Monday, September 17, 2007

Books Read

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi
One of the perils of working in a library: you'll come across books of a type that you usually never read, something about the cover grabs you, you check it out and you read it anyway. This graphic novel looks less like a comic book and more like a personal visual diary. Marjane relates the tea-time anecdotes of the Iranian women that gather at her grandma's house. Marital and sexual histories, and their blunt practicality kept me reading. Very quick read, as I'm not one to linger over the graphic novel art. Great peek into the lives of Iranian women. If I happen across Marjane's comic book autobiography, Persopolis and Persopolis 2, I just might check those out too.

Several by Tamora Pierce
I went back to the beginning of the Tortall books. Ms. Pierce has many quartets. I listened to Alanna: The First Adventure, the first book in the Song of the Lioness quartet. The library doesn't have the rest on CD, so I read the 2nd: In the Hand of the Goddess. Alanna always wanted to be a knight, but there hasn't been a lady knight in Tortall for over a 100 years. She plots with her twin brother, who doesn't want to fight, but to do magic. She goes to the castle disguised as a boy, Alan, and he goes to her original destination where he will study magic. It's a compelling listen, a girl disguised as a boy, learning the ways of a feudal castle, as well as reconciling herself to her own strong magic. In the second book, she learns to overcome her fear of love.

I'm also listening to the Circle of Magic quartet, got all four books on my ipod nano. (I guess it's my ipod now.) Four children are found and rescued that have remarkable magic related to the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. They have corresponding talents: gardening, weaving, smithing, and weather manipulation. Each child did not fit well in their previous lives in one way or another. At Winding Circle, they learn discipline and cooperation as they learn how their magics work together. These continue to keep me walking.

Among the Betrayed by Margaret Peterson Haddix
3rd in the series about the Shadow Children. A girl imprisoned by the Population Police is given the choice of spying on her cellmates, or certain death. A smart kid will see what's coming. Again, good read for the reluctant reader, but I'm done. Nobody let me read any more of these.

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
I followed one war book with another. Not my usual pattern, but this one is also for a book group. Holocaust escapees couldn't bring themselves to read the notebooks of their mother, Irene Nemirovsky. It was enough for the sisters that they had them. Sixty years later this unfinished work is now available, the ending forever to be something "God only knows" as the author wrote in her notes. Also from her notes, I get the impression she was working on creating something greater than Tolstoy. Originally from Russia, she escaped the Bolshevik revolution to live in France. Though unfinished and essentially a first draft, this is some great writing (and translating).

What we did get for posterity are two novellas, Storm in June and Dolce. It was to be like a musical suite, and Dolce was indeed sweet, soft, and gentle, but with a threatening undercurrent. Storm in June was a swirling mass of characters, so many that I started keeping notes, only to find there were only a few, most of them different, characters in the second part. Most of the characters were unlikeable, concerned only with preserving themselves and their way of life: "Christian charity, the compassion of centuries of civilisation, fell from her like useless ornaments. revealing her bare, arid soul." While looking up dolce, I also found dolce vita: "a luxurious self-indulgent way of life." The image of a hurricane was also invoked, with Dolce like the still calm eye of the storm. I already knew the other side of the storm would be embodied by Irene's own death.

I was intrigued by the contrast of human behavior with animal behavior throughout, and the symbolism invoked. While the people fretted, spoiled children yowled, the kitten played, unaffected by the human deeds of war.

Some moments:
When the Germans were occupying the village in Dolce: "The soldiers were singing; they had excellent voices, but the French were bemused by this serious choir whose sad and menacing music sounded more religious than warlike."

Perhaps the softest moment in Dolce:
"The breath of wind that moved them was still chilly on this day in May; the flowers gently resisted, curling up with a kind of trembling grace and turning their pale stamens towards the ground. The sun shone through them, revealing a pattern of interlacing, delicate blue veins, visible through the opaque petals; this added something to the flower's fragility, to its ethereal quality, something almost human, in a way that human can mean frailty and endurance both at the same time. The wind could ruffle these ravishing creations but couldn't destroy them, or even crush them; they swayed there, dreamily; they seemed ready to fall but held fast to their slim strong branches--branches that had something silvery about them, like the trunk itself, which grew tall and straight, sleek and tender, tinged with greys and purples."

Children turning a well-groomed garden into a jungle: "Suddenly she envied these children who could enjoy themselves without worrying about the time, the war, misfortune. It seemed to her that among a race of slaves, they alone were free, "truly free," she thought to herself."

A German who is falling in love with a Frenchwoman: "We Germans believe in the communal spirit--the spirit one finds among bees, the spirit of the hive. It comes before everything: nectar, fragrance, love...But these are very serious thoughts. Listen! I'll play you a Scarlatti sonata."

The woman:
"We're becoming slaves; the war scatters us in all directions, takes away everything we own, snatches the bread from out of our mouths; let me at least retain the right to decide my own destiny, to laugh at it, defy it, escape it if I can. A slave? Better to be a slave than a dog who thinks he's free as he trots along behind his master. She listened to the sound of men and horses passing by. They don't even realise they're slaves, she said to herself, and I, I would be just like them if a sense of pity, solidarity, the "spirit of the hive" forced me to refuse to be happy."

The German: "In the heart of every man and woman a kind of Garden of Eden endures, where there is no war, no death, where wild animals and deer live together in peace. All we have to do is reclaim that paradise, just close our eyes to everything else. We are a man and a woman. We love each other."

"Reason and emotion, they both believed, could make them enemies, but between them was a harmony of the senses that none could destroy; the silent understanding that binds a man in love and a willing woman in mutual desire."

In her notes, the author's deepest conviction:
"What lives on:
1. Our humble day-to-day lives.
2. Art
3. God"

Monday, September 10, 2007

Movies Seen

Me and You and Everyone We Know
Written and directed by Miranda July. Miranda July Miranda July why is that vaguely familiar? Oh, it's because she lived and done stuff in Portland, Steve tells me. The movie isn't filmed in Portland, but the script is littered with Portland names such as Laurelhurst Park and Burnside Street.
The dad who sets his hands on fire is John Hawkes. He was in Deadwood as the shopkeeper. These reviewers say more.

At first glance this is an emo movie. This reviewer thinks so, and doesn't get it. It's about the choice. There are two tragedies, but in the end I think the main character realizes his choice, emo despair or loving-kindness and the possibility of change in the future. The boy's decision to take the fall for his dad transforms his family. I've come across this theme before, how unresolved guilt can make you a better person. The book The Kite Runner is good for that.

A just-before-op transsexual finds out she's a dad. She still has unresolved issues regarding her parents, especially her mother, and must face them via being a parent. The actor is a she. I thought she looked familiar but didn't recognize her, Felicity Huffman from Desperate Housewives. Her therapist makes her face the family issue before she'll sign off on the operation. The movie becomes not one about changing one's sex, but a cross-country discovery of self and family, a rather classic theme.

The History Boys
This movie was so refreshingly foreign, that is not-Hollywood. The kids to be celebrated were the smart ones, not the rugby stars. The big build-up was about the group getting into Oxford or Cambridge, not winning the big game. The scenes denoting training weren't frantic punching bag scenes or run-run-run, but boys piling up books and checking them out of the library to cram more facts for their specialty in history. The teachers weren't that svelte Hollywood teacher type. The fat one wasn't a foil for a joke, and he was treated kindly by the boys for his somewhat foolish groping ways.

Jesus Camp
Rosie O'Donnell was ostracized for calling radical Christians the American Taliban. She was right. She never said all Christians. But see this movie, and you will agree there is an American Taliban, and they are in power. At a certain age, kids will blame themselves. These Jesus Camp people take advantage of that, and brainwash them in my opinion, and they are being trained to be very good at stream-of-consciousness verbal testimony. That can be very convincing, but it is a skill, not the voice of God. I found it interesting that the children who were most apt to find that weepy transformative place of the sinner being washed by Jesus were the ones with troubles at home.

Come Early Morning
Ashley Judd is so sexy in this movie as Lucy, though her character is not the sort of girl one wants to get hooked on. She can't have sex without drinking, or without it being a one-night stand. A man helps her get over that, but who expects that to work out? Of course her dad has something to do with her fear of intimacy with men. Her dad seemed familiar but I couldn't place him, Scott Wilson. He was an extraordinary guitar player, but too shy to play for an audience unless he was completely shit-faced (I quote) or was behind a curtain. He also slept around. He was very quiet and stiff, and it was difficult for Lucy to have an extended conversation with him. His character was quite similar to the Dad that Scott Wilson portrayed in the next movie I watched a day later:

Totally accidental. Funny how that happens, like those times you see a movie on one channel, and one actor is in another movie on another channel. Scott Wilson plays a man who is also close-mouthed and stiff, but less messed up. He holds things inside, but he's got his eye on people, and he knows what's up. Pretty emblematic of many of the characters in this movie, no doubt a character trait of the rural folks of the area. I wasn't sure I would like the movie at first, didn't like the main characters to start. I thought the art dealer wife was fake, and her studly man a trophy husband. Maybe that was the case. Definitely another not-Hollywood movie...the over-the-top things I expected as Hollywood would do, did not happen. Instead there are more subtle shifts in characters, glimpses of their inner workings. The art dealer's find, an artist who painted scenes of the civil war with penises as guns, was a hoot. Creepy, sorta autistic, and funny that was.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Discussing Faulkner

Last week while I was reading William Faulkner, Steve was making jokes about the sentences being how many pages long. He hates Faulkner. Steve has been a good writing coach to me, getting me to write shorter sentences. I used to write quite a bit like Faulkner, but not as well of course. The book I read actually didn't have so many of those long complex sentences: The Unvanquished. As I defended my liking of Faulkner to Steve, I said, "The point isn't so much to get to the end of the sentence, it's to get inside the sentence."

It was a little tough reading Faulkner. My brain is a bit rusty for that kind of reading. I've been reading so many teen books lately, and other fluff, that something so densely packed left me wading through the prose not really sure what lay in the deeper water. I couldn't always understand the plot, much less the symbolism. This is not to say that Faulkner was inept.

Why tax my brain so, you ask? Today my alumni chapter had a seminar on the book, and the alumni association brought in a tutor for our seminar. I hadn't had Frank Pagano for a tutor when I was in college, but I knew of him. I took the day off so I could go. Before reading the novel, I read this speech by President Lincoln, as well as this his second inaugural address, at the visiting tutor's suggestion.

As is the custom at my alma mater, Mr. Pagano opened the seminar with a question. (Sadly, there were less than 10 people there, I wish there had been more.) It had to do with the lost cause. Something like, "Why pursue a lost cause?" A deceptively simple question. He pointed us to Granny's prayer near the end of part 3 of the section Riposte in Teritio:

"I have sinned. I have stolen and I have borne false witness against my neighbor, though that neighbor was an enemy of my country. And more than that, I have caused these children to sin. I hereby take their sin upon my conscience." It was one of those bright, soft days. It was cool in the church, the floor was cold to my knees. There was a hickory branch just outside the window, turning yellow; when the sun touched it, the leaves looked like gold. "But I did not sin for gain or for greed," Granny said, "I did not sin for revenge; I defy You or anyone to say I did. I sinned first for justice. And after that first time, I sinned for more than justice: I sinned for the sake of food and clothes for Your own creatures who could not help themselves; for children who had given their fathers, for wives who had given their husbands, for old people who had given their sons, to a holy cause, even though You have seen fit to make it a lost cause. What I gained, I shared with them. It is true that I kept some of it back, but I am the best judge of that because I, too, have dependents who may be orphans, too, at this moment for all I know. And if this be sin in Your sight, I take this on my conscience too. Amen."
She rose up. She got up easy, like she had no weight to herself.
One of our tasks was to figure out just what that lost cause was. Was it the antebellum south? Was it a case of rule of law versus individual honor? Just how did the Yankees and the Southerners view property, and how was that connected to the law and to codes of honor?

On one level, Granny's son John Sartoris was the leader of an irregular regiment that stole horses from the Yankees for the Rebels. Granny herself became a horse and mule thief due initially to an amusing language difference. After the official loss of the war, the rebels became what eventually were the Ku Klux Klan. On another level this family was trying to preserve a code of conduct that included the whole community, a code that meant a man must face a duel and a woman must marry a man if she spent significant time alone with him, but also meant they took care of the least of the community. On an even deeper level, there is the difference between depraved irregulars, irregulars with honor like John Sartoris, and a noble sinner like Granny, willing to sacrifice her own salvation, possibly her own life, so that others may live.

While it is intertwined with the question of property and of honor, there is also the question of the freed slaves, and the boyhood friendship and rivalry between the black boy Ringo and the white boy and narrator, Bayard. Maybe I'll say more on that another day, maybe not.

Mr. Pagano said he thought Faulkner was the greatest American writer of the 20th century. He especially thought Absalom, Absalom! showed Faulkner's insight into what America would become, and the type of politicians our country would produce. It was obvious he meant not in a good way. He also said Absalom, Absalom! was full of those labyrinthine sentences my husband so hated. Well, he didn't say labyrinthine, I did, but that's what they are.

I'm not sure I got a complete handle on the difference between the Yankees and the Southerners of the novel. On the one hand there is Lincoln's rule of law, remonstrating against mob rule, lynchings. In the rule by government, there is a public code, the law, and individuals are held to that law and receive individual punishments. Property is private, and the law protects the property of the individual. In the rule by code of honor, judgment is public, and property is somewhat communal. Sin is declared publicly (but conscience is private) and individuals take care of the community. Individuals must show courage and must fulfill the code, such as wreaking vengeance or be deemed a coward.

I was pleased that our conversation helped me to understand the confusing actions of Drusilla at the end. (I couldn't help but think of Drusilla of Buffy fame, surely that is not just a coincidence.) Drusilla, Bayard's cousin, joined John's regiment and fought like a man, a fine soldier. After the war, the ladies forced the two to get married. In their world, when a woman and a man spent such time together, of course her virtue was compromised. In the end, Drusilla became almost a caricature of that code, pushing Bayard into a face off over his father's death. Mr. Pagano deemed her one of the most tragic characters in the book, along with Ringo, the smart black boy who would forever be a "boy."

Mr. Pagano spent his sabbatical reading Faulkner, he told us. (I believe that's a full year off.) What a great opportunity this was. I'm glad I took the day off.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki

This year BPF Portland was a co-sponsor of the event remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki here in Portland. I went to this for the first time. This was the 45th Annual Commemoration here, so it wasn't like I hadn't had plenty of opportunities. Somehow I didn't get to it other years.

NW Tibetan Cultural Association Chanters began the ceremony with chants for peace from HH The Dalai Lama. There were speakers. They weren't just speakers...they were people who've walked their talk for years. I think they said Carol Urner from WILPF was in her eighties. There were singers, the Aurora Chorus. There was ceremony. There was an interactive art piece. The first thing I did when I got there was create my peace prayer flag for the art project. There already were many flags that had been created at street fairs, school events, and other shindigs.

There were around 300 people there, I figured. My friends were there, mom and dad with twins. Tim gave me a sweet expansive hug. Sam was shy about giving a hug.

Many of my photos were too blurry due to low light. The dancing art piece called Harmos was an extra thing after the whole ceremony and speakers, so it was pretty dark by the end. I also thought it went on way too long, and tried to be meditative with spoken word. The creator took words from the peace prayer flags and wove them into a poem (of sorts) that she ponderously intoned while the child dancers made the lotus bloom. It could have been shorter and faster and much better, I thought. The visuals were still pretty cool, even if way too slow after an already full event. I finally got around to playing with the photos, so here you have my August 5th experience:

Monday, September 03, 2007

Books Read, and Audio too

Among the Impostors (Shadow Children) by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Already I read this the 2nd of this series. Usually it takes me forever and a day to get to the next one. I've been trying to whittle down the number of library books I have checked out. I can read these kids' books in an hour, so there you are. It wasn't quite as interesting to me as the first one, with the boy in the attic, but still a good book for the reluctant boy reader. Now the boy is in a school with a fake identity, and living through the particular hell of hazing of the new kid. Oddly, the school has no windows and kids aren't normally allowed outside. Teachers don't seem to worry about whether he's in the right class or is learning. One day he finds an open door that leads him to a woods. Taking a respite from the bewildering classes and the cruel classmates, he finds a new boldness, and intrigue.
Skellig by David Almond
A boy, Michael, and his parents are worried about his new baby sister. Born too soon, she has to return to the hospital soon after they finally bring her home. The old garage of their recently bought home is full of the discarded stuff of a lifetime, and threatens to fall in at any moment. The boy is warned to keep out, but something gets his attention and of course he explores. The whole house needs repair, and while the mom stays with baby in the hospital, the boy and his dad fix up the house. Michael meets a new friend, a girl named Mina, and learns from her while he also gets to know the creature in the decrepit garage.

Funny thing, as I googled skellig, I found Skellig Michael must be the rocky island that my neighbor visited in Ireland, with the beehive-shaped monasteries that inspired his pottery in the faery garden. This opens up more ideas about just what the creature called Skellig is in the book.

I found Skellig slightly ominous, sitting in the garage with dead beetles and flies for food, somehow staying alive but unable to move due to Arthur Itis. Would he prove to be a vampire-like creature, sucking the life energy from little boys? Yet the boy and his new friend aren't afraid and help the odd man, and in the end the story is all about love.

Beka Cooper Book 1: Terrier by Tamora Pierce, read by Susan Denaker
I've tried a couple of times in the past to listen to books. If I was just sitting there, I got too sleepy to listen. The voice would weave me in and out of a hypnotized consciousness. If I was doing something while listening, I would forget to listen and miss whole chunks of the book.
But somebody on a library email list said she's started listening to books while she went for a walk. She said she would keep walking because she would want to finish the CD. I was intrigued, so I thought I'd check it out. That very day, my workday almost done, no time left to go browse the shelves, my breaks all used, I remembered I thought I'd try a talking book. I hadn't given a single thought about what book I might like to start with. I've always meant to listen to the Pullman books, and the Potter books, because so often people have said those readings are particularly good. But again, no time to browse the shelves, and those were unlikely to be on the shelves anyway. Besides, I've read those.
I walked by a book truck waiting to be shelved. I just might find something in the teen section. I see a thick CD case, pull it off. Ah HAH. Tamora Pierce. Whenever youth librarians find out my reading preferences, they tell me I must read Tamora Pierce. I still hadn't got around to it. And this is the first book in a series. How lucky is that? I checked it out. I couldn't have been luckier I think.
I am absolutely loving the walking while listening to a book thing. It got even better after the second CD when I realized I could dig out that IPod Nano that Steve received as an incentive from work. I have now finally entered the IPod age. This book particularly got me hooked. You know, don't you, that an audio book goes much sloooooower than a book read silently? I find myself getting impatient for my next installment.
Will Beka Cooper, guardswoman in training, find more clues to the kidnapper/murder cases? I just must hear the reader, Susan Denaker, say "puppy" in that superior sexy way she has. Phrases swim through my head in ways a silently read book never does. Will this puppy (a dog/police guard in training), succumb to the wiles of her sexy neighbor who is also on the other side of the law? Denaker's reading has me convinced this sultry rake will have at least a kiss before the book's end. What other clues will the ghosts that ride the pigeons give to the earnest Beka? She's already earning the fine name of Terrier. It's true, I do keep walking more, even though I don't have a CD to get to the end of. Then, I keep listening for awhile when I get back home, until my ears say, no more voices in my eardrums please. I admit, I've been cheating a little, listening some while on the bus too, but later, I still get out and walk to listen.