Friday, June 24, 2016

UK Trip IV


Whoa, that was unexpected.  I, really pretty uninformed person that I am, thought that the Remain vote would squeak in.  And since I'm not terribly knowledgeable about any of it, I don't feel like I can have a super-articulate opinion about it either, so all I can say is that I'm surprised.

Well, I want to put up at least one travel post per day, plus I have actual books to tell you about, but I've been working all week, which is unusual for me in summer.  We're doing a big weeding project, which is very much long overdue; my library has actually never had a real, proper, systematic weed in the 40+ years of its existence!  At least, not that any of us can figure out.  I've been knee-deep in literary criticism from the 60s all week, and have miles of shelves to go before I sleep.  It's been fun finding hidden gems (or, more often, inexplicable weirdo books such as Cher's Forever Fit or, I kid you not, a 60s manual on containing radiation).  Anyway, on to Day 4....

Inside the Globe



Our only concession to the over-exhaustion problem turned out to be that we slept a little late and got a later start than usual.  Saturday was officially Southwark Day, and so we went to the Globe theatre to start.  We couldn't see an actual play, which I would have liked to do, but we did take a sort of tour.  There's a museum of the Globe's history, and then the tour guide took us into the theater itself.  Of course and as we all know, it's not the original Globe, which burned down long ago.  The guide explained that it's not the exact site of the original Globe, either; that is partly covered by the end of a bridge built nearly 100 years ago.  This Globe was built as close as possible by the actor Sam Wanamaker, who dedicated the later part of his life to rebuilding a replica.  It's all built--as much as possible--in the original way, with wooden pegs instead of nails and so on.  The guide gave us a great explanation of how everything works, and talked about how the theater dictates a lot of how the play is performed.
Flaming tuba guy

Southwark Cathedral

We walked around Southwark quite a bit, which was fun.  It being Saturday, there were random musicians and street fairs happening.  There was a guy whose shtick was to play oomps on a tuba, which showed as bursts of flame.  I don't know how he did it, but he was accompanying jazzy jitterbug recordings.  We got to Southwark Cathedral, which is a lovely building and very well preserved (and which doesn't allow photography), with Victorian refurbishings.  There were lots of memorials--a whole series of windows--dedicated to writers connected with Southwark, such as Chaucer, Gower, Bunyan, Shakespeare, and Dickens.  Gower is especially fancy, because he is actually buried there with an elaborate special memorial, and Shakespeare's brother is buried under the quire floor.

Winchester Palace, what's left of it
We also walked by the ruins of Winchester Palace, which was once the extremely posh base of the Bishops of Winchester.  There is a now a little garden in the area below it, and apparently they actually found a Roman mosaic floor under the medieval garden once the palace was gone, which we saw later.  The site of the Clink prison is also right there, and just along the way is where the replica of Sir Francis Drake's ship, the Golden Hinde II, is docked.  She's a modern replica built in 1973, and has sailed all over the world; in fact, I visited her in 1987 when she visited the Pacific coast, so this was my second time--except that we did not go aboard.

The Golden Hinde II

We crossed London Bridge!  This was also my second time, because my husband and I did it once before in the summer of 1996.  Our intention was to visit the church of St. Magnus the Martyr, but alas, we had not reckoned on it being Saturday.  All the churches were closed.  And we had thought we were all prepared and planned!  So we re-thought, and had the happy idea of visiting the Museum of London.  I had really wanted to go there, but it hadn't seemed like we would have time.  So we popped into a Tube station and headed over there.  They were closing off some streets for a bike race (probably a big deal, and we were just clueless).

London Stone

The Museum of London is pretty great.  On the whole, it's built like an Ikea--it just shoves you through a labyrinth, and you progress from prehistory to modern times.  The Roman exhibit was pretty great, and I enjoyed the medieval room, and we said hello to London Stone just like I wanted, but the highlight of the day for me turned out to be the 17th-century room, titled "War, Plague, Fire" and dedicated almost entirely to those disasters.  I was looking at something interesting, and my 13-year-old came and grabbed me, and pulled me forcibly along to a tiny, dim room I might have skipped, because it was mainly dedicated to fleas, lice, and rats, and I already know a good deal about those.  But!  There, in a case with embroidered gloves and shoes, labeled only "domestic items" in order to demonstrate that lice lived in textiles, there was an embroidered casket.

The casket!
It so happens that I'm taking a class about 17th-century embroidered caskets right now.  I was hoping to see one at the V&A, but this was a completely unexpected surprise and I felt like I'd discovered unknown treasure!  This casket was entirely satin-stitched with the story of Esther, and very well preserved.  (You can tell it's Esther from the hanging scene on the left.  On the front, Esther bravely petitions the king.)   I wanted to know all about it, but there was practically no documentation, so my 15-year-old daughter ran off to find a docent or somebody.  She came back dragging some poor hapless fellow who didn't know anything much, but said we should try to find this one woman who took care of that room.  So after I took lots of dim pictures and calmed down a bit, we went through the rest of the museum and enjoyed it all very much.  At the end, I did find that one gal, but she didn't know anything either and they suggested I email for information, which I duly did.

The top: the king meets Mordecai at the city gate

When we got out of the museum, extremely footsore indeed, the bike race had started.  We maneuvered around it and went home, where we tried to figure out how to deal with church the next day.  One kid wanted a homey LDS meeting, the other wanted to attend morning service at Westminster.  So we decided to split up, and each adult would take a kid.


I did hear back from the London Museum people about the casket, but I got the most information from the online catalog after I got home.  Here is the casket's page, so you can read about it.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

UK Trip III

It was around this time that we realized we were stuffing too much into our days, but that didn't really stop us.  Two major things a day were still not enough to do all we wanted.  I'm a bit short on photos for this post, because you can't take pictures inside St. Paul's, and the light is kind of dim in the British Museum, so I don't have much.  I've supplemented a bit with downloaded images.

On this day we started at St. Paul's Cathedral, the spacious and mathematically-pleasing baroque church that Christopher Wren built after the Great Fire of 1666.  What a different atmosphere it made!  For one thing, the main part of the cathedral has relatively few memorials compared to a place like Westminster, though Wellington's memorial is gigantic enough to make up for that.  We wandered around looking, and for once listening to the audio guides (every tourist destination in the UK now seems to have free audio guides, not maps.  The maps cost money.  We mostly disliked the audio guides and I think this was the second and last time we used them).  Pretty soon, we realized that the place was filling up fast and so we should go up to the Whispering Gallery sooner rather than later.




The Whispering Gallery runs along the inside of the dome, and is easy to get to.  Instead of a narrow stone spiral stair, there's a massive wooden spiral stair with very shallow steps.  You come out just under statues of the Church Fathers, and there's a nice bench.  My younger daughter wasn't sure she wanted to go any higher, and since I have been to the tippy-top of St. Paul's once (20 years ago), I hadn't planned to do it again, but we all decided to go up to the next stage anyway.  You climb up a lot of not-too-narrow stone steps, mostly not in a spiral, and come out on the outside of the dome.  We all enjoyed the view here, and had fun spotting the Globe theatre on the other side of the Thames. 



Spot the Globe!


Mosiac
After this we admired the gorgeous mosaics in the dome and quire parts of the church.  These are modern, from about 1900, and very pre-Raphaelite looking.  They were quite the controversy when first put in, because they transform the rather austere classical look of the building.  They're spectacular.  We also found John Donne's memorial (he preached at St. Paul's, but the pre-Fire one, and his memorial was saved and moved to the new one.  He posed for this, and he's wearing a shroud), and one to Samuel Johnson in which he is portrayed in a toga! 




















The crypt, though, is where you go to see a whole lot of memorials.  We saw lots of familiar names, including a bunch of pre-Raphaelite artists, but the biggest ones are for military heroes--especially Wellington and even more especially Nelson.  Each of them gets a room--with nautical mosaic floors--and massively ornate tomb, surrounded by memorials to their various fellows.  Nelson is right under the dome.


Mystery building with interesting religious inscription.

By the time we left, it was high time we had some lunch, and we found a fish and chip shop around the corner.  It turned out to be the fanciest fish and chip place you ever saw, and the food was pretty great.  We had sticky toffee pudding too.  (Most of the time, we did not eat in restaurants; the UK is now chock-full of places selling ready-cut sandwiches for cheap, in grocery stores and such.  They were always fresh, yummy, and inexpensive.  We ate a LOT of sandwiches, and I met Coronation chicken, which I'd never had before.  It's a sort of mild curry chicken salad invented for the coronation in 1953.)

We hunted out an odd little fountain we'd seen from the balcony of St. Paul's (it turned out to be a restored medieval fountain featuring Moses, Mary Magdalene, and I think St. Lawrence), and then took to Tube to Bloomsbury to visit the British Museum.  It was Friday, so the museum would stay open late, and we could spend hours.  On the way, we spotted a house Caldecott had lived in, which is now, appropriately, a bookshop.

The British Museum was, of course, massively overwhelming.  My older daughter would be perfectly happy to live there forever, and it seemed like every time we turned a corner, some incredibly important artifact would be sitting there.  Babylonian winged bulls, the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin marbles (that is, friezes from the Parthenon), the head of Hesiod from my book covers (I spotted him from a ways away and yelled, "Look, it's Hesiod!"), all sorts of things.  Lots of mummies, of course, but those rooms were so very crowded that it was difficult to get around.  The Egypt rooms were stuffed with items my kids recognized from their books.  Oh look, there's the mummy cat that appears in every book!  And THEN we got to the room with the Sutton Hoo hoard, and the Lewis chessmen...it was ridiculous.  I also took the girls into a special exhibit of artifacts found in a submerged Roman-Egyptian city.

 

They just liked this protective goat.
We are big fans of these little guys.

It was a massively exhausting day, and I resolved to make everyone take it easier the next day, but easier said than done!


Monday, June 20, 2016

UK trip II

Day two:  This was the coldest day!  For a good part of our trip, the weather was cool and a bit showery, and I was more than okay with that (my hometown was having 95+ degree days, and I was thrilled to be missing them, as I happily told every Brit that tried to apologize to me for the weather).  This day was really cold and windy, though, and even I got a bit chilled.  We spent the day in the Whitehall neighborhood, mostly; first we took the tube to Embankment station so that we could walk by Charing Cross (which is a Victorian re-enactment of a medieval memorial to Edward I's wife Eleanor) and Lord Nelson up on his column before going to Westminster.  Walking down Whitehall, I was overwhelmed by buildings, statues, and massive monuments to the glories of Empire.  It's actually a bit disconcerting; it's so at odds with how we think today that is actually a bit surprising to come upon statues of, say, Clive of India.



Westminster Abbey is also overwhelming.  It's a glorious, huge medieval church, and it's also a hodgepodge of monuments and memorials to everyone you've ever heard of (and a lot you haven't), all piled up on top of each other.  You aren't allowed to take photos, so I don't have any to share.  These days tourists are directed through a particular route, so first there are lots of elaborate 18th-century things with allegories about death and resurrection, or the person's eminence in life (Neptune was a favorite figure, signifying dominion over the ocean), and so on.  Prime Ministers galore.  Tombs of eminent scientists.  Finally, we got to the central altar, which is where the cosmati pavement is.  I have a thing for this pavement (see this post), so I stood there looking at it for quite a long time.

After that, it was royalty time.  The kings and queens are mostly at one end of the church.  Elizabeth has a hugely fancy tomb with her sister Mary stuck in at the side.  Then it's on to Poet's Corner, where you can visit Chaucer, Johnson, and Handel, along with memorials to many others.  I snuck back to see the pavement again before we went in the direction of the exit, still seeing famous names at every other step (Isaac Watts! The Wesley brothers!).  We could not get in to see the chapter house, because--if you can believe it--it was closed for a Gucci photo shoot.  We could hear recordings of the Abbey choir coming from the room.  Odd.

After that, we visited the Jewel Tower, which is all that's left of a once-large medieval complex; now, it's just three rooms stacked onto a spiral staircase.  It's beautifully preserved, because it was used mainly as storage, so nobody ever bothered to mess it up by making it more stylish.
Jewel Tower
In the Jewel Tower


Boudicca and the Eye
On Westminster Bridge




We walked around the neighborhood--we had meant to peek into Parliament, but there was a lot of fenced-off area for construction and no visible means of getting in, so we dropped it and took a look at Westminster Bridge instead.  After getting thoroughly chilled in the wind, we walked back up Whitehall and waited in line for the Churchill War Rooms.

Line for War Rooms, with Clive watching over us.


The War Rooms is a museum located in the actual underground rooms that served as Britain's nerve center during the war.  It's a massive warren, quite a bit bigger than I expected!  There are map rooms and telephones and offices and bedrooms.  They've recently added a second museum that is just about Churchill's life, and it's really interesting too, though we were so footsore by then that we sort of skipped the more youthful sections.  I particularly liked the Enigma machine.  I bought a great book about wartime posters at the shop, and a tea towel.

Admiralty Arch

Gunnery wears a helmet and sits on a cannon.
We then walked past the Horse Guards arena, where they were preparing for some massive event.  Police everywhere (and some carrying guns like I'd only expect to see on South American police!), and flags for every country in the Commonwealth.  In fact, come to think of it, there were a truly remarkable number of flags all over the place.  Union Jacks all down the Mall, Royal Navy flags all over Admiralty Arch...it eventually dawned on us that it was Coronation Day and there was going to be some sort of big event.  Admiralty Arch, by the way, is proof that you can make an allegorical representation of just about anything; it has two statues, of Gunnery and Navigation.

We weren't done yet!  After a little rest and snack, we popped into St. Martin's in the Fields, where someone was rehearsing on a harpsichord, and took a look at the cafe in the crypt.  Then we crossed the street to Trafalgar Square, which is very crowded indeed.  That's where you go to see street performers, so my daughters got free rings made by a fellow who does that, and there was plenty of music (I like the music, but I'm not so wild about the amplifiers they all have now).  The latest thing in street performing is levitation.  There were three separate Yodas, and three or four other characters, all 'floating' and letting kids take pictures with them.  We took pictures with the lions below Lord Nelson, and left it at that.


Finally, we went to the Waterstones across the street--a wonderful bookstore, at which I could not spend nearly as much money as I would have liked.  First things first: I looked in the children's section for DWJ books and found two that needed replacing in my own collection, woohoo!  My Power of Three was bought 20 years ago, last time I was in the UK, and pages are falling out, so it was good to get a new one.  I bonded with the girl at the register over our mutual DWJ love.


Random thoughts and observations:
  • I was kind of surprised to see the zillions of England flags everywhere--not just for the Coronation Day stuff, but all over the place.  I eventually figured out that this was mainly because of Euro 2016, the European soccer championships, which was going on right then and of course everybody was for the England team.  Later on, there was a bunch of news about Russian fans attacking English and Welsh fans, and about tension between the England and Wales factions.  I'm sure everybody knows much more about this than I do.  Anyway, I had kind of gotten the impression previously that people didn't really like to fly the English flag any more.  Is soccer the exception to this, or is it more popular now?  I like flags, so I'm all for popularity of flags.
  • Besides soccer, the big news was about the upcoming referendum--should the UK stay in the EU or leave?  It's called Brexit (Britain/Exit) and we saw a whole lot of signs about "I'm IN" or "Vote Leave."  After just two weeks of reading all the news about it, I'm not informed enough to have an opinion.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

UK Trip: From the Start

Tardis!
Hey everybody, we're back!  My mom and I took my two daughters on a two-week trip to the UK.  You see, my oldest daughter is nearly 16 and pretty soon, she'll be out on her own.  We weren't very able to take the kids on trips when they were younger, so my husband and I thought we'd better do something before it was too late.  Next thing you know, we'd planned the trip of a lifetime (and husband, who couldn't go because he'd just started a new job, was very supportive of the rest of us having fun without him).  I'm going to blog about the trip, and I guess I'll just get started and see what shape it all takes on.

Once we'd gotten the traveling part out of the way, we settled into a little hotel in the Earl's Court neighborhood, happily close to the Tube station and some convenient grocery stores.  We explored a little bit, but couldn't do much, so that's Day 0.

Where London Stone is not
 On our first proper day, we started off with the Tower of London.  Actually, we started by looking for London Stone, which is (they think) an ancient stone, possibly Roman, that once marked the center of London.  It's been living in a sort of case near Cannon Street, but as soon as we found the spot, a passerby informed us that it's been moved to the Museum of London while the host building undergoes renovation.  I know it was going to be moved, but I didn't think it would be so soon!

We also walked by the Wren monument to the Great Fire of 1666, but it's closed for renovation too.  St. Magnus the Martyr Church--also closed, so we just walked along the riverfront and saw a few historic sites along the way.

London Wall
We arrived at the Tower, but popped in to a church, All Hallows by the Tower, first.  It's the oldest in London, but suffered in the Blitz.  There's a Saxon arch, and a neat museum in the crypt.  We then walked around the park near the Tower, which has a large memorial to the Merchant Navy and is the spot where people such as Thomas More were publicly executed.  There is also a piece of the old London Wall nearby; the lower part is Roman and the higher part medieval.  And there's a statue of Trajan.  By this time, it was actually time for the walking tour of the Tower that we were planning to join, so we headed off to that.

The walking tour was interesting, though the first part went over the park we'd just been looking at.  On our way in, there was quite a sensation as everybody noticed the drawbridge at Tower Bridge going up to let a cruise ship through, which is quite rare these days.   After that we entered the Tower and the guide took us around and talked about things.  It was entertaining, but did not involve going inside any of the buildings.  I think our guide was a bit pro-Richard III; I can't really see why anyone would be, but sure, why not.  After that, we actually did go around the buildings.  The whole crown jewels display was redone a few years ago, and it's pretty nice.  Lots of things have been redone, in fact, so that now there's a Walter Raleigh room and a nice medieval museum with a display about Edward I.  I especially liked Beauchamp Tower, which has a lot of graffiti carved by prisoners.  There were also several re-enactment actors wandering around, and they're impressively professional, with really nice costumes.  We met Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth Woodville, and Sir Walter Raleigh was running around as well.

Hanging out with Anne Boleyn, like you do


Around mid-afternoon, we took the tube to King's Cross and visited the British Library, which is in a large new building.  We spent a long time looking at the exhibits, and saw so many treasures!  There was music (the score for 'Sumer is icumen in,' Handel's manuscript of the Hallelujah chorus), history (a copy of Magna Carta, letters from various sovereigns, Charles I's death-warrant), and literature: a biography of Chaucer with the famous portrait, Jane Austen's writing desk, manuscripts from Austen, Bronte, Dickens, and so on....and much more, quite enough to melt the literary brain.  We also explored the public parts of the building; it's six stories, and in the center, there's a sort of tower of books which turned out to be the literal core of the collection--the King's Library, which were George III's books that became the British Library. (I could also tell you about the Cotton collection and so on, but that would get a little too librarian-nerdy....)



The King's Library

By this time, we were exhausted and way past foot-sore, but we just had to look for Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station, right?  I knew there was a luggage cart halfway into the wall, but I didn't realize (because I'm not too bright) that of course, it was connected to the Platform 9 3/4 gift shop and involves waiting in line for 45 minutes.  The shop provides a scarf and wand, and takes a photo you can purchase for the low price of ‎£25, but you can also take personal photos alongside.  The photographers are impressively enthusiastic.

Random thoughts and observations:
  • Wow, the Underground is an amazing system.  It moves something like 4 million people a day, it's incredibly complex, everything is packed tightly in (I mean, the train is inches away from the wall)...wow.
  • People in London, unsurprisingly, dress better than they do in rural California.  Every other guy was wearing a suit (on the weekdays, anyway).








Monday, June 13, 2016

More Company Novels!

The Life of the World to Come, by Kage Baker
The Children of the Company
The Machine's Child
Gods and Pawns
The Sons of Heaven

Phew, I have read a whole lot of Company novels!  I'm a little tired, so I think I won't read the last two I have--The Empress of Mars and Not Less Than Gods--for a little while. 

Still not very good covers.
The only problem with talking about these books is that the plot gets so complex and out-there that it becomes hard to describe to anyone who hasn't already read some of them.  I'll just do my best here...

The Life of the World to Come: the life story of Alec Checkerfield, Seventh Earl of Finsbury, ridiculously wealthy 24th-century playboy.  But Alec is an unusual little boy, with some odd talents, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Mendoza's two former loves...

The Children of the Company: meet Executive Facilitator Labienus, one of the most powerful immortals in Dr. Zeus.  Over the centuries, he has put together his very own empire of power within the Company, and here he looks over some of his old dossiers, which will fill us in on some of the story, and makes plans for when the Silence falls in 2355.

The Machine's Child: Mendoza was long ago sentenced to a time prison, and after that she just disappeared.  Alec Checkerfield plans to take down the Company (and he's got Nicholas and Edward to help or hinder him now), and when he finds Mendoza, he also finds one of Dr. Zeus' most horrific secrets.

What is this spaceship thing?
Gods and Pawns: several short stories, involving Lewis, Mendoza, Porfirio, and one of the Company's early tragic failures in the process to figure out immortality.

The Sons of Heaven: by now we're jumping back and forth in time like mad, as various factions (I count five, no wait six) plot and plan for the Silence and we just try to hang on and keep up. 

This is a great series--full of great ideas and characters, funny and tragic and weird--and it's well worth reading if you can find the books.  They're out of print at the moment, but available on Kindle.


Thursday, June 9, 2016

Neverwhere

My copy
Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman

As long as I'm going to London, I need to brush up on my London geography, right?  Well, how about my fictional London Below geography?  It's a long time since I read Neverwhere.

Richard Mayhew is your average British schlub guy, much like Arthur Dent, but the thing about Richard is that he is kind.  When he trips over an injured girl while on his way to a socially important occasion with his fiancĂ©e, he chooses to help the girl--and soon finds that his ordinary life has evaporated.  He's now an unwilling, bewildered denizen of London Below, where all the forgotten things fall and monsters lurk in the dark.

This was Neil Gaiman's first novel, and it didn't start off as a novel at all.  First, it was a BBC mini-series on TV, and aired in 1996.  I've seen it, but it's been a very long time, and now I want to watch it again.  Gaiman then turned it into a novel, which has been through a few different incarnations too--my version is the first one, so now I'm wondering what was added.  Then a comic series was inspired by the novel, there were several stage versions, and a radio dramatization came out a couple of years ago which made quite a splash.  Thus, Neverwhere is Gaiman's Hitchhicker's Guide.

Lots of interesting covers; I like this one
The whole thing is inspired by London, very often by Tube stations that take on a different identity in London Below.  I looked up the little street where Richard finds the Marquis de Carabas; it's a real place.  Knightbridge becomes Night's Bridge, a perilous crossing.  Richard visits Earl's Court and talks with the earl, goes through an ordeal at Blackfriars, and ventures ever deeper under London, eventually to find a labyrinth, a monster, and an angel.

It's a great classic of dark Gaiman fantasy, so don't miss it.

All-star cast of 2013 radio drama


Sunday, June 5, 2016

Classics Spin #13!

You know I haven't missed a Spin yet, and it's time for lucky Spin #13.  Being nowhere near my computer and having only a tablet to compose upon shouldn't be a problem, right?  Well, we shall see....

  1.  William Faulkner, Light in August.
  2. “Our Town,” Thornton Wilder 
  3. On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin
  4. Lao Tzu, China, The Tao Te Ching
  5. Berthold Brecht, Germany, The Threepenny Opera
  6. Thomas Mann, Germany, The Magic Mountain.
  7. The Conference of the Birds
  8.  Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks
  9. Pope St. Gregory I, Pastoral Care 
  10. Gunter Grass, The Tin Drum
  11. Feodor Dostoevsky, Russia, The Possessed
  12. Kalidasa, The Loom of Time.
  13. Pensees, Pascal
  14. John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
  15. “Why We Can’t Wait,” Martin Luther King Jr. 
  16. Cesar Vallejo, Poemas Humanos.
  17.  William Faulkner, Light in August.
  18. Origin of Species
  19. Our Town
  20. The Magic Mountain
I'm running out of titles, and I was kind of thinking of reworking my Latin American section, so I've had to repeat a few titles towards the end there. I'm pretty happy with this list, and look forward to finding out my fate tomorrow!  Happy Spinning, all.  

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Before We Visit the Goddess

Before We Visit the Goddess, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

As a long-time fan of Divakaruni, I have been excited about this new book for a while.  And it lived up to everything I could hope for; it's a lovely novel.  But it's not really quite a novel, actually--Divakaruni wanted to offer different perspectives, and it's written as nine short stories spanning nearly sixty years, each from a different person's point of view.  It's a technical feat that acts as a prism, showing us shades and nuances we could never see otherwise--and also shows the author's impressive power.  She's better than she's ever been, so I hope there will be many more books.

The focus is three generations of women: Sabitri, a Bengali sweet-maker, her daughter Bela, who elopes to the United States, and Bela's daughter Tara, who is having a difficult time figuring out her life--as they all do.  Each of them make choices that bring far-reaching consequences, and often they're reacting to pain unwittingly inflicted, or assuming far too much without understanding.  The distances that open up between each of them leave them alone and vulnerable, but they also pick up the pieces and keep going, gaining friendship or support along the way.

It's a beautiful novel, with a lot of tragedy and pain but also healing and hope for more.
...I, too, am entangled in this web of sorrow and responsibility.  Pain makes us crazy.  All we want is to throw the live coal of it as far from us as we can, not thinking what we might set afire.


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe

The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe, by Ann Morgan

You all know I like to read books from all over the world, so I was interested in this title right away.  I thought it would consist of thoughts about literature from all over the world.  Then I was surprised to find that it is actually a blog-project book.  Then I was surprised again to find out that it's not really quite a blog-project book, since it isn't a description of the project; it's more thoughts on what 'world literature' is, what it means to read the globe, and issues pertaining thereunto, which developed as a result of the blog project.

A few years ago, Morgan was doing a blog project where she read only women authors for a year, and then she realized that she hadn't read anything not written in English since college.  Her shelves were stuffed with Brits and Americans and a few other English-speakers, and that...was about it.  So she decided to read one book from each country in the world, in a year.  This would be (approximately) 196 books.

I have to admit to a little bit of personal chagrin at the beginning. I looked at that and went "Wait a minute.  I try to read books from all over.  Nobody wants to hand me a book deal.  What's Ann Morgan got that I haven't got?"  The obvious answer to this is:
  1. An audience of more than 20 readers
  2. An actual career as a writer of some kind/the ability to write a book
  3. The discipline to read nothing but 196+ books, one from each country, and nothing else, for a year.
Because that strikes me as a really insane project.  I could not possibly have that kind of laser focus.  I can't read that many novels--nearly all contemporary--with hardly any non-fiction, I can't limit myself to one particular selection of books, and I can't read for 4 hours a day, which is pretty much what she had to do, as well as pick shorter novels (except, for some reason, Ulysses for Ireland).  I am a literary butterfly.  Like the fellow in the Wodehouse novel, I flit and sip.  If I feel like reading something I'm jolly well going to read it, never mind the schedule.

Well, on to the actual book--first it had to occur to her to read around the world, and so she spends a good deal of time talking about how easy it is to read in an insular fashion.  After all, mostly we like to read books that are a bit familiar, where we already know something about it.  Living in the English-speaking world, our books dominate, and except for the standard well-known exceptions, we rarely see others.  It takes a certain amount of effort to go looking for more books from other places, and if you're trying to get something from everywhere, it can be extremely difficult.  Not every country has a book industry.  And how do you get a book from North Korea anyhow?  Morgan wound up reading a few unpublished manuscripts or personal writings, and in one case, a brochure.

Then there are the rather uncomfortable aspects of reading something from an extremely different culture.  The jokes don't always translate well.  The moral or cultural standards are sometimes strange or offensive to others.  The reader will run into descriptions of Westerners that are not very fun to contemplate.  Morgan spends a lot of time on these issues, and on topics like censorship and the pitfalls of translation.

I was tickled by one little incident Morgan describes, in which she called a translation 'deft' and was taken to task by someone who pointed out that it wasn't actually possible for her to really judge the translation:
I had to hold my hands up here: 'rendered through Derbyshire's deft translation' was an asinine thing to write and I wasn't sure what I'd meant by it.  I had fallen into the trap of unthinking, lazy reviewing where a desire to indicate an awareness of the text having been translated made me reach for something trite and meaningless in the absence of anything better to say...
I loved it because I really dislike reviews that say pretentious things like 'deft translation' but I could also understand how she came to write such a thing.

Sometimes I found her questions or thoughts to be a little over-finicky, but on the whole it was a very interesting read.  She was mostly talking about things I'm very interested in too.  And while she did not give a book-by-book account of her year, she did talk about various titles and provide the full list in an appendix.  Quite a few are friends of mine, too; I recognized Too Loud a Solitude, An African in Greenland, So Long a Letter, and others, as well titles and authors that are either sitting on my mental TBR shelf or on my actual one.  I also added lots of books to my wishlist!


Random thoughts:

I do have one question: Morgan says that "I entered into an involved Twitter correspondence with, of all things, the Panama Canal, whose favorite writer..."  What?  Never does she say that there's a person running the Twitter account.  Just the Panama Canal, which has taste in literature.

NB: Morgan also has an odd little habit of calling books echt, genuine or authentic, when they meet her criteria for being from another place (as opposed to, say, a book by a British writer that is set in Burundi.  It's probably a good book, but it's not what she's looking for).  I'm not sure how I feel about it.  Does she use echt because she doesn't want to say 'authentic'?  In that case, putting it into German isn't really helping. 

If anyone wants to help me reach an audience of thousands, get kind offers of books from around the world, or get a lucrative book deal, just let me know. ;)  Meanwhile, you can visit Ann Morgan at her blog and see what books she read.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Bibliocraft

Bibliocraft: A Modern Crafter's Guide to Using Library Resources to Jumpstart Creative Projects, by
Jessica Pigza

Talk about a fun book!  Jessica Pigza is a rare book librarian and crafty blogger at the New York Public Library.  She keeps dropping the names of my favorite designers, like Heather Ross, Gretchen Hirsch, and Mary Corbet.  I would like her job, please.

Library collections, especially collections of older books full of public-domain images and patterns, are wonderful sources of inspiration if you're an artistic type.  Pigza spends the first half of the book showing the reader how to access all this wonderful stuff, and the second half has various small projects by popular designers, along with their inspirations.  The projects weren't really my favorite, but then I am not actually much of a crafter; I do sewing, mostly of quilts or other particular things.

The library information is wonderful.  Pigza explains the different types of libraries and where to find what you're looking for.  She given a nice run-down on library organization and the basics of Dewey vs. Library of Congress, and explains subject headings and how to make them work for you.  She also provides a quick explanation about copyright in the US and avoiding trouble.  And THEN, there's a lovely massive list of online library collections that will have you happily browsing for months.

The Biodiversity Library's flickr stream of old biology prints!
The British Library's tour of illuminated manuscripts!
Children's books from the 17th-20th centuries!
And so much more.