Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Room with a View out of my television

After reading A Room with a View I watched both the 1985 film and the 2007 tv adaptation. Neither was perfect.

The 2007 version was pretty good right up until the end when you realize that they changed the ending. Not only did they change it, they made it sad. The book was written in 1908, well before World War I, but for some utterly bizarre reason they decided to set the movie in 1912 and then kill off Lucy's husband in the war. The book ends happily! They go back to Italy and are happy! But no, they decided that they were going to let Lucy have a little bit of happiness and then take it away! Can you tell I was horrified? This is the version I saw some of ages ago. I probably absorbed the idea that it ended sadly and that was why I didn't want to read it. Why on earth would they want to ruin a lovely happy ending, and turn people off the book? Apart from that, I thought the casting was very good. I like Elaine Cassidy as Lucy better than I like Helena Bonham Carter.

Mind, I did like Helena Bonham Carter in the 1985 version. I'd never seen her in anything from when she was so young, and she did naiveté well. But she wasn't quite... magical enough, I guess. There was something missing. Maggie Smith as Charlotte Bartlett also didn't quite strike me as right. Maggie Smith doesn't really do fluttery, and I always saw Charlotte as fluttery. Sophie Thompson nailed that as Charlotte in 2007--she played Ms. Bates to Gwyneth Paltrow's Emma, we know she can do fluttery. All the other casting was great, however. I particularly liked Daniel Day Lewis as Cecil Vyse, and a very young Rupert Graves as Freddy Honeychurch.

Both of these were fairly good adaptations (apart from 2007's ridiculousness with the ending), but somehow neither of them fit my image of the book. There's a certain lightness about the book. In my head it was always the very bright sunlight filtered through leaves--very green and cool, but bright. Not a heavy lightness. Both the movies went for heavier, gold tones, which to be honest is probably what Italy in the summer looks like, but which still felt wrong. Visually it might have been logical, but I felt it didn't reflect the tone of the book.

Oh, the perils of film adaptation.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Review: George Knightley, Esquire

I begin to think that the best way to understand one novel is to read all possible fictional variations on it. It's a much more hands-on method than reading essays about the novel, and much more entertaining. Reading Barbara Cornthwaite's Emma-variation, George Knightley, Esquire: Charity Envieth Not, has given me a much better understanding of the structure of Emma, especially as it compares to other Jane Austen novels. Fair warning: I can't imagine you're still reading my Emma musings if you haven't read Emma, but I'm going to assume knowledge of the plot, and spoil the ending.

Moving the point of view of a story such as Emma, where the point of view is so important to the conflict, necessarily changes the story. In Emma, the main source of conflict and suspense through the first third of the book is the misunderstanding between Emma, Harriet, and Mr. Elton. But if you're telling the story from Knightley's point of view, this becomes much less suspenseful--Knightley knows Elton wants to marry Emma. The conflict then has to come from Knightley watching the situation and wondering how it will all work out. In fact, the conflict throughout Emma comes from the interaction between Emma's assumptions and the realities. Emma's point of view is thoroughly tied to the way the story works. It's certainly worth doing to take a closer look at Knightley's part in the story--he's in the background a surprising amount during Emma--but it does make it a different kind of book. On the other hand, in Pride and Prejudice, for example, neither Elizabeth nor Darcy see everything clearly, and conflict more often comes from outside sources, so changing the POV has less effect on structure. Of course, with any retelling, you go into it knowing the story so there's less suspense no matter what.

This is something that is both highlighted by George Knightley, Esquire, and that must be kept in mind while reading it. Charity Envieth Not is book one of two, ending about the middle of Emma just after Frank Churchill is recalled to Yorkshire and the ball at the Crown is canceled. I was quite impressed by how well this stands as a single book, and this seems a very natural ending for the first half of Mr. Knightley's story, not long after he realizes he is in love with Emma. I thought the method of his realization was fabulous, set up well in advance. Emma is the sort of book that gives the reader a very satisfying "I know something you don't know" feeling, and this is preserved in Mr. Knightley's slow discovery of his love for Emma.

The trick of retelling a story from a different point of view is to make it different enough to be worth reading. We see so little of Mr. Knightley's time during Emma that this ought not to be difficult, though I'm sure it's a huge temptation to just retell the story without adding anything new. Amanda Grange's Mr. Knightley's Diary had a tendency to do this, probably made even worse by the diary format. Mr. Knightley, of course, is such an ordinary fellow, that it's hard to make many of his doings very interesting without changing what we know of his character. Knightley's previously unseen life is never very surprising, as I recall Darcy's being in Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman. I confess I sometimes wanted it to be, but then Emma is a very different book, much more confined. Knightley is perfectly satisfied with his country life, and so we must be too, but if that didn't bother us in Emma it ought not to bother us here.

Charity Envieth Not does add something new. It is not just a less-skillful repeat of Emma, as some such books are. Jane Austen helps by leaving out parts of conversations in the original, and Barbara Cornthwaite has stepped in to give us the conversations Jane Austen doesn't, skating over the conversations we already know. With the excellent addition of various new characters (Mr. Spencer was my favourite) and deeper exploration of already established relationships (with John Knightley, for example), this has become a new story without losing Emma or become absurd. I particularly liked how Emma's presence in this story parallels Knightley's presence in Emma. When I last reread Emma I was surprised by how unobtrusive Knightley is during the early parts of the book. Here Emma, if not unobtrusive (she's the sort of character who makes herself known), is at least not excessively present. Knightley has a life entirely separate from Hartfield, and we see it.

So this is a very good retelling. If you read one Emma spin-off (not counting Old Friends and New Fancies, which isn't really about Emma), read this one. I am very much looking forward to book two.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Photos and links

Properly, prayer flags should be outside, because the wind is supposed to carry the prayers away. But I figure the back door's open often enough they get out anyway.

What if historic events had Facebook updates...? on How to be a Retronaut. I think this is hilarious.

TARDIS-Spotting at MIT, for any Doctor Who fans out there. Actually, I'm going to have some vaguely Doctor Who-related musings later this week.

Forgotten Bookmarks
, a blog of the things found in used books. This has always been my favourite part of buying used books.

Art made out of old books (and other fun things, too). It seems there's a lot of recycled book art floating around lately.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Review: I ♥ Macarons

I first discovered macarons over at Paris Breakfasts. They're a bizarrely alluring confection--colourful, flavourful, and unusual. They are not macaroons. A while ago I finally got to taste them, at the French bakery in Pike Place Market, Le Panier. They're not quite cake and not quite candy. But I admit, they cost more than I really want to spend on sweets, and for I while I've been contemplating trying to make them. In quest of this, I ordered I ♥ Macarons, by Hisako Ogita, from the library.
The book's quest is to make macarons seem doable in your own kitchen, and it does manage to make them seem a little less daunting. It's only three ingredients, after all--ground almonds, powdered sugar, and egg whites, plus whatever ordinary frosting or jam you want to put in the middle. This is a lovely little book with great photographs of what is obviously an eminently photogenic food, and I hope I get around to making use of it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Ephemera #50

From the land of Weird Stuff Found in My Bedrooom, this tiny pencil sharpened as far as it goes.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Deutschen Bücher

Both my grandparents studied German in college. My grandmother still had her old German books, and when I started studying the language, she gave them to me. Published in 1933 (and smelling pleasantly like it), they're full of fables, short tales of famous German speakers (Mozart, etc.), and other stories. They are printed in Fraktur, the German script which at the time was still in common usage. Having read the Wikipedia article on the matter, I now know that in 1941 Fraktur was banned on the grounds that it was supposedly Judenlettern, Jewish letters, and after World War II it was mostly abandoned in quest of modernization. It's not tremendously hard to read, though it takes some adjustment.These books go in series from one to nine (though I'm missing number eight), and at the moment I'm reading bits of book two, which seems to be at about my level. Got to keep my hand in over the summer.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Old art

In my cleaning, I keep finding old sketchbooks. I did a lot of drawing in middle school, and I still like some of it quite a lot, so I decided to break out the scanner.
My obsession with paisley is part of my inheritance from my mother.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

New books

Let the cries of, "Oh no, not more books!" ring out. At the very least I get the knowledge that I didn't succumb to the book-buying urges myself; my father bought them. It's the two NYRBs that I'm most interested in. I've heard of neither of them, but both sound fascinating. Herself Surprised by Joyce Cary and Indian Summer by William Dean Howells. The first of these is described as the story of a "latter-day Moll Flanders" and the second as a romantic comedy of errors. I'm also looking forwards to a wander through Word Fugitives by Barbara Wallraff, which seems to be basically a collection of newly coined words for all the things you ever thought there should be one concise word for.

I don't know how I didn't already own Book Lust. I listen to Nancy Pearl on the radio all the time, and my father has met and spoken with her. I have basically no interest in The Rope Eater, by Ben Jones, but it wasn't bought for me so small matter. It's about Civil War-era Arctic exploration, two themes in which I am profoundly uninterested. Poisoned Pens, by Gary Dexter, is a collection of famous author's writings on other famous authors whose books they hate. I'd never be able to read all of this, as it would make me too sad to read anything hateful against my favourite authors, but some of it might be fun. And Women in Antiquity, by Charles Seltman, is pretty self-explanatory non-fiction.

As I've finally got down to the last of the imminent library books, it'll be nice to have these to look into next.

Monday, August 23, 2010

More fashion from LIFE, 1946

Here's the second half of the fashion photos from the 1946 LIFE magazine. These hats are glorious. If you click on the photos you can probably read some of the captions."On 'New England Street,' one of 20th Century-Fox's permanent sets in Hollywood, models pose in the newest churchgoing fashions for spring."
"NEW SLEEVES can be identified by how they are cut at the shoulder and by their fullness. Sleeve at left, on a Trigere coat, is not attached in usual manner at shoulder but has an unbroken side seam. Sleeve at right, on a Maurice Rentner coat, has the fullness gathered onto a round disk. Scene is a chapel on the 20th Century-Fox lot."
"Suits and blouses are made to complement each other this season. Many suit designers, realizing that a suit can be made or marred by its blouse, are now designing their own blouses. Even when a woman clings to the classic custom of not removing her jacket, enough of her blouse is visible (as above) to warrant special attention."
"WITHOUT JACKETS, blouses worn with suits (above) become all-important. Tally-ho print at left is a Maurice Rentner design made for his green suit. Medallion print in center is used for blouse and lining of gray flannel suit by Jo Copeland. The full-sleeved blouse at right designed by Dorine Liebert is made of a pure-silk print."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Links and photos

This is the view over Puget Sound from Golden Gardens, last Friday.

This flickr set, of the author of 18th century blog, is fabulous. I doubt any of my historical costumes are ever going to look quite that historical. I imagine having access to a setting truly fitting for the 18th century helps a great deal.

Another flickr set, this time from the Oregon Country Fair. Lots of beautiful (and enormously colourful) art, and great photography.

Medieval Copy Protection.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

In the mailbox

Getting packages in the mail is way, way too exciting. Especially when said packages contain a book. Especially when they contain a book one particularly wanted to read. Especially when they come from said book's very kind author. (Thank you!)
Yes, I'm back to my Emma reading. I've already started the book, and I'm enjoying it, but I'll have more to say once I've finished. Some comparative musings on telling the story from the hero's point of view in all the other books are in the works too, I imagine.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Ephemera #49

The most awesome business card ever. Alchemy Goods makes things out of recycled materials, and not only are their products made out of inner tubes, their business cards are as well. This thing is so tactile a photo almost doesn't capture it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Review: A Room with a View

I was not expecting to be so drawn in to A Room with a View. E.M. Forster has never particularly drawn my attention. I half-watched the 2007 tv version of A Room with a View, and at some point half-watched Where Angels Fear to Tread, but nothing ever pressed me to read these. So I can't say why I picked it up. I started reading it through DailyLit, but I don't really remember choosing it. After a while I started to realize it deserved more attention than my DailyLit books generally get, and I ordered it from the library. Whatever random chance led me to choose A Room with a View, I'm so glad it did.

This is a beautiful book, but I have to qualify that. It is beautiful in a youthful way, with freckles and sunburnt cheeks and grass stains. Despite discussions of passion, corporeal love, and gender roles, the beauty is in the violets and the wet grass at the end of the pond, moments where the characters stop overthinking their lives, and adopt a childlike manner of simple unquestioning action and reaction.

Lucy Honeychurch goes to Italy with her cousin Charlotte, who takes on a sort of maiden aunt chaperone role. At the Pension Bertolini in Florence, they are disappointed in their hopes of a room with a view. This room with a view becomes the frame for the whole book--whether it is important, whether to take it when it is offered. Lucy discovers that living feels different in Italy--feels more, perhaps. "Italy worked some marvel in her. It gave her light, and--which he held more precious--it gave her shadow" (pg. 102). She goes home to England and becomes engaged to Cecil Vyse, but she finds that the people and events of her Italian travels keep creeping back into her life.

This book is subtle in interesting ways. Major events are shown less through people than through settings. People are described by settings--a room with a view, the out of doors, a drawing room with no view, a field of violets, and the emotions behind their actions are both described and influenced by their surroundings. This effect is used in such a way that events crucial to the plot seem brief and small, but the descriptions make it subtly apparent that these events are beautiful, and therefore important.

My main impression of this book is of the different expressions of beauty, its necessity and meaning, but I also loved the way independence was explored. The freedom to form one's own opinions of what is good or right or proper, and again, freedom from and in places. Independence is also, in an interesting way, contrasted with love. These two things certainly interact, but it's sometimes hard to tell how. In many ways it's hard to explain this book or my reaction to it. I have the somewhat odd feeling that it's just so intelligent, in a way that's not entirely textual, that I only understand it on an emotional level, and can't explain it. But it's been a while since I felt like that about a book, and it's interesting.

I loved A Room with a View. I can only suppose it was the hand of some guiding cosmic librarian that urged me to read it, since I'm not sure chance accounts for it. And there's something extra satisfying in loving a book one has always heard about.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

P.S.: Happy Anniversary!

[Suffragette parade, April 5th, 1917, from the Library of Congress.]

Today is 90 years since the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the government from denying women the right to vote. Any Seattleites should check out the little mini-exhibit about women's suffrage currently on display at the University of Washington, in the Allen library. It's thoroughly fascinating.

Having read Jane Robinson's Bluestockings, about women's fight for education in England, I suspect my next bit of reading on this subject ought to be about women's suffrage. Does anyone have any suggestions for some good nonfiction on the matter?

Fashion from LIFE, 1946

Last March I bought a copy of LIFE magazine from April, 1946, which I posted an article from at the time. There's a lot of other fun stuff in there, though, so now I've finally got around to uploading images of their fashion article, which is what's advertised on the cover. "DOUBLE-BREASTED COAT from Monte-Sano is made of soft wool in a light sepia color. Shoulder is round; sleeves are full but pulled in at the wrist. FINGER-TIP COAT from Anthony Blotta is so called because it is as long as the wearer's extended arm. This is made of a gray-beige 'pussy-willow' gabardine. Hood is detachable.""Light spring shades range from pastels to copper. Suits above are from Maurice Rentner (left), Samuel Chapman (center) and Fox-Brownie."I want this suit so bad."FOR CHURCH ON SUNDAYS when little girls are on their best behavior and want most to act and look like their mothers, Sally Victor has designed identical bonnets of plaid gingham. It takes special skill not to make mother look childish or the child adult. The picture was taken in St Thomas Episcopal Church in Hollywood."

I have a few more, but I'll leave you with these for now.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sewing and design

Purses are one of those things I'm never fully satisfied with. I've been on the quest for the perfect purse for years, and I've been trying to get around to making such a purse nearly as long. This is made in canvas, the green stripe is also canvas, the binding is a pack of ordinary yellow bias binding from JoAnn's. I wanted a purse that was the perfect size for a book, and that I could display my pin collection on (I have more pins than that). I'm not sure it's the perfect purse, but I like it pretty well and it'll serve for the moment.Possible typefaces for a poster project I'm contemplating. Sorry about the vague shadows from the next page, that was me playing with the stitching design on the purse and obsessing about Turkish tile.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Review: The End of Mr. Y

I came to read this book in a rather unusual way. I was on the bus one day, and saw a woman reading The End of Mr. Y, by Scarlett Thomas. The cover looked interesting, so I took note of the title and looked it up when I got home, and sure enough it sounded like just the kind of thing I'd like to read.

Booklist calls this "chick lit for nerds," which in a way is really pretty accurate. Reading it doesn't feel much like reading chick lit, but it does have similar qualities--a heroine whose love life is rather unsatisfactory, mostly. But there is definitely more to it than that. Ariel Manto is a PhD student studying "thought experiments", the stories used to explain or test scientific theories without referring to math or science. One of the authors she studies is Thomas E. Lumas, whose last book, The End of Mr. Y, written at the end of the 19th century, is purportedly cursed. Everyone connected with its publishing died soon after--writer, editor, publisher, printer. And now, Ariel's supervisor has disappeared. Only one copy is known to still exist, but when Ariel finds the book in a second-hand bookstore, she begins to realize why it is cursed. The book, framed as a novel, contains instructions for getting into the Troposphere, an alternate dimension in which it is possible to look into other people's minds.

The book is fascinatingly contrasting. Nobody quite corresponds to my vision of what they should be within their setting. Ariel is an academic, but she has absolutely no money (even less than most students), she is a self-described sexual deviant, and she's not studying the kind of thing most people in English departments study. The book plays with theoretical physics, Samuel Butler, Derrida, creation theories, religion, sex, and it mixes all these together in fascinating ways. This book is in some ways the perfect presentation of these things--it stretches your brain in wonderful ways, makes you think about perception and consciousness and what things are and how we know what they are, but it does this without hitting you over the head with anything. It's an easy to read book, and it breaks up the brain-stretching stuff with normal life stuff. It's an adventure both of the mind and of road trips and men with guns.

I did think the end was a bit of a cop-out. It was too clean in a shallow way, leaving ends untied while appearing to be inevitable. It would have been much more interesting if the revelations that Ariel undergoes throughout the book were actually dealt with in the real world. So this book has definite issues in its storytelling, both in the ending and in its tendency to get sidetracked (the laboratory mice bit was kind of sidetracky, though for the most part it worked). Like Lumas's End of Mr. Y, Scarlett Thomas's End of Mr. Y was a thought experiment in the form of a novel. In some ways the whole book was arguing with itself over being a story or being a thought experiment, which distracted from its being either one. If it had given itself up to being a thought experiment, I think it would have been a better novel, and vice versa.

That said, this book was really fascinating, and, often a marker of a good book, it made me want to read the writers it talks about. If not consistent, it was at least consistently so. Despite its problems it was thoroughly intriguing.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


A Man, a Plan, and a Sharpie. Two guys travel across the country correcting the spelling and grammar of signs, and then they write a book about it, which is called The Great Typo Hunt. Might be an interesting book. This is just the kind of thing my grammar-loving self would want to do.

Absolutely incredible pencil lead sculptures by Dalton Ghetti. There's a whole world in your pencil you never knew was possible. Link via Say Yes to Hoboken.

Pea plant grows inside man's lung
. This is everything your parents ever told you would happen if you ate watermelon seeds.

Last weekend in California was Costume College, a convention of people who make historical costumes and dress up in them. I'd love to go to this some day. Photos can be found at flickr here, here, and here.

I happened to encounter two fabulous Seattle-based milliners/haberdashers last week. Bad Dog Hats does hats for people and their dogs, especially top hats. Tuzzie Muzzie makes lovely party hats and masks.

Here is a list of 260 websites that offer free, legal e-books. My opinions on books and the internet being what they are, I'm glad to see there are so many such sites.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Clean and Shiny

It's been my (slow-moving) project this summer to thoroughly clean my room. Except for summers while I'm still in college I may never live here full time again, but I don't know how soon I'm going to have to think about really moving out, so I figure I should start sorting out 19 years' detritus while I have the time. I have a lot of things I don't need. My main goal of cleaning is to get rid of paper (I have homework from fourth grade on my floor), books I don't want, clothes I don't wear, and Weird Stuff. Weird Stuff is a whole category on its own, full of the totally random inexplicable stuff I, in my infinite pack-rattery, have kept. My mother and I entertained brief notions of starting a blog where we post photos of the Weird Stuff we find in our house. Like the bizarre goo in a tub that came from some French magazine (the label on the goo is in French), which is sitting on the bookshelf by my chair. Some of it's pretty interesting, though, like this giant eraser.Part of the problem with being someone who crafts is that everything has potential. You look at an empty paper towel roll and think, that has potential, I could make something out of that. And then at some point, six years later, you have to admit that you're never going to do anything with it.
My theory of cleaning is that the mess accumulated in layers, so it's okay to clean it in layers as well. I get to the most recent paper first, and recycle what I don't want, and then the stuff I'm keeping winds up in a new stack on the floor. And the next time I clean I go through the same stack again, and decide half the things I thought I might need are totally unnecessary. Yesterday I organized my ribbons and jewellery-making supplies, which I've been needing to do for ages. And I'm already planning to go through it all again, and do my second layer of organization. It feels good to be a little more organized.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Colour and comfort

This pool ball is part of a bench on the street.
Tatted necklace I'm still busy adding to.
Banana bread!
Funny little hive thing.
Tea, thread, scissors, fabric, bookmarks, JoAnn's shopping list, books. Necessities, you see.
This whole street had these. I've no idea why. Maybe I'll have to go see on Friday night.
It was very grey all weekend, so I've been looking for, and making, colourful and cosy things.


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