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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Alice Wanted--

I've fallen in love with this print: Recruiting a New Alice. A Giclee print of an original work by Tiffany Electra X (tartx), it is reasonably priced and absolutely charming. I know it will appeal to a lot of you...need I even bother to mention names?
These eye pillows filled with organic lavender and flax are meant to provide "your eyes with a rejuvenating break"--sounds like just the thing for all of us readers.
I've picked up Flannery's letters again. How can I lose sight of how much I enjoy them? Now they are stationed near the back door, to be picked up when I take my "outside" breaks.

Bridge of Sighs (which I won over at Stefanie's) is still engrossing, both the story and writing.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Challenges

I have two challenges that begin in September: The Unread Author Challenge over at Sycorax Pine and Carl's R.I.P. II.

Pour of Tor at Sycorax Pine is sponsoring The Unread Author Challenge -- We all have authors that we have intended to read, but who have for some reason never made it past the "intention." This challenge encourages us to pick some of those authors and read. The challenge runs from September to February, which is a good thing because one of the M.F.K. Fisher books I've chosen is over 600 pages.

Here are the 6 I've chosen (and have on hand) for this challenge:

  1. Long Ago in France: The Years in Dijon M.F.K. Fisher (finished)
  2. The Art of Eating M.F.K. Fisher
  3. Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales Marie-Louise von Franz
  4. Emily Dickinson is Dead Jane Langston
  5. Dissolution C. J. Sansom (finished)
  6. Season of the Witch Natasha Mostert (finished)
Now, here's the thing...

--the first two by M.F.K. Fisher fit in the memoir/biographical category that I've challenged myself to work on this year

--the first three (Fisher and von Franz) are nonfiction, another one of my personal challenges, and the von Franz also fits into my reading on fairy tale and myth

--#'s 4-5 will fit into the R.I.P. Challenge

R.I.P. (Readers Imbibing Peril) : The Autumn Reading Challenge runs from September 1 - October 31 and involves reading gothic tales or tales of suspense, reading about witches or haunted houses, tales of terror or the supernatural. The list of possibilities I've chosen are listed here. And, of course, #'s 4-5 in the above list.



And now two more possible challenges that I discovered at Chris' Stuff as Dreams are Made On -- the Themed Reading Challenge and the Cardathon Challenge. Have not decided what my "theme" will be --maybe travel books since I'm accumulating a hefty list of these that I'd like to read.

Finished Mademoiselle Victorine and have started Bridge of Sighs. Oh, many thanks to Stefanie, because I'm already captivated with Russo's latest. Yet another beautifully written work.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Nonfiction

I've read fewer books this year, but I have accomplished my goal of reading more nonfiction, especially biographies / memoirs:

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee (M)

Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England's Tragic Queen. Joanna Denny (B)

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found. Suketu Mehta

Voltaire Almighty. Roger Pearson (B)

Written in Bones: How Human Remains Unlock the Secrets of the Dead. Paul Bahn

The Physics of the Buffyverse. Jennifer Ouellette

Break, Blow, Burn. Camille Paglia

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee.
Charles J. Shields (B)

Mistakes Were Made (but not by me.) Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall. Kate Bernheimer, ed.

Sword & Blossom. Peter Pagnamento and Momoto Williams. (B, letters)

Shadow Cities. Robert Neuwirth

Elizabeth and Her German Garden. Elizabeth von Arnim (semi-autobiographical)

Elizabeth of the German Garden. Leslie De Charms (B)

An Ocean of Air. Gabrielle Walker

Monday, August 27, 2007

Monday Musings

I visited Camille over at BookMoot (and she knows what the word "moot" really means, unlike most people who mistakenly believe that it means that something is self-evident or already decided; a moot question or topic is actually one that IS OPEN to discussion) and found one thing after another to enjoy, especially if you love children's literature. This post has a video about the making of a Coraline doll by puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal; she has been commissioned to make 3 Coraline dolls and one is to go to someone who preorders the special edition of Coraline.

:P -- I know, Coraline didn't appeal to me--BUT I know many of you loved it, so watch the video, you will enjoy the music as well as the process.

Then visit Kowal's site where she chronicles the "building of Coraline"-- also courtesy of Camille and also fascinating!


**I've discovered a new possibility for the R.I.P. Challenge: The Monster Hunter's Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Saving Mankind from Vampires, Zombies, Hellhounds, and Other Mythical Beasts by Ibrahim Amin. Oh, yeah! This looks to be right up Carl's alley!

Now, must prepare for my visit to the dentist. Two more crowns to be replaced. Damn it!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Spanish Bow


Romano-Lax, Andromeda. The Spanish Bow. Originally, Romano-Lax intended to write a nonfiction account of the life of Pablo Casals, the Spanish cellist. She found, however, that the story she wanted to tell became the story of Feliu Delargo, who does embody some aspects of the life and times of Casals, but whose story is different.

Romano-Lax compares the book to a collage; an apt comparison, as she appropriates characteristics and events from the lives of various real individuals and recombines them into new characters who will carry forth her story.

From the first chapter, the author captivated me both with the unusual circumstances involving Feliu's birth and with her style. The exposition and development provide the majority of the book, and although I was aware of this, it never made me impatient. It is so easy to flow along with Romano-Lax, to let her set the pace and to be content, to simply take pleasure in her beautiful writing. The background-- Feliu's journey as a musician and his friendship with Al-Cerraz--is crucial to the climax when it does occur at the end of the novel.

I loved the novel. There is little more that I can think to say, and I can't even explain why I loved it so much, but I was pulled completely into this narrative about a man who was, in many ways, ordinary...full of strengths and weaknesses, but who was extraordinary in his talent and in his devotion to his music.

If you read it, be sure to visit The Music of the Bow, where there are excerpts from some of the pieces the author listened to as she wrote. Her musical recommendations will provide me with some new CD's; Spanish Cello Rhapsody will be my first purchase.

Fiction. Historical fiction; music. 2007. Harcourt. 554 pages.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

R. I. P.

Here is a list of some of the books I'm interested in for

Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert (finished)

The Last Apprentice by Joseph Delaney

The Moonstone
by Wilkie Collins (in process)

Dissolution
by C.J. Sansom (finished)

New Moon
by Stephanie Meyer

The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (finished)

Clermont by Regina Maria Roche

Homebody by Orson Scott Card

Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott

A Beautiful Blue Death
by Charles Finch

The Book of Air and Shadows
by Micahel Gruber

A Good and Happy Child
by Justin Evans

The Savage Garden
by Mark Mills

The Monster Hunter's Handbook: The Ultimate Guide to Saving Mankind from Vampires, Zombies, Hellhounds, and Other Mythical Beasts by Ibrahim Amin

I am looking forward to this challenge. My first book will be Season of the Witch, but after that I'm not sure which direction to take. Carl offers several variations or Perils, but I'm just going for the first Peril, and will read whatever I choose that fits the eerie, Gothic, ghostly, suspense, terror category (as determined by moi).

This is reading indulgence of the first caliber. It was great fun last year and should be even better this year! In fact, last year my reading went on after the challenge ended because November is surely a Gothic Month.

One of those reading iteneraries...

Lotus at Lotus Reads has provided me with some excellent titles over the last year (Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, a New Urban World , Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found and Palace Walk).

The latest interesting titles from current Lotus Lists include:

Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh
Freedom at Midnight by Dominique la Pierre and Larry Collins
What the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin

Actually, there are even more on the list of those that I want to read, but those three stand out at the moment.

Another that I'd like very much to read is Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, and follow the link to an article that gives a most interesting review of this book by Alex von Tunzleman.

This is what I did last night instead of read...worked on a WIP that has been on my design wall for several months now and watched Look to the Lady based on Margery Allingham's Campion novels. I basted the quilt sandwich together, then sat down to some hand quilting as I reveled in the atmosphere.

Tonight I did get a good more reading done and still love The Spanish Bow. And now to bed...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Another Enthralling Read...

I've started The Spanish Bow by Andromeda Romano-Lax! Oh, what luck-- another one that I'm falling in love with! On the first page, I knew that I'd be reading this one without interruption, and I'm almost half-way through now. Another one from Anna at FSB Associates! Here is a link that has some of the music the author listened to as she wrote and here, a link that explains her inspiration.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

An Ocean of Air

Walker, Gabrielle. An Ocean of Air: Why the Wind Blows and other Mysteries of the Atmosphere. I've posted about this book here and here. Now that I've finished, I can truthfully say that it was--from first to last--excellent.

One of my favorite scientists-- immensely important, but shy and more concerned with the science than with awards or honors-- was William Ferrell who "discovered the precise nature of the giddying effect that our planet's spin has on the air above it." You may know this as the "Coriolis effect" because Coriolis published equations concerning theoretical behavior of objects in rotating systems, but he never dreamed of applying these equations to explain the winds. Ferrel's studies resulted in an explanation of almost "everything about the wind currents" and while "still relatively unknown," he "remains one of the best American scientists who has ever lived" according to Walker. When I read Walker's acknowledgments, I was pleased to note that Ferrell was one of her favorites as well.

Wiley Post and the jetstreams; Thomas Midgely (friendly, enthusiastic, energetic) , an inventor who solved an important problem and created a monster; Jim Lovelock and his Gaia theory; Molina and Rowland and their predictions about the ozone layer; Marconi who didn't understand the "mirror in the sky" but whose wireless transmissions made use of it; the very, very strange Oliver Heaviside, who suggested the mirror; Edward Victor Appleton who discovered x-rays; James Van Allen and the Van Allen belt; Kristian Birkeland who studied the northern lights and created an "electromagnetic cannon"--what a collection of creative imagination and devoted study. Each and every one comes alive under Walker's touch; she makes both the men and their ideas fascinating.

As I've mentioned before, this work is the most entertaining work of nonfiction imaginable. If you have the least interest in air, atmosphere, and our "sheltering sky" do read this book.

Walker includes suggestions for further reading and detailed end notes.

Nonfiction. Science. 2007. 238 pages.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Qigong Links and Videos

Dark Orpheus had expressed an interest in tai chi, and since this is one of my favorite subjects, I'm going to mention this site with information about a PBS special on qigong, which is such a large part of tai chi practice.

On my other blog I listed some sites with information about the medical studies done on tai chi and health, and I'll repeat them here. The Journal of the American Medical Association has listed a number of articles relating to the benefits of tai chi/ qigong. This site also lists some of the benefits of qigong on the heart.

The exercises are a form of standing meditation, and the following video is a good instructional introduction qigong and mentions the different kinds of breathing and its effects.

Here are links to Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

This video shows another form of qigong in practice, but the crucial part is in the breathing, one long, slow breath for each movement.


The following video may seem a bit strange, but is from the PBS documentary and studies qigong as it is practiced in China.



Although the Chinese discovered and put to use the connection of physical movement, breath control, and emotional state before anyone else, there have been a number of scientific studies over the years that also make the link, with or without a connection to tai chi/ qi gong. Certain postures communicate emotion, but they also can determine your emotional state.

And here is a video of Vivian in Houston as she competes for the Grand Championship of that tournament. The video was uploaded to youtube by Tom Gohring.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

More on An Ocean of Air

Aside from the science involved, Gabrielle Walker's An Ocean of Air (which I've written about here) manages to flesh out the dessicated little men from the textbooks and breathe life back into them, an appropriate transformation as they all studied air.

Robert Boyle. Boyle was only 16 when he arrived in Florence in 1641 and read a copy of Galileo's book on air proving that air had weight. In 1649, he installed a laboratory at his estate and began experimenting with alchemy, but he seemed to be mostly dabbling. On his visits to his sister in London, he met men who were also interested in scientific experiments; the group called themselves the "invisible College" which was a forerunner of London's "Royal Society." He eventually moved into lodgings in an apothecary's house in Oxford and mingled with men with similar passions: chemists, mathematicians, physicists, and physicians. Among them, Richard Lower and Tom Willis who would perform the world's first blood transusion experiment and Sir Christopher Wren, "architect, poymath, renaissance man." He eventually hired Robert Hooke to design an air pump to prove that it was not the sucking of a vacuum but the pushing force of air that kept mercury up in a tube. (He was proving Torricelli's --a student of Galieo-- earlier theory.)

Though fluent in Latin, Boyle chose to write New Experiments Physico-Mechanical Touching the Spring of Air in everyday English. He described his apparatus, the steps of each experiment, and his results in a straight forward, practical way and is, therefore, "one of the world's first true scientists."

Through ingenious experiments with the air pump, Boyle proved that air is necessary for sound to travel, which may seem obvious today, but was certainly not at the time. In attempts to study the role of air in flight, he put a bumble bee into his chamber and pumped out the air. When the bee suddenly died, Boyle began trying to understand the process of breathing. He was never able to solve the problem, but he did suspect that air may of consisted of different "ingredients," long before anyone knew that air was a combination of different gases.

Joseph Priestley. A clergyman, Priestley's unusual views frequently got him dismissed from his parishes. Priestley had a poor memory and thus wrote everything down. While this might have handicapped him in his intellectual pursuits, Walker believes that it was also "part of his genius...helping him to see the world with fresh eyes. He lived constantly in the moment."

Since the death of Robert Boyle, nearly one hundred years earlier, the idea that there might be more than one kind of air was being seriously entertained. One kind was "fixed air" that could extinguish candles. Priestley realized that "fixed air" (carbon dioxide to us) could be forced into water and the result was a "refreshing beverage" -- soda water, carbonated water.

"Priestley's scientific method, like his curiosity, was both all-encompassing and chaotic. He never quite knew what would happen." In this way, through a small explosion, he discovered nitrous oxide or laughing gas. In testing the new gas (or "air") on a lighted candle , the candle flared and burned brighter and longer than it should have. He'd discovered the element oxygen...although the didn't understand and misinterpreted it, which didn't stop him from experimenting with his "new" air.

He tested the effect of his new air on mice. If he thought the mice wouldn't survive, "when he pushed them through the water or mercury into the vessel, he kept a tight hold of their tails to pull them out as soon as they began to look distressed."

I'm just relating things in a general way, but Walker explains the experiments in simple language and with enough detail for the reader to grasp the mechanics of the experiments. It is, however, fascinating the way she can involve the reader in much the same way that a novelist does.

I've only related some of the interesting details in the first 35 pages, I'm on page 105 and still as involved and amazed and pleased with An Ocean of Air.

On Letters and Computer Errors

Those are my principles. If you don't like them I have others. --Groucho Marx

I love letters and The Groucho Letters is a collection of letters to and from Groucho Marx. Correspondence with his brothers, T. S. Eliot, E. B. White, James Thurber...doesn't that whet your appetite?


And Frieda Kahlo's letters to her friend and doctor Leo Eloesser have been unsealed and published in Mexico as My Beloved Doctor. Kahlo and Diego Rivera are always interesting...

The above items are via Maude Newton and Laila Lalami.

Just for fun:

Haiku Error Messages -- just the first one:

Three things are certain:
Death, taxes, and lost data.

Guess which has occurred.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Booking Through Thursday

BOOKING THROUGH THURSDAY (a day late)

MONOGAMY

One book at a time? Or more than one? If more, are they different types/genres? Or similar?

(We’re talking recreational reading, here—books for work or school don’t really count since they’re not optional.)

I've been skipping BTT lately, but have enjoyed reading the responses to this one on other blogs.

I can start any number of books and read a few pages or half-way through before finding the one book that must go from beginning to end. As soon as I find that one, the others must wait. I never seem to have a problem with confusion or remembering, which is odd because I can remember so little of what goes on in real life.

The exception is nonfiction which I almost always interrupt with fiction no matter how good the nonfiction is. I will get through several mysteries/fantasy/pure entertainment while reading the same nonfiction book. I'm still reading Flannery O'Connor's letters.

Still not reading Puccini's Ghosts, I start to pick it up, then leave it. Have read a little more in M. Victorine.

Started An Ocean of Air: Why the Wind Blows and Other Mysteries of the Atmosphere by Gabrielle Walker, another nonfiction book from Anna at FSB Associates. I love that so many science writers are appealing to the general public with books written to intrigue as well as explain.

Names like Galileo, Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, Joseph Priestly, Lavoisier, and Joseph Black become more than names in a textbook; in this book, they become rebels, deceivers, martyrs, curious and eccentric seekers of answers to questions it would never dawn on me to ask.

Rebel and deceiver, Galileo forced to recant and to promise "that in the future I will never again say or assert, verbally or in writing, anything that might furnish occasion for a similar suspicion regarding me," is said to have muttered as he got off his knees, "Eppur si muove!" ("And yet it moves!"). And even as he recanted, he had every intention of returning to his experiments with air and discovering whether or not air had weight. He did, it does, and Galileo completed his manuscript (under the nose of the inquisition), and had it published in the Netherlands.

I'm loving this book. Who would have thought I'd become almost as immersed in the scientific history of air as in fiction or biography? I notice, of course, that I'm most fascinated with the people and the human side, but the science is fascinating, too. Gabrielle Walker has me reading from scientist to scientist, with almost the same eagerness that one usually moves from chapter to chapter in fiction. You'll be hearing more about these guys, but this post is already too long!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking

Sweeney, Aoibheann. Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking. I found this book read really fast...not that it was exciting, but that from the beginning Sweeney raises questions and arouses curiosity. It is the story of Miranda Donnal who moved to Maine with her parents when she was almost three and whose mother drowned within a few months of the family's arrival on Crab Island. Her father is busy with a translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses and has little time or emotional energy to spare for Miranda. Mr. Blackwell keeps the family together until Miranda is ten. He does all of the practical things that Miranda's father seems either oblivious to or incapable of. There are lots of little hints throughout the novel, but no special importance appears to be given to them. As a reader, you may find yourself asking questions about events and relationships, but there is no sense of urgency.

The novel is a bildungsroman, a coming of age tale. Miranda learns to deal with the isolation her father has created and to trust her own emotions. In many ways, it is an ordinary tale about an ordinary girl who makes the transition from childhood to adulthood without any earth-shattering events...except for one twist. And even that twist is treated without fanfare, as a normal part of discovering all of the aspects of one's self. The title (which I still don't think does the book a favor) is an example of the lack of fanfare involved in Miranda's decisions. She does what is right for her...among other things.

Reading it was a pleasure thanks to Sweeney's prose. How involved I found myself with this odd girl and her odd and isolated circumstances and her eventual move into a wider world ...

Another advance copy from Anna at FSB Associates. Thanks, Anna!

Fiction. Coming-of-age story. 2007. 257 pages.

Elizabeth and Woolf

Just one more note on Elizabeth of the German Garden (reviewed in previous post), then I promise to leave her alone. This morning while visiting Stefani at So Many Books, I was reminded that I'd planned to mention Elizabeth's comments on Virginia Woolf and had to return to the book to find them. Not as easy as I thought, because oddly enough, Woolf wasn't listed in the Index of Names, and I had to go page by page to find the quotes. It's funny, though, isn't it, how one can remember where on a page a quote is? Right or left page, top, middle, or bottom...one can remember seeing the lines but not the page number.

Letter to Mark Rainey, June 29, 1927: "...I've nearly finished Virginia's book [To the Lighthouse], if you've not read it, don't till you get away from London and flats and parties. It deserves withdrawal and concentration. It is poetry, but the sort one dreams. No one, I think, who wasn't acquainted with madness, could have written it. It says the things that are really unsayable, in the way poetry does. It's a most terrible, beautiful, heart-agonising book."

June 30: "...I've finished Virginia--real joy that book gave me...."

To Liebet, Nov. 10, 1931: "I've read Virginia Woolf's new book [The Waves]--the one I'm going to send you for Xmas. It is starred with beauty--thickly starred, but is also--well, I'll leave you to your own opinion, which I shall be greatly interested to hear..."

Later, there was a line or two about a disappointment in a Woolf book, but I gave up trying to locate it. Generally, however, each mention of Woolf indicated Elizabeth's appreciation of her talent.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Elizabeth of the German Garden

De Charms, Leslie. Elizabeth of the German Garden. I've already written entries on this biography here and here. I've googled Leslie de Charms, to whom Elizabeth left all of her papers and journals, and have come up with very little. My curiosity about de Charms was partly because of the protective attitude of the biography, partly because a Mrs. de Charms was Elizabeth's father's sister and I suspected that Leslie was a family relation, and partly because I wanted more information about the person Elizabeth trusted with all of her journals and letters.

I found this Inventory of the Mary Annette Russell, Countess, Papers, 1896-1941.
(Mary Annette Beauchamp became Von Arnim then Countess Russell, but was always, in her writing, Elizabeth.)

Under the Biography section of the above site: "[For further information see Leslie de Charms' Elizabeth of the German Garden, 1958; this biography was written by her daughter, Elizabeth (von Arnim) Butterworth]"

So it appears that Elizabeth left her papers to her beloved Liebet, Mrs. Corwin Butterworth, who wrote the biography under the pseudonym of Leslie de Charms. Am I correct in this assumption?

While I think the author (De Charms? Liebet?) did a fair job of presenting events fairly, I did think she seemed protective of Elizabeth and was frustrated that she mentioned several passionate letters from Mark Rainey and Francis Russell that she "couldn't" include. :) If she hadn't mentioned that she couldn't include them, I would have been just fine.

Moving on...

Elizabeth recognized the threat from Hitler much earlier than most. Her own experiences in Germany, her anger at the Germans because of WWI, and the fact that her daughter Trix was married to a German only increased her dread.

From a letter to Liebet in May of 1932: "...I utterly agree with your remarks about the way we don't take the trouble to learn a few politics and just let them slide along unchecked to catastrophe...we should be more intelligently interested, and as a beginning I'm reading everything I can lay my hands on about the crisis...They'll (the Germans) drag us all to hell and themselves too..."

She is frustrated with people's blindness to the threat, but her worries increase as her daughter becomes more and more fearful and must prove her ethnic purity. Yet between her personal problems and disappointments, her frequent illnesses and her increasing age, and her fears of war, Elizabeth continues to bounce back. Finally, in May of 1939, Elizabeth boards the Queen Mary for America. She died in Charleston on February 9, 1941; Lieb was with her.

Elizabeth's reading was wide and deep, and she recorded-- in both letters and journals-- what she was reading and how she felt about it. She had a great fondness for D.H. Lawrence, but didn't like Rebecca West's novels. When she met West, she was surprised at how much she liked her personally (West had reviewed many of Elizabeth's own novels and not altogether favorably). Reading Elizabeth's assessments of her reading (including her own novels, often critically) was one of the aspects I most enjoyed.

I'm so glad Melanie suggested this biography; it was a pleasure to spend time with Elizabeth.

Wickipedia article.

Nonfiction. Biography. 1958. 424 pages.

Finished and Begun

I've finished the Von Arnim biography and need to write my review, but find I need to let it settle a bit.

In the meantime, I've started 3 new books in the last several days. I'm almost half-way through Puccini's Ghosts by Morag Joss, but am going to put it aside. Too much tension for me right now; too many unpleasant characters.... Joss is almost too good. Even thinking about her characters and their situation in this book causes a feeling of depression and dread.

I've also begun Mademoiselle Victorine by Debra Finerman. The subject matter interests me--the world of such artists as Manet, Degas, and Monet--the writing isn't holding me.

And the winner is Among Other Things I've Taken Up Smoking by Aoibheann Sweeney. Although I wasn't at all sure of this one because of the title, it captured me from the first page. Sweeney's writing pulls you along like a current, and I'm completely hooked. I just realized that water and fishing metaphors I just used must have inadvertently been taken from the novel. The book is not at all what I expected and in the best possible way, so this is the one I'll finish next.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Baton Rouge and the Grands

So good to see Erin and Eric and their new house...which is still very much "in process." Eric has turned into quite a carpenter and is doing (and has done) a marvelous job. Time consuming and terribly hot for that kind of work, but everything he does, he finishes beautifully.

Erin has had to drive to Lafayette each day for the last two weeks for a trial and was exhausted and half sick with allergies. Max and Mila, however, were full of beans. We kept them with us at the hotel Saturday night and were in the pool early Sunday morning. It was 104 degrees in Baton Rouge on Saturday, but the humidity was fairly low, which helps. Still everything outside smelled a bit like an oven. Not sure what the temperature reached on Sunday, but even before 10:00, it was pretty warm.

The Blue Castle

Montgomery, L.M. The Blue Castle. Valancy is twenty-nine and has been under the domineering thumb of her mother and other unpleasant family members her entire life. She expects nothing, but does retreat to her daydreams of her Blue Castle whenever possible. Her mother frowns on reading and will only rarely allow Valancy to check out even nature books by John Foster, Valancy's favorite author.

Valancy's life is devoid of beauty, of any genuine pleasure. After Valancy visits a local doctor about her heart palpitations, however, Valancy finds herself liberated and takes great pleasure in saying exactly what she wants and refusing to do many of things that have been taken for granted previously. She frees herself from her Cinderella role as servant and discovers that life does have something to offer.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I can see why this book would become a favorite. Fans of L.M. Montgomery and the Anne books would find this little romance equally appealing. However, for me it won't replace the Anne books because I read those at a particularly impressionable time in my reading life and no books will ever mean as much to me as those favorites of my youth. There are better books, certainly, but Montgomery had a knack for grabbing readers and creating characters that we want to return to again and again; she had a great influence on my love of reading. Her books are dated by their time period only; emotionally, her books transcend time.

addendum: I first heard about this book from Melrose Plant at A Fair Substitute for Heaven. :) She is also a fan of Martha Grimes' Richard Jury mysteries...which I also adore.

Fiction. Romance. 1993 (original c. 1926). 218 pages.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

What Is a Classic?

This interesting article by Liz Foley is on the The Man Booker Prize site and tries to determine what makes a book a classic. The author quotes Mark Twain's assertion that it is a book that people "praise but don't read," before giving her favorite answer by Italo Calvino, "A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say." I can certainly agree with that...although I don't find that any of the prizes Pulitzer, Booker, etc. necessarily choose books that I would consider classics. I'm sure there are lists available to see the prize winners over several decades and determine which books have lived up to their promise of both critical and popular success.

Foley makes some good points about the way we determine classics and says that we make a mistake if we consider classic works "as historical artifacts rather than vibrant, engaging, hugely varied pieces of writing." Another point that Foley makes concerns the influence some classics have on modern writers.

"The connection between the classics and modern writing gave Vintage the idea to celebrate the launch list (Booker Prize)--the Vintage Classic Twins." I have to admit that the ten pairings (of one classic, one modern book) leave me bewildered as I've only read one of each pair and can't make much of a judgment. For example, I've readThe Inferno by Dante but not Sabbath's Theater by Philip Roth and I've read Possession by A.S. Byatt, but not Middlemarch by George Eliot; I've read one of each of the ten pairings, sometimes the classic, sometimes the modern twin, but in no case have I read both. The list of ten pairs can be found here, where there is also information about a contest to find a twin for Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie--the prize is the a complete set of all ten Vintage Classic Twins--I'd like to win the prize, but haven't read Midnight's Children.

Yesterday when I arrived at the Cottage, Mr. P. bumped into me with his walker. I saw him coming, with a big grin all over his face. He pretends like he doesn't want attention, but he loves it. I told him he shouldn't abuse me, as if outraged by the gentle bump, and he said
, "Well, you have a rope down your back." My braid.

Laddie was much more talkative yesterday than he has been lately, although the words he wants often escape him, he knows what he wants to say. He was sitting at the bar eating a slice of red velvet cake and drinking coffee when I arrived, and greeted me with a big "Jenny Claire!" Very rewarding to me; so far he has always known me, but avoids using my name more and more frequently. He now will introduce me (he does this every time to exactly the same people) as his daughter to avoid having to say my name. When he got tired, he said, "Do you have everything you need?" When I assured him that I did, he said he had to leave and would see me later.

Today, off to Baton Rouge to see the grands!


Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Little About Reading and Another Digression


Some comments on Elizabeth of the German Garden, the biography of Elizabeth Von Arnim:

Although there are periods in her life that are sad, Elizabeth has a remarkable resiliency, and when things are going well, her appreciation of life and of nature reveal an optimistic personality. The description of her days as noted in her journals or her letters may appear to be commonplace, but her view is much more uplifting and appreciative of sun, warmth, birds, and other aspects of nature. When I read her journal comments taking such delight in some of the most everyday events--a pleasant walk, the scent of flowers, a conversation with friends, reading Keats' letters or one of her favorite poets--I'm aware of how much I take for granted and feel that acknowledging the pleasure and beauty of little things must be a constant bolster to the happiness equation.

An especially lovely time in her life was spent with friends at the Castello, a medieval castle on the Italian Riviera, that she managed to rent in April of 1921. "Heard the Castello is mine for April. Much joy," reads a March entry in her journal. It was here at the Castello that she began writing Enchanted April.

Also in 1921, Elizabeth meets her second cousin Katherine Mansfield for the first time and forms a special friendship. They see each other frequently, and the Murry's (Katherine's husband was John Middleton Murry) take a cottage near Elizabeth's chalet in Switzerland. The two women are very different in their outlook on life, and Katherine is gravely ill by this time, but they muddle through their difficulties and establish a strong bond.

John Middleton Murry, Katherine's husband, made the following comment to Elizabeth when her novel Vera received some negative reviews: "Of course, my dear, when the critics are faced with a Wuthering Heights written by Jane Austen, they don't know what to say." It was a remark she treasured, and I can certainly see why. (Note to myself- Can I locate a copy of Vera? Semi-autobiographical story of E.'s unhappy marriage to her second husband, Francis Russell)

De Charms includes a number of excerpts from letters that Katherine Mansfield wrote to Elizabeth, and I'm making another note to myself to look for these letters because they are so charming in their phrasing and so very human.

Here is a portion of one of Katherine's letters to Dorothy Brett in October of 1921: "...I am sitting writing to you in the balcony among teacups, grapes, a brown loaf shaped like a bean, a plaited cake with almond paste inside and nuts out. M. has forsaken it to join our Cousin Elizabeth. She appeared today with a bouquet--never smaller woman carried bigger bouquets. She looked like a garden walking, of asters, late sweet peas, stocks, and always petunias.
She herself wore a frock like a spider web, a hat like a berry--and gloves that reminded me of thistles in seed."

And a comment in one of her letters to Elizabeth about reading James Joyce: "I wonder if you will like Ulysses. It might have been a wonderful book. But although there are pearls[,] the size and blackness of the swine makes it hard to gather them. I shrink from Joyce's mind. He makes me remember all I choose to forget, and he seems to consider as important things that have no existence in a work of art."

Later, Elizabeth writes to John Murry, asking them to come stay with her for a while and gives her opinion of Ulysses: "...Hugh Walpole lent me Ulysses--I didn't get far. I see it is a wonderful thing, but nothing will induce me to read a thing--anything--even God's first novel, if it bores me. Ulysses made me feel as if I were shut up with a lunatic who was doing what the courts call 'exposing himself'. I got as far as the detailed account of the man's morning (?) visit to the lavatory and then boredom so profound fell upon me that I went to sleep."

Digression

While in Houston, I bought two pairs of bamboo socks, and they really are the most comfortable socks I've ever experienced. These socks are great for anyone, but especially for athletic purposes and for diabetics. Made of spun bamboo fibers, they offer an eco-friendly alternative to cotton: “Bamboo is the new cotton...it has all the properties that you physically want out of cotton, plus some. Bamboo is more antibacterial than [other fabrics like] cotton or wool, which are very absorbent and hold moisture in. Because Bamboo wicks moisture away, it’s great for your circulation and skin.” LAtimes.com, September 25, 2005.

I'm thinking about ordering a few other articles, like this crew neck tee, when I order more socks. If the socks do such a great job keeping my feet dry and cool, the tees should also be a great addition to my wardrobe. They also make yarn for knitting, and although the colors are limited, I like them.

Here is another source that mixes bamboo fibers with cotton. For those of you in Canada, yet another source.

This line of bamboo clothing was completely unknown to me, but obviously, I'm behind the times. Must catch up.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

This and That

I've not been doing much reading lately as too many other things have been taking precedence. Still working on the biography, but haven't been picking it up as often. There are certain elements that I didn't expect, like Von Arnim's relationships with her husbands and the effects of WWI on her life.

As usual when reading nonfiction, a break is needed, and I did sit down and read The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery all the way through. It isn't very long and reads quickly. I can see why it would be some people's favorite book and a great comfort read, especially if you associate it with your early reading experiences. It won't replace the Anne books for me as they are the ones I read at that early influential period in my life, but I enjoyed re-visiting L.M. Montgomery in a new way.

Received two new books on Alzheimer's activities and am disappointed in them both. They don't suit my purpose, although I'm sure they are useful in their own way. I had such a good time "exercising" with Laddie and the ladies last week out at the Cottage. The little group that participates in the exercise period come alive when handed a ball or a bean bag. They are not always sure about how to play the games, but they enter into the fun with gusto. The ladies are all fierce competitors whether or not they understand the general purpose of the games. Mr. P. won't play, but watches pretty closely, even if he pretends that he's going to sleep. When the ball comes his way (there are plenty of wild throws), his foot goes out to kick it back, then he shuts his eyes again.

The book stack continues to grow and is becoming quite intimidating.

We are planning to go to Baton Rouge Saturday to see the grandbabies; looking forward to seeing the new house, too, as Erin and Eric have completed their move. Can't wait to see Miss Mila and listen to her grown-up four-year-old conversation and to watch Max toddling around.

Yesterday, I had to go to the office for a meeting and saw Amelia and was able to feel the grandchild in progress and see the latest sonograms. Why, what a beautiful little girl already! She won't arrive until December, but then Mila and Max will have a cousin to play with.

Monday, August 06, 2007

No books, just tai chi...

although I did read a little more Friday and Saturday nights on Von Arnim's biography before going to bed, I was too tired to get much further.


The Houston U.S. National Martial Arts Tournament was quite different from Tai Chi Legacy in many ways. The scheduling was different because there were so many more young people competing in the internal arts...and what an eye-opener that was. Kids from 6 up were competing in tai chi, tai chi weapons, and baqua with a level of excellence that was inspiring. At the Legacy, most of the young people compete in Kung Fu and very few compete in the internal arts. Seeing some of these young people at the Houston Tournament competing in tai chi was a marvelous experience.

I've decided I should not be allowed to have a camera as the majority of the pictures I took were taken before realizing the camera was on the wrong setting. Almost the only decent pictures were taken by Thomas at the very end. :) which meant most of them were of me!

We got to the Stafford Center around 9:00 Sat. morning for the opening ceremonies and the dragons and several charming lions were great fun.

The Masters Demo was excellent--Thomas and I were impressed with so many of the performances (but almost none of my pictures turned out because they were on the wrong setting). Also, I couldn't stand up to get around all of the heads in my way...
I was able to get a couple of our sifu, Master Guerin by peering over heads, but they aren't very good shots. He was performing baqua with deer horn knives, and as usual got great audience response. Other performances that I particularly enjoyed were those by Kam Lee, King Lam, Blue Siytanco, and Phillip Luk, but every performance was a pleasure to watch and some of the Wu Shu young people took my breath away.

Our events didn't start until around 5:00 (no lunch, by the way), and we had no way of knowing that it would be such a long wait as we had never been to this tournament before. Thomas' events went first and followed in rapid succession with almost no time in between. He could barely keep up and change weapons before being called again. My events were much slower and the announcements changed our rings a couple of times, calling both Vivian and myself to one ring while we were awaiting our turns in another.

Thomas competed in empty hand, cane, saber, and straight sword and received gold in empty hand and silvers in each of the weapons. I was only able to take a couple of pictures before they began calling some of my events, even though the events didn't actually occur until much later.



I managed two golds (in empty hand and saber) and silvers in both straight sword (Vivian beat me by a mile to take first place in straight sword) and in push hands (Vivian, a 98 lb. weakling, barely gave me time to catch my breath before throwing me off balance again! and again!). Look how tiny she is. One of the young men at our schools said of Vivian, "She looks like a delicate flower." And in her lovely pink uniform, she really does, but she's a tireless competitor and will be off to San Francisco to compete there next weekend.


It is always fun to see tournament friends like Connie and Charles from Gohring's School in Austin (and meeting and visiting with Maria from the same school) and Donna Minshew from Stan Rossi's Austin school. Other than judges, most of the tournament competitors were new faces for us.

I just decided to google Stan Rossi (since I didn't compete in 2006 and missed seeing him at the 2007 Tai Chi Legacy) ; I made a sad discovery. Stan Rossi passed away last summer. What a loss--he was the kind of person whose spirit reached out to others. I had no real contact with Master Rossi except for watching him judge, but he was always so cheerful, warm, and good natured. Watching Master Rossi interact with the kids he was judging was a genuine pleasure as he always made them feel comfortable and secure. Whenever I saw him at a tournament, I smiled; I suspect that he affected a lot of people that way.

Judging is a tedious and, in many ways, thankless job, and maintaining good humor and concentration must be extremely difficult. Hours and hours and hours of watching and scoring competitor after competitor--with few breaks of any kind. Tournaments usually seem to run for more than 12 hours a day from opening ceremonies to final competitions. Judges travel from all over the country (and often from other countries) to tournament after tournament with little compensation other than lodging and meals, and then endure the grueling experience of sitting for 2 days judging the good, the bad, and the ugly in countless events. Hats off to all of them.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Netflix Movies

I watched a couple of BBC series last week that I enjoyed:

Rosemary & Thyme is a delightful mystery series about two women whose circumstances changed in midlife and who join forces in a landscaping venture with a mystery-solving sideline.

Campion: The Case of the Late Pig is also great fun with wonderful characters and settings. Peter Davison plays Margery Allingham's Albert Campion. Jill sent me 3 of the Campion series (I reviewed them in June), and I'm now hooked on this series of quintessentially British mysteries.

I will be leaving in a few hours for another tournament in Houston. Hope to get some pictures this time--camera battery charged and ready to go.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Memes and Memoirs (or, really, a single biography)

I've been tagged twice in the last week or so with the Blogging Tips Meme. And I've been seeing and reading the tips at various blogs. What a great idea! However, since I was computerless for a while and then busy catching up, I'm going to skip participation since everything I could think of has already been said. Here are links to Gentle Reader's Shelf Life and HeidiJane's Adventures in Bookland where you can read and appreciate some great blogging tips! (oops! faulty links--they should be corrected now)

I started Elizabeth of the German Garden, the biography of Elizabeth von Arnim by Leslie de Charms, the other day and am thoroughly enjoying it. Melanie at The Indextrious Reader kindly recommended it after I'd complained of being unable to locate a biography of Von Arnim. The book is out of print and must be located through used book sellers, but is worth the effort.

Have to share a few select quotes (several of the quotes are originally from The Solitary Summer, others from her journals):


What a blessing it is to love books.... Everybody must love something, and I know of no objects of love that give such substantial and unfailing returns as books and a garden. And how easy it would have been to come into the world without this, and possessed instead of an all-consuming passion , say, for hats, perpetually raging round my empty soul (66).

I read and laugh over my Boswell in the library when the lamps are lit, buried in cushions and surrounded by every sign of civilisation...books have their idiosyncracies as well as people, and will not show me their full beauties unless the place and time in which they are read suits them (66-67).

De Charms notes that Pepys, Montaigne, Lamb, and Gibbon were probably in the same category, while Thoreau, Goethe, Keats, Spenser, Wordsworth and Shakespeare were her choices for out of doors.

When I drive in the forest, Keats goes with me; and if I extend my drive to the Baltic shores and spend the afternoon on the moss beneath the pines, I take Spencer... (67).

Lovely morning. Walked in garden with Wordsworth in hand and was happy (67).

Easy to fall in love with an author who adores books and gardens and writes about them with such pleasure, such obvious friendship, as if she could be introduced to the garden or the books and begin a heart-felt conversation with either.