I don't know why, I've been feeling a little weepy lately. I mean, not breaking into sobs at every opportunity, just a little more likely to tear up over something sad. I attribute it to missing Rudder, and to missing my boat, and to frustration over work issues. (Also, I've changed to a new variety of BCP, so there could be hormones involved.) Today at lunch, I was considering going out, decided it was too much effort, went down to the cafeteria, decided I couldn't really face cafeteria food, and went out after all, on an excursion I'd been considering for a few days. I went to the Antiquarian Book Shop (and its next-door neighbor, which is merely an antiquarian book shop, and spent a happy hour deciding whether I really wanted a first edition of The Education of Henry Adams or if I'd rather spend the same money on a hardcopy of Frances Hodgeson Burnett's The Lost Prince, or whether it was stupid to buy either given that both are available online.
Warning: it's really not a good idea to look a book up on Alibris after you've paid bookstore price for it. (Before you pay for it is a much better time.) Still, the Newton is a first impression of the first trade edition (I'm not entirely clear what a "trade edition" is, in a hardback) and is within the range at Alibris, and I got a pretty good deal on the Twain volumes even by Alibris standards because they're water-stained. And though it makes me feel all collectorly to have a first edition or two around, the fact is I buy my books to read. Also, the Newton book isn't available in an online text, and the Twain is one of those Australia-only ones you're not supposed to access in the US due to copyright rules, so I really am paying to be able to read these, not just to have a book I can hold.
I have a peculiar fondness for Newton, being a fellow Philadelphia, appreciating his love for books, and actually having been in his transplanted library, and it's fun to read about how different traveling through Europe was most of a century ago. As for the Autobiography, well, it's by Mark Twain and it's not Joan of Arc, so how bad can it be? I figure the man who helped make Ulysses Grant's Autobiography ought to have done all right in his own.
Books are very good investments in my mood. While I do practice retail therapy more than I probably ought to, binging on clothing is like binging on fast food. It tastes good at the time, but leaves you a little queasy and without much substance. (The exception is when you spend more than you think you should - but less than you have - on something you absolutely love and will wear to death.) Binging on books is more like overeating at Thanksgiving dinner for me. Yeah, maybe I overdid it a little, but it's nutrition that will last, and the whoole dinner leaves memories I can take out again and again. Except that books are even better, because I can reread the whole book, not just a memory of it. And then there's that whole thing about actually getting to learn from them. What better investment could I make?
Just finished. What a lovely, lovely book.
I've been reading a collection of Fantastic Four comics from about 1961. I have no idea why I like the old Marvel comics but I do; they're oddly compelling. They're also dated and repetitive and isn't trying to be anything else. A new device with a name like "the magna-sonic transducer" shows up roughly once per page, and there are regular visits from aliens and from other races who have been hiding out on Earth all along, jaunts into the "negative zone", people with superpowers like changing parts of their body into sand and no attempt to come up with a scientific explanation for any of it. Anyone who describes himself (always himself) as a "scientist" seems to acquire the ability to instantly understand any device and figure out how to use it from a quick inspection, no matter how complicated or alien the device might be. Everyone speaks as if he or she is being recorded for posterity except the Thing, who keeps complaining about it. ("Sheesh. Can't we ever fight a villain who doesn't lecture all day?") Actually, he's never just the Thing, he's the "ever-lovin blue-eyed Thing", and his "Aunt Petunia's favorite nephew"; Johnny Storm is "the blazing boy" and "Hothead", and Mr. Fantastic is "that egg-headed square lunk" if the Thing is speaking, "Leaderman" from the Torch, super-scientist Reed Richards from Stan Lee in authorial voice, and "Reed, my darling" if it's Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl. It's cheerfully hokey and mostly great fun.
I also give them some credit for the low level of racial prejudice. The "noble Indian" language used about and by Wyatt Wingfoot gets a little old ("I should be able to train Lockjaw [the Inhumans' dog] if anyone can, for have I not the blood of my Comanche forebears, who trained the wild mustang?") but on the other hand, he mixes freely with people of all colors, drives an extremely hot sports car (thanks to a "with-it" oil-baron grandfather) and gets the same education Johnny does. When the FF and Wyatt meet the Black Panther, again, he's rich and cultured (despite living in the middle of an African jungle) and courteous, and there's no implication of any status tied to skin color.
What does bother me is the blindingly blatant level of sexism in the books. Sue Storm apparently gets to wash dishes and do all the cooking, in addition to fighting bad guys alongside the boys. She is a bending reed, clinging to Reed for protection, but only before and after the battles. The word "feminine" is never used alone; it's always "weak and feminine", as in, "I apologize for being so weak and feminine as to burst into tears after we finished kicking bad-guy butt together." other female characters, like Medusa and the Enchantress, want to stand on their own, but tend to be ignored or viewed as second-rate despite their formidable powers by their male associates. (After Medusa wiped the room with the Trapster - this was before she reunited with the other Inhumans and became a good guy - he informed her, "I like a dame who's feisty!")
I think this probably bugs me so much because, like racism, sexism has retreated and gone underground but not vanished. I read regularly on blogs and elsewhere complaints from modern-day Sue Storms who are expected to kick bad-guy butt or at least satisfy the requirements of a demanding career and then go home and make the dinner every night. It's good to see the progress we've made, but it's sad not to see more of it.
Spurred by someone's link to some of its library's old handwritten catalog cards, I've just been having a grand time poking around in the archives of my school's history. I have to say Penn tends to fudge a little; the University claims to have been founded by Ben Franklin and to date back to 1740, and the two claims are a bit contradictory. (That is, the Franklin part is irrefutable, but the 1740 is shaky.) What apparently happened was that other leading Philadelphians began building a charity school in 1740, which never quite got off the ground, then when Franklin proposed an Academy in 1749, he proposed using this building as the center of cmapus. There was a provision made to continue the charity school as part of campus. (More info here.)
The Academy and the Charity School for boys opened in 1751, with a Charity School for girls added in 1753. Then in 1755 the College of Philadelphia was chartered, so for a while all three functioned together. It became officially a University (America's first) in 1765 when the Med School opened, then was renamed a University and briefly became the first state university in the US in 1779. There was some squabbling over this and, for a couple of years, the College and the University were separated until they were joined back together and re-privatized in 1791. (A brief general history is here.)
So as a school the idea of it dates to 1740, but no students were taken until 1750 and no college students until 1755. Then the first class graduated in 1757, which seems awfully quick - but then, as I understand it, Oxford and Cambridge students to this day generally only go for three years. I think Penn may have been the first university where the colleges were divided by subject; as far as I know, at Oxford and Cambridge thecolleges had specialties but weren't divided according to subject. (Their websites say that at both schools, courses and departments now belong to the Universities, while the Colleges offer only tutoring and small group seminars, not lectures.) I don't know anything about universities elsewhere in Europe, though, so the system may not be original with Penn though looking at the Wikipedia entry on the University of Paris, aka the Sorbonne, while the faculties were divided by subject, the schools seem not to have been.
Anyway, apologies to those not interested in academic history, but it's been a pleasant way to fritter away some time. I never was able to find a history of the Penn library itself, but there is a mention of some books being donated to it by Louis XVI of France in 1784.
I am so going to hell. When our department admin told me the boss is gone to a doctor's appointment, my very first thought was, "Good. Maybe he'll take a sick day tomorrow.
Outside work, I'm reading Women and Judaism by Blu Greenberg. It's fascinating: a discussion of the conflicts between feminism and traditional halakha (Jewish Law) with the ways in which they need to influence one another discussed, thoughts on what would be gained thereby, and concrete suggestions made on how to do it without doing violence to traditional Orthodox customs and family life.
Most of the books I read I couldn't write for one reason or another, lack of talent or lack of knowledge being preeminent among them. This one I couldn't write just because of who I am. No one but an Orthodox woman could have: one who was raised in a traditional home, runs one herself, loves the traditions she follows, and is a wife and mother as well as a scholar. A Conservative or Reform Jewish woman could write another book, of course, and maybe an important one, but not this particular book. It might have love, it might have knowledge, it might even have Yiddishkeit, but it wouldn't have had the insight and credibility Blu Greenberg has.
It's a little dated, since it was written in the 80s. It's using some feminist terms that have been changed or softened with time. On the other hand, the issues she discusses, such as when or whether women should be included in the minyan or should have the same prayer obligations as men, are still in flux. Also, there are still far too many people who see feminism as not a voice for equality, but as the shrill man-hating rhetoric of those who want superior privileges with no added responsibilities. Greenberg, on the other hand, wants rights but also the concomitant responsibilities. She says that Orhtodox women, not required to pray in public, have too often drifted away from prayer in private (something I wouldn't have known), and suggest that increased responsibilites might also lead to increased joy in those responsibilities. She speaks of the love and warmth of Jewish famly life and the need to preserve it in the face of any changes made, suggesting that, for example, women with young children would still be exempted from certain responsibilities, but not those without such ties to the house. (And she recognizes that over time, this would also need to apply to men who were primary child-caregivers.)
She also talks of growing up in a time when "a Jewish girl didn't really need to worry about supporting herself", which interests me because it's so far from my own experience and yet as close as my mother's girlhood.
I bought the book after encountering her as a character in The Jew in the Lotus, also recommended. This seems to be my year for Jewish education. I don't have the feeling that it's leading anywhere in particular, other than to more knowledge of course, but that's enough for me.
Remember that story I mentioned writing a while back? I got several very gratifying comments and one set that sounded to me like, "This really doesn't work for me." However, that one was from the one of the reviewers that has spent the most time figuring out how stories are put together, and I'm inclined to give that person's words even more weight because they accorded with the comments of the editor who rejected it. I haven't really worked on it much since, not knowing how to fix it. (Having done my best at repairs, which in this case basically amounted to admitting when I didn't know how something worked, I probably really ought to try submitting it elsewhere now.)
Meanwhile, though, I started another abortive original story - abortive because it made me feel as trapped as my character did in its beginning, so that I haven't touched it in months - and have essayed another attempt at L.M. Montgomery fanfic. I suspect that using someone else's world is a good way to practice writing chops, and that attempting to write in an author's voice is good practice for writing in a character's. Since plot is where I feel weakest, I stole that from Montgomery, lock, stock, and semicolons, but have added my own trimmings. Since this story is six pages long, I won't post it here, but you can read it over there.
Today was crazy busy, but yay! My Amazon order finally came! It took a month because all but a couple of the books were waiting for the publication of Nail Gaiman's Anansi Boys. Besides that, I now have The Sword in the Stone and The Book of Merlin and other wonderful things I've either been wanting or heard others raving about: from Steinbeck's Travels with Charley to Elizabeth Bear's Scardown, Studs Terkel to Blu Greenberg, Knitting from the Top Down and Knitting Without Tears and a beautiful big book, the English translation of SeferHa'Agadah, which contains legends from the Talmud and Midrash. AND there are a couple more new book club arrivals, including the complete Madeleine books. I am a happy girl.
Also, here are last night's pendants - both are of jasper and sterling.
This time around, I read The Once and Future King with a more critical eye. I still like The Sword in the Stone better than the rest of it, and prefer the standalone version of TSitS to the rest of it, but saying that the later books are not as good as the first still leaves them a lot of room to excel.
White switches gears after TSitS; that book is clearly aimed at children or possibly young adults, while the rest strikes me as more of an adult book. Those are difficult distinctions to make, especially for someone who can read Austen and Milne, Trollope and Travers with equal enjoyment. Maybe one over-simplified way to distinguish is that children-readers are still learning What is in the world, and What is the world, and should be educated by their books; young adults have learned the What and are wondering Why the world is and what it is For, and can be led by their books to ask the questions in ways that will permit them to find their own approixmations to answers; adults (some adults) know What is What but have forgotten that they ever wondered and may be led by their books to reexamine their questions and regain their wonder. By that standard, the later books are aimed at adults, while the first is for children verging on young adulthood.
(The later books' independent titles are The Queen of Air and Darkness, The Ill-Made Knight, and A Candle in the Wind, but I don't think anyone has read them separately since the omnibnus was published in 1958.)
I surmise that the change in tone is because White had a freer hand with TSitS, whereas in the later books he is retelling and expanding on stories told by Malory (who makes a cameo appearance in the last chapter). The extraordinary thing is that throughout all four books, both the TSitS and the other three adult books, he uses a style more common in children's books. (In fact, it's a little similar to the style Lemony Snicket uses, except that White explains not only words but characters.) While he is showing his reader the characters and their world, he pauses to tell in authorial voice exactly what he's showing: that Lancelot acts as he does because he has a purely Medieval religious view of chastity and purity, for example, or that Guinevere's contradictory actions are because she was "a real person", who can't be confined by simple labels: "Sometimes she acted one way, sometimes she acted another. She always acted like herself." And always there is Arthur in the background, lit by his dream and desperately trying to kindle a flame that will burn through England before his candle gutters.
He uses the technique not only to explain how his characters are as different from modern ones as a castle from an office building, or to peel back years to let a middle-aged reader (one who has developed the "seventh sense" of balance) recall the unsteadiness and fire of youth, but to insert comment about his own times (Merlyn's view of Hitler is especially good).
It ought to be very annoying. This is exactly the sort of telling, not showing, that authors are warned against. It ought to be grating enough to make the reader want to throw the book across the room. In lesser books, it is. Maybe it is in this book, for some people. For me, though, it's only charming. It deepens the characters and does wake my wonder. Maybe the cozy charm is because for me that wonder was so closely tied to the English books I lived in as a child, or maybe it's related to what Matociquala said about J.K. Rowling, and it doesn't matter what White does wrong, because of all he does right. (Oh, dear. I typed that first as "... all he does write." Ouch.)
I don't know, but now I want to go reread The Sword in the Stone, the better version where Margan Le Fay's castle is made of candy instead of lard, and The Book of Merlyn, which is really a book of old age, as well as of (appropriately, considering what book I picked up after TOaFK) freedom and necessity. And then I want to walk through a castle and work out, as White says any sensible person would, which were the granaries and which the armory, where the barbicans were and where the lord and his family lived.
Done. This w as a much easier book to read than the last; there are certainly shocking and terrible things that happen in this book, but I don't think as many people will dislike it as did HP5. Eerything that happens feels somehow more 'right'; none of it feels like unnecessary roughing. I can definitely see why JKR says it's really one story with Book 7; there are more mysteries left hanging than in the other books. There's less of a feeling of completion, but it's not a really painful cliffhanger because at least we have a direction.
A lot of it is because Harry's not such a dickhead in this book. This time around, it's Ron and Hermione's turn to go through the more unsavory parts of adolescence, though more of it is backstage. That seems a little odd, as in the last two books, Hermione had suddenly developed a lot of empathy and insight into other characters; maybe it's that she just has a blind spot.
There are a few real spoilers I want to mention, but I think I'll wait another coupl eof days for that. And maybe a rereading.
Good timing too - I had slept late, erged, eaten while logging my meters on the Concept II site (got to eat right away for that glycemic window) and showered. The doorbell rang right after I stepped out of the shower. (Fortunately Rudder was available to answer it).
See you on the other side.
I have enough friends who are also passionate about Potter than I hsould probably post a Half-Blood Prince spoiler policy. If UPS is as timely as they were last time, I will probably be finished the book by late afternoon tomorrow. (If not, I will be bouncing off walls by then.) There will probably be commentary here. Any spoilers will be so labeled and stashed behind a cut tag, for easy avoidance. I may post some vague general impressions on the main site: I loved/hated it, other fans will love/hate it, it's darker than the others or not, I was shocked or not by what happened, that sort of thing. But no spoilers on the front page for at least a week or two.
LATER NOTE: Megan's pointed out that Bloglines ignores the cut tag. (LJ does too, but I think it just omits everything after the tag.) I'll try to remember to put in a clear warning and some spoiler space, as well. OK?
LATERLATER NOTE: Nevermind. (See Megan's second comment.)
I don't think I'll preorder next time. I really feel like I'm trapped in the house, having to wait for it. I won't even be able to erg unless Rudder can listen to the doorbell for me. Also, I'm not a huge fan of crowds, but some of hte parties might be fun, and since the book is being sold even in my supermarket, it shouldn't be hard to get without dealing with crowds, should I not be up for them.
Below the cut is some discussion of spoilers I've seen. There won't be any spoilers in my discussion, but I'll hide it anyway for the hypercautious, and so those who just don't care can avoid it.
Many of the spoilers I've seen are clearly not true, because they're mutually contradictory - particularly the ones about who will kiss whom. The problem is, I can't tell which ones. There are a couple, though, that I think are likely true.
The first is who will be the new DADA teacher. I believe this one because it seems logical in terms of both the story development and some comments JKR has made. It seems to match the way her mind works and would lead to some plot developments that would be great fun to explore.
The second is that purported page 606 some jerk posted on several LJ communities, placing it where it would show upon some people's friends' pages without warning. I went and looked at it. It looked right - I had just been reading OTP and the typeface, phrasing, and proportions all looked right. It could have been Photoshopped, but only by a writer whose commands of JKR's idiom is far better than most fanfic writers. Anyway, it seems like an awful lot of work for a mean prank. So I believe it, tentatively, even though I have heard it's a fake. However, it's nearly 70 pages from the end of the book. I believe it will turn out to be a real page, but that the shocking event on it will have an unexpected explanation: someone misunderstood what they saw, or or Polyjuice Potion was involved so the person they saw was really someone else, or the event was staged, or whatever. What I don't believe is that what the page says happens, did happen as simply as stated. It doesn't seem in keeping with anything I've read in the first five books. Furthermore, logically if it did, the book would likely either end there on a cliffhanger, with just a short chapter of denouement - though heretofore, JKR has always had some sort of satisfying conclusion and defeat to Voldemort in each book -- or else there would need to be a lot more book after it to deal with the repercussions. Anyway, this is all guessowkr, but that's my guess.
Rudder's comment, when I told him about being asked if I were pregant, was "Well, you can use this to push you to work out harder."
OK, that's not really fair. His first comment was, "What? You don't look pregnant!" (Only the sad thing was, in that dress and while slumping, I did, a little. Say three or four months.) I did point out that I'm working out less not because I'm a lazy slacker (well, I am) but deliberately, to provide more time for the flight training.
Of course, that would be a little more convincing if I were studying as much as I should. I think I need to sign up for my written test so I'll have a deadline. (Two minutes later: called the FBO. They said I don't really need to be scheduled and can come in any time. OK then.... I'll plan for July 31.)
I did row today, but definitely picked the wrong day. Rudder says yesterday wasn't too hot. Today there were clouds overnight, which tend to hold the heat in so it doesn't cool off much, and at 5AM it was 95 degrees. Ick. I managed 8km, so at least it's enough to qualify (in my mind) as a workout, and not half of one. Still, working out in 95-degree weather is not my favorite thing. I don't like extreme heat much.
Rudder will be home this weekend, after all; a trailer is fortuitously heading out there from one of the local clubs because they'll be taking some of the San Diego club'sboats to Indianapolis for a juniors regatta, so Rudder's and She-Hulk's boats can go with it. I've informed him, though, that I already have plans for the weekend: a massage tomorrow night because I've been having some stress-induced problems with my neck, and of course reading on Saturday, starting whenever the UPS guy stops by. Rudder knows not to expect me to want to do anything else while I'm reading that book. Considering a new HP book only comes out every couple of years and that there's only one more, I don't think he's suffering too much.
It must be difficult to be J.K. Rowling right now. Of course she says (and believes, I'm sure) that she writes the story the way it needs to be written, whatever people thing, but with so much build-up she must be at least a little worried about the reaction to this book. After all, what if she has the big party for 75 cub reporters in that castle in Edinborough... and then when she reads them the book, they hate it? This is especially true because Order of the Phoenix was no one's favorite, not only because of the death of a character(spoiler removed to protect the unwary!) but because Harry is such an annoying prat for most of it. I can see why, that book did things it had to do and took Harry through some crises he needed to face. I think of it as a hinge for the series. I don't know of anyone who's avoiding this book because of that one, but two upsetting books in a row would be a problem.
There are also people who just think OtP is too long and bloated. I don't agree; there are parts that could be cut, but they'd mostly be unneeded plot elements rather than pointless bloat. Rowling has always needed better editing for logical flaws and inconsistencies, but that's nothing new.
There will be people disappointed in this one, I'm sure; it just can't be a light adventure story like the first couple of books. (Or if it is, I'll be the one disappointed.) There is too much going on, and the characters have all been through too much for this to be a simple story. The story will need not only danger but also some ambiguities and heartbreaks to work. That doesn't mean it all needs to be depressing, though. It could be compared for scope and content to Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series; in that analogy, we're moving through the last half of The Grey King or the first half of Silver on the Tree and there are wonders as well as terrors there, and new characters to love. Remember, Bran doesn't appear until The Grey King, and yet he's one of the most beloved characters in the book. And Silver on the Tree has Gwydion and the Lost Land.
I'm not saying that the series are entirely alike, other than that they are both lengthy series of fantasy for children/ young adults, that both draw on Celtic mythology (The Dark is Rising more than Harry Potter) and that I love both very much. But I do think the analogy is a useful one. This can't be a simple or easy book, but it could be a great one.
If I were Rowling, I'd be squirming on pins and needles to find out if people think it is.
Amusingly, Rudder's flight yesterdaywas apparently delayed because an early-morning flight got delayed and the repercussions reverberated through the day - the flight before his got delayed to his flight's time, his flight got delayed to the next scheduled slot and so on. Or that's his theory.
Meanwhile, when we were ready to go we stepped in and just flew off. Ha again.
I began reading Peg Kerr's Wild Swans in Santa Babara - I was going to save it for the upcoming Edmonton trip but it somehow found its way into my bag. I expected to like it; I like her writing on her web journal and a lot of people whose opinions I respect seem to love it. I was worried, though, that it might be depressing, since I knew part of the storyline involved the early days of AIDS, and that the two plots might be too disjointed, as some Amazon reviewers seemed to suggest. That wasn't my response at all; I got sucked in heard and early. I've peeked ahead, as I usually do, so I know that even the sad parts have enough grace and love to keep them from being unbearably depressing. Now I'm back home I want to finish rereading Harry Potter 4 and 5 before next Saturday's delivery, but I have a feeling I'll be done Wild Swans by then too. In fact, it's probably the ideal thing to read Saturday morning: not Potter-related at all and gripping enough in its own right to keep me from fidgeting while waiting. Only problem is, with Rudder gone and correspondingly fewer distractions, I'll be done it by 9AM Saturday. If you calln being swept along in a book a "problem".
Last night I whanged my knee on a corner of the (large, heavy, wooden) bed, smack in the middle of the kneecap. OwowowOWOWow. If you've heard of glass jaws, I think I have a glass knee; I certainly crumpled after I hit it. It's not swollen, that I can tell, but still hurts today - not so much in walking as when I climb stairs. I did erg to warm up at the gym this morning, and did do my regular seated leg presses, but I took the weight on that down a notch. Since what hurts is bone (tendon? cartilage?) and not muscle, I don't know if I need to avoid exercise that hurts it or if it doesn't matter, but it only hurt a little during the presses. Less than going up stairs. Still. Ow.
On a happier note, here's something I've been wondering.
Background: (It seems whenever I'm wondering about something there's always a lengthy background.) I've been watching cartoons lately while erging. I'm not at my best or brightest at 5AM, or whiler erging in general; the combination of the two prohibits functioning brain cells. I was watching the news, but you can't watch morning news for more than about twenty minutes without seeing far too many stories repeated. It turns out that from 5 to 6 AM, I can watch Disney Playhouse and see The New Adventures of Madeleine and Pooh's Playhouse. Oddly, the latter, which has stuffed animals supposedly inside a book in a sort of fuzzy Claymation, is followed by an animated version of Pooh. And the characters are recognizable in both but different in each: the animated version is more faithful to the original books. Owl is more pompous and Rabbit more irascible, for example.
At any rate, in Pooh's Playhouse yesterday, Piglet had a dream in which he encountered heffalumps. They were cute: shaped like small colorful elephants, with spots that changed color and noses shaped more like a seahorse's than an elephants trunk. Their language consisted entirely of the doo-wop sections from old songs. Through the use of pantomime and the help of a small, shy, nonscary heffalump, Piglet eventually figured out that "Boom shaka laka laka" menat "My feet are cold" and he solved the problem by knitting socks for all the heffalumps. Several sets of four socks, in almost no time - he must be an incredibly speedy knitter. His knitting hobby has been mentioned in other episodes, as well.
My question, for any parental types or anyone else who has reread Milne lately, is did Piglet knit in the original stories, or is that a Disney invention?
1. I have registered for JournalCon. San Diego, October 21-23. See you (some of you) there.
2. Somehow I didn't want to talk about his until now: part shyness (stop laughing), maybe part jinx, part a feeling that to mention it would be almost presumptous. I started writing fiction a little earlier I mentioned here; I got the story idea on my trip to Seattle at the end of March, wrote the story up, and submitted it to an actual paying market. (I knew I was shooting above my head, but couldn't and still can't think of a reason not to start at the top.) I finally heard back from them today, a rejection. My first ever. I guess that means I'm a real writer now.
The editor who wrote was kind enough to explain exactly why the story didn't work for him. I was crushed at first, not because it had been rejected (I figured that was likely) but because the flaw he'd pointed out seemed like an insurmountable problem with the logic. On further thought, though, I think if you look at it a certain way, the logic does work. I think I may be able to just add one explanatory sentence (the main character can see the problem and figure it out herself) to make that the natural way to look at things. I will add that sentence before submitting anywhere else.
At any rate, because I couldn't bring myself to talk about the story before, I wasn't able to get as much advice as I could. I did ask My Brother the Writer to look over it, and he was able to offer some very useful and detailed criticism (actually, I was impressed) but other points of view are always helpful, especially as I don't think he's submitted as much of his own stuff as he ought to. Now it's had its first rejection, I feel freer somehow. So: would anyone out there be willing to beta (or is that gamma) read it? I don't want someone to look at it and tell me it's good. I'm fairly sure it's not acutely painful to read, as slush goes. (At least it's grammatic.) What I want is dissection: what bits work or don't work for you and why. Sugar-coating's not necessary; if you tell me it reads like a first effort that should be used only to hone skills and shouldn't be published anywhere, at least you'll save me effort and postage. Also, any suggestions on what market it might work for would be very welcome. I'm new at this. (I know about Writer's Market and it's even in my library, but subjective feeling that there's a match would be helpful.)
A coworker commented today that I look "just like Dorothy". The hell of it is, she's right (MGM version, not the original illustrator). I hadn't realized quite how reminiscent of Judy Garland's pinafore this dress (blue plaid, sleeveless, calf-length, slightly high-waisted) really is, nor that I really shouldn't wear it with my brown hair parted in the middle and pulled up and back on both sides. Oops. At least I'm not wearing actual ponytails or hair ribbons.
I've been reading quite a few things recommended by various people I read on the web lately; they've ranged from OK to mindblowing. Here are few quick opinions. All of these are in print, available at your friendly internet bookstore.
Wild Life, by Molly Gloss. I'm not sure where I read about this one, but it was in someone's list of favorites and someone else had commented that they'd loved the book and had never met anyone else who'd read it. I didn't love it. It had interesting ideas, but strikes me as a partially but not totally successful experiment. The vignettes of other characters' lives seemed gratuitous, mostly. Charlotte's actions were generally not consistent with her man-hating principles, though that may have been deliberate. And one particularly annoying thing was that if you carefully watched the dates of the other interspersed writings, they didn't seem tro show much change in Charlotte from what should have been (or why write about it?) a life-altering experience. I'll probably read it again, someday, but not often.
Hammered, by Elizabeth Bear, lauded by practically everyone who comments on Bear's blog. Wow. It took me a while to get to this, just because it's harder-edged than most of what I've been reading and I needed to get in the proper mind set. It was a much faster read than I had expected and very worth the reading. I did have to pay close attention. I found myself loving the characters not because they were sweet and likeable but mostly because they weren't (except Gabe, who is, but can be rughtless when necessary - and the subject for a great line - "it's hard to miss that aspect of a man who is willing to blow off your arm to save your life, on your first meeting" (quoting from memory)). I am fascinated to see what happens further between Gabe and Ellie and Jenny, because it's a sort of thing I see more and more in real life and very rarely in fiction. I have only two minor quibbles: I'm frustrated that I'll have to wait for the sequel to find out what happens to Leah - most of the other plot threads were drawn together up just enough to make this book end satisfactorily but leave plenty of room for the next book. And Alberta Hunter isn't developed enough as a character to seem to need to be present in the book, except to enable Valens to be not totally evil. But those are minor. I recommended this book to Rudder, who doesn't read much SF but who likes complicated political thrillers, because I think it will be complicated enough for him and better than Clancy and some of the other stuff he reads.
When I Was Older, by Garret Freyman-Weyr: I got this one based on Mrissa's review, and I agree with her comments. There is some L'Engle in it (Vicky Austin, specifically) and also maybe some Norma Johnston. I'd have loved it even more at 14, but I'm glad I've read it now, anyway, and it's perfect for a girl geek. How can you not love a book whose main character thinks, in all seriousness, "Apparently I like kissing more than doing math homework. Who knew?" (Note to Swooop: might be very good for Herself.)
Jew in the Lotus, by Roger Kamenetz: Recommended by Rachel. Mind-blowing in a different way than any of the books above. It's about the visit of a delegation of Jews from across a fairly wide spectrum to the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. I'm not done reading it yet. It's teaching me more about Judaism than about Buddhism, including some of the principles of Kabbalah in an authentic, nontrendy - and how that fits into mainstream Judaism. It addresses some of the same concerns about assimilation as Anne Roiphe's Generation Without Memory, but by contrasting Judaism to Buddhism and examining some of the people who are in a spectrum between the two ("JuBus") comes closer to finding some answers. It's also making me grateful that somehow, between Hebrew School and in my own reading, I've come to a better understanding ("better" in my mind, anyway) of what Judaism is and what it is for than a lot of young Jews get, as witness Kamenetz's state of Jewish knowledge going into the book or some of the JuBus' accounts of their Jewish religious training or lack thereof. It's also clear that Kamenetz himself learned a lot during the events he writes of, and the book makes it possible to ride on his shoulders through that process.
First, a little explanation. I've often said there that I am not a fiction writer, and mostly that's true. I can do the writing part, but creating the characters and finding what's happening to them is not something that my mind generally does. Every once in a while, though, it surprises me. A while back, a couple of the L.M. Montgomery discussion groups were discussing a fanfic about Una Blythe, and what happened to her after Rilla of Ingleside. I don't have the link to the fic, and don't want to give too much away, but in it, Walter turned out to have survived the war after all and eventually all the loose ends from Rilla were tied up neatly. It was well written, and satisfying to have everything end neatly and happily, but it bothered me. My problem was, things don't end happily in wars, and even though Walter-from-the-fic was emotionally scarred, still, having everyone from Ingleside survive seemed somehow to devalue the courage and the suffering and the pain Canadians went through in that war that changed the whole world.
Anyway, I never said I was a good fiction writer; for one thing if I were I'd have done the research to make sure that the area around Toronto has oaks and pine groves. But here's my answer to that fic, to what I think Una really did after the war. It's dedicated to the True Kindreds, with special thanks to my beta reader Maria for her gentle suggestions for improvement.
Oh, one more thing: any suggestions for a fic site to post it on?
Click below for the story
Cavendish Street, near the western edge of Toronto, seemed to have one foot in the country and one in the city. It was not far from the city shops, and the city ‘buses stopped at one end of the street, but the other end of opened into a road that led through an unspoiled pine grove whose breath blew down the road, cooled on summer days by the oaks that arched between the houses. The oaks, which had bordered a farm lane before the city ever thought of growing out so far, whispered secrets to each other on summer nights. Below them, the houses too seemed to be good friends, old enough to be mellow and redolent of the happy families who had lived in them. Their gable windows were always exchanging amused glances at the antics of the children who gathered on their gracious porches at twilight to play games that seemed more adventurous and mysterious in the purple gloaming than they would in the bright day. Impish rabbits whisked through gardens and around corners in the early mornings before the day had wakened to its business, and on sunny afternoons bees hummed so loudly that they seemed to be trying to keep up with the happy shouts of the children playing in front of the houses.
On this day in June, the children's games seemed to have a waiting quality, as if they were expecting something unusual to happen to break the calm of the summer day's spell. When the city 'bus paused to let out a passenger, the expectancy rose to its highest pitch.
"Auntie Una, Auntie Una!" The three freckled Ford boys pelted down the porch steps and along the sidewalk to throw themselves pell-mell on the tall, sweet-faced, black-haired woman coming up the walk from the 'bus stop. Their older sister Leslie followed at a pace that was only slightly more sedate.
Aunt Una submitted happily to the violent bear hugs of the boys and kissed Leslie on the cheek. "Walter, you're nearly as tall as I am! And Gilbert, you're catching up to him!" Taking four-year-old Leo by the hand, she looked at Leslie. "How old are you now, my dear? Fourteen? You look just as your mother did at that age, and you have her coppery hair and creamy skin. I predict by the time you're eighteen you'll be as lovely as she is."
Leslie blushed. "Do you think so, Auntie Una? Mother is so -- so -- she always walks as if she were about to fly. Will I really be like her?"
Una Meredith smiled. "You will. When Rilla was fourteen she was incredibly gangly. Jem and Walter -- her brothers -- used to call her Spider. She hated it." Her dark blue eyes, always shy except with children, smiled too, and dimples flashed at each corner of her mouth.
"I heard that!" said Rilla Ford, coming to the kitchen door as they came up the steps. "Come inside and have a cup of tea, Una. It's so good to see you! It's been months!"
"We know all about Mother's brothers," said nine-year-old Gilbert, as he clumped up the steps, forgetting as usual to wipe the mud from his boots. "We see Uncle Jem and his family every time we visit Grandma and Grandpa at Ingleside."
"And I'm named for Uncle Walter! He died in the war," added Walter. Only Leslie and her mother noticed the shadow that clouded Una's face at the mention of the older Walter.
"And I'm named for Grandmother Ford," interposed Leslie, quickly. "Do you know her, Auntie Una?"
"I saw her whenever your father's family came to visit the old House O' Dreams at Four Winds. Even as a little girl, your mother was only interested in your father," said Una, a mischievous smile brought out her dimples again. "But I used to stare at your Grandmother Ford. She was the loveliest woman I ever saw. Your Grandmother Blythe said it was because she'd known full measure of both sorrow and joy."
"And I'm named for Una and the lion!" shouted Leo, ignoring the adult talk over his head. "Do you have a real lion, Auntie Una?"
"No, dear. That was a different Una, in a very old story." Una rumpled his hair as he scrambled off her lap, shouting, "I'm a real lion! Rrroowwrr!"
"Scoot, you wild animals! If you're going to play circus, play outside!" said his mother, putting down the teacups and opening the side door pointedly. Leo and Gilbert ran out, but Walter lingered behind. "No one *really* has a lion in their house," he said, scornfully, in the voice of one who has put away childish things, at the mature age of twelve. "But, Auntie Una, you don't have any children, either, do you?"
"Yes, I do," answered his aunt. "I have all the children I work with at the Settlement House. They are my children, in a way. And I have you lot," she reached out and rumpled his hair as she had his little brother's, "to dote on whenever I can get away long enough to visit."
"But you don't have any children of your very own," Walter pushed on, stubbornly. "Didn't you want to have any boys and girls of your own?"
"Yes--" Una bit her lip, tremulously. "But I never married. And anyway," she went on, more forcefully, "The parents and children I work with at the Settlement keep me busy."
"But why..." went on Walter, who had never outgrown his childish habit of wanting to know the whys and wherefores of everything.
"A lot of women didn't marry after the war," his mother interposed. "Too many men ... never came back." She took Walter firmly by the shoulder. "We can talk more about it later. Would you please keep an eye on your little brothers? I think the circus needs a ringmaster."
She sat down and poured the tea. "You take milk, don't you, Una?"
"Yes, thank you. And Rilla -- it's all right. I don't mind the boys' questions." A small smile reappeared on her face. After all, the War is long ago now -- to them it's ancient history. Even Leslie wasn't born until after all the boys came back ... those who did come back, anyway." She blew on her tea, to cool it.
"Speaking of the war, Leslie, did you tell Una about the prize you won?"
"Not yet, Mother." Leslie was clearly bursting with her news. "Auntie Una -- I won First Prize in the High School Story Contest with my story about the war! For the whole city!"
Rilla glowed with pride in her daughter. "No freshman girl or boy has ever won the contest before. I think she inherited her talent from both Mother and Ken's father Owen. Her story is called, “The Piper’s Call”, and she based it on Walter's poem, so it's truly a family triumph. But it’s an uncanny story, for a girl of fourteen to write -- I'm afraid she has inherited something more from Walter than his poetry."
"The Piper--" whispered Una, unnoticed, as Rilla bustled up and stepped out of the room.
"I want to show you the letter that came with the award," she called back.
Leslie sipped her own tea, clearly pleased at being considered grown up enough sit with the women instead of being relegated outside to play with the children. "Auntie Una..." she paused, suddenly diffident at making adult conversation on her own." I wanted to ask..."
"Yes, dearie?" prompted Una.
"Well...I suppose we're just silly girls," hesitated Leslie.
"It's all right, you can ask me anything. I was a silly girl too once, you know," replied Una, encouragingly.
"Well, some of my friends and I were talking about when we get married, someday. And we were wondering if there's a true love for everyone, somewhere in the world. And oh, Auntie Una, what if there is, and he's too far away? Or," she gulped "what if he got killed in a war or something? Oh, Auntie Una, was there ever someone you wanted to marry? And did he get killed in the war?"
"Yes..." Una whispered. "I never told anyone, though - girls had to wait for the boy to speak first, in those days, you know -- and I was always too shy anyway. But I think your mother knew..."
Yes," Rilla reappeared in the doorway, clutching an envelope and a certificate. "I did know. The letter..."
"The letter--" breathed Una. The two women exchanged a glance of understanding, compassionate on Rilla's side, grateful on Una's.
"But I am happy with the work I do at the Settlement House," Una went on, more briskly. "It's work that needs to be done. Rilla, did I tell you I'm thinking of taking nursing training? I can go to classes in the evening, over at the University. Some of those families are in such a condition when we first see them. Those young mothers sometimes have no idea what a baby should eat or how to dress it and care for it. And when Faith visited, she went on my rounds with me and she was such a help! You remember she trained as a nurse while she was with the VAD."
“I’m sure you’ll do well in the training, if you don’t overstrain yourself,” Rilla said. “I’m afraid sometimes you don’t take proper care of yourself, with all your care for others.” She sipped her tea. "But I know how much good you do, and how the Settlement people love you.”
She put her cup down, and looked at her daughter, through the window at her sons, then at her guest. “I have tried to bring up the new generation -- at least my four of them -- to know what has gone before, and to honor the freedoms so many died for. I know the news from Germany is worrying Ken, and I pray every day that peace will endure, that my boys will not have to face what their father and uncles did nor we women endure the anguish of waiting once more. This home and family are my part of making the better world those soldiers died for. But Una, you are making a difference in so many homes."
Again, she looked out the window, whence issued a shrill piping, then turned resolutely away from the sight of the three boys, now marching in military fashion with Walter in the lead. The memories of the girl she had been looked out at Una from the eyes of a woman who still heard an irresistible call. "It is you who have truly 'kept the faith' ".
At the end of , Una goes off to study "Home Science". I thought she would want to use her training to help those with no advantages and little knowledge of how to keep a sanitary home, rather than keeping house for her father or brother.
Nobody has tagged me for this < / unjustified pouty lip > But books are such a large part of my life that I'll do it anyway.
Total number of books owned: Estimated around 1500, might be a little higher (the SF paperbacks are not yet catalogued).
Last book bought: Freakanomics, for a gift. Last bought for me, a whole boxful from Amazon, largely fantasy of one sort or another, ranging from Mark Helprin to Garret Weyr to Zenna Henderson. Last book to enter the house and plan to stay there, The Balloon Man _ thanks, L'Empress!
Last book read: Last one finished, Freakanomics. (Shut up, you know you read gift books too.) Currently in progress, Zenna Henderson's Ingathering: The Complete People Stories and Joseph Ellis's bio of Washington, His Excellency.
Five books that mean a lot to you: This is the hard one. Actually, maybe it's not so bad, since it's not asking for the *only* five, or five that mean the most. Here are five that matter or mattered, but in some cases I can't separate books from series. Also, I'm going to list six, just because that's how it worked out:
I've been rererereading Pride & Prejudice; it's a funny thing, but every time I do, Mr. Darcy begins falling in love with Elizabeth Bennet earlier in the book. I was sparked into reading P&P by the recent acquisition of one of the crop of new sequels, Mrs Darcy's Dilemma, by Diana Birchall.
Disclaimer: I've known Diana online for several years, and have met her in person a couple of times now, even staying with her once to enjoy a weekend with a mutual friend.
It feels odd and a little dangerous to review a book by someone I know; I don't doubt she'll see this - at least, if I were an author, I would certainly be periodically Googling my books. To shorten the suspense and preserve my own safety, I will therefore state up front that I liked it. It's a lightweight story, as I think it's meant to be, but it's amusing and pleasant and, most important of all for a sequel by another author, not annoying. By that I mean I didn't get hit across the eyes with anachronistic phrases or ideas that screamed "NOT BY JANE!!"
However, truly, it's not Jane Austen. On the other hand, it's very good Diana Birchall. The characters have a recognizable provenance in Austen's, and are very likely thirty-year-later outgrowths of the originals. I don't think this book has the rapier point or the delicate irony to its observations that P&P has; on the other hand, sheltered Jane would not have been capable of creating Lydia's wild daughter Bettina, or at least not of making her sympathetic in the end, as the considerably less sheltered Diana has done.
Diana has written a few Austen sequels; Mrs. Elton in America has also recently been published. As I understand it, she wrote her first one (I can't remember whether it was Mrs. Darcy's Dilemma) long before sequelizing Austen became a trendy thing to do but was unable to get it published at that time. She's not following the trend just to be in fashion, having been a longtime active member of AUSTEN-L and the Jane Austen Society of North America - but as I have found in knitting, sometimes doing something that happens to be in fashion makes it considerably easier to get the resources you need to do what you want to do. The longterm immersion in all things Austen has obviously benefitted the book: the language is nearly perfect, which is an immense relief. It's upsetting to be reading something supposed to belong to a certain period and to be violently cast out of time when some idiot author has King Arthur say, "OK, I'll meet you at 3 o'clock on the dot." (A made-up example, but you get the point.) I thing the most important thing after the language is that the characters are concerned with being and seeming truly good, in a moral sense; a lot of modern authors don't quite get how central that is to characters from Austen to Alcott.
In summary, a recommended romp.
This is an expansion of something I posted earlier to a discussion list.
"And I'd discuss the holy books With the learned men, seven hours every day. That would be the sweetest thing of all...."
I may be in error in believing that Fiddler on the Roof shows a more or less accurate picture of how my ancestors lived, if you ignore the bursting into song (which would be believable, as I am given into bursting into song myself, except for the supposedly extemporaneous but none the less perfectly scanning and meaningful lyrics), and the conversion of grinding poverty into Colorful Ethnic Charm*. However, given that Fiddler is based on a story by Sholem Aleichem, who knew that world, I don't think it's all that far off.
*It's less prettified in the book. There's another story in the same collection about a man who celebrated every fastday he could find or justify - because there wasn't enough food and if he didn't eat, someone else in the family could have a little more. He dies of starvation.
I was listening to shuffled songs on the iPod on my way to work this morning and when "If I Were a Rich Man" came on and got to the lines quoted above, I
got a little teary eyed ... because it struck me that that is *exactly* what I get to do, and what my ancestors could only dream of.
I complain about a lack of free time, but I don't have to work every second from the time I wake up to early to the time I go to bed too late just to earn enough to keep me alive. The things that keep me over-busy are rowing and flying - Tevye never saw an airplane (not until he migrated to America, the Goldeneh Medineh!) and he and his daughters did not need anything so artificial as exercise. Hard work and insufficient food don't let you look buff, but they to tend to prevent much worrying about fat. I have time to read.
I have books to read. If Tevye was lucky, he owned a Bible and a Siddur (prayerbook). I have so many books that I haven't finished cataloging them in a desultory two years. A telling way to look at it is that I can buy a paperback at current prices and my current pay rate with about 10 minutes' work. (Double that after taxes and other deductions.
I also have a luxury that Tevye yearned for, that I mostly didn't have until the advent of the Internet: I have learned people with whom to discuss the boos I love. Granted most of the books I discuss are not exactly holy, but they are important to me. If I wanted to discuss anything from the Torah to the Mishnah to even the Kabbalah, there are communities for that. (Though I might have to do a lot of weeding to sort out the weirdos and the faddish mystics, if I wanted to discuss the Kabbalah. I can read and even comment on Baraita and Velveteen Rabbi's blogs for thoughtful discussion, look up a Hebrew Bible online or shop for one at Artscroll, or pose a question at WeirdJews to get a variety of viewpoints. Or I can choose to study secular matters, and the resources are limitless.
In the days in which _Fiddler_ is set, only the richest men had books and time to read and discuss their readings, beyond a bare minimum. Most women had no
time to do so at all, because of all the innumerable household demands. And yet here I am, and I can not only read, but find people to engage in learned discussion of any book I choose. Aren't I lucky? Aren't we?
I was very disappointed in Lillian Elizabeth Roy's Polly Learns to Fly, especially in contrast to Betty Cavanna's Girls Can Fly, Too!.
(The Polly of Pebbly Pit books are a series written from 1914 into the 1930s. In them, Polly ages from 14 into her twenties, finds a lost gold mine (left to her by its former discoverer), convinces her parents to mine their "Rainbow Cliffs" for the fortune to be had from marketing the stones as jewels, leaves her Colorado ranch home, learns to be an interior decorator, and travels around the world. Betty Cavanna wrote a series of high-school romances in the 1940s and 50s, most on a specific theme: skiing, Japanese vs American culture, and others.)
It's evident that Roy spent an hour or two talking to a pilot or airplane mechanic, probably at Mitchell Field in Long Island, the only aviation detail mentioned by name in the book. The airplane makes are never mentioned, nor are the instruments (such as they were) described. It's not even clear if they were mono- or bi-wing. They are staying at an ENglish estate whose clover fields are "perfect for flying and for soft landing". (Um, yeah, if the landowner doesn't mind his clover clop being spoiled.) There's a lot of detail given about the need for a thorough and meticulous preflight inspection, then Polly learns to fly in about two weeks, described in one paragraph. The rest of the story is weak too: while on her first flight with Tom, who has been her suitor for the entire series, Polly suddenly realizes that she loves him, has been unfair to him, and that it's time to marry. A telegram informs Polly that her mother needs an operation, and they book passage back to the U.S. accompanied by Polly's frind Carola and the latter's guardian. Half the book is spent describing the theft and reclaiming of her Carola's jewels, and the remainder describing the wedding preparations and the plans for a honeymoon in which they will fly to South America to examine newly found Inca ruins and look for links to lost Atlantis. The latter gives Roy plenty of space to expound on what was not yet called new-age beliefs and to plug her own book on the topic (not clear whether it was intended as fiction). The earlier books in the series are much better; if the situations are outlandish, the characters and settings are much better drawn. (I have just realized that Dodo's mother, in Polly and Her Friends Abroad, is borrowed intact, with only a veneer of modernization, from Jane Austen's Mrs. Bennet.)
In contrast, Betty Cavanna obviously spent some time either learning to fly, or investigating the whole process thoroughly. Her heroine learns to fly in a Cessna (probably a 140 or 150), a few years after WWII, and she and the other boy and girl who also take lessons have to work hard at them. The whole book only takes them through their first solos. They're not deep characters, but they're not unlikely either, and while the morals may not be profound ("girls can do it too; also, don't assume people are unfriendly just because they're popular"), they're stitched into the story instead of pounded in with a sledgehammer. Also, the characters, all high-school seniors, become friends without falling in love with one another. The more I think about it, the more I like Cavanna's methods: teach girls about all the things they could do, and sweeten the lesson with a spoonful of romance (most of her books are at least nominally romances) so they'll swallow it.
1. It's good to have friends who know not to give out your phnoe number. It's even better (and more rare) to ahev friends who know when to give it out, because you really want to talk to the person who asked for it.
2. I just learned over at Jessie's that Disney is making an anime-style movie of Diana Wynne Jones Howl's Moving Castle. I'd never have thought of a movie version of that book, and never would have connected it with either Disney or anime, but from the trailer it looks like the anime style works well. It doesn't look like it sticks completely to the story as written, but doesn't seem to depart too far from it either, but that's just a guess.
Next I want to see the Derkholm stories in live action - griffins!
It's all Neil Gaiman's fault. Last night I went and bought the audiobook version of Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn partly because I hadn't read it for years and remember being vastly impressed when I did, but more to get the novella-length sequel he's just written, Two Hearts. Signed! It's only available that way. (The audiobook is unabridged and is read by Beagle himself - it's available here.)
Note to Senator Lugar: there are what, 250 million people in this country? Wouldn't you think, with that many to choose from, that we could choose a UN ambassador about whom something better could be said that, "there is no evidence that he has broken laws or engaged in serious ethical misconduct"?
I'd be happier about tomorrow's race if it weren't forecast to hit 98 degrees. Fortunately, I think rowing events will be the first ones off, and I'm not really planning to do it at a serious race pace anyway. I wouldn't be surprised if there's only one or two other women's singles entered, or even none. Also, the nice thing abuot regattas is by definition there's always water there, so if it gets too hot it's usually possible to at least put your feet in the water.
On the other hand I need to row my boat to the marina on the lake where the race starts tonight - it's only a thousand meters or so, but that will be at the hottest part of the day (95 degrees forcast). Ick.
LA's entry today had me thinking. The older I get, the more I mind the idea of being cooped up. It's not really claustrophobia - I don't mind being in a cube or office or house, but I want places to get out and go from there. I still have recurring dreams where I'm in the rowhouse where I grew up (or my grandparent's, which was even smaller) and I go around a corner or through an attic door to find open decks with long green views, and quiet sunny rooms. (There was a trap door in the top of my closet, presumably leading to an area under the roof, but it was sealed. I always wanted to get in there, especially after reading The Magician's Nephew.) I like the idea of a big house, old enough to be comfortable, with lots of turns and corners and nooks and crannies - New Moon, say, or the Murrays' house in Wrinkle in Time (preferably a generation later, after they'd built the indoor pool). Or an apartment, but with an interesting city at its foot in walking distance. There are houses in the area where I went to college, big old three-story twins, that meet both criteria, if I had any desire to live in Philadelphia again. Come to think of it, a lot of this might be doing to growing up on the Narnia books, with all their places that have insides bigger than outsides. I have a feeling that what I really want is the Professor's old country manor, preferably complete with wardrobe.
I was informed today that the copy of Polly Learns to Fly by Lillian Elizabeth Roy circa 1932, that I ordered last night is now on its way to me. This makes me unspeakably happy; I've been looking for it for yearsm since I knew there was such a thing. Last time I found one and ordered I got a note saying "Sorry, not in stock," which both confused and disappointed me. (Wouldn't you want to take it off your website, then?)
The Polly books are on the early end of those independent-girl series that flourished from the 1920s through the 1940s. The first one, Polly of Pebbly Pit, is dated 1921. I inherited three of them from my grandmother, along with various Judy Bolton and Connie Blair books from my mother, and read the Polly books to death. (Or else Mom snagged them. She has all the Judy and Connie books. Anyway, I don't have those.) I've been keeping an eye out for them in bookstores; I generally don't order them off the Net, because that's too easy. In this case I made an exception, because I've only ever seen this book available online once before.
Not only does this add to my Polly collection (I currently have the first three books, in which Polly meets her friend Eleanor, finds a gold mine, convinces her parents to let her go off to New York to school to to sell the "rainbow jewels" from a cliff on their ranch to finance it (while title to the gold mine is being worked out) and begins to study interior decoration. (She and Eleanor propose to make it an "art, instead of what the paint-slingers and upholsterers do for you".) It also adds to a collection I didn't realize was one until just now, of books about women flying. I also have Betty Cavanna's Girls Can Fly, Too! and a couple others - Patty Wagstaff's autobiography (she was the first female US aerobatic champion, and something about a race held by the Ninety-Nines. You know, someone needs to write a biography of Pancho Barnes. I am looking forward to seeing exactly what Polly learns to fly in, and how much detail there is. (Cavanna's heroine flew in a Cessna not much different than the 152 I learned in, except hers was a taildragger.)
I love the idea of having "special collections" within my library, even if each is only a few books.
Funny, one tangential mention of Charlotte MacLeod a few entries back and I got all kinds of response here. I think I know some of the reasons her books are so comforting. For one thing, the books are more about the characters than the mystery, so they can be read as mind candy, but they're not just that. They're sprinkled with quotations from Shakespeare and other poets, just little takeaways that you can notice or miss, and references to great authors - and her definition of "great" seems to be close to mine.
There are wonderful little tangential scenes, like when Dittany Monk reads her way through the Anne of Green Gables books as positive prenatal influences for her unborn twins. There are women of all ages, shapes, and descriptions who arouse the ardor of every man they meet, and it's noticeable that some of the biggest femmes fatale are also the biggest women physically, like Theonia Kelling and Iduna Stott. There are romances at all ages, from Janet and Madoc Rhys in their early twenties on up to Aunt Hilda Horsefall and Uncle Sven Svenson in their eighties (at least). There are happy marriages in which both participants get to contribute emotions and intellect.
I mean, really, if it weren't for all those corpses forever popping up and the getting marooned on tiny islets (which occurs in two of two of the last books of hers I've read), who wouldn't want to live in a MacLeod novel?
I find it very annoying, somehow, that Amazon lists Caroline STevermer's When the King Comes Home as part of the College of Magics series. Same world, maybe. (One comment there says it is.) But it's pretty clearly not the same people or part of the same story. I've just read that Stevermer and Wrede are doing another Kate-and-Cecelia book, though, which definitely contributes to the day's quota of Good Things. I loved Sorcery and Cecelia and liked The Grand Tour - the weaker adjective for the latter is because I didn't like some of the characters quite as much the second time. I thought James was both bossy and slightly flat, and Kate was much wimpier this time around, though showing signs of improvement by the end of the book. Still, it was good enough that I'll buy a third book in hardback.
Note to book reviewers: could you all pleeeeease quit describing everything in terms of Harry Potter? I love Harry Potter, but I am not monogamous about books, and my love is not a zero-sum game. You don't have to denigrate Harry to make me love another book. You don't even have to tell me a book is like HP to make me read it - I love all kinds of books. I don't want them to be alike: if they were, why would I want new ones? So please, really, stop it. Thank you.
I had a much better topic to write about here, but my memory has been declining since I hit my late 30s. Or possibly even before that. I don't quite remember.
Am I the only one in modern times who has read E. Nesbit's The Red House? If so, it's a pity, becaue it's a lovable story. Unlike most of her books, it's for adults, not children, though there is a cameo appearance by the Bastables. (The Red House and its inmates also appear in _The WouldBeGoods_, if you remember the scene about the Antiquities.)
I've read through it before, but for some reason this time around, Len and Chloe are reminding me of a young Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, if they had found each other in springtime instead of late summer of their lives and had not had to pass through trenches and trauma before to get to their happiness. (The Red House was written in 1902, so maybe England in general was a little more innocent - after all the Boer War and Crimea were far away from home.) There are discussions of Proper Jobs - for a woman as well as a man, in 1902! I think Nesbit may have been doing a bit of the kind of idealizing Sayers and L.M. Montgomery did with the marriages in their books - her first marriage wasn't entirely unhappy, but what I've read of it suggests that she and her husband might not have had the pure understanding of each other Len and Chloe have.
They have an omnipotent friend Yolande instead of an omnipotent Bunter, but Yolande solves the servant issue in almost exactly the same way Harriet does in Thrones, Dominations. (Maybe Sayers or Paton Walsh read The Red House?)
It's a sweet book; a story beginning soon after a wedding and continuing through a happy marriage to the birth of a daughter couldn't be otherwise, but it has bits of acerbity reminiscent of Austen. Here's a bit of the flavor of both the acid and the sweetness, when the vicar's wife has just come to call, has mistaken Chloe (who was washing her own floors) for a maid and been corrected, and who has taken pains to tell Chloe how very exclusive the local society is:
"As the dear Bishop of Selsea used to say, we ought not to associate in intimacy with persons of distinctly different social rank from our own."
"Did he say that? Do you know him, then?"
"I have stayed at the palace."
"Are you sure you didn't misunderstand him? I have often heard him say that a man should choose associates of his own intellectual rank--"
"You have often heard him say?" The vicar's wife's voice trembled unaccountably.
"Yes--I know him rather well. He is my uncle. I never heard him mention your name. Yet I seem to know your face. Were you not Miss Blake before you married?"
The vicar's wife could not deny it.
"I remember you when I was a little girl and you were my uncle's housekeeper. Well, I was saying just now, domestic service is a very honorable calling."
There was a desperate pause. The woman was indeed delivered into Chloe's hands by the long arm of coincidence. She rose.
"I think I will go now," she said, in quite a broken voice.
Chloe caught her hand impulsively.
"I am sorry," she said. "I wouldn't have said it if I hadn't thought you wanted to be horrid to me. I dare say you didn't, really, but I have a hateful temper. Please forgive me. I won't tell a soul, if you'd rather I didn't. And I like you heaps better since I've remembered that you used to work too. Do forgive me! I won't tell any one, not even my husband," she went on; and I was shocked to find she could even think of keeping a secret from me. "Say you forgive me, and let me get you some tea."
Amusingly enough, despite the book's name, The Red House actually shows less of Nesbit's Socialist politics than some of her children's books. Len and Chloe sympathize with the servants, but don't mind being served (they are radical enough to view servants as people first, though - maybe that was Socialist, then). It's a sweet book overall but not sticky, and poignant in spots - when a woman gets pregnant now, her biggest fear doesn't have to be her own death in labor. I doubt it's in print, but I wish it were.
Besides, I want that house. Twenty-nine rooms!!
I'm now entering Book IV of Lord of the Rings. (I didn't take it along last weekend, not wanting the book to get banged up.) This is the absolute best way to luxuriate in it, in a beautiful edition that's a pleasure to hold and read, and with my old friend Gymrat periodically emailing with background invitation. The only way to make it better would be if I could take a couple opf days off to just read. On the other hand, then it would be finished faster.
I'm continuing to be astonished at how thorough and detailed the background is - Gymrat (possibly not the best pseudonom now but I don't have a better) tells me that assembling it was a lifelong hobby for Tolkien from long before he ever thought of publishing a book for sale. It gets tangly sometimes, with everyone having several names, and I confess to having to go look up some names and to not always remembering who is the forebear of whom, but I imagine later rereadings will take care of that.
Also, "Entings" is just adorable, though I'm less enamored of "Entwives".
I don't know the story behind the movies, whether they weren't made earlier by decision of Hollywood or of Tolkien's heirs. It is a good thing that they weren't made until they could be done right, but I'm astonished directors weren't champing at the bit to do it earlier. The writing is so visual - for example, the scene in front of Helm's Gate where orcs are boiling over the land, lit in flashes by lighting and striped by rain, must have had movie designers aching to make it happen.
I get the feeling that Tolkien enjoyed the ability to spread out, to spend an entire book in Aragorn and company's point of view and another in Sam's and Frodo's, and to take the time to make the Elves' long memories and the Ents' vegetative speed more credible, but it's not feeling bloated or in need of editing. There are certainly bits I'm not absorbing in detail, but again, that's for rereading.
I'm a fast reader. I'm not a fan of books that are long for length's sake or through lack of editing (because there's always another book to move on to, and I'd rather read two tight stories than one bloated one) but this one needs to be this big to fill its proper scope, and I'm actually enjoying the length because it gives me time to think about it in between, and because it means I get to stay in it longer. I'm already regretting being more than half through.
One thing that I've noticed about LoTR is how many names match ones from Narnia. I have no desire to do a whole concordance but two I remember noticing are the Ettin Moors (I think there was something similar in The Silver Chair, in Puddleglum's neighborhood) and the Fords of Baranduin as compared to the Ford of Beruna (it's in Prince Caspian). I wonder how many of the similarities derive from Lewis's and Tolkien's direct influence on each other, and how many from their similar philological background. I think the Inklings did discuss their writings, so it could be direct influence. Then there are similarities in sounds of names: Puddleglum. Treebeard. Aragorn. Caspian. But I suspect those are drawn from the Old English, Celtic,and Welsh names with which JRR and CSL would have been familiar. Ceridwen. Idris. Prydwen. Longshanks. (I think he was Middle English, actually.) And so on.
Another thing I've noticed: if you look at these lists of story-things that tend to annoy people, it's amusing to think how many of them Tolkien did: Pointy ears. Hobbits. Song lyrics. Hard-to-remember names. I think it's closely related to why Shapespeare wrote in cliches all the time. I also think it might not be so annoying to see all of these things done badly, if Tolkien hadn't done them well (mostly) first.
Today's challenge: which knitting to take with me on the car trip to our regatta this weekend. There's the sleeveless sweater on which I don't have to worry about running out of knitting, but I expect it to be too chilly to be in a sleeveless sweater mood. There is the current sock, but it's far enough along that I might be able to finish it, which would be good in that then I could wear it (it's toasty wool) but bad in that I'd have to remember to bring a darning needle to finish it, and also would have to remember how to do Kitchener grafting (or bring the book). Also, I'd have to decide what *else* to bring, in case I do finish it early on. The sweater? Materials for a new pair of socks? Oh, the decisions.
So. I'm part way through Book 1 of The Lord of the Rings (Chorus: And about time, too!) That's Book 1 of the six parts Tolkien originally wrote it in. I did know he'd intended it to be published as one, but not that he'd divided it into six segments rather than three.
There are really two types of Big Important Everyone else has Read'Em speculative fiction classics I haven't read.
1. The ones I haven't read because I think I'll hate them. Just because everyone else (or a large percentage of everyone else) thinks well of them doesn't mean I will. Asimov's Foudnation series is a good example There are enough books in this category that I have read, mostly because someone I care about loved them, that I can be fairly sure that if I browse through it and it looks unpleasant, I will probably find it so on a full reading.
2. The ones I haven't read even though I'd probably like or love them. I think it's just stubborn recalcitrance in this case, not wanting to read something just because I "should". This is probably a side effect of growing up when F and SF were at least respectable, if often not considered on a level with Litrachure, yoked to a wide streak of mulishness.
Actually, that probably applies to classics I haven't read of all genres, except that I'd have to add category #3, the ones I just haven't gotten to yet. (That's where most of Trollope resides in my mental catalog, for example.)
It's probably obvious that LoTR falls in category #2, though I have read The Hobbit. I'm finally tackling it now, spurred on by the movies and a birthday present from my in-laws of the gorgeous 50th anniversary edition, with what feels like calf binding, creamy paper, rubrics, and tipped in maps. I'd put a set of the books on my list (my in-laws' tradition is that you make up a list with several things on it so gift-givers can choose and there's at least some surprise) but this particular edition is a pleasure even to hold, let alone to read.
One thing that surprised me is that it's a fast read, even with the three forewords and a prologue. I guess I expect classics, even recent ones, to be ponderous, especially when they're this huge. Another surprise was when after reading the scene where Strider speaks with the hobbits in Butterbur's back parlor, I put the book down to let the cat out (and find the other had returned - yay!) and realized I had a vivid image of the scene I'd just read in my mind. It wasn't because of the movie, or not entirely, because the descriptions I'd visualized from don't entirely match the way the movies did it (though they did do well). Also, I think I only saw the first movie on an airplane, on those tiny seat-back screens, so I don't have vivid images of it. Yet there's the parlour, and there's disreputable Strider, with the gray in his hair, and there are the hobbits, all big-footed and fuzzy and they're all right there hovering by my chair. I have similar images of hobbit houses and the road to Rivendell, though the latter is less distinct because more variable.
I don't think I do this often. I do have misty images of characters I read - skipping the ones overlain by movie images I could still describe Will Stanton to you, or Jo March (several movies, but I saw them so long after internalizing the book that they don't matter). Sometimes I also have an image of the setting, especially where it's important - I could describe New Moon as well as I could Emily Byrd Starr. But they're not usually this distinct, and certainly not on first reading. At least not any more; when I was young if my book were very good I would reread it immediately after finishing the first reading so as not to have to leave that world right away, like having an alrm clock rip you out of a dream. This is more like that.
I was afraid the writing would be a little precious, or self-consciously mystical like so many of Tolkien's imitators. I can't really tell, because I've been reading my immersion rather than by careful consideration of sentences, but I don't think the book would be so vivid if that were so.
Unfortunately, I won't be able to read it this weekend - we're going to Long Beach for a regatta and this physical book is just too beautiful to risk spoiling it with travel and sand and water. I could buy a cheap paperback, but the experience of reading a story this good in an edition like this is just fine enough to be worth postponing.
Oh my goodness. I may need to buy something from here.
Yes, I have pre-ordered my copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. (If you care about it at all you've probably already heard it will be released July 16, 2005.)
E. Nesbit's Harding's Luck is up online now. It's one of the hardest to find of Nesbit's books (that I know of), a companion book to House of Arden but - well, here's the review I wrote at Amazon a few years ago:
Many of Edith Nesbit's books are not so much novels as they are sequences of shorter stories (perhaps they were published, or meant to be read, serially?) Harding's Luck and its companion, The House of Arden, have far more complex and interwoven plots. The events in the lighter House of Arden form only a part Harding's Luck, as Dickie is a much fuller character than Edred and Elfrida. They must have been plotted together, as each contains references to the other. As in The Psammead and the Carpet, there are numerous instances of Nesbit's socialist views (not in the modern sense of big government, more along the lines of GK Chesterton's definition "A socialist is a man who wants all the chimneys swept and all the chimney sweeps paid for it."). Children will never notice these; adults may find them sweet but sadly naive.
In their richness of plot and character, and in the sense of something deeper and truer lurking behind the superficial magic, these two are probably the crown of Nesbit's work. Givn the fact that the paperback copy of Harding's Luck costs $10, it's worthwhile to shell out another $7 for the hardback, so you'll have it longer.
I bought my copy at Amazon when it was reprinted (I'd never heard of the book before I came across it there, but House of Arden had been my favorite of hers, so there was squee'ing and possibly sme jumping up and down) but that must have been a very small print run. The online version is the next best thing and even contains the original illustrations by H.R. Millar.
Speaking of books online, I've been experimenting with Livejournal syndication. The Online Books Page has a new RSS feed for its New Listings page, so I've created a syndicated LJ account for it, online_books, that can be added to your Friends page like any other LJ. One warning: on the RSS feed, each new book is listed as an individual entry, rather than having one entry per day, so the feed can eat up a Friends page. I've also syndicated this page; you can find it at Dichroic2. However, that's not nearly as helpful because the LJ page just contains the first few lines of each entry. It might be useful for someone who spends a lot of time in LJ, to see when I've updated, but since I do that most weekdays anyway, it's not a lot of help.
This isn't the entry I was going to write, but it sort of expanded. Expect another along shortly.
My Google Guessing Rank (GGR) is 24625. What's yours?
I did get the tree lighted and some ornaments up, but didn't get anything knitted or written yesterday because last night was full of book-related surprises. The least surprising was one of the gifts Rudder had left for me, a Borders gift certificate. (The litle gray envelope with BORDERS embossed on it sort of gave that one away.)
In addition, two packages arrived in the mail. One was from Mechaieh, which confused me since she'd already sent a book she knew I'd like for a Chanukah present. It turns out that part of her modus operandi for clearing out bookshelves is to choose some of the surplus books and send them to friends she thinks might like them. That strikes me as such a good idea that I'd steal it, except that I never throw out any books but those I think are so horrible I'm sure I'll never read them again - not books I'd want to inflict on friends. Though I did just offer a duplicate copy of the third Thursday Next book on a list where I knew it would be appreciated. (Minor mistake: I offered it to anyone in North America, and the first person to ask for it is in Canada. I didn't realize that shipping it there will cost slightly more than the book's worth via the UPS store. It would probably be cheaper at the Post Orifice, but the extra few dollars are probably worth the not standing in line.)
The other surprise is that I am now in a history book. It's Oxford Circle: The Jewish Community of Northeast Philadelphia, by Allen Meyers. It's part of the Images of America series. The author must have gone to the local synagogues to ask people to share information and photographs with him. I had known my mom talked to him; what I didn't know was that 6 family photos (plus one of the first page of her high-school yearbook) were in the book. I'm in four of those and it appears she picked the goofiest ones to give him. So I'm immortalized as a funny-looking kid. Still, I'm pleased to have the one of me, my brother and my grandfather, and the one of my grandfather alone.
Thankful for: All of my grandparents and having had them until I was in college.
Holiday Challenge: 49000 meters to go.
There's a particular pleasure in reading Jane Austen while knitting a _____ for _____ because it's so exactly the sort of thing Jane's first audience, her mother or her sister Cassandra, might have done as she read them her first drafts.
It's Mansfield Park, and I'm a little less impatient with poor timid Fanny this time around, as I'm noticing many more hints of how early she fell in love with Edmund, and many more instances of how selfish most of the Bertrams were toward her. Jane is the mistress of acerbicity and respects her audience more than most (modern?) writers. There's never a 'nudge nudge wink wink' to make sure you catch her jokes; she trusts your own wit to catch them.
Thankful that: Jane Austen gets the respect she deserves, which I don't think was the case fifty or so years ago (I think she was liked but possibly not viewed as a "serious" writer, because of her domestic settings and lapidary detail).
Holiday Challenge: 161280 meters to go
First, the local news. I didn't get to fly once AGAIN this morning. As I began preflighting I discovered the plane I had reserved had its port nav light out - and it was still dark at that time, so it was really needed (though I think they're required even in daylight - seeing the red and green wingtip lights makes it possible to determine if another aircraft dead in front of you is flying toward you or away). Well, one advantage to flying at 6AM is that there are likely to be other aircraft available so my instructor went and got the book for another airplane. On this one everything was going fine until I went to check the oil and couldn't unscrew the dipstick. Neither could my instructor. It unscrewed a little then stuck, so the threads may have gotten stripped. I checked my toolbox but didn't have pliers and apparently the FBO locks up their toolboxes at night. The instructor proposed flying anyway - the last person would have had to check and the FBO's policies ask for a quart more than the airplane absolutely requires. Also, the cowling was clean so we knew the aircraft couldn't have been burning or leaking oil badly. I wasn't too comfortable with that, because first, the last person would have been that same idiot who screwed the oil cap down too tightly; second, how do I know they didn't use the same logic? ("Oh, the oil is a bit low but I don't fel like going inside to get more - we have a margin anyway.") As a last resort I got the Quikrench I use for rowing to see if that would help. It might have ... if I hadn't dropped it. Strike three, foreign object debris (FOD), no flying for me, and they'll have to take off the cowling to get the wrench out. (They can't get too mad at me, since I should have needed the wrench anyhow.) Between that, my travel, a broken turn coordinator and a broken engagement (my CFI's) I haven't gotten to fly since before Boston, unless you count one seesion on the simulator.
Also, somewhere in there I slammed into the edge of the step on the strut, just below my knee, and it still hurts like a motherfucker.
It's raining this morning, but I'm watering some plants in the backyard anyhow. Only in Arizona, where you can walk between the raindrops.
Next, the pondering. I've been reading Silverlock and appreciating NESFA's new edition with the Companion. What I'd like even better would be a version organized on the lines of Martin Gardner's Annotated Alice so I wouldn't have to bookmark two spots at once. (I'd also like a CD of the songs, since they include music notation but I don't sightread.) In view of my last entry here, my subconscious seems to be remembering the book ahead of my rereading. I hadn't remembered this passage:
At times the mind works on two levels at once and so it was with mine on this occasion. Half of it was giving itself gleefully to the moment, while th other half was revolving a new idea.What had impressed me was that this friar was well-informed and had a lot of fun out of that fact alone.In the past, if I had wanted to find out anything, it was always for a practical reason. Now I glimpsed the concept that to know a thing for itself could be a source of joy. Take the song we were bellowing. It was easy to appreciate, but I would have had more chuckles out of it if I had known, as the others did, about the personages involved [ed: Zeus and his bovine pecadilloes]. From then on I intended to begin picking up data from Golias or any other source.
But, as I say, this resolution, made with the solemn half of my mind, didn't interfere with the attention the other half was giving to making as much noise as possible.
And this next passage is for Keilyn, because somehow it reminded me of the positive side of all the Drama of adolescence: the feeling that you're closer to the things that Really Matter. (Er, not that Keilyn's adolescent; we had some conversation about the angst and drama of that age. And Silverlock's no adolescent either but he is doing the same sort of finding and evolving of himself that we all generally do in our teens.)
There probably wasn't as much melody as I remember - I had had some ale, too - but I experienced a pervasive sense of blending with life at its most dramatic.
That was the best of that age - nights with music and fireflies, unrequited crushes, new knowledge, infinite books I hadn't read yet, time to read them, the heady experience of finally making a few friends who read the same books, and a feeling that it all mattered immensely.
Having a little extra money on a Barnes and Noble gift card, I picked up the latest of Jill Paton Walsh's continuations of the Lord Peter Wimsey books, A Presumption of Death. On the evidence of the few pages I read en route to my car, my provisional verdict can best be summarized as "Oh, dear." Impey Biggs AND Miss Climpson AND Peter's nephew Charlie AND the Dowager Duchess AND Parker AND Miss Twitterton ... I would have been able to tell that it was meant to be a continuation of Sayers' series without having all of her incidental characters crammed in, really. In addition, we have Peter saying,"OK, you're the boss," and Harriet misinterpreting a rather common Shakespeare quotation, neiher of which strikes me as terribly likely. Fortunately for me, I'm not a terribly critical reader once I'm immersed in a book-world, so I imagine I'll enjoy i enough to justify the cost of the paperback -- but I'm glad I bought it with the gift card instead of my own money.
Next challenge: deciding which books to pack for Boston. I have a pristine copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell waiting for me, but it's a bit heavy (literally) for airplane reading, or rather for carrying onto airplanes. The other decision will be which knitting to take: the lace poncho that requires a little concentration, the easy scarf that means I'd have to carry three balls of yarn, or the sweater I haven't looked at in a month. Hmmm.
Here's my new theory about Petunia Dursley, based on the following questions at the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince website.
What did Dumbledore's Howler to Aunt Petunia mean? ('Remember my last'?)
Dumbledore is referring to his last letter, which means, of course, the letter he left upon the Dursleys' doorstep when Harry was one year old. But why then (you may well ask) did he not just say 'remember my letter?' Why did he say my last letter? Why, obviously because there were letters before that… Now let the speculation begin, and mind you type clearly, I'll be watching…
P.S. It has been suggested that I am wrong in saying that Dumbledore's last letter was the one he left on the doorstep with baby Harry, and that he has sent a letter since then concerning Harry's illegal flight to school. However, both Dumbledore and I differentiate between letters sent to the Dursleys as a couple, and messages directed to Petunia ALONE. And that's my final word on the subject - though I doubt it will be yours :)
Will there be, or have there been, any "late blooming" students in the school who come into their magic potential as adults, rather than as children?
No, is the answer. In my books, magic almost always shows itself in a person before age 11; however, there is a character who does manage in desperate circumstances to do magic quite late in life, but that is very rare in the world I am writing about.
Based on all that, I'm guessing Petunia does have magic, at least some, and may even have received her own Hogwarts letter - if so, obviously she refused it for whatever reason. I'm guessing she does do some magic in a later book. If so, it would probably be to save Dudley; I think he's the only one she cares for that much. I don't think she'd do it to save Harry, since she didn't seem to mind the idea of throwing him out among the Dementors (Book V) until DUmbledore's Howler arrived.
In other news, I'm a little worried about my parents, since I didn't remember to give them either a housekey or my phone number before leaving for work this morning. I've tried calling but they haven't answered. I hope they're clever enough to take the key that lives in the front door; though I wouldn't be surprised if they just decided to stay home and sit by or in the pool all day and go out tomorrow instead.
I was feeling better yesterday, but the drive home turned out to be a nightmare - dizziness even when I didn't move my head, some stomach cramps. I was very upset by the time I got home. I think I may have gotten a bit dehydrated, which just made everything else worse.
I'm not an idiot: it's just much harder than you'd think avoiding dehydration when you live and work out in a desert.
I didn't eat much dinner, which may have contributed to some vivid dreams. I didn't go to the gym this morning, not wanting to push things. When I woke up to Rudder's alarm, I was thinking about work and what I needed to do today. After I feel back asleep, I dreamed that I was trying to enter to-dos into my planner, while Hermione Granger was traying to explain to several of us about some much more important problem we were facing. (Voldemort-related, no doubt. I do hope he's not coming to work here.)
I suspect Hermione was in my dreams because I was reading a discussion of whether HP is fantasy over at Patrick Neilsen Hayden's place. Some of that was a discussion of the exact definition of "genre fantasy", but at least one person was claiming that HP is not primarily fantasy because the plot could be easily rewritten to omit any fantastic elements (positing Harry as an alien or whatever). I disagree strongly; I don't believe that that claim is correct anyhow (a rewrite might be possible but it would be very extensive and could not be automated, in my opinion) but more because I don't read the books for their plot. In fact, what plot? "Harry finds out he's a wizard, Book 1. Book 1 and all subsequent books: Harry, generally in company with Hermione and Ron, learns things, gets in trouble for poking in where he shouldn't, overcomes obstacles, and inconclusively defeats Voldemort. I presume Volume 7 will end with "conclusively defeats Voldemort". I grant some of those obstacles are fascinating in their own right and range from dragons to merpeople to Umbridge to his own friends. Still, the plot in itself is simple and satisfying (to me at least, because I have a simple mind). That's not a bad thing; I'm not convinced a plot is strictly necessary for all books. what's the plot in Little Women, or Tom Sawyer, or Tristram Shandy? "Jo grows up" or "Tom lives for a year or two" or "My uncle likes fortifications" isn't much of a plot - individual episodes have plots, like Tom's running away or his being lost in Indian Cave, but the overall arc, doesn't to any extent. Harry does have a plot, both in each book and over the series, but I don't read it for that. I read it for the world: I want to live in Hogwarts. I want to hang out in Hagrid's hut and sneak around under an invisibility cloak and prove I have the courage to be in Gryffindor. I want to find out magic isn't impossible. I want to be Harry, and fortunately I can, at least while the book is open.
I'm writing all of this here because the PNH discussion is a month and a half old and because this has all already been written there, mostly better.
And that was a long prologue, but I was thinking about HP and its (lack of plot) in connection to my current rereading of Caroline Stevermer's A College of Magics. (Spoilers below.) In addition to a world I'd like to live in and characters I'd like to know or be (I loved Jane and was delighted to find her again in A Scholar of Magics), ACoM has lashings of plot. On the other hand, it also has a lot of little holes and inconsistencies and loose endings. It reads like a first book, though I don't think it is Stevermer's first. For example, the whole first half of the book is at Greenlaw college; Faris does grow up a bit but otherwise the transition from school to Galazon seems a little abrupt. The college is so lovingly limned it's impossible not to feel interrupted when Faris is simultaneously called home and expelled and just leaves, forever. Also, why do we have the character of Odile? How did Faris make it through her first year without so much as learning any other first-years' names? Why does Menary hate Faris and what is Uncle Brinker's motivation? (Those two may be answered in the book; it's been a while since my first reading.) Can Faris rebuild her love of Galazon? If not, why does she still care what happens to it? Will Julian age normally? And so on. None of that keeps me from enjoying either ACoM or A Scholar of Magics, though.
My books are shelved by subject: F/SF, mystery, children's / YA in fiction, and everything from travel to religion to sociology to linguistics to books about books (one of my favorite sections) and so on. I'm beggingin to think, though, that I need a Fadiman shelf. On it, I could shelve Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major's New Lifetime Reading Plan; Ann Fadiman's wonderful Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader; Theodore H. White's In Search of History, his autobiography, which has a lot about Annalee Jacoby (Clifton's wife, Anne's mother); and my latest acquisition, George Howe Colt's (Ann's husband) The Big House, about his family and the decaying Cape Cod mansion in which they've spent summers for three generations.
Those aren't all the Fadiman books, by a long shot. For example, I have no great desire to buy Anne's bestseller on epilepsy among the Hmong people, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down or Colt's The Enigma of Suicide, just because those aren't subjects I'm as interested in. Clifton F. has any number of other books out, some of which may show up on my shelves someday.
I think I've figured out why the Fadiman books I do have are such favorites of mine: it's because those are books I could write, or at least they're the sort of book I could write. I'm having visions of competence here: I'm not an author, and I'm not claiming I could write a book as good as any of the Fadiman ouevre. But I could write something that would be at least a distant cousin to their work; I could write a book about other books and why or why not they should be read, or a series of essays about my life and the containers -- books or houses -- that have impacted it. It might even be readable. In contrast, I don't think I could write a fantasy novel, or if I did it would be awful. Much as I enjoy reading fiction I don't get the thrumming recognition of myself behind its pages that I do when reading what I am coming to think of as a Fadiman book.
Which 'The Dark Is Rising' Sequence Main Character Are You?
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Interestingly, I stayed Merriman no matter whether I picked Loyalty, Courage, Honesty, or even Justice as the greatest virtue in the last question. Isn't making everyone else forget all they've been through a form of injustice?
I do Not like Yahoo's new "improved" email. They may have four times the space, but it's running four times slower. I hope that's temporary.
LA, I don't think you're a lightweight fluffhead, but I also don't think booklists are meant to be a competitive thing. There are books on that list I'll never read. Some might be excellent but are just something I'm not interested in, and some, I suspect, would suck. There are entire bookcases full of books I've read not on that list and I'm sure the same holds for you and any other reader. I just do lists occasionally because it's fun thinking about the books I've read. The sole advantage to not being a student these days is that I hardly ever have to read anything I'm not interested in -- and if I do, I'm generally getting paid for it.
What I really don't care about is whether I've read more than other people - with a couple exceptions. There are some cases in which I do care just what other people have read. As Maria implies, you can learn a lot about someone from seeing what books are part of them. If I've read something I think someone else would love, it's one of life's great pleasures to recommend it -- and it's an even bigger pleasure to have someone recommend something that I end up loving. And if we both love the same books -- or don't -- or love them for different reasons, we can have all the fun of discussing how and why and whether and therefore.
Oh, what the hell. I did a half-marathon on the erg this morning, and my brain is still only semi-functional. (The rest of me isn't too sorry about it yet but may be by tomorrow.) And besides, I like thinking about books, and lists of books.
I stole the booklist part of this meme from kiwiria, but changed the directions a little.
* bold those books you’ve read
* italicize started-but-never-finished
* underline owned but not (yet) read
* add three of your own
* post to your journal
The original directions say:
* bold those books you’ve read
* italicize started-but-never-finished or
* put in parentheses if you've seen the movie ;)
* underline the ones you actually like
* add three of your own
* post to your livejournal
I'm leaving out the movie parentheses because I just don't care enough about movies to bother - they're not central to my life the way books are. (Also, how would I classify The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, where I've seen some but not all of the TV episodes and a bit of a cartoon of it?) And I'm not doing the underline-if-you-liked-it bit because it would be too hard to decide -- if 51% of it appealed to me, is that "liking"? If I liked some aspects but not others? Why would I distinguish like from dislike but not love from like? And so on ... it would take way, way too long for me to figure out.
So my version of the directions (similar to ones I've seen in some other journal, somewhere) are:
* bold those books you’ve read
* italicize started-but-never-finished
* underline owned but not read
* add three of your own
* post to your journal
I am counting audiobooks I've listened to as "read", but if I've only seen the movie it doesn't count.
1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. 1984, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien26. Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
71. Perfume, Patrick Susskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
100. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
101. Three Men In A Boat, Jerome K. Jerome
102. Small Gods, Terry Pratchett
103. The Beach, Alex Garland
104. Dracula, Bram Stoker
105. Point Blanc, Anthony Horowitz
106. The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens
107. Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz
108. The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks
109. The Day Of The Jackal, Frederick Forsyth
110. The Illustrated Mum, Jacqueline Wilson
111. Jude The Obscure, Thomas Hardy
112. The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 1/2, Sue Townsend
113. The Cruel Sea, Nicholas Monsarrat
114. Les Miserables, Victor Hugo (but in an abridged version)
115. The Mayor Of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy
116. The Dare Game, Jacqueline Wilson
117. Bad Girls, Jacqueline Wilson
118. The Picture Of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
119. Shogun, James Clavell
120. The Day Of The Triffids, John Wyndham
121. Lola Rose, Jacqueline Wilson
122. Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
123. The Forsythe Saga, John Galsworthy
124. House Of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
125. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
126. Reaper Man, Terry Pratchett
127. Angus, Thongs And Full-Frontal Snogging, Louise Rennison
128. The Hound Of The Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
129. Possession, A. S. Byatt
130. The Master And Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
131. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
132. Danny The Champion Of The World, Roald Dahl
133. East Of Eden, John Steinbeck
134. George’s Marvellous Medicine, Roald Dahl
135. Wyrd Sisters, Terry Pratchett
136. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
137. Hogfather, Terry Pratchett (in progress right now!)
138. The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan
139. Girls In Tears, Jacqueline Wilson
140. Sleepovers, Jacqueline Wilson
141. All Quiet On The Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
142. Behind The Scenes At The Museum, Kate Atkinson
143. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
144. It, Stephen King
145. James And The Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
146. The Green Mile, Stephen King
147. Papillon, Henri Charriere
148. Men At Arms, Terry Pratchett
149. Master And Commander, Patrick O’Brian
150. Skeleton Key, Anthony Horowitz
151. Soul Music, Terry Pratchett
152. Thief Of Time, Terry Pratchett
153. The Fifth Elephant, Terry Pratchett
154. Atonement, Ian McEwan
155. Secrets, Jacqueline Wilson
156. The Silver Sword, Ian Serraillier
157. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
158. Heart Of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
159. Kim, Rudyard Kipling
160. Cross Stitch, Diana Gabaldon
161. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
162. River God, Wilbur Smith
163. Sunset Song, Lewis Grassic Gibbon
164. The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
165. The World According To Garp, John Irving
166. Lorna Doone, R. D. Blackmore
167. Girls Out Late, Jacqueline Wilson
168. The Far Pavilions, M. M. Kaye
169. The Witches, Roald Dahl
170. Charlotte’s Web, E. B. White
171. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
172. They Used To Play On Grass, Terry Venables and Gordon Williams
173. The Old Man And The Sea, Ernest Hemingway
174. The Name Of The Rose, Umberto Eco
175. Sophie’s World, Jostein Gaarder
176. Dustbin Baby, Jacqueline Wilson
177. Fantastic Mr. Fox, Roald Dahl
178. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
179. Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, Richard Bach
180. The Little Prince, Antoine De Saint-Exupery
181. The Suitcase Kid, Jacqueline Wilson
182. Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
183. The Power Of One, Bryce Courtenay
184. Silas Marner, George Eliot
185. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
186. The Diary Of A Nobody, George and Weedon Grossmith
187. Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh
188. Goosebumps, R. L. Stine
189. Heidi, Johanna Spyri
190. Sons And Lovers, D. H. Lawrence
191. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
192. Man And Boy, Tony Parsons
193. The Truth, Terry Pratchett
194. The War Of The Worlds, H. G. Wells
195. The Horse Whisperer, Nicholas Evans
196. A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
197. Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett
198. The Once And Future King, T. H. White
199. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
200. Flowers In The Attic, V.C. Andrews
201. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien
202. The Eye of the World, Robert Jordan
203. The Great Hunt, Robert Jordan
204. The Dragon Reborn, Robert Jordan
205. Fires of Heaven, Robert Jordan
206. Lord of Chaos, Robert Jordan
207. Winter’s Heart, Robert Jordan
208. A Crown of Swords, Robert Jordan
209. Crossroads of Twilight, Robert Jordan
210. A Path of Daggers, Robert Jordan
211. As Nature Made Him, John Colapinto
212. Microserfs, Douglas Coupland
213. The Married Man, Edmund White
214. Winter’s Tale, Mark Helprin
215. The History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault
216. Cry to Heaven, Anne Rice
217. Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, John Boswell
218. Equus, Peter Shaffer (I've read the play - don't know if there's a book version)
219. The Man Who Ate Everything, Jeffrey Steingarten
220. Letters To A Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke
221. Ella Minnow Pea, Mark Dunn
222. The Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice
223. Anthem, Ayn Rand
224. The Bridge To Terabithia, Katherine Paterson
225. Tartuffe, Moliere
226. The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
227. The Crucible, Arthur Miller
228. The Trial, Franz Kafka
229. Oedipus Rex, Sophocles
230. Oedipus at Colonus, Sophocles
231. Death Be Not Proud, John Gunther
232. A Doll’s House, Henrik Ibsen
233. Hedda Gabler, Henrik Ibsen
234. Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton
235. A Raisin In The Sun, Lorraine Hansberry
236. ALIVE!, Piers Paul Read
237. Grapefruit, Yoko Ono
238. Trickster Makes This World, Lewis Hyde
240. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
241. Chronicles of Thomas Convenant, Unbeliever, Stephen Donaldson
242. Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny
242. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon
243. Summerland, Michael Chabon
244. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
245. Candide, Voltaire
246. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, Roald Dahl
247. Ringworld, Larry Niven
248. The King Must Die, Mary Renault
249. Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
250. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle
251. The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde
252. The House Of The Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne
253. The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne254. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
255. The Great Gilly Hopkins, Katherine Paterson
256. Chocolate Fever, Robert Kimmel Smith
257. Xanth: The Quest for Magic, Piers Anthony
258. The Lost Princess of Oz, L. Frank Baum (if this is the first one with Ozma)
259. Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon
260. Lost In A Good Book, Jasper Fforde
261. Well Of Lost Plots, Jasper Fforde
261. Life Of Pi, Yann Martel
263. The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver
264. A Yellow Rraft In Blue Water, Michael Dorris
265. Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder
267. Where The Red Fern Grows, Wilson Rawls
268. Griffin & Sabine, Nick Bantock
269. Witch of Blackbird Pond, Joyce Friedland
270. Mrs. Frisby And The Rats Of NIMH, Robert C. O’Brien
271. Tuck Everlasting, Natalie Babbitt
272. The Cay, Theodore Taylor
273. From The Mixed-Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
274. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster
275. The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin
276. The Kitchen God’s Wife, Amy Tan
277. The Bone Setter’s Daughter, Amy Tan
278. Relic, Duglas Preston & Lincolon Child
279. Wicked, Gregory Maguire
280. American Gods, Neil Gaiman
281. Misty of Chincoteague, Marguerite Henry
282. The Girl Next Door, Jack Ketchum
283. Haunted, Judith St. George
284. Singularity, William Sleator
285. A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson
286. Different Seasons, Stephen King
287. Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk
288. About a Boy, Nick Hornby
289. The Bookman’s Wake, John Dunning
290. The Church of Dead Girls, Stephen Dobyns
291. Illusions, Richard Bach
292. Magic’s Pawn, Mercedes Lackey
293. Magic’s Promise, Mercedes Lackey
294. Magic’s Price, Mercedes Lackey
295. The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Gary Zukav
296. Spirits of Flux and Anchor, Jack L. Chalker
297. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
298. The Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices, Brenda Love
299. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
300. The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison
301. The Cider House Rules, John Irving
302. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card (the novella, not the book)
303. Girlfriend in a Coma, Douglas Coupland
304. The Lion’s Game, Nelson Demille
305. The Sun, The Moon, and the Stars, Stephen Brust
306. Cyteen, C. J. Cherryh
307. Foucault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco
308. Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson
309. Invisible Monsters, Chuck Palahniuk
310. Camber of Culdi, Kathryn Kurtz
311. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
312. War and Rememberance, Herman Wouk
313. The Art of War, Sun Tzu
314. The Giver, Lois Lowry
315. The Telling, Ursula Le Guin
316. Xenogenesis (or Lilith’s Brood), Octavia Butler
317. A Civil Campaign, Lois McMaster Bujold
318. The Curse of Chalion, Lois McMaster Bujold
319. The Aeneid, Publius Vergilius Maro (Vergil)
320. Hanta Yo, Ruth Beebe Hill
321. The Princess Bride, S. Morganstern [or William Goldman]
322. Beowulf, Anonymous
323. The Sparrow, Maria Doria Russell
324. Deerskin, Robin McKinley
325. Dragonsong, Anne McCaffrey
326. Passage, Connie Willis
327. Otherland, Tad Williams
328. Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay
329. Number the Stars, Lois Lowry
330. Beloved, Toni Morrison
331. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, Christopher Moore
332. The mysterious disappearance of Leon, I mean Noel, Ellen Raskin
333. Summer Sisters, Judy Blume
334. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Victor Hugo
335. The Island on Bird Street, Uri Orlev
336. Midnight in the Dollhouse, Marjorie Filley Stover
337. The Miracle Worker, William Gibson
338. The Genesis Code, John Case
339. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevensen
340. Paradise Lost, John Milton
341. Phantom, Susan Kay
342. The Mummy or Ramses the Damned, Anne Rice
343. Anno Dracula, Kim Newman
344: The Dresden Files: Grave Peril, Jim Butcher
345: Tokyo Suckerpunch, Issac Adamson
346: The Winter of Magic’s Return, Pamela Service
347: The Oddkins, Dean R. Koontz
348. My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok
349. The Last Goodbye, Raymond Chandler
350. At Swim, Two Boys, Jaime O’Neill
351. Othello, by William Shakespeare
352. The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas
353. The Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats
354. Sati, Christopher Pike
355. The Inferno, Dante
356. The Apology, Plato
357. The Small Rain, Madeline L’Engle
358. The Man Who Tasted Shapes, Richard E Cytowick
359. 5 Novels, Daniel Pinkwater
360. The Sevenwaters Trilogy, Juliet Marillier
361. Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier
362. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
363. Our Town, Thorton Wilder
364. Green Grass Running Water, Thomas King
365. The Interpreter, Suzanne Glass
366. The Moor’s Last Sigh, Salman Rushdie
367. The Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson
368. A Passage to India, E.M. Forster
369. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
370. The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux
371. Pages for You, Sylvia Brownrigg
372. The Changeover, Margaret Mahy
373. Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones
374. Angels and Demons, Dan Brown
375. Johnny Got His Gun, Dalton Trumbo
376. Shosha, Isaac Bashevis Singer
377. Travels With Charley, John Steinbeck
378. The Diving-bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
379. The Lunatic at Large by J. Storer Clouston
380. Time for Bed by David Baddiel
381. Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold
382. Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre
383. The Bloody Sun by Marion Zimmer Bradley
384. Sewer, Gas, and Electric by Matt Ruff
385. Jhereg by Steven Brust
386. So You Want To Be A Wizard by Diane Duane
387. Perdido Street Station, China Mieville
388. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte
389. Road-side Dog, Czeslaw Milosz
380. The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
381. Neuromancer, William Gibson
382. The Epistemology of the Closet, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick
383. A Canticle for Liebowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr
384. The Mask of Apollo, Mary Renault
385. The Gunslinger, Stephen King
386. Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare
387. Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke
388. A Season of Mists, Neil Gaiman
389. Ivanhoe, Walter Scott
390. The God Boy, Ian Cross
391. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, Laurie R. King
392. Finn Family Moomintroll, Tove Jansson
393. Misery, Stephen King
394. Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters
395. Hood, Emma Donoghue
396. The Land of Spices, Kate O’Brien
397. The Diary of Anne Frank
398. Regeneration, Pat Barker
399. Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
400. Dreaming in Cuban, Cristina Garcia
401. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
402. The View from Saturday, E.L. Konigsburg
403. Dealing with Dragons, Patricia Wrede
404. Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss
405. A Severed Wasp - Madeleine L’Engle
406. Here Be Dragons - Sharon Kay Penman
407. The Mabinogion (Ancient Welsh Tales) - translated by Lady Charlotte E. Guest
408. The DaVinci Code - Dan Brown
409. Desire of the Everlasting Hills - Thomas Cahill
400. The Cloister Walk - Kathleen Norris
401. My Antonia, Willa Cather
402. Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
403. The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins
404. Conceived Without Sin, Bud MacFarlane Jr.
405. Pierced by a Sword, Bud MacFarlane, Jr.
406. Tully, Paullina Simons
407. On the Beach, Nevil Shute
408. Cat's Eye, Margaret Atwood
409. Earth Abides, George R. Stewart
410. Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy From Mars, Daniel K. Pinkwater
411. The Talisman, Stephen King and Peter Straub
412. Black House, Steven King and Peter Straub
413. Please Don't Eat the Daisies, Jean Kerr
414. The Golden Spiders, Rex Stout
415. Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren
415. The gift of Sex, C & J Penner
416. Dominion, Randy Alcorn
417 Trixie Belden and the secret of the mansion, Julie Campbell
418. The Shaman, Noah Gordon
419. Pope Joan, Donna W. Cross
420. The Bible (the Five Books of Moses, that is. I've only read bits of that upstart version
421. 84 Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff
422. Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, Ann Fadiman
423. The New Lifetime Reading Plan, Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major
(As I said, I like book lists)
It's a funny thing. I've been on various email lists since the mid-80s; I'm currently active on about four dedicated to discussions of different authors' books. They've all got a variety of people and it's been interesting to hear different viewpoints from people of different nationalities, genders, and opinions. For readers, book preferences can be an important part of identity, and so all of the lists tend to feature occasional discussion about how pleasant it is to talk to people with whom we have so much in common. It really is blessedly easy to hold a conversation among people who generally know what you're talking about, with whom you can use the shorthand of comparing things, people, or events to ones in books.
There is definitely a difference among the different lists, though. On one list and its offshoots, people may occasionally annoiy each other, but it's like being annoyed by your family: you know what they mean and why they think so even when you disagree. Even when it's an old gripe that's become as irritating as chalk squeaking on a blackboard, you're still squeaking in a common language and you can generally figure out their priorities and the bases of opinions.
Another list has a few people I'd love to meet for longer conversations, a few with whom I've got nothing in common but our favorite authors (these are not mutually exclusive categories) and a few with whom I've REALLY got nothing in common. There's at least two or three people there who I'd be happy just to listen to as they talked about their lives, because I could learn so much I could apply to mine. There are people there whose life choices and opinions are totally different than mine but who are good to learn from for just that reason, plus a high level of mutual respect. (A few in that category have journals listed there in my sidebar or one of my friends / buddies lists, as do a few with whom I've got a good bit in common.) Then there are some whose thoughts and priorities just totally baffle me, as I'm sure mine do them. In general on that particular list, I find them overly precious and twee and I suspect they find me abrasive and prickly.
Nonetheless, we clearly do have things in common since we like the same author (though we do have different favorites within her works -- one person mentioned loving what I think is her weakest book by far). I'm not sure what lesson is to be gained by this for me, except that presumably I should try harder to look for the common ground, love all my neighbors as myself, see the good in everyone .... sorry, it must be rubbing off. (It's probably telling that it took me another hour to come back here and write that I should also try to be less abrasive. ) I think the lesson would be a lot more interesting if I were an author, to see what a wide variety of people my stuff might speak to. How do you write to maximize that? Should you try or must it flow naturally? Do different levels speak to different people, or can very different people all appreciate the deepest level of a work? I'm thinking of movies here comparing Roger Rabbit and Harry Potter -- I think the former had different levels for different ages, while the latter has touched people of different ages in more or less the same way at least to some degree .... and I may have just answered some of my own questions.
Same thing I've said about the last half-dozen movies I've seen (IMAX excluded): too damned long. I'm tired of having to choose between risking a ruptured bladder and missing some of the movie just so some director's inflated sense of Art can play out for two and a half hours (plus about eight previews). I haven't read the Iliad for years and deliberately avoided reviewing it before the movie, so I had no idea what Briseis and Achilles were or weren't supposed to be doing and any departures from Homer didn't bother me as much. Even so, what happened to Casssandra, Hecuba, and Aeneas (apart from a two second cameo of the last)? Also, I don't recall Hector and Priam being quite such sympathetic characters and the lack of manifestation of the gods was closer to histoy but would have dismayed Homer.
Going in ignorant of the finer details, the movie wasn't bad. Brad Pitt did an adequate job portraying Achilles as a throwback to (even) more savage days and I liked the historic touch that showed people asnot terribly clean or air-brushed. It was amazing how little blood there was, given the amount of fighting and dying that went on -- apparently when you kill a man with a sword or spear, he bleeds a bit from the mouth and that's it. (In the interests of historic accuracy though, there did appear to be flies on Hector a day or two after his death.) I wouldn't be too upset if the film influenced fashions and men (at least those with good legs) began walking around in flippy little skirts. (Rudder would look good in one, if he could muster the presence to carry it off.)
The cinematography reminded me less of sunbaked Greece and more of washed-out 1950s Hollywood scenes, which may be appropriate since that's when epics were last in vogue. Speaking of the vgue for epics, it was amusing to see who this movie learned the lessons of Lord of the Rings: keep the camera moving quickly during potentially gory scenes and provide both pretty boys for the teenyboppers to drool over and men you'd actually enjoy spending time as well as looking at for those of us who've learned that lesson. In fact, Troy went LOTR one better by having Brad Pitt in to bridge the gap between Paris and Hector -- though for women still another generation older, there were no older men in Troy who could compare with Gandalf. (Priam had the character but not the looks.) I think they may have used the same set, as well, with a few minor tweaks to turn it from Middle-Earthian to vaguely Egyptian. Which was also a bit odd -- Troy's in Turkey, right?
America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines
Given the amount of history Gail Collins has crammed into one book, it's not surprising that sometimes I was left wishing she'd included more details. Having said that, it's probably not fair to point out that she's included almost no information on Native Amercan women (except Pocahontas) or the Spanish community that settled in the Southwest some 400 years ago. Otherwise she did a very good job reasearching and communicating daily lives of Puritan and early Southern women, women of the early Republic, Victorians, abolitionists, suffragists, flappers, factory girls, immigrants in tenements, and so on. She's done a good enough job that I was able to connect the way my parents' rowhouse neighbors spend summer nights outside talking to neighbors with the way most of their grandparents would have lived in immigrant neighborhoods, a conection I'd never made before, and to see exactly why my great-grandmother, widoed by the Influenza Epidemic and her sister, widowed by WWI, moved in to raise their children together. There are also some shocking fatcs on how diapers were washed - in the seventeenth century and again on the wagon trains, mostly they weren't. Ick. As far as I can tell her facts are impeccable, though Collins does seem a bit frustrated by the total lack of evidence of how women in previous centuries dealth with menstruation, especially in the days of the earliest settlers when there were no rags because there was absolutely no spare cloth. I'm reading this from the library, but wouldn't be surprised if I end up buying it someday to keep as a reference.
I've finally gotten around to reading The Ladies of Missalonghi, by Colleen McCullough, which is widely reputed to be just an Australianized version of my favorite of L.M. Montgomery's books, The Blue Castle (henceforth Ladies and TBC) and I'd have to say that in large part I'd agree with that assessment.
It's true that many of the items the two stories have in common are standard plot devices, some straight out of those penny dreadful romances Missy in Ladies loved: the three maiden women living together, the character who doesn't fit in to a talented or prominent family, the marriage in which one or both people don't fall in love until after they're married (a feature in roughly every other Harlequin-type romance, I think, because it so conveniently legitimizes the sex). But there are so many little correspondances that I don't think they can all be coincidence. Three examples are the heroines of both books both being forced to eat the oatmeal they loathe every morning; the comment, in the exact same words, about how Alicia / Olive "keep all their goods in the shop window", and Barney's / John Smith's always having wanted to own an entire island / valley.
This bewilders me, because if I were reusing a plot so closely, those small details would be exactly the sort of things I would be sure to change. It's been pointed out to me that oatmeal every morning was a common thing in the Scots heritage widespread in both Canada and Australia, and that the "goods in the shop window" phrase wasn't uncommon in the period of both books (1920s-1930s). However, the "shop window" comment is used so much in the same context that I have a hard time believing that. Another possible explanation that has occurred to me is that possibly reusing some of those details may have given McCullough a chance to talk back to LMM, through the device of Una. ("And do you know what happens to goods when you keep them in the window, darling? They fade!") I've certainly had the experience of wanting to talk back to an author and can imagine McCullough might have had a lot of fun with this. It also let her give a strong opinion on the "Did they or didn't they?" perennial quation about Valancy and Barney Snaith. Missy and John Smith emphatically did. (Though I never could imagine why anyone would think Valancy and Barney didn't. She loved him, they were married, and they slept in the same bed. How not? Some LMM fans are a bit too determinedly pure sometimes.)
There are plenty of unique bits in Ladies; the number of other books on the shelf by McCullough shows she has no need to borrow ideas to fill out a book. (I didn't know she'd written about Caesar until I went looking for Ladies. Una is at least an interesting plot device, though she strikes me as a bit odd, and I absolutely fell in love with Missy's mother Drusilla, as her character unfolds through the book. Ladies has a much more explicit feminist message than TBC. In the latter the women in Valancy's family are as unpleasant as the men. In Ladies, the men are uniformly obnoxious, but only some of the women are. I enjoyed the BlueMountains setting (I've been there!) and the
irrepressible Australian bawdiness - everything from Una's comment that Uncle James would probably rather have someone else bite his bum, preferably someone masculine, to John Smith's question when Missy visits the lavatory: "Long visit or short?"
I don't think Ladies has the heart TBC does. TBC can really be viewed as the emergence of truth from a tissue of conventional lies. When I peeked ahead at the ending, it looked like the marriage in Ladies was based on a lie, which I thought it would really poison the book for me. It's not exactly, though; it's just begun on a lie. Still, the lie is never cleared up and John Smith makes it clear that a woman's untruthfulness is one of the unforgiveable sins to him, so that though the book isn't exactly ruined, it's certainly diminished. Missy is nice enough but not as enchanting as Valancy -- Valancy is really a lady, a term not too old-fashioned for Montgomery's characters. While she might try to get her own back at Cousin Olive, she doesn't ever do anything untrue to herself. When Valancy rebels, her first act after leaving a family party early with a few well-chosen words, is to perform an act of kindness, moving in to stay with dying Cissy Gay. When Missy rebels, after leaving a family party early with a few well-chosen words, her first act is to return a dress Alicia had handed down with disdain, after festooning it with cow and pig muck. Valancy falls in love with Barney after getting to know him well at Abel Gay's. Missy falls in love with her idea of John Smith after three brief meetings and a few words.
Ladies isn't quite cotton candy; it's too good for that. But it's not the nourishing comfort food TBC is, either.
I've been reading Mary Matalin's Letters to My Daughters, because I was interested to see what she said about marriage. She is, after all, a master of the art of finding conjugal happiness in differing viewpoints. I haven't gotten that far yet, but from what I've been reading, I can only conclude that maybe Republicans really are another species. Maybe I need to read something by her husband, James Carville.
My first hint was when she mentioned being passionate about George Herbert Walker Bush (or rather, his politics). She says later that "Poppy" tended to inspire a deep abiding loyalty in his people. I can actually imagine that (a tihng I can't imagine his son doing) but I have trouble connecting the word "passion" with anything about George Bush pére.
Second, she stresses over and over to her daughters that boys are another species entirely and you will never understand them so don't waste time trying, that you will often have to remind yourself why you love your husband but you will have an instant soul-deep connection to your girlfriends and you will totally understand each other. (She does at least concede that a woman ought to keep a few male friends around "as sounding boards and a male viewpoint".) And, oh yes, that post-puberty boys are interested in nothing but sex. To all of which I can only say, "Huh?"
It's been my experience that, while there usually are differences between men and women or boys and girls (and I won't speculate how much is genetic v.s. societal), the differences are dwarfed both by the similarities between the sexes and by the differences between individuals. I do much better with men when I assume that they think and feel as I do. Maybe sometimes they cover it more or differently as they've been trained to, but as even Matalin admits, the underlying insecurities are usually pretty much the same. It's true sometimes I have to remind myself why I love Rudder, but I think that would be true for anyone I lived with of any gender. Sometimes people are just annoying, whether pointers or setters.
I can't say that I understand my girlfriends (a word I dislike, incidentally, but one Matalin uses frequently) but not my male friends. Take Egret and T2, for example; Rudder and I agree that we both understand him better than her. (It may have something to do with her being the only non-engineer of the four of us.) That doesn't mean I don't like her, sometimes for the very traits I don't understand. I don't understand several of my friends, but if there's any trend it's that mostly I find the male ones a little more comprehensible. I don't particularly find not understanding how someone's mind works to be either an indicator of their sex or a bar to friendship.
Granted that sex is pretty high on the list of preoccupations for teenage boys (and girls) but even at that age it's not the only thing. I'm pretty sure that when I was that age discussing books with my male friends, they weren't really always and only thinking about getting me horizontal, especially as several of them had girlfriends they were perfectly happy with at the time, whom I did not notice them runnning off from our converstions to go and snog. Sometimes they were actually thinking about books.
Another thing I find weird is the implication that menstruation is always accompanied by weird hormone storms and painful cramps. It can be, certainly, but it strikes me as bizarre to assume it always is. Most of us really don't turn useless for a few days every month. We keep going to work, we get work done, female athletes don't skip practices. Granted, sometimes I'll be well into the middle of a tirade before I realize it may have hormonal causes, but even then, I don't get upset by things that wouldn't normally upset me. I just react more, er, vividly. I can count on fingers of one hand the times I've had bad menstrual cramps. (I do get stomach cramps more often.) Matalin's story of incredibly painful cramps that started with her very first period and lasted as long as it did, and that are instantly cured by "two Advil and lots of water", suggest a psychosomatic cause to me. This is bolstered by the idea she absorbed from her mother that mentrual subjects are "incredibly private and never to be discussed with any male", including the man with whom she's had two children. Before anyone jumps all over me, I don't think that psychosomatic pain is any whit less painful or easier to get rid of than physically caused pain. When it's there, it's real. (I've got IBS, which is also exacerbated by stress, so believe me, I know.) Telling young girls that they will lose all sense of proportion as they bleed strikes me as a bad idea, though I would certainly warn them they might. I do like her strategy of telling her daughters to think about things before they do or say them at times when hormones might be raging.
What with the alien boys and the Monthly Visitation, parts of this book sound so much like an adult version of "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret," that I keep cringing. She's dead on, I think, with the parts about lying (summary: Don't.) and loyalty (summary: Do.) and the glimpses of life in a campaign and in the White House are interesting, so I'll keep reading. If I want a guide to friendships between the sexes, though, I'll go back to Little Women for one that rings a lot truer to me. After all, once Laurie got the (tactfully glossed over) sex thing out of his system, he and Jo maintained their friendship. I don't think Matalin's attitudes are really a reflection of her party necessarily. After all, I've got Republican male friends. It makes me sad to hear such stereotypes from such a smart and successful woman, though.
NB: To be fair, I should note she's also got a lot of good things to say, about everything from work to patriotism to travel. Also, since I'm still getting comments, I should also note that she's got (obviously, if you know who she's married to) a laudable capacity to respect people whose political views differ from hers. She's been known to attack the other side during campaigns, but apparently she's learned from her mistakes.
This morning I coxed instead of rowing. Didn't get swapped in as promised, and I can already feel myself turning into jello.
That's not really true, of course. My thighs are still sore from lifting yesterday (weights, not Ted. Get your mind out of the gutter!) and I'll row a single tomorrow, weather permitting. Coxswains are underappreciated, though.
I've begun rereading Le Ton Beau de Marot, by Douglas Hofstadter. Besides being one of my favorite books, it's a collection of translations of a small poem by Clement Marot as well as an excursion into issues relating to translation, poetry, translation of poetry, the nature of language, and machine processing of natural language. It's also a love letter to his wife, who died tragically during the writing of the book.
At one point, I thought Le Ton beau would literally change my life. It was the proximate cause of my deciding to study cognitive science and language, which led to embarking on an MA in Linguistics (the best way to study the fields I wanted at the local university). Unfortunately, when I took my current job, I was unable to manage to take time out for classes, and of course no scheduler ever thinks one might want to take night classes in anything but business or computers. Also, I was learning enough at work to keep the Elephant's Child well-nourished.
In honor of Hofstadter, here's my stab at translating Marot's A Une Damoyselle Malayde, preceded by the original:
Je vous donne
Le bon jour ;
Et qu'on sorte
Le vous mande.
De ta bouche,
Qui se couche
Si tu dures
Dieu te doint
Night is done,
Day is here.
Is your bed.
From your room,
Come out soon,
World is yours.
I, your friend
Tell you so.
Well I know
You like sweets
Time for treats.
And candy hearts.
Don’t stay sick
Get well quick.
If you’re still
You’ll grow thin,
Lose both chins,
God will send
Health and fun,