Archive for February, 2008

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Posted in Fiction, Lisa with tags , , on February 24, 2008 by Lisa

If you’re a reader of my other blog, you know that I’m a fan of urban fantasy. The Dresden Files are a hugely popular urban fantasy series, so it only follows that I’d eventually get around to them. My husband  has read the first 6 and has been urging me to jump on the bandwagon as well.  Last year I (we) read most of Simon R. Green’s Nightside series and did enjoy them, and Mike claims the Dresden Files are even better. So last weekend I decided to give Storm Front a try.

Storm Front is the first in the series (duh.)  Harry Dresden is a licensed detective who barely does enough business to make ends meet.  Oh, and he’s a wizard. When a brutal murder is discovered, the local police bring him in to take a look and see if it could be magical.  Add in a missing husband case, a mobster, a talking skull, some fairies, and a new illegal drug and there you have it.  Dresden is a bit annoying.  Butcher is clearly trying to strike a balance of knowing it all and being uncertain of his abilities. It comes off a bit like a geeky loser. (And I mean that in the *nicest* possible way!)  The story line itself was pretty good,  believable even.  The supporting characters aren’t so memorable, but it is a long series, so I’m sure we’ll see them again and they will develop more.

If I were to compare this first Dresden file book to the first Nightside book, I’d favor this one. Something From the Nightside  takes off into a complete fantasy world, whereas this one sticks firmly in the real world- except for the magic part. My husband says this is the weakest of the series of what he’s read, and that overall it gets much better.  I’m really glad that we have the first 6 waiting for me to dip into at will.

Literature 110- week 4- assignment 1

Posted in Fiction, Literature, Short Story on February 17, 2008 by muerta

This was a difficult assignment for me, for I have read Tim O’Brien and John Updike in the past. I remember in high school, Mr. Colville- my junior level English instructor, reading the story of “A&P.” Tim O’Brien arrived to me under several titles, but mostly I remember “Tomcat in Love.” My ex-husband recommended it to me, and I found it a most satisfying read.

 

But O’Brien’s story “The Things that They Carry” settled in my heart. His use of precise wording deep within a jungle setting made me feel the sweat of each load that the soldier’s carried. The rule in Alaska (when I lived there) was that every person should be able to carry on their back half their weight; here in Connecticut, parents complain if students are asked to carry their homework, and backpacks are designed to relieve back and shoulder stresses. My ex-husband carried up to 200 pounds on his back as he rescued unprepared mountain climbers from the high altitude peaks of the Brooks, Alaska, Delta, and Wrangell mountain ranges. Back problems were never the issue.

 

Tim O’Brien allows us to experience the Vietnam War on several different levels: the psychological, the spiritual, and the physical. These soldiers carrying their backpacks loaded with guns and rations, carrying their support systems of dope or a New Testament, or their minds wandering into places that they would rather be than tromping through the disease-infested, bug-bitten, humid terrain of the jungles of Vietnam. “War is Hell” as the expression goes, but O’Brien ensures us that the reader will not only experience the foxholes and the jokes, but also of death. Everyone reacts to death differently, and we are allowed to experience as these men traipse through the jungle, the thoughts and feelings of each one of them.

 

In particular, Kiowa was important to the story. He not only represented the division of the spiritual world vs. the physical, but he brought with him several elements of his past that made him the soldier he was for the story. Curdled up with his New Testament yet carrying a hunting hatchet and his moccasins, Kiowa was drafted into a war across an ocean into a country of a people fighting a war similar to his own ancestry. His understated comments of “boom-down” lead to a joke of “zapped while zipping,” only proving that in times of stress, it is humor that helps survival. However, Kiowa was faced with more than just survival. Stuck between the past and the present, and the immediate present, he had to somehow reconcile the death of his comrade into his scheme of the cosmos. “Boom-down” was his solution, while the leader of the troop, Jimmy Cross chose to destroy everything intimate to me and become anesthetized to the pain of losing someone under his command.

 

Today, we face a war with similar controversy, and yet, as Tim O’Brien writes, I am sure that the soldiers of today carry similar burdens that the soldiers of Vietnam. Loaded with equipment and necessities, there are still ghosts and memories that follow us wherever we travel, and when faced with death, we can either rise up as a zombie like Lee Strunk, or we can give up and burn our past/future like Lt. Jimmy Cross and merely live in the present.

 

Judy Blume and Sex.

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , , on February 17, 2008 by Lisa

In the past week I’ve finished two books that are similar enough that I’m going to review them together. Both of books of essays, written by women, about being women. Both are about growing up, although different aspects of growing up.

The first one I finished (but the second one I started) was Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume. 24 essays by various authors on what they learned from Judy Blume’s book and how those lessons helped them to feel normal during adolescence.  Authors include Meg Cabot, Megan Crane, Julie Kenner, Beth Kendrick, Cara Lockwood and Alison Pace. It seems every young girl read Judy Blume at some point and I know I did too. I was really looking forward to discovering that my favorite authors had the same junior high experiences that I did, but quickly discovered that I don’t really remember Judy Blume all that well. My clearest memory is from Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret– “I must, I must, I must increase my bust!”  Nevertheless, this was a fun little book about junior high and high school- if such a thing exists.

The second book of essays was Sex and Sensibility: 28 True Romances from the Lives of Single Women.  I’ve never really been single so this seemed like it would be a fun look at how the other half lived. The single half, that is. I started this one months and months ago, but because of it’s location in my home, I only read it a few pages at a time. Most of the essays were pretty entertaining, if completely different from anything in my experience.  Authors on this one included Jennifer Weiner, Laurie Notaro (this one nearly killed the whole thing for me, Notaro really annoys me), Pam Houston, and Lily Burana. I was a bit surprised at the amount of honesty some well-know authors were willing to put out there- the essays are about sex, after all.

I have a lot more books of essays in my TBR pile.  Essays are great for the pregnant-mother-of-a-toddler attention span.  I have Perfectly Plum, Toddler, Cracks in my Foundation, and quite a few of those annual Best Of essay books.  Of course, I also have a ton of everything else in there as well. I better get reading!

Literature 110- Week 3- Assignment 1

Posted in Fiction, Literature, Short Story on February 14, 2008 by muerta
Stories:
Everyday Use, by Alice Walker
Girl, by Jamaica Kincaid
I Stand Here Ironing, by Tillie Olsen
Two Kinds, by Amy Tan
There is no second assignment as she is giving us a break for Valentine’s Day.
I am finding the class a tad frustrating because she will assign us readings about themes or settings, and I am supposing that we are supposed to be relating these things all together. Instead, my fellow classmates just post what they like about something or not like, without really delving into the meat of the story. My friend who recommended that I take this course online, said just wait- grades have yet to come out, and he said that I will see a big difference in their postings when they do.
With that, I read Everyday Use by Alice Walker because I have thoroughly read and loved Amy Tan’s writings- and I am so desperately trying to abide by the rule of writing about authors of whom I have never read a critique or review.
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All four stories had strong themes of the intricacies of the mother-daughter relationship. Underneath that, each story addressed issues of poverty and the desire for the parent to want better for their child, and yet, each parent carried some element of guilt or poor self-esteem regarding how a particular daughter progressed into womanhood. Also, the authors each took time to compare their daughter to someone else, whether this be another daughter, a talented person, or a fictional concept, there was competitive nature in each story as the daughters matured. This allowed each author to create friction and address the difficulties of sibling rivalry.
“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker not only addressed the subtly of raising two daughter who are opposites, but also the irony of how one daughter denied her background, embraced another, and then returned home to take her heritage as if to show it off as an artifact discovered from archeological field assignment. Dee/Wangero ran away from who and what she was, recreated herself, only to come back to take what she saw as the “priceless” parts, ignoring that priceless can have two meanings: the price of one’s market value and the price of the item’s history.
There was also the issue of Maggie, who lives in the house that her mother rebuilt, and will continue to live the life to which she was born. While the author presents her as the quieter, more insecure child, it becomes apparent that Maggie is the one who is more secure as she has accepted who she is and where she came from, rather than Dee/Wangero who seeks answers outside the fenced yard, only to return with more questions and demands.
Dee/Wangero denies herself access to who she is, until she returns to her traditional grounds seeking her “priceless” heritage. Dee/Wangero suffers from pride, and her sin affects the future of the family heritage. Fortunately, the narrator, the Mother, realizes this, saving the family quilts from becoming an amusing conversation piece decorating her living room and keeps them for Maggie’s eventual marriage.
We are only who we are. We can soul search the world in the hopes of finding the answers (Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert), the answer always brings one back full circle—to your self. And while sadly Dee/Wangero will most likely continue searching for herself in those priceless artifacts, the reader can be rest assured that when Maggie marries, those quilts will continue to warm her and her family as they had one generation before.

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , , on February 10, 2008 by Lisa

Talk to anyone who has known me for more than a couple of years and they’ll be surprised to learn that I read a book about a politician (not counting long dead ones.)  In the last few years I find myself caring more and more, and becoming more interested in what is going on around me. I’ve written letters to my local representatives- something I wouldn’t have even considered 6 years ago. I am still woefully lacking in a political education. I don’t understand a lot of the political process. But I’m trying and, for me, that’s huge.

I started The Audacity of Hope several weeks ago.  The beginning was pretty hard for me because it referenced a lot of political history that I just didn’t know about.   Once of the side effects of pregnancy is that I’m tired all the time, and staying awake to read about political history (however lightly written) was tough. After this section Obama breaks down his feelings on various aspects of our country: education, race, family, and religion among others.  It’s not heavy handed, in fact, it’s very conversational.  I found that the book was making me depressed, not because I didn’t agree, but rather because I DID. It was very hard to ignore the things I’ve been ignoring when someone is pointing them out to you.  Obama doesn’t blatantly blame anyone, but does point out areas where he feels change would be good.  It’s not a book of his position or his platform on any of the topics.  Reading this doesn’t tell me what he’s going to DO, but it does tell you how he FEELS.  This might not be what you’re looking for in a book by a politician. Or, if you’re me, it’s exactly what you’re looking for. It was hard to read but I’m glad I read it.

Cross posted at Books. Lists. Life.

Literature 110- Week 2- Assignment 2

Posted in Fiction, Literature, Short Story on February 4, 2008 by muerta

Read “Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe, as well as Chinua Achebe’s “Dead Man’sPath,” and”Love and Other Catastrophes:  A Mixed Tape by Amanda Holzer.  I chose Dead Man’s Path because the deal of the class is that we are not to consult other opinions regarding authors before writing our own opinions and I have read and analyzed much of what Poe has written throughout my years.  Also, I have an assignment to post a mixed tape for extra credit.  I will call mine “Dead Man’s Path.”  🙂

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Ah, the power of education to remove superstition.  How many of us:

Throw salt over our shoulder if we knock over the shaker?

Never open an umbrella in the house?

Believe that the reason the Red Sox never won for so long was because of the “Curse of the Babe?”

Michael Obi arrives somewhere in what I assume is Africa (since the name of the school is Ndume Central School) with the thought “. . . of what a grand opportunity we’ve got at last to show these people how a school should be run.”  Instead, what he quickly discovers is that tradition and progress clash, as the visitors to the village shrine quietly pass through school grounds in order to continue their faith.  This is a disruption to his grand theme of making this backward school a proven success, and despite the protest of the village priest, Obi blocks the path to the shrine.  He scoffs at the priest, and makes light of the priest’s beliefs by suggesting that “Dead men do not require footpaths.”

Although it appears that children do, for after the path is blocked, a young woman dies in childbirth because her child can not walk the path in order to be born.  Hence, the village takes matters into their own hands, and deconstruct the beauty and rationality that the Obis have created, allowing the path of life and death to continue unobstructed.  Despite his efforts to make his school the grandest example, it ends up being a noted disaster as the Supervisor arrives right after the villagers avenged the wrong.

Michael Obi arrived with an egotistical idea of how education would give proper life to the native children, and relieve them of the burdens of their religion and traditions.  However, as Frank Leahy once said, “Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.”  Obi, accompanied by his wife and his ego, quickly discovered that progressive ideas can only be progressive if the dead men are allowed their proper footpaths.

Literature 110- Week 2- Assignment 1

Posted in Fiction, Literature, Short Story on February 2, 2008 by muerta

Read:  Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” and “The Storm.”  Read  Charolette Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

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Nothing is worse than feeling trapped.

Both Chopin and Gilman address this issue; Chopin examining sexual repression while Gilman challenging the mental.  However, it is my love of psychology and feminism that attracts me to Gilman’s story of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” and how one copes in a collapsing world.

When an individual is depressed, it is difficult for them to step outside of themselves and interact with the world beyond their internal turmoil.  Add to that, an era of when women were considered unequal and fragile, taming one’s inner conflicts ends in torment and quite literally, breaks both the mind and the spirit.  Forced to a bedridden state as it is considered healing, one is only left with their isolation and thoughts, only to further the depressive state and focus on one’s inadequacies.

Gilman never gives us the name of our narrator, thus placing reader into the narrator as she sits ever so quietly writing in her journal.  It is an exhaustive task, and one that her husband John “hates to have her write a word.”  Whether this is because it is exhausting or because he feels it negatively influences her recovery or because he often shushes her thoughts and feelings as flighty, we can only assume that the journal is the only way she has to truly express herself.

            “I did write for a while in spite of them; but it does exhaust me a good deal—having to be so sly about it, or else meet with heavy opposition.”

And yet, writing is the only way that she can express herself without the judgment of others while she sits in her room and “recovers.”

So much of the journal is focused upon the yellowed wall paper, the paper that the children destroyed, and yet, slowly destroys our narrator.  Trapped on an unmovable bed, at first she hates the wallpaper, then notices becomes intrigued by its intricacies, and lastly discovers that it is the cage.  It becomes her job in freeing those trapped by it, and in the tearing down of the walls (so to speak), she becomes free but only to lose herself in the very end.  Completing her cage by locking the room, she completes her task.

Our narrator started the story standing tall.  In the end, she is creeping, crawling around on all fours over the body of her fainted husband but she has metaphorically freed the trapped individuals, her self included, while proclaiming her freedom over her husband’s body.  All this treatment of tonics and bed rest because she was not the practical individual like her husband but rather emotional and reactive to her environment.  And sadly, it is the treatment that eventually ruins her.