29 September 2006

A lifetime of Mondays

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
(ISBN 0-06-097079) is a mind-stretching book discussing what it means to be human, to have a soul, and to live a productive life by reflection upon the experiences of individuals damaged in some way by mental illness. I can hardly imagine a life such as those he describes; the closest my imagination can come is to envision a lifetime of Mondays, stretching out forever - and I may not be aware of it. Sacks' open, uncomplicated approach to his patients allows him to see more deeply and truthfully into their situations than most persons in comprable positions.

One interesting theme throughout the work is the interplay between disease and ability. In some cases, the disease of the patient disables the patient; in others, clearly the disease is associated with greater ability by the patient. Most of us are probably most aware of only the debilitating side of disease, but Sacks offers interesting tales of people enabled by disease - individuals with vast musical knowledge and deep resevoirs of appreciation for sound, a set of twins who approach numbers as friends (even up to 12-digit primes), and a woman who compensated for a loss of proprioception or kinesthetic self-awareness by using her sight.

Sacks' acceptance of these individuals for who they are informs these anecdotes and offers a model worthy of note. Especially endearing to me was the steadfast determination to accentuate the positive and identify and play to the strengths of each person, rather than focusing only on compensatory mechanisms for their weaknesses.

Note to Sacks: the website photo of you (above) is much improved over your book jacket photo. :)

28 September 2006

Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) Autumn Challenge

I'm up for a challenge, after a month of challenges. I found one by Carl V. at www.stainlesssteeldroppings.com (which is a novel experience; normally my challenges find me, and disturb my reading time). However, of late I avoid scary stories as they have been giving me sleep problems. Reading Christine in high school kept me up in a panic many nights. I think I'll take a histrorical, movie-related approachSo picking my 5 books is a challenge. Prizes are already awarded, and I'm late to join the challenge, so I'll set a self-imposed deadline of Halloween. Here is my list of 5:
  1. Something spooky by Sherlock Holmes. This will also engage me in the Sherlock Holmes festival in town this October. I'm thinking about Hound of the Baskervilles.
  2. A collection of Edgar Allen Poe's stories; must include two favorites, The Cask of Amontillado and The Masque of the Red Death. This will be a re-read, but a challenge, because I haven't yet seen my copy of this book in my moving boxes so don't know where it is yet. Don't you hate that?
  3. Reviewing the other challenge participant's entries, I'm struck by the fact that I've never read Bram Stoker's Dracula.
  4. On that note, I suppose to complete my horror education I should read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I expect it will be as engaging as one of my favorite movies, Young Frankenstein. (Side note: I read Kiss me like a Stranger this summer, and boy was it a dog.)
  5. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving. Do you think he would sound less puritanical if he shortened his last name to Ving, a'la Ving Rhames?

Ring around the blogosphere

I joined a blogring today, "For all the incurable book addicts out there who love to share what they are reading." Well that fits me! I also made a little button. I love buttons. This one is kinda plain, but that's all the time I have for it now.

27 September 2006

Soldiers into farmers

My husband is a dedicated Hoosier and, as such, introduced me to the fabulous Brown County scenery a few years back. Peak leaf peeping season is coming up soon so I expect that a road trip is in order (and check out the cool updated photo from a web cam I found too). Possibly, on the way, I can stop at a favorite destination - Oliver winery! Their riesling is divine.

The soul and wit of Brown County were embodied by author Kin Hubbard, in his writings and comics of Abe Martin. The book I just finished, Abe Martin's Sayings and Wisecracks, Abe's Neighbors, His Almanack, Comic Drawings (ISBN 0-253-21007-0) lacks a concise title but offers a generous sampling of the wisdom Hubbard has to offer via his alter ego, Abe Martin. Two of my favorite quotes from the book:
It's a wise father that knows his own daughter
We kin beat our muskets an' swords int' plowshares, but who's goin't' beat our boys into plowing?
I was surprised and smiling at a few points, reflecting upon how true these pithy dollops of common sense still are. Particularly interesting was the parallel between the opinions Hubbard reflects of the change coming over society by the introduction of the automobile, and how the same sentiments are raised for so many technological advances - phones, television, internet, whatever. Why there should be this link in the minds of certain types of individuals between technology advances and immorality is beyond me. The book wasn't as easy-flowing a read as one would expect from a comic endeavor but it was still entertaining. And definitely something cool to read while taking a break from a trail hike in Brown County.

26 September 2006

Gracias to Gutenberg

I recently re-encountered Project Gutenberg while looking for some online ebook content. My kids love myth & legend based tales and I was in pursuit of some stories from the Norse; the D'Aulaires book is the best (the artwork! to die for!) but far from comprehensive. Recently, the audiobooks of the D'Aulaires Greek Myths have been released - I wonder if they will do the Norse ones too soon?.

I found Norse Tales and Sketches at the Project Gutenberg site which will serve nicely. What a great site! I love the community/volunteerism aspect and hope to particpate more actively sometime in the future. If you're in the need of a light but fun ebook, check out their Wodehouse offerings. For more on Gutenberg, check out the British Library's site.

21 September 2006

Enough with the kidnapping already

I was quite happy to stumble across Diana Gabaldon's A Breath of Snow and Ashes (ISBN 0-385-32416-2) recently and decided to give it a go, postponing Lincoln and etc. from my hopper to make way for it. (Sorry, Abe!) I was quite charmed by her Outlander book and the ideas she put forth - blending time travel, fantasy, science fiction, and wonderful prose along with some enrapturing characters to build a great story. However, her earlier grace and presence in words are sadly lacking here. While a kidnapping can be a dramatic plot device, did the story really need to include 3 such abductions? Strong and bold characters, such as Jocasta, are limited to pale and unsympathetic versions of their former selves, with no build-up to let the reader sympathize or enjoy the story of the hubris of the woman. The situation and story are sadly glossed over. Similarly, [spoiler warning!] the return of some characters to the modern day was discussed in only the broadest terms; the readmittance of them into society of the present day is given some hand waiving and left as a fait accompli for the reader to swallow down. Gabaldon's prose is admirable and her description of characters in relationships is charming, as ever. But overall, I was disappointed in this work, and am not sure if I'll take the gamble of a time investment for her other works. I may go back and read Outlander though!

19 September 2006

Anna Quindlen on the Diane Rehm Show

I was listening to the Diane Rehm show yesterday, and she had a very interesting guest - Anna Quindlen, speaking about her new book Rise and Shine.

Did anyone else hear the show? Quindlen had some interesting comments about working motherhood, midway into the interview. See Diane Rehm Show, bottom of the page - audio links are on the right.

The insight she shared that caught my attention - and I'm paraphrasing here - was that when she left the New York Times op ed page to write fiction and spend more time with her kids, she was criticized heavily and some of the criticism was targeted to her as a woman - she was accused of being "fearful of success" in Rehm's words. Quindlen then spoke about "real success." "Life is short. Do something that you really want to do." She found it hard to balance her life as a mother and novelist with the column at the New York Times, so quit the column, giving up the prestige and fame to focus on what mattered to her. And now, she is doing better - in her estimation - has more time with her kids, has the backpage in Newsweek every other week, and a #1 debuting novel.


Edited to add: my review.

17 September 2006

Who's afraid of spiders?

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman is a fun, quick page-turner which leads to some interesting reflections on sibling relations. Gaiman, as usual, contributes an unusual perspective and canny delivery on some imaginative topics. This book concerns the efforts of two sons of the Spider God Anansi, of African myth and legend, to assume their powers and get along with each other and the world. I loved especially the interactions between the main characters and the cadre of old, wise women who serve as his extended family - watch out for the funeral scene to set the tone for their interactions throughout the book. I laughed at loud at the description of Karaoke, which was considerably more fun to read than any karaoke I've been part of has been to experience. This book isn't quite as good as the author's earlier work American Gods. I am hopeful that having covered Norse and African mythologies, Gaiman has not exhausted his gods-and-legends inspiration and will continue to delight readers in the future with another effort - I wonder what he would do with some of the Native American stories, or perhaps Gilgamesh?

11 September 2006

Falling and fire

What must it be like, in the last moments of a relatively normal life, to have to choose how you will die? There must me a moment of stupefying horror at the realization that your remaining choices aren't anything as mundane as tall or grande, but whether you will stay and burn or jump. I can't imagine what people went through making this choice 5 years ago today. But I do hope, for one of them, that the choice wasn't just over this way of death or that one. Maybe there was someone that decided, for 10 seconds of a life cut too short, to take control of a chaotic day and chose to fly for the experience of it - a last chance to hold and have life, however briefly, rather than have it turned to ashes. The photos and images of the jumpers are what stay with me from that day; the inferno and collapse are too much at times to encompass, but the righteous humanity evident in taking charge of those last moments is something I mourn. Peace to them all and their families.

Thanks to Mike Faurote for sharing the fallen leaf image on Flickr.

08 September 2006

Limericks and road trips.

I'm travelling this weekend to Chicagoland. I've packed Seize the Daylight for the trip; this is my light road-worthy reading. My hardcover copy of Team of Rivals is too darned nice to risk scuffs in the totebag.

Today, I did a brief presentation titled "13 feet in 5 minutes." It went fairly well. The topic was Limericks. This gave me reason to read one of my favorites, by an anonymous person:
There was a young lady from Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger.
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And a smile on the face of the tiger.
In the presentation, I emphasized the use of limericks as a vocabulary-building exercise; that reading limericks by authors who use obscure words can make those words lodge more permanently in your gray matter, and that by writing them you can revitalize little-used words in your own memory when trying to complete an interesting rhyme. I also learned a few things about the topic myself. I never imagined, for example, that my favorite could be disparaged due to having a repeated word and a sight rhyme - the best sort of limericks avoid these crutches, according to some. For more fun - and very original limericks, see The Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form.

07 September 2006

They're back! Hooray!

Prisoner of the Ant People by R.A. Montgomery (ISBN 1-933390-10-7)

They're back! I found this gem yesterday at the local library and ooh what a treat! I just loved these books when I was younger. I picked up this one and was flipping through it when, to my pleasant surprise, offspring the elder wandered over to see what had my attention. I read aloud to him for about 10 minutes, and he was hooked. We brought the book home for a visit along with 2 other CYOA books and worked through to one of the endings last night - O the E was particularly tickled by the story ending of flushing the ant leader out the garbage chute of the spaceship. Bravo, R. A. Montgomery! I am not sure what brought this series back ( labeled "classic" ala a Coke) but I applaud the effort. For my game-oriented nascent reader, these look like they may catch his interest. I found a few sites earlier this summer that had similar text-based adventures along these lines. I contributed some to Quest of the Magician, as I appreciated the tongue-in-cheek adventurous sensibility; look for my text in the crabs vs. the leopards storyline.

06 September 2006

'readin, writing, and cipherin

I'm reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals now, and a section about Lincoln caught my attention:
Though untutored in the sciences and the classics, he was able to read and reread his books until he understood them fully. "Get the books, and read and study them," he told a law student seeking advice in 1855. It did not matter, he continued, whether the reading be done in a small town or a large ciry, by oneself or in the company of others. "The books, and your capacity for understanding them, are just the same in all places... Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed, is more important than any other one thing."
So, bearing that in mind, I am puzzled over how to get offspring the elder to read with grace and appetite. Entering 1st grade, he loves mathmatics of any nature - will attentively listen to discussions of statistics, and can already complete pre-algebra work. Of course I'm proud about that! But the reading thing has me stumped. I can't imaging anyone, much less a child of mine, not eagerly approaching the written word. What can I do to foster a love of reading? Can it be done by example?

05 September 2006

Groucho and people who aren't me

Memoirs of a Mangy Lover by Groucho Marx (ISBN 0-306-81104-9)

Ogden Nash's cover blurb expresses considerably more enthusiasm than I felt having completed this work. The work gives the impression of having been stretched to fit a 200 pp minimum imposed by the publisher; the first 100 pages for me were filled with bah-humbug
philosophizing that seemed self-pitying to the point of losing any comic interest and not plumbing the pathos of the situation either. However, the last half of the book is filled with wonderful vignettes of Groucho's experiences over time, in Hollywood and Vaudeville performances, with his brothers and without, and with his endearing wife who surely was a
patient soul. My favorite of these was the tale of Groucho's visit to a Southside Chicago psychic, and how he escaped from this imposed visit with élan. Overall, I'd recommend this read - skip to page 97 to avoid the early tedium.

03 September 2006

Dragon on board

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

The concept of this book was tantalizing to me; a British ship of the line encounters a French frigate during the Napoleonic Wars, in unspecified Asian waters. Quickly defeating the French, the captain of the HMS Reliant seizes his prize: the frigate and all it contains... including a mysterious, enormous egg.

The book gallops through the identification and
hatching of the dragon therein, a piece of the story I would have rather spent more time with. The author's rush to the training of a battle dragon and the action of war is not unmerited, however, as the military scenes are well written and moving. My only disappointment was one of misplaced expectation; I was hoping to read a piece of historical fiction, with a perspective on the Napoleonic conflicts enlightened by the improbable addition of a solitary oriental dragon. Instead, the book is diversely populated by a cast of dragons and humans, and their interactions are the main coverage of the work. My favorite parts, on reflection, had to do with the character Levitas; kudos to the author for writing the more difficult outcome instead of an easy chatter about redemption and forgiveness, such as might be found in any syndicated TV program. Also noteworthy is the publisher's scheme to produce all of the series at once, rather than staggering the series out over years as is more often the norm. This is a recommended read, though I'm not sure that I'll read the sequels.

01 September 2006

and fries with that quad processor?

Macs on the Go! by John Tollett with Robin Williams (ISBN 0-321-24748-5)

I skimmed through this one afternoon looking to advance my understanding of bluetooth networking and how to use hotspots more to my advantage when out and about with my . It answered my questions, but not in an extensible way - for example, I can understand how to set up a 1-day T-Mobile account now but still don't know all the options available. The best tip I took away was to check out JiWire.com for a service that shows you local hotspots - and saves the directory offline to your machine, for obvious reason. The directory then updates itself when connected. I've got their widget now. Recommended for the casual hotspot user, a more advanced user or one who depends upon hotspot access would probably want to know more about hotspots than this book offers - for example, to understand what security precautions should be taken on a wireless enabled laptop.