Saturday, December 29, 2007
I've also been catching up on articles in the pile of New Yorker magazines I have next to my bed. Work and knitting have kept me from reading the magazines when they arrive. This week I read an interesting article on the former director of antiquities at the Getty in Los Angeles, an article on how simple check lists are saving thousands of lives in ICU units around the country, and a review of Led Zeppelin's recent concert at the Millennium Dome in London. Last week's New Yorker was the winter fiction issue, and since I'm not a big fan of the short story form, I just skimmed through.
But now I'm caught up, and I can finish reading Nature Girl, by Carl Hiasson, and Yes Man, by some British author. I borrowed the book from my sister while she was here for Christmas. My father-in-law gave me cash for Christmas, and I think I may use part of it to go book shopping. I don't have anything in my bookshelves that is really jumping out at me, despite a stack of unread books. I think it's time for something new. Plus, I have more yarn than I know what to do with right now.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
What amazed me the most about Marie Antoinette is that she wasn't the person we've learned about in our history books. She never said, "Let them eat cake," for one. She was actually a devoted wife and mother - she insisted on nursing her babies in an era when wealthy women, especially royal women, sent their babies off to wet nurses. She also personally supervised her daughter's education. When things started going really wrong for the royals, Marie Antoinette was offered the chance to flee the country, but she refused, saying her place was with her husband - which sealed her fate.
Yes, she spent lavishly. Yes, she had lots of parties. But those things were expected of the women at court. She had seen how other queens had been relegated to minor positions in the court while their husbands carried on with mistresses and decided that she wanted nothing to do with that. Antionette carried on as if she was her husband's mistress, making sure to entertain him and keep him interested.
Much has been made of her building the Petit Trianon, when in fact the palace already existed. She just refurbished it. Antionette used it as her escape from the intensely public life at Versaille, where people were allowed to wander through as the King and Queen ate their meals. While at the Petit Trianon, she was also able to dispense with the rigid formaily of the court, where she couldn't get dressed in the morning without having 10 different women hand her various pieces of her clothing.
And while she was queen, with the resultant priveleges, she didn't always have it easy. Her one job was to produce an heir to the throne, but her husband went more than 8 years without consumating their marriage, despite Antionette's best efforts. Not only did she have all of France waiting for her to get pregnant, Antionette had a constant stream of letters from her mother and brother, the Empress and Emporer of Austria, castigating her for failing in her one job.
Marie Antoinette's end was incredibly tragic. She was separated from her husband and her children. She was put on trial and accused of horrible, and very untrue, crimes against the nation. But throughout, she behaved with dignity.
Fraser's book really was a revelation. It entirely changed my perception of one of the most loathed women in history.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
The book was very frustrating at first, because, silly me, I expected it to conform to ummm, history. But no. Gregory takes a few theories about the lives of Mary and Anne Boleyn and runs with them. Like the theory that Anne surrounded herself with gay courtiers, including her brother George, and this was one of the reasons she was executed.
And while I knew that Henry had had a daliance with Anne's younger sister Mary, I'd never read anywhere that Mary gave birth to two bastard children by Henry.
Finally, I gave up trying to reconcile myself to the history and just read it at trashy fiction. As soon as I read it that way, I started having a lot more fun with the book, because boy is it trashy. It was the perfect thing for me to read this weekend when I was awake in the middle of the night with asthma-induced insomnia.
The cover of the book claims that it is now a major motion picture starring Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansen and Eric Bana. I haven't heard about the movie yet, so I'm wondering if it is so bad that it went straight to video.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Weir does a good job of balancing these two vital issues, while also spending a fair bit of time on what life was like in the royal court and on Elizabeth's very real problems. For being the most powerful woman in the world in an era when women were considered property of men, Elizabeth was a bit of a mess. She wavered on decisions, she made snap judgements and then regretted them, she flirted shamelessly with men and demanded their undying loyalty, and she couldn't make up her mind on what to do with her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots.
But when you learn about Elizabeth's life, you understand a lot more why she was such a mess. She was her father's favorite child, at least until her mother, Anne Boleyn, fell from grace and was executed. After her mother's death, Elizabeth was sent pretty much into exile, only being allowed at court when her stepmothers permitted her. When her old sister Mary, a devout Catholic, took the throne, all Protestants, including Elizabeth found themselves at risk of imprisonment and/or execution. Elizabeth even spent time in the Tower of London - the prison part, not the royal apartments. Once she became queen, everyone around her wanted her married off, which would have meant that she wouldn't be the real ruler of England. Whomever she married would have become King and taken over control. Throughout her reign she lived in fear of a possible uprising by any number of factions that claimed stronger rights to the throne that she supposedly had as a woman. She feared naming an heir, believing that if she did she would probably be murdered or taken from the throne in favor of a male.
Even though she was indesicive and insecure, she held her ground through it all and brought the country through some terrible times. She was much loved by her subject, and her ragtag navy defeated the Spanish Armada. That victory alone secured her place in the hearts of her subjects.
Speaking of Elizabeth I, if you get a chance, watch the newish miniseries with Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons. It's not always entirely accurate, but it is spellbinding. Helen Mirren does an amazing job of showing Elizabeth's many sides.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Washington didn't have battle experience; he hesitated; he changed his mind, all of which led to military fiascos. The Americans lost the Battle of Brooklyn very decisively. The only reason there was an army left after the battle was the astonishing retreat across the East River in the dead of night and shroud of fog. Otherwise, the American Revolution probably would have ended there. After Brooklyn, Washington retreated the troops all the way up Manhattan and into Westchester County and then into New Jersey, losing critical forts and troops - through injury, death, illness and desertion - the whole way.
The Battle of Trenton, in the dead of winter in 1776 was the crucial turning point for the whole escapade. Without that victory, we'd probably still be having afternoon tea.
Our family friend Jean recommended a book called Rabble in Arms, which is a fictionalized account of the Revolution from the Loyalists' point of view, and I'm now inspired to read it. One thing you do realize from McCullough's book is how many residents of the colonies were loyal to England. The success of the British on Long Island and at the Battle of Brooklyn was largely a result of the food, information, and shelter they received from residents who were loyal to the crown.
My only wish is that history books in school could be as entertaining and educational as this one. History class would have been a lot more fun, and I think I would have learned a lot more back in high school and college.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I ordered the book from Amazon with guaranteed delivery on the publication date, but I ended up going to the bookstore that morning and picking up a copy so I could get started on it. I figured that with two copies of the book, B and I wouldn't have to share.
I started the book somewhat reluctantly - it was the last time I'd be opening a Harry Potter book for the first time. But then once I started reading, I didn't want to put the book down. Fortunately, the kids spent the night with their grandmother, and I spent the day in bed with a migraine, so reading conditions were perfect. I traded calls with my sister and my boss at Holt, each of us answering the phone saying, "I haven't finished; don't tell me what happened," instead of hello.
Bottom line, the book didn't disappoint. There are certain parts that just didn't fit. The whole section inside the Ministry getting the locket from Umbridge was a bit contrived, and the bit in the middle as Harry and Hermione wander the country not doing much of anything dragged on. But oh, having Dobby die was just too much for me. I cried. I also cried that one of the Weasleys and Lupin and Tonks died. That just wasn't fair.
But I was thrilled that Neville got to be a hero at the end. His character developed so much through the series, and I'm glad Rowling let him shine.
The final showdowns between Harry and Voldemort was somewhat anticlimactic though. Once I knew Harry had survived the scene in the forest, I knew he'd make it through the final battle without a problem. It was just a question of how it would happen.
One final bit that didn't sit well with me was having Harry and Ginny marry. I always saw Ginny and Neville marrying each other. And I pictured Harry and Luna together. But the final line of the book was just perfect. As was having Harry name his son for Dumbledore and Snape. As nasty as Snape was, I always knew he wasn't a bad guy, even after he killed Dumbledore. I was so glad to be right about that one detail.
And Rowling's revelation about Dumbledore's being gay - didn't bother me in the least. I kind of shrugged and said, "Hmmm. Interesting," and let it go at that.
Monday, November 12, 2007
The book is about a group of scientists that have been studying great white sharks that congregate off the Farallones Islands, which are 27 miles off the coast of San Francisco. It's the largest group of great whites in the world that have been seen congregating in the same place year after year.
Susan Casey, the author, obtained permission to go to the Farallones to be with the shark researchers. The islands are federally protected areas, and people can't even set foot on them without jumping through all kinds of hoops. The researchers Casey met are as interesting as the sharks they're studying.
I finished wanting to visit the Farallones, or at the very least just cruise by them, and to read more about sharks. But I haven't done either yet.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Monday, November 5, 2007
I'm sure there are lots of women who have and who will love this book. It's set in old testament days and is about Dinah, sister of Joseph - Joseph with the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I had hoped there would be some real historical lessons woven through the story, but no. It's supposed to give voices to the women of the old testament, who are mentioned in passing and don't have a real role in the Bible. But I'm not sure the author has succeeded here.
Most of the action takes place in the "red tent" of the title, the special tent where women are banished for three days during that time of the month because they are unclean. Diamate, the author, presents this tent as a magical place, where women bond with each other and celebrate the teachings of the women who went before them, blah, blah, blah. I found it stifling and overly mother-earthy.
So maybe I'll finish it some day and find out what happens to Dinah in Egypt, where she flees after her brothers slaughter her husband and all the men in his village. Or maybe I won't.
Friday, November 2, 2007
I'm not a particularly religious person, but I do believe in moments of grace, pure grace. This story is one of the best examples of grace I've ever heard: an unexpected, unwanted ham turns into salvation for a woman who desperately needs it.
And the story contains what is going to be my new mantra when I'm having one of my little panic attacks - left foot, right foot, breathe.
I'm going to re-read the whole book because I need the grace that Lamott offers in her writing.
Monday, October 29, 2007
And I have a cubby just for my grammar/style/editing collection. B laughed and called me a geek because I have enough of those books to warrant a whole cubby just for them.
As big as the bookshelf is, it doesn't hold all of our books. Some still reside on the top shelves of the closet - most of them are B's science fiction and horror books (we have VERY different tastes in literature), but quite a few of mine are ending up there as well.
The girls are developing quite a collection of books, too. I cleaned up their bookshelf the other day, hoping to weed out some of their books. But other than the give-away books from fast-food chains, I didn't get rid of any. Their collection is slowly creeping up the bookshelf; soon we'll have to find new places to store the knick-knacks that are on the upper shelves.
Some day I hope to have a house big enough to have my very own library. My great uncle Donald had a lroom that had been converted to a study that was filled to the brim with books. The house my grandparents lived in when I was little had a real library, with a big fireplace and leather chairs and shelf after shelf of books. I never read any of them, but I loved curling up by the fire in one of the big chairs with my own books. I think sitting by the fire there fostered my love of reading.
In the meantime, I'll continue amassing my collection and hope for a bigger house with more space for bookshelves.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
While Rackoff's written word doesn't crack me up, his spoken word does. I've heard him read many times on NPR's "This American Life," and his pieces can send me into hysterics. One time I was running while listening to him read a piece about his adventures in TV watching after years of not watching any. I was laughing so hard I couldn't run. I literally had to stop and stand on the sidewalk, doubled over, to catch my breath from laughing. I'm sure people driving by thought I was a loon.
Perhaps I should download his books onto my iPod - maybe I'd find his stories funnier if I listened to him read them to me.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
It took me much longer, however, to accept that I didn't have to finish every book I started. In school I had to because I would likely have to write a paper or exam on the book, and the professor expected me to have read them all the way through. I slogged through an alarming number of books as a non-student thinking that I was going to be tested. Then I was reading We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates, and I just hated the book. I hated the characters; I hated the writing. I dreaded picking it up to read. Then one day I realized it was just stupid and pointless to keep going. So I put the book back in the bookshelf and didn't pick it up again until it was time to donate it to Ella's school's used-book sale.
Right now I have several books in progress that I haven't yet decided whether I'll finish.
One is a biography of Edith Wharton, who is probably my favorite writer, by Hermione Lee. I tried to read Wharton's autobiography, called A Backward Glance, and got frustrated with how shallow it was. She didn't reveal much about her childhood or troubled marriage or life as a writer. It was mostly a recitation of all the people she met and had dinner with. I quit reading when she devoted pages to her car rides with Henry James. So when Lee came out with seemingly exhaustive study of Wharton, I splurged and bought the hardcover edition. And now it's just sitting on the table. Lee is certainly exhaustive in her research; I know lots about where Wharton lived and the books she may have read, but I can't say that I've actually learned anything about Wharton that I didn't already know. Perhaps one day, when I'm out of other things to read, I'll pick it up again.
I quit reading Elinor of Aquitane by Allison Weir out of frustration. Elinor was one of Europe's most powerful women, but so little is known about her. Weir's book largely consists of speculation about what Elinor may have done and where she may have gone. I want first-hand documentation, please. Give me letters, personal accounts, something other than speculation based on items listed in royal accounting books.
I also gave up on Wars of the Roses, also by Weir. She tries to cover too much ground in too short a book and ends up not doing a thorough job on any of it. Plus, those damn Brits keep changing their names, and I just can't keep up. One minute someone is the Duke of X, then he gets promoted or knighted or whatever, and then he's Earl of Q. I can't remember everyone's multiple names, and Weir doesn't help with tracking them at all.
I think those are the only books I've left unread lately. It's a much shorter list than I anticipated. Next up, maybe, the list of books I want to read.
The books are set in Botswana and center around Precious Ramotswe, the first lady private dective in the country. The stories revolve both around the cases she solves and her personal life, which includes a fiance, Mr. J.L.B. Matekwoni, and two foster children.
The language and dialogue are absolutely charming throughout. And while some of the storylines are heartbreaking - the backstory on the foster children made me cry - the books are just delightful.
I think I may pick up book number 5 this afternoon.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Still, it was a helpful read and, obession aside, it did make me want to knit more. I like that she included basic recipes for hats and socks. I have some baby hats I need to make, and I'll be able to do so using her recipes.
If you want to read more of her stuff, check out her blog at www.yarnharlot.com. It's a riot.
Monday, October 22, 2007
What makes me even sadder, though, is that his three kids don't have a dad. Ever since I had kids, even hearing about kids who have lost a parent can push me over the edge into a crying jag. I don't know why, but it does. So now I tend to avoid news that might include stories of that nature. Gray's youngest son, the baby in the picture on the cover of the book, was at the show, and Lisa and I got to meet him. I just wanted to hug him, but instead I muttered something foolish about how nice it was to meet him. I was dumbstruck by a 10-year-old because I was afraid I'd start crying all over him.
Lisa bought this book before the show and loaned it to me when she finished. It took me a while to read it, because I was afraid it would be sad, and at that time I couldn't handle any more sadness in my life. Instead, it is just a wonderful account of a man who came to fatherhood late in life but then embraced it with all he was worth. Every child should be so lucky to have a love story written to them in this way. They will be able to read this book and know just how much they meant to their father.
I need to give the book back to Lisa, because one of my pet peeves is when people don't return books I loan them and I don't want to be guilty of committing the same sin, but I've held onto it because I flip through and read sections here and there at random times. It makes me smile. I suppose I should just go out and buy my own copy, but given that she bought this one from Gray's son, the book holds more meaning for me. Hmmm. Perhaps I should I buy another copy and give that one to Lisa. She'll never know the difference. And since I know she doesn't read my blog, despite repeated reminders to do so . . . I won't have given up the secret.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Since I figured there was no way I'd get to meet and have a cup of coffee with her, I went to BookPeople the next day to pick up one of her novels. I bought Yokota because it was the only one of hers that I'd heard of. I was hoping for laugh-out-loud funny, like Bird's essay in the monologues, but the book wasn't funny. I was disappointed at first, but I got caught up in the story of the family and its military travels. The book may not have been a comedy, but it was a touching, well-written story of a family struggling to survive.
Next trip to the book store, I'm picking up another of her books.
I was a bit worried at first. I don't have anything in common with her. I'm not a well-paid writer; I'm not facing a devstating and painful divorce; I'm not able to take a year of my life off to live in three different countries.
Turns out I shouldn't have worried. My favorite section was the one set in Rome. I would love to spend three months eating my way through Rome, sampling every gelato place I can find. I didn't really like the section set in India. Spending months in a hot, spartan ashram learning how to reach a trascendtal state isn't my cup of tea.
On the whole, though, I enjoyed the book, often laughing out loud.
This past week I was tagged by Barb with questions about books, and it got me thinking about my reading habits. I decided that maybe it was time to start a new reading journal. So now I'll be posting about the books I read here. And if you have any recommendations on good read, I'd love to hear about them.