29.12.08

Notable Quotes

Breuer gestured to the bouquets of fresh-cut flowers that lay before many graves. "In this land of the dead, these are the dead and those" -- he pointed to an old untended and abandoned section of the cemetary -- "those are the truly dead. No one now tends their graves because no one living has ever known them. They know what it means to be dead."
When Nietzsche Wept, Irvin D. Yalom

28.12.08

The dreaded SPOILER issue

I've blogged about spoilers before, and I basically come down on the side of "if you aren't keeping up with the series, don't read/look at posts/articles about the most current issue/volume/movie".

But, as ALOTTFMA points out, there's also the question about Real Life: if a story is based on real events, can one really spoil it? In other words, did anyone not know that the Titanic sank? or, in literary terms, that Nixon resigns at the end of The Final Days?

27.11.08

Notable Quotes

All our innumerable memorable dinners reminds me yet again that our own personal complex ever contracting, ever expanding circle of friends is our most precious possession. It is a gift that energizes, it is a gift that invites constant nurturing and continuing loving care for all of us to flourish.

24.11.08

Notable Quotes

Every book has unpleasant sentences, ideas that attack the main structure, words that cancel out other ones, and I want to eliminate all that. The path to the perfect quote is winding and takes years to travel, but when it arrives, it justifies all the unhappiness that reading gives us.
The Paris Enigma, Pablo de Santis

17.11.08

Notable Quotes

Cheese crumbs spread in front of a copulating pair of rats may distract the female, but not the male.

12.11.08

Imponderables

Those vanity license plates on cars can be funny, can't they? Today I saw a Fortwo. The plate read "Mikey Jr".

I can only imagine which car gets "Mikey Sr".

10.11.08

Notable Quotes

I know, from my own experience, that no one is who they dream of being. We all aspire to something else, an ideal that we don't want to sully by bringing it too close to our real lives. The orchestra conductor would have preferred to be an Olympic swimmer; the renowned painter, a skilled swordsman; the writer famous for his tragedies, an illiterate adventurer. Fate is nourished by errors; glory feeds on regret.

The Paris Enigma, Pablo de Santis

4.11.08

Election Day, November, 1884

by Walt Whitman
(1819-1892)


If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and
show,
'Twould not be you, Niagara--nor you, ye limitless prairies--nor
your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite--nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic
geyser-loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon's white cones--nor Huron's belt of mighty lakes--nor
Mississippi's stream:
--This seething hemisphere's humanity, as now, I'd name--the still
small voice vibrating--America's choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen--the act itself the main, the
quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous'd--sea-board and inland--
Texas to Maine--the Prairie States--Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West--the paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling--(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome's wars of old, or modern Napoleon's:) the
peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity--welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
--Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify--while the heart
pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell'd Washington's, Jefferson's, Lincoln's sails.

3.11.08

Notable Quotes

...one of the things I'm struck by is that religion, and religious people and leaders, no matter how stern they may look and how darkly they may dress, are deeply frivolous. There's something absolutely frivolous about religion, no matter how ghastly it may appear, no matter how strict and stern its countenance. I call something frivolous if it distracts from the nuts and bolts of real life, of how we try to live our lives as model creatures. I find something quite unforgivable about the way religion clouds what should be fairly clear water and does everything it can to make that as difficult to navigate and negotiate as possible.

20.10.08

I don't like Mondays...


(tell me why)




(þ: my assistant)

Notable Quotes

He thought marriage was an endless conversation. From the beginning, he sensed that we would be lifelong friends. You have to change together. If you can do that to understand one another, you can have a lifelong marriage.

19.10.08

It could have been worse

One of my personal rules as a school librarian is that if a student wants me to read a book - even if it's not in my "comfort zone" (eg, not a genre I like, or a graphic novel) - I will. Several years ago one of my students came running in to the library at MFPOW, very excited about a book he'd just read. Now, this student is dyslexic, so I knew that reading wasn't that easy for him. If he was excited about having read a book, I absolutely had to read it.

The book? City of Ember.

Even though I'm no longer at that school, we've kept in touch and when the movie was released, we decided to go see it. This morning I trundled down to NYC to meet him and see how the book-to-movie translation had gone.

Our verdict? It could have been worse. We didn't remember several of the "set pieces" that the movie provided (for example, the unraveling of the map didn't take place in the generator room), and at times it was a little too much like a Raiders chase or a Disney ride. Granny's role was truncated in the movie, and the mayor's expanded. Maybe because we knew the plot we didn't find it that suspenseful... and we thought that the director's opening sequence ruined the discovery of what the City of Ember was and why for the viewer.

Still, it could have been worse. And we're hoping that People of Sparks isn't made into a movie - we didn't like it (neither of us read Prophet of Yonwood as a result).

(Side note: saw the trailer forInkheart and, well, it seems that they've compressed the trilogy into one movie. Not sure how I feel about that.)

If I could turn back time...

Last night I finished reading Val Ross' oral biography of Robertson Davies. I've been a Davies fan for years (thanks to PET for introducing me to his work!) and reading about his life from the perspective of friends, family and colleagues was interesting.

More than that, though, it made me wish I could re-discover his stories. The characters he created and the worlds they inhabit are so real, so alive. I feel jealous of those that have not read about Salterton or Deptford (or met Samuel Marchbanksn and the other books/people) and the joys they have to encounter.

Maybe, one day, when Mt. Bookpile is down to one year's worth of reading, I'll re-read (although I do have fears about re-reading and losing the magic).

For those of you that have not yet read this remarkable man's novels: GO FIND HIS BOOKS AND READ THEM NOW.

14.10.08

Memento Mori

Years ago, I watched a Masterpiece Theatre dramatization of Murial Spark's Memento Mori (a book I later read). In it, a group of old people are terrorized by anonymous phone calls during which the other party only says, "Memento Mori". While at first this is seen to be a threat, eventually one realizes that it's merely a reminder. After all, everyone must die.

I've been thinking about this book, and possibly re-reading it (something I rarely do thanks to the size of Mt. Bookpile). Why? Because I just finished Nothing to Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes, his memento mori. Unlike Sparks' fiction, Barnes gives us what are almost brief essays, some pertaining to his family, some to his "non-family" family of writers and influences and friends, all in one way or another about death. It's not as morbid as it sounds.

It's also tied into a discussion over on SpareOom about C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed, a book I first read shortly after the horrific events of September 11. While the discussion has been more about whether or not this was autobiographical writing on Lewis' part (the vote seems to be "thinly veiled fictionalized autobiography"), some of the comments have been about the power of the book to capture the overwhelming grief one feels when a loved one dies. Another book I might just have to re-read soon.

Now, this isn't to say that I'm in a depressive mood, thinking about my death or the death of others! It's more of a confluence of reading and discussion that have made me reflect and memento mori.

13.10.08

Notable Quotes

Memory is identity. I have believed this since -- oh, since I can remember. You are what you have done; what you have done is your memory; what you remember defines who you are; when you forget your life you will cease to be, even before your death.

3.10.08

Notes from Mt. Bookpile

Biography:
The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers Harry Bernstein Memoir of growing up Jewish in pre-WWII northern England
Hole in My Life Jack Gantos Gantos' story of his time in jail, following a drug deal (of sorts) that went wrong

Children's/Young Adult:
The Revolution of Sabine Beth Levine Ain Decent historical fiction about the American Revolutions ideas, and their effect on a young French aristocrat
Unraveling Michelle Baldini In so many ways I identified with Manda and her problems
Being Kevin Brooks Robert is different. Really, really different.
The Good Neighbors Holly Black Good plot, but needs to edit those anachronisms
Masterpiece Elise Broach Cute animal story, but just didn't do it for me
Martyn Pig Kevin Brooks Martyn hates his alcoholic father, and when Dad dies, Martyn makes some very bad choices
The Adventures of Jimmy Skunk, Bowser the Hound, The Crooked Little Path and The Adventures of Unc'Billy Possum Thornton W. Burgess I still don't know why Burgess' work is out of print...
Steinbeck's Ghost Lewis Buzbee I was worried that the two stories (about the closing of the Salinas PL and the mystery behind some of Steinbeck's stories) would be a problem, but my students seem to really love it
The Hunger Games Suzanne Collins This'll be huge. Just huge. Read more here
Lamplighter D. M. Cornish Once I got used to the changes in the language, it was enjoyable. But any book that comes with a glossary is just too much work to start with
Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party Ying Chang Compestine Based on Compestine's life growing up during the Cultural Revolution
Not Like You Deborah Davis Yawn
Where I'd Like To Be Frances O'Roark Dowell Reminded me a bit of Sensible Kate
Underground Jean Ferris Historical fiction about the slaves who discovered/mapped Mammouth Cave
The Girl Who Could Fly Victoria Forester Yawn. Been there. Read that.
Jerk, California Jonathan Friesen A must read.
The Possibilities of Sainthood Donna Freitas I wasn't sure if my students could relate to this story of a girl growing up in a Catholic house, but they did!
Death by Latte Linda Gerber Just stay away
The Ghost's Child Sonya Hartnett Been there... and Who Was Victoria did it better.
My America: Our Strange New Land, Elizabeth's Jamestown Colony Diary, Book One Patricia Hermes Good for younger boys
Brooklyn Bridge Karen Hesse Turn-of-the-century Jewish family that helped popularize the Teddy Bear
Do Not Pass Go Kirkpatrick Hill How do you deal when your father is in jail?
The Mouse And His Child Russell Hoban Possibly charming once upon a time, but no longer
The Foretelling Alice Hoffman Too many disjointed elements to be really interesting
Fallout Trudy Krisher Read too much like The Loud Silence of Francine Green
The Devouring Simon Hunt Not scary enough.
Warriors: The Lost Warrior Erin Hunter I don't get why this series is so popular with my Middle School boys, but it is!
RuneWarriors James Jennewein All too obviously the start of a series, and not necessarily worth a follow-up
Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls Lynne Jonell Cute, and worth it for younger Middle School girls
Belle Teal and A Dog's Life: The Autobiography Of A Stray Ann M. Martin The former didn't impress me, but the latter made me cry
Spindle's End Robin McKinley Not quite the Ella Enchanted of the Sleeping Beauty story, but good all the same
Nzingha: Warrior Queen of Matamba, Angola, Africa, 1595 Patricia C. McKissack Historical biofiction that left me disappointed in the end
Gods of Manhattan Scott Mebus A mash-up of Un Lun Dun, Neverwhere and the Percy Jackson series, with New York's history thrown into the mix
Duchessina: A Novel of Catherine de' Medici Carolyn Meyer I'm guessing that the hope is to interest people in the life of Catherine, but I'm not sure that this is the book to do it. Good historical fiction, though.
Harlem Summer Walter Dean Myers Pair it with Dave at Night and you have a winning combo
Friends Everywhere Donna Jo Napoli Words just fail me
The City in the Lake Ruth Neumeier I thought my students would like it. I was wrong
Melting Stones Tamora Pierce The latest from Pierce. 'Nuff said
Sovay Celia Rees Unbelievable. Really - it's that bad
When the Finch Rises Jack Riggs Another in the "been there, read that" column
The Maze Of Bones Rick Riordan Not sure that the conceit behind this series will sustain readers interest; reads like a slightly older version of A Series of Unfortunate Events
Shanghai Shadows Lois Ruby Did you know that Jews escaped the Holocaust by going to Shanghai? Life wasn't much better there, apparently. Read and learn.
The Cabinet of Wonders Mari Rutkoski Another obvious start to a series, and another question why
The Invention of Hugo Cabret Brian Selznick Great drawings, so-so story, interesting way of tying the two together
Demon Thief Darren Shan Good sequel to Lord Loss and a definite hit with Shan's fans
Blue Jasmine Kashmira Sheth Another girl immigrates to America, this time from India
Skinned Robin Wasserman Who is Lia, really? Along the lines of Being and The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Shadows over Lyra Patricia C. Wrede Great trilogy, seemingly unconnected but with the world of Lyra at their heart
Larry and the Meaning of Life Janet Tashjian Larry doesn't quite know what's going on: is Gus for real? a scam artist? a mixture of both? The answer might surprise you
Tadpole Ruth White So much unrealized potential in this book
The Pit Dragon Trilogy Jane Yolen Need I say more?

Fiction/Literature:
The Steep Approach to Garbadale Iain Banks Dysfunctional, powerful family saga with the Banks touch

Mystery:
A Dedicated Man and Gallows View Peter Robinson With Ian Rankin letting go of Rebus, this is the perfect what-to-read-next
The Vows of Silence, The Risk of Darkness and The Pure in Heart Susan Hill Mysteries that aren't always resolved, and a detective that rivals Dalgliesh in complexity. What's not to love?

Non-Fiction:
Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?: The Play-at-Home Companion Book to the Hit Fox TV Quiz Show! Michael Benson
The Dangerous Book for Boys Conn Iggulden
The Acadians: A People's Story of Exile and Triumph Dean W. Jobb Already reviewed

Number removed from Mt. Bookpile this quarter: 65
Number added to Mt. Bookpile this quarter: 56
Net loss: 9
Status of Mt. Bookpike: 335 books to go!

28.9.08

The bitter and the sweet

Yesterday I attended a symposium at my prep school and stayed for a few other events. I left feeling bittersweet about the day...

One of the people I saw was the wife of a man who was arguably the most important influence on my life. Seeing her again (she was my counselor senior year), talking with her about "back then" and about Jack... It's still difficult for me to imagine my world without him in it.

There was a toast to another teacher, another huge influence on my life; he's retired after 43 years at the school. I used to babysit for his daughters, and both are now distinguished teacher/scholars in their own right. Now there are only three people left that were there when I was there (including "my" school librarian), and one person that started the year after I left. As when I first became a great-aunt (just became one again for the fourth time), it's odd feeling that I've moved up a generation at this school.

Twice during the day, women who had been firstyear students my senior year came up to me - from behind - having recognized me by my hair. A friend, someone I'd work with at MPOW, said that she'd seen my yearbook photo and thought I looked pretty much the same. Hmmm.... it's been almost 30 years. Perhaps time for a new look?

The symposium was about "Women, Power and Possibility" and featured a panel of 20- and 30-something women who had started nonprofits that had some sort of global reach/impact. They were varying degrees of eloquent and poised, presenting themselves and their "passion" as an easy fait accompli. I'll be blogging about the symposium later, but my feelings about the women, about the opportunity and being back at the school made me feel odd.

While I was there I felt that I had unlimited possibility and potential. I've always felt that I haven't lived up to either - that I'm not as intentional as I would want to be, that I haven't achieved the things I could have achieved (and those that I have have come too easily or by happenstance rather than any great skill or accomplishment of my own), and that I'm not the person that my 14-, 15-, 16- and 17-year-old self could have been.

As I said, bittersweet.

22.9.08

Where would you like to live?

Going through some of the backlog in my "to be blogged" file, I came across this article talking about imaginary worlds that have captured our imagination. Not mentioned are the worlds Rick Riordan and Scott Mebus have created, those of the "almost real" places and people.

So, where would you want to live? Narnia? Middle Earth? The Londons of Un Lun Dun or Neverwhere? Heidi's Alp? Somewhere, sometime else?

Notable Quotes

I forget sometimes that I'm kinda old. Maybe because I'm kinda old. A friend of mine - maybe she's in her early fifties - asked me recently what I though middle-aged was. I answered, without giving it a moment's thought, "However old my parents are." That's great news for everyone but Social Security, since it means we'll all be living to 130.
Judybat, She Said, She Said

15.9.08

Blurred lines

I've just finished a book, The Acadians: A people's story of exile and triumph. It's an account of la grande derangement, aka the 1755 expulsion of the Acadians from Canada by the British.

Part of the problem I had with the book is that it purports to be unbiased non-fiction. Yet in so many little ways, it is biased. Words like "tragically" and "unfortunate" fill the text, and let's not discuss how the author describes the British governors. Since there's nothing in the author's biography (in the book) to indicate his Acadian roots, it seems that he's choosing sides in this story, one that is horrific enough without his help. If you're intimately involved with the story/events, I expect a little bias, but here? Could have been done without. To be honest, a blank statement of fact would have been far worse than how the sensationalisation.

The other blurred line is the one between genocide (which Jobb calls the expulsion) and diaspora. Where does one become the other?

Years ago a friend and I argued over the slave trade. He claimed it was a genocide, I said it wasn't. The definition of genocide is "the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group' and implies the existence of a coordinated plan, aimed at total extermination, to be put into effect against individuals chosen as victims purely, simply and exclusively because they are members of the target group." Ugly as this sounds, it was bad economics for the slave traders to lose cargo during the Middle Passage.

However, in this case, the two terms do apply. The British did try to exterminate the group, to eradicate their culture, because of their refusal to swear a loyalty oath to the King that included the bearing of arms against the French or local Indians. It started as a diaspora, but the decision to burn down the houses, split up families and leave survivors to starve turns it into a genocide. The blur is between intent and extent. Even the most charitable reader knows that the deaths of the exiles weren't planned, but weren't mourned either.

I've been working with our 9th grade history classes as they start their research careers, talking to them about identifying the bias in books, articles and websites. I wonder if they'd pick up on the subtlties here.

Notable Quotes

What happened in your childhood or another life informs patterns in your current reality. It is essential to whole living that you source the cause of your pain, your hang ups, your neurosis. But sooner or later, you’ve simply got to get over using yesterday to explain today’s behavior.

8.9.08

Notable Quotes

'It's like a good filing system always has a Miscellaneous section,' Alban said. 'It's not a failure to have some things that can't be filed in exactly the right file, it's just acknowledging something about how things work in the real world. That's what Miscellaneous is for and the alternative isn't more accuracy, it's less, because you end up overstretching definitions or creating a fresh file for every single thing, each unit, and that's not filing, that's naming. Miscellaneous is the definition that makes sense of all the others. In the same way, a litter bin is the heart of tidiness.'

4.9.08

Overheard at MPOW

  • What's the opposite of backhanded compliment? Forehanded insult?
  • I wasn't sitting with intent to socialize.

2.9.08

Movie Madness

In addition to reading all those books, I've been on a real "clear out the Netflix queue" kick. Since Memorial Day, I've seen the following, loosely organized into recommendations:

Run:
2 Days in Paris
A Dance to the Music of Time
Hellboy II
Into Great Silence
La Vie en Rose
My Best Friend
Paris, Je T'aime
Songcatcher
The Way We Live Now

Walk:
Big Love: Season 2
Dark Knight
Fierce People
Neverwhere
Pierrepoint
Shoot 'Em Up
Snow Cake
This Is England
The Valet

Saunter:
Atonement
The Hottest State
Jindabyne
Miss Potter
Starting Out in the Evening
True Colors

Stay put:
Bed of Roses
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Georgia Rule
Grand Prix
L'iceberg
In the Land of Women
Private Property
Show Business: The Road to Broadway
Stardust
The Tracey Fragments

30.8.08

The artwork is hung on the walls with care

Another thing that's gotten done around here is finally hanging the artwork. Some of it is old, brought to this house from Previous Lives. For example, I rescued a great map of Geneva from my parent's attic; the one I have is in sepia tones with buildings lining the streets. Even better, my "hommage to breakfast" series now hangs in the kitchen.

Then there's the new stuff. While in Montreal, I picked up two prints by Allan Manus. I've also purchased two Carol Pepper-Cooper prints and a couple by Stephen N. Meyers.

Ahhhh... home!

20.8.08

Enid Blyton is Number One... J.K. Rowling is Number Three

Enid who?? Blyton. An incredibly prolific writer of children's books in England. Just "voted" the Most Cherished Author. (þ: Literary Saloon)

ETA: I actually know (and love) Ms. Blyton. Over the years I've collected her school stories, her Famous Five and Five Find-Outers mysteries and her Nature Books. For some odd reason, she's virtually unknown in the US, and her books are not published here.

18.8.08

Speaking of P.D. James

I just ordered her new mystery, The Private Patient. Of course, I went through Amazon.uk because the US version won't be released for an additional couple of months.

15.8.08

Memory failure

When people ask about what I've read this summer, and I mention the Summer Reading Challenge, they blanch. I remind them that the vast majority are larger print, lots of white space and under 200 page books.

The question that usually follows is: How do you remember everything you read?

Short answer: I don't.

Long answer: I do, but not in the way you might think. So much of what I read is, well, less than memorable. I usually have to look at the cover, or the summary, to remember what I thought. When it's genre fiction, it's even more difficult. I mean, really, look at the works of Nero Wolfe: I can remember The Golden Spiders just fine, but the differences between Three at Wolfe's Door, Three Doors to Death, Three for the Chair and Three Men Out? Not so much.

Children's/YA Literature is much the same. There are so many "trends" (the new Harry Potter... the next "Twilight"... abusive family situation... poor but really talented... Time To Learn An Important Message About Tolerance... you get the picture) and they do tend to run together. That's how I judge a good book: does the plot, the writing and the characters transcend the obvious pre-influences and subgenre? If yes, I'll remember the book far better.

As my Challenge winds down (won't get to all of the remaining 29 in the next two weeks, but we'll see how many more I can read!), I'm thinking about those standout books. Look for a post sometime in September touting the best.

3.8.08

This is the true story of many strangers

chosen (by God) to live in a monastery...

Sorry, I couldn't resist riffing on the Real World's opening "statement", but I recently spent several hours immersed in an undeniably more real world, that of the Carthusian Monks.

Several months (quite probably over a year) ago, my uncle recommended a movie he'd just seen, Into Great Silence. It was shot by a man who lived with the monks for four months, taping their lives. The "rules" stated that he would not use extra lighting, that he would follow their Rule, and that there would be no soundtrack except that of their daily lives.

Wow.

The most striking (besides the nearly 3-hour length) feature is the silence, and yet the noise remains: a light sssss of wind and snow, for example. The gentle turning of a page. Scissors cutting cloth. Bells tolling the hours, and the Hours. And, of course, the chanting. It's a brave world these monks have chosen, to live outside not just society, but outside verbal communication. To allow themselves to be open to ritual, to repetition, to God's word seeping into their daily lives; spending days and years intent on listening to the tiny sounds we take for granted, and for the Voice we rarely seek for long periods of time.

Silence is not our friend - it's even, I would venture, our enemy. We, as a society, seem to shun silence. How many people turn on the tv or radio as "background noise", afraid that our own natural rhythms will not be enough? There's something very powerful about silence, and yet something that makes us not quite comfortable. I've met people for whom the one hour Meeting is too much "time alone".

I find that true silence, allowing your mind to rest as well, can be frightening. Sometimes I'm not comfortable in Meeting, particularly when I've had a difficult week or when there's something I'm internally wrestling with. But I've also learned, and clearly these men have as well, that the discipline of listening quietly and waiting is rewarding in and of itself.

Go see this movie.

2.8.08

Imponderables

Thing One and I saw Dark Knight tonight and, well, exactly when did Chicago become Gotham?

That whole "bridge-and-tunnel" sequence? Laughable. And using what seemed to be Navy Pier to evacuate prisoners from Rikers? Even more so.

(Heath Ledger was incredible as Joker, but honestly? He's no Peter Finch.)

28.7.08

Notable Quotes

Ok, so not so much of a quote as a series of statements:

    What do Quakers say?
      There is something sacred in all people.
      All people are equal before God.
      Religion is about the whole of life.
      We meet in stillness to discover a deeper sense of God's presence.
      True religion leads to respect for the earth and all life upon it.
      Each person is unique, precious, a child of God.

27.7.08

Come for the fireworks, stay for the funny

I've been to Montreal several times before and always enjoyed myself. One of the interesting things about it is that during the summer there is this air of Constant Festival going on. Not quite like Edinburgh and its Festival, but a number of far more concentrated ones. For example, while we were there, the Lanaudinaire Festival was going on as was the Fantasia Film Festival and the Festival des Nuits d'Afrique and the Francofolies were setting up.

We decided to go for L'International des Feux Loto-Quebec (Loto-Quebec's International Fireworks), Australia night. This was Howard & Son's "Evolution" program, synchronized to music that had "evolved" from its original source (eg, a symphonic version of Metallica's Nothing Else Matters). Wow. For 30 minutes I saw some of the best fireworks I've ever seen (for a complete report, go here). Some highlights: the red glow that accompanied the Light My Fire section (and I usually hate The Doors), the Helter Skelter sequence that seemed chaotic enough to match the music, a golden wall of shimmering lights (don't know the music to that one), the red hearts exploding every time Plant sang the words "Whole Lotta Love" and the finale, One, where the effects started softly, near the water, and grew higher and more powerful as the song built.

When we'd bought the tickets for the fireworks, we hadn't really thought about what else would be going on. Just our luck that just pour rire (Just for Laughs) was also going on - and mostly on the street our auberge was on! I noticed that Craig Ferguson was headlining a night of stand-up while we were there, and so another night out was planned.

I have to say, Ferguson was very, very funny. I'd seen his White House Correspondent's Dinner gig, but not his show, and this convinced me that maybe I should be taping him at night! After his intro (which savaged Tom Cruise: "Twelve feet of crazy in a four-foot man", among other comments), it was clear that the other stand-ups had a lot to live up to. Successes: Steve Byrne ("I'm Irish/Korean, which makes me Cauc-asian"), Craig Hill in his Kilt de Cuir (pronounced "queer", for those of you that don't parlez francais), Glenn Foster (his customer service rant was priceless) and Mike Birbiglia (I dare anyone to be funnier about a tumor on the bladder!). OK: Bob Arno (it went on too long, and how funny is pickpocketing, really?). Near misses: Elvira Kirt (although I loved her line "I'm Eastern European. We don't do nice. We barely do pleasant!"). Could totally live without: Bruce Bruce and Craig Robinson. For better, more comprehensive reviews, go here and here.

Just one question/quibble: at the end of the evening, during the tribute to All Things Scotland, there were bagpipes. Ok, I expected that. What I didn't expect was for them to be playing "The Music of the Night"... I've heard the massed bagpipes at the end of the Edinburgh Tattoo do "Memory" so, here's my question: what does it say about the music of Andrew Lloyd-Webber that it can so easily be translated to the one instrument that everyone agrees sounds like a cat's tail being stepped on? Anyone?

23.7.08

An embarassment of riches

One of the things I love about going away is the opportunity to visit other bookstores, to see what's getting a lot of play in other cities/countries and to pick up stuff that just isn't readily available in my neck of the woods.

Robertson Davies is one example. I love his stuff, and when his biography was released I was so disappointed that it wasn't going to be released in the US for a number of months. Thing One called a Toronto bookstore and had it delivered in time to become a Christmas present (NB: this was before the proliferation of Amazon and other on-line bookstores). Now, I know that the new biography (Master in Mosiac, by Val Ross) has already been released (albeit with a different title), and that I could just go on-line and order it myself. Still, it's so much more satisfying to go into a bookstore and purchase it. Which I did.

Along with these gems:

At the Going Down of the Sun, The Pure in Heart and The Risk of Darkness by Susan Hill (and seriously, why is Ms. Hill so unknown here in the US?)
Nothing to Be Frightened Of by Julian Barnes (not available for another 6 weeks here!)
The Acadians: A People's Story of Exile and Triumph by Dean W. Jobb and The Acadians: in Search of a Homeland by James Laxer (because I find the whole Acadian exile and culture so fascinating)
The Roar of the Butterflies by Reginald Hill (why didn't anyone tell me he had a new, non-Pascoe/Dalziel out?)

And because I can't wait, I also got these from Mystery Guild...
Careless in Red by Elizabeth George and Scared to Live by Stephen Booth

Of course, I still have 52 books left in my Summer Reading Challenge...

12.7.08

Imponderables

Sign in Home Depot:

Annuals not included in our one-year plant guarantee

8.7.08

Ethical Dilemma

A few weeks ago I attended Montreal Meeting. One of the messages was from a man whose brother had died several years ago, and this man had helped raise his nephew. The nephew was now in Stockholm and was about to marry - he wanted his uncle there. Sounds easy, right? Well, this man had read an op-ed about how we have our ethical obligations wrong: rather than feeling obligations to our fellow humans, we needed to have more of an obligation to the earth.

In other words, we don't need to attend funerals, weddings, reunions, etc., we need to be better stewards of the earth and lessen our "carbon footprint" and damage to our environment.

A part of me has been silently fuming about this since. Now, I don't deny that there is more that we can do to take care of the environment, and that too many of us take natural resources for granted. But... is his not going to the wedding, an event that means a lot to his nephew, in essence saying that his obligation to the earth is greater than his obligation to his family really the message he wants to send? The airline that flies from Canada to Sweden is not going to cancel its flights because one man decides to stay home. I say "go", because we have an equal obligation to both - buy carbon credits (which are, I think, a scam) if that will assuage your conscience. But go.

There are trade-offs we can, and should, make. Driving slower, for example. Better mileage, use less gas. Recycling. Not buying bottled water. Buying, and using, cloth grocery bags. Shopping less. ALA should change its rules to allow for far more virtual participation, so that not every one on a committee needs to attend two conferences a year - much of the work I do in committees can easily be done on-line, asynchronously. The UN has raised the temperature in its building to 77; more businesses, more houses can do the same.

But sometimes our obligation is to family and to others. Last weekend I traveled to Boston for a meeting of a foundation that my family runs. Now, this isn't one of the great, well-known, well-endowed charitable foundations. As a matter of fact, it's pretty small and it's closing down in a couple of years. But to many of the small charities it helps fund (like this one), the work we do is huge. I'm sure the Trustees could conduct business via conference call, with interested family members dialing in to kibitz as well. Would that be as effective? Would advocacy for new causes (triple negative breast cancer research, for example) happen? Probably not. So I feel comfortable balancing the ethical obligations to earth and humans when I attend the quarterly meetings.

Yes, we do need to do more to care for the earth. But neglecting our family, our fellow humans, in order to do so? Not sure I can do that. Can you?

7.7.08

Notable Quotes

What level of hell am I in if Gangster's Paradise is played as muzak?
Me, to Thing One during

6.7.08

Notes from Mt. Bookpile

Children's/Young Adult
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie, Wow. Doesn't matter if you're a YA or an A, just read it. Funny and poignant, and a great new "coming of age" story.
  • Mister B. Gone Clive Barker, Just enough horror to entice a MS student.
  • The Sign of the Qin L G Bass, Chinese mythology, a Monkey saga, and martial arts - what's not to love?
  • Don't Call Me Ishmael Michael Gerard Bauer, Difficult to pinpoint what I liked about this, but I did and will recommend it to my MS students
  • Twinkle and Chubbins L. Frank Baum Non-Oz stories; only for Baumians
  • Nick of Time Ted Bell, Not sure I bought the time-travel bits, but the incursion of the Nazis onto the Channel Islands is something that most Americans don't know enough about.
  • A Tough Nut to Crack Tom Birdseye, Yawn
  • Being Kevin Brooks, Another entry in the "if I'm not human, what am I and who made me?" genre
  • The Crooked Little Path, Thornton W. Burgess Why more people don't read Burgess' work, I don't know - his animal characters really are up there with the likes of Toad, Frog and Rabbit
  • Dragon's Keep Janet Lee Carey, Town menaced by dragons... cursed princess... you guess the rest
  • Rover Saves Christmas Roddy Doyle, Doyle's contribution to the Christmas saga was meh, but his intended audience will probably like it
  • I Am Not Joey Pigza Jack Gantos, Nicely done book about change, or not.
  • Deep and Dark and Dangerous Mary Hahn, Not scary enough.
  • Shug Jenny Han, Good, in a been there, read that way.
  • The Cricket Winter Felice Holman, Lonely child learns to communicate with a cricket
  • 1609 Elizabeth Massie, Mediocre historical fiction about an era few students in the North study
  • Zoo School Laurie Miller Hornik, Very much for younger students.
  • Borrowers Aloft Mary Norton, It's a pity that more don't read past the opening book in this series
  • My Brother's Keeper Mary Pope Osborne, I can see why the Dear America series is so popular in Lower Schools!
  • Keeping Score Linda Sue Park, If only this had been about the Red Sox... still, that aside, good YA historical fiction
  • Keeping You a Secret and Grl2grl Julie Anne Peters, Good additions to any GLBTQ collection
  • The Young Man and the Sea Rodman Philbrick, Probably not what the author intended, but I saw this as almost a companion to Sensible Kate
  • The Battle of the Labyrinth, Rick Riordan, Already reviewed
  • Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, Gary D. Schmidt OW! I get it - you've got An Important Message To Impart in your books. Less heavy handed, please?
  • The Innocent's Story , Nicky Singer What if, when you die, you can enter the minds of people around you? What if you might be able to change future events as a result?
  • Eggs Jerry Spinelli, Not impressed
  • The House of Djinn Suzanne Fisher Staples, I don't know why, but it's difficult for me to like the Staples' oeuvre. I just kept feeling that in other hands, I'd have liked the book more...
  • Girls in Love and Girls Under Pressure, Jacqueline Wilson Very much long the lines of Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging... not something I'll necessarily buy for MPOW but if you've got overwhelming outcry for "more", then this is a good series.
  • The Pit Dragon Trilogy (Dragon's Blood, Heart's Blood and A Sending of Dragons), Jane Yolen Book Two made me cry; the rest were good dragon stories that I have to say I like better than the Pern series.
  • Story of a Girl, Sara Zarr another cautionary tale, a la Good Girls
  • Elsewhere, Gabrielle Zevin Another book about what happens when you die, this time told from a 15-year-old's perspective as she ages backwards, Elsewhere.
Fiction/Literature
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven Sherman Alexie, Alexie's work won't sit well with the PC police, but his is a great voice and if he can't tell the Indian's story, who can?
  • People of the Book, Geraldine Brooks, I tried hard to like this, but despite an interesting premise and some good historical research, I just didn't.
  • Monkeys, A relatively quiet book where you're not quite sure somethings actually going on, until you're past it and realize that a lot happened.
Mystery
  • A Cure for All Diseases and Who Guards a Prince Reginald Hill, The former is the latest Dalziel/Pascoe and a great addition to the series, the latter is a one-off that I highly recommend to all mystery lovers
  • The Body in the Gallery Katherine Hall Page Too cute, too cozy, and wrapped up too quickly
  • A Foreign Affair Caro Peacock, Any time I hear "remarkable" or "stunning" debut, I'm automatically skeptical... in this case, it's a decent debut with a not-so-interesting mystery told with tons of Historical Atmosphere
  • The Chameleon's Shadow, Minette Walters I really liked the book and the characters, although the mystery really wasn't (to me) much of a mystery.
Reference
Sci-Fi/Fantasy
  • Un Lun Dun China Mieville Not quite as enjoyable as Neverwhere, but a good addition to the "alternate world" genre
  • Bad Monkeys, Matt Ruff, Guess I'm just not clever enough to read this, as I didn't get the "layers of reality" or feel the need to re-read.
Total removed from Mt. Bookpile this quarter: 46 books (NB: most are children's/YA, not weighty tomes)
New books added to Mt. Bookpile this quarter: 2
Net loss: 10

5.7.08

Definition needed

I just read one of the many (like, over 40) ARCs I got at ALA, The Hunger Games. I then reviewed it on GoodReads and saw a review by Fairrosa. This led to a discussion about what constitutes a "dystopia", and whether it actually is a sub-genre of sci-fi/fantasy (or, as I've now heard it called, Future or Speculative Fiction).

My response was
Now I'm pondering the meaning of "dystopia". I'm not sure that bleak is necessarily a part of it, but I've always included things like "vague sense of menace" and "dictatorial rule" (be it theological, ideological or by machine). Sooo... Planet of the Apes would go into my definition. As would England, England (which has some very funny moments).

And, I'd have to say "yes" to Gathering Blue and Messenger - the society is closed, somewhat primitive, and there's that sense of menace from something/someone. I'll even throw in City of Ember for the same reasons.

As for them stacking up to 1984 or Brave New World, I think that's because Orwell and Huxley were writing in response to what they saw as real menaces in their real world, whereas these newer (and aimed at a younger audience) books are simply what C.S. Lewis might term a "supposal".

Also added to the list? The Giver, The Lottery and The Children of Men. I know that's a very small list, and that there are many, many others that should be on there. However, I mention them to raise the questions Fairrosa asked: what is a dystopian novel? how do we define it? and is it a sub-genre unto itself?

11.6.08

Books, Glorious Books

One of my colleagues is retiring this year. Like me, she's a voracious reader - we've had many lovely conversations about books and genres. Imagine my pleasure when she invited me to come and peruse (and take!) her "cast-offs". There were more unwanted books there than most people have in their permanent collections.

Heaven.

I teetered down the stairs from her apartment and carefully brought my treasured horde to my office. Slowly the books will make their way to my house and Mt. Bookpile. I'm so looking forward to finishing my Summer Reading Challenge and enjoying some Adult Reading. And thanks to her(?), I now have a new outcropping to climb!

2.6.08

Notable Quotes

It is a writer's greatest pleasure to hear that someone was kept up until the unholy hours of the morning reading one of his books. It goes back to authors being terrible people who delight in the suffering of others. Plus, we get a kickback from the caffeine industry.

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, Brandon Sanderson
( þ: Jandy)

1.6.08

Haut culture/pop culture

The sublime...

Yesterday I headed to NYC to SAB's annual Workshop. This time I was close enough and on the side enough to see the real mechanics of the dancing and what was going on in the wings.

I don't know where the concept of ballet for boys being sissy stuff, but my god do these kids sweat. Every time a boy spun around there was a veritable shower soaking anything within 2-3 feet! The athleticism with which they jump, lift their partners and move all over that stage... trust me, it ain't sissy stuff.

One of the neat things about MFPOW was that we got an annual invitation to see SAB students taking class. Some of those were barre classes, which were pretty much as I'd remembered from my youthful attempts to dance (my parents didn't want a lazy daughter!). The more advanced classes usually had the teacher demonstrating a complicated combination to the students. It was fascinating watching them try to remember the steps: some just stared intently, some mumbled what I'm sure were the names of the steps, some followed along with very sketched out movements, and some used their hands as "feet" as they translated the aural/visual to motion.

Why the digression? Because I saw the dancers backstage doing the hands-to-feet thing while waiting in the wings for their next entrance. They would move a few inches from side-to-side or back-to-front, all the while their hands sketching more complicated moves in front of them. Truly a case of Multiple Intelligences at work!

The ridiculous

After Workshop, Thing One and I went to see the new Indiana Jones movie. He'd been told that there were multiple endings, that audiences didn't know when to stand and leave or sit and watch more. This didn't surprise me, given Spielberg's problem with closure (E.T.c and AI being the most egregious examples) and with the fact that the entire Indy series is based on old-time serials, which left you with cliffhangers and unfinished plots. Watching the movie, I didn't get that "ok, it's over" sense well before it was done, but I did get the "ok, enough already" sense at around the 90 minute mark.

Harrison Ford's usual twinkle that tells us that he's not totally serious about this but is totally serious (at the same time) was lacking. The entire film seemed not just an homage to serials but to Spielberg and previous films (I *know* I've seen those aliens before!) was irritating. Every interview I've read said that there would only be a fifth film IF the script was good, IF there seemed to be a need for it, IF all the elements were in place, IF IF IF... but I got the sense that IF this makes enough money, Shia LaBoeuf will be replacing Henry Jr. and the "Mutt Jones" series will take off (and really, "Mutt"? couldn't they have left the "I'm nicknamed after a dog" thing alone?).

Overall, not the best in the series, and not the best movie I've seen recently (that'd be IronMan, and I'm so torn between wanting more of it and thinking it makes a great one-off).

18.5.08

The stories we tell

A very close friend of mine spent last weekend with the Landmark Forum. While there, she learned to unpack the stories she had been telling herself about her life, the things that were causing breakdowns in communications and preventing her from getting on with things.

Now, I don't believe you need to spend that money to learn how to see clearly that you are not the kid that got held back a year, or who couldn't get a prom date (or perhaps peaked as Prom Queen). Having said that, I do think that it can be difficult - but very useful - to let go of the past "junk" we're hanging on to, to live lightly emotionally. Holding past grievances against someone isn't healthy, just as trying to live up (or down) to who people thought you were isn't healthy.

It's also pretty damn difficult to change. You can change your job, and all the mistakes and attitudes you had from your previous one won't necessarily follow... unless you let them. It takes work, and commitment, and a self-promise not to beat yourself up if you slip a little (and believe me, as someone with a persistent "few pounds" to lose, I know all about that one!).

Today I read I am Not Joey Pigza, and what my friend has gone through resonated throughout the book. Joey's just figuring out and coming to terms with who he is, when all of a sudden he's being told he's now Freddy Heinz. Joey keeps popping up, as can be expected. His mother isn't happy about that, nor is his newly-returned father. But his father's change from Carter Pigza to Charles Heinz doesn't "take" either, because the underlying person isn't really changing. There's no self-check to say, "ok, you messed up but you can correct this" or "yes, this works and feels good so let's keep on doing it." It's just a sad slide downward.

That's what too many of us do when we try to change. Best of all possible intentions, followed by a few "oopses" and then backsliding into what we were. I hope for my friend's sake that her time at the Forum does affect a real change; as they told her, you have to keep at it, keep practicing, or it'll go away.

Changing your story, or the (as I prefer to think of it) the backstory to the character you know as yourself, is never easy. I think Joey does get some good change out of his time as Freddy, but it would probably have come without being ripped from his known life. Changing even one story, one learned behavior, one small thing can lead to a landslide of change.

13.5.08

Serial mistakes

I finished The Battle of the Labyrinth. Now, you know me: I've gushed about Rick Riordan's series before. This time, it's less of a gush and more of a stream. Why?

In part it's because of the nature of series books - they become formulaic. This is very true in the case of the Lower School series we buy (like The Secrets of Droon or Magic Tree House), with a relatively controlled vocabulary and action. That's great for very young readers, because you want them to become comfortable reading and this is a great way for them to do that. As an older reader, however, you don't need that sort of scaffolding and you enjoy a challenge.

Now, I have to admit, there is a sense of comfort in the cozy mystery genre. Reading a Miss Marple means that you have general sense of the structure of the upcoming mystery; ditto a "Death on Demand" or "Puzzle Lady". Even a series like Ian Rankin's Rebus books have an expected arc (and you can say the same about books like Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series, or Kathryn Kurtz' Deryni novels). Reading a book like this is like eating comfort food, isn't it? Many of my students will come in asking for "a book just like ___", by which they mean a book that has the same arc, the same essence as the book they finished.

There's nothing wrong with that kind of writing, or enjoying that style of reading. I do it often. The problem is when the series (for me) becomes stale, when the formula is so obvious that there's nothing surprising or new in the Recent Release.

Battle of the Labyrinth is edging close to that staleness (as you faithful readers know, I felt that way about Harry Potter, too). Even worse for Riordan, I'm not the only one that's noticed! One of my students said, "It was good, but 'meh'". Fairrosa said the same, only far more eloquently.

Yes, I'll read Book Five. But it's a good thing that Riordan's moving on to other books, other ideas. This one seems to me running out of steam.

12.5.08

Footloose...

Yesterday Thing One and I went to see City Ballet's Robbins/Bernstein collaborations program where they performed Fancy Free, The Dybbuk and West Side Story Suite.

The Dybbuk was vastly different from the other two: the plot's more difficult to follow, the dancing a little less exuberant. I'd not noticed before, but Bernstein had some definite themes that appear often in his music, lending a sense of connection from one piece to the next. Robbins' choreography was, well... The usual precision of the dancers at NYCB was on display here, but there was a little laid-back quality because that's how Robbins did it. The "average Joe" dancing in West Side Story or the sailors in Fancy Free are looser than, say, a Giselle or Firebird. Because it was Mother's Day, there were a number of kids in the audience and I thought how perfect this program was to get young'uns excited about ballet. Not just girls, but boys, and not just as dancers but as patrons.

My impetus for getting tickets was seeing a photo of Faye Arthurs in the NYTimes - Faye was in my homeroom one year, and I remember her as a students new to New York, new to SAB, and so eager to learn/experience everything. Within two years, she'd been given a "little pas" (her phrase) in Scenes de Ballet! (It was there that my parent's realized that the ballet recitals I'd clunked my way through for years were nothing compared to what my students could do. And that's putting it politely!) Faye was in two pieces yesterday, most notably as Maria in WSS.

She wasn't the only familiar face yesterday - there were many I'd remembered running up and down the stairs, sitting in class or hanging out on the 6th floor. One has become an example of "why it's not just you I worry about with drinks in the library near the books": just before her AP Calc. exam, she's bought an iced something from Starbucks. She set the plastic cup down and - whoosh! - the bottom seam split and we had iced something all over the place. Completely not her fault, but a good example for future years on how it's not necessarily the klutz that's the problem.

When you work with students, you often wonder what they'll do after school - how well, what they'll become, etc.. In the case of MFPOW, in many cases I know. That's not to say that the students at MPOW aren't talented, but the school's emphasis is different and the talent is not always obvious during their time here.

Yesterday also made me realize how much I miss the energy of the arts, and how lucky I am to be able to see ballet, opera and theatre with relative ease.

11.5.08

A little off the mark

Today starts Children's Book Week, and Chicken Spaghetti mentioned the authors vying for Favorite Author Status: Jeff Kinney, J.K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, Anthony Horowitz and Erin Hunter. Don't get me wrong - these are good authors, solid favorite writers at MPOW. However, at MPOW, the students that read these authors would be a little miffed at being called "children". Why? Because they're in Middle School. "Children" are in Lower School, attended to every minute of the school day. They're older now, more mature, more responsible. No, they're not quite ready for Teen Read Week, but this is a bit below them, title-wise.

Another favorite author in the Middle School is Cecily von Ziegesar. Who? She's Gossip Girl. Now, I've seen Ms. von Ziegesar talk about her books, and she says she's writing about her days in Upper School and the things her friends (not she!) got up to; these books are written for the Grade 9+ crowd. Except... I've never seen or heard someone in 9th grade read or ask for GG or the Clique books or A-List or any of the other derivatives. I am constantly pestered by my Grade 5-7 girls to get them for the collection. It's a little like when I was 11ish and reading Teen magazine, and then I was 13/14 and reading Seventeen, and 15+ reading Cosmo: people want to read about "what life will be like when I'm --- age" rather than "what life is like now".

Finally, Dorothea Salo wrote a book about Fantasy Authors. She says
This book is what you buy if you have K-12 (or maybe even undergraduate) students who would like to write book reports on an author they might, you know, actually like. There are also some readers-advisory bits that I think came out pretty well (and I say this having opposed some of them pretty strenuously at the time): if-you-liked pullouts on some authors and subgenre listings in back. It’s a pretty good mix of authors if I do say so myself; we pulled off a couple of fairly daring tricks, such as including three or four graphic-novel authors as well as several YA authors, and openly acknowledging the female half of male-female writing partnerships. (Yes, I know, the latter shouldn’t be daring, but find me another reference book that does it properly, I dare you.)
Wonderful, great! But... the cover. It's got a flying white horse. None of my boys would want to have that book in their hot, sweaty hands. It's too "girly" - give 'em trolls or an orc or even a wizardy looking guy, please.

My problem with all three is that they're great ideas/books/concepts, but the marketing is just, well, a little off the mark.

5.5.08

Notable Quotes

Getting older means paring yourself down to an essential version of yourself

25.4.08

Casual racism

I know that one of the "issues" in the Obama/Clinton contest is the topic of race: are people voting for Clinton or are they voting against a black candidate? There's a discussion about the casual, hidden racism this contest has raised. I'm not writing about that (you know my views on the whole political thing) but to write about what happens when we read or watch older works.

One theme in Cranford is the so-called destruction of the town by the incoming railway. One character, one of those village matriarchs so common to Victorian writing, is opposed not just because the village will lose it's solitude and peace, but because there will be workers constructing the tracks and they might be Irish. Gasp! But that was reality then: the Irish were despised immigrant labor. The comment is so casual, so off-hand, that it's all the more shocking given today's PC culture.

It reminded me how I felt reading Ellery Queen mysteries last year. The first time I'd read them, when I was much younger, it was about the mystery and sharing something with my father. This time, I noticed the language. At least once in each book either Ellery or his father said "That's white of you" (sometimes "damned" or "mighty" was inserted into the phrase). The way they treated and spoke to their houseboy(!) was also casually racist.

There's been a lot written about the value of reading Huckleberry Finn: it is good for students to read that sort of language, to be exposed to those sorts of ideas? The same could be asked about these works, yet in the case of Cranford, PBS is ignoring any issues and airing it next month. I suspect we'll all survive, just as I've survived watching All in the Family and reading Ellery Queen.

21.4.08

Notable Quotes

Weakness is not a part of the definition of womanhood

Unknown

19.4.08

Whew!

Made it through the week - five days of Book Fair (Sunday through Thursday), teaching, dealing with staffing issues, working on book orders and insurance claims, etc.. The budget is due and I've got to think about next year's needs and reconcile this month's report. Somehow, Fridays are always the worst because it feels that it's time to dump stuff on me/the library since it's the last day of the week. Making it all worse was a 3pm meeting!

But then I get to thinking about Annoyed Librarian's post about stress. She's got it right:
For pete's sake, people, we work in libraries. We're not saving lives here. Relax.
And even though we in the school library world like to go on about our stresses (including the high stakes testing) and the power struggles and internal crap that goes on at our schools, it helps to remember Henry Kissinger's comment, "There is no politics quite as vicious as academic politics, because there is so little at stake."

I'm off for a Lazyday in the Big City, picking up Lulu and shopping (and brunching) and then home. I'm taking none of my stress and angst with me. You do the same.

13.4.08

Out, damned Scot spot

Yesterday I saw "the Scottish Play" on Broadway. While others (betters?) have already pronounced on it, I thought instead I'd add some meager musings rather than a critique of the whole...
  • I saw Richard III at BAM several years ago, and like this it was set in a vaguely Nazi/Stalinist era. Why is it that Shakespeare's plays lend themselves so well to this type of "updating"? In another 25-50 years, will we find another way present his plays, or will these settings still be relevant?
  • If you want to convince people that Patrick Stewart has left Star Trek behind, don't open the second half with him clearly reacting to something not there, as if the director will CGI Banquo in later.
  • The (infamous?) witches scene (you know, the "double double toil trouble" one) is done as a rap, but comes out like a mash-up of Tainted Love and Eminem.
  • The scene where Mrs. MacDuff and her children are killed included a sound effect similar to the Psycho shower-stabbing violins. Coincidence?
Ok, minor quibbles only. The best news was that the performance I saw, 2pm on Saturday, was filled with younger people - the average age was 25-30 (if that). What a nice change from the usual bluehairs!

If you can, GO!

10.4.08

It's the little things

Thing Two often says "you're just a better person than I", and I'm not sure I buy it. I'm lazy, I have a huge selfish streak, and, well, I don't feel better than anyone.

But there are times...

One of my colleagues' daughter has a blog, which I read. A recent post pointed to some very good news (a Pulitzer prize "runner-up") so I sent a brief "congratulations" e-mail to my colleague. Last night, at dinner, she came up with tears in her eyes and gave me a hug. My 5-second e-mail had meant so much to her. I felt awkward because it really was such a little thing -- but not to her.

I also learned last night (as I catch up on my reading) that another colleague has been admitted to membership at her local Meeting. Again, I've sent an e-mail. And again, it's a tiny thing, taking only a few seconds.

Years ago I worked for a man that handled marketing and "rainmaking" for the company. One of the things he did was to make extensive notes about the people he'd met (on the plane or train, for example, or at a gathering of friends) and then to send follow-up notes. Sometimes it was stupid stuff, like cartoons or an article that might be of interest. Sometimes it was birthday cards or a brief note. Usually, those things didn't garner any response. But - and this is the critical part - all the recipients were grateful to hear from him, for his interest in the little things, and they'd remember him when it came time to suggest a company or service that we provided. Ultimately, all that care and attention paid off.

It's a good lesson to learn, and one I've been lazy about really doing to the degree I should. My new goal? To set aside a few minutes every day for the "little" things.

7.4.08

Notable Quotes

Simplicity is the right ordering of our lives,
placing God at the center.
When we shed possessions, activities, and behavior
that distract us from that center,
we can focus on what is important.
Simplicity does not mean denying life’s pleasures,
but being open to the promptings of the Spirit.

6.4.08

Notes from Mt. Bookpile

Children's/Young Adult
Fiction/Literature
  • The Age of Shiva, Manil Suri A rather passive woman's life during the years after Partition; well-written but I wanted more action and more of India's history
  • The Rosetta Key, William Dietrich If you like Indiana Jones-meets-Dan Brown fiction, this is for you
Humor
Mystery
  • The Dead Place, Stephen Booth I love this series - the darkness, the tension in Cooper's life, the sense of place
  • Death of a Dormouse, Reginald Hill For Hill, meh. For anyone else? Not bad.
  • Now You See Him, Eli Gottleib Stay far, far away
  • Secret Sins, Kate Charles Charles does ecclesiastic mystery in a really good way
  • The Silver Swan, Benjamin Black Wonderful writing, but so-so mystery. Not sure where this series is going, but I'll read another if it comes along
  • Slip of the Knife, Denise Mina Not my thing, but if you like the Temperence Brennan series it might be yours
  • Watchman, Ian Rankin Not a Rebus, but a definite must read
Non-Fiction
Science Fiction/Fantasy
  • The Host, Stephanie Meyer Wow. Wonderful. I just hope this doesn't become a series, because it's a great one-off
  • Ink Exchange, Melissa Marr Great follow-up to Wicked Lovely.

Total removed from Mt. Bookpile this quarter: 32
New books added to Mt. Bookpile this quarter: 52
Net gain: 20

The gain was entirely due to ALA Midwinter; with no conferences between now and the end of this quarter, I should be able to play catch-up. A little.

2.4.08

"I don't want to work that hard"

A couple of days ago, Terry blogged about opera, with a follow-up here. Yesterday I was chatting with the mother of a student, someone I know and respect and with whom I share a similar age and sensibility. She'd told me when the hotline for tickets to Macbeth went live and that she'd gotten two (neither for me; I'm going with a friend in a couple of weeks). Over Break, she'd seen the show and, well, her comment is this post's title.

I think that's the problem with much art today: people perceive it as "hard work". Opera is all-singing, usually in a foreign language (and forget the subtitles!); Shakespeare is something you've had to pick apart and discuss and memorize in school; classical music is for those long-hair effete people who understand themes and motifs and counterpoint. You get the drift. It's not part of our shared entertainment culture in the way it once was.

This mother went on to talk about her recent reading, and how she's veered away from novels that are "work". Once, she'd read War and Peace for fun, but now? Yeah, right. Some other person perhaps, but not her.

The thing is, I understand this. I do like Art, and indulge as often as I can. There is a side of me, however, that doesn't want to work at understanding the plot, or diagnosing the hero/anti-hero dynamic, or figuring out why this Bach fugue is so wonderful. I just want to enjoy, and if that means more "low-brow" entertainment, well, so be it.

As I was pondering all this, I remembered a few posts about education that I've read recently. One bluntly asks if schools are broken. Many bloggers (Will Richardson, for example) talk about making school interesting, using "2.0" tools to appeal to students. My question is: are we also ensuring that they, too, won't want to work hard at something? Not all learning is easy (my struggles with math are proof enough), and not all learning is fun. Fundamentals are sometimes best taught in a kill-and-drill fashion (quick: the 12 times tables, anyone?). I often tell my Middle School student that what we're doing may seem boring or pointless, but as they internalize the research process, including citations, they'll be able to do more creative work with ease.

Rather than taking notes, they want to cut-and-paste information, or Xerox it (seriously - one kid waited for 10 minutes to make a copy of one paragraph, instead of taking 2-3 minutes to write notes). They want instant gratification, and the gurus are telling us to give them a rich experience filled with the latest in ed. tech.. Where in all this do they learn to work hard? When do they learn that not every job will include wikis and social networking?

I could go on, but again, you get the gist.

Working hard shouldn't be shied away from, in education or entertainment. We should be teaching the next generation how to do the work, and to allow them the freedom to choose which they want to do when. My guess is that schools will improve, and that attendance at the theatre and opera will increase. But what do I know? I'm Lazy.

23.3.08

I'm much better now!

After a slight Bad Patch (reading-wise, that is), I rebounded with two books that I can highly recommend... when they actually get released, that is.

One is I am Scout, a biography of Harper Lee. The other is The Host, by Stephanie Meyer. The first doesn't need much selling, does it? I mean, you either like biography and/or want to learn more about Harper Lee (for, say, a paper on To Kill a Mockingbird), or you don't. But the second?

In my GoodReads review, I mention that there's a little too much "chick stuff" in it to appeal to my boy readers -- romance isn't going to cut it for them. I can understand that. Some "boy" books don't appeal to me, so why should the reverse not be the case? It is a huge issue for librarians: how do we hook boys into reading? This book has other things to offer, but for them, the sticking point will be the "ucky romantic stuff". Had Meyer stuck to the issues of what makes us human, and the idea of fighting an invasive, parasitic alien species, they'd be all over it.

I got an ARC of this book at ALA Midwinter, and promptly let a colleague read it. This was at a time when grading/progress reports were due. The next day she told me I was evil. Evil, evil, evil. Why? Because the book was that good. It's been here waiting for me to read for a couple of weeks now and, well, I stayed up waaaaaay past my bedtime to finish it.

Tired? You bet. But happy? Ditto.