Friday, April 21, 2017

See you later....

I've been quite pleased with my two-week streak of posting (with time off for Sunday).  And I still have more books to write about; there are six on my desk at this moment.  But I'm going away for the weekend, on my own little adventure all by myself!  I always love to go to Cal Day, when UC Berkeley opens up the campus and there are lots of fun events.  And this time I'll go to some things for adults!  I'm excited, so maybe I'll post a picture or two when I come home.

Two years ago!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Where Nothing is Long Ago

Where Nothing is Long Ago: Memories of a Mormon Childhood, by Virginia Sorensen

This lovely childhood memoir by a Newbery-winning author evokes a subculture that is now as foreign and puzzling as almost any you can think of.  Virginia Sorensen writes about life in a Utah farming town with strong Danish roots, and it seems to cover approximately 1917-1924 or so.  And she really knows how to start a story...

Virginia is about nine, playing in the hot summer weather, when Brother Tolsen comes running over, having just killed his neighbor during a dispute; the neighbor had twice blocked Tolsen's water in order to take it himself.  In the dry Utah climate, water for irrigation was of the first importance, and access to streams was carefully scheduled so that everyone would get a fair share.  Water-stealing was a terrible crime, and the entire community agreed that Brother Tolsen had acted in the defense of his family and livelihood.  They were relieved when the court case was decided in his favor, and felt sorry for the dead man's wife, because who could believe that her own husband could be a water-stealer?

I already knew about the irrigation system and how water-stealing was seen, and I was still stunned by this story.  There is quite a lot of culture here that readers may find a little difficult to grasp.

Sorensen goes on in a more moderate vein, describing a loving family (with its own complexities) and a nearly idyllic country setting where children could venture out and play unsupervised.  The stories are enchanting, as with her adoration of her kitten--Jiggs is one of the main characters--or funny, as with her love of going to funerals.  Others are painful; her beloved grandfather falls in love with a younger woman and is never welcome again.  She is terrified by a Peeping Tom.  And finally, as she gets older, there's a little bit of romance.

It's a wonderfully evocative memoir of a childhood, a time, and a culture that are now vanished.  It's probably difficult to get a copy of this book, though; mine is a loan, an ex-library copy from the early 1960s and I couldn't even find an image of it on the net.  It would be sad if it disappeared, but maybe ebooks will save it someday.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

All Natural

All Natural: A Skeptic's Quest to Discover if the Natural Approach to Diet, Childbirth, Healing, and the Environment Really Keeps Us Healthier and Happier, by Nathanael Johnson

Nathanael Johnson is a child of serious hippies, and grew up eating dirt and berries in the Northern California mountains, not too far from where I live now.  His dad didn't believe in diapers, and his mom didn't believe in sugar.*  Then he grew up and married a woman of the modern world, and pretty soon they were wondering: what really is the best way to have a baby?  Doula and water-birth, or epidural and hospital bed?  Thus a book was born as Johnson explored our ideas about so many topics from birth to how to take care of the environment, not to mention 'toxins' in our food and vaccines.

I had quite a lot of fun reading all of this, and some of the topics he investigates are on the unusual side.  One whole section was devoted to the arguments over raw milk; another was about vegetable toxins with a fascinating aside into diseases caused by long-term exposure to some foods (not processed foods, just certain plants).  I learned a whole lot about modern pig farming, which has changed completely in the last 20 years, and some good information on modern medicine.

I particularly enjoyed a section on forest recovery in Northern California.  In the 19th century, mining companies engaged in hydraulic mining, in which they simply washed entire mountainsides downstream through sluices to get gold or other metals out of the soil.  It took concerted efforts to get the practice outlawed.  Johnson writes about some areas that are recovering, and how interested people can best manage local lands.  Not every place can recover, though; this is what one mountainside near a favorite hiking spot looks like today.  You can see that the entire thing was just washed down to bedrock and there's no way for new soil to form:

Photo credit: Kevin Knauss
This was a fun and informative book that covers a lot of topics, not too deeply but enough for introductory purposes.  It's worth a read.



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*Although my own hippie parents were a good deal more moderate, I completely understood Johnson's childhood longing for Twinkies and would like to invite him to the Facebook "Your Mom is So Berkeley" group, where he will feel right at home.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Two 'Miss Read' Novels

Storm in the Village
Farther Afield, by Miss Read

If you are feeling beset by the world and need a quiet refuge, Miss Read novels are hard to beat.  They're mid-century stories about a set of tiny English villages, narrated by 'Miss Read,' a teacher at the village school.  I read two a little while ago, and have two more waiting for the mood to strike one of these days.

Storm in the Village is the third Fairacre novel, and the (somewhat) peaceful village's life is threatened to be turned upside down if the government forces a local farmer to sell his fields for building a large settlement for power plant workers.  It would be larger than the village, so would children go to the school, or would the school close?  Bring business in, or just an awful lot of traffic?  Mr. Miller vows he'll die before he gives up his best land, and meanwhile there's other drama: a neglected boy runs away from home, and a junior teacher is dead set on ruining her life by falling for a scoundrel....

Farther Afield happens much later on (it's #11).  Miss Read is looking forward to a long summer holiday, but the first thing she does is to break her arm.  Her good friend Amy comes to the rescue with a holiday in Crete, but the reasons for it are not all good; Amy's husband is infatuated with a young secretary.  Miss Read and Amy argue the pros and cons of married and single life while enjoying the sunshine.  It's not so much of a comfort read, but it's certainly interesting!

Monday, April 17, 2017

The First Wife

The First Wife: A Tale of Polygamy, by Paulina Chiziane

I was intrigued as soon as I saw this novel.  It's the first published by a Mozambican woman, it's about polygamy, plus it's square, which is fun.  So here we go.

Rami, the narrator, has been married for twenty years, and to a prominent man -- her husband Tony is the chief of police, so they should have plenty for their needs.  But Tony is not around all that much.  Rami finds out that he has another family; in fact he has four mistresses, and most of them have several children.  Rami alternates between rage and hurt, but as she gets to know the other women, they realize that together they might be able to make Tony live up to his obligations.  They maneuver Tony into a polygamous marriage and start to demand their rights, but it's not a straightforward business.

Everything is told from Rami's point of view, and it's kind of stream-of-consciousness.  Rami has a tendency to discourse on the nature of men, women, or love, or anything else, and her moods change often; one minute she's pining for Tony, the next she's raging, so the reader is drawn deeply into her feelings.  She becomes very close with the other wives.  They strengthen and help each other, and resent each other too.  Much is made of the cultural differences between northern and southern women (and men).  The whole becomes an exploration of the difficulties between men and women, the possibly unbridgeable gap between their thoughts and goals, and the promises made and broken.  This is not a novel that offers a lot of hope in the project of marriage.

It's an engrossing, eventful novel with lots of drama, and at the same time, Rami's thoughts make for a repetitious background that may either irritate or provide deeper feeling to the reader. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Jill the Reckless

Jill the Reckless, by P. G. Wodehouse

I was in the mood for a nice escape, so I picked up my tablet and opened up a Wodehouse novel I'd never heard of before in the Kindle app.  A lot of early Wodehouses are now available for free, being out of copyright.  Jill the Reckless was published in 1920 as a serial -- after Psmith and Blandings Castle, but before Bertie and Jeeves really got going.

This cover is terrible.  Jill looks like a Gashlycrumb Tiny.
Jill is one lucky girl, being lovely, wealthy, and engaged to the broodingly handsome MP Sir Derek.  A series of misfortunes renders her penniless and single, and she ends up in New York working as a chorus girl, having one adventure after another.  There is a parrot, of course, an overbearing mother, a grifter uncle, and an upper-class twit or two.  It is all great fun.

Jill is a wonderful heroine and the story is gripping.  This has turned out to be one of my favorite Wodehouse novels! I just loved it, and I recommend it highly.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Imago

Imago, by Octavia E. Butler

I have now finished the Xenogenesis trilogy, and boy, it's a good read.  It's not hard SF, where you're mostly reading about future technologies and possibilities; this is the kind where a morality problem is set and explored from many sides.

Jodahs is the narrator for this third book, and it is something new again.  It accidentally develops into an ooloi, the third Oankali sex, a specialist in genetic manipulation without which reproduction cannot occur.  The Oankali survive by collecting and using all sorts of DNA, always changing into something a bit different.  But they didn't mean to have a hybrid ooloi so soon in the program, and Jodahs may not be allowed to stay on Earth at all.  Jodahs is desperate to stay and starts wandering too far from home.

There's a lot of really uncomfortable stuff in this book.  Lilith, in the first story, is fully human and embodies our viewpoint when faced with these aliens who do horrifying things to humans without permission, on the grounds that it is moral and necessary.  Lilith is not given a choice about becoming the mother of a bunch of hybrid children, and although she comes to understand the Oankali viewpoint, she never really accepts it and feels culpable for the things she has done.  Her son Akin is able to convince the Oankali to allow a 100% human colony on Mars against their inclination; Oankali morality says that humans should not be allowed to have children because they will eventually self-destruct in violence as a species.  Finally, Jodahs embodies the Oankali viewpoint most and explains it, but in my view he is never really able to make it acceptable to humans.  Too much of what the Oankali do violates human agency and denies choice.  The result, however, is an excellent exploration of choice and consent.

Previous posts on Xenogenesis:   Dawn and Adulthood Rites

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Excellent Sheep

Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, by
William Deresiewicz

Several years ago, William Deresiewicz published an online essay, The Disadvantages of an Elite Education, which garnered a lot of attention.  He then turned the essay into a book which I've been meaning to read for some time.

Deresiewicz, a Yale professor, starts off critiquing the ever-more-strenuous race to get into the Ivy League (or even a highly-ranked public school, but mostly the Ivies), and then the conformity seen on campus.  Perfect Ivy candidates do not have time for eccentricity; they have to fit a mold.  I think this is the strongest part of the book, with some excellent points about why we have this system and how it serves the people who benefit, but nobody else.

He then starts asking what college is actually for and what 'leadership' is really about.  There is some good stuff in there, but I did feel like it got kind of repetitive or something; I didn't feel like it was as strong.  There's a lot on what constitutes a meaningful life that really didn't feel terribly relevant, at least to me, so maybe that was it.  

Further on, Deresiewicz talks a lot about how our class divides are growing, partly because of this emphasis on elite education.  The Ivies serve the rich; hardly anyone else can afford the massive investment involved in producing an Ivy candidate.  Very few regular non-rich students get in.  Graduates then tend to hire each other into positions of power, because as we all know, an Ivy League education is the best.  The result is a self-perpetuating elite class that only rarely allows others in.

Since this book was published, I am hearing a little more buzz about Ivies looking for non-rich kids who have to get jobs.  But on the whole, the Ivies don't exist to serve the American people and never have.  So why do we assume that only Ivy graduates are qualified to wield power?

It's a pretty interesting read, with some bits I found trite, but overall it's got some good points.

Here's a bit from the article that also appears in the book, to give you an idea:
Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely—indeed increasingly—homogeneous. Visit any elite campus in our great nation and you can thrill to the heartwarming spectacle of the children of white businesspeople and professionals studying and playing alongside the children of black, Asian, and Latino businesspeople and professionals. At the same time, because these schools tend to cultivate liberal attitudes, they leave their students in the paradoxical position of wanting to advocate on behalf of the working class while being unable to hold a simple conversation with anyone in it...
But it isn’t just a matter of class. My education taught me to believe that people who didn’t go to an Ivy League or equivalent school weren’t worth talking to, regardless of their class. I was given the unmistakable message that such people were beneath me. We were “the best and the brightest,” as these places love to say, and everyone else was, well, something else: less good, less bright. I learned to give that little nod of understanding, that slightly sympathetic “Oh,” when people told me they went to a less prestigious college....I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to elite colleges, often precisely for reasons of class. I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to college at all.
I'm not actually sure how seriously to take that last bit, as it seems to me impossible to get through life without finding out that there are an awful lot of brilliant people who didn't go to Yale or even Chico State.  Is it possible to live so securely in the ivory tower?  I don't see how.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Lottery: Adventures of the Demon Lover

The Lottery: Adventures of the Demon Lover, by Shirley Jackson

Somewhere I found an ancient, tattered paperback of Shirley Jackson stories.  I've read "The Lottery" before, but not the others, and I needed more Jackson in my life!

Luckily, I happened to look at the final page before I read very many of the stories.  In the back, there is an excerpt from an old Scottish ballad called "James Harris, The Demon Lover," (Child 243), and so I looked it up.  James Harris, in the song, seduces a married woman away from her home and takes her on a voyage...to hell, of course.  If I hadn't happened to read that early on, I would probably not have noticed that James Harris is a recurring character in several of these short stories (sometimes only as a shadow, even).  Obviously that is the connecting link with the title, but I'm oblivious enough not to have spotted it on my own.

The stories--nearly all domestic ones about mothers, wives, or single New York gals--are all unsettling in various degrees.  Some are so subtle that it's hard to put a finger on just what is wrong.  Others aren't worrying until you think about them for a while, and some few are plainly frightening, but they are only a few.    Most of the pieces have a quiet wrongness to them.

I had a great time reading these stories, which I spaced out over a couple of weeks.  They were originally published all over the place, at different times, which makes me wonder how the Harris stories were received.  They really build on each other.  If anybody knows -- I know lots of you are much better Jackson scholars than I am -- please tell me!  I'd be very interested to know more about how James Harris works.

While looking for a modern edition, I noticed that the title has now been changed to The Lottery and Other Stories, which obscures the connected stories even more.  Did even the publisher miss something?

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My old paperback copy has got to be one of the ugliest covers ever to blight the earth.  It's just about as bad as Zuleika Dobson!   Why not compare and cast your votes for which one is worse in the comments?



Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Faerie Queene Book V, Part I

It's been a little while, but I'm still plugging away!  Book V is all about Justice, and the knight is Sir Artegall, whom we have already met from Britomart's point of view.  So far he is pretty rough justice, and it seems that he might need some refining.    Spenser explains that Astraea personifies pure, heavenly justice, and Artegall is only the flawed human imitation.  Astraea -- the constellation of Virgo -- raises Artegall and sends him out into the world, and gives him the companion Talus, an iron man with a flail.  Talus is an untiring punisher and sometimes chases down and beats offenders that Artegall can't catch.  He is, in fact, on the brutal side, considering that he's supposed to be given by pure justice!
Coming up on an anniversary here....
Artegall's quest is to free Lady Girena (gift? peace?) from Grantorto, a general tyrant sort of fellow.  On his way, he meets a mourning Squire and a beheaded Lady.  The Squire explains that a knight came riding up with a lady and wanted to trade.  The Squire refused, so the mystery knight grabbed the resisting lady while beheading his own.  Talus runs after this man, Sir Sanglier (wild boar).  Artegall pulls a Solomonic judgement and earned the Squire's gratitude, while Sanglier must carry the dead lady's head for a year.

Artegall next meets Florimell's dwarf, who brings the news of her upcoming wedding to Marinell; it's in three days.  Artegall plans to go, but first must defeat the Saracen bridge toll collector, the oppressive Pollente, who cheats and squeezes the poor, and murders the rich for plunder.  The two meet for battle in the river, so Pollente has the advantage.  Even so, Artegall prevails and swops Pollente's head off, leaving it on a pole as a warning against the abuse of power.  He continues on to Pollente's daughter's home; she is Muntera and hoards all that plundered wealth.  Talus beats on her castle door until she sees him and offers him a bribe to go away, but he beats the door down.  He then chops off her golden hands (which sold justice) and nails them up.  Her silver feet go too, and Talus drowns her in mud, burns the treasure, and razes the whole castle.  Finally, they meet a Giant with scales, who plans to distribute all the world equally to everybody.  Artegall argues with him, and the Giant replies that when he is done, everything will be the same; there will be no hills or valleys.  Talus throws him into the sea and then routs all his rebellious followers.

 This painting is supposed to be Artegall, backed by Talus with his flail.  
It's nothing like how I imagine either of them.  Talus is made of iron!

Time for Florimell's wedding!  First, of course, there must be a tournament, which of course Marinell must win -- at least, until he is taken prisoner on the third day.  Artegall makes the mistake of trading shields with Braggadocio, who then takes credit for all of Artegall's feats of arms.  The False Florimell, who came along, is then unveiled, and all gasp in horror to see identical ladies.  Artegall confronts Braggadocio with his lies and puts Snowy Florimell next to the real one, where she melts, leaving only the magic girdle behind.  Guyon appears to explain about the horse and spear that were stolen from him.  Artegall has to be held back from beating Braggadocio, but nobody worries about Talus doing it and breaking all of Braggadocio's armor.  Then there's a party.

Our hero next meets two brothers fighting over a coffer, while two damsels beg them to stop.  Artegall judges their case, about their respective islands and treasures.  Moving on, he finds a knight about to be hanged by women who run away when seen.  Sir Turpine was taken by Amazons, who made him wear women's clothes and spin.  He preferred hanging.  Radigund, Queen of the Amazons, challenges Artegall to a duel.  Artegall almost wins, but when he sees her face (just like when he saw Britomart), he stops fighting and she renews her attack.  He yields and loses his victory by becoming Radigund's thrall (and possible boy toy).  Talus stays free, but does not rescue his master because Artegall has taken a vow.  Now he's dressed in women's clothes and spinning flax too.  Despite this, Radigund falls in love with her prisoner, and sends the messenger Clarinda to him to see what he thinks.  Clarinda promptly falls for him too, even as he refuses Radigund's favors.  Clarinda lies to both parties, hoping to win Artegall herself.

Although Artegall is behaving virtuously in his captivity, Britomart is consumed with jealousy when Talus brings her the news.  Surely he won't be true to her!  So off she goes with Talus, to seek her knight.  On the way, she meets a quiet knight who offers her his hospitality.  She is too upset to sleep, but the bed is a trap door!  She is attacked, but Talus beats all the knights.  The host is Dolon, whose son was killed by Artegall, and Dolon has mistaken Britomart for his enemy.  She escapes and Dolon drowns in the river.

Well!  What's going to happen next??  Will Artegall be rescued?



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A couple of literary points:

The notes point out that Book V is really pretty political, and that Duessa is supposed to be Mary Queen of Scots.

Talus, the iron man, is certainly an interesting figure!  He's got lots of cousins.  The ancient Greeks had Talos (or Talon), a bronze man that protected the island of Crete.  He was sometimes a bull too.  Talos also meant sun.   Talis is the name of the AI computer that takes over the world and enforces order in The Scorpion Rules; I think that's a fairly clear callback.  In general, a name that sounds like Talos is going to refer to a giant, order-enforcing roboty thing.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Reflections: On the Magic of Writing

Reflections: On the Magic of Writing, by Diana Wynne Jones

During March Magics, I read a few extra things by DWJ, like Mixed Magics and The Magicians of Caprona, just to round out the experience.  Something Kristen said at the very beginning of the month prompted me to get Reflections out again -- I wanted to look up a particular quotation, and when I couldn't find it right away, I decided to just read the whole thing and enjoy it again.

I did enjoy it, very much.  I think I got more out of some of the essays this time around.  Others are old friends I have read several times by now.  I was particularly impressed by the essay on "The Shape of the Narrative in The Lord of the Rings," and since we're doing the readalong right now, I decided to read that one piecemeal, one bit after each volume.  I just read the part covering Two Towers and I love how she points out what Tolkien is doing.

What I was looking for was a comment on the importance of imaginative literature for children, and the fact that in the early 20th century, there was a vogue for realism in children's literature.  Many, many people believed that children should only read about concrete experiences just like their own lives, and that imaginative works were actually damaging to the childish mind. (I actually did a paper on this in college; I should dig it out and see what I said!)  DWJ's mother seems to have been a victim of this belief -- in fact, one essay says that her father found her little stash of beloved fairy tales and burned them.  Here are DWJ's comments on the wider implications:
I always think it is significant that the generation that trained my mother to despise all fantasizing produced Hitler and two world wars. People confronted with Hitler should have said "He's just like that villain I imagined the other night," or , "He's as mad as something out of Batman," but they couldn't because it was not allowed.  
She goes on to comment (in several different places) that we need imagination in order to think about solutions to problems, or new ways of doing things.  If an entire generation is rendered incapable of imagining bizarre and nightmarish evil, how can they deal with it when it actually shows up?  I think that's something worth pondering.

Since this is a collection of pieces written over decades, themes keep popping up and it's possible that some readers will feel it repetitious.  In that case, just read it over time instead of all at once.  I didn't have a problem with it this time.

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And now for my Blogger's Lament: I've been having a terrible time lately making time for blogging.  Every morning, I wake up hoping to be able to write something, and every day, I pretty much fail.  It's kind of bumming me out, but on the other hand, I've been doing lots of other useful things.  I just want to write blog posts too!  At this point, I could write a post every day for two weeks and not run out of books to review.  If you're a mom of demanding teens, please give me tips on blogging while driving kids all over creation. 

We've had some good things going on though.  Remember I said I was going to go hiking....well, instead it rained for three days, which made that tricky.  I'm still hoping to go in a few days if things dry out a bit.  Instead, we went bowling, which I haven't done in ages, and that was a lot of fun.  My younger daughter turned 14 (holy moley) and went to her first dance, too.

These bowling shoes were awesome and I want them.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Mount TBR Checkpoint #1

Life has certainly gotten away from me lately!  I've been busy and focused on lots of things, but not blogging.  That's OK, but I miss it and I have a large pile of books to talk about, some of which are official TBR books. 

In other news, my youngest kid is now 14 and nobody can quite believe it, including her, but since she'll be going to her first dance on Saturday night, I guess it's real.  She's having a birthday hike with friends before that; maybe I'll post a picture or something.  It's lovely weather here at the moment; we've had a remarkably long and cool spring, with a good deal of rain, and everything is beautifully green.  The first spring blossoms (daffodils, tulip trees, and almond orchards) are over, and now we're on to the dogwoods, which I love.  Soon enough, it will get hot and everything will turn brown, so I've been really happy with all this cool green stuff.


It's the first Mount TBR Checkpoint, and Bev has lots of things to ask.

For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint post, I'd like you to do two things:
 


1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you've had along the way.
 
I've read 13 books out of 24, which I feel is remarkably good!  That's much better than my usual speed.  However, it must be admitted that I've mostly been doing pretty easy reads....so this will probably slow down.

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
 A. Post a picture of your favorite cover so far.  
 
Most of my covers have been quite, quite hideous, or else utterly nondescript.  I did fall in love with the cover of Germania, though, and it's by far the most fun book cover in this whole list.  Look, it's like a cute little board game with sausages and Valkyries and beer steins!



 B. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
 
Hm, I'm not sure.  I liked a lot of them, but none reached out and grabbed me.
 
 C. Have any of the books you read surprised you--if so, in what way (not as good as anticipated? unexpected ending? Best thing you've read ever? Etc.)
 
The Heart of Mid-Lothian surprised me by being about a prison!  I was expecting dashing Jacobite rebels.  Castledown surprised me by not being a formulaic fantasy novel.

So here is my list of what I've actually read, including some books I haven't managed to review yet:
  1.  They Walked Like Men, by Clifford Simak
  2. Dirt, ed. Mindy
  3. The Best of Leigh Brackett
  4. Shakespeare's Planet, by Clifford D. Simak
  5. The Broken Citadel, by Joyce Bellou Gregorian
  6. Castledown, by Joyce Bellou Gregorian
  7. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
  8. My Universities, by Maxim Gorky
  9. Germania, by Simon Winder
  10. The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Sir Walter Scott
  11. Storm in the Village, by Miss Read
  12. Further Afield, by Miss Read 
  13. The Lottery, and Adventures of the Demon Lover, by Shirley Jackson

Sunday, March 26, 2017

DWJMarch: The Pinhoe Egg

I've been having a lovely time reading all the Chrestomanci books; it's been a really nice respite for me.  The Pinhoe Egg is the last, and one of the best!  Kristen says she thinks it's one of DWJ's best books overall, and yeah, I think I'd put it in the top ten.  It's just so much fun -- she was really at the top of her game and you can see her doing all the great DWJ things, but a bit more so.  Marianne's village is full of interesting characters (almost none of whom are very good people), and I love watching Marianne and Cat solving problems together and becoming a team.


Question of the Day: There are three different kinds of magic in this story: enchanter magic, dwimmer (natural magic), and the hybrid tech-magic that Joe uses. Which kind of magic would you most like to have?

First, I'll note that the three nine-lived enchanters -- Gabriel de Witt, Christopher Chant, and Cat Chant -- have magic that differs completely from the others.  It's often stated that they don't really understand each others' talents.  Christopher has no interest in animals but loves cars and machines (see Conrad's Fate), and Roger seems to inherit that preference.  Cat is developing his talent for dwimmer, which is magic having to do with alive and growing things.   (DWJ seems to have really gotten into this idea toward the end of her life; several of her later books involve various forms of growing magic and animals.)
Joe's flying machine!

But which would I choose?  That's a tricky one.  To my shame, I'm really not a very good gardener, and I'm not much of an animal person.   I doubt that dwimmer would choose me, though it sounds pretty great.  But I'm also not much into mechanics, like Joe and Roger are.  Any magic I developed would be more likely to be bookish and possibly mosaic-like, with patterns.  Like what Irene does.  But I'll certainly go for enchanter-level talents if any are available!

The Fellowship of the Ring


The Fellowship of the Ring, by J. R. R. Tolkien

Brona is hosting an LOTR readalong, and in March we read The Fellowship of the Ring.  It's been a long, long time since I read it, and I enjoyed it so much!  I just didn't put it down for a few days.  Since there's no point in talking about the plot, I'll just put down a few random thoughts.


It really does take Frodo forever to get going.  Reluctant to leave the Shire and venture into danger, he waits until danger is on his doorstep.  I can't help thinking about Tolkien's experiences in World War I, which was so horrifying that in the 1930s, both Britain and France waited until it was just about too late.  The peoples of those countries didn't want to have to get into another awful war; they wanted to live decent, quiet lives in safety.  No wonder they hoped it would go away.  But just as for Frodo and the Shire, evil was coming for them regardless, and looking away only made it worse in the end.  (Yes, I know Tolkien said that LOTR wasn't an allegory and that he hated allegory.  But themes aren't allegory at all.)

For the first time, I found myself enjoying Tom Bombadil.  Previously, I've found him annoying and felt like he didn't belong to the story very well, but this time it worked for me.  Tom is, to my mind, what we might call a genius of the land; he belongs in his place and that's all he cares about.  He's very powerful and he's helpful, but he's not really any help in this fight unless it's on his own territory.
My edition

The trek through Moria is longer than I'd remembered, and most of it isn't that scary, right up until the battle at the end.  They even find a record of Balin's people.  But then it's all fighting and the bridge over Khazad-dûm. 

Anyway, it was lovely to read this again and I'm looking forward to The Two Towers.  Thanks to Brona for deciding to do this!












Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Man Who Saved Britain

The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey Into the Disturbing World of James Bond, by
Simon Winder

Remember a month or so ago, I read and enjoyed Germania?  Well, I happened upon another, earlier Winder title at the public library, and I think it's pretty obvious that if you find a whimsical book about the cultural implications of James Bond, you have to read it.  At least, I do.

Here's the funny part, though: I've never been a Bond fan, and have not seen most of the older movies.  I don't think I've ever watched a whole Connery Bond movie, and I'm pretty sure the only one I've seen all the way through is the terrible Live and Let Die with Roger Moore (it's the one with Jane Seymour in).  I have seen some of the newer Daniel Craig films -- for some reason I've seen Casino Royale three times, why? -- but I haven't searched them out or anything.  I think Daniel Craig looks like a chimpanzee.  My Bond knowledge is therefore extremely patchy, to the point that I had not realized that Donald Pleasence's frequent appearances as an evil super-villain in some of my favorite B-movies stem from his role as the original blueprint evil super-villain in Bond films.  So I learned a whole lot about James Bond here -- more than anyone really wants to know.

Winder is about ten years older than I am and was the perfect age to grow up obsessed with Bond films, just like every other boy in the UK, despite the fact that by then Roger Moore had taken over the role.  He is therefore in a great position to have fun noodling around with ideas about what Bond meant to the collective British psyche, and proceeds to hop barefoot around the meadows of mid-century Britain with abandon.

In a nutshell, Winder's sort-of-thesis is that post-WWII Britain went into a tailspin of an identity crisis.  It was traumatized and out of money, the Empire was disintegrating, and entire industries based on that empire were evaporating into thin air.  In just a couple of decades, the UK went from a major world power -- one of the Big Three -- to a poor, kind of marginal country on the edge of Europe that had to beg to join the EU.  The fictional character of James Bond -- suave, worldly, sophisticated, and always superior to everyone he met -- provided a fantasy of British cool and importance, and even gave ordinary folks instructions on luxury goods and world travel.  Between Bond and the Beatles, we all think that Britain in the 60s was fantastic, and we have this vague impression that MI6 was doing important, amazing spy stuff.  It's not true, but it's a lot more fun than reality was.

Much of this book is very fun.  Some is pretty wince-worthy, what with the way Bond generally stomps all over modern mores.  And some is less fun.  I was often bothered by Winder's tone about his own country, which was very much in the self-hating British mode.  I don't mean that I didn't like that he had honest criticisms about his country's history and culture; I mean that he frequently came off as pointlessly mean or self-hating.  He got extravagantly disgusted about various points of British culture that aren't really worth getting all upset about.  It was neither enlightening nor entertaining, just kind of unpleasant.  And at one point he's really pretty vicious about the French for no reason that I can discern.

Still, I learned a lot and there are some very entertaining nuggets of anecdote, history, or story.  (For example, the Bond film director Cubby Broccoli was so named because his Italian market-gardening family developed broccoli in the first place.)  It was a worthwhile read.  And I liked this bit about Lego:
I never had quite enough Lego bricks to make more than a single Lancaster bomber and only that through roping in all sorts of implausible shapes which undermined any sense of documentary truth.  Lego then remained true to its relentlessly decent Danish roots and great care had been taken to use jolly colours and no shapes that could be construed as remotely weapony.  This was fine for the tots of Denmark, whiling away happy hours clicking together model nursery schools or yogurt factories, but in the murkier world of British childhood, where the crying need was for models of coastal gun batteries or V-2 launch sites, Lego bricks fell well short.
I think the image here is actually the UK edition.  The one I read features a smirking Connery and a stoned-looking girl wearing very little.  I actually stuck a post-it note over her in order to be able to read the dang thing!

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Skies Belong To Us

The Skies Belong To Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking, by Brendan I. Koerner

This has been on my wish-list for quite some time, and I finally got tired and ILLed it.  Oh, it was so fascinating!  I learned a ton.  Koerner gives a general run-down of airplane hijacking history in America and focuses in on one particular and intriguing case, along with some large dollops of relevant current events.

People, America in the 60s and 70s was kinda unhinged, at least where hijacking was concerned.  Airplanes were interesting, a symbol of power and the future, and there was no security whatsoever.  Passengers didn't have to go through any kind of procedure at all -- they didn't even have to show ID.  Once people figured out how easy it was to gain national attention and power, however fleeting, by hijacking a plane, a lot of them decided it would be a good way to solve whatever problems they had.

A fun fact I learned: one of the very earliest hijacking attempts actually occurred right here in my hometown, in 1961!  The guy was drunk and tried to force the pilot to take him to his hometown in Arkansas, but the plane was still on the ground and he was captured instead.

Most early hijackings followed the examples of those in other countries and involved forcing the plane to go to Havana.  People thought that they would be greeted as heroes and live great lives in Cuba.  Castro was happy to accept hijacked planes -- he could demand ransom money for each one -- but the hijackers were invariably subjected to weeks of interrogation followed by either incarceration or the Cuban equivalent of the gulag.  Later on in the 70s, Castro got tired of taking in unstable and violent people, and stopped accepting planes at all.

Our featured hijackers are Roger Holder, a Vietnam vet with serious trauma and a heavy drug habit, and his girlfriend Cathy Kerkow, who liked parties and shocking people.  Holder wanted to tell the world about the horrors of the war, and he constructed elaborate hijacking plans to broadcast his message.  He wanted to rescue Angela Davis, who was on trial, and take her to North Vietnam where they would be hailed as fellow fighters against injustice.  Angela would be grateful to him!

The actual hijacking didn't quite go as planned.  Angela Davis had no desire to be rescued.  Holder and Kerkow wound up in Algieria, guests of the International Black Panthers (Eldredge Cleaver and some friends), which sparked a short run of hijackings to Algeria now that Castro was no longer accepting anybody.  From there, they eventually went to Paris.   Koerner follows Holder through the rest of his tragic life, but Kerkow is more difficult; she thrived in Paris, and engineered a disappearing act in which she probably switched identities and just merged into the background.

I really had a lot of fun with this book, especially with learning about hijackings in general.  There is all sorts of weird stuff in here.  Anybody interested in recent history would probably enjoy it.

DWJ March: Conrad's Fate

Today we're talking about Conrad's Fate, a story I just love.  We have Conrad, a great narrator who has to figure out that he's been lied to his whole life, and get to see more of Christopher and Millie before they grow up.  I would have been perfectly happy to read endless adventures of Christopher, Millie, and assorted friends, but DWJ was not that kind of writer.

One character I both love and cringe at is Conrad's mother, who ignores everyone and everything in order to write books of academic feminism.  She is awful, sometimes in an over-the-top, funny way, and more so in a truly tragic way.  I suspect that DWJ was poking a little fun at herself here, magnifying the way all writerly mothers have to neglect other things in order to write at all.  Conrad's mother is not the usual hungry mother of DWJ writing -- that element shows up in the Countess -- but the way she utterly neglects her children and even succumbs to spells pushing her to forget them makes her just as bad in her own way.  She and the Countess are a pair.

And for today's question, Kristen asks:
If you were to discover a family secret, would you rather it be: a noble title, money, or magic?
 Well, I don't know what earthly use I'd have for a noble title!  (Unless maybe it comes with a semi-ruined castle and lots of money for upkeep of said castle?)  Money would certainly be awfully useful, but magic would be more interesting.  I guess it would depend on what kind of magic it is.  Also, I'm a sucker for surprises, so I'd probably pick magic just to see what would happen.  I can never resist the unknown quantity -- at gift exchanges I never steal opened presents.  I invariably pick the most intriguing-looking mystery package, and usually end up with something dopey.  (I got dollar-store Tupperware two years in a row at the Christmas party, and it still didn't cure me!)  On the other hand, if I had lots of money I could take another trip to the UK and see Bristol this time....

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

#MarchMagics: Reaper Man

Today Kristen is posting about Reaper Man.  Again, it had been so long since I'd read this that I'd forgotten most of it -- though not the Death of Rats.  He is a favorite character in our home! 

Today's question is a toughie.  Kristen asks:
Some of the extra life force in Ankh-Morpork causes head-wizard Archchancellor Ridcully's swears to be personified. They remain in a little swarm above his head and perched on his hat.

 If your favorite swear word/phrase turned into a creature, what would it look like?
 
My problem here is that my usual swear words run along the lines of 'dangit,' 'drat,' or in moments of real heat, 'hell.'   My mom suggests that a dangit would be small and fluffy.  I envision it sort of like those dust sprites in Totoro, only in color.  They could be little floaty green and blue puffballs.  Probably Archchancellor Ridcully's swears would then eat them as snacks.
 
But now seems like a good time to introduce you to our ol' buddy Death of Rats, here.  When animal skeletons filled the stores last Halloween, we realized that we needed to get a rat and fix him up.  Here he is, outfitted with glowy blue eyes, a black cape with the whole universe inside,* and a 3D printed scythe.  He greeted our trick-or-treaters in style. 

SQUEAK.

*The cape was originally made so that my daughter's American Girl doll could be a wizard.  We turned it inside out and it fit great.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Biggest Estate on Earth

The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia, by Bill Gammage


This book wins the prize for Most Mind-Blowing Book of 2017 So Far.  Way back during Brona's AusNovember event, she posted about this book, and obviously I was going to have to read it.  I don't really know diddly-squat about Australian history, except for a vague impression of hunter-gatherer Aborigines decimated by British colonialism/prison settling.  I certainly did not know that the Australian landscape of 1788, when the First Fleet arrived from Britain, was a very different place than it is now.

The native Australians were running the entire continent as a vast...park.  Like a "gentleman's estate in England" kind of park, with lots of grassland and trees scattered about, with places for game to feed and multiply.  They had every inch of the land covered and took care of all of it, encouraging different habitats and plant varieties in carefully planned patterns.  Thousands of years of cumulative knowledge gave them the expertise to manage the land so that game was plentiful but not too much, and water was conserved in soil.  Then they could travel over the land and always be assured of enough for all, even in terrible droughts: "Across Australia the end was the same: to make resources abundant, convenient and predictable.  Only the means varied."  They accomplished all of this with several tools, but largely with expertly-wielded fire.

European settlers took the parkland as natural, describing it in detail and often comparing it to an English estate park.  Few realized that the Aboriginal habit of burning was a land-management technique -- though they did know that burning grass encouraged new growth for grazing -- and hardly anyone seems to have understood the breathtaking extent of the work.  Modern Australians have usually taken the early paintings of bucolic Australia to be exaggerations, but they weren't.

It actually did look like this

When the land-management patterns were disrupted, soil became compacted, water drained off, and most of all, new trees and spinifex took over.  The brush wildfires that now occur in Australia on a regular basis are new; Aboriginal fire management once prevented them.

Gammage proves his case exhaustively, using (apparently) every early painting and map, photos, and descriptions to compare 1788 to today.  He reels off names of trees, shrubs, and grasses until you're dizzy, and he seems to know exactly what each of them needs.  Many of the tree names, unfamiliar to a non-Australian, confused me at first, until he explained that most of them are either types of eucalyptus or types of acacia (golden wattle is one of those).  It's a long, heavy, and fascinating book, so it took me quite a while to read, and his thesis is hard to deny.

The result of this land management system was abundance.  Early settlers noticed, and resented, that Aborigines acted like leisured gentry.  "In most seasons they had plenty of spare time....Art was voluminous and intricate...Songs were long, corroborees might last months, initiations years."   Not only that, but part of the system was that in times of plenty, much was left to the animals, while people made sure to act like they were in a drought.  Their methods ensured that they could just about always avoid famine.

Aboriginal Australians invented a land management system for which we barely even have a name.  They planted crops, hunted, and gathered, but they did it in a framework that took in every corner of the continent.  Every bit was known by some family.  I don't think anything like it has ever happened anywhere else.

So: a lot of fascinating history here.  Gammage is exhaustive, but it's very worth a read. 


DWJ March: Lives of Christopher Chant

Throgmorten!
Today, we're reading one of my all-time favorites, and certainly my favorite Chrestomanci title, The Lives of Christopher Chant.  This is just such a great story! 

Kristen comments on Christopher's sullenness through a good half of the book.  He's got good reason to feel put-upon; although he doesn't understand or articulate it until the Goddess does, Christopher is a kid who has never had anybody love him.  He gets pulled and pushed around with no warning, so it's no wonder he's rude and grumpy when he is taken away from school (which he loves) to go to the rather grim Castle.  But at the same time, he has to figure out that he bears some responsibility for his unhappiness too; his behavior has alienated the Castle people, who are sympathetic, even if clumsy.  When he makes an effort, things change for the better, and stubbornly clinging to his misery has done him no good at all.

On to the question of the day -- Kristen asks,
When The Living Asheth gets to World Twelve-A, she needs a new name so that she can hide from The Arm of Asheth. She chooses Millie because of the boarding school books that she adored from Christopher's world. If you needed a new name, which bookish moniker would you choose?
 Ha, I would think of a DWJ name first, but I don't really feel that Polly Whitaker suits me, and Tanaqui only works as an Internet handle, not a name.  (Now I'm looking at my bookshelf and realizing that I can't pick an Indian or Russian name because that would be too implausible.  This is hard!)  Jane, from Susan Cooper's books, is a good solid name but far too close to my own; it's a cop-out, really.  How about Bentley Saunders Harrison?  Nope.

What if I go with an author's name, like Eleanor or Diana?  Those are both nice.  I'd have to pick a last name out of a phone book, in that case.

And the Spin number is...

12! 

Which means I'll be reading Sir Walter Scott's Heart of Midlothian, which is very long and very wordy.  I hope I can bash my way through it!  It's not exactly scary, but it's a bit intimidating.


It turns out that "Heart of Midlothian" is also the name of a Scottish soccer team (OK, football club) and a piece of Edinburgh paving that apparently you spit on.  I'll have to investigate that a little further, but right now I have to go to a work meeting....



A small mystery to unravel


Monday, March 6, 2017

MarchMagics: Mort

Kristen at We Be Reading has put up her question for Mort, the 4th Discworld novel and the first one about Death.  I've been recommending this one for years but haven't read it in ....I don't even know how long.  So while I remember the characters -- Mort, Ysabell, Albert, and Death himself -- I didn't remember the plot at all.  And it's kind of a weird plot!  Death is always hoping to figure out people a little better, though, and I did enjoy Mort's realization of his boss' complete loneliness. 

Question of the Day: Death has a soft spot for Discworld's kittens and cats. If you were not fully of this (our) world, what would be the thing that would attract/intrigue/charm you the most?
 
Kittens is a pretty good answer!  Otherwise I might go for human babies.  Or art; the amazing stuff that people do just to make something they enjoy making or think looks pretty.  Oh!  Penguins!  I vote penguins.

Germania

Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History, by Simon Winder

I was attracted to this book as soon as I saw it in the store, and it's been on my TBR shelf for a little while.  Once I began reading, I was charmed by Winder's fun writing style and by his prompt mention of Regensburg, the only German city I have really properly visited.  Right there in the introduction he talked about the centuries-old bratwurst restaurant right by the bridge!  I've BEEN to that restaurant, and so from that moment on I was completely enamored.  Winder did not disappoint.

Simon Winder has an unusual love for many things German, and here he indulges it freely, wandering around history, poking here and there for treasure.  He stops at 1933 for obvious reasons, but especially because a large part of his goal in writing is to bring up a lot of the wonderful stuff about Germany that got buried by the horrific 20th century.  The result is a really neat book that I got a big kick out of; I was constantly reading fun bits out loud to whoever was nearby.  Winder's overall style is light, but he really packs in the content and hits many somber notes, including a fair amount of very interesting analysis.  It's not a fast read by any means, but it is a great one if German history is of any interest to you.

Winder starts with Tacitus and goes right through to the 20th century.  It's sort of chronological, in that the bulk of the Holy Roman Empire material is in the first half and the 20th century is mostly near the end, but really, he's all over the place.  And since the very idea of "Germany" was pretty loose for a very long time, he has to bring in a certain amount of French, Central European, Austro-Hungarian, and everybody else's history.  Winder delights in tiny German duchies, principalities, and free cities; the odder and more obscure they are, the better.  And happily for me, he keeps coming back to Regensburg every so often.

Regensburg

I think Winder probably formed his style in the Bill Bryson mold; he loves unexpected adverbs, wandering around, and witty remarks.  But honestly, Winder completely outshines Bryson in several important respects.  First, he does not complain, and second, he doesn't put himself right in the foreground.  If Winder tells you a particular city is grim or depressing, it's because of the city's own history and not because he hated the hotel staff there.  Most of the time, he's talking about Germany, not about himself -- and when he does, it's interesting.  Third, he doesn't constantly talk about how much beer he's drinking (there is plenty of beer, obviously, but I don't know how many pints he downed).  Fourth, this ends up being a book with a good deal more depth and history to it.

I found it necessary to read with my tablet right next to me, because every few pages, Winder describes some painting, building, or monument that I have never heard of, and then I had to look it up.  He made them all sound so fascinating, and quite often they really were, though I did sometimes think (upon gazing at the actual object described) that he had gotten a little exaggerated in his highly colored, but always entertaining, descriptions. 

My copy of Germania is bristling with little sticky bookmarks; some are for things to look up later, and most are funny bits to quote.  But there are far too many, so I'll have to cut it down a good bit.  Here are a couple:
...the Senior and Junior Princes of Reuss were rulers of a few valleys in Thuringia from at least the twelfth century...Every male member of the family was called Henry as a homage to the emperor Henry VI's patronage, which was crazy enough, but, even worse, every male member was issued with a number rather than just the ruling prince, throwing up such challenges to sanity as Henry LXVII.
The English style of park, always contrasted with the geometric, gravelly French park, early on became a symbol in German not for liberalism as such, but at least for thinking vaguely about liberalism (and for being anti-French).
The interior is about two-thirds Enlightenment magic and about a third everything that's freaky about Germany.
As with other German princely families, such as the amazingly wealthy Thurn und Taxis family in Regensburg (I am not visiting any more museums with displays of mouldering old coaches and sleighs ever again)...* 
I just adored this book.  I had so much fun with it!  It might well make my Top Ten of 2017, but I still have two more Winder books to go: one about the Habsburgs (which seems certain to be even more 'wayward' than this) and one about, of all things, James Bond and the post-WWII British culture that loved him.  Who could resist?



______________________________________________________
*This tickled me because I too have seen an awful lot of Thurn und Taxis stuff, and own a beer mug etched with, of course, a coach.  T&T made their fortune by having a monopoly on the mail.  And now you know why I instantly loved The Crying of Lot 49.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Classics Spin #15

Aha!  It's my favorite classics event, the Spin, and I have a brand-new shiny list to choose from!  I was right to get the second list started, which makes me feel comfortably smug.  The rules for the Spin are familiar to most at this point and can be checked at the link -- join me, won't you?


Since I have many books piled around this house waiting to be read, I'm going to populate the list mainly with those, plus some at random.
  1.  The Man in the Iron Mask, by Alexandre Dumas
  2.  The Claverings, by Anthony Trollope
  3.  First Love and Other Stories, by Turgenev
  4. Sport of the Gods, by Paul Dunbar
  5.  Keep the Aspidistra Flying, by George Orwell
  6.  Pan Tadeusz, by Adam Mickiewicz
  7.  The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, by Henry Handel Richardson
  8.  Steppenwolf, by Hesse
  9.  The Dybbuk and other stories, by Ansky
  10.  Jurgen, by James Branch Cabell
  11.  Marie Grubbe, by Jens Peter Jacobsen
  12.  The Heart of Midlothian, by Sir Walter Scott
  13.  The First Wife, by Paulina Chiziane
  14.  Silence, by Shusaku Endo
  15. This Side of Paradise, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (with Brona)
  16.  Demons, by Dostoyevsky
  17.  The Go-Between, by L. P. Hartley
  18.  The Towers of Trebizond, by Rose Macaulay
  19.   Memoirs of the Crusades
  20.  The Blue Sky, by Galsan Tshinag 

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Messy

Messy: the Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, by Tim Harford

This was a pretty enjoyable, semi-light non-fiction read.  I am a messy person, and always trying to improve, so I wondered what Harford would have to say  However, this book is not an excuse for we messy housekeepers to slack off and stop trying -- he's talking about entirely different sorts of mess.  Which I approved of, because I don't need any convenient excuses to hide behind, and I already knew that being a not-especially-good housekeeper doesn't really do me any favors.

Nope, this book is all about messy circumstances -- the interesting, unexpected, and often brilliant things that can happen when a monkey wrench is thrown into the works of our nice neat plans.  Having our plans messed up, or being shoved out of our comfortable bubble zone, is something we are usually not too happy with.  It makes us anxious and angry.  But it also usually makes us sharper, as we are forced to think about what's going on and try to figure out a new direction.  Some of the greatest ideas, or music albums, or technology has come out of an unexpected situation that everybody hated being thrown into.

Harford brings out a zillion examples, from beloved music recordings produced under awful conditions to the incredible number of inventions that came out of MIT's hideous temporary warehouse, Building 20.  Even war and politics get a look in, as he analyzes Rommel's preferred tactic of causing chaos, figuring that his enemy would take longer to get oriented than he would, and Trump's method of enraging everyone and then changing the subject.

But how easy is it to plan a kind of messy that will lead to fortuitous meetings, brilliant improvisations, and exchanges of ideas?  Not all that easy.  Steve Jobs was only fairly successful at it (one dud of an idea was to put only one set of bathrooms in the whole place, forcing people to mingle outside of their neighborhoods), but he was a lot better at it than many.  MIT replaced Building 20 with a fabulous Gehry building that paid visual tribute to messiness but did nothing at all to actually foster it.  Trendy companies love to make their workplaces unusual, playful and stylish, but putting image over function usually backfires -- and the best work seems to come out of workplaces that let the employees decorate how they wish.  Trying to control and direct the messy (thus making it nice and neat) doesn't work at all.

TL;DR:  be willing to work with unforeseen circumstances and people you're not entirely comfortable with.  Great things can come of it.  Don't try to control other people's work or environment.  Just relax already and embrace the messy.




Friday, March 3, 2017

Fellowship of the Ring: Signup

Brona is hosting a long, leisurely readalong of The Lord of the Rings, and this month we're reading The Fellowship of the Ring.  I haven't read it in years -- before the movie came out! -- and I've really been enjoying it.  Brona asks that we do a signup post and answer these questions:


Tell us your history with Tolkien and the LOTR.

I first tried to read LOTR in 8th grade, but got bogged down in The Two Towers.  After that, I didn't get around to reading it properly until I was in college; I had a lingering feeling that LOTR was boring, when in fact I just hadn't quite been there yet.  Thus while I've read the whole thing more than once, this is probably only going to be about my third time through it.









Why are you reading or rereading it now?

Doing it as a readalong is a great idea; I plan to enjoy this a lot!  And it's high time I re-read it.




Have you learnt Elvish? Or read any other Tolkien books?

I have never learned any Elvish.  The closest I've ever come to anything like that is when I was a kid and deciphered the runes in The Hobbit.   I have never read The Silmarillion (shame!  My husband got really into it), but I have read On Fairy Tales, Leaf by Niggle, Farmer Giles of Ham, "The Monsters and the Critics," and the prose Beowulf that came out a year or so ago.  Oh, and reading The Fall of Arthur actually triggered the Arthurian literature challenge of 2014!  And I have also really enjoyed his translations of Pearl, Sir Orfeo, and Gawain and the Green Knight.  I should revisit those!

So here we go.  I hope you're in the mood for a lot of singing and poetry-reciting.  The road goes ever on and on...