It's possible I might start purring

Introducing Gunner & Sparrow, a little brother and sister who now live with us. Hoorah! He's the solid gray one, she's the calico--they're fifteen weeks old and roughly the size of, say, my forearm. No, smaller--more like from my elbow to my wrist, and they have matching white feet, which is more than I can handle, really. If I say the word "cute" one more time today, I just might explode.

So long, 2005!

A few things I'm thankful for, in no particular order:

  • my family--seems like I get more and more thankful for them every year

  • afternoons spent in the park, reading House of Leaves and napping

  • daylight (we see precious little of it, this time of year)

  • the fact that nothing on our car has broken in the last few months...

  • Patty Griffin, Living With Ghosts

  • the many quiet rows of shelves at Henderson Books

  • Firefly, Serenity (that's right, I saw Serenity, and I'm thankful for it)

  • the 16 hour, one-day drive from Salt Lake City to Bellingham in 100+ degree heat

  • for that matter, the stretches of country one sees while on a roadtrip--bland, and otherwise

  • The White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan

  • an apartment on the busline, with pretty wood floors and our own water heater

  • my Thriftshop Junkies hoodie--it's seen me through plenty and will probably be retired soon

  • Arrested Development

  • my brother, who is funny and fun

  • Prismacolor double-ended art markers

  • the pool room at the Nightlight

  • beautiful handmade acoustic guitars

  • reconnecting with old friends and finding that we have more in common now than we ever did in high school

  • Amtrak, and the funny conductor who plays the harmonica when we reach our destination

  • French press coffee

  • people-watching at the Temple Bar

  • oh, I'll say it, no use pretending: my iPod. I'm thankful for my iPod.

  • Coconut Almond Chocolate Chunk ice cream from Mallard's

  • books in general, great books in specific

  • having my own desk at last, for writing and painting and making a mess

  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling

  • midnight at the Husky Stadium

  • the North Fork Brewery

  • my tattoo, and this year being the year that I worked up the nerve (and cash) to finally get it

  • living in the county

  • living in town

  • hand-knitted hats and scarves and wrist-warmers

  • library book sales

  • my husband, who is the coolest ever, and who lets me read things out of context to him, even when he's trying to study

  • Tegan and Sara, So Jealous

  • my job, the wonderful people I work with

  • National Novel Writing Month

  • Fiamma Burgers--the best burgers in the world

  • free time--I tell you, being out of school at last still hasn't lost its charm, no matter that I graduated two years ago

  • kittens! That's right, kittens.
  • 12.29.2005

    The Cute Maneuver

    So, today found me in the Kitten Room at Hohl's Feed & Seed, which is postively trouble. Over dinner last night with some friends, Mitch and I learned that cats are apparently less expensive to maintain than we'd thought, and easier to train. In the Kitten Room, I learned as well that shots and fixin' are included in the purchase price.

    Oh, boy.

    When Mitch got off work I hauled him across the street to the Kitten Room, and there we fell for several kitties, but specifically, we fell for a wee brother and sister--fifteen weeks old, one silver tabby, the other calico, both looking angellic and small and fuzzy, sleeping. The brother woke up groggy and let us pet him, and just as we started oohing and ahhing, he executed what I like to call The Cute Maneuver: he leaned right up against my finger, tucked his chin into his little gray chest and started purring.

    And we were sold.

    We filled out an application, went home and called our landlord (who said, "Oh, of course!"), and now we're waiting.

    Already, we've started picking out names.

    Book Review: THE HOBBIT, by J.R.R. Tolkien

    Considering that THE HOBBIT is the prequel to Tolkien's many-paged masterpiece The Lord of the Rings, it's odd that this book makes a little more sense when read after LOTR. I liked Bilbo better this time through--because I knew what came of him later, it was fun to watch his transformation from a silly, proper little hobbit to a brave, wise, elderly one over the course of the series, and this was an improvement, because I didn't care for Bilbo much at all when I first read THE HOBBIT (I know, I know! Don't shun me, please!).

    But the most interesting thing to me is the difference in tone between THE HOBBIT and The Lord of the Rings. LOTR is long-winded and elegant, reading like a passage out of some ancient text ("And so it was that he, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, first beheld Éowyn, daughter of Rohan, in full daylight and as he looked, he thought her cold" and so on), while THE HOBBIT is playful, reminiscent of The Chronicles of Narnia or of George MacDonald*, and I love that--Gandalf is not a stern forteller of doom in THE HOBBIT, but a mischievious wizard who eats the most, drinks the most and laughs the loudest out of all twelve dwarves (and a hobbit). This is an aspect of Gandalf that is hinted at in LOTR, and in a few wonderful scenes, realized, but mostly the tension and drama of the story require Gandalf to be close and focused, with little time for laughter and mischief.

    Ultimately, I appreciated THE HOBBIT much more the second time through, with all the lovely tales of The Lord of the Rings as a backdrop, and it impressed me as one piece of Tolkien's incredible work--a merrier adventure, though still dangerous and tense, full of drama and intrigue and fascinating characters.

    *Which brings me to an interesting point. If you love C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, I advise you--strongly, and urgently--to go out right now and borrow, purchase or steal a copy of George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin. MacDonald influenced Lewis to the point of being granted an appearance in The Great Divorce, as the ghost who comes to fetch the unnamed narrator at the gates of heaven, and his wonderful storytelling voice is present in both Lewis and Tolkien's writing--mostly in The Chronicles of Narnia and THE HOBBIT, but also in Tolkien's Roverandom. Ready set go!

    (This is also interesting.)

    RATING: 5


    Book Review: FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, by Hunter S. Thompson

    I have started this book maybe three separate times, and not finished it. I've never gotten past the first twenty pages without losing interest, actually, because I can't figure out what the crap's going on, but I won't give up (not yet)--I hear it's a great book, and I also hear, from several figures of literary authority in my life, that I'll like it.

    And it's short. That helps.

    RATING: 2


    Stitch 'N' Bitch: The Frat Boy Edition

    My brother has taken up knitting. Several girls and the mothers of his frat buddies think this is adorable; some of his frat buddies have asked him for lessons. My friend Sarah thinks it very progressive of him to throw off the stereotype of knitting as a predominently feminine endeavor, and to knit proudly, secure in his own manhood and the knowledge that he has broken right through the gender barrier.

    As for me, the sight of my brother, cross-legged in an armchair, watching back-to-back episodes of Rome while knitting a full length, Husky-colored scarf struck me as hilarious. We passed an afternoon like that: my brother, knitting; I, with my notebook in my lap, doodling as I watched TV; my dad, in his impressive black leather armchair, making a comment every ten minutes or so about my brother's new (cheap, Ross is quick to point out) hobby.

    Of course, I'll give you some context. My brother, Ross, is well over six-feet tall. He's blonde, and dashingly handsome--twinkling blue eyes, strong jaw-line, straight white teeth, the works. He's athletic, but also he's artistic, and he learns quickly, so if he put his mind to knitting, well, he'll make a damn good knitter, just like he paints great murals and plays a mean sax and draws these incredible colored pencil drawings. Basically, he puts the rest of us to shame.

    So I put my order in right away for a scarf in Gryffindor colors (and I got one! It's lovely), on the condition that he do mine last, so it's the best. Not that I'm competitve. Really.

    He swore that knitting was a way to make heartfelt Christmas gifts on a budget, and that he'd drop it as soon as the holiday passed, but now he's trying to get my friend Sarah, champion knitter that she is, to teach him how to make a hat, but when her involvement in our little Stitch 'N' Bitch (they could stitch, and I could do the bitching) fell through, Ross figured he'd teach me how to knit instead.

    And so we passed an afternoon like this: watching back-to-back episodes of Arrested Developement while Ross knitted a lovely cream-colored scarf and I tried my hand at a navy blue mess. Ah, quality time.

    Book Review: THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER, by Barbara Robinson

    As a kid, this was my most favoritist of all favorite Christmas books--right up there with the Scratch-N-Sniff Cookie Book. THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER is to holiday literature what A Christmas Story is to film, and I have to admit I was a bit nervous to reread it this year, after so many long years away: what if it was only a silly kid's book--the kind that, when returned to in adulthood, is dull and overly simple, that leaves the now-grown reader wondering what, exactly, was the original appeal?

    I am happy to report that that was not the case. PAGEANT was as cute and funny and touching as ever, and I mean that in a good way: any book or movie with the word "touching" on the cover is usually right out, as far as I'm concerned, but in this case "touching" is somehow not bad, or cheesy, or revolting. Let me explain.

    The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the Lord's name in vain and so the book begins. But when the Herdmans, through a series of events involving arson, doughnuts and a mad cat, get involved in the annual Christmas pageant, the stubborn little congregation, the narrator and her family and all the terrible Herdman kids get a new look at Christmas, because the Herdmans have never heard the Christmas story, and their questions and interpretations of the birth of Jesus shake up the church's predictable pageant and give everybody a peek at how things really might have happened.

    Downright heart-warming, actually. I have to admit I got a little teary-eyed, which made my husband laugh, because I was trying to read the story out loud to him. Seriously, though--it's only eighty pages long. You could read it in an hour.

    RATING: 4


    Oh my, aren't we festive?

    Ladies and Gentlemen, I do hope you're all having a lovely Christmas Eve morning, and that the lovliness continues on into this evening and tomorrow, and for the whole rest of the year--and then that you have a lovely year after that.

    Merry Christmas, my dears! And a happy New Year.

    Book Review: AN IDIOT GIRL'S CHRISTMAS, by Laurie Notaro

    You may or may not have read Notaro's first book, The Idiot Girl's Action Adventure Club--I have not. However, I have read her third (?) book, I Love Everybody (And Other Atrocious Lies), and so I was familiar with her writing, a bit.

    IDIOT GIRL'S CHRISTMAS is a collection of funny essays about various Christmases Past in the Notaro family, including the Christmas that Laurie ruined, and the Christmas where Laurie was labelled (twice! On two separate occasions) The Most Unfun Party Guest Ever. The book features six-foot high handmade lawn decorations, nightmarish shopping trips with Nana, and all the check-out line hysteria one could ever ask for. Personally, I loved the Great Christmas Tree showdown, in which Laurie left her tree up until March, just to irritate her already aggravated mother.

    Notaro's writing reads, to me, like stand-up comedy. Incredibly conversational, slipping into italics and ALL CAPS, as she, or her family, gets more and more and MORE fiesty, the essays flow off the page as though they're being spoken, and that's impressive, but a whole book of it--wait, two whole books of it--gets old, and quick. It's like an overly long coffee date with a friend who recaps, though animatedly and interestingly, every mundane, mildly funny event that has happened to her over the past week (I know, I'm usually this friend--this is why I have a blog)--after about three-quarters of the book, I was feeling all "talked out", which was funny, because I was reading.

    But if you're feeling all Christmassed-out, and you need your holiday spirits lightened, this is a good one--though I'd have to recommend The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson, first.

    RATING: 3


    The Birth of Santa

    I thought it might be appropriate to write about this: Christmas.

    I've read plenty of greeting cards, I've seen plenty of ads on church reader boards crying, He's the Reason for the Season, but that doesn't mean I'm all that great at recognizing the Christian aspect of Christmas--I'd like to be, but I'm not. Like Easter, Christmas has become more a holiday about family, and good food, and traditions like baking cookies and picking out trees and so on, for me--I grew up with Nativity scenes, sure, and we read the Christmas Story, and went to church sometimes on Christmas Eve, but somehow all of that was eclipsed by the more tangible, less boring, facets of the holiday.

    Like presents. No getting around that one.

    And I don't feel all that guilty about this. Christmas has become so commercialized anymore that it's not really a religious holiday, or at least it doesn't feel like one to me, no matter how many pictures of the Baby Jesus show up in ads for Christmas sales, or how many times I get "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" stuck in my head by January 1, and if I wanted to celebrate it as a religious holiday, well, I'd have to go pretty far out of my way to make it not about food and toys and money.

    Bugorama wrote a letter to the editor of the Bellingham Herald (read it here) suggesting that Christians who get all worked up about the word "Christmas" being replaced by "Holiday" in the Wal-mart winter sales might be better off spending the weeks preceding Christmas in church, celebrating Advent, rather than at the mall, and I think she's got a great point.

    In the Holiday vs. Christmas battle, I think both sides are being a bit silly (and by this battle, I mean the purging of religious Christmas carols from schools, the renaming of Christmas Break to Winter Break, the Happy Holidays override of Merry Christmas and so on). While I agree that names are important, and that it does matter how we label things, I also think it quite sad that all this energy is wasted on such a silly point. If you celebrate Christmas, fine--go celebrate it. If you're into the Holidays, fine. Go celebrate them.

    Try not to worry quite so much what your neighbor's up to, that's all I'm sayin'.

    As for me, I celebrate Christmas, even though sometimes the meaning gets a little washed out in my travels from family to family and in my last minute dash to buy presents. This is something I would like to change. I think Bug's suggestion of Advent is a good one--it would definately do me some good to spend the weeks before Christmas reflecting on the story of Christmas and preparing myself, really, to celebrate the holiday with a joyful (not stressed-out) spirit.

    Of course, as my dad and step-mom say, my family also celebrates the birth of Santa.

    Book Review: THE LORD OF THE RINGS, by J.R.R. Tolkien

    I know I am not the first to say so--and of course, I will not be the last--but I think that Tolkien was a genius, and THE LORD OF THE RINGS a masterpiece, a work not bound merely to the Fantasy genre, but one that crosses over into the ranks of great literature--a story so rich and complete in its history, that explores such grand and timeless themes as honor and loyalty and bravery, that THE LORD OF THE RINGS will not be forgotten, I think, for some time.

    Reading the trilogy for the third time (and for the first time since all three movies have been released), I was struck by what a wonderful job the movies did of capturing the scenery and characters, and translating them into film--I was also struck by how many aspects there are to LOTR that could not be carried over to film without being cheapened, or robbed of certain intricacies, so I am grateful to the filmmakers for leaving these things intact, and out of the movies completely. As much as I complained that Tom Bombadil was cut, I find now that I'm glad to have him still whole in my imagination, with all his oddities and ambiguity. He is a three-hour film unto himself.

    Another thing I noticed, in re-reading the books, was that I was able to concentrate more on the history of Middle Earth, to read the songs and stories and folklore more closely, because I am now so familiar with the story that I was not as bogged down in the description and scenery (of which there is plenty) as I read.

    Part of what makes these books so great is the feeling that this immense trilogy, full of end-times forboding and huge, fate-of-the-world actions, is but part of a much longer, more complicated history--I've not read The Silmarillion, but I hear that it is a "brief" history of Middle Earth, complete with the back-stories of characters barely touched on in LOTR [note: I have now read The Silmarillion. My review is linked below], and it is definately on my list of books to read. (I also need to re-read The Hobbit, so you may have a few more Tolkien reviews coming your way.)

    Tolkien's trilogy is incredibly textured, rich with various cultures and languages and history, but through it all runs a sorrow, the sadness of an era ending, as the Elves leave for the Havens and all the free people are threatened by a Second Darkness--and Tolkien upholds this sense of decay, but he also sustains a sense of hope, through all three books so that they are consistent and do not lag or lose steam, ever. Although there is a lot of walking through various landscapes.

    It is my opinion that The Return of the King (Book 3) is one of the best books ever written, and so I would recommend that, if at all possible, you find a few uninterrupted days in which to read it--the first time I read it, I was recovering from surgery, which was perfect, but this time, I stole a few pages between buses and on my lunch breaks, which was not good at all. If you cannot manage enough time for the whole book, then at least set aside an evening for the Battle of Pelennor Fields, because that is, I think, the best part of the whole trilogy--though my love for Eowyn and Theoden makes me a bit biased, I suppose.

    If you've put off reading THE LORD OF THE RINGS because it looks too big or daunting, well, stop that right now and go read it.

    Best book ever. I will say no more.

    RATING: 5


    An excellent point

    Three years ago today, I was gettin' hitched to Mitch! Yee ha!


    Movie Review: Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe

    For the last month or so, I've been radiating enthusiasm for this film--I mean, enthusiasm has been rolling off me in giant waves, like an aura, or bad body odor--and this is the sort of situation that sets one up, sorely, for disappointment.

    So, was I disappointed?

    I was. A bit.

    But there's context involved here: part way through the movie, I was stricken down by a headache of such tremendous strength that I actually threw up later that night, and if that was too much information, I apologize, but I have to set up for you what a very bad headache I had, and how my first viewing of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe came to be so badly tainted. I found myself actually hoping the movie would end so I could go home and lie very still in a very dark room.

    I did say that I was only "a bit" disappointed, after all, and I'm sure it's nothing a second viewing can't fix, because the first half of the movie was perfect--so much so that I, overexcited as I was, actually started crying when Lucy opened the door to the wardrobe room and there was the wardrobe, draped all mysteriously in a drop cloth, every bit like I'd pictured the room, and Lucy, and the wardrobe. I didn't calm down all through that scene, as she stepped through the coats and into Narnia for the first time, in a scene so simple but so powerful, because it drew me back into childhood, and my first encounter with Narnia.

    However, I know now that I went into the theater with mercilessly high expectations. I could forgive the makers of the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter films their cutting and rearranging, but I think I honestly expected that, because the book is so short, that Narnia needed nothing--that the film could follow the book scene for scene, word for word.

    I didn't realize that I thought this until Edmund took off for the White Witch's castle, and the movie, which had kept til then so close to the book, broke off onto its own track, and scenes began to overlap and characters appeared that, try as I might, I could not remember from the book, and suddenly, things were just different, and I--startled and disoriented and well into The Headache--could not keep up.

    They actually invented an action sequence, and I couldn't get past that.

    By the time the movie reconnected with the book (only a few scenes later--I don't mean to exaggerate), I had a hard time getting back into the swing of things, and so I missed out on all the fun of the battle, and Aslan, and so on--though I did not miss out on the fact that the White Witch kicked ass. Literally. She was so stinkin' cool.

    I've read a couple of reviews of the movie that docked points for the director's heavy hand with the special effects--one even complained that the Narnian snow was too "film studio frosty"--but that didn't both me, so long as the effects didn't get so out of hand that they flattened the characters or the story, for that was my primary concern: the characters, and the story.

    And I thought the characters fared incredibly well: the kids were cast pretty much as I pictured them, the White Witch was better than I'd imagined, the Beavers and Mr. Tumnus and Aslan were beautiful, and the sets were near perfect.

    My complaint, really, is a small one, and what it comes down to is that I need to see the movie again, sans headache and high expectations--I think I will enjoy Narnia much more the second time.


    I've heard two rumors:
    a. that a Narnia movie will be released every Christmas for the next 7 years, and
    b. that Disney is waiting to gauge the response to Lion, Witch and so on before they begin filming Prince Caspian.
    Anybody know which it is? Please, please tell me it's (a).


    The Cookie Strikes Back

    Last night, Mitch and I found ourselves at a Holiday Festival, where a Gingerbread-House-Building contest was underway. I don't think I'd ever fully appreciated the art of gingerbread houses until I beheld the intricacies of building rooftops out of everything from Frosted Mini-Wheats to wee, teeny, undoubtedly hand-cut squares of chocolate. Little stone walls, made of thick white frosting and rock candy. Trees built from green star-shaped cookies, stacked one atop the next in dimishing sizes!

    We're not talking about gingerbread houses made from a kit, oh no. These are people who do this every year, who somehow manage to construct Whatcom County landmarks like the county museum, Mt. Baker theater or Mt. Baker itself out of all things candy-coated and edible, who probably draft out their houses before they begin and stock up on stale candy months in advance.

    These are hardcore gingerbread-house-builders.

    And none more so than the participant who submitted...a skyscraper. A four-foot-high, gingerbread skyscraper, with lights in the windows, a full city block as its base (complete with taxi cabs and police cars made of artfully rearranged Peeps), and, as a finishing touch, a foot-high recreation of the giant gingerbread man from Shrek 2. Hanging from the side of the skyscraper, angry and clutching a miniature Santa in his cookie hand.

    Utterly amazing. Breathtaking to behold. And entered, of course, by an engineering company.


    Today, I am thankful for:

    Fleecy mittens and hair dryers.

    Just like that, winter is upon us, in all it's slushy, fat-flaked glory. Walking to the bus depot this morning in my many layers and insensible shoes, I noticed all sorts of gorgeous, nature-y things--a bird flitting about the wet branches of a maple tree; clouds, snow-heavy and blue, growing darker and lower by the second; obscenities traced in the snow by some well-meaning punk.

    At work, we had two cancellations due to the snow, which, in town, was nothing more than a few pretty inches that melted off just past noon. In the county, I'm sure it was much more dramatic, and I miss that about living in the county: getting the snow first, and having a solid reason to cancel things. As it was, everybody on the bus had nice puddles around their feet, and rosy cheeks and noses, and everyone said chipper things like, "Cold out there, isn't it?", or grumpy things like, "Cold out there, isn't it?"

    I notice: snow is a whole heck of a lot more fun when you don't have to drive anywhere.

    I don't have to drive anywhere.


    Book Review: OF MICE & MEN, by John Steinbeck

    I will tell it like this: you're watching a movie in black and white, and the movie is interesting and nice, nothing special, but every now and then will be a little flash of color--a ruby ring lit up, brilliant and red; a porchlight, flickering, suddenly gold--and the flashes are so quick that they are not fun, but jarring. As the movie goes on, they happen more and more often, an eerie sort of foreshadowing--and when the climax comes, it is all alight in these vivid, almost disturbing colors. The movie ends like that: in violent color.

    I did not see what the big deal about John Steinbeck was, not until the last three pages of OF MICE AND MEN. I see it now.

    RATING: 4


    Cue trumpets and theme music!

    ...something like the theme to Mission Impossible.


    Book Review: POSSESSION, by A.S. Byatt

    Somebody asked me once if I'd read this book, and when I said no, they said it seemed like something I would read. I cannot for the life of me remember who said this. If it was you, please put my mind at ease and tell me.

    I'm a complete sucker for recommendations, at any rate, so at the recommendation of this Mystery Person, I bought POSSESSION and I read it. And I enjoyed it, very much.

    It's no wonder that Byatt won a Booker Prize for POSSESSION: part suspense, part romance (not that kind of romance), and two or three parts literature, Byatt's novel follows young Roland Michel, a scholar on the fictional late nineteenth century poet, Randolph Henry Ash, as he accidentally discovers two as yet unseen letters of Ash's in a library book. The letters set Michel on the trail of the unknown woman to whom Ash was writing and, with the help of another scholar, Maud Bailey, he uncovers a story that blah blah blah.

    I'm sorry. My summary is so terribly insufficient.

    When written up like that, POSSESSION sounds like nothing more than a stock thriller plot, with a little history and poetry mixed in. Forgive me. It is so much more.

    Byatt's writing is incredible--whether you like them or not, her sentences are impressive, long and lovely, the words and images she chooses wildly beautiful--and her sense of structure is magnificent. This is the sort of book that begs to be examined in college literature classes--I couldn't help but notice certain themes running through the story (the word "possession", in every possible sense, being one of them), and the way Byatt wove in bits of poetry by her fictional poets, or entire journals written by various characters, and yet kept the voices of each character, whether writing or speaking, perfectly clear, added many, many more layers to a story that was already rich and glowing.

    I liked it. I really did. For you Victorian literature buffs, this is a great mix of contemporary and classic literature, complete with epic poems and scenes set in Victorian England. Postively lovely.

    RATING: 4


    Movie Review: Harry Potter & The Goblet of Fire

    (If you haven't seen the movie, back away slowly; if you haven't read the book, run!)

    Oh, I could kiss all the fine folks involved in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I really could, and here's why:

    They got the graveyard scene just right.

    Perfect. Exactly (exactly) how I pictured the whole thing--and Voldemort, well. I was hyperventilating by the time they finally showed his face, I was that excited, and he was perfect. Exactly how I'd imagined him.


    Whatever else they cut (lots, and lots) they did not cut the ferret scene. Hallelujah.

    I truly admire the brave souls who undertook this most monstrous of tasks, because the question is not only How do you make a movie of a book the size of a small child? but also How do you squeeze in all those bloody subplots without making an eight hour movie, and What can you take out without damaging the story beyond repair?

    Whew. I couldn't do it.

    Even though Goblet whipped by, in all its two-and-a-half hour glory (not only because I was so engrossed in the film, but because the whole thing is contrived of quick, quick, little scenes--so many things squeezed in!), and even though it relied rather heavily on the assumption that the viewer has, of course, read the book, I was astonished at how much they did fit in. Really, I can't complain.


    Because what is a review, if it just gushes on and on about how friggin' cool the movie is?

    So here is my complaint:

    Barty Crouch. Both of them. In attempting to shorten that particular subplot, I feel a whole lot was lost--for example, reading the book I was tremendously conflicted about Barty Crouch, Sr. What kind of man sends his son, screaming and protesting his innocence, to prison, really? And then helps his son escape, only to keep him imprisoned by a house elf for ten years or so?

    I couldn't decide, but I sure didn't like the guy.

    In the movie, sure, Mr. Crouch is pretty intense toward the beginning, but mostly he's no more worth considering than Fudge--not terribly likeable, a little shifty-eyed, but overall, I wasn't able to form much of an opinion about him at all.

    Now, really, I can handle the absence of Winky the Elf; I can handle not getting even a glimpse of the LeStranges (Bellatrix, in particular, I'd been hoping to see), and I suppose I can bear the loss of the Percy Weasley subplot--but I'm not sure I can cope with such a complete alteration of Barty Crouch's character that he comes out looking like a victim. What was that about him admitting to Harry that he'd lost his family? I'm pretty sure everybody else was muttering about the scandal behind his back, in the book, but there he was, all soggy-eyed, confessing to Harry that losing one's family changes one forever.

    And then he just dies.

    And his death is only mentioned once, right after it happens, and nobody seems terribly concerned about how he died, or why, or, particularly, who killed him.

    I suppose that little gaps in logic like that (or perhaps gaps in my attention span--there might've been more to it that I missed, I admit, and I apologize in advance if I'm wrong) are permissable in a huge, brilliant movie like this, and, though I caught a couple others, only one more is worth mentioning:

    Barty Jr. went to Azkaban. As far as we (the viewers) know, there's no mention in the movie of him escaping/faking his death/and so on; also, as far as we know, Sirius Black is the only one to have escaped Azkaban, ever. But when Barty Jr. is apprehended, Dumbledore turns to a teacher and says, "Call Azkaban, I think they'll find they're missing a prisoner."


    Does he mean that the dementors hadn't noticed Barty's absence, or that he'd escaped, but there'd been absolutely no brouhaha about it at all?

    If I missed something, please, correct me.

    In summary, though, The Goblet of Fire rocked--the maze, even without the blast-ended skrewts and the Sphinx, was way cooler than I could have imagined, and Fred and George were in the film a bunch (a sure way to make me happy), and the kids' acting has improved so much, and the dragons, and the mermaids, and oh! Mad-Eye Moody...

    They did my favorite book in the series (so far) such spectacular justice, I was up all night rehashing it, and I'm afraid I drove my husband quite crazy--but ah, well. He ought to know what he's in for: Narnia's up next. They make two of my favorite books into movies and then release them within weeks of each other. I can't stand it; I might explode.


    Draco Malfoy is a total hottie

    I'm leaving (mere minutes from now) to go see The Goblet of Fire.

    Positively, I'm giddy.


    Book Review: WEETZIE BAT, by Francesca Lia Block

    When I was in high school, I was absolutely in love with Francesca Lia Block and her Weetzie Bat books (there are five; I am reviewing only the first, WEETZIE BAT), but upon my reintroduction with Weetzie, I approached them very differently. Something in Block's relentless optimism through the first half of the skinny book put me off initially--everything is lovey-dovey cotton candy clouds in LA, it seems like--and I was close to the end of the book before I came back around and began to see the appeal of WEETZIE: Block's writing, though jam-packed with images and details, is incredibly direct, and this directness pares difficult themes like AIDS and abuse and grief and, that reigning queen of young adult fiction, "being different," down and shows them simply as they are, not in a different light, nor in a revelatory way. They're difficult issues, really, and I think she does them justice. WEETZIE is a brave little book, when it comes down to it. I like that. And the whole thing's so darn pretty.

    RATING: 3


    Book Review: IN COLD BLOOD, by Truman Capote

    When no fewer than three people stop you in the bookstore to point out what a great book it is you're considering, one can't help but have certain high (very high) expectations of said book. Two of the people who stopped me were employees; the third was a stranger with a pronounced German accent. I took them at their word, and bought IN COLD BLOOD.

    I was not disappointed. I was not in the neighborhood of disappointment, nor perhaps, in the same town as disappointment. I'll say it, too: IN COLD BLOOD is a great book.

    Published in 1965, IN COLD BLOOD reconstructs the brutal murder of four members of a prominent ranching family in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, and follows the investigation of the near-perfect crime to its resolution. Capote's sense of timing and the pacing of the story are flawless: he depicts an entire community as it suffers the fall-out of this vicious crime, and as its citizens begin, for the first time, to distrust one another; he portrays the killers and their victims with a skillful empathy that displays the subjects' many facets in a curiously objective light.

    IN COLD BLOOD is a fascinating study of violence that is at times disturbing, at times uncomfortable, but always unflinchingly honest. Several times, Capote gave me chills--his mastery of language is incredible, so that he could set up an entire scene in a subdued, unthreatening tone, but then knock my socks off with a single image: a lawyer, touching the back of his neck in a courtroom; the lazy circling of a housefly. Of all the varied scenes and circumstances of the book, those deceptively insignificant images were the ones that stuck with me.

    To sum up, Capote can use phrases like, "in a pool of his own blood" and make them scary rather than cliche--probably because he said it first, though I couldn't back that up. But I bet he did say it first.

    RATING: 5



    In Which She Procrastinates Further and Feels a Bit Guilty

    So, when I said I'd be putting off the blogging for a month in order to knuckle down and write a novel, I didn't realize that blogging would be an excellent excuse to ignore the novel for a bit...

    And here I am. Not working on my novel.

    But the novel itself, well. 50,000 words is a lot of stinkin' words, did you know that? I spent 4 hours (4 BLOODY HOURS) at the Black Drop this morning--that's breakfast and lunch--and all I've got to show for it is 2,000 more words, a radically revised plot line and a bad stomachache.

    The realization that I should be writing 2,000+ words a day hit me then, as I computed "4 hours" into "2,000 words" and felt rather like bursting into tears.

    This is fun, remember? Not competitive! Fun! A raging blast, as a matter of fact!

    As was inevitable, my computer shut down in the middle of a particularly burly moment of inspiration (not really: by then I was looking for an excuse to pack it in, go home and take a nap--though this was not, of course, what I had in mind), and I hurried home to try and resurrect the sick little laptop and (please, God, please) what remained of my novel.

    Thankfully, the novel's still in one piece--all 4500 words. But you know you're getting desperate to meet the word count when you start employing elaborate "In Which He Encounters a Stranger on a Desolate Road and Engages Him in Conversation"-style chapter titles. Eh.

    Also, I've taken to changing the background on my laptop every few minutes--another tactic for avoiding work--and it's currently leopard print. All is well in the world.

    Book Review: BAGOMBO SNUFF BOX, by Kurt Vonnegut

    I'm just going to say it once (I LOVE KURT VONNEGUT), and then I'm going to move right on to the review: I love him. There. I feel better.

    BAGOMBO is a collection of "uncollected short fiction" (yeah, it's collected now, isn't it? Why call it "uncollected"?), from the second half of Vonnegut's career as a short story author. Welcome to the Monkey House is the first volume of Vonnegut's "collected/uncollected" stories, but I haven't read that one, so I don't know it if it's any good--I'm sure it is, because it's Vonnegut.

    To sum it up: he's funny! He's satirical! He makes me giggle out loud! His short stories are awesome! That is all.

    RATING: 4


    Book Review: REPORT TO GRECO, by Nikos Kazantzakis

    Something tells me I'm in over my head, here. What, review the "spiritual journeys" of the incredible Nikos Kazantzakis, with only my wits, my feeble understanding of the book and a four-year degree to help me? Bah. But I'll give it my best shot:

    This is the closest to an autobiography that Nikos Kazantzakis gets, and it starts out beautifully, at the close of his life, with a preface by his wife Helen that begins: Nikos Kazantzakis asked his God for ten additional years in which to complete his work--to say what he had to say and "empty himself." He wanted death to come and take only a sackful of bones. Ten years were enough, or so he thought.

    That should tell you something of the fierce passion that consumed Kazantzakis, a passion that is evident in his every word--in every book of his I've read (The Last Temptation of Christ, The Greek Passion and the first half of Zorba the Greek), but particularly this one, he presents characters so wracked with anguish, so driven to suffer and find God, that it's almost necessary to set the book down every few paragraphs and take a deep breath. All souls are bared, and GRECO is all the more intense because it is Kazantzakis whose spirit is offered up for the reader.

    GRECO is not a strict autobiography--Kazantzakis makes no bones about that--and so it does not necessarily chronicle his experiences. Instead, GRECO follows Kazantzakis throughout his life as his understanding of God evolves, through his experiences, through the people he meets, through his work, and his particular road to God takes a fascinating course.

    High points? The best chapter, in my opinion, is "Massacre", near the beginning of the book, when Kazantzakis encounters his "first" massacre as a boy--after this chapter, his father, who had until then been a gruff and inaccessible character to me, earned a whole lot of my respect, in a way that caught me completely off guard. Some of my other favorite chapters were the ones telling of Kazantzakis' pilgrimages to monasteries all over the continent, though his studies are not limited to Christianity: in his travels he encounters not only the Greek Orthodox church, but also Nietszche, atheism, Communism, Greek patriotism, Buddhism--his is an unslakable thirst, and the conclusions he comes to are awesome.

    Which is to say nothing of the writing. Every sentence I read, I wanted to mull over individually, pronouncing each word outloud, they were all so lovely--but it took me long enough to read the book as it was, so I stuck to silent reading. His descriptions are gorgeous enough to rival those of Nabokov (and that's saying a lot, you know) and the scenes in Crete were my absolute favorites--lemon blossoms and lusty women, and so on.

    In closing, I give you the best opening paragraph I've read in a long, very long, time:
    I collect my tools: sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing, intellect. Night has fallen, the day's work is done. I return like a mole to my home, the ground. Not because I am tired and cannot work. I am not tired. But the sun has set.
    RATING: 4


    49,399 words to go, and I'm home free!

    If I'm quiet through the month of November, here's why--I'm busy feeling bad about not writing. Rest assured I'll be back in December with a whole arsenal of odd happenings, but in the meantime, let's just slow this page down and reflect. Talk amongst yourselves and all that.

    Oh, and the Black Eyes & Neckties show at the 3B was awesome. I got beer in my hair and a bad cold and the whole shebang (really? Is it actually spelled like that?), and apparently I was one of the only three people on State St. who didn't dress up for Halloween--Sarah and Lyle, my cohorts, being the other two. Ah, well.

    Book Review: CHOKE, by Chuck Palahniuk

    Chuck Palahniuk will ruin everything for you: air travel, eating out, tourism, the zoo (especially the zoo), chocolate pudding, movies, and more. You name it, and he'll work it into a novel somehow and wreck it for you. You'll never eat a bowl of soup in a restaurant again without wondering...I, for one, will never again see the zoo quite the way I did pre-Palahniuk, and I'm not sure how I feel about that.

    I know I was all ambivalent and conflicted in my review of Fight Club, and I know that I can't necessarily play at feeling conflicted again after reading CHOKE--obviously, if I've made it through three Palahniuk novels, something's got me coming back. I better just admit that I like him. He's good. Probably either disturbed (bad) or smarter than the rest of us (worse), but I'll say it: Chuck Palahiuk is good. I like his books.

    And I'm saying that CHOKE is quite possibly my favorite so far. There's tricky pacing and several surprise endings (thought it was over? No! Here comes another one!) that Palahniuk pulls off grandly--the characters are quirky, but not irritatingly so. He develops them all quite nicely, but I was especially drawn to Ida Mancini and, yes, Victor Mancini himself. Ida's madness is of the brilliant, evil-genius variety and so she was utterly fascinating--the power she has over Victor goes far beyond anything Victor, as narrator, can pinpoint, but it's unmistakably there even when Victor himself can't see it. Haunting.

    Which reminds me: I still haven't brought myself to track down that first story of Haunted. Perhaps someday when I'm feeling brave, I'll find it and read it and be changed--or completely grossed out, or what have you. It'll be great.

    RATING: 4


    And what are you gonna be?

    Yes, I definately just saw a big pink bunny tear up Ellis St. on a crotch rocket.

    I love Halloween.


    Event Review: Black Eyes & Neckties at Bay St. Coffee

    So, you haven't seen Black Eyes & Neckties live? Oh, honey, you have to.

    I don't know why I put it off for so long, especially when I'd heard nothing but enthusiastic reviews to the tune of "oh! God! Best live show ever!", and every clip of their music I'd heard I loved, and every band they've been compared to is inevitably one I adore (think Murder City Devils, The Deadlines)--and especially given the fact that I've known 4/6 bandmembers at some point in time but haven't seen any of 'em for years.

    The moment of truth came at last. Black Eyes & Neckties played at the Bay St. Coffeehouse last night, with Racetrack and a couple other bands that we missed, and Lyle, Mitch and I were there. It was great.

    While Racetrack was fun to listen to, the three of us were squeezed onto a love seat somewhere near the back of the shop and all we could see of the show was the occasional flailing of the bass player over the spiked and bleached heads of the crowd. Before Black Eyes & Neckties came on, however, we relocated to the second floor, where we could lean over the railing and look down on the band--ultimately, this was a good move, because we didn't miss a thing.

    Now, for those of you who've actually been to Bay St. (the coffeehouse formerly known as Stuart's--*sigh*), you might have difficulty imagining a punk show taking place in any part of the shop, especially one of the caliber that Black Eyes reputedly put on--I definately couldn't picture it. Even as the band began setting up, I couldn't picture it. Surely, I thought, they're not cramming the bass, guitar and keyboard all into one corner, within mere inches of the drum kit?

    But they did.

    And then they started playing and it was chaos, utter chaos. We were directly above the aforementioned corner, and so we had prime seats to watch the drama unfold as the keyboard took a dive (as did the keyboardist, unbelievably steamy Brenda Grimm) into the audience, after the guitarist crashed into her, once, twice, something like three times, until finally the keyboard stand collapsed and called quits, and Brenda was forced set up her keyboard on an unused bass drum.

    Smoke machines, red lights, wailing! The crowd was sweaty and mad, Davey Crypt nearly killed his drums, he was playing so hard, Brenda crawled into the crowd on hands and knees and writhed around on the ground screaming, while Bradley Horror stalked back and forth shrieking into his mic; Ryan Cadaver, Josh Homicide and Benny Bloodbath (guitar, guitar, bass) tumbled and tossed and took flying leaps at the crowd and each other--all within an area the size of, say, a mini-van.

    They're playing the 3B on Monday night (Halloween! Hoorah!), and periodically the three of us would glance at each other, pump our fists and mouth, "3B!" I can't wait to hear them on a real stage, to see what they do with space.

    [ look | listen ]


    Happy Thanksgiving, eh?

    Ha! Thanksgiving has arrived! Before you start panicking, though, keep in mind that the Michaelis family functions on a whole other timeline--Thanksgiving comes before Halloween. It's just easier that way.

    So, dinner's tonight, and I'm making dessert. My house smells like pumpkin.

    In other news, we (Mitch, Lyle and I) are going to a Black Eyes & Neckties show after dinner--never seen 'em play before, and I know something like half the band from the days of yore. Haven't seen 'em in ages. It'll be great.


    Happy unBirthday (to me)

    We have a houseguest. I think this is awesome, even though I'm not a very good hostess.

    I mentioned Lyle in my entry about Myspace, and here he is, showing up again, but this time he's shown up in my house, with a toothbrush and shampoo. Through an odd twist in events, he's landed on the couch in my living room for a few days, and I love it, having him here, especially since I actually have a living room for the first time in 1 year+ of studio-apartment-dwelling.

    Of course he's been a terrible influence--without company, Mitch and I are usually in bed by eleven, after a happy evening of homework, blogging, reading and Warcraft, but with Lyle, well. Bedtime has been extended.

    Monday night found Lyle, Sarah, Galen and me (all friends from high school, recently reunited), playing pool at the Nightlight well after midnight, despite the fact that I had to work in the morning. Lyle and I, whose birthdays are April 25 and 26 respectively, bickered over scores--I told him that I let him win, as a special unBirthday present; he claimed he'd let me keep on thinking so, as an unBirthday gift to me.

    Tuesday morning found me groggy, moving slowly, but not sorry for a second. Every time I rubbed my eyes I thought of lining up shots on the green felt table, of sinking into vinyl couches and listening to my friends tell stories and laugh, and I grinned. I'd yawn, and find myself smiling.

    Here, let's have a moment. I want to say: what is it about my high school friends, that they've all become such wonderful people? And then I will move on.

    Tonight, we're playing at domestic, the three of us. Veggies are roasting in the oven, Lyle's out getting beer and a movie, Mitch is studying in the still, spare moment while I write and try not to think about the awful lot of writing I'll be doing over the next month.

    It's fun coming home to another person, fun finding somebody else's gadgets plugging into various outlets, fun getting to know somebody I've known so well, and discovering what a splendid person he's become. Say what you want about houseguests, I'll be sad when he goes back to Tokyo and takes all his clutter with him.



    This is probably the coolest thing ever. And I mean that. I always go around saying that stuff is "the coolest ever", but I'm serious about this one. Introducing: National Novel-Writing Month!

    From November 1-Nov. 31, all kinds of silly people from one end of the world to the other are going to be churning out 50,000 word novels in a single month--forget rewritting and carefully-constructed plots; it's a fiction-writing free-for-all!

    Now, grab your pompoms and get cheering, because--that's right--I'm one of those silly people who signed up. The emphasis, the website assures me, is on quantity, not quality, so I can write 175 pages of total crap (but I'll really be trying, honestly--probably it'll just turn out crap, and that's o.k.! I'm o.k. with that) and still qualify. For all the actual details, check out the link above.

    In two weeks I'm probably going to be regretting this big-time, but I do think this is a stinkin' cool idea. Besides, I'm not in school anymore--what the hell else am I going to do? And they gave me a button:

    (props to that one guy for the idea)


    I smell revolution

    My friend Kiah got me started on Myspace.com, and I'm not sure if I should thank her or fall on my knees sobbing, or what. Because whatever life I had...d'you hear it?...just went out the window.

    Here's the funny thing about Myspace--you can find tons of people. People you'd forgotten about, or been trying to forget about, or perhaps had been searching for, desperately. Take my friend, Lyle--good buddies, kept in touch for a bit, moved, moved again, boom! Haven't talked in two years. Haven't seen each other in four. Hop on Myspace, look up kids in my graduating class, and wham! There he is. And he's in town for a month (he lives in Japan, now). I had lunch with him yesterday and everything.

    But no, this is not a commercial.

    The mixed blessing of Myspace is that you start to want friends, badly. You also become terrified, thinking of the kids you knew from high school who are embarrassingly unchanged, whose photos look the same, whose bios read like those of angsty high school sophomores, and you start praying, pathetically, that you're at least a fraction cooler than you used to be. That when people happen upon your profile they say, Wow, that Thea! Look at all the fascinating stuff she's been up to! Oh, and she's lookin' foxy!

    I know. I'm embarrassing myself, just admitting this.

    But the worst are people who really are doing cool things, and who look great, and I'm so happy for them in that shallow "wow, your life looks great on paper" sort of way, but I'm also stabbing at the keyboard rather aggressively as I tell them so, and hoping that my feeble life looks great on paper, too.

    I have to remind myself, periodically, that I adore my life right now. Forget Myspace.

    Oh, but I keep going back, checking every few minutes to see if anybody's found me, if anybody wants to be my friend--so far, I've gotten an invitation from a sci-fi site (how they found me, I don't know) and a bench. An honest-to-goodness park bench. Go figure.

    Book Review: THE TIME MACHINE, by H.G. Wells

    Anybody else see the remade movie, starring Guy Pearce? No matter that I give Guy the eternal thumbs up for Memento, I have to say it: The Time Machine sucked. Sorry, buddy.

    And why? Why should it have sucked so badly when the material they started with was so stinkin' cool?

    Because the book, by H.G. Wells, is another story completely. There's no sappy "I must go back in time and save her" routine here, no new love discovered in the distant future--nope, just science, time-travel and satire, with some creepy action/adventure mixed in. Sounds like the formula for brilliance to me.

    So. The lead, who is known only as the Time Traveller (as other characters are called Medical Man, the Psychologist, the Very Young Man and the Provincial Mayor--though some have proper names, they are few), hosts a weekly dinner and invites several prominent men to his table. He shows them a miniature model of a Time Machine, and tells him his theory on the fourth dimension (Time), and his discovery that man can, in fact, move through time. He invites them to view his full-scale Time Machine-in-progress; his guests express skeptism and disbelief.

    By the same time the next week, the Time Traveller has had himself a full-fledged adventure, the details of which he recounts to his guests after arriving, late and dishevelled, in their midst. Again, they express skeptism and disbelief.

    But the adventure part is awesome. I won't tell you about it, in case you haven't seen the movie, but it's great. Some of the passages where the Time Traveller ruminates on the possible fate of mankind are incredible, because Wells reveals not merely one evolution of man, but several, in the way his Time Traveller interprets his surroundings. Genius.

    In closing, I will say this: I hate it when Hollywood jumps on any excuse to turn a female character into a sexpot. Sheesh.

    RATING: 3


    Book Review: BIG BLONDE & OTHER STORIES, by Dorothy Parker

    What do I know about Dorothy Parker? Nuthin'. But, after reading BIG BLONDE in a moment of desperation (must have short stories! Must have 'em!), I fell for her pretty completely. She's a bit like Salinger, only a girl, and that's a pretty quick way to my heart.

    Though the women in her stories are woefully insecure, I think that might be more of an era thing--I'm guessing '30s? '40s?--so I let it slide. Her dialogue more than makes up for any deficiency in the characters, anyway, and her voice is so sassy I can hardly stand it. Does anybody know about some Dorothy Parker novels? I want 'em.

    RATING: 3


    Ornithological dejecta

    My dad and I have this thing about bad books. Not merely "a complete waste of time" bad, or even "why, God, oh why?", but bad--so bad they're almost good. And while we've exchanged several books of bad poetry over the years, the pursuit of the very worst books didn't get competitive until last Father's Day, when I gave Dad a copy of Why Cats Paint.

    I can't even explain the badness of this book and do it justice, so thank God for the website.

    I send you forth with the chilling words, "They're serious."

    So, we went out to breakfast at Old Town on Father's Day, and found ourselves seated not two booths away from another Father's Day hoopla--a dad, a mom and three kids, and dammit all if the dad wasn't wearing a crown with "World's Best Dad" across the front in embossed letters. Show off.

    "I want a crown," Dad pouted as we sat down.

    Before long, however, we stole the spotlight as the craziest folks in Old Town when Why Cats Paint made its way out of the gift bag--laughing like mad as we read passages aloud, passing the book back and forth over our coffee cups and breakfast plates, both of us crying and pink in the cheeks. In the absence of the actual book, I give you this quote from the website:

    The work shown here was completed in 15 minutes on bathroom wallpaper by Monty, a Persian belonging to Mrs. Nora Scrotes of Chicago.

    Mrs. Scrotes feels sure that the work was directly influenced by Monty being washed and having his knots removed the day before. Not only does Monty find the experience unpleasant, but on this occasion Mrs. Scrotes had to take an extended call from her elderly mother when she was halfway through the final rinse and was therefore unable to restrain the cat from attempting to dry itself by rolling in its litter tray.

    We learned, to our dismay, that there are honest-to-God "feline art critics." And to make matters far worse (or better? I can never really be sure), while perusing The Museum of Non-Primate Art website, I found this.


    Tell a story, tell a lie

    Recently, a friend mentioned her desire to only read books that are "edifying" to her soul, by which she meant Christian books. I wondered at this. I've done that very same thing before--chosen to read only Christian books, to listen only to Christian music and so on, thinking that it would help strengthen my faith to be surrounded so completely by Christianity, but now I am not so sure that cutting off the rest of the world, forsaking the variety of "non-Christian" experience, is beneficial to faith.

    Certainly it only crippled mine.

    To imply that the books sold in Christian bookstores are better for one's soul, to argue that rich, white, conservative, American authors can summon God more readily than Kazantzakis, Tolstoy, or Dostoevsky can, or that fiction must be Christian (must use Jesus as a presence in the story? Must say his name a certain number of times per chapter? How does one guage "Christian"?) for it to be "edifying", seems to me to be missing a very beautiful point: good fiction paints God with many different faces, even though it might not call him by a familiar name.

    Which is not to say that Christian literature is bad. Plenty of it rocks my little world--think L'Engle, Lewis, Don Miller, Bonheoffer--but why do we need to divide everything into "Christian" and "secular"? Why should all "good" books be safe?

    Formulaic Christian literature runs through me like water. To finish a book like Left Behind, or The Prayer of Jabez (a book marketed on its ability to nournish the soul), leaves me hungry for substance, for characters who ring true, who experience God in different ways--whether they call him Christ, Allah, Providence, or do not name him at all.

    The Brothers Karamazov edifies my soul; The Purpose-Driven Life does not.

    All snobbery aside, I recognize that Karamazov is a big, fat Russian novel, while The Purpose-Driven Life is much more accessible to a wide audience, and I'm not getting all worked up because I think that everybody should read Dostoevsky as a spiritual companion to the Bible. Heavens, no. I just hate to see fiction painted as inferior to nonfiction because it's "not true"--in some ways, I think great fiction can carry more truth per page than any nonfiction book, be it history, self-help or a computer manual.

    The difficulty comes in the fact that there is no clear line between wholesome novels and the sort that threaten instant damnation (you know, for even touching the cover), and so it's just easier to write the whole show off as false, and therefore a waste of time.

    Fiction is just so damn subjective.

    I worry when I see people casting off stories in favor of over-marketed facts, because "easily-digested" is not the same as "edifying."

    Book Review: LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER, by Roald Dahl

    Halfway through LAMB, I lost the book! I really, really hate that. I headed straight for the bookstores as soon as I noticed that my copy was gone, but none of my favorite used bookstores had LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER in, so I suppose I'll give you a mini-review of what I'd read so far while I renew my efforts at recovering the book.

    Everybody's been telling me how great Dahl is, and, having read several of his children's books (I just reread The BFG last year), it didn't take much convincing for me to pick up a collection of his stories and get reading...

    The first story in LAMB (the title has the word "parson" in there somewhere, that's all I remember) is incredible--Dahl had me nervous, chewing my fingernails as the plot thickened...and thickened... Even though the main character was kind of a scumbag, I was hooked, and I never honestly thought I'd get so caught up in antique furniture, but there you go. I also loved the title story, "Lamb to the Slaughter"--brilliant. People keep telling me that he started the whole "twist ending" movement, and I could see it--if it didn't originate with him, well, he probably does a better job with it than whoever wrote the first one.

    Sadly, I was right smack dab in the middle of "The Bookseller" when LAMB and I parted ways, and I was just about to figure out what was going on. So unfair. So very unfair. I will find another copy. I'm on a mission, now.

    RATING: 3


    Promoted! (But still working for free)

    Well, Saturday hit my house in a flurry of laziness--I slept in, took an obscenely long shower and spent something like forty-five minutes at the breakfast table, reading. The laziness was so complete that I didn't even brew coffee. I just thought about how much I'd like some coffee.

    To top off my morning of blissful inactivity, I spent something like two hours editing the new site layout, getting the colors and font size and borders and tables and photos just so, and if you don't like it, hmph. That's all I'm sayin'. Hmph. See, you may or may not have noticed, but for the last week I've been taunting you with little entries, mostly devoid of content, so that I can get this damn layout working (to see the template I started with, click here)--but now we're back in business, so get ready for more long, long rants about, well, nothing.

    Eh. I never promised content in the first place.

    When I finally left the house, it was only to step outside and realize that I was tragically overdressed, because--what the crap?--it was sunny out, and 60-degrees. Surely, I did not authorize this. So I sweated my way through the walk downtown, peeling off scarf and ski sweater, and pushing up my sleeves. Though threatened with heat exhaustion, I did not miss the opportunity to ooh and aah over nature: heaps of copper-colored oak leaves! Bare branches, just showing through fiery yellow and gold and red leaves! That autumn sky, an intense blue; the mountains looming, violet and gray, over church steeples, office buildings, the lone parking garage!

    To spare you lots of sentences that would inevitably begin "And then I...", I'll summarize: the afternoon involved bookstores and several hours spent curled up on a couch at the Black Drop, refilling my bottomless cup o' joe and reading, alternately, Report to Greco, Roald Dahl's Lamb to the Slaughter, and a stack of loosly paperclipped stories from the Bellingham Review.

    And this is where I plunge fearlessly into an aside. See, for the last couple years, since I graduated from college, I've been putting in a few hours a week doing grunt work for this literary journal on campus. Keeps me in the writerly scene, or something.

    Nobody really knows who I am, except the editor--I drift in and out of the office at will, opening envelopes, logging in submissions, entering subscriptions into the database, usually rocking out to Frank Sinatra or Audioslave on my headphones while I work, so I don't really have to talk to anybody. I have no status. It's awesome.

    But this week, the editor looked woefully at the mounting stack of fiction submissions (200 in 3 weeks! Egad!), sighed, looked at me, and asked if I'd be interested in being a reader.

    Um. Yes?

    Some kids do this for college credit; I do it for the love of reading. And I get paid in KitKats.

    So I checked out a stack of stories, took 'em down to the Black Drop and got crackin'. What I honestly expected--I say this without shame--was for the stories to be horrible. Really, really bad. And I was excited, because I love terrible writing (I get this fascination from my dad--for an entry on our love of crappy literature, click here)--but in this respect, I was disappointed. The editor warned me that the magazine accepted something like 2% of all submissions, so I certainly did not expect the stories to be, well, good. I definately didn't expect them to be--ahem--better than my writing.

    I know, I know. Ouch. Ego, deflated. Moving on.

    In the end, I quite enjoyed the stories, but by the time I'd finished the last one I noticed that my hands were trembling rather badly (how many times had I refilled my cup?), so I packed up and went home--

    --where I noticed the light on my answering machine blinking.

    Dun, dun, DUN.

    But the rest of this is probably a story for tomorrow, since I'm all tuckered out and ready to hit the hay. 'Night!


    What, another new template?

    Yes, it's true.


    "Is you is, or is you ain't my baby"

    Must really be fall now. I hear rain hitting my windows at full speed; the kitchen smells like licorice tea, the living room smells of candles. I spent the evening curled up on the futon with a book, while Mitch scribbled and scratched out and pondered aloud his homework.

    I miss our woodstove, but a fleecy bathrobe will do.

    We listened to old, crackly jazz recordings courtesy of the Radio Museum's broadcast station, but we kept the volume low enough that we could still hear the rain outside, the slap of wet leaves against wet glass.

    Like a cat curled in front of a fire, I am content.

    Book Review: IN EVIL HOUR, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    Ah yes, another author I've been meaning to read since the dawn of time: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, he of the many thin books, of the few fat ones, of the Nobel Peace Prize. I own both Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude, but have I read them? Alas, no. Instead I've read the nice, skinny novels, Of Love and Other Demons and now IN EVIL HOUR.

    HOUR takes place in an unnamed Colombian town, and begins with a murder--the result of the spread of the dreaded "lampoons" (think tabloids, but they're about you and somebody saves you the trouble of sneaking peeks in the grocery line by nailing it to your front door). The reaction of the citizens and the town's politicians forms the foundation for HOUR's plot, which Marquez builds up with remarkable skill until the comedy of the lampoons is replaced, subtly and very stealthily, by a tense drama of oppression and politics.

    Of course, I was lacking some political context (this is nothing new), so I caught onto the shift in plot a bit late, but Marquez depicts a struggle so gripping that, after a few chapters, the context seemed more beneficial than necessary, and the way in which he twists events just slightly felt to me very much like the maneuvers of a dictator sidling into power.

    And that just gives me the shivers.

    The novel could have been much longer, but Marquez isolates a key point in the disintegration of the town and focuses on it, removing it from the town's history so that the book starts and finishes abruptly. To the reader, it seems that the story continues on in either direction, unrecorded.

    One problem I had, though, was with the translation. I mean, you just can't trust 'em sometimes, and this one seemed a little off. Sometimes the phrases just felt awkward, but other times the characters went around referring to a lady as "so-and-so's wife" when a big part of the scandal was the fact that the lady was not married to the aforementioned gentleman, but was bearing his child. See?

    And my plight was made all the more difficult by the fact that I'm also currently reading Kazantzakis's Report to Greco, and the translation from the Greek is magnificent. Not that I know Greek--I don't--but everything about it feels in place and lovely. Everything is as it should be.

    But, back to HOUR: my favorite scene involves a dentist, an abcessed tooth, the mayor and a passel of gunslingers--it's very good. And since HOUR was written just before One Hundred Years of Solitude, and, according to the back of the book, "points to the author's later and flowering greatness," I suppose I'll have to read Solitude now. "Later and flowering." Honestly.

    RATING: 3



    We must leave the earth not like scourged, tearful slaves, but like kings who rise from the table with no further wants, having eaten and drunk to the full.
    --Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco

    Book Review: GIRLS' POKER NIGHT, by Jill A. Davis

    That's right--I joined a book club. I've yet to attend a meeting, but there's one coming up this week and I hear there will be fondue. I'm supposed to bring apples, or at least that's what my invitation said.

    On a random but not entirely unrelated note, I must add that I checked this book out from the library and discovered, to my dismay, that it smelled strongly of cough syrup. Undoubtedly this has effected my reading of GIRLS' POKER NIGHT, but possibly not--possibly I'm not that shallow.

    But probably I am.

    Anyway. I must admit I was skeptical going into this book, mostly because it has pink on the cover and one of those foo-foo fonts with all kinds of swirls and peppy letters heading every chapter (okay, yeah, I am that shallow), but really, when it's all said and done, I think I liked GIRLS' POKER NIGHT. Ruby Capote, the narrator, kinda won me over.

    See, Ruby, a quirky newspaper columnist, sends the editor of The New York News a batch of her best columns and a six-pack of beer, lands a job at the paper and leaves Boston (and her boyfriend, Doug) behind. The story is told in a series of short scenes (not even chapters, really--the sections are titled but are not often longer than, say, half a page apiece), and the scenes are sprinkled with the wacky antics of Ruby's friends at their weekly poker night, as well as with Ruby's therapy sessions.

    And therein lies the problem: the therapy session. At some point, Ruby gets less funny and more...emotionally conflicted. Psychobabble abounds; there's talk of her abandonment issues and several scenes where she cries and cries and cries...and cries. And cries.

    Perhaps she has reasons to cry, but they're so over-analyzed--by Ruby, her friends, her lover and her shrink; everybody's got a take on Ruby's problems--that, well, I quit actually knowing (or caring) what pushed Ruby to a state of near-breakdown. Ruby, as a character, is fun, but not especially deep, so when she stopped being fun, I found it difficult to stay interested.

    But when she's fun, she's really fun. Ruby Capote's got some great one liners.

    This is a good light read, I'd say--take it to the beach or something, read it when you crave something witty and laughable, and try not to mind the crying. That's my advice.

    RATING: 2


    A template adventure

    This weekend my accidental mission has been to spruce up my site--and I say "accidental" because I had no intentions of changing anything at the start of the weekend, but...so it goes. After many failed downloads and several encounters with screwy text, I found a darling template (courtesy of Maystar Designs) that I proceeded to hack to bits and pieces, rearrange and change the colors--I added links! And comments! And many other things I've come to know and love!

    I rather like it.

    Soon, I shall be adding graphics, if I can ever get at Mitch's computer long enough to break into Photoshop (anybody know any good, cheap photo editors for Mac? I need one, badly), and ideally, I'll convince the drop boxes to your left that they do, in fact, want to open the links I've assigned them.

    Any help with that one? They worked once, but haven't since, and I love them too much to give up.

    But really, what do you think of the new layout? Leave me a comment, let me know! (Of course, that doesn't mean I'll change a thing--ha ha! It's my site, isn't it?)


    We're all sheep here

    So (my husband) Mitch is big on World of Warcraft--sort of like I'm big on blogging--and every so often I peek over his shoulder to see what's happening in the big ole world o' Warcraft (which is significantly more entertaining to watch than the world o' blogging).

    More often than not, I have no idea what the hell's going on, but I'm impressed as all get out that he can keep track of all those wee buttons and bad guys while also maintaining a bit of dialogue with the other players--my video game tactic has always been press buttons! Madly!

    Long story short, the other night I poked my nose in about the time that some other guy turned Mitch's character into a sheep. A sheep!

    "Damn," Mitch said wearily, "he turned me into a sheep."

    "He can do that? Really?" I gasped. "That's the coolest thing ever!"

    "Yeah," he sighed, "that spell's called 'crowd control'."

    Book Review: THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE, by John Irving

    To my knowledge, there is no other author quite like John Irving (and if you know of one, by all means, tell me!). His novels are vast, often following the characters through their entire lives, and they are varied--Irving presents his characters with some of the most original conflicts of any author I've read, and his characters themselves, oh!, they are so lovely, so complete. And he is funny.

    In this case, I turn to the back of the book for a summary, since it does so well. I give you THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE:
    The first of my father's illusions was that bears could survive the life lived by human beings, and the second was that human beings could survive a life led in hotels.

    So says John Berry, son of a hapless dreamer, brother to a cadre of eccentric siblings, and chronicler of the lives lived, the loves experienced, the deaths met, and the myriad strange and wonderful times encountered by the family Berry. Hoteliers, pet-bear owners, friends of Freud (the animal trainer and vaudevillian, that is), and playthings of mad fate, they "dream on" in a funny, sad, outrageous, and moving novel by the remarkable author of A Widow For One Year and The Cider House Rules.
    "Funny, sad and outrageous" just about sums it up.

    Irving is a master of recurring themes--throughout the book certain things come back, over and over (the bear, Sorrow, Freud and "the other" Freud), like refrains between the verses of the Berry family, changing slightly as the story and family ages, acting as the support beams for the rest of the plot. In fact, with this book, the fifth Irving novel I've read, I noticed that Irving repeats themes from novel to novel--the dressmaker's dummy, the "not growing" (Owen Meany, Lilly Berry)--thus giving his books a feeling of continuity.

    Perhaps the only fault I could find with NEW HAMPSHIRE was that, as it was written early in Irving's career, the writing isn't as tight as in, say, Irving's second newest novel, A Widow For One Year (his newest being Until I Find You, whose paperback arrival I am anxiously awaiting)--and that isn't much of a criticism, not when you consider that his early books are still a sight better than most. In NEW HAMPSHIRE, he just doesn't seem quite at home in his style yet, and it's only knowing that Irving is so good now that makes me notice.

    With that in mind, I'd suggest you start with The Cider House Rules or A Widow For One Year if you're new to John Irving. If you're a veteran, well, dive right in--THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE does not disappoint!

    RATING: 4


    She of the repeating stories

    I can't help myself. Halfway through a witty anecdote, I will inevitably pause, feeling suddenly awkward and say, "I might've told you this already...", but of course I can never remember. The problem here might be my tendency to witticize my life and share each individual moment with those around me (this will drive my husband into a coma, without fail), but, eh, it was funny the first time--why shouldn't it be funny the second, especially with a few minor plot adjustments, some added suspense, and character voices?

    Here are my top 5 most retold stories:

    5--The Time I Ran Over My Own Arm Snowboarding. Sad but true. Don't know how it happened, but it hurt an awful lot and the story always draws respectful curiousity from the first-time listener. "You did what?"

    4--The Time My Dad Swung Off the End of Our Rope Swing, Down a Rather Large Hill and Landed in the Ditch by Our Driveway. I was maybe 5-years-old at the time, and could not make sense of the very odd sight of my dad curled up in a ditch and snoring. I turned to my cousin Jenny and asked if he had died (he hadn't, thank God--but he did spend a bit of time in the hospital after that one).

    3--The Time a Childhood Friend's Younger Sister Poked Me in the Ear With a Chopstick. Never play "Doctor" with two small children at once. If you do, graciously bow out when they suggest an "ear check-up," or keep a close eye on both at all times. I tell you, a chopstick to the ear drum hurts.

    2--The Time That A Co-Worker, While Telling a Rather Entertaining Story, Punched Me in the Eye. I had walked up behind her to ask a question at precisely the wrong moment--she swung her fist back to illustrate a point and made alarmingly solid contact with my left eye. She felt terrible, but I was laughing too hard to accept her apologies (all of them, many) for a few minutes.

    1--The Time I Had a Kidney Stone, a Hand-to-Mouth Virus and a Ruptured Appendix (the latter resulted in hospitalization) in Less Than 5 Days. This story is not so lovely, but terribly dramatic. I didn't suffer any of these at the same time--they spaced themselves out over the 5 days rather nicely--but I really don't feel that detracts from the overall effect: I need to crack my knuckles and push back my sleeves before I tell this one, and it always gets a good reaction.

    Hmm. Most of these involve me, or somebody near me, getting hurt--I hadn't realized that. I am my own slapstick routine.

    Of course, this list changes often, but these are the classics--the ones I come back to periodically and ask, "Did I ever tell you about the time that...?" when there's a lull in the conversation.


    Book Review: THERESE RAQUIN, by Emile Zola

    My friend Laila, who loaned me Zola's The Earth, assured me that Zola is one of the most depressing authors ever, and after I finished the book I had to agree with her--his artistic treatment of humans as animals is bleak, sad, and violent. But there's an absorbing quality to his writing that makes it difficult, no matter how many times you try, to leave his books unfinished.

    THERESE RAQUIN is a "grim tale of adultery, murder and revenge in a nightmarish setting," according to the back of the book. Why did I try Zola again, you may ask, since I found The Earth so depressing? I'd have to shrug and mumble something like "I found it in the free box at Michael's Books, and, well...". It seemed worth a shot. And it was. It was worth a shot.

    Perhaps one of the best parts of the book is the preface--and by no means to I intend to put down the novel itself by making this assertion. Zola's rebuttal to the critics of his day who found the book pornographic and offensive (more on this later) is scathing and delicious, well-written and direct. It opens like this:
    I was simple enough to suppose that this novel could do without a preface. Being accustomed to express my thoughts quite clearly and to stress even the minutest details of what I write, I hope to be understood and judged without preliminiary explanations. It seems I was mistaken.
    And he goes on to whip those critics into shape:
    Obviously my work is the property of my judges and they can find it nauseating without my having any right to object, but what I do complain of is that not one of the modest journalists who blushed when they read Therese Raquin seems to have understood the novel. If they had, they might perhaps have blushed still more, but at any rate I should at the present moment be enjoying the deep satisfaction of having disgusted them for the right reason. Nothing is more annoying than hearing worthy people shouting about depravity when you know within yourself that they are doing so without any idea what they are shouting about.
    I could go on quoting the preface forever, but instead, I turn to the novel and wonder what pornography the critics were referring to--sure, there are sex scenes (it's about adultery, after all), and perhaps it was simply that the times were different and any mention of sex at all was naughty, but it seems to me that, if one was looking for something in THERESE to object to, one might take issue with how very disturbing and grotesque the story is. Two lovers murder the husband that stands between them and then find themselves haunted by his corpse--not his ghost, mind you, his bloated and decaying corpse.

    I do not take issue with it. The book is fascinating, but it's creepy as all get out--thank God it's short, that's all I'm saying. But Zola's storytelling is furious and intense from the very first chapter and for all 256 pages I was hooked. Grossed out, half-afraid to turn the lights off, but hooked.

    RATING: 3


    Event Review (Donald Miller at the PAC): She encounters a church circus, and hears Don Miller speak

    I've now accomplished one of the things I'd hoped to do before I die: I've seen Donald Miller speak live.

    If you're not familiar with Donald Miller, well, he's an author, and his books are very good. Blue Like Jazz, a feisty, memoirish book on "Christian spirituality" (which, in between nuggets of glittering wisdom wholly relevent to my feisty little generation, is complete with handdrawn cartoons and funny anecdotes about his friends, Tony the Beat Poet, Rick the Cussing Pastor, Andrew the Protestor and more) fell into my hands at precisely the right moment, and since then I've felt something like gratitude towards Miller.

    He is not a traditional Christian author; he is not a traditional Christian. His liberal-mindedness, his lack of fear that prolonged contact with anything unChristian (or even dubiously Christian) will in any way diminish his faith, is refreshing after books like Left Behind and The Prayer of Jabez (both of which are available in the "...for Women", "...for Teens", and "...for Leaders" editions--I smell money. Does anyone else smell money?).

    But most of Miller's appeal lies in his confidence, which comes across an awful lot like humility--he can laugh at his own expense without sounding false, he can make a statement in his favor without sounding arrogant--and in the fact that he is easy to relate to. Like Anne Lamott, but less nuerotic.

    After reading his second book, Searching for God Knows What, which is more theological than Jazz's Sedaris-style prose, I determined that I must go see Don Miller at all costs, if ever the opportunity arises.

    Arise it did, and on Thursday, I found myself standing in the lobby of the PAC with Mitch, my mom and my stepdad, and many, very many, college kids. More and more students packed into the lobby, all of them chattering, all of them whipping out cell phones and laughing in a way that made me feel, well, old, as I checked my watch and thought, I hope we get done around ten, because I'm tired.

    When the doors finally opened, we all proceeded in a dignified way (some elbows and knees were involved) to our seats, and the volume level continued to hover somewhere around "piercing" as the auditorium filled up. And filled up. And the ushers started to look a little harried, as all the seats appeared full but people were still coming...

    Finally folding chairs were employed, and the room was packed elbow-to-elbow with students, youth pastors and my parents, who were by now a bit self-conscious at being, apparently, the oldest people there ("It's okay," I reassured them, "it's because you're so hip").

    And one of the pastors walked up front to the mic and said hello, and introduced...

    A band?

    Yup. A band took the stage, instead of Don Miller, though the pastor/MC assured us that Don would be up later. So the band played, and, while I might have enjoyed them more had they not been sprung on me as a surprise instead of Don Miller, I was a little annoyed--though they had one instrumental song that was amazing, involving an acoustic guitar being used both as a guitar and a percussion instrument.

    Finally, the band finished and I sat up straight and the pastor took the stage again and introduced...

    A video?

    They played a video that--oh, most original of concepts--featured a camera man going around Western's campus and asking random students what they thought of Christianity. I slumped back into my seat and groaned.

    When the video finished, the pastor took the stage again and (dare I hope?) introduced...

    Another pastor.

    That's right. So Pastor 2 took the stage and proceeded to apologize to the audience for how he may have misrepresented Jesus in his life and blah blah blah, and how he hoped we could forgive him for standing in the way of Jesus. Jesus!, I was on the verge of crying in sheer exasperation, Right now you're standing in the way of Don Miller!

    About the time I began grinding my teeth, the pastor finished his bulk apology and introduced (Please, God, I prayed fervrently, Don't let it be another pastor)...

    Donald Miller.

    Who made up for it all by laughing aloud and saying, by way of opening remarks, "Well, if there's anyone here tonight who's not a Christian, they're probably creeped out by now. I'm sorry," he smiled apologetically, "We're goofy as hell."

    And then he added, "But I'm not going to talk about Jesus tonight, so don't worry," and proceeded to tell an anecdote about unwittingly taking a girl on a date to a reading of lesbian erotic poetry.

    He's in his thirties; he's got curly brown hair, thinning a little, and eyes creased like he smiles a lot. He is a big man, with big hands, broad sloping shoulders, and a charming demeanor--not Gilderoy Lockhart charming, but charming like you'd like to hang out with him sometime and he'd probably let you.

    And he more than made up for the pre-show hoo-ha. After reading a lengthy excerpt from his forthcoming To Own a Dragon (prefaced by the statement, "It's about growing up without a dad, which is a subject a lot of people find sad--but I find it funny"), that had the whole audience in fits of laughter, the Q&A session began.

    And a guy in our row wanted to know why Don Miller wasn't talking about Jesus tonight, and a guy toward the front asked the inevitable "How did you get published?", and a girl in the back asked for Miller's take on "scripture as the 100% infallible word of God," which ellicited a flustered laugh from Miller, who then proceeded to say that he couldn't answer that: what did she mean by "infallible"? What did she mean by "Word of God", or "100%"?

    The next question came from a guy a few rows behind us, who was curious which religion Miller would choose next, if Christianity didn't work out, and this got a delighted laugh from Miller. He scratched his chin thoughtfully and said, "Well, I've always had a soft spot for Buddhism...and agnostism's really sexy right now..."

    My own favorite quote came when someone asked for Miller's opinion on Christian music. He listed some bands he liked, said a lot of it was really good, even if some of it wasn't, and then said that great Christian music "is going to be revolutionary, it is going to be bloody, it is going to march up to the man and kick him in the nuts."

    Which is pretty much what I think Donald Miller's writing is up to right now--kicking the man in the nuts--if by "the man" you mean "the American church" and if by "kicking" you mean "making some changes."


    Book Review: THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE, by Thomas Hardy

    I came across Hardy via The Catcher in the Rye:
    ...That doesn't happen much though...You take that book Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham. I read it last summer. It's a pretty good book and all, but I wouldn't want to call Somerset Maugham up. I don't know. He isn't the kind of guy I'd want to call up, that's all. I'd rather call old Thomas Hardy up. I like that Eustacia Vye.
    This reference sent me on a mission to find this Eustacia Vye, and find her I did.

    THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE is set on a heath (I had to look up what exactly a "heath" is: "...an extensive area of rather level open uncultivated land usu. with poor coarse soil, inferior drainage, and a surface rich in peat or peaty humus"), in Hardy's own little fictional Wessex.

    The story goes roughly as follows: Clym Yeobright returns to the heath after several years spent in Paris, to find romance, scandal and tragedy awaiting him. His cousin, Thomasin, has been disgraced by the innkeeper, Damon Wildeve, who is in love with the aloof and haughtily romantic Eustacia Vye, who harbors certain feelings for Clym himself, whose Parisian lifestyle makes him more attractive to Eustacia than any dashing good looks or riches could do. Lurking in the wings is Diggory Venn, the mysterious reddleman who is quite taken with Thomasin but has been rebuffed--nevertheless, he makes it his mission to see her happily wed to Wildeve, if not to himself.

    Whew. As you can imagine, this could be updated rather easily to a romantic comedy starring, say, Ben Affleck and Sandra Bullock (though we'd have to fatten her up a bit to make a decent Eustacia Vye).

    The many sets of star-crossed lovers and mistaken identities and narrowly missed opportunities make for a fantastic tale of romantic intrigue. Eustacia's lofty air, her idleness and her raven curls are a bit reminicent of Emma Bovary, but in a more frantic, funny way. Hardy uses the weather and the wildlife and the open loneliness of the heath to his story's advantage, setting the lovers' meetings against a pitchblack writhing sky, or a bare, blue one. The characters' feelings toward the landscape itself provide an interesting foundation for their actions and emotions--few things are more dramatic than Eustacia weeping on the heath at midnight, alone.

    Also, THE NATIVE has the best chapter titles: "A Coalition Between Beauty and Oddness", "Sharp Words are Spoken and a Crisis Ensues", "She Goes Out to Battle Against Depression", "Rough Coercion is Employed" and more! I loved them, and took to reading them outloud, much to my husband's dismay.

    I had little interest in Hardy before reading THE NATIVE, but now I shall go forth and hunt down his other novels, one by one, beginning with either Jude the Obscure (what a great title!) or Tess of D'Urbervilles (not so great--I can't spell that one). I'd rather like to call up old Thomas Hardy myself, though the fact that he's dead does present certain difficulties.

    RATING: 4


    Yes, but do they dress themselves?

    A couple doors down from our house is a costume shop. In the two months we've lived in this building, I've never once seen the shop open for business, and I'd just begun entertaining the action-packed thought that maybe the shop was really a front for a drug-running circle when I noticed, one morning on my way to work, that the window display had changed.

    Previously, the assorted mannequins were all dressed in Egyptian garb--headdresses, Cleopatra kohl and all--but now, oh yes, they're all done up as pirates. Wussy, mannequin boys in knickers, with patent buckle shoes and cascading black ringlets; she-pirates in emerald velvet waistcoats. Bandanas and parrots and stilletto boots abound.

    Oh yes. Shiver me timbers, indeed.


    God is my DJ (part II)

    To pick up where I left off in my previous entry:

    What I remember from starting services at Breakwater Church before was the crackling energy of a new church--all of us so excited, so ready to go--and this Breakwater had none of that. Walking in the door, I felt something like sorrow--a new, deep humility that marked the faces of everyone I talked to, particularly Rick (my favorite person/head pastor mentioned in part I). Somehow, Breakwater has aged, but the change is very becoming.

    There were no more than twenty people there, only a quarter of whom I knew from the old church, and we scooted our chairs up close to Rick as he gave his message; we closed our eyes and listened, we fiddled with key chains and sleeves. Kids played and giggled behind us as he spoke, and it was all deliciously unplanned--Rick let himself ramble, telling stories; as he closed the sermon he said, simply, "I'd hoped to say something really moving here, but...this meant a lot to me when I wrote it, you know, so maybe I'll just pray that God will do something cool for you, too."

    All the churches I've been to in the last two years have had this in common: they have not been Breakwater.

    Sitting in the very chairs I remember folding up after services, I realized that all I'd ever wanted in a church was for it to be Breakwater, and that, at some point, even Breakwater ceased to mean what it once had to me--a safe haven, a family, someplace to come and drink bad coffee and make noise, or to sit still and ponder.

    Or to laugh. Which is what I did mostly.

    Nostalgia was at work, sure--"oh, I remember that amp, and how the volume knob was so sticky, and sigh, I remember blah blah blah"--but something more was happening too, an intense gratitude that, through everything God's led me through (just because I didn't see him much doesn't mean he wasn't there), he should bring me back here.

    Ah, home.