Saturday, February 24, 2007

Blogger Journey

(All right, I realize I am shamelessly accomplishing my 2007 blogging goal #5 with this one post, but I promise that's not the reason I decided to write it.)

I (still being somewhat of an adventurous sort, although I’m finding I become more and more of a homebody every year) was thinking the other day what fun it would be to have the time and the money just to travel around and visit all my friends out there in the blogosphere. Think of all the places I’d get to go, and I could stay with people who wouldn’t think I was the least bit rude for saying, “You know, this afternoon, I just want to lie around on your couch and read some of your books.” And then, in the evening, we’d cook up a great feast together and sit around the dinner table discussing books and movies and philosophy and politics and…and…and…

Anyone want to join me on this little escapade? Here’s how it looks right now. I’m starting off in Connecticut with a farewell dinner with Hobs and Dorr (unless they’re joining me, in which case it’s an “off-we-go!” dinner). Hobs will have some really, cool, creepy rubber toy as a going away gift (or companion for our journey), and Dorr and I will stay up way, way too late for a night before a trip, because we just can’t stop talking about so many fascinating things.

I will get up relatively early the next morning, despite my lack of sleep, and before heading out of town, make a stop at Becky’s to exchange Persephone books and drink copious amounts of tea while musing from her sofa about the business we’ll start together upon my return. You have to understand: it's going to be the best-run business in the world, our having learned so much from all the mistakes made in other places we've worked.

Then I’ll head north for my first stop on the journey: Toronto. I hope it will be winter, so Ms. Blossom (whom I hope I can learn to call Heather) and I can go ice skating. Then, of course, we will head to one of her favorite cafes for hot drinks and poetry recitations. And we will, naturally, climb a few library ladders together.

I’ve been trying to figure out if I should head south next and visit Ian , so we can listen to music, eat lots of unhealthy food guaranteed to clog our arteries, make fun of Fox News, and compose some long posts together and Froshty for much of the same, but with a more feminine slant and with at least one evening gorging on sushi. Or should I head to the Midwest first? I think, since it’s winter, and I love snow, the Midwest makes more sense.

Court, you don’t mind if I come knocking at your door in Michigan with my family tree, some lemon ginger tea, and a pile of books I think you might like, do you? Since I’m going to be headed South eventually for all that unhealthy food, how about if you and I cook up some fabulous healthy dishes together? And then I’d love a tour of all your favorite places in your home state, a place I’ve never been, and which you make sound so beautiful.

Stefanie, I’m dying to return to Minneapolis, where I haven’t been in nearly twenty years. Could we go on a used bookstore tour? Then we can hang out and read the funniest parts of Three Men in a Boat aloud to each other with a good bottle of sherry by a roaring fire somewhere, staying nice and dry, unlike those hapless fellows on the Thames.

Cam, I’ve loved Indianapolis the couple of times I’ve been there. I bet I’d love it even more if I had an “insider’s view.” You’ve done so much to remind me how much I appreciate poetry. Maybe if I stay long enough, you can teach me not only to appreciate it, but also to write it (or at least give me the nerve to try!).

All right, then I’ll head south. Maybe it will be spring by then. As the Indigo Girls have so eloquently taught us, “There’s something about the Southland in the springtime.”

And then I’ll have another tough decision. Do I head east or west? I think I’ll go east and hit the shores of Ireland where I can stop by to give Fem a huge hug before deep conversation over a couple of pints. I promise I’ll bring you some of those “must-read great books for women,” as well as a list of others. Oh yes, and I’m sure I’ll have 3 things from Bob. Mind if I stay long enough for us to solve all the world’s problems?

Then it will be off to England to see Litlove. I want to hang out in your lovely office and attend some of your classes, if you don’t mind (let me know what to read beforehand). And inbetween our long philosophical and psychological discussions, will you teach me a little French?

I’m going to need that French when I cross the Channel to pick up Manderine. But first, before I head to France and get Manderine to give me some tips on the technological aspects of blogging, I have to make a stop in Scotland to visit Sophie. Sophie doesn't have a blog, but she found me through my blog, and she and I would have a grand time exploring my favorite city of Edinburgh and rhapsodizing about Rose Macaulay and Eric Linklater over tea.

Okay, now I'm off to France. Manderine, will they believe you at the office if you pretend to be telecommuting for a few days while we take the train to Germany to visit Charlotte? I hope we'll stop off for some chocolate for the ride (and to give to Charlotte once we arrive).

Charlotte, after you and I have spent enough time boring poor Manderine to death with long chats about all things feminine and feminist over bottles of wine, I’m sending you off for a “Mum’s Saturday out.” I’ll spend the day playing with your three adorable children. (Can you promise they’ll speak only English to me?) Meanwhile, you can go off and do anything your heart desires.

After all this time in Europe, I think I’m going to need to scuba dive. I’ll head to Australia and New Zealand. Ms. Make Tea , do you mind if I stop in to listen to music with you, and, of course, drink some more tea (I'm going to be drinking lots of tea on this journey of mine) and pretend to be a frog with dear DOTH? Perhaps you, like Charlotte, could do with a “Mum’s Saturday out,” but not until I’ve selfishly had you to myself for a few days.

When I’m done with the sharks at the Great Barrier Reef, I’ll head back to the States. In California, I plan to meet up with Danny (let me know when Wilco’s going to be in town, so I can plan my visit accordingly), stay in his movie-set-worthy home, and convince him (I don’t think it will be too hard) to engage in a week-long movie/DVD marathon with me. I can’t think of any other friend I’d rather have accompany me to the movies.

When I’m all “movied out,” I’ll head up the coast to visit dear Bloglily. I want to cook, bake, and maybe even sew a couple of Christmas stockings with her (I’ll embroider the initials on them, BL, if you’ll run the machine). Maybe we can read Ulysses together, and you can inspire me to do my own podcast (I don't have high hopes for the latter), and I want lots of time to have fun with your three boys, as well.

Then I’ll be heading home, but there will be many of you I’ve passed by, like dear Jordan , because I’ve managed to miss any allusions to your location on your blog, and I don’t know where you are. I promise you, though, that if you’ve been a regular visitor to my blog, and I’ve left comments on yours, then I’d love to visit you along with everyone else, before my trip is over, so just let me know where to stop.

And once I’m settled back home, is anyone interested in visiting Connecticut? If you don’t mind a huge mess, surrounded by plenty of reading material and lots of good food and drink, my door’s open.

Thursday Thirteen Revised on a Saturday

Spurred on by reading Ms. Blossom’s recent post in which she discussed swapping books in and out of her 2007 classics challenge, I was encouraged leapt at the chance to do the same. My thirteen adult classics was a ridiculously impossible list of many 500+ page books that I must have compiled after drinking a couple of martinis or something. I’m only two months into the list and already realize I’m never, ever going to be able to meet this challenge, especially if I plan to read anything else this year. I’ve taken a look at the children’s classics I chose as well, but that list still seems reasonable at this point and will stay the same. Meanwhile, the changes I’m making in the adult list are bolded (keeping in mind that I still wanted a multicultural sampling of titles).

A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul, because this book practically meets criteria #2 all on its own: Trinidadian author of Hindu parents writing about an Indian living in a newly-independent African nation.

I’m replacing The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky with The Captain’s Daughter and Other Stories by Alexander Pushkin, because the introduction tells me “Russian literature is truly said to begin with [Pushkin].” How can I read Dostoevsky when I haven’t yet read anything by the first true Russian literaturist?

Bread and Wine by Ignacio Silano, because it’s extraordinarily pathetic how little I know about Italy and Italian literature. Of course, reading this book is just going to highlight my ignorance even more, but perhaps I’ll learn something along the way.

I’m replacing The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal with The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (which is actually a longer book, but it doesn’t matter, since I’ve been cutting so efficiently with other titles), because I realized I didn’t have any American authors on this list, while I had two French, Danny said to read it, and we have a copy of it, but don’t have a copy of East of Eden, which both Danny and Froshty said to read.

I’m replacing A Dream of Red Mansions by Cao Xueqin with Excerpts from Three Classical Chinese Novels, because A Dream of Red Mansions seems to be best reserved for a year in which one only plans to read about three classics, and I will still get a taste for Chinese literature without having to read a three-volume-long novel.

Faust by Johann Wolfgang won Goethe, because not having read this is like not having read The Bible when it comes to reading and trying to discuss so much literature that’s been written since.

The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, because I absolutely love One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera (one of the few books I’ve read more than twice in my life), but I’ve never read anything else by Garcia Marquez.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, because (as I’ve mentioned somewhere before), I’ve been meaning to read Le Miserables forever, but always find it too daunting. Thought I’d start with this shorter work and see if it inspires me further to tackle Le Miserables.

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, because I so love If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, and it’s high time I read this one.

I’m replacing The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis with Aeschylus's Prometheus Bound and Other Plays. Why not start with an ancient Greek writer rather than with Kazantzakis, and why not try drama rather than a novel? It has nothing to do with the fact that all four plays together only add up to a book that’s 159 pages long.

I’m replacing Lorna Doone by Richard D. Blackmoore with A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, because Jordan said I should read it, and I’ll probably end up reading Lorna Doone as well, but it might drag on into 2008.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, because doesn’t everyone read this in high school? I must have been absent that week or something…

I’m replacing Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child with M.F.K. Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me, still about French cooking and food, but maybe a little more fun and less time-consuming to read.

There, I’ve just decreased my reading challenge by about 3000 pages and am breathing normally again.

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Dog's Love

(In memory of Lady: March 30, 1996 - February 16, 2007)

Bob, my resident theologian, has been known to say, “If you want to know about God’s love, don’t look to human beings. Look to dogs.” We humans are far too flawed to ever really love each other the way a dog can and does love. We can catch a glimpse of it in young human children, who do come very close to loving in that pure and oh-so-trusting way, but then they grow up and go off to school, and they start to lose it.

Bob is also very adamant in his belief that human beings are not the be-all and end-all of God’s creation, that God loves all of creation, and that our responsibility is to help care for all of it. Of course, it’s very Darwinian of us to believe we’re superior, that we’re the most important. We search our religious texts for proof of this fact, like children desperately wanting to be their parents’ favorite. It’s all about survival of the fittest. We look out for number one, and then, when number one seems to be okay, we turn to protecting those who are just like us, members of our own species, first. That’s why some people who might be very sympathetic if your parent, sibling, spouse, or child died suddenly, will say to you when a beloved animal dies, “It was only a dog/cat/horse/rabbit.”

I’m not as familiar with other species as I am with the three who’ve been a major part of my life: humans, dogs, and cats. But if I were to rank just these three, I promise you humans would not come out on top. It’s no wonder to me we go searching through texts written by our own species to try to prove our own superiority. Experiencing the love, the selflessness, the will, the strength, and the courage of a dog (not to mention the ability to know the cheese drawer has just been opened in the fridge, even if she’s way out somewhere in the back yard) can make one feel so inferior.

I’m not so unrealistic as to think that dogs aren’t capable of being selfish or mean (witness Ian's and my posts on Henry). I know from firsthand experience they can be. But I also know that when a dog decides to love and to give its all to a human being, that love is the most precious and pure of loves. It’s the sort of unconditional love humans can only ever hope to receive from adult humans. It’s the sort of love that allows someone to yell at it for barking when it’s only trying to protect that someone and still come back to lick that someone’s hand. It’s the sort of love that allows someone to leave it lonely and scared for an entire day, and instead of being sulky and uncommunicative when that someone returns, leaps for joy, indicating that this is absolutely the best thing that’s happened all day. It’s the sort of love that truly would lay down its life for that someone, fighting a member of its own species to do so, if need be.

And that’s why I’m awed by its superiority. It’s not the least bit Darwinian. How many humans do you know would engage in deadly battle in order to save a member of another species? It humbles me, because, I for one, know I’m always looking out for me and mine first.

For eight years, Bob and I were blessed with this sort of love. There are those who have told us we gave her so much, this poor little dog who was afraid even to take a few steps in our house when we first got her, having never known a life outside the back yard and a crate in the basement of her first family’s home. We did give her a lot. And I know it’s a cliché to say she gave us so much more, but we know there were times when she showed these two clueless people, relatively new to marriage, how to love each other, how to accept each other with all our flaws. And when we just couldn’t see eye-to-eye? She was there to comfort both of us, as well as to soften our passionate tempers for her sake.

Our house may now echo with emptiness. We don’t hear the clicking of claws on the bare floors. We don’t hear the barking when the FedEx guy arrives to deliver packages. We don’t hear water being lapped up in the kitchen. But our hearts resound with an abundance of love, put there by this little creature during the brief period she allowed us to care for her, and what she put there for us will be there forever.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Listening to Lolita in Connecticut

The last time I read Lolita my college roommate and I were dealing with a flooding basement apartment. We didn’t know how bad things were going to get yet, but things were bad enough. Water was seeping up through the cracks in the tiles, and we’d put newspapers down to try to absorb it. My bedroom seemed to be a little less wet than Tina’s, so we climbed on my bed together and read the assigned pages from the book out loud to each other. We were reading it for Modern American Lit, the only course we ever took together, and we both had a crush on the T.A. who was teaching it. He, being a Ph.D. candidate, couldn’t have been more than a few years older than we were, but for some reason, I viewed my crush on him (you know how when you’re only nineteen, someone who’s 27 seems ancient) as being very Lolita-like. The oddest thing was that he wasn’t my type at all, reserving, in the superficial way most young women that age do, my crushes for those who fit my idea of good-looking: tall, dark, and handsome (oh yes, and wiry, and clean-shaven. Dark, soulful eyes with long lashes were an added bonus). He was short, stocky, sandy-haired, and bearded. He wasn’t Tina’s type, either, which means maybe he was the first man on our roads to maturity, making us realize looks weren’t everything.

By the time we got home from class the next day, those newspapers we’d so carefully laid down the previous night were floating around the apartment. Because this was a particularly wet spring, everyone else was having basement flooding problems as well, and we couldn’t get anyone to come in and pump it out for us. I did what any self-respecting second-year college student would do: climbed up on the kitchen table for a good cry, and then called Daddy. Luckily, it just sort of all receded by itself eventually, and by the time my father had canceled his own classes and made the four-hour drive up to our place, there was nothing to do except be taken out to dinner by him. Of course, the water hadn’t waned without ruining a few things, but the damage, which could have been much worse, was minimal. Our landlords fixed the gutters, and we never had another problem, but from then on, a heavy dewfall would have us calling friends to see if we could come spend the night at their places.

Supposedly that sort of trauma either makes one remember everything surrounding the event in great detail or makes one forget everything associated with it. My brain tends to prefer the latter method of dealing with life. Thus, with the exception of what anyone could learn from reading a blurb on its cover, a couple of classes devoted to the topics of satire and love stories, and the fact I wrote what I thought was a very clever paper on the book, which my crush-of-the-moment broke my heart by not liking (he’d always loved everything I’d written up till that point, which was why this was the second class I’d taken with him. Well, that, and the fact that I had a crush on him, of course), I don’t remember much about the book at all. For a while now, I’ve been thinking it’s time for a reread.

Whenever I go to the library, I always feel like I’m being less of an infidel to all the hundreds of books I have on my shelves at home (each of whom has been dying for me to pick them up for a little tête-à-tête) when I head for the audio book section instead of the regular bookshelves. After all, these are books that can do more than the ones on my shelves at home. They can be read while I’m cooking and walking and folding laundry. So last week, when I was returning DVDs (something else that can’t cause jealousy amongst all my book friends), I was browsing the audio books and came across Lolita read by Jeremy Irons.

Can you imagine anyone more perfect for reading Lolita than Jeremy Irons, except possibly Anthony Hopkins? I’m about halfway through it at the moment, and he’s done exactly what any good pervert should do: drawn me in at the beginning with his unmistakably sexy charm and wit, which are oh-so-slowly becoming evermore creepy, the charm beginning to lose its shine and the wickedly wry sense of humor beginning to overstep acceptable bounds. As I listen, I am just amazed how I’ve managed to forget so very much about this book. I can’t fathom how I could have forgotten the most important details. Maybe because my eyes were too focused on wet newspaper words, my feet were cold, and I was afraid I was going to be swimming out to the kitchen to get my breakfast in the morning?

I can’t help but think that Nabokov probably would have preferred for us to listen to his books rather than to read them, to have them fed into our brains in this way. I can picture him reading pages aloud to himself, the well-chosen words in their rainbows of color and sounds. I’m jealous. I’m jealous that he might have been not only able to write and read the words and to conjure up images of Humbert Humbert and Lolita, but also that he might have been able to taste the bitterness or the sweetness of the words he chose to tell his stories, to feel whether they were rough or smooth, to know that "Lolita," a word that has always sounded rather stupid to me, is a word that is a soft pink, that feels like a rose petal, that smells like baby powder. How can any aspiring writer not be jealous of that – to have such a sensual relationship with letters and words -- despite the fact that it points to a rare problem most people wouldn’t understand and that very well might drive a person mad?

I think this way, because being one of those weirdoes who is fascinated by the brain and how it works, I’ve devoured books and articles on the intriguing disorder known as synesthesia, a neurological condition that causes sensory overlap. A synesthete (for all you non-brain-weirdoes out there) is someone who, for instance, might taste or feel numbers or see letters and words as colors or distinct shapes. The last time I read Lolita, I wasn’t aware Nabokov was a synesthete, but it’s nearly impossible to read about the disorder without finding some sort of reference to him. How appropriate, then, that my first time around I found myself listening to the book, my brain on sensory overload, and now, with my second go-round, I’m listening to it yet again, mostly while I walk through the snowy woods and fields in bitter cold weather. “Lolita” is now a word that will forever conjure up stocky young crushes, soggy newspapers, as well as snowy whiteness, a seductive voice, and cold extremities for me, and isn’t that so appropriate? I wonder, however, if I will better remember the details of the actual story this time.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Mysterious Book List

Our beloved little Lady died very unexpectedly yesterday, and I plan to post a memorial to her soon, but I’m not ready today. Thank you to both Cam and Charlotte, from whom I got this irresistible list (as if I haven’t bored everyone enough in the past few months with multiple book lists). Retreating into books and thinking about them is a natural thing to do for me at a time like this, and this made for a nice and easy post on a day in which the real sun may be brightly shining and reflecting off the snow, but where dark clouds hang for Bob and me over the places where the little footprints should be.

I have no idea where the list originated, nor how these books were chosen (I’m wondering if someone just listed everything she had on a bookshelf or something. I say "she" because of such entries as Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Bridget Jones’s Diary. All you men out there who have read these books can tell me I’m being horribly sexist, but none of my male friends has ever told me he's read either one). If it wasn’t something as random as that, I have no idea, because it seems an extremely odd list. These were the instructions:

Bold the ones you’ve read, italicise the ones you want to read, cross out the ones you won’t touch with a 10 foot pole, put a cross (+) in front of the ones on your book shelf (I’m counting anything that’s on any of our bookshelves, whether it’s Bob’s book or mine), and asterisk (*) the ones you’ve never heard of. As others have done, I’m leaving the ones about which I feel indifferent unmarked.

1. + The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown) By now everyone knows how I feel about this one.

2. +Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) Perfect to read, perfect to listen to on tape, perfect to watch on DVD.

3. + To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee) Oh how I wish Harper Lee had written more, but how could she?

4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell) Really would like to read, but have too many other things to read first. Besides, I’ve seen the movie.

5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien) Been there, couldn’t do that, won’t try anymore (this goes for the next two as well).

6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)

7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)

8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) Have no idea why I’ve never read this, but I do hope I get around to it one of these days.

9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon) Tried it. Couldn’t for the life of me figure out what all the fuss was about. Abandoned it.

10. * A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry) Never heard of it. Someone who has, please enlighten me.

11. + Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling) I’ve only made it to the third Harry Potter, but plan to read all of them eventually (repeat this sentence for each Harry Potter on the list).

12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown) I suppose if I were locked in a room with nothing else on the shelf to read except a stack of National Enquirers (and I’d devour the NEs first).

13. + Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)

14. + A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving) Way, way up, very near the top on a list of my all-time favorite books (and one of the few books I’ve read in my adult life more than twice)

15. + Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden) Really, really do want to read it.

16. + Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)

17. * Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald) Again. I need enlightening.

18. + The Stand (Stephen King) Because both Bob and Hobs have told me I need to read it.

19. + Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban(Rowling)

20. + Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) Another all-time favorite. Soon, it too, will be one I’ve read more than twice as an adult.

21. + The Hobbit (Tolkien) I don’t suppose it counts if a teacher read it to the class, and you spent the whole time drawing and coloring and paid absolutely no attention whatsoever?

22. + The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger) One I’d like to reread at some point.

23. + Little Women (Louisa May Alcott) Multiple times.

24. + The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold) What a lovely book that was.

25. + Life of Pi (Yann Martel) This is one of my brother’s favorite books, and he gave it to me. Sadly, I have yet to read it, although I’m sure it’s going to be fabulous when I finally do.

26. + The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) Funny, funny, funny.

27. + Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte) I’ve written about this one before.

28. + The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis) Didn’t care for it nor any of the Narnia books as a kid as much as everyone else seemed to. Liked it a bit better as an adult, but still much prefer other children’s fantasies.

29. + East of Eden (John Steinbeck) I’m woefully behind when it comes to reading everything by Steinbeck. Have read Of Mice and Men, and that’s it.

30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom) Found this much more interesting than I expected when I picked it up at a friend’s house just to “browse” it, and was still reading it an hour later. Had to check it out from the library to finish it.

31. + Dune (Frank Herbert) Read it for a college course. Found it extraordinarily tedious.

32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks) Want to read to see what all the fuss is about, but have a feeling I’m not going to like it, so keep putting it off.

33. + Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) I just have no desire to read any Ayn Rand.

34. 1984 (Orwell) ? I’ve written about this one before, too. At most, I’ve skimmed it, which means I haven’t really read it.

35. + The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley) I think I want to, but again, not really sure I’m going to like it, so it’s not a high priority.

36. + The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett) Absolutely, completely surprised that I loved this one (Ken Follett? Never in a million years would I have thought I’d say that about a book of his) recommended to both Bob and me by friends whose reading tastes we trusted.

37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay) This really, technically, should have an *, I suppose. Have only just heard of it, know nothing about it, and don’t feel anything about it. Really.

38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb) Sort of want to read it, because of the subject matter, but a little worried, because She’s Come Undone rang hollow for me.

39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant) Want to read it, but am afraid I’m going to find it way too depressing.

40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho) Again, it’s not too far up on the list, but I’m somewhat intrigued.

41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel) Tried. Just couldn’t get into it.

42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini) Very mixed feelings about this book that didn’t unmix themselves, even by the time I got to the end of it. Interesting story. Not particularly well written, and way too many coincidences for my taste. Still, I learned a lot about a culture I really know nothing about. And some of the characters were very likeable.

43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella) I might like it if I read it, but I’m not drawn enough to it to find out.

44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom) Well, I didn’t expect to like Tuesdays with Morrie, but a little of that sort of stuff goes a long way with me.

45. + Bible (Haven’t read the Apocypha) Fascinating, fascinating read (if you can get through the long, boring parts)

46. +Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)) I’ve written about this one as well.

47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas) Seen the movie, really want to read the book, just haven’t gotten around to it.

48. + Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt) And I keep promising myself I’m going to stop reading memoirs about horrible, harsh childhoods, and then I end up being seduced by them.

49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) Already commented on Steinbeck.

50. +She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb) See #32

51. +The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver) I know, I know, I know. Everyone under the sun has told me: I have to read it.

52. + A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens) Ditto.

53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card) I’m just not into this sort of stuff.

54. + Great Expectations (Dickens) Ditto 51 and 52.

55. + The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald) I want to re-read it soon.

56. * The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence) I need enlightening again.

57. +Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)

58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough) Read it years ago. Don’t think I’d like it if I read it today.

59. + The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood) I’ve read other Atwood and loved it. Don’t know why I haven’t read this classic.

60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger) Will read soon.

61. + Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky) One of The Greats.

62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)

63. + War and Peace (Tolstoy) Another one of The Greats.

64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice) Used to think I wanted to read this, but I’ve lost interest (despite being a huge fan of vampires).

65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis) I love what little of Robertson Davies I’ve read. Must read more.

66. + One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) Another one I want to re-read.

67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares) All the young women and teen girls I know just love this one.

68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) Have never been all that interested in this one until recently when my brother-in-law told me he once had a student who compared it to Aristophanes. I love, love, love Aristophanes, so it’s now on my TBR list.

69. Les Miserables (Hugo) One day, I hope I’ll be able to say, “I’ve read it!”

70. + The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery) Lovely little book. I haven’t read it in years, though.

71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding) Laugh-out-loud funny.

72. + Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez) Another one of The Greats.

73. + Shogun (James Clavell) Only interested because Bob loves Clavell, so maybe one day, I’ll get around to reading it.

74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje) I really just don’t feel one way or the other about it. Same with the movie.

75. + The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett) As a child and as an adult. Enchanting.

76. * The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay) I like the title, but never heard of it.

77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith) I plan to reread this one this year. Loved it at age thirteen. Hope I still will.

78. + The World According To Garp (John Irving) One I should reread. I haven’t read it since I was fifteen.

79. * The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)

80. + Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White) And Stuart Little, which is oddly absent from this list, as well.

81. * Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley) Haven’t a clue what this is.

82. + Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck) Ahhh. There’s the one Steinbeck I’ve read.

83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier) Read and reread.

84. * Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind) What is this?

85. + Emma (Jane Austen) Read and reread.

86. Watership Down (Richard Adams) Have always been meaning to reread.

87. + Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) Hope to read soon.

88. * The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields) Another one whose title sounds interesting

89. Blindness (Jose Saramago) Thanks to Dorr, I want to read this, and even checked it out of the library once, but had to return it before I’d gotten to it.

90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer) How have books like this ended up on such a list?

91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje) Why so much Ondaatje?

92. Lord of the Flies (Golding) Sort of want to read it, but know it will upset me terribly, so never get around to it on purpose, I think.

93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck) Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous both for its insight into another culture as well as insight into human needs and psychology.

94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd) Someone convince me this is one I need to read. No one really has yet, despite all the hype, but I can't say I don't want to read it at all.

95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum) Again, why is this on such a list? Am I missing something?

96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton) One of those highly-praised YA novels, like Judy Blume books and The [hideous] Chocolate War, that always made me wonder, “Doesn’t anyone ever think that maybe what teenagers need most is not to read about horribly realistic things that portray being a teenager as a terrible time, but things that will make them laugh?”

97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch) Want to, but haven’t yet.

98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford) Barbara Taylor Bradford? Where’s Jackie Collins, then?

99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)

100. Ulysses (James Joyce) until this year when Bloglily started posting on it, this would have been a cross-out. But now, she’s intrigued me.

Okay, time to stop listing and writing about books and go read.

Friday, February 16, 2007

I am From

(Well, I was inadvertently tagged for this one by Courtney. Go read hers. It’s really inspiring, makes you want to hop on a train bound for Michigan. And then go read Charlotte’s , which was the first one I read, so you can long to visit South Africa.)

I am from summers so hot and humid, the sheets stick to your body, and the fan just blows around hot air, but you can hear the cicadas and frogs and crickets loud and clear in their nighttime operas, and a swimming pool or the ocean in mid-July is never, ever too cold to just plunge right in without a second thought. The honeysuckle grows lush and thick along fences and over bushes; my nose forever will be so attuned to its scent I can smell it long before I ever see it, and when I take my first whiff of some bubble bath meant to smell like honeysuckle it turns my stomach in its falsehood. I am from winters that never have enough snow, but when the snow comes, everyone stays home, and it’s like a holiday in which the traditional meal is hot chocolate and gingerbread, and snowmen guests arrive in tatty old scarves and hats, long noses turned orange rather than pink from the cold.

I am from traveling in a westerly direction to discover some of the most beautiful, soft rolling old mountains in the world. These mountains play dulcimers and banjos and go clogging well into the wee hours of the morning when the rising sun joins them to dance light off their blue ridges. Breakfast is fried eggs, sausage patties, grits with a puddle of yellow butter sitting in their center, and homemade biscuits dripping with butter and honey.

I am from traveling in an easterly direction to land upon miles of sandy white beaches, rough ocean waves rolling and smirking over the “graveyard of the Atlantic,” where ships’ skeletons provide homes for coral, colorful fish, and giant turtles, as well as plenty of fodder for folktales. The sand dunes stand up safe and tall, laughing at the ocean that tries but can’t reach them, colorful hang gliders running and jumping from their peaks to join the birds majestically soaring through the deep Carolina blue skies around them. Lunch is the best fried chicken ever, fresh-baked rolls, mashed potatoes smothered in butter, and tangy coleslaw speckled with black pepper.

I am from a place where long afternoons are spent down by the creek, barefoot and in shorts, wading around and catching tiny-clawed crawdads with nets made from wire hangers and old stockings, who are released immediately due to feelings of sorrow for taking them from their homes. I am from flying kites that stubbornly refuse to stay aloft, even though the wind seemed to be howling all night, in freshly-mown fields, blades of grass clinging to dewy legs. I am from dancing lessons in a studio below a general store where frozen cokes and candy bars await once the heinous lessons are done. Supper (never "dinner") is pork chops and black-eyed peas and green beans cooked in fatback, and if I’m lucky, we might have chocolate or tapioca pudding for dessert.

I am from tobacco fields and cigarette factories and a downtown that smells like grape juice to a young child who doesn’t understand tobacco smells like that. I am from Moravian settlers who left their marks with sugar cake, cookies, and coffee. I am from drama schools and live theater and underwear mavens and small liberal arts colleges. I am from a very American place.

I am also from a place in which, to my horror, the “n” word is used and spoken, but where, mysteriously, blacks and whites actually work, socialize, interact with each other, and live in the same neighborhoods far better than they do where I currently live. I am from a place where, as one black friend of the family who moved north only to come back, once described it, “you hate us as a race, but you love us as people.” I am from a place where life might be much better if only everyone would admit to a legacy of unnatural and unfair prejudices. It's a place where, contrary to popular belief elsewhere, 95% of the people are not "still fighting the Civil War," but where many, many people are still fighting just to survive every day.

My hometown is so stiflingly conservative and cliquish, I’m not going to be able to breathe if I don’t escape it, so I flee to a place where I’m sure I’ll find far more like-minded people. I am wrong, but not completely wrong. So, now my hometown is a place I’m learning to forgive for its stifling ways, but where I don’t ever want to go back to live.

I am from a place where people aren’t nearly as stupid and backwards as outsiders seem to think they are, but where everyone still has a lot to learn. But then, aren’t all places like that?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine Meme

Valentine’s Day was one of my favorite holidays when I was a kid. From the chalky little pastel hearts saying “Be Mine,” as well as the heart-shaped boxes of chocolate my grandmother would send us to the shoeboxes we transformed into mailboxes to receive all our Valentines from classmates to picking out the cutest Valentine to give to my best friend to the heart-decorated cupcakes and lollipops we’d get at the party (back in the days when schools weren’t blamed for children’s bad eating habits, such fare was still allowed to be served in the classroom, and the childhood obesity rate in this country was probably somewhere around half what it is today), I was in seventh heaven. In fact, as far as I was concerned, February, the month so loathed by so many, despite its short duration, was my favorite. First we had my mother’s birthday, then Valentine’s Day, and then my birthday.

The year we were living in England when Valentine’s Day rolled around, I discovered the wonderful British tradition of not signing Valentines (that was going on thirty years ago, and I hope this is a tradition to which the Brits still cling, having not yet fallen under the crushing spell of Americanization). What fun to receive Valentines, trying to guess who they were from. I attended an all-girl school, so there wasn’t much likelihood of getting a good one from any boys (I was in love with all the boys in our village. How could any American girl not be? Alas, I didn’t receive any from them, everyone being way too shy and awkward to do such things), but it didn’t matter. My girlfriends and I devised clever ways to surprise each other with Valentines without letting us see how we did it. You’d open your geography book, and inside would be a Valentine; you’d be searching for your pen in your schoolbag, and there you’d find a Valentine; all Valentines being signed with nothing more than a mysterious “?”

I still love the notion of Valentines being unidentified, which is why I’ve devised my Valentine’s meme with this in mind. Valentines, as we all know, do not necessarily have to be lovers or spouses. I’ve always been my father’s Valentine, for instance, and he still writes in letters to me “Won’t you be my Valentine?” When I was young and had more time and energy, I used to send Valentines pretty-much the same way I sent Christmas cards to family members and friends.

So, I’m tagging everyone who’s reading this, and here’s what you’re to do. Choose an unidentified Valentine whom you’d like to laud, and answer these questions.

What’s the sweetest thing your Valentine ever did for you?
Made (or I should say, tried to make) a chocolate cake with chocolate icing for my birthday. I quickly learned that baking was not his forte, and any birthday cakes I have these days come from the bakery.

What’s the sweetest thing your Valentine does/did for you on a regular basis?
He once went with me to a doctor’s appointment in which I was told it was very important for me to be taking a multivitamin every day. He lays out my vitamins for me to remind me take them (otherwise, I’d never remember).

What’s the sweetest gift your Valentine has ever given you?
The first season of Once and Again on DVD, a television show he never liked much but knows I loved.

What’s the sweetest occasion you and your Valentine ever shared?
So, so many, but one that really sticks out in my mind was our first New Year’s together when we eschewed the madness of Times Square and very civilly rung in the new year from the top of the Empire State Building. I knew I wanted to marry him then.

What’s the sweetest thing you were ever inspired to do for your Valentine?
Back to birthday cakes. I bake him a German Chocolate cake every year for his birthday. I’m more successful with it than he was with my chocolate cake, but these have got to be one of the most difficult of all cakes to make. I always ask him why his favorite couldn’t be a simple white cake.

Well, I’m sure you can guess who my Valentine is. I hope others might be a little more original.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Visit me at Ian and Emily

I've posted over here today, which means it's now Ian's turn to post, if he can drag himself away from that great first shelf of books he has in his office.

And Stuart Little in a nutshell: this was a wonderful read as an adult. Stuart's character was so charming and so human, and I love the way the ending was left open. However, I can see why it never held my interest as a child. I was an odd child who was completely willing to suspend all disbelief for some things: a talking phoenix wrapped up in a magic carpet, say, or a tollbooth arriving with a little car that could transport a boy to a different world, or a pig detective. A mouse born to human parents who could actually talk to all the humans in his life, though? Forget it.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Nonfiction Five Challenge

I’ve got to be careful. I have a bit of a gut feeling that in my attempt to quiet my meme obsession, I’m going to spend 2007 taking on all sorts of challenges I can’t possibly finish. However, one of my blogging goals this year is to be less afraid of challenges, so it might be a good idea if I take on at least one and see what happens. I was inspired by this Nonfiction Five Challenge I discovered through Ms. Blossom over at The Library Ladder , basically because I read an awful lot of nonfiction as it is, so the task didn’t seem too daunting. I had a very hard time making my decisions, but I’ve finally come up with five titles I plan to read.

Bait and Switch by Barbara Ehrenreich. I read Nickel and Dimed last year and just loved it, not only because I love Ehrenreich’s wry take on things, but also because I learned so much about the hard lives of working class Americans in this day and age (who says we rid ourselves of slavery in the 19th century?). Oh yes, and then there's that whole thing that always fascinates me: getting to pretend you're something you're not and then writing a book about what happens.

The Lady and the Panda by Vicki Constantine Croke. As I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog, I love pandas. How could I possibly resist a story, featuring pandas, of a 1930s dress designer who decided to take over her dead husband’s expedition to China?

The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are Like Gossip by Keith Devlin – sounds like a fascinating take on math, and if I don’t make it part of a challenge, fascinating or not, I’m afraid I’ll never get around to reading it.

Pleasure of Ruins by Rose Macaulay. I read Macaulay’s Towers of Trebizond years ago, which is a wonderful read, for anyone who likes to read novels about independent, hilariously slightly mad women traveling about with their entourage. I haven’t read anything else by her, but a friend of mine recently lent me this and two of her other books. Macaulay, I am sure, will make a wonderful armchair traveling companion for sites of dead cities and palaces.

Salvador by Joan Didion. The same friend who lent me Macaulay also gave me all his Joan Didion books. I’ve read a few others by her (if you’ve been wondering, The Year of Magical Thinking is well-deserving of all the praise it received. That book and her thoughts will stick with you forever. I paired my reading of it with C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed, which made for a great combination, as one was about the death of a spouse after many years of marriage and one was about the death of a spouse after very few years of marriage). I know nothing about El Salvador, so hope to and should learn quite a bit from this one.

Anyone else want to take on the challenge?

Monday, February 05, 2007

Honk if You Read Bumper Stickers

Bumper stickers have always fascinated me. When I was young and hip, I used to attach them to my car (that oh-so-hip Subaru Justy I drove in those days). Mine were usually clever advertisements for my alma mater or political statements. These days, Bob’s and my cars are bumper sticker free. We considered putting the “Eat my voltage” sticker on the Prius (it came with it when we bought it), but we never did.

So, I’m a true voyeur now when it comes to this particular sort of adornment, and I have to admit they're becoming quite boring and unoriginal. Political bumper stickers merely announcing who you’re going to vote for/have voted for don’t cause a stir in me. Actually, I’m lying about that. There was a period when a “Bush” sticker would cause me to rethink my pacifistic, be-kind-to-others-on-the-road nature. Now, however, when I see one of those, which have become quite rare, I just think, “So, now that Bush has been in office so long, can you no longer afford the razor blade and nail polish remover you need to get that thing off, which does nothing but announce you voted for a filthy rich, arrogant idiot, who couldn't care less about you and your average income?”

Anyway, usually political bumper stickers don’t do much for me. They have to be extremely clever. Bumper stickers announcing college affiliations only grab my attention when I see a car that has about five different ones on it and find myself thinking, “Those poor parents with all those kids, forking out all that money.” Well, that’s what I think if they’re on the bumper of a beat up old Subaru station wagon. If they’re on the back of a Ford Excessive with tinted windows, I’m more likely to muse, “They deserve it. Hope all their kids flunk out, and they end up in the poor house with nothing to show for it.”

I hate those bumper stickers that brag about how Johnny is an honor student. Whatever happened to the days when such bragging was considered crass, and, besides, who really cares? Tell me your kid loves to windsurf, wants to be on Broadway, has become a vegetarian. Those are things that might make me want to stop and have a conversation with the child. I couldn’t care less if he/she can make good grades in a screwy educational system. Worse, though, are the ones that announce, “My kid beat up your honor roll student.” That’s supposed to be funny? I ask that question, because I fear what’s even worse: it’s true. Many honor roll kids get picked on enough without parents supporting that old schoolyard tradition.

Then there are those who like to sport the sticker that announces in tiny print, “If you can read this, you’re driving too close.” Obviously, they have no clue that there are those of us out here for whom the written word serves the same purpose a bright light does for a moth. If I see it, I have to read it. If you hadn’t slapped the ridiculous sticker there, I’d still be half a mile back instead of riding on your bumper right now.

Religious bumper stickers seem to be very popular. Again (says the future pastor’s wife), what happened to the days of considering these sorts of things to be private matters? I’m pretty sure not many conversions occur, because someone’s driving along and sees a “Jesus Saves” sticker on someone else’s car. One of the most amusing ones I saw recently just flat out said, “God is Pro-Life.” When I got over my feelings of wishing I was so sure of what God is, I found myself thinking, “Oh really? Where is this person getting his information? I mean, if you read The Bible, you’ll come across such things as The Flood, in which God just decided to kill almost everybody. You’ll discover people were killed merely because they carried The Ark of the Covenant incorrectly. These sorts of events don’t exactly point to a “Pro-Life God.”

I’m also somewhat amused by the “I brake for animals” bumper sticker. I mean, I really don’t know many people who don’t. It’s kind of like announcing, “I brake for red lights.” What do the people who stick this on their cars think: they brake, while the rest of us just plow right on through that cow, hoping to grab a good steak on the way out?

So, most of them bore me. Still, I’m a voyeur, always on the lookout. Every so often, one catches my eye and really turns me on. Problem is, like most one night stands, I never seem to be able to remember them.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Of Hobgoblins and Parking Lots

It was not a dark (well, maybe it was a little bit dark) and stormy night. But I was accompanied by a Hobgoblin. Now I know there are those of you who think he’s just calling himself a hobgoblin in a nod to a favorite author quote, as well as to a favorite creature, but I’m here to set the story straight: he really is a hobgoblin. Don’t let him fool you with his shy manner and warm smile. Stay on guard.

I’d been lured into an unfamiliar town (okay, so I was the one who suggested our writer’s group meet in this place that seemed a good halfway point for all of us, but he certainly didn’t object). Parking, for someone who doesn’t like to parallel park, can be a challenge in this town. I was not looking forward to the prospect of trying to squeeze my car into something that seems like 3 car lengths from the vantage point of the sidewalk, but which shrinks to half a car length when I’m behind the steering wheel. But luck (or so I thought), was with me that evening. I was just about to turn around and park on the block about half a mile from Border’s (our meeting place) when I discovered a little driveway and decided to turn into it.

It was one of those tiny little alleyways where drug dealers congregate, the sort of place a woman doesn’t want to be alone (all right, all right, not on "the right side of the tracks" on "The Gold Coast” of Connecticut, but it was a tiny little alleyway, hidden between two store fronts). However, I soon discovered it led to a tantalizingly empty parking lot, so was worth the risk, especially since at this hour, it was still light out. I searched for the multiple “Parking for Residents Only. Towing Enforced” signs so common in such places and found none. Parking my car and climbing out, I searched a little on foot to make sure no such signs existed, noticing the freshly-painted white fence that rose up along one side of the lot. I was almost late, so just decided to cross my fingers against the possibility that all signs had been painted over but that towing would still be enforced, and left the car, mentally marking the entrance to the lot by the fact it was next to a frame shop.

Fast forward a few hours to the end of our meeting, where he led me into the far corner of the store and the horror collection (well, yes, it was I who’d suggested we go look for Ramsey Campbell, but he seemed all too willing). Why did I not pay attention to the way he jumped all over the Campbell book we found -- a book that promised to be full of woodsy-type hobgoblins? Why did I think nothing of the fact that it wouldn’t register when the sales clerk tried to scan it, and it took a while to find it in the system? Why didn’t I suspect something when he too eagerly agreed to walk me to my car to make sure it hadn’t been towed?

But then, we started on the eeriest walk of my life (well, no, the streets weren’t dark and empty like they have been on other walks I’ve taken, but I promise you, there was something spine-tingling in the air that I just couldn’t quite put my finger on). We walked along to the spot where the parking lot entrance should have been, and, as all good magicians do, he was distracting me. I didn’t notice whatever it was he did to make it disappear, but it was gone. Poof! Nowhere in sight. Yet again, I saw nothing very odd in this at first. I blamed myself, happy I’m long past first dates at this point in my life, ones on which I might prove myself to be an incredible airhead who didn’t know where she’d parked her car. However, as we walked up and down the street a couple of times, I did begin to think, date or no date, this was really embarrassing. I knew we were on the right street. I knew I hadn’t passed a Starbucks, and yet, there was Starbucks coming up, once again, and no sign of my little alleyway.

“It was near a frame shop,” I finally said, then looked up to find every shop was a frame shop. I must have been so focused on looking for the lot, I had once again missed the little trick he’d performed to accomplish this feat as well.

At this point, I can only surmise he was beginning to get a little tired and had decided it was time to quit for the evening. We walked past two frame shops, and there it was! What a lovely little alleyway, reminiscent of the hills that led the Von Trapp family away from the Nazis and into safety, sporting its bright, fresh, new arrow painted at its entrance to point us in the direction of my car, which sat all by itself, waiting for me. Sure, he pretended all this was as strange as I thought it was, that we couldn’t possibly have missed that entrance, that yes, it was all very Twilight Zone-ish. But hindsight is 20/20, and we all know better now, don’t we?