Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Thoughts

Outside my window: I am looking fearfully because it is very humid out there.  I woke up to the sound of thunder and pouring rain this morning, which made me happy, but now the rain has gone leaving gross weather.

I am listening to:   The kids watching The Princess and the Frog, with the occasional argument over couch space.

I am watching:  Not much, but I have a strong urge to watch Frasier after visiting Seattle this past week.  It's one of my all-time favorite shows, and I've never seen all of the episodes.

I am thinking:  I need to decide if I'm ready to go back to school or just keep taking online classes.

I am grateful for:   Great kids who make me laugh (even though sometimes they laugh at me.)

I am reading:  I read The Penderwicks of Gardam Street on the plane, but I didn't love it as much as the first of the seriesI've got three books I'll be starting this coming week for readalongs/book clubs:

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (group read hosted at Polishing Mud Balls)
Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles (group read hosted at War Through the Generations)
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (local book club)

I am photographing:  

 Boeing Factory in Everett, Washington

 Rialto Beach

Hike to Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park
Sol Duc Falls, Olympic National Park

I am listing:  August dinner ideas.

I am creating:  Not much

To live my faith:  This may be the same every week--love and respect those around me.

Around the house:  Need to decide what to do with an empty living room.  Exercise room?  Game room?  Conventional living room?  Just keep it empty?

From the kitchen:  Making bread

One of my favorite things:  MapsWe happened upon a map shop in Pike's Place Market and I loved it.  I bought a globe ornament.

The children this week:  Two kids were at church camp and two were with their cousins, while we were in Washington.  A win-win-win situation.

Plans for the week:  Pat Benatar concert!  I grew up with her music.  When I was around nine I had her album Get Nervous memorized I listened to it so much.  (On cassette, in my Walkman of course.)

On (or around) this date:  Two years ago at the end of July I announced a hiatus, which led to a complete break from the blog, and then a return with the goal to blog only when it works out, even if it's only once a month.  This is working well.  I do wish I had time to post more though.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dune Readalong: Part Three

These are the last of the Dune readalong questions.  What fun this has been!  I have loved all of the insights and different perspectives from all of the participants (check them out here.)  I probably need to read the book at least five more times to comprehend everything, but doing it as a group gave me a little jump start.  Thank you Carl, Andrea, and Grace for putting the questions together each week. 

My plan right now is to do some sort of a wrap-up post, but I don't know when because we're off on an adventure this week (one that is the polar opposite of conditions on Arrakis!)  Maybe when I get back.  Until then . . .

1.  What is your reaction to finally learning the identity of Princess Irulan?  Do you think that her convention added to the story?
We finally get to meet Princess Irulan in person!  The only reaction I can think of is that I was surprised that she was blonde. 

2.  Were you satisfied with the ending?  For those reading for the first time, was it what you expected?
The ending seemed rather abrupt, and didn't feel very satisfying to me.  I have unanswered questions (and, no, I haven't worked myself up to read the appendices yet.) I guess that's why there are sequels.

3.  On both Arrakis and Salusa Secundus, ecology plays a major role in shaping both characters and the story itself.  Was this convincing?  Do you think that Paul would have gone through with his threat to destroy the spice, knowing what it would mean for Arrakis?
I thought the ecology and its relationship to the characters was the strongest aspect of the novel.  I'm not sure if he would have gone through with the threat--he seemed pretty confident that he wouldn't have to.  A calculated risk made less risky by his visions of the future?

4.  Both Leto and Paul made their decisions on marriage for political reasons.  Do you agree with their choices?
It's hard for me to let go of my deep-seated, modern attitudes about marriage and the place of women in society.  In trying to look at it from a political/strategic vantage point, Paul and Irulan's marriage seems like the smart thing to do.  Irulan can write her books while Chani has Paul's love and devotion, but is that really going to work out?  Add in a micro-managing mother-in-law, and I think we could potentially see fireworks worthy of a Jerry Springer episode.
My mind is completely failing me in remembering why Duke Leto never married.  I know that he was devoted to Jessica, and that she did not want to force him with her powers, but was he waiting for a political reason to take a wife from another House or anything?

5.  What was your favorite part in this section of the book?
I enjoyed many things that followed the reunion of Gurney and Paul, especially when he confronts Jessica and learns that she was not the traitor.  I loved it when Paul made it clear that he did not need to kill Stilgar, and that "things change." 
To digress a slight bit, whenever Gurney played his music, I pictured Owain Phyfe, a musician that I love (often backed up The New World Renaissance Band).  I don't know how well-known he or the band is, but I have a couple of their albums and they're great.  Here's one of my favorites, although I must admit that he doesn't capture the warrior side of Gurney:

6.  One of the things I noticed in the discussions last week was Herbert's use of the word "jihad."  What do you think of Herbert's message about religion and politics?
I don't think I really grasp what his message was about religion and politics, but I loved the way he weaved in ideas and words reflecting how they may have evolved over eons of time.   The religious aspect was so interesting because on one hand the prophesies appeared to be manufactured by the Bene Gesserit, but at the same time, they are all coming true.  He never settles in either camp that I could tell.  Politically, there is the idea that power corrupts (and yet the Atreides manage to maintain a sense of honor), and that feints within feints within feints within feints within feints are often so complicated that they don't actually work...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Post

I believe this delightful format for a Sunday post originated with ibeeeg of Polishing Mud Balls, and I have also enjoyed reading similar updates from Suey of It's All About Books and Jenny of Alternate Readality.  So, yes, I'm being a shameless copycat.

It's one of those things you, dear reader, can choose to ignore, but something I would love to do for personal reasons.  I've never been good at keeping a journal, and I don't have a good track record for things that are done on a regular basis, but I'm going to try:

Outside my window: I actually can't see outside the window right now.  We tried to black everything out for our Harry Potter movie marathon to make it more like a movie theatre.  It's probably just as well, because our backyard is in miserable shape.

I am listening to:   This week I've been listening to Christina Perri's album, Lovestrong, which my daughter bought.  Score!  So awesome to acquire good music that I didn't have to pay for myself.  I didn't realize I would like it so much.  This one is my favorite:

I am watching:  We're still in the midst of the HP marathon.  Truth be told, I haven't done much watching.  I've done a lot of cooking, some reading, some blogging, some cleaning, and have decided I'd rather listen to all of the audio books before I really sit down and watch the movies.  So I may not see HP7 Part 2 for another month.

I am thinking:  Wow, my brain is always a chaotic mess of thoughts, but if you ask me what I'm thinking, I couldn't tell you.

I am grateful for:  LASIK eye surgery.  I just had it done this past Tuesday, and although things aren't perfect yet, I am walking around each day with out the help of contacts or glasses.  It's pretty amazing.

I am reading:
1.  Dune by Frank Herbert.  Part of a fantastic group read.
2.  The Once and Future King by T.H. White.  This was originally four separate books, so I've been taking long breaks between each section.  I'm not loving it, but it's getting better as it goes.
3.  Pastures of Heaven by John Steinbeck.  I just finished this collection of short stories last night.  Quite entertaining.  I love Steinbeck.
4.  A guide to Seattle for an upcoming trip there.  I'm probably learning more than I need to about Seattle, since we'll actually be spending more time at Olympic National Park.  But it's very readable and has great pictures. 
5.  A photography book.  I have a great camera that I need to learn how to use better.

I am photographing:  This is actually from a few weeks ago but it's one of my favorite recent pictures because of the looks on my kids faces.  My daughter is yelling at my son for letting go of the handle on this Pacific Spin ride (he should be holding on to that open blue handle) and he is obviously finding it pretty funny.   So typical.

I am listing:  Cleaning projects.  

I am creating:  Well, I have an Independence Day project that I have the materials for but haven't made.  But it's still July.  I think I can do it.  It involves cutting and sanding wood and first it was just too dang hot, and then I had the eye surgery.  Maybe this week...

To live my faith:  This may be the same every week--love and respect those around me.

I am hoping and praying:  I don't know about praying, but I'm hoping that I can find some way to get decent seats to a Death Cab for Cutie concert.  I didn't get tickets when they first went on sale because I had just bought my husband tickets to see Les Miserables, and didn't want to spend any more money.  Now there are only horrible seats left.  Maybe I can win a contest.  I haven't gone to concerts for years, and I think this is part of my mid-life crisis.  Just went to U2, have Pat Benatar coming up, and I just want more, more, more!
As far as praying, these days I mostly just say what I'm thankful for.  I'm pretty blessed already.  I usually do pray that I can be a better person, but the specifics of that request could go on for hours, so I just keep it brief.  I think as you get older you realize you have character flaws that are just a permanent fixture of your personality, and you just have to accept it and do your best to compensate in other areas, and also be understanding of those flaws in others.

Around the house:  Well, to pick one thing, our refrigerator is resembling a Rube-Goldberg device and I need to do something about it before someone gets hurt.

From the kitchen:  Right now I've got a "potion" in the works--a green punch to go with HP6 which is on right now.  Other HP foods we've enjoyed this weekend (healthiness was not a goal):
HP1:  Waffles (like chess boards) with strawberries and whipped cream, donut holes (kind of like the snitch)
HP2:  Gummy worms (like snakes/ basilisk)
HP3:  Pizza (just easy) and rootbeer (close enough to butterbeer for me)
HP4:  Tri-Chip Feast in goblets (like the Tri-Wizard Tournament and Goblet of Fire)
HP5:  Taco Soup (in the crockpot-our cauldron)
HP 6:  Green punch
HP7:  Pretzels (the Elder wand)

One of my favorite things: National Parks (and hiking in National Parks).   And I'm going to be visiting a new one in a couple of weeks.  Yay!

The children this week:  Fratricide prevention. And whatever you call it when it involves a sister.  Summer break is almost over...

Plans for the week:  Lots of cleaning that hasn't gotten done in the craziness of the last few months, school shopping, appointments, birthdays, laundry.   I feel very boring.  Maybe I'm forgetting something.  I'll read of course.

On (or around) this date:  I reviewed one of my favorite books ever, All the King's Men.  It knocked my socks off.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dune Readalong: Part Two

I'm a little late on this (if I had a nickel for how many times I've typed that...), but this last week I've been busy with eye surgery, which set me back a couple of days; one of my kids' birthdays, which included a trip to the mall (I hate shopping, but I love my daughter) followed by dinner at a restaurant (woohoo!);  and a Harry Potter movie marathon crammed into two days.  We're running a little bit late on that too.  Hopefully we'll see how "It All Ends" on Monday.

As far as Dune goes, in Part One we see how good Herbert is at giving us the 411 through dialogue, whether we liked it or not.  It slowed me down, but I liked it.  In comparison, Part Two was like running downhill after a steep climb.  Was anybody else just flying through the pages like I was?  I loved the shift in the pacing and the setting. 

Here are this weeks questions, written up by Little Red Reviewer:  

*Once again, this is FULL OF SPOILERS.*

Was Liet's identity a surprise?  who do you think he really works for?
I wasn't surprised, but I'm not sure if that's because I've read it before or if the foreshadowing was pretty strong.  I got the idea that his greatest desire was to continue the dream of his father in making Arrakis more habitable, and anyone else he served or pretended to serve he was just using to get to that end.
What do you think of the Fremen culture?  Is this a culture you think you'd enjoy spending some time with?
The Fremen culture actually terrifies me.  In a society trying so desperately to survive and carve out a better future with the barest of resources their way of doing things is inevitably harsh.  They must maintain control through a very strict tribal structure heavily dependent on religious extremism.  I find their culture very interesting, but prefer observing it at a distance. 

What do you think of Count Fenring's unusual verbal mannerisms?  
Annoying and misleading.
This is a far future empire with very little in the way of computerization. Information is often passed down orally, and schools (such as the Mentats and the Bene Gesserit) have formed to train young people in memorization and information processing.  What are you thoughts on a scifi story that is very "low-tech"?  Does that sound like a feasable future? a ridiculous one?
Herbert has created such a bizarre mish-mash of processes(?) to replace computerization.  I like that rather than just a direct progression of the world's computer technology in the future things are scrambled up a bit.  And from what I recall it was because of an event in the past that caused a fear of computerization.  That in itself is interesting because the alternatives seem quite frightening themselves.  Can we really stop progress and innovation, or will it force it's way through any avenues it can find?  Also the power of the spice has more of a supernatural than a scientific vibe to it.  All of the really cool stuff they are able to do depends this cinnamon-like narcotic.  I don't feel that it's ridiculous so much as scary.

If you found the beginning of the book tough to get into, do you find that you're having an easier time with the middle portion, now that all the "set-up" is complete?
I enjoyed the beginning of the book, although it was a bit of work at times.  Part Two, as I mentioned previously, was a purely page-turning, heart-thumping experience, but not lacking in substance.  We're still learning so much about this world. 
The center portion of the book is still pretty dialog heavy, but what I've noticed is the subtlety of the dialog. Things left unsaid are often more important than things that are said.  What do you think of that as a stylistic choice? does it make the dialog more interesting? less interesting? 
I hadn't specifically noticed the subtlety and things left unsaid, but now that it's mentioned I agree that it's there and I must have liked it.  Perhaps that change in the style of dialogue is what kept things moving.

Dune was written in the 60's. Does it feel dated to you? How does it compare, writing style-wise, to more contemporary science fiction you've read?
I probably haven't read enough science fiction to answer this adequately.  I just keep thinking of a connection between the drug-like dependence on the spice and the drug-culture of the sixties.  Was Herbert purposely trying to make a connection?   Did events in the Middle East influence some of his depictions of the Fremen?  Did society's attitudes about computers at the time play into the story?  What was going on in the area of environmentalism at the time?  I should do a little research.

If you've never read this book before, where do you think the storyline is headed?  
I've read it before but only remember bits and pieces.  In general, I find the book so original that it's pretty unpredictable.

Okay, back to HP.  We're on Goblet of Fire and although I dearly love those wizards and witches, my eyes are starting to cross.  Thank goodness for multitasking.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Dune Readalong: Part One

These questions are a part of the Dune readalong hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.  As part of a readalong, this post will very likely contain spoilers.

If I were a Mentat, I would not have to reread Dune.  I would remember all of the plot elements and be able to move seamlessly on to Dune Messiah even though it's been about ten years since I've read it.  But the reality is that my memory is about as reliable as the water supply on Arrakis... 

Thus, a reread.  Here are this week's questions:

1.  (Question for those who have read it before) Did you see anything in this first section of the book that either you hadn't seen before or that you had forgotten about, anything that stood out to you?

It's easier for me to understand this time, now that I'm more familiar with all of the titles, customs, and other random vocabulary Herbert throws at you.  Is it just me, or is there a lot?  And the first time I didn't realize there was a glossary at the end.  That's always a little scary when a fiction book has a glossary.  But then, my copy of this does look rather like a textbook. >>

2. What did you think about the plot device of the early revelation that Yueh was to be the traitor? 

It created a lot of other tension in place of  trying to figure out if there was a traitor or who it was.  Wondering if the plot would be uncovered before it's too late, or if Yueh would really go through with it (because of course the Baron is a big fat liar (literally) and most likely won't hold up his end of the bargain.) It allows us to see his struggle, and feel more satisfaction when he does what he can to help out Jessica and Paul. 

3. What was your favorite part of this first section? Which character(s) do you find most interesting and why?

I liked the end of this part when Paul kind of freaks out and can't mourn for his father as his mind is flooded with his new understanding and sharp awareness of everything about him.  Our view of Jessica takes on a new dimension, as well, and I loved the change of setting--I was ready to leave the great house and all of its intrigues behind. 
I found Yueh most interesting because of the choice he had to make and that his love for his wife allowed him to overcome his "conditioning."  Yeah, I guess I'm a sucker for that kind of stuff. 

4. Did the revelation about the Harkonnen surprise you? Why or why not? Thoughts.

 It was kind of sudden the way we found out.   You knew something would come up about Jessica's parentage, but not so soon or so suddenly.   But I don't recall any other specific foreshadowing, but maybe there was just so much other stuff going on, I didn't notice it.

5. Finally, please share some overall thoughts on this first section of the book. Are you finding it difficult to follow? Easy to understand? Engaging? Boring? Just share what you are thinking thus far.

I get the idea that Herbert was a really, really smart dude.  He seems to have a handle on politics, ecology, psychology, sociology, religion, etc., and incorporates them into a richly complex story that really gets under your skin.  Sometimes it is hard for me to understand, even having read it before, but I find a certain satisfaction in having to work at comprehending new worlds.  I try not to think too much about how the stillsuits work...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

First Daughter by Eric Van Lustbader

Author: Eric Van Lustbader
Published:  2008 (Forge Books)
Length: 454 pages
Source: Free review copy
Personal Enjoyment Factor:  3.5/5

He wants to read, he wants to show his father that he can, but his emotions are in turmoil.  He's filled with fear and anxiety, which automatically extinguish what progress he's made in decoding English.  He stares down at the comic panels.  The speech balloons might as well be written in Mandarin.  The letters float off like spiky sea creatures with a will of their own.  He sees them, but he cannot make heads or tails of what they might be.  It's garbage in, garbage out.  Jack McClure at age 15.  (pg. 106)

When I go to my favorite sub shop, I order the same sandwich so often (ATC on sliced squaw, hold the mayo) that I'm very close to saying "I'll have the usual" and those lovely people on the other side of the counter will know exactly what I'm talking about.  But every so often, I like to walk on the wild side, and watch their jaws drop as I order roast beef on sourdough, or a toasted Santa Fe sub.  Life is short.  Diversify those sammies!

My reading habits seem to follow the same patterns.  I have my favorite genres, but I occasionally like to shake things up a bit and read something different.  Like this first installment of Van Lustbader's Jack McClure/Alli Carson set of political thrillers.   It's a departure from the norm, but it screamed "summer" to me and so I took the plunge.

ATF agent Jack McClure has been called in to investigate the kidnapping of the President Elect's daughter Alli, a close friend of Jack's own daughter who was killed in a tragic car accident.  As Jack continues to mourn for his daughter and his broken marriage, he throws himself into the case, where his past meets up with the perilous events of the present.  The dyslexia that was a source of misery during adolescence turns out to be an asset helping him to see the world differently, and ultimately to thwart the plans of a criminal mastermind. 

It's an engaging story, never boring, but it also weaves in ideas about religious extremism on both ends of the spectrum, grief over the loss of a loved one, and the individual feeling of being an outsider, and coming to terms with it.  That's a lot packed into one book, and at times it seems a little depressing.  But that's okay, because not all books can be "feel-good" reads, nor should they be.  First Daughter keeps you pondering while your heart is pounding.

As a side note, I cannot remember the last time I read a new, shiny paperback book!  This tangible aspect of reading the book somehow went hand in hand with the whole "summer" reading vibe.  The next book in the series (which can all be read as stand-alone books, apparently), is just recently out in paperback.  Here's the book trailer for Last Snow.  I love the Moscow setting:

How about you?  Have you read anything lately to shake things up a bit? I'd love some suggestions for the next time I veer off my yellow brick road.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Romola by George Eliot

Author: George Eliot
Originally Published: Serialized in Cornhill Magazine, 1962-1963
Length:688 pages
Source: Purchased used copy
Personal Enjoyment Factor: 4/5

Had she not proved that the things to which she had pledged herself were impossible? The impulse to set herself free had risen again with overmastering force; yet the freedom could only be an exchange of calamity.  There is no compensation for the woman who feels that the chief relation of her life has been no more than a mistake.  She has lost her crown. The deepest secret of human blessedness has half whispered itself to her, and then for ever passed her by. (pg. 500)

The Middlemarch giveaway reminded me that several months ago I read Romola and hadn't yet gathered my thoughts on it.  Luckily, I took notes and underlined excessively otherwise I would probably be able to read the book again and not even remember how it ended.  While that can be very advantageous sometimes--Harry Potter 7 is pretty hazy to me, so I think I will enjoy the movie all the more--when it comes to a long, less well-known Victorian novel, a reread or a movie is probably not in the cards. 

I went into this book with a bundle of preconceived notions. First of all, I revere George Eliot. The woman is undoubtedly a genius. I am duty-bound to worship any and all words that flow from her pen. It was already decided that I would love Romola because I love the author and she can do no wrong.  However, the novel has been branded with descriptions such as "rightly forgotten" and as displaying "excessive erudition" by critics.  I knew I would like it, but would I have to brace myself to like it?  (Yes, I can be loyal to a dead author in that way.)

The best way for me to describe my experience is to use a somewhat sappy metaphor.  Have you ever gone on a strenuous hike but then at the end it was all worth it because of the spectacular view?  The first 100 or so pages of Romola was the climb.  In the beginning Eliot displays her uncanny talent for capturing a moment in time and looking at it  microscopically, but I prefer it when she focuses the lens on minds, hearts and ideas rather than less personal subjects like architecture, random citizens and political climate.  As the novel moves on, a shift does occur, and as the story becomes more engaging, the main characters also become vividly drawn, and there it is--the "view."

The character who creates the most tension and interest in the novel is Tito (just as in Daniel Deronda, the title character is upstaged by someone of a more murky nature.)  Tito, an Italian-Greek scholar is shipwrecked and winds up in Florence of 1492, where he meets the daughter of a blind scholar, the beautiful Romola.  They fall in love and eventually marry despite warning from her estranged brother.  The problem is that Tito is despicable, cowardly, lazy, selfish, and ambitious, only he doesn't even know it, and neither does anyone else.  He has abandoned his adopted father for the sake of his own ambition, and has "married" a young girl and fathered two children that he keeps in hiding.  Romola, intelligent though she is, only gradually begins to see his true nature.  (I'm not sure if he ever realizes he's a jerk, though.) Her ability to break free from the relationship is very limited, and discouraged by the charismatic friar Savonarola (of Bonfire of the Vanities fame).  As she embraces the religious fervor of the time, she decides she must stay and do what she feels is her duty to her husband and community.  The instability of Venice escalates, and events unfold that give Romola more options, and she finds purpose somewhere off the tracks of both her secular upbringing and her religious conversion. 

I've rambled on much more than usual, but it's really hot here, and I think I'd rather stay and type than move.  In a way, any small critique I have about the laborious beginning is unfair because Eliot meant for this to be a historical novel, a study of life in Florence in the fifteenth century.  A reader should expect an uphill journey.  She also used this time period to make comparisons with the religious and social turbulence in England of her own time.  I would need to study more British history to fully appreciate this aspect.  All in all, the most satisfying aspect of the novel is Eliot's signature psychological/religious/social introspection and the conflicts encountered within, written in such precise prose that causes fireworks in my brain.  

Bottom line:  Unless you're a die-hard George Eliot fan, proceed with caution.  But if you are a fan, it may be that, like me, it is predetermined you will have unconditional love for such genius.