Monday, January 20, 2014

Jan. 20: MLK Jr. Day!

The Great Silence: Britain from the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz AgeThe Great Silence: Britain from the Shadow of the First World War to the Dawn of the Jazz Age by Juliet Nicolson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fascinating and sobering topic, but also shockingly poorly written (or edited) in places. Nicolson's message is important, as we like to think, "Then the war (whichever war it is) ended and all was happy again", when of course that isn't true. Her careful exhumation of various details of national and personal mourning and response to the shattering losses of "the Great War" is thought-provoking and sad: I read this in sessions rather than all the way through, as it got overwhelming at times! HIghly recommended for historians and for students who crave that missing information on "how things felt."

However, I think this should/could have benefitted from better organization, footnoting, and editing/proofreading. Various characters appear, play roles--sometimes very detailed ones--and then vanish, sometimes in the middle of a paragraph, but Nicolson provides no sources or notes to explain where she gathered her information or characterization. A few of the people are introduced at the end (!), but there is a lack of documentation that makes the book feel almost like historical fiction at times.

As for the editing: "Weight was important, or rather the lack of it, to young women" (136) . Fine as a first draft idea, but I would expect the most relaxed editor to suggest that "Weight––or, rather, the lack of it--was important to young women" might read more fluidly.

P. 159: Lengthy description of a Punch cartoon in which a woman dreams herself "found herself at a party where the dancers were dressed in less than her." Less than she was? Less than her nightdress? At best, an awkward sentence; at worst, a grammatical mess.

p. 227: ". . . the necessitous times making it seem appropriate for guests to pay for their entrance tickets. . . " Again, it's a valid vocab word, but I would hope an alert editor might engage in a conversation about its appropriateness!

There are more of these sections and stumbles, the culminating effect of which is to make this an interesting but not excellent book. It is certainly haunting in its discussion of the lingering, inescapable personal and societal effects of WWI. A book club might read this and then embark on Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, as a world history class might benefit from various chapters or excerpts as background reading.

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Well, our lovely weekend continues. Knitting (almost all the sleeve on N's sweater!), two homemade lasagnes (sauce and noodles), double batch of Grandma Leamon's coffeecake, good exercise, pretty snow, "Miss Pettegrew Lives for A Day". . . . Much goodness. Back to Hamlet papers and then a run. . .

And always a bow to one of the heroes who chose love over hate, and peaceful endurance over violent action!

"Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, 

'What are you doing for others?’"

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jan. 18: Lovely Long Weekend!

Happy 80th yesterday to my amazing mama.

And what a lovely weekend Nathaniel and I are having: Andy and Camilla are blitzing NYC with Julie and Caroline as hosts, so they are busy and will soon be exhausted. N and I are spending as much cozy time as possible and yet clicking away on "stuff we wanna do" as well. Yesterday after a terrific Senior Exhibition festival, I got home an hour earlier than I'd ever dreamed, and I had considered a trip to Belfast to visit the beautiful Fiddlehead Artisan Supply for a pattern for the Washi dress, so we went at 3:00! And had a wonderful time! And basked in the wonderfulness that is Belfast: Fiddlehead, then the candy/ice cream store, then the game store, then Heavenly Sock Yarns (N got yarn to make a hat for his tech mentor's impending daughter), and THEN we stopped into Eat More Cheese, where N now wants to work (or live, possibly). We had a lovely time boosting the economy, and then were home by 6 pm, and that was a great start to our weekend! Today it's been snowing a bit, so I'm extra-glad to have gotten our trip in on a lovely dry day, and I got some cheap fabric from Marden's for a Washi trial run, and I am about to go make our beloved soup, but I need to update Goodreads. Tonight we're watching "Amelie". . . and knitting!

Calling Invisible WomenCalling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Andy gave me this for Christmas, and I started it but almost gave it up, then stuck with it and enjoyed it. It's part allegory, part mystery, part family novel, and that is its drawback as well as its attraction, I think. Some parts are very sharp and funny, and the details of the invisibility are creative and original, but then there are some gratingly trite sections. About high school students, observed by two invisible women: "Kids don't want to be bad, they just have no idea how to stop themselves. They're so wrapped up in their image they can't make the right choices" (94) or "'So we've got to figure out who we are. We've got to stop standing around in the corner wondering if anybody is missing us. We have to find our light so people still know we're here. Lila found it.. . ." (128). A little gooey and simplistic for me! In fact my problem occurred when Ray straddled the line between invisibility as metaphor and invisibility as medical side-effect--but overall, it ended up as an interesting book.

**Extra FYI: Ray is Ann Patchett's mama. And she lives in Nashville, TN, which is beginning to sound like a place I'd like to live.

Habits of the House (Love & Inheritance Trilogy, #1)Habits of the House by Fay Weldon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Meh. Too many characters, and too few likable ones. I've come to think that the varied view point that is so hot now is just not done very well very often. For a stronger series, I'd recommend any Angela Thirkell (though I know she's an acquired taste!) or Elisabeth Jane Howard's series about the Cazalet family. However, I may at least pick up the other two at the library for a quick skim.

The Unknown AjaxThe Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, this was a delight, and especially wonderful as an audiobook (thank you Daniel Philpot!) as we got to hear Hugo's Yorkshire accent in its full glory. A bit predictable as far as plot goes, but, beyond wanting to kick Lord Darracott swiftly and repeatedly in the breeches, I enjoyed watching it all unfold before me. My only sadness is not having another Heyer cued up on my ipod for the next month of commuting. . ., here I come.

The UnderneathThe Underneath by Kathi Appelt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of my students did a "turn the tables on the teacher who's always giving us books" and gave me this to read, which I did, quickly. It's clearly a youngish young adult novel (maybe around 10 or so?) and has very anthropomorphized animals as characters, but it also has a mystical/mythical plot going as well--a tad confusing and a tad overwrought, in my opinion. However, it is beautifully written, with lovely descriptions and imagery. If it's AD's favorite book, it's certainly blown her cover as a reluctant reader!

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Friday, January 3, 2014

Jan. 3: Snow Day for RSU 24, and Snow for all!

My last real school day of vacation (get that?) and a day I've resolved to Do Some School Work. It is still bitter cold, and has added snow (tiny, steady, business-like flakes) and wind to the pallette. We got a lot last night, which I didn't expect. Luckily, today is my Day Off From Working Out, so I may not even go outside. Ha!

However, I do want to make pancakes and possibly read some Signature of All Things before I start working. And knit on the baby booties for Anna's twins, and. . . . oh yeah. School work!

So. . . made some super-duper pumpkin pancakes with extra pumpkin and pecans (doubled the batch, too: added a whole can of pumpkin, didn't double the sugar, added about a 1/2 cup of chopped pecans, went heavy on the spices. Cook slowly at first so they get done in the middle. Yum). Off to a good start.

The NonesuchThe Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Loved everything about this book except the ending, which reads as if Heyer looked up at the clock and realized the book was due at the publisher five minutes before. I honestly thought the audio was messed up--but, no! It was a disappointment, but much of the rest of the novel was a frothy, pleasurable escape.

Christmas at High RisingChristmas at High Rising by Angela Thirkell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is not really "Christmas at High Rising" ; it's "A collection of Thirkell's writing, some of which has to do with Christmas, and some of which maybe didn't need to be collected at all." But, in general, I wanted to read the collection and am glad I did!

Life of PiLife of Pi by Yann Martel
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, Nate insisted that I read this book and, after several false starts, I did: It was my "stretch book" for our long Christmas vacation. And I read it, and I have no idea why it was such a hit. The first 1/3 dragged, in my mind; the wounded animals/being eaten part was gross; the mechanical details were numbing, and then the whole was it/wasn't it? part at the end was . . . weird. I did like some parts (the floating island) and Pi's thoughts on fear ad survival were interesting in places, but overall, I couldn't see huge value in it. It was imaginative, unusual, and unpredictable, but I could have not read it, and I would've been fine. BUT I'm glad it's off my TBR pile, finally!

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