Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Watching War and Peace

I recently read this article, which told me ten things I should know about War and Peace.  One of the ten things is that it isn't really that long.  Anybody could read the book in ten days, claims the author.  Ten days?  I guess if you did nothing else.  It took me two months to read it, but then I had a full-time job at the time.  (Here's what I wrote when I finished reading it, and here's a more realistic view of how long it takes to read it, written by a guy who watched the first episode on TV and then tried to finish the book in time for the second episode.)

I didn't read the book in ten days, but I watched the six-part miniseries with my daughter in less than ten days.

(I got that photo from this article, entitled "War and Peace: Director Tom Harper on being nervous he has ruined the story and *that* nudity scene".)

You can see from the photo that the costumes are spectacular.  So much so that the men look a bit ridiculous to modern eyes, bedizened as they are with braid and sparkle.  But in addition to the clothes, the look of this series is just amazing.  The cinematography is gorgeous from beginning to end.  The casting is also great.  Best of all, this version leaves out Tolstoy's opinions on many, many things: Russia, Napoleon, bees, Russian peasants, History, etc.  When you take out all those hundreds of pages, you are left with the memorable characters and the wonderful story.  I'm glad I read the book, but I also really enjoyed the miniseries, and I recommend it.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Poetry Friday: Summer Mowing

I've been reading summer poems at Poetry Foundation, and finding many lovely ones.  I love this one for the intimate picture of a father and son spending time together.  That's what my summer is about this year: focusing on moments with my family.  If I were looking at the world around me, I'd choose "things fall apart; the center cannot hold." Instead I'm deciding to enjoy this day and mow the part of the world where I can have an influence.  My mower may be a "makeshift contraption," but it's going to be a beautiful day anyway.

Summer Mowing
He has transformed
his Tonka dump truck
into a push mower, using
lumber scraps and duct tape
to construct a handle
on the front end of the dump box.
One brave screw
holds the makeshift
contraption together.
All summer they outline
the edges of these acres,
first Daddy, and then,
behind him
this small echo, each
dodging the same stumps,
pausing to slap a mosquito,
or rest in the shade,
before once again pacing
out into the light,
where first one,
and then the other,
leans forward to guide the mowers
along the bright edges
of this familiar world.

Here's today's roundup. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reading Update

One of my favorite parts about summer vacation is the time to read.  Since my last update, I have been reading constantly, and here's what I've finished.

Book #76 of the year was Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles.  Set in New York City in 1938, this wasn't as wonderful as I'd been led to believe, but it was a fun read.

Book #77 was The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller.  In this retelling of the Iliad, Achilles and Patroclus are not just friends, Thetis hates Patroclus, and Achilles has no interest in Briseis, but keeps her around to please Patroclus.  Everything turns out the same as the original.  If you're a lover of the Iliad, like I am, you'll enjoy seeing how Miller handles the story. 

Book #78 was Home Life: A Journey Through Rooms and Recollections, by Suzanne Fox.  I'm not entirely sure of all the reasons I love this book so much.  The last time I read it was 2014, but for a while in my thirties I read it every year.  The book is a series of essays about rooms, in long-lost houses, the author's current apartment, and even in a museum.  Fox explores the meaning of home, growing up, being alone, decorating, and many other topics.  Every time I read it, I find new things.  I thought about it again recently when one of my childhood homes, in a country I haven't visited in thirty years, burned down, and I saw a YouTube video of the fire.  Why do houses stick in our minds so much?  I lived there when I was four years old.  Chances are, I would never have gone there again.  But it was my home, and I grieved its loss.  This book has helped me think about home at many points in my life, and I'm sure I'll read it again.

A friend from graduate school has started writing romance novels, and book #79 was her second, Chasing the Heiress, by Rachael Miles.  Check out her blog, where she gives interesting insights into her research, including how she finds out what vocabulary she can use to keep the authenticity of the Regency period she's writing about.  I liked Jilting the Duke, the first one in the series, and this one was also good, and very eventful!  I'm looking forward to the third one in the series, coming out in October.

Book #80 was About Grace, by Anthony Doerr.  Everyone is reading and talking about Doerr's more recent book, All the Light We Cannot See.  I loved that one, but honestly I think this one is even better.  The gorgeous writing, the long trajectory of the story, and the entirely convincing character and relationship development: all were completely satisfying.

Book #81 was The Arrival, by Shaun Tan.  This is a wordless graphic novel.  I don't really know how to read a book like this, since it's all pictures.  The pictures are amazing, but I wished for words.  My daughter says I just have to read more graphic novels.

Book #82 was When You Were Here, by Daisy Whitney.  In this YA title, Danny has lost his mother, and he's trying to figure out how to continue his life.  I liked the Japanese setting of a large part of the book, and I also liked the different kinds of relationships Danny had in his life.

Book #83 was Kindred, by Octavia Butler.  Dana, an African American woman in the seventies, is ripped back to the time of slavery, again and again.  She can't control when it's going to happen, and the fact that she sees slavery through the sensibility of a modern woman intensifies the reader's experience of the horror of life for Dana and the other slaves.

Book #84 was lighter fare, but still quite thought-provoking in its own way: What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty.  Alice has an accident at the gym and hits her head; when she wakes up, she's forgotten the last ten years of her life.  The last thing she remembers is being in a happy marriage, contentedly waiting for the birth of her first child.  Now she and her husband are getting a divorce, and she has no idea why.

This post is linked to the June 25th edition of the Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Poetry Friday: love is more thicker than forget

[love is more thicker than forget]
e.e. cummings
love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

What can I add to this?  "Love is as strong as death," as King Solomon wrote thousands of years ago. It is more thicker than forget.  It cannot die.
Here's today's roundup.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Poetry Friday: Ozymandias

As we toured Sans-Souci Palace, the home of Henri Christophe, King of Haiti, my daughter quoted Shelley's poem, "Ozymandias."  The picture above was taken in Henri Christophe's throne room; as you can see, it is roofless.  It has been ever since the palace was destroyed in an earthquake in 1842, but Christophe's own life ended twenty-two years earlier when he shot himself in this room, saying that a great man should not survive longer than his glory.

Sans-Souci was compared in its day with Versailles, and it is still impressive to see.

Shelley's poem was inspired by a statue from the thirteenth century BC, acquired by the British Museum and on display in London.  The statue depicted Ramasses II of Egypt, known also by his Greek name of Ozymandias.

All human power is temporary, the "traveller from an antique land" tells us.  When we look around us today, this is a good thing to remember.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

Here's today's roundup.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Reading Update

Halfway through 2016, I've read as many books as I read all last year.  I've had plenty I wanted to escape from, and I ended my last Reading Update post with my plans to reread Pride and Prejudice, that ultimate escapist novel, both for its predictability and for the reassuring way it all works out in the end.  I did read it, but first I made a rather more counterintuitive choice. 

Book #56 of the year was The Passage, by Justin Cronin.  Yep, it's post-apocalyptic.  Yep, there are vampires (the condition is caused by a virus).  Yep, I found it oddly mesmerizing.

Book #57 was Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.  See above.  All I hoped for, and more.

Book #58 was The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova Bailey.  This book is just plain wonderful.  Bailey develops a mysterious and debilitating illness, and a friend gives her a plant, in which there's a snail.  In the newly small world of her sickroom, Bailey focuses her attention on the snail, observing it closely and finding it a miracle.

Book #59 was Survival Lessons, by Alice Hoffman.  This is what Hoffman learned from crises she faced in her life, particularly her breast cancer.  It's inspiring, and full of ways you can choose to deal with what happens to you, rather than just folding under it.

Book #60 was Every Bitter Thing is Sweet: Tasting the Goodness of God in All Things, by Sara Hagerty.  This is Hagerty's memoir of marriage, infertility, adoption, and other bitter things that turn sweet when she allows them to bring her closer to God.

Book #61 was Donald Miller's Searching for God Knows What.  Miller's territory is a lot of what we've been talking about at my church - that God deals with us through our stories, not through bullet points of systematic theology.  Miller really is a good writer, even though sometimes he gets on my nerves.

Book #62 was The Blue, by Lucy Clarke.  I really enjoyed this book about sailing and murder.

Book #63 was a gift from my daughter, who knew I'd enjoyed all the other Lauren Winner books I'd read.  This one was Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, Winner's memoir about the time after her divorce when God felt very far away.  My daughter says this is Winner's best book so far.  I prefer Wearing God, but I liked this one, too.

Book #64 was The Space Between Us, by Thrity Umrigar.  This is a novel about a maid and her employer, both struggling with Dickensian life challenges in modern Bombay.

Book #65 was also about dreadful struggle, responded to poetically and bravely: in When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi, a doctor describes his own battle with, and death from, cancer.

Book #66 was Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon Self-Control, and My Other Experiments in Everyday Life, by Gretchen Rubin.  In this sequel to The Happiness Project, Rubin tries more ideas to boost happiness.

Book #67 was The Twelve, by Justin Cronin, the sequel to book #56.  The third one is coming out any day.  I'm not sure why I'm enjoying this series quite as much as I am.

Book #68 was The Last Boy and Girl in the World, by Siobhan Vivian, a YA title about friendship, loss, and a town being gradually destroyed by flooding.

Book #69 was Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Mystery Book, by Louise Penny.  This is the first Inspector Gamache book, and it looks as though I've found a new murder mystery series to add to the ones I already enjoy by P.D. James and Elizabeth George.

Book #70 was Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver, another YA title.  We know from the first line of the book that Samantha dies, but she is given the opportunity to see the effects her choices have on others as she relives her last day again and again.  Will she eventually get it right?

Book #71 was Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster, by Jon Krakauer.  I read a novel with my seventh graders this year about climbing Everest, and supplemented it with this real-life story.  Warning: this is so vivid that you won't be able to breathe while reading it.

Book #72 was Thirteen Moons, by Charles Frazier.  This is a historical novel about the removal of Native Americans to reservations in the west in the time immediately before and after the Civil War.  It's about identity and loss.  Lately everything I read seems to be about loss, one way or another.  This is a brilliant book, just as good as his first book, Cold Mountain, which I read back in 2009 and reviewed in this post.  The protagonist, Will Cooper, is a true American original, abandoned by his blood family and finding family wherever he can.  He is self-taught, captivated by a woman who keeps disappearing, and larger than life.  His story is unforgettable.

Book #73 was Tropical Fish: Tales from Entebbe, by Doreen Baingana.  I thought until almost the end that I hadn't finished this book before, but I read it back in 2011.

Book #74 was The Passion of Artemisia, by Susan Vreeland, a historical novel about Artemisia Gentileschi, a Renaissance painter trying to survive as a woman in a world dominated by men.  I loved reading about her friendship with Galileo.

Book #75 was another Gretchen Rubin book, her study of habits, Better than Before.  I enjoy Rubin's voice (I also listen to her podcast, and she writes just the way she talks), and I found this book useful and interesting, just like her others.

I just started my summer vacation, and I have some epic reading plans for the season, so stay tuned!

This post is linked to the June 4th Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon.

Poetry Friday: Back from Vacation

I haven't posted on this blog in a while, but now that summer is here, I hope to change that.  I finished school, graded feverishly and wrote comments and spoke at eighth grade graduation and then we left for five days of vacation in northern Haiti.  Since we got back yesterday, John Updike's poem seems appropriate for today.

Back from Vacation
John Updike
"Back from vacation", the barber announces,
or the postman, or the girl at the drugstore, now tan.
They are amazed to find the workaday world
still in place, their absence having slipped no cogs,
their customers having hardly missed them, and
there being so sparse an audience to tell of the wonders,
the pyramids they have seen, the silken warm seas,
the nighttimes of marimbas, the purchases achieved
in foreign languages, the beggars, the flies,
the hotel luxury, the grandeur of marble cities.
But at Customs the humdrum pressed its claims.
Gray days clicked shut around them; the yoke still fit,
warm as if never shucked. The world is still so small,
the evidence says, though their hearts cry, "Not so!"

My vacation brought me back with loads of photos and memories, and here's hoping I'll write some poems soon.  It's been too long.   No more gray days clicking shut around me.  I don't care how sparse the audience is - time to tell of wonders.

Here's today's roundup.