Sunday, April 17, 2011

Rereading Sense and Nonsense

Not constantly, bur fairly consistently, I like to reread. Sometimes it's the usual suspects: To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride & Prejudice, yadda yadda English Major delights. Lately, it's been works I rarely go back to, but which I've been nudged towards by other texts. When I go back to these past loves, I'm invariably assaulted by sensory data from the time and place I fell for the text to start with. On top of that are the new takeaways that an intervening 5 or 15 or 30 years of life add to my reading. So:

The Secret GardenFrances Hodgsen Burnett's The Secret Garden. I saw it on a list of award winners from the past, or a 100 Books quiz on Facebook, or some such fleeting internet blip. This is a novel I was devoted to in my tweendom, and though it struck me as a little quaint now - in a world of YA literature that is so much vaster than that of my youth - I enjoyed reliving it. Mostly, I kept picturing my - our - old copy. It had a hard green cover with a pasted-on picture instead of a proper dust cover, and for whatever reason it lived on the bookcase that was just outside of my older brother's bedroom door. (With the four of us kids in the house, most of the literature ended up living in the public bookcases instead of in our own rooms. Especially the books my sister and I both read - we're only 14 months apart and, well, we tended to get possessive. I had my own treasured set of The Chronicles of Narnia, and it probably still has the gift tag from when my godmother gave it to me stuck to the top of the box, to prove that they were MINE, damnit. I'd learned well from the Debacle of the Little House Series.) Given the "bookcases in every room of the house" life I lead now, it seems too strange to me that I didn't actually have book shelves in my room growing up - I kept a few on my closet shelf, and tons, of course, piled bedside, but most books ended up in the central room we called the study. Older brother was the only one with bookcases of his own, so if you wanted to Choose Your Own Adventure, go off-planet, or check up on Alfred E. Neuman, you had to apply to him.

A Tale of Two Cities (Penguin Hardback Classics)Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities. It was the best of times, and so on. After Jennifer Donnelly's Revolution I wanted to spend a little more time in embattled France. As one does. (I also pulled out the soundtrack to Les Mis recently, and the 11 year old is unexpectedly quite taken with the story - I've narrated him through almost half of it now. Soon the barricades will arise!) Anyway, I don't remember when I first read ATOTC - probably high school - but every time I think about it now, it's the edition in my mother-in-law's house. One rainy, jet-lagged afternoon in Dublin, I picked this out of a matching leather-bound set, curled up under the duvet with a cup of tea, and just bonded with this book. I'd somehow never realized before then that Dickens is hilarious. And keen. And devastating. I listened to it on audio this time, which led to many moments of surreptitious tear-wiping at work, and finally ("...a far, far better rest I go to....") all-out sobbing one afternoon. (This does not at all debunk my claim that I can do most of my job while listening to audiobooks. Hush.)

Julius Caesar (Folger Shakespeare Library)William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar. After Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra: A Life, I was planning to re-read Anthony and Cleopatra, but got sidetracked with old Anthony's first Shakespearean run instead. (It's also referred to in Schiff's biography, but obviously less often.) This play I definitely first read in high school - a couple of the books on those study bookshelves were Shakespeare's complete plays, and that kept me happy one hot summer. (No, wait, I was a social butterfly! Hardly ever at home, and when I was, I was thinking of new ways to style my hair!) My English class read Julius Caesar, as well, and since I was taking Latin at the same time (oh, I mean - um - volleyball! Yeah, I was one of the cool jock girls and also everyone imitated my very stylish mode of dress!) I loved all of the Ides of March, et tu stuff. I believe this was the first time I really got the point of delving deeper into the text, understanding the context, and subtext, and, I don't know, protext and intertext and supertext et al. (See? Latin!) It was quite the little intellectual awakening, and I owe it all to Caius Cassius and his crew. Still, I never felt sorry for Anthony before this time. He just seemed so alone, even in the midst of the crowd of Friends, Romans, and Countrymen. I suppose it was knowing what all would happen with Octavius that cast the pall.
A Midsummer Night's Dream (Wordsworth Classics)While I was being all Shakespearian, and since it was recommended for the Sandman: Dream Country book club (first discussion this Thursday - you're not too late to join in), I also went back to A Midsummer Night's Dream. This one, despite the Summer of Shakespeare, I wasn't really mindful of until Robert and I saw some friends in a production in the park when we were dating. It was getting on towards Midsummer, and it was dreamy, and fun, and to my Visiting American Student self, an extremely English thing to be doing. I was a passionate young soul, in love with being In Love, and Literary, and Artistic, and Experiencing the Freedom of Living Far from Home (and Ignorant of the Fact that I would Proceed to Spend the Next Twenty would Attend the Same High School where I Learned Latin....) So - long live Puck, is what I'm getting at here. The eternal trickster, but always good to hang out with, if only to see how far you've gone (emotionally if not geographically) since childhood.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Yay, Me!

I was bestowed with honors this weekend, so I shall enumerate them here. It's all to do with elementary school - in particular, the school one or both of my sons has attended for the past ten years.

Friday was the PTA meeting (led by my dear friend L, who is PTA President this year) where they give various year-end awards to parents. A small slew of those awards traditionally go to the volunteering-crazy moms whose youngest kids are graduating, i.e., me. K is in 5th grade this year, and I kind of can't imagine not going up there anymore. I've served for repeat years as newsletter editor, coordinator of various competitions, library volunteer coordinator, and silent auction set-up chairperson, plus various other jobs here and there. (My friend M & I still have to finish the video for the 5th grade graduation, but all the rest of these tasks are done done done! It's a strange feeling.)

Anyway, despite the slide show full of embarrassing childhood photos, it was sweet to get my PTA Life Membership and a gorgeous bouquet from L. My friend C was also getting this award, and our girlfriends showed up to see our slide shows (somehow hers had far cuter photos) and they gave us even more flowers. So what I'm saying is, I had armfuls of gorgeous bouquets as I headed out to the PTA luncheon Friday afternoon. (Mmm, Mexican food and frozen margaritas. The real reason I took Friday off work!)

So, today. One of those volunteer jobs of mine was to coach K's Odyssey of the Mind team for the past three years. This involves meeting with 7 boys for a couple of hours every week from September through March or April, keeping them on track as they solve a long-term creative problem, and coaching them in solving spontaneous creative problems. The biggest trick to Odyssey is that there can't be any outside assistance - the team comes up with and executes the entire solution. So as much as you want to tell them "a little cross-bracing would stop that platform from falling over all the time" or "if your back is to the audience they can't really see your funny expressions" and so forth, you can't. And neither can their parents or sisters or best friends who aren't in Odyssey. It can be a little frustrating! On the other hand, going to the competition and seeing them perform an eight-minute murder mystery play they've written, using costumes and props they've created, performing songs and dances and many kinds of humor - and knowing that every ounce of it came from their own minds and teamwork - it's so amazing.

Anyway, today was the end-of-year party for the Odyssey team, and my friend A very graciously hosted it at her house. They brought in Indian food, the kids ran rampant for a while, the adults sat around and talked and laughed and relaxed, then I presented each team member with a certificate to note the especially strong traits each brought to the team. After that, the parents gave me a gift basket with a card signed by the team. The basket contained (um... past tense already...) three bottles of alcohol, seven kinds of chocolate, and two book store gift cards. I think these people know me well!

So, in conclusion - it's not that I volunteer for the flowers and candy and booze, but I'm feeling very loved and appreciated this weekend, and very rewarded for those hours.

Plus, I can barely imagine what I will do with my new masses of free time. Probably I'll start volunteering at the middle and/or high school.

(Robert: That's a joke. Breathe.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Detectives, Literary and Otherwise

Quiz time! Match these investigators with their authors:
A. Resides in Alterna-Swindon, or sometimes Fictional-Alterna-Swindon, reads a lot, doesn't mind a good bit of violence, especially if it will protect those she loves most (and she does seem to love those who get in the way of trouble almost as often as she does.)
B. Resides in a Boston chock-full of depressing characters scarred by traumatic childhoods, knows her team better than herself and plays to their strengths as she tries to stay one step ahead of the criminal element. Tends to get there in the nick of time, though not without serious collateral damage.
C. Resides in Sicily, apparent land of more inventive seafood-based meals than anywhere in the world. Excellent (if whimsical and befuddling to his team) investigator when not pausing to savor some meal or another (or another.) A bit short-tempered (okay, that applies to all of these detectives), rigidly moral, and far from forgiving.
1. Gardner 2. Fforde 3. Camilleri

Answers (yes, I know it's not that hard a quiz. My husband's the teacher, not me.)

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing: A NovelJasper Fforde brings Thursday Next back (or does he?) for more detecting in the Book World (and in Swindon of the Outland) with One of Our Thursdays is Missing. I so enjoy this series (of his three, it's my favorite) and the chance to dive back into the weird wonderful world Fforde creates. This time, Thursday is missing, and is needed both within Fiction (or peace talks between Racy Novel and Women's Lit will fall to pieces) and in the Outland (or the cheese mafia and Goliath Corp will succeed with their evil plans), so the Written Thursday has to step into Thursday's shoes as never before. Fortunately she has the aid of a clockwork butler, since things at home are a little dicey too, what with the Men in Plaid and the thieving goblins next door. Confused? Then you're on the right track.

Love You More: A NovelFor a far more straight-forward cop-based suspense, I've plowed through several of Lisa Gardner's D.D. Warren novels. Love You More is the fifth one, but other than a certain amount of progression in her private life, D.D.'s investigations don't change her much, so if you like a thriller with damaged psyches, smart villains (though they sometimes profit from not-smart investigation, which does not seem to be intentional on Gardner's part), tense action, and a bit of inter-agency bitching, these are a good enough pick. Just don't do what I did and read a bunch of them in a row - they're too much alike, not in plot, but in the makeup of the players involved. Hopefully by the time #6 comes out, I'll have forgotten or Gardner will have added some more choices in her "Pick two traits from Column A and three extenuating factors from Column B" approach to character building.

The Snack Thief (Inspector Montalbano Mysteries)Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano mysteries are as much repast as reading. Montalbano is a gourmand, and more than a bit of a self-centered, arrogant prick sometimes, but his world is all light and scent and taste and dream. I just finished The Snack Thief (and boy am I hungry!) and am still lingering on Sicily contemplating intrigue and base motivations while also grinning at the way poor Mimi is thwarted by Montalbano at every turn. For all of his bastardly qualities, Montalbano is a brilliant strategist with a keen sense of how far he can push people, and when to deploy those skills. Camilleri unfolds it all in a seductively simple way, and the fun here isn't trying to second-guess the detective or talk back to the characters, but in watching Montalbano perform.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The "I Will if You Will" Book Club is Back in Business!

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(Made plans for Passover today, can you tell?)

The Sandman Dream Country Volume Three (Softcover Edition)The deal with this book club: it's online, natch, and the idea is that there are books out there that many readers wouldn't normally touch with a ten-foot stack of bestsellers. Too snooty, not snooty enough, whatever. The first book they did was Twilight, which I'd already read and wouldn't re-read, but I had a lot of fun following the discussions. The second book was Moby-Dick, which I'd never read and approached with caution, only to find unforseen shoals of delight in the text, and of course much wit and wisdom in the discussions. So now comes the third book, and they went with a graphic novel: Neil Gaiman's The Sandman Vol. 3: Dream Country.

I was a latish-to-the-party Gaiman convert. A few years ago I picked up Anansi Boys at an airport book store, drawn to the whole Native American Mythology thing that always draws me (double major at UCSC: English with an emphasis on Creative Writing, and American Studies with an emphasis on Native American Literature. Go Banana Slugs!) So I devoured it during that vacation, and looked up the rest of his novels as soon as I was home. I read Coraline to the boys, and got them hooked as well, but none of us have yet looked at the comics. I'm just not a graphic novel kind of gal, but for this book club I was (in the spirit of "IWIYW") willing to give it a whirl. The fact that it's a Gaiman title is a bonus for me.

Anyway, I picked my copy up from the library this afternoon and I'm raring to go. Anyone else want in on this?