Saturday, October 31, 2009

Some links again

Maybe this is going to become a Saturday thing, who knows. This time two of them are even bookish.

First, The Book that Contains all Books, an article on how the Kindle has just become the first e-reader available globally. I don't know how I feel about the Kindle, really, but I do like what this article says.

Hats by Behida. I want to win the lottery just for these hats. I also want to have the kind of head that can really pull off cloches well, but ah, such is life. I can only ogle. And plot to take a hatmaking class.

Books By the Yard from Half Price Books. This is befuddling, isn't it?

"Break Downs" and "Blow Ups" 1936-1947
. Blooper reels of old movies, essentially. I haven't actually watched much of this, because I haven't seen enough old movies to recognize actors and find this funny except in that bloopers are generally funny. But if you are familiar with old movies, this should be great. I'm told there are some pretty famous people in there.

Have fun with these! Also, Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Ephemera #13

In the spirit of Halloween....I bring you pumpkins! And not just one pumpkin, but the best jack-o-lanterns about 15 pages of a google image search could yield.
Bonsai pumpkin!Okay, so this one's less a matter of, "Cool pumpkin!" than of, "Wait, what?"
Anybody a Doctor Who fan? Dalek pumpkin!
Last but not least.... The Death Star!

Sorry I couldn't find any bookish pumpkins... I did try.

Credits in order of appearance... toothy pumpkin, bonsai pumpkin, Ron Paul pumpkin, dalek pumpkin, Death Star pumpkin.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I'm afraid this probably doesn't actually count as actual content. But hey, you get to see the sorts of sudden reading whims I have.

Can anyone recommend a book in which some kind of social dancing is a prominent theme? I'm learning swing, which is extremely fun, but I'd also read about waltz, English country dances, social dancing in the Renaissance, anything of the sort. I'm talking fiction here, though I suppose a history of social dance would be interesting too. I can't say that I've ever read a book with this subject, but I had a sudden urge and we all know I need more books I've started but don't have time to read.

Thank you!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

20th Century Experimental Drama #4: Musings

This is a musing. It is inspired by my comparative literature class and all this experimental drama I've been reading, and it's something which is beginning to fascinate me, especially since NaNoWriMo is coming up and I may be doing some writing soon.

It has always been set up to me as the goal of literature, as what constitutes "good" fiction, as something to strive for in writing, that one should represent in fiction real human beings, with all their quirks, imperfections, and unpredictability. It never quite occurred to me that there was any other way to do it that was worth doing. For some reason it always stuck out to me that J.R.R. Tolkien disliked allegory, even before I entirely understood what allegory was. I suppose that is related to this.

But reading all these plays, I find something a little different. I find characters who are not quirky, who are often little more than their jobs, Mother, Lead Actress, Professor, Bishop. And by my default standards these characters should make up "bad" literature. Yet they don't.

What strikes me most about Brecht, Pirandello, O'neill, Wilder, Ionesco, and Genet is that they knew what they were doing. These plays feel deliberate. In writing these plays their authors had a goal, and they achieved that goal even if the characters or the plot never seem to get anywhere or end up back where they started. They choose a set of themes and these themes come through in both a subtle and a very bald way. Characters are manipulated to best set off the themes, and if human quirks of personality fall by the wayside, that's not a problem. You don't need to show every aspect of humanity because you are showing the exact aspects you set out to show. All this is done with skill, and this is what makes these plays good, what means they still get a whole quarter's class devoted to them in some cases nearly a century later.

In creating rounded, nuanced, human characters, you lose much of this deliberateness. Not only the characters but the entire work become human and messy. Is this better? Not necessarily. I've begun to realize that.

On the other hand, I still most often prefer to read about personalities. Humans fascinate me, and the fascinating parts can't always be conveyed in the thematically functional characters I've found in these plays. With most fiction it's the characters inside the story that hold the fascination. With these particular plays, the fascination comes in thinking about the author and what incredible and bizarre minds they must have had to create these stories.

Monday, October 26, 2009

20th Century Experimental Drama #3

In 10th grade, I think it was, I went to see a friend's school play. The play was The Skin of Our Teeth, by Thornton Wilder. It is part of the play that several of the characters "break character" and speak as the actors, though of course what they say as "themselves" is also scripted, and includes telling stories that are not likely to be true of the real actors. I remember leaving the theatre, going home, and ordering the play from the library, because I simply could not tell how much of this was intentional. (It happened that one of the actors actually was sick and had to be replaced last minute, which added to the confusion.)

Now, three years later, I'm reading this play for a class. It is totally absurd, ice age meets biblical stories meets average 1940s American family. The play was written in 1942, so there are certain overtones of World War II, with a war in the background of the play and the feeling that the world is constantly coming to an end. Which is basically the message of the play, the whole Keep Calm and Carry On idea. So there's that and the absurdity, and all in all it's a very funny, very good play, and you should definitely see it if you ever get the chance.

Are you getting sick of hearing about plays? I've read more I haven't even talked about, too.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A small collection for you

I'm always running across interesting links, and some of them just need to be shown to more than just the few friends I send these things to. So I'm posting them here.

Phonebox Cosy!

Société d'Histoire. This is an album of photos of a French-Canadian historical reenactment group. All the descriptions of photos are in French, but it doesn't matter if you don't read French. The costumes and locations are all fabulous, and some of the photography is really lovely.

A Low Impact Woodland Home. Just look at this. It is essentially a Hobbit hole. It is beautiful. It has been my lifelong dream to live in a Hobbit hole.

So I guess that turned out to be mostly things to look at, and nothing to read or what-have-you. But have fun with it anyway.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Last minute, but apparently Seattle Bookfest is this weekend. It's got lots of interesting-looking panels and workshops, and a bookswap. There seems to be a focus on writing, including a panel on NaNoWriMo (which I may or may not be doing this year), rather than on simply books, but I'm sure there's lots of that, too. In any case, anybody who lives in Seattle should go to it, because I can't. I've got a birthday party, a ball, and a lot of homework this weekend.

Friday Ephemera #12

That, my friends, is the bathroom sign from a pub on Tory Island, Ireland. It was taken by the author (or possibly her traveling companion) of this Livejournal post. (Which is worth reading, the pictures are lovely and some of her commentary made me giggle.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Birthday Greetings

Ursula K. Le Guin is apparently 80 today! Happy Birthday! I totally had no idea she was that old. Neat.

I've read a few of her books, the first three or so of the Earthsea ones and Gifts. My memory of these is somewhat vague, though I remember really liking Gifts. At any rate Ursula K. Le Guin is such a giant of fantasy, and such a classic. I should probably read more of her books.

In other news--my mother is reading Tam Lin! Completely without my forcing her to. She's not even reading my copy.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Meandering Morning

I was just not meant to sleep in this morning. I woke up at 9, got up to go to the bathroom, and then got back in bed and tried to go back to sleep, and realized I was just way too awake. And then my roommate's alarm clock went off. Neither of my roommates are even here, so obviously this was meant just for me.

So now I'm curled up with blankets and pillows on the floor, because it's impossible to read in my bed.

Do you read in bed? I used to, years ago, but then I stopped for some reason. My bed in my dorm room is too close to the ceiling to sit up in, or I would because my only other options are the floor or the desk chair, and I don't much like reading in desk chairs.

I've been reading the Odyssey. I finished what I needed to read for class, so I can now say I've read more than half of the Odyssey (but in funny chunks--books I, II, V-X, and XIX-XIV). I'm now filling in the gaps I haven't read yet. Reading this is kind of addictive, and I'm really enjoying it. I'll do a whole post about the Odyssey at some point in the near future.

It's been raining like crazy for the last four days. I keep expecting to see pairs of animals lining up in the street. Which is funny because I just read The Skin of Our Teeth for my other class. I should write about that one, too, I'm quite fond of it.

This post is kind of here and there, mostly just to check in and tell you what I'm up to, give you some idea of what to expect in the near future. I've also been watching the new BBC Emma, so once I've seen the whole thing maybe I'll write about that too.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Ephemera #11

I found this here, upon google image searching the word "ephemera."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Something to look at

We all come across those books in the library that have been in exactly the same place for about thirty years and still have the old date stamp cards, with the last date probably being the last time it was checked out. Now there's a blog to document such books! Because you can have a blog for just about anything. Here we have Awful Library Books, and some of those are really just fabulous. Some I recognize from my elementary school library.

Just thought I'd post the link.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mrs. Gaskell

I've never said much about Elizabeth Gaskell here, have I? I had just finished reading North and South when I started this blog, and I must have read Cranford after that one, but I seem to have never talked about it. I was inspired to write a post about Mrs. Gaskell, however, when I randomly decided to read dovegreyreader's interview with Adele Geras. I wanted to read the interview because I read Adele Geras's book Troy years and years ago and very much liked it, but that's sort of besides the point (though I should read some of her other books). In the interview, Adele Geras mentions that Virginia Woolf once said of Elizabeth Gaskell that she writes as though she had a cat on her lap.

From Virginia Woolf I'm not sure that's particularly a compliment, but I think it's true, and less cozily sentimental than the image implies. Some of her books are pretty cozy, but certainly not all of them. North and South, though it ends well and is generally regarded as a romance, is not cozy. But all Mrs. Gaskell's books have a unifying quality regardless of subject--they are satisfying, in the same way sitting in a squashy chair with a cup of tea and, yes, a cat, is satisfying. You can be as generally miserable and uncomfortable as you like while sitting in this chair, but it's still satisfying. Elizabeth Gaskell's books are like this.

I've read three: Wives and Daughters, North and South, and Cranford. I said in a comment to someone else's blog a while ago that I think Wives and Daughters is my favourite. I say this rather tentatively, mind you, but in any case it's the book that springs to mind if I have to choose. It's, to my mind, the most satisfying of these three. It was never finished, unfortunately, but that doesn't stop it being satisfying (though it was rather a shock when I first read this and didn't know beforehand that it was unfinished).

All three books have been made into very good miniseries. Of these, Wives and Daughters is definitely my favourite, though I know a lot of people prefer North and South; I find North and South a little too colourless for my tastes, though of course the story's still good. Cranford was also very good, but a little too hodgepodge; the miniseries has plots from a couple of different books.

I'd like to read more of Mrs. Gaskell's writing, particularly her biography of Charlotte Bronte. I'm also sort of feeling a reread of Wives and Daughters coming on. At any rate, she's one of my very favourite authors.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Oops. And Homer.

I missed the last Friday Ephemera, didn't I? Sorry! Got distracted what with having to write a three page essay (the one on Pirandello) in about four hours. And Monday is just too late to do it belatedly. If it were still the weekend, sure, but we'll all just have to wait until this Friday. When I will hopefully not forget.

Reading the Odyssey has me thinking about epic poetry in general. I've loved epic poetry for a long time, probably inspired by Tolkien, I suppose. I've read Beowulf twice. There's just something about the combination of a good story and the lovely way the poetry rolls. I've never read Homer before, except for an aborted attempt at The Iliad last year. We're not reading the whole Odyssey in this class, which I'm rather sorry about, but maybe I'll just go and read it all myself when I get the chance. I have the Robert Fitzgerald translation, which seems to be one of the most read.
"The minstrel stirred, murmuring to the god, and soon
clear words and notes came one by one, a vision
of the Akhaians in their graceful ships
drawing away from shore: the torches flung
and shelters flaring: Argive soldiers crouched
in the close dark around Odysseus: and
the horse, tall on the assembly ground of Troy....

The splendid minstrel sang it."
That's from Book VIII of the Odyssey.

Have you ever read an epic poem? Ancient Greek, Old English, Finnish, Irish, Mesopotamian, no doubt lots of others, there is a lot of variation in these poems but they all have a unifying quality.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

20th Century Experimental Drama #2

It's been a few days since I posted, hasn't it. School is, predictably, intruding, though it's not too bad. I haven't really read anything not for class, I must admit, though I'm not sure that's because I haven't had time. More because I'm always too tired at the end of the day to do anything but sit mindlessly in front of the computer.

For class, I read Six Characters in Search of an Author, by Luigi Pirandello. Yet another weird, kind of surreal, play. A theatre company is rehearsing a play (which also happens to be by Pirandello...) when six Characters come into the theatre looking for an author, someone to write their play.

I've already written a three page essay about this play, so I'm a bit burnt out on writing about it, but suffice it to say I really want to see it produced. It's extremely layered, there are multiple realities, and you're never quite sure what's real or what could be real. It actually reminds me a lot of the play we did last June, Tom Stoppard's The Read Inspector Hound, in being about multiple layers of theatre.

I'm also reading pieces of The Odyssey, so expect to hear about that at some point as well.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


So, I'm discovering I have this problem. Textbooks are ridiculously expensive, right? We all know this and have complained about it. There's a reason they have that nice program where you can sell back your books at the end of the quarter. There's amazon, ebay, all sorts of nice internet places where you can sell off your textbooks once you've finished the class.

Here is where I run into the problem. Having read The Good Person of Sichuan, or Daphnis and Chloe, or any of the other books I'm supposed to read this quarter, I know I'm not going to be able to sell them. What if I need them? What if I take another class later on that uses the same book? What if I'm writing a paper and it suddenly occurs to me that that book I read two years ago in that one class is totally applicable to my current topic? What if some day we're looking for a play to do and I have just the one? What if I want to review some of the German I learned three years ago?

And there I'll be, hauling around all these books I'll probably never actually use again, and completely out the money.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Depressing books

There's an article on where they've chosen the ten most depressing books. I have not read a single one of them, which makes me think about my reading habits. I don't typically read depressing books. I don't need a happy ending, but I need a hopeful one, and I simply don't really understand reading completely depressing books. They may be good books, but there are innumerable good books, and as long as you read good books in general there's really no reason why you have to read a particular good book. I suppose it all comes back around to why we read in the first place and what makes a particular book compelling when we do read it. I have no doubts that if I did for some reason read one of those ten books, I might completely love it no matter its depressing aspects.

When I took Senior Literature, last fall and the spring before that, I did feel like some of the books we read were read not so much because they were good books but because they were about very serious, discussion-provoking, often rather depressing subjects. This always bothered me about that class, though it was otherwise a fabulous class. I felt like we should be reading books because they were good, less than because they created discussions, and I always thought there were a lot of good books that could create discussion that were less depressing.

Have you read any of those ten books? Did you find them depressing?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

20th Century Experimental Drama #1

I just finished my first reading assignment of the quarter! My comparative literature class is all about 20th century experimental drama, and the first play we've had to read is The Good Person of Sichuan, by Bertolt Brecht. He's a German fellow, and as I'm also taking German 101 I'm feeling very German at the moment. I did not, mind you, read the play in German.

This is, of course, experimental drama, so it's rather an odd play. It actually reminds me a lot of Greek drama, in the way the dialogue sounds sort of artificial, in the occasional soliloquies to the audience which take the form of a sort of poetry, and in the presence of the gods, who just kind of get in the way and never fix anything much. There's a lot in it, and it's the sort of play that's hard to picture performed.

Reading plays is always a bit of an interesting experience, since of course they're meant to be seen and heard, not read. For some reason I have a hard time telling if it's a good play when I just read it. I can tell good writing in a novel, but I can't always recognize good dialogue and that's all a play is. It's not till I hear it that I know whether it's good or not.

What strikes me about this play is that I feel Brecht knows exactly what he's doing with it. He knows what everything means and what he's trying to convey. It is a very consciously written play. For me, as someone who never writes any fiction very consciously, this is very interesting.

So I did like the play, even if it isn't the sort of style (epic theatre) that I generally prefer. We'll see how it compares to the rest of the plays we're reading this quarter.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Friday Ephemera #10

This came from here. There is, basically, nothing more to say about it.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ask a Stupid Question

Monday, September 28th was Ask a Stupid Question Day in schools around Britain. I just thought I'd draw your attention to this article about it, because some of the questions and answers are rather wonderful.


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