Saturday, May 14, 2011

May-Every-Day: Update

I'm not doing very well at meeting my self-imposed challenge to blog every day during the month of May. Part of the blame may be attributed to Blogger which has been doing Weird Things to its clientele. And now my modem is malfunctioning. Verizon says that the modem is communicating with them but ignoring my computer. They promised to ship me a new modem, but in the meantime I no longer have Internet access at home.

Yesterday I dragged my laptop to the public library so that I could use their free Wi-Fi to read my backlog of email. Today I brought my computer to Borders (while Fillius spends his gift card) in hopes that I could do a little blogging.

Administrative Details: Since I'm dating my posts as if they were written consecutively, this one is dated May 14th even though it's actually May 24th. And my daily blog posts are split between my two blogs, this one and Quilting Bibliophagist.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday Frivolity: The Self Arranging Bookshelf

I was thumbing through Sunset Magazine the other day during my break at work when I saw something that caused me to squawk in dismay. It was an artsy home decorating article featuring clever storage ideas. I love that sort of thing -- especially when it involves bookshelves. But what raised my ire was the author's suggestion that the client arrange his books by color. How could you find anything with that sort of system? I may not have a degree in library science, but I must have a librarian's soul as evidenced by the fact that in our home library the fiction is arranged by author and title and the nonfiction is arranged by subject. (I have not, however, gone to the lengths of marking their spines with Dewey decimal numbers.)

Nevertheless, I did enjoy this whimsical video featuring a self-arranging bookshelf in which the books sort themselves by color.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

For Where Your Treasure Is . . .

'"Wicked people never have time for reading,' Dewey said. 'It's one of the reasons for their wickedness.'" --The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket.

However much we biblio-geeks might like to think so, people who do not read are not actually wicked. Yet I can't help being charmed by the above quote even though I hold it to be untrue. I think it must have something to do with the all too human tendency to divide the world into "us" vs. "them," whether it's sorcerers vs. muggles, fans vs. mundanes, or readers vs. nonreaders.

Still, people who don't care much for reading never do seem to have time for it. And those of us who do love reading seem to have no trouble squeezing it in. As I often tell my mom, when she marvels at the amount of time I spend reading or quilting, "We all make time for what we love." (Personally, I marvel at how much time she spends working in her garden and sweeping her patio.)

So here's a question for those of you who did not grow up in a family of readers:

Do you feel that your ability to enjoy reading, or just the fact that you spent so much time doing it, was prized or looked down upon by your family?

I'll go first:

When we were young, my brother and I were the only readers in our extended family. And although there was a general feeling that children ought to be outdoors doing something healthy, such as getting hit on the head with volley balls, there was still a grudging admiration for our ability to spend our free time doing something that everyone else perceived as a chore to be done only under duress. As for our immediate family, I think that our love of reading, a love that was not shared by our siblings, was prized because my non-reading parents had a high regard for education. And the fact that I could read quickly was also seen as evidence of a high intelligence, an assumption which was probably responsible for my having had such a good opinion of myself when I was young.

I think that I was also fortunate in that my parents practiced a benign neglect when it came to supervising my reading material. My mother didn't feel qualified to do so, and both parents had the perhaps naive belief that only good books would be found in our public or school libraries. (And perhaps in the '50s that was not far from true.)

So although I was aware of the negative stereotype that readers had in the culture at large, in my family at least I was more than merely tolerated. I may have been an oddity, but I was their oddity, and they were proud of me though probably glad that they themselves were "normal."

On my part, I don't think I looked down on non-readers, but I'm afraid I did feel a tiny bit superior to them -- at least in the sense of being glad I wasn't one of them. To the classmate who announced, as we stood in line for a mandetory pep rally, that there was more to life than books, I replied, "There's more to life with books!" And therein, I think, lies the source of my sneaking sympathy with the quote from Lemony Snicket.

It's so easy to slip into a sense of superiority about personal gifts that are yours through no personal merit. I read voraciously because God made me a reader. That I find time read is hardly a personal virtue, though it is cheering to reflect that when I exercise my gift and do it well, I give glory to God by simply being what he made me to be. Sort of the way that cats or microbes give glory to God just by being cats or microbes.

Yet I also can't help remembering that "much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more," and I am neither a cat nor a microbe.
As a widow making her way through the final years of middle age, it is not surprising that I should have a sharpened sense of mortality and Last Things or I find myself reflecting more often on the question of what I'm supposed to be doing with what I've been given, even the relatively modest gift of being a reader.


(Well, I seem to have strayed rather off topic, but I'm still curious about the experiences of other readers who grew up in families of nonreaders. So please comment.)

Monday, May 9, 2011

On The Road With L.M. Montgomery

This week I've been on an L.M. Montgomery binge, thanks to my recent trip to Ohio.

The most pressing concern I have when traveling is not security restrictions or the high price of airport food or even how to squeeze into a restroom stall with all of my luggage. No, it's how to carry enough reading material for the trip without straining my back.

The last time I flew, I brought my laptop with me figuring that I could download enough e-books to keep me occupied even if the plane got rerouted to Australia. The problem is, there's at least a half hour at the beginning and end of each flight when you're not allowed to use any electronic devices -- not to mention the possibility of being stuck on the runway for extended periods -- which are all times when I'd want to be reading. And as I discovered, a laptop is a bit heavy and clunky, and you have to worry about Things Happening To It. Supposing a patch of turbulence sloshes tomato juice all over my keyboard? Supposing I drop it? And on this particular trip my carry-on included a large gift box with my granddaughter's First Communion dress, a bubble-wrapped icon which my sister had asked me to hand deliver, my purse, and enough food to sustain me through an eight hour journey. No way could I add a lap top without either going over my carry-on limit or hurting myself!

So I decided I'd better take lightweight paperback books, two in my carry-on for the trip there and two in my checked luggage for the trip back. The library where I work sells any donations they can't use, and I was lucky enough to find three of the "Anne" books and a novel by Madeleine L'Engle. (They were only 25 cents each, so I didn't mind buying traveling copies of books I already own in hardcover.) So I read Anne of Avonlea, Anne of Windy Poplars, and Anne's House of Dreams that weekend. By the time I got home, I was on a roll. So I went on to read Anne of the Island and Chronicles of Avonlea.

I don't mind reading books out of order like this when I've read the whole series before. And Montgomery didn't write them in chronological order anyway. Anne of Windy Poplars (1936) is a "sequel" to Anne of the Island (1915) and the events of Anne of Ingleside (1939) take place before Rainbow Valley (1919). I looked them up because I thought that I'd read the rest of the Anne books in publication order so as to get a feel for how Anne's world developed for people who read them as they came out. And while I was on Wikipedia, I discovered that a new edition of Rilla of Ingleside was published in 2010.
My own copy is a 1985 paperback published by Bantam. Although the copyright page states that, "it contains the complete text of the original hardcover edition," I'm not sure whether the notice refers to an abridged hardcover or not.

In 2009, Viking Canada also published The Blythes Are Quoted, a sequel to Rilla of Ingleside. This was something I had never heard of before. Apparently, it's a mixture of short stories, poems and vignettes. Most of the stories previously appeared in magazines, and Montgomery rewrote them to include cameos of or references to Anne and her family. (Something which, as I recall, she also did in Chronicles of Avonlea.) The poems are attributed to Anne and her son Walter. A significantly abridged version of the book was published in 1974 as The Road to Yesterday which I have never read.

Yes, back in the olden days, we were limited to books we could find in our local libraries and bookstores. But now that I'm living in the "technological vastness of the future," I've ordered both books online. (Hint: it's cheaper to order through Amazon Canada -- even with international shipping.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Lepanto: The Musical

Well, it's not really a musical.

It is, however, a sung version of G.K. Chesterton's poem Lepanto, performed and put into the public domain by Maureen O'Brien whose audiobook podcast, Maria Lectrix, features public domain works "for people with catholic tastes." As such, she features fantasy, poetry, science fiction, mystery, adventure, prayer, devotion, and early Christian literature. In other words, all the good stuff.

The battle of Lepanto was fought on October 7, 1571 by a fleet of the Holy League against the main fleet of the Ottoman empire. At that time, Islamic forces controlled the Mediterranean and were threatening to attack Venice and Rome which could have led to the collapse of Christian Europe. Despite overwhelming odds, the European forces, led by Don John of Austria, won a decisive victory. The victory was attributed to the intersession of Our Lady, Pope Pius V having called for the recitation of the rosary for that intention, and October 7th became the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, later known as the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Chesterton's poem has a marital, drum-beat rhythm which is enhanced by Maureen O'Brien's recording. (I love Chesterton's poetry, but I sometimes stumble over his meter when I read his poems silently.) A copy of the text can be found here, but if you want to buy a copy, I would suggest the annotated edition published by Ignatius Press which has an introduction by Dale Ahlquist, the president of the American Chesterton Society. Besides notes, the book also includes an essay on the historical background of the battle, an account of the battle itself, an essay on the effect of the battle on world history, a bit of literary criticism, and two essays by Chesterton on related subjects. This book, especially when paired with the above recording, would be a good addition to the high school curriculum of Catholic homeschooling families.

(I don't suppose we ever will see Lepanto as a musical, but what about as a Gilbert & Sullivan style operetta?)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

May-Every-Day -- A Month's Worth of Posts

The post for May 5th , "Funny, You Don't Look Catholic," is on my other blog.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

For Us, the Living

For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs by Robert A. Heinlein.

This is Heinlein's unpublished first novel, written between 1938 and 1939. It was published in 2004 with an introduction by Spider Robinson and an afterward by Robert James. As a novel, it is simply dreadful. But that's because it isn't actually a novel. It's a lecture about a Henleinesque utopia with only the thinnest veneer of fiction to lubricate its passage down the reader's throat.

Some will say that's an accurate description of most of Heinlein's novels, especially the later ones. To which I would reply, "Yes, but For Us, the Living is even more so."

Here's the set-up. On July 12, 1939, Perry Nelson, an engineer, is forced off the road by an oncoming car. Thrown clear from his car toward the beach below, Perry smacks into a rock and loses consciousness. When he comes to, he finds himself in the middle of a snow storm being rescued by a gorgeous woman in a parka. And it's now January 2086. It sounds like the beginning of a decent story -- I don't really mind that the hero's time travel is accomplished pretty much the same way that John Carter got to Mars. But after that there's really no plot.

When not smoking, eating, or ogling his naked hostess (people in 2086 don't wear clothes indoors), our hero spends his time catching up on 150 years of history either by viewing historical recordings or listening as other characters lecture him about how the world has improved since 1939, thanks to changes in the political and economic system. (The economics is explained in exhaustive detail.) Religion has been pretty much stamped out, and behavior is governed by a code of customs which pretty much boils down to citizens being free to do whatever they want as long as it doesn't hurt other citizens. (There is also a strict taboo against breaching personal privacy.)

Naturally, our hero and his hostess, Diana, fall in love and marry, though Perry must first be cured of his primitive sexual jealousy (more lectures!) before they can live happily ever after in a more or less open marriage. Oh, and then he gets to pilot the first rocket launch to orbit the moon and take pictures of its far side. Why? Because it's there. The End.

During the the Golden Age of Science Fiction (which, as we all know, is around 14), I read and enjoyed many of Heinlein's novels. (In fact, I still reread them fondly today.) But they were his early novels, the ones aimed at a largely juvenile audience, in which storytelling was the predominant element and philosophizing was a minor component which, at least to a youngster's mind, added a bit of depth to the author's world-building .

Not so, the later novels, not so! I will always regret that I read Stranger in a Strange Land all the way through. I kept hoping that somehow it would all come right in the end and that the final payoff would make everything else worthwhile. I never made that mistake again. Though I sampled some of his later novels, I never felt obliged to finish them and promptly bailed out at the first sign of heavy-handedness and structural ineptitude.

So why did I read For Us, the Living? Well, I was interested in it as an historical artifact, a sort of archaeological dig into the prehistory of the Heinlein universe. It was fun to see how many elements in this early work turned up in his later novels and short stories: rolling roads; self-lighting cigarettes; alternate forms of marriage; a strong individualism; banishing lawbreakers to "Coventry;" gorgeous, intelligent females who nonetheless obligingly fall for the not overly bright hero; and the wise old man who pontificates on how the universe really works, to name a few.

I had always assumed that the things I disliked about the later novels (such as long didactic screeds on government, religion, philosophy, and sex) were a later development resulting from the author's downhill slide into ill health and a subsequent loss of writing ability. But it seems that Heinlein had them in mind from the beginning, and I assume that they simply didn't make it into his earlier works (especially the juveniles) because of editorial restrictions from his publishers.

So, worth a read if you've read Heinlein in the past and are interested in roots and origins. Otherwise, give it a miss.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

May-Every-Day -- A Month's Worth of Posts

The posts for May 2nd & May 3rd are at my other blog.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May-Every-Day -- A Month's Worth of Posts

I've decided to imitate Rebekah at St. Gemma's Art & Needlework: I have recklessly resolved to post every day in May. In her April 30th post Rebekah writes,

I wish I could say that I'd been only posting once or twice a week -- or that I had a long list of topics to write about. As my blogging has become more and more sporadic, that portion of my brain that governs writing has become increasingly wizened. I think I need to exercise that mental muscle before it becomes completely atrophied.

The Rules:

1) Because I have two blogs, I'm allowing a post to either one of them to "count" as my post for the day. If you have never visited it, Quilting Bibliophagist is where I write about quilting and other sewing projects.

2) Because I've started a couple of days late, I'm allowing myself to play catch-up. (So I'm actually posting this May 1st post on the 2nd.) But I'm not going to beat myself up if I miss a couple of posts this weekend because I'm flying east this weekend for a granddaughter's First Communion.