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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.