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?

13 August 2012

Beware of Bears!

Maine is such a beautiful state, it's easy to forget the jewel next door, White Mountain National Forest.  This was our little summer family vacation getaway this year.

Dolly Copp, nestled in the Presidential Range, is a lovely campground for low-tech camping.  We don't need much more than dry weather to be, well, happy campers. 

But the warnings about BEARS are ubiquitous.

I brought along Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, his adventures (and misadventures) on the Appalachian Trail.  Relaxing in our tent while Hubby & Son went off for firewood, they returned to find me absolutely laughing OUT LOUD; they could hear me guffawing from yards and yards away. 

Bryson returns from 20 years living abroad and discovers that the AT crosses close to his home in Hanover, NH.  He decides to "thru-hike" the whole more-than-2100-mile length along with an unlikely partner: a high school friend who is an overweight, recovering alcoholic with a penchant for Little Debbie snacks. 

Shopping for equipment, details of his significant fears around black bears, his rude awakening to the rigor of the AT, enduring a major cold snap AND a snowstorm early in his hike. A less than endearing depiction of Southern culture. A frightful night spent listening to rustling and snuffling in the bushes.... all hysterically funny. I hadn't laughed that hard at a book for quite some time.

But the tale turns.

Along with all his descriptions of the various conditions he has to endure - bad camping experiences, noodles day-in-and-day-out, and an array of interesting and bizarre hikers and townies - Bryson is dismayed and frustrated with flawed systems that affect the AT: underfunding within the U.S. Park Service, land mismanagement by the Department of Agriculture, the ineptitude of the Army Corps of Engineers.  He points out how local color and charm have been drowned out by America's junky retail & fast food, rather than the farms & small downtowns common before 1960 or so.  He even suggests that small farms would be preferable to nothing but trees. 

American vacationers drive distances to visit natural wonders, but end up at mini-golf, amusement parks, eating more fast food.  So much for communing with nature.  The journey gives him a new appreciation for, well, WALKING.  He mourns that no one walks anywhere anymore. I agree, most of us do NOT walk enough.  I'm terribly guilty of it myself - the supermarket is walking distance from my house, but I always drive.  A Walk in the Woods was written in 1997, and I think that walking (and biking) have made something of a comeback (at least in spirit, if not always in practice) with gas prices so high for the last 11 years.

Bryson witnesses and discusses all manner of environmental devastation.  But for the record, A Walk in the Woods is far from doom and gloom.  He falls in love with the AT, and dear reader, you will too.  And even brighter, some of the flaws of the Trail have been ameliorated since 1997!  This is a truly wonderful book.  It's about 15 years old, but it's as fresh as if he had written it this year.

It wasn't a kitty cat that scratched
all the bark off this tree....
higher than my head!

Back to my own camping trip: between the signs all over the campground and the book, I was pretty freaked out about bears.  So we kept the tidiest campsite EVER.  Every crumb was locked away in our car, and I didn't even keep hand lotion or contact solution in our tent. 

And I made sure to make a bit of noise as I walked to the restroom in the dark (past the trash dumpster)... the last thing I wanted to do was surprise a bear!

We hiked about a mile of the AT as part of a 3-mile loop we did in Pinkham Notch.  I'm eager for much more. 

And although we saw signs of bears, we didn't encounter any. 


PS - I totally have the Appalachian Trail on the brain, because I noticed that tonight on Green Outdoors (Aug 13, 6pm) Bill is talking with a man who has been involved with the AT for many decades!  (Wonder if he's had any run-ins with bears?!)

PPS - Happy 75th birthday, AT!

06 August 2012

Mumford & Sons - we love you!

Gentlemen of the Road was everything I had hoped for and more.

My husband and I celebrated our 16th anniversary on Friday.  We had a wonderful evening at First Friday ArtWalk downtown.

At David's Restaurant.
We went to David's (Monument Square) for a drink.

Later we had Thai food at Boda (Longfellow Square).  Try the skewers, they're great.

Outdoor seating at Boda!

We took the bus from the Arts District.
(Easy-peasy... I REALLY ought to
 take the Metro Bus more often.)
A spectacular vista.

People were so fabulous and friendly.

A fellow named Brian McGregor was quoted in the PPH as saying the whole event had "class & sophistication."  WELL SAID, Brian.  Yeah, there were lines for food, but the people we waited in line with were great.  Chelsea from Long Island, NY, you are a FIERCE line guardian!

Quote of the Day: "There's water in beer."
The music was wonderful.  I'll admit, going in I wasn't acquainted with any music except for Mumford & Sons and a little bit of Dropkick Murphys.  But I'm going to hunt down more Haim and Apache Relay, for sure.  I can't say there was a band I didn't like.  But I was just so mellow, everything was great. 

I've seen lots of big concerts, including U2, Bruce Springsteen, Jimmy Page & Robert Plant.  At those concerts, I knew every single song by heart.  But at this concert, it wasn't all about the music for me.  It was about the whole event.  Relaxing and having a great time... with my husband, who is a Mumford & Sons fan for life now ;-)
I just love the small-town feel of Portland.  The nice people behind us (our parents' age) were on their boat Friday night and gave "these nice young men with instruments" a lift from their yacht to the dock at East End.  Turns out the nice young men were Mumford & Sons, who gave them four tickets to the show.  And lo & behold, these folks, the Wallaces, have known my husband's family for more than 30 years.  See, that's what's so great.

I will never forget this event.  Everyone just having a great time.

You just don't get much more relaxed than this.
Enjoying the music & the scenery.

 I've listened to Sigh No More about five times today.  By the way, turns out there IS a literature connection here: "Sigh No More" is both a quote and a reference to Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.  And I'll be pre-ordering Babel as soon as I post this blog ;-).

The finale: all the bands returned to the primary stage, and the whole place,
fans, musicians & all, sang "The Weight" at the top of our lungs.

And finished off with FIREWORKS!

Thank you, Gentlemen of the Road, for visiting us.
  Stop by Portland anytime. We love you.

03 August 2012

The Olympics are stealing my reading time!

Okay, big departure from books.  Allow me this moment.


Summer and Winter Games.  The pageantry of the opening ceremonies.  The stories about the athletes, and their parents. Overcoming injuries and setbacks.  I even love the commercials (those P&G ones have actually made me cry.... they really know how to make dirty laundry an emotional moment, huh?!).  I love that we sort out our political differences on a volleyball court, on a football pitch, in a swimming pool.

I love the Queen & 007 jumping out of a chopper, and Paul McCartney (and the whole world) singing "Hey Jude."  I even loved that big creepy baby.

Shedding tears of defeat, tears of joy... a Russian gymnast having a hissy fit, an American swimmer breaking the world record, then breaking her OWN world record the next day.  Seeing Michael Phelps shining Golden again (honestly, that first race, when the announcers were talking about him failing so bad it's as though the lifeguards had to rescue him gasping from the pool... people, he came in 4th... in the world!).

So, I'm not reading all that much, I'm getting to bed way too late, and my eyes are turning googly from too much TV.

But I love the Olympics!  They'll be over in just another week or so!  I think I might finish a book between now & then, but no promises :-)

02 August 2012

Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame....

I can't cheer about this, though:


To my fellow Domer readers, you'll notice this appeared on our very own WNDU.  Saints preserve us....

Perhaps they should employ more English majors.