31 October 2006

Meme tracking

I found this at Cipriano's blog , crediting Dorothy W., who credits Dr. Crazy who credits Anastasia, but the blog link is broken there and I couldn't continue the meme's trail.

1. Grab the nearest book.

I had to modify this a bit, because the nearest book was Machines at Work by Byron Barton, a board book which my 4-year-old checked out from the library recently. It has only 31 pages. So, I cast further afield, and the next nearest book is one my husband is reading off my bookshelf, something I'd acquired pre-matrimony.

2. Open the book to page 123.

Ok. Easy enough.

3. Find the fifth sentence.

Yah. Here 'tis: "You just keep slinging the same bullshit! shouted the SUBbie, and slammed back into his seat."

4. Post the text of the next four sentences on your blog along with these instructions.

"Casimir Radon listened to these exchanges with consuming interest. This was what he had dreamed of finding at college: small lectures on pure ideas from the president of the university, with discussion afterward. That the SUBbies had disrupted it with a pie-throwing made him sick; he had stared at them through a haze of anger for the last part of the meeting. Had he been sitting by the side door he would have tripped the bastard."

5. Don't you dare dig for that "cool" or "intellectual" book in your closet! I know you were thinking about it! Just pick up whatever is closest.

Uh, see the example; I clearly didn't.

6. Blog visitors should guess the book referenced. Good luck!

Photo credit: Jay Queue at Flicker. I have a personal connection to the building displayed in the photo, and it also concerns the book I reference. For clues, click the link to his photostream.

30 October 2006

Staring at the moon

The boys and I listen to audio books at night. I used to do the read-to-them routine, but I'm not a patient reader when I'm tired and also any light on in the room keeps them up and active. Instead, we read in the morning if we have time before school; I use that as an incentive to have them ready on time.

So, I found an audiobook of Endymion Spring by Matthew Skelton and based on the jacket blurb was considering getting it for them. They've almost finished The Stories of Br'er Rabbit which is great btw. But considering some of what I've seen recommended for children I thought I'd read the thing 1st.

I enjoyed the quick read, and folks who enjoyed the Harry Potter series or the DaVinci Code genre may as well. However, many of the side characters are derivative from other master works. The mother and father appear one-dimensional, aside from some underdeveloped scenes which, upon reflection, leave me wondering how these adults could possibly have accomplished anything at all. On the other hand, if you're going to borrow from past literature, starting with the greats isn't a poor choice.

The main characters - Blake and Duck - are charming and have a well-mixed blend of chutzpah and fragility that make them very likable. Also of great interest to me were the engaging scenes of the siblings developing and testing their relationship.

Will I get the audiobook for my children? I am not sure yet, as the simplified Parent Trap style ending may be difficult for them. At this point, I'm thinking I'll shelf it until they are a bit older.

27 October 2006

I hate daylight saving time

It is so stupid to artificially change time in some foolish attempt to trick everyone into doing their activities earlier. Ben Franklin had the idea originally; but if I read the legend of his idea correctly, it was a farcical idea, meant only in jest. Prerau quotes Franklin's reaction to a summer sunrise at 6 am:
"Still thinking it something extraordinary that the sun should rise so early, I looked into the almanac, where I found it to be the hour given for the sun's rising on that day... [others] will be as much astonished as I was, when they hear of its rising so early; and especially when I assure them that it gives light as soon as it rises!"

This is the man who was referenced as an early supporter of DST? I fear the recognition of sarcasm was indeed poorly developed in the past. I was happy to be moving to Indiana, where DST wasn't being observed when I made the decision to move here. And then, before I'd even enjoyed 1 season without, they changed to conform to national DST!! Trust my luck to change a 39 year tradition of Hoosier noncompliance. We next change again on Sunday morning, 10/28.

DST is supposed to help people to have more time to enjoy sunlight, but all it does for me is make me late everywhere. I absolutely never adjust. My kids get up at their usual time, my life operates on a bio clock not the artificial one - so DST helps me not at all. The energy savings seem like a joke - we're supposed to save energy by not needing lighting at night, so we can guiltlessly go on a consuming binge in the evening - using gas and resources anyway. The total energy savings rounds up to 1%, which amounts to a very negligible statistical amount of the 340 million BTUs most Americans use daily. Just data noise, really.

In an effort to understand the DST effort, and specifically the Indiana relationship to it (and whether I should hope for them to give up the DST experiment), I read David Prerau's Seize the Daylight. His work looks to treat DST historically, to chronicle its whys and wherefores, rather than to take one side or the other. After the posturing surrounding the change in Indiana, this was refreshing. I enjoyed the facts and anecdotes but, unfortunately, did not find any reason to be more favorably inclined to DST. Prerau's book is an excellent discussion of the issues and provides nice background and stories about DST incidents over time. It certainly solidified my sense of time as a social covention.

welcome back to real time America*!

(*excepting Hawaii, and Arizona, who never changed. except on the Rez. The Rez in AZ that is.)

24 October 2006

Farking Icehole

Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen - what a crowded novel. I enjoyed the packed-to-the-rafters issue-of-the-week approach, in kind of the same way as I enjoy doing all my sudoko-a-day calendar puzzles in one lunch hour after I return from a week's vacation. When was the last time I had a week's vacation? Sometime before the turn of the milennia, surely.

So, like Quindlen, I digress.

Unlike Quindlen, though, I may lose my readership, so I'd better get back to the topic at hand. Quindlen's book is a great read, though not as thought-provoking a read for me as Blessings was. She crams so many issues and themes in I'm surprized they didn't fall out of the cover when I cracked it open - urban policing, homelessness, domestic violence, single motherhood, older motherhood, media celebrity, charitableness, handicappedness, public transportation design, priviledged youth, UNDERpriviledged youth, the interrelationship of generations, adoption, public housing - and a few dozen more I leave out on advice from counsel. However, she pulls it off - the book felt like a New York moment; busy, crowded, vibrant, exciting, and somewhat voyeuresque. Don't let the jacket-cover blurbs or reviews fool you; this book is not about the prominent quasicouric morning news anchor Meghan Fitzmaurice, but instead about her overshadowed sister Bridget. (About that review; how is Bridget the underpriviledged, pitiful sister if she's still dining out at NYC French restaurants, vacationing on a lark to Jamaica, and has no material concerns to speak of?)

Interesting how, in our current FCC inspired media persnicketiness, Quindlen's avoiding mention of the obsenity that gets Meghan booted, even though as long ago as 1984 it featured pretty prominently in a PG-13 movie. Is it okay to write but not to say? Or is there some fa├žade of politeness to be maintained here? I personally think profanity is usually the sign of a poorly developed vocabulary, but I sound kind of silly swearing so I'm biased.

One of my favorite characters here is Tequilla, who seems like a distant relative of Lula. Watch for her and be amused throughout the story. Be warned, the story doesn't end with a happy ending, but instead has a loose-ends-dangling, a few sad moments, and life-goes-on mojo. Not unlike real life, actually. I'd recommend this read to most of my friends.

13 October 2006

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth

Thomas Cahill will forever be on my cool-authors list for his book How the Irish Saved Civilization. Finding myself with a copy of The Gifts of the Jews to hand, I decided to give it a read depending upon Cahill's previous excellent work.

I found certain parts of it quite nice - his interpretation of the story of Ruth within a historical context and the explaination of the 10 commandments as 10 words as examples. However, his primary hypothesis - that the philosophy of the Jews is indespensible to modern thought - is never proven. At one point, Cahill indicates it would be "impossible to understand" people like Gandhi and many others "without recourse to the Bible." His overstatements and oversimplifications of this nature are grating; I am sure that Hindi philosophers have no trouble understanding Gandhi without having to read the Bible.

The beauty of the biblical texts and the unique humanity expressed therein are wonderous as literature, even to an atheist. But to put forth that system of thought as the wellspout for any other system of thought insults millenia of scholarship in other systems of belief.

I read this as an interesting piece covering a few biblical and anthropological stories and enjoyed it; had I tried to make of it a philosophical insight into the human condition I would have found it wanting.

06 October 2006

Snow falling on diseased corpses

I very much enjoyed David Guterson's novel Snow Falling on Cedars and when I heard of a new novel of the Pacific Northwest I got a hold of it quickly. Tom Mullen's The Last Town on Earth (ISBN 1-4000-6520-8) is nowhere near as enchanting as Guterson's lovely work, but did engage me with the characterizations and description of life during the flu pandemic of 1918. Many of the characters seemed flat, although not entirely depthless - I would have liked to know the author's assigned character motivations for a staunch feminist and pacifist such as Mrs. Worthy becoming subservient to her husband's decisions, for Graham's simplistic justifications for evil deeds (in an otherwise complicated character), and even for the conscientious objector portrayed heriein. While weak on character detail, though, the novel has a brisk pace through the plot and evidence of the research into the pandemic and the IWW shows through clearly. The connection between the epidemic, labor issues, and wartime nationalism is thought provoking, and reminiscent of Upton Sinclair's masterwork, The Jungle.

An excerpt from the book is available from USA today and an interview with the autor is available from NPR.

01 October 2006

Ignorance, not bliss

Last night was the first night home for our new beagle puppy. She is so adorable! I admit it wasn't love at first site for any of us when we went to the humane society looking for a terrier, possibly, and also to see a lovely beagle named Highway (now gone from the Humane Society site - hopefully adopted?) that we saw featured on the website. Highway wouldn't work for us with the boys, but he led us to check out the other beagles and found a darling of an 8 month-old girl. Ours ran eagerly to see the man of the house for pets and scratches, then tackled the eldest child gently and lay on top of him. So much for the reticent girl I'd perceived in the kennel! She has the most amazing howlish baying type of voice when greeting other dogs (heard that at the h.s.) and absolutely no barking so far (but quite a lot of snorting and wuffling). All of this activity only 2 days after surgery, although she still hasn't tacked the front stairs. She is just a complete sweetheart, very mellow, very gentle. She responds well to correction and direction, and has already melted hearts enough that she is allowed up on the couch despite prior agreements to the contrary.

Last night I stayed up late reading with the dog sleeping nearby, with that new-mother's feel of not letting the baby sleep unsupervised. When I finally went off to bed she looked at me so mournfully, that I carried her pillow into the room to let her sleep on the floor at the foot of the bed.

The book that kept me occupied last night, coincidentally, was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon (ISBN 0-385051210-4). Which has a dog at the core of the story, but really in't about a dog at all. I found it a quick and interesting read, though possibly not much good as a representation of an autistic, though I haven't the expertise to know for sure. The protagonist, Christopher, was an immensely pitiful character giving no self-awareness of how pitiful he his. What kept my attention though was the story of his mother. Let's see if I can review this without a spoiler: Christopher has a few talents, mathmatical and eidetic, which offer some recompense for his face-blindness and inability to understand emotions or humor. This 'blindness' is also shown in other people, and is far less excusable. The mother's actions, even in light of Christopher's condition, seem immensely cruel. And she, too, seems particularly blind to this essential fact. In fact, all the key characters - his father blind to the lack of common sense involved with trying to raise a latchkey autistic adolesent (the very phrase surely raises neck hairs on a few parents of autistic children), Mrs. Shears' ignorance of Christopher's father's unexpected temper, even the tangental character Mrs. Alexander seems uncomprehending of Christopher's nature. Check out the policeman's blindness in an excerpt, to see how ignorant one can be when jumping to conclusions.

Christopher strikes me as one of the most unique heroes I've seen in a while, trundling blissfully unaware from one circumstance to the next, evading danger and solving riddles a'la James Bond with none of the panache or self-satisfaction. A quite bizzare but interesting read.