30 April 2009

Doing my epidemiologic duty

Before I post anymore on books, yarn, my cats, or anything even remotely fun I'm gonna have to do a little PSA about swine flu aka H1N1 flu.

1. The number of cases reported with this strain is a drop in the bucket compared to the number of flu cases reported every year with seasonal flu. If this were truly a killer flu nearly every person who has contracted the swine flu in the US would be dead right now rather than 1 out of about 250 (and that kid brought it with him from Mexico). Also, Mexico is still undergoing it's regular flu season right now - they're probably seeing plenty of seasonal flu strains, too.
2. The precautions being advised to prevent infection with swine flu - handwashing, cover your cough, using kleenexes insetad of hankies, staying away from sick people, etc. - are the EXACT SAME as the precautions you should be taking to avoid getting sick at all. The same - you can prevent catching the common cold this way. Amazing.
3. If you actually have symptoms of influenza (high fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, rhinorrea, etc) you need to stay home. If you have to go to the doctor, call ahead and tell them your symptoms so they know you're coming. This is important regardless of whether you have swine flu or seasonal influenza because, guess what, the symptoms are EXACTLY THE SAME. Do not go shopping, to the movies, the theatre, bars, etc. Stay home (if you haven't been to Mexico/have close contact with someone who was in Mexico and is now ill then you probably don't have swine flu you have either a cold or seasonal flu).
4. Do not listen to anyone who says the 1918 flu pandemic killed hundreds of thousands. That's a known fact but completely unrelated in this case. Times change and we change with them. Medical epidemiology and medical care has advanced light-years since 1918 and we have a far better understanding of how the influenza virus works and far better supportive care.
5. You cannot (repeat: CANNOT) get swine flu from eating pork or pork products. This is why the leaders of the state of Iowa have started calling this thing H1N1 flu instead of swine flu; too many people with absolutely no idea how influenza viruses spread have been shooting off their mouths and now have incited panic among the world's pork importers/exporters (I even read a report that someone in Egypt is going to start culling hogs). Get real people. There are plenty of parasites, etc., that you can get from eating undercooked pork. So if you want to freak out about pork, freak out about worms and then cook your pork thoroughly.
6. Calm the frick down, people. Use your head for what the good Lord made it - rational thought. Wash your hands, don't put your fingers in your mouth/touch your face, and go about your business.

End of lecture. Visit www.cdc.gov if you're really having a panic.

27 April 2009

The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl

Instead of reading things I already own (and have started) I picked up a copy of Shauna Reid's The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl yesterday.

And read the whole thing in one sitting, all 400 pages of it. There's a lot of white space.

My "official" review is on the BN site. It's a good book - well-written, uplifting, inspiring. The addendum here is to confess my gloating when I started the book (thank God I'm not even remotely as fat as that) and serious jealously when I finished (bugger, she managed to get to her goal weight and find a nice guy who liked her before she got there) followed by wallowing in self-loathing for about half an hour about those dratted 40-50 pounds that seem to follow me around constantly.

Melissa needs to stop being a whiny bitch.

26 April 2009

Gearing up for Wives and Daughters

Oyez, oyez, the Literature by Women group at BNBC will be starting its discussion of Gaskell's Wives and Daughters on Monday April 27. This is a week ahead of the rest of the BNBC groups, due to my miscalculation, but it gives us an extra week because we'll finish on time with them at the end of May (and since this is a slightly longer book than normal for a one month pick we'll need it).

Be there or be square.

25 April 2009

"Smaller" doesn't mean "easier"

Customer: Do you have the Wicked book?
Me: Are you looking for the novel or the Grimmorie?
Customer: The novel?
Me: That'll be over in Fiction.
(make to take the customer over there and wait while Customer collects a pre-teen from the kids' section; I handed the customer a copy of the original trade edition)
Customer: This isn't a children's book?
Me: No, Gregory Maguire has a few childrens' books - Leaping Beauty, What-the-Dickens - but the Wicked Years series are all adult novels.
Customer: So what is the reading level?
Me: Well ...
(how do you say this nicely)
... since it's an adult novel it's written at least at the high school level.
Customer: Oh...she (nods at pre-teen) only reads at the 7th grade level...do you think this would be appropriate?
Me: Um, I think that's your decision since this is a book intended for an adult reader.
Customer: I guess we'll pass on this one, then. It looks too hard.
(about five minutes later the customer passes me and holds up a copy of the mass-market Broadway tie-in)
Customer: We decided to take this one. It's smaller.
(I smiled and pointed her toward the register)

Dude. Just because the actual size of the book is smaller doesn't make it any easier. It's the same in the trade as in the mass market.

But whatever floats your boat.

22 April 2009

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

I received a copy of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane as part of the First Look Book Club program at Barnes and Noble Book Clubs online (I'm a reader-moderator for the "Literature by Women" group, too). The book is due for release on June 9 and I am terribly pleased with myself because I actually managed to finish a First Look book. I gave up on the last three because I just wanted to throw the copies against the wall in boredom/frustration.

Now, this is a first novel so I was trying to cut the author some slack and not expect quite so much out of it (high expectations may have been a problem with the last several offerings). As such, Deliverance Dane is a nice book, good to read for the summertime, light, with a little bit of mystery, romance (not the sappy or erotic kind), and magic. Connie Goodwin is a good leading lady, smart, determined, and disciplined with the requisite goofy parent (or so Connie thinks). The novel follows Connie's progress through the summer of 1991 while she prepares her dissertation topic and simultaneously tries to clean up and sell her grandmother's old house. The two plot lines inevitably intertwine leading to the denouement of the novel.

It is quite hard to talk about the inner workings of Deliverance Dane without spoiling too much of the story. In my opinion, this is because the author has done too much foreshadowing early in the book and I'm not exactly sure where I should draw the line on spoilers. Suffice to say that I had the endgame of the book figured out quite early and, while the descriptive part of the narrative was very nice, I was bored by the last fifty pages (I did finish). I was probably helped along in my deciphering by a good working knowledge of alchemy - I am the NDC for Alpha Chi Sigma Professional Chemistry Fraternity - history, Latin, and witchcraft; at times I felt a little ahead of Connie which made her look like she ought not to deserve her doctoral candidacy in history at Harvard University.

Overall, Deliverance Dane is quite nice to read. Good for a hammock and some lemonade if you have any handy.

The Wars of the Roses

I finished The War of the Roses in what seems to have become a minor obsession with Alison Weir's histories and biographies. I decided that it would be better to read myself into the fifteenth century rather than jump straight into The Princes in the Tower. This is a book with a much different feel than the three previous Weirs I read; those all had a single subject, more or less, which gave a very intimate feel whereas The War of the Roses covers a period stretching from the deposition of Richard II to the final Yorkist victory of the War (about 100 years) and is more expansive in scope. There are more people to keep track of, too, what with fathers and sons sharing the same name and title (and you have to remember which title goes with which family). Weir includes a series of family trees in the back so if you get a little lost you can always double-check (I wish these weren't hand drawn, though; since this was a reprint edition the publisher could have had the genealogies re-formatted).

The book does center around the reigns of Henry VI and Edward IV so the most well-described figures surround those two monarchs. Henry comes off as a rather sympathetic character, a man more suited for the church than statesmanship, inheriting the crown by the age of one and raised by a pack of self-aggrandizing magnates who, rather than bringing the York contingent into the court circle, alienated them and set the stage for events to come. Margaret of Anjou, Henry's wife, is not an endearing person, is politically a disaster, and comes off quite mean-tempered and vengeful; I didn't get the feeling there was much to rehabilitate historically in Margaret, as opposed to Isabella, Eleanor, and Katherine, so perhaps Weir didn't bother. It is also a rather chilling book when you think back on all the deaths Weir had to record in the pages, from state-ordered executions and mob lynchings to brutal medieval battles; so many people.

On to The Princes in the Tower.

20 April 2009

No Nobel for words? I don't think so....

I hadn't read the Post this week so I was pointed in the direction of this article by the Elegant Variation blog by Mark Sarvas. Thanks!

Marie Arana, whose opinion I generally respect, wrote an op-ed piece calling for the elimination of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Oh, really?

Arana's main argument is that the "Nobel has shown a breathtaking proclivity for exalting minor literary talent. From first to last the choices have shown a lack of critical judgment and a surfeit of political zeal." She notes that the committee skipped over Tolstoy, Proust, Kafka, Borges, Conrad, Greene, and Nabokov and choose middling authors in-line with the committee's left-wing politics. Arana only notes two "native-born" leftist Americans who "wrested the laurels away" and won the prize: Steinbeck and Pearl S. Buck. She concludes by stating that she believes only 15 of the 105 winners deserved the prize.

Oh please. Only 15? At least half of the list is deserving of the award and some of the others I've never read so I can't make a judgement call regarding appropriateness of the award. I don't read French beyond tourist French so I only recently acquired a copy of a Le Clezio in English; similarly, a number of the initial Laureates were Swedish and long out of print so I can't make the call on those. I think some of this sentiment comes from the fact that non-English authors (and even non-American authors in the case of some Brits) have a hard time getting published, even translated, in the US. I can't speak for other countries and languages as to whether they consider some of their Laureates to be of "minor" talent.

And as to those lonely "native-born" leftist Americans? Did you forget about Toni Morrison (1993)? I don't think she's terribly right-wing. Sinclair Lewis (1930)? Eugene O'Neill (1936)? We also have Faulkner and Hemingway and claim Saul Bellow, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Czeslaw Milosz in part. None of them strikes me as terribly conservative. TS Eliot was born in the US and he's got an anti-Semitic streak (it's large or small, depending on the critic you read).

Yes, there are major authors who were very deserving of the award and skipped over (i.e. Edith Wharton, and that is a crying shame) but when you only award one award per year to an author that is living and expected to still write you're going to miss a few and there were a number of years where the prize was never awarded so we're short about seven Laureates. Arana also calls out missed novelists and seems to forget that the Nobel Prize for Literature goes beyond novelists to include poets and playwrights (she also called Steinbeck "merely average" which is a low blow; he might not be my favorite but he certainly is good). Pinter and Pirandello are both excellent playwrights and Heany and Walcott are both wonderful poets. I'd also like to add that you have to be nominated for the prize and that the nominees are kept secret for fifty years. This page at the Nobel website explains the process to a degree.

We also have to remember that the committee is making a judgement call on taste and ability. Absolutely no two humans on Earth will have the exact same opinions on taste or ability of another human. As my dad says, unless you're running against the clock (which is impartial) the judge will always be a partial observer.

In short, I think she's out of line and she sounds bitter. She must have had money on Updike to win the last one in 2008. As for myself, I'd rather try and read most of the Laureates' works before I pass judgement on all 105 of them (and that's going to take some time).

13 April 2009

The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club

I tend to be a bit guarded when referred titles that come from the new sub-genre of chick lit/knitting fiction; a number have the feeling that the plot has been recycled just so someone could add a main character who knits/learns to knit and then knitting/yarn/yarn shop/SnB saves the day. Hurrah. The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club (aka TBSKSAYC) gives the genre a whole new look. First off, Jo is written as a very confident woman and knitter who is able to turn a tragedy into a workable real-life solution; she comes across as someone you might want to know in real life, so kudos to Gil McNeil. The supporting characters are also wonderfully rendered, particularly Jo's two boys, who reminded me very much of my brothers when they were kindergarten-age, and Jo's wacky BBC-broadcaster/best friend Ellen. Secondly, I am very grateful to the publishers for not "translating" the Britishisms into Americanisms for the US publication; much of what gives the book it's "real" feeling is the language and the entire story would have deflated if the sense of place was lost. Even though the plot of TBSKSAYC does revolve somewhat around Jo's life as the new owner of a yarn shop, no previous knitting experience is required to enjoy the book; what makes the story sparkle are Jo's descriptions of her life, either dealing with the moving company, trying to get two rambunctious boys to eat all their veg, or dealing with the paparazzi when a glamorous movie star patronizes the shop (sometimes all three at once). TBSKSAYC is a perfect read for summer vacation, whether just lying about on a beach somewhere or just wishing that you were. Jo's story is endearing and you'll find yourself rooting for her when she goes toe-to-toe with PTA mom Annabel Morgan or Jo's snooty in-laws.
Thanks very much to Hyperion for sending me a review copy. I enjoyed the book.

No, it's not **#&$^* hard

If you want to get stabbed with a knitting needle, interrupt a knitter while she (he) is counting stitches or otherwise looking perfectly happy and ask them if what they're doing is hard.

No. It's not fucking hard. I'm knitting 1x1 rib while riding the bus. If it were hard I wouldn't be doing it at all. Small children in agricultural communities learn to knit socks at a very early age so they don't freeze to death while watching the sheep. It's most definitely not hard.

And piss off. I've got a headache.

12 April 2009

Frogs, frogs, frogs

Bollocks again.

I can't count - I thought 6 sets of 10 + 6 more stitches = 76.

Wrong. I get the fail whale for this poncho.

Unfortunately, I only realised this after I got the 3.5 inches of collar knitted up in rib, chased the cats out of the knitting bag three times, and tried to add the three new stitch markers that I found out I was 10 stitches short. No wonder it wouldn't really fit over my niece's head (she's three, so I figured if it fit her head it would fit a younger child).

I've now ripped the entire thing out, much to the amusements of the cats because I've done exactly what I yelled at them for (ripping out stitches), and I'm pretty sure I've got 76 stitches casted on now. I counted twice, saw there were only 66 (again) and added 10 more.

I think this poncho hates me.

11 April 2009

Knots, knots, knots


My new cotton yarn is trying to wind itself into knots while I knit. It's been giving me fits since I got home with it. The blue skein wouldn't wind itself up nicely - got all twisted on the swift and then the knob on the ball winder kept popping off. The white skein wound up beautifully. Joy. Then I casted on with the wrong color (white). Sigh. So I had to pull it off the needle and cast on with the other color (blue). Then Dante tried to make off with the skein of blue yarn - while I had it wrapped around my hand trying to get the 1x1 rib started.

Dante's hiding behind the bed now. He got yelled at.

And now that I've got about an inch knitted the yarn is trying to twist into snarls/knots. Sigh. At least this garment isn't for me - it's a poncho for one of my UIHC co-worker's granddaughter (she's only 18 months, the baby, that is). I finally got the handles crocheted onto the linen evening bag I was working on; the problem now is the dratted thing keeps gaping open so I'll need to make/purchase/sew on a fastener of some sort.

I forgot this part recently:
Current book-in-progress: Emma, Wives and Daughters, The Wars of the Roses, and The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (for First Look)
Current knitted item: Red socks and Karma's poncho
Current movie obsession: You've Got Mail (this is my go-to movie)
Current iTunes loop: I've been listening to audio books - Harry Potter #1 is currently playing in the car

09 April 2009

You have GOT to be kidding me!

So...I was browsing Netflix and went to add The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover to my queue.

It was only available as "Save" - what???

So I checked B&N....nope, not available new. Checked Alibris, thinking I could find a DVD or something that was used.

Nada. This is the search from Alibris. Note that the DVD copies purported to be sold by the dealers listed go for between $300 and $500 - for a DVD. Are you kidding me???? Why isn't this available??? Where do I line up to complain??

I mean, come on, this is Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon, Tim Roth, and I don't know who else. I've seen it listed on several "Best of" lists - this should be available on DVD.

I've been watching/reading...

If you've been following this blog for a while, you have undoubtedly noticed that I hoard books and never read as fast as I accumulate. I would need to be both unemployed and have a second brain to keep up with all the books I buy. Suffice to say, I've acquired more Alison Weir, The Prospector by J.M.G. le Clezio (finally), some Goethe in both English and German, biographies of Flannery O'Connor and John Cheever, Swedish thrillers, Charlotte Bronte's The Foundling, some pieces of literary theory/criticism, and a few advance copies. I also went to the library and picked up some books on Austen criticism and who knows when I'll have time to read those. My eyeballs are going to fall out of my head.

I recently finished Queen Isabella by Alison Weir. Isabella is a slightly less sympathetic character than Eleanor of Aquitaine (and certainly far less sympathetic than Katherine Swynford) but I think Weir does a good job of fleshing out Isabella's motives and reasons for her actions. There are more letters and writs available to Weir in establishing Isabella's character than either of the two previous Weir subjects I read; for all the blame history has heaped on Isabella for the deposition and murder of Edward II she really was a wronged wife. I don't think many of us would have behaved quite so well when being slighted for one's royal husband's greedy favorites (and possibly lovers). Aside from a period of greed and avariciousness that occurred after Isabella invaded England (while she and Mortimer were ruling England during Edward III's minority), she really does come across as a naturally-talented diplomat. I was going to jump directly to Weir's The Princes in the Tower but I think it would be better to read into the period with The Wars of the Roses.

Tonight I had a bit of a movie night and finished off two movies. I had Love is the Devil about half-way done and managed to finish it off. Francis Bacon is a terribly unsympathetic character, much like George finds out, but there is a certain sympathy to understanding the push-pull of that relationship. To me the film truly looks like a work of art and there are two outstanding scenes. The first is in Muriel's club, only about 15 minutes or so into the film, where most of the scene is shot through rounded glass and it gives a remarkably distorted fish-eye effect. The second concerns George's suicide scene and it is directly modelled after some of Bacon's paintings including the Black Triptych; the red cage surrounding what is supposed to be the bathroom gives the whole scene the look of a piece of performance art and it is wonderfully acted by Daniel Craig as George. Speaking of acting, Sir Derek Jacobi is absolutely fantastic; fantastic. This isn't an easy movie to watch (it does make you feel unsettled because of the way it is shot and the graphic fantasy sequences) but the actors' performances are worth it.

I also watched Vicky Christina Barcelona; I was pretty sure I was going to hate it but I actually liked it far more than I expected because I hadn't been terribly impressed with the last few Woody Allen films. This is probably the first movie I've seen with Scarlett Johansson where I thought she did quite well; usually, I think she's overpaid. I didn't particularly like the ending, too vague for my taste, but I thought the film was beautiful (being shot in Barcelona with all the architecture and countryside makes it easy). Penelope Cruz was fantastic as looney Maria Elena and truly deserved her Oscar. Javier Bardem....hot, just hot, and also a good actor. The music was beautiful and I hope the soundtrack has all the music used in the film, including some of the guitar tracks, because I loved it. I was also moved to have some wine; did anyone else think those were ginormous wine glasses? Oh, and I almost forgot the least enjoyable part of watching this movie - the voice over....was it necessary?

I sniggled my Netflix queue around so I should get Time Bandits and Scenes of a Sexual Nature next. Unless I change my mind in the next 24 hours. I also have Quantum of Solace (purchased last week) so I can watch Daniel Craig as much as I want but, unfortunately, not in his birthday suit (an added bonus to watching Love is the Devil).

05 April 2009

Re-reading "Emma"

Alright dudes and dudettes....

If you have read Jane Austen's Emma, or are currently reading Emma, please come participate on the BNBC Literature by Women board this month. Emma is the subject, questions and comments are appreciated. And I'm sure deb and Choisya would like some other posters, too.

I usually have more than enough Austen fans to shake a stick at when dear old Jane is the topic but they're pretty scarce on the ground so far. I bust my *** for Austen stuff so come join in!

03 April 2009

And in other news...

...of the weird variety.

The familiy that went on Dr. Phil and bragged about shoplifting $100,000 of merchandise then selling it on eBay is now under investigation. I guess the original show aired using a clip where it showed them using their three children (?????). What gets me is that did the shoplifting family assume that law-enforcement agencies ignore what is aired on television? It would seem that showing video of yourself stealing would be primo bait for investigators.

And we are still more freaked out by the Octo-mom.

It's a great day to be an Iowan

Today the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that defining marriage as a union only between a man and a woman violated the state Constitution. So - Varnum vs. Brien stands.


We might be a farming state but we've always been at the front-end of the civil rights movements (women's rights, segregation) and we're still there.

02 April 2009

No thanks, I'm not interested in a cure.

Did I mention that I have acquired a BlackBerry?

That would sort-of explain my lack of posts for the last two weeks or so...I'm just a little addicted. It's totally awesome because I finally figured out how to get all my email addresses lined up so they download to my BlackBerry. Huzzah! Plus I can update Twitter and read the paper and Fictionwise made an eReader (not that I'm doing that much hard-core reading, the screen isn't very large)....can you tell that it's the new favorite toy? And apparently you can use a mobile Blogger - not sure I want to enable my addiction any more right now...but I might in the future. My cats have taken a dislike to the BlackBerry because it buzzes when new messages come in; I caught Dante hissing at it the other day. I guess he'll have to get used to it, just like he has to get used to that new diet cat food he hates but since he's a fatso he has to eat it anyway.

Speaking of cats, everyone please send "Go home Kingsley" vibes toward Buffalo. My friend Kate's cat, Kingsley, managed to escape through a busted screen the other week and, while there have been Kingsley sightings, the cat is just a tad faster than my friend and remains at large. So - Kingsley, go home! Your mommy is worried! Cooper is, too!

In other dimensions of my existence, I still harbor an ongoing dislike of certain people I work with (who are stupid and should be fired) at both the research job and the bookstore gig. How someone can remain employed at a bookstore while unable alphabetize by author's last name is beyond me. I also have a new theory regarding the behavior of one of the managers - said manager likes to employ brain-dead people because brain-dead people remain in an infantile state and are easily bossed around by said manager and anyone else who happens to be in the area. Said manager dislikes those of use who actually have a functioning brain because we don't take crap off anyone, particularly said manager. As regards people I dislike at the research job, let's just say it's still the same person.

In happier news, I received a review copy of a book from Hyperion: The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club. I'm a bit chuffed because I was expecting an ARC and lo, I got an actual, real copy of the book, ISBN barcode and all. I've got the first chapter down (and it reads quite well) but I can just say that if Hyperion had retained the original UK title, Divas Don't Knit, I would have run away screaming.