Monday, November 21, 2011

Music Monday/Lyric Lundi

When I was growing up, my parents had this big, rectangular clock radio that they turned on every morning when they woke up. I'd inherit -- or, actually, more like steal -- it when I was in high school and use it as my alarm. By then, I had it set to my favorite FM album rock station, but back when I was very young, my parents had it set to the popular AM station that was mostly news and played the pop songs of the day. I remember many songs wafting out of that radio, but this is one of the earliest I can remember. I loved it, and my brother and sisters and I always sang this when we were on long car trips.

I particularly love this video, despite the fact that it's a little blurry. I love the shots of the audience, and look at that orchestra backing up a pop group. Most of all, though: look at that dress! I want a dress just like that. I also want to be able to sing like that. Oh well, one can always dream.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The 2012 Classics Challenge

Yes, yes, I know. I haven't even finished posting on the books I read for the R.I.P. Challenge, although I have finished reading them and will be getting posts up on the last three soon. Oh, and yes, I did just get chosen to be on Central Pennsylvania's One Book One Community committee, which means reading something like 40 or 50 books, but you know, winter is on its way, and for some reason, when winter hits, I like to turn to the classics. Maybe it's because I have fond childhood memories of reading Louisa May Alcott during Christmas breaks, but I love to curl up with mugs of tea or hot cocoa and a book that has stood the test of time, especially if it's a book that was actually bound and printed over 75 years ago and looks as if many, many have enjoyed it over the years.

How could I possibly not join A Classic's Challenge, created by Katherine Cox of November's Autumn? If nothing else, you've got to love that button you see here and that I get to put on my sidebar (if I can remember how to do that. If you don't see it there, someone in the know, please tell me how to do that in Blogger). What's really great about this challenge, though, is that it doesn't necessarily involve writing individual posts on each book (although I'm free to do so if I like). Instead, on the 4th of every month, I'm going to be responding to a prompt as it pertains to the book I'm reading (or have just read). That's a great idea, and I'm very interested to see how it goes. I'd never gone blog hopping until I joined the R.I.P. group read of Fragile Things, and I discovered that I really enjoyed it. It's more fun than bar hopping, for an introvert like me, and there are no hangovers to fear.

And now, without further ado: here is the list of seven books I will be reading in 2012. We are to read seven, three of which can be rereads. I've listed them alphabetically by author (I'm such a librarian).

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (a reread). When reading classics in the winter, one must read Austen. I have a suitably old, old copy of it to read, although I'd be tempted to buy one of those new Penguin hardcover editions like the copy of Emma Zoë's Mom gave me for Christmas last year. I can't justify doing that, though, in this house overflowing with books, especially when I have my grandmother's copy (in two volumes, nonetheless).

The Arabian Nights by Husain Haddawy (based on the text of the fourteenth-century Syrian Manuscript edited by Muhsin Mahdi). I actually have a three volume set of the tales, but I thought I'd start with this single-volume first. I've been wanting to read these tales for a long time (obviously, since I have acquired both a single-volume and a three-volume set), but recently reading Neil Gaiman's "Inventing Aladdin" has moved them from the "want-to-read-one-day" category to a "must-read-soon" category.

Heaven to Betsy and Betsy in Spite of Herself by Maud Hart Lovelace. This is actually two books in one, but I'm counting it as one, because each one is relatively short, and they're both in this one volume that I got on sale at Borders before it went out of business. I never read the Betsy-Tacy books when I was a kid, but I read an article about Maud Hart Lovelace not long ago that got me interested. In these two books, Betsy has gotten to high school. If I like them, I'll go backwards and read about her childhood years.

The Company She Keeps by Mary McCarthy. I got this one at a library book sale ages ago. I read The Group when I was in my twenties, loved it, and have been meaning to read something else by her ever since. This will keep me from waiting another twenty years to do so.

1984 by George Orwell (a reread?). Maybe I will discover once and for all whether or not I actually read this one in college. Then again, maybe I won't. Anyway, I've become more and more interested in it as of late, given the "Big Brother-like" world we seem to live in today, and, really, I just think it's something I ought to have read.

The Oedipus Cycle by Sophocles. Believe it or not, I've never actually read the whole thing, only Oedipus Rex, so, it will sort of be a reread but not really, and since 1984 may not be a reread, I figure I'm still well within my limit of three. A friend of mine has been reading Greek tragedies lately and has gotten me interested in doing so.

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein. Litlove wrote about this one some time ago, made it sound great, and I figure it's probably one of Stein's most accessible works, so I thought I'd start with it and see if I want to explore her further.

I reserve the right to swap out any of these titles with something else that comes along and interests me more, but right now, this is my plan. Join the challenge, if you'd like, or just enjoy it vicariously through all the other participants.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Friends and Socks

For a number of years, I wished for a pair of hand-knitted socks. Ideally, I'd knit them myself, but we all know how well my little knitting project went. I finally had to admit that I just don't have the patience for it. Maybe it's something that could teach me patience, but not at this point in my life. I'd rather spend my time reading and writing.

Since I'm probably never going to knit my own socks, the next best thing, of course, would be to have a friend who is so-inclined knit a pair for me. In fact, that's better than knitting them myself, because every time I put them on, I would think of my dear friend who'd spent all that time and effort knitting me a pair of socks. How humbling.

Well, for my birthday last year my friend Linda did just that. She gave me a pair of socks that she had knitted for me. I probably shouldn't say it was the best birthday present anyone ever got me (after all, I got an engagement ring one year for my birthday), but it was definitely one of the best. And I was right: I think of Linda every time I wear the socks, which I happen to be doing today, because it's suddenly turned quite chilly here in Pennsylvania.

For a number of years, I've also wished that I appreciated poetry more than I do. It's high time I got over my fear of poetry, left over from my high school days. I've had this wrong belief for so long that all poetry is chock full of hidden meaning that I'm too stupid to understand. Now, confronting this irrational fear is something, unlike knitting, that I know I can actually do. In 2011, I've chosen to read more poetry than I ever have, and I've begun to make great strides when it comes to poetry appreciation, begun to realize that, yes, some poetry is chock full of hidden meaning that I'm too stupid to understand, but plenty of poetry speaks worlds to me, or touches me, or makes me think. I've also realized that there are plenty of novels out there with hidden meaning that I'm too stupid to understand, but I don't avoid reading novels, and you'd never hear me say, "Oh, I'm not a big fan of novels."

I mentioned in my recent post on what I read while I was in Maine that one of the books I read was Americans' Favorite Poems edited by Robert Pinksy and Maggie Dietz. In this collection, Emily Wilson Orzechowski, a 59-year-old teacher from Oneonta, NY, chose the following poem by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda:

Ode to My Socks
(translated from the Spanish by Stephen Mitchell)

Maru Mori brought me
a pair
of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheep-herder's hands,
two socks as soft
as rabits.
I slipped my feet
into them
as though into
with threads of
and goatskin.
Violent socks,
my feet were
two fish made
of wool,
two long sharks
seablue, shot
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons,
my feet
were honored
in this way
They were
so handsome.
For the first time
my feet seemed to me
like two decrepit
firemen, firemen
of that woven
of those glowing

I resisted
the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere
as schoolboys
as learned men
sacred texts,
I resisted
the mad impulse
to put them
in a golden
and each day give them
and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers
in the jungle who hand
over the very rare
green deer
to the spit
and eat it
with remorse,
I stretched out
my feet
and pulled on
the magnificent
and then my shoes.

The moral
of my ode is this:
beauty is twice
and what is good is doubly
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool
in winter.

(Pinsky, Robert and Maggie Dietz, eds, Americans' Favorite Poems: The Favorite Poem Project Anthology, New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2000. pp. 200-202)

Emily Wilson Orzechowski chose it as her favorite with this comment, "I have knitted socks." (p. 200) Emily Barton would say, "I have received socks knitted by a dear friend. Everyone should be lucky enough to have such a friend in life." I'm pretty sure Pablo Neruda would agree with me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Little Eye Candy

Every so often, we need a little candy instead of a real meal, don't we? As long as we don't eat enough to gain 25 pounds and rot out all our teeth, it's certainly okay. I've had a bit of a craving for some empty calories lately and thought I'd share them with you, so here you go.

As far as I'm concerned, forget any half-dressed pop-movie-star-of-the-moment with his ridiculous six-pack abs and bulging biceps. It just doesn't get much sexier than this. And look at that! They're fully-clothed (my God, Baryshnikov even has on a jacket). Then again, you all know what a sucker I am for a man who can dance. Two men who can dance, dancing together? Well, I can almost understand all those ridiculous lesbian fantasies men have.

Take our eyes off the double handsome physiques for a moment, and it's really fun to compare the difference between a tap dancer and a ballet dancer. Even someone like me, who knows absolutely nothing about the details of dance, can tell that they move differently. (But, you know, that's kind of like claiming to read Playboy for the articles or something.)

If this is the sort of thing you enjoy: enjoy! If not, I'll try to provide a more substantial meal in my next post.

P.S. If they didn't dance, I would actually find Gregory Hines the more attractive of the two. In fact, when I was in college, I didn't understand why women swooned over Baryshnikov, and hung posters of him all over their walls, but that was before I'd actually seen any footage of him dancing. I changed my mind once I finally saw him dance.

Friday, November 11, 2011

R.I.P. Challenge: The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

Walpole, Horace. The Castle of Otranto. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

(This book was originally published in 1764.)

I'm still catching up on my R.I.P. challenge reads (and will be for quite some time, so bear with me). It's great to go away for three weeks, but not so great to do it in the midst of the R.I.P. challenge, when you finally decide to join it. Anyway, this was one of the books I chose for the challenge.

When Walpole first wrote The Castle of Otranto (as many fiction writers are wont to do today, although I'm guessing it may have been rare in his day), he claimed it was an old manuscript recently discovered and translated by "William Marshall Gent." I had to laugh when I read in the Introduction to this edition that,

His friend, the Revd. William Mason later wrote to assure Walpole that he himself had been entirely duped: 'When a friend of mine to whom I had recommended The Castle of Otranto turned to me with doubts of its originality, I laughed him to scorn and wondered he could be so assured as to think that anybody nowadays had imagination enough to invent such a story.' (xi.)

I am quite sure I would be as "duped" as the poor Revd. were someone to present me, tomorrow, with a so-called "lost" manuscript that manages to weave into it every gothic detail known to readers of such fare. That's because I'm convinced no one in the 21st century has the kind of imagination our ancestors had. Ironically, I would believe it whether the manuscript was "lost" from the 12th or the 18th century. You see, despite the fact that Walpole wrote the book, in part, to protest the 18th-century's "realist fiction," as he called it, he'd seen nothing, as far as I'm concerned, compared to the 21st-century's cynical, realistic fiction.

Forget what he might have thought about today's realistic fiction. I wonder what he might have thought about much of what's written today under the guise of "supernatural" and "fantastic" by authors who, outside the contexts of their bestsellers, would gleefully join in debates to prove that, personally, they believe in nothing other than the rational and the scientific. We've done our best to rid the world of all mystery and romance, other than Hollywood's simplistic and sentimental versions, and to make humans the center of the universe (very Darwinian of us, really).

I read The Castle of Otranto a number of years ago, or so I thought, but I now wonder if I just started it and never finished it. It doesn't show up in past book journals I've kept, and all I could remember about it, before I read it this time, was some sort of wicked prince, a sickly son, and a huge helmet. I couldn't possibly have finished it, because there's so much more to it than that, and the "more to it" is very memorable.

Anyway, I agree with the one thing I've heard everyone I know who's read it say about it: it's hilarious, because it's so over-the-top. May I repeat myself (or am I repeating the Revd.?)? It's incredibly imaginative, especially given the fact that it was the first novel of its kind. Walpole had no contemporaries to read who made him think, "Ahh, I could do that. Let me try," which is not to say that Walpole didn't provide plenty of nods to other writers, most especially Shakespeare.

Speaking of drama, if I were to sum up the book in one word, "melodramatic" would be my word of choice. So much so that I often felt that I was reading a play rather than a novel, despite the fact that all the dialogue is woven into the text in paragraph form without the use of quotation marks. That is, the human characters are all melodramatic and engage in the sort of dialogue (e.g. "'Villain! monster! sorcerer! 'tis thou hast slain my son!'" -- p. 21) that makes the book so funny.

We mustn't ignore the Castle, though, a character in its own right. The castle's large and lovely and complicated, with his turrets and towers and secret passages, not to mention just plain secrets. Oh, and did I say ghosts? I mean, would he be able to hold his head up without some ghosts? Add some ghosts to this most magnificent hero. He's a most magnificent hero, and I just may have fallen madly in love with him, but then, I've always been a sucker for a lovely castle. Like most romances, we can forgive it for not exactly being the best written book we've ever read. I mean, it's provided us with a heroic castle and a fun plot that has as many twists and turns as a secret passage.

Pour yourself a steaming cup of tea. Pull some short bread out of the cupboard, and place it on the tea cup's saucer. Turn off the phone. Tell everyone in your household that you have some horrible communicable disease, and they must stay away from you. Then, light the fire, sit down by it with your tea, short bread, and this little book, and don't get up until you've turned the last page. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Dear Smithereens requested a few photos from me. I thought I might use them to demonstrate details from the book. Here they are:

These characters did not appear in The Castle of Otranto, but that bridge did, I'm sure. Some knight and princess are stuck in the woods behind it.

The forests around the castle probably didn't look like this. Too golden and New England-y, and well, New England hadn't yet been invented.

More like this, I would think. There must be a witch hiding in there somewhere, huh?

The sea as viewed from the castle window. If you're lucky, some ghostly vessel will soon arrive on the horizon. In this case, it might be a giant ghostly vessel.

A most treacherous path for a princess to follow, should she choose to run away from a castle.

Monday, November 07, 2011

What I Read on My Fall Break

I recently got back from our annual 3-week stint in Maine in the fall. It was, as always, a lovely time in which Bob and I basically became complete recluses when we weren't out hitting the hiking trails (where I'm still a recluse, but Bob isn't. He chats with everyone he meets along trails. Luckily, this time of year that isn't as many as it is in the summer time) or eating in fantastic restaurants. I had all kinds of grand plans to do things like write all my pen pals (sorry, guys. Despite all promises to be a better pen pal, I suck, I know. Does it count that I constantly think about writing each of you?), make to-do lists that would help organize my life once back home, consult nature guides to learn about wild flowers and trees, etc., etc. What did I actually do? I read. And cooked. And outlined and wrote ghost stories. Oh well, it was vacation. Why should I have done otherwise if that's what I wanted to do? I thought I'd share my reading list with you, so here you go.

Books Finished

Americans' Favorite Poems edited by Robert Pinsky and Maggie Dietz (2000, W.W. Norton)
This is a great collection for a "reluctant reader" of poetry, like me. Quotes by Americans of all ages and from all walks of life precede each poem, and these quotes explain why people have chosen it as a favorite. Some of these explanations helped me to connect better to certain poems myself. Others made me admire people for making connections I didn't see or just couldn't make. I was reminded that reading is such a personal experience, but it can also be wonderful when shared, and I was heartened to discover so many who still turn to literature when faced with tragedy, which many seemed to do. I also found some new poems to add to my own "favorites" list, while enjoying rereading many that are already there (surprising I'd have such a list, being a "reluctant reader," but, apparently, I do).

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (2008, 1764, Oxford University Press)
I read this for the R.I.P. challenge, and I will write a proper blog post soon. Warning: I will be gushing.

The Demonologist: The True Story of Ed Warren and Loraine Warren, the World Famous Exorcism Team by Gerald Brittle (1980, Berkeley Books)
If you lived in or near Monroe, CT in the 1980s and 1990s, which I did, you knew who Ed and Loraine Warren were. Their most well-known "case" was probably Amityville. Bob got this book from them when he invited them to come speak at the boarding school where he worked in the eighties (before I knew him). I've been planning to read it for years and finally did. When it wasn't scaring the bejeezus out of me, I was busy thinking it was the dumbest book I'd ever read. Talk about clichés straight out of B movies (a possessed Raggedy Ann doll, a sorceress who even as a young child played games with things like pentagons, teens who invite trouble by playing with Ouija boards, etc., etc.), and I'm pretty sure you could find the word "havoc" on every single page of the book. Eventually, though, I came to the conclusion that it had been what I had hoped it would be: a worthwhile read, because it provided me with much fodder for my own attempts at writing supernatural fiction.

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (2006, William Morrow)
At this point, you're saying, "Really, Emily? You read that one?" Great book, though. Truly. Read it.

Love in Idleness by F. Marion Crawford (1894, Macmillan)
When in Maine, one must read a book that takes place in Maine. This is a very light read, which is not to say it isn't a delightful one, as well as a wonderful walk back in time. Crawford's characters are well-drawn and easily imagined, and the book provides a glimpse of Bar Harbor just before the turn of the 20th century, with photos and everything. I was enchanted.

Murder of Angels by Caitlín R. Kiernan (2004, New American Library)
Another R.I.P. challenge read, and, yes, expect more gushing when I finally post on it.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. Narrated by Jennifer Ikeda (2011, Penguin Audio)
I actually finished this one just before I left for fall break, but it's another R.I.P. challenge book, so I thought I'd include it in this list. Blog post (not quite so gushing) coming soon.

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman. Read by Neil Gaiman. (2006, HarperCollins Audio)
Yes, here it is again. The recurring dream. I have to say, though, that this was the first time I ever simultaneously read and listened to a book, and I highly recommend doing so with this particular book. It's best if you do it this way: read his annotation in the Introduction about a story/poem, then read the story/poem, and, finally, listen to him read it. You won't be disappointed.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Narrated by Stephen King (2000, Simon and Schuster Audio)
Friend-not-husband Bob recommended the audio version of this one to me, which I've been meaning to read for years. Can I say that listening to Stephen King read it made me feel as if I were taking a class with him? I've always respected King, but I respect him even more now, because he comes across as someone who knows exactly what he is: a good storyteller who enjoys what he does and has been successful but who knows he's no literary genius. If you are an aspiring writer who needs inspiration, you must read this book. Combine it with If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland and Eudora Welty's On Writing, and I guarantee you'll be sitting down at your desk to compose something. King offers sound advice, and he's honest, and funny, and endearing along the way.

Books Still Reading

The Town that Forgot How to Breathe by Kenneth J. Harvey (2006, Picador)
Part of my effort to read more Canadian authors, and Bob read it and urged me to do so. So far: eerie with well-drawn characters and a dreamy quality. How could I not like it? It's got ghosts and fairies.

Dracula's Guest and Other Victorian Vampire Stories edited by Michael Sims (2006, Walker and Co.)
Reading Neil Gaiman the way we did has taught me to slow down when it comes to reading story collections -- which I typically race through, especially collections of this sort. This is one of two other non-Gaiman story collections I took to Maine with me, and so far, so good. The Victorians (unlike today's writers) knew how to create vampires: spooky, mysterious, and dangerous.

The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories edited by Michael Newman (2010, Penguin)
I'm dragging this one, the other non-Gaiman collection I brought on vacation, out, because I just don't want it to end. I need to finish it, though, because it's the last of my R.I.P. challenge reads. Another gushing post coming your way soon.

Soulless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel by Gail Carriger. Narrated by Emily Gray (2010, Recorded Books)
Georgette Heyer meets the supernatural, which sounds hideous, I know. But it isn't. It works. If you are going to be a contemporary writer who insists on creating vampires (and werewolves and ghosts, etc.) who aren't (always so) spooky, mysterious, and dangerous, this is the way to do it. Carriger's attention to detail and sense of humor are admirable. Brilliant fun made all the better by the fact that Emily Gray reads it so well. I'm glad to know that when I'm done with this one, there are three more, all narrated by Ms. Gray.

That's it. I'd love to know what you've thought of any of these, if you've read/listened to them. Meanwhile, I need to get working on all those R.I.P. challenge posts, don't I?