Tag Archives: Literary Monday

A satisfying ending

Three things:

I finished Neal Stephenson’s Anathem yesterday. At nearly 900 pages, plus fifty pages of appendices, it took longer than most books I’ve read recently. It was also the sort of book that I wanted to think about as I read, since so much of it involved really interesting philosophy and mental experiment.

The basic plot involves a different world, with interesting characters and an amazing storyline. The main character goes through a series of revolutions in the size of his world (so to speak), and each time his world expands it begins with a denouement of sorts. I absolutely loved just about every minute of reading the book – I’d forgotten how much I liked Neal Stephenson, maybe, so I am thinking I might go pick up the Baroque Cycle since I haven’t read that yet. Anathem is highly recommended to anyone who likes to read, and it’s a bonus for those who like science fiction and fantasy or who like playing with words in their head or those who like philosophy of science. Absolutely fantastic, and when it ended I was very sad, because I’d grown to love the characters and the story so much.

Today, we went to see The Men Who Stare At Goats, which was pretty much big dumb fun, with a bit more intelligence than big dumb fun movies usually are. George Clooney and Jeff Bridges got to reprise parts of the roles I’ve always thought they both had most fun playing (Ulysses Everett McGill from O Brother Where Art Thou and The Dude from The Big Lebowski, respectively). Ewan MacGregor is in it as well, and it’s definitely worth a matinee price to see it in the theater, though I’m sure it will be just as good on DVD. Overall, it was quite silly and entertaining while being well-acted and a bit unusual at the same time.

And tonight, the season finale of Mad Men, about which I can say nothing but DAMN was that ever good. WOOOOO! Now we have to wait until next summer to find out what happens. ARGH.

Literary Monday: Why I’m glad I’m not royal

Picture it: You’re 15, you’ve been betrothed to a prince in another country whom you’ve never met since the age of four, you travel to said country, marry the guy, and he dies five months later.

Suck!

Then, you spend the next SEVEN YEARS waiting to marry his younger brother.

Double suck!

Yet this was the life of Katherine of Aragon, known most famously as the first wife of King Henry VIII of England, but less-well known as Catalina, the Infanta of Spain and the wife of Henry’s older brother, the man who was supposed to become king.

Last night I finished The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory. It chronicles the early life of Katherine of Aragon, known as Catalina until after she married Henry VIII. I tried reading one of Gregory’s other books (The Virgin’s Lover, about the early reign of Elizabeth I) but got bogged down and bored. This one, however, was not at all boring. We learn about what it was like to grow up fighting the Moors, with a warrior queen for a mother, what it was like to know that you would marry young, grow old, and die the queen of another country, possibly never seeing your family or country again. What it was like to be the widow of a young prince and to be forced to stay in a strange country for years while your parents and deceased husband’s parents decided what should be done with you, a pawn in a political game far more important than your happiness or well-being. To tell a great lie and never admit the truth, regardless of how you feel about it, to marry your husband’s brother and attempt to mold him into a good ruler. To have stillbirths and miscarriages and dead babies, to have only one surviving child, to never have a physician allowed to lay hands on you during illness or pregnancy because you are untouchable as a queen.

Man. All I gotta say is, I’m glad I live in a time where commoners live decent lives and am also glad I’m not royal, fated to marry for political reasons rather than love. I’ve always been interested in the lives of the Tudors, particularly Elizabeth I, but never thought much about Henry VIII’s first wife, Mary’s mother, until I picked this book up. English history would have been very different had Henry’s brother Arthur lived, had Katherine been carrying a child when he died, had any of the children she had with Henry be male and live past infancy. There might never have been a Queen Elizabeth of England, an Elizabethan Era, and perhaps never have been a Church of England. Think of how different western culture might have been, all because of the death of a 15-year-old prince.

Interlude

Of course I’m still going to write about the rest of the wedding, but someone has promised to put up more photos and I plan to use some of them in telling my recap in all its gory detail. So instead, I’m going to do a little book reviewing and discuss the weather and all the other stuff that’s going on since we got back from Denver.

So, there.

First, I finished The Year of Living Biblically. It was great! A fantastic read, very funny and poignant in a few places. I read many parts to Dan out loud because I found them so amusing. And it also really made me think about what it means to have faith in a book written so long ago, for a culture that is long gone, and how modern-day people attempt to translate such esoteric rules into actions that make sense now. It also made me think about how glad I am that I don’t feel any pressure to live my life according to how someone else (deity or no) tells me I should. Recently, some people I know who were culturally Jewish decided to really explore their faith and have become Orthodox – she covers her hair, they keep completely kosher, they follow the Sabbath, and for them it has become something very important. They really enjoy following all the Orthodox rules; it gives meaning and structure to their lives. As in The Year of Living Biblically, it makes them feel good to have a set of rules to follow, and they do the things without knowing WHY they are important to do, but they trust that God has His reasons and so they do them. That’s great for them, and I’m happy they have found something that fulfills them. And I’m happy that I don’t feel the need to follow any proscribed rules myself.

I’m really glad I read the book and that the author took his time to do a lot of research, experience a lot of what it means to be Orthodox Jewish and/or Fundamentalist Christian, and write his experiences. I highly recommend it.

I’m about halfway finished with Under the Banner of Heaven, the bestseller from a few years ago about Fundamentalist LDS people (and also about the origins of the Mormon church in general). I borrowed it from Monkey while we were in LA last week and started reading it right away, because I’ve wanted to read it for quite some time. While I find it fascinating, it also tends to give me bad dreams about scary religious people so I’ve stopped reading it before bed (which is when I do most of my reading for fun). I expect to finish it, perhaps this weekend. So far it’s about what I expected in terms of the story told in the book (a true one) and the exploration of the origin of the Latter-Day Saints, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and how and why the polygamy bit became a part of the deal. It’s really quite interesting, and I can see why the one-husband-many-wives thing might appeal to the men, but what I still haven’t figured out is how they’ve convinced all the wimmenfolk to go along with it for so long. The modern-day FLDS women (and their children, for different reasons) don’t seem to have things so good. Girls are married off at really young ages, often to men significantly older, and they don’t have any choice in the matter. Boys are, more often than not, kicked out of the compounds and communities when they get older because the older men don’t want the competition for women, so they end up in unfamiliar places with no money, job skills, or education. “Lost boys,” they are called. It sucks for everyone.

Another book I borrowed from Monkey was Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty. I finished that one earlier this week and really liked it for the most part, although part of me was expecting it to be better since it’s been talked up by so many people. Long story short: power fantasy for girls, set in turn-of-the-century (as in, 19th to 20th) India and London. I’m rather fond of the main character, but didn’t feel the other ones were quite fleshed out enough – and there could have been a lot more explanation about the power bit. I’m not going to spoil it, and I do plan to read the other books.

Right now I’m reading one I checked out from the library, yet another “authorized” sequel to Gone With The Wind, this time from the POV of Rhett Butler. I’m about 1/4 to 1/3 into Rhett Butler’s People, and so far it’s not quite as good as “Scarlett” (which, I must admit, I rather liked in its own right, despite the characters behaving nothing like their counterparts in GWTW) but it’s an escapist fantasy of a different sort, and I intend to finish it. I’ve gotta read something that will keep me from dreaming about the crazy fundamentalists.

Also, this week has been the epitome of Spring in Colorado. It’s gone from sunny, warm, and lovely (Sunday) to overcast and occasionally snowing (Monday), to overcast and a bit warmer (Tuesday) to less nice (Wednesday) to snow and rain (today). I’ve heard it’s supposed to be warm and nice again by Monday. We’ll see.

Also, this morning there was a gigantic cockroach in the women’s bathroom here at work. Gross.

Also, for those of you who can’t wait for more wedding recaps, you can see the “teaser” slideshow our photographer sent us here. Warning: there’s music, and also, if you are me, you might cry a little.

Literary Monday, Tuesday Edition: No, I have not forgotten how to read

For a few months there I was so caught up in other stuff that I kind of stopped reading for pleasure, other than re-reading things I’d already read for an escape. Do you ever do that? Re-read something you’ve read umpteen times before, just because it’s familiar and comforting and something you won’t have to work at? In February I re-read Ender’s Game (my favoritest book ever) for about the 38th time, and re-read some Piers Anthony light fantasy. But this month, wedding stress is coming to an end and I’ve branched out from Safe in order to read some good, meaty stuff.

Well, the first thing was Anne of Green Gables. Yes, I’ve read it before, but not since I was about 9 years old. I’d found a used copy in a bookstore a few months ago but forgot about that and happened to be browsing my children’s/YA bookshelf when I saw it and thought to myself, ooh! So I read it. Then I found the first sequel, Anne of Avonlea, last week in the same bookstore and read that too. Both were every bit as good as I’d remembered – perhaps even better, now that I’m reading from a more adult perspective – and I enjoyed every minute of my time on Prince Edward Island. And now I have much more incentive to acquire and read the others, since I never got past book 2 when I was nine (no interest in Anne Shirley after age 16, she was waaaay too old for me to be interested!) Now I am interested.

I also read The Namesake after picking it up in the bookstore last week. (To Leah: Now you have ME doing it! Nah-me-sah-ke!) I started it on Friday, my birthday day off, and finished it last night. It was really good, a little depressing, and entirely fascinating. Monkey writes a lot about what it means to be a 2nd generation desi (I hope it’s OK for me to use that term) so reading this book made me think of the stories she has written about (and told me) and also make me think how interesting it is that different cultures deal with the clash between what it means to grow up in America versus what it means to be part of that mother-culture. Possibly the most well-known author writing similar stories of growing up 2nd generation in America is Amy Tan (Chinese), and I’ve read stories written by people of other cultures as well – Mexican, Irish, German, and others written by Indian-Americans.

I really enjoyed the basic underlying theme of the book encapsulated by the title, what our names mean and how who we are named for and under what circumstances might affect our lives in trivial or profound ways. As I’ve written about before, I’m a name buff, so I love reading about the ways in which people in other cultures go about naming people. Jewish people, I have learned, name babies after deceased relatives (but never living ones, and usually it’s just a shared first initial rather than a fully shared name between the deceased and the new addition). Some people start out having a baby name and have an adult name later, and some people are given one name but are always called by a nickname. Despite being many-generations American, this was the case for my father’s family, as he and his sisters were all called by nicknames, most unrelated to their actual names, into adulthood (and four of the five of them still are!)

The book I’m working on right now is The Year of Living Bibilically (from the library, I’m too cheap to buy it). I’m about 4 chapters in and really enjoying it, so I plan to review it once I’m finished. I’ve got a couple of other library books as well, so maybe next week in the middle of all the wedding craziness I’ll write about them too!

Whelmed, slowly shifting to the over- kind

I finished a book this week: The Android’s Dream, by John Scalzi. Wil Wheaton talks about Scalzi in his blog on a semi-regular basis (I guess they are friends) which is how I’d heard of him, but Dan picked this book up at the library a few weeks ago and I read it when he was finished. Woo, one of the best and most original science fiction novels I’ve read in quite some time! I don’t want to give too much away, but this is seriously funny (and well-plotted, well-characterized) stuff. Let’s just say that several moments had me laughing out loud. Elements of the plot include a device to make farts communicate insults to an alien race, a church totally made up by a hack who wanted people to pay him money for it, an extraordinarily rare sheep, and an alien on rumspringa. If you are at all fond of humorous fiction, whether that be in a sci-fi-type setting or not, I highly recommend it.

It kind of hit me yesterday that we will be going out of town a week from Thursday and will be out of state and out of the country for nearly a month. There is so much to get done – mail to stop, kitty sitting to arrange, cleaning to do, packing and organizing. Plus there is all kinds of wedding stuff that we need to figure out when we go to CA because we both won’t be there again until a week before the wedding. Plus it’s Christmas (duh) and we have to figure out presents for everybody either from the internets (and have them shipped to mom’s), when we get to CA, or made by either Dan or myself. Dear EEK and Monkey: Um, your giftmas presents may be a little late. By, like, a month. Dan’s still finishing our invitations, and when they are finally finished we have to spend hours at my work printing them out. We have to figure out envelopes and address the envelopes and have them ready to mail when we get back from Italy.

And have I mentioned that I haven’t cracked an Italy guidebook since October? We really don’t have much of a trip itinerary planned, other than what city we’ll be in on which dates. I guess it won’t be that big of a deal to plan the trip on the plane across the pond (it’s not like we’ll be there during high tourist season). I was in the same boat when we went to China, but Dan had done all the planning so at least ONE of us knew what was going on. This time, we might be flying by the seat of our pants.

Speaking of pants, I am still lamenting the demise of my China pants. I bought them at a Cross Dress for Less a few weeks before our trip in 2005, and I wore them all through China, and wore them when we got back until they fell apart. Not the seams; the fabric. It wore through. That’s how much I lurved those pants. I haven’t had a chance to find more pants like them, but I desperately want a pair before we leave for Italy, because I don’t want to deal with jeans when we’re backpacking. So this weekend we have about 894085409348509 things to get done and on top of everything I need to find some damn pants. Or maybe I can do that in between all of the holiday- and socializing- and wedding-related activities in California.

I haven’t even written about a really stressful thing that has been related to family and Christmas this year, but I’m not allowed to talk about it. Let’s just say that planning a wedding and trying to buy nice Christmas presents and going to Italy all at the same time is both stressful and expensive. I’m kicking myself that Sunday felt like a wasted day; there’s so much more that we (I) could have accomplished if I hadn’t felt like poo. Oh, well, tonight there will be more projects on my needles and more progress on the invitations, and I’ll pick a room and clean it when I get home (already went to the gym, so won’t be going after work), and I will feel better because more got done. Maybe I’ll even flip through the Tuscany book we borrowed from QIR before bed.

Catching up

Because I took the last two days of blop to write the 100 things posts, I didn’t write my literary post for the week, nor did I write my fitness update. Here’s where things stand on those fronts.

I finally finished “The Gravedigger’s Daughter” by Joyce Carol Oates. I’d never read anything by Oates before, though I had heard of her. The book looked interesting in the library, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m a pretty fast reader so I didn’t think a 600-page book would be a big deal, but it took me more than a week to finish it because it was so darn heavy. It’s no light reading, not the sort of thing you take for a trip to the beach. But the story is gripping and thoroughly satisfying, despite the unusual prose style.

The story begins from the perspective of the title character, Rebecca Schwart, the daughter of an immigrant German Jewish family. Her life is told in snatches of time jumping back and forth between past and present. It is clear that her life has not been easy, nor have the lives of her family members. She finally escapes an abusive husband and changes her entire identity (and that of her young son). The second part of the book chronicles her life as her new self and her sense of self-preservation as she moves her son around from place to place. The character’s personality has changed along with her identity, name, and hair color. This second part is written very differently than the first. There is a part 3, but in order not to ruin any surprises I’m going to refrain from spoiling it. Though the book was a difficult read in terms of subject matter (abusive relationships, difficult childhood, what it meant to be Jewish in this country during/after WWII, disturbing imagery), I’m glad I made it through.

* * * * * *
Last week, I managed 2 hours Monday (cardio and Power Pump), a new class Tuesday (combination cardio latin dancing and cardio kickboxing), 40 minutes cardio Wednesday, the hardcore Pilates class Thursday (but no spin class, I needed the break) and full weight circuit with 20 minutes cardio on Friday. I loved the new class – they call it Zumba Kickbox or something and the first part of the class was some sort of fusion latin dancing, the second part cardio kickboxing. I’d never done kickboxing before (despite wanting to) because the teacher who has taught kickboxing at my gym up until this point has the most annoying voice I have ever heard. Hearing his voice when I walk by his classes makes me want to commit homicide. I’m glad they have this new teacher doing this new class, because I really liked it.

I was already sore from my 2 hours of working out on Monday and the new class totally kicked my ass, because on Wednesday I was as sore as the day after the first time I snowboarded. I hurt EVERYWHERE. So I took it relatively easy on myself Wednesday and Thursday and by Friday I felt OK. Saturday we did quite a bit of walking (walked from home to downtown and back twice); Sunday we walked to the zoo, around the zoo, and home from the zoo. The zoo is in City Park, about a 2.5 mile walk from our house, so if you add in all the walking we did while gawking at the animals, we probably walked 8 miles. I think I got enough exercise last week – I’m feeling pretty good. My intention is to continue at the gym every week day, and to do 2 hours at least 2 week days. I think 3 2-hour days might be pushing it a bit much. Plus, we’re going to continue to get some decent amount of exercise on at least one weekend day. I’ve got a dress to try on in late December and I’d like it to be pleasantly loose. That way I have a little bit of leeway for all the gelato I’m going to be scarfing down in Italy.

Literary Monday: Tuesday edition

The other library book I got a week or two ago was The Blood of Flowers, by Anita Amirrezvani. I read it in a few bursts, but once I really got into it I think I read the entire last 150 pages in one stint. A winding good yarn, it was, set in 17th century Iran and centering around the life of a young unnamed girl. A comet bodes evil for the following year, and it seems as though everything that’s going to go wrong due to the comet goes wrong for the girl and her family. After tragedy strikes, she and her mother must leave their village and live with distant relatives in a big city. During the course of a year, the girl makes a friend, grows up in more ways than one, and discovers her calling, rug knotting and design, a passion both shared and encouraged by her uncle.

Prior to reading this book, I knew nothing about 17th century Iran or about what life might have been like for a girl growing up in this time. The most interesting aspects of the story involved the cutural and historical details, though some of the events seem a little far-fetched – perhaps to echo the stories told as legends throughout the book. According to the author’s note, most of the stories used in the book are retellings of age-old tales, woven in amongst the plot of the book. There’s sex, there’s poverty, there’s description of beautiful Persian rugs and how they come to be. It’s not exactly a difficult read, but it was enjoyable and I was satisfied in the end. Not one I’ll re-read, but definitely worthwhile for all the cutural and historical stuff if nothing else.