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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Gift of Rain

Eng, Tan Twan. The Gift of Rain.

I actually finished this book before finishing the last several books I've recently reviewed, but wasn't ready to write about it. Now that it has fermented a while in my thoughts, I'll attempt the review.

First, this is Eng's debut novel and it made the long list for the Man Booker Prize in 2007. Eng's prose is elegant and flowing, and he quickly and skillfully sets the scene so well that I immediately felt drawn into the atmosphere of the island of Penang, Malaya.

Philip Hutton, an old man in his seventies, has lived on the island all of his life. The arrival of an unexpected visitor forces (or allows) him to review some of the most important events in his life: his relationship with his family; his friendship with his Japanese mentor Endo, an Akaido master; and the occupation of Penang by the Japanese during the war.

The complex relationship between Hutton and Endo is the crux of the novel. Endo-san, a Japanese diplomat, trains the young Philip in Akaido and introduces him to Zen Buddhism. This training aids Philip in many ways and helps prepare for him for the eventual declaration of war and the occupation of the island by the Japanese.

Endo's interest in Philip, however, has subtle indications of manipulation and self-interest. The reasons are two-fold: first, a past-life connection, and second, although Malaya denies the possibilities of war and occupation, Endo is well aware of what is coming. His friendship and love for Philip are genuine, but the circumstances of his position and personal history are incontrovertible.

One important facet of the novel deals with some fascinating details of the island itself, the pre-war attitude and the brutal occupation. In a historical sense, Eng's portrayal of the time period is absorbing and informative. (I've known a couple of men, contemporaries of my father, who survived Japanese prisoner-of-war camps and the Bataan Death March in the Phillipines, so I had a personal interest and curiosity.)

There are so many moral ambiguities in this novel about right, wrong, survival, and betrayal. I couldn't write the review immediately upon finishing the book because my mind was so busy considering these ambiguities.

It is also a novel about growing up. Philip is the youngest child in his family, the child of a second marriage, the child of mixed parentage (his mother was Chinese)...and he felt always felt out of place. His journey to adulthood involves resolving some family issues over three generations. This was my favorite part of the novel--watching Philip begin to understand more about his siblings, his parents, and his grandfather.

The disturbing portions of the novel leave the reader on his own; Eng leaves the decisions up to the reader. Even Phillip, the narrator, leaves events and judgments open.

Betrayal, deception, collaboration, and human brutality are always a part of war, but they leave us wondering about what our own reactions to circumstances would be. Eng handles these elements beautifully, without attempting to manipulate our emotions.

The cruelty that occurred during Japanese occupation is presented, but not graphically dwelled on; Eng presents scenes of horrific inhumanity because these things occurred, not to wring maudlin tears from his readers.

"Memories--they are all the aged have. The young have hopes and dreams, while the old hold the remains of them in their hands and wonder what has happened to their lives. I looked back hard on my life that night, from the moments of my reckless youth, through the painful and tragic years of the war, to the solitary decades after. Yes, I could say that I had lived my life, if not to the full then at least almost to the brim. What more could one ask?"

I suspect this novel will be on my list of favorites for the year, partly because of beautiful writing, the evocative descriptions, and the character development, and partly because it left me faintly uneasy, still pondering events and relationships.

Fiction. Historical fiction. 2007. 444 pages.

The Risk of Darkness

Hill, Susan. The Risk of Darkness.

This is the third in Hill's series about DCI Simon Serrailler, and I'll be looking for the first two novels in the series, beginning with The Various Haunts of Men.

There are an awful lot of subplots --one of which I didn't care for, or rather, didn't care for the time invested--because there are elements in that particular plot line that add to the novel as a whole. The primary narrative concern, however, is with an unresolved case of a missing boy, a case which has continued to haunt the DCI and his department.

When another child goes missing, Serrailler is called in by the North Riding CID to assist in the case. Initially, both departments experience frustration, almost despair, until finally, with the abduction of a third child, there is an eye witness.

Obviously, the character development and other elements would have been a bit more satisfactory if I'd read the previous books, but I had no difficulty following the lines of the novel.

If some of the subplots seemed a bit unnecessary, unresolved, or distracting, the characters of Simon and his sister Cat appealed to me. I liked their relationship, their concern for each other, and their banter (they are two of a set of triplets; the third, Ivo, is in Australia) and found the subplot involving Cat's family difficulties interesting.

I'm aware that having read the previous novels would probably have elicited more interest, but the time spent on the Lizzie/Max subplot might still have bothered me.

While the novel had a conclusion (the "bad guy" is arrested; this is not one of those novels with an annoying cliff hanger), there is a feeling that several aspects will explored in the next novel. Hill handles this in a way that leaves you satisfied, yet curious.

One further note, a mother/daughter, parent/child theme winds through the various plot lines and appears to be deliberate; I would expect some of these relationships to come up again with further development in the next novel.

The bottom line is that I enjoyed the novel.

Fiction. Mystery. 2009. 374pages.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Almost Caught Up

I've only two more books to review...unless I finish one of the ones in progress.

Currently still working on Yoga as Medicine and have begun The Three Pound Enigma: the Human Brain and the Quest to Unlock Its Mysteries, and The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club. I tried Knit Two by Kate Jacobs, but abandoned it for lack of interest; however, so far, I'm enjoying Beach Street.

I also received an ARC from Curtiss Ann Matlock: Chin Up, Honey which I'm eager to get to. Thanks, Curtiss Ann!

In the meantime, I'm busy adding to my TBR list:

This Is Your Brain on Music (via Robin, the Gentle Reader)

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl (via Bybee)

Little Women and the Feminist Imagination (Bybee, again)

Despite my love for fantasy, I've only one book in my stacks that will fit Carl's Once Upon a Time III Challenge. The only two challenges I participate in any more are Carl's R.I.P Challenge and his Once Upon a Time Challenge. What better excuse to indulge my love of Gothic & the supernatural and fantasy & fairy tale! Library this week!

What else is going on? Gardening and sewing. What should be going on? Decluttering and organizing. Ah, well...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

How to Talk to Anyone About Anything!

Spiegel, Jill. How to Talk to Anyone About Anything!: The Secrets to Connecting.

While I didn't take to the cheerleading approach Spiegel uses, I found the book quite helpful in in providing tips to feeling more comfortable in social situations and in connecting with people confidently.

Much of it is common sense, but for those of us who are often at a loss of words or sometimes uncomfortable in social situations, repetition is often a good thing.

Perhaps the most important advice that Spiegel gives before getting into specifics is that our attitudes are crucial. If our attitude is positive, people tend to receive us in a positive manner.

Spiegel talks about the mind-messages we often send ourselves that can be self-defeating...or on the other hand, confident and cheerful. Instinctively, I think we know this, but being reminded can ease our anxiety about certain gatherings or events we must attend.

There are certainly some good hints about how to enter conversations, how to respond to certain situations, how to deflect unwanted advice without giving offense, how to handle rejection and still keep the lines open, etc.

The book is very, very short, but the brevity is an asset. I get tired of books that put in a bunch of filler and say the same thing over and over in a variety of ways just to gain pages. If you highlight the important points, you can usually distill those bloated books into a few pages.

The format of the book is a bit odd (the chapters spill into each other without separation other than the textual clues), and I wonder if that is the fault of the publisher.

I received this book from the author and believe it is more or less the text from one of her seminars, which might explain both the brevity and the format.

The book is concise and helpful for people who are shy or who would like to be more comfortable in a crowd. There are times when I can socialize easily, but there are other times when I can not, for the life of me, think of anything to say (I know that is difficult to believe given the way I run on in my posts!)--so this book has already been helpful.

Nonfiction. Self-help. 2008. 110 pages.

Hungry Ghosts

Dunlap, Susan. Hungry Ghosts.

Darcy Lott is a stunt double who has returned to her native San Francisco, somewhat reluctantly and after a long absence, to serve as assistant to her Zen teacher in his new Zendo. Right before a dangerous stunt, Darcy thinks she sees her brother Mike, who disappeared years ago.

I found this mystery interesting enough to continue reading although I found myself nitpicking all the way through. The plot lines seemed far-fetched and convoluted, and some elements that were introduced weren't wrapped up satisfactorily. None of the characters came through for me, and the conclusion was predictable and anticlimactic.

Fiction. Mystery. 2008. 264 pages.

The Mao Case

Qui Xialong. The Mao Case.

I've read 3 of Xialong's previous novels and reviewed one here; well, it is less a review of the novel than comments about Qiu Xialong, his circumstances, his connection with the Cultural Revolution through his father, and China in transition .

Chief Inspector Chen, Xialong's protagonist, is the head of the Special Case group with the Shanghai Police Department. Chen is also a poet who majored in literature and does translations of poetry on the side. The poetic element in Chen sets him apart from most of his co-workers. He is a policeman through circumstance, rather than choice, but he is a dedicated one.

The novels are a bit uncomfortable for me as I wade through the cultural differences that include rarely saying what one means, but using poetry,metaphor, implications, or euphemisms. It would be so difficult to navigate waters that require you to choose an interpretation of what has been said. Chen, of course, can usually do so, but even he is often stuck between meanings. His interpretation of a statement can be so important, yet the words themselves can be taken several different ways.

The political undercurrents are also uncomfortable. Modern China is much more open than it was during Mao's time, but compared to the West, it is still a tricky and dangerous environment.

Inspector Chen's current case is what he calls a "Mao Case" -- one that is particularly dangerous politically. I've read several novels dealing with the Cultural Revolution, but I'm always horrified. Inspector Chen's parents suffered greatly during the Cultural Revolution (as did the author's), and he has mixed feelings about Chairman Mao. All discussions of Mao, even in casual conversation can still have severe consequences.

The books are interesting to me because they reveal that different cultures mean so much more than different languages and that even in contemporary China, Westerners have so little understanding of all of the underlying innuendo, significance, and ramifications that a simple conversation can involve.

Also of interest to me is the fact that so many individuals in Chen's world quote poetry at length. I assume that older individuals would have been forced to memorize Mao, but Mao's poetry is not all that the characters quote.

The dialogue is often stilted, but is that a result of the formality of the Chinese in their speech? Is it stilted because of Xialong's style, or because he is imitating the flow of a typical exchange? It has been about 3 years and several hundred books since I read When Red Is Black, and I notice that in my review I didn't comment much about the mystery.

I find the novels interesting and informative, but the mystery element in The Mao Case seems more contrived and the ending less satisfying. And yet...the Mao history and the complexity of living in China make the novel well worth it for me.

Fiction. Mystery. 2009. 289 pages.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Dear Diary

I have a couple of books to review, but they will wait.

Today I want to share a couple of sites with those of you who are interested in diaries and journals. I get regular updates from The Diary Junction when they add something new. "The aim of this website is to provide an internet resource for those interested in historical and literary diaries and diarists." It is a terrific resource.

There is also a blog (The Diary Junction Blog) that contains excerpts from the diaries of some fascinating and often famous people. I really love this site. Check it out!

Monday, March 23, 2009

And the Winner Is...

Linda! I will get The Reluctant Widow in the mail to you tomorrow. Congratulations!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Exploring Other Worlds

Chapin, David. Exploring Other Worlds: Margaret Fox, Elisha Kent Kane, and the Antebellum Culture of Curiosity.

Exploring Other Worlds is a very interesting look at two celebrities from the mid-nineteenth century. Margaret Fox and Elisha Kane both achieved fame/notoriety/celebrity status before the Civil War. Maggie Fox's claim to fame was as one of the spirit-rapping Fox Sisters; Elisha Kane was a gentleman traveler, an arctic explorer, and a national hero.

According to David Chapin, "In their own ways Kane and Fox epitomized what can best be called a culture of curiosity. They both operated in a new world of commercial mass culture that appealed to curiosity about the unknown .... The culture of curiosity was reflected in the newspapers, the dime museums, the lecture halls, the books, and the pamphlets of this era." The beginning of a new mass consumer culture was developing, and it provided a new kind of audience.

While neither Fox nor Kane were actually in show business, they were both entertainment attractions, and as a result, ripe for the kind of voyeuristic celebrity we are familiar with today. Both Fox and Kane needed the publicity for financial reasons, but the celebrity was a double-edged sword for both.

Chapin takes a much more skeptical approach to the Fox Sisters than does Weisberg in her biographical work, Talking to the Dead. He entertains no notion other than that the sisters were frauds; he does, however, look at Maggie and her situation sympathetically. Although he dismisses the spirit rappings as fraudulent, Chapin sympathizes with the difficulty of working women during this time period and never dismisses Maggie, herself.

Chapin includes more primary source information about the relationship between Maggie and Kane and mentions incidents that Weisberg omits. By the same token, while Chapin mentions Horace Greeley's acquaintance with the Fox family, he does not mention, as Weisberg does, that Kate Fox lived with the Greeley family for a while.

Kane actually gets a less sympathetic account. Chapin mentions Kane's arrogance, condescension, and sense of superiority in his travels, in his relationship with Maggie and in his arctic explorations. Part of Kane's sense of superiority is directly related to the cultural and social mores of the era, but I have to wonder if it was not partially related to his small stature (which was frequently mentioned). He was about five and a half feet tall and rarely weighed more than 130 pounds.

Although courageous, curious, and adventuresome, Kane was physically fragile as a result of bad bout with rheumatic fever when he was 18. He managed to pack an enormous amount of travel and adventure into his short life.

Chapin's book gives an informative and well-documented view of these two individuals, of their relationship, and of the pre-war society to which they belonged. It reads much more like a history text than does Weisberg's Talking to the Dead, but Exploring Other Worlds is excellent historical writing, simultaneously informative and interesting. I enjoyed it; it provides a great balance to Weisberg's book.

Nonfiction. Biography/history. 2004. 220 pages + notes.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How to Deal with Zombies!

I just couldn't help it! I've watched it a couple of times and smile even when I think about it. Perfect for Carl's RIP Challenge...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The TBR List Grows (and Grows)

More books that sound good:

Two Guys Read Jane Austen by Steven Chandler & Terrence Hill (via Nicole)

Broadcasts from the Blitz: How Edward R. Murrow Lead America into War by Philip Seib
(via Jenny's Books)

Fudoki by Kij Johnson (via Nymeth)

Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly (via The Vigorous Mind & Unruly Reader)

The Real Life of Mary Ann Evans
by Rosemarie Bodenheimer (via So Many Books)

Making a Good Brain Great
- Daniel Amen (via a podcast)

Little Brother
by Cory Doctorow (via Nymeth)

Cool video that shows a little of what technology can do. The fMRI is discussed in The Brain that Changes Itself that I just reviewed.

Don't forget that if you are interested in a copy of The Reluctant Widow to go to this post and say so.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Brain that Changes Itself

Doidge, Norman, M.D. The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science.

Brain function and neural plasticity are fascinating subjects, and our brains are capable of almost miraculous re-wiring to accommodate to situations incurred by accident, disease, learning disabilities, natural aging, or stroke. That does not mean that all brain trauma can be cured, just that the brain has the often amazing ability to recover brain function in cases previously considered hopeless.

Dr. Doidge, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, is on the faculty at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research in New York and the University of Toronto's department of psychiatry. His research into neuroplasticity leads him to interview some of the world's leading neuroscientists, to visit their labs, and to observe their methods in action.

In a fluent and highly readable account, he gives the reader an extraordinary look at individual triumphs and at scientific concepts and experiments that have led to so many hopeful discoveries in the field.

Portions of the book read almost like science fiction--fast and furious--leaving you marveling at the possibilities. Other portions slow you down and are more technical, but are still within the comprehension of the lay reader and are equally gripping.

The first chapters in the book are some of the most exciting. These chapters deal with almost unbelievable improvements in certain individuals with brain trauma or disabilities, the scientists who did the research, and the methods of research. While some very exciting discoveries have come about with improved technology that has allowed more and more accurate brain scans, other scientists have formed hypotheses and created treatments using very low-tech methods.

One interesting aspect is that brain plasticity or malleability, can be a blessing or a curse, for while the brain has remarkable flexibility, repeated patterns of thought and behavior ("neurons that fire together wire together") can create a rigidity that is hard to break. As a result, both positive and negative results can be achieved by the same brain process. (Ahh, those bad habits that we reinforce daily....)

On the other hand, "neurons that fire apart, wire apart" a phenomenon that provides a method of correction and a way to break bad habits or addictions.

Other interesting points (and there are far too many to mention!):

* Use it or lose it applies to mental as well as physical skills. Plasticity is competitive and unused areas can be pruned back or used for other information.

*The benefits of memorization (largely discarded in modern education) increased auditory memory, and therefore, thinking in language and that the stress on handwriting (also no longer a priority in education) not only increased motor skills, but probably "added speed and fluency to reading and speaking."

*Culture is more important than some believe. Because our brains are plastic, "To a larger degree than we suspected, culture determines what we can and cannot perceive." An example is in speech. There is a critical period during which the auditory cortex develops and during that period an infant is "capable of hearing any sound distinction in all the thousands of languages of our species." After the period closes, however, infants lose the ability to hear many of the sounds not used in their own culture which explains the problem some cultures have reproducing certain sounds.

Melbourne Conversations - Dr. Doidge speaks and explains better than I can.

Here is an article about the CBC Documentary with David Suzuki; there is also a link to a video, but it is evidently only available in Canada.

The brain is an astonishing organ; this book affirms that the brain is capable of significant growth, change, and self-repair.

(If you've reviewed this book let me know, and I'll link to your review.)

Nonfiction. Science. 2007. 408 pages.

Another Give-Away, Abandoned, In Progress

Time for another give-away: The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer. If you are interested in this one, just leave a comment (be sure to mention your interest). I'll use the Random Number Generator to choose the winner next Monday.

I've begun and discarded several books lately in keeping with this year's policy of abandoning books that don't live up to expectations. While I don't like abandoning books, especially when I've read 50-100 pages, there are too many books in my stacks that I'm eager to read. Unfortunately, Drood by Dan Simmons is one that is going back to the library unfinished, as are The Black Dove by Steve Hockensmith and Knit Two by Kate Jacobs.

In progress:

Exploring Other Worlds: Margaret Fox, Elisha Kent Kane, and the Antebellum Culture of Curiosity by David Chapin. This one continues the research I began on the Franklin Expedition (that digressed into other areas). Chapin takes a decidedly different approach from Barbara Weisberg in Talking to the Dead: Kate and Maggie Fox and the Rise of Spiritualism.

Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and Neuroscience Converge by Alan B. Wallace. Another look at neuroscience from a different perspective.

Deep Thinking the Human Condition: New Ideas We Can't Do Without
an ARC by S. A. Qdunsi. This one deals with problems concerning underdevelopment and poverty in third world countries the search for viable solutions. While this one has been put aside several times, I hope to get back to it.

and Yoga as Medicine by Dr. Timothy McCall, which I love and also has elements of neuroplasticity, but which has also been neglected as I try to get through the books I have on interlibrary loan.

I've been working on my review of The Brain that Changes Itself for several days; I have too much to say about it and have to keep pruning it! (Oops - thanks to Dark Orpheus for noting the wrong link here - should now be correct)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Saffron Dreams

Abdullah, Shaila. Saffron Dreams.

This is a quiet book about loss and grief, about hope and commitment, about cultural differences, and about our common humanity. It is, above all, a success story in the sense that living, in spite of all its difficulties, is a worthy challenge.

Arissa Illahi has had a childhood of privilege in Pakistan and is fortunate enough to marry the man she loves. Their brief marriage comes to an end, however, on September 11, when the twin towers flame and fall.

Heart-broken, Arissa must deal with the loss of her husband who worked in a restaurant in one of the towers and with the hate and anger that manifested itself against the Muslim community following the attacks.

With the help of her husband's parents, Arissa begins the long process of healing and re-formulating her life. The child she is expecting gives her the strongest reason to go on, but the strength and compassion of her in-laws provide the safety net she needs as she tries to cope with the loss of a beloved husband.

The author manages to tell this tale with such a delicate touch, never falling into the maudlin and never giving Arissa the powers of a superhero. Arissa is a deeply wounded woman who gradually gains the strength and confidence to accept the new direction of her life, but it is a struggle. Her courage is the quiet courage of the survivor.

I loved the relationship between Arissa and her husband's mother. The grieving of these two women, one who has lost a son and one who carries a son who will never know his father, provides an interesting study of loss and compassion.

Saffron Dreams addresses many serious problems (death of a loved one, prejudice, cultural differences, caring for a child with disabilities, and more), but in such a manner that allows us to see the ways human beings triumph over circumstances wrenched from their control and gradually find ways to re-adjust their dreams and move forward.

A beautifully written narrative that looks at the aftermath of Sept. 11 with a slightly different perspective, the book unfolds and blossoms with an unexpected tenderness while never denying the myriad effects of tragedy.

The author sent me this book, and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to read and review it. Highly recommended.

Fiction. 2009. 232 pages.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Jane Austen: A Life

Tomalin, Claire. Jane Austen: A Life.

This biography had a wealth of information about Jane Austen and her family. Although so many of Jane's letters were destroyed by her sister Cassandra and her niece Fanny, Tomalin still manages to piece together a vivid perspective of the author's life and the influence of family and friends.

Tomalin does occasionally make assumptions that bother me a bit; I don't mind assumptions too much if there are qualifiers, but I'm uneasy with assumptions easily made and stated as fact without said qualifiers because such varied opinions can result from our personal readings of a situation.

Nevertheless, the factual information was interesting and detailed. I was unaware that Jane was sent to a boarding school where she suffered from a serious illness, that she had such interesting relations in her Aunt Philadelphia and her cousin Eliza (both women had unusual independence of mind and style), and that there was a ten year gap in her writing as a result of the move from Steventon to Bath.

It is a shame that we have so little in her own words about her life and thoughts, but this biography gives a great deal of information about some of the major events in the lives of the larger Austen family. It was not the easiest period to be an unmarried female, but in spite of her quiet life, Jane made an singular and significant mark on the age with her novels. Tomalin's biography allows us to view Jane in the midst of her family and her era.

Another review of Tomalin's biography: Of Books & Bicycles
Another biography of Jane Austen by Carol Shields reviewed by Nicole.

Nonfiction. Biography. 1998. 228 pages + Appendices, Notes, Bibliography.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Among the Mad

Winspear, Jacqueline. Among the Mad.

This is the book I won in Danielle's give-away and the sixth novel in Winspear's series about Maisie Dobbs.

There are several aspects of these novels that I particularly enjoy:

- the way Maisie's character develops from the time immediately after WWI up to 1931, the period of this novel

-Winspear's handling of all of the WWI details and its residual effects on England

-the psychological insight into various characters

-the ambiance of post-war England

-and the mysteries themselves.

All of these aspects are present in Winspear's latest installment. When Maisie and Billy witness the suicide of a war veteran as they walk down a London street, they find themselves drawn into the investigation. The larger investigation involves a threat to the population of London involving poisoned gas if the government doesn't respond to the needs of its war veterans.

The use of poisoned gas by the Germans was one of the most horrorific elements of WWI, and the thought of the use of such a weapon on London is terrifying. Maisie immediately suspects that the author of the note is himself one of the shell-shocked victims of the war; working with New Scotland yard, she joins the frantic attempt to locate him in time.

Of course, the emphasis on the poisoned gas calls to mind Wilfred Owen's poem Dulce et Decorum Est (perhaps the best known poem of WWI) and its description of victims of a gas attack.

In addition to the major plot line and its logical digressions concerning shell shock and the treatment of war veterans, the novel follows some of the minor recurring characters and their difficulties.

Among the Mad is one of Winspear's best, a multi-layered look at an era. Winspear has also begun to introduce us to the pre-war period of WWII in her last couple of novels. Hitler is consolidating his power in Germany and many in England are beginning to take notice of the changing political climate.

An interview with Jacqueline Winspear: A Work in Progress.
Other reviews: So Many Books and Curled Up With A Good Book.

Fiction. Mystery/Psychology. 2009. 303 pages.

And the Winner Is...

I numbered the names that were entered for the give-away of My Lady of Cleves and used the Random Number Generator for the selection.

The winner is Bloduedd, Bookgirl at the Court of Mur-y-Castell! Isn't the name appropriate for a book about a queen? So My Lady of Cleves will be making the journey to Finland soon.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Uncommon Reader

Bennett, Alan. The Uncommon Reader. A charming and funny novella featuring the Queen of England and books. When the Queen of England becomes a reader there are some amusing consequences that perturb those who prefer life to remain the same.

The Queen's inadvertent discovery of books and her unlikely mentor Norman lead Her Majesty to some "overwhelming question[s]." She recalls meeting various writers and poets (including Mr. Eliot) before becoming a reader and realizes the missed opportunities because she had not read their works and couldn't discuss them with any familiarity.

When she comments on this fact, she is told that she was surely "briefed." The Queen then distinguishes between "briefing" and "reading" with some of my favorite lines:

"Briefing is terse, factual and to the point. Reading is untidy, discursive and perpetually inviting. Briefing closes down a subject, reading opens it up."

Reading this novella was a short, satiric, and delightful experience!

Other Reviews: Nymeth, Dorothy, Kailana, Teabird

Fiction. 2007. 120 pages.

Painting, Reading, Adding to Lists

I've been busy the last few days painting the room that will be my new sewing and computer room. Painting completed yesterday , and now it time for the really difficult part--moving in.

I'm almost finished with the Jane Austen biography, but have 4-5 books going at the same time, so each one of them is going slowly. Well, except for Among the Mad by Winspear, which I dashed through because I couldn't wait to find out what Maisie Dobbs was up to!

In the meantime, even as I have wonderful books waiting in my stacks, the TBR list grows:

A Journey into Dorothy Parker's New York by Kevin Fitzpatrick (via Worducopia)

Waiting for Gertrude by Bill Richardson (via Framed)

The Help by Kathryn Stockett (via My Random Acts of Reading)

The Invisible Wall by Harry Bernstein (via Ramya's Bookshelf)

The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes (via Kim)

These join my long list of books that I want to read!

Now, must write the review of The Uncommon Reader and Among the Mad.

Book give-away post here.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

In Progress

Our brains are so wonderful! So absolutely marvelous! I'm almost unable to put The Brain Changes Itself by Norman Doidge down. (Unfortunately, I have to because my husband has me painting my new sewing room--I'd planned to hire someone.)

Reading this book is as exciting as fiction and makes me feel the miraculous nature of who and what we are. The studies are endlessly fascinating; I have flags and notes all over the place, and I've read fewer than 100 pages.

Not only are the studies of the science involving, but the research and applications are so encouraging. What possibilities are available to those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, strokes, for those who are dyslexic and have other learning disabilities, and to those of us who are free from the most serious problems, but who would like to think that our brains are capable of transformation!

I can't help but think of The Vigorous Mind, not only because Cummings discusses neuroplasticity, but because she offers so many options for learning and growing, for cross-training the brain, for developing diverse interests. I'm still pursuing the "curriculum" I developed for myself, and find that my reading is more rewarding and that my interests and curiosity have broadened.

One of my goals (besides reading more broadly :o) in my personal Vigorous Mind curriculum is to be more involved and participatory in some of the compassionate projects that online friends have organized. A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the baby quilt I was working on for a service project that a quilting friend was doing for pregnant teens. She's in Texas, so I thought this cowboy applique was appropriate.
Don't forget that if you want a chance to win My Lady of Cleves, you need to comment on the previous post.
Sometimes there is a surfeit of good books! So many great choices in the TBR stack that choosing becomes a dilemma.
Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear (Newest Maisie Dobbs adventure. Thanks, Danielle, can't wait to begin this one!)

The Four Corners of the Sky by Michael Malone (an ARC- have to wait to read this one as they want the review posted in May)

The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge (Interlibrary Loan - I couldn't resist reading the first chapter - amazing!)

Contemplative Science: Where Buddhism and Neuroscience Converge by B. Alan Wallace (another ILL and part of the Columbia Series on Science and Religion)

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (ILL - and oops, this shouldn't have been in the stack because I read this little jewel the other night- need to review it)

Becoming Enlightened by the Dalai Lama (ARC - I've read a bit of this one, but I'm so inundated with great possibilities that I haven't gotten very far)

Drood by Dan Simmons (I'm 168 pages into this one, but have to admit that it is not really grabbing me)

Still in progress: Claire Tomlin's Jane Austen: A Life and Yoga as Medicine, both of which I'm really enjoying.

And a Give-Away - Leave a comment if you'd like a copy of My Lady of Cleves by Margaret Campbell Barnes. I'll draw a winner on Monday, March 9th.