23 June 2008

On Milkshakes and Mysteries

Making milkshakes is a mystery to me. I mean, sure I can put the milk in the blender and plop in the ice cream and then hit the button, but. . . I never get it quite right. There must be instructions somewhere, some secret that other people know that I missed. By the time I finally get the proportions of milk to ice cream adjusted, I've got enough to serve me and all four cats (which would please them just fine), but that's not what I wanted. I just wanted a simple, one serving milkshake.

What's the secret?

I obviously had my nose in a book when the Milkshake Mystery was explained to mankind.

Team Hoyt

This is so inspiring on so many levels--and not just because of how beautiful Dick is as a father. I hope that parents of children with disabilities can see people like Rick and realize that life is not over. Rick is the reason I work in special ed preschool. There is such a beauty that can be overlooked, and these parents did not. Like I said, this is so beautiful, inspiring and, be warned, tear jerking!

18 June 2008

Wonderful Pratchett Interview

Many thanks to Carl V (of the Once Upon a Time Reading Quest) for pointing me to this great interview!

One of my top 20 favorite authors, Neil Gaimon, interviews one of my top 5 favorite authors, Terry Pratchett. Excellent interview, with a bit about the new book coming out (a non-Discworld kids book; I can't wait!) and some touching and honest bits about his Alzheimer's--not to mention the hilarious and oh-so-Pratchett bit about helping the Brownie Scouts kidnap him. Great stuff! Thanks, Carl!

17 June 2008

Once Upon a Time II: Completed!

I have completed the Once Upon a Time II Reading Quest. :D I finished it over the weekend, by reading A Midsummer Night's Dream, as sort of a bonus for "Quest the Third". I had read it before and enjoyed it then and now. I have always loved the Elizabethan language, and prefer to read Shakespeare and Spencer and the like out loud when I have the time. I didn't do that this time, but still savored the sounds of the words in my head.

This was a delightful challenge, and I especially enjoy the, well, challenge of finding books for the fable and mythology categories. I hope it's held again next year--it's one I will certainly do again!

For a recap, here is what I read:

Quest the Second:
Mountain Jack Tales by Gail Haley
read 2 June 2008
This was a mediocre retelling in which the author chose to have a narrator tell the tales in an Appalachian dialect. I am an Appalachian mountain girl myself, and still had occasionally difficulty understanding. I can only imagine the reaction from one who did not grow up hearing this language. The tales themselves were clinical, sterile retellings with no life in them and the overall result was a dismal disappointment.

Fairy Tale:
Snow by Tracy Lynn
read 13 May 2008 | my review

Horns and Wrinkles by Joseph Helgerson
read 19 May 2008 | my review

Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams by Alexander McCall Smith
read 26 May 2008 | my review

Quest the Third:
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
read 14 June 2008

edit: After re-reading the requirements for Quest the First ("Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time II criteria. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres."), I realized that I have completed that one as well, with my 13 June completion of the most excellent alternate history fantasy Anno Dracula. Go me!

13 June 2008

Big Book Giveaway

My friend Deb is having a HUGE (read 5 sets of 14 books each) book giveaway over at the Book Blog. Go over and take a look!

It's tied in with her other project, TwitterLit, where, twice daily, she posts an intriguing first line of various books. If you've never seen TwitterLit, you should--it's rather addictive!

11 June 2008

Sky Burial by Xinran

Sky Burial
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Nan A. Talese (July 19, 2005)
5/5 Stars

Sky Burial is based on a true story as it was told to the author, Xinran, by the principal character, Shu Wen. Wen's young idealist husband is an Army doctor in 1950's China, sent to Tibet during the time of China's "liberation" of Tibet. They had only been married three weeks when he left, and around 100 days after his departure she received a letter stating he was dead. The lack of explanation of death gave her a hope that perhaps he really wasn't dead, just lost, and she joined the Army as well, in her husband's unit. Herself a dermatologist, they were only too glad to of her request to be sent to Tibet--doctors were much needed on the front. Shortly after reaching Tibet, however, Wen is separated from her unit and spends the next thirty years wandering with a family of nomadic Tibetans, never giving up hope that she will find the answer to her husband's disappearance.

The writing is sparse and without a lot of descriptions, and whether it is intentional or because Xinran is in fact a journalist and not a novelist, it works wonderfully for both the untamed Tibetan landscape and the slowly unfolding, sometimes bleak but always beautiful, story.

The reader follows Wen, amazed at her tenacity as the years go by, at her unwillingness to give up against such odds. As she becomes more and more comfortable in her Tibetan ways, the reader sees Wen falling in love, unknowingly, with Tibet--and does the same, openly embracing this wild country. Like Wen, the reader can not give up hope, knowing there will be an answer to Wen's search, because such determination and love does not go unrewarded.

Subtitled "an epic love story of Tibet", Sky Burial is just that--a love story of a woman for a country as well as her husband; a love story of the reader for Tibet, for Wen, and for Xinran for giving such a gift.

Read for the ORBIS TERRARUM Challenge. View my progress here.

This book caused me to love and desire to visit Tibet, gave me an understanding of customs I never knew existed and created in me a yearning for the people of Tibet that I just can't put in words. Tibet is moving to my top ten Must Visit places, thanks to this book!


World Clock

I saw somebody's blog today, with a regular clock and followed the link and found this handy little widget. (Wish I could remember who, so I could say thanks!) The really neat part is that you can click on whatever time zone you want, to see the time there. SOOO cool!

09 June 2008

Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces
John Kennedy Toole
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Grove Press (January 21, 1994)
5/5 Stars

What a book, what a masterpiece! A comedy, the likes of which I've never read, with characters so unbelievable real I had to occasional take breaks from reading it.

The prose surprised me again and again with such beauty, wit and genius. From the first page, I was held in thrall to Toole's talent:
Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs.

The everyday mundane, sometimes disgusting, bits of the lives of these people combined with Toole's writing is just incredible. It makes for such an unforgettable experience.

Toole has his some of characters talk his local dialect, which in many books (one I just recently finished), is so confusing, so difficult to read or to decipher. He makes it work. No, not work, he makes it seamless, perfect, brilliant. I'm not reading their words--I can hear them talking. It's beautiful.

The story centers around Ignatius J. Reilly, as does everything if he can make it, an overweight, over-educated, overly demanding man living with his Mamma, holed up in his bedroom, drinking Dr. Nut and scribbling about Medieval history and the problems of today. This has gone on for many years, and would continue for many more except for a family emergency which pushes his Mamma to take the unusual step of standing up to Ignatius and telling him he must get a job. His world is shaken, he is spiraling out of control, Fortuna has spun against him.

And thus, with much GI troubles and vitriolic ranting and railing against peoples in general and particular, Ignatius goes out into the world for the second time since college. The omnipotent reader is privy to both the actual facts and often, Ignatius's more flattering description of events as he writes about it later, with the view of future publication, in a Big Chief tablet in his room.

There were times I didn't laugh, though, but that was when I saw myself in this gargantuan idealistic slob, this over-educated moron trying to impose his world views on all around him. That's when, instead of laughing, I gave an inwardly embarrassed chuckle and moved on quickly.

There's an underlying element of sadness to the novel, to me anyway. Is it knowing that Toole committed suicide, and feeling that sadness seep into the pages? Or is it simply knowing that Ignatius is destined to bumble every attempt at every thing merely because Fortuna has it out for his overwhelming conceit? I think it's a mix of both, and this melancholy tempers the outright hilarity, balancing it, making it even more thought-provoking.

Other residents of New Orleans find their paths crossed with Ignatius, usually to their dismay, and always find their lives changed in some way as a result. The vagrant, the man afraid of the "comuniss", the girl wanting to be an exotic dancer, and many more. . . One reads about them again and again and wonders, how will they all come together? Trust Toole, he's a genius--the plot themes and characters come together like orchestral themes resulting in a crescendoing finale of stunning proportions, and then stream off again, a solo here, a duet there, until the final page. I was genuinely worried at some points, as to how the book would end, how Toole would leave Ignatius. Never fear, dear reader, as Ignatius himself might have said. It's a masterpiece through and through.

This was read for the Southern Reading Challenge.


02 June 2008

The Orbis Terrarum Challenge Meme

The Orbis Terrarum Challenge meme:

1.) What country do you always go back to in your travels (not just while reading for OT)? I prefer to read 18th-19th century British lit. That's been my preference for years and I have to force myself away; when I do, it's usually just to 20th century British novels. (That's when I'm visiting actual worlds; I spend a lot of my reading time in virtual worlds as well.)

2.) If you could visit 4 of the countries you have read about in your life (that you haven't been to yet), which would they be and why? (you can include the book that makes you want to visit if you remember) I've always wanted to visit the UK--my passion is (surprise) 18th-19th century British history and therefore my desire to visit the UK. I'd love to visit China, based on a historical fiction I read as a teen (Of Nightingales that Weep). Also, I read everything I could get my hands on about ancient Egypt as a kid, and I am still dying to visit there one day.

3.) Have you ever dreamed about a country you have read about, that you have never actually traveled to- except in your dreams? Not that I can remember, not a REAL country anyway. I have occasionally dreamt about the fantasy worlds I read about--the worlds of Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones in particular.

4.) In what ways has reading about different countries opened up your perspective about global issues? In 2004, I read an ARE of Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam which was SO timely and eye-opening and helped educate me (and therefore change my uneducated prejudices) about what Islam is really about. It is still a timely book and will certainly educate and enlighten. I HIGHLY recommend it. My review can be found here

5.) What countries have you felt your judgment was off about-after reading about that nation? See above--while Islam is not a nation, per se, it is the religion of many of my brothers and sisters in this world and boy, was I was way off about it!

6.) Which is your favourite book that you would recommend for this challenge (you don't have to have read it during the challenge)? I have to list two. Lolita (my review) and Reading Lolita in Tehran (my review)> The first would be perfect for a Russian author and is such a powerful book. The second is also such a powerful book, in quite another way, and would give the reader an Iranian author. Both come highly recommended--5 stars each, as my reviews will show. Of course, Standing Alone in Mecca is another I can't help but recommend too!

7.) I am thinking about hosting again, for a full year next time starting in January, do you have any constructive criticism, is one book a month about right...more? less? Give me some thoughts. I think one a month (for a total of 12 a year) is good. I liked the freedom of reading more per month (I'll probably finish early), but knowing that I can change around and dump out my USA and Great Britain authors if I get them read with time to spare.

I have no criticism--this has been such a great idea! I'm glad that you have given us a place to post review links, too, so we can check out what other participants are reading. That's fun too.

8.) Anything else that you have been wanting to tell us all about? let us have it! This challenge has encouraged me to try new authors and leave the genres with which I'm most comfortable. It's been SUCH a positive experience! Hooray!


Huzzah! Hoorah! Pratchett's got a new book coming out in September! I'm SOOOO excited! *dances around the office* Who's it going to be about? I can't wait to see. Oh, will September NEVER come?!

Should I go ahead an pre-order it? Or should I wait and see if amazon knocks the price down more as it gets closer? Oh joy! I can't wait!

May 2008 Reading List

May was a pretty darn good month for reading. :) Here's my list of books read. The links take you to amazon.com (insert shameless self-promotion here) and I've also added links to the reviews.

Murder on the Flying Scotsman by Carola Dunn

Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith

Snow by Tracy Lynn
my review

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
my review

The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaardner
brief discussion here

Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
brief discussion here and here

Reflections on the Psalms by CS Lewis

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
brief discussion here

Horns and Wrinkles by Joesph Helgerson
my review

Damsel in Distress by Carola Dunn

Dead in the Water by Carola Dunn
What?! So I'm addicted to this "cozy" mystery series! What of it!! :P

Dream Angus by Alexander McCall Smith
my review

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
my review

Styx and Stones by Carola Dunn

The Haunted Looking Glass edited by Edward Gorey
my review