Monday, April 30, 2007

You may be a bookaholic ... (#1)

... if you ever stayed up so late reading that you overslept the next morning and were late to work.

I've been putting "You may be a bookaholic" remarks in the upper right corner of this blog all month. Now I'd like to know if anybody noticed them. Do you look to see what I come up with each day? Do you like this feature? Do you have a favorite among those I've posted so far? Do you have an idea for "You may be a bookaholic" that you would share with me?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Madonnas of Leningrad ~ by Debra Dean

The Madonnas of Leningrad ~ by Debra Dean, 2006, fiction

This way, please, to the Siege of Leningrad ... and to the edges of memory in the mind of a woman with Alzheimer's. As she loses recent events, Marina's memories are fresh and vivid of the days when she helped to save the Hermitage Museum's exquisite art before they could be destroyed by German Junkers dropping incendiary bombs.

The characters in this book are all attending an outdoor wedding, except for Marina, who is reliving the starvation and bitter cold of Leningrad. She is on the Museum's rooftop, watching the planes approach, hearing the explosions, standing in the darkness of a city of scattered fires, and looking at the empty frames now-stored masterpieces, seeing them all again. And she is thinking:
No one weeps anymore, or if they do, it is over small things, inconsequential moments that catch them unprepared. What is left that is heartbreaking? Not death: death is ordinary. What is heartbreaking is the sight of a single gull lifting effortlessly from a street lamp. Its wings unfurl like silk scarves against the mauve sky, and Marina hears the rustle of its feathers. What is heartbreaking is that there is still beauty in the world. (p. 161)
Marina, a docent who guided visitors through the Museum before World War Two, now thinks of the people in the paintings as her friends. She can't understand why her husband Dmitri looks so old, except that starvation and harsh winters and deprivation has made them all so frail. And Marina wanders away from their hotel room wearing only her nightgown, following her routines of the war years, looking at walls and remembering what is in each masterpiece. This madonna is different from that madonna, see the figure over in the corner? And Marina tells the visitors, "Look up. The huge vault and frieze are like a wedding cake, with molded and gilt arabesques. Light streams down on parquet floors the color of wheat, and the walls are painted a rich red in imitation of the original cloth covering. Each of the skylight halls is decorated with exquisite vases, standing candelabra, and tabletops made of semiprecious stones in the Russian mosaic technique" (p. 1).

The Alba Madonna by Raphael is shown (above) in its place. Marina is still there in the Museum, still escorting tourists through the rooms, still reciting her memorized words, still seeing the paintings that have been taken from their frames and hauled away for safety. As I followed her, I could see them too. Rated 10/10, loved it, couldn't put it down.
Wendy's review

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Road ~ and ~ A Canticle for Leibowitz

I've had my Science Fiction Favorites in the sidebar for some time now, and this is what it said, with McCarthy's book tacked on over the weekend:
Everyone should read Robert Heinlein's classic Stranger in a Strange Land. I also highly recommend The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin. My vote for best post-apocalyptic fiction has long been A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.; however, I am reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy and may have to revise my choice.
But no, it turns out I don't need to revise my vote after all because I still think A Canticle for Leibowitz is the best. As far as I know Miller's book never won any awards, much less the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. Yeah, yeah, I know this prize is awarded for an author’s entire output and not necessarily for any one book, but the award was given this year just after Oprah chose The Road as her book club selection and most people think this is the one that got Cormac McCarthy the award.

The Road
by Cormac McCarthy, 2006

Now, my review of The Road. It starts off with a sentence, followed by a sentence fragment and another sentence fragment. Do you know what I mean by a fragment? I could call it a "stump" of a sentence. A sentence fragment leaves out some major part of a sentence, like a subject or a verb. Some of McCarthy's "sentences" are prepositional phrases. Two readers shared their opinions with the Book Buddies book club, one saying, "Good writing style," and the other, "I am also enjoying the writing style." Not me! Occasional sentence fragments (like "Not me!") are okay, but an entire book written that way drove me to distraction. Okay, I admit my aversion to constant sentence fragments may relate to my (former) life as an editor, but still...

One good thing I can say about this style of writing is that it did convey the fragmented life experienced by all of the characters. This book seems to validate T. S. Eliot's 1925 poem "The Hollow Men" which ends like this:
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
(*** SPOILER *** stop reading here, if you haven't finished the book.) I got that point early in the book, which went on and on with few full thoughts. I should say that THAT appears to be the whole point. Everything in the book is designed to show that the main characters (well, all of the characters, actually) are living from one minute to the next. Not each day, not each hour, but minute to minute not knowing whether they will find food or survive until tomorrow. No sun ever penetrates the hazy sky; the survivors -- of what? a nuclear holocaust? -- wheeze trying to breathe the leaden air; night is as dark as a cave when your torch goes out. (End of SPOILER.)

This is a bleak, gray novel. And that is the point. This quote says it all for me:
"At night when he woke coughing he'd sit up with his hand pushed over his head against the blackness. Like a man waking in a grave" (p. 180).
Everyone in the story seems set against everyone else ... until the end, which seems to me to validate the point the boy has been trying to make all along. Rated 8/10, very good.

A Canticle for Leibowitz
by Walter M. Miller Jr., 1959

This is a very different kind of post-apocalyptic story. It is many, many years after nuclear war has destroyed our world, and people are resuming life ... but not as we know it. Ashing has become a god, and the people are in awe of the sacred shopping list of Leibowitz, one of the few pieces of paper from "before." Ashing, have you heard of him? A chipped and broken statue calls w-ASHING-ton "the father." Aha! It's a "statue fragment" which leaves us with a "stump" of a name! Anyway, more centuries pass, and there's another civilization, a different one. And again, many more years pass and we see a third post-war civilization. One man appears to be in the stories of all these civilizations. Is he really the same person? Or is it a coincidence these men (plural) seem to be one and the same?

The Road makes a point, but in my opinion A Canticle for Leibowitz is more enjoyable and intriguing to read. Rated 9/10, excellent!

UPDATE:  Melissa, the Book Nut, has written a good review of A Canticle for Leibowitz.

UPDATE #2:  I happened to re-read this post on 12-27-18 and followed the link to Melissa's "good review" above, which no longer exists.  She left Blogger, but following all the clues I was given, I think this is probably the same review, but on her new blog site:

Monday, April 23, 2007

XAIPE (Greek for rejoice) by e. e. cummings, 1950

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of allnothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

The Imus Virus ~ coming soon!

Coming to a computer near you

*** TOMORROW ***

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"The Imus Virus"

an opinion piece by Blogger Bonnie

Be sure to read this think piece on my
Continuing the Quest
blog tomorrow!

*** ***

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Tea Rose ~ by Jennifer Donnelly

Note to all who have read The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly:

Do you remember in the book that Paddy (the father) had to grow up without a mother because the priest insisted the baby must be born and live long enough to be baptized? In this case it meant, yes, the baby was born live and, yes, it was baptized before it died maybe an hour later. But in the process they lost the mother. Aaarrrrrgggghhhhhh! This has always frustrated me no end. Do you know how long this edict lasted? Until now. More than 14 centuries!

Yesterday ... YESTERDAY ... newspaper articles appeared saying, "Pope Benedict XVI has reversed centuries of traditional Roman Catholic teaching on limbo, approving a Vatican report released Friday that says there were 'serious' grounds to hope that children who die without being baptized can go to heaven."

This whole thing started with "Saint" Augustine (354–430 CE) in the 4th century. He's the one who said we are all born in sin (we are all naturally evil, if you like) and must therefore be baptized to wash away the stain of sin. The Rev. Richard McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, said, "If there's no limbo and we're not going to revert to St. Augustine's teaching that unbaptized infants go to hell, we're left with only one option, namely, that everyone is born in the state of grace." Do you know what that means? That we are born sinless. McBrien goes on to say, "Baptism does not exist to wipe away the 'stain' of original sin, but to initiate one into the Church."

Thank God that this odious teaching has been laid aside! How many thousands of women have died and how many children like Paddy orphaned because of Augustine's theology? We don't want to know. St. Augustine is the one who also thought sex was so sinful that he didn't choose to marry the woman who bore him a son. Will the Roman Catholic Church someday quit requiring celibacy of their priests? Yes, I'm sure of it, partly because they are running out of priests willing to take that vow. That may eventually lead to the ordination of women too, but don't hold your breath.

Dreaming up parallel universes

I usually remember at least the dream immediately before waking, and I want to ponder the one I had this morning. Here's a summary:

My children were still young enough to be living with me and visiting their father and his wife on weekends. My mother was still alive and I was still in college, though it wasn't clear which one (I have two degrees). Mother had apparently intercepted mail to me -- or else mail from the school was sent to the "mother of the student" and she should have told me about it. I was in danger of failing my classes because I hadn't turned in some homework I was supposed to do. I felt fearful about failing my classes, knowing that I hadn't done the work, but not knowing I was in trouble about it -- because Mother hadn't warned me I'd better hurry and get the work done -- and angry at her that she had told my ex-husband and his wife and even my young children, who didn't need to be worried about that. I was frustrated and almost tearful that Mother would betray me like that. Even worse was that because of my failure to do what I should have, My ex-husband's wife was wanting me to sign over something -- it seems like it was my house and everything in it. I kept saying "no" and remember once shouting, "Over my dead body!" There was no way I was going to let her have all my things. I was trying to keep all of them away from my stuff, and at the same time I was trying to get away from their presence as they (including Mother) continued to harrass me. They wouldn't leave me alone.

I've been thinking lately about where dreams come from and have decided, after so many dreams like this that almost seem possible, that maybe dreams are a glimpse into my own life in a parallel universe. If every possible thing that COULD happen DOES happen, maybe my dreams show me what might have been. Say that, in this life I made one choice when presented with options, but in another universe I made another choice; to follow out each sequence would take two universes. However, in each of those universes the next decision made would double the possible universes. Within a very short time there would be innumerable universes. While I'm making decisions, so are you, thus increasing the number of universes it would take to show the various paths that would ensue:
Because I decided THIS, you did THIS.
Because I decided THAT, you did THAT.
But maybe when I decided THIS, you did THAT.
And maybe when I decided THAT, you did THIS.
Now count the parallel universes! Since you and I aren't the only ones making decisions, multiply the number of universes by the number of people in the world times the number of decisions. And make that the number of people who have ever lived, plus every choice that could possibly be made in all time. We might as well say the possibilities are infinite.

Richard Bach, who wrote Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (1970), also wrote a fascinating little book titled simply One (1988). It's called a novel, I think, because nobody would believe it could be serious. Under the spell of quantum physics, Bach and his wife Leslie are catapulted into an alternate world in which they exist simultaneously in many different incarnations. What if we could meet the people we are destined to be in twenty years? What if we could confront the people we were in the past, and those we are right now in parallel lifetimes, in alternate worlds?

When I found and read this book, I was so glad to see I wasn't the only person on earth who actually spends time thinking of weird things like this!  I recommend this book and rate it 9 out of 10.

Update on "Worlds in Collision" post

A article says Earth was hit by "a Mars-sized object ... about 4 billion years ago ... The theory goes back to the 1970s and is well established..." Velikovsky was vilified in the 1950s for theorizing about a planetary collision within historical memory (see my Worlds in Collision post), but this article indicates such a thing is at least possible. Read the article HERE.

Lagrangian points
I am fascinated by Lagrangian points, mentioned in the article. This is something new to me, but it makes perfect sense. Click on "View It" below the diagram and see the easy-to-understand explanation.

Lagrangian points exist in any two-body system. This presentation shows how it works with the Earth-Moon system. View It.

Dancing at the Harvest Moon ~ by K. C. McKinnon

Dancing at the Harvest Moon ~ by K. C. McKinnon, pseudonym for a respected literary novelist, 1997, fiction

The dust jacket says, "Maggie struggles with her feelings for a younger man whose age stands in the way of her growing affection for him. But their passion is undeniable, and soon she will have to decide which is more important to her: what other people think, or what she feels in her heart." We have all heard of May-December marriages, but usually it's a much younger woman and an older man, such as Maggie's husband of many years, who left her for a woman around the age of their daughters. A year later Maggie leaves Kansas City to return to the lakeside Harvest Moon in Canada where she had met her first love. What she finds is an attraction to a young man who is only two months older than her daughter.

What if this happened to you? How would you react? Would you worry about what people think, or even worse, what your children think? Maggie did. She also worried about what Robbie, her first love, would think. Hey, she was even concerned about what her ex-husband would think! I wouldn't have picked up the book if I'd known it was a sentimental romance novel with an absurd number of coincidences. However, it's very well written and kept my attention. It is also short and didn't take long to read, so I'll give it 7/10.

By the way, if you want to know what else the author has written, her real name is Cathie Pelletier.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Korean student on a Southern campus

Some of you may want to re-read my review of The Foreign Student by Susan Choi. The novel's protagonist, Chang Ahn, is a South Korean student studying in a college in the Southern part of the United States, but his campus life is vastly different from that of Monday's Virginia Tech shooter, Cho Seung-Hui. Chang Ahn's experiences in war-torn Korea could have made him violent and hostile ... or withdrawn and fearful ... but they didn't. This would be a good book to discuss right now, and I'm glad I read it last week.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Princess of Black Poetry

Professor Nikki Giovanni stood before the students and faculty of Virginia Tech during a memorial service for those slain during Monday's massacre. The 63-year-old poet with the close-cropped hair is a University Distinguished Professor at VT and has been on the faculty since 1987, teaching English. Have you ever heard of her?

Nikki Giovanni is a world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist, and educator. Over the past thirty years, her outspokenness, in her writing and in lectures, has brought the eyes of the world upon her. One of the most widely-read American poets, she prides herself on being "a Black American, a daughter, a mother, a professor of English." Early in her career she was dubbed the "Princess of Black Poetry," and over the course of more than three decades of publishing and lecturing she has come to be called both a "National Treasure" and, most recently, one of Oprah Winfrey's twenty-five "Living Legends."

Her bio goes on to say that her book Blues: For All the Changes reached #4 on the Los Angeles Times Bestseller list, a rare achievement for a book of poems. Most recently, her children's picture book Rosa, about the civil rights legend Rosa Parks, became a Caldecott Honors Book, and Bryan Collier, the illustrator, was given the Coretta Scott King award for best illustration. Rosa also reached #3 on The New York Times Bestseller list.

Let me share one of her poems that I like:


if i can't do
what i want to do
then my job is to not
do what i don't want
to do

it's not the same thing
but it's the best i can

if i can't have
what i want . . . then
my job is to want
what i've got
and be satisfied
that at least there
is something more to want

since i can't go
where i need
to go . . . then i must . . . go
where the signs point
through always understanding
parallel movement
isn't lateral

when i can't express
what i really feel
i practice feeling
what i can express
and none of it is equal
i know
but that's why mankind
alone among the animals
learns to cry

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Something about me

Well, I've done it ... joined my first challenge. Something About Me involves choosing five books that say something about me. Then during August-September-October-November, we'll read some of the books. How many is up to each person. In other words, if you read my books, you'll know me a little better. I've (tentatively) chosen five books, which should be posted on the site in a day or two. Lisa at Breaking the Fourth Wall came up with this great idea. Click HERE or on the picture to check out the challenge and consider joining us. It sounds like fun!

Here are five good books that say "something about me":

1. Evensong ~ by Gail Godwin ~ This novel's main character is the church's first woman pastor. She's Episcopalian and I'm not, but some of her experiences are like mine when I was ordained and went into a field where I was often the first woman churches had ever had in their pulpits. Rated 10/10.

2. On Tap ~ by J. Frances Alexander ~ Chattanooga, my hometown, is the setting for this novel about the vulnerability of America's supply of safe drinking water to the attack of terrorists. Can you tell I'm also interested in environmental issues? Rated 8/10.

3. Booked to Die ~ by John Dunning ~ A mystery involving bookstores that deal with rare and out-of-print books, this book was a learning experience for me when, after retirement, I worked for such a store. Later I was bookstore manager at a store in a small town south of Chattanooga, before opening my own bookstore. In none of these situations was there a bookstore murder to solve as in this book of fiction! Rated 9/10.

4. Go Out in Joy! ~ by Nina Hermann Donnelley ~ The author shares what it's like to work as a hospital chaplain. I first read this book while in seminary, when I too was struggling to learn how to deal with patients and their relatives, especially when parents were fearful for the health of their small children. My group of intern chaplains was assigned to a large hospital in Atlanta, and I prayed I would not get the pediatric ward. You did notice the word "children" above, right? Rated 10/10.

5. The Dance of the Dissident Daughter ~ by Sue Monk Kidd ~ This nonfiction book chronicles Kidd's religious awakening and transformation. Although we have arrived at somewhat different places, we both had to work through the patriarchy in our religious traditions. "Awakening" is a great word for what I felt when I reached a point in my life when I could articulate what I believed and why. Rated 10/10.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Foreign Student ~ by Susan Choi

The Foreign Student ~ by Susan Choi, 1998, fiction

Have you ever heard of Sewanee, Tennessee? Did you know there's a college there? Um-hmm, that's what I thought. I chose to read this book because its setting is about 45 minutes from here, at Sewanee, near Monteagle, Tennessee. If you've ever driven I-24 from Nashville to Chattanooga, you crossed a steep mountain, at the top of which is the Monteagle exit. For those of you who read what I wrote about Madeleine L'Engle, Sewanee is where I heard her speak and got to shake her hand.

Choi's novel takes place in the mid-1950's, a time I was in my teens. I think there was only one occasion when a character traveled to Chattanooga, and it was NOT a significant scene. The premise is that Chang Ahn, promptly renamed "Chuck" by an American, comes to Tennessee to attend college. He suffered during the war (what we in the United States call the Korean War or Korean conflict) and refuses to talk about it, though we readers enter his thoughts and know some of what he went through. At Sewanee he meets Katherine Monroe, a naive Southern girl in spite of her "affair" with professor Charles Addison. I put "affair" in quotations because she was only 14 at the time. Ooooo, how times have changed. That professor would be in BIG trouble today ... and should have been then.

Okay, so you're thinking, "Boy meets girl, they fall in love, slight complications ensue, but they live happily ever after at the end." Well, no, it doesn't work that way in this novel. Right away you should see major complications from his war-scarred psyche and her uncertain sexuality. Throw in Crane, a self-absorbed dorm "friend" of Chuck's, whose father is a racist and a member of the Klan. And then there's that older professor, who seemed to me the least mature character in the book. Toss lightly and savor, but don't expect wild action. Did I like the book? Yes, I did ... and rated it 8/10.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Worlds in Collision ~ by Immanuel Velikovsky

Worlds in Collision ~ by Immanuel Velikovsky, 1950, nonfiction

The author, shown at right about 1974, was vilified by the scientific community for publishing this book on planetary theory. Velikovsky was a scientist who also knew a lot about history and mythology. The outpouring of scorn and abuse seems far out of line if his theories are really so impossible to believe. The book is out of print and Velikovsky died years ago, yet the controversy lives on. (Yes, you can read all about it in Wikipedia.)

People familiar with the book of Joshua in the Bible probably have heard about the day that the sun stood still in the sky. With that extra long day, Joshua was able to defeat the people he was fighting. The Israelites therefore saw that "wonder" as help from God. Velikovsky found that other peoples around the world also report an extended day or, on the opposite side of the world, an extended night. Happenstance? He didn't think so.

Venus, the planet we know as the morning star and also the evening star, was for some reason worshiped by many different people. He wanted to know why. Velikovsky found evidence to show that Venus "did battle" in the sky, frightening people all around the earth. Using descriptions from numerous ancient manuscripts, the author shows that the earth once had only 360 days, meaning it was in a slightly different orbit. Venus changed that, Velikovsky says. According to his theory, Venus was once a comet, expelled from Jupiter, and had a comet's tail which whipped the earth.

Even more interesting is the "fight" between Venus and Mars. Recently, I ran across a theory about our "electric universe," which says the planets have charges. Without calling it that, Velikovsky (in the 1940s) wrote that Venus and Mars shot off sparks (my words) when they came into close proximity. Earth got in the way of their "fight" and was bumped out of its orbit, but only slightly. The poles flipped and after that the sun "came up" from the wrong direction. That extended day mentioned above happened when the earth changed its position as well as its orbit.

Velikovsky's theory makes sense to me. This book was as much fun to read this second time as when I read it before, and I rate it 9/10.

Electric universe
"Gravity can only attract, but the electric force can also repulse. ... The Electric Universe is fantastical beautiful in its elegant simplicity, already in its first description. However, the 20th century remains for ever the century of astronomical mysteries because of the unleveled effects of the electric force."
Author of this article is Dr. László Körtvélyessy, physicist and engineer of high temperature process technics and a candidate of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Most of this article is WAY over my head, but I pulled out a small bit that sounds like English to me. I found the article and photo about the electric universe here: and here: