Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Guess who just found out that she passed her Spanish language exam!! And with only one week of studying. SO EXCITED!! Now I can buckle down with my qualifying exam reading. Adios, mis amigos. I'm making my famous chicken enchiladas tonight in celebration.
Monday, June 15, 2009
The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson is a small little novel about the last month of a man's life with his loving wife. The two (Ambrose Zephyr and Zappora Ashkenazi, "Zipper" for short) live a simple and happy life in London. After being diagnosed with a terminal disease and only a month (give or take) to live, he decides to spend his last days traveling the world. Since the alphabet has nearly as many letters as there are days in a month, Ambrose whisks his wife off to one city per letter, such as "A is for Amsterdam, B is for Berlin..."
My favorite aspect of this novel was its linguistic simplicity. The story itself was complex with emotion and plotline; the characters zigzagged across Europe, and there were just as many flashbacks as there were "present-day" scenes. But the language was not over-embellished. The sentences were short and to the point, though they never felt choppy because they always contained a nugget of something special.
Luckily, readers spend the entire novel (from page one, essentially) preparing for Ambrose's death, otherwise I would have blubbered all the way through the conclusion. What starts out as a man's shocking diagnosis turns into--as the chapters proceed--an exploration of his wife's ability to deal with losing her husband. I thought this was one of the most beautiful books I've read this year, along with one I finished last week--The Housekeeper and the Professor, by Yoko Ogawa. The End of the Alphabet is a fast and meaningful read, and one that most definitely will stick with me for years to come.
Friday, June 12, 2009
There are certain types of books that I more or less assume all readers read. (Novels, for example.)
But then there are books that only YOU read. Instructional manuals for fly-fishing. How-to books for spinning yarn. How to cook the perfect souffle. Rebuilding car engines in three easy steps. Dog training for dummies. Rewiring your house without electrocuting yourself. Tips on how to build a NASCAR course in your backyard. Stuff like that.
What niche books do YOU read?
I love this question, if only because it makes me think about a lot of my favorite books!
My first niche is definitely 19th C. Victorian fiction, which is why I have built my future career around teaching this genre of literature. I love Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, the Brontes, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, Marie Corelli...ALL OF THEM!!
My second niche is something that fits into niche 1 but has also expanded beyond that--classic and modernist detective fiction. Collins, Doyle, Agatha Christie :)
Niche 3 is cookbooks. I can't get enough of reading cookbooks. I enjoy the little side stories and information about food and nutrition, or the history of certain dishes, but I really love reading recipes. I don't care if I never make the item. I just love learning about food combinations and ingredients. I make probably 90% of our meals at home from scratch, so even if I don't use the recipes, they always help me with my own cooking. Just like Molly, I love reading muffin cookbooks. I also love cookie recipes and crock-pot ideas. Just recently I combined two of my obsessions (Elvis Presley and cooking) into one of my readings...a book called All Cooked Up: Recipes and Memories from Elvis' Family and Friends. The writing was abysmal, but the pictures and recipes were top notch. What I'm really looking for is a good Pie cookbook. Does anyone have any suggestions? So far I've been disappointed at the bookstores.
Thanks for the question!
Thursday, June 11, 2009
- All Cooked Up: Recipes and Memories from Elvis' Family and Friends
- Be Happy Without Being Perfect by Alice Domar and Alice Lesch Kelly
- The Big Moo: Stop Trying to be Perfect and Start Being Remarkable, edited by Seth Godin
- A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen
How is everyone else doing on their summer challenges so far?
Friday, June 5, 2009
Since this is an epistolary novel, the story is told through the letters the characters send to each other, and the letters become continually more creative as the characters search desperately for ways to regain their freedom of speech and language. One of the most darling moments of the book is when our protagonist, Ella Minnow Pea, has no option left but to sign her name "LMNOP," as those are the only letters left hanging on the monument.
There's much more to the story, and I won't give away the ending, as it is a precious tale of love, creativity, and language that you would want to experience for yourself. But, I wanted to mention Ella Minnow Pea because I encountered another book in a similar vein called The Wonderful O by James Thurber. I was able to read it all in one sitting a few days ago while I waited for my husband to get out of a meeting.
Thurber's short children's book, originally published in 1957, has just been republished this year as part of the New York Review Children's Collection with illustrations by Marc Simont. As the story goes, two bad men, Littlejack and Black meet up with similar intentions--to seek treasure by sailing to a remote island on Black's ship, the Aeiu. He explains that he hates the letter "O" and therefore named his ship a word with all the vowels except O. With the help of a very vague map, Littlejack and Black sail Aeiu to the island and demand that the islanders give them all of their gems and treasures. When the islanders claim that they know of no such treasure, the bad men and their crew ransack the island, destroying everything in their paths that contains a letter O, even books. Furthermore, Black takes over the island and decrees that O must be "o"mitted from the language. Just like in Ella Minnow Pea, the community affected by the loss of letters attempts to overthrow the leadership to win back their rights and freedoms of speech.
Unlike Mark Dunn, Thurber does not attempt to write without using certain letters--in this case, O. In fact, he probably uses more O's than usual in order to show how beautiful the letter can be in our language, and how elegant and smooth it sounds in words of all kinds. Here is one of my favorite passages that demonstrates his style well:
"I'll take away from them," said Black, "everything that plays and has an O."
And so the following morning the crew went from house to house, seizing violins and cellos, trombones and horns and oboes, pianos, harpsichords, and clavichords, accordions and melodeons, bassoons and saxophones, and all the other instruments with O's, up to and including the woodwinds. A man and his wife who loved to play duets on mandolin and glockenspiel drifted apart. Children, forbidden the use of combs, could no longer play tunes on combs with tissue paper. The crew spent the afternoon breaking up an old calliope they had found rusting in a field, and taking apart a carillon.
"All they have is fifes and drums and cymbals," gloated Black.
"And zithers and guitars," said Littlejack. "And dulcimers and spinets, and bugles, harps and trumpets."
"Much good they'll get from these," said Black, "or any others. I haven't finished with the O's in music, in harmony and melody, that is, and compositions. They'll have no score, and what is more, no orchestra, or podium, or baton, and no conductor. They can't play symphonies, or rhapsodies, sonatas or concerti. I'll take away their oratorios and choirs and choruses, and all their soloists, their baritones and tenors and sopranos, their altos and contraltos and accompanists. All they'll have is the funeral march, the chant and anthem, and the dirge, and certain snatches."
"They'll still have serenades," said Littlejack.
Black made an evil and impatient gesture. "You can't serenade a lady on a balcony," he said, "if there isn't any balcony. Let them hum their hymns and lisp their litanies." Black's eyes began to glow as he names O-names that would have to go: "Scherzo, largo, and crescendo, allegro and diminuendo. Let the lyric writers have their Night in June. Much good it'll do 'em without the moon."
Both of these books are clever and fun to read. They intrigue our minds and remind us how beautiful words can be when they are unrestricted, unfettered by lowest-common-denominator standards of vocabulary, and free to play and create. I recommend both of these books, and I also recommend that you read aloud!