30 January 2010

Nothing: Something to Believe In by Nica Lalli

I have belief, I just don't have religion.

Nothing is not about making the case against religion from a scientific or logical standpoint -- if you are looking for that type of argument, you would do better reading Richard Dawkins. Instead, Nothing is an extremely personal memoir of being an everyday garden-variety nonbeliever in contemporary America -- we read about Lalli's early encounters with institutionalized religion, her struggles to define her nonbelief, and her efforts to defend herself from her rabidly Christian in-laws.

Nothing is a fast and easy read with a nice combination of humorous and cringe-worthy moments, but it's not very deep -- I ended up watching a whole slew of CFI Ontario YouTube videos to get a better grasp of Lalli's beliefs.

Nothing: Something to Believe In by Nica Lalli (Prometheus Books, 2007)

25 January 2010

"We all have ugly parts."

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (Scholastic, 2009).

Marcelo, a high-functioning autistic seventeen-year old, has always heard music no one else can hear, has always thought a lot about God, and has always attended a special school where his "differences" have been protected. However, the summer before his senior year, his father challenges Marcelo to experience "the real world" by working in his law firm's mail room. Marcelo does not want to go, but he does not really have any choice in the matter.

Out in the "real world" of the law firm, Marcelo meets Jasmine and Wendell, discovers truths not told, and begins to learn hard lessons about jealousy, desire, anger, and injustice.

I thought Marcelo in the Real World was an excellent read – the story read quickly and Marcelo’s narration was completely absorbing. Marcelo’s internal music and some of the questions he raises about his place in the world reminded me of Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark and I think if you enjoy one you will enjoy the other.

(There’s a great article on the Papercuts blog @ The New York Times which covers all the “real” music mentioned in Marcelo in the Real World -- I have to admit I was so taken with the description of Erik Satie Gymnopédies that I bought a recording).

20 January 2010

"praise song for walking forward in that light."

Elizabeth Alexander reads, "Praise Song for the Day," a poem she composed for the inauguration of President Barack Obama last January.

15 January 2010

"An honest tale speeds best, being plainly told."

Iron Lily (Mantlemass Chronicles, Book Five) by Barbara Willard (E.P. Dutton, 1973).

When Lilias Rowan is fifteen, much of her family is killed by the plague and she is left to the not-so-tender mercies of her sister-in-law -- a godly woman who soon makes clear that the girl is no kin of hers. Horrified by the woman's "truths," Lilias leaves her childhood home to discover her real heritage. All she has to go on is a ring left to her by her mother and a scratched out name in the parish book ...

If it is possible for a book to be both too brief and too long, then that's Iron Lily in a nutshell. The motivations behind grown-up Lilias's actions were never really clear to me. Regardless of what her evil-minded sister-in-law might have said, Lilias still has two brothers (a merchant in Calais and a lawyer in London) who were still her kin and surely would have taken her in? At the very least, how could Lilias have cut herself off from them so totally to pursue kin which might not even exist? And when Lilias finds they do exist, she never presents herself to them as kin (except at the very end and that's because she's afraid her daughter will form an incestuous union). And how the heck did Lilias end up married to Grover Godman? Because she thought he could link her with her mysterious kin? Well, doesn't that make her a horrible, manipulative person?

While I felt I couldn't reach the end of Iron Lily fast enough, I wish I could have felt more kindly toward Lilias.

10 January 2010

"God save my future from scheming women."

The Lark and the Laurel (Mantlemass Chronicles, Book One) by Barbara Willard (Laurel Leaf, 1989).

The Wars of the Roses have finally come to an end and the Earl of Richmond, Henry Tudor, has been crowned king. These are dangerous times for scheming traitors and turncoats like Cecily's father so he flees England for France. On the way, he makes sure his frail, spoilt, ornamental daughter is "safely put away" at his sister's country manor in Sussex. There is no love lost between siblings, but it is a convenient place to leave the girl and who would think to look for her there?

Happily, under the abrasive care of her altogether too forthright aunt, Cecily blossoms into a young woman of good sense and ability. She also meets a young man and falls in love, but will the secrets and mysteries of their pasts keep them from living Happily Ever After?

Of course not! Loved The Lark and the Laurel. And why wouldn't I? It's loaded with gobs of history, lots of wonderful descriptions of daily life on the manor farm, and wraps up tidily in happy ending. Reading it was like reading a Philippa Gregory novel if Gregory went in for descriptions of housekeeping and iron-mongering (and cut out all the naughty bits)!

07 January 2010

"This is what you shall do ..."

When The Husband placed our Christmas card order with Blue Barn House, I casually mentioned that I really liked the Whitman Broadside. I never thought he would add a copy to our order -- and yet there it sits on a chair in our dining room, waiting for the day I frame it and hang it on a wall. It's a beautiful quotation beautifully rendered and looking at it makes me so happy.

This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem ...

Punctuation for the above quote taken from my Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass: The First (1855) Edition (Penguin, 2005) with it's sexy French flaps and excellent introduction by Harold Bloom. Punctuation in other editions (and on the broadside) varies.

04 January 2010

Bloody-Minded Poetry

Don't you just love poetry that gives you a crinkly feeling up and down your back? There is a piece in the Fifth Reader -- 'The Downfall of Poland' -- that is just full of thrills.
from Anne of Green Gables, Chapter V
While I have always loved how the Anne books are riddled with poetry, but I had never bothered hunting down and reading the poems referenced in the series. I wonder why? Anne (at least in Green Gables) seems to love some stirring, bloody stuff!

Other poems referenced in Chapter V of Anne of Green Gables:
Really, I should start reading The Annotated Anne of Green Gables (Oxford UP, 1997). It has only been sitting on my bookshelf for a year and a half now!

03 January 2010

"We are led to Believe a Lie ..."

Saturday night, we were kvetching our way through Neverwas when the Gabriel Finch character started spouting gibberish which sounded really familiar to me. And well it should, as it was an excerpt from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence:

A truth that's told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.
It is right it should be so:
Man was made for joy and woe
And when this we rightly know
Through the world we safely go.
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.

ENGL 211 ftw!

Oh, and Neverwas? Fail.

01 January 2010

That Anne-Girl!

I've been listening to Anne of Green Gables on a Playaway while I do the treadmill thing. I've not been listening to it very long -- Matthew is just fetching Anne home from the Bright River station. I'm plodding along, only half listening while Anne chatters away, when I am struck by this passage:

Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive-- it's such an interesting world. It wouldn't be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There'd be no scope for imagination then, would there?

Right there, that's the whole reason for living. Certainly, it was a good reason for becoming a librarian.

Reading Challenges: Free-Range 2010

Looking back on 2009, I see failed to complete or even keep up with most of the reading challenges I had signed on for:
  • The Jewish Reading Challenge -- The only challenge I managed to meet and I actually surpassed its requirements (read "at least 4 books by Jewish Authors or about Judaism") by reading nine books! But that was early in 2009, when I was full of vim and vigor. Reviews for the books I read are here and here.
  • Read Your Own Books (RYOB) Challenge -- Started out pretty well with this challenge and, by July, I had read twenty-five of the thirty-seven books on my list, but then I stopped. One of my problems was that I (obviously) read all the books I really wanted to read first! After that, those that remained were mostly dreary or nonsense and I could not get myself to crack them open. It turns out that, if I own a book and haven't read it yet, it's usually because I don't want to.
Books Read for RYOB: 
Bride Stripped Bare, The by Nikki Gemmell 
Hedwig & Berti by Frieda Arkin 
Yarrow by Charles de Lint 
Stepford Wives, The by Ira Levin 
Faro's Daughter by Georgette Heyer  
Landing by Emma Donoghue 
Price of Salt, The by Patricia Highsmith (Claire Morgan) 
Friend of My Youth by Alice Munro 
Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster 
Vision of Emma Blau, The by Ursula Hegi 
Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip 
Jewel of Medina, The by Sherry Jones 
Speed of Dark, The by Elizabeth Moon  
Handmaid of Desire, The by John L' Heureux 
Last September, The by Elizabeth Bowen 
Well of Loneliness, The by Radclyffe Hall 
True Game by Sheri S. Tepper 
Light of Other Days, The by Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter 
Burmese Days by George Orwell 
Calculating God by Robert J. Sawyer 
Inglorious by Joanna Kavenna 
Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino 
Dear Fatty by Dawn French 
Ally by Karen Traviss 
North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Sookie Stackhouse Reading Challenge -- I re-read the first three (Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas. Club Dead) and then lost interest. At the end of every book was another book, so it felt as if there was no "real" ending and that everything I read before was just a very long prologue to the next book ... does that make sense to anyone? Maybe, when the series ends, I will take them up again.
What does all this mean for 2010? It means I won't be doing reading challenges. They can be fun, but I find that once I put a book on a list, I stop wanting to read it. Also, I tend to be a free-range reader and reading by list is stressful for me -- my reading feels restricted and more like homework then pleasure. So, for 2010, I'm sticking with good ol' Samuel Johnson: "A man ought to read just as inclination leads him, for what he reads as a task will do him little good."