Monday, August 31, 2020

The Golden Bough Readalong, Part the Eighth

 Wow, this is taking a long time!  We're almost to the end of summer and I am on track with my reading, which means it's going to take, I think, another three months.  Still, I think this is the best way for me to be reading it; three chapters a reasonably easy weekly assignment to fulfill and I would probably give up in despair if I tried to read it all at once.  Since I fell behind on the notes, I decided to just take two weeks off, and I'm going to start back up now.

Boy these sections had a lot of examples.  This is all about popular folk-customs of the harvest (now mostly gone), and obviously those customs varied slightly according to the region.  

XLVI.  The Corn-Mother in Many Lands.

  1. The Corn-Mother in America:  Native American customs around maize (short).
  2. The Rice-Mother in the East Indies: So many examples of customs around rice.
  3. The Spirit of the Corn Embodied in Human Beings:  That last ceremonial reaper is often considered to be the corn-spirit at that moment.
  4. The Double Personification of the Corn as Mother and Daughter:  "The reader may have observed that in modern folk-customs the corn-spirit is generally represented either by a Corn-mother (Old Woman, etc.) or by a Maiden (Harvest-child, etc.), not both by a Corn-mother and by a Maiden. Why then did the Greeks represent the corn both as a mother and a daughter?" 

XLVII.  Lityerses.

  1. Songs of the Corn Reapers: Many peoples have sung a lament over the first or last sheaf of the harvest.
  2. Killing the Corn-Spirit: "Lityerses" was the name of a son of King Midas, whom Hercules defeated.  He would invite strangers to reap with him and then murder them.  Harvest songs were often called Lityerses after him, and folk-customs might trace back that far too.
  3. Human Sacrifices for the Crops: Some peoples have even sacrificed people to the crops/soil, to encourage fertility.
  4. The Corn-Spirit Slain in His Human Representatives: the imagined form of the corn-spirit usually accords with the 'age' of the crops -- that is, it might be thought of as an old woman, or a maiden, and then the last sheaf would be reaped by the right sort of person.  Or a passing stranger might have been pulled in, in some places.

XLVIII.  The Corn-Spirit as an Animal.

  1. Animal Embodiment of the Corn-Spirit: The crops are also often imagined as animals, which may go along with the right deity.  So here are 3 million examples (which I am not going to do more than list).
  2. The Corn-Spirit as a Wolf or Dog
  3. ...Cock
  4. ...Hare
  5. ...Cat
  6. ...Goat
  7. ...Bull, Cow, or Ox
  8. ...Horse or Mare
  9. ...Pig (Boar or Sow)
  10. On the Animal Embodiments of the Corn-Spirit: So you might even sacrifice that sort of animal, and possibly eat it (in the case of an edible animal).  The examples could go on to list every sort of creature!

OK, now it's on to "Ancient Deities of Vegetation as Animals"!  I've got about 300 pages to go.  This still counts as a summer book though!


Friday, August 28, 2020

Summerbook #15: Black Renaissance

 Miklós Szentkuthy, Hungarian and cosmopolitan (that is, he was in favor of pan-Europeanism rather than nationalism), wrote a sort-of-fictional synthesis of European history and culture, seen through his own very strange lens, and narrated by "St. Orpheus."  The ten volumes of St. Orpheus' Breviary span decades of work and centuries of history, and swirl around the 'marriage of Athens and Jerusalem' -- the contradictions, fractures, and cruelties that make up European history -- but nothing about this is straightforward or anything most people would recognize as history, or logic, or even narrative.  Black Renaissance was written in 1939 (but the title doesn't seem to have anything to do with contemporaneous events).  Also, I love the cover so much, I can't even tell you.  This is a fantastic cover.

Now, obviously a work like that is going to be way over my head.  I won't claim to have understood this book.  Sometimes I had a fairly clear idea of what was going on, but much of the time...no.  It was an experience, though!

Szentkuthy uses approximate 500-year increments as his framework.  The Emperor Tiberius and Jesus Christ represent the start, so to speak.  Theodora, empress of Byzantium, is around 500 years later.  St. Dunstan, Pope Sylvester II, and St. Stephen are 1000 AD, Brunelleschi, Elizabeth I, and Monteverdi represent later times, and then there is Szentkuthy, and us, in the present.  Not that these come in any kind of order, of course; it's a grand mix-up, as Monteverdi meditates upon Tacitus and Elizabeth's tutor writes her a letter.

Szentkuthy thought of this as a novel, I think, but it bears little resemblance to the usual form.  There isn't exactly a plot.  The characters are historical, but much about them is fictional -- their letters, poetry, and incidents from their lives.  Monteverdi, as a child, wanders into a real church that wasn't actually built until some time later.  

One bit I had fun with was a letter by Brunelleschi in which (among other things) he plans out a set of carved chairs for the Pope, upon which will be depicted historical scenes -- but the scenes are ridiculously mismatched and crammed full of unlikely detail.  On one armrest will be "a portrait of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III...partly a Tristan figure, the Germanic ghost of sensual idealism, partly a low-caliber despot, a by-now totally bourgeois-style unlawful layer & black-marketeer."  The other armrest will feature a "hyper-Parthenon" with a crowd of bizarre figures in front.  And that's just the arms of the first chair -- it gets more weird (in the old sense) as it goes.

Or the unnamed tutor writes to a teenage Elizabeth: "...you can learn from Pergamos' idol hysteria that religion always has a big chance when it is foreign and exotic, not one's own....Then the desperate, greedy aggregation of gods begins -- as poachers, people sneak into nocturnal gardens and steal foreign gods off the altar, even forbidden game -- they organize veritable metaphysical dives & mints of religious counterfeit money, because what others have, the foreign, is unfailingly truer.  That gesture, needless to say, is a thousand times more congenial than the Pasiphǣ type of bull-abstraction.  That is: the trading-in of the world's huge capital of unknownness for the small change of irrationality of children's rooms: in place of the silence of a god-phobic ignoramus are the bells of a donkey-ignoramus, & therefore, there is at least some vulgar polyphony and carnival gaudiness in it."

So, you see what I mean.


Of the ten volumes of St. Orpheus' Breviary, two have been translated into English, ten years apart.  I'm quite interested to see if any of us live long enough for another few volumes!


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby

 There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales, by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

This is the second collection of Petrushevskaya's stories I have read, and she is a great writer, although her material is mostly raw misery, Russian style.  In the other post, I quoted a review blurb as saying, "nothing about it screams 'political' or 'dissident' or anything else.  It just screams."   That said, the 'fairy tale' genre works well.

 It actually took me all summer to read this collection; since I often get tired of too many short stories at once, I eked it out over months.  Even so, I can recall first story in the book -- the one about the woman who tried to kill her neighbor's baby -- as though I read it yesterday.  Another story deals with a plague in the city and the family that tries to survive it.  Or there's a teenage girl who dies, and her father makes a deal to save her.

Twin ballerinas run afoul of a wizard who turns them into one person, except for two hours a night.  This story had a line I liked:

"And that's that," the wizard said sadly, and disappeared.  Why sadly?  Because life always appeared to him in its worst aspects, even though he could do anything.  Really, he had no life to speak of.

Fans of Russian literature will like this collection of very scary fairy tales.  Angela Carter's got nothing on Ludmilla Petrushevskaya.


Here endeth my contributions to Women in Translation month!  I read three books, from Chile, Greece, and Russia.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Quick Summer Update

 Well, I guess since the semester starts today, it's not quite summer any more, but it's sure hot!  We are all fine here, but the world has gone even madder than usual; we had a nasty heat wave and lightning storm with very little rain, and the result is that half the state is on fire -- and there's another storm coming in.    There is nothing very near to us, but the smoke is heavy, so we can't go outside much.  As my brother said, inside entertainment is closed and outside entertainment is on fire, so we just sit around.  The lack of exercise is difficult for me, but since we're about as fortunate as it's possible to be during a pandemic/heat wave/state on fire, I can hardly complain.

I did pretty much take the week off from any serious reading, though.  I was up-to-date on The Golden Bough until this week (though I have yet to write up the notes post I should have posted a week ago) and was making decent progress on two books of summer.  I'm none too sure than I'll finish my summer list, which is annoying, but I've decided to let it be what it is and not worry about it.

One thing I have been working on (besides surviving the heat) has been a pretty big quilting project; a labyrinth based on the St. Omer pattern.  I'm quilting it now and it's pretty huge: 80" square.  I also got a screaming deal on a free-motion quilting setup, which is large and for which there is no room in my house.

It's back to work today, and there's plenty to do!  Should be an interesting semester, though I sure do miss everybody else.  All the fun parts of my job involve other people.

So I'll be working on catching up here, but I don't promise anything, especially since the way things are going, Godzilla might show up any minute.  I hope you are all doing well and surviving your own tropical storms and weird things.  Here's a preliminary photo of my labyrinth quilt before quilting (taken from about 7 feet up to get it all in).  My idea was that you're wandering through different landscapes, like stone walls or grass and hedges, or even trees/jungle.  Between the tripod quilt and this one, I'm hoping to win a Most Lunatic Quilts award from my guild, if we ever meet again...


Friday, August 21, 2020

Summerbook#14: Seeing Red

 Seeing Red, by Lina Meruane (Sangre in el ojo)

I was quite interested in this Chilean novel, which I saw billed as "one of Chile's most exciting young writers" in her first work translated into English, which was about trauma and its effects.  I didn't quite expect what I got!

Lina is a young Chilean grad student living in the US with her boyfriend, Ignacio, but she has to be extremely careful with her eyes, which have a bunch of extra veins growing in them, and they're brittle.  So the first thing that happens is that the veins burst and Lina becomes very nearly blind as one eye fills with blood and the other comes pretty close.*

Immediately, her life becomes far more difficult, as she has to take a leave of absence and usually depends on Ignacio to get around.  The doctor wants to wait and see if the blood kind of goes away.  Her family back in Chile want her home immediately and for her to see a proper Chilean doctor; she and Ignacio do travel down, but Lina's fraught relationship with her dramatic and overbearing mother impedes any other action.

Back home, Lina needs an eye operation right away.  (I tell you what, I have never ever read so much detailed description of eye surgery in a novel, and I'm not sure I ever want to again.)  Recovery is long, and gives her plenty of time to fret about the possible results.  She becomes obsessed with eyes; her own, Ignacio's, her mother's.  Eventually, her demands on her loved ones reach an intolerable impasse.

 

Based on the blurb, I'd expected a lot more about trauma and relationships and a lot less graphic description of eyeball anatomy and surgery.  As someone with particularly difficult eyeballs, I'm not sure I would recommend it to anybody else like me.  (On the other hand, maybe somebody without difficult eyeballs would find it unendurably horrifying?)   The whole thing is supposed to be based on Meruane's own experiences, blurring the lines between fiction and reality.  Which, of course, makes me really wonder exactly how far Meruane's experience went, because she seems to be sighted now.   It was a very good novel; just not what I expected.

I am not sure if a woman a few years older than I am qualifies as one of Chile's exciting young writers.  Unless all the writers in Chile are 70+ and none have emerged in the last 30 years?  Regardless, she is an excellent writer and the accolades are all deserved.  This was a gripping and skilled novel.


 _____________________________________________

*This description freaked me out so much that I asked my ophthalmologist friend if it was real.  He says "Vitreous hemorrhage, or bleeding inside the eye due to neovascularization (abnormal blood vessels or veins inside the eye) can occur with many causes...."  So, there's something new to worry about...agh.

 

 

 



Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Summerbook #13: Beside the Ocean of Time

Beside the Ocean of Time, by George Mackay Brown

I like to listen to the Slightly Foxed podcast, which has added quite a few things to my reading wishlist.

A while back, they did an episode on George Mackay Brown (pronounced MaKEE), who is mainly considered a poet -- one of the greats of 20th century Scottish literature -- but who wrote stories, essays, and plays as well.  He was from the Orkney islands, and those islands were very important to his writing.  This 1995 novel is Brown's last, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

Thorfinn Ragnarsson lives on the tiny island of Norday* -- it's the 1930s, and Thorfinn is known as the laziest, most useless boy on the island, because he prefers to spend his time daydreaming, imagining himself in other times.  In imagination, Thorfinn sails with his Viking ancestors and rides to the Battle of Bannockburn.  Stories of other islanders are interspersed with Thorfinn's voyages, and we even see the island in 'the future,' as oil development takes over and Thorfinn comes back to a nearly-deserted island, looking for solitude after his experiences in a German POW camp and for space to write his book.

This is truly a remarkable novel with lovely writing that will stay with the reader.  Or, at least, it stayed with me.  The island and its people are beautifully written, but the prose is not overburdened with conscious style or description.  It's light.  It doesn't feel like Poetic Writing; it's just beautifully done.  Highly recommended.

_____________________________________________

*Norday is tiny, and also fictional!


Monday, August 17, 2020

Zima: Origins

Zima: Origins (Z-Tech Chronicles), by Ryan Southwick 

Readers may possibly remember that in 2018 I reviewed a tech thriller, Angels in the Mist, by my old buddy Ryan Southwick.  He also sent me the second volume, Angels Fall, and you'll see that review in October, when it's published, but first -- a prequel!

Here is Zima's story between escaping her former life and the start of Angels in the Mist.  Instead of being an AI implanted in a psychopath, she has her own cyborg body.  But that means she has a lot to get used to and to learn, and she figures the best way to do that is to go out and find herself a family.  How better to learn the normal human interactions she knows nothing about?

Zima finds siblings Emilio and Rosa, and applies for membership in their family.  Rosa, a bouncy little 8-year-old, loves this idea.  Emilio, 17, thinks it's pretty strange.  But even though he's sure that he's got his life under control, it turns out he could use some Zima-style help.   Pretty soon the whole family is on a roller-coaster of danger, and wondering if they'll manage to survive.

I thought this was a nice change of scene -- very different territory than before.  Southwick is evidently not the kind to stay in one place for long!  And I'm a sucker for 'stranger in a strange land' type stories, so I found this one to be particularly fun.

 Zima: Origins is a good bit shorter than the other volumes in the series -- about 150 pages.  It is being released on Kindle tomorrow at the lovely price of $2.99.  Observe the fancy new cover art; Southwick has been picked up by Water Dragon Publishing and you can purchase the first Z-Tech story in paperback as well as Kindle (I did!).  The second volume will release in the fall!


I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Summerbook #12: Crossings

Crossings: A Bald Asian-American Latter-day Saint Woman Scholar's Adventures Through Life, Death, Cancer & Motherhood (Not Necessarily in That Order), by Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye

This book is really a project put together for the author's four children, who are/were too young to read it yet.  But she was dealing with cancer, and wasn't sure she'd survive -- so she put together a collection of essays, letters, talks, and meditations for them to have one day.  (And if it was a published book, it couldn't get lost very easily!)  Lucky for us, the rest of us get to read it too.  I enjoyed this collection a lot, and it gave me some good things to think about.   (Note: I assumed the 'bald' part was due to the cancer, but nope; she had already lost her hair to alopecia in her 20s.)

For one thing, she is just very fun to read, and has had an exciting life.  She and her husband/family have lived in Cambridge, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and now Auckland.  She's a brilliant and busy scholar with a long strong of amazing accomplishments. 

And she's also a really wise, thoughtful, insightful person.  So she has a lot of wonderful things to say.  Many of these things are about her faith, and about how that mixes with her scholarship and other facets of her --and her family's -- life, including cancer.  

The general focus ends up being [lifted from the blurb] "how Latter-day Saints in an increasingly globalized Church might cultivate unity without leaving their distinctive gifts behind."  But also, there are the family newsletters, and end-of-semester talks to her students, and essays about the joys of running (did I mention she's also a long-distance runner?).

So I loved this book, and have already recommended it strongly to two close friends.  Here are some bits I liked:

...the most important thing I learned is that love is the power that allows you to be useful to others.

China, the land of my mother's ancestors, was not familiar to me when I first encountered it as a university student.  But now it feels like home -- now, one of many homes.

As participants in a globally integrated world, what role should we play?  On the one hand, how can we accept evil?  Who will answer for the sufferings of prisoners of conscience?  How can we allow tyrants and bullies to prosper while the innocent come to harm?  On the other hand, how can we decisively silence those who perpetuate harm without doing harm ourselves?  Can we fail to acknowledge the way in which we or our own histories have played a role in creating the problem?  How should we decide at whom to cast our stones?  If we do not agree with the views of a person, or a party, or a nation, is the best course of action to treat our opponent as an enemy, someone whose welfare we work to erode?  I don't think so.

From a Confucian point of view, civilization is not what people do or what they build.  Civilization is what people are.  It is the daily work of humans at being humans. It is something we both find within ourselves and borrow from each other.  It is something we glean from ordinary encounters with frustration, disappointment, and love...Civilization is humans being civil -- being ren, or benevolent, and acting in accordance with li, the rituals that have emerged over centuries to acknowledge our shared humanity.

Far more than those who have sailed through life without a hitch, people who have kept going amid setbacks, delays, and crushing defeats are people who are worthy of respect.  They are the people who have gained the ability to see clearly, to heal others, to warn with authority.  I realize that a truly valuable life involves being battered, scarred, and frightened in generous proportion to feeling happiness and enjoyment.

Keep in mind that most of the world's 3.3 billion women do not speak your dialect of feminism.  For instance, they might not define power in terms of the ability to hold a position in a bureaucratic hierarchy.  Of course, use the languages in which you're fluent to do the work you're capable of doing.  But don't forget that others' languages and discourses are valid.  For instance, to discount women's 'unenlightened' voices and viewpoints simply because you don't understand them is the opposite of feminist.  At church, through frequent interaction with many beloved Others, we learn to be polyglots.  We learn that people can be wise and good in different ways.  Someone with little formal education can offer an eloquent and moving prayer.  Someone with 'ignorant' and 'wrongheaded' political views can teach us how to meet life's challenges with grace and compassion.


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

A Celtic Miscellany

My copy is ancient; but it's still in print!

This is one of those TBR books I've had around forever and ever.  I can tell, from the price written on the inside front page, that I got it at our local used bookstore, but it must have been a long time ago!

Miscellany is an appropriate description; here we have samples of literature from six Celtic languages, primarily Irish and Welsh, but also Cornish, Scottish-Irish, Breton, and Manx.  The translator, Jackson, wanted to produce a representative collection that wouldn't just include all the things everybody is already familiar with -- but some of the favorites had to go in, or else it wouldn't be representative.  
 
The selections are in themed sections, starting with adventure stories (Cu Chulainn, Fionn, and others), and going on to such topics as love, nature, epigram, satire, elegy, and so on.  They also go somewhat chronologically, with the earliest material first and ending up in the 18th century.  Most of it is medieval.

The translator has some wonderfully acerbic comments on the mystique surrounding Celtic literature:
...it has been the fashion to think of the Celtic mind as something mysterious, magical, filled with dark broodings over a mighty past; and the Irish, Welsh, and the rest as a people who by right of birth alone were in some strange way in direct contact with a mystical supernatural twilight world which they would rarely reveal to the outsider.  The so-called ‘Celtic Revival’ of the end of the last century did much to foster this preposterous idea...[snip]... the still widely held belief that they are full of mournful, languishing, mysterious melancholy, of the dim ‘Celtic Twilight’ (Yeats' term), or else of an intolerable whimsicality and sentimentality. Although scholars have long known, and all educatied people really acquainted with the Celtic literatures now know, that this is a gross misrepresentation, the opinion is still widely held....In fact, the Celtic literatures are about as little given to mysticism or sentimentality as it is possible to be; their most outstanding characteristic is rather their astonishing power of imagination.
 Yeah, I love this guy.  

I had a good time reading all these bits and bobs of poetry, story, and various other things.  Some are lovely verse or description, and some are very funny indeed, or spooky.  These poets really appreciated the beauty of the natural world around them.  They appreciated a pretty girl too!  Here are some of my favorite bits:
To a Birch-tree Cut Down, and Set Up in Llanidloes for a Maypole: Gruffydd ab Addaf ap Dafydd, c. 1340-1370
...Though the gift of an honourable place in thronged Llandidloes where many meet is good, not good, my birch, do I think your rape nor your site nor your habitation. No good place is it for you for putting out green leaves, there where you make grimaces. Every town has gardens with leafage green enough; and was it not barbarous, my birch, to make you wither yonder, a bare pole by the pillory? If you had not, at the time of leaves, to stand in the centre of the dry crossroads, though they say your place is a pleasant one, my tree, the skies of the glen would have been the better. No more will the birds sleep, no more will they sing in their shrill note on your fair gentle crest, sister of the dusky wood, so incessant will be the hubbub of the people around your tent – a cruel maiming! ...

Love Gives Wings: a 17th c. Welsh verse
Long the road and wide the mountain from Cwm Mawddwy to Trawsfynydd, but where a lad's desires may lead him the hill seems a descent.

(a verse from) The Song of Summer
Even the weakest of creatures goes to the wood rejoicing; the wren, brisk and valiant, hardy and neat, welcomes the morning without ceasing with its fine soft sweet reed-pipe, and the robin sings bass to it on the bough overhead.

A Cursed Undutiful Son-in-Law: 10th c. Welsh
...As they arose, [the giant] seized the second dart that was at his hand and threw it after them; and Menw som of Teirgwaedd caught it and threw it back, and pierced him through the midst of his breast, so that it sprang out at the small of his back.  "A cursed undutiful son-in-law!  The hard iron has stung me like the bite of a horse-leech.  Cursed be the furnace in which it was smelted!  When I go up a hillside I shall have griping, and colic and frequent queasiness."

From the Early Welsh Laws; 12th c.
...Whoever kills the cat that guards the king's barn, or steals it, its head is to be set down on a clean level floor, and its tail it to be held up, and then wheaten grains are to be poured around it until they cover the tip of its tail.  Any other cat is worth four legal pence...

Egan O’ Rahilly and the Minister; Irish, 1737
There was a splendid green-boughed tree of great value growing for many years close by a church which the wicked Cromwell had plundered, above a spring overflowing with bright cold water, in a field of green turf which a thieving minister had extorted from an Irish gentleman; one who had been exiled across the wild seas thorough treachery, and not through the edge of the sword.  This stinking lout of a dammed minister wanted to cut a long green bough of the tree to make household gear of it. None of the carpenters or workmen would touch the beautiful bough, for its shade was most lovely, sheltering them as they lamented brokenly and bitterly for the bright champions who were stretched beneath the sod.  “I  will cut it” said a bandy meagre-shanked gallows bird of a son of this portly minister,  “and get me an axe at once.”  The dull-witted oaf went up into the tree like a scared cat fleeing a pack of hounds, until he came upon two branches growing one across the other. He tried to put them apart by the strength of his wrists, but they sprang from his hands in the twinkling of an eye across each other again, and gripped his gullet, hanging him high between air and Hell. It was then the accursed Sassenach was wriggling his legs in the hangman's  dance, and he standing on nothing, and his black tongue out the length of a yard, mocking at his father.  The minister screamed and bawled like a pig in a sack or a goose caught under a gate, and no wonder, while the workmen were getting a ladder to cut him down. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Mysteries of Udolpho Readalong: III

 
Here we are at the end of Volume III, and things have been quite exciting.  HAS Montoni murdered his own wife?  Who is playing that mystery music?  Will Emily ever escape?


One of the guards says he's guarding Madame Montoni and will take Emily to see her, though not until the middle of the night, and all on her own.  After leading her through a lot of deserted and ruined rooms, he points her into a tower, where she finds a torture chair and a body.  She passes out and revives only to realize she's being abducted to who-knows-where!  Luckily, her maid Annette had followed and raised the alarm.  It seems the spurned Morano had a scheme.

Emily is now sure that Montoni has murdered her aunt.  (Also, there is a mysterious figure on the ramparts at night!)  But Montoni says she's in the east turret, so Emily goes to check it out, even though she's sure she saw her aunt lying dead.  But!  Madame Montoni is not dead -- yet, anyway.  She's been very ill, and is about to die, but Emily manages to finagle her removal back to her own room, so she can die in some peace.  Her aunt's final wishes are that Emily refuse to sign the family estates over to Montoni.

Emily is much more stubborn about honoring final wishes than she would be on her own account, so she stands up to Montoni's demands.  She also hears that the castle has some soldiers being held prisoner -- that must be where the music is coming from!  maybe it's Valancourt! -- so she wants to find out about that.  But the castle is being attacked, so Emily is whisked off to a cottage in the valley, where she is still a prisoner, but at least gets to go outside and be friends with a peasant girl.

Once back at the castle, there isn't much to do except wonder whether Valancourt is in the castle too.  A servant finds out for her that there is a man from her home county, who knows and loves her!  It must be Valancourt!!  The guard is bribed, the prisoner sneaks out...and it's not Valancourt at all.  It's a former neighbor of Emily's, Du Pont, a very nice man who has anonymously languished after her for years.  Anyway, all the good guys manage to escape out of the gates, and they go as fast as they can, in hopes of not getting caught.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch the village where Emily's father died, a new neighbor has moved in to the chateau, and young Blanche has just been released from her boring convent education.  She can't wait to see the world!  This country estate is so full of lovely scenery, she is very happy.  Her stepmother complains a lot.  Emily and company arrive at the same place, and Emily plans to stay at the convent, but first she stays with Blanche -- and Valancourt arrives.  Joy!  But...he's changed.  In fact, he's been getting in to some pretty bad company, and although he still loves Emily, he has not exactly been pining away and searching for her high and low.  He may no longer be worthy of her esteem....



So fun times -- still lots of leaning on furniture while nearly fainting.  The words sublime, repose, and pensive melancholy all recur with great frequency.  Annette, the maid, is a nice girl but also a silly chatterbox, as befits her lowly station, so that's annoying.

I do really like how realistic Emily is about Valancourt.  She knows that she can't be happy with him if he has developed a massive gambling problem and some other serious problems.  I really like that she doesn't plan to Save Him With Her Love.

On to Volume IV!  I'm really looking forward to  seeing how this all turns out.  I know that the horrid black veil's secret is revealed, so they must wind up back at Udolpho...


Sunday, August 9, 2020

The CC Spin Number!

 Our number this time is...18!

That gives me Tolstoy's novel Resurrection, which I don't even know very much about.  Here's the blurb:

Serving on the jury at a murder trial, Prince Dmitri Nekhlyudov is devastated when he sees the prisoner - Katyusha, a young maid he seduced and abandoned years before. As Dmitri faces the consequences of his actions, he decides to give up his life of wealth and luxury to devote himself to rescuing Ka

tyusha, even if it means following her into exile in Siberia. But can a man truly find redemption by saving another person? Tolstoy's most controversial novel, Resurrection (1899) is a scathing indictment of injustice, corruption and hypocrisy at all levels of society. Creating a vast panorama of Russian life, from peasants to aristocrats, bureaucrats to convicts, it reveals Tolstoy's magnificent storytelling powers.

It's about 560 pages, so not as long as Anna Karenina or War and Peace.   Sounds like a fascinating storyline; how often do you see a novel where a wealthy man has to see the consequences of his treatment of a young woman?  I'm looking forward to tackling this one!


Friday, August 7, 2020

Summerbook #11: The Scapegoat

The Scapegoat, by Sophia Nikolaidou

In 1948, an over-eager American journalist reporting on the Greek civil war was pulled out of the bay, murdered.  The American government threatened to withdraw aid unless the killer was found immediately, and so the Greek police decided who did it.  Manolis Gris, a junior reporter, spent 12 years in jail.

In 2010, Minas Georgiou is the smartest, and most disaffected, kid at his high school.  Everybody is preparing for the exams, but he doesn't want to go to university or ever take another exam again.  (After all, the Greek economy is in freefall, and there doesn't seem to be much point in anything.)  The maverick teacher at the school gives Minas an assignment: instead of exam prep, investigate the Gris case, and give a presentation on it.

The story of the Gris case is presented in a mosaic made of testimonies from the people involved -- almost everyone, except Gris himself.  Blended with the old stories, we see Minas figuring out what he wants from life, and we learn about the connections between the adults in Minas' life, which he is completely unaware of.

If this were a regular mystery novel, Minas would unearth new evidence and figure out the case.  He would present his information to his audience, prove that Gris was innocent, and point the finger at the real killer.  The maverick teacher would have his methods vindicated and Minas would be grateful.    But absolutely none of this happens. 

Instead, through the story, Nikolaidou weaves a meditation on sacrifice -- truth and justice -- honesty and corruption  Gris was a scapegoat, chosen to save his country by taking the blame for a murder that was probably unsolvable -- or maybe not.  It was all for the greater good, right?   And here in 2010, with the government as corrupt as ever and the country's future uncertain, what scapegoats are needed, and who will pay?  For the greater good, of course.

Thessaloniki, also known as Salonica, is an important presence in the story.  I now feel like I could walk to the Agia Sophia myself.


The murder is actually based on a real case.  George Polk, an American journalist, (to quote the translator) "was killed in circumstances that remain unexplained to this day.  Polk was investigating atrocities on both sides, as well as calling the American to account for their support of the Greek government."  Today, the George Polk Award is given yearly for intrepid reporting.

A really neat novel.  I don't know anything about modern Greek literature, but this was great.  And, remember, August is Women in Translation month, so grab a book and do some WIT reading too!

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This is Summerbook #11, so I'm kind of behind, but to be fair, Udolpho and Golden Bough are both on the list too, and I've finished a couple that haven't been posted yet.  We'll see how I do...I hate failing challenges!

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Summerbook #10: The Forest of Enchantments


I have been looking forward to this book for SO LONG.  And then when I got hold of it, I delayed reading it because I was looking forward to it so much, which is a silly habit of mine.  But I saved it for a summer treat, and wow, it was great.

Ten years ago, after Divakaruni wrote The Palace of Illusions, she said that her next project would be the story of Sita from the Ramayana.  Then it was really difficult to get started, because Sita is a hugely important figure, and one that just about all Indian women have to reckon with.  Sita is the embodiment of perfect womanhood and wifehood, and girls are often told "May you be like Sita."  But a lot of times that carries the meaning of 'be meek and mild and put up with everything,' because Sita is often held up as more of a Griselda-like model.  A deep dive into the story of Sita, however, reveals a woman who is brave, strong and determined, and Divakaruni wanted to show her that way.

The story of Sita is long and complex, and I can hardly do justice to it here.  She marries the prince of Ayodhya, Ram, and he is determined to be a perfectly righteous king one day, so correct and holy that nobody can ever point a finger at him.  But his stepmother's scheming results in Ram's exile to the forest for 14 years.  Sita and Lakshman, Ram's devoted younger brother, go with him.  Near the end of the exile, a demon king, Ravana, abducts Sita and takes her to his magic kingdom of Sri Lanka.  He wants her to become his wife, but she refuses and spends months waiting for rescue.  Ram and Hanuman save her, but Ram tells her that since she 'lived' with another man, she can no longer be his wife.  Sita proves her innocence, but when rumors start floating around Ayodhya, she is exiled anyway, to raise twin sons in the forest.  Just how much should she endure?

Sita's voice is wonderful in this novel, and she keeps trying to understand the nature of love.  What should she do for those she loves?  What happens when love pulls her in different directions?  How much should she sacrifice?  How much should she forgive?  She understands Ram and how important it is to him to be a righteous king, and she supports him in it -- Ram is in fact an incarnation of Vishnu -- but they do not always understand righteousness in the same way.  Sita ponders a lot on how this all works, especially on unjust accusations.  There are a lot of unjustly accused women in this story, who react in different ways.

Of course I can't tell you the ending, but I sure wish I could just quote it all here.  Divakaruni tells it exquisitely, drawing the thread of her story through a needle's eye in a way that could so easily miss, blending love and forgiveness with a refusal to be mistreated.  It will bring out the tears, but this isn't a tearjerker just for fun; it's asking some very difficult questions.

If there's one thing I really regret about this novel, which is so wonderfully written, it's that not a lot of men will read it.  Divakaruni has always told the stories of women, and I wish men in general were more willing to read them.  Women are not the only ones who could enjoy this novel and take real meaning from it.



Here are just a few of Sita's developing thoughts on the nature of love:
...the more love we distribute, the more it grows, coming back to us from unexpected sources.  And its corollary: when we demand love, believing it to be our right, it shrivels, leaving only resentment behind. 

So, this, too, was true of love: it could make us forget our own needs.  It could make us strong even when the world was collapsing around us.

...it's not enough to merely love someone.  Even if we love them with our entire being, even if we're willing to commit the most heinous sin for their well-being.  We must understand and respect the values that drive them.  We must want what they want, not what we want for them.

...once mistrust has wounded it mortally, love can't be fully healed again.

That's how love stops us when it might be healthier to speak out, to not let frustration and rage build up until it explodes.

Truly love is the strongest intoxicant of them all, the drink of deepest oblivion.  Else how could I have forgiven him so quickly for what he'd done?
No. Love is the spade with which we bury, deep inside our being, the things that we cannot bear to remember, cannot bear anyone else to know.  But some of them remain.  And they rise to the surface when we least expect them.

I bore the rakshasis no ill will because I'd never loved them, and they'd never pretended to love me.  Forgiveness is more difficult when love is involved.

When Ram saw what had transpired, he looked at me newly, with a different, considering gaze. Even as I basked in his admiration, I realized that until now, he had appreciated me only for qualities that he thought of as womanly: beauty, kindness, the skills to heal plants and animals and humans-- and even rakshasas. The power to make him fall in love with me. He admired the fact that I'd repaired the relationship between Kaushalya and King Dasharath, bringing them closer. He was impressed because I created a beautiful home for us in harsh wilderness. But he considered them all to be domestic skills. Now, for the first time, he looked at me with respect, the way one might gaze at an equal... What I'd taken as admiration all these years had really been a kind of indulgence, the way one might praise a child for childish achievements. The womanly skills I'd mastered were important and intricate, and by no means easy.  They required deep intelligence, an intelligence of the heart.  [abridged for length]
I loved loved loved this book.  I'll be reading it again -- and again.

Monday, August 3, 2020

The Golden Bough Readalong: Part the Seventh

So are you tired of notes on the Golden Bough yet?  I am, a bit.  I'm enjoying the actual book, and these notes are helpful, but the actual job of writing them up is a bit tedious.  Still, I shouldn't complain; this section was a doddle to read!  We're continuing the tour through Middle-Eastern corn deities.



XXXVII.  Oriental Religions in the West: Goddess-worship was popular, but foreign and unhealthy for the West.  (See quotations below; they're nearly all from this chapter)  Mithras-worship and Christianity, same thing.

XXXVIII.  The Myth of Osiris: Osiris was a corn-god too, but he was so very popular that people piled him with various meanings.  Full story of Osiris is given.

XXXIX: The Ritual of Osiris.
  1. The Popular Rites: The Nile's rising was the time for the festival of Isis, by which time Osiris was dead.  Farmers' harvest rituals were similar to those of Adonis and Attis. 
  2. The Official Rites: Description of priestly rites.  Lots about calendars.
XL: The Nature of Osiris.
  1. Osiris a Corn-God:   He's clearly a corn-god.  Prehistoric kings might have been dismembered in a similar ritual; so many legends about body pieces being scattered in order to ensure fertility must have had a factual origin.
  2. Osiris a Tree-Spirit: He might have been a tree-spirit first, before agriculture.  They used to bury an image of Osiris in a hollowed-out pine tree.
  3. Osiris a God of Fertility: Any god in charge of vegetation is obviously going to have fertility ("creative energy") aspects too.
  4. Osiris a God of the Dead: To Egyptians, life and death went together, and of course they loved a god who took care of the dead and promised to "raise them to life eternal."
XLI: Isis: She must have been a corn-goddess back in old times, before she took on everything.  Her rites were dignified and comforting, and probably contributed to later ideas about the Virgin Mary.

XLII: Osiris and the Sun: He was sometimes called a sun-god, but that's not right at all, and here's why.


Most of my thoughts are about that first chapter, but I do want to note one interesting thing.  Here's part of a description about Isis:
Amongst the epithets by which Isis is designated in the inscriptions are “Creatress of green things,” “Green goddess, whose green colour is like unto the greenness of the earth,” “Lady of Bread,” “Lady of Beer,” “Lady of Abundance.” ...The Greeks conceived of Isis as a corn-goddess, for they identified her with Demeter. In a Greek epigram she is described as “she who has given birth to the fruits of the earth,” and “the mother of the ears of corn”; and in a hymn composed in her honour she speaks of herself as “queen of the wheat-field,” and is described as “charged with the care of the fruitful furrow’s wheat-rich path.” Accordingly, Greek or Roman artists often represented her with ears of corn on her head or in her hand.
OK, is it just me or does a good chunk of that sound like Libby Beer in DWJ's Dalemark stories??  DWJ would, of course, have known Fraser's work very well...

These two (long!) paragraphs were certainly interesting:

THE WORSHIP of the Great Mother of the Gods and her lover or son was very popular under the Roman Empire. Inscriptions prove that the two received divine honours, separately or conjointly, not only in Italy, and especially at Rome, but also in the provinces, particularly in Africa, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, and Bulgaria. Their worship survived the establishment of Christianity by Constantine; for Symmachus records the recurrence of the festival of the Great Mother, and in the days of Augustine her effeminate priests still paraded the streets and squares of Carthage with whitened faces, scented hair, and mincing gait, while, like the mendicant friars of the Middle Ages, they begged alms from the passers-by. In Greece, on the other hand, the bloody orgies of the Asiatic goddess and her consort appear to have found little favour. The barbarous and cruel character of the worship, with its frantic excesses, was doubtless repugnant to the good taste and humanity of the Greeks, who seem to have preferred the kindred but gentler rites of Adonis. Yet the same features which shocked and repelled the Greeks may have positively attracted the less refined Romans and barbarians of the West. The ecstatic frenzies, which were mistaken for divine inspiration, the mangling of the body, the theory of a new birth and the remission of sins through the shedding of blood, have all their origin in savagery, and they naturally appealed to peoples in whom the savage instincts were still strong. Their true character was indeed often disguised under a decent veil of allegorical or philosophical interpretation, which probably sufficed to impose upon the rapt and enthusiastic worshippers, reconciling even the more cultivated of them to things which otherwise must have filled them with horror and disgust.

The religion of the Great Mother, with its curious blending of crude savagery with spiritual aspirations, was only one of a multitude of similar Oriental faiths which in the later days of paganism spread over the Roman Empire, and by saturating the European peoples with alien ideals of life gradually undermined the whole fabric of ancient civilisation. Greek and Roman society was built on the conception of the subordination of the individual to the community, of the citizen to the state; it set the safety of the commonwealth, as the supreme aim of conduct, above the safety of the individual whether in this world or in the world to come. Trained from infancy in this unselfish ideal, the citizens devoted their lives to the public service and were ready to lay them down for the common good; or if they shrank from the supreme sacrifice, it never occurred to them that they acted otherwise than basely in preferring their personal existence to the interests of their country. All this was changed by the spread of Oriental religions which inculcated the communion of the soul with God and its eternal salvation as the only objects worth living for, objects in comparison with which the prosperity and even the existence of the state sank into insignificance. The inevitable result of this selfish and immoral doctrine was to withdraw the devotee more and more from the public service, to concentrate his thoughts on his own spiritual emotions, and to breed in him a contempt for the present life which he regarded merely as a probation for a better and an eternal. The saint and the recluse, disdainful of earth and rapt in ecstatic contemplation of heaven, became in popular opinion the highest ideal of humanity, displacing the old ideal of the patriot and hero who, forgetful of self, lives and is ready to die for the good of his country. The earthly city seemed poor and contemptible to men whose eyes beheld the City of God coming in the clouds of heaven. Thus the centre of gravity, so to say, was shifted from the present to a future life, and however much the other world may have gained, there can be little doubt that this one lost heavily by the change. A general disintegration of the body politic set in. The ties of the state and the family were loosened: the structure of society tended to resolve itself into its individual elements and thereby to relapse into barbarism; for civilisation is only possible through the active co-operation of the citizens and their willingness to subordinate their private interests to the common good. Men refused to defend their country and even to continue their kind. In their anxiety to save their own souls and the souls of others, they were content to leave the material world, which they identified with the principle of evil, to perish around them. This obsession lasted for a thousand years. The revival of Roman law, of the Aristotelian philosophy, of ancient art and literature at the close of the Middle Ages, marked the return of Europe to native ideals of life and conduct, to saner, manlier views of the world. The long halt in the march of civilisation was over. The tide of Oriental invasion had turned at last. It is ebbing still.

I found this particularly interesting because I read The White Goddess a few years ago, and here we see the theme Robert Graves took and ran with, except Graves had somewhat different thoughts.  He said that worship of the Mother Goddess was natural to Europeans and should be revived, while Fraser seems to think of it as an invasion from the East that should be resisted in favor of a more communal philosophy.  Graves also disapproves of individualism, but thinks that Goddess-worship would make society more communal.  Both of their constructs seem like utter nonsense to me.

Here's some more, about Christianity and Buddhism:

In point of fact it appears from the testimony of an anonymous Christian, who wrote in the fourth century of our era, that Christians and pagans alike were struck by the remarkable coincidence between the death and resurrection of their respective deities, and that the coincidence formed a theme of bitter controversy between the adherents of the rival religions, the pagans contending that the resurrection of Christ was a spurious imitation of the resurrection of Attis, and the Christians asserting with equal warmth that the resurrection of Attis was a diabolical counterfeit of the resurrection of Christ. In these unseemly bickerings the heathen took what to a superficial observer might seem strong ground by arguing that their god was the older and therefore presumably the original, not the counterfeit, since as a general rule an original is older than its copy. This feeble argument the Christians easily rebutted. They admitted, indeed, that in point of time Christ was the junior deity, but they triumphantly demonstrated his real seniority by falling back on the subtlety of Satan, who on so important an occasion had surpassed himself by inverting the usual order of nature.

Taken altogether, the coincidences of the Christian with the heathen festivals are too close and too numerous to be accidental. They mark the compromise which the Church in the hour of its triumph was compelled to make with its vanquished yet still dangerous rivals. The inflexible Protestantism of the primitive missionaries, with their fiery denunciations of heathendom, had been exchanged for the supple policy, the easy tolerance, the comprehensive charity of shrewd ecclesiastics, who clearly perceived that if Christianity was to conquer the world it could do so only by relaxing the too rigid principles of its Founder, by widening a little the narrow gate which leads to salvation. In this respect an instructive parallel might be drawn between the history of Christianity and the history of Buddhism. Both systems were in their origin essentially ethical reforms born of the generous ardour, the lofty aspirations, the tender compassion of their noble Founders, two of those beautiful spirits who appear at rare intervals on earth like beings come from a better world to support and guide our weak and erring nature. Both preached moral virtue as the means of accomplishing what they regarded as the supreme object of life, the eternal salvation of the individual soul, though by a curious antithesis the one sought that salvation in a blissful eternity, the other in a final release from suffering, in annihilation. But the austere ideals of sanctity which they inculcated were too deeply opposed not only to the frailties but to the natural instincts of humanity ever to be carried out in practice by more than a small number of disciples, who consistently renounced the ties of the family and the state in order to work out their own salvation in the still seclusion of the cloister. If such faiths were to be nominally accepted by whole nations or even by the world, it was essential that they should first be modified or transformed so as to accord in some measure with the prejudices, the passions, the superstitions of the vulgar. This process of accommodation was carried out in after ages by followers who, made of less ethereal stuff than their masters, were for that reason the better fitted to mediate between them and the common herd. Thus as time went on, the two religions, in exact proportion to their growing popularity, absorbed more and more of those baser elements which they had been instituted for the very purpose of suppressing. Such spiritual decadences are inevitable. The world cannot live at the level of its great men. Yet it would be unfair to the generality of our kind to ascribe wholly to their intellectual and moral weakness the gradual divergence of Buddhism and Christianity from their primitive patterns. For it should never be forgotten that by their glorification of poverty and celibacy both these religions struck straight at the root not merely of civil society but of human existence. The blow was parried by the wisdom or the folly of the vast majority of mankind, who refused to purchase a chance of saving their souls with the certainty of extinguishing the species.

And finally, one funny bit:
Such is the myth or legend of Osiris, as told by Greek writers and eked out by more or less fragmentary notices or allusions in native Egyptian literature. A long inscription in the temple at Denderah has preserved a list of the god’s graves, and other texts mention the parts of his body which were treasured as holy relics in each of the sanctuaries. Thus his heart was at Athribis, his backbone at Busiris, his neck at Letopolis, and his head at Memphis. As often happens in such cases, some of his divine limbs were miraculously multiplied. His head, for example, was at Abydos as well as at Memphis, and his legs, which were remarkably numerous, would have sufficed for several ordinary mortals. In this respect, however, Osiris was nothing to St. Denys, of whom no less than seven heads, all equally genuine, are extant.


 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

It's a Spin! Classics Club Spin #24

Yaaaay!  I just love a Spin.  The due date for this challenge will be at the end of September, nearly 8 weeks of time, so it's a good time to put some chunksters on the list.  And since I'm trying to read Russian literature this year, I really loaded up this list with Russians.  (Also, I'm still limited to what I have in the house, and there are a lot of titles I can't get right now.)


The Spin number will be announced next Sunday, which is a whole week away.  How will I stand the suspense??

Here's my Spin list:
  1. Revelations of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich (second version)
  2. Demons, by Dostoyevsky
  3. The Obedience of a Christian Man, by William Tyndale
  4. Life and Fate, by Vasily Grossman
  5. The Female Quixote, by Charlotte Lennox
  6. Oblomov, by Goncharov
  7. Lorna Doone, by R. D. Blackmore
  8. Thus Were Their Faces, by Silvina Ocampo
  9. For Two Thousand Years, by Mihail Sebastian 
  10. Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens
  11. The Idiot, by Dostoyevsky
  12. The Well at the End of the World, by William Morris
  13. Tales of the Narts (Ossetian myths)
  14. The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis
  15. Eichmann in Jerusalem, by Hannah Arendt
  16. First Love and Other Stories, by Turgenev
  17. The Gray Earth, by Galsan Tshinag
  18. Resurrection, by Tolstoy
  19. Season of Migration to the North, by Tayeb Salih
  20. Marriage, by (somebody...)
Wish me luck!  And, join me!

Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Tripods!

When the Tripods Came, by John Christopher

The original covers!  This is what they look like in my head.


I've always really liked John Christopher's novels for -- I guess I'd say ages 10+.  They're fine as YA, and they're not too difficult for most middle-grade readers.  Christopher specialized in apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories, which generally feature a very ordinary English boy of 12 - 14 as the protagonist.  The Tripod novels were his breakout stories, and are still the most famous today.  Sometime in the mid-80s, Boys' Life did a graphic serial of the stories, and that's where I first read them, in my brothers' magazine.  (Boys' Life is the Boy Scout magazine, if you're not familiar with it.)

The world has been enslaved to the Tripods for at least a hundred years; nobody knows just how long.  Everyone is Capped at the age of 14, and after that they are docile and obedient, worshiping the Tripods.  Will lives in a tiny English village at a pre-industrial level, and he's never given a lot of thought to his future.  He'll be Capped next year and follow his father in being a miller.  Then he meets a Vagrant (a person whose Capping didn't take properly) and finds out that there is a community of free people far away in the mountains.  He and his cousin decide to make an attempt at getting to these legendary mountains.

In later volumes, Will and others manage to infiltrate the Masters' city in order to understand what is even going on.  Nobody has ever seen a Master, except those who serve them, and they are never seen again.  The few free people of Earth are going to try to defeat these strange creatures and liberate their world, but it's a long and difficult road.

The prequel, When the Tripods Came, should only be read after the others.  (Apparently, when Christopher wrote the first volume, he wasn't even sure who, if anyone, was in the Tripods.)  It's the story of how the Masters managed to take over the entire planet.

Things I like about these stories are, first, that Will is an incredibly average kid.  He's nice enough, and not stupid, but he's thoughtless, impatient, and prone to sulking.  I like that he is just a regular, realistic 13-year-old boy.

The Masters are really interesting, and so is their City.  They are very alien, and the two species can't really even understand each other.  Will calls it the City of Gold and Lead because it has a golden wall, and the gravity is artificially increased so that a human feels made of lead.  (Yep, this is a X of Y and Z title, but it way predates the vogue for them, and I've always liked it a lot.)

When I last read these books years and years ago, I wasn't any too clear on the geography, but it's actually very much in a place.  Any English kid would have recognized the places from the descriptions, but an American kid like me, not so much.  Will and company trek across the Channel and through a ruined 'great-city' which turns out to be Paris, on their way to Switzerland.  Later on, they take a barge up the Rhine.  And eventually, they find out where the other Cities of the Masters are.

Any SF fan sort of person should really read at least some John Christopher, and these would be the best place to start.


Now, I got into the mood to read these books again because of a quilt I made!  My guild has a challenge this year, and (to be short) I wound up making a Tripod quilt based on a design by my oldest kid, who has always loved the stories.  I'm quite happy with the result.  It's supposed to be a secret quilt until the unveiling at the end of the year, but I don't think anybody in my guild reads my blog.  (If so, don't look!)  So here's a sneak preview: