Wednesday, July 30, 2008
This week's IF theme had me a little stumped, so here goes!
The young Victorian lady hates it when her father, Captain Harry, says, "I am getting canned" and walks out to the outhouse.
She is a modern girl. She told the servants to peel off rid of flowery wallpaper and paint the walls. Her personal maid got rid of the heavy curtains, and the seamstress put a small one in. However, she hates seeing the outhouse and would rather be "canned" using the indoor toilet, although her mother covered it up with a hideous fabric.
I was experimenting with perspective and watercolor. I did OK but still need to improve. I had a photograph of a toilet, so I traced it to some clear paper. However, it kept fading to the background, so I covered it up. The handle is a piece of a card catalog. The flowery thing on the window is part of a perfume bottle carton. And the young lady is from a book of Victorian costumes, which I painted.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Yesterday, I received a strange package in the mail. There was no return address, but I assume it's something from Nan Talese, because I received freebies from them in the past.
A strange little DVD. McEwan is reading portions of his novel On Chesil Beach, critics and booksellers relate how the music influences the flow of the novel and how the mores of 1962 are closer to the strict 1950s and other aspects of the novel. We are also shown the actual beach and what an uproar there was in the press when McEwan revealed that he took some pebbles, and he was about to fined $US4000.
I finally read the little blurbs on the dvd. Powell Books (an indie bookstore) in Portland, OR has started Out of the Books Films, to get an insight of authors and their works. They are on their 3rd volume right now. So, I guess it's partly a literature lesson, partly a marketing device, partly a documentary.
In hinterland places like New Orleans (where the authors don't come too often), they would be great to show at book groups, especially if the book is chosen.
I need to look at it again. I am not sure whether to read it or not. I've read mixed reviews about it and am not in the mood to tackle it right now. Maybe in the fall.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
This is one work that I didn't read in high school nor in college. And I am glad that I didn't. Now, with more experience in life (i.e. age), I can appreciate it better.
I bought the 50th anniversary edition, which includes an interview with Mr. Bradbury. He defended the novel as is and wouldn't update it to fit the today's technology. Good for him.
It's still eerie enough for my tastes. And it has the feeling of being in the near future, even though it came out in 1953.
The story takes place in an unnamed Eastern Seaboard city (New York or Boston - since both had subways/ underground rail ) then. Montag is a fireman; he burns homes that have books. Usually someone called the authorities to report these readers.
One night, after getting off work and walking home from the transport station, Clarisse McClellan starts a conversation with him. Montag thinks that she is a strange young lady. She challenges him to think about his work and his surroundings. "How like a mirror, too, her face. Impossible; for how many people did you know refracted your own light to you? ... How rarely did other people's face take of you and throw back to you your own expression, your own innermost trembling thoughts?"
He realizes that he hasn't had a decent conversation in years, ever since the televisor, came into existence. His wife is so addicted to them that she doesn't notice how inane the shows are and really has no life besides watching tv.
Montag steals some books and starts to read: a crime! He finds a former English professor, who waxes eloquently about books. "Do you know that books smell like nutmeg or some spice from a foreign land?...The magic (in books) is only what books say, how they stitched patches of the universe together into one garment for us...This books has pores. It has features. this can go under the microscope. You'd find life under the glass, streaming past in profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more 'literary' you are.
Bradbury wrote this book in an interesting time in history. More news were being uncovered about the Nazis, including how they killed everyone and tried to control the minds of the citizens. Newsreel images of the book burnings in 1933 Berlin must have been fresh in his mind.
Also, television sets were more popular and dropping in prices, so more people could afford to have one in the house. Some of the early shows must have bored Bradbury, and he saw the effects of people watching the tv more than taking time to read. Little did he realize that cable tv, VHS tapes, DVDs, satellite tv, video games, the Internet and reality shows would take even more time away from reading. (Ok, I admit, I watch 3 reality shows, but I still take time to read.)
The Russians and the Communist way of life was also making news at the time. Perhaps this novel is also commentary of controlling minds via tv. What was unforeseen is that some parts of the Patriot Act also are taking away rights also.
This novel is one of the significant novels selected for the Big Read. Find out whether your city will be reading this one.
I just learned about the End of the World Reading Challenge, so it's on the list!
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Earlier in the month, I went to see a traveling exhibit at the old U.S. Mint about Napoleon. I am starting to wonder more about his life and will probably start reading more biographies about him. The last thing that I read was about his exploits in Russia from this work.
There were many elaborate items on display but I was attracted to mundane ones. On the left is a doddle that Napoleon made. This is a rare find, because his servants threw most scribbles out.
As a bibliophile, I really envied Josephine's books.
Another amazing item to survive was this Watercolor of Imperial Emblem; it's so vibrant after all these years.
Some of my fellow bloggers read historical fiction and would love to go back to those times. Not me. I like living in this century. I like having clean clothes and being able to take a shower or bath everyday. I really looked closely at General Bertrand's breeches; they looks dirty, even though I know that they have been washed.
I was surprised to see how plain Napoleon's campaign bed was. I expected something fancier.
For some reason, I had the idea that Napoleon lived in a cave in his final exile. But, his home there was impressive. The worst part of the imprisonment was that he was really bored. For a man of action, reading and writing wasn't enough for him. Click here for the painting. Napoleon's home on St. Helena
It's good to get my head out of books and see these items. I managed to learn a lot in a nice environment.
After this stop, all the items go back to the owners. So, this on-line gallery is your only chance to see the exhibit.
Monday, July 21, 2008
International Fiction Book Club of New Orleans was Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. I said to the members that once I read (I wish that I could remember where) that Ishiguro was more English than the English in his writings. They generally agreed, especially with Remains of the Day. They also commented that he has an outsider's view of England and he can see things a little differently from other British writers.
Some of the members didn't like the slow pace of the story, especially in the beginning, even though this technique helped in the revelation of the plot. It's as though the readers find out about the children of Halisham School, just like the children (and later adults) discover the truth about their purpose in life.
Early in the novel, Kathy, a main character mentions donations. "Clones!" I mentally shouted; I have seen so many sci-fi shows about clones that I know what it entails. But, Ishiguro takes his time to reveal this fact. But this work is not sci-fi; there are no slick gadgets or super advanced technology here. The main purpose is to show that the children are humans and that they have souls.
Set in present day Britain, children are bred to become organ donors. Some questions are never answered: who donates their cells to create the clones, do these cell donors get first dibs on an organ in the future, how much does the general public know, do the children have different blood types, who decides which organ to take, or are organs taken in the order that is needed for the clone to survive (kidneys and pieces of liver - first, heart and brains - last?)
The children seem to have an ideal childhood. They are encouraged to be creative and don't have to spend too much time learning harder subjects. Despite being in this nuturing environment, some of the characters have low self-esteem and need to have a lot of attention. Another clue of who they are is revealed at this point; no child ever leaves the campus, not even for Christmas and summer break, and they never receive visitors except for Madame, and she is only interested in the art.
When they graduate, they can spend their time reading, have intimate relationships, travel, and other activities without having too worry too much about money (even though it's cold in the cottages in the winter.) As they become older, they become carers of organ donors before them, and then organ donors themselves. They meet young adults from other schools and find out that their lives were not pleasant and seemed more like a 19th workhouse.
Another set of questions now arise: who decides the time that the carers begin, how long can a carer keep working, who decides the carer's schedule, where do they live, with other carers or by themselves for the first time in their lives?
Another disturbing aspect of the novel is that none of the clones tried to escape. Were they so well brain-washed (Stockholm syndrome?) that they could not imagine another future for themselves? Did they need to be in groups so badly that they don't want to take off by themselves, because they can't picture themselves alone in the world? Never in the novel is this donation of organs called THE NOBLE CAUSE.
Despite knowing all these facts, Kathy seems the most committed to being the best carer in England. Is she delusional or does she really enjoy being the mother during the completion process?
This novel raises more questions than it answers and makes us think of what comprises a human. When it was written, there were a lot of advances in genetics, including Dolly the Sheep.
I recently picked up the Spring Paris Review that featured an Interview with Ishiguro.
He says that Never Let Me Go is "my cheerful novel...I felt for the first time I had given myself permission to focus on the positive aspect of human beings.Ok, they might be flawed... I wanted them not to be preoccupied with their status or their material possessions. I wanted them to care more about each other and setting things right. So for me, it was saying positive things about human beings against the rather bleak fact of our mortality."
It's very interesting to read an author's take on his work. I didn't think it was cheerful, but creepy and thought provoking at the same time. The members of the book group also enjoyed reading it, but none of them thought it was a happy novel.
I just learned about the End of the World Reading Challenge, so it goes on the list.
This is my second review of this work; I suggested it for the International Fiction Book Group, and it's the thoughts of my fellow readers. (My review is here!)
The book group members generally liked this novel and were surprised to have learned so much. All of us appreciated the fact that it's mentioned that some of the Irish people went to New Orleans and not all stayed in New York.
Almost everyone liked Pius Mulvey more than I did. They felt that his acts were part of his survival and he's not as bad as Dixon makes him out to be.
In one of the chapters, there is a prayer to the Virgin Mary in a strange shape. It invokes all her names known at that time. Most of us thought the shape was similar to a ship, to remind us of the long voyage; one member thought it looked like a vagina. (She did mention that she had just finished reading Eve Ensler's play, Vagina Monologues, so maybe vaginas were still in her mind.)
All of us wondered how we would act under similar circumstances. Would we become the people who drive out the tenants so we could feed our families? Would we move as quickly as possible to the New World or try to eke out a living somewhere else in Ireland? Would we rob clothes from the dead to sell them for food and treat other Irishmen well? Everyone thought that it depends; the reaction of most of the characters was the product of their childhood and family, despite the starvation. The glaring exception are the Mulvey brothers; both were raised in the same environment. One was the favorite but generally they reacted to the situation differently.
I mentioned that in the UK version of the book that I had and gave to another member had illustrations from actual papers of the time and that some of the terms are very racist toward the Irish and African-Americans. Well, NONE of the illustrations made it to the US version. The book members felt that the missed an important element of the book. Pox on the US editors for this omission!
One member told us that Mr. O'Connor is the brother of the singer, Sinead O'Connor. None of us ever imagined it. All of us know that O'Connor is a common last name in Ireland and didn't give it a thought to connect both of these talented artists. We were amazed that one troubled family created two members that are so imaginative.
"Enough!" said the old gentlemen, "The city is getting too
crowded. Big houses, too many rules, chores, too much entertainment, too many cell phones, and too many people. Argh"
"I am heading for the forest, where it will be quiet!"
My Illustration Friday collage is made from:
an illustration of a grumpy 19th century man, two maps
(city block and English roads), pictures from magazines (broom and cell phone), ticket stub, part of a pillow tag, library due date card, building and count from Italian nougat treat, and pictures of postcards (the two modern guys). I stamped some of the picture and put a watercolor wash.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Roxanne Coady left a career in tax accounting to open a business of her true dreams, R. J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, CT. (A very lovely town!). She participated, with other literacy minded citizens to start a non-profit organization, which now promotes literacy for children and their parents. All proceeds from this book, will go to the Read to Grow group.
She asked authors who came to her bookstore to write down what books influenced them. The result of their musings is this work.
I liked the authors’ thoughts. It has encouraged me to put some works on my to-read stack. For example, Jacques Pepin, a famous chef, said that Albert Camus’ work, The Myth of Sisyphus “is a book about the absurdity of man’s conditions in a world without God..Camus is saying there is reason to be hopeful, that man must understand his condition, and must struggle, fight, and rebel against the absurdity of life… we must and can dignify life through our deeds and behavior…” Since I am already a fan of Beckett’s plays, this work would add another dimension to appreciation of absurdism.
Other works that I am curios about are G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.
When writing about this topic, Da Chen’s story about the importance of books touched me the most and is a true example of the truth being stranger than fiction.
He grew up in a poor village in China in the 1970s. There was no movie theater nor TVs. The main form of entertainment was storytelling.
One day, a native returned home from a 20 year sentence and brought back some books that he stole from the army library. He set up a reading room; for one fen (a penny) and one sitting, you could read a book. A longer book required more sittings, and no book could leave his shop.
Chen and his friends used sold empty toothpaste tubes to the recycling man for a fen. He also sold herbs to the hospital, looked for loose change, and collected horse manure for the fertilizer man! Someone tattled to the local Communist chief and burned all the books in the reading room. Chen states that “I would do anything for a good meal but I would really do even more for a book…Ironic that I should love to read in the book desert China was then.”
After the reading room was gone, Chen and his pals would hand-copy chapters from a book to create a new book that they would pass around. They also broke into libraries in other villages that had been damaged by typhoons and take back moldy books to copy.
(I think that I would do the same!)
It’s interesting to see the other authors’ insights on works that I have already read and learn something else from that work.
I hope that you find this book and help support Read To Grow.
Monday, July 14, 2008
When Atwood’s novel was first released in 1986, I thought “no way can this happen in the US.” Women will not allow themselves to be subjugated like this. Later, I read an essay that states artists sometimes see things that the rest of us don’t notice and their novels could reflect a coming reality. Now, I feel it could happen and that Atwood might be predicting the new world in the New World.
The narrator is a college educated, wife and mother, in Boston, who had a married lover named Luke (who later married her). She led a harried, middle-class life; she kept her career after the birth of her little girl. The daughter went to a day-care center, and the woman also took care of the house.
One day, she couldn’t use her debit card to pay for her cigarettes. Then, all the women that she knew got laid off. Her husband didn’t really understand her loss of identity by not having a job and loss of control over finances.
Changes happened, and no one protested. Many women were found to be sterile. A new society was set up. Powerful men had a wife and servants assigned to take care of the house called “Marthas” .One concubine called the “Handmaid” was also assigned to these households to increase the population of the US. All handmaids were trained well and didn’t protest for a degrading ceremony to increase the population of the country.
The concubine never reveals her real name, and her story isn’t as straightforward as my explanation. It’s told in “stream of consciousness” mode but it’s so well-written, that I didn’t get lost.
Atwood states that the new society started after the President and Congress were assassinated, and the new government blamed it on Islamic fanatics! Talk about seeing the effects of 9/11 and the Patriot Act years before it happened.
Atwood describes a society that is more and more controlled and no one protests. The society reflects a perverted version of the Christian Bible; the handmaids are covered up, almost like nuns but in red. Our narrator, Offred, even feels uneasy when she takes a bath. “My nakedness is strange to me already. My body seems strange. Did I really wear bathing suits at the beach? I did, without thought, among men, without caring that my legs, my arms, my thighs were on display..Shameful, immodest…”
Would it be fun being a handmaid? Not having to do any housework, not working for money, not having to worry about anything except getting pregnant? Offred believes maybe the next generation of illiterate women might not have a problem, but she wasn’t “prepared for – the amount of unfilled time, the long parentheses of nothing. Time as white noise. If only I could embroider, weave, knit, something with my hands…They were paintings of boredom (19th century harems). But maybe boredom is erotic, when women do it, for men…”
Atwood describes a Boston that I don’t recognize. Besides being Wives, Marthas, Aunts (trainers of Handmaids) or Handmaids, women could also be Econowives (women married to someone who is not powerful and she has to do all the housework, without Marthas) , Unwomen (who are sent away, since they can play no role in the new USA.) or Jezebels (for the untrainable).
Any deformed baby is an Unbaby and a horror to both the Wives and Handmaids. It almost sounds what the Taliban did to the women in Afghanistan.
Besides the lack of protest as a result of the Patriot Act, some recent events show me that Atwood’s world could exist. There are members of a certain political party who would love for “uppity” women to be silenced. And, despite the internet and cell phones, inventions that were not so pervasive when Atwood wrote this novel, the wireless world can be disrupted by shutting down some key network devices, and no one in the world would know what is happening inside the US. Even with the mortgage meltdown, the wars in Islamic areas, large increase of gasoline prices, and the recent layoffs, no one is really protesting; I find that disturbing.
If you have read this novel when it was first released, I urge you to re-read it, and see how you react to it to today.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
I am nearly finished with my new site to promote independent bookstores in New Orleans:
NOLA Bookshops! I still need to work on the design and colors. I used wordpress and bought a domain name for $10.00. My little bit to help the city, since I can't gut buildings or work in outdoor spaces due to my allergies and other physical problems (like hating the heat with a passion.)
I also updated this blog. I added a couple of new sites on my Creative and Other Word links, updated my book review list (I hadn't updated it since MARCH!).
A few months ago, I asked and received suggestions for One Book, One New Orleans. Here's what you and others suggested. The choice will be announced in a couple of weeks. Sorry, I can't tell you what it is.
New Orleans will also be participating in the Big Read (US cities only), and the announcement will be made in September. Check out what your city or town wants to read.
On the personal writing front, I am writing down my dreams. Haven't started journaling yet, but that's coming soon.
Every summer, I want to organize my photos but never get to do it. Well, they are now in my closet in a big bag. I have no more excuses. I can do a little while I watch tv. (If you want some of my doubles for collages, let me know!)
I am also reading two books: War and Peace and Fahrenheit 451. The war is just beginning and Montag still loves fires.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
I sometimes wish characters would meet to see what would happen.
If Johan from Grace met Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello, they would be insulting each other in a few minutes, and maybe Johan would ever be tempted to fight with her.
Johan is the grumpiest, least joyful man in Norway. He didn't like his first wife, the son that he had with this wife and really had no friends, except his second wife.
A doctor finds that Johan has a fatal disease, and he does his best to fight it off and thinks a lot.
He remembers the highlight of his journalist's career: when he wrote a series of articles about William Faulkner. "Johan compared American literature with Norwegian literature and society..Each article took up two whole pages and was thoughtfully illustrated with old photographs. Never had Johan received so much attention from those whose good opinions he valued. . However, that was a long time ago." No one ever invited him to the University of Oslo to talk about Faulkner.
As he progresses with his illness, his memories jump to different time periods. He recalls hunting for wild strawberries among the moss and twigs of Norway with his mother, especially the day that he found them, instead of her. She would signal to Johan to be quiet. "As if the strawberries would turn to clover and moss before your very eyes at the first loud sound or sudden movement. You hardly dared blink."
What a well written passage about looking for strawberries in a northern clime. Where I live, it's warm and in fields for strawberry picking. I would never find them in moss patches!
The book is not a happy book, but I am amazed that such a young author has a grasp of what it is to be a dying person. It's short, but you gain enough to make the reading meaningful.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
One career that I couldn't have is being a nun, and even more restrictive, a cloistered nun. I can't be so obedient. I can't keep quiet for too long. I can't spend so much time praying. But, I admire the women who can do so.
Mark Salzman enters a quiet world in the midst of a major city. The monastery is of the Order of Discalced Carmelites of St. Theresa of Avila. The fictional convent is located in the midst of Los Angeles, CA; "Golden State Freeway to the east, Chinatown to the south, the Police Academy to the north, and Dodger Stadium a mile to the west...tucked away in a fold of hils at the end of an unmarked driveway, the monastery was as invisible as a sunken ship."
(Here's information on the real one!)
The novel is divided into small chapters, with a date and the corresponding feast day or saint's day is mostly set in 1997 and 1998 (I learned about a lot of holidays; when I was growing up, it was the time of conversion between Vatican I and II, and the religion teachers had no idea what to teach us.)
The novel focuses on Sister John of the Cross. She writes inspirational works despite her headaches, which she believes helps her get closer to God and Jesus. "Her mind fractured under the pressure. She splintered like broken glass, she became all edges and points and she was sure this had to be death, it had to be the end of everything, then her suffering blinked off."
The extern sister (who can leave the monastery, drive, and run errands) took Sr. John to the doctor who eventually told her that she has temporal lobe epilepsy. The small tumor near her ear can be removed safely and the pain will stop, but will it stop her visions and compulsive writing?
So Sr. John spends quiet time recalling her life and deciding what to do. If she has the operation, will she be able to write these words: "Faith is light, doubt is shadow. If you remove the obstacles to faith, all shadows disapper."
The novel also presents life in the monastery. During the weekly community meeting, when everyone can speak, all the nuns, except Sr. Anne vote that it's ok to have three types of fruit juices for breakfast and that the choices don't violate the vows of poverty. When Sr. John receives the news that her book went into second printing and now the roof can be repaired, she is horrified that she has been made the center of attention and blushes. She is constantly striving not to have an ego. The prayers and work that the nuns do as meditation seems to make them happy, although some nuns still have doubts of their worthiness.
This novel will present a side of Catholicism that one normally doesn't see or hear about. Pick it up when you feel that your mind can be still while reading Lying Awake.
Everything he did was fierce - his clothes, his hair, his fabrics, his models, etc etc
Fierce was his favorite word!
Since I can't draw faces worth a lick, I cut out a picture from his web site, added new hair from a Japanese tour book and glasses made from marbled paper. I roughly sewed some ruffles with some fancy remnants (his favorite sewing technique, so his Fierceness would be happy.