Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sick, sick, sick

Being sick really stinks. Especially on your very last week of freedom before going back to work and facing the mad crowds of students, colleagues who want to brag about their summer research and travel, and endless, pointless meetings.

Wasn't feeling too great on Sunday, but I simply attributed that to a bit of overindulgence the previous evening while out with some old friends visiting from out of town. Boy was I wrong! Monday morning greeted me with a stomach ache that made me double over, high fever and chills. August isn't flu season, is it? What did I do to derserve this?? Hubby has been a dear, though, and made me lots of jello and brought me ginger ale every time that I bellow for him to attend to me.

This is a bit of a setback both personally and professionally, as I was hoping to get a bit more research and writing accomplished before going back to work and to write up my long overdue reviews of the following books for the Summer Reading Challenge and Southern Reading Challenge: A Good Man is Hard to Find (Flannery O'Connor), The Heart of a Woman (Maya Angelou), Mademoiselle Victorine (Debra Finerman), The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon). I have my work cut out for me! I have, however, felt justified in indulging myself in some good reading--reading, after all, is a more passive activity and requires less energy than writing.

My advisor attributes my current ill health to my last few tireless days of writing to finish another chapter of the thesis during which I ran down my resistance. Hmmm...is this is her way of appeasing me for having slashed the prior chapter?!

Regardless, I am simply thankful that we bought a new mattress last week and that I have a nice, long novel to read. If confined to bed, it helps one's morale (and keeps one's mind off the tummy ache) to be at least comfortable and entertained.

I spent the great majority of Monday (and most likely will do the same today, as well) reading The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I found this novel in hardback a few weeks ago on the discount table of a bookstore for a mere $5.00. Based on the 300+ pages that I have read in my sickbed, I would have been quite pleased with my purchase had I shelled out the full price...and then some! I have heard people complain that this one gets off to a slow start and that it could have been edited down from its 500+ pages (yes, this one is a chunkster!), but I disagree. I like slowly moving narratives--if there is a reason for the pace and an eventual reward. In this case, it works for me. I look forward to finishing this and sharing my thoughts on it. For now, here's a brief description from Amazon:

If your pulse flutters at the thought of castle ruins and descents into crypts by moonlight, you will savor every creepy page of Elizabeth Kostova's long but beautifully structured thriller The Historian. The story opens in Amsterdam in 1972, when a teenage girl discovers a medieval book and a cache of yellowed letters in her diplomat father's library. The pages of the book are empty except for a woodcut of a dragon. The letters are addressed to: "My dear and unfortunate successor." When the girl confronts her father, he reluctantly confesses an unsettling story: his involvement, twenty years earlier, in a search for his graduate school mentor, who disappeared from his office only moments after confiding to Paul his certainty that Dracula--Vlad the Impaler, an inventively cruel ruler of Wallachia in the mid-15th century--was still alive. The story turns out to concern our narrator directly because Paul's collaborator in the search was a fellow student named Helen Rossi (the unacknowledged daughter of his mentor) and our narrator's long-dead mother, about whom she knows almost nothing. And then her father, leaving just a note, disappears also.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Booking through Thursday

Although my blog content admittedly has been lacking lately, I'm afraid that I'm not doing much better today. I've seen several people doing Booking through Thursday and I haven't done any memes at all so far, so here goes.

Do you have multiple copies of any of your books?
If so, why? Absent-mindedness? You love them that much? First Editions for the shelf, but paperbacks to read?
If not, why not? Not enough space? Not enough money? Too sensible to do something so foolish?

Yes! I do have many duplicates among my books. Most of the duplicates I have because they are books that I study and often use in my research, so having different editions prepared by a variety of scholars is useful because they have different insights in their footnotes and introductions. This is why I have so many copies of Renaissance French books and the Bible (I study early religious reform—before Luther—as expressed in literature of the period). Some of the other French duplicates I have because a professor in graduate school discovered that he had different editions from the ones he had ordered for us in the campus bookstore. So, all of us poor grad students had to scrape our pennies to buy his editions of the texts so that we could all follow along in class. Thus, I have multiple copies of Balzac, Montesquieu, Voltaire…there are even a few more that I don’t mention below.

I’m sure that I have more duplicates than the ones I list. Sadly, the great majority of my books are in storage, so I’m working mainly on memory here. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we will find a new house soon so that all of my books can be restored to their proper place on shelves instead of in boxes!

The Bible: 5 copies (New Jerusalem, New Oxford Annotated, Revised Standard, a French language edition, and a leather-bound one that my granny gave me as a child)

Jeanne Flore, Les Comptes amoureux : 5 copies—this is the book I’m writing my thesis on. So, I have a microfilm copy of both the original and second editions (1540 & 1542), two modern editions and my very own English translation, which I hope to publish next year (again, keeping the fingers crossed!)

Rabelais’s Gargantua: 4 copies
Rabelais’s Pantagruel: 3 copies

Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence: 2 copies; one movie tie-in--I hate movie tie-ins, so I had to buy another nice paperback

I love old hardback books, so these two I own in both modern paperbacks and vintage hardcover:

Galsworthy, The Forsyte Saga: 2 copies; one cheap paperback and one nice old hardcover from 1928
Marguerite de Navarre, Heptaméron:3 copies (2 French; one old English language hardcover)

  • Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun: one paperback; and one autographed & personalized paperback that I got when I met her at a public lecture a few years ago (she is so nice and thoughtful; I loved her!)

    The fault of former grad school prof (2 editions of each):
    Balzac, La Fille aux yeux d’or
    Montesquieu, Lettres persanes
    Voltaire, Lettres philosophiques
    Beaumarchais, Le Mariage de Figaro

    As for these two from childhood, I bought stray trade paperbacks of one book in each series, loved them and then had to buy a complete matching set, resulting in a couple of extras.

    C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: one stray paperback; one in complete set
    Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods: ditto

I hope to catch up on reviews this weekend!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Why people read less these days...

I just learned this morning that our state general assembly decided to provide extra funding to students already on scholarships and studying math or the sciences. My immediate thought was: what about the humanities?? We're important, too! Just apparently not in the "real" world. When expressing my severe revulsion to this new development, my husband simpy shrugged his shoulders and replied: well, the state needs more doctors and engineers and accountants right now. But, if there is a monetary value placed on certain majors, isn't this dictating to our students what they should study? Despite my obvious concern as a college French teacher wanting to keep her classes on the schedule, I also think that this is really sad for our students. It's discouraging them from broadening their horizons. It's preprogramming them to devalue reading and writing and art and music and history and language and...lots of other things, too. Yes, students do usually have to take a certain number of required classes in these subjects, but they treat them as just that: requirements. They put these classes off as long as possible and arrive to class with poor attitudes, limiting the possibility for teachers like me to inspire them--if they are already seniors, it's too late for them to switch majors even if they do end up appreciating my subject. I'm not bitter because I study and teach a field that makes less money and interests fewer students. Truly, I'm not because I love what I do. I simply wish that our culture were more open to quality of life, self-discovery, exploration of the world, etc. Life is so much more rich when we probe its contents, all of its contents. Am I over-reacting? Probably a bit. Am I fighting a losing battle? I sure hope not.

This recent clip from the Colbert Report touches on my above complaint. Sometimes when things are depressing, you just have to laugh at them. And Colbert certainly made me laugh here:

Friday, August 3, 2007

Kiddie Lit

I have kept up with the Harry Potter series over the years and admit that I have quite enjoyed them. I have a strong affinity for children’s and young adult literature and sometimes even wish that I had taken a few courses in it in college and graduate school to better appreciate its place in literary history. Fantasy series that draw on the imagination and call for a bit of thinking like C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia or Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time books were among my favorites and had I been born a couple of decades later, I’m sure that I would have treasured Harry Potter. In fact, there are several great series out there today that Harry Potter aficionados may enjoy such as Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap books (Magyk, Flyte and Physik) or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy—Pullman’s are wonderful, imaginative, intelligent books.

What I have enjoyed about J.K. Rowling is that while her characters go through amazing trials and tribulations, and have first hand experience with ugly, adult matters of death and loss, they remain unspoiled by their experiences and, though not naïve, retain their youthful innocence and vigor. These are kids having fun, enjoying and relying on one another’s company, even when they have to muster up every drop of courage in their young bodies to face hideous obstacles. And wouldn’t it be fun to be a kid at Hogwart’s? Rowling has an impressive—and smart—faculty of imagination and a great gift for coining terms for her inventions. I can’t imagine any of her creatures, spells, potions or curses having more apt names, abilities or consequences. I think that her world of witches and wizards is so convincing precisely because of this skill.

The seventh and final Potter book did not disappoint me. Like the others, I nearly finished it in one sitting, staying up all hours of the night to find out what would happen next. I was pleased with how she ended the series: she explained the puzzling actions of Dumbledore and Snape, worked out the mysterious connection between Harry and Voldemort and strengthened the bonds between her hero and his two great friends Ron and Hermione. We learn more about the psychology of these three as they mature into responsible adults. There are hints of love, inner turmoil, self doubt, concern for the greater good. My only complaint—and I’ve discussed this with my brother—is that the Deathly Hallows, supposedly a central aspect of this book if we are to believe the title, receive only peripheral attention. I can’t quite say that they were an afterthought, but I was a bit disappointed that their importance was not more fleshed out. A minor complaint in this otherwise exciting, satisfying read. And the epilogue certainly opens the door for a next generation of Hogwart’s fans. Although Rowling may have meant it when she said that there would be no more Harry Potter books, there is certainly room for a next generation!

So who is your favorite HP character? I’ve always liked Ron Weasley. Poor old Ron lives in the shadow of his best friend and just can’t seem to live up to his standard. How can you not find him endearing. I also have a particular fondness for redheads, having married one! Apparently, though, I have more in common with Hermione. I suppose it’s not too far-fetched since I was slightly nerdy and awkward until I got contacts and grew up a bit.

By the way, in this post, I learned that the sorting hat would put me in Ravenclaw. How about you?

What Harry Potter Character are You?

Hermione Granger

You are a smart and intelligent person. You use your smarts to help out friends. You can be emotional at times but you always seem to be in the mood to help someone out.

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz

Quizzes and Personality Tests

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Good Ole Southern Road Trip

I just got back home after nearly two weeks at the beach and I have to say that I have missed blogging. It's growing on me. A long stint at the beach is a hard life, I admit, but it was for the purpose of eliminating all distractions (read: internet connectivity) and to get some quality writing done on my dissertation. I returned home happily, having accomplished a lot, including my first real tan in about 10 years! I also did a good bit of pleasure reading, finishing The Shadow of the Wind, the new Harry Potter book and making a nice dent in Maya Angelou's Heart of a Woman. Reviews are in the works.

In the meantime, the clock has been ticking away--the Southern Reading Challenge Sense of Place Contest ends today! My husband and I are trying so hard to create our own sense of place, having made a offer on this lovely house this past weekend. Doesn't seem like this one will work out, but who knows. It does look really homey, though, doesn't it? I can picture some comfy rockers on the front porch, maybe some ferns hanging from above... If not this one, maybe something else (and even better!) will come along.

Flannery O'Connor had a beautiful homeplace on her farm, Andalusia. Her room, where she wrote the majority of her works, was in the front left corner of the country plantation below. The tree-lined dirt road leads up to the front door. Her peacocks roamed the grounds at will, harassing visitors and feasting on her flowers. There are no longer any peacocks on the grounds, but it's not difficult to imagine them.

So, here's my sense of place entry. Not really fair of me to use so many pictures, but I had fun with this! Great idea, Maggie!

These excerpts from "A Good Man is Hard to Find" remind me of driving up the old dirt road to O'Connor's home. I like to think that one can at least partially experience the sense of place that she creates here when visiting Andalusia.

The grandmother didn't want to go to Florida. She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey's mind. Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy. [...]

The next morning the grandmother was the first one in the car, ready to go. She had her big black valise that looked like the head of a hippopotamus in one corner, and underneath, she was hiding a basket with Pitty Sing, the cat, in it. She didn't intend for the cat to be left alone in the house for three days because he would miss her too much and she was afraid he might brush against one of the gas burners and accidentally asphyxiate himself. Her son, Bailey didn't like to arrive at a motel with a cat. [...]

She said that it was going to be a good day for driving [...]. She pointed out interesting details of the scenery: Stone Mountain; the blue granite that in some places came up to both sides of the highway; the brilliant red clay banks slightly streaked with purple; and the various crops that made rows of green lace-work on the ground. [...]

The grandmother took cat naps and woke up every few minutes with her own snoring. Outside of Toombsboro she woke up and recalled an old plantation that she had visited in this neighborhood once when she was a young lady. She said the house had six white columns across the front and that there was an avenue of oaks leading up to it [...].

They turned onto the dirt road and the car raced roughly
along in a swirl of pink dust. The grandmother recalled the times when there were no paved roads and thirty miles was a day's journey.