Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Our Wordle

It's almost like I haven't met a widget I didn't like.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Almost French by Sarah Turnbull

Sarah Turnbull, an Australian, is touring Europe when she meets Frederic, a Parisian.

She ejects her itinerary and follows him to Paris.

And the payoff (for us) is this lovely book.

Sarah has a view of Paris and the French as an expat who is living with and eventually marries a native. It's an outsider's insider view and it provides a nice contrast to Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon.

While she can't avoid hobnobbing with some expats (although she tries mightily to avoid it), Turnbull's Paris, because of her intimate relationship with a Parisian, is filled with experiences and affectionate insights about the ups and downs of trying to fit in as a unpretentious Aussie in the hierarchical, class based world of Paris.

Turnbull is honest enough about herself to allow the reader to get frustrated with her tendency to take personally what are essentially cultural differences. She is also fond enough of the French to provide believable explanations for their abominably rude behavior.

I finished Paris to the Moon feeling that while Paris is a nice place to visit, I wouldn't want to live there.

I finished Almost French feeling that in the right circumstances, I could probably enjoy living in Paris too.

Monday, July 28, 2008

You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons

You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons: The World on One Cartoon a Day by Mo Willems captures the cartoonist's around the world travels one day at a time. Each day as Willems journeys from London eastward through Europe and Asia he draws a one frame cartoon that embodies his experience. The result is a collection of witty insights into the world from Western tourists point of view. It made me smile and laugh.

Here are some samples:

You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons, Part 2

More of Willems because I just found it so hard to choose:

There are over 300 in the book. In addition to the captions that I included in these scans, Willems adds brief explanations on each situation.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ivy Briefs

Ivy Briefs: True Tales of a Neurotic Law Student describes a young woman's experience at Columbia Law School in a Legally Blonde kind of way. She tells of her insecurities as a middle class Midwesterner in an Ivy League school. Well, I did want to learn about the challenges of law school in an entertaining way, but I just couldn't take the minutiae and her tone, which was just to ingratiating. Or maybe too young. The Thanksgiving dinner that didn't come out right or her insecurities about not wearing the right outfit to orientation were just not of interest. I gave up after reading how she did on her first semester exams.

A Man's Head

Georges Simonen's A Man's Head (Inspector Maigret Mysteries)is a quick, pleasant read. It's a detective story with local color and intriguing psychology.

Maigret, a Parisienne detective, suspects that the wrong person is about to be sent to jail for murder. Against his supervisor's wishes he reopens the case. The French setting added interest to the story elevating it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Journey to the Center of the Earth

This month’s online book club pick was Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. Well, this club consists of screenwriters so it makes sense that we, I mean Jack - he does the choosing, sometimes choose books that have film adaptations in the theaters.

I was not at all excited about this book. I was sure it would be a dull read. However, in the early chapters I was pleasantly surprised as the narrator, a scientist’s nephew, has an engaging personality. While his uncle is gung ho for even the most ridiculous and risky adventures, the nephew is reasonable and practical. Throughout the journey as the uncle enthuses over the preposterous and impossible, the narrator worries about their lack of water and food and questions his uncle’s sanity (well, almost).

Yet as I got more into the book my interest waned. Even when it was written, people knew how hot it was as you neared the earth’s core and no one would have believed that there were huge caverns or lakes as deep into the earth as this expedition gets. It was just preposterous. Also, I need more of a theme. What does this journey tell us about our lives? Good science fiction, I think, should really have something to say indi-rectly about our own situations. I need the characters to change, to discover something about life or themselves. Verne doesn’t bother with that.

Monday, July 21, 2008

All Good Books

Hemingway said, "All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse, and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was."

from "The Writers' Almanac"

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Stations by Michael Flanagan

The subtitle of this book is An Imagined Journey.

Quite imagined.

The author creates an engaging fictional railroad, family, artwork and history that will feel remarkably real to anyone who has experienced the area of the country which he presents.

Using painted photographs or photographed paintings, Flanagan weaves a story of a couple, a brother and a bygone railroad.

Beautiful images, both visual and verbal.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Walk With Jane Austen

As an Austen fan inspired by Bridget's recent reading of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion A Walk with Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love, and Faith,I had to grab this off the new books shelf at the library. Lori Smith embarks of a month long trip to England and chronicles the experience from the first week at a class in Oxford to her rambling through the countryside where Jane lived or traveled. All the while Smith ponders how Jane's writings, books and letters, shed light on her own life as she ruminates over her own single status, the possibilities of a relationship with a charming man she met in Oxford, and all her foibles and desires.

I didn't notice the word Faith in the title. The idea of adventure called to me. Yet the faith (Christian) aspects interested me. She humbly examines and explains how her faith has changed and how she has uncertainties about the hows and whys of things yet she still believes. Her fairness when writing about a tough period working at a Christian non-profit that had a lot of bad office politics and difficult, disrespectful supervisors showed someone one able to tell the truth and take the high road at the same time.

I liked that Smith was sincere and fair in expressing her feelings throughout the book. She's going through a tough time, full of uncertainty and weakness. She's had health problems but doesn't know the cause (she does learn that a year later). She's worried and keeping her weaknesses at bay is a fight. Unlike say Eat, Pray, Love the story doesn't end with the expected bow. Not everything is tied up. I'll leave it at that. I think the honesty and willingness to accept difficulty and imperfection with matruity make this all the more worth reading.

An interview with Lori Smith

Friday, July 11, 2008

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Graphic novels are weirdly effective.

Or at least the two that I've read have been.

They turn the normal reader/writer dynamic on its head. Rather than leaving the reader to imagine the visuals, the writer of the graphic novel leaves the reader to imagine the details, to connect the dots and fill in the story.

Persepolis presents us with the memoir of a young girl who, in the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution, is sent to Europe to attend high school.

In Iran, she's surrounded by loving family while navigating the difficult and dangerous fundamental society that was the result of the revolution. In Europe, she's immersed in the stable education system but is an adolescent alone with little in the way of adult guidance.

Satrapi is too outspoken for the strict Iranian society and is too buttoned-up for the looser European society. When she moves from the streets of Tehran to the more familiar streets of Vienna, an environ which more closely resembles that with which I am acquainted, I felt her alienation even more keenly.

From the Random House Pantheon website:

Originally published to wide critical acclaim in France, where it elicited comparisons to Art Spiegelman's Maus, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's wise, funny, and heartbreaking memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah's regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran's last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Some Great American Scandals

In A Treasury of Great American Scandals: Tantalizing True Tales of Historic Misbehavior by the Founding Fathers and Others Who Let Freedom Swing Michael Farquhar presents all kinds of scurrilous behavior that our founders, presidents, congressmen and leaders have engaged in. I learned what a terrible father Ben Franklin was. While once close with his son William, they became estranged as this founding father's son was a Loyalist. William spent years in jail and Ben cut off all contact. After the war, the two met to settle
some financial matters. Will had emmigrated to Britain and Ben was in France. The meeting was like a business deal during which William realized that his father was charging him for clothes and pocket money given to him as a boy.

There are dozens of such stories including an explanation of the paternity suit against Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt's kids' astonishment that FDR, a family black sheep - a Democrat no less, gained such popularity and various sorrid love affairs and the occasional murders or duels that ensued. Francis Scott Key's grandson had a torrid, open affair with a Congressman's wife. The cuckolded Consgressmen soon killed him and was acquitted.

Light reading that shows that scandal is an American tradition not a recent development. If you think that America once experienced a Golden Age of purity and high values, this book will straighten you out.

Passing by Samaria

Sharon Ewell Foster's first novel, Passing by Samariatakes readers back to early 20th century Mississippi and Chicago, during a time of Jim Crow and race riots. Foster sheds light on the racial conflict of the era revealing new aspects of the culture, delving into the hearts of her characters including Alena, whose friend was lynched, the wife of a Klans man and a new white pastor, who knows what he should do and say, but fears consequences.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Once again, true love triumphs over adversity.

It's difficult for me to be objective about Austen. I struggle to filter my reactions to her unfamiliar language, her unfamiliar time and class based society, and my aversion to Harlequin romance type sagas. All of that poses obstacles to my unfettered enjoyment of her prose.

On an intellectual level, the eighteenth century English preoccupation with class and breeding that is so central to Austen's tales captures my interest even while it engenders a certain amount of disdain.

And yet, on an emotional level, I can't help myself. I like her happy endings, her accounts of triumphal love.

So, I'm off to read yet another . . .

Friday, July 04, 2008

In the News

An Indiana teacher who used a much lauded bestseller, The Freedom Writers Diary,to try to inspire under-performing high-school students has been suspended from her job without pay for 18 months.

The effective book ban by the school authorities in Perry Township has outraged teachers and education reformers.

The Writers Diary, a series of true stories written by inner-city teenagers, was put together by a teacher, Erin Gruwell, and has been celebrated as a model for transforming young lives. It was made into a film with Hilary Swank last year.

Connie Heermann, a teacher for 27 years, sought permission to introduce the book to her students last autumn after attending a training workshop held by the Freedom Writers Foundation. “If you read the whole book you will see how these inner-city students grow and change and become articulate, compassionate, educated young people who want to do something good in their lives despite the environment in which they were raised,” she told the Guardian. “I thought my students would very much relate to those kids.”

Her head agreed and Heermann got written permission from nearly 150 parents, but the Perry Meridian high school board urged her to wait for its decision.
For more.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A good quotation

"The best monments in reading are when you come across something--a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things--which you thought unique and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you never have met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours."

--Alan Bennett