Sunday, October 15, 2017

Something on Sunday, 10/15

Jenny at Reading the End has been doing a 'Something on Sunday' event, where we post something good or inspiring.  It's been a pretty rotten week in the world outside, so we all probably need it.

I got all inspired this week with a quilt idea.  (I have a lot of quilt ideas.)  I belong to a quilting guild, and they have a challenge every two years.  This one starts in January and will have an animal theme.  I'm not much on animal sewing, but I have a brilliant idea for this one.  Hint: it will connect to this blog and my love of reading.  I can't wait to get started!

Another hint

This week I managed to kill my car battery by leaving the lights on (the weird part is that I didn't know they were on at all; it was the middle of the afternoon, I have no idea what they were doing on).  It was a hassle to get a jump, and I was feeling pretty dumb for killing the battery, but then this Toy Dolls song that I had never heard before came on my playlist and I laughed all the way home.  Play the first 30 seconds and see if you don't crack up too:

Less cheerfully, here in northern California we're all riveted by the fires in Sonoma County.  Stories and video are starting to come out, and it's horrific.  From what I hear, about 10% of the population of the county is now houseless.  It turns out that evacuation orders only went out over landlines, and people without them didn't get any warnings (keep your landline, people).  The fires moved so fast that many people only had a few minutes to get out, and a lot of them spent those minutes rousing neighbors instead of packing.  That part is pretty inspiring, even if the rest of it is awful.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

Everybody went nuts over this book last year, and I finally got to it too.

I like Neil Gaiman, and I like Norse mythology, so I expected good things, and I got them!  This is a very nice retelling of the Norse myths; it's clear, it's exciting, and it's beautifully written, with just a hint of Gaiman's personality, but not so much that it overshadows the material and becomes annoying.  I mean, this could have been "Neil Gaiman Tells His Own Version of Norse Myths"  -- which would be fine except that the cover doesn't say that -- and it's not.  So, good job Neil.

I don't have a lot more to say -- I just liked this book quite a bit.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

November Events!

There are a couple of fun events coming up in November, and I plan to participate -- how about you?

Brona is hosting her annual AusNovember event, and she has a cool geography bingo theme -- go take a peek!  I'm going to commit to the easiest "Fly by night" level, which is all of one book.  I do have several Australian books on my wishlist, and I will probably read either Cloudstreet or A Descant for Gossips -- maybe even both!

Nonfiction November is a group-hosted event that has a new prompt every week. Check it out at JulzReadsLori at Emerald City Book Review will be posting for the 5th week!  I'll try to write a post for every week; it looks like it's going to be a lot of fun.

What do you think -- will you join me?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

My Real Children

My Real Children, by Jo Walton

Patricia Cowan is very very old, and she lives in a nursing home.  It's 2015 and she's had a good long life, except that she has two sets of memories.  She remembers raising four children in an unhappy marriage with Mark, and being called Trish.  She remembers a happier life as Pat with Bee and three children.  Which is real?  Are they both real?  Is she switching universes?

Not only that, the world is different too.  The world with Mark in it is fairly peaceful and has moon bases, while the world with Bee has the occasional exchange of nuclear bombs.

In alternating chapters, we see both of Patricia's lives unfold.  (Honestly, it can be a little tricky to keep track of some characters!)  Which one is she, and can they both be true?

I was actually more gripped by this novel than I expected to be.  Sometimes I was a bit annoyed with it, but on the whole it really kept me interested and there was a lot to think about -- again, more than I had expected.  At the beginning, it reminded me just a little bit of Fire and Hemlock; I couldn't help wondering if Walton was a bit inspired by Polly's realization that she has two sets of memories.  The story goes in a completely different direction, but I did wonder if a few phrases were deliberate callbacks.

I am more interested now in reading further Jo Walton books, so that probably means that this novel was a success for me.


In other news, my state is on fire again, and it's really bad this time.  I don't live anywhere near Somona county, where it's the worst; that's where all the terrible news and pictures are coming from.  Here where I live, there have been three fires, and they have not been pleasant at all, but they are nowhere near the scale of Sonoma's.

If you're wondering why California suddenly seems to be on fire, it's because October is actually the most dangerous part of the fire season, and this year has been a bad one.  We had a good wet winter, so everything grew a lot and then dried out.  We don't really get rain again until winter, and in October we often get strong winds.  On Sunday, it was very windy indeed; I went for a lovely walk and enjoyed it, but by the evening several fires had been sparked and with the winds they grew quickly.  These fires are usually in hilly, brushy areas that are hard to get to.  This is the worst year since 1991, when the Oakland hills burned, and it may get even worse, as the Sonoma fires are not yet under control.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Boris Godounov

Boris Godounov, by Alexander Pushkin

A year or so ago, I was browsing in the used bookstore and found this great edition of Boris Godounov by Pushkin, illustrated by Zvorykin.  But it was kind of on the pricey side, so I thought I might get it later...and then of course it wasn't there any more, and I regretted everything.  But!  Then I started this volunteer job sorting used books for the library, and the very first thing that happened was that the same book came across the table!  So I finally got to read it, and for free too.  It turns out to have a companion volume of fairy tales, so I'd like to get that as well.

Boris Godounov is a play written in blank verse, but I think more people are familiar with it in the Mussorgsky opera based upon the play.  (Comment and tell me!)  It's a historical play, and I had to learn some Russian history before I could make head or tail of the story.  The quick version: Ivan IV (the Terrible) murdered his son and heir in a fit of temper, which posed a massive problem of succession, because his second son was "feeble" -- he couldn't really reign.  Ivan made Boris Godounov and a couple other boyars into a regency council, but pretty soon Godounov was reigning as tsar all by himself.  Ivan had also left a tiny son, Dmitri, who was not officially legitimate or in line for the throne, but he died at the age of ten, and his mother accused Boris Godounov of having the boy assassinated.  (Official cause of death: he cut his own throat during a seizure.  So you can see where people might be skeptical.)  This history sets the scene for the play.

At the opening of the play, Russia has no tsar; the feeble and childless Feodor has died and there is no heir.  A ruler must be elected, and Boris Godounov is an obvious choice, but he is publicly reluctant until compelled to accept the crown.  Now Boris is tsar, his son Feodor is tsarevich, and surely all will be well.  And so it is, pretty much, until a disgruntled young monk decides that he'd make a pretty good Dmitri, coming out of hiding and now old enough to be the rightful tsar.  All of Godounov's reprisals, punishments, and fighting avail him little; he dies of a stroke, his heir is murdered, and Dmitri is crowned tsar.

This is all history too; Boris Godounov really was succeeded by an impostor Dmitri.  And then another one, and then it was all a big mess for a few years (the Time of Troubles) until the Romanovs got started.

This edition of the play is beautifully illustrated by Boris Zvorykin in a beautiful, very intricate style.  It's clearly influenced by Bilibin, though to me it seems more florid; I must admit that I prefer Bilibin, but it's still a lot of fun to look at.  Some of the illustrations, especially the portrait of Godounov, recall Russian icons and evoke their remote mood.

I sure do wish I could read Russian well.  It's very nice to read Pushkin in English, but it would be an awful lot better in the original.

Now that I've read this play and figured out a little bit of  the history, I'm hoping to tackle the history of the Romanovs that has been sitting on my shelf.  It's huge and intimidating.  The number of huge and intimidating books of Russian history on my shelf is getting a little out of control, though, so I really need to work on actually reading them!  (I also have The House of the Dead, The End of Tsarist Russia, and Gulag.  And one on the Cold War.)

Monday, October 9, 2017

RIP XII: The Castle of Wolfenbach

The Castle of Wolfenbach, by Eliza Parsons

Here it is, the first Horrid Novel!  Eliza Parsons wrote it in 1793, just a few years into her career.  She wrote to support her family, and turned out 19 novels and a play in her 17 years as a writer.   This was a fun read, and I zoomed right through it (weeks ago now).  It starts off in the trackless forests of Germany, but ends up traveling all over the place, to France and England and Italy, and even further!

On a dark and stormy night, a poor German peasant couple receives an exhausted lady and her manservant.  They direct the lady to a nearby castle, but warn her that it is haunted!  She is undaunted, however, and when the groans and rattling chains start, she simply grabs the nearest candle and starts exploring.  Thus she meets a lady, secretly imprisoned, and as they become instant friends, they start to confide their stories to each other.  Our heroine is Matilda, escaping from the nefarious intentions of her guardian uncle (if he is her uncle at all).  The other lady plans to tell her story the next day, but instead she is abducted from her prison!  Matilda is bound to try to locate her despite the lack of all clues, while also still evading her own wicked uncle, so she heads off to Paris to find the lady's sister....and pretty soon everyone is rushing all over Europe!

Matilda is brave, sensible, and intelligent (if rather given to fainting later on in the story).  In fact nearly everybody is.  Not only that, this novel is not notably anti-Catholic!  Matilda heads off to a convent of her own free will, and everybody there is pretty nice.  The abbess isn't even a secret Protestant or anything.  There are relatively few villains: two evil men and two women, one spiteful and one simply foolish.  Even the Turkish pirate turns out to be a good man. 

So this was not nearly as bonkers as most Gothic novels.  I have a lot more respect for the author and her characters, but on the other's not as entertaining either.  I open a Gothic novel expecting ridiculous mayhem, and The Castle of Wolfenbach only sort of delivers that.  Still, it's a perfectly good read and quite fun, and at least your average English miss wouldn't have imbibed awful ideas about Catholics, or even French people, from it.

Here's a bit that really cracked me up -- just a musing on the foolish lady's character:
 That woman, thought he, has many amiable qualities, but she wants steadiness and respect for herself: an imbecility of mind makes her resign herself up to her passions, from the want of resolution or fortitude to subdue them; she has naturally a good and generous heart, but she is easily led aside by others more artful than herself.
I look forward to reading more Horrid Novels!

A side note: Gothic novels seem to be a little preoccupied with the name Matilda.  The daughter in Castle of Otranto: Matilda.  The acolyte/girlfriend/demon in The Monk: Matilda. Our heroine: Matilda.  Seems funny to me.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Mount TBR Checkpoint 3

Now I've been so lazy that I have a lot to do on the blog, as well as actually talk about the books I've been reading.  So let's get going already and see how Mount TBR is doing.  Bev says:

For those who would like to participate in this checkpoint post, I'd like you to do two things:

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. 

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
A. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
B. Pair up two of your reads. But this time we're going for opposites. One book with a male protagonist and one with a female protagonist. One book with "Good" in the title and one with "Evil." Get creative and show off a couple of your books.
C. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?
D. Choose 1-4 titles from your stacks and using a word from the title, do an image search.  Post the first all-eyes-friendly picture associated with that word.

I'm actually nearly to my goal of 24!  Here's my list:
  1.  They Walked Like Men, by Clifford Simak
  2. Dirt, ed. Mindy
  3. The Best of Leigh Brackett
  4. Shakespeare's Planet, by Clifford D. Simak
  5. The Broken Citadel, by Joyce Bellou Gregorian
  6. Castledown, by Joyce Bellou Gregorian
  7. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
  8. My Universities, by Maxim Gorky
  9. Germania, by Simon Winder
  10. The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Sir Walter Scott
  11. Storm in the Village, by Miss Read
  12. Further Afield, by Miss Read 
  13. The Lottery, and Adventures of the Demon Lover, by Shirley Jackson 
  14. Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse
  15. The Histories, by Herodotus
  16.  Half a Crown, by Jo Walton
  17. The Foundation Pit, by Andrei Platonov
  18. The Long Earth, by Pratchett and Baxter
  19. The Go-Between, by L. P. Hartley
  20. Marie Grubbe, by J. P. Jacobsen 
  21.  My Real Children, by Jo Walton
  22. The Treasure of the City of Ladies, by Christine de Pisan
  23. The Castle of Wolfenbach, by Eliza Parsons
I haven't actually written about those last three yet, oops.

I'm going to do option D, but since the first images of my search were usually boring, I decided to choose the first interesting images. 

Half a crown

Castle of Wolfenbach


Treasure of the City of Ladies

I'm pleased that I've nearly hit 24 titles, but I hope to do more.  Of course, my TBR pile is larger now than it was in January!  Now that I sort book donations once a week, free books are pouring in much too fast, and I have to be careful or I'll suffocate under a pile of old books.  I even went so far the other day as to actually get rid of some of the books on my TBR pile.  Desperate times...

Sunday post #2

I still seem to be in a posting slump, but I am reading more, so, progress!  You may recall that Jenny at Reading the End is running a weekly event where we share good things about the week.

We've had some very good news this week, as my husband received and accepted a job offer that he is pretty excited about.  That has been a huge relief.

Right now, something that is bringing me joy is that my 14-year-old's two friends are here.  They are sisters, and make an adorable little trio with my daughter.  They used to get together often, but the family moved away over a year ago.  So we were thrilled when they showed up this weekend!  The girls have been having a great time all day and we took them out for lunch.  It's not a big special event, just a sweet reunion for them.

And one more fun thing that I just now thought to include: I took a backwards bicycle ride on Thursday!  I went to pick up a kid and found a guy riding what can only be described as a pushmipullyu bike; it carries two people and one rides backwards.  Each person has to pedal to make it go.  The gear and chain setup is a little complex, and crosses in the middle. 

Riding backwards is fairly terrifying, but it was a lot of fun.  It's especially scary while making turns, if you're going fast enough to lean over.  It doesn't feel at all right to lean over to the right, backwards, while the lead rider turns left.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Something on Sundays

It must be admitted that I've been in a slump, and not just in the reading and blogging realm.  Things have been a little tough all 'round.  Jenny at Reading the End has noticed that a lot of bloggers are feeling this way  -- possibly disasters, politics, and the disaster of politics has something to do with this -- so she decided to ask people to post "something on Sundays:"
The only guidelines are that you write about something that kept you on your feet that week, whether that’s a person that inspired you, an action you took that you’re proud of, a book or movie or TV show that nourished your heart, a self-care strategy that worked for you, a goofy event or moment that brought you joy. Whatever it is, every Sunday, I want you to tell me something that matters to you. If you don’t have enough energy for a post, tweet it at me (you can use the hashtag #SomethingonSunday).
So here we go.  This week I finally started doing some sewing again.  Years ago, when I had just one little baby, I took a class at the quilt shop and made this fun batik thing with a moon and stars on it.  I couldn't think of how to quilt it, so I put it on a shelf and left it for a long time.  Over the summer when I was clearing things out, I came across it at the same time as a large piece of batik, and I finally realized that it would make a great back.  So I pieced together a batt (out of the large bag of big batting scraps), and now I am quilting it -- all without going shopping.  My 14-year-old promptly fell in love with it and wants it on her bed.


So that's my thing I did this week to get myself going.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Young Ardizzone

The Young Ardizzone, by Edward Ardizzone

I shall now dip my toes back into book blogging with a delightful little volume -- Edward Ardizzone's memoir of his younger years.  I grew up on Ardizzone illustrations, what with Little Tim picture books* and The Little Bookroom.  When Lori mentioned this volume in her post about Slightly Foxed Editions, it promptly went on my wishlist...but they're only available in the UK.  Happily, my mom went on a trip to London in June (she accompanied my brother and his family, and thus saw a lot of Harry Potter attractions!) and she went armed with instructions to hunt down a couple of these.

Edward Ardizzone was actually born in what is now Vietnam, in Hai Phong.  His father was Italian and French, and his mother British, and Ardizzone says they were each very good people, but totally unsuited to each other, and so they frequently lived apart.  His mother took them to England when he was five, and they lived a somewhat unsettled existence -- sometimes with their grandmother, and moving every so often -- probably much like many other middle-class colonial families of the time.

Ardizzone was known as Ted, and he candidly says that he was the kind of boy who was an obvious target for bullies.  Teachers did not like him and school was frequently a torment, or at best no fun at all.  Nevertheless, many other things were good, and he writes about childhood in Edwardian England in wonderful detail.  He has adventures with his siblings, cousins and best friend, exploring the docks and surrounding countryside.

Naturally, the book is profusely illustrated!  They really bring the little stories and vignettes to life.

I couldn't help but love this memoir.  I feel lucky that I was able to get hold of a copy!

*I have collected some Little Tim books, but not all of them.  So if you know which one is the one where the first mate spends the whole time moaning "Doooom!" from his cabin, please let me know because I can't find it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Of cabbages and kings

I've been pretty quiet lately, despite the three posts I need to write.  I've been in one of those slumps we all have every so often, both in reading and in blogging.  I'm surrounded by wonderful books and all I do is re-read fluffy mysteries and P. G. Wodehouse!  I guess I've just been focusing on other things lately, but I'll be back soon.  Meanwhile, I'll burble a bit about my life and its new shape.

With the start of school, my life changed a lot.  I now have two kids in public high school, which makes me a retired homeschooling mom.  I did it for 12 years, and it was great, and now I'm really, really tired.  Being alone during the day is a new (and fairly wonderful) experience, though I'm not getting as much of it as I'd like; after all, I have a part-time job, and everybody else has great ideas for things I should do.  I picked up a volunteer job one morning a week -- sorting donated books for the library booksale, which will convince any book addict that there are far too many books in the world* -- and a weekly tutoring gig.
Book sorting job: what it looks like when we start.

Sorted, priced, and ready for sale.
I suppose at some point I will use this alone time to read and/or blog, but so far what I've mostly done is work on the house.  Any homeschooler can tell you that great housekeeping and homeschooling do not go together at all (anyone who says otherwise is selling something -- probably a system for homeschooling and keeping house at the same time), and I wasn't a great housekeeper in the first place.  I've been pretty thrilled with my decluttering progress so far!  There's plenty left to do (in the yard as well), but I'm very happy with it.

I haven't done much sewing either, but I am binding a pretty great quilt!
And I have other goals too!  I used to be a perfectly good cook, though meal planning has always been my weakness.  Between homeschooling and working, and three other people whose diets got ever-more individualized, my meal-prep skills got worn down to almost nothing.  Most of my go-to recipes were axed by a wide array of dietary needs, and I need a whole new set of planning and cooking skills.  Not to mention that I now need to keep two teenagers supplied with portable, nutritious foods to take to school and work!

I don't know how long this period of relative leisure will last.  I'm hoping to expand my hours at work, but it's a tricky prospect.  I don't want to go full-time for a few years yet; these kids may be gone for most of the day but they still need me around for a lot of things, including emotional support.  Anyway, I'm enjoying the leisure while I've got it.  I've got a massive deficit of alone time built up. 

We also have some stressful stuff going on, just like everybody else.  My husband's work has decided to shut the local office and move everything to Florida in the spring, so he's looking for a new job.  In a small city like ours, tech jobs are not as plentiful as they might be, but there are several possibilities, so he is optimistic.  This is probably why I'm mainlining comfort reads instead of tackling the pile of world literature and history on my bookshelf.

We accidentally joined the marching band. With a violin.

*Though today I got a Riverside Chaucer just like I've been wanting!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Voices From Chernobyl

Voices From Chernobyl: the Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, by Svetlana Alexievich

Svetlana Alexievich is a major presence on my mental TBR shelf, and I was really sorry I didn't think to put this on my 20 Books of Summer list.  I wanted to start here and then move on to Secondhand Time and her newly published (in English) Unwomanly Face of War.  This is not her entire output; there is also Zinky Boys, about Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan, so there's plenty to read.

Alexievich is a Belarussian journalist who has made it her life's work to collect testimonies and oral histories of the USSR.  She arranges them in a collage sort of form to communicate the emotional history and impact of the events described.  She's been doing this kind of thing since the early 1980s, but much of it was repressed under the Soviet government, and then Lukashenko's Belarussian government persecuted her as well, so that she had to leave from 2000 - 2011. In 2015, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time."  Alexievich says:
"If you look back at the whole of our history, both Soviet and post-Soviet, it is a huge common grave and a blood bath. An eternal dialogue of the executioners and the victims. The accursed Russian questions: what is to be done and who is to blame. The revolution, the gulags, the Second World War, the Soviet-Afghan war hidden from the people, the downfall of the great empire, the downfall of the giant socialist land, the land-utopia, and now a challenge of cosmic dimensions - Chernobyl. This is a challenge for all the living things on earth. Such is our history. And this is the theme of my books, this is my path, my circles of hell, from man to man."
On the 26th of April, 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear energy plant had an uncontrolled reaction, leading to a steam explosion and graphite fire.  It was a combination of corner-cutting, incompetence, bad design, and all sorts of things (including deliberately turning off some safety features, because they were running a drill) that led up to the accident.  The response was not properly done either; ordinary firemen responded to the fire, and hardly anyone had the right gear.  Political leaders were ignorant of the real dangers and mainly interested in...well, covering it up.  They didn't want outsiders to know what had happened, and they didn't want other Soviet republics to think they couldn't take care of their own problems. 

The collected voices from Chernobyl -- taken ten years later -- bear witness to the terrible ignorance of most of the populace, and to the awful suffering that resulted.  Ordinary people didn't know about the dangers of radiation leakage; they were conversant with the idea of nuclear bombs, but they didn't know that a meltdown would poison everything around them.  And how do you believe that the landscape is poisoned when it's so obviously a beautiful spring, and there's planting to be done?  The leaders weren't a lot better off; when a physicist tried to warn them, the reaction was a blank "But the fire is out." 

One of the most striking things about many of the stories, besides their horror, is the great strength of the connection people felt to their land.  Many of the people who were forced out lament their beloved homes and feel so uprooted that they can't get used to the new places. Hundreds of villages were emptied and buried, but some people remain in the worst areas.  In fact, it seems that some political refugees moved in over the years, seeing radiation as less of a threat than the war they had fled.  Although it has been 20 years, today, about a fifth of the population of Belarus lives on poisoned land.  Illnesses and deaths from radiation-caused problems have increased, since everyone is constantly taking in low doses.

This is another in my collection of crucial books to read, but not because they are fun.

What do you remember about Chernobyl, if you are old enough to remember it?  I was in 8th grade, and I remember it well, because a girl in my school was scheduled to go to Russia with a choir, on one of those goodwill trips, and it was canceled.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Faerie Queene Book VI, Part II

It only took me over a year, but I have done it!  I finished the Faerie Queene!  Woohoo!  I do wish Spenser had been able to finish his great work, but I don't know if I could have read all of it.

When we stopped last time, it was right after a fight in a castle between Arthur and Turpine (the bad guy).  Turpine now wants revenge, and he meets two knights, who he talks into pursuing Arthur.  They attack, and Arthur kills one before the other cries mercy and informs on Turpine.  Arthur kills Turpine and hangs him from a tree.  Arthur is really getting pretty violent!  Meanwhile, Serena and Timias (remember them?) meet Mirabella, who is the messy maiden from a couple of cantos back.  She is beautiful, but of low birth.  Her pride has led her to be cruel to many men, so Cupid has decided to seize control and teach her a lesson (normally, remember, Cupid shoots his arrows at random, so the natural order is being overturned here).  Her penance is to save 22 loves, but in two years she has only managed to save two.  Then a giant, Disdaine, follows and attacks her, so Timias fights him, but is overcome.  Serena thinks he is dead, and flees.

Arthur and his new companion, Enias (! Is this a reference to Eneas?) meet a knight and lady berating a Squire.  There is some rather confusing fighting where Arthur defeats Disdaine and Mirabella explains herself.  Serena, meanwhile, is riding her horse, complaining, and when she goes to sleep, a band of cannibals find her!  They plan to sacrifice and eat her.  (Some would also like to ravish her first, but their priest says no.)  Luckily, Calepine has been searching for her and he finds and rescues here, though he does not recognize her until the next day, whether because it was dark or because she was naked...maybe both?

Back to Calidore -- whose book this supposedly is, though we haven't seen him for ages -- he is pursuing the Blatant Beast.  He meets some kindly pastoral shepherds, who are gracious and feed him.  Pastorella is the prettiest maiden there and all love her, especially Coridon, but she is ambitious and looks higher.  Calidore falls for her.  Her adoptive father, Meliboe, comes to fetch her home and invites Calidore to stay.  The knight is enchanted by Melidoe's description of shepherd life, and wishes to become a shepherd and marry Pastorella.  Meliboe warns that his job is to guard the shepherds' safety and do knightly deeds, but Calidore is oblivious and begs to stay.  He even (dishonorably) tries to bribe Meliboe with gold, which is refused.  He tries to woo Pastorella with courtly courtesy, but she doesn't understand it, so he becomes a shepherd.  A very polite shepherd.

Calidore the shepherd finds a lovely place; this is Acidale, another favorite spot of Venus'.  He spies on over 100 naked maidens dancing to piping music, with the Three Graces in the center accompanying a lovely maiden, who is the partner of the musician.  (This is "Colin Clout," Spenser himself!)  When Calidore comes out of hiding, the nymphs vanish, leaving only Colin to explain that these are Venus' graces.  (And the knight of courtesy has just driven them off -- uh oh.)  Calidore apologizes and goes home to Pastorella.  On another day, everyone goes out strawberrying, and a Tiger attacks Pastorella!  Coridon runs away in fear, but Calidore kills it with his staff.  Now Pastorella begins to favor Calidore, to Coridon's fury.  But then (as Calidore is absent) Brigants appear and pillage the whole place, taking them all into slavery.  The poor shepherds are taken through an underground passage to the Brigants' island, thus foiling pursuit.

Poor Pastorella, in prison, catches the head brigand's eye, and he courts her with gifts and threats.  He never stops bothering her; she can't even sleep!  So she eventually allows him to hope, in order to gain time, and then she pretends to get sick.  Slave traders show up and the brigands decide to sell most of the captives, but now both parties want the maiden, so there's a big fight.  Many of the helpless captives are killed, including Meliboe, but Coridon takes the opportunity to escape.  Pastorella is the sole survivor.  He finds Calidore, who is nearly mad with grief, having come back to a burned-out village, and together they go and save Pastorella.

They take the maiden to the castle of Sir Bellamoure and his wife Claribell, so there's a digression into their story; they wed secretly and were imprisoned by Claribell's angry father, but bribes to the guards and the maid resulted in a baby girl, who was then smuggled out to foster care.  The baby had a little purple birthmark like a rose on her breast,* and she was adopted by shepherds.  Calidore finally remembers that his actual job is to pursue the Blatant Beast (if he'd kept to it, the shepherds might have been safe), so he departs.  You will not be at all surprised that Claribell's maid, Melissa, sees the rose birthmark on Pastorella.  Everyone is joyful!  But Spenser has only a small space to finish this story in, so we have to hurry on to Calidore, who finds the Blatant Beast despoiling a monastery (possibly an allusion to Puritan iconoclasts, though Cromwell is as yet only a small child).  The Beast has a mouth with a thousand tongues!  It never stops talking or emitting its poison.  After a grand battle, Calidore ties the Beast up and leads it to Fairyland, where it is kept captive.  But long afterwards it breaks out again, and has never been caught since.

I'm sort of stunned by how fast Spenser winds this up.  He spends forever meandering around Book VI, bringing in a cast of thousands, and then crams the Blatant Beast and Calidore's victory into the very last bit.  On the whole, it's a confusing book; I had to look up synopses a couple of times to find out what was going on, and I kind of suspect that even Spenser mixed up his two similarly-named knights at one point.  Also, I really like the Blatant Beast and wish it had appeared a little more.

I was going to talk about the Mutabilitie cantos too, but this is already too long, so....wrap-up will be next time!

*This episode reminded me irresistibly of the purple pimpernel in The Court Jester, and I have to believe that they're connected.  I mean, special birthmarks to identify lost heirs are common, but purple flower-shaped birthmarks?  Some scriptwriter knew his Spenser, I'm sure of it.  I was going to post a clip for you, but I can find virtually everything in the movie except the purple pimpernel scenes, so you'll just have to watch the movie yourself; since it's one of the great comedy movies of all time, you won't suffer!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Deadly Wandering

A Deadly Wandering, by Matt Richtel

The start of a new school year means a new Book In Common in our city.  The university and the community college cooperate to choose a book, get people interested, and have the author come and speak.  I don't always read the BIC pick, but this year's title piqued my interest.  And I was pretty entertained when my older daughter came home and said it was on her English syllabus, so could we get a copy?  And I flipped over the book, which was right on the table.  Heh.

In 2006, people were just starting to use texting on cell phones to communicate when Reggie Shaw, a very ordinary nice kid from Utah, drifted a bit across the center line and caused a car accident that killed two men -- both scientists with families.  It wasn't immediately clear how it had happened, but Reggie was a habitual texter.  The investigation and findings turned into a landmark case, showing that texting while driving is much more dangerous than anyone had (at that time) realized.

Richtel intertwines three (sometimes more) plotlines, following Reggie, victim advocate Terryl, and the development of the science of attention.  It's interesting, often riveting, and thought-provoking.  How many of us look at our phones while driving?  Texting turns out to be especially dangerous, grabbing our attention away from the road, but there are plenty of other screen-based distractions as well.  Newer cars are even putting screens on the dashboard; our culture tells us that multi-tasking is good.  Well, maybe it isn't always.

An informative read.  But if you want the TL;DR version: don't text while you drive.

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Great Oregon Eclipse Escapade

I thought it would be fun to tell you about our trip to Oregon for the eclipse.  If you don't think that would be fun, feel free to skip this post, though I will tell you that it does also have its literary moments!

We stuffed five people -- our two kids, plus my dad -- into my little CRV, as well as equipment to survive anything up to an apocalypse.  We kept hearing about the terrible congestion that was going to happen, so we planned to be able to live out of the car if we needed to.  Our original plan was to drive to a small town on the southern side of the band of totality where my sister-in-law spent some years of her childhood.  She still knew a few folks and we figured on having reasonable access to plumbing there.  But first, we planned to spend a couple of days in Portland at my brother's place.

So we drove allll day, and it was quite a good drive except for about half of it involving a lot of smoke from wildfires.  We couldn't really see Mt. Shasta, and Oregon's forests were more gray than green.  We got to Portland just fine and said goodbye to my brother, who was leaving for New York State early in the morning to visit his fiancee's family.

We spent Saturday looking around Portland a bit, enjoying the fantastic weather and the pretty great public transportation; we took a light rail, a tram, and a sky tram thing.  Said brother works at the university hospital, which is on top of a steep hill dedicated entirely to medical complexes and not parking, so there is this little sky pod thing to take everyone up and down.  It was a really fun ride, with a fabulous view.

And this statue was familiar; we saw a lot of these at Salisbury Cathedral last year!

We then took a tram to the Portland Public Library, which is in a lovely old building that was recently refurbished.  It's wonderful.  Go to the Portland Library!  Of course, I especially liked the Beverly Cleary Children's Room, but everything else was great too.  And they've made a work of art out of the stairs.

Portland Library
Art stairs!

After that we got gyros from one of the zillion food trucks around.  Portland is famous for food trucks.  And we had to stop in at Powell's Books, but unfortunately so did everyone else that day.  I'm sure it's a nice bookstore, but it was so crowded it was impossible to tell.  You couldn't look at a bookshelf without a stream of people walking through.  It was more like Disneyland than a bookstore, though I will say that it had a wonderful section of Tintin and Asterix comics.

Sunday, we drove out to Multnomah Falls.  My brother and his fiancee had warned us to get there early, and boy were they right!  We got one of the last parking spots.  Multnomah is not a large waterfall in volume, but it is very tall and very beautiful.  It falls in two stages, a long first drop and then a shorter second one.  It's an easy walk up to a bridge that crosses over the second, shorter fall, and after that there is a much steeper hike up to the top, which we were not really prepared for.  We just enjoyed the view.

This spot was very crowded too, and by the time we left, there was a line of cars a good half-mile long, waiting to get in.  We were sure glad we'd come early!

After that I insisted on a pilgrimage to Klickitat Street, which is a real place.  In Beverly Cleary's books, it's where the Quimbys (and the Hugginses, and the Kemps) live.  So we went to a nearby park, which has a "Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden."  This turned out to be statues of Ramona, stuck in the mud, with an exasperated Henry Huggins and Ribsy nearby.  It looks to be a fountain, but the water was not turned on.  Then we drove to Klickitat Street, which is of course a perfectly ordinary street of houses.

 We tried to go to bed really early Sunday night, and planned to get up at 3am so as to leave around 4.  We were very worried about getting stuck in traffic -- not just eclipse traffic, but also the ordinary Portland morning traffic.  We were therefore out of the suburbs before 5am.  Traffic was clear the whole way, except a little busy in Salem, where totality was going to last longest.  Clearly a lot of people wanted to be in Salem.  And we saw a rest stop near there that was jammed full of cars (you can't camp at a rest stop, but you can stay up to 8 hours.). We had food enough to last for a whole day, and everything else we could possibly need....and every bit of it turned out to be unnecessary!  Ha!

You see, we had planned to just spend the day in this small town, hanging out in a park or something, and our best hope was to have access to a bathroom.  But the guy my sister-in-law was talking with just wound up inviting us to his house!  He invited seven strangers, and one acquaintance from childhood, to come watch the eclipse at his home.  So when we left Portland, we were really headed to this guy's house, which was ideally situated on a ridge with a spectacular view over a valley:

 We got there at about 6am, and just stayed in the car for a while.  Sister-in-law and her family had not arrived yet from Eugene.  A teenager drove up to the garage, waved in a friendly manner, and disappeared.  Around 7am we knocked quietly and he let us in, and pretty soon we were having an eclipse party.  Our hosts started making pancakes with home-grown blackberry syrup, and scrambled eggs from chickens.  We discovered tons of things in common, what with the chickens and the bees and the timber growing, and it even turned out that he'd lived in Denmark right after I did!  We knew people in common! 

We got started setting things up.  Everybody had glasses; I'd also made full face shields out of cardboard with cutout spots for my favorite welding glass.  I really dislike sun on my face for any length of time and am much happier with a nice shield.  We also had binoculars with filters on, so that we had a great view of the sun complete with sunspots.  Everybody could take turns with those.

It took a while for things to get strange, but gradually everything got darker.  The cat got nervous and prowly, and it looked like twilight.  It really got quite chilly!  We could see lights come on all the way down the valley.  We were hoping to see the eclipse shadow come sweeping up, but the slight haze of smoke made that impossible.  At totality, it was like nothing we'd ever experienced before.  The sky was darkish, but it looked like dawn at the horizon, all the way around.  We could see a reddish, really kind of magenta area at one side of the corona.  The moon over the sun was actually darker than the rest of the sky, I think because of the smoke.  It was amazing.

We didn't really try to take great pictures.  We knew that lots of other people would have fancy equipment to do that with, so we mostly just wanted to enjoy the experience.

Afterwards, we knew we had to hit the road as soon as possible; it was a long way home, and there was school and work in the morning!  We actually missed the first day of school for the eclipse.  The traffic was heavy but not too bad for most of the way, except that there were a few accidents near Medford, so that was awful, and then Weed was having road construction.  That part was brutal.  It took us 11 hours to get home and we were beat!  But it was so worth it.  The chance of a lifetime.  Wow.

Friday, September 1, 2017

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XII

Now that summer is over,* it's time for fall reading, and that means the R. I. P. Challenge!  This is the 12th year, and just like last year, Andi of Estella's Revenge and Heather of My Capricious Life  are hosting.

I'm going to sign up for Peril the Second: Read two books of any length that you believe fit within the challenge categories. 

My main desire for this fall is to read one of the 'horrid novels' mentioned in Northanger Abbey.  Catherine and Isabella love their horrid novels, and they have a whole list.  Most of them were thought to be fictional titles made up by Miss Austen, but they turned out to be real, and now I have all of them in an ebook collection.  I'll just start at the beginning, with The Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons, written in 1793.  

I also have Jackaby (I am so behind the times) and a lovely Marvin Kaye collection, Masterpieces of Terror and the Unknown.  Who knows if I'll manage them all? 

*In theory only; we are suffering an awful heat wave, the worst of the year.