing under the sun.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Well, I'm feeling proud of myself. I've already read three of the books on my list for 2006, and am working on two more. It shouldn't be surprising, since I do respond well to lists; but somehow I really thought reading at whim would overcome any resolutions. I did get terribly sidetracked by Rebecca Wells' latest novel, Ya-Yas in Bloom (it's always fun to revisit characters--like seeing old friends), and a Ruth Rendell mystery, but then hauled myself back with The Turn of the Screw. [By the way, I added to my 2006 list after posting about it; it now includes about thirty other books that have been patiently waiting on the shelf in my bedroom for who knows how long.]

Henry James is in love with commas. I've decided I don't think he's a very good writer, but this may be unfair since it's been ages since I read any of his other books; however, it's annoying to be constantly rereading sentences in an attempt to discover what the author is trying to say. And he really does love commas. I'm quite fond of them myself, but make the effort, at least, to try, to the best of my ability, to control this tendency. (It was shocking how much I wanted to add 'like' and 'you know' to that last sentence...)

Anyway, I remember The Turn of the Screw as being a bizarre book, but I'd forgotten how absurd it is. I suppose in a way it's scary, but I kept wanting to laugh at the melodrama, not to mention the inexplicable lack of clarity. Was it that he couldn't think of things horrible enough, or that he didn't want to shock his readers? Why aren't we told what exactly happened in that house? I found upon this reading that I didn't much care, but it's strange nevertheless. Perhaps James thought that two creepy children, two ghosts, and two impressionable women (mix together in a remote mansion, shake, and serve chilled) were enough to terrify without the bother of details. Also, I wonder why he set it up as a story being told to a group of people, then didn't return to them in the end and give their reaction. If he felt that would be anticlimactic, why didn't he change the beginning? What was wrong with his editor, darn it, and why is this a classic? With these questions filling my mind, I'm unsure why I decided to read the book again. Hopefully this will remind me not to try a third time.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Two Things Meme (from Writing and Living)

2 names you go by:
1. Katy
2. Sweetie

2 parts of your heritage:
1) Norwegian
2) German (These are the main ones. According to my mother, there's also English, French, Scottish, Irish, Belgian, and Swiss.)

2 things that scare you:
1. Not knowing what's going on
2. Stormy nights

2 of your everyday essentials:
1) Reading
2) Carbohydrates

2 things you are wearing right now:
1) My favorite sweater (shapeless and brown with multicolored flecks; also Odious's favorite, both on me and on him)
2) My favorite pants (pink corduroy)

2 favorite bands or musical artists:
1) Over the Rhine
2) Sarah MacLachlan (I know these are a real shock, since neither one is EVER listed in my On The Stereo sidebar...)

2 things you want in a relationship (other than real love):
1) Honesty
2) Intellectual stimulation

2 truths:
1) Last night at my mother's I had three helpings of her homemade macaroni and cheese. It was really, really good.
2) In the last month I've watched (on DVD) the first season of Felicity, the first season of Veronica Mars, and most of the fifth season of Angel.

2 physical things that appeal to you (in the opposite sex):
1) A rugged outdoorsy physique
2) Biceps

2 of your favorite hobbies:
1) Reading
2) Crocheting

2 things you want really badly:
1) A strawbale house
2) A working farm

2 places you want to go on vacation:
1) Italy
2) The French countryside

2 things you want to do before you die:
1) Build a strawbale house
2) Publish a novel

2 ways that you are stereotypically a chick:
1) I talk things to death.
2) I have a very low tolerance for alcohol.

2 things you are thinking about now:
1) That I should make pumpkin soup and buttermilk biscuits for dinner tonight.
2) That I'm going to watch one disk of the second season of Felicity.

2 stores you shop at:
1) Powell's City of Books
2) Trader Joe's

2 people I would like to see take this quiz:

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Reading has always been such a necessary part of life for me that I've never thought of looking back at the previous year's book list or making a new one for the coming year. Other than the occasional "Read more classics", books haven't figured much in my New Year's resolutions. I like the idea of such a summing-up, but I'm afraid the urge to read at whim might prove too overwhelming. On the other hand, I usually respond well to lists, and I know one in particular that will provice much encouragement in the year to come. One of our Christmas gifts came with the Modern Library list of 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century (yes, another one of those!), of which the sender had read all but a few and Odious and I have read only a few. It was rather more impressive than the lists we'd been working through before. I've got a long way to go. Here are the ones I think I'll start with:

Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry
The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler
The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford
Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser
All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene
Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
The Maltese Falcon, Dashiel Hammett
Death Comes to the Archbishop, Willa Cather
Main Street, Sinclair Lewis
A Bend in the River, V.S. Naipaul
Scoop, Evelyn Waugh
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark
The Magus, John Fowles
The Magnificent Ambersons, Booth Tarkington

In addition to these, I've got to break my library habit of day-absorbing novels, and get to work on the stacks growing in my bedroom. We own way too many books that I haven't yet read, and they're taunting me.

As for the year in review, I'm afraid my book list is too long and too unimpressive to post verbatim, so maybe I'll just mention my favorites. Some of them have, of course, already been discussed here, but they're certainly worth a second recommendation.

The Professor's House, Willa Cather
A beautiful little book that captured me completely.

Treve, Albert Payson Terhune
I was thrilled to find this book by a favorite childhood author in the bargain rack of a secondhand bookstore; it's a predictable but entirely enjoyable dog story.

Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate Dicamillo
Haven't seen the movie; don't want to.

The Ice House, Minette Walters
The first by this author that I read, and the most clear in my mind. A creepy, thoroughly absorbing crime novel.

All Passion Spent, Vita Sackville-West
Whatever I was expecting from this book, it was not what I got, and I loved it.

How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill
Must add Cahill's other books to my 2006 list...

Beyond the Shadowlands, Wayne Martindale
A fine, intelligent look at C.S. Lewis's views on heaven and hell; very enlightening.

Young Wizards series and The Book of Night With Moon, Diane Duane
Dark Lord of Derkholm and The Year of the Griffin, Diana Wynne Jones
I was introduced to both these authors last year, which makes it a red-letter year. I'm astounded never to have read them before, and I can't recommend them highly enough to those who enjoy good-quality young-adult literature.

View from a Sketchbook, Marjolein Bastin
You've seen her artwork before, on cards or calendars--delicate watercolors of birds and flowers. This peek at her life is lovely too.

Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell
I received the BBC miniseries for Christmas, and can't wait to watch it.

Undaunted Courage, Stephen E. Ambrose
A must-read upon moving to Oregon. Possibly plagiarized, but interesting and readable.

What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, Daniel Mark Epstein
An excellent biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay, which inspired me to read her beautiful poetry.

Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver
I don't know how many times my mother recommended this to me, and I should have read it sooner. It changed the way I think about the world and how it works.

How To Read A Book, Mortimer Adler
He's annoying, but smart. I may have to read this once a year.

Sons and Lovers, D.H. Lawrence
After Women in Love, I read a lot of Lawrence before finding another book as good. This one is it.

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, Ina May Gaskin
The expert! She's seen it all, and tells it like it is. If you're pregnant or planning to be, read this book.

Inkheart, Cornelia Funke
I love books about books, and this is a good story, plain and simple.

A Ring of Endless Light, Madeleine L'Engle
I've already raved about this, but it is possibly my favorite L'Engle. To call it luminous sounds like a book blurb, but it's true.

The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
I shuddered, and wanted to avert my eyes, but mostly because not much has changed. Scary.

Birthing From Within, Pam England
Get rid of What To Expect When You're Expecting--yes, just drop it right in the trashcan--and read this instead.

Od Magic, Patricia McKillip
Right on schedule, a new and lovely book by this disgustingly prolific writer.

Well-Schooled In Murder, Elizabeth George
I somehow managed to miss this Thomas Linley mystery until now, but it's one of the best.

No Name, Wilkie Collins
Gothic novels are so awesome...

Child of a Rainless Year, Jane Lindskold
Weird and magical.

Isabel's Daughter and The Baker's Apprentice, Judith Ryan Hendricks
More delightful books by the author of Bread Alone--yum.