07 December 2012

Writing about family must be fraught with danger

I love The Writer's Almanac so much that I will make myself late for work so that I can sit in the parking lot and listen to it.  And I receive the daily email.  Yeah, that much. 

The first time I ever listened to TWA, the featured poet was Wesley McNair, one of my favorite contemporary poets, the current Maine poet laureate, who ALSO happens to be a member of my extended family (his stepfather was my great uncle).  McNair writes a great deal about his family, or nearer to the point, his stepfather's family, who is in fact, well, MY family. 

It's a surreal experience to read his perspective of people that I know.  These aren't characters, these are my aunts, uncles, and grandparents.  No pretty window-dressing, and that's one of the things I like best about McNair's work.  If his stepfather (my Great Uncle Paul) was a hard man, who was often angry or discouraged, I actually LIKE knowing that side of him.  I want to know.  That's a side I never saw at family gatherings, when I can remember him telling us about how our bodies are electrical, or how he and Aunt Ruth created a new variety of forsythia (New Hampshire Gold), or when I visited his little farm and bottlefed the kid goats.

I recently finished Jeannette Walls' Half Broke Horses for my book group (more like wine-drinking group, but what's not to love about that?!)  Walls' Glass Castle was pretty unflattering about her mother (Rosemary Smith Walls) and father (Rex Walls), but she still loves them, flaws and all.  On the other hand, her grandmother Lily Casey Smith is really the "heroine" of Half Broke Horses.  Lily has grit.... she's a survivor, and she can help others survive.  In the first pages of the book, she describes how she saves herself and her younger sister & brother from a flash flood by scrambling into a tree and staying there all night, fighting to keep herself and the little ones awake.  Her mother (this would be Jeannette's great-grandparents) is faint, a "lady," with little fortitude, not cut out for the demanding life of ranching in the American Southwest. Her father didn't always use the best judgement (he spends his daughter's tuition money on some dogs he meant to breed).  So at just age 15, Lily rides hundreds of miles alone on horseback across Arizona to get a job teaching school.  She learns to race horses, fly a plane, run a gas station, and a ranch.  And she raises Rosemary the best that she can.  We all try to be the best parents we can be.  But being a parent (or someone's child) doesn't come with an instruction manual.

How does one write in a fiercely genuine way about one's own family?  I think you have to be mighty brave, with a powerful story to tell, and be ready for the consequences of hurt feelings.  I understand that Jeannette Walls is estranged from some of her family for the situations she revealed in Glass Castle.  I suspect that McNair has made people in his (my) family unhappy too.

But the best writing is when we write from what we know, without shrinking from the truth.  No family is perfect, and we love our loved ones in spite of their shortcomings.  But airing out the dirty laundry can be very uncomfortable for those who once wore that laundry.  In the end though, don't we recognize ourselves in those people, to one degree or another?  I recognize my Great Uncle Paul's anger and frustration.  I recognize Rosemary Walls' flakiness.  And happily, I recognize Lily's ability to stick it out through a tough time, knowing that it will get better.  It really will.  And it does.

29 November 2012

Scrapping: a different kind of book...

Forgive my absenteeism, dear readers.  I've been doin' other stuff!

Yes, I am writing a book.  One that will never be published.

You know, some people see all the lovely books on my shelves at home and remark, "Wouldn't you rather have a Nook or a Kindle?"  Why, no.  They see me knitting sweaters, socks, hats, scarves, and ask, "Isn't that difficult?  Doesn't it take you a very long time?"  Why yes, it does.  People puzzle over my love of scrapbooking.  "Wouldn't it be easier and faster to just do Shutterfly albums?" Why yes, it would.

These three activities have a lot in common.  They are TANGIBLE.  They take TIME.  And in the case of knitting and scrapbooking, the end result is artful and one-of-a-kind.  But they aren't so much about "product" as "process."

The parlor at the Eagle Mountain House -
a step back in time, no?
The weekend before Thanksgiving I went away with girlfriends to a bi-annual "Scrapbooking Getaway."  The woman who organizes it nearly always holds it at the Eagle Mountain House in Jackson, New Hampshire.  It's like stepping back in time.  Built in 1879, it's on the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  The view is breathtaking.  The food is amazing at their restaurant.  And it's fun to go away with girlfriends.

I REALLY LOVE the process of actually cutting and pasting printed photos and fancy paper, using stickers, special pens, stamps, and all the other doodads and geegaws of scrapbooking.  (Yeah, that's real "cut and paste," not Control+C, Control+V.  BTW, there's no Control+Z.) And I especially love to scrapbook WITH someone else, especially my friend Beth.  A "crop" is fun because we chit-chat non-stop, and we share ideas, gadgets, supplies, Cricut cartridges, and a few glasses of wine in the process.  Reading is solitary, knitting is mostly solitary, but scrapbooking is very social, at least for me.

One of the 14 pages I made at
my most recent getaway.

Want to know something very strange?  The part I find the most difficult is the "journaling," the seemingly-simple business of writing a few sentences on each page about who is in the photo, what's going on, etc.  If you've ever looked at a vintage photo album, not knowing who you're looking at, what year it was taking, why this moment is special - you know why journaling matters.  And so that big blue square in the lower right corner of the scrapbook page you can see there?  Yep, that's waiting for my journaling.  I take too long thinking of EXACTLY the right thing to say, when the right thing to say is to just say SOMETHING.

Similarly, with the holidays nigh, it gets a little more challenging for me to get over here and say SOMETHING on Blogger.  Oh, but I'm still reading.  That never goes away!

15 November 2012

Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile

"On the train, you get to know people. On the train, kids wave at you, and you wave back. Tracks stitch places together; freeways tear them apart." Taras Grescoe's Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile has had a profound impact on the way I think about my car.

See all those Post-It flags? 
Each one was "something very interesting."
I've never been especially enamored with owning/ maintaining/ driving a car.  It's a nuisance, mostly.  I've chosen to live in Maine, but in arguably the most densely-populated neighborhoods in the state. Despite that, there aren't a lot of truly great alternatives to a car. But Grescoe has convinced me that it doesn't have to be this way.

13 November 2012


"When you put [a deep love for animals] and [science fiction] together - reality and fantasy, animals and monsters - you can't get much closer than rabies."  Charles Rupprecht, chief of the rabies unit at the CDC

Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy's Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus  is FASCINATING.

First, until the end of the 19th century, getting bit by a rabid dog was a death sentence until Louis Pasteur himself developed rabies vaccine.  It was very dangerous for him and his team to develop (the researchers actually had to keep rabid dogs in cages in order to sample their saliva for the virus they needed to work with).  It was a miracle cure.  It also led to the development of other vaccines for viruses, including whooping cough, diptheria, and the flu shot.

Second, much of the classic horror tales of the 19th century, have, somewhere in their pedigree, echoes of the fear of rabies within them.  Before the widespread acceptance of germ theory, people believed that a mad dog bite passed onto the human victim the dog's madness.
In his book Knowing Fear, the horror scholar Jason Colavito charts the nineteenth-century rise in literature of what he calls "biological horror," featuring fully corporeal malefactors that "embody in their beings the struggle of humanity to re-imagine its relationship with the animal kingdom and the natural world."  Thus the emergence of the monster, the no-man man, "a bizarre liminal creature poised somewhere on the continuum between man and beast." (Rabies, p. 105).
Madness was contagious in the thinking of the Victorian era.  Think Frankenstein's monster, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Bram Stoker's Dracula, the madwoman in the tower in Jane Eyre, the vicious dogs in Wuthering Heights.  In the 1980s and 90s we feared AIDS; today we fear the zombie apocalypse (Madness caused by bath salts? Actually, it wasn't, but it was the first thing we considered, huh?).

Third, even to this day, there is NO CURE for rabies once an animal or person exhibits symptoms.  That's right, if you are exposed to rabies, and you don't get the series of rabies shots you need to stay well (and no, they aren't given in your stomach), you will get sick and if you don't die, you will have life-long, severe neurological damage.  One person is known to have survived symptomatic rabies in 2004, through an experimental treatment called the Milwaukee Protocol... but really, you don't want to go there.... get the shots.

Fourth, today we may have many disagreements about health care, about parents who do or do not vaccinate, but we would not likely DENY children of any socio-economic level a simple life-saving measure.  In 1885, four children in New Jersey were bitten by rabid dogs.  Pasteur had already successfully treated rabies patients on the Continent.  However, it took a Newark physician's public plea to raise enough money to send these working-class children to France for treatment:
If the parents be poor, I appeal to the medical profession and to the humane of all classes to help send these poor children where there is almost a certainty of prevention and cure [France].  Let us prove to the world that we are intelligent enough to appreciate the advance of science, and liberal and humane enough to help those who cannot help themselves. (Rabies, p. 142) 
How sad that nearly 130 years later, we are still wrestling with access to health care for all.

Rabies remains with us; tens of thousands of people die of it every year in developing countries.  Even in the United States, and even though we are legally required to vaccinate our dogs, not everyone does. It is still spread by mammals, especially small ones, and MOST especially bats!

Pet dogs test positive for rabies in Maine

Raccoon attacks dog in Bath, Maine; third confirmed case there in 2012

A rabies vaccine - a great gift for your pet!

The CDC recommends STRONGLY that if you wake up and there is a bat in your home, or if you find a bat in the room of a child or an infirm person, consider that person EXPOSED to rabies, and seek treatment promptly.

Rabies vaccine is affordable and available for pets.  Does Fido need his shots?  Here's a handy list: Upcoming Rabies Vaccination Clinics for Pets  Then, head over to the Town or City Hall and get that dog license.  In my city, it's $6.00, and it's due each January.  It protects me, my neighbors, and my dog.  As the city clerk said to me one year as I was renewing his license, "It's the best Christmas present anyone can get their dog."

09 November 2012

Happy Birthday, Carl Sagan...

I just love The Writer's Almanac.  It's like a daily dose of literary vitamins.

I need to read this
sooner than later.
It's Carl Sagan's birthday today.  I absolutely LOVED his novel Contact (I liked the film too, but not as much as the book).  I did not know that Dragons of Eden won the Pulitzer Prize.  I've had that tattered paperback at home for ages.  High time I read it.

But in addition to loving the stars and the planets, he loved books too.....
What an astonishing thing a book is. It is a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts, on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person. [...] Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. Books are proof that humans are capable of working magic. - Carl Sagan
I loved NOVA Carl Sagan specials on PBS when I was a kid. Speaking of which, does the WGBH Boston fanfare & logo animation drum up any childhood memories for you?

Billions and billions of birthday wishes, Carl, wherever you are.....

05 November 2012

VERY cool shout-out!

I wrote to Lenore Skenazy today, the self-proclaimed "generalissimo of the Free-Range movement" (LOVE it), because I am seeking additional opinions about my recent obsession interest in my son's grades via Infinite Campus.... and my question has been featured on her blog today!

Free-Range Kids

Lenore is my total hero in terms of parenting strategy.  I feel honored to be a special part of the conversation!!!

If you haven't heard of it yet, Free-Range Kids is "fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers, Ivy League rejection letters and/or the perils of a non-organic grape."

So.... do you consider yourself more of a "helicopter" parent or a "free-range" parent?

02 November 2012

Knitting and repurposing - what's old CAN be new again

Just when you thought I was a one-trick-pony, now for something completely different:

Goodwill Industries of Northern New England has an outstanding, popular blog.  A significant portion of the content is about "crafting" or "repurposing."  They invited me to post about a craft project that I completed earlier this year with "reclaimed yarn":

Now, in this case, I did make a shawl, but really, you could choose to turn the yarm from an old sweater into a new sweater.  Or make hats, mittens, scarves - pretty much anything you can knit, you can knit from reclaimed yarn.

I've mentioned a few times in the past that Goodwill is my favorite bookstore.  Lately it's also my favorite yarn store!  AND the fabulous clothing I've bought there - to wear as is :-)  Skirts & pants from Ann Taylor or Ann Taylor Loft, Eddie Bauer, GAP and Banana Republic and just a few of my favs  (in fact, the pants I'm wearing today are courtesy of Goodwill, thank you very much).

If you're interested in the process of reclaiming yarn, I hope you'll head over to the Goodwill blog and read about it.  My post includs helpful links (I wish I could say that the concept of reclaiming yarn is my own, but it's not ;-) with tips for yarn-y success.  And many other posts there give tips for reclaiming all KINDS of materials (fabric, buttons, zippers, etc) for crafting!


30 October 2012

New York City... and what might lurk there

NO disrespect meant to New York City, Long Island, or New Jersey communities, trying to recover from the terrible devastation of Hurricane Sandy.  I can't stop watching news or thinking about all the destruction and the long road back to normalcy that a lot of our mid-Atlantic neighbors have ahead of us.

But... I recently read YET ANOTHER book set largely in Manhattan.  Forget about vampires or zombies,  meet some sexy angels in Danielle Trussoni's Angelology.

There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. - Genesis 6:5
These children were the "Nephilim", kind of a hybrid of angels & humans.  Some thinkers (including Simcha Jacobovici of Naked Archaeologist fame) believe that these were really the offspring of Neanderthal and modern Homo Sapiens.  Others define the Nephilim simply as "giants;" suggesting that Goliath or other large men of the Old Testament were more-than-simply-human. Strange stuff indeed.

(Note: angelology is a genuine branch of theology.  However, this book is a novel.)

Trussoni's angels are not "angelic" at all.

It's only recently that angels have been represented
as beatific; for most of recorded history
they were fierce and frightening
These angels are supernatural, but most are FAR from "good."  They are the "fallen," imprisoned deep in the earth for thousands of years for their transgressions.  Thing is, they're also irresistably appealing - the curious humans who go searching for them are drawn to them, even against their own will.  They want to touch them, to be near them.  Oh, and by the way, full-blooded angels are radioactive; contact with them is deadly.

The Nephilim are not as toxic as the full-blooded angels, but they have tremendous power within human society.  I suppose you could consider them socially or psychologically toxic.  They're narcissistic, wealthy, and pampered.  They foster discord in civilization.  They have been the wealthy and powerful families of the world (Hapsburgs, Tudors, etc).  In contemporary New York, the wealthy Gregori family holds the cards.

Angelology is the battle between the Nephilim and humans, or more specifically, angelologists - scholarly experts in the angels and the Nephilim.  We're talking scientists and double agents, hidden treasures, hidden people, all the juicy stuff of a good adventure novel. 

So how is this related in any way to New York City? Angelology includes action in medieval Thrace/Bulgaria, Vichy Paris, and the fictional Convent of St. Rose of Viterbo on the Hudson River Valley (late 1990s).  And much the way Dan Brown's characters chase frenetically all over Rome or Paris, the final fifty pages is a Manhattan scavenger hunt involving objects hidden in Riverside Church, the MoMA, The Cloisters, and Rockefeller Center.  I'll never think about those places, or look at Prometheus over the skating rink, quite the same way!

Angelology is fun and thrilling in much the same way Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire is thrilling: subtly erotic, mysterious, with the suggestion that these superhuman beings walk, cloaked, among us. It's fun in a frightening kind of way. 

A spooky, sort of Halloween way, even.

And to our dear friends in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, hope things get better, and dry out, soon. <3 <3

23 October 2012

Writing happens mostly when I'm not writing

Agatha Christie once said, "The best time to plan a book is while you're doing the dishes." SO TRUE.
photo courtesy
"miss pupik" Flickr Creative Commons
Life gets kind of crazy.  In the last couple of weeks: I helped out with the Friends of the South Portland Library annual book sale. Youth football season wrapped up.  Hubbie & I volunteered for a school fundraiser.  We went to the Maine Association of Broadcasters Annual Dinner where I received an award for my writing & producing (no kidding!).  My son, bright boy that he may be, hit a small bump in the road in terms of time management and the difference between "optional" and "required" homework (the lesson here: unless otherwise noted, assume it's required), and we're coming to terms with the fact that  6th grade is WAY more involved than it was in the early 1980s.  Parental homework supervision on high alert.

I think about this blog all the time.  What do I want to read and think and write about?  What do you, dear reader, want to read about?  I think about writing when I'm driving, when I'm doing housework or errands, and definitely when I'm listening to MPBN Radio.  In fact, the Agatha Christie quote above is something I heard on Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac.  Keillor can read poetry like no other, but what I really love about that segment is learning about authors' and poets' real lives.  They grow up, fall in love & marry & divorce, raise families in all sorts of circumstances.  They work at other jobs before they "make it" as writers, or, very often, concurrently throughout their lives as writers.  They struggle with personal tragedies and professional setbacks.  They write, and they continue to do the dishes.

One of my husband's college friends (and my friend too), Laura Kilmartin, has recently become a published author!  Her novel Next Year I'll Be Perfect is available now.  I have a copy - I'll be reading it and sharing my thoughts with you soon.

I'm finishing the non-fiction Strap Hanger, about public transportation (or, rather, the lack thereof) in the United States, and as a new feature here I'll be interviewing Christopher Alvarado, an urban planning professional in Cleveland who specializes in transportation issues.

Last week I read Jeannette Walls' Half Broke Horses in a single evening!  I'll be darned if I'm unprepared for book group, PLUS I found it to be a truly gripping read.  Walls' Glass Castle was amazing, and this tale about Jeannette's grandmother gives additional insight into her mom.... from another perspective.

To celebrate the season, I'm enjoying two spooky novels: Susan Heyboer O'Keefe's  Frankenstein's Monster is a "sequel" to Mary Shelley's original masterpiece - what does the "monster" do after the death of his creator?  Something interesting to ponder.  I'm about 100 pages in and his adventures are decidedly unexpected.  And Danielle Trussoni's novel Angelology dares to define angels in an entirely different way.
The sons of God saw the daughter of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose....There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them.  Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. Gen 6:2-4
The premise is that these "sons of God" were actually angels (really, really sexually alluring ones), who hooked up with human women, and their offspring became the mighty families of Europe - the Capets & Tudors & Hapsburgs & Medicis, etc.  And they aren't as "nice" as you'd expect angels to be.... there's something to think about over dirty dishes! 

More details to come - as soon as I catch a breath, and put a book down!

11 October 2012

Today, I am not the 95%

Today is a milestone.   The Maine Page Turner turned ONE!

Last year I attended a speaking engagement by Mike Volpe, a specialist in new media and social network marketing.  Of everything he said, this sentence was the one that really stuck with me:

"Ninety-five percent of blogs peter out within a year."

Besides providing you with (hopefully) something interesting to read, I have been determined to beat that statistic.  And I have you, my dear readers, to thank for these 365 days of success - and beyond.  When I've struggled with what to read or write about next, I think about you, anticipating my next post.  I want to give you something interesting, or funny, or sad, or just something to ponder.  I know you are reading, and I love your feedback.  That means so much to me.

A few statistics: I've reviewed 39 books since the launch of The Maine Page Turner.  Only 14 of those are off "The Shelf Project."  I'm easily distracted.  Squirrel!

(Sidebar: you've probably noticed that I'm slightly obsessed with Pixar.  Yes, it's true.)

I'm planning some new things for the days ahead. Hold onto your hats!

10 October 2012

Don't be so possessive!

To me, the apostrophe is the most over-used piece of punctuation in 21st century English.

Note the following:

This was posted on the cordoned-off section of the football field, designated for, yeah, you guessed it, coaches and players.

I see this kind of spelling mistake all the time.  I don't get it.... why the obsession with apostrophes?  Is it because we (not so) secretly want to own everything?  


Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.


04 October 2012

Go ahead... read a Banned Book

We take it for granted that we have a Constitutionally-protected right both to Free Speech, and the Freedom to Read.
But remember, freedom requires vigilance.  There are those who would seek to limit what we can read, even here in the United States. 
We're nearing the end of the 30th Annual National Banned Books Week .
Here's the top 20 of the Top 100 Books Banned/Challenged 2000-2009:
1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan

Note that most of these are fiction.  Fiction explores the human condition.  To deny that we are violent, racist, or sexual beings is to be untrue to ourselves as humans.  Reading enables us to reflect on our joys, and our flaws.  To celebrate ourselves, and to challenge ourselves to behave better toward one another.
One of the most egregious cases of censorship on my radar these days is what's going on in Tucson Unified School District.  Educate yourself.

Our nation was founded on widespread literacy; printers up and down the Eastern Seaboard were able to share ideas and information quickly (for the era) - the 18th Century Internet, if you will.  Which pieces of writing are truth, which are opinion, and which are out-and-out lies?  Then and now, it's OUR responsibility as readers to decide.

Freedom includes everything.  Take a deep breath.  You can handle it.
  • You thought 50 Shades of Grey was racy?  Try Anne (Roquelaire) Rice's Sleeping Beauty trilogy, Anais Nin's Delta of Venus or Little Birds, or Marquis de Sade's Justine.  
  • Hitler's Mein Kampf or Mao's Little Red Book
  • You can read about the Ku Klux Klan or the Black Panthers
  • Books by Bill O'Reilly or Chris Matthews. 
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder or Judy Blume. 
  • Books that extoll or disparage organized religion of each and every denomination.

Remember, nearly everything in print is objectionable to somebody.  The thought of reading Mein Kampf kind of turns my stomach.  But like they say, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer."  If today's Tea Party seems uncannily like the John Birch Society, it might be nice for me to know what they're talking about.
Here's an encouraging anecdote, and reason #279 why I like living in Maine.
Check out this map, a portion of the interactive "Mapping Censorship" map:
All those blue flags represent communities where books have been banned or challenged in schools or libraries since 2007.  Maine has just one.
"(Lewiston, 2008) Robie Harris'  It's Perfectly Normal: A Book about Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health was removed by a patron because of her objections to the book's sexual content. Other patrons donated 4 copies of the book, which remain in circulation today."
I'm grateful to live in a country that is free, and especially in a state where those freedoms are held particularly sacred.

Celebrate your freedom this week, and every week. 
Read a Banned Book.

Hey honey, I know...

"I know what we should do for our 20th anniversary!  Double date with the Romneys in Denver!"  - Said No One Ever.

02 October 2012

Vikings just want to have fun

I'm willing to bet that every time you read about the Vikings in school, they were always the "other guys" or the "bad guys."  Bernard Cornwell's Last Kingdom, the first in his (thus far) six-book Saxon Stories, turns that on its head.

It's 866. Bebbanburg Castle is taken by the Danes. The Earl is killed, and ten-year-old Uhtred of Bebbanburg (fictional character based on an historical person) becomes a captive.

But here's the thing.  Uhtred doesn't really seem to like much about Saxon (aka English) life anyway.  With some arm-twisting, he learns to read & write. He spends more time than he'd like at Mass or other prayer.  He finds most of the priest/teachers/tutors in his Saxon life pretty insipid.  He is a second son, and during his first ten years, he seems on the (unhappy) path to priesthood.  But when his father and his older brother are killed by the Danes, things change.

Dane Earl Ragnar takes a shine to Uhtred and adopts him.  Uhtred relishes Dane life.   Vikings really know how to party.  There's plenty of sacking, pillaging, but also a lot of feasting, storytelling and mystery.  Sexual mores are much more relaxed; Uhtred and his childhood friend Brida become sexual partners in their teens, scandal-free.  He connects more easily to Thor and Odin than the Christian god, preferring the tangibility and power of Thor (the lightning god) rather than the meekness of Christ.  It's a lifestyle well-suited to a "man's man," someone who would rather be a chieftain and warrior than a scholar. Possessing an excellent sword, and knowing how to use it properly, is essential. Fierceness and bravery rule the day.  

Don't we have these people in our lives too?  I think about my son, who is a bright boy, and he does just fine in school, but would MUCH rather be moving.  He doesn't want to sit and read; he wants to ride his bike, climbs trees, play contact sports, wrestle and rough-house.

None of this excuses the vicious attacks by Danes against civilians (notably Lindesfarne), especially unarmed nuns and monks.  But brutality was not uncommon among any population at this time (the Christian rulers weren't peace-loving non-combatants!).

Dane life is active; Saxon life is "civilized."  But not everyone wants to be civilized.  Uhtred certainly doesn't.  It's dull.  History is written by the victors, in this case, the Saxons/English.  Whatever redeeming qualities the Danes may have - a laissez-faire attitude toward teen sexuality, a culture that honors combat and adventure above nearly all other things - these have been filtered out of our history.

Uhtred identifies with both the Saxons AND the Danes.  It makes him a distinct and believable character.  He has reasons for loyalty on BOTH sides of the conflict.  An interesting balancing act indeed.

Refreshing to read historical fiction that is sympathetic to "the other side."  Makes me want to hang out in a mead hall!

21 September 2012

Special birthdays

No, not mine.

Tolkien Books
(courtesy "Jemimus," Flickr Creative Commons)
Today is the 75th anniversary of the publication of JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit

It's the birthday of both Bilbo Baggins and Frodo Baggins (even in Middle Earth, this was kind of a fun coincidence for the uncle-nephew set).

And, today is Stephen King's birthday.

Is it a stretch to say that Tolkien & King have quite a bit in common?  I don't think so. 

20 September 2012

What's wrong with this picture - redux

I won't bore you with a rant on how expensive gas is.

But if I'm going to pay nearly $4/gallon, I deserve better signage.

I know how to pre-pay,
and I know how to pay in advance.
But how exactly do you prepay in advance?

Does that mean I have to pre-prepay? Prepay even before I've thought about paying?

Ugh.  Someone buy me an electric car.

18 September 2012

I think I was born for this

Sunday night I was contacted by City Councilor Al Livingston, asking if I would be willing to serve on the Public Library Advisory Board.  I was so surprised, it took my breath away!  What an honor.  Of all the ways that I could spend my volunteer time, this might be my very best, favorite way.

I was invited to make a few remarks at Council session last night, as part of my appointment and "election."

My remarks just scratch the surface of what libraries mean to me:

14 September 2012

What can $10 buy you?

This awesome stack, for one thing.....

If you've ever bought a book at GoodWill, raise your hand! And then tell me: what book? How did you feel?

11 September 2012

Who wants to live forever?

For the remembrance of 9/11, I wanted to read something that had this sad day as part of the plot.  A story that shows that New York has endured, and will endure.

New York, 1660
(image: New York Historical Society)
Pete Hamill's Forever is the tale of Cormac O'Connor, an Irish man born in 1728. An English earl (and slaver) kills both Cormac's mother and father and hastily sails for New York.  So Cormac pursues him from Galway to Manhattan to fulfill his Celtic blood oath and avenge their death.  During his miserable voyage, he takes pity on the African men & women caged below-deck in even more deplorable conditions, soon to be sold. 

New York in 1740 is just a village - Manhattan above Wall Street is thickly forested and wild. Cormac maintains his friendships with several of the men who were aboard ship with him (now slaves were sold to New York owners) including Kongo, the babalawo, a shaman.  Cormac had saved Kongo's life aboard ship.  In 1741 Kongo saves Cormac's life, and then offers him immortality, with two conditions: he must really "live," not just "exist," and that he can never leave Manhattan.

If you had all the time in the world, what would you do?

07 September 2012

Things Fall Apart

Published in 1958, Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart tells of the tragic undoing of Okonkwo, a proud man living in a village in the Niger River valley in the era of Europe's African colonization. 
Okonkwo was clearly cut out for great things.  He was still young but had won fame as the greatest wrestler in the nine villages.  He was a wealthy farmer and had barns full of yams,and had just married his third wife.  To crown it all... he had shown incredible prowess in two inter-tribal wars.  And so although Okonkwo was still young, he was already one of the greatest men of his time. (p. 8)
Pride goeth before a fall (Proverbs 16:18), but it is far more than Okonkwo's pride that unravels this world.

04 September 2012

Texting while driving - the Early Years

How I WISH I could be half as funny as Grammarly.

Soapbox moment: I'm actually a big pain-in-the-neck when Dear Husband tries to text-and-drive, so while I poke a little bit of fun here, I support the Maine legislation that recently went into effect increasing the fine for texting and driving. (Does that also include reading-a-book-while-driving?  KIDDING!)

Don't text and drive.  Also, definitely don't do it when you're driving your great-great-grandmother's car.

31 August 2012

My brain had to work so hard, it made my hair hurt.....

Abandon ye hope, all who enter here.

I don’t know what came over me.  Maybe it was the picture of Moby Dick on the front that intrigued me.  But in the last few weeks I’ve worked my way (emphasis on WORK) through All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age.  

Hold all hate mail til the end.

If you have to use post-it flags to read a book,
and you're not reading it for class,
you might be crazy....
 I'd like to say, "here's the whole thing in a nutshell," but there's no nutshell here.  It's a big, brain-wrenching book saying that “an unrelenting flow of choices confronts us at nearly every moment of our lives, and yet our culture offers us no clear way to choose" (book jacket). That “the central challenge of the contemporary world… is not just that we don’t know how to live meaningful lives, it’s that we don’t even seem to be able to focus for very long on the question” (p. 30). That in our 21st century lives we’re stuck in a depressing existential nihilism (don’t worry, I had to look it up too) where nothing has meaning, no choice is better than any other choice (just look up at the menu at Starbucks and you'll see what I mean).

Whirlwind tour through All Things Shining:

28 August 2012

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

First, I want to thank everyone who visited to read my previous post about resources available through libraries.  I am so touched and grateful for your readership!

image courtesy

A couple of weekends ago I had a (rare) lazy Saturday.  I browsed through the home shelf and picked my copy of Stephen King's The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (I bought it at GoodWill earlier this year :-).  I read this book in a single day.

I'm not telling anyone anything new when I say that Stephen King is amazing.  And of course, we Mainers feel like he's "our" resident literary genius.  I think the American reading public and even academia view Stephen King as culturally relevant & important.  If he isn't already being studied as American Literature, he is sure to be in the years to come.

Not that any of that MATTERS.  As anyone who has ever read any Stephen King can tell you, he just tells a DARNED GOOD STORY.  And I think it's super fun when he cites real local places (Sanford, Wiscasset, the Saco River, Sugarloaf....) and these are all places that you know.

23 August 2012

"Maine Answers Tough Times".... at the library

Libraries aren't just for books.  They are a rich information source on a whole host of services available to the public.

There's a LOT more than books at the Library.
I went to the Portland Public Library (PPL) website to find their hours - meanwhile, I spent a little time browsing around.  Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get.

Out of curiosity, I clicked on "Research Tools", and found several interesting options, including a link to order an absentee ballot - hey, it's never too soon to be thinking ahead, right?

Not sure what to read next?  Here's an idea page, with tons of links to "if you like THIS, you might like THIS OTHER THING."  Better yet, you can fill in a form and get a personalized list back of books you might like, based on books you've already enjoyed.  Wow.  I'm going to try this out.

Best of all, I found this link to an unexpected page on the Maine State Library Website: Maine Answers Tough Times.  We all need a helping hand or advice from time to time - this is a sizeable list of resources available for everything from starting a business, job search information, food & housing, veterans issues - far too much to list on this blog post!

PPL offers eBook & eAudiobook lending too (I'm still a "paper" girl myself, by I know people love their Nooks & Kindles).  You don't live in Portland, you say?  I don't either.  PPL participates with a large list of libraries around Cumberland, York, & parts of Oxford counties.  If you live or go to school full-time in this region, you can get a free library card.  Even if you live outside this huge area, if you work in Portland, you are eligible for a free library card.  And if you're outside these communities, you can still have a PPL library card for $20/yr (less than the cost of one new hard-cover book).  But before you start chasing that, be sure you've gotten a card to your local library!

I can't recommend public libraries enough.  One of my very favorite movies, Good Will Hunting, says it so well.  Scene: a snotty Ivy League kid and Will, at a bar.  The college kids is sneering down on Will as a good-for-nothing Southie, to which Will gives him a good dressing-down:  "See, the sad thing about a guy like you is in 50 years you're gonna staht doin' some thinkin on your own and you're gonna come up with the fact that there are two certaintees in life. One, don't do that [mess with me]. And Two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on an education you coulda got for a dollah fifty in late chahges at the public library."

16 August 2012

The red carpet for the bookish....

To review:  my personal "rule" regarding film adaptations is that I must make EVERY EFFORT to read the book first.

I checked out USA Today's recent list of Ten Book-to-Movie Films for Fall.  Fortunately I've already gotten a bunch of my reading done, but I do have a few to catch up on.  (Reader's note: I work for the same company that publishes USA Today.  Also, I would appreciate you suspending your total dismay in the cases in which I didn't know it was a book first.  I know stuff, but I don't know it all.) 

Drool-worthy, even if I am old enough to be his mother.
(Photo courtesy Millenium Entertainment)
1. The Paperboy.  Never heard of it, but I will (shallowly) see it because it will give me two hours to drool over Matthew McConaughey and girl-crushy Nicole Kidman.  UPDATE: Just went to the film's official website, and OMG, McConaughey looks really bad.  Like Charlize-Theron-in-Monster bad.  But Zac Efron might make up the difference.  Even if I'm old enough to be his mother.

2. Wuthering Heights.  ABSOLUTELY.  The is far-and-away my favorite of the Victorian novels, and the one I enjoyed best during "Victorian Novel" course in college.  I can still remember thinking, "How can this be an assignment if I would read this for fun?!"  Gothic in all the best ways.  I'm suspicious about the casting, though, and that Brontë and Austen novels done wrong for film can go REALLY wrong (Gwynyth Paltrow as Emma, thumbs up; Mrs. Farm Geek, who happens to be my ultimate authority on all things Jane Austen, proclaims Keira Knightley as Pride & Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennet a thumbs down.)

3. Cloud Atlas.  Also a new title to me, but definitely going on the to-read list immediately.  Not only is it post-apocalyptic fiction, but holy cow, what a cast!  Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Hugh Grant!

Keira Knightley as Anna Karenina
(photo: Laurie Sparham)
4. Anna Karenina.  Yay me!  I've read it!  The whole doggone thing!  I'm bummed that Jude Law is cast as Karenin because I don't really like Karenin, but I do like Jude Law (a lot.  A lot a lot).  I know, I know, Vronsky is the bad boy and Karenin is the victim and all, but he's still just kind of a schmuck.  And in my mind not-at-all handsome (please don't make Jude Law ugly!).  I like a good costume drama, and I'm sure the 19th-century Russian luxury of this film will be so thick you could practically roll around in it. Even though I just slammed Keira in #2, I'll try be open-minded about her as Anna.  You know, she's real skinny, so it should be interesting to see her as a laudanum-addled, um, train wreck.

5. Breaking Dawn Part 2.  From an "artistic" standpoint I have next-to-no interest in seeing this movie (I read Twilight, hated it, and haven't seen any of the movies) but my sister has invited me to go along with a big group of her friends, which is obviously going to be super fun!  And any movie is better with two-dozen 30-somethings and a couple of cocktails anyway, right?

Life of Pi, from imdb.com
6. Life of Pi.  Read it, LOVED it, and can't wait to see how they "do" it.  All C.G.?  Or will there be a real hyena, zebra, orangutan, and tiger?  This is a magical story, and I highly recommend the novel.

7. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  Alright, there's a serious love-hate feeling here.  Love it because I am a hard-core LOTR fan and we've been waiting for this movie since the last frame of The Return of the King (or maybe since I was 12).  We own the LOTR director's cut box set, and a couple of times a year we watch the WHOLE THING (each of the three is about 3 1/2 to 4 hours long!).  Yeah, you could find our picture next to "fantasy geek" in the dictionary. It's sure to look and sound beautiful, Ian McKellan IS the best person in the world to play Gandalf.  But....... I HATE it because they've broken it up into three films.  WTH?  I get it, that's potentially three times as much box office, but really??!!  That's kind of crappy.  I don't want to have to wait 12-18 months to see the whole tale.  Unexpected indeed.

8. Les Miserables.  Hmm.   Haven't read the book, but I have every song from the Broadway musical memorized (first Broadway-level show I ever saw - age 15, at the Schubert Theatre in Boston - took my breath away.) I, along with the rest of the Western World, was underwhelmed by the Liam Neeson / Geoffrey Rush version in the late 90s, and how those two actors could flunk this is beyond me.  Take 2: Hugh Jackman as Valjean (OMG yum!), Russell Crowe as Javert (perfect.... it's like method acting without method acting), but Anne Hathaway?  I'm not sure she's, well, miserable enough.  Or maybe she'll make us all miserable. We'll see.

(Photo: Gregory Smith)
 9. On the Road.  It's been on my list for years.  Time to jack it up several notches.  Jack Kerouac is such a bizarre, fascinating hipster to me.  Love knowing he loaded a huge roll of paper into his typewriter so he could JUST KEEP TYPING rathen than change sheets.  Interestingly, I have extended French-Canadian family from Lowell.  Kerouac is French-Canadian & from Lowell.  Wonder if they ever crossed paths.

10. Jack Reacher.  Way, WAY down on the to-do list; probably on the Never list.  This is the first I've heard of the book (or the series, for that matter).  Tom Cruise gives a good show (fictionally, AND in real life) but although I haven't really been following his breakup with Katie Holmes, I get a very creepy vibe from him. Scientology is most definitely NOT my bag, baby.  Bleh. 

Wonder if my fellow Around Town blogger Peter Weyl will be reviewing any of these.  Not trying to steal your thunder here, Peter....  but should we compare notes?