Slow Language Friday - Ancient Chinese Poetry

Friday, August 28, 2009

I came across this poem just yesterday while I was looking for something entirely different. But, I was struck by the beauty of these four short lines and knew that I must feature them here. Ah, what loveliness can be found in simplicity.

Su Tung-Po

1036 - 1101


To what can our life on earth be likened?
To a flock of geese,
alighting on the snow
ometimes leaving a trace of their passage.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

I am a rereader. Sometimes, when I head to the bookshelf to find my next fix, I forgo the shiny new books in their uncrinkled dust jackets in order to reread a worn favorite. Strange, I know; but there is something about curling up with a familiar book that is cozy and comfortable. Every time I reread a book, I find plot points that I had missed before. I get a deeper insight into the world that exists inside of it. I greet the characters like old friends. (Ah, there you are, Jane. Tell me again about the day that you first met Mr. Rochester. Hello, Mr. Montag. Why don't we take a walk around the corner and catch up with Clarisse?)

How about you? Do you like to revisit the books that you love? Or do you read them once and move on, leaving the worlds to exist only in memory?

Mitford Book Review and an almost-apology

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I have learned something about myself as a blogger. I'm no good at sticking to weekly themes, and I'm no good at blogging every day. I know that I said I would review a different children's book every week, but I haven't come across any worth talking about since the last one. I know I promised to post poetry every Friday, but then I was busy and forgot, two weeks in a row. Really, I'm kind of terrible at this. But, I'm going to keep plugging along, and hopefully things will start to develop a rhythm as I get used to this book-blogging thing.

I recently joined a book club in my community, and it's a new experience for me. You may know that at one time this blog was built around a book club, but we had very little participation from our members and I finally just gave up on the idea. It's a completely different experience meeting in someone's home and discussing the book with five or six regular attendees, rather than two or three people in an otherwise empty online forum. I'm really enjoying it.

This month our Book Club Book was At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon, the story of Father Tim, who is a rector in the little town of Mitford. This book was a bit of a departure from the sort of thing that I usually choose to read. I admit that I would never have picked it up on my own. I'm generally bored by so-called 'christian fiction', finding the characters flat and the plots heavy-handed and predictable. Such was not the case with Jan Karon's work. There is nothing flat about her characters. They are quirky and unique, they have believable personalities and believable problems. At Home in Mitford is a charming book, despite being somewhat slow-paced. It is a nice, leisurely read. And while I won't be picking up the next book in the series right away (there are nine!) I'm sure I will revisit Mitford at some point in the future.

Sneak Peak: (In this scene are Father Tim, Cynthia, and Dooley. Cynthia is an artist and Father Tim's neighbor; and Dooley is a ten year old boy. Oh, yes. There's also Barnabas, the dog.)

"By the way," said his neighbor, "if you catch any moles this spring, I'd truly like to have one."
The idea was so grisly that Barnabas, who was lying by the fire, caught the sense of it and growled.
A dead mole! He'd never had such an odd and unwholesome request in his life.
"I'm about t'puke," said Dooley, vanishing into the kitchen.
"I suppose you think Beatrix Potter drew her creatures from imagination, or from one fleeting glance at something scampering acrosss the path?"
"You mean she didn't?"
"Of course not! She drew from life. Or death, if you will."
"You're by far the most unusual, that is to say, unique person I've had the privilege of meeting in years. "
"You're only too kind to call me unusual. I've been called worse!"
He smiled. "You don't say!"
"Certainly not."
"And even eccentric..."
"Entirely inaccurate!"
She sighed.
"There are those, " he said, "who call me odd, as well, so I understand. I was without a car for nearly eight years, and took up with a maverick dog who's disciplined only by the recitation of Scripture."
"How I wish that all of us might be disciplined that way."
There, he thought. What a grand thing to say.

My Rating:
I'll give Mitford a 7/10
It wasn't captivating enought to warrant a higher grade from me, but it was pleasant, well written and interesting enough to keep me reading. I would recommend it for sure if you're a fan of Christian Fiction and books about sleepy little towns, or if you're just looking for a change of pace.

Better late than never, right?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I have been a really bad blogger lately, and I missed two Slow Language Fridays. So, to make up for it, I'm putting up two new poems today, both by Lucille Clifton.
The first poem is light-hearted and a little bit sassy. I love the image that I get from the last three lines.

Lucille Clifton
June 1926

Homage to My Hips

these hips are big hips.
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!


This second poem is quite a change of pace. It always hits me in a very tender place. But the strength that you can feel in the last stanza is very inspiring.

The Lost Baby Poem

the time i dropped your almost body down
down to meet the waters under the city
and run one with the sewage to the sea
what did i know about waters rushing back
what did i know about drowning
or being drowned

you would have been born into winter
in the year of the disconnected gas
and no car we would have made the thin
walk over Genesee hill into the Canada wind
to watch you slip like ice into strangers' hands
you would have fallen naked as snow into winter
if you were here i could tell you these
and some other things

if i am ever less than a mountain
for your definite brothers and sisters
let the rivers pour over my head
let the sea take me for a spiller
of seas let black men call me stranger
always for your never named sake

And Jane Austen spins in her grave

Thursday, August 20, 2009

There seems to be a disturbing trend when it comes to Jane Austen fan fiction lately. Maybe you've heard of the book that hit bookshelves everywhere earlier this year: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies... but did you know there's another one in the works? That's right, up next is Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. No, really. NO, really. And just today I came across another little gem. It seems that someone has decided to bank on the 'gentleman vampire mania' that the Twilight saga has induced among the female populace of the world and write a little book titled (wait for it)....

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre.

Now, I have nothing against Austen fan fiction in general, I read Austenland and I enjoyed it... but this... this is just a little much. Then again, I suppose, if they can get away with writing this sort of thing and actually get paid for it, then good on them.
What do you think?

ABR - Alcatraz vs. the Evil librarians

This week's Audio Book Review is for another of Brandon Sanderson's books: Alcatraz vs. The Evil librarians.

About the book:
Alcatraz has spent his life being passed around to any foster family brave enough to take him. He never lasts long in any of these households, because he has an unusual (and potent) talent: he is able to break anything he touches.
On his thirteenth birthday he receives a package from his father, a package that is supposed to contain his inheritance, but only contains a bag of sand. In the next two chapters, several things happen in quick succession: Alcatraz burns down his foster parents' kitchen, a stranger shows up claiming to be his grandfather, Alcatraz's bag of sand is stolen, and a man with a gun threatens his life.

My Review:
This lighthearted, quirky audio book was a joy to listen to. The narrator, Charlie McWade, was perfect as Alcatraz and did a wonderful job with the voices and the personalities of the other characters, as well. I loved Alcatraz's exposition throughout the book, and his sarcastic asides often had me snorting out loud as I listened. The book is targeted at younger children, ages 9-12, but, as I may have mentioned before, I am a sucker for a good YA novel. And this is a good one. Fluffy, yes...but good. Central to the plot is a cult of evil librarians who control all of the information that reaches the Hushlands (otherwise known as the seven continents that we are all familiar with). During the course of the book, Alcatraz learns that he is tied to this cult of evil librarians because he is part of a very important family: The Smedrys. The Smedrys are part of the Free Kingdoms (several other continents and islands that the evil librarians don't want us to know about), and are all born with very specific talents, such as arriving late to things, being able trip and fall, and getting impossible amounts of water on the floor when they wash the dishes. The Smedrys use these unique talents to fight the empire that the evil librarians have built.

Sneak Peak:

"So, there I was, tied to an altar made from outdated encyclopedias, about to get sacrificed to the dark powers by a cult of evil Librarians."

If you would like to read more, there are three snippets available online on Brandon's website.

My Rating:
I give it 8/10
It was a fun read, and I'm planning to read the rest of the series, as well. Rutabaga.

15 Most Memorable Books

Monday, August 10, 2009

This is actually a Booking Through Thursday meme prompt, but despite the fact that today is Monday, I need something to write about. So:

"This can be a quick one. Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. The first fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes."

Here are mine, in no particular order:

1. Fahrenheit 451 - by Ray Bradbury
This is possibly my favorite book of all time. It's a book about what would happen if people stopped reading. It's a book about how people are overstimulated and how the world moves too quickly. It's about burning books. It's about love. It's about hope. It's effing fantastic.

2. Watership Down - by Richard Adams
Yes, it's a book about rabbits. But not really. It's actually a book about society, and folklore and religion. And you should read it, even though you think it's just a book about rabbits.

3. To Kill a Mockingbird - by Harper Lee
Really, could any list of memorable books be complete without this classic on it? When I read it, I wanted to be Scout. I thought I WAS Scout.

4. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher - by Bruce Coville
I read this book when I was, maybe, 9 years old. It captured my imagination, and it broke my heart. This was the first book to ever make me cry. It's the book that started my love affair with the Fantasy genre.

5. Till We Have Faces- by C.S. lewis
An absolutely beautiful retelling of the myth of Eros and Psyche, told from the point of view of Psyche's "Plain-Jane" older sister. I reread this book every few years, and I love it more every time.

6. Wuthering Heights - by Emily Bronte
Heathcliff! Ah, Heathcliff! He is a despicable human being, but he is an amazing, complex character. This dark love story is one that has inspired a few of my own twisted character relationships.

7. I Capture the Castle -by Dodie Smith
This beautiful book was recommended to me by a friend just last year. I now count it as one of my top ten favorites. How can you not love a book whose first line is "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink"? Cassandra Mortmain is one of the most loveable characters I have ever had the good fortune to meet through my reading.

8. Dandelion Wine - by Ray Bradbury
This is, very simply, a book about one 12 year old boy's summer adventures. It's Ray Bradbury's beautiful prose without all of the martians and monsters. It's partly autobiographical, and almost more a collection of short stories than a novel, but it is spectacular. Read it.

9. 1984 - by George Orwell
One of the most fundamentally disturbing books that I have ever read. When I finished it I was left with a sense of dread and hopelessness. This is not a book that you forget.

10. The Last Unicorn - by Peter S. Beagle
No, this is not the book that the strange Tom Cruise movie from the '80s was based on. (For some reason, whenever I talk about The last Unicorn people ask me about this.) It's the book that the strange cartoon from the '80s is based on. Only it is infinitely better than the cartoon, obviously.

11. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - by Stephen Chbosky
This was my favorite book when I was a senior in highschool. It deals with the usual themes that teenagers are faced with, (drugs, sexuality, peer acceptance) and at that time in my life I found much to identify with in Charlie. I haven't read it in years, and need to read it again, but it is a book that has always stuck with me.

12. The Crucible - by Arthur Miller
Technically a play and not a novel, but I count it anyhow.

13. Stardust - by Neil Gaiman
Have you seen the movie, but never read the book? Then shame on you. This novel turned me on to the rest of Gaiman's work, but I think this might be my favorite of his. It is not as dark as his other novels, and is probably his most accessible bit of writing.

14. Les Miserables - by Victor Hugo
I have only read the abridged version as of yet, but when I read it I was captivated by the story of Jean Valjean. I have since gone on to become obsessed with the musical. I could sing you every song. Really, I could.

15. A Wrinkle in Time - by Madeleine L'engle
After I read this book, I devoured anything and everything I could find by L'engle. She is brilliant. There are a few of her books that I like more than A Wrinkle in Time, but I list this one because it is the one that started it all.

Annnd there we go. I even managed to steer away from any series' or trilogies. Quite a feat, I assure you.

*Edit* Upon rereading my post, I found that the above statement is not entirely factual. A Wrinkle in Time can be read as a standalone novel, but is considered part of a quintet, the other four books being A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters and An Acceptable Time... all of which are lovely books. More than once after reading them I wished that I could learn to Tesser and Kythe.

Catch-up mash-up

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Sorry for the lack of updates during the past week. My internet service has been spotty, and I have had little time for extracurricular activities.
So, to make up for the neglect, I will pack three updates into one.

The first item of business: Children's Book Spotlight

There are rows upon rows of children's picture books in the library, and I have heard of very few of them. When The Monkey (my four year old girl) is choosing the books for herself, she invariably picks something because the cover has a cute animal on it (or because it's her favorite color-- pink), only to be disappointed or bored with the content when we sit down to read it together. When I am choosing the books I usually have very little time (or patience) to wander the stacks, and end up grabbing two or three books randomly off of the shelves for her. It's a hit-and-miss thing. Last week I got lucky, and I picked a good one. The Monkey loved it, so I thought I would share it here. I am also going to start a weekly Children's Book Spotlight. let me know if you have any books that you would like me to share here!

The Show-and-Tell Lion - Written by Barbara Abercrombie and Illustrated by Lynne Avril
Recommended for: Kindergarten-1st grade

It's Matthew's turn for show-and-tell and he doesn't have anything to share, so he says the first thing that comes to his mind: "I have a lion." His classmates think that this is wonderful. They ask him questions about his lion, and want to take a field-trip to his house to see it. Matthew has to think up more and more lies to answer his friends' questions and explain why they can't visit his pet lion.
Eventually, Matthew learns that it best to tell the truth.

This was a very cute story, and one that I will probably buy for my daughter, because she keeps asking me to reread it. The illustrations were wonderful. Matthew and his friends were painted in acrylic, while the lion (and all of Matthews lies about it) were drawn in chalk pastel, making it seem less substantial than the reality of the children and their classroom. I recommend it.
My Rating: 8/10

Next up: Audiobook Review

I love Audiobooks. Not as much as a real-life-hold-it-in-your-hand book, naturally, but... still, they are wonderfully handy things. I constantly have one on my iPod. I listen to audiobooks while I wash the dishes and fold the laundry. I listen to them while I run errands. I have so far avoided listening to them while I shop, as I am afraid that would cause chaos and result in my forgetting to buy several of the items on my list; but I might be tempted to try it, eventually.

A while ago my friend Ashlie recommended that I listen to the audiobook version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I was hesitant. I have never read the book. I was put off by the Disney movie, which I found disturbing as a child. As an adult I watched the movie again and could only deduce that it was illustrated by someone on an acid trip. Not my kind of thing. But I eventually succumbed, because I like Ashlie and we have very similar taste in literature. And the book was not bad at all. I do wish that I could have found the version that was read by Jim Dale, as I loved listening to him read Harry Potter, but I wasn't able to do so. The version that I was able to get was read by a woman named Devina Porter. Her voice was grating to me at first, but I got used to it soon enough. She did do a wonderful job using different voices for every character... except for the Chesire Cat. His voice just irritated me.
But, all in all, I thought that the book was much nicer than the movie; more a child's nonsensical dream and less a drug-induced hallucination. If you haven't read it before I would urge you to give it a try. I plan on reading Into the Looking Glass as soon as I have the time.
My Rating: 8.5/10 (Though I wonder if it would be higher if I had heard it read by a different person, or simply read it myself.)

and lastly, as promised: Poetry Friday- The Slow Language Movement

Just a warning. This next poem is one that will not be enjoyed by everyone. The theme is very overtly (though not explicitly) sexual. But I find it a wonderful expression of desire, of yearning and of intimacy. I am captivated by the idea of being marked by your lover, of walking through markets and knowing that even the blind man knows whose wife you are, because you are marked by the scent of your husband's profession and by his desire for you. It is a beautifully written piece of poetry.

Michael Ondaatje

born September 12,1943


If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
and leave the yellow bark dust
on your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
you could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbor to your hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler's wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
-- your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers...

When we swam once
I touched you in water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
You climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women
the grasscutter's wife, the lime burner's daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume.
and knew
what good is it
to be the lime burner's daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in an act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
peeler's wife. Smell me.