She Who Reads

...and knits...and writes...and watches tv...and does a lot of other mundane activities that I'm sure to go on about at length!

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Location: Georgia, United States

I am a thirty-four year old woman with the desire (but not the certification) to be an English teacher. (I'm working on that certification part.) I am currently a full-time graduate student working on a Master's degree in English Education, a part-time substitute teacher, and also a student teacher. This blog is where I'll be talking about my reading -- but don't be surprised if I post about knitting too!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sock Trauma: Averted!

Well, I managed to figure out who the socks are for -- my father. Now I just have to finish them!

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Sock Trauma

Summer is a slow time for knitting. There just aren't many projects I want to work on when it's 90 degrees out -- especially if it's made of wool. So I've been taking to time lately to organize my stash and my unfinished projects lately.

I just found a pair of socks at the bottom of a pile of half-finished projects. I can no longer remember what yarn I was using, who the socks were for, or what size I was making.

Crap.

Whatever yarn is in this project, it's gorgeous. It's a thin sock yarn, a beautiful variegated black/dark gray, either wool or a wool blend.

One sock is completely finished. The other sock is half-finished; it looks like I just made the heel flap. I guess I'll just get random people I know to try on the finished sock and see who it fits! Then I'll know what size I was making. It'll be just like Cinderella! Only with socks.

I really need to learn to either finish a project completely or to take better notes. I am annoyed with myself.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Franken!Review: Dress You Up in My Love


TITLE: Dress You Up in My Love
AUTHOR: Diane Stingley
ORIGINAL DATE OF REVIEW: August 20, 2004
GENRE: Chick Lit
SUMMARY: Her life's becoming a nightmare.

Samatha Stone could have a wonderful life if only other people would cooperate. Like Greg Irvington, for instance. He's the man Sam always knew she'd end up with...right up until the moment he told her he's in love with someone else. Then there's her family, who have this annoying habit of disapproving of the way she lives. And don't even get her started about the holidays, which Sam would really prefer to be canceled for a year or two -- at least. All that changes when Alex Graham comes into her life.

He's the man of her dreams.

Alex Graham is smart, sexy, successful, sensitive, and ready to commit. There aren't many guys like him around; in fact, there aren't any. He's a figment of Sam's imagination -- one she makes the mistake of mentioning to her friends, her family, and Greg because she's tired of going it alone. And why should she have to when there are struggling actors like Mark Simpson eager to take on the role of Alex? Everyone who meets him swoons. Pretty soon, though, Mark's taking his role so seriously that Alex is more trouble than a real boyfriend. It's quickly becoming obvious that in order to reclaim her life and her self, Sam is going to have to end the charade...and break everyone else's heart in the process.

SHE-WHO-READS'S COMMENTS: I just finished this, and I really enjoyed it -- a lot more than I thought I would, even. It's more than just your typical chick lit book, despite the silly romantic comedy premise. (By the way, the silly romantic comedy premise was an awful lot of fun, and the reason I bought the book in the first place, so don't think I'm knocking it. I'm not.) Instead, we get a genuine, interesting novel about a set of characters who felt like real people. Even when the author was playing things up a little for comic effect, none of these characters felt like caricatures or cartoons -- they always came across as real people. The plot did get slightly ridiculous in places, but hey, what can you expect from a novel in which a woman hires an actor to play her fake boyfriend at family gatherings? It never got absurd, though.

And best of all, I felt like Samantha had really grown and changed throughout the course of the novel. She had a newfound understanding of herself and her relationships with other people by the end of the book. The character development was very satisfying to watch.

I also loved the author's style -- deadpan and sarcastic without being cynical or mean. Very funny stuff; I was laughing out loud in places.

Good book! I'm going to be looking out for more by this author!

RATING: Nine out of ten.

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Franken!Review: David Copperfield


TITLE: David Copperfield
AUTHOR: Charles Dickens
GENRE: Classic Literature

ORIGINAL DATE OF MINI-REVIEW #1: October 20, 2004
SHE-WHO-READS'S COMMENTS: I'm a big fan of nineteenth century British novels (if something as sedate as the nineteenth century British novel can be said to have fans). I've read and enjoyed the work of Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, and Eliot, as well as less well-known authors such as George Gissing and Elizabeth Gaskell. But somehow, despite being an admirer of Dickens, I had never read his semi-autobiographical masterwork, David Copperfield. I don't know how that managed to slip by me!

Anyway, I recently bought a copy and started reading it. (And, as a small digression here, let me applaude Barnes and Noble for publishing their series of classic literature. DC is a huge honkin' book -- 730 pages long -- but I got the B&N Classics edition, a really nice trade paperback, for only $7.95. Heck, I've paid that much for incredibly cheap romance novels in mass market paperbacks printed on poor-quality paper. The B&N Classics edition even came with a helpful section in the back of excerpts of contemporary critical response to the book! Yes, the good people at Barnes and Noble sure know how to appeal to the English major/nerd I am at heart....)

I'm not very far into it yet; I've only read the first six chapters. But I'm really enjoying it! It's been a long time since I've read Dickens, and I had forgotten how funny he could be! Not that DC is a boisterous, laugh-out-loud knee-slapper or anything. It's a gentle, decorous, nineteenth-century kind of humor. But humorous it definately is! It's also really sweet and warm. (So far. I'm rather afraid that might change. David's stepfather has all the characteristics of a classic abuser. So far, he's been very controlling of David's mother and has beaten David black and blue on one occasion. But he also just shipped David off to boarding school, so hopefully things will get better for David away from Mr. Murdstone's influence.) Despite all of that, David is such a gentle, good little boy that you can't help but love him, and you can't help but feel good reading about him. I'm looking forward to the next installment! (Yes, I am enough of a nerd that I looked up the original installments, so I could read the chapters in that grouping. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about: Dickens first published his books serially, in small installments. Volume One was the first three chapters. He would write Volume Two while Volume One was on the shelves of the bookstore. And so on. Only after all the installments came out and the novel was finished would they all be published together in book form.)

Right now, I'm struck by the similarities between Jane Eyre and David Copperfield. Both are bilgundsromans, both are written in the first person from the point of view of their title characters, both feature orphans (or, in David's case, a near-orphan) who suffered abuse and cruelty at the hands of their relatives (Jane's aunt, David's stepfather) who raised them, both were then shipped off to boarding school by said relatives. The main differences between them at this point are the gender of the protaganists and the fact that David knows his mother loves him, even if she's scared to demonstrate that love too openly for fear of Mr. Murdstone; Jane doesn't have that same assurance of love. David also received love from Peggotty, the servant; the servants in Gateshead are occasionally sympathetic to Jane, but are basically cold. I don't know what implications any of this has so far or what it all means, but I'm very interested to see how it will all play out.

I expect I'll be posting regular updates as I read. Anyone want to run to the library, check out a copy, and read along? Could be fun...

ORIGINAL DATE OF MINI-REVIEW #2: November 5, 2004
SHE-WHO-READS'S COMMENTS: I read another installment of David Copperfield last weekend. I meant to post an entry about it here, but as you can tell from my last several entries, I've been off in NaNo land -- and probably will remain there until December 1st. Busy writing! No time to read! Must -- get -- daily -- word -- quota!

Anyway.

David's mother died in this installment. It was very sad; I almost cried. Dickens writes good melodrama and angst. Of course, it wasn't anything like a surprise -- he laid the foreshadowing on so thick, I could see it coming a mile away. Dickens is a wonderful writer and does many things well, but subtle he ain't.

The chapters set at boarding school were quite good; they introduced some wacky, interesting new characters, some of whom are going to be important later on, I think. I was kind of reminded of Harry Potter in a few places, especially when Steerforth, the totally obnoxious student who I can't stand but whom David hero worships, gets in an argument with Mr. Mell, the poor but kindly teacher who is nice to David and goes out of his way to help him with his studies and pay attention to him; Steerforth ends up getting Mr. Mell fired. Intentionally so. I was reminded of nothing so much as Draco Malfoy and Remus Lupin from the third Harry Potter book here, except that Steerforth is a lot more subtle and clever (and competant in his evil scheming) than Draco ever was.

Good stuff! I'm looking forward to the next bit.

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Franken!Review: On Fire's Wings


TITLE: On Fire's Wings
AUTHOR: Christie Golden
ORIGINAL DATE OF REVIEW: July 21, 2004
GENRE: Fantasy
SUMMARY: She was born without caste or position in Arukan, a country that prized both. Then a chance encounter led her to a better life. But it also brought her to danger and destiny. Because Kevla Bai-sha's fevered dreams -- looming threats to their land and visions of dragons that had once watched over her people -- held the promise of truth.

Now Arukan -- shadowed by mountains and myths -- might be overcome by eternal darkness. Kevla, together with Jashemi-kha-Tahmu, rebel prince of the ruling household, would defy all law, all tradition, to embark on a daring quest for the half-forgotten elemental parts that will save the world.

And so Kevla must sacrifice everything...only to be reborn in dragon's flames...

SHE-WHO-READS'S COMMENTS: This was an excellent novel! I devoured it in the span of one day, and I already can't wait for the sequel to come out! It's got a real winner of a concept -- the Dancers and the Lorekeepers are just fascinating to me -- and some really great worldbuilding. Too many fantasy novels use recycled, generic, vaguely European settings -- not Christie Golden! Arukan is a complex society with an original, fresh, vaguely Middle Eastern feel to it. This was not a world I've read about before; Arukan is someplace new.

Kevla is a wonderful character, a vivid, likeable human being. We watch her grow from a child to a woman, and we get completely involved in her life. We identify with her and want to see her succeed. All of this is perhaps why some of the psychological places that Golden takes this character (please excuse the vagueness, but I don't want to give anything away to people who haven't read the book for themselves yet) make us, the readers, so uneasy. Golden takes some real risks and isn't afraid of pushing the envelope. And, while it may have been uncomfortable to go there, it makes the book feel so much more real. Nothing is in here just for the shock value; it is all absolutely necessary to further the plot. The way Arkuan society was structured made the particular event I'm referring to (and once you've read the book, you'll know exactly what I mean) inevitable, but nonetheless shocking, horrible, strangely beautiful, and tragic -- but always, always, emotionally honest and real. All of the actions that Kevla and the other main characters take ring true. There's not one false note.

The bottom line: this book is fabulous, original, engrossing, and real. Buy it now!

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Franken!Review: Beaches


TITLE: Beaches
AUTHOR: Iris Ranier Dart
ORIGINAL DATE OF REVIEW: July 14, 2004
GENRE: Fiction and Literature
SUMMARY: Loudmouthed, redheaded Cee Cee Bloom has her sights set on Hollywood. Bertie White, quiet and conservative, dreams of getting married and having children. In 1951, their childhood worlds collide in Atlantic City. Keeping in touch as pen pals, they reunite over the years ... always near the ocean.

Powerful and moving, this novel follows Cee Cee and Bertie's extraordinary friendship over the course of thirty years as they transform from adolescents into adults. A bestselling novel that became a hugely successful film, Beaches is funny, heartbreaking, and a tale that should be a part of every woman's library.

SHE-WHO-READS'S COMMENTS: recently finished reading Beaches by Iris Rainer Dart. I'd seen the movie before -- multiple times, in fact -- but I had never read the book. It was really good! I was immediately drawn in to the world of the novel; despite the fact that I already knew the basic outline of the story (if not all the details -- they changed quite a bit from what I remember from the movie), I found this book to be a compulsive page-turner. Cee Cee Bloom is a wonderful character to read about, loud-mouthed, brash, insanely talented, insecure, and just really good-hearted underneath it all. I found Bertie to be less compelling -- the most interesting thing about her was her death (okay...that was harsh. True, but harsh) -- but still a good, strong, EveryWoman-type character, who kept the story moving forward. A great depiction of a true friendship.

When I first started to get to the sad parts at the end, I was in a restaraunt, reading and eating lunch. I had to keep telling myself sternly, "Don't cry. You're in a public place. Don't cry." But I cried anyway.

Well, it was sad. That's one thing the book and the movie both have in common -- they're both tearjerkers!

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Franken!Review: Summer by the Sea


TITLE: Summer by the Sea
AUTHOR: Susan Wiggs
ORIGINAL DATE OF REVIEW: July 5, 2004
GENRE: Romance
SUMMARY: It's the beginning of another season in the seaside resort town of Winslow, Rhode Island, and Rosa Capoletti is given the chance to rediscover the pleasures of love and laughter, food and wine, friendship and romance . . .

With a little determination and a lot of charm, Rosa Capoletti took a run-down pizza joint and turned it into an award-winning restaurant that has been voted "best place to propose" three years in a row. For Rosa, though, there has been no real romance since her love affair with Alexander Montgomery ended suddenly and without explanation a decade ago.

But Rosa's life takes an unexpected turn when Alexander arrives back in town and asks for her help sorting through his late mother's affairs. Reunited at the beach house where they first met and fell in love, Rosa and Alexander discover that the secrets of the past are not what they seem. Now, with all that she wants right in front of her, Rosa searches for happiness with the man who once broke her heart -- and learns that in love, as in life, there are second chances.


SHE-WHO-READS'S COMMENTS: Awww, this was sweet! It left me with a happy glow when I finished reading it. A lovely story of a innocent childhood friendship between Alex Montgomery, son of a wealthy couple who had a summer home at the beach, and Rosa Capoletti, daughter of the Montgomery's gardener -- a friendship that develops into something more as they grow older. They're seperated by circumstances, and then meet up again as adults, and carefully try to reconnect with each other.

This book is full of warm-hearted characters who I loved getting to know, as well as some scrumptious-sounding Italian recepies that I can't wait to try. All in all, it's the perfect summer read, sweet and satisfying.

RATING: 9 out of 10

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Resurrecting Dead Book Reviews: Bet Me

I was reminded of the existence of this blog by an email I got today, and I decided to look it over. I realized that several of the older book reviews I have linked on the sidebar have disappeared, so I'm reposting them here. (Thank goodness for the Wayback Machine!)



TITLE: Bet Me
AUTHOR: Jennifer Crusie
GENRE: Chick Lit
ORIGINAL DATE OF REVIEW: June 30, 2004
SUMMARY: Minerva Dobbs knows that happily-ever-after is a fairy tale, especially with a man who asked her to dinner to win a bet. Even if he is gorgeous and successful Calvin Morrisey. Cal knows commitment is impossible, especially with a woman as cranky as Min Dobbs. Even if she does wear great shoes, and keep him on his toes. When they say good-bye at the end of their evening, they cut their losses and agree never to see each other again.

But Fate has other plans, and it's not long before Min and Cal meet again. Soon, they're dealing with a jealous ex-boyfriend, Krispy Kreme donuts, a determined psychologist, chaos theory, a freakishly intelligent cat, Chicken Marsala, and more risky propositions than either of them ever dreamed of. Including the biggest gamble of all-true love.

SHE-WHO-READS'S COMMENTS:

Okay -- wow, this was good! I think this is the most perfect chick lit book I have ever read. It was hilarious, for one -- the one-liners just kept coming the whole novel through. And they were good one-liners, funny, smart, sexy, and witty. The characters were fabulous -- well-drawn, quirky, likeable (the good guys), deliciously unlikeable (the bad guys), intelligent, and fully fleshed-out. These were people I wanted to get to know and hang out with, the kind of people I could see myself being friends with. And the plot was utterly absorbing. Once I started, I couldn't put the book down. Literally. I stayed up until 9:00 in the morning finishing this thing; by the end, I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open, but I kept on reading instead of doing the sensable thing and, y'know, sleeping, because I had to know what happened next. It's been a while since I've been that caught up in a book. I'm going to have to check out Jennifer Crusie's other novels, because that was really a lot of fun!

Oh! I forgot to mention the best part! The overweight heroine doesn't lose weight to win the heart of the hero! Not only is she as fat for the happily-ever-after ending as she was for the beginning, but the hero kept feeding her all the way through the novel because he liked the look on her face when she ate something yummy. I was starving when I finished Bet Me -- people kept eating pasta, chicken marsala, and Krispy Kreme donuts! I've been waiting a long time for a book that said you don't have to be thin to be happy, and actually meant it. Thanks, Ms. Crusie!

RATING: 10 out of 10

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Book Review: Disgrace

First off -- I haven't forgotten about posting my Poisonwood Bible reading journal. I've finished both the book and the journal, but I haven't gotten around to posting the last few entries here yet. I'll be doing that soon.

TITLE: Disgrace

AUTHOR: J. M. Coetzee

GENRE: Fiction and Literature

BACK COVER SUMMARY: After years teaching Romantic poetry at the Technical University of Cape Town, David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced, has an impulsive affair with a student. The affair sours; he is denounced and summoned before a committee of inquiry. Willing to admit his guilt, but refusing to yield to pressure to repent publicly, he resigns and retreats to his daughter Lucy's isolated farm. For a time, his daughter's influence and the natural rhythms of the farm promise to harmonize his discordant life. But the balance of power in the country is shifting. He and Lucy become victims of a savage and disturbing attack which brings into relief all the faults in their relationship. Chilling, uncompromising and unforgettable, Disgrace is a masterpiece.

SHE-WHO-READS'S COMMENTS: I posted this review over at Good Reads first, but I'm reproducing it over here too.

I literally just finished this book a few minutes ago, so I have not by any means worked though all of my reactions to it yet. It is written in a very spare, emotionally distanced style, even though it deals with very emotional topics. It is a page-turner, an absorbing, fast read that keeps you anxious to find out what happens next -- but that seems almost incidental, besides the point. I thoroughly disliked the main character, David Lurie -- he is unbelievably arrogant and chauvinistic -- but that seemed less and less important as the novel went on, and totally irrelevant by the end. In fact, I don't think there is a single likable character anywhere in this book, not even Bev Shaw (she is admirable, I think, but not likable). But these characters and their lives have so much to say to the reader that their likability just doesn't even enter into it.

This is an extremely complex book, with a lot going on -- I haven't even begun to unpack it all. At its core, it's about race, specifically about race relations in modern-day South Africa. But it also has a lot to do with gender politics and with animal rights (or, if not animal rights exactly, the treatment animals receive at the hands of human beings). Lucy, David's daughter, becomes the focal point for most of these issues, yet she, as a character, would eschew the whole notion of "issues". She doesn't deal in abstractions, only in the concrete necessities of daily life. She is -- all of these characters are -- hard to wrap your head around, hard to understand their motivations. Honestly, Lucy disturbed me even more than David disturbed me. David is an arrogant jackass who constantly romanticizes everything around him. Lucy, however, is a victim, a voluntary martyr. It is the role she has adopted for herself, the price she has decided she has to pay for being a white woman living in the South African countryside. She is powerless and oppressed -- not by other people, not by the society she lives in, but by herself. She may be trying to live a good life and be a good person, but I cannot imagine that anything good could possibly come out of the stance she chooses to take. She takes self-loathing to new and extreme levels, in my opinion.

So what is the disgrace that the title references? David's disgrace at the beginning of the book, being caught in an affair with a student? The disgrace Lucy feels from the rape? South Africa's disgraceful history of apartheid? The disgraceful behavior of the rapists and of Petrus, who is protecting them and may possibly have instigated the whole incident in the first place? Lucy's lack of self-respect? Her father's lack of empathy and connection with other human beings? Some other meaning I haven't considered yet? All of the above?

I don't know. But I know I will be thinking about this little novel for a long time to come. Haunting is, I think, the right word for it.

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Reading Journal Entry #5

Title: The Poisonwood Bible
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Pages Read: 187-311 (Book Three)

Initial Reaction: Nathan's story explained! So that's where his refusal to leave a man behind comes from, a deadly combination of guilt and doubts about his own bravery. That wouldn't be so bad if it were coupled with discernment and intellectual openness, but it's not. His refusal to run away -- ie, back down from a chosen course of action -- has turned him into a coward who is constantly running away -- from his familial responsibilities, from any facts that contradict his world view, and from any argument that he's in danger of losing. Ironic.

Ruth May has malaria! Poor thing! Of course, it's self-inflicted, the result of her refusal to take her quinine pills. Her chapters had an unreal and hallucinatory quality to them. Trippy. Also very cool.

Leah's crush on Anatole continues to grow.

Speaking of crushes -- Rachel's on Axelroot is both pathetic and horrifying. She wants to be a normal teenager with a boyfriend, and he's the only option. But he's so skeezy! Ick! Run, Rachel, run!

Orleanna is changed. She's a different person now. She says what she thinks and to hell with her husband. If he's going to ignore her so thoroughly, she'll ignore him right back.

Leah's starting to question her father. Slowly but surely. Good for her.

The ending, with the ants! Blargh! So horrible. I am going to have ant-related nightmares tonight, I just know it. And Orleanna just left Adah there! How could she? God.


Quotes:
  • "My father thinks the Congo is just lagging behind and he can help bring it up to snuff. Which is crazy. It's like he's trying to put rubber tires on a horse." (284)
  • "I know what it is: it's a green mamba snake away up in the tree. You don't have to be afraid of them anymore because you are one. They lie so still on the tree branch; they are the same everything as the tree. You could be right next to one and not even know. It's so quiet there. That's just exactly what I want to go and be, when I have to disappear. Your eyes will be little and round but you are so far up there you can look down and see the whole world, Mama and everybody. The tribes of Ham, Shem, and Japheth all together. Finally you are the highest one of all." (304)
  • "I reached out and clung for life with my good left hand like a claw, grasping at moving legs to raise myself from the dirt. Desperate to save myself in a river of people saving themselves. And if they chanced to look down and see me struggling underneath them, they saw that even the crooked girl believed her own life was precious. That is what it means to be a beast in the kingdom." (306)

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Reading Journal Entry #4

Title: The Poisonwood Bible
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Pages Read: 83-186 (Book Two)

Initial Reactions: Anatole seems an interesting character -- I'll be looking to see how he develops. I love the idea of Nathan serving an important social function, only not the one he thought he was -- he's removing the misfits and troublemakers from the spiritual life of the village! Ha!

Adah and the lion -- creepy! She is so jealous of and has so much resentment of Leah, and it comes out a little here -- left behind, again. Abandoned to her fate.

Hope chests: oooo-kay. How inappropriate and out of place can you get?

Nathan's absolute refusal to leave was infuriating. The lives of his wife and children are clearly unimportant to him -- he's so obsessed with his "mission" there's no room for anything else in his head. Not even for basic comprehension! Orleanna is the only one who really gets it, and Nathan ignores her as usual.

The death of Methuselah does not bode well. Methuselah = The Congo. Both had been caged for a long time, were recently set free but don't really know how to live an independent life. Now Methuselah is dead, killed by predators. Yeah. Not a good sign. Bad things are going to happen soon.

Quotes:
  • "I wonder that religion can live or die on the strength of a faint, stirring breeze. The scent trail shifts, causing the predator to miss the pounce. One god draws in the breath of life and rises; another god expires." (141)
  • "Set upon by the civit cat, the spy, the eye, the hunger of a superior need, Methuselah is free of his captivity at last. This is what he leaves to the world: gray and scarlet feathers strewn over the damp grass. Only this and nothing more, the tell-tale heart, tale of the carnivore. None of what he was taught in the house of the master. Only feathers, without the ball of Hope inside. Feathers at last at last and no words at all." (186)

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Reading Journal Entry #3

Title: Poisonwood Bible
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Pages Read: 50-82

Initial Reactions: Africa is changing them. They're finally beginning to realize that the American way of life is not universal -- and is, in fact, totally inappropriate here. Orleanna crying about the cake mix: "We brought all the wrong things." Rev. Price is much less observant -- too sure of himself to pay attention to anything outside of his own head. The flat rows vs mounds garden incident wasn't enough to pierce that thick skull -- there was the fish/dynamite incident too, and finally Mama Tataba yelling at him about baptisms. No one allows children in the river because of the danger of crocodiles. Why did it take six months for anyone to tell me, he asks. Why should they have had to, I ask. Why didn't you ask them why they weren't interested in baptism? Tataba took him down a peg -- about time someone did! He won't stay down, of course. But the realization about the lack of pollinators did something to him, I think. Opened up the possibility of a new kind of understanding. I hope he keeps that possibility alive.

I wonder about his release of Methuselah at the end of the book. Getting rid of his frustration? Symbolically ridding himself of old habits of thought? Eliminating the witness to his profanity (Leah doesn't count, she's just his daughter)? Just being mean? What? Leah read it as an act of freedom. In any other book, it would have been. Not here, though. But of course Leah saw it that way; she sees her dad through rose-colored glasses.

Meanwhile, my love for Adah grows apace. Despite her kind of dark and creepy vibe, she totally rocks.

Quotes:
  • "'Leah,' he said. 'You can't bring the bees. You might as well bring the whole world over here with you, and there's not room for it.'" (80)
  • "In a burst of light Methuselah opened his wings and fluttered like freedom itself, lifting himself to the top of our Kentucky Wonder Vines and the highest boughs of the jungle that will surely take back everything once we are gone." (82)

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Reading Journal Entry #2

Title: The Poisonwood Bible
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Pages Read: 11-49

Initial Reaction: This book is just fascinating. I'm enthralled by this family and their journey -- and this setting. Africa is so foreign to me, so unfamiliar and strange, I'm just enthralled reading about it. I don't know the first thing about Africa, but this book is making me feel like I've been there for a visit. It was hard to limit myself to 40 pages -- I wanted to read on, to learn more, to find out what happens next.

I don't think I've ever read a story told in this exact way before, with each chapter being from a different character's point of view -- oh, well, no, I take that back. The Gumshoe, The Witch, and the Virtual Corpse by Keith Hartman was also told from multiple perspectives...in fact, from many, many, many different characters' perspectives. Anyway. It works surprisingly well. It's a great way to get to know these characters really well -- the contrast between the concerns of each chapter lets you know exactly what's important to each character. It also gives you multiple perspectives on the events and, more importantly, on the setting, the African culture they've immersed themselves in -- vital for a novel where the main theme is cultural conflict.

Little Ruth May's chapter was simultaneously very cute -- she must be an adorable little girl -- and horrifyingly racist. A completely unconscious racism, though, without any malice or ill will behind it, or even any understanding of it -- she is a very young child. And this is a racism that's all wound up with religion, a particularly nasty perversion that made me really dislike her father even more than I already did. That awful "prayer"/sermon at the welcoming feast that Rachel describes! How contemptuous and rude! I wanted to slap him -- and cheer Orleanna for making the girls eat the goat! He's such a self-righteous, self-centered, narrow-minded, controlling little man! Blargh! Leah's hero-worship of him made me want to gag. I understand where it's coming from -- I also had (probably still have) a pretty strong case of hero-worship for my own father -- a very uncomfortable comparison. But Leah's just parroting his own opinion of himself back to him -- open your eyes, Leah! You're never going to be "good enough" to get his wholehearted love, and that's got absolutely nothing to do with you and everything to do with him and the kind of person he is. She's in for a rude awakening. Adah's chapter fascinated me -- so complex and mature and, like the opening, poetic. She's an enigma to me still, though. Rachel cracks me up, with her teenage drama and her vanity and her malapropisms. Heh.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Reading Journal Entry #1

Title: The Poisonwood Bible
Author: Barbara Kingsolver
Pages Read: 1-10

Initial Reaction:
Wow, what an opening! I'm struck by how poetic and lyrical the prose is. I found myself reading and rereading lines and passages as I went, the way I have to read poetry twice: once for the first rush of of the imagery and the undiluted emotional impact of the words, and once for comprehension and content meaning.

The opening passage was practically cinematic -- such a rich, sensual, evocative description of the jungle. I could see it; I could hear it; I was there. The first paragraph in particular was just gorgeous. This whole section had a floating, weightless feel to it, like memory or dream. An effect helped along, no doubt, by the use of the present tense and the use of the first and second person. The narrator is speaking to us directly, breaking the fourth wall. Except not. She's not speaking to us, even though she addresses us as "you" -- she's speaking to another character in this drama as yet unnamed. Africa herself, perhaps? How strange to be directly addressed by a book like this, to be pulled into its pages as a character as if we belong there, to not be the audience, observing, separate -- and, at the same time, to be invited to be the audience, to observe, to be told this story that is about to unfold. To be placed in judgement over the narrator. What an odd -- but wonderful -- position to be in!

Metaphors:

  • The okapi. "For hundreds of years people in the Congo Valley spoke of the beautiful, strange beast. When European explorers got wind of it, they declared it legendary: a unicorn. ...A family of them now reside in the New York Museum of Natural History, dead and stuffed, with standoffish glass eyes. And so the okapi is now by scientific account a real animal. Merely real, not legend. Some manner of beast, a horseish gazelle, relative of the giraffe. ...All I can think of is the other okapi, the one they used to believe in. A unicorn that could look you in the eye." (p. 7-8)
  • Africa as woman. "Why, Dr. Livingstone, I presume, wasn't he the rascal! He and all the profiteers who've since walked out on Africa as a husband quits a wife, leaving her with her naked body curled around the emptied-out mine of her womb." (p. 9)
Themes:
  • Innocence/Guilt. Having a "snow-white conscience".
  • A life of one's own.
  • What if? An "unconquered Africa."
  • Self-centeredness. ("But what else could we have thought? Only that it began and ended with us. What do we know, even now?...We can only speak of the things we carried with us, and the things we took away." -- pg. 10)
Quotes:
  • "Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened." (5)
  • "This forest eats itself and lives forever." (5)
  • "She tucks her dress under her legs and inspects her poor, featherless feet in their grass nest at the water's edge -- twin birds helpless to fly out of there...." (6)
  • "The memories rise out of me like a buzz of flies from a carcass." (8)
  • "Maybe I'll even confess the truth, that I rode in with the horsemen and beheld the apocalypse, but still I'll insist I was only a captive witness. What is a conqueror's wife, if not a conquest herself?" (9)
  • "I know how people are with their habits of mind....Most have no earthly notion of the price of a snow-white conscience." (9)
  • "But Africa shifts under my hands, refusing...to be any place at all, or any thing but itself: the animal kingdom making hay in the kingdom of glory." (10)

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Hello, Stranger

Okay, wow, it's been almost exactly a year since I posted in this blog last. I'm...not sure how that happened. I mean, I kept reading during that year. I kept knitting. And yet somehow I did not keep blogging. What's up with that?

Anyway. Sorry about that.

So, here's what's new with me: I've finally started graduate school. I'm working on my English Education degree and my certification at the same time, so in a couple of years, I'll actually be able to get a real job! With benefits and everything! And I can maybe stop being such a desperate loser and actually feel like a grown-up! Radical concept.

One of the classes I'm taking this summer is about book clubs and the use of book clubs and/or literature circles in the classroom. So, as a practical demonstration, the professor divided our class up into book groups of our own! My group is reading Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, which is a book I've always wanted to read but had never gotten around to for one reason or another. As part of the class, we're supposed to keep reading journals on our book club reading. That thought reminded me of this blog. Well, I thought, why not post my reading journal online in my blog? It's been ages since I last updated. If I have any readers left, they might be interested! So that's what I'm going to do: I'll be posting my first impressions and initial thoughts of each chapter of The Poisonwood Bible as I read it. You can play along at home, if you'd like! We could have an online readalong! Hey, it could be fun.

So you can expect -- brace yourself for the shock -- actual regular updates of this blog for the next few weeks. (All bets are off after that, though -- after my spectacular year-long nonblogging streak, I refuse to make any promises.) Go on and check the Poisonwood Bible out from the library and read with me, if you'd like. Summer's the perfect season for reading! Let's do it!

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Transamerica

I just finished watching the movie Transamerica, and I enjoyed it. It's interesting, with some quirky characters. I'm assuming that everyone knows the basic plot already: Bree, a male-to-female transsexual, gets a phone call from a son she never knew she had, and she goes on a road trip to get him and bring him home. All of this happens a very short time before her final gender reassignment surgery; she has to make it back to L.A. from NYC in time to have her operation.

But I have to say, right now, I'm kind of befuddled by the artwork on the box. If you look at it from one angle, it's a picture of Bree, the main character from the film. If you look at it from another angle, it's a glamor shot of Felicity Huffman, the actress who plays Bree. Why, exactly?

I mean, I kind of get it. Transamerica is a movie about transformations; Bree is a preoperative transsexual. The advertisers (or whoever designed the cover for the video, I'm not really sure who that is) want to show that transformation to us, the audience. The problem is that Bree's transformation from man to woman isn't really the important one in this film. That's a journey that Bree took a long time ago, way before this movie started. She already is a woman. The surgery is just the period on the end of a sentance that Bree has already written. That's not what this movie is about.

It's really about Bree's relationship with her son, Toby. Their road trip, the journey that they take -- it's a transitional time, a sort of unsettled limbo where they tentatively reach out to each other and get to know one another, a time they use to define their relationship -- all of this in spite of the fact that Toby doesn't know that Bree is his father. That's the important transformation Bree makes in this film; the transformation from a nonparent to a parent. The trip Bree and Toby take together in the womb-like space of the beat-up old car -- in a way, that road trip is the birth of Bree's child.

So, again, why the cover art? Why not show the scene from the movie poster instead -- Bree and Toby standing in front of a car? I mean, I get you want to show the transformation. And I get that the transformation from nonparent to parent is strictly internal, invisible, and therefore impossible to photograph. But we never see the male version of Bree (except for a brief shot of a photograph that Toby has), the movie just doesn't show the transformation of Stanley into Bree. Therefore, you can't put that on the cover, either. Instead, we're left with the transformation of Felicity Huffman into Bree. Yes, she looks different, but is that really cover-worthy material? All actors transform themselves into their characters; that's what acting is.

I look at this cover and I see the transformation, not of a woman into a man, not of a man into a woman, but of a woman into a woman. It leaves me scratching my head and going, "Yeah...and?" It's just redundant.

,

Knitting Bombshell

I'm currently in the middle of knitting the Bombshell pattern from Big Girl Knits (a book I reviewed a couple of entries ago; there's a picture of Bombshell in that entry too). I'm loving it so far! I'm using a scrumptious yarn, RYC's Natural Silk Aran. It's mostly rayon, with about 15% silk and 12% linen; I'm using a gorgeous dark gray that's subtly variegated. I'm so excited; I can't wait until it's done, so I can wear it!

I just finished the yolk today and tried it on for the first time. The neckline fooled me -- it's so big! I almost had a heart attack, thinking I had done something incredibly wrong, until I realized that I'll be going back and adding a border around the neck later on, and it's not really that low cut! I mean, I don't mind showing a little cleavage, but that was ridiculous! Half my bra was showing!

Aside from that one little snafu, the fit is really pretty good. It's just a little too large under the arms. I'll have to go back and rip out a few rows to get rid of some of those increases, but it won't be a big deal. I love the concept of top-down knitting! It makes getting a properly customized fit so much easier!

I hope to have a picture to show you guys soon!

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