Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

1000 Fabulous Knit Hats

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

An original knit design of mine has been published. In May 2009, I read on Annie Modesitt’s blog that she was compiling a book of “inspiring hats.” Knitters were invited to submit project photos of hats they’d knit from their own designs or others’. I submitted a bunch of photos, one of which was an original design, my Top Knot hat. This was chosen as a runner up, one of the ten patterns to be published in the book, 1000 Fabulous Knit Hats.

The 10 patterns include a nice variety of style and skill level. The rest of the book is just for inspiration, but the knitter (or crocheter) and designer are listed, so if someone was interested in knitting the same project, it would be possible to find the pattern on Ravelry.

My prize was extra copies of the book, so I am holding a random drawing here on the blog to give one away. Leave a comment on this post to enter! Be sure to enter your valid email address in the comment form (it will not be displayed) so I can contact the winner. Contest will close at 11:59 pm (Pacific Time) on November 6th, 2010.

Rendezvous with Rama

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

by Arthur C. Clarke

My husband has been on a science fiction reading kick for awhile now. Apparently Clarke’s work is the thinking person’s science fiction – sci-fi for scientists. We had a volume of Clarke’s short stories along on our Hawaii trip and those were fun. BN recommended Rendezvous with Rama as one of his favorites so I picked it up to read during Christmas break.

The book is fairly unique among novels that I’ve read. There isn’t any real character development – unless you consider Rama as a character: the enigmatic object traveling through space, too small to be a planet and too large to be a space ship. The plot consists of Rama coming alive, as observed by the astronauts sent from the United Planets to explore it. They are discovering a new world on a tight deadline, it’s on a collision course with the Sun. I found the description of the interior and landscape of Rama just fascinating – it’s a very imaginative concept and convincingly presented. I think Arthur C. Clarke could have written a much longer book (or even a series) with this as the starting material. But the spareness reinforces the enigma that Rama is and remains.

——————————————

You think you might cross over
You’re caught between the devil and the deep blue sea
You’d better look it over
Before you make that leap

And you know I’m fine
But I hear those voices at night
Sometimes they justify my claim

And the public don’t dwell on my transmission
‘Cause it wasn’t televised
But it was the turning point
Oh what a lonely night

The song maker says, “It ain’t so bad”
The dream maker’s gonna make you mad
The spaceman says “Everybody look down”
It’s all in your mind

From Spaceman by The Killers

Shirley

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

by Charlotte Bronte

Ever since I first read it in late adolescence, Jane Eyre has been my favorite book. It’s fascinating, moving, just exquisite. Last year I read Villette, also by C. Bronte and also loved it. As a whole it was not quite as wonderful as Jane Eyre but elements of it were just as delicious, if not better. I’d never heard of Shirley, and I was a little apprehensive – if it’s not well-known, could it be as good as her other works?

Well, I really enjoyed it but it’s not quite as good as her other ones. I think the reason for this is it involves 4 main characters plus peripheral folks. Part of the power of Jane and Villette is you get to know the main character, who is narrating, so well and by the end the empathy is complete (at least for me.) My theory is that Charlotte’s genius was in the single-point-of-view in the first person, not the 3rd party narrator who shows you many perspectives and adds commentary. (George Eliot excels at this, especially in Middlemarch.) The characters in Shirley are meant as types to be compared and contrasted, and they are not strongly believable. I did not find myself relating to and empathizing with all of them.

Rather than an intimate exploration of someone’s emotional life and relationships, this book is a social commentary. I was quite surprised by some of the views expressed by the characters, they seem very progressive and ahead of their time. There were things that were very bluntly stated about what people honestly believed about the role of women (middle-class women), the attitudes and behavior of the clergy, and the economic upheaval of the time. During the Napoleonic wars the manufacturers were unable to trade with other nations and couldn’t stay profitable in domestic markets. The workers displaced by new machinery were facing starvation and blamed the mill owners.

There were a lot of plot twists and exciting scenes. There were dramatic conversations and amusing descriptions of characters and their foibles. Charlotte Bronte’s skill at writing shines through in these elements. However, she failed to bring some of the concepts she introduced into satisfactory resolution. One of these was, is there such a thing as a happy marriage? (I suppose a suggestion does lie hidden in the story, that a young person should let time reveal the true colors of one’s future mate) Is there such a thing as a fulfilling single life? One thing that was suggested, not explicitly presented, was that we should not judge people by their station in life. Just because someone is a curate or a vicar doesn’t mean he lives a Christ-like life. Just because someone is poor doesn’t mean he is stupid or not deserving of respect. Just because someone is rich and successful doesn’t mean he or she is above reproach. Just because someone is a woman doesn’t mean she can’t have good ideas and make decisions. We can’t depend on institutions and our assumptions about their roles or results. We must think and act for ourselves.

In conclusion, I guess I would say if you’ve read CB’s other works already, give this one a try, it’s a notable contrast. If not, read Jane Eyre or Villette first. Charlotte’s sisters Anne and Emily were incredibly talented authors as well, Anne’s Tenant of Wildfell Hall is one of my top favorites and while Emily’s Wuthering Heights is not to my taste and did not endear itself to me at all, it’s top-notch fiction, Romanticism at its finest.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

Monday, April 27th, 2009

By Susanna Clarke

A little bit like “Harry Potter” meets “Jeeves and Wooster.” Lots of cleverness in this book, wrapped up into a pretty good story. An eccentric little man, who embodies the contradictory forces of solitary research and restoring the glory of Magic to England, meets a mysterious young man, who finds his life’s calling as magician-explorer. They become each other’s teacher, cric, enemy, soul-colleague.

One of the intriguing and amusing elements of the book is the fictional “History of English Magic;” Clarke supplies the reader with copious footnotes about the important names and anecdotes in this field of supposed historic scholarship.

In spite of all the esoteric details, there is a lot of mystery carried through the entire book. I think I got a little frustrated with how the various storylines did not intersect until the very end of the book. Some characters knew things that other characters needed to know… and then all of a sudden we’re told that they found something out but not how they discovered it.

I feel there is a major flaw in the wrap-up: multiple characters had been under an enchantment by the villain, and when he dies those enchantments are all lifted except the one affecting the two main characters. It didn’t make sense, I wish Clarke had just mentioned why this enchantment was different from the rest rather than making me speculate after I’d finished the last page.

Great Expectations

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

by Charles Dickens

I think this is my favorite Dickens novel so far. One reason for this might be that it’s more streamlined – not so elaborate with multiple character points-of-view plus narrator commentary. This is just “Pip,” telling us his story. There are still the over-the-top caricatures, minor characters that are meant to illustrate a certain personality trait (or character flaw) to the point of ridiculous. But even those seem more believable because we experience them along with Pip. (And it’s not that I dislike those folks in the other Dickens novels. After all, they are his specialty!)

I am impressed with the high level of pathos in the story; it’s just heartbreaking, really… but it’s not depressing or morose. It’s a gentle pathos. Just Pip, coming to grips with his regrets, sorting out what came about as a result of his choices, what things were beyond his control. So like life, that. Sorting out, what happened? How do I feel about this?

You know what I just love? Ghost stories without any actual poltergeists. The characters have all kinds of premonitions, dread, even visions – but no troublesome supernatural events actually happen. I was about to list a few books I’ve read lately that had this element, but so many came to mind that maybe this is just a quality that I see in most great books. Do you know what I’m getting at? It’s a haunting quality. It’s a recurring waking dream that’s woven throughout the story. It’s Pip, coming as an innocent child to a place of living death, where all daylight has been shut out and the clocks are stopped at twenty minutes to nine. It’s a young man saving an old woman from burning to death by ripping down the tablecloth from a wedding cake untouched for half a century. It’s that shiver of awe you feel when you see all the layers of the story that have been built up carefully and you just now realize their collective significance.

{ And now for a tangential story. On the first day or two I’d been reading the book, I strolled over to Dari-Mart (this is Oregonian for 7-11) to get a snack. The guy behind the counter saw the book under my arm and asked what I was reading. I said, “Great Expectations.” He asked me what I would consider a great expectation? I said, going to heaven. He said, what would you expect to happen there? I said, to live with Christ forever. Whenever one of these types of conversations comes up, where I get on the topic of God or heaven or prayer with a stranger, I always wonder afterwards if I should have said different things. Like in reply to the Dari-Mart guy, “to know and be known.” You know, something that’s still True, but more open-ended or “thought provoking.” But often what happens is the person will launch into an explanation. And I just let them talk. Like Mr. D-M, who started in about heaven, “regardless of what you do, being honest with yourself, about what you’ve done, what you believe, honest with “him” (God?)…” and I don’t know what all. Most of it was pretty close to what I would have said, maybe just in a different order and with different emphasis. And I realized it was all for his own benefit, thinking out loud as we all need to do at times. So I just listened, and smiled, and when another customer came in and I edged away from the counter, Mr. D-M wrapped up by saying, so, when you’re reading that book, you just think about that, OK? I smiled some more and said, I will. And I hope he will, too – will keep thinking about what it is he desires to expect from this life, and the next. }

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Saturday, January 10th, 2009

By Oscar Wilde

I take issue with this book on several points:

Conceptually, it has an interesting premise: A young man’s impulsive wish/prayer to trade roles with a portrait of himself is granted. He will stay eternally beautiful, never age, and his handsome face will never show the effects of thought or action. The portrait will take on the appearance of his body and soul as he goes through life, with changes appearing upon the canvas.

The problem is, while the book sets forth a spiritual concept, that of “the soul,” it doesn’t apply any spiritual thought or instruction to this idea. It’s not clear that Wilde actually believes in the soul as a real entity, as anything more than an abstract concept to provide contrast for his convoluted discussion of “beauty” and “the senses.” It’s as if Wilde believes the two, senses and soul, can’t co-exist. He’s chosen to focus on the senses, he can tell you all kinds of information about those, but when it comes to the soul you’re on your own. We don’t really learn much about the soul from the characters, either.

Lord Henry, who is pretty much the villain as far as I can tell since he initiates the corruption of Dorian’s “soul,” has no humane qualities that we can relate to, empathize with, or even hate. Apparently he doesn’t have a soul himself, since his behavior and attitudes don’t change from the beginning of the book to the end. He doesn’t learn anything or exhibit any change as a result of the events surrounding his “friends” Basil and Dorian.

Basil is evidently a sensitive, morally-tuned artist. He grows to understand himself and his art, his motivations and obsessions. Or at least, he tells us about this – but we don’t get to experience any of it with him or understand anything about ourselves in the process.

Then there’s Dorian. What does he learn? Well, it’s obvious that it was a bad idea to sell his soul for eternal beauty. But all we get is lengthy descriptions of his depraved lifestyle, and some dramatic scenes of terror in beholding the painting, showing in the image of his face what ravages he’s enacted on his soul. We don’t get anything about repentance, gaining moral maturity, looking away from self to care about others, no glimpse of what Dorian should or could have become if he’d made different life choices.

Stylistically, I grew weary of Wilde’s endless use of the “witty paradox,” mostly employed by Lord Henry but not limited to him.

“‘What nonsense people talk about happy marriages!’ exclaimed Lord Henry. ‘A man can be happy with any woman, as long as he does not love her.'”

And,

“‘Stop, Basil! I won’t hear it!’ cried Dorian, leaping to his feet. ‘You must not tell me about things. What is done is done. What is past is past.’
‘You call yesterday the past?’
‘What has the actual lapse of time got to do with it? It is only shallow people who require years to get rid of an emotion.'”

Clever, huh? But every 5th sentence in the book is something like this. I’m just saying – it gets old fairly quickly.

On the book jacket, Wilde is quoted as saying there is “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.” But I’m not sure what he was referring to. Perhaps: It is a mistake to separate the senses from the soul. Well, then, what of Lord Henry? He apparently pulled it off successfully. His mantra was, “To cure the soul by means of the senses, and the senses by means of the soul.” But I don’t see either of these “cures” coming to pass during the course of the story.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

By Harper Lee

I have read so many amazing books lately. This classic was no exception – Where has this book been all my life? I think many people have read it for school, but somehow it never came across my path until now. My family was listening to the audiobook on our vacation this summer so I got a teaser by hearing a chapter or two during the trip.

I absolutely love this book. It is so beautifully, deceptively simple, but miles deep. It has so much to say about family, pride, education, prejudice, fear, justice… but it’s never preachy, never overt social commentary. Just Scout telling us about her childhood, and I could totally picture the whole thing. Parts of it were so funny, I laughed out loud. There were more than just a few edge-of-my-seat moments, and the amazing thing was they weren’t artificially dramatic or scenes of extreme or fictional action. Just so true-to-life that the heart-racing was real. I remember one moment when Scout describes that feeling of intense chill, shivering, from fear/anxiety and not at all from the real temperature. I was feeling the same way, just sitting on the couch reading it.

I was just blown away with how the most profound, meaningful elements were so understated, so subtle. I give Harper Lee an A+ for symbolism, believable characters, and ability to enthrall the reader.

A Must-Read!!!

Bleak House

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

By Charles Dickens

A few months ago BN and I were invited by our friends the K’s to watch the BBC miniseries Bleak House. We went over to their house for 3 or 4 Mondays to watch the next installment they’d gotten from Netflix. Each episode was only about 25 minutes but there were about 12 of them. It was really good! Definitely very suspenseful and more thrilling than many of those literary movies – don’t get me wrong, I love the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice as much as the next anglo-biblio-phile. This one was just more mysterious and dark. We really liked the characterization, everybody was appropriately endearing, tragic, or repulsive. We also liked the lighting – very moody and from “natural” sources – like one candle, or the dim light coming in from a rainy day into a cavernous hall. Lovely. We were a little amused at the over-dramatized scene transitions, they used this kind of “zoom” effect, complete with whooshing sounds. Any time there was a horse or carriage ride, they would speed through the night as if the headless horseman was after them. A bit much, that part. But on the whole it was really, really good. Of course when it was over I was itching to read the book! This is the second book in a row I’ve read after seeing the movie – usually I prefer to do it the other way around. But, I’ve found I can slow down and enjoy the quality of the writing if I’m not rushing to find out what happens.

So, now I’ve finished the book. I’m positive that I read it before, but somehow it didn’t stick. I didn’t remember much at all from the book while I was watching the movie, and then when I re-read the book it really didn’t come back much more at all. Very strange. I guess I must have been younger when I read it than I recall. Anyway, it’s a good, good story. It’s exciting, like the movie, with lots of interesting characters and scene changes, lots of mystery, and juxtapositions of humor and pathos in typical Dickens style.

I think this is a first – I’m going to recommend that you watch the movie, enjoy the suspense and meet the main characters. Then read the book, to add layers of subtlety and more characters and connections between them. Enjoy!

Daniel Deronda

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

Another excellent book by George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans). She is one of my very favorite authors. Like all of her books, this one has great characters. This book excels in character development, exquisite plot turnings and details, and a very unusual storyline.

Themes in Gwendolen’s young, naive, selfish, beautiful life (singing, gambling, willful independence) are revealed in their logical conclusion by other persons appearing in Daniel’s life. Daniel is to Gwendolen exactly everything she could not find (and indeed did not look for) in everyone else, who only valued her for her outward charms and whom she manipulated to get what she wanted. Eliot carries Daniel successfully through the story with his virtuous, sensitive, wise, but lovable and believable character intact. Gwendolen, beyond all expectation, finally learns, grows and changes. Some of the most intense character development that I’ve ever read, and could really engage with and relate to. I guess that means it’s realistic?

Middlemarch

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

… as in the movie, a 6-episode mini series. We thoroughly enjoyed it – and the book is totally amazing; I would recommend it. It’s not an easy book to read, but so rich in characters, language and deep thoughts. Seeing the movie reinforced the top-shelf quality of the book for me. BN and I read it aloud to each other last year, and it took a long time, sporadically reading it at bedtime (dozed off during a few chapters!) and in the car on vacation. But by the time we were done we felt so well acquainted with the many characters that the town (or is it a county?) of Middlemarch felt like home. It’s a sign of the quality of the characters that I truly hated one of them, Rosamond Vincy. She is pure evil. The final scene with her and Dorothea did not sufficiently endear me to her to change my mind that she was the most believably selfish person I have ever met. (I mean, read about.) In the movie they portrayed her as slightly more sympathetic. But still right on. Everyone else was well cast, too. I thought Dorothea just seemed a bit too old. She was perfect for the part but if she looked a bit younger that would have been better. Ladislaw was handsome in an exotic way, but you couldn’t read his expression so he didn’t quite live up to himself in the book. Lydgate grew on me – at first I thought he looked too boyish, no aristocratic features. But he did a wonderful job so I’ll forgive him his not-perfect-looks. Mary Garth – perfect. Caleb Garth – wonderful. Bulstrode – what a complex guy! He worked. And Mr Brooke was a perfect match, too. One thing I missed from the book, though of course they couldn’t fit it all into even 420 minutes – was the scene with Borthrop Trumbull auctioning off the antique fender. That might have been one of the funniest scenes I have ever read, especially in a classic novel. Maybe that’s why it was so funny – I was surprised to discover George Eliot had a silly streak.