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?