Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006 Retrospective


Like so many others in the biblioblogosphere, I have reviewed what I've read in 2006 in the hopes of coming up with a "Best of" list. (See recent postings from Garden in the Pocket, Ex Libris and Mary's Library) Unfortunately, little about the 40+ titles I've read this year has proven memorable, beyond that which has been previously noted in this blog. But as I studied my list, I realized that there was one specific memory of what I'd read that was worthy of note. I could recall one character particularly well even though it had been in the early months of 2006 when I first encountered him. So instead of providing you with a "best of" list from my reading during 2006, I'll give you instead the novelty of an entry on "My Most Memorable Character of 2006".

Josiah Crawley

Crawley is a clergyman who appears in Anthony Trollope's The Last Chronicle of Barset. He is somewhere in his early '50's but professionally he's only attained the low-level professional status of curate in the Church of England. He's as poor as the proverbial church mouse which is particularly hard on his wife and children, given that financial status in Victorian England was everything with regard to long-term security and prospects. His daughter's chance at a happy marriage with the man she loves may be ruined by Crawley's debts and subsequent legal trouble. Crawley is a high-minded clergyman, struggling to do his best in his low-level role in a parish of working-class families. Crawley's innate intelligence and talents are wasted in large part in this role; a better use of his talents might have been as a scholar or college professor, but he lacked the social connections necessary to be considered for those positions. The crux of Crawley's trouble in Last Chronicle is that he's accused of having stolen and cashed a check that properly belonged to the Dean of the Cathedral in his diocese. No one finds it particularly credible that he has committed theft but the evidence of his cashing the check is undeniable. Crawley is deemed to be half-mad by all who know him, but few recognize that the madness is brought on by a mixture of frustration, desperation and pride. Crawley even says to his wife at one point that he either belongs in Bedlam (the famous asylum of the mad) or in jail, given the evidence against him. Socially, professionally, personally, there must be consequences. The Last Chronicle of Barset plays out the consequences of the accusation against Crawley (although, in the end, "the good end happily and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.")

Crawley is in many respects a tragic figure. He is indeed innocent of the charge levied against him. At the same time, even given his virtue and his intelligence, he seems unable to advance in the Church or work out any kind of comfortable existence. His wife goes to great lengths to protect him from the consequences of his own extreme behavior. Yet when Victorian society and every institution of importance to him seems to condemn him, he lives up to the standard of honor demanded by that society. He does not give an inch when it would inappropriate to yield to power seeking to encroach upon his rights and yet gives all when it seems to him in his own mind that such is required. He is a most uncomfortable person to live with and yet he is also that upright soul who lives according to the most honorable of principles.

I have met one or two people on this earth who are kindred spirits with Crawley. Their lives are in many respects a living hell for them; certainly a little more flexibility in their principles of behavior would allow them an easier time of it. And yet, the dogged nature of their personality (stubborness?) keeps them from bending and moving more comfortably with less rigid principles. You can love them (as Crawley's wife clearly and deeply loves her husband) but they'll truly drive you mad because they can't seem to relinquish abstract moral principle in favor of daily practicality.

Trollope survives as a writer on the basis of his ability to delineate character and Josiah Crawley deserves to be noted as one of his best.

(Image displayed above is borrowed from the Trollope Society web site.)

Saturday, December 30, 2006


[ Not for any challenge; just an ordinary review]

Title: Indiscretion (cover image from The Christian Science Monitor)

Author: Jude Morgan

Copyright: 2005

Length: 379 pages

Genre: Romance

Summary: Caroline Fortune is the only daughter of a ne'er-do-well father. Her mother's family disowned her mother for marrying the soldier she loved and the future for Caroline looks bleak. Her father is an inept gambler and is unable to support her; the options for making her own way in the world are limited. But Caroline goes initially as companion to the wealthy Mrs. Catling, the widow of her father's former Colonel, and the consequences of that brave initiative form the basis of all that follows, good and bad. There is a bit of Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and Pride and Prejudice in this Austen-esque romance novel. Yet these are not cardboard cutouts of Austen's characters nor is the plot a thinly veiled version of any of Austen's works. In fact, the novel was not nearly as predictable as one might anticipate under these circumstances. The sentence structure, the vocabulary, the wit remind one of Austen in much the way that a light whiff of cinammon provides a reminder of the very best cobbler or pie from one's childhood.

Book World included an excerpt in her review of this book, but I will include a brief example of the humor that permeates the narrative.

"Parties? Oh -- as to that Miss Fanny, I am a dull fellow for parties in any event,' Captain Brunton said; occasioning in Caroline a brief mental review, to see if there were any news that had ever surprised her less."

Now there's a swipe that reminds me of Jane Austen.

Also Relevant: Because I learned of this book in a review appearing in the Christian Science Monitor (December 12, 2006), I assumed that it was a new hardcover just appearing in stores. "Ah," I thought, "I'll be reviewing something entirely new to the biblioblogosphere!" Imagine then my momentary chagrin when I discovered that the book had been released in paperback in 2005 and others were well ahead of me. See the UK news story about the author from February of 2006 as well as the review published by Book World above. Jude Morgan is really Tim Wilson, a 43-year-old tutor at the Peterborough College of Adult Education with a wife and child. Tutoring is only a sideline. He writes full time and Indiscretion is his 26th published novel.

The pacing is pleasant and leisurely. There are the correct number of characters to carry the story forward, each introduced naturally. None of the plot twists were predictable and yet each was entirely plausible. You have to read closely to properly enjoy the humor and yet the whole is as fun and as bubbly as a glass of champagne.

I might have preferred to buy this in trade paperback, but I'm not sorry I bought it. More of our light entertainment reading should be this well-executed.

By the way, if you enjoy humor in your Regency period tales and don't object to magic as an element of the story, you might also try Sorcery and Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot. Different authors, but deftly told.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Plumber Here Today

We have a plumber replacing the problem sump pump (what a silly name for a mechanism). We are suitably grateful as this puts an end to the laundromat issue.

The whole thing puts me in mind of a poster I saw 'way back in the '70's. The society that scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy. Neither their pipes nor their theories will hold water....

We will never scorn excellence in plumbing in THIS house.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Minister's Daughter

[Not for any challenge; just an ordinary review]

The Minister's Daughter (Published in the UK as The Merrybegot)

Author: Julie Hearn

Copyright: 2005; hardcover ISBN 0-689-87690-4. (very recently released in paperback here in the United States)

Length: 272 pages

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Summary: A curious mixture of historical fact and earthy folklore, The Minister's Daughter is set during the period of the English Civil War. Two sisters, Grace and Patience, daughters of the local Puritan minister, claim that they've been bewitched by Nell, the grandaughter of the local "cunning woman", a midwife-herbalist who follows old pagan/folk ways. Nell cares for her aging grandmother while mastering the old woman's knowledge and craft. When Nell refuses to comply with a request made by Grace, the foundation of the conflict is laid. When the Witch-Finder General, Matthew Hopkins, comes to town to support the minister in routing out Satanic believers, the villagers forget their positive experiences with Nell's grandmother and decide to blame Nell for a variety of concerns. Nell is, of course, innocent of any wrongdoing but some one must save her from the witch-hunters. There is enough action and mystery to the narrative to keep the attention of an adult. There are a few anachronisms that surface in the language, but I suspect those are there to assure the younger reader that the author's awareness is firmly in this century.

Excerpt: The book record for The Merrybegot at has an excerpt. The author's website has an audio version of a sample chapter as well.

Also Relevant: This was the December selection for the mystery & science fiction book group at Didi's (her write-up of the book is here). My opening gambit that night was that I was actually surprised that this book had been marketed as a young adult novel; the story telling style seemed far more sophisticated than I would have expected to find in YA fiction. (Apparently I haven't kept up with the field.) The award-winning story features witchcraft, sex, and earthy folklore which can pose a barrier to sales in some markets, even as it attracts a readership. The marketing blurbs made a clear reference to Hearn as a former student of Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass; nothing so unsubtle as "If you loved that book, you'll love this one," but a suggestion of similarity in the works of the two authors is certainly present. The characterization isn't entirely without merit. Those aligned with the Church come off poorly in this book even as the more Nature-based folk tradition is presented in a positive light. (Pullman has expressed his views on what's flawed in organized religion at his Web site as well as in the press.)

Personally, I was a little unhappy with the mix of historical fact and fantasy. The fantasy element served no purpose in the narrative (unless the author intended to suggest that religous beliefs should be classed with beliefs in piskies and fairies). I know that one member of our book group suggested that we had to see Nell's belief structure treated as respectfully as the dominant Christian beliefs of her environment. We had to believe the same way that Nell would believe. She may have had a point. Outside of that idea as well as a cynical suggestion that "magic sells", I couldn't fathom why else the fantasy element was necessary to Hearn's story.

We have actual historical figures, Matthew Hopkins, the WitchFinder General, and Bonnie Prince Charles, male authority figures who each wield power in Nell's story. Nell however is strong and closely guards her sense of ethics and sense of self. Is The Minister's Daughter supposed to be a feminist tale of warning? The author's Afterword would seem to suggest so. She quotes a sentence from her research, "As the community looked on, their bodies expressed what they could not: that the enormous pressures put upon them to accept a religiously based male-centered social order was more than they could bear." (see page 261 of the hardcover edition).

An additional point of contrast between Nell and Grace is that Nell actually adheres to her belief system and her personal behavior reflects a consistency of faith in its validity. Grace has no personal investment in the Christian belief system and behaves strictly out of fear of her parent and the social stigma associated with an unwed pregnancy. One should note that there are no redeeming qualities to Grace's character in this book. She's just an amoral soul from the get-go.

This is an entertaining read; I don't know how good the work itself is. One of my personal litmus tests for determining whether or not something is a good work of fiction is to see if, after reading it all the way through, I can identify the point of the story and sum up the essence in 25-50 words. Even now after thinking and writing about the book, I can't quite do that here. In Minister's Daughter, it might be that the author intends the reader to understand that one's own sense of identity is more important than any imposed by authority figures, society at large, or any external religious institution. Or perhaps it is that one should, as a general rule of thumb, be wary of both individual authority figures and institutional authority. Hearn may have been so concerned about not imposing on her readers' sensibilities that she edited out any clear authorial message of intent. That in my mind is a drawback. I may not agree with an author's message, but if I've invested the time to listen for it, I want to be able to find it. I like to come away with a clear sense of what the author wanted to communicate when he or she sat down to write. I'm still fumbling in trying to get Hearn's message.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Holidays H'Exhaustion

Okay, so with the exception of the blog posts about books, I did get through the bulk of my to-do list. I baked soda bread and did the overnight french toast for Christmas morning; I wrapped two iPods so creatively they really were a surprise to the recipients. I visited family in West Virginia with offspring in tow. I filled Spouse's stocking with stuff from Staples. I must have got it all done because I now feel totally wiped out. My brain went on this morning at 5 a.m. for no good reason and I have been walking around for most of the day with a foggy brain and ever-so-slightly-strained vision.

At some point in the next 45 minutes, we will go out to run errands. I need to lay in stores of half-off gift wrap for next year's wrapping. I'm hoping it all didn't disappear yesterday during the day-after-Christmas sales. I need to think about how best to deal with a busted "sump pump" that went down during the evening of the 23rd as one offspring tried to do his laundry. We've called a plumber but it's the short work week between Christmas and New Year's. At the moment, Spouse is running periodic loads of laundry to a neighborhood laundromat that provides wash-dry-and-fold services. I'd protest the price but they do a really nice job.

Book blog postings back in a day or two...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

It's Christmas Eve, Sir

"You'll want all day to-morrow, I suppose?"

To each of you and to all your kin, a Happy Christmas! And I hope each of you will stop by this blog in the coming New Year so I may welcome you and get to know you better.

Friday, December 22, 2006

This Just In!

The Wall Street Journal had this headline today: Breaking News: Santa Claus is Coming to Town (freebie - no WSJ subscription required).

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas To-Do List

Look at the Father Christmas in the picture. *I* think he's looking overwhelmed by that sack of toys on his back. My To-Do list for Christmas is kind of like that, too.

Okay, I confess that I'm past the point where I can come home at the end of the work day and cheerily wrap presents for immediate and distant family members. Given the bizarre construction of most packaging of electronics these days, gift bags and tissue paper seem like a splendid approach. I bless the under-paid artist at Hallmark who came up with the small square felt stockings designed to be wrapping for music CDs (which have been used for the past three Christmases). But I'm sure my mother's training will kick in at some point; I'll end up eyeballing the paper to see if it will adequately cover a rectangular shirt box that has been recycled five times over and try to gauge whether the red ribbon bought at Acme matches the red in the paper from Hallmark. So I figure I'll wrap tomorrow, preferably in the morning.

Groceries and baking -- I need to pick up buttermilk for the soda bread and a loaf of French bread for the overnight French Toast. I am going to plunk down big bucks for a huge roast that will feed the four of us 'til Epiphany. That'll happen on Saturday.

My husband's stocking looks mighty thin at this point so a trip to Staples will probably be required.

I have to run to the bank to deposit a check which will allow me to get money out of the ATM.

I will want to sit down at some point and write at least one of the five different blog posts about books like The Minister's Daughter, Indiscretion, and The Franchise Affair. I will want to sit down and watch a DVD appropriate to the season. I will want to sit down and talk to my sons.

Somewhere in there, I'll mutter about New Years Resolutions and Getting Organized. But now I must end because my son wants me to come watch Rudolph with him.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Carl's G.I.F.T. - Two Entries

For Carl's G.I.F.T. Challenge

Christmas tradition:
In our house, the elves come on the night of December 23rd. How do we know that the elves have visited? They leave chocolate kisses on the dining room table. Why do they come? To see if the household is all ready for Christmas.

How did this get started and why is my house the only one on the block with elves dropping in to run inspection? At least 15 or 16 years ago, my sister included a package of chocolate kisses as packing material stuffed around the Christmas gifts she was shipping to my house. Having nowhere else to put them when I opened up the box, I poured the chocolate kisses into the crystal candy dish on the dining room table.

The next day, my eldest son (perhaps 5 or 6 at the time?) saw them and asked where the candy had come from. I've never been sure if I spoke then from a good impulse or out of sheer self-interest. I told my trusting child that the elves always come on Christmas Eve Eve (the night of Dec 23rd) in advance of Santa's visit in order to see if the household is ready for Christmas. If a child has so many toys that he carelessly leaves them lying about, the elves let Santa know. Santa is a busy man and toys are a finite resource. It might be better if Santa delivered new toys instead to a child who has less. It was a shameless manipulation of my child's beliefs in the interests of getting him to pick up his toys in the living room. It worked like a charm, he picked up his toys without argument, and I forgot about it.

The next year, slightly ahead of Christmas Eve Eve, my son said something about the elves coming. I blanched at his amazing memory and assured him that, yes, the elves would be 'round again. I then quietly informed my spouse of the need and Patrick ran to the local Giant supermarket to pick up kisses. In subsequent years, Offspring #1 reinforced the belief in Offspring #2. It became tradition in our family and every one knows you don't mess with tradition at Christmas.

Christmas Short Story: Read this Edwardian tale, "A Christmas Mystery" from Gaslight. I encountered it during the R.I.P. Challenge and saved it up 'specially for Christmas. This story of the wise men on Christmas Eve is, in some ways, far less sappy than you might expect based on the time period.

What with wrapping of gifts, the boys coming home, baking and what not, blogging will likely be sporadic and rather on the brief side.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Probably *Not* in the Christmas Spirit

Found on a really good Episcopalian blog: "Some people are like "slinkies". They're not really good for anything; but they still bring a smile to your face when you push them down a flight of stairs."

My suspicion is that I'll be in Purgatory for a very long time.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

But I *Really* Like The Button..

And everybody else got one for their book blogs...

I will undoubtedly be consigned to one of the seven circles of Purgatory for signing up for yet another reading challenge (particularly during Jan and Feb which professionally speaking are very high stress-high activity time periods). But since nineteenth century classics are the thing I can read with least resistance at present, here is my list for The Winter Reading Classics Challenge:

(1) Mary Barton - Elizabeth Gaskell
(2) Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
(3) The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins
(4) Howards End - E.M. Forster
(5) Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
(6) Silas Marner - George Eliot
(7) Middlemarch - George Eliot
(8) Update to List 12/20/06 - The Odyssey (R. Fagles, translator)

There are both long and short books on that list so I'm sure I'll manage five out of that seven. How long, after all, can Silas Marner take to read? And before you ask, I actually am embarassed that I've never read Huckleberry Finn before. (So much so that I thought I probably ought to splurge and buy the Annotated Version so that I would at least be able to comment more thoroughly. But I resisted that wicked Amazon recommendation. I also resisted buying The Annotated Uncle Tom's Cabin which was admittedly less of a difficulty.)

There were others I considered. I've still never read Don Quixote or Anna Karenina and the Norton Critical editions of those are on my TBR stack, inducing guilt as well. Didi of Minute Marginalia and I will negotiate another title to go in on together. She was muttering about Lost Horizons (which I've read many times before) and the Aeneid (which I haven't). [Update added to list - #8 - Didi actually wanted to read the translation of The Odyssey by Robert Fagles which has been out for a while. We've agreed to do that one.]

One cheery note -- The Christian Science Monitor gave Indiscretion by Jude Morgan a wonderful review and the book is actually living up to the press it received!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Jam and Judicious Advice

[not an entry for any challenge; just a review]

The Annotated Hunting of the Snark: The Definitive Edition

Lewis Carroll (pseudonym for Charles Dodgson; see Wikipedia entry for biographical details); Martin Gardner, Editor; Hunter Holliday, Illustrator; Adam Gopnik, Introduction.

Copyright: The poem itself is in public domain , but the Definitive Edition from W.W. Norton is copyright 2006. Apparently, it has an extensive publishing history in that the original Annotated Snark was published in 1962, with used copies still circulating. There have been several editions in between that first one and the 2006 version. (cover image shown borrowed from

Length: 192 pages

Genre: Poetry

Summary: This splendidly fun poem, originally published in 1876, tells of an odd assemblage (a Bellman, a Barrister, a Baker, a Butcher, and a half dozen others) who set forth on a quest to capture that mysterious creature known as the Snark. The ship they sail in has problems as outlined in Carroll's Preface but the crew is inordinately proud of their map (a perfect and absolute blank).

"Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes! But we've got our brave Captain to thank:" (So the crew would protest) "that he's bought us the best -- A perfect and absolute blank!"

They are aware of the distinguishing characteristics of the Snark (five, to be specific) but they are warned against encountering the Snark which is also a Boojum. The Definitive Edition amplifies the text with insights into some of the historical background, published commentary such as the one by Hunter Holliday, the illustrator, and elucidates on the riddles and allegorical interpretations. I learned an inordinate amount from this book. Carroll’s contemporaries saw it as a statement about business and material wealth, a satire on legal proceedings over a missing heir and control of a wealthy estate, even as a jab at Arctic expeditions of the period. Later interpretations associated the text with commentary on unsound business practices, economic slumps, even universal existential anxiety. You can link Carroll’s Snark to just about anything you like, including copyright (see Fit the Fourth, The Hunting, in which the Barrister assures the Beaver that his lace-making activities constitute infringement). Did you know that some benighted creator occupied himself by making this into a musical which was performed in the West End? (Proof)

Extract: To me, the most memorable quatrain of this poem is:

"They roused him with muffins, they roused him with ice; They roused him with mustard and cress; They roused him with jam and judicious advice; They set him *conundrums* to guess."

I can summon up that bit at a moment's notice with particular emphasis on the word "conundrums"; it just makes it for me. Of course, when you look over your glasses and quote this either to your offspring or to your business colleagues, they just give you a look. One has suspicions that they are vague as to the meaning. No one has ever capped my quotation, the way Harriet Vane and Lord Peter do with one another's quotations. It's too discouraging, and demonstrates how low Western Civilization has fallen.

Also Relevant: When the world around you seems to have fallen into madness or when even a fun reading challenge feels like work, the best possible thing to do is to find something light-hearted that will induce a smile or a chuckle. Assign what allegorical meanings you may choose to the various figures in this epic (and people have, as in this 36-page PDF file), the fact remains that it is a splendid bit of nonsense. It's made for declaiming aloud and I defy even the very worst reader to screw up the rhythm.

I'm giving this book as a Christmas gift to my father; he introduced me to it at some early age.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Holiday Meme

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Egg nog is specific to the holidays, while I drink hot chocolate throughout the autumn and winter.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Santa does both. Santa leaves a display of some gifts to give pizzaz to the first glimpse in the morning, but there are always one or two from Santa wrapped under the tree.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? My husband is absolutely adamant that they are to be multi-colored. This was not a negotiable item when we got married.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? No.

5. When do you put your decorations up? When the boys were little, I would put up decorations the weekend after Thanksgiving so that we could enjoy them throughout the month of December, but then they came down at Epiphany promptly. Now that they're older, I wait a little since there is only a very small living room area in the house. (I'd put the tree in front of the front door, were it not for the fire escape concerns.)

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? Sorry - Christmas is ALL ABOUT dessert (petit-fours, fudge, etc)...But my family is particularly fond of Irish soda bread for Christmas morning. Warm and crumbly and full of raisins. This year, I'm also thinking about trying something like overnight french toast as Offspring #1 loves the stuff.

7. Where do you hide your Christmas gifts? I have generally hidden the gift purchases in my closet. I flattered myself the guys didn't know that all those bags just blended in with all the other "Stuff" in Mom's closet. Then one summer they were comparing notes with their cousins and it came out that the eldest had known for quite some time...

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I'm pretty sure I was roughly about eight or nine and my eldest sister felt it her bounden duty to share.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Always! It was always a set of new pajamas when I was a little girl, but sometimes something else as well. (There was the memorable year my mother had made an entire basket of Barbie doll clothes by hand.) Mom said we didn't go to sleep that night until far, far too late. My boys, when it came to be their turn, insisted that they be permitted to pick out their own gift to unwrap on Christmas Eve. I let them, unless there was something that would give away a surprise on the next morning.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? A mix of simple wooden ornaments and some other store-bought ones that have special significance for the family. My husband, being a comic book fan, has a Superman; I have a gargoyle reading a book; one son has a creche ornament that he asked for when he was only about four and the other has a number of vehicles (snow mobiles, locomotives, double-decker bus, etc.). We also have a number of handmade ones from my mother and mother-in-law as well as some made by the boys in elementary school. It's very much a family tree.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? Generally dread it, although now that I can work from home it doesn't bother me as much as it did. Ideally, one gets a great snowstorm with just enough notice to get the house loaded up with food and ensure that the heat won't go out. Once those are assured, you put on your sweats, pick up a good book, and watch it come down.

12. Can you ice skate? Nope

13. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Stockings. My husband was somewhat stunned to learn that we did stockings for everyone in the family (not just those under twelve) and I was not at all willing to negotiate on THAT. On the other hand, I made the mistake of buying very expensive, very large stockings the first year we were married and have frequently regretted imposing such a HUGE burden on Santa and his helpers.
14. What tops your tree? Some years it has been a star and other years it has been an angel. Much, of course, depends on the height of one's tree and the height of one's ceiling.

15. Which do you prefer -- giving or receiving? I really wish I could perfect my giving. I'm afraid I'm that dreadful aunt whose gifts everyone makes fun of.

16. What is your favorite Christmas Song? Angels We Have Heard On High, Good King Wenceslas, and just about every other Christmas song in the Episcopal Hymnal.

17. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum?? I am utterly indifferent to candy canes. I don't loathe them; I just can't get worked up about them.

Also seen at Pages Turned , BlueStalking Reader and In Season

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

This Made Me (and My Husband) Laugh

It's called the Penguin Show. Type in a short seasonal phrase, press submit, and then sit back and enjoy the show. (via whose blog I'd never read before tonight). Movement, music, and everything. I even sent it to offspring #1 and #2, both of whom are enduring exams and who need to be reminded that life can still be fun.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Mind The Gap

I was toying with a blog entry for today (one related to my Amazon wish list) but just at that moment when I teetered on the edge of selfish, consumer-driven holiday thinking, I read this blog entry by Rev. SongBird.

I love eggnog, Father Christmas, and Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. But, like everyone else in the midst of the secular "stuff", I suppose, I need to be reminded of the more genuine element -- humility. Thank God for clergy who blog (and for RSS feeds).

Sunday, December 10, 2006


My husband tells me that I got it wrong and that the version of Christmas Carol with the Cratchits that looked too prosperous was actually the 1938 version...I beg pardon of the Sim version fans and will more thoroughly check my facts in future. (You know, I thought his vast store of classic movie trivia was charming when I first married him...)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

It's the annual discussion.

I rather enjoyed this True Confessions of an Egg Nog Addict. It appears he's rather partial to the store-bought brands, but I did come across this recipe for a single serving Egg Nog for those who feel that store-bought just isn't quite right. Personally, I opt for sherry with my nog if I'm not drinking it plain, but other people say that rum or cognac is good as well.

Nog in hand, one can then consider which interpretation of Ebenezer Scrooge rings the most true: George C. Scott (1984), Patrick Stewart (1999), Michael Caine (1997) or Mr. Magoo (1962) . The two Offspring are partial to the Muppet version with Michael Caine, my husband really prefers the George C. Scott version, and I love the lyrics to the music of the Mr. Magoo version (...with razzleberry dressing...). We mean no disrespect to the 1951 Alistair Sim version, of course, but we did think that the Cratchits looked rather too prosperous in that one.

Meanwhile, my husband bought the tree and now we have to negotiate the decorating of it. Now or wait 'til the boys come home?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

How Can They Do That?

The question isn't posed on the basis of outrage, but sheer mystification, quiet admiration, and a certain level of plain bone weariness.

(1) For example, this morning in the New York Times, I read a news story about women carrying bags that are too heavy for their shoulders and thereby creating for themselves physical miseries. I was sympathetic 'til I got down to the closing segment of the story. A woman had to explain to her insurance company what she usually had with her in her handbag and she was quoted as saying this, "“I had over $2,000 worth of stuff in that bag,” said Ms. Thompson, who works in retail analysis for Cynthia Vincent, a fashion company in New York, “my iPod, digital camera, cellphone, glasses, sunglasses, makeup kit and a ton of other belongings, including a Care Bear that I’ve had since I was born.”.

Forget the implied rampant consumerism of the must-have electronics. A 24-year old woman is still carrying around her CARE BEAR? A. CARE. BEAR. Even if I put those words in bold italics and underlined them, I don't think my incredulity would be adequately conveyed... A graduate of Brown University (the bag was stolen at her reunion) with a job that sounds faintly glamorous, and she can't bear to leave the house without her childhood teddy? Who's nuts here? Her or me?

(2) Then I was over on DoveGreyReader's blog and I suddenly realized that she manages to include either a photograph or a book cover in almost every post. They're really nicely done and add to the attractiveness of her blog. So the question is then is asked more in a tone of wistful admiration. How do you do that? I mean, are you allowed to just snag a cover off Amazon to include on the blog? Am I not required by law to link to them when I do that? Or at least hand over a first-born child? I don't have a scanner or a digital camera, but I would like to snazz up the text a little bit...

(3) UK-based Reading Matters references her Other Half being off on a business trip to New York and how sorry she was that she couldn't go with him. I assure you, my dear woman, that you truly are better off staying put! I was in New York yesterday on a day-trip for business and tonight, still feeling the effects of fatigue, I sit at the computer and wonder "How do people survive that town? How do taxis not crash into one another every other block? I saw the tree in Rockefeller Center, but how can anyone carry Christmas in their heart when they're so rushed, pushed, crushed and otherwise mentally assaulted?". How did I survive there for seventeen years?

Please believe me when I say that one of the great mercies of our time is the Quiet Car on Amtrak. No loud conversations and no cell phones. An hour and a half of relative calm on the Northeast Corridor...

So, yes, I'm still befuddled and bemused, still asking the question in all honesty, How can they do that?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Third Entry for From-The-Stacks

Formal Entry for From-The-Stacks Challenge (#3)
The Splendor of Letters: The Permanence of Books in an Impermanent World

Title: The Splendor of Letters
Author: Nicholas A. Basbanes
Publication Data: 2003 (original publication in hardcover); 2004 (trade paper); [See information at LibraryThing]
Length: 442 pages
Category: Non-Fiction

Summary: Basbanes completes the trilogy he began with Gentle Madness and Patience & Fortitude. I believe Basbanes' ultimate intent in writing this book was to emphasize the importance of the printed volume in communicating human constructs of self and culture to later generations and make clear his concern that, were we to lose the printed book by embracing too rapidly the digital information environment, we would incur great loss for future readers, scholars and researchers. The blurb on his website indicates that the text focuses on the "efforts to preserve books and other printed matter from the ravages of deterioration, destruction and obsolescence" while a review quoted from the Washington Post indicates, "Basbanes focuses on the transmission of texts, whether on clay tablets or compact discs, and ranges up and down history. He discusses University Microfilms, the Warburg Institute, the deacessioning of books from libraries, acidic paper, the need for new editions of classics, archival storage, e-books and much else." He writes well, and I found the book to be instructive even as it irritated me because Basbanes addresses all but one of the most significant issues facing the institutions he praises and criticizes. Libraries, museums and archives are resource-intensive operations whether you're discussing staffing, operations, or public access. Basbanes never discusses how we're to pay for all of this; he only notes that it is worth paying for.

Extract: (Selected at random) "Written in black ink with a split-reed pen on sections of bark that had been glued together to form long strips, the fragments, sixty altogether, represent about twenty-five texts, including some sermons of Siddhartha Gautama, the religious philosopher and sage known as the Buddha, who died about 485 B.C. The texts are thought to have belonged to a long-lost sect that dominated the region of Gandhara two thousand years ago, and helped to bring the religion derived from Buddha's teachings into central and east Asia from India, where it has since disapppeared. Pushing back the calendar as far as possible is of particular significance since so much of Buddha's instructions were memorized by his disciples and passed on orally for close to five hundred years before being written down in the first century B.C." (page 55, Chapter 2, Editio Princeps).

He writes with complex sentence structures and with incidental detail crammed in. Appropriate to the thoughtful reader who is actually considering his arguments, but apt to slow someone lacking background in the field.

Also Relevant: This book seemed dreadfully one-sided to me. Of course, anyone with an interest in books recognizes that they represent a specific experience for the user not found in any other format. Electronic full text downloaded in PDF file format from Google Books just doesn't offer anything like the experience of a leather-bound edition of an old favorite like Rebecca or Don Quixote. Basbanes' discussion of the importance of the book as historical record as well as cultural artifact is absolutely on target. But preserving and archiving physical artifacts takes a *lot* of money -- money for expertise, money for storage space and proper environmental control, money for mounting public exhibitions and other forms of public access. Libraries, museums and archives would gladly provide all of those services but right now, money for these institutions is largely an issue. Budgets are tight. Basbanes takes private and public institutions to task throughout the text for discarding or selling off portions of their collections but never recognizes the economic constraints that put the institution in that unfortunate situation. He seems to think that de-accessioning books is a wicked, thoughtless activity. He seems to suggest instead that librarians and archivists should carefully preserve and provide access to everything, just because the published work exists and because some day someone might have an interest in it. He finds fault with microfilm as a means of providing access (and I would certainly acknowledge that drawbacks exist) but he never acknowledges that limits exist on how much storage space a single institution can support physically and financially. It takes far less physical shelf space to store a roll of microfilm than it takes to store seventy volumes of a bound periodical.

Libraries in this country can be very good, but they can also be very poor. So much depends on funding. At present, all libraries (public, private, research, etc.) are expected to provide access to content via a myriad of avenues, including print, audio, electronic and video. At the same time, neither their funding nor the space allotted them expands at the same rate as the information. Everyone expects their needs to be satisfied by the local library because it is supported by taxes, but no one stops to consider how those needs change over time.

I don't argue with his message, but I think this man lives in a lovely ivory tower. Those fighting in the trenches have to make hard choices.

Fasting in Advent

This article from the Guardian (UK) makes an excellent point -- how we've forgotten that Advent was intended as a season of discipline in preparation for the feast of Christmas. Not your standard rant against the consumerist nature of the modern Christmas season.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Cake and Costume Drama

Last night, I had neither offspring nor spouse at home. So what did I do with my night off? I behaved *badly*. Rather than eat a proper dinner, I nuked one of those Betty Crocker Warm Delights in the microwave (molten chocolate cake!) and watched the first three episodes of the BBC mini-series, Fall of Eagles. It was absolutely, pure wickedness. Cake and costume drama! 1970's BBC television was really not half bad...

Friday, December 01, 2006

In the Shadow of the Law (A From-the-Stacks Entry)

Formal Entry for From-The-Stacks Challenge (#2)
In the Shadow of the Law

This was an addition to my published list for the challenge. I offer a monthly book talk/group session at my local library and this was the selection for that session in November. My selected theme for the second half of 2006 was courtroom mysteries/thrillers and according to Amazon, I've had this book on my shelf since April of this year.

Title: In the Shadow of the Law
Author: Kermit Roosevelt
Publication Data: 2005 (hardcover, ISBN 0-374-26187-3) 2006 (trade paper)
Length: 368 pages
Category: Fiction

Summary: In the Shadow of the Law exposes the working lives of eight lawyers at Washington DC law firm, Morgan Siler. Three young associates, Mark Clayton, Ryan Grady and Katja Phillips, have responsibility for pushing a death penalty appeal and a class-action suit through the appropriate legal processes to final decision. Over them are law firm partners, Peter Morgan, Harold Fineman, and Wallace Finn, each with an individual attitude as to practice of the law. Threaded throughout are the activities of two more practiced associates, Walker Eliott and Gerald Roth. Eliott is a former Supreme Court law clerk and Roth has risen from lowly status as paralegal to associate status via the channel of graduating from law school at night. This is *not* truly a legal suspense novel nor is it a courtroom drama; its value resides in being a character-driven, fictional portrayal of the legal profession. As a first novel, it is certainly more sophisticated than most. The narrative style is very complex, slowing the pace of the story. The overview of how the practice of law has changed in the past four or five decades is interesting and there are excellent moments of real humor.

Extract: Random House has posted an excerpt from the audio-book here. In my estimation, the writing style here in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure is not all that difficult with only occasional unfamiliar words popping up. (Quick, can *you* define "velleity" and use it in a sentence? I couldn't. Google defines it this way.) It is the narrative style that makes the book challenging.

Also Relevant: The book group at the library hated it, by and large. Of the seven brave souls who came out last night, only one of them had actually made it through the whole book; everyone else gave up at some point in the first third of the book. Now this is quite unusual for the regulars in this group. Most of the time, as participants, they show up having read the full text even if they don't like it. Of the seven, only one had finished it and actually said she had liked it. The others looked at me with expressions that conveyed a muted sense of bewilderment at and dislike of my selection.

The formal reviews that I could find (a normal part of the way I prepare for a book discussion) were mixed. The Christian Science Monitor said it "combines satisfyingly intricate puzzles with plenty of bite and some musings about the nature of the law" but did acknowledge that the resolution might have been a shade too tidy for realism.

What makes this book satisfying on one level is that the lawyers figure out "whodunnit" without resorting to unlikely detecting activities. Lawyers deal with paper and these lawyers resolve their cases using the paper trail engendered by legal activity. One case is resolved according to the spirit of the law and the other through the use of the letter of the law.

The author's aim, as indicated here at Findlaw, was to provide potential law students with a better understanding of the practice of law as exercised by professionals in a variety of roles. Assuming that he succeeded in his own estimation, I can read Shadow and use it as a gauge to determine whether I would enjoy the law as a profession. Frankly, I wouldn't like the environment, as portrayed by Roosevelt, but I certainly know more about the practice of the profession now than I knew before I read the book. I can even make a guess as to why my older sister *does* enjoy her chosen profession rather than making a face and muttering "because she is just that sort..."

I also think the character development in the novel is fairly strong. You believe in these people; they're not stereotypes. There is the drawback that only one or two are even faintly sympathetic, but they are delineated well and have idiosyncratic aspects. Having said that, his naming conventions bothered me initially in that the names Walker and Wallace are too similar. The eye processes W-A-L fairly quickly, but the next letter is either a lowercase "l" or "k" and that slows the identification process by the reader down. (Personally, I wish authors would think about that as they're writing, but I've read enough interviews to know that the creative process for many doesn't allow that.) But that is clearly nit-picking.

Personally, I still think it was a worthwhile read. It was not a great book, but it was an interesting one.