31 January 2010

BNBC LbW February 2010: A Tree Grows in Brookyn

Join us over on the Barnes and Noble Book Clubs "Literature by Women" forum as we read and discuss Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn during the month of February.  We will also be starting nominations for our next set of titles.  Come join us!

Beowulf and Grendel


Yeah, Stellan Skarsgard running around on a rock as Hrothgar trying to lure out Grendel.  Pretty awful.

Beowulf has become a Glaswegian.

Oh, dear - now there's an Irish priest, Father Brendan. 

And a witch (really?) who both looks and sounds out of place (Sarah Polley).

Welcome to Beowulf and Grendel, circa 2005.  It's pretty bad and I'm totally going to throw some SPOILERS in this review...so consider yourself warned if you'd really, really like to watch this movie regardless of what I have to say.

You know, the most atrocious thing about this movie is the use of accents.  Skarsgard is Swedish and many of the second cast are of Norse extraction and they sound more like what you would expect to hear from a pack of Danes around 525AD.  Eddie Marsan, who has a London accent normally, does a very convincing Irish accent as Father Brendan. However, Sarah Polley brings an American/Canadian accent, Tony Curran and Gerard Butler are heavy on the Scots, and Ronan Vibert is Welsh.  So it sounds more like the Angles and the Saxons have come to purge Hrothgar's kingdom of Grendel (who's wearing a really terrible hairy suit that looks like rubber with fuzz on) instead of the Geats or any other Norse tribe.  The major actors in this film are all talented so the producers and director should have spent more money on the dialect coaching.  Or hired someone since it sounds like they spent no money at all.

The scenery of this movie is beautiful (Iceland subs in for pre-Christian Denmark) and is really the only redeeming thing.  The adaptation of the Beowulf poem is terrible.  It's like the screenwriter tried to hew to the Beowulf storyline, but add some modern ethics for modern audiences, too (because heaven forbid an epic warrior be just that - a warrior), and Grendel's sea hag-mom popped out of the sea and got him/her so the point of the movie remains unresolved.  The story really doesn't move forward well and we're stuck watching an increasingly intoxicated Hrothgar wax philosophical over the curse of Grendel (aka Troll, because that's what they call him) that has befallen his kingdom...and then Hrothgar converts to Christianity.  Oh, and Grendel fathered a son because he knocked up Sarah Polley's witch...is there supposed to be a Grendel II or did Beowulf's funeral stele appease Grendel's mini-me and avert all the bloodshed?

This movie could have been a whole lot better in many ways so if you want a good story read Beowulf in the Heaney translation or listen to an Anglo-Saxon language recording; if you want to watch a more entertaining movie watch The 13th Warrior (itself a terrible example of cinema but I find it entertaining).

29 January 2010

Howard Zinn, 1922-2010, and JD Salinger, 1919-2010 (aka that "Saliva guy"* who died)

Howard Zinn died this week.  Howard Zinn is responsible for writing the second "grouchy" book I ever read - A People's History of the United States (first "grouchy" book goes to And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts).  I picked up A People's History because I was hoping it would have a little more background than the version of history taught in school.  Boy, was I surprised.  This was the first time I ever realized what "Banana Republic" meant, why Iran might not quite love the United States, how the "empire" of the United States was built.  Imperialism isn't taught in high school (at least not in the mid-1990s), not even as a topic of debate.  I was righteouly angry, once again, that the people who make up the United States had been dumped on by an elitist government (and people who didn't even live in the United States had been dumped on).  Grouch, grouch, grouch.

Does A People's History have bias?  Yes.  However, if the purpose of the book was to get people thinking about the effect of US policies on the lowest echelons on society, those with the fewest opportunities available, A People's History did just that.  Zinn used source material that brings the voices of Native Americans, women, and immigrants to the surface - he championed the history of those who were politically and economically disenfranchised. 

Zinn came to speak at the University of Iowa in the fall of 2005.  The IMU Main Lounge was packed front to back, standing-room-only in the doorways to watch a stooped, elderly man in a sweater vest and enormous reading glasses speak about "voice".  Making our voices heard, becoming aware of voices that were silent.  It takes far more courage to speak out and do the unpopular thing than it does to stand by and remain silent.  Zinn even made a joke that he had never been introduced by a University president because he tended to rile up the students (the UI is no stranger to social activism; the students set up a tent city on the Pentacrest to oppose US entry into Iraq and Afghanistan).  Zinn signed books for quite some time after his speech.  When I got to the front of the line he commented on my dog-eared, battered copy of A People's History, asking if the writing tasted good because I had obviously got my teeth into it (I said it tasted like brain food; he laughed).

Also, while we remember a man unable to remain silent we also remember a man who stubbornly refused his comment.  JD Salinger died only a few hours after Zinn; he was 91 (wow).  I don't have any commentary or personal story for Salinger on the occasion of his death.  Because he hadn't published or granted interviews in decades (rumor has it he kept writing; will we ever see it, I wonder?), his death doesn't affect me quite as much as Zinn's.  I put Salinger in the same box as Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald - "wrote good books, will never get to meet" (as opposed to Kurt Vonnegut, who kept writing books and I would have got down on the ground to kiss his feet had I met him) - so it's kind of like Salinger had died in 1980, the year of his last interview and long before I ever read The Catcher in the Rye.  However, I raise a glass to the work Salinger left behind and plan to dig out my copy of Catcher for a long-overdue reread.

*Overheard on my way into the bookstore this morning; one ditzy girl was commenting to another ditzy girl about how "some Saliva guy that wrote a book about baseball died and everyone is talking about it".  A depressingly sad but unavoidably overheard statement.  I think I tripped over the rug while collecting my jaw off the floor.

The Life of Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I remains one of the iconic figures of British history - the clothes, the china-white skin, the refusal/inability to marry, the events of her reign that shaped the future of her country.  Even during her lifetime the persona of Elizabeth, gloriana regina, overshadowed the woman Elizabeth.  I always thought she was austere, regal, scary....turns out she was capricious and hot-tempered in her private life.

Like all the other Weir biographies I've devoured over the past year this one is well-written and easy to read.  Alison Weir's The Life of Elizabeth I brings the private life of "the Virgin Queen" to the forefront.  Yes, Britain's navy prospered during her reign.  Yes, she avoided open war with Spain.  Yes, she exhibited a tolerance of religion as long as subjects outwardly conformed to the Anglican faith; she also manged to gain the admiration and respect of Catholic rulers, a true feat when the Pope had declared her excommunicate.  But she really was an awful flirt and prone to jealous fits; her male courtiers didn't usually bring their wives to court and she exacted revenge on those who dared marry without her consent (the wives usually suffered the most).  She also prolonged any marriage negotiations, most past the point of practicability, using myriad stall tactics and diversions to avoid committing herself to actually answering the nagging question: who and when would she marry?

Although Elizabeth is depicted as a strong ruler, one who tried to keep her spending down and rule with Parliament and her Council, she does seem to ascribe to the contemporary belief that a woman was incapable of ruling without a husband (sixteenth-century medical theory also opined that a woman required a husband to remain sexually normal and avoid mental intability).  I said "seems" because, as Weir points out, Elizabeth was known for keeping her own counsel.  Unlike her half-brother, Edward VI, she did not keep a diary and vascillated for quite some time before making major decisions.  She never seemed to express her personal opinions, only those of "the monarch".  Weir brings up the idea that marriage in general may have been distasteful to Elizabeth (not surprising given the marital history of her parents, step-parents, and half-sister); it's not unimaginable to think that Elizabeth never meant to marry but, knowing the decision to remain unmarried would be universally unpopular, invented her stall tactics to hide her true intention.  We'll never know.

There is one thing about Elizabeth I think people forget - she was a scholar.  Her father and guardians had the good sense (and foresight) to have her educated very well, as befitted a "prince" (a word that comes up frequently since female monarchs ruling in their own right are so very rare).  Her education began very early and she was known to be a precocious child (I mentioned the Tudor precocity in my review of The Children of Henry VIII).  I am in awe of her education; rhetoric, theology, Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, music and all started at an age where children of the twenty-first century are learning ABCs.  I wouldn't have wanted to match wits with her in any circumstance but I would have loved to discuss with her the books she read.

Next up in the Weir obsession (almost over): Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley

Current book-in-progress: The Mathematics of Sex (needs to be returned soon)
Current knitted item: baby sweater
Current movie obsession: Peter Pan
Current iTunes loop: Filmspotting

28 January 2010


Back in November Rebecca Skloot put out a tweet asking for readers/reviewers to contact her if they were interested in a book on the philosophy of illness from a professor in the UK.  I responded, got the author's contact information from Rebecca, and a package containing Illness: The Cry of the Flesh arrived in December. 

Havi Carel writes about the phenomenology of illness from two perspectives: as a professor of philosophy and as a woman diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening illness.  In 2006 Dr. Carel was diagnosed with lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), a sporadically occuring disease caused by spontaneous proliferation of smooth muscle cells in the lungs, blood vessels, and lymphatics; LAM strikes almost exclusively among women in their childbearing years.  There is no effective treatment available with lung transplantation recommended as a palliative treatment when a patient's pulmonary function significantly declines.

Now, having read Dr. Carel's book I'm sure she doesn't appreciate my effortless ability to reduce her life to a summary of symptoms and dismal treatment options.  It's a habit (sorry).  I'm researcher in hospital epidemiology and I can abstract a PMH/ROS (past medical history and review of systems) with the best of them.  I don't usually see patients so I just sit in my office and read charts looking for quantifiable information - dates, numbers, symptoms - I can translate into statistics.  However, when actually working with patients (or even interacting with friends undergoing a significant illness) reducing a person to first a disease then to a symptom list and prognosis doesn't do the ill person any favors.

That is exactly the point of Illness, to find a way to bring phenomenology into the normativist and naturalistic philosophies of chronic illness.  Phenomenological approaches to illness focus on the "experience of being ill: illness as it is lived by the ill person" (p 12).  This is actually quite useful because we all experience illness differently.  The same biological markers of a disease will cause quite different experiences in two individuals.  Dr. Carel uses the philosophies of Martin Heidegger and Epicurus to show how a phenomenological approach allows a chronically ill person to find health within illness and to allow oneself to be both ill and happy.  She also uses her own experience as a chronically-ill person to illustrate those concepts. 

Although it is a work of philosophy, Illness is meant to be read by people from all walks of life: layman, friend, colleague, healthcare worker.  The writing is clear, concise, and thoughtful.  Philosophical concepts are well-defined and illustrated with many examples.  The clarity of Dr. Carel's writing is most apparent in Chapter 4, "Fearing death"; she uses the work of Epicurus (who argued that a fear of death is irrational) to examine how an ill person should prepare for death, how to have an fully-lived life while accepting one's remaining time is limited.  While reading this section of Illness I kept thinking of my maternal grandmother who in all probability never read a work of philosophy in her life but would have agreed with Epicurus.  Grandma was diagnosed with mutliple myeloma when I was twelve and fought her disease for seven years but the treatment options ran out during my freshman year of college.  Did she sit around, moping and moaning that she had very little time left?  If she did, she never let us see it (I think her own mother would have come back to haunt her if she had).  We still had Christmas with all the trimmings, greeting cards on the holidays (the messages written in an ever-shakier hand), and those ever-present inquiries into how school was coming along (I spent a weekend studying calculus in the ICU when she was very ill one week; the first question she asked me was whether or not I'd done well on my last exam).  She never expressed any fear of "the undiscovered country" - she died quietly and with dignity.

This has been a hard review to write and I've been working on it for over a week; I very much liked Illness and am very grateful to Rebecca, Dr. Carel, and Acumen Publishing for the information and review copy.  Illness has made me reflect on professional and personal experiences and to look at my interactions with ill people in a different light.  We can all use a book like Illness - we all know someone with a serious illness and there is a great likelihood that most of us will personally develop chronic medical disease before we die.  I think Illness would be of great benefit to medical curriculae in particular. "Empathy" is always stressed during training but I think Dr. Carel's work would help healthcare workers understand how to integrate empathy for the ill person with medical care for the biology of the actual disease. 

Current book-in-progress: What are Intellectuals Good For?, The Omnivore's Dilemma, and The Lightning Thief
Current knitted item: baby sweater
Current movie obsession: Gosford Park
Current iTunes loop: John Mayer

26 January 2010

Teaser Tuesday: The Omnivore's Dilemma

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers
When George Naylor's grandfather was farming, the typical Iowa farm was home to whole families of different plant and animal species, corn being only the fourth most common.  Horses were the first, because every farm needed working animals (there were only 225 tractors in all of American in 1920), followed by cattle, chickens, and then corn.
~ Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Part Two, Chapter 3

20 January 2010

The Children of Henry VIII

Remember my minor Alison Weir obsession last year?

It's back - still going strong and able to keep me up reading late.  The next entry in Weir's Tudor chronology was The Children of Henry VIII, a bit of a misnomer because Lady Jane Grey was most certainly not Great Harry's child and Henry's actual bastard children aren't mentioned in this volume.  Perhaps The Heirs of Henry VIII would be more accurate but it's not quite as catchy.

The Children of Henry VIII picks up the thread of each Tudor heir's life in turn - Mary, Elizabeth, Edward, and Jane - before weaving their stories together at Edward's accession on the death of Henry VIII January, 28, 1547.  Whatever was in the Tudor genes it made incredibly intelligent children out of all four of them.  All are noted to be precocious scholars, learning and becoming proficient at multiple languages, accomplished musicians (not so much Edward), and uncannily aware of the political and religious situations of the mid-sixteenth century.  Much was expected of Tudor heirs (they all had very esteemed tutors) but the natural ability was there.

This was the most engaging Weir, yet.  I think because the subjects were young and there is a lot of action during this period it makes the subject matter far more compelling.  Each of the Tudors are treated sympathetically but also matter-of-factly; quite a bit of information is given regarding Mary's enthusiasm for rooting out Protestantism, her stubborn insistence that burning heretics will eventually bring the rest around, and Weir makes no excuses for that behavior while building sympathy for Mary as a traditionalist woman who desperately wanted to become a mother.  The most sympathetic character in the whole, messy succession drama is Lady Jane Grey.  Talk about being used as a political pawn; she would have been unbelievably happy to stay in the country, to read and study alone, rather than being forced into marriage and the crown, ultimately losing her life (and her head).

The Children of Henry VIII ends with the death of Mary Tudor in 1558.  The Tudor history picks up again with The Life of Elizabeth I and that's where I'll be heading next.

17 January 2010

Speak (times two)

Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak was on the schedule for January as the first book of the new year for our little bookseller bookclub.  I've had a copy lurking about on my bookshelves for a while and I'm so very glad it was Jackie's pick for the group.  Speak is a book that always comes up in conversation with teens and teachers so I was happy to have a good reason to catch up on good YA literature.

Miranda Scordino narrates in the first person, taking the reader through her first year of high school, a year that was supposed to be fun but is now a mine-field of ostracism and indifference.  She is very frank in her feelings, her thoughts play out in prose, scripted dialogue, and lists (the "First Ten Lies They Tell You in High School" are, sadly, very true).  She gives her classmates and teachers nicknames (Hairwoman is an apt name) and she rebels against her parents efforts to "normalize" her.  The one thing from Speak that stays with me is Miranda's voice - she has an authentic voice, she sounds like a young teen, one who has been traumatized but remains very observant of her school and peers.  Even though Miranda can't "speak" about what happened she learns to begin expressing herself through art; the construction of the turkey-bone sculpture is a poignant scene.

Speak is a book that shows serious subjects - date rape and depression - presented in a format accessible to a younger audience.  It isn't graphic either in imagery or in language, you can hear and see far worse at any movie rated PG-13.  When Miranda finally flashes back to the assault her memories are disjointed, all the images are jumbled together so we are left to fill in the gaps and imagine the worst.  What disturbs me the most about Speak is that no one really wants to get behind the changes in her behavior; her parents are absorbed in their work, outside of the art teacher the rest of the teaching staff aren't concerned about her beyond her grade, her friends don't even bother to ask why she called 911 and abandon her the same way the rest of the school does.  Miranda displays many of the symptoms of PTSD and yet no one seems to care that she has gone from relatively normal to withdrawn, depressed, and nearly mute in the space of a few weeks.  It does seem to be a common theme; one edition of Speak contains a poem Laurie Halse Anderson wrote based on letters she received from teen readers, some of them confessions of assaults that no one ever knew about.  Miranda helped them "speak" and it shows the power in the novel.

I also, for the life of me, really can't quite figure out why Speak winds up being challenged/censored by school districts.  It is an honest book, but not graphically so; compared with The Lovely Bones, which opens with a graphic and harrowing scene of the rape and murder of a similarly-aged heroine, Speak does not fill the reader with terror.  Anderson comments on challenges often on her blog so I have developed a little insight - most challenges to Speak revolve around the assault, because it's the S-word (omg, sex!) - but it still boggles the mind.  The focus of the book isn't an overly graphic play-by-play assault sequence but Miranda's journey back from the trauma of the assault.  Clearly, people are missing the point and they would rather have ignorant kids instead of intelligent ones who stand up for themselves.

Our little book group tends to pick books that have been adapted for the silver screen so we can have a chat-and-movie night (failing any adaptations of a chosen book we just pick a movie we want to watch).  Speak was adapted into a 2004 movie starring Kristen Stewart and an oddly-cast-but-works-very-well Steve Zahn as the art teacher.  Kristen Stewart was very good as Melinda; I'm impressed.  I ragged on her performance as Bella Swan because it was some pretty flat acting but this movie shows that she does have talent.  She also has far more emotional material to work with when playing Melinda as opposed to playing Bella.  The adaptation from Speak the novel to Speak the movie is one of the best I've seen in years.  The screenwriter manages to keep Miranda's inner monologue and "voice" going throughout the movie which, being the focus of the book, goes a long way toward a faithful adaptation.  Anderson makes a cameo appearance as one of the cafeteria servers.

Current book-in-progress: What are Intellectuals Good For?, A Jury of Her Peers, The Omnivore's Dilemma, The Lightning Thief, and A Tree Growns in Brooklyn
Current knitted item: baby sweater
Current movie obsession: The History of Britain
Current iTunes loop: Glee!

16 January 2010

Sherlock Holmes

After snivelling all morning over Harry Potter dying in World War I (see review of My Boy Jack) I took myself to the movie theatre for a good time with Sherlock Holmes.  I needed entertaining and got it in spades.

It was a fun two hours watching Robert Downey, Jr., and Jude Law solve an apparent supernatural mystery that threatened the very heart of British government.  The two leads had a very good rapport on screen, much akin to the Odd Couple, and clearly had a lot of fun while making this movie.  I liked the not-quite steampunk vibe used throughout the movie, the setting just on the cusp of exiting the Victorian age and entering the twenty-first century.  It also helped rough up the Holmes character, getting away from the stuffy plaid deerstalker hat and acknowledging the vices Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gave to his sleuth and sidekick.  In addition, Guy Ritchie and the effects/stunt designers did a great job on two slow-motion action sequences when Holmes describes what he does step-by-step....and then does it (I would have liked to have that effect return later in the film rather than used twice in the first 20 minutes then no more throughout the remainder).

I was glad to see the Irene Adler character (played by Rachael MacAdams) wasn't so ditzy as the previews made her out to be; some of the preview scenes were not in the movie so that did help.  Adler appears in only one Holmes short story and, while I thought the romantic development was cute, I was happy to see the intelligence of the character retained.  Mark Strong (who I really can only place as the gentlemanly Mr. Knightley in the Kate Beckinsale version of Emma) does crazy aristocratic villains very well and was a good addition to the story in the form of Lord Blackwood. 

My only real criticism of this movie is the actual plot.  While there is an actual story arc (beginning-middle-end) in this movie, I really felt like it was a two-hour teaser for the next Sherlock Holmes movie.  The introduction of the well-known Holmes nemesis/arch-villain Moriarty (which is no secret) makes it clear Ritchie always intended to make a follow-up to this movie.  That serves to make the Blackwood plot in this movie secondary to the Moriarty introduction needed for the next movie.  The movie is great fun to watch but I would have liked to see more closure with the Blackwood plot (i.e. the hangers-on seem to be left out).

Preview goodies (and there were plenty):
1.  Remember Me - New RPatz vehicle with Emilie de Ravin; jury's still out on whether or not I care much about this one until I see Little Ashes (releasing on DVD this month)
2.  The Sorcerer's Apprentice - I have no desire to watch some awful Nicholas Cage vehicle make a mockery of Goethe's poem (Der Zauberlehrling) with some kooked-up "I'm going to teach you how to use your powers for good" modern garbage interpolated; also, Nicholas Cage looks pretty much the same as he does in every other movie he makes these days, i.e. he looks stupid
3.  From Paris With Love - Cue-ball-bald John Travolta as a shoot-'em-up CIA agent with Jonathan Rhys Myers playing baby-sitter...are you kidding?  Just...no.
4.  Robin Hood - Something tells me this Robin Hood will speak with an English accent (hahahahahaha), but, seriously, I think this looks to be a good time; plus there's Cate Blanchett and Matthew MacFadyen
5.  Inception - Leonardo di Caprio kinda leaves me cold, however, this looks to be a really good psycholocial concept with some IMAX effects
6.  Clash of the Titans - Can you say AWESOME??!??!!? I love the 1981 version but I really want to see what it looks like with the CGI effects we have these days (bonus: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and all sorts of other cool people)

I arrived in the middle of Remember Me so I'm hoping it was the first one, otherwise I missed a preview for Iron Man II (which I was told was running in front of Sherlock Holmes - which makes sense with Robert Downey, Jr., playing the title character of each).

*Edit: I saw this again with a good friend because we were both bored....and there was NOTHING else at the movie theatre we wanted to watch.  It was a second viewing for both of us and this one definitely has re-watchability appeal; it was still a lot of fun to watch.

My Boy Jack

I missed My Boy Jack when it was on PBS (boo) and quickly added it to my Netflix queue.  I'd heard good things about the film (Carey Mulligan and Daniel Radcliffe are in it) and I'd liked Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Books and Just-So Stories as a child (colonial imperialist leanings aside).  I knew a little about the events surrounding the Kipling family in World War I.  I also knew this was originally a play by David Haig, who played Kipling both on stage and in this film, and that the film does not contain the last act of the play.

I took me four months to actually watch this movie because I knew it would be sad.  I sat down to watch it on a Saturday morning and just sobbed through the last 30 minutes of the film.  The script has a great deal of poignancy and relevance; the actors' performances were very good, particularly David Haig who has obviously had plenty of time to hone his performance of Rudyard Kipling.  Dan did very well but he has a very unique way of speaking and sometimes it breaks through the character he is playing; it's not detrimental now but it could be a problem in the future once the Harry Potter series is over and done with.  The best scene in the whole movie comes when a soldier from Jack's unit comes to tell the family what happened; the actors playing the Kiplings are so quiet throughout, silently crying, that the inerpolated flashbacks from the Battle of Loos carry that much more weight.
At the end of the film, Rudyard Kipling recites "My Boy Jack" to King George V, whose youngest son John had recently died of epilepsy, aged 13 (several years become compressed in the film):
“Have you news of my boy Jack?”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!
It's such a sad little poem but coming at the end of the movie, read orally, it becomes a heart-wrenching summary of the Kipling's search for their son.

15 January 2010

Bookspotting: January 15, 2010

Bookspotting's been pretty thin since Mother Nature decided we should get a taste of temperatures best suited for latitudes north of the Arctic Circle. No one was reading on the bus (except me) and absolutely NO ONE was reading at the bus stop. Not even me. I was focused on not developing frostbite. Now that we've returned to somewhat more humane winter temperatures a few readers are emerging from hibernation.

Nora Roberts Irish Born
Dragonlance, no idea of title but did recognize the logo on the spine
The Nanny Diaries
Two hardcovers in stretchy covers

And what was I reading? The Omivore's Dilemma

A little "green" to cheer me up

Now that we're into the dull gray January/February days it's hard to remember that the green of spring is coming.

Particularly for me.  Spring and fall are my favorite times of year - pollen allergies aside - because I like the changes.  Summer and winter are static and dull for me so a bright tote bag that reminds me of spring can lift my spirits in a heartbeat.

I'm also a bit of a bag whore.

We recieved Sarah Wilkins's new "Book Tree" tote this week and I immediately had to purchase it.  Not only is the graphic of books and trees lovely but the color is a bright spring-y green.  Perfect for toting my laptop, books, and nook through the winter-gray slush.

14 January 2010

The Betrayal of the Blood Lily

My sister-in-law got me hooked on Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series.  True story.  In October 2006 we visited my grandfather for his 80th birthday and I was reading The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield while she was reading Lauren's first novel, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.  We spent a good portion of one afternoon trying to sneak looks at one another's books.  We must have looked so silly.  Her birthday was a few weeks later so I surprised my SIL with a signed copy of The Thirteenth Tale and followed it up with Willig's next two books, The Masque of the Black Tulip and The Deception of the Emerald Ring for Christmas (there are advantages to having booksellers in the family).  My SIL had me hooked because I bought the first three Pink novels for myself and went on to stalk Lauren's website.

The sixth Pink Carnation installment, The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, went on sale January 12...and I finished reading it at 3:30am January 13.  There's something about Lauren's plots and characters that makes her books gobble-them-up good; both the modern and Regency characters are very likeable and that's always a good way to hook the reader.  Blood Lily is particularly interesting because the Regency plot centers around one Lady Frederick Staines, nee Miss Penelope Devereaux, who engineered a marriage to "Freddie" by getting "caught" canoodling in a bedroom during a party in The Temptation of the Night Jasmine (Pink V); Pen and the dillettante Freddie have been packed off to India to let the scandal surrounding their marriage die down.  Meanwhile, modern grad student Eloise begins to piece Colin's family history together as their first Valentine's Day approaches.

Well, like any good Pink Carnation book there's mystery, intrigue, murder, handsome officers (this time in the form of Captain Alex Reid, not that Freddie's ugly or anything), and French spies with flowery names - our friend the Marigold from Night Jasmine appears in person.  There's also an amazingly strong central character in Penelope.  Pen isn't your typical Society lady; she would prefer to ride than lounge, she has no patience for the "niceties" offered to "feminine sensibilities", and she has deadly aim with a pistol.  Strong women are Lauren's best characters (oh, she does very capable heroes, too): Amy is passionate and courageous, Jane possesses unmatched intelligence and grace under pressure, Henrietta is fearless, Letty is practical, stubborn, and resourceful (she's my favorite), Mary has a calculating political mind, and Charlotte, for all her sheltered naievete, has the biggest heart (even Eloise, who isn't quite the heroine of her own story, yet, is a graduate student taking on quite a bit in her dissertation topic).  Pen is a bit of a departure because she is easily the most flawed Pink heroine; she does not value herself as a whole person, having learned her ability to attract and tease can bring a bit of fun, and she learns how to be loved for herself as a person not just for the value of her dowry or her father's horse-breeding ability. 

The only drawback to Blood Lily is the title - for the life of me I can't quite figure out how the Blood Lily ties in with the title.  "Betrayal" and loyalty are big themes in the book (the modern and Regency plots mirror one another in theme), so I get that part, but I didn't catch any Blood Lily references so I guess I'll have to do a re-read.  In truth, the last Pink book with a good title-plot relationship was The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, which was a very neat reference to a major character and you had to be reading close to catch it.

Now having devoured Lauren's latest offering I find myself reading back through the first five Pink Carnation books.  My favorite still remains Emerald Ring because Letty is me (only I have dark hair) and I love how she becomes integrated with the activities of the Pink Carnation, her practicality earning her the respect, and eventually love, of Geoff.  Running second is Crimson Rose, featuring Letty's older sister Mary and the enigmatic Lord Vaughn; I find that Blood Lily is right up there with Crimson Rose and only a re-read can decide who gets the #2 spot (Letty is stubbornly refusing to budge).  I only have to worry about re-reading until about October or so when Lauren provides us all with a little Christmas cheer in the form of Turnip Fitzhugh and The Mischief of the Mistletoe - Pink VII should be arriving after the New Year in 2011 (no title as yet - this is why Lauren's website gets quite a stalking some days).

13 January 2010

"Which translation?": There is a reason why...

If a customer comes to the information desk looking for Don Quixote, The Brothers Karamazov, Death in Venice, or The Inferno (or any other non-English language work of literature) I will always ask "Are you looking for a particular translation?"  The most common response: *blink, blink*  So off we go to the shelves to look at whatever stock I've got on hand.  It is the rare customer who asks "Do you have the Grossman translation of Don Quixote?" or "Is the new Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace available in paperback?", made even rarer by the fact that those customers can usually find their own books and are really only checking with me to see if a copy is just hiding in the stockroom.

Given that we're situated in a college town, many students come to our store to buy their books rather than waste their life standing in the interminable check-out line at the University bookstore (doesn't matter if you have them pull your books for you ahead of time, you still have to wait in line approximately one hour if you wait to buy your books after 9am on the first day of term).  So I have learned to ask customers if they have a preference in translation; it does avoid hassle later on when a student learns they've purchased the very pretty Penguin Deluxe edition of Swann's Way, translated by Lydia Davis, when they really need the Moncrieff-Kilmartin translation.  Trust me, that can turn into a serious problem on the sales floor (i.e. tears).  I also have a tendency to quiz the heck out of students when they have no idea which translation is needed; if they're bound and determined to buy a copy right then and there I'm going to try and figure out which translation they'll need.  In a related customer service quest, I have also seriously confused a customer by asking if they needed a Spanish or English edition of 100 Years of Solitude (Marquez does crop up frequently in Spanish-language literature courses in the original).

Why is the issue of translation so important?  Why is it so important to me and why should I care?  Well, in the most superficial instance, it's an attempt to provide good customer service.  I can specifially search for the Lattimore translation of The Odyssey to see if a copy is on hand rather than just dragging the customer over to the poetry section to have a rummage through the shelves only to find *oopsie* we just don't have one in stock and dragging said customer back to the desk to order one.  Also, if the customer is really looking for a book in the original language I need to know before we head to the shelves; we have Death in Venice in a couple of different translations but Der Tod in Venedig has to be ordered from the warehouse (I don't have quite this problem with newer literature - the copyrights are still in place so there's usually just one, maybe two, translations available for authors like Saramago, Kundera, and Murakami).

The more in-depth reason is that I would like the customer/reader (and by extension the recipient/reader, if the book is a gift) to read and like the book that is purchased.  Very few people have the capacity to read fluently in multiple languages so readbility is key, particularly when reading for pleasure (I read very differently when reading for pleasure as opposed to class/bookclub).  Some translations just aren't that fun to read.  Mandelbaum's translation of The Inferno is regarded as one of the most literal while not so poetic; on the other hand, Ciardi's translation of The Inferno does play a little fast and loose with "literal" translation but flows quite well.  Garnett translations of Russian authors like Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Tolstoy are the most common and widely available editions, being the first English translations of those works and, for the most part, in the public domain; however, Garnett occasionally omitted phrases or passages of the original Russian she didn't understand so the reader may be missing nuances in the writing.  A student may need an inexpensive Garnett translation of Anna Karenina for school but I would recommend the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation to read for pleasure.  Similarly, a prose translation of The Iliad might be cheap but a lyric translation evokes an ancient blind storyteller, sitting near a fire:
Rage — Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
~Robert Fagles, 1996
I would love it if a customer responded to my translation question with "I really hadn't thought about it" or "Not particularly" that way (a) if they didn't know which translation was necessary and didn't want to seem gauche that's a good cover and (b) if they really didn't care and would like me to help them choose it's a good way to get a conversation going.  I do really like to talk to customers about their reading (not about their Grandson Jimmy's dog's fleas or their husband's up-coming colon surgery, in detail).  Having an actual conversation can be a rare thing but it's far preferrable to my last encounter with the translation issue; the student I was helping rolled her eyes when I asked about a translation and slurred "Like, American? duh?"  Gah!

(Incidentally, if you like The Inferno check out the translation edited by Daniel Halpern - 20 contemporary poets translated/interpreted the 34 cantos.  It's really fun to read.)

12 January 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Eternal on the Water

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:
- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers
Somewhere after my twentieth jumping jack I thought matches.  A fire.
~p 131, Eternal on the Water, Joseph Monninger (advance reader's edition)

10 January 2010

Buff and Shine

I've given the site a buff-and-shine. 

A little new paint, a new layout, and a new picture for my header.  The major reason for changing the layout was that the old template wouldn't let me move the header to the top; I grew tired of having it in the upper-left corner and my CSS abilities are miniscule.  So I picked a new one out of Blogger and fiddled around with the colors until I had a set I liked.  I decided to add a picture to my header and took about 20 minutes setting up the shot for the picture in the header (most of that time was spent making the ribbons from my old pointe shoes fall "artistically").  You can't see the covers on the books in the picture but I chose them because the colors in the cover art coordinated with the colors in my knitting project; the jackets of the lovely hardcover editions of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles have the prettiest designs and colors (you can see the covers here in the first six entries on the search).

I do feel a bit like a heel because Natasha hosted Bloggiesta this weekend.  Bloggiesta is an online fiesta of bloggers where everyone takes the weekend to do blog maintenence, catch up on posts, write templates, etc.  People host mini-challenges and have a really great time.  Participating in Bloggiesta was actually one of my New Year's blog resolutions but I was down to work all weekend and I hadn't managed to scrounge up a Blogger manual to help me out (did I mention that I'm CSS/HTML impaired?) so I didn't want to sign up for Bloggiesta and then not put the time into it.  Well....turned out that I didn't have to work today (wrote the wrong day down)...and while I was at the store I found a new edition of Elizabeth Castro's Visual QuickProject book about Blogger...so when I came back home I sat down at the laptop and wrote posts and played around with my blog.  I had a teeny Bloggiesta.  So the lesson I learned is that I should sign up for Bloggiesta anyway!  Next time round maybe I will have found a CSS guide (I have an HTML one) because I think I would like to make some changes to my widgets and I think that's going to be more involved than deciding which Blogger template and colors to use.

07 January 2010

The Elements

This isn't so much of a "review" as a shameless plug.  I am not above shamelessly plugging things that teach us about chemistry.

The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe is an absolutely fantastic book about the Periodic Table of Elements and is a must-have for every coffee table owner.  Theodore Gray writes the Gray Matter column for Popular Science and likes The Periodic Table, an understatement (you've probably seen his photographic periodic table poster - you can see the interactive version here).  His new book about the elements that make up every fiber of our being is full of breathtaking photography.  It's also incredibly fun to read with descriptions of each of the 118 elements of Mendeleev's table (there's an element found in old implanted medical devices that must return to Los Alamos when you die...now you'll need to read the book to find out which one it is).  Everyone will like this book, from children to adults. 

Especially science nerds like me (did I mention I was in a chemistry fraternity?).

Go. Buy. Now.  Yay, chemistry!

Current book-in-progress: Illness, What are Intellectuals Good For?, and A Jury of Her Peers
Current knitted item: baby sweater for my new niece
Current movie obsession: You've Got Mail
Current iTunes loop: Lucy Woodward

06 January 2010


TWITTERATURE is the brainchild of @AcimanandResnsin (you can follow them on Twitter).

They cooked up this idea at the UChicago - tweet great literature in 20 tweets or less.  Fantastic.

A little jealous I didn't think of that. :(  Boo for boring old me.

@penguinusa has published their tweets in book format.  Great fun to read.

Yes, I realize irony of buying this in paper format when it's available in ebook (didn't think to check first).

Best twitter feed in TWITTERATURE is the Hamlet feed - HYSTERICAL.  Sort of wish they did "Rosencranz&Guildenstern Are Dead" feed, too

Best tweet: "Gatsby is so emo.  Who cries about his girlfriend while eating breakfast...IN THE POOL?"

However, unimpressed by PRIDE AND PREJUDICE tweeting; most definitely could do better (you can tell @AcimanandRensin are male, no offense)

Have heard rumblings that TWITTERATURE will supplant actual work; total bollocks because TWITTERATURE only funny if you've read original

Case in point: never read THE DEVIL IN THE FLESH so tweeted version not funny to me, however, tweeted ANNA KARENINA or ILIAD was ROTFL

Do have to give language warning, lots of f- and other-bombs + sex slang; doesn't bother me but is off-putting to some.

Great read for literature freaks (like moi).

(haha, am totally clever for doing TWITTERATURE review as tweets; probably not that original, though; meh)

(also, I realize Twitter doesn't do embedded links but you gotta humor me on that one)

Current book-in-progress: The Complete Stories, Illness, What are Intellectuals Good For?, and A Jury of Her Peers
Current knitted item: baby sweater for my new niece (I might actually want to knit on that)
Current movie obsession: You've Got Mail
Current iTunes loop: John Mayer anything (love, love, love)

05 January 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Twitterature

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!
Just do the following:
- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
- Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are here, up to their shenanigans.  YAWN.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.  Anyone miss them?  Didn't think so.

~p 33, Twitterature, by Alexander Aciman and Emmett Rensin
(This one's not quite so random because I just had to share a few tweets from their Hamlet but I did randomly pick the tweets - sooo funny)

04 January 2010

The Ascent of Money

I downloaded to my nook because I'm obsessed with my new toy picked up Niall Feguson's The Ascent of Money because I really want to start understanding where the bits and pieces of the economy came from.  Given that Ferguson's book is more of a history book than an economics book, I thought this would be a pretty good place to start.  Ferguson does go through quite a bit of history regarding the world of finance.  We learn about bubbles and busts and the stock market with the Renaissance banking systems of France and Italy (and why the stock market wasn't well-loved in revolutionary France).  We learn about the evolution of the mortgage and how it morphed into this massive, risk-laden, multi-corporation enterprise.  It's very useful information and very fascinating, particularly the evolution of usury in Renaissance Italy when the practice was still banned by the Vatican.  However, I did have to keep a running tally of banking/finance terms because, and it's not Ferguson's fault, the world of finance has it's own strange English dialect (it's worse than learning medical terms because at least those have similarities of stems and origins). 

I didn't quite agree with Ferguson's analysis of a few economical ferragos at times.  He most definitely comes down on the Friedmanite side of things and favors the "free-market" (I don't think it's all that free and a free market definitely has problems).  I found it interesting that Ferguson would refute or counter the argument of someone like Paul Krugman, who argues from a stance critical of Friedmanite and "Chicago Boys" economics, but he doesn't mention Naomi Klein.  There's an extensive bit about the Latin American market upheavals in Argentina and Chile, of which Klein writes extensively in The Shock Doctrine (and she is particularly critical of US intervention and Friedmanite dealings in those juntas) but Ferguson does not allude to her work.  An omission like that makes me think Klein has the evidence that Freidmanite market theory doesn't work they way it should and Ferguson had no good counterargument available ("head-in-sand" doctrine).  Ferguson also has this long afterword that is boring, particularly when he starts quibbling over reasons why the book is titled The Ascent of Money; it's not that interesting.

Coincidentally, the January 11 issue of The New Yorker ran an article about the recession and the possibility that the "Chicago School" devotees might have to realign their thinking and look at Keynesian theory again.  There are some "true believers" and some devolving into apostacy.  What do I think?  It's all a giant clusterf*ck - deregulation, greediness, government ineptitude, and generalized stupidity.  The article in The New Yorker was very interesting, particularly the conversation with Paul Krugman (aside: I get The New Yorker on my nook now - it's fantastic!).

Current book-in-progress: The Complete Stories, Illness, What are Intellectuals Good For?, and Twitterature
Current knitted item: baby sweater for my new niece
Current movie obsession: The Edge of Love
Current iTunes loop: John Mayer anything (love, love, love)

03 January 2010

Shades of Grey

Huzzah!  My first finished book of the new year.  Jasper Fforde does not disappoint.  Do you want strange worlds but similar to our own?  You got 'em.  Compelling main characters with integrity?  You got 'em.  Strong female characters (and I do mean strong - there's rarely a wuss in the bunch)?  You got 'em.  You want some sly humor?  You got it.  Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron is the first book in his new series, Shades of Grey, and it has everything I want in a Fforde novel.

The world conjured in this series is a little like our own - there's tea, jam, bacon (if the Greys don't eat it all first), team sports, linoleum, forks and knives - but it is also quite different, particularly in respect to color (also, there aren't very many spoons). One's place and path in life is determined by one's ability to see colors in the visible light spectrum; Purples (and Ultraviolets) are upperclass with classes arranged in descending wavelength and Greys (those who see no color) at the bottom of the heap. This is the world of Eddie Russett, sent to East Carmine to conduct a chair census and learn some humility. But the Outer Fringes don't quite follow the Rules like Eddie is used to and he soon finds his well-planned life turned topsy-turvy in only a few days.  He meets Jane, a Grey, and is immediately drawn to her devil-may-care-about-the-Rules attitude.

Shades of Grey is delightful and just what I expected of a Jasper Fforde novel - witty, clever, and absurd - so I was prepared to enjoy Eddie's story as I have all the other Ffordes.  However, there is a darkness to this novel and it goes deeper than the multinational Goliath Corporation of the Thursday Next novels. The dystopian world of Chromatacia is evocative of We, Brave New World, and 1984 with issues of class, self-determination, and freedom at the heart of the story. The suggestion that something unspeakably sinister lurks at the heart of Chromatacia sets the stage for a fantastic story arc to carry through the next two books in the trilogy.  It's very exciting because I started to wonder if Eddie would come out of this first volume in one piece; this is quite a different feeling compared to the Thursday Next series where I am never in doubt as to whether Thursday is going to come out on top. I also greatly enjoyed Fforde's ability to build the world of Chromatacia, making it understandable and believable to the reader, without resorting to stretches of exposition. Shades of Grey has a little something for everyone - action, romance, thrills, yucks - and it's a great book to start off the new year.
For a little "something extra" visit the Jasper Fforde website - click on the "Shades of Grey" graphic to access the special features for Shades of Grey and see what was rolling around Fforde's bean while writing the book.

Current book-in-progress: The Ascent of Money, The Complete Stories, Illness, What are Intellectuals Good For?, and Twitterature
Current knitted item: baby sweater for my new niece
Current movie obsession: The Edge of Love and Maurice (note to self: would you just put My Boy Jack in the DVD player and let it run while you clean the house or something so you can at least say you "watched it"? oy)
Current iTunes loop: Filmspotting #286

02 January 2010

Chess: In Concert

I got Chess: In Concert from Netflix a while back because:

a) I love Josh Groban (playing Anatoly)
b) I love Idina Menzel, too (playing Florence)
c) The guy playing Freddie (Adam Pascal) was Roger in Rent (awesome)
d) Chess has some fantastic music including "Anthem", "I Know Him so Well", "Someone Else's Story", and "One Night in Bankok"
e) The production was shot at the Royal Albert Hall which is ginormous

I was pretty excited to see this because I have the soundtrack to both the original Broadway Chess recording and this new one, too.  They are quite different in structure because Chess was reworked by Tim Rice a number of times in the early 1980s when it first debuted and then other productions tend to mold the story as needed; the "In Concert" production was re-worked by Rice to most closely resemble the original London storyline with a few bits kept from the updates.

I can't say anything about the singing or orchestrations of this performance.  Great voices all around, good balance between the soloists, choir, and orchestra in this huge, huge performance hall.  Good costuming and use of the black/white motifs of the chessboard.  Josh Groban acted quite well (I think this is an intended step toward musical theatre for him) although he could have tried a little bit of Russian accent particularly as the other actors potraying Russians laid it on thick.  Idina Menzel .... amazing (I still can't figure out why she was cast in a non-singing role in Enchanted; makes no sense).

The only drawback to the production was the choreography and dancers.  I thought the choreography was on the poor side for a big production, very stylized, and, after the third-time through the modern, pseudo-improv-inspired 'Chess match' piece, it was pretty boring.  The big set-piece opening to "One Night in Bangkok" was a lame pastiche of South East Asian dance arm movements and hand patterns; the one thing I know about Thai/Balinese/Cambodian, etc. traditional dance is that all the movements are very precise and are very symbolic (the choreo here also looked really under-rehearsed and sloppy; you might not notice from the back of the arena but you certainly notice on close-up from the camera).  I would rather have seen a group of dancers trained in the actual traditional dance type performing to the "One Night in Bangkok" introduction.  It would have lended a little more atmosphere and looked lovely (there is surely a SE Asian dance company or group in or around London who could have been asked).

I'm debating whether to purchase this concert DVD; I have the CD, so I have the best of the production already, but I do like the overall look (and Josh is pretty cute).

Current book-in-progress: The Complete Stories, Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters, Illness, and Twitterature
Current knitted item: baby sweater
Current movie obsession: must. watch. My Boy Jack and return it before watching The Edge of Love
Current iTunes loop: "Chill Tracks" mix (currently on an Amy Winehouse/Evanescance shuffle....odd)

01 January 2010

New Books for the New Year

I didn't go crazy this Christmas buying books for myself (I bought a nook so the acquisitions budget is a little thin) but I did get a few for myself, one for Christmas (yay), and a couple with my gift card today.

Books bought:
The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley (recommended by Kat)
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (as hard as it is to believe, I have never owned this; when I read it previously I was reading my dad's copy from college)
The Life and Times of Chaucer by John Gardner
The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington (recommended by the awesome SF/Fantasy moderator at the BNBC, Paul Goat Allen)
Return to the Hundred Acre Wood by David Benedictus
Love Letters of Great Women edited by Urula Doyle
The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
The Sea by John Banville
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
The Elements: A Visual Explanation of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray
(ok, so that's more than a few but it is spread out over a month and not as many as last year)

Book I received for Christmas:
By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coelho (it's a UK edition courtesy of my SIL's ability to bargain shop - cool!)

I also got some James Bond DVDs (awesome) and the Harry Potter Clue boardgame; I bought another boardgame - Liebrary - with another gift card (got a few of those).

Out with the old, in with the new: Good-bye, 2009! Hello, 2010!

It was a pretty good year - still have both my jobs, my family is happy and healthy (and about to expand by one when my new niece comes), my cats are both as spoiled and ornery as ever, and I'm still a DC for AXS.  On the resolution front, my 2009 resolution to BE HEALTHY kind-of bit the dust but I'm not any fatter than I was at the beginning of the year so I will take stasis at a slight edge over continually expanding.  So BE HEALTHY is back on the resolution slate for 2010 (I have groceries to prove it).

I also started book-blogging in a more earnest fashion this year around March/April - about the same time I joined Twitter, found some fantastically awesome book-bloggers to folllow/read, and got some inspiration for my own blog.  I participated in Book Bloggers Appreciation Week for the first time, too (which was a blast!).  I'm still pretty ADD about my reading meaning the books-started to books-finished ratio is not spectacular (and some were started a year or more ago). 

Books started in 2009: 110 (or thereabouts, I don't have a good system for this)
Books finished in 2009: 83
Books that got the DNF label: 1
(an important new step because books I'm stuck in the middle of usually go back on the shelves to languish until I pack to move house)
This is also the first year where I used nearly every page of my book journal in a single year.  A book journal usually lasts me 2 years (I bought 4 of the same kind in a sale - I'm on the last volume since they're no longer available) but only 15 leaves or so will not be used for 2009-started books.  I'll be moving on to a different type of journal, looks similar but with "archival" pages (I actually bought it for the looks, haha)

In  2010 I would really like to hone in on actually finishing the majority of books I start rather than staring forlornly at the "in-progress" stack, wussing out about making a decision, and going off to start another book.  I also need to start deploying the "DNF" more often; if I really have zero interest in a book after 50-100 pages then it really needs to hit the road and head for the outbox.  I do have a couple of challenges on the horizon for the year (Women Unbound, The Complete Booker [it dovetails nicely with my own Booker Project]) and I'd love to give a Banned Books Challenge or Clear Off Your Shelves Challege (because that was great!) another shot.  I also have my Newbery Project and new Nobel Project floating around, too.  Challenges and I aren't terribly good friends because I really do lack the ability to "plan" my reading so I'm not going to commit to too many unless I'm pretty sure I can do it without adding to the ADD-ness of my reading (the BNBC groups go a good job of that already).  I would also like to do a little blog-upgrading, maybe adding a page (can you do that with a blogger template?) for challenges, etc. to declutter/organize - my HTML/web design ability is completely self-taught so I may have to wait for a "bloggiesta" weekend and get some advice from the saavier bloggers.

On the knitting front I need to make sure I link my blog posts about knitting with my Ravelry page as I go.  I know a lot of bloggers like to separate out their different hobbies/interests into multiple blogs....but I think that's a bit much for me to update (I have enough trouble with one blog as it is).  Besides, I read and knit and dance, it's all part of me.

I would also like to return my "update template" to the bottom of my posts.  I do like it and it does help keep me on track (particularly with Netflix movies, three of which are languishing in a drawer, needing to be watched).  So the first update of the new year:

Current book-in-progress: insanity, top-priority reads are Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson, The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor, Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters edited by Kathleen Ragan, Illness by Havi Carel, Electronic Literature by N. Katherine Hayles, and The Best NonRequired Reading 2009 edited by Dave Eggers (must get these done, asap)
Current knitted item: baby sweater for my new niece, top-down sweater for me, and (sadly enough) that pair of socks I've been knitting for a year
Current movie obsession: watch and return Fame, My Boy Jack, and Chess in Concert so I quite wasting money
Current iTunes loop: omg, John Mayer's new album (amazing): Battle Studies