Sunday, July 29, 2007

Miss Marple on Mystery!

A week ago, I watched Mystery! on PBS. They were showing a new Miss Marple episode, starring Geraldine McEwan, entitled Nemesis. For the official write-up of that episode, go here. While you're over there, you might also read the interview with McEwan for her ideas about Miss Marple.

Now I had read the book some years back so I had a vague recollection of how it went but as I watched the episode, I puzzled more and more over the presence of the two Benedictine nuns in the story [see link above]. I was fairly sure that Agatha Christie never had nuns as characters in any of the stories featuring Miss Marple. So falling asleep before the episode was over, I made a note to myself to revisit the mystery, Nemesis, and check whether I was right. Turned out that I was! There were "sisters" in the story, but in the sense of blood relations rather than members of a religious order. It seemed a rather odd change; surely more modern viewers can identify immediately with the concept of a blood relation than with professed religious. I wasn't alone in the question. There were a number of viewers over at the PBS Mystery! forums wondering at the departure of the current set of episodes from the actual Christie plots. The response from the production company is captured here.

On the one hand, I suspect that Christie's expressed sense of morality is fairly foreign to modern sensibilities. Viewers, had the script adhered to the text more closely, might have wondered what the fuss was all about; so a young girl falls in love and secretly plans to marry a bad young man. As justification for murder, it seems a bit thin. However, if you recast the young woman as a novice in a religious order, then it's seems more intelligible that another member of that order might be moved to murder on the grounds that Verity (the novice) has violated her promise as a Bride of Christ. We believe that religious fundamentalism can cause murder. Overly controlling relatives just seem anti-climactic.

On the other hand, I don't care for the practice of "updating" a text in order to present it to new audiences. It is another instance of copyright holders and literary executors working to preserve the brand of an author name (for financial reasons) without much regard for the integrity of the work itself.

Personally, I'd come back to haunt any literary executor who did that to my work...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

By the way....

Did anybody else post a link to this entry over at Library Thing (LT) this past week? It's entitled "Harry Potter and the Period of Quiet". Tim Spalding's flight to New York this past Tuesday was "like Harry Potter Study Hall". LibraryThing is giving prizes to people who post the best reviews of Volume 7 (as voted by members of LT) on the site by August 6th.

Jo Walton's Farthing [Review]

Title: Farthing

Author: Jo Walton (her official web site)

Copyright: 2006, published by Tor Books, New York, ISBN 0-763-31421-5

Length: 319 pages

Genre: Speculative fiction/mystery

Summary: Lucy Rowena Kahn, nee Easterling, has come down to her parent's estate with her husband, David Kahn for a weekend party. It's an uncomfortable setting for the young couple; Lucy's mother had steadfast objections to Lucy marrying someone of the Jewish faith to the point of threatening to attend her daughter's wedding ceremony dressed in mourning clothes. During the course of the weekend, the other guests display a range of prejudices against David which is awkward enough but following the murder of Lord James Thirkie, the police decide that David is the prime suspect in the case. Of course, he didn't do it , but how does one protect oneself against the accusations of prejudice in the midst of an uneasy peace? Farthing is set in an alternate universe where the Nazis control Europe almost entirely and England, suffering from the economic and political constraints this signifies, is vulnerable. (Walton wrote the book in 17 days in a fit of white-hot fury over politics. Don't let that dissuade you. She makes her point with skill and calculation rather than with any blunt objects. )

This would appear to be, in the early chapters, a pedestrian English country house murder mystery. As it progresses, the reader discovers that the lens of a murder mystery and the lens of an alternative timeline are actually used by author Jo Walton to present very interesting perpectives on issues of class, prejudice and hate.

Extract: The first two chapters of Farthing can be found here. We watch the drama unfold through two sets of eyes, the eyes of Lucy and those of Inspector Carmichael of Scotland yard. I will note that Lucy is not an amateur sleuth in this; any actual solving of the crime is left entirely up to the Inspector. Lucy is simply a witness (of sorts).

Also Relevant: I read and loved Jo Walton's Tooth and Claw which won the World Fantasy Award in 2004. That one has dragons wearing hats, and offers a parody of Anthony Trollope's novels. What's not to love? Farthing was marketed as an alternative WWII murder mystery, not a particularly exciting premise to me. Generally speaking, I am not keen on alternate history stories. I always wonder if perhaps the author wanted to write a real historical novel but discovered the difficulty of research and sees alternate history as an easy way out. That's certainly not the case with Farthing.

Unlike Tooth and Claw, this work is not amusing or light-hearted. It may seem so through the first half-dozen chapters, but the mood darkens and you can tell that the ending will not be a particularly uplifting one. In reading it, I was quite frankly reminded of the 1943 movie, Watch on the Rhine, which starred Bette Davis and had been based on a Lillian Hellman play. At other times, I was reminded a bit of Love in a Cold Climate and Gosford Park. At one point, I slammed the covers of this book shut because I thought I knew where it was headed and I dreaded that conclusion.

I fully intend to urge this on the book group at Didi's to see what they think of it. I urge it on you as well. It is due to be released in August in paperback form because Walton has a follow-up novel that features Inspector Carmichael called Ha'Penny due out in the early weeks of October. A fast read, but more powerful than one might expect.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Typepad Is Down

...which is why you can't get to some of your favorite book bloggers at this hour. According to an email in my box this afternoon, the cause is "power issues at our co-location facility." The system went down just before 5 pm (Eastern DST) and the email says they're working to rectify the situation. Just thought I'd share info, given that so many of our book-blog-buddies are on that particular platform.

Yellow-Journalism-Style Update: There are apparently several different albeit interesting accounts circulating, as to the actual source of the difficulty. Other affected services appear to include Technorati, Craig's List, Live Journal and other high-profile services. Disclaimer: I have no idea how reliable the sources referenced might be.

Much More Reliable Update: The really good book-bloggers all appear to be up again.

Final and Very Funny Update: Provided by Sylvia of Classical Bookworm.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Information Request

I have been asked to liveblog a conference within my industry in September, but the organizers are anxious to use a (free) bloghosting service that provides solid statistics on the blog's visibility in terms of hits, etc. Blogger really doesn't do that; to the best of my knowledge, one can get third-party counters that sit on the page, but nothing that yields more complex information. I use MyBlogLog which provides some statistics about visitors to this blog, but again, it's not a source for anything very sophisticated.

I'm seeking information from those of you that might be more knowledgeable than myself. Any feedback from those of you using Typepad? Does typepad give you a good set of statistics? Any other service you'd recommend? Recommendations on how I might get/extract better stats from Blogger?

I'm just putting this out there to see who might know. I have only blogged using this host so have no frame of reference.

Brief Update/Further Clarification: It would appear that google-analytics is also an option for use with Blogger/blogspot. I have added that code to this blog for a test period just to see what I learn. If you have feedback on google analytics, that would also be welcome.

In response to Dorothy W. : I'm not sure what they're looking for, actually; hits is the word used in the email which is, admittedly, rather vague. But I told my colleagues that I'd post the query to a number of social networks and see what came back.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

My Cousin, Rachel [Review]

Title: My Cousin, Rachel

Author: Daphne du Maurier (official du Maurier web site)

Copyright: 1951; I read a recent reprint edition, ISBN 1579125697, from Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers. (Curiously, there is no city provided on the title page in connection with this publisher. It was no great difficulty to find out that they are part of Workman Press which is headquartered in New York, but I did find it rather odd that they'd skipped a standard part of the title page publishing protocols.)

Length: 325 pages

Genre: Suspense; female gothic

Summary: Twenty-four year-old-Philip Ashley is alone. The much beloved cousin who raised him from infancy, Ambrose, has gone to Italy to relieve the pain of his rheumatism. After three years of journeying back and forth, there is a year when Ambrose writes that he has decided to stay in Florence. He has met a young widow, distantly related, to whom he refers as "My cousin, Rachel". Within three months they are married. Subsequently, Philip receives odd letters from Ambrose that seem to indicate his health is failing and that Ambrose fears for his life, perhaps due to poison at the hands of his young wife. Philip travels to Florence, only to learn upon his arrival that Ambrose is dead and that the widow has disappeared with all of Ambrose's personal belongings. Philip, grief-stricken and blaming this stranger, Rachel, returns to Cornwall to take his place as Ambrose's heir. He is young and uncertain, but seems to rise to the challenge.

What then happens when Mrs. Ambrose Ashley (Rachel) arrives in Cornwall not long after Philip's return? Can Philip see the real woman in the midst of his grief? Is Rachel a scheming female or merely independent? Did she poison Ambrose or did Ambrose die a madman from other causes? Does Philip wrong Rachel by his suspicion? Told entirely from the viewpoint of Philip, this novel leaves many questions open for the reader to ponder.

The writing is masterful, the narrative compelling, and the characters fully fleshed out. The reader has plenty of material to analyze for the purposes of coming to a conclusion. Did Rachel kill Ambrose in the hopes of gaining his fortune? Did she manipulate Philip? Or did Philip, inexperienced and impetuous, drive an innocent Rachel to a grim and unforgiving end? I imagine that there are women out there who have not yet read this tale, but if you've missed it, you will want to rectify that omission. It's a gripping read.

Also relevant: The first time one reads My Cousin, Rachel, the reader is so fixated on the determination of guilt with regard to Rachel, there is scant attention paid to the character of Philip. The second time one reads My Cousin, Rachel, there is more opportunity to consider duMaurier's position on Philip's general youth and inexperience with relationships, the gender gap inherent to the culture in 19th century Cornwall, and the craft with which duMaurier creates a mood of ambiguity while bringing her tale to a satisfactory close. I read somewhere that duMaurier herself never reached a conclusion as to Rachel's guilt, but now cannot locate the reference.

It is too easy to categorize duMaurier's novels as "female gothic" or "historical romances". Her main strength as an author is the creation of characters who are so engaging that one neglects to question their reliability as a narrator (as in My Cousin, Rachel) or note that you never hear their Christian name (as in Rebecca). I never once doubted the voice of Philip Ashley; he and his reactions to events seemed as realistic and as likely as those of my own son, seated on the couch with his laptop.

The movie version of this novel (1952, Twentieth-Century Fox) starred Richard Burton and Olivia de Haviland. I found de Haviland's rendition of Rachel to be entirely in keeping with the character of the novel while Burton as Philip chewed the scenery left and right. Still it was what prompted me to first buy and read this novel last summer, and subsequently select it for this month's book talk with the township library group. They were most enthusiastic about this title as a discussion, so I look forward to hearing their opinions and theories later in the week.

Update: Corrected copyright date to 1951 and corrected actress' name to deHaviland from Hussey as originally written.

** Potential Spoiler**Stop Now**Potential Spoiler**Stop Now

For what it is worth as a final conclusion, I don't think she murdered him, but I do think he murdered her. There! All clear now?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Safely In The Reader's Hands

In the interest of reporting on the situation honestly, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is here and I'm no longer worried about the offspring's future happiness. Of course, the postman also delivered very ordinary, muggle-like mortgage and utility bills along with the magic. Sigh, I couldn't have afforded to go out and buy a second copy.

Now should I open the package for him? Or would that be a smothering-monster-mom thing to do? Technically, the package is addressed to me...

Blithering idiot

As of 12:24pm today, I have sunk to a new low. I have just eaten Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream and had the temerity to call it my lunch. Agitation should not drive one to this.

On the other hand, Making Light has a wonderfully funny post/thread on Flamer Bingo!

Pesky HP Delivery Update

Okay, no sign of UPS trucks out on the major road running past my house. (What, you guys sleeping late this Saturday? Are they not paying you overtime or hazard pay? I know, I know, I'm at the tail end of the route.) It's coming up against 11:45; fortunately this MediaLoper reporter has done the homework that tells me Amazon is saying they've got UPS working up until 7pm this evening...

I cannot believe I can be saying this. But right now, rather than face an irate offspring, I am tempted to go out to Borders and buy a second copy. (That's only in jest; I raised my son with better attitude than that-- but he would still squawk a mite.)

And what is with Twitter? I still can't get on to post an update to my three followers. Are all the wretch Harry Potter fans from last night text messaging each other to say they are done with the book?

Now, Really....

It's 8:20 am in my part of the world. I have already checked my Amazon account page and the UPS tracking page. The information is sadly incomplete. Neither source indicates when exactly today the 5 lb. box that contains the Harry Potter book will be delivered to my door. There's not even the normally reassuring line about "Out on the truck for delivery" and I'm an Amazon Prime customer. The box was last tracked yesterday in some secret warehouse.

I have a 21-year-old son who expects to be able to start reading HP as soon as he gets home from work this afternoon at 3:15 pm. So, Mr. Bezos and Mr. UPS Man, let's get moving here. Either update the delivery information on your respective sites or deliver the book! Preferably the latter!

Update: Twitter is slower than molasses this morning; I can't even find out what other people are experiencing. Sheesh...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Plotting for Beginners [Review]

Title: Plotting for Beginners

Author(s): Sue Hepworth (her blog), Jane Linfoot

Copyright/Publication: 2006, Snowbooks, London, ISBN: 1-905005-12-1

Length: 345 pages

Genre: contemporary fiction

Summary: Sally is a woman who deserves a better time of it; she's got a spouse, a college-age son, and a brother, each of whom seems to be just a tad off kilter. The spouse is off emulating Thoreau in a cabin in Colorado. The brother is in the midst of a poorly handled divorce and has moved in with Sally. The son is somewhat vague as to his general direction. Meanwhile, Sally is muddling through menopause and the difficulties of getting her career up and moving again. Fortunately, Sally has good friends, Kate, supportive of Sally's hope of becoming a paid freelance writer, and madcap Wendy. The men in Sally's life (oh, I forgot to mention Iain) are a diverse and exasperating lot as are the editors who accept Sally's pieces, building up her belief in her writing skill and then casually dashing it. It's just too unfair (but very, very true to life).

This is a delightfully humorous book, told through a series of diary entries, letters, and email exchanges. Sally has to navigate the demands of family and friends while pushing herself to achieve her own goals. It's not easy but, for the reader, it's fun. Characterization is solid and the author's blog even supplies photos of the locations for specific incidents in the book.

Extract: see Sally's own blog entries for a flavor of the writing.

Also Relevant: Lisa (who is amazingly generous with her giveaways ) claims I won this one fair and square. I suspect her of a mixture of kindness and briskness, because she had moved ahead to her next giveaway before I had time to tell her thank you for sending me this one (with a bonus book in the package). Thank you, Benevolent Bluestalking!

As it happens, I enjoy epistolary novels so Plotting for Beginners was the best possible win for me. Even more happily, Sally was the right heroine for me -- competent and possessed of a self-deprecating humor. Finding good heroines that reflect my particular demographic is not that easy; most of the current crop suffer from being at least a decade younger and perhaps twenty-five pounds lighter (say, a size six rather than a ten or fourteen). The humor is gentle and never quite over the top. I was able to read some of the humorous bits of this out loud to my son who was patiently tolerant initially but appreciated the wit that Hepworth and Linfoot deliver.

What I Do in Real Life

Remember when I told you that I was out in Arizona on business? I generated an article for Online Magazine on the basis of that experience; I hadn't realized they were going to put it up on the Web. (But that gives you an idea of what I do in real life...).

Monday, July 16, 2007

Quote of the Day

Swiped from a librarian's email sig file:

Idleness is a disease which must be combated; but I would not advise a rigid adherence to a particular plan of study. I myself have never persisted in any plan for two days together. A man ought to read just as his inclination leads him: for what he reads as a task will do him little good.
--Samuel Johnson

Now, I'm not sure that I agree fully with Johnson on this. I do agree that one should follow one's inclination in leisure reading, once you have learned the basics. But as adults, I think sometimes it is too easy to read only those books that we know reinforce our comfort zone of pre-existing thought and beliefs. That I do think is problematic. Sometimes, you have to read the complete text in order to be sure that you understand the author's intent in writing. Sometimes, that will entail a certain suspension of judgment until you've read all of the book, even if the line of argument and nature of the content is foreign or not to your liking. Sometimes obligatory reading is the only way to force open a mind.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

LibraryThing and Friends

The people at LibraryThing (LT) have been doing some very cool things with the site, one of which I only just noticed today as I was whiling away time on the computer.

Many of you have a widget on your blog that displays books from your respective libraries. I was going through my blogroll to see which of you were on LT so that I could put you on my LT watchlist. The LT watchlist is a private way for users to track the libraries associated with certain profiles, usually those which have overlap with the one's own collection; it's a neat way to see what others are reading.

While futzing around adding people to my watchlist, I noted that I could also "friend" people on LT. Now, I'm not entirely sure what this translates to. I know what "friending" means on Facebook, MySpace, etc. (I have teen-age sons; I'm not that out of it) but I am not sure what precisely happens on LT because it's a brand-new functionality there. I know an invitation was involved because LT's system informed me that an invitation had been sent to so-and-so after I had pressed a button without knowing what would happen. (Yes, I agree that grown women should have sense enough not to press buttons at random, but I beta-test lots of applications and interfaces in my professional life. I'm supposed to press buttons.)

So, I suppose some of you will have gotten emails or messages on your profiles at LT asking if you'll be my friend. I think I got through the "B"s before it occurred to me that I ought to advise people of my bumbling behavior. Some people think friending is as much of a pain as being tagged for a meme. If you are one of them, please accept my apologies. My profile name on LT is jillmwo so you'll know who to yell at when it arrives.

If the idea of "friending" appeals to you and you have a library on LT, then again, my profile name on LT is jillmwo and you're welcome to "friend" me. I need friends on LT 'cause I'm not having much luck over on Facebook.

If you didn't get a friend request from me as yet, your blog name probably appears outside of the "B's (see blogroll in the right hand column). Give me time; I'll get to you. I just wanted to get the word out early as to who it was who was friending you on LT.

Besides, if our blogrolls touch, doesn't that already mean we're friends?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Neil Gaiman's Stardust [Review]

Title: Stardust

Author: Neil Gaiman (official website; Gaiman's journal; be careful, he enjoys the occasional pun.)

Copyright: 1999, Harper Perennial, New York; ISBN 978-0061142024 (link goes to Amazon)

Length: 248 pages (for the story itself)

Genre: Fantasy

Summary: A youth of questionable parentage sets off on a quest to obtain a gift for the maiden he admires. The journey takes him beyond the ordinary world of mortals where he grew up and into the realm of Faerie. Intermingled with his adventure is a witch who seeks youthful immortality for herself and her sisters and a royal family of seven brothers, all of whom have reasons to divert him from his quest. There is a unicorn, an enchanted bird, and a flying ship of pirates as well as assorted magical entities and objects. The young man must manage all these encounters, while avoiding *other* witches and enchanted beings, in order to return to his home and come into his own as an independent being.

Neil Gaiman offers up a deft piece of story-telling, one that recycles and respects the old fairy tale motifs while incorporating humor and originality, the foremost example of which is a falling star who sustains a broken leg upon landing. Gaiman's use of language is entirely modern, but retains a flavor of folk tales; the story structure is clear and easy to follow. Rhythm and pacing of the story is precisely handled. Based on my reading of the book, he understands the function and requirements of the fairy tale and he honors that traditional form.

Excerpt: There are opening passages from Stardust available at Neil Gaiman's official website -- here. I don't think it's an ideal introduction to his prose. As an alternative, I include the following:

Tristran would have explained to her that all he could possibly hope for if he approached the raging beasts was to be skewered, and kicked, and clawed, and eaten; and he would further have explained that, should he somehow survive approaching them, there was still nothing that he could do having with him not even the pail of water which had been the traditional method of breaking up animal fights in Wall. But by the time all these thoughts had gone through his head, Tristran was already standing in the center of the clearing, an arm's length from the beasts. The scent of the lion was deep, animal, terrifying, and Tristran was close enough to see the beseeching expression in the unicorn's black eyes...

The Lion and the Unicorn were fighting for the crown, thought Tristran...

Also relevant: Neil Gaiman wrote this fairy tale for adults; he honors the works of Hope Mirrlees, Lord Dunsany, James Branch Cabell, and C.S. Lewis in this edition's acknowledgment for teaching him that fairy tales can, in fact, be written for adults. Having said that, let me caution prospective readers that he includes two scenes in the text that may offend on the basis of sex and gore. There is one teensy (literally) instance of foul language but given that the epithet is uttered by the star who has just broken her leg in a fall to Earth, the lapse in manners may be forgiven. Gaiman hasn't written high fantasy in the tradition of Tolkien; he has followed in the literary fairy tale tradition of Wilde.

The book has been made into a movie, due to be released on August 10. It stars, among others, Michele Pfeiffer as the witch seeking eternal youth and Robert de Niro as a pirate captain (delicate sigh). If you're so inclined, the official movie site is available with further details. Don't read any of the fan related material you might encounter on the Web in support of the film's release. Those seem to be rife with spoilers. You'll want to read the book before you see the movie. [ Really, trust me on this. In this particular instance, I honestly believe you'll be a happier, healthier human being. You've got a month before its release, which is plenty of time.]

This is a *very* good book. It is a modern day classic of its kind. It is Neil Gaiman's heartfelt expression of the human experience and what more can we ask of an author in telling us a good story?

Depressing on So Many Levels (humor)

You're The Grapes of Wrath!

by John Steinbeck

You're mired in a deep depression that encompasses you and everyone you know. You're trying to get out of the depression, but your idea of help is, in itself, pretty sad. While some are convinced that this all has a deeper meaning, you're really just dull and tedious. And utterly obsessed with dust. You really need to focus on something other than dust. Your best moments center around turtles.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Five Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors

My husband and I went away for the weekend into Pennsylvania Dutch country to meet up with friends and strangers at a small gathering of science fiction (sf) readers. There were about a dozen of us at dinner Friday night, and as few of us knew each other really well, Roger launched conversation by asking attendees what the first sf title was that they remembered reading and who a favorite author in the genre might be.

The responses ranged from childhood favorites like Eleanor Cameron's Mushroom Planet series to the standard science fiction titles from Bradbury, Asimov, and Heinlein to very recent authors. I was too busy listening to what others floated as favorites to put my two cents in at the time, but I thought I'd post possibilities here in case there were those among you who might be interested in learning more about a genre unfairly characterized as having to do mostly with space ships and bug-eyed-monsters (BEMs).

1. Ursula K. LeGuin. This woman is one of my favorite writers; see my list of holdings of her works at LibraryThing. LeGuin writes speculative science fiction with a socio-political bent, as well as fantasy for young adults (see my discussion of Earthsea and The Other Wind). She does short fiction as well as full length novels and she writes cogent essays on the craft of writing and the science fiction/fantasy genre as a whole. I hesitate to pick a favorite by her, but if you want a taste of her short stories, I personally began with those collected in the collection, The Wind's Twelve Quarters (1975). Of her full length novels, aside from the Earthsea novels, I really liked The Telling (which examines a society torn between a modern scientific outlook and the knowledge created within its own folkways). It's an example of how LeGuin uses the science fiction genre to examine political philosophies and social constructs. A noted classic of this sort is her novel, The Dispossessed. If you want to examine gender expectations, there is The Left Hand of Darkness. Fabulous stuff.

2. Ray Bradbury. I think many of us read some of his short stories in anthologies in high school; certainly that was how I was introduced to him. There Shall Come Soft Rains is a classic selection that tells of an fully-automated house that continues to operate, despite the death of the human owners from a nuclear explosion. If you haven't encountered that one, you can usually find it as part of the short story collection, The Martian Chronicles. If you've never read Bradbury and only know the title from some television adaptation, I would certainly suggest you track it down and read the stories in context. But you may also have read his Fahrenheit 451. Depending upon how you interpret it, it's either about the evils of censorship or it's about the negative impact of television. I'm only slowly getting through his full body of work. I didn't personally care for Something Wicked This Way Comes, but I have a friend who swears it is his best.

3. Connie Willis' wrote a wonderfully funny novel called To Say Nothing of the Dog which is a something of a take off on Jerome Jerome's Three Men in a Boat and Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (Lady Bracknell/Lady Shrapnel) while also referencing physics, time travel and chaos theory. Just be willing to go with it. And then go find her fabulous, hefty Doomsday Book. That one features the black plague...

4. C.J. Cherryh. I read her Hunter of Worlds back in the late '70's and found it to feature the best aliens I'd ever encountered. She represented an alien viewpoint so very effectively that I've never forgotten it. You can currently only purchase it in an omnibus edition, At the Edge of Space (Amazon link). I also think her Downbelow Station is the best commentary on the effects of war on a civilian population that I've encountered. That novel won a Hugo award in 1982.

5. C.L. Moore. Definitely purple prose by today's standards, but I enjoy her short stories. If you can lay hands on a used copy of The Best of C.L. Moore (another Amazon link), her story Shambleau is as good as it gets in connecting science fiction/space opera to myths of dark entities. I also think Black God's Kiss is quite memorable. In fact, just about every story in that collection is memorable. Moore wrote science fiction back during the Depression, when women were hiding their gender by using initials in their bylines rather than their full names.

I've got more to share, but these ought to get you started. Keep an open mind and just begin reading.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Enchanted April [Review]

Title: The Enchanted April

Author: Elizabeth von Arnim

Copyright: Originally published in 1922. This work is in the public domain and can be found online at the University of Pennsylvania Celebration of Women Writers Project. I was reading the recent print edition from the New York Review of Books (ISBN: 9781590172254)

Length: 247 pages

Genre: Domestic Fiction

Summary: Two tired and secretly depressed women, Rose Arbuthnot and Charlotte Wilkins, rent an Italian castle as a residence for the month of April in the early 1920s. In order to afford the rent, they advertise for two more women who might also have reason to get away. Elderly Mrs. Fischer and stunningly beautiful Lady Caroline Destmer agree and the four women escape to the Italian countryside. Each must make slight adjustments in order to comfortably live with one another (removing barriers in some instances and erecting them in others) but the magic of San Salvatore slowly seeps into their minds and their bodies to soothe and heal. Friendships come alive. This slow-paced and gentle novel allows that healing magic to unfold and envelope the reader. It articulates the wonderful mental experience that escaping on holiday provides us -- the opportunity to be free of obligations and remind ourselves of who we are at heart. It is that reminder that allows us to straighten up and move on through the day, making real contact with others as we go.

Extract: The day was wretched, blustering and wet; the crossing was atrocious, and they were very sick. But after having been very sick, just to arrive at Calais and not be sick was happiness, and it was there that the real splendour of what they were doing first began to warm their benumbed spirits. It got hold of Mrs. Wilkins first, and spread from her like a rose-coloured flame over her pale companion. Mellersh at Calais, where they restored themselves with soles because of Mrs. Wilkins's desire to eat a sole Mellersh wasn't having–Mellersh at Calais had already begun to dwindle and seem less important. None of the French porters knew him; not a single official at Calais cared a fig for Mellersh. In Paris there was no time to think of him because their train was late and they only just caught the Turin train at the Gare de Lyons; and by the afternoon of the next day when they got into Italy, England, Frederick, Mellersh, the vicar, the poor, Hampstead, the club, Shoolbred, everybody and everything, the whole inflamed sore dreariness, had faded to the dimness of a dream.

Also Relevant: This is the type of novel that is usually dismissed by a portion of the population on the grounds that "Nothing ever happens in it". Certainly there is little in terms of external activity. No heroism, no drama, no wrenching emotional scenes. There is, in fact, an entire chapter given over to the settling of household accounts, surely a lackluster idea, but the point of The Enchanted April is that we tend to needlessly allow daily things to become too complex -- that were we to slow down and relax a bit and grant each other some physical and mental space, we would readily find that daily minor conflicts would be kept in the proper perspective -- in fact, entirely minimized. Spring blooms in the Italian countryside and heals all the greyness of a bourgeois middle-class trudging through life in a perpetual London winter.

Of course, The Enchanted April is simplistic. Life's complexities can't always be removed by taking a little holiday. Ruptured marriages aren't healed by getting away from one's partner. The pains and aches of the elderly don't mysteriously evaporate, even when the caring of others removes loneliness. But there is faith and hope woven into this novel. And that's why this slim volume goes on the shelf with other much-loved women's classics. Because, when weary, we can return to it and find our spirits restored.

One final note: I had never heard of this book until the 1992 movie with Joan Plowright and Miranda Richardson. Even then, I had only seen the movie when it ran on TV; had IMDB not existed, I doubt I would ever have learned about Elizabeth von Arnim's novel. The movie is largely faithful to the book and it is what induced me to track this one down and read it. Now if they'd just release the movie on DVD, I would be content.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Annie Thinks I'm Good at This

Which is always a nice thing to hear! (Please forgive me for pointing out that no one could with any honesty call me a "girl". I'm well into middle age and nigh on to -- well, you know.)

Annie, of course, is She whose Superpower Is Reading. (Thank you, Annie, for the kind words.) And do feel free to pass my name and URL on to those folks who are handing out ARCs if you are so inclined.

Tagging five additional people is rough -- not because there's any dearth of talent, but because I will undoubtedly tag someone who has already been named.

There is Cam of Cam's Commentary. She leads a very busy life which is why her very thoughtful posts are always so valued. Oh, there's Melanie over at Indextrious Reader. Melanie is Canadian and her June 25th posting invites some thought. Heather of The Library Ladder is also Canadian. She'd had an unfortunate situation with her laptop that forced a hiatus, but now she has returned to assure us she is still amongst the living. There's Tara of Books and Cooks who is a mom with a recent birthday celebration, involving many, many books. You should see her stack of Persephones. I think Mary is a reliable resource for books; in the interests of full disclosure, Mary was one of the first people to add me to her blogroll so there is a natural fondness there anyway. Mary writes sensible book blurbs that actually tell you something about the book.

And while neither of them are book bloggers per se, I happen to enjoy reading the blogs by Sr. Claire Joy and Grandmere Mimi. (I think we should count Grandmere Mimi as an honorary blogger of books because her blog features a portrait of Jane Austen. I mean, if a woman is capable of properly appreciating Jane's work, what else need be said?)