Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Back to books tomorrow, but here's a little silliness to tide you over:

halloween bento

The Jack-o-lanterns are made from sushi rice which we cooked with shredded carrot and then formed into balls. My son meticulously cut out the faces from sheets of nori.  For the stems, we used some food picks shaped like leaves, but you could easily use a little piece of green bean or something.  We got the idea for the pumpkin onigiri from the blog Happy Little Bento.

The severed fingers are hotdogs (which we got at the Amish farm where we buy our meat) with a few slices here and there--very easy and quite, well, disarming.... Directions can be found at Adventures in BentoMaking.

The rest of the lunch box (a stainless steel container from LunchBots) is packed with raw sugar snap peas, a little lettuce, and a bloody dipping sauce.

Lunch is usually a lot less exciting around here!

Monday, October 24, 2011

New to My TBR Pile

While on our beach vacation, my family spent a bit of time in a wonderful independent bookstore just steps from the ocean: Browseabout Books. The store is large--full of souvenir/giftshop stuff on one side, but on the other a much larger selection of books than I expected from a beach bookstore.

I sat for a few minutes reading the introduction to the Penguin edition of Charlotte Bronte's Villette--a novel I have not yet read but now have on my nightstand. Since I had been thinking about Bronte all weekend, this novel seemed like a must-read.  Although Browseabout did not seem to have the Modern Library Villette, I'm eager to read A.S. Byatt's introduction to the novel in that edition. 

I then stumbled across a new edition of the plays of Sophocles, translated by Robert Bagg and James Scully.

Although I carried Bagg and Scully out of the bookstore before I have poked into it thoroughly, I'm thrilled to see that Christopher, who blogs over at ProSe, is quite pleased with this translation. After braving a bit of carsickness to have a peak at it on the way home from the beach, it looks fantastic.  (Have any of the rest of you looked at it yet?)

Incidentally, Christopher's blog was one of the first book blogs I found when I started searching for people who were committed to reading classic literature. I immediately loved the way he combined deep analysis of what he read with a discussion of his personal and emotional responses. (His passion for Thomas Hardy led me to read a little bit of that author before I started my project.) Then Christopher got busy and he took a bit of a blogging break. Then I did. Recently he's left some really thoughtful comments on some old posts here at the Lifetime Reading Plan. They've helped convince me that it is time for me to come back to the blog and begin to write about what I'm reading again--more frequently than once every week, or two...or three.

In one of those comments, Christopher let me know that Stephen Mitchell planned to release his own translation of Homer's The Iliad. Lucy Pollard-Gott, author of the fabulous Fictional 100: Ranking the Most Influential Characters in World Literature and Legend, was also kind enough to steer me towards this new translation.  Thank you both so much!

I'm so excited to read this edition!  Homer's The Iliad completely caught my imagination in a way I never expected, and I also adored Stephen Mitchell's introduction to the Gilgamesh epic. But before I allow myself to dive in (perhaps in early January?), I'm planning to complete some other reading projects--from some Greek drama to a couple of Victorian novels and even to a bit of 21st-century experimental poetry.  Stay tuned.

*  *  *

As much as fiction calls to me, there are times in my life when nonfiction takes over almost completely. I'm about halfway through Richard Heinberg's The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality about the current global economic and environmental crises. It is not an easy read--intellectually or emotionally--but it is both important and thoughtful. Some of Heinberg's writing (perhaps especially his Powerdown about possible responses to resource depletion such as Peak Oil) is really quite lyrical as well.

I'm also loving the work of Bill McKibben. Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (about the links between social structure, environmental destruction, and resource depletion) is a wonderful place to start--although I first discovered McKibben's writings back in 1999 or so when I read his Maybe One: A Case for Smaller Families right as my son was born.  I read it because I wanted to convince my partner David that we should have only one child--a decision I made for myself when I was eight years old.  I finished McKibben's memoir/study with a much deeper sense that my personal choices mattered.  Whether or not you agree with McKibben's specific argument about having smaller families really doesn't matter.  The book gently but forcefully calls us to live up to our ideals and think about our responsibilities to the world.  It was a life-changing book for me.

Like Heinberg, McKibben combines the skills of a visionary thinker with those of a careful and inspired writer.  Both require a great deal of attention, and both will leave you thinking for months.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Doctors without Borders

My husband (a physician) and I (a historian with a PhD) were eager to pick out books to enjoy on our recent beach weekend.  Although I certainly appreciate the independent bookstores in our area--especially the marvelous Politics and Prose--I must say that as a non-driver, I was a bit addicted to the chain bookstore within walking distance of our house.  And this time, due to big work projects that each of us were engaged in before our little vacation, David and I were both rushing around like mad as we packed.  A quick bookstore run was really all we had time for.  Alas:

Friday, October 21, 2011


My family recently spent a lovely weekend along the Delaware shore.  It was a weekend of reconnection after an especially busy few weeks, full of reading and writing and thinking, and full of lots of really fantastic beer at our favorite brewpub.

For several years now, we've had the very unorthodox tradition of spending part of the Jewish high holidays at the beach.  Although our commemoration of the holidays is not religious, we are still moved by the personal reflection these holidays encourage. 

One of the central metaphors of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is the idea of turning--the turning of one year into the next, the turning away from our pasts and into what we can make of our future, and the turning to our highest selves.  David and I chose to focus on this idea during one of our beach days, following the traditional religious practice of offering our apologies and our forgiveness to each other--for hurts we knew about as well as hurts of which we were unaware.  We exchanged vows to help each other become our highest selves, but also to be patient with each other as we stumble toward those goals.

titania at beach front
Photography by our son; Sweater knitted by me!

* * *

When I think about how two people try to balance personal reflection, sometimes-conflicting moralities, and a deep commitment to each other, I can't help but think of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. I read the novel for the first time when I was just about the age of our 12yo son. I was deeply moved by the shy and plain Jane who fought her passionate self in order to do what she felt was right, no matter what others thought of her. So much of my personality--a shy but bull-headed woman who is definitely overly moralistic, fiercely outspoken with the people she loves most, and usually non-confrontational and polite to strangers--is a mirror image of what I saw in Jane Eyre. I have no idea if I loved the novel because I saw in Jane much of what I saw in myself, or if I loved the book so much that I made myself in Jane's image.

My husband did me the very great honor of reading Jane Eyre this year (after resisting my almost constant badgering for almost twenty years). He loved it--and saw much in it that I had not seen in my many, many rereadings. I've loved getting to talk more about this book I have loved so deeply for so many years. I'm eager to read it again soon.

My son, meanwhile, is currently gobbling up The Eyre Affair and its sequels. I am thrilled to hear him laughing aloud at the literary jokes!

* * *

In the evenings at the beach, the three of us watched my favorite film version of Jane Eyre: the BBC miniseries starring actress Ruth Wilson. (My husband knows Wilson from her current role on our beloved mystery series Luther. If you don't know the series and have Netflix streaming, go watch season one right now. Or check it out: you'll appreciate the captions.)

Although both my son and my partner enjoyed the miniseries, I think David was pretty disappointed with some of the changes it made from the book. I love Wilson as Jane Eyre. And I adore Toby Steven's Rochester--both unpleasant and completely loveable. (Personally, I don't see what Jane sees in Rochester in the Mia Wasikowska version--although I do like Judi Dench as Jane Fairfax.)

Somehow, I think all of our thoughts about turning should not really be leading us to think about the turning of books into movies...

*  *  *

In the next couple of posts, I'll talk a bit about the books we brought along and what I am making of my current reading.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Banned Books

This weekend was our local library's second annual celebration of banned books.  While librarians projected illustrations from books onto large screens, people from the community read aloud from classic children's stories. 

One gentleman read from a version of "Little Red Riding Hood" challenged because Red was taking alcohol (a bottle of good red wine) to her grandmother.  One woman did a dramatic reading of a scene from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe--an explicitly Christian-themed book--challenged because of its discussions of mysticism.  Our state senator read from one of my very favorite books from childhood, Norton Jester's The Phantom Tollbooth--which was effectively banned when a librarian in Boulder, Colorado took it off the shelves and stored it in the locked reference collection because the librarian deemed it "poor fantasy."

Many people read picture books--some of which I knew and some which were new to me.  Have any of you seen William Steig's book The Amazing Bone?  The story is utterly random, hysterically charming, and very sweet.  A parent wished to have it excised from public libraries because it features the use of tobacco by animals.

Although most of the readers were adults this year, three young people read as well.  One girl read a favorite scene from Harry Potter and shared her undying passion for the whole series.  Another read from Elizabeth Speare's Sign of the Beaver, a 1984 Newberry Honor book challenged because of its use of the word squaw to refer to an American Indian woman.  My 12yo son read from Katherine Paterson's gorgeous Bridge to Terabithia, a book which has been challenged many times in many places for many reasons.  The section my son read tells what happens when a nonreligious girl goes to church with her friend.  The scene is gently written, extremely respectful of belief and non-belief, but also deeply probing.

The Banned Books Reading was a joyful celebration.  People rolled their eyes at some of the reasons books have been challenged.  In other cases we realized how much fear there is of beliefs and questions different from our own.  I've never heard of this kind of commemoration before but am sure it must be done elsewhere as well.  Does your town or library acknowledge Banned Books Week?  How do you celebrate?
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