Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Ephemera #25

That, my friends, is made of nothing but felt. No, really. Found here, where you can also see more pictures of this and other impossible felt creations.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A jaunt through the President's past

It was one of those books I never would have picked up of my own volition, but one which I nevertheless enjoyed and which proved to be timely. I didn't read it when I was theoretically supposed to, but I read it when it was the book I needed. Thinking about my various developing interests and goals, Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama, in some measure addressed those.

My main reaction to the book, or to the first half at least, was, admittedly, a sort of gleeful "I know something you don't know." Obama says in the introduction:
"The result is autobiographical, although whenever someone's asked me over the course of these last three years just what the book is about, I've usually avoided such a description. An autobiography promises feats worthy of record, conversations with famous people, a central role in important events. There is none of that here." (pg. xvi)
The book was published in 1995. Before he'd run for president, before congress, even before, I think, he ran for state senate. Admittedly it's true that the scope of this book doesn't involve anybody famous or any big important events, but we all know, reading it, where his life is going to go. I kept thinking about the various ordinary people he befriends in the course of this story, and wondering where they are now and what they think of him. And, really, he's a very ordinary person.

There's a passage fairly early in the book about then mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington. He was the city's first black mayor in 1983, and Obama says,
"His picture was everywhere: on the walls of shoe repair shops and beauty parlors; still glued to lampposts from the last campaign; even in the windows of the Korean dry cleaners and Arab grocery stores; displayed prominently, like some protective totem." (pg. 147)
I can't help but be reminded of those red, white and blue Obama posters plastered in similar places in 2008, many of which I'm sure are still there. It's a funny occasion of two times squeezing and blurring together, Obama's own observation of such posters and later, his own posters, which really had exactly the same effect.

Obama writes rather like he wants to be writing a novel. I suppose this is a story, memoir rather than the usual strain of nonfiction, and it's hard to write impressions of various times in the past in any other way. It's not a jarring style, though it can get a little flowery at times. I've gotta say I was pleased we've got a president whose vocabulary is better than mine (though not by much).

While the book, which all UW freshman were given last summer and told to read, has been much mocked by various people I know here, having acquired the usual stigma of required reading, I thought it was a worthwhile read. Obama goes through his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia, college, his time as a community organizer in Chicago, and his first visit to Kenya, so I learned a lot about his past that I didn't know. Not to be political, but it's nice to be surprised about some of his history, nice to have a president whose story isn't totally predictable and in a certain mold. And it's a good story, really. The different sections vary a lot in tone and subject matter, but the whole manages to be cohesive. Anyway, I liked it.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Yes, I missed Friday's Ephemera. Yes, I have not reviewed (or finished) a book in three weeks. I blame this failing partly on the start of a new quarter, partly on my recent preoccupation with, basically, thinking about what I want to be when I grow up, partly on simple laziness.

I have been reading, somewhat. I finally got back to the Obama book I was supposed to have read last quarter, and I'm even getting towards the end of it. I started one of the books I bought around Christmas, Mary Wesley's A Sensible Life, though it's been over a week since I read any more of it. I've also been reading the first draft of Sam Starbuck's new novel, Charitable Getting, which is being posted here chapter by chapter. It's very good, and very different from Nameless (which I reviewed here) and his other novels. And very entertainingly influenced by real life.

Once again I find it interesting how my reading comes in waves. Periods of inhaling books followed by barely reading anything, occasionally a steady plodding through one book (as with The Children's Book) in between. I know not everyone reads like this; for some, no amount of life can prevent always working on a book. I used to be one of those people. I think part of this change is that I relate to books differently than I used to. While books are still very important to me, I don't think reading is so integral to my personality as it once was. I'm made up of more parts now. I don't mind that aspect of the change, having more hobbies and interests and facets, but I do mind that I'm not such a voracious reader as I used to be. I often feel like I'm wasting time that could be spent reading. I kind of wonder if I'm reading the wrong books, if my interests have changed but my reading choices haven't caught up.

Enough musing, though. There's a nice comfortable bean bag chair in my room now, and one of those pretty star-shaped lamps above it, so I've finally got a good place to read without having to go too far afield. And maybe that's what I should be doing.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday Ephemera #24

I'm sure you're all familiar with xkcd (and if you're not, you should be), but I've been thinking and reading about politics a lot lately (yes, on the internet), so I figured I'd go to my favourite source of snarky/revealing comments on such things. Also, hi! I'm not dead.

This image excerpted from xkcd #661.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday Ephemera #23

So, I know it's not still Twelfth Night, but I was looking for this week's image when it was, so it was on the brain. This 1850 painting is by William Howell Deverell, and it shows Act II, Scene IV of Shakespeare's play. Left to right (I'm assuming): Viola as Cesario, Duke Orsino, and Feste.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Happy Twelfth Night!

It's the first week of winter quarter, so I'm a little distracted with settling into classes and whatnot. I'm taking an intro linguistics class, astrobiology, and German 102, and I'm quite excited about all of it.

In honour of today's holiday (though it's late in the day, I know), I'm going to quote some of my favourite lines from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Which, really, has no relevance to the holiday. (Yes this is a filler post. Just letting you know I'm still here. And Shakespeare's always worth quoting.) I've seen Twelfth Night in five different productions, one of which I worked on (and thus saw countless times), so it's a play I'm extremely familiar with. I don't know that it's one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, but it's definitely got sentimental value for me.


If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die. (I.i.)

But be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. (II.v.)

A blank, my lord. She never told her love
But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?
We men may say more, swear more: but indeed
Our shows are more than will; for still we prove
Much in our vows, but little in our love. (II.iv.)

O, sir, I will not be so hard-hearted; I will give
out divers schedules of my beauty: it shall be
inventoried, and every particle and utensil
labelled to my will: as, item, two lips,
indifferent red; item, two grey eyes, with lids to
them; item, one neck, one chin, and so forth. Were
you sent hither to praise me? (II.iii.)

And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges. (V.i.)

From this copy of the text. Which is missing one of my favourite Sea Captain lines, or I'd have quoted that too.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Slaves of Solitude

I've had The Slaves of Solitude, by Patrick Hamilton, sitting on my to-read pile for a long time. A year or so; I got it with The Dud Avocado, which I wrote about here. Both books were published by NYRB Classics, which makes me wonder if they can illustrate the tone of books published by NYRB in general. These two didn't have anything in common story-wise, but they do share a certain something. Neither book ended predictably; they didn't conform to storytelling formulas, almost to a point where it's not storytelling, just taking pictures. Though of course both books do have stories.

The Slaves of Solitude takes place in 1943, primarily in a small town outside London called Thames Lockdon, and a boarding house there called the Rosamund Tea Rooms. It's heroine is Miss Roach, cursed all around with unfortunate names, and an unlikely focus for a novel. She's 39, formerly a schoolmistress, afraid to live in London because of the blitz though she no longer likes Thames Lockdon, or the people she lives with. Though this didn't occur to me until the end of the book, Miss Roach is a lot like Miss Pettigrew--but their stories are nothing alike. Miss Roach visits pubs with an American lieutenant, an "inconsequent" man, and they kiss on park benches in the dark. In a way no one in the book has much consequence, yet they add up to change Miss Roach's life--yet even these changes don't seem likely to last.

The war is spoken of as its own being; it makes changes, it takes things away and it creates things, and it seems to do this consciously, like an animal sneaking into houses and stealing shiny objects. "The war seemed to have conjured into being, from nowhere, magically, a huge population of its own--one which flowed into and filled every channel and crevice of the country--the towns, the villages, the streets, the trains, the buses, the shops, the hotels, the inns, the restaurants, the movies." (pg 26) Everything has intention, yet the effects of this are all subtle and insinuating. "She had often wondered what exact motive Mr. Prest had in being alive..." (pg 184). That there would be a motive for existence is a given, but it doesn't seem to be necessary that this makes much difference. This contributes to giving much of the book a rather sinister feeling.

This is a very well written, somewhat subtly clever book, which is satisfying in this way if not in story. Things change, but aren't entirely resolved, which is what makes the story unsatisfying. Not that it's a bad story, but that it doesn't play into anyone's hopes or desires, doesn't satisfy a simple need for romance or a happy ending. Though it was an odd book, I liked it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Books read in 2009

Here's my usual reference post of what I read in 2009. I seem to organize these differently every year, but this way works as well as any. I read 66 books in 2008, and 52 in 2007, so I'm a book less than last year but still better than the year before. Which seems pretty good given that this year I was trying to graduate and get through my first quarter of college.


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