Monthly Archives: March 2010

Also, a busy girl…

One week until Sarah Vowell speaks at Lamar University, where I teach. If you are anywhere near southeast Texas, you should really try and make it. The lecture is free and open to the public as part of a bi-annual Academic Lecture Program. Sarah Vowell, who has written several books, has worked with NPR’s “This American Life,” performed the role of Violet in The Incredibles, and currently works on an HBO set, is the only writer I have ever found who can make the Puritans and the Pilgrims funny. Yes, I said funny. If you haven’t read anything by her or heard about her, she is touted as the “female David Sedaris,” a title I abhor because it sounds as though I believe, like Christopher Hitchens, that women can’t be humorous. I totally disagree, but I do like the reference, as I love love love David Sedaris. This line from her book The Wordy Shipmates is great:

Once Roger Williams was away from home and got word his wife was seriously ill. He wrote her a letter, later published as the pamphlet “Experiments in Spiritual Life and Health” that gives a reader an inkling of what it must have been like to be married to him.

“My Dearest Love and Companion in This Vale of Tears,” a pleasant enough start. “I now send thee that which I know will be sweeter to thee than honey,” he writes, “and of more value than if every line and letter were … gold and silver.” And what is a gift a girl wants more than jewelry? A sermon on proper Christian behavior, of course.

This has been such a long process (I’ve been working on it since about September), so I am really ready to see it all come to fruition. The chair of my department really gave me a long leash with this program, and I’ve had my hand in pretty much all aspects of the planning. Above is the program cover I designed. Today, I picked up all 500 copies after a hugely stressful morning in which the assistant at the reception space called and said she didn’t have us on the calendar for next week. I panicked. I let my classes go early after taking a quiz and began rapidly making phone calls and reassuring myself that this is the biggest snafu to hit. Crisis averted. So now I have verified the lecture space, reception space, stage prep, caterer for the reception, media, flowers, interpreter, etc.

Having said that, I am also teaching The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak this week and am enjoying it all over again. Hopefully, at the end of this week (maybe next), I’ll post more in-depth thoughts on it. I know many out there have read it, but it’s such a great novel with so many interesting, unique themes. My students are really enjoying it, but I am finding it difficult to stretch it out over two weeks. I may try and find some clips of Meet Joe Black to emphasize the isolation Death (the narrator) feels. If you have any suggestions at all for teaching this great book, please drop me a comment, or two or three… I actually got the Meet Joe Black suggestion from another professor and think it’s a great tie-in.

I am also attempting to read Brothers Karamazov for Dolce Belleza’s read-along, and I gotta tell you: It ain’t easy. I thought maybe after distancing myself from the disaster that was Ana Karenina (referring both to the book and my experience with the book), I wasn’t sure I’d ever tackle Russian literature again. Alas, Dolce enticed me; I signed up, and I WILL READ IT. I don’t know if it is simply my own block or the book itself that I find so difficult. The other distraction? All the other great books in my TBR stack and the mountain of tasks I have to complete in the next couple of weeks. Any encouragement to keep going would be much appreciated. Don’t make me beg.

So, now that I have officially whined for an entire post – what are you reading?


Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker

I won this fabulous book in a giveaway from Frances at Nonsuch Book. It came in the mail yesterday, and I was so excited. I started it last night and just finished it. It was a really fun read with some hidden depths. I would write a review, but Frances already wrote a great one here, so I’ll let her do the honors.

Bringing back heretofore widely unread classics, The Bloomsbury Group is doing great work.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

What a lovely, lovely book. I cannot believe Carson McCullers wrote this at age 23. Set in the mid 30s, the book centers around John Singer, a deaf-mute who works as an engraver at the jewelry store. When the story opens, Singer lives with another deaf-mute, Spiros Antonapoulos. Singer knows sign language; Antonapoulos does not. The two are close and need no words to feel as though they understand one another. Each knows the other so well and so intimately. Antonapoulos becomes ill and changes after his health returns. Shortly thereafter, the Greek’s cousin sends him away to be cared for, and Singer is devastated. Alone, he thinks of his friend and finds himself

shap[ing] the words before he knew about it. Then when he realized he was like a man caught talking aloud to himself, it was almost as though he had done some moral wrong. The shame and the sorrow mixed together and he doubled his hands and put them behind him. But they would not let him rest.

Outside of his community, which included him and Antonapoulos, there is no room for his sign language. It becomes to him something shameful instead of a natural way of living. He cannot stand to live in the same place and moves to a local family’s – the Kellys – boarding house.

The four other main characters are all developed in relation to Singer. Mick Kelly, the daughter of Singer’s landlord, has a passion for music. Jake Blount, a slightly crazy drunk with an abhorrence for injustice and the travails of America, sees something in Singer. Biff Brannon, the owner of the New York Cafe, spends his nights watching people and thinking. Doctor Copeland, an African-American doctor with a deep-seated rage, tries to come to terms with his family and his community.

This is such a quiet novel. It is so unassuming. I think that is partially why I was so swept away. It’s simply about life. Of course, things happen, but there are no major plot twists and turns. The most fascinating aspect of this book was how these four characters all see John Singer. An enigmatic character, he becomes whatever his friends need him to be. Or, as McCullers says,

An old Negro woman told hundreds of people that he knew the ways of spirits come back from the dead. A certain piece-worker claimed that he had worked with the mute at another mill somewhere else in the state – and the tales he told were unique. The rich thought that he was rich and the poor considered him a poor man like themselves. And as there was no way to disprove these rumors they grew marvelous and very real. Each man described the mute as he wished him to be.

His four friends visit him individually in his room, Mick seeking his radio and the music he cannot hear, as well as knowledge of an interior life that she enjoys herself but does not quite understand. Biff seeks to know more about Singer and thinks by looking into his eyes he can determine what makes Singer so special. Blount wants a comrade, someone to share his frustration, someone different but like himself. Lastly, Doctor Copeland desperately hopes that in Singer he has found a white man who understands his people’s plight.

But more importantly, Singer lets them. He has lost his one true companion, and these others simply fill the time he cannot spend with the one person he feels truly understands him, although there are indicators that Antonapoulos could not understand Singer’s sign language either. And although the books discusses race and class issues as well as Mick’s coming-of-age, it mostly probes the question I think everyone asks him or herself over the span of a lifetime: can anyone truly know another being?

Thought provoking and intelligent, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is truly a classic novel, and I urge you to read it. If you have read it, what else did you pick up on? Did you love it? Do you think my assessment of the characters is correct?

Booking Through Thursday

Do you take breaks while reading a book? Or read it straight through? (And, by breaks, I don’t mean sleeping, eating and going to work; I mean putting it aside for a time while you read something else.)

I am, what I have begun to refer to myself as, a one-sitting reader. I barely take bathroom, snack, or sleep breaks. I can remember my mom making me go outside when I was younger and sneaking my book out with me to sit in a hammock and read. Don’t get me wrong – she encouraged my reading and is a book lover herself, but there were times when my reading was ridiculous.

These days there is not always someone to stop me, and that can be an awful awful thing. When I read The Help, I began it at 8 p.m., intending to read about 50 pages. I finished it that night. Right now, I am reading Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. It’s quiet and lovely, and I am enjoying it. However, outside influences are enough at the moment to keep me from devouring it. So, it depends on the book. It depends on exterior obligations. It depends on my mood.

That said, living alone is an amazing amazing phenomenon. There are times when dishes should be washed or laundry should be loaded, but if I am really into a book, there is no one to make me feel guilty for not taking care of those domestic tasks immediately. And I loooooove it.

And the winner is…

MELANIE of Melanie’s Musings. Congratulations! Email me, and let me know your pick and your info. I’ll send your pick to you as soon as I get the batch in from Amazon.

Thanks to all who stopped by yesterday. It was great fun!

In the meantime, I am reading Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and hope to have a review up tomorrow or the next day. So far, I am absolutely enthralled. Ta ta for now,

Picky Girl

In which I gloat – generously.

If you want to see other gorgeous cupcakes, click on the photo.

Serendipity! I am now the proud owner of a $100 Amazon gift card. The only thing that would make me happier would be THESE cupcakes. I will gladly take any and all book recommendations (or cupcakes), but please only send me the best of the best. Ready, set, GO!

Ah, and since I am so excited and feeling generous, if you leave me a comment with a recommendation and your pick and contact info, I’ll randomly choose someone and send YOU* your pick. Make sure and comment by 5 p.m. CST Thursday, March 25, 2010. Thank you for reading! Those of you who have commented since I started this blog, thank you! It’s so fun and encouraging to read your comments. If you’re lurking, de-lurk. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Here’s wishing you a fantastic day full of good books and heavenly cupcakes.

*Please limit this to the continental US because Amazon gift card aside, I am a broke girl.

Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell

What can I say? Really. I’m just not inspired to write a full-blown review of this book, which is partially why I haven’t blogged for days. If you like The DaVinci Code, yeah, you’ll probably like this. If you want to read a really intelligent but thrilling book that does this much better, read Elisabeth Kostova’s The Historian. In fact, I need to reread it.

If you know anything about Shakespeare, you can anticipate what this book will discuss. The Shakespeare authorship. Elizabethan scandal. The burning of the Globe. This book I would describe as a “fun romp.” Parts of it were uneven, others boastful. Several times, I found myself skimming liberally.

For a lengthy but generally fun suspenseful book with academic leanings, I would suggest it. The premise: Kate Stanley, first American female director of Hamlet on London’s restored Globe stage, is visited by former friend Rosalind Howard. She and Howard were once extremely close but have parted ways because Kate wants to direct plays, and Ros wants to study them. Ros tells Kate she has found something, something big, and gives her a package to be opened only if she is willing to “follow where it leads.” The Globe is burned later that day, and Ros is found to have been murdered in the style of Hamlet’s father. Kate decides to figure out what Ros was onto, and the ensuing action is full of twists and turns, believable and unbelievable. By the end, I was really having to suspend my disbelief about 20 stories up in the air.

Whew. That’s over. Back to regularly-scheduled blogging. Happy Monday.

Kafka, weeds, and sunburn

Can we just acknowledge this week and move on past it? I know it’s Friday, but I feel like it’s going to take daaaaays to get over this week. Sorry for the non-reading posts this week. I’ve had one class in the library learning research methods; the rest of my classes are discussing symbolism in John Cheever’s short story “The Swimmer” and Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. If I hear one more student say the words, “Blah blah blah, that crazy bug story,” I am going to scream or begin laughing like a maniac, I’m not sure. For some reason, I’ve felt drained from all the prep time this week and just haven’t had energy or time to read for fun.

However, I skipped the gym today because my entire body is hurting from 4 hours of yardwork yesterday including but not limited to lawn mowing, weeding (massive weeding), trimming shrubs, paring my lemon tree, cutting down a tree-like weed, raking, etc. I figure I deserve a break.

So I am off in hunt of breakfast, a warm spot in my bed (where hopefully I will not turn into a giant bug), and Jennifer Lee Carrell’s Interred With Their Bones.

These are a few of my favorite greens…

Okay. I shamelessly borrowed this from Centsational Girl, but I couldn’t help myself. Green is my absolute favorite color. In fact, I should not tell you how many items I have just because they are green. I simply cannot help myself. So today, a celebration of my favorite greens: books, boots, home accessories, etc. I hope you enjoy … and don’t forget to wear green.

The green on the exterior walls of this Austin, Texas restaurant? To die for. Is this place not beautiful? And some of the best authentic Mexican food you’ve ever had.

Algae on water at a swamp area at Shangri La Park in Orange, Texas. The park is absolutely gorgeous, and the contractors did everything they could to construct the gardens from recycled goods, including pathways made from recycled cups. It’s a beautiful place. If you’re ever in southeast Texas, it should be on your to-do list.

My backyard in spring/summer.

My green Steve Madden cowboy boots. They were a Christmas gift from my brother after he saw me lusting after them at the Houston Galleria. I walked around all Christmas day in my pajamas and boots.

A green globe light that used to hang in my grandmother’s home. I asked her if I could have it a few years ago because it goes perfectly in my living room, which is black and white with green and sea foam green accents. I love pieces that mean something to me.

Of course, I could go on and on, but I will leave you with those. Just know that I could take pictures all day of… my green kitchen. Green handbags (one in Italian leather), two other pair of green shoes, and on and on and on and on. For now, I will wish you “Slainte” and hope you have a wonderfully green day.

[Also, if you’re looking for a great new Irish writer, look no further. Tana French, author of In the Woods and The Likeness. These are mysteries but are both wonderfully well written.]

“They think I’m dotty.”

Today was an all-around not great day. Bad weather. Students’ excuses for not having annotated bibliographies prepared. Headache. Major sleepiness. Run-in with the DMV [long story, but I got a notice of non-renewal for my DL that said it was because I hadn’t taken care of a ticket. Two weeks of phone calls to the constantly-busy DMV line revealed it was a mistake, but of course, one I have to handle]. Class tonight. Worrying about money because of my adjunct status at the university and only have one summer class when I really need two. Needless to say, I needed some down time. And a Xanax.

Down time = Miss Marple movie. Luckily, Netflix came through, and I had Murder, She Said waiting in my mailbox this morning, along with a certified mail slip. [What now??] Murder, She Said is a Miss Jane Marple movie based on Agatha Christie’s 1957 novel 4:50 From Paddington. Miss Marple, played by Margaret Rutherford, is on the train when another train is alongside, a curtain shifts, and Miss Marple sees a woman being strangled, black ominous gloves on the killer’s hands the only visible image of the killer. Miss Marple, along with her sidekick/beau/confidante Mr. Stringer report the murder to the police. However, as Miss Marple frequently has murder on the mind (she reads sensational mysteries), they simply think she dreamed it up and let the matter go after a cursory search along the train tracks.

Miss Marple, not one to be deterred, goes on a hunt for the body herself. Mr. Stringer goes with her, and poor soul – he is frightfully nervous the entire time. A couple clues lead to a large old estate near the tracks, and Miss Marple determines to get a job there as a maid in order to learn more. Deceit, mixed identities, more murders, and an odd child await Miss Marple behind the doors of Ackenthorpe House, and mayhem abounds. Of course, there’s the predictable “dark and stormy night” with murderers up to antics when the lights go out and the obligatory trap for the murderer at the end. But, of course, that’s why one watches Miss Marple, and it certainly improved my mood and made me want a spot of tea. Charming, and perfect for a rainy day.