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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Year's Review - 2006

Most Memorable Reads in 2006

Fiction (in no particular order)

1. The Penelopiad - Margaret Atwood
2. The Space Between Us - Thrity Umrigar
3. The Historian - Elizabeth Kostovea
4. A Thread of Grace - Mary Doria Russell
5. Black Swan Green - David Mitchell
6. Parnassus on Wheels - Christopher Morley
7. The Thirteenth Tale - Diane Setterfield
8. The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins (re-read)


9. The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell
10. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China - Jung Chang
11. May and Amy: A True Story of Family, Forbidden Love, and the Secret Lives of May Gaskell, Her Daughter Amy, and
Sir Edward Burne-Jones
- Josceline Dimbleby (What a title! And although it may sound titillating, it wasn't. It was, however, an excellent biography of mother and daughter, and a fascinating look at the Victorian time period.)

Most Disappointing - for whatever reasons, sometimes covered in my reviews, these were books I looked forward to, but that did not appeal.

The Tenth Circle - Jodi Picoult
Saving Fish from Drowning -Amy Tan
Case Histories - Kate Atkinson
The Sea - John Banville

I read 146 books this year. There are only two other years that I've read this many books, but so much of what I read are fast-reading (and often, forgettable) mysteries. My normal average is approximately 120 per year. This year has been slap full of quick reads!

Not as much non-fiction this year, only about 8; this might be an area I want to improve on next year. All of the non-fiction I read, I enjoyed. I've begun a biography of Voltaire and may make a biography a month a goal.

Mostly, I will choose from what is available at the library, but The List (that ever-growing, out-of-control organism) includes many books that I've not found at our library.

I look forward to finding new titles and authors through your blogs, fellow readers. When I started this blog to remove all the book stuff from the other blog, I had no idea what wonderful adventures and book sharing awaited me.

Happy New Year To All of You! And Thanks for all of the comments on my blog and the wonderful pleasure of reading your reviews and suggestions on your blogs!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

December Reading - update

Gur, Batya. Murder in Jerusalem. I've been reading Gur's mysteries featuring Michael Ohayon for years. The earlier ones were terrific. This latest one is not. I persevered through the opening chapters and the excruciatingly annoying dialogue, wondering what had happened to a previously talented author. Annoyed that this novel was not living up to her previous work, I fumed and fussed to myself. Finally, as I picked up the book to continue the painful process, I flipped to the back flap and realized that Gur had died in 2005. Checked the copyright date -2006. Did some online research and discovered she died of cancer (her obituary). I finished the novel with a different attitude. Although by no means up to the standard of her previous novels, the novel is a farewell to Ohayon, Eli, Balilty, Tzilla, and Shorer...

Tepper, Sheri S. Singer from the Sea. I read a couple of Tepper's novels in the early 90's and enjoyed them. She definitely writes from a feminist perspective. This novel is one of her far-future fantasies. I really enjoyed the first 3 quarters of the book, but the last quarter was less appealing. Genevieve has been brought up in the Covenants that govern the behavior of women on the planet of Haven. The submissiveness and subservience taught by the Covenants has been somewhat deflected by the secret teachings of Genevieve's mother, who unfortunately died when Genevieve was quite young. When it becomes necessary, however, Genevieve is able to draw on these teachings. uncover the reason for keeping young women submissive, and fulfill her destiny. The men, both good and evil, in this novel are curiously flat. The most interesting men are minor characters: Jeorfy Bottoms, librarian, and Veswees the dressmaker. Women are good; men are bad; exceptions are few.

Abraham, Daniel. A Shadow in Summer. Abraham has created a different world. It requires a bit more attention than the normal science fiction/ fantasy novel because it doesn't follow the patterns that have been set by previous authors. An interesting element is the inclusion of posture and gesture that I visualize as something like Buddhist Mudras, but far more inclusive. These ritual poses can convey all kinds of subtleties that have variations similar to tone of voice. A Shadow in Summer is Book One of The Long Price Quartet. Abraham creates an interesting and intricate world and sets in motion a chain of events that threatens nations.

Hardie, Kerry. The Bird Woman. Another author that I want to read again. The Bird Woman is a strangely compelling novel about imperfect humanity, love and hate, relationships and hurt, grudges carried from childhood, prejudice, misjudgements and mis-steps.

Set in Ireland during the time of the troubles, the novel opens a window into those separate worlds of North and South, Protestant and Catholic. Ellen McKinnon has the ability to see the future - not in every circumstance and not all the time, but sometimes she has flashes of events that later occur, although not always precisely as she sees them. Later, McKinnon develops another ability, finding herself capable of healing by the laying of hands. You would think that this would be the essence of the novel, but it is not.

It is a novel that speaks to the Protestant/Catholic problem - the way that what a child is taught to believe becomes so ingrained that even when thinking logically, the illogic of feeling and emotion is still there underneath.

Ellen's brother, Brian explains that although some things have changed, others have not: "Hatred," he says slowly. "That's what it's always been about. Three hundred years that was yesterday. We got their land, they want it back, and they want us away to hell. And they want to walk on our faces just like we walked on theirs." He stops, and I think he's finished but he hasn't. "you can add in fear to that. They were afraid, living under us, and now we're afraid of living under them. They say if we can't take what's coming we should go back where we came from. But it's not as simple as that, Ellen. No one wants us, we've been here too long, there's nowhere to back to."

It is a novel about understanding that doesn't come easily or without pain. And forgiveness. It is about the things that set Mother and Daughter into conflict and that come between husband and wife. About the blessing of friendship.

Paolini, Christopher. Eragon. Kind of Tolkien "light." Not bad at all for a kid of 19. Not much on character development and very Tolkien derivative. I think this is one where the movie might be better than the book. Still, as the first novel in a series, and by a very young man, there is promise.

French, Nicci. The Red Room. The second novel by French this year and a very good one, too. Quite different from Beneath the Skin (reviewed in October Reading). Dr. Kit Quin must make an assessment of a man found shouting in the street. At police headquarters, Michael Doll, the disturbed derelict, freaks out, breaks a coffee mug, and slashes Kit's face. Months later, Doll is suspected of murder, but Kit doesn't think he is the one responsible.

Rimington, Stella. At Risk. "Stella Rimington joined Britain's Security Service (MI5) in 1969. During her nearly thirty-year career she worked in all the main fields of the Service's responsibilities--counter-subversion, counter-espionage, and counter-terrorism and became successively director of all three branches." She also became the first woman to hold the post of director general of MI5 (all this from author info on jacket). Pretty impressive credentials. When I first read about the book, I wanted to read it because of Rimington's expertise; that her writing is lucid and efficient and that she knows how to tell a story made this a satisfying read.

Liz Carlyle is an intelligence officer with MI5 and becomes involved in an operation concerned with an imminent terrorist threat. Chatter has it that an "invisible" has entered the country intent on an act of terror. Who, what, where? The writing is brisk, crisp, and suspenseful. The author's first hand experience helps create the details that build tension and suspense. I look forward to more from Rimington.

Rhys Bowen. Evan Can Wait. A short mystery (part of the Constable Evans series) set in Wales. Constable Evan Evans is assigned to assist a film crew who have come to his little town to film a documentary about a WWII German plane that crashed into a mountain lake. One of the filmmakers manages to deliberately offend almost everyone with whom he comes into contact and eventually ends up dead.

Shaara, Lila. Every Secret Thing. Chic-lit attempting to be...I'm not sure what. A former lingerie model who now has a Ph.D. in religious studies is now teaching at a small college. This book doesn't seem to know where it is going - there are all kinds of "secret things" going on; too many and not too coherently. Gina Paletti hates being beautiful and dresses down to hide her beauty, but it is the only thing others see. And Gina manages to get this fact in every paragraph of the first person narration. There is a murder, a dysfunctional family, a Catholic nun who had an illegitimate baby (Gina's aunt), a mobster (Gina's uncle), the grasping family of her first husband, her mean-spirited, hateful mother, and offensive men who accost Gina at every opportunity (not sure if I covered every secret thing - there were too many). Pretentious and self-contradictory. Shallow Gina hates shallow people. No wonder she has problems. Yuck.

Deaver, Jeffrey. Cold Moon. Lincoln Rhymes and Amelia Sachs are on a new adventure against the meticulous Watchmaker. Full of twists and turns as usual, this installment had some flaws that bothered me. One was the "fact" that the duct tape used by the Watchmaker was CUT into precise strips when most criminals tear it off the roll with their teeth. Huh? Come on, Linc. With their teeth? Duct tape?

Initially, Sachs is lead detective on an apparent suicide. (O.K., here is another detail that bothered me. Why did it take the widow's assertion of murder to make people question the suicide if ...)

I really hate it when my involvement in a storyline is interrupted over and over by questions about details. Read, read, huh? Do ya' think it might have taken 2 people to do that? Read, read, huh? Bit of a contrast to be SO meticulous and so careless. Read, read...well, you get the idea.

Having missed so many details earlier, Rhymes' "insight" into the overly complicated agenda of the Watchmaker at the end...makes you wonder. One more picky detail: I no longer bother to read the forensic lists that are so useful to Rhymes.

O.K. I really did like the new character, Katherine Dance. Expect to see her again.

Hillerman, Tony. The Sinister Pig. I love Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, the settings of Hillerman's novels, the cultural differences of the various tribes. Bernie Manuelito takes a job with the Border Patrol to remove herself from the presence of Jim Chee, but she finds herself targeted because of photographs she's taken of an exotic game ranch. Connections to Washington? To a murder that Cowboy Dashee and Jim Chee have been working on? To the billions of dollars in Indian oil, gas, coal, timber royalties that the Department of the Interior can't account for? (and the 176, 000,000 dollars in royalties is a very real problem for the Dept. of the Interior - fact not fiction)

Hillerman's novels are fast and fascinating reads. He develops complex novels that don't feel complicated, he attends to details, his writing is lucid and unobtrusive.

Snyder, Maria V. Magic Study. Saw this one on some one's blog, so when I saw it on the library shelf, I pulled it. Found the beginning a bit confusing and quickly realized that it was not the first in the series. While it would have been nice to start at the beginning (Poison Study), enough background is provided for it not to be a huge problem. This one is fantasy and perhaps more in the YA category. The novel felt a bit rushed, a bit surface, but still an enjoyable read. I prefer the more detailed fantasy of Robin Hobbs' trilogies (the Farseer Trilogy, Live Ship Trilogy, and Tawny Man Trilogy (all inter-related and each complete trilogy 1500-2500 pages long - this is a world you can enter into almost as completely as Tolkein's world) .

Magic Study was a light read, fun, very quick, and when the characters from Ixia show up, things improve greatly.

And the Winner Is...

I won! Me! Carl drew my name, and I get a copy of Colleen Gleason's The Rest Falls Away! Things have been so hectic around here that computer time has been almost non-existent, but yesterday, I checked my email and received Carl's note. Cool, huh? Wasn't expecting anything but checking in on email and got a surprise gift book! Looking forward to the first in this vampire series.

Still not much time available right now, but I'm trying to update my December Reading. I realized this morning that I put it on "draft" the other day when I updated...and left it there. Now I have more to add.

Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas! Like everyone else, I enjoyed reading all the entries in Carl's G.I.F.T Challenge and now this Christmas is added to those memories.

Oh, and speaking of Carl, a while back he recommended the BBC series Mulberry with Geraldine McEwan. I watched the first disc before Christmas and have to admit that I, too, fell in love with both the series and the star. If you want a pleasant "movie" experience, you really should try this one. Thursday should bring the second disc, and I can't wait. Another set of characters as eccentric and lovable as you could hope for.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Buttonhook Tree

I've been unable to upload pictures for days. After hours of work, I finally managed to upload a few pictures of our buttonhook tree to my other blog. I don't have time to try to go through the strange process again right now - so here is a link to the tree.

Merry Christmas to all of you who have brightened this blog with visits and comments this year!

Friday, December 22, 2006

G.I.F.T Challenge #4

This tradition is an important one in our family and began about the time Erin was born when I saw a production of A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas performed by The National Theater of the Deaf. I bought a copy at that time (1973-74) and have treasured it ever since.

One Christmas was so much like another,
in those years around the sea-town corner now
and out of all sound except the distant speaking
of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep,
that I can never remember whether it snowed
for six days and six nights when I was twelve
or whether it snowed for twelve days and
twelve nights when I was six.

All the Christmases roll down toward the
two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon
bundling down the sky that was our street;
and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged,
fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the
snow and bring out whatever I can find.
In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued
ball of holidays resting at the rim of the
carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero
and the firemen.

It was on the afternoon of Christmas day...

It is referred to as a short story, but my copy is a very small, 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inch book with original woodcuts by Ellen Raskin. I've copied a bit from it to show you that, unlike some versions, mine is set in as poetry. Dylan Thomas was first and foremost a poet and even his prose is poetry.

I would give a lot to see the National Theater of the Deaf performance again. Poetry spoken by the narrator and poetry in motion as the actors sign the poem and act out the drama. Wonderful!

Listen to it here
Read it here

My copy is a very small, 5 1/2 x 5 1/2 inch book with original woodcuts by Ellen Raskin. I've copied a bit from it to show you that, unlike some versions, mine is set in as poetry. Because Dylan Thomas was first and foremost a poet and even his prose is poetry.

I would give a lot to see the National Theater of the Deaf performance again. Poetry spoken by the narrator and poetry in motion as the actors sign the poem and act out the drama. Wonderful!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Shakespeare's Language and Caloric Benefits

Book World pointed the way to this article in the Times. "Reading Shakespeare excites the brain in a way that keeps it fit," according to researchers.

"Monitoring participants with brain-imaging equipment, they found that certain lines from Shakespeare and other great writers such as Chaucer and Wordsworth caused the brain to spark with electrical activity because of the unusual words or sentence structure."

I agree, whatever gets those synapses firing is good, for more reasons than preventing dementia. Shakespeare's language excites the brain, imagination, appreciation of beauty, sense of humanity, curiosity, admiration of courage and loyalty, sympathy, empathy, sense of humor, and more.

And Maggie posted an interesting fact: You burn more calories reading than watching television! Isn't that wonderful? If I were still teaching it would be one of the things I posted on the board and left all year. Check out the rest of Maggie's post.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

#3 G.I.F.T. Challenge

This is another of my favorite poems. I love T.S. Eliot, and this one has a much different affect from many of his others; while full of imagery and symbolism, it is much more straightforward in narrative form.

The Journey of the Magi

"A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter."

And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins,
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

--T. S. Eliot

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

More on Scrooge (a Dickens' Diagnosis)

Charles Dickens created some fascinating characters and his attention to detail was remarkable. This article examines Dickens' treatment of quirks and eccentricities in characthers--that might now be diagnosed as disease states.

For example: "In 'The Pickwick Papers,'Dickens writes about Joe, a young man known for his love of food, generous build and uncanny ability to fall asleep anywhere. In 1956, 120 years after 'The Pickwick Papers' began serialization, Dr. C. S. Burwell and his colleagues published a medical case report titled 'Extreme Obesity Associated With Alveolar Hypoventilation: A Pickwickian Syndrome.' ”

In my favorite Dickens' novel: "Another character, Mr. Krook, an eccentric shop owner in 'Bleak House,' is described in the following way: 'He’ll never read. He can make all the letters separately and he knows most of them separately when he sees them ... but he can’t put them together' to make words. This is thought to be the first recorded example of a case of dyslexia — a difficulty that wasn’t recognized as a neurological disorder until nearly 50 years later. "

The article, however, begins and ends with Scrooge. What pathological process could be responsible for his Christmas Eve experience? What form of dementia? There are some interesting possibilities.

The author concludes: "It’s clear that once again Dickens has identified a disease, in this case a full century and a half before medicine did. What then of Scrooge’s miraculous transformation from stingy, miserable wretch to the embodiment of giving and generosity? No disease can account for that. Perhaps that is the true miracle of the story and, maybe, the real meaning of Christmas."

Monday, December 18, 2006

Bah, Humbug!

I posted this on my other blog several weeks ago, I listened to it again this morning (feeling very Scrooge-ish and full of complaints) and decided to share it with you. It will make you laugh and put things in perspective. The Helsinki Choir does a masterful job of complaining about all of the irritating facts of life and makes me smile to think that all over the world, we all complain about the same small annoying things.

Now that I've finished cleaning up the leaves and mowing the yard for the last time this year, things are looking up. Not exactly Christmassy at 80 degrees, but closer.

Sooooo, now that I've recovered from the "Humbug" feeling, I'm going to do a post for Carl's G.I.F.T. Challenge. For many years now, we have decorated our tree with button hooks. These are some of the 130 or so that we have. They are all sizes from large ones of about 12 inches to the small ones of about 3 inches. Some are advertisements for shoe stores (there is only one in the photo above with the quarters). One is also used as a shoe horn (the pink one in the bottom of the other photo that I cut off). The tiny ones were used for buttoning baby clothes, collar buttons, or gloves. We hang them upside down by the hook with ribbons. Fee is out of town, and I'm waiting to do the tree when he comes home.

We bought our first one on our honeymoon and have been collecting haphazardly ever since. One year Fee suggested putting them on the tree, and the button hook tree is a treasured tradition. (If you read about these on my other blog, forgive me for subjecting you to a repeat!)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

More books

I've finished and reviewed three more books in December Reading. An A, a C+, and a D-.

These 3 books are on order from Amazon (Thanks, Lotus!):

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found - Suketu Mehta,
Palace Walk (Cairo Trilogy) - Naguib Mahfouz,
and Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles -Jeanette Winterson.

Weight was already on my Wish List; it is part of the Canon Gate revisionary myth series. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood is one of the more intriguing books I've read this year.

I've bought 3 art books in the last couple of weeks.

Hiroshige: One Hundred Views of Edo. I posted about this on my other blog, but here is a link to all of the prints. Love it.

The Great Masters of European Art full of beautiful reproductions and details.

And most recently, A Child's Book of Art. All three purchases were inspired by a post on Blair's blog about children and art. So I started looking for things for my grandchildren...and got a little sidetracked.

I've always had art books around, but had not thought of them for my grandchildren, even though my kids certainly perused the ones at the house. The availability of so many excellent books on artists, styles, paintings makes a good gift possibility for kids.

The other book purchase lately (and I may start tonight) is Eragon. Scifichic rated it highly.

I'm also now on the look out for the John Scalzi novels reviewed by Carl.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Tall Book

I can't get the 2006 G.I.F.T. Challenge logo to load. Will try again later.

Here are Carl's suggestions:

What you agree to do, if you choose to participate, is to partake of and/or post on any 4 of the following:
Christmas movies

Christmas novels/short stories
Christmas songs
Christmas poems
Christmas traditions
Christmas memories

One of my favorite books when I was young was The Tall Book of Christmas. Out of print for many years, it is now available again, and I bought this copy several years ago, almost breathless with excitement to see it again in print. The copyright date is 1954.

The book begins with the The Christmas Story and has several excellent (if a bit old-fashioned) stories, poems, carols and songs. Mother read it to us when we were very young, then I read it myself for several years, then I read it to our children. It warms my heart each time I bring it out and flip through the pages...

Here is an illustration from The Great Walled Country.

"Nobody who lives there ever grows up. The king and the queen, the princes and the courtiers, play a great deal of the time with dolls and tin soldiers."

This story by Raymond MacDonald Alden was first published in 1906. The illustrations are, of course, from the 1954 edition, but have an innocence and charm that still appeals to me.

by heart...

I've been looking for this quote for a long time. I find and lose it regularly over the years. Always, my intention is to file it where I can easily find it again, but somehow, it is never right at hand. Now it is recorded here, and maybe I'll remember where this copy is.

[The] most important tribute any human being can pay to a poem or a piece of prose he or she really loves … is to learn it by heart. Not by brain, by heart; the expression is vital.
George Steiner

Monday, December 11, 2006

Lady Ottoline

Book World, in a recent post, mentioned Lady Ottoline Morrell. Lady Ottoline was a fascinating, flamboyant, and influential woman who cast a large net during the early part of the 20th century. I found Lady Ottoline's Album in an antique store a few years ago and was delighted because she is so often mentioned in literary circles of her time, and an accomplished photographer, she took wonderful snapshots of friends and frequent visitors - including T.S. Eliot, Siegfried Sassoon, W. B. Yeats, Virginia Woolfe, Vanessa Belle, Thomas Hardy, Lytton Strachey, Bertrand Russell, and on and on.

You will need to click on the images for the quotes by Bertrand Russell and Virginia Woolf.

Lytton Strachey was a particular friend and the photos of Strachey and Woolf are plentiful in this "album."

There are a number of photographs of T. S. Eliot.

Three of my favorite poets - Eliot, Yeats, and Sassoon - were frequent visitors of the Morrells and favorite photographic subjects of Ottoline.

Alduous Huxley and D.H. Lawrence returned her friendship with unflattering fictional portraits in Chrome Yellow and Women in Love, but evidently most of her friendships endured, even if sometimes tempestuous. The photos of Huxley make him look like a giant! Very tall, very skinny.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

the spiritual and the mundane

A few days ago, I mentioned that the following poem is one of my favorites. It calls for a balance...all the way through, emphasized in content and structure. There are some conversations going on at various book blogs concerning the spiritual and the divine. Meinke's poem says it all for me as far as the balance of the demands of daily life and the importance of something more, something spiritual. This poem pretty much agrees with Maslow's pyramid - that both physical needs and spiritual needs are necessary. Religion isn't mentioned, but the symbols are evident. These symbols are spiritual symbols and do not relate to a specific religion. Or even an organized religion. I realize that others may interpret this poem differently.

Advice to my Son
by Peter J.Meinke

The trick is, to live your days,
as if each one may be your last
(for they go fast, and young men lose their lives
in strange and unimaginable ways)
but at the same time, plan long range
(for they go slow: if you survive
the shattered windshield and the bursting shell
you will arrive
at our approximation here below
of heaven or hell).

To be specific, between the peony and the rose
plant squash and spinach, turnips and tomatoes;
beauty is nectar
and nectar, in a desert, saves -
but the stomach craves stronger sustenance
than the honied vine.

Therefore, marry a pretty girl
after seeing her mother;
show your soul to one man,
work with another,
and always serve bread with your wine.

But , son,
always serve wine.

The other poem I use in connection with these ideas is one that Lotus mentioned in the poetry meme:

Abou Ben Adhem
by Leigh Hunt

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight of his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:
-Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
'What writest thou?'
- The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered 'The names of those who love the Lord.'
'And is mine one?' said Abou.
'Nay, not so,' Replied the angel.
Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, 'I pray thee then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow-men. '
The angel wrote, and vanished.
The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names who love of God had blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.

I learned this poem by heart very young, in grade school; it was one of my mother's favorites and encapsulated religion for me.

Later, I discovered Meinke's poem which I love equally as well and that says,essentially, (this is my personal interpretation) that physical welfare and spiritual welfare should be intertwined. Bread and Wine. We are not complete with just one. Bread symbolizes physical sustenance; wine, spiritual sustenance. The practical and the beautiful, the mundane and the spiritual. Existence and transcendence.

For me, again a personal take, Hunt's poem says behavior is more important than words.

My opinion - religion is not necessary for spirituality, but is present more often than not. An aid, not a requirement?

Nancy Drew, the 60's version

Found these old Nancy Drew mysteries that I bought at a flea market a year or so ago. They were published in 1960 & 1961, so they are old, but not nearly as old as some. I'd love to have some of the really early ones. I used to be a big flea market visitor and shopper, but have not been very active in the last few years. Which is probably a good thing, since leaving without a purchase of some kind is a skill I've yet to master.

Watched Disc 3 of Firefly last night. :)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Dead as a Doornail

A while back, I discussed Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris. I enjoyed this novel and will look for more in this series. However,

I just finished Dead as a Doornail, part of Harris' Southern vampire mystery series, and found it less appealing. One thing that did amuse me was Harris' setting: north Louisiana. Bon Temps (which sounds like Cajun country, not north Louisiana), Sookie Stackhouse's hometown is Bon Temps - which sounds like Cajun country, but definitely not north Louisiana - and is located somewhere near Shreveport. In the novel, Shreveport is home to an enclave of werewolves (and other supernatural creatures as well). Ruston and Louisiana Tech are also mentioned. Harper Connelly and her brother Toliver Lang (characters in Grave Sight) even make a brief appearance in the novel.

Reading the names of familiar places in connection with all of the supernatural happenings was kind of fun, but I think I'll give the rest of this series a pass (while looking for more with Harper and Toliver).

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Woman in White

Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White is a complicated Victorian mystery which, unlike many Victorian novels, remains as fascinating today as it was when it was first published in 1860.

My last reading of The Woman in White was so long ago (high school, OMG) that all I remembered was the young artist Walter Hartright's strange midnight meeting of a frightened and confused young woman dressed in entirely in white at a crossroads as Harkright made his way home to London. That image of the startled young man approached by a strange, solitary young woman in the moonlight has remained vivid, that image and the powerful affection I've felt for the novel ever since.

The novel is a fine example of the gothic tradition with lots of mystery, deception, and suspense. My copy is 563 pages, and I was lost in the story from beginning to end - confirming my faith in my fondness for this book.

I marvel at Collins' ability to keep track of all of the details, characters, places, and events in this intricate mystery. He wrote in long hand. How many hours must have been involved! How difficult to manage and keep up with the narrative as it expanded over the hundreds and hundreds of pages of handwritten manuscript pages!

The characters include Walter Harkright, the honest, faithful, and determined young artist; Laura Fairly, the sweet, innocent, and insipid young woman Harkright loves; Marion Halcombe, the courageous and forthright half-sister of Laura. And there is poor Anne Cathericke, the mysterious young woman in white whose appearance at the crossroads as she escapes from the asylum (the Asylum!) has such impact on Harkright and the narrative.

There are two main villains - one is a rather bland and offensive baronet; the other, the fascinating, complex, HUGE, intelligent, cultured, witty, charming, contradictory Count Fosco. Fosco is a strangely sympathetic, but frightening villain, and there really is no novel without his forceful personality. He is a unique villain, breaking most stereotypes.
Names: if I notice the symbolism of names, I usually pursue it. Very Victorian, very Dickensian. Harkright, Fairly, Glyde, and Fosco are the ones that stand out. Fosco...what does it mean in Italian, I wondered. An English synonym is "dismal." Another source: fosco,-a adjetivo 1 (pelo) wild 2 (cielo) gloomy, dark

BBC Radio 2 has a reading of the novel here.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Two posts in one day...

Fauxto - When an author's jacket photo looks nothing like them.

More "Exciting new literary terms" here. Found this fun list over at Maggie Reads. "Fauxto" is my second favorite.
Guess which is my favorite.

Assorted books and blather

I finished re-reading The Woman in White yesterday and am happy to say that my fond memories were justified. I'll review it later, but Wilkie Collins had a mind for details, organization, and tying up loose ends.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Oh, how many years since I read Pirsig? Reading the article makes me want to revisit this one.

Time for another trip to the library, and one book that I want is Marking Time, the Vol. 2 in the Cazalet Chronicles...before all of those characters begin to fade from my mind.

Finished all but one of the books on my list for the Stacks Challenge. The one book unread is The Haunted Bookshop - which I included in my Stacks list because it was ordered in September, and I counted it as "in my stacks." However, Amazon eventually shipped all of the other books...with this one exception, although I continue to get email updates, I do not have the book.

Watched Disc 2 of Firefly Sunday night. :) Now awaiting Discs 3 & 4, and the movie; love that Netflix que!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Netflix, Novels, and Santas

Last night, after an entire afternoon of Christmas shopping with Laddie and then dinner at his favorite Country Tavern, I came home and found Netflix had delivered Discs 1 and 2 of Firefly. It was a little after 7:00, so I found some hand work to do, pulled up the ottoman, turned on the lamp, arranged scissors, thread, & glass of diet coke, hi-jacked the throw from my "reading chair," and settled into the "sewing and television chair" -- for a delightful evening. (discovered this morning that Carl had also watched a little Firefly) Joss Whedon - love him!

After finishing the first Disc of Firefly, I read a little more on The Woman in White before going to bed. It has been so long since my first reading (not telling how many years!) that discovering over the last couple of days that this well-loved book still brings the same pleasure and suspense that it did all those years ago has been a source of joy. Danielle has Armadale by Wilkie Collins awaiting her, and Dark Orpheus commented that Armadale is her favorite Collins' work. So...when I finish The Woman in White (and some of the others in the stacks), I'll be on to acquiring copies and re-reading The Moonstone (and reading Armadale for the first time).

Just a preview of some of Fee's Santa's . He carved these (and probably 20 more several years ago, and they are part of our standard Christmas search. Where t0 put them all?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Poetry Meme

Cam's Poetry Meme

1. The first poem I remember reading/hearing/reacting to was...
I really can't remember-- Nursery Rhymes, children's poetry, and adult poetry were all available in our house.

2. I was forced to memorize (name of poem) in school and........
I don't remember having to memorize any for school, but I memorized dozens inadvertently from constant reading and re-reading. Lotus mentioned "Abou ben Adhem" by Leigh Hunt and without intending to, I memorized it as a child and even without re-reading can still remember much of it. The same with Ella Wheeler Wilcox and "Solitude"--the lines lend themselves to easy memory. Later, I deliberately learned poems by heart because I loved them.

3. I read/don't read poetry because....
Poetry has always been part of my reading. Poetry evokes so much in such little space, and the meaning of a poem can increase on every reading and can change with the events in your own life.

4. A poem I'm likely to think about when asked about a favorite poem is .......
"Advice to My Son" by Peter Meinke, "In My Craft or Sullen Art" by Dylan Thomas, "Spring and Fall" by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and well, too many to mention and too hard to choose.

5. I write/don't write poetry...
I'm too conscious of the lack of poetic ability.

6. My experience with reading poetry differs from my experience with reading other types of literature.....
Re-reading. I can read a poem several times at a sitting and the same poems over and over year after year.

7. I find poetry.....
A revelation. A poet can say perfectly in a phrase or a line - exactly what I feel or think.

8. The last time I heard poetry...
Was on NPR - Galway Kinnell

9. I think poetry is like....
An onion. Not my original analogy, but I can't remember who said it. Good poetry can have layer after layer of meaning.

Two of my favorite quotes about poetry:

Poetry is the language in which man explores his own amazement. ~Christopher Fry

Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits. ~Carl Sandburg

Favorite Reading Chair

When I visit Librarian Avengers, I often find something I like. For example, these chairs from popgadgets are fun and practical for a reader. So thanks to the Avengers, once again, for an interesting take on "my favorite reading chair."
What about your favorite reading chair? Or couch or spot? Is it the same all year round? I know in warm weather, I have a chair outside that sees a lot of service, but the faithful recliner sees me all year. Post a picture of your chair and leave a link here in the comments section so we can see the various seats of imagination. Here is a link to mine.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

On the poetry meme

I've been reading the various responses to the poetry memes, since first discovering the meme on Dorothy W.'s Of Books and Bicycles last Friday. When I mentioned it on my post, I said I was thinking about playing, but nearly a week later, all I've done is read other people's - starting with Cam -- her reasons for creating the meme and her answers.

My biggest frustration came yesterday, when after writing 3 lengthy comments on Lotus Reads (we loved some of the same poems--I always have something to say about that), some "scheduled maintenance" wiped it out. Only on the 3rd attempt did I get the explanation and give up.

So this morning I'm still not following through with my own answers. This post is already too long, and I want to share a favorite poem.

Valentine for Ernest Mann
by Naomi Shihab Nye

You can’t order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter and say, "I’ll take two"
and expect it to handed back to you on a shiny plate.

Still, I like your spirit.
Anyone who says, "Here’s my address,write me a poem,"
deserves something in reply.
So I’ll tell a secret instead: poems hide.
In the bottoms of our shoes, they are sleeping.
They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up.What we have to do is
live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn’t understand why she was crying.
"I thought they had such beautiful eyes."
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.

Maybe if we re-invent whatever our lives give us
we find poems. Check your garage, the odd sock
in your drawer, the person you almost like, but not quite.
And let me know.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Parnassus on Wheels or Oh, What Fun!

Helen McGill never expected to be an author. Or to have adventures. Or to, I don't want to reveal too much, but Helen never expected that at almost 40 , her life would take a rather amazing turn.

One crisp fall morning in 1907, Helen's domestic life is interrupted when a robin's egg blue wagon, "something like an old-fashioned trolley car," pulled by a fat white horse arrives in her yard. A strange little man hops out and raises the side of the wagon "like a flap" and reveals shelf after shelf of books. The little man hands Helen his card:


Worth friends, my wain doth hold
Many a book, both new and old;
Books, the truest freinds of man,
Fill this rolling caravan.
Books on cookery and farming,
Novels passionate and charming,
Every kind for every need
So that he who buys may read.
What librarian can surpass us.

And thereby hangs a tale...

A delightful book, published in 1917, Parnassus on Wheels contains the innocence of a lost era, a woman ahead of her time, age-old wisdom and love of learning.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Bloglines failure

I'm having trouble with Bloglines. Blogs that have new posts are not being updated. I've sent them an email and received an "incident number" -- but things are still not working. When I mentioned this on my other blog a couple of days ago, someone suggested Google Reader. I hate to switch, but I'm really frustrated.

Have started Parnassus on Wheels ... and I'm loving it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

China Bayles...once more

Finished another China Bayles. The part that interested me most on this one was the information on the use of herbs for osteoporosis and joint problems. I'm debating on trying some of the recipes...I've never bought tofu, but there is a recipe for Ruby's Better Bones Soup that calls for it. And a great recipe for Doggie Shampoo.

This funny "foxglove" bookplate by Ian Penney seemed appropriate.

Dorothy W. has an interesting poetry meme over at Of Books & Bicycles.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Textile art, Dyeing, and Mystery

Finished another China Bayles mystery. Booklogged mentioned these the other day, and I had not read one in a while, but remembered that I enjoyed them. This one particularly interested me because it deals not only with the herbs that China Bayles grows and sells in her shop, but also with a textile artist and the art of natural dyes.
I love herbs and grow many in my garden. I have to confess that my love of them is, in part, because of their hardy and carefree nature. They require little care (except in containing their tendencies to spread) and most require little water. Added benefits are many. When my dog noses through the rosemary and the basil in the summer, he stirs up the delightful scents, to say nothing of the improvement on his own doggy aroma.
Each chapter in the China Bayles novels begins with excerpts from other sources that connect with the mystery in some way and increase your herbal knowlege. Albert always includes a page or two of bibliographic resources at the end of her novels, and the ones on natural dyeing and indigo dyeing are especially interesting to me.
The mysteries are light and quick reading. I like the herbal information, and in this novel, the information on natural dyeing. I also like the Texas expressions she includes and wish I'd flagged the pages with my little sticky notes so I could include one or two. Albert is also interested in the environment and this novel includes some of the very real destructive effects involved in strip mining and processing.
Her novels are pretty formulaic, if you read more than one, you quickly notice these tendencies, but I still like them and have begun another one.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Interpretation of Murder (with update)

Tues., Nov. 11/21/06 - I'm reading The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld which was on the new book shelf at the library the other day. The story revolves around a trip to New York that Sigmund Freud, accompanied by Carl Jung and Sandor Ferenczi, made to give a series of lectures at Clark University. In addition to the above characters, Abraham Brill, Ernst Jones, Harry K. Thaw (who murdered Stanford White), and George McClellan (mayor of N.Y. 1909) are other historical figures who have already made appearances. Henry and William James and Einstein have also been mentioned.

As well as these historical personages, the New York of 1909 - architecturally and culturally - is also playing a part in the novel.

The story involves two murders and an attempted murder (so far) and the efforts of the fictional psychoanalyst Dr.Stratham Younger, who is in New York as a representative of Clark University, to unlock the psyche of the young woman who survived. The murders are especially interesting because of the involvement of the Freudians (and the soon to be former member of the group, Carl Jung). Dreams are analyzed among these individuals and these are dreams that are on record in psychoanalytical sources. The literary associations, especially of Hamlet, are also playing a role. History, real case histories, and fiction are interwoven so far.

Note: A little while ago, I stopped reading at a point where Ferenczi has discovered that "Hundreds of pebbles and small stones, together with an armful of broken twigs and torn-up grass, were strewn about the floor of Jung's room." Jung, by the way, is getting a bad rap so far in the novel. The events taking place occur shortly before his break with Freud and show a good deal of jealousy among Freud's followers. Since Jung's behavior has been quite strange, I felt some mild curiosity, but now I'm wondering if it some presaging of his interest in Mandalas.

Since so much actual fact is twisted into the story, I may have to do some further research.


Finished. An excellent mystery. Complex and intriguing, both in the mystery and the history. Rubenfeld includes many red herrings, leaving the reader to question more than one character. I've always had an interest in both Freudian and Jungian literary criticism (and much prefer Jungian criticism with its archetypes and process of individuation - as did Joseph Campbell), but the real lives of both Freud and Jung are fascinating . Rubenfeld both supports and discredits Freud in the novel, but doesn't like Jung at all. There is a nice Author's Note at the end that helps untangle the real characters and events from the fictitious. This was much appreciated because although I had looked a few things up, the Author's Note gave concise answers to questions that would have taken more research.

I'm definitely giving this one a thumb's up: it appealed to some of my specific interests, the narrative was complex and involving, the interplay of actual places and events with the murder mystery was seamless.

My only complaint is that the conclusion was almost too complicated. I can deal with that...

On My Previous Post and Comments

My previous post received some comments that I think deserve further consideration. How many of the books we loved as children stand up to adult reading? Why? Does it matter?

For me, the L.M. Montgomery books do stand long as I don't overdose. There are certain themes in the books that get repeated -with different characters- in each book. When given adequate time between reading, I don't find this a problem, but I'm certainly aware of it.

For really young children-- if I can read a book over and over to a child without thinking it banal...I (as an adult) rate it an excellent children's book. Children, however, often love to have books read to them over and over that an adult will consider boring and trite (driving said adult to distraction at the 3rd reading, much less the 203rd demanded by said child). If the book appeals to many children in the same way, then logically, it must have qualities that place it above the dull category into which an adult might consign it.

For early readers-- being able to read on their own in such a reward in and of itself for children. Having characters that can be counted on to remain the same (I don't think young children want character growth nearly as much as they want dependability), but who continue having new adventures is a plus for beginning readers.

Another note, I remember when my children fell in love with the Sweet Valley High series. I was stunned, horrified! Their reading levels so much higher and there were so many excellent books available, why did they turn to these silly things? Obviously, I was too old to appreciate whatever call these books had. I, who would not have blinked an eye had they been reading Nancy Drew. Which tells me something... I read Exodus, Gone with the Wind, and other adult books in grade school, and I adored Nancy Drew. At the same time.

Poetry is the same way. I still love some of the poems I read in childhood. They are not good poetry, and I'm perfectly capable of distinguishing between the quality of "Little Boy Blue" by Eugene Field and "Holy Sonnet 10" by John Donne. I love them both. I read Donne as a child (in one of my mother's anthologies), but I couldn't appreciate him. Maybe Eugene Field is partially responsible for creating a love of poetry that was capable of growing and maturing. In my book, that makes Field as important as John Donne.

So... does it matter if The Boxcar Children would not stand up to a re-reading from an adult perspective? Not for me. It was a step on the way and will always evoke feelings of comfort and satisfaction and gratitude.

Five on a Treasure Island - From the Stacks Challenge

I read Five on a Treasure Island for one of my From the Stacks Challenge books. Enid Blyton had cropped up on so many lists of Beloved Children's Books that I ordered the first in the Famous Five series and The Faraway Tree to get a taste of Blyton.

Unfortunately, I don't have that special feeling that envelopes a book that you've read and loved in your own childhood. (For me that would include L.M. Montgomery's Ann books, Pippi Longstocking, The Borrowers, The Five Little Peppers, etc.) Fortunately, I discovered these and can pass them on to my grandchildren. The book is, as is often the case from this earlier time period, a potent mixture of innocence and adventure. The characters are thinly drawn, there are didactic messages of the importance of friendship, loyalty, and sharing, and there is remarkable freedom from parental supervision. Add a dash of deserted island, the ruins of a castle, the mystery of hidden gold, some bad guys, and the creative resourcefulness of children and voila: a perfect confection for early readers.

The freedom from parental supervision is a common theme in children's books, and is even more evident in light of current practices. How many parents today would allow their children the freedom at 9, 10, and 11 years old to row out to the island, negotiate the danger of the rocky coast, and not be particularly worried when a bad storm develops? No life jackets. And those are the minimal skills of these children, who think fast and take decisive action to defeat the adults who would steal the gold and who threaten to shoot the beloved dog Tim.

My daughter and I have discussed the changes in the area of freedom in children's lives before--the freedom my parents had as children, the freedom of my own childhood, the more circumscribed life of my children, and the even more closely supervised lives of children today. Easy to see the appeal of children who are allowed the independence of the Famous Five (or the Boxcar Children or Pippi).

Since Five on a Treasure Island is the first in this series, some time is committed to the circumstances in which Julian, Dick, and Ann meet their cousin George (Georgina), develop their friendship, and bond with George's dog Tim. I imagine the rest of the series falls more quickly into the mystery/adventure narrative.
The books are for very young readers or (one of the things I loved beyond telling when my children were young) for the reading of a parent to the child. What a great way to end the day, one chapter at a time.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Where Do I Go From Here...

Have finally finished Alias Grace and have reviewed it here in November Reading. I'm much relieved.

What next? Originally, I planned to read another one for the From the Stacks Challenge, but we shall see what I pull out of my library bag...

Also, my long awaited Amazon order arrived! There are more than enough choices, and I know that something lighter is needed at this point.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Bookmarks and Activities for Kids

I love Jan Brett's children's books and illustrations. Here you can find some lovely bookmarks that you can print (and I would laminate them) for free. My favorite set is Daisy Comes Home. Or would you like her alphabet flashcards? Or bulletin board month? Check out all of her free activities! If I were a primary school teacher, I'd bake her cookies once a month.

National Geographic has a place where kids can create their own bookmarks. Click "Help" for clear instructions. Or maybe your kids would enjoy the Dinosaur Egg Hunt with information about where dinosaur eggs have been discovered - with pictures and links. Ancient Egyptian loved their pets, too, and sometimes gave them elaborate burials. This site goes on and on and on with activities and information and lesson plans for different grade levels. Just one more.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Currently Engaged

Yesterday was a windy, cold, rainy day, but instead of reading, I continued working on my various sewing projects. I did spend about 30 minutes on Alias Grace, but that was the extent of my reading.

I posted the review of Tender at the Bone in November Reading the other day, and intended to quickly finish up with Alias Grace, but still have a ways to go.

Here are some of the books on my Want to Read List (and where I can remember, the blog source):
Aldrich, Bess Streeter. A Lantern in Her Hand. (booklogged)
Atwood, Magaret. Alias Grace. (Reading Matters) [currently reading]
Aycliff, Jonathan . The Lost.
Baricco, Alessandro. Silk. (Reading Matters)
Berry, Liz. The China Garden. (bklogged)
Birkin, Andrew. J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys: The Real Story
Behind Peter Pan.

Blake, Sarah. The Grange House. (My Indiv. Take)
Buzbee, Lewis. The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. (A Wk in Pr.)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Another one down...

I had almost finished Tender at the Bone the other night, but not quite. My eyes were too blurry to see, so bed beckoned and with little persuasion won. Sunday there was no time, and I fretted a bit; today, however, I finished the last 20 or so pages in short order. I've finished 2 of my Stacks Challenge books and will review Tender at the Bone later. The next one for the Stacks Challenge will be Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton. That one won't take long as it is a children's book, but it will have to wait until I finish Alias Grace, which is going to get my full attention now that I've finished the Reichl book.

The book plate is by
Posy Simmonds. The
site is mentioned in
yesterday's post.

This afternoon about 4:00, I put on The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio and worked on a needle felting project that I needed to finish. Later, it was time for Heroes and Studio 60, and I got so much done on my project while enjoying the movie and television that I am quite proud of myself.

Book Plates and meme

Shelley's blog had a link to a site with free book plates, and I saved several for illustrations on my blog. Isn't this one by David Roberts cute? The book plates on this site are mostly geared toward children and can be printed out and used in your books if you so choose. But I warn you, you are going to be seeing them here for awhile. :)

I've always found book plates fascinating, but have only rarely actually used them (although I've bought them on several occasions). Shelley's November Booked by Three has a meme concerning book plates:

1. Do you use bookplates?
Not really, but I love looking at them.

2. Do you write your name in your books?
Only rarely.

3. Do you attach stickers with your name and / or other info into your books?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Currently Reading newly recovered Tender at the Bone (which was hiding in the scanner) and Atwood's Alias Grace. Both are holding my attention quite well.

I've added two new mystery authors to my list thanks to Danielle. Cynthia Peale and Veronica Stallwood - here's hoping I can find them at the library, but I bet I can't. Danielle is a terrible influence on me. Self-discipline where are you?

Uh oh, I can neither save nor publish this post...Blogger is saying: We're sorry, but we were unable to complete your request.

Friday, November 10, 2006

November Reading -updated 11/28/06

Morley, Christopher. Parnassus on Wheels. Charming. I reviewed it

Albert, Susan Wittig. Dead Man's Bones. Another China Bayles mystery full of herbal lore (this time with an emphasis on herbs for bones and joints and osteoporosis).

Albert, Susan Wittig. Indigo Dying. A China Bayles mystery. I reviewed it in this post.

Rubenfeld, Ruben. The Interpretation of Murder. New York City and psychoanalysts involved in this excellent mystery. I reviewed it in this post.

Hill, Susan. The Woman in Black. More a long short story or a novella. I didn't find it as spine-tingling as others did.

Atwood, Margaret. Alias Grace. Disclaimer: Most people who read this novel praised it highly. However, inspite of Atwood's prose, inspite of the thematic and symbolic use of quilts and quilting, I did not enjoy this book. Not my favorite Atwood.

Based on the actual murders of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper, this is a dark story in which all of the characters are either unpleasant, wicked, or unreliable. The book is long and, throughout most of it, the reading is slow...partly because there is little action and partly because the atmosphere becomes so thick with tension and impersonal dread. And yes, it is skillfully done.

In 1843, Grace Marks, a sixteen year old servant girl, is convicted of involvement in the murders of her employer and his housekeeper/mistress. Atwood begins with the difficult life Grace endured in her short sixteen years, but nothing in Atwood's version of Grace's early history suggests the personality changes that occur later (whether innocent or guilty), although there are possible precipitating events that receive attention. Or maybe the links are too weak. Or too many things left unexplained. Jeremiah the Peddler, for example. Dr. Jordan, who comes to interview Grace fifteen years after her imprisonment, moves quickly from an individual with a purpose, to a seething emotional quagmire. Now there is an individual worthy of a psychological novel all his own.

After a while, I didn't care whether Grace helped commit the murders or not. My heart slowed each time I entered the miasmal atmosphere that pervaded the novel, which is why it took so long to read. In spite of the introduction of "psychological" principles and the spiritualist fad, Grace (and her involvement in the murders) remains an enigma, and by the conclusion,my sympathy for anyone in the novel had vanished.

Reichl, Ruth. Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table. Ruth Reichl used food as "a way of making sense of the world." In her home, where she was loved but neglected (her mother was a manic depressive), food was her fortunate way of connecting to people she loved. She begins by protecting people from her mother's cooking, and then, in self-defense, begins learning to cook from a variety of exceptional and talented individuals. Reichl not only survives a potentially damaging childhood, she celebrates the often unexpected dilemmas by using them to her advantage in an unusual and inspiring emotional growth.

One character that I loved was Aunt Birdie, and just as I was bemoaning the fact that Reichl appeared to have not felt it important enough to tell us what happened to her, Birdie makes another entrance when she is about to have her 100th birthday. Reichl's mother is planning a birthday party to celebrate the event, and her father, in desperation, seeks Ruth's help:

"I thought this was supposed to be a small party," I said.
Dad sighed. "It's been growing."
"But who could Mom possibly invite? Aunt Birdie's a hundred. Her friends are all dead."
"Oh, she's made new friends. You know Birdie. And then your mother began thinking up people who might like to be her friend" (246). Original comments from when I began the book are here.

Setterfield, Diane. The Thirteenth Tale. Reviewed here.

Howard, Elizabeth Jane. The Light Years. The novel opens in 1937 and provides insight into the lives of an extended family in those pre-war years. At first, keeping track of the many family members in a three generation family, their servants, etc. is a bit confusing. Parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, in-laws, servants...all kinds of relationships contained within the parameters of the Cazalet family. Howard creates real people with complicated situations and does it in a way that eventually makes you feel as if you are part of the family. More in this post...

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. (I'm just cutting and pasting the review I gave earlier) The book's classification as YA is something of a puzzler. Not sure it was the best marketing option, although the blog buzz has certainly moved it into another category: Must Read. The book has been reviewed on so many blogs that there is little left to say, but I was not disappointed as sometimes happens when one has heard too often that a book (or film) is wonderful and expectations are set too high. Although Death as the narrator is sometimes brutally honest, at other times, he is deliberately misleading - so even in small things, your heart beats a bit faster. I think this one will join the ranks of books like The Diary of Anne Frank - a novel about war, love, courage, "words," humanity.

Donohue, Keith. The Stolen Child. I was eager to read this story about changelings. A fairy child (or the child of the devil) substituted for the human child that was spirited away is a common folk or fairy tale. The idea of "observing" the changling left to integrate into the human world and the human child that must adjust to a fairy world intrigued me. Unfortunately, this novel never managed to pull me in and make me care in more than a simply curious way. Nothing about the book quite me relinquish reality or stop me from thinking "this just doesn't work." Henry Day or Aniday, the human family or the fair children...couldn't believe in either one.

The Thirteenth Tale; Reader, I loved it...

I finished The Thirteenth Tale and join those who really enjoyed the book. This novel captured and held me hostage from beginning to end. I loved the allusions to some of my favorite books, and Setterfield connected her narrative to so many of them by similar names, places, plot developments, etc. Many bloggers have quoted excellent excerpts from the novel so I won't bother, but I did love this prescription that Dr. Clifton gave Margaret after her collapse: "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes. Take ten pages, twice a day, till end of course."

Another recent review of The Thirteenth Tale: A Chain of Letters

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Say What?

Over at Bookfoolery and Babble, the Bookfool has a "new" book on English Country Houses. She mentions, among other things, that the name Chermondsley is pronounced "Chum ly," and I thought it would be interesting to know more about British pronunciation. Leicestershire is "Lester," Magdalene College at Oxford is (I think) "Mawd lin," and to my chagrin, after years of saying St. John (from Jane Eyre), I discovered it was pronounced "SinJin." I couldn't remember anymore, but if others know of words, especially names/place names, that sound drastically different from the way they are spelled, please share.

I have misplaced Tender at the Bone; where in my various stacks of books have I put it? Since I couldn't locate it last night, I started The Thirteen Tales and quickly found myself immersed in an alternate and fascinating world.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Prelude to War: The Light Years; Ecology

I'm in a bit of a low spell, lacking energy and enthusiasm. Yesterday, exhaustion set in and as a precautionary measure, I took that dreadful Theraflu. Took a nap and alternately read, doze, and listened to election returns last night.

Finished The Light Years. I really became involved with this extended family and wish I had Vol 2 in the Cazalet Chronicles, Marking Time right now. The first volume concludes at the brink of WWII, and one of the things I've found most interesting is the way people "heard" the news of the events leading up to the war; we all "hear" information differently according to the way we process the information. The hope that war could be avoided, the attempts to appease Hitler, the attitude that Hitler was a joke...slowly dissolving.

There are SO MANY characters. In the Cazalet family, there are 17 characters who have to be sorted, then there are servants, in-laws, and quite a few others to keep up with. Once the characters are sorted by family, it is much like keeping straight with the people in your own life.

This is a description of Lady Rydal (a very minor character, but I love the description):

Day after day she sat, cast upon her huge chair like a beautiful shipwreck, scorning the frail and petty efforts at salvage that her children attempted with visits of the kind that Villy was now making. She could do nothing, but knew how everything was to be done; her taste in the management of her house, her food, her flowers was both original and good, but she considered that there were no occasions left worthy of her rising to them, and the extravagance and gaity that Villy could remember was now stagnant, mildewed with self-pity.

In this first volume, the characters are introduced and their personalities skillfully elucidated. With so many characters available, the options for developments abound...a kind of pre-war soap opera preparing for events to come.

If you are interested in environmental and ecological studies and possibilities: David Orr and here, and here, and here, and here . I love the idea of planning for better land use, better communities, and more satisfying urban living.