Monday, March 31, 2014

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin (12 of 159)

One Sentence Summary: The story of Greg Mortenson and his life's work of building schools in the war-torn Middle East as vehicles for peace.

'Osama, bahh!' Bashir roared. 'Osama is not a product of Pakistan or Afghanistan. He is a creation of America. Thanks to America, Osama is in every home. As a military man, I know you can never fight and win against someone who can shoot at you once and then run off and hide while you have to remain eternally on guard. You have to attack the source of your enemy's strength. In America's case, that's not Osama or Saddam or anyone else. The enemy is ignorance. The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business. Otherwise the fight will go on forever.'

This time last year I was looking toward wrapping up my time volunteering for an organization in Pune, India that was striving to create a safe environment for the nursery-aged children of one of the city's poorest neighborhoods to learn and grow. I will not expound on why, but I came away feeling as if I had failed in many directions. A year out, I am beginning to view my failures and shortcomings as unique opportunities to push myself to excel in the future, but my awareness surrounding all that I could and should have done better still rubs raw. For all of that, I learned an enormous amount, much of which I have only come to realize in the many months since my return, and I continue to process and understand more about my experience as time goes by. Three Cups of Tea spoke to that fire in me, acquired in India and Nepal, where I came to view education as empowerment and as freedom.

While I didn't love the book so much, it wore on me for so many reasons, I would still recommend it. Some non-fiction is simply worth reading, even if the writing isn't so hot. Mortenson's book is important because it reminds the reader to reset a little bit and shake up the propaganda ridden way that we have come to think of the Middle East. I think it could have done a little more in this respect, had it stepped away from the hardcore hero-worship, but ah well. My heart ached reading this as I thought of the carelessness with which promises have been made to that region of the world, on individual, community, and national levels, and how those breaches of contract have compromised everyone involved. The highest compliment that I have for Mortenson, if the facts are as the book puts them forward, is that he kept his word and created bonds of trust on the individual level that he refused to break.  Also, his adaptation to the culture is to be praised. Cultural imperialism is a major danger when attempting to bring aid to any disenfranchised area and he appeared to avoid that most admirably.

This book is a wonderful conversation starter- I would imagine it to be perfect for high school classrooms or community book clubs. That being said, I also tend to think Three Cups of Tea oversimplifies some issues facing the Middle East, particularly those surrounding American involvement. BOOM. Discuss. Either way, I came away reminded of how much can be done with the most basic of human entitlements, education, and also affirmed in the fact that I have a whole lifetime in which to help plant stronger seeds.

Shelf Status: Donating
I Recommend For: Social justice folks, people interested with current events, teachers, students
I Do Not Recommend This For: Glenn Beck

Monday, March 24, 2014

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Stories by Robert Louis Stevenson (11 of of 159)

One Sentence Summary:
 1) The dignified Mr Utterson investigates the mysterious connection between his friend, the esteemed Dr. Jekyll and his new, grotesque paramour, Mr. Hyde.
2) The trader Wiltshire arrives at his new station to find the goings-on of the island being manipulated by the conniving Mr. Case.
3) Three ne'er-do-wells of varying morality set out to improve their fortunes and end up invariably worsening them. 

Quote (from the dedication):
It's ill to loose the bands that God decreed to bind;
Still will we be the children of the heather and the wind;
Far away from home, O it's still for you and me
That the broom is blowing bonnie in the north countrie.

The dedication feels like the correct thing to include because there is a reason that Stevenson chose to include that little verse. What follows are more or less morality tales which dabble in some seriously major questions: is there any such thing as absolute morality? Do we endanger ourselves by completely denying our inherent darkness? Is a person with no dimensions or conflicts of conscience even a person at all?

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was a great tale, just as I'd hoped, and definitely one that you think you know, but probably do not. There have been so many iterations of the story in pop culture that it has strayed from the root- this wonderful, lengthy short story. Stevenson has a great appreciation of tone and it is consistently his portrayal of a dank, mist-suffused London that give you the shivers. It is not difficult to imagine yourself alongside Utterson on a midnight amble to track down the deplorable Hyde. You can feel Stevenson's personal conflict surging beneath the surface of this story. I have to wonder how much of himself he saw in the fallible, mostly well-intentioned Jekyll and how much that writing this took out of him.

I wasn't terribly fond of the second story. Certain unlikeable characters can be survived for the sake of the story, but I didn't feel powerfully compelled enough by the plot to get over how obnoxious Wiltshire was. 

I was feeling a bit downtrodden by the time that I reached the third story, but it sucked me in- perhaps even more so than Jekyll and Hyde. My heart went out to Herrick, a hapless sort who has never applied himself enough to anything to amount to much. His moral compass is still in there, harkening to North, if weakly. Then there is Davis, pursued by his personal demons of failure and yet unwilling to adjust the habits and mentality that led him there in the first place. And, of course, Huish, the human leech. Setting the three together on their common course begins a game of the moral, immoral, and amoral that reaches its climax on the island of a dapper tyrant who is a dizzying combination of the three. The action moves along at a clip and it seems as if Stevenson found, in The Ebb-Tide, a way to combine his more exalted literary inclinations with his natural penchant for adventure tales. I wish it were a more famous work- it has the power to be a more fitting legacy.

Reading these three stories, so far from the clear-cut good and evil adventure tale of Treasure Island makes me wonder if Stevenson was feeling pigeon-holed in his career by his reputation for "ripping good reads". I think differently of him now, though, as a literary force in his own right, instead of merely a talented man with the imagination of a naughty boy.

"You must suffer me to go my own dark way."
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Note: I could not finish The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, which makes this eleven, instead of ten.

Vericon Thoughts and Adventures

Patrick Rothfuss held the door for me this weekend.
I have been slowly melting ever since.

On Saturday I attended Vericon, Harvard's speculative fiction convention. I originally stumbled upon it by way of Scott Lynch's tour schedule. If you have stood within one hundred feet of me in the last year, it is probable that I have commanded you to read Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora. So when I saw that he was going to be in Boston (What? BOSTON? No one ever comes to Boston!) I started counting down the days. When I saw that Patrick Rothfuss was to be the guest of honor, my excitement became even more complete. Have you read The Name of the Wind? No? Stop reading and go do that, then come back and finish reading.

My wonderful boyfriend and apprentice in book geekery, went with me and we had an amazing time. The panels on Interactive Media and World Building have given me so much to think about in my own work and also have confirmed the niggling thought that I need to find a group of people to be writing with. Having the privilege to listen to another person discuss their process, roadblocks, and successes in turn is inspiring and important. Someone has set the reset button on my writing life and I now remember that it is a craft- it requires much of you and is nearly always worth the trial. All I want to do is write today and having that fire back in my belly is a gift.

I picked up a copy of Saladin Ahmed's Throne of the Crescent Moon, which is a fantasy that takes place in an Islam-Arab inspired medieval setting. I honestly can't wait. I sometimes get bored to tears with obviously Eurocentric fantasy worlds- there's a whole world out there to  be inspired by! If anyone has any recommendations in the alternate vein, let me know.

While I did not purchase a copy, as soon as I finish Throne, I am going to get a hold of Max Gladstone's books Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise. His contributions to the panels were engaging and came from the unique perspectives on economics and society that inspired and infuse his work. Fantasy as social commentary? Sign me up! Really though, fiction is a mirror, even when it does not try to be, and I love it when writers actively take advantage of that dimension of their craft. Interested? You should read Chuck Wendig's interview with Gladstone on Terrible Minds and become more interested.

I also picked up over a dozen leads on things to look into from games and books and authors mentioned in passing. My mind is full of things to mull over and expand on. I can sense a months-long fantasy reading spell coming on, can't you?

As a final note, I am jealous of me in the next two pictures:

"You may bone a woodwife, but you do not love her."
-Patrick Rothfuss

Friday, March 21, 2014

I Have a Problem: Volume VI

I have a bit of an aversion to book stores that look sterile. You know what I'm talking about- post-Borders wunderkind with too much open space, a mediocre coffee bar, light-wood shelves, and not a speck of dust to be found. I am definitely more comfortable in shops that look as if they would welcome a resident cat, sleepy and full of warm, heavy light, books stacked and scattered, some already well-loved. Don't get me wrong- both stores should exist. People have the types of spaces in which they elect to exist and there need to be all sorts of environments on which to embark that most wonderful of missions: looking for books.

I found myself in the first type of bookstore this week and forced myself to focus on the shelves instead of the IKEA chairs and found two great little volumes, one I have been meaning to read and one that looks made for me.

The very first thing that attracted me to Swamplandia! when I stumbled across it for the first time was that wonderful cover illustration and the title. I love bayous. I know nearly nothing about bayous, but I love them. Find me a decent tale set in the Deep South, with screaming crickets and murky water and I will love you forever. The grass is always greener, amiright?

I eat books on faith for breakfast, because I struggle through my own dealings with the Spirit and it is good to know that one is not alone in such heavy ponderings. I look forward to reading the perspectives offered in this book.
157, 158

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Less TV, More Music

I have never been much of a television person. At some point in high school, my parents suspended our cable subscription because no one really used it- there were books to be read, walks to be taken, shorelines to explore. Then again, it is easy to look back and see a golden twilight before any stretch of darkness. It is more accurate to say that there were books to be read, tumblrs to be tumble, and internet to surf- less glorious, but I have taken steps to eradicate distractions for distraction's sake and I am proud of those efforts- I recently left tumblr after being more or less addicted for four years and suspended my facebook back in November. It was hard at first, habits are difficult to break, but I don't find myself missing them so much as I had initially assumed I would. With those vices removed, I cleared space and found an unexpected villain looking back at me- I had considered myself free, but suddenly recognized that I was in denial, possibly not realizing the reality because it had not always been so. I watch a whole lot of television.

When I think about it, I can trace when and why this started happening. After high school, I spent a large amount of time alone in a foreign country. I had no peers with whom to interact and found it difficult to rustle up the desire to sleep and so began to watch television, if only to have voices around me. As a background noise dependent person- I struggle to work in complete silence- and someone who was actively running away from her own mind, I eliminated music, which allowed for too much introspection and replaced it with anything- anything to create that white noise that I craved. As a result of this habit-forming behavior, I find that I hardly listen to music anymore, a neglect that detracts from my very soul, and absorb an enormous amount of television. It is distracting and empty and escapist without purpose and it needs to stop.

If you were to ask me, I would say that I believe in committing yourself completely to whatever you are doing, in the moment that you are doing it. I multi-task as a defense mechanism and because it quiets my anxiety to justify it with multiple stimuli, but like most human beings really do prefer to operate single-mindedly. In order to do this I need to return to simple lifestyle habits that inform that still, small space where I get good work done. There is something to be said for bad content in- bad content out and so:

I don't need to eliminate television completely. There is some great television out there. I need to eliminate it as background noise. If I am going to watch something, it should be of a quality that is of benefit to my life. If it is of quality, I should have no problem with turning off my brain to other things and focusing on it solely.

Music > television when it comes to supplying a work aid. Always.

Reclaim the identities of those little wanderers that plant the gardens in your head.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Night by Elie Wiesel (9 of 156)

One Sentence Summary: Elie Wiesel's autobiographical account of his experiences during the Holocaust.

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed....Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.” 
I read horror novels and thrillers regularly and if I have learned anything in the process it is that they cannot measure up against non-fiction. As soon as the human race imagines something more terrible than previously known they put it into practice and so history stretches on as a long legend of repeated ills. Elie Wiesel's story is more than a sickeningly bald-faced first-hand account of the Jewish nation's struggles in the Holocaust, it is a mirror and a warning. We are capable of anything, he reminds, on either end of the spectrum- no living thing can survive like a man and nor can anything parallel man's ability to destroy.

There is little to say aside from the fact that this is a necessary volume, slim and thoroughly haunting and an agony to absorb. I laid in bed and the phantoms gathered in the sea of darkness beyond my mattress and I was so very, very sorry.

There is really nothing more to say.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

As a little note to celebrate the holiday (my people! my people!), here is some Irish-born William Butler Yeats for you! I chose two somethings with decidedly summery overtones, because ohmygoodness it is supremely cold for March 17th.

The Song of Wandering Aengus

I WENT out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread; 
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire aflame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And some one called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands.
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands; 
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun. 

The Lake Isle of Inisfree

I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

I pulled these works from Thanks,! 

Go n-eírí an bóthar leat.
(May the road rise with you.)

I Have a Problem: Volume V

The gentleman and I were strolling Salem, Massachusetts this past weekend, getting out of town to celebrate our year-and-a-half with a little adventure in a whole new city. Just the sort of thing that we were hoping to find was found- a wonderful book store, of the rare and special sort, books as shelves for books, haphazard stacks, and shelf labels hanging from the ceiling because there is no space on floor or wall. Everything was 75% off, and while we were happy to take advantage of such an incredible deal, it broke our hearts to find that our good fortune was at the loss of such a wonderful space. 39 years in business on that sweet little street corner and now closing. My heart aches. Salem has so obviously lost a treasure. 

It was difficult to keep to a strict budget under such conditions, but I have a speculative fiction event coming up and I know that I'll be spending at book signings and the like. So, now for what I finally decided on in the stack that I accumulated in three minutes:

I have never read any Flannery O'Connor, which is tragic and wrong and weird, considering how much I love a good Southern Gothic tale. And, as I mentioned before, I am trying to read more short stories.

I literally bought this book because of the author bio: 
Gregory David Roberts was born in Melbourne, Australia. A gifted writer and student, he became addicted to heroin when his marriage collapsed and he lost the custody of his daughter. When he committed a series of robberies with an imitation pistol, he was described as the Gentleman Bandit. Sentenced to nineteen years in prison, he escaped and journeyed to New Zealand, Asia, Africa, and Europe. For ten of those fugitive years he lived in Bombay-where he established a free medical clinic for slum-dwellers, and worked as a counterfeiter, smuggler, gunrunner, and street soldier for a branch of the Bombay mafia. Recaptured in Germany, he served out his sentence there and in Australian prisons. Upon his release, he established a successful multimedia company, and since the international publication of Shantaram, he is a full-time writer, at home in several countries. (from Amazon) 
This guy:
From his website

Translation really does make all of the difference. I have stumbled over The Iliad in the past and really could not stand it, but upon finding a Fagles translation I think I shall have to try again. I read his work on The Aeneid in high-school and really couldn't get enough of it. It was the first time I realized the magic of Homer and just how he managed to capture so many imaginations over so much time. I sense a Greek history obsession coming on in my little chest.

154, 155, 156

Friday, March 14, 2014

Dubliners by James Joyce (8 of 153)

One-Sentence Summary: James Joyce outlines the moral landscape of his beloved city of Dublin in a series
of short stories spanning every social class in the early part of the 20th century.

First Lines (from Two Gallants):
"The grey warm evening of August had descended upon the city and a mild warm air, a memory of summer, circulated in the streets. The streets, shuttered for the repose of Sunday, swarmed with a gaily coloured crowd. Like illumined pearls the lamps shone from the summits of their tall poles upon the living texture below which, changing shape and hue unceasingly, sent up into the warm grey evening air an unchanging unceasing murmur."
This copy of Dubliners was given to me by the mother of a high-school boyfriend, years and years ago, with very few words. She simply knew that I would like it and she was a warm and thoughtful human being and, years later, I have finally got around to reading all of it and realized what a gift she had given me.

James Joyce writes a different sort of short story than I am used to. I am accustomed to a clear trajectory, a line that is straight from Point A to Point B, all things leading to a clear and concise climax and denouement, all things between informing the end. That is not how the stories in Dubliners unfold. In each is the whole world, and the plots often run still and deep so that the characters and their city can move to the front. Joyce is often a bit of brain work, but it is refreshing to read something critically for symbolism and depth again. I remember reading Araby in high-school for a class and feeling like I had my eyes opened to something. Joyce has that effect.

I don't think it necessary to pontificate on the wonder that is Joyce. There are plenty who could do a far better job at that than I. Still, I hope this is a safe space to say, I found a little humor in reading A Painful Case and The Dead and seeing a bit of the narrator's mind when it came to the elite and the hyper-educated. I think you can guess why I saw the irony in that. Joyce could have written himself into any great intellectual parlor in the land had he meditated on different themes, but he chose to reveal the moral underpinnings of the society from which he came instead. Little has changed in societies, in general. The meditations remain the same: religion, family, love, duty, class, injustice, on and on. The nature of his focus ensures that there is something that remains extremely relevant about Joyce's work.

While Dubliners is technically a short story collection, I think I benefited hugely from reading it as a single entity. There is a flow to the passions when read front to back, from ecstasy to despondency, courage to fear. From disillusioned youth to optimistic age and on and on, expertly ordered and woven. Still, I had my favorites, the ones that struck me most, for this reason or that. They were, and I sure this will change upon re-reading:
Two Gallants
A Painful Case (ouch. ouch. ouch.)
A Mother (I swear, I have met Mrs Kearney)
The Dead

I am trying to purpose to read more short story collections. I fancy myself more naturally bent towards long-form fiction, but I don't really know how true that is. And, as any artist can tell you, it's wise to play with different mediums and not to limit yourself too much. I always think myself incapable of writing short stories until I am reading them. While reading Joyce is almost intimidating, it also reminds me of what the craft can be, what it can reflect, and what it can preserve.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Congo by Michael Crichton (7 of 153)

One-Sentence Summary: An astonishingly thick band of supposedly smart people heads into the darkest, most forbidden corner of the Congo in the wake of the mysterious obliteration of a prior expedition.

Subtitle: Don't Do the Thing. Just Don't Do the... You Did the Thing.

First Lines (from the Introduction):
"Only prejudice, and a trick of the Mercator projection, prevents us from recognizing the enormity of the African continent. Covering nearly twelve million square miles, Africa is almost as large as North America and Europe combined. It is nearly twice the size of South America. As we mistake its dimensions, we also mistakes its essential nature: the Dark Continent is mostly hot desert and open grassy plains."
I was first introduced to Crichton on the butt-numbingly hard floor of my eighth grade classroom, where my small class gathered each day after lunch to read from The Andromeda Strain. That teacher was magic, a woman who could make a math class into something that you actually regretted ending and she wove the same sort of trickery into her reading of Crichton. She made it the  best book in the world, concentrating all of her wonky and fantastic energy into making it a story that we couldn't wait for each day, and man oh man, did she succeed. I don't know if Crichton will ever possess the same sort of magic for me again. Maybe it was an experience that rested in her or maybe, maybe Congo was just a miss for him.

This book drove me crazy. The smartest character is Amy, the gorilla- closely followed by the jungle desperado type, Munro, who is indisputably crazy-pants. Anyone else who is supposed to possess a scrap of plausibility or intelligence or believable emotional responses, is actually a cardboard cut-out that topples over somewhere in the third act. Seriously though, Karen Ross? I couldn't believe her being there for so much as a second and when she literally SPOILER blew up a mountain SPOILER  in the finale, I just plain gave up. But let's be honest with ourselves. Does anyone read Crichton for his sterling character development or for a logical plot? Absolutely not. We read Crichton to be entertained and there isn't a thing wrong with that. Congo is the battered paperback copy that you bring to the beach. It sunburns your soul while you sunburn your everything else. It's absurd and even a little insulting, but I'll be damned if I could stop reading it. I was awake at four o'clock this morning, watching plot bunnies disappear into the undergrowth at previously unrecorded levels, and I was enjoying every second of it.  The LA Times review featured on the front of my copy screamed its recommendation, which stated, and I quote, "An old fashioned thriller-diller...". We can't exactly be placing too many exalted literary expectations on something referred to as a thriller-diller.

Even dumping mercy on this, I still can't forgive it its most egregious plot trenches. Beyond the basic set-up, which was appealing: a mysterious stone-hewn city, animal behavior, a conniving stone-cold fox, and a hapless laboratory stooge, there is a lot to work with there. Add on volcanoes, diamonds, gorilla kidnappings, cannibals, raging tribal warfare, suspicious pygmies, hippo attacks, and a Melville-esque train of possibly made-up field science jargon, and it starts to feel like maybe you're on an underground Disney ride with Bill Nye.  Even a thriller-diller can, and should, have some substance and, as anyone who has seen a Fast and Furious film will tell you, explosions alone can't fill that little hole in your chest that is dreaming of quality. That being said, Crichton is really very good at explosions.

I Recommend This For: intelligent apes, fans of Jurassic Park, Crocodile Dundee
I Do Not Recommend This For: Book elitists, fact-checkers, Sticks-in-the-mud

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Bookish Buy and A Couple of New Entries

So I have been ogling Frostbeard Studio candles for a while. Maybe it's a strange thing to love, but I am kind of a candle geek. I really just appreciate nice smelling spaces- they soothe me. Anyway, I finally picked out my first candle from this company: Soy tarts inspired by The Shire! The notes are oakmoss, clover, aloe, and a hint of cherry pipe tobacco- perfect for the springtime!

 Other scents that I am coveting include: Cliffs of Insanity (Princess Bride), Dumbledores' Office, Old Books, and Oxford Library (Lyra's Oxford, that is). This feels like grown-up happy meal prizes- collect them all!

Frostbeard Studio Website
Frostbeard Etsy Shop

And since I was already spending money, hey! Why not get a couple of books?

Because I really need to read more Virginia Woolf

Because after reading Rebecca, I am now obsessed with Daphne du Maurier. 
152, 153

Friday, March 7, 2014

On Reading Harry Potter as an Adult

I was not one of the Harry Potter crowd growing up, which may surprise people as it really is right up my alley. But coming from a conservative home, my mother had enough reservations about it that I would have felt an enormous weight of wrong-doing had I ever brought into the house. I needed reasons to oppose it that sounded legitimate in my own ears, because the religious argument wasn't doing it for me. It even got to the point where I briefly crusaded against it, getting in a conflict with my best friend that lasted way too long (thank you for loving me anyway, Ginny) and haranguing innocent folks in the public library who were on what I viewed to be the opposing team. I am not proud of this period, but the truth was that I wanted to read them SO badly and if I couldn't, then no one else could either- so there. I was at the height of my emotional maturity then, obviously. No. I was a huge twit, but hey! We're talking ten-thirteen years old here; what do you want from me?

I ultimately did read them. I believe they were the first books that I ever smuggled and there were a few more over the years (His Dark Materials, anyone?). I read them in library visits, probably under covers, and even had a paperback copy that I kept in a box beneath my bed for a while. It was as much about not hurting my mother's feelings as anything. Either way, my readings were sporadic, at best. The second, equally bizarre part of this story is that I thoroughly enjoyed volumes four-six and yet never read the seventh book. It was a tragedy, but I was a denizen of tumblr at the time and by the time I got around to ever taking it out of the library, every element of surprise had been spoiled for me. I watched the movies and let it rest at that. Go ahead. Judge me. I judge myself.

About a year ago, my boyfriend pointed out that he had never actually read any of the Harry Potter books or seen the films. I insisted that he do so, perhaps a bit aggressively for someone with my track record. At the time, I may have not even taken time to wonder why I was so vehement about it, but now I realize that it is because, even though I do not have the relationship with the books that some do, I still recognize their power and value. As he started to sink into the wondrous wizarding world of Rowling's imagination I realized that I had an opportunity to make up for sins of the past and endeavored to give them a second, more focused, chance. I read books one through three in a flurry in the fall and then got around to book four in the past week. I will intersperse the last three between reads for the The Great Book Liberation Project and I have to say that I. cannot. wait. Twenty years old, sometimes feeling as if I have the world on my shoulders, Harry Potter transports me to a space where my greatest concern transforms into a fictional conflict with real-world applications and that is a rare and wonderful gift. Rowling's world is a safe place to arm yourself for reality, as Neil Gaiman so eloquently reminds (and lives by):

I feel privileged to be reading the books now and I don't truly feel that I have missed out on their goodness because I am only really getting into them at this age. If anything, I can appreciate them more. This is not to condescend to children, no, not at all. It is only to say that where I am, I have never needed fantasy so very badly and now that the world has shown itself so very complicated in its areas of gray, it is nice to be reminded that there are battles between good and evil where it is still worth taking sides. I am suddenly observant of things that children realize naturally: a good friend is more valuable than all of the power in the world, it is a responsibility to fight your own battle for the good of the over-arching war, a single candle can change the face of any amount of darkness.

There are two little girls playing by the table as I write this and as I look at them, I hope that the boy wizard is a part of their lives, that they can have their faith in magic renewed again and again by these wonderful books. Harry Potter is immortal because there is no age-limit when it comes to fighting to preserve goodness and warmth in this world. The frolicsome two by my table know it. Sometimes, grown-ups just need a little reminding.

Monday, March 3, 2014

I Have a Problem: Book IV

I am stress buying.
Most people have some sort of persistent nervous behavior, a tell that gives them away when life becomes poker and the stakes are set strenuously high. There are stress eaters, exercise-a-holics, and within many of us lurks a closet shopaholic that emerges, debit card held high and legs churning to the closest depot for our consumption of choice. I am the last sort, if that has not yet been made clear. And as there are enough decisions on my shoulders to crush Atlas, at the moment, I spent all sorts of money that I don't really have on books yesterday. It was modest, as book hauls go, but it was significant for me.

The lad and I speak often about the rush of daily life- how the modern world does not lend itself to the sort of contemplation of one's surroundings that enrich a life. When I spotted this "country diary" and looked through its beautiful pictures and scripted entries, I knew that here was a woman who would have understood our distress.

I have this Great Gatsby joke that I tell strangers. In my defense, I always ask if they've read the book before I regale them with my recycled hilarity. About one awkward minute later we find that they don't really remember enough from that one high-school perusal fifteen years ago to decipher just why my joke was funny. This is always very sad and yet I am no closer to giving up on the joke as an effective ice breaker. Someday, the gathered crowd will howl in paroxysms of mirth and I will know at that moment that I have found my people.

I work with perfumes nearly every day and have really grown to love the intricacies of their compositions, as well as the cloudy history around each group of scents.This is an altogether different approach from what romantic write-ups I have read, almost always as part of a publicity file, and I'm looking forward to it.

To be honest, it was the title that attracted to me this.
Sometimes I struggle to do this.
Who doesn't?

148, 149, 150, 151

Before I can purchase any single new book that qualifies (AKA Books I Own But Have Not Read), I must read TWO from the existing list.