Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Cat's Eye - Margaret Atwood

Title: Cat's Eye
Author: Margaret Atwood
Country: Canada
Year: 1988
Rating: A-
Pages: 462 pgs.

First sentence: Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space.

In the winter, I dream of sandy beaches and lemonade. In the summer, it's that first snowstorm and hot apple cider. So there was nothing better to read about on a humid July day in the middle of a never-ending heat wave than a girl growing up in the cold, Canadian winters. I was delighted at the talk of snowpants, mittens, and wool caps; snow angels; and snowball fights. For much of Cat's Eye was a retrospective look into the post-WWII childhood of the central character, Elaine Risley.

Cat's Eye is the story of Elaine Risley, who returns to Toronto after a long absence, for a retrospective of her art. Her story is split into past and present, as Elaine yearns to reconcile her memories with the woman she has become.

Margaret Atwood is known for her varied story-telling, but Cat's Eye continues an exploration that is common to her work: a not-to-strong central female character, who is delving into her past, in an attempt to understand her present place in this world. Elaine's story is imbued with Atwood's critical and thoughtful statement of childhood, examining the turmoil and strife that accompanies girls as they grow up--especially what they do to each other.

One thing that always draws me to Margaret Atwood's novels is her vivid characterizations, and this story is no exception. At the end, I feel like I know Elaine, Elaine's mother and father, her best friend Cordelia, and many of the other women in the novel. I am always sad to turn the last page, to be at the end. Which is why I always come back to her books for seconds. It's like greeting an old friend.

'My brother and I stand at the end of a ramshackle dock beside a long blue craggy lake. It's evening, with a melon-coloured sunset, loons calling in the distance, the drawn-out rising note that sounds like wolves.' (p. 71)

'Most mothers worry when their daughters reach adolescence, but I was the opposite. I relaxed, I sighed with relief. Little girls are cute and small only to adults. To one another they are not cute. They are life-sized.' (p. 129)

' "What's with her?" says the painter.
"She's mad because she's a woman." Jon says. This is something I haven't heard for years, not since high school. Once it was a shaming thing to say, and crushing to have it said about you, by a man. It implied oddness, deformity, sexual malfunction.
I go to the living room doorway. "I'm not mad because I'm a woman," I say. "I'm mad because you're an asshole." (p.377)

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Mouse and the Camel - Rumi

This is my first post for the Summer Poetry Challenge, hosted by Bookeywookey. I read poetry very rarely, and don't profess to any great insights on the poetry I have selected. This challenge did appeal to me as a possible kick-start to reintroduce poetry into my life, a genre that is neglected by many.
My choice of poems prior to the 1900's is 'The Mouse and the Camel' by Rumi, originally found in Rumi's most well known work, Masnavi.

About Rumi: Rumi, was born on September 30, 1207 as Jelaluddin Balkhi in Balkh, Afghanistan, which was then part of the Persian empire. Between 1215 and 1220, he and his family fled the threat of invading Mongols and emigrated to Konya Turkey; it was sometime after this that he became known as Rumi (meaning from Roman Anatolia). His father was a theologian and mystic, and after his death Rumi took over the role of sheikh in Konya's dervish community. After meeting a wandering dervish, Shams of Tabriz, Rumi became enveloped in a world of mystical conversation. Sham became one of the most profound influences in Rumi's life. Near the end of his life, Rumi focused on his greatest achievement, Masnavi. After twelve years of work on this masterpiece, Rumi died in 1273.

The Mouse and the Camel begins in a style that reminds me of Aesop's fables.

A mouse caught hold of a camel’s lead rope
in his two forelegs and walked off with it,
imitating the camel drivers.

The camel went along,
letting the mouse feel heroic.

“Enjoy yourself,”
he thought. “I have something to teach you, presently.”

The came to the edge of a great river.
The mouse was dumbfounded.

“What are you waiting for?
Step forward into the river. You are my leader.
Don’t stop here.”

”I’m afraid of being drowned.”

The camel walked into the water. “It’s only
just above the knee.”

Your knee! Your knee
is a hundred times over my head!”

Well, maybe you shouldn’t
be leading a camel. Stay with those like yourself.
A mouse has nothing really to say to a camel.”

“Would you help me get across?”

“Get up on my hump. I am made to take hundreds like you across.”

You are not a prophet, but go humbly on the way of the prophets,
and you can arrive where they are. Don’t try to steer the boat.
Don’t open a shop by yourself. Listen. Keep silent.
You are not God’s mouthpiece. Try to be an ear,
and if you do speak, ask for explanations.

There is the boastful animal, the mouse, who is taught a lesson by another animal, the camel. In essence, the mouse bit off more than it could chew, confusing luck or coincidence--catching the camel's harness--with achievement. The camel reminds the mouse that imitating those more powerful than you can lead to great problems down the road. It strikes me as a warning against spiritual pride that still resonates today.
The source of your arrogance and anger is your lust
and the rootedness of that is in your habits.

Someone who makes a habit of eating clay
gets mad when you try to keep him from it.
Being a leader can also be a poisonous habit,
so that when someone questions your authority,
you think, "He's trying to take over."
You may respond courteously, but inside you rage.

Always check your inner state
with the lord of your heart.
Copper doesn't know it's copper,
until it's changed to gold.

Your loving doesn't know its majesty,
until it knows its helplessness.

These gifts from the Friend, a robe
of skin and veins, a teacher within,
wear them and become a school,
with a greater sheikh nearby.
In these stanzas Rumi continues with the moral of the story. I feel in these lines he is speaking directly to those who are spiritual leaders, the sheikhs and imams of his time. He reminds the reader that many spiritual leaders become so entrenched in their habit of authority, that they become deaf to sound advice, responding with jealousy, anger, and pride. I really love the last two lines, 'become a school, with a greater sheikh nearby.' I took that to mean that one should share your knowledge, but do not boast, and always continue to seek the wisdom of others with an open mind.

There is one stanza I continue to go back to, with the feeling that I should know what Rumi is saying, yet I don't. 'Always check your inner state with the lord of your heart. Copper doesn't know it's copper, until it's changed to gold.' What do you think this means?

Ingmar Bergman, you will be missed

1918 - 2007

I typically don't mention cinema here. But I love movies. And Ingmar Bergman created some of the best. I believe Cannes Film Festival director Gilles Jacob says it best when he called Bergman the "last of the greats, because he proved that cinema can be as profound as literature."

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Moaning Meme

Okay, I'm posting a bit more meme's than I usually do, so this will probably be the last one for awhile. But I really like this one. The original came from The Freelance Cynic.

5 people who will be annoyed you tagged them.

4 things that should go into room 101 and be removed from the face of the earth.
  • Hunger
  • Cancer
  • Telemarketers and junk mail
3 things people do that make you want to shake them violently.
  • Complain about the problems in our society but do nothing to try to change them.
  • Drivers that weave in and out of traffic, never using their turn signals, at 70+mph
  • Say things like "I'm not prejudiced but..." and then go on to say a very prejudiced or racist statement.
2 things you find yourself moaning about.
  • Reality TV.
  • American foreign policy
1 thing the above answers tell you about yourself.
  • Sometimes I can be too political for my own good.
RULES: Link to the original meme at freelancecynic.com so people know what it's all about! Be as honest as possible, This is about letting people get to know the real you! Try not to insult anyone - unless they really deserve it or are very, very ugly!
Post these rules at the end of every meme!

Summer Poetry Challenge

Summer Poetry Challenge
I managed to just join in on BookeyWookey's Summer Poetry Challenge just before the August 1st start date. This is a great excuse to spend some time with some wonderful poets, in a genre I neglect far too much.

For the challenge, you need to select four new-to-you poems, three from different time periods, and one poem from any time period that you find mysterious, intimidating, or just don't understand.

My selections are:
Before 1900: 'The Mouse and the Camel' by Rumi (13th century). It is originally from the Masnavi-I Ma'navi, but the translation I am using is from Rumi: Selected Poems, published by Penguin Classics.
Between 1900-2000: 'Her Kind' by Anne Sexton, from To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960).
2000-2007: 'Pilgrimage' by Natasha Trethewey, from Native Guard: Poems (2006).
An intimidating poem: The 'Rubaiyat' of Omar Khayyam (12th century). The version I am reading is in the book A Treasury of Asian Literature; the poem is translated by Edward Fitzgerald.

And to start off the poetry fun, I would like to post my runner-up choice for the 2000-20007 category. This poem, Fishing on the Susquehanna in July by Billy Collins, caught my eye right away. Unlike the poet, I did grow up fishing on the Susquehanna River, which is 20 minutes from my home. I also camped by it, skipped rocks on it, and went water tubing and swimming in it. And, one of my fellow classmates was lost to this world when climbing a small span of cliffs bordering the river. Out of all the rivers in the world, it is probably the one that holds the most memories to me.
Fishing on the Susquehanna in July
-Billy Collins

I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
or on any river for that matter
to be perfectly honest.

Not in July or any month
have I had the pleasure--if it is a pleasure--
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

I am more likely to be found
in a quiet room like this one--
a painting of a woman on the wall,

a bowl of tangerines on the table--
trying to manufacture the sensation
of fishing on the Susquehanna.

There is little doubt
that others have been fishing
on the Susquehanna,

rowing upstream in a wooden boat,
sliding the oars under the water
then raising them to drip in the light.

But the nearest I have ever come to
fishing on the Susquehanna
was one afternoon in a museum in Philadelphia

when I balanced a little egg of time
in front of a painting
in which that river curled around a bend

under a blue cloud-ruffled sky,
dense trees along the banks,
and a fellow with a red bandanna

sitting in a small, green
flat-bottom boat
holding the thin whip of a pole.

That is something I am unlikely
ever to do, I remember
saying to myself and the person next to me.

Then I blinked and moved on
to other American scenes
of haystacks, water whitening over rocks,

even one of a brown hare
who seemed so wired with alertness
I imagined him springing right out of the frame.

Picnic, Lightening (1998)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Survival in Auschwitz - Primo Levi

Title: Survival in Auschwitz/If This is A Man
Author: Primo Levi
Country: Italy
Year: 1958
Rating: B+
Pages: 187pgs.

First sentence: It was my good fortune to be deported to Auschwitz only in 1944, that is, after the German Government had decided, owing to the growing scarcity of labour, to lengthen the average life-span of the prisoners destined for elimination; it conceded noticeable improvements in the camp routine and temporarily suspended killings at the whim of individuals.

Almost everyone has read a story about the Holocaust. It is a historical event that should never be forgotten. While genocide continues to exist, the Holocaust should be recalled and mistakes remembered, to help save those mired in present conflicts, such as the Emergency crisis in Darfur, and warnings in Zimbabwe, Burma, and Uzbekistan.

Reading memoirs by Holocaust survivors can be a horrifying, emotive experience. In some ways Survival in Auschwitz fits that description, as the sheer improbability of a person's survival in Auschwitz, where Primo Levi was in residence for ten months prior to liberation, is a horror in and of itself.

Yet, Levi takes a different approach. His story is clearly told through the eyes of someone rooted firmly in the sciences: it is clear, analytical, and precise. He writes almost in the way of an outside observer, rather than someone who has lived in those heart-wrenching conditions. He describes daily life from an anthropological viewpoint: the layout of Buna's camp, the division of living quarters, rules and schedule of the camp, the detailed process of gaining admission to Ka-Be, the infirmary. You learn that the numbers tattooed on those interred at Auschwitz tell much about the science of the camp and reveal who did and did not survive. For example, those who were tattooed with numbers 30,000-80,000 were transferred from the Polish ghettoes; only a few hundred survived.

Yet, scattered seamlessly throughout, are the snippets of personal passages that can not be ignored. On returning to work after the lunch break on a blustery day he recalls 'Oh, if only one could cry! Oh, if one could only affront the wind as we once used to, on equal terms, and not as we do here, like cringing dogs.' (p. 70) In the hours preceeding his relocation to Auschwitz, Levi recalls, 'many things were then said and done among us; but of these it is better that there retain no memory.' (p. 15) Levi's approach is one not taken by many. Because of this, it is definitely a story that needs to be read.

The Auschwitz refrain to newcomers:
'You are not at home, this is not a sanatorium, the only exit is by way of the Chimney.' (p.29)

A new purpose:
'The conviction that life has a purpose is rooted in every fibre of man, it is a property of the human substance. Free men give many names to this purpose, and think and talk a lot about its nature. But for us the question is simpler. Today, in this place, our only purpose is to reach the spring.' (p. 71)

Dreading the arrival of winter:
'We fought with all our strength to prevent the arrival of winter...We know what it means because we were here last winter; and the others will soon learn. It means that in the course of these months, from October till April, seven out of ten of us will die. Whoever does not die will suffer minute by minute, all day, every day.' (p. 123)

A memory of those who drowned; who did not survive:
'They crowd my memory with their faceless presences, and if I could enclose all the evil of our time in one image, I would choose this image which is familiar to me: an emaciated man, with head dropped and shoulders curved, on whose face and in whose eyes not a trace of a thought is to be seen.' (p.90)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Blogging Tips Meme

I was tagged by Wendy at Caribousmom and Chris at Book-A-Rama for this unique meme.

It’s very simple. When this is passed on to you, copy the whole thing, skim the list and put a * star beside those that you like. (Check out especially the * starred ones.)

Add the next number (1. 2. 3. 4. 5., etc.) and write your own blogging tip for other bloggers. Try to make your tip general.

After that, tag 10 other people. Link love some friends!

Just think- if 10 people start this, the 10 people pass it onto another 10 people, you have 100 links already!

1. Look, read, and learn. ***-http://www.neonscent.com/

2. Be, EXCELLENT to each other. **-http://www.bushmackel.com/

3. Don’t let money change ya! *-http://www.therandomforest.info/

4. Always reply to your comments. ******-http://chattiekat.com/

5. Link liberally — it keeps you and your friends afloat in the Sea of Technorati. ***http://chipsquips.com/

6. Don’t give up - persistence is fertile. *-http://www.velcro-city.co.uk/

7. Give link credit where credit is due. *****-http://www.sfsignal.com/

8. Pictures say a thousand words and can usually add to any post.***-http://scifichick.com/

9. Visit all the bloggers that leave comments for you - it's nice to know who is reading! -http://stephaniesbooks.blogspot.com/ **

10. Make a blogger template unique: change the background colour, or add a background picture to your header.* http://chris-book-a-rama.blogspot.com/

11. Don't forget to play the part of editor and proofreader before clicking that post button. http://nyssaneala.blogspot.com

And, since I'm a little behind on posts right now, I'm going to be lazy and say...if you're reading this, then TAG! You're It!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Author: J.K. Rowling
Country: Britain
Year: 2007
Rating: A-

**No spoilers or teasers, but you might not want to read this post if you plan on reading the book and want a complete and total surprise.**

I'm a bit behind on my posts lately, so it looks like I won't be getting around to posting some thoughts/trivia on books 5 & 6 of the Harry Potter saga.

That's because I just can't resist writing about Book 7! Harry Potter arrived on our doorstep late Saturday afternoon. Since, technically, it was a birthday gift to my husband (whose birthday, btw, is in September), I allowed him the pleasure of reading it first. I finally got to pick it up for the first time Monday evening.

I don't want to say too much, so that I don't give away any spoilers or teasers. But I definitely loved it, and thought it was a fitting end to the story. Some of my ideas about what would happen were correct, some were blown out of the water, and there were plenty of surprises scattered throughout the action-filled novel. The last 1/4 of the book was EXTREMELY hard to put down!

By far my favorite quote is below. I won't say where it shows up in the novel, or who it is said to, and it doesn't contain any spoilers. But if you haven't read the book yet, and don't want to see a word of the novel before you do, stop reading now.

***Non-spoiler quote from Deathly Hallows***

Mrs. Weasly is one of my favorite characters. It was great to see her launching into full out attack mode. And, interestingly I believe that she is the only character in the whole series to come out with a blatant swear word.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Booking Through Thursday

Just Wild About Harry

1. Okay, love him or loathe him, you’d have to live under a rock not to know that J.K. Rowling’s final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, comes out on Saturday… Are you going to read it?
Well...looking at my blog recently, you could probably surmise that my answer is...yes.

2. If so, right away? Or just, you know, eventually, when you get around to it? Are you attending any of the midnight parties?
No midnight parties here, although I will be surprising my husband with some HP-themed treats Saturday. We ordered our copy on Amazon via Free Super Saving Shipping, so I don't expect it to arrive for about a week. But as soon as it crosses our doorstep, I'm diving in!

3. If you’re not going to read it, why not?
This does not apply.

4. And, for the record… what do you think? Will Harry survive the series? What are you most looking forward to?
We both think Harry will survive. Although, he could end up looking like Mad-Eye Moody. As to who will die, my thoughts change on a pretty daily basis. But no matter what, it will be a bittersweet ending. I have come to love HP, his friends and adventures, and I think it is one of the best children's series I have ever read.* And that's saying a lot, because I usually don't go for the crazy media hyped books. Take Lemony Snicket for example. I read the first three, discovered I was not a fan, and dropped the series.

* Update: This columnist seems to disagree with the opinion I hold. Thank you Danielle for the heads up in your recent post. While never claiming HP as a literary masterpiece, I don't think I will budge from my opinion that it is a wonderful series.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The first edition of the Bookworms Carnival

If you are here reading my blog, and others like it, I guarantee you will LOVE the Bookworms Carnival. The first edition is hosted by Dewey at the hidden side of a leaf. Filled with lots of wonderful reviews and book talk, it is not to be missed. With the opportunity to contribute to upcoming editions, what are you waiting for?

If you haven't read it, be sure to keep an eye out for my entry, a review of Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Happy Reading!

Sense of Place Contest

Maggie over at Maggie Reads has added an additional contest to the Southern Reading Challenge. She asks readers to pick a passage from one of our challenge books that depicts a sense of place, and post a picture along with that passage.

I decided to select a passage from The Optimist's Daughter (linked to my review). Although a large part of the book takes place in the main characters' hometown, Mount Salus, Mississippi, I chose a different location that Eudora Welty captured perfectly. The following passage depicts the train journey that Laurel and her step-mother took after the death of Judge McKelva, returning from New Orleans to Mount Salus.

"Set deep in the swamp, where the black trees were welling with buds like red drops, was one low beech that had kept its last year's leaves, and it appeared to Laurel to travel along with their train, gliding at a magic speed through the cypresses they left behind. It was her own reflection in the windowpane--the beech tree was her head. Now it was gone. As the train left the black swamp and pulled out into the space of Pontchartrain, the window filled with a featureless sky over pale smooth water, where a seagull was hanging with wings fixed, like a stopped clock on the wall." (p. 45)
Causeway over Lake Pontchartrain

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Optimist's Daughter - Eudora Welty

Title: The Optimist's Daughter
Author: Eudora Welty
Country: America (south)
Year: 1972
Rating: B+
Pages: 180 pgs

"Never think you've seen the last of anything" - Eudora Welty (she died on July 23, 2001)

First sentence (and second sentence, because I really like it): A nurse held the door open for them. Judge McKelva going first, then his daughter Laurel, then his wife Fay, they walked into the windowless room where the doctor would make his examination.

The Optimist's Daughter is a character-driven rather than a plot-driven story. Therefore, a quick summary of the plot does not do it justice. The majority of what makes the novella a good read is hidden below the surface, as Welty explores issues including love, loss, memory and the passage of time. Although short, it is not an easy read, and is best read at leisure, absorbing the words rather than scanning them.

One of the overarching themes of the novel is individual human memory; a reminder that memory is a living thing, and is itself subject to transit. The confluence of human memory is alluded to in the following passage, a memory that Laurel recalls of returning to Mount Salus with her husband:

"When they were climbing the long approach to a bridge after leaving Cairo, rising slowly higher until they rode above the tops of bare trees, she looked down and saw the pale light widening and the river bottoms opening out, and then the water appearing, reflecting the low, early, sun. There were two rivers. Here was where they came together. This was the confluence of the waters, the Ohio and the Mississippi...And they themselves were a part of the confluence. Their own joint act of faith had brought them here at the very moment and matched its occurrence, and proceeded as it proceeded. Direction itself was made beautiful, momentous." (p.159)
My only complaint with the novella was that I could never get a full sense of the characters. When I reached the last page, I wished that I knew and understood them better, particularly Laurel. The end was unsatisfying, and I longed to know more. Of course, this could have been Eudora Welty's intent.

A metaphor on the persistence of memories:
"It [the bird] could not get in here. But had it been in already? For how long had it made free of the house, shuttling through the dark rooms? And now Laurel could not get it out." (p.129)
Creating the perfect southern scene:
"Laurel, kneeling, worked among the iris that still held a ragged line along the back of the house up to the kitchen door...Her callers sat behind her and over to the side, in the open sunshine. These four elderly ladies were all at home in the McKelva backyard. Cardinals, flying down from low branches of the dogwood tree, were feeding here and there at the ladies' crossed feet. At the top of the tree, a mockingbird stood silent over them like a sentinel." (p.105)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

The Great Harry Potter Re-Read, Book 4

1. Word Count: 190,637 words

2. Wand Order Problem: When Harry confronts Voldemort in the graveyard, and the Reverse Spell goes into effect, James Potter's image comes out before that of Harry's mother, Lily. This would mean that James died after Lily, even though previous books had James dying first. This passage was later changed in later editions to the correct order.

3. Mysteries remaining to be solved:
- Where did Snape go at the end of the novel?
- Why did Dumbledore have a "gleam of triumph" in his eyes when he found out that Voldemort had used Harry's blood to recreate himself?

Swedish Cover Art
Up next is a break from the Harry Potter series, as I've delved into Eudora Welty's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Optimist's Daughter.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Great Harry Potter Re-Read, Book 3

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
1. Word Count: 107,253 words

2. Mythology (**Possible Spoiler***): Both Sirius Black and Remus Lupin's names are rooted in mythology. Sirius is a bright star situated in the constellation Canis Major, also known as the Big Dog. The Sirius Star is frequently referred to as the Dog Star. In Latin, 'Lupo' means wolf, and Remus is one of the twin brothers raised by a female wolf (lupa) in Roman mythology.

It was difficult to find very much trivia about this book in the series, so that's all I have come up with for now. But enjoy the cover art!

Peruvian Book Cover

German Cover Art

Give A Friend A Book Winner

After a random drawing, a winner has been chosen to receive Circle of Friends, the book that I am giving away for Give a Friend A Book Week!

**Congratulations to Teabird, over at Tea Reads, for winning the drawing!**

I hope you enjoy the book!

And, on a fun note, I was also the recipient of a drawing this week, winning two bookmarks for the Chunkster Challenge. Thank you, Bookfool!!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Buy/Give a Friend A Book Week


Tanabata over at In Spring It Is the Dawn clued me in to Buy A Friend A Book Week. I now have quite a few book duplicates floating around my house, some of which have already been claimed by friends (see my previous post for why I have duplicates lying around my house). But I wanted to offer up a book for my blogging buddies, so I will be giving (sorry, it's not a new copy) away Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy. If you would like to give this book a new home, a book that happens to be one of my favorites, just leave a message. I will be drawing a name this coming Sunday, June 8th.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Booking Through Thursday (On Friday)

What, in your opinion, is the (mythical) Great American Novel? At least to date. A “classic,” or a current one–either would be fine. Mark Twain? J.D. Salinger? F. Scott Fitzgerald? Stephen King? Laura Ingalls Wilder?

It doesn’t have to be your favorite book, mind you. “Citizen Kane” may be the “best” film, and I concede its merits, but it’s not my favorite. You don’t have to love something to know that it’s good.

Now, I know that not all of you are American–but you can play, too! What I want from you is to know what you consider to the best novel of YOUR country. It might be someone the rest of us haven’t heard of and, frankly, I think we’d all like to get some new authors to read.

In fact, while we’re at it–I’m curious about the geographical make-up of this meme. So, while you’re leaving your link to your post, tell us where in the world you are! (For the record, I’m in New Jersey, USA.)

I think the following nicely sums up why I think The Grapes of Wrath is a Great American Novel:
'It was publicly banned and burned by citizens, it was debated on national radio hook-ups; but above all, it was read' - Peter Lisca, The Wide World of John Steinbeck
It is a book that continues to be read, almost 70 years later. Yes, it is a political novel. But the Joad family's ambitions represent the American ideal of hard work and determination; that you can start from scratch, work your way up from nothing, and become a success. These are traits that are still valued by many today.

There is another book I classify as the Great American Novel, say the GAN of the 1800's, and that is Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. I can't think of another book that has such a profound effect on American consciousness and history. Abraham Lincoln's greeting when he first met Stowe hints at the impact she had on her time: "So this is the little lady who made this big war".

Thursday, July 5, 2007

A Treasure Unearthed

Martin Memorial Library,
circa before I was born
One of my fondest memories as a child is going to the Martin Memorial Library each week in the summer, to browse through the vast collection of books, finding new treasures all the time. It wasn't until high school that I began to accumulate a library of my own. For the past few years, I thought that many of my books from my young adulthood had been lost on one of my many migrations north, south, east, and west (yes, I have traveled in all directions, and have yet to put down roots!). I had searched my parents home high and low trying to find all of them, to no avail.

And then, a few weeks ago I received a phone call. While cleaning out their garage--which happened to be filled to the brim with furniture from my grandfather's home--they discovered my boxes of missing books! It was with much delight that we picked up these little treasures yesterday. Ever since, I have been in book heaven. I had replaced some of my favorites, but there is nothing like reclaiming your original copy.Like pictures, so many books hold precious memories to me. They like to remind me how they have shaped my life, and helped make me who I am. There are the books I discovered in high school, when I was just starting to create my own uniqueness, figuring out my personality as separate from my friends. In choosing two selections I would memorize and recite in 10th grade Honor's English, (the only time in my life I ever had to memorize a part of a book) why did I choose the first paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities, and the following selection from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice?
"I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?" (p.45, Merchant of Venice)
At 16, I was already exploring the depth of the human condition and religious tolerance (even if I may not have realized it). Like the prodigal son, I welcome with opens arms the return of my collection of Shakespeare plays I purchased over the years from the Folger Shakespeare Library. I delight in finding my beloved copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin, a book that helped me learn about slavery, more so than the lessons from my history teachers!
College introduced a whole other realm of exploration. I delighted in the dystopian and utopian literature we read in my Women's Lit class. The Handmaid's Tale was my introduction to Margaret Atwood, an acquaintance who is now firmly entrenched amongst my favorite authors. You can not imagine how happy I am to have my original copy back in my possession. I may have never discovered Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower or Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland (isn't that book cover beautiful??) if it wasn't for that class. A few anthropology classes, which eventually turned into my second major, sparked my curiosity of other cultures, and a desire for a world that accepts and embraces diversity, with books such as Waterlily by Ella Cara Deloria and The Mountain People by Colin Turnbull standing out. No Shame in My Game by Harvard anthropologist Katherine Newman does a much better job of giving a voice to low-income workers than Barbara Ehrenreich has, as she interviewed and followed almost 300 low-income workers and job seekers in Harlem.

And of course there is the following tiny article, part of the Reader for the General Writing class, a required course for all Pitt freshman, that sparked my love for Frida Kahlo:
Finally, there are all of the books that I purchased to prepare myself for an adventure abroad on Semester at Sea, and the required reading for my onboard class, Post-Colonial Literature. If only Professor what's-his-face would have started with Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart instead of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, I might have enjoyed that class. We never got around to reading Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North, and alas, seven years later it is still unread. However, the readings of Wild Swans by Jung Chang, A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro, and the Bhagavad Gita all remain vividly imprinted in my mind.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Great Harry Potter Re-Read, Book 2

1. Word Count: 85,141 words.

2. Character based on a real person: The character of Gilderoy Lockhart is the one Rowling says is most nearly based on a real person, but she won't say who it is (for obvious reasons).

3. Writer's Block: Rowling's only case of writer's block occurred while writing this book, after her first bout of publicity for the first Harry Potter book.

4. Hogwarts Motto: Draco dormians nunquam titillandus!
Translation: A sleeping dragon must never be tickled!

5. Mandrakes: You know a mandrake has reached adulthood when they start trying to move into each other's pots. In the book, this is preceded by 'teenage' Mandrakes throwing a loud and raucous party in the greenhouse.

6. Movie tidbit: Fourteen Ford Anglia's were destroyed to create the Harry and Ron flying car/Whomping Willow sequence.

7. ***SPOILER***Salazar Slytherin: Dumbledore says that Voldemort was the last remaining ancestor of Salazar Slytherin, instead of descendant. J.K. Rowling said this was a "deliberate mistake". This mistake was fixed in further printings.

8. Ghosts: At his deathday party, Nearly Headless Nick "took several deep breaths". But later in the series, Moaning Myrtle says that ghosts don't breathe.

Denmark Cover Art

We're having a girl!

We saw our first glimpse of our little baby Maya or Eliana on Friday, which was very exciting. An extremely active little one--training for that triathlon already, perhaps---it was difficult to get profile shots of her as she was constantly moving around. A fact which I already knew, since I feel her moving all the time!

However, we did get quite a few face shots before her shyness overcame her, and she covered her face with her arms. It was quite a joy too see the little things: her heartbeat, seeing her swallow, and moving her legs about. Our midwife referred us to a wonderful doctor for the u/s, helped by the fact that he completed his residency at the same hospital my husband is currently at. Therefore, he spent loads of time with us, explaining everything to me (with ongoing commentary from dear hubby), and trying to get a "cute" photo. :)

The one on the right is using 4D technology. So she looks a bit alienish, but you can at least pick out the face easily! Apparently, she has long arms and legs. I hope that's not a sign of things to come, as I'm only 5'1, but Aaron's grandfather was over 6 feet tall!