Wednesday, October 30, 2013

This is a test

it's only a test.

If you comment below, guess what? You get an A+ and gold stars!

Otherwise, I fail. (I don't really fail. I can comment myself to test this. But hey, I love hearing from y'all! Whatcha reading these days? I'm about 3/4 done with the new Inspector Lynley audiobook; I had to cry in the car this morning because of it.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Breath Away from Hell

And now is the part of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables where Hugo gets philosophical.

Well, another one of the parts.

But this time about depravity, so that's always fun! Let's see what Volume 3: Marius has to tell us about the human condition, in:
I'm halfway through this novel,
I've seen the stage production
and a film, and I've yet to see
why they made a book cover
featuring a lot of shoes.
Book Seventh - Patron Minette

Well, diving right into it: "Human societies all have what is called in theatrical parlance, a third lower floor." (p.477) So: up top, all those "great political, revolutionary, and philosophical" folks discussed in Book Fourth. Nobility of thought and action, etc. Progress. 

Below that, normal everyday schlubs.

Below that is "the great cavern of evil." (p.478) Nothing redeeming here. Nothing good. "Its name is simply theft, prostitution, murder, assassination. It is darkness, and it desires chaos.Its vault is formed of ignorance." (p.479) (I think Hugo disapproves!)

And in that evil place: "A quartette of ruffians, Claquesous, Gueulemer, Babet, and Montparnasse governed the third lower floor of Paris, from 1830 to 1835." (p.479) Now, Hugo does a gorgeous job of describing these four evil dudes, and since this chapter is exactly half-way through the book, I encourage you all to just go read it for fun. My favorite part: "[Claquesous] was a ventriloquist. Babet said: 'Claquesous is a nocturne for two voices.'" (p.480)

Possibly not the Proteus
Hugo meant.
So you've got these four baddies. They "formed a sort of Proteus, winding like a serpent among the police," (p.480) making it impossible for the police to pin anything on any one. "These four men were not four men; they were a sort of mysterious robber with four heads, operating on a grand scale in Paris; they were that monstrous polyp of evil, which inhabits the crypt of society." (p.481) And the underworld called them Patron-Minette. Plus lots of other things; Hugo makes a list. It is long.

Basically, he's not big on gray areas here. There is black, and there is white. These four: black. "What is necessary to cause these spectres to vanish? Light. Light in floods. Not a single bat can resist the dawn. Light up society from below." (p.482)

Presumably, the next long chapter will proceed to do just that.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mum's the Word

So: Texas. October. Teenagers. 

You see where this is going, right? Yep: Homecoming Mums.

(Look, I can't explain the whys of all this. But the fact is, if you're going to the homecoming game, and you have a date, your date pretty much is going to give you a mum - or garter, if you're a guy - and these things are huge. Both literally and as a tradition.) 

My high schooler hasn't done this whole mum thing before, so we were a little at sea. We checked around, and here's the math: pre-made mums are pricy, and not really personalized; home-made mums ain't the cheapest, but you can choose your own trinkets. Of course, they also take hours of planning, shopping, and crafting, and leave the mum-maker with a sore back and raw fingers, but that's balanced out by the joy of successful craftiness and the sincere-ish compliments from the teenager.

So I did my research, printed out my lists,
bought a ridiculous amount of stuff.

I started with one of those heart-shaped cardboards
and stapled a bunch of folded-over ribbon loops
around the edge (turning it more into a triangle)
and then I used thinner ribbon in loops to make
the pointed bits in front.

You can maybe see all the places
I had to remove staples while I
figured out how to do this.
Next I hot-glued the heck out of the
three fake mums (FYI, the recipient
is a senior, which apparently means
her mum should be all white.)

I added embellishments to
the mums. Normally it's a
bear on there, but my son
requested a squirrel.
Know what is impossible
to find? A stuffed squirrel.
This one's resin.
I stapled 20 of the wider white
ribbons to a second heart-shaped
cardboard base, fanning them out.

Here's where I started to get creative. I took
loops of thinner white and translucent ribbon,
stapled them together, then added the silver
stick-on letters of her name and stapled the
loops to a translucent ribbon, which I attached
to the cardboard with the mums on it.
And now: hot glue!
I laid out some fancy silver, red, and translucent ribbons,
a red/white/silver ribbon braid (school colors are red & white),
a ribbon with their school name, a red whistle (she's a drum major),
and a feather boa, and glued, glued, and glued some more.

Her band uniform is black,
so I used black binding ribbon
to make a neck loop and an
alternative pin loop, stapling
then gluing them to a third
cardboard backer.
I glued all 3 backers together.
It hangs together!
All those special braids and ribbons
and stuff add volume so it's as fluffy
and full as I can get it. 
Volume! You can see more of the
trinkets, the curling ribbon,
the beads, etc. (Not pictured:
my bloody fingertips.)
My sister said: "I hope she's tall!"
(I'm 5'3" - I think she's shorter. But she's smart,
she knows how to use scissors probably
even better than I do.)

Monday, October 21, 2013

In Your Eyes I am Just Like a Child

I am going to have to work diligently to get anywhere close to completion of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables by the end of 2013. Do feel free to scold me for my tardiness.

So, we're in the midst of Volume 3: Marius, and that young man is living the poor but noble life, while his grandfather thinks harsh thoughts about him, and about everyone. Start rubbing your hands together in anticipation now, folks, because here comes:

Coy womanhood! Or, actually,
girlhood, because dang but
does Hugo wax rhapsodic
about teenagers, or what?
Book Sixth - The Conjunction of Two Stars
Not to give too much away, but one of those stars is the affable, attractive Marius, who likes to take morning walks through various public places in Paris. The other first appears sitting on a bench with a white-haired old guy: "a sort of child thirteen or fourteen years of age, so thin as to be almost homely, awkward, insignificant, and with a possible promise of handsome eyes." (p.466) Marius passes them frequently, and doesn't particularly note the duo. "He found the man to his taste, but the girl insipid." (p.466) 

After a couple of years of this - them on the bench, him walking by - things change. This is when you can think about 60-year-old Hugo writing about teenage girls:

  • "The person whom he now beheld was a tall and beautiful creature, possessed of all the most charming lines of a woman at the precise moment when they are still combined with all the most ingenuous graces of the child; a pure and fugitive moment, which can be expressed only by these two words, - 'fifteen years.'" (p.467)
  • "In six months the little girl had become a young maiden; that was all. Nothing is more frequent than this phenomenon. There is a moment when girls blossom out in the twinkling of an eye, and becomes roses all at once. One left them children but yesterday; today, one finds them disquieting to the feelings." (p.467) Does one, Victor? DOES ONE?
  • "As three days in April suffice to cover certain trees with flowers, six months had sufficed to clothe her with beauty. Her April had arrived." (p.467)
  • That not metaphor enough for you? How about a poor person who suddenly has wads of cash? "That is the result of having pocketed an income; a note fell due yesterday. The young girl had received her quarterly income." (p.467)
  • "Her eyes were of a deep, celestial blue, but in that veiled azure, there was, as yet, nothing but the glance of a child. She looked at Marius indifferently, as she would have stared at the brat running beneath the sycamores," despite the fact that he's walking past her bench half a dozen times. (p.468)
  • But then one spring day Marius walks by, and "the young girl raised her eyes to him, the two glances met.  What was there in the young girl's glance on this occasion? Marius could not have told. There was nothing and there was everything. It was a strange flash." (p.468)
  • "There comes a day when the young girl glances in this manner. Woe to him who chances to be there!" (p.468)
  • "It is a snare which the innocent maiden sets unknown to herself, and in which she captures hearts without either wishing or knowing it. It is a virgin looking like a woman." (p.468) Ummmm....

So all of that happens, and Marius goes home and glances in the mirror and is horrified to realize that he's "been so slovenly, indecorous, and inconceivably stupid as to go for his walk in the Luxembourg with his 'every-day clothes,' that is to say, with a hat battered near the band, coarse carter's boots, black trousers which showed white at the knees, and a black coat which was pale at the elbows." (p.468) Ah, that magical moment when a guy realizes that he's making an impression with his appearance.

The next day he gets dandified and heads for his walk. "On the way thither, he encountered Courfeyrac, and pretended not to see him. Courfeyrac, on his return home, said to his friends:- 'I have just met Marius' new hat and new coat, with Marius inside them. He was going to pass an examination, no doubt. He looked utterly stupid.'" (p.469)

Lots of perambulation follows. It would make a great madcap movie montage. Marius strolls by, pretending it's just as usual, but looking sidelong at the girl. He walks closer to the bench some days, further away but slower other days. Sometimes he doubles back, sometimes he hides behind the statues and trees to spy on her, sometimes he sits on a nearby bench, going over his mental catalogue of her every gown and bonnet, and thinking inane things about how she was ignoring him, but she couldn't "help feeling esteem and consideration for me, if she only knew that I am the veritable author of the dissertation on Marcos Obregon de la Ronde," (p.470) and so forth. It even occurred to him that the girl's dad might start thinking his behavior odd.

One day! Oh, bliss! Marius was sitting on a bench near them, pretending to read, and she and her dad
walked past him! "He felt his brain on fire. She had come to him, what joy! And then, how she had looked at him! She appeared to him more beautiful than he had ever seen her yet." (p.471) It was heaven on earth, natch. "At the same time, he was horribly vexed because there was dust on his boots. He thought he felt sure that she had looked at his boots too." (p.472)

Nevertheless, Marius was on Cloud Nine, and unaccountably merry when dining with his friends. "When the mine is charged, when the conflagration is ready, nothing is more simple. A glance is a spark." (p.472)

Marius (as those of us who spent pages and pages reading his back story know) had this hero-worship thing happening with his father, which "gradually become a religion, and, like all religious, it had retreated to the depths of his soul. Something was required in the foreground. Love came." (p.473) On with the madcap montage, now with less pacing and more of Marius crouching behind pedestals trying to look grand for his lady love while being unnoticed by the dad.

"Sometimes, he remained motionless by the half-hour together in the shade of a Leonidas or a Spartacus, holding in his hand a book, above which his eyes, gently raised, sought the beautiful girl, and she, on her side, turned her charming profile towards him with a vague smile. While conversing in the most natural and tranquil manner in the world with the white-haired man, she bent upon Marius all the reveries of a virginal and passionate eye. Ancient and time-honored manoeuvre which Eve understood from the very first day the world, and which every woman understood from the very first day of her life! her mouth replied to one, and her glance replied to another." (p.473)

Papa starts playing mind-games with the dumb boy - walking to another bench while leaving his daughter at the original, to see which of them Marius follow, coming to the park alone to see if Marius would spy on Papa alone. Marius is goofy enough to fall for his traps.

And here's my favorite love-struck stupidity story: one day when Papa and the girl leave the park, Marius finds a handkerchief on the bench embroidered with "U.F." and instantly snatches it up, decides her name must be Ursule, keeps it by his heart during the day, on his pillow at night, and decides it embodies her soul. "This handkerchief belonged to the old gentleman, who had simply let it fall from his pocket." (p.474) So then Marius spent days kissing the handkerchief in front of "Ursule" in the park. "The beautiful child understood nothing of all this, and signified it to him by imperceptible signs. 'O modesty!' said Marius." (p.474)

Let's ogle teenagers with fancy language again, shall we? One windy day Ursule and Papa walked past Marius and he got up to follow. "All at once, a gust of wind, more merry than the rest, and probably charged with performing the affairs of Springtime, swept down from the nursery, flung itself on the alley, enveloped the young girl in a delicious shiver, worthy of Virgil's nymphs, and the fawns of Theocritus, and lifted her dress, the robe more sacred than that of Isis, almost to the height of her garter. A leg of exquisite shape appeared. Marius saw it. He was exasperated and furious." (p.474)

"Alas, the poor child had done nothing; there had been but one culprit, the wind; but Marius, in whom quivered the Bartholo who exists in Cherubin, was determined to be vexed, and was jealous of his own shadow." (p.474)

So jealous dumb Marius is watching Ursule, who glances at him. He "darted a sullen and ferocious glance at her. The young girl gave way to that slight straightening up with a backward movement, accompanied by a raising of the eyelids, which signifies: 'Well, what is the matter?' This was 'their first quarrel.'" (p.474) (Because it's totally kosher for guys to get mad at gals for being blown about by the wind and glare at them and them to not question it but just to be saddened.) (I'm sarcastic, but check out Hugo's further commentary: "Marius' wrath against 'Ursule,' just and legitimate as it was, passed off. He finally pardoned her; but this cost him a great effort; he sulked for three days." (p.475))

Eventually, Marius follows the duo home. He asks the porter lots of nosy questions, gets info about which floor they live on, that he's not rich but does good works with what income he has, and leaves feeling that he'll get the guy's name out of the porter soon. But the next day, when Marius follows them home, Papa sends Ursule inside and stares down Marius, who's standing in the street.

For the next eight torturous days, no Ursule or Papa in the Luxembourg gardens. No sign of them at them coming or going from their house. Eventually he goes to the house and there's no light in the window. He asks the porter.

They'd moved out the day before. No forwarding address.

Poor dumb love-struck Marius.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Reason to Live

A Reason to Live by Matthew Iden
(Matthew Iden, 2012)
Format: audiobook via the author (narrated by Lloyd Sherr)

From Goodreads: "In the late nineties, a bad cop killed a good woman and DC Homicide detective Marty Singer watched the murderer walk out of the courtroom a free man. 

Twelve years later, the victim's daughter begs for help: the killer is stalking her now. But Marty has retired to battle cancer. A second shot at the killer--and a first chance at redemption--Marty has A Reason to Live."

Iden contacted me via twitter to see if I'd listen to his first Marty Singer mystery. I looked at the sample pages and was engaged enough to want to keep going, so I had him send me the audiobook. And I truly enjoyed the listen.

Singer is wry and fond of the sound of his own voice, but sharp and more compassionate than he would like to be. Like all the best retired detectives, he crosses lines but trades on his accumulated goodwill to keep out of trouble - and being the cop who retired due to cancer gives him more goodwill than some of his former compatriots would like to grant him. The mystery is well-constructed, twisty but not trickstery, and I liked the way Singer comes to rely on others not just physically but emotionally and mentally, too. He grows, even as the cancer depletes him. It's a satisfying journey.

Sherr is a new-to-me narrator. His voice has grit and gravity, very suitable for Singer, and he carries the listener very ably through the tense moments. I wish his female voices were more differentiated, but otherwise I found listening to him for 8 hours a pleasure.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Tale for the Time Being

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
(Viking, 2013)
Format: paper via library

From Goodreads: " 'A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.'

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.

Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home."

Nao! Wonderful, complicated, smart, bullied, depressed, buoyant, philosophical, super Nao. She's a treasure of a character, and her tale is the definition of engrossing. I wanted to devour it in one setting, but Ruth wouldn't let me. (Ruth the character, not Ruth the novelist.) Ruth makes it all about her, possessive of Nao even with her husband. And possession gradually gives way to obsession, which is a whole delightful journey of its own, no matter how often I wanted to shake Ruth (the character) and force her to let me get back to the next installment of Nao's journal. (Okay, maybe in those cases it was Ruth the author I wanted to shake. But then she would grant me some wonderful moment with Ruth the character, and I had to restrain myself.)

This is the first of the 2013 Booker Shortlist books I've read, and based on this, I'm excited to get to the rest of the list. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

How the Light Gets In

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny
(Minotaur Books / Macmillian Audio, 2013)
Format: Audio CDs via Audiobook Jukebox (narrated by Ralph Cosham)

From Goodreads: "Christmas is approaching, and in Québec it's a time of dazzling snowfalls, bright lights, and gatherings with friends in front of blazing hearths. But shadows are falling on the usually festive season for Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Most of his best agents have left the Homicide Department, his old friend and lieutenant Jean-Guy Beauvoir hasn't spoken to him in months, and hostile forces are lining up against him. 

When Gamache receives a message from Myrna Landers that a longtime friend has failed to arrive for Christmas in the village of Three Pines, he welcomes the chance to get away from the city. Mystified by Myrna's reluctance to reveal her friend's name, Gamache soon discovers the missing woman was once one of the most famous people not just in North America, but in the world, and now goes unrecognized by virtually everyone except the mad, brilliant poet Ruth Zardo. 

As events come to a head, Gamache is drawn ever deeper into the world of Three Pines. Increasingly, he is not only investigating the disappearance of Myrna's friend but also seeking a safe place for himself and his still-loyal colleagues. Is there peace to be found even in Three Pines? And at what cost to Gamache and the people he holds dear?"

Ah, sweet wonderful Inspector Gamache and the haven on fictional earth that is Three Pines! How I do love it! And I missed it, which is bonkers, but Penny's last Gamache book didn't take him to Three Pines, and, sure, the place can't support all that many murderers, but I was still eager for Penny to take him back there. And as Gamache is such a broken and fragile creature (you'd never know it; he is a pillar, but those of us who love him can see the cracks) when this book opens, it's crucial to his very soul that he is nestled in the town's bosom ASAP. Even if he's there because of yet another murder.

Obviously, these characters very much get under my skin and take on a life of their own, as does the town. I've read plenty of small-town series in my day, but rarely have I been able to mentally navigate them as thoroughly as I can Three Pines. Sit me on the bench in front of the pond - if Ruth and her duck will make room for me - and I can point you to the B&B or Myrna's bookstore (Ruth, it's not a library!), and tell you the story of why there are three pines in Three Pines. And then we'll go to the bistro for lunch, and not leave for hours.

Penny creates it all with such a tender sensibility, and she does the same with Gamache and the troubling world of the Sûreté du Québec - and wow. Because there are some long, long narrative threads happening within Homicide, and my mind spins when I imagine Penny laying them out so many books and murders ago. She always keeps the overall arcs moving in relentless and compelling ways, but I was blown away by this one. I can only hope she keeps spinning out more.

And it's a pleasure to have Ralph Cosham talking me through those threads, over the course of 12 CDs. He continues to inhabit the story deeply; I think his heart broke as he narrated in the same places my heart broke. I loved his pacing, his intonations, his overall investment in the work as he read it. This is truly a magical author-narrator pairing, long may it continue!