Friday, October 9, 2015

Picture Day Friday: c.18th Darby House Kitchen

Eighteenth century kitchen in Darby House at Ironbridge, Shropshire in England. It looks very similar to the kitchen in the 2005 movie Pride & Prejudice, though the actual location used in the movie is Groombridge Place near Tunbridge Wells in Kent.

An interesting note about the Darbys. They were Quakers, who were against slavery and all its associated trades. Given that very few wealthy people of those times in England were uninvolved in the slave trade, it's interesting that the Quakers were all against it.

[Image copyrighted by the Ironbridge Museum.]

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Top Beautiful Medieval Manuscripts

Here're what expert Giovanni Scorcioni has determined are the top ten most beautiful medieval manuscripts. Scorcioni is the co-founder of Facsimile Finder, a leading provider of facsimile editions of medieval manuscripts and quality copies of rare books.

1. Lindisfarne Gospels (I blogged about it before)
2. Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux
3. Godescalc Evangelistary
4. Prayer book of Claude de France
5. St. Alban's Psalter
6. Westminster Abbey Bestiary
7. Vienna Genesis
8. Black Hours (I blogged about it before)
9. Morgan Crusader Bible
10. Grimani Breviary

I'm going to talk about three of them here. The rest are blogged here by All photographs are copyrighted by Giovanni Scorcioni and used with permission.

Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, Queen of France
Shelfmark Acc. No. 54.1.2 from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The medium used is grisaille (shades of gray), tempera, and ink on vellum. Use of vellum, instead of parchment, and extensive, detailed imagery and hues indicates that this was an expensive book made for a wealthy patron. It was made in Paris c. 1324–1328 by Jean Pucelle. According to the Met: "The figures are rendered in delicate grisaille that imparts an amazingly sculptural quality, and the images are accented with rich reds and blues and touches of orange, yellow, pink, lilac, and turquoise."

Godescalc Evangelistary
Shelfmark MS. Nouv. acq. lat. 1203 from Bibliothèque Nationale de France
The manuscript was commissioned by the Carolingian King Charlemagne on October 7, 781 and finished by the Frankish scribe Godescalc on April 30, 783. According to Wikipedia: "The Evangelistary is the earliest known manuscript produced at the scriptorium in Charlemagne's Court School in Aachen. The manuscript was intended to commemorate Charlemagne's march to Italy, his meeting with Pope Adrian I, and the baptism of his son Pepin."

Prayer Book of Claude de France
Shelfmark MS M. 1166 from the Morgan Library & Museum
It is a tiny jewel-like book that fits in the palm of a hand. It was finished by the artist in Tours in 1517, the year Claude de France was crowned Queen of France. According to the Morgan: "Her coat of arms appears on three different folios. The book is richly illustrated: the borders of each leaf are painted, front and back, with 132 scenes from the lives of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and numerous saints. The colors of his delicate palette are applied in tiny, seemingly invisible brushstrokes."

Friday, October 2, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Medieval Record of the Blood Moon

Here's a medieval record of blood moons happening in their times as well. Thought it so apropos to our modern-day event of a few days ago.

This manuscript illumination (folio 181 recto) c. 1410–1430 is the Book of Hours of the use of Paris known as the Bedford Hours, found in the British Library at the shelfmark Add MS 18850.

The script says: "And the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth."

[Image copyrighted by the British Library via Robert Miller. Used with permission.]

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My September Reading

This month, I decided to abandon planning my reading. What with two kids in school and after-school activities every day, my days were too full and my nights too short. With the pressure off, I was able to read leisurely and enjoyed the experience more, rather than racing through the books in order to put my thoughts down here in the monthly recap blogs. I had a mix of books this month: literary fiction, a short story, essays, poems, children's and adult nonfiction, mystery, and romance.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Categories: nonfiction
Diversity: Male author
Commentary: Just started reading....

The Nose by Nikolai Gogol
Categories: fiction, short story
Diversity: Male author
Commentary: A great satirical story in which Gogol skewers a vainglorious man. I wrote about the story in detail here.

Three Poems by Edward Hirsch
Categories: poetry
Diversity: Jewish male writer
Commentary: I have read Special Orders before, so it was good to revisit two of his poems from there: "A Partial History Of My Stupidity" and "Branch Library". The latter is naturally my favorite, extolling the virtues of being lost between the pages of books in a library as a boy. The poem is also a lament for those lost childhood days of carefree existence. "Stupidity" deals with the heedlessness with which he perceives he lives his life. He moves through life like a caged tiger waiting to spring; instead of reflecting on things, he reacts to things; instead of worrying about people dying in the thousands in the world, he is concerned about what other people think of him. In "Early Sunday Morning," he realizes that that which he had derided in his father, he was now living in his own life. This is one thing that I have found about Hirsch's poems—they're a stark, unflinching examination of his own life without the veil of highfalutin ideas or technical phrasing.

By Possession by Madeline Hunter
Categories: romance, medieval
Commentary: I evasdropped on a conversation between Willaful and a couple other people where she recommended this book, Hunter's first medieval. Hunter really does the medieval well with period feel conveyed through specific details of household goods, clothing, foods, dwellings, warfare, and so on, and also through language (no accents), events, and most importantly, through thought processes (no medieval window dressing here). This really anchors the story into the Middle Ages.

Addis and Moira knew each other as children: he a golden youth enamored with a golden girl, she a bondwoman's daughter and the golden girl's shadow. Moira was infatuated with Addis, he barely knew of her existence. Fast forward to present day, Addis has returned from his crusade where for six of the eight years, he'd been enslaved. He resurrects bond-hood (is that a word?) for Moira even though she was a landholding serf. Adventures ensue with warfare, much emotional back-n-forth, and sexytimes. Through it all, the story remained well-paced and my immersion in it was total.

Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret
Categories: children's, nonfiction, memoir
Diversity: suffers post-polio disabilities
Commentary: Recommended by my daughter. An achingly sad, true story of a child suffering from polio at the height of the disease and its lifelong aftermath. And Kehret was the lucky one. She learnt to move all her limbs, was able to talk, and was eventually able to fulfill her dreams of becoming a writer. Most sufferers either die, get paralyzed, or are besieged by agonizing afflictions their whole life. To all the naysayers of vaccinations, I say, "Read this! Read how much this twelve-year-old innocent child suffered. Read how much her life changed for the worse once she had the disease. Read and forever hold your peace." I grieved for that little girl as I read the book. So much suffering at such a young age.

To Jonas Salk, the discoverer of the polio vaccine, I say, "Thank you!" for keeping my children safe and for saving hundreds of millions of children the world over by refusing to patent the vaccine, thus making it widely available. Yet, it is only in recent months that The Gates Foundation was finally able to make inroads into tough polio-afflicted areas to eradicate the disease. The world is 99% free now.

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
Categories: nonfiction
Diversity: race and microaggressions in the context of African-Americans
Commentary: Recommended by Liz McCausland. Her review is here and The New Yorker review is here. I also read Rankine's essay on Serena Williams.

I was drawn to this book, because I had just finished reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson and it dealt with race in the 1960s and 1970s. Citizen is 21st C, so it seemed like an ongoing conversation to have. I agree with Liz on this: "One thing lyrical poetry does well is convey intensity of feeling and experience." This was exactly my experience with Brown Girl Dreaming. I read Citizen to better understand what The New Yorker writes: "...realities [that]include the acts of everyday racism—remarks, glances, implied judgments—that flourish in an environment where more explicit acts of discrimination have been outlawed."

These days, as societal events have shown and #BlackLivesMatter and #IStandWithAhmed have highlighted, racism is no longer under-wraps but very much out in the open. But there are also some people who consider themselves post-racial and are still involved, perhaps unknowingly, in microaggressions. What do these microaggressions feel like by the recipient? That's the thrust of Rankine's book.

I could not possibly write more eloquently about Rankine's book than Rankine herself. So I'm merely going to quote a few things that stood out for me.

Certain moments send adrenaline to the heart, dry out the tongue, and clog the lungs. Like thunder they drown you in sound, no, like lightning they strike you across the larynx. Cough. After it happened I was at a loss for words.

You take in things you don't want all the time. The second you hear or see some ordinary moment, all its intended targets, all the meanings behind the retreating seconds, as far as you are able to see, come into focus.

You think maybe this is an experiment and you are being tested or retroactively insulted or you have done something that communicates this is an okay conversation to be having. Why do you feel comfortable saying this to me?

...there exists the medical term—John Henryism—for people expose to stresses stemming from racism. They achieve themselves to death trying to dodge the buildup of erasure..

Rankine writes that it is very difficult for black people to express rage because the stereotype of the angry black man is so prevalent that most people bend over backwards to stifle even normal human anger. Controversially, the stereotype has been used by black artists successfully. However, this is what she calls "sellable anger" not real rage, which remains bottled up. She gives the example of Serena Williams who when she expressed genuine anger was penalized and fined by the establishment and excoriated in the press. On the other hand, the times when she swallowed her anger at wildly unfair calls, she was called to be displaying grace under pressure.

When such things happen, he [France's soccer star Zinedine Zidane] must grit his teeth, walk away a few steps, elude the passerby who draws attention to him, who gives other passersby the desire either to follow the example or to come to his defense.

And this one about the past really connects to the comment about the past that Helen McInnes makes below.

The past is a life sentence, a blunt instrument aimed at tomorrow. You can't put the past behind you. It's buried in you; it's turned your flesh into its own cupboard. Not everything remembered is useful but it all comes from the world to be stores in you.

The Venetian Affair by Helen McInnes
Categories: mystery/thriller
Commentary: Recommended by Janet Webb. I enjoyed reading this fast-paced spy thriller that read like a police procedural. It certainly wasn't a "guy book" but far more quiet and introspective.

The main protagonist is a male newspaperman named Fenner, a hard-hitting investigative journalist turned drama critic. A soul-searing incident with his ex-wife Sandra led to his change in career. He's sent to Paris by his boss presumably to interview an ex-college professor. This gets him accidentally foisted with ten $10,000 bills. (Remember this was written in 1963 when this was a lot of money.) And his involvement in a cloak-n-dagger affair starts with the American, British, French, and Italian intelligence services and takes him from beautiful Paris to gorgeous Venice. His sidekick is the lovely Claire, an American amateur agent. By luck and sheer smartness, the two manage to stay ahead in the game till almost the end when emotional involvement with each other leads to their downfall.

I never know how much to write in a spy/mystery book that won't give away details of the plot.

There were a couple sections that I really liked.

...the past was never over. As long as you lived, you carried it with you. It shaped your life: what you were, today, depended on all you had seen and felt and heard yesterday; and what you now accepted or rejected would mold your tomorrow. We are, because of what we were....Shall we be, because of what we are?

and here's a description of a bedroom:

It was marked by simplicity, comfort stripped down to the essentials, a place to sleep deeply, with no intrusions except from the closet (cleared for his use and the only one left unlocked.) which had a haunting scent, faint, delicate, lingering. Behind the shower curtain in the bathroom, he found a flowered cap, a charming piece of rubberized froth, forgotten on a faucet.

Essays from Tropical Classical by Pico Iyer
Categories: nonfiction, essays
Diversity: South Asian male writer
Commentary: I love, love, love Pico Iyer's writing—wit, verve, and old English public school. And sharp! And acute! While not as densely allegorical as Salman Rushdie's books, the Oxbridge writing style is allegorical in nature with parenthetical remarks and shorthand references to events and people in popular culture and books.

"The gods, they say, give breath, and they take it away. But the same could be said—could it not?—of the humble comma." So starts Pico Iyer's essay "In Praise of the Humble Comma." He, then, goes on to write: "Add it to the present clause, and, of a sudden, the mind is, quite literally, given pause to think; take it out if you wish or forget it, and the mind is deprived of a resting place. By establishing the relations between words, punctuation establishes the relations between the people using words. Punctuation, then, is a civic prop, a pillar that holds society upright." I wrote more about the essay and Iyer here. Read the entirety of the piece here. It's marvelous, isn't it?

In "Excusez Moi? Speakez-vous Franglais?," Iyer tells you that "The best way to deal with a foreigner, any old-school Brit will tell you, is to shout at the blighter in English until he catches on." Then he goes on to describe the dilemma that faces every tourist in a foreign country. "It comes down to a question of whether 'tis better to give, or to receive, linguistic torture." Iyer is a nomad, so this essay, despite its humorous ponderings is a discourse on what it means to find yourself in a foreign city and how that experience changes you.

Iyer's musings on being dogged by the manuscripts that land on his doorstep demanding blurbs are so funny—you can feel his exasperation and his puzzlement. "Not long ago, almost simultaneously, I received tomes on Hasidic children, wine-making impresarios, and the whorehouses of Saigon (who do these people think I am?)." He's well aware that while the marketing departments assiduously hound authors for those blurbs, "seasoned book-lovers, and people who simply recall that 'blurbing' is an anagram of 'burbling,' come now to relish the art of judging a book by its cover." And who can really believe all that hyperbole, all those 'high concept' similes.

He takes a potshot at Salman Rushdie: "The great problem with Salman Rushdie, I have often felt, is that he is simply too talented. And no writer I know has seemed more captive to his gifts: his powers of inventions and imagination are so prodigal and so singular that he often gives the impression of not knowing when to stop."

His two pieces on Tibet and His Holiness, the Dalai Lama are superb! I really want to read the book he wrote on the Dalai Lama. I have another of his books where he talks about his travels through Bhutan and other Himalayan kingdoms. He seems to really understand the region on a level much deeper than most journalists and most travelers. He travels with his heart, rather than his head—trite, but in this case, true—and with a rare clarity of vision.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Picture Day Friday: A Blacksmith's Forge

[Provenance unknown.]

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Nose by Nikolai Gogol

The Nose, a short story by Nikolai Gogol, is a satire about a self-important man who loses his nose and the agonies he goes through as a result. The story is set in 1836 St. Petersburg and is in three parts.

In part one, a barber finds a nose in his newly baked loaf of bread at breakfast. He immediately recognizes it as belonging to as his regular customer, minor government official, a municipal "committee man" Major Kovalyov. The barber tries to get rid of it by throwing it into the Neva River from Issac Bridge, but he gets caught by a police inspector.

This story is a cross between magic realism and sheer nonsense with humor and entertainment mixed up together and dressed in elegant writing. The "telling details" are what beginning writers are always told are important—this here is a fine example of that.

In part two of the story, the major has woken up and discovered a flat patch of skin where his nose should be. He is horrified first for vanity's sake and then for the loss of power in his promotion bid and the loss of consideration as a suitable mate for an acquaintance's daughter and as attractive to other pretty girls.

He rushes off to the chief of police but on the way there encounters his nose dressed up in the gold-embroidered uniform of a state councilor, a higher ranking official as compared to himself. He tries to engage the nose in conversation but is brushed off.

The rest of part two deals with the major's various attempts to retrieve his nose, to no avail. By the time he return home, a police commissary arrives with his nose wrapped up in paper. The major is delighted almost beyond reason. However, his doctor friend cannot fit it back on his for him and advises him to forget about it.

Kovalyov is aghast. He dare not show his face anywhere. Meanwhile rumors run rampant in the city about the doings of the nose, which people pay money to view, though there's of course nothing to see now that the nose is in the major's safekeeping.

On occasion, Gogol talks to the reader directly, at one point saying, "Strange events happen in this world, events which are sometimes entirely improbable." (Just in case, you believed the story to be true...)

In part three, without much fanfare, the nose is back in its appointed position of the major's face. And it's as if all the events in part two were a dream. His barber from part one shows up as scheduled. And Kovalyov struts off into the city.

There are many suppositions about the deeper meaning behind the loss of the nose—some even going so far as to equate it with emasculation. However, most critics maintain it is a study in absurdity.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Library in Cake

[Provenance unknown.]

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

2015 #TBRChallenge Reading: Without You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim

2015 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim
My Categories: Nonfiction, Memoir
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Historical

"When I visited Pyongyang for the first time in 2002, I felt more at home than I had since I left Seoul as a child. There was a sense of recognition. The past was all right there before me: generations of Koreans separated by division; decades of longing, loss, hurt, regret, guilt. I identified with it in a way that I could never shake off. [...] And it is the unrequited heartbreak of those separations that last generations that brought me North. [...] Like most Koreans, whether from the North or [the] South, I dreamed, perhaps irrationally, of reunification. I returned repeatedly until 2011."

South-Korean-American author Suki Kim visited North Korea in various guises since 2002, but lastly in 2011, as an English teacher. She was primarily a journalist, who disguised herself as a missionary—so she was acceptable to the group of missionary volunteers—who in turn disguised themselves as teachers—so they could get entry visas to teach English. She taught the 2011 summer and fall terms at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), the elitist of colleges in North Korea. Her teaching ended when their leader Kim Jong-Il died and his son Kim Jong-un ascended the throne became head of state.

Since the transfer of leadership to Kim Jong-un, the country has greatly strengthened its ties to China and allowed foreign brands into the country, according to a recent article from The Economist. However, at the time this book was written, despite the close ties with China, Chinese goods were allowed in but anything foreign was disbarred.

Even foreign thoughts were disbarred. Teaching simple things like obituaries was like a field of mines. Cut out discussion of politics, cut out discussion of Chinese repression, of religion, of morality, of even cable TV and 24-hour electricity and running water. The students had no access to the Internet, just an intranet. None of the computer science majors had heard of Steve Jobs. Everything was heavily censored.

As a result, the people lived in extreme isolation from the world and were devoid of any knowledge of what was happening out there. "The DPRK purposely infantilized its citizens, making everyone helpless and powerless so that they depended on the state. [...] The entire system was designed not to be questioned, and to squash critical thinking."

This allowed its two leaders to brainwash their citizenry into thinking of their nation as one of the most advanced and prosperous in the world. National pride was at an all-time high. The reverence shown to their great leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il bordered on God-like worshipful. They could do no wrong. They strove for their people. Their solicitude allowed everything in their nation to be free. "Our Great General Comrade Kim Jong-il is the greatest in leading our powerful and prosperous nation."

The Economist mentions the obligatory pin of the three Kim leaders (Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un) that everyone is required to wear. Suki also mentions the pins featuring the first two leaders worn by everyone.

The students at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST) always traveled together in small and big groups. No one was ever alone—"every meal was shared, every second of the day was spent in the company of others"—and privacy was unknown. They marched in unison from their dormitories to meals and to classes. Without You, There Is No Us was a common marching song sung in honor of Kim Il-sung. Towards the end of Suki's teaching term , the song came to poignantly refer to her as well, as she brought the forbidden outside world to these highly isolated boys.

In various parts of the book, Suki puzzled over the students' universal ability to fluidly, unselfconsciously, and unrepentantly lie.

"The speed with which they lied was unnerving. It came too naturally to them. I was not sure if, having been told lies as children, they could not differentiate between truth and lies, or whether it was survival method they had mastered. [...] And so I went from love to pity to repulsion and distrust, then back to empathy and love again."

The North Korean's society was so conservative and patriarchal that a simple writing assignment "How to Successfully Get a Girl" caused great confusion. No one had ever had a girlfriend or thought about it. The PUST students were from the capital city of Pyongyang and the brightest of the country's students. "These were some of the most eligible bachelors in the country, and yet the methods they came up with to woo their dream girl were almost childlike. [...] More than one student described his ideal girl as one who would obey him, listen to him, and be a good mother to his son."

Contrarily, the government hired young, attractive, virgin women in all visible service-oriented jobs, including as part of the Pleasure Brigade for Kim Jong-il and the party leaders. These were clearly not seen as desirable or as desirable wives by these boys.

The Economist mentions that troops are the state's ready labor on construction sites. They forgot to mention the college students. Suki wrote that even the elite college students (wealthy and brilliant) were required to take extended breaks from their studies for this type of work. When the annual fall kimchi-making time arrived, all students had to abandon their classes to participate in the garlic peeling and cabbage chopping. No one had any say in what they did with their lives. The mothers of these PUST students saw their children rarely. Everything was in service to their leaders.

Time off was a rarity for the students. "'We're going outside tomorrow!' He could barely control his excitement. 'We don't know yet where we're going, but we are going outside! [...] Maybe for an hour. It is our first time since we came to PUST [months ago].'"

Time off was a rarity even for the teachers. They were watched constantly by the minders. There was no entertainment other than rare organized trips to rigidly curated and artificially manufactured presentations off-campus. At the Victory Day celebration, Suki had a chance to see what went for popular, classy entertainment. Songs included, The Song of National Defense," "To a Decisive Battle," "The Song of the Assassin" and songs in praise of their Great Leaders. Many of these songs disparaged (or even were murderous towards) South Koreans and Americans, referring to them as Yankee noms (bastards).

And yet, and yet...this is a North Korean song Suki and the students sang together at their dinner one night:

"Dandelions blooming on the hills of my hometown,
Those times when I played flying a white kite,
Ah, that blue sky I saw as a child,
Why didn't I know then that was the pride of my motherland?"

She was speechless as she shook hands with her students in goodbye. "I could not say, 'Leave this wretched place. Leave your wretched Great Leader. Leave it, or shake it all up. Please do something.' Instead and I cried and cried, and I smiled." The students only said, "Teacher, please smile. Thank you and goodbye, Teacher."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Book Talk by Salman Rushdie

Last night, I attended a book reading by Salman Rushdie for Two Years Eight Months Twenty-Eight Nights.

This was my first experience seeing him in the flesh. Having read a couple of his books, his reviews, people's discussions about him, and his tweets, I had formed an impression of his personality that was borne out by his commanding stage presence and formidable display of intelligence. What I had not realized is how funny he is. He really seemed to focus in on the questions that were being asked of him and sometimes his answers were flippant and irreverent, sometimes serious, but always witty. Even when he was promoting his other books, he did it jocularly.

He started off the talk with saying how many brilliant young writers there were "these days...taking up space. I should get a T-shirt that says: 'Not Dead Yet.'"

He talked in generalities for a moment or two before launching into a précis of the book from memory. Here's a shorter version from the front jacket of the book:

In the near future, after a storm strikes New York City, the strangenesses begin. A down-to-earth gardener finds that his feet no longer touch the ground. A graphic novelist awakens in his bedroom to a mysterious entity that resembles his own sub-Stan Lee creation. Abandoned at the mayor's office, a baby identifies corruption with her mere presence, marking the guilty with blemishes and boils. A seductive gold digger is soon tapped to combat forces beyond imagining.

Unbeknownst to them, they are all descended from the whimsical, capricious wanton creatures known as the jinn [djinn], who live in a world separated from ours by a veil. Centureis ago, Dunia, a princess of the jinn, fell in love with a mortal man of reason. Together they produced an astonishing number of children, unaware of their fantastical powers, who spread across generations in the human world.

Once the line between worlds is breached on a grand scale, Dunia's children and others will play a role in an epic war between light and dark spanning a thousand and one nights—or two years, eight months, and twenty-eight nights. It is a time of enormous upheaval, in which beliefs are challenged, words act like poison, silence is a disease, and a noise may contain a hidden curse.

It's a novel of magic realism. Rushdie said that in this book, he deliberately set about having "stories crowding each other and the narrative. The main narrative then had to disperse these stories and emerge" like Lazarus to the surface of consciousness. "Minor characters were introduced and wasted."

In this book as in his other books, he said that there are two threads to his narrative that intertwine: the fabulist or surrealist one and the historicist one. (He trained as a historian.) In all his novels, he attempts to say something truthful about the world in a surreal dramatic way. He went on to say, "Underneath all the news of the world, there's conflict between unreason and reason, between belief and disbelief. This is among people and also within us. So a jinn is like the psychological Id within us and emanating from us."

When asked what advice would he give beginning writers, he said, "Read widely. Writers don't belong to any team. They're one individual voice saying, 'This is it.' Thus, reading changes you. And you look at the world differently."

When asked, how does he know a book is done, he described some of his creative process. His imaginative energy drives his first draft. He stressed that he always advices first-time writers to get the first draft down any which way they can, then they can tinker with it. Only after the draft is down that he can see the big picture and what needs fixing. "At some point, I reach the point when I'm not making the book better. I have reached creative exhaustion." Then he shows it to beta readers, but never before then. He's not looking for praise from these readers but detailed critique on what doesn't work. Of course, then he went on to say that he continues to tinker with the book till the publisher puts its foot down and the book is sent off to be printed.

When asked, what does he do when he hits the blind wall and is stuck. He said that that happens to him in every book. What he has learned is that the problem is never at the point where he's stuck but further back. He then sets about finding what went wrong. "In doing this, I discover the book I am writing as opposed to the one I thought I was writing."

"Beginning writers are always told, 'Write what you know.' But what if what you know isn't all that interesting? Go and find an amazing idea if you don't have one." Famous writers of all stripes have scoured newspapers, researched books, attended talks and court trials, and eavesdropped on conversations searching nuggets of stories."

Of the Man Booker 2015 Longlist, Rushdie recommended Laila Lalami's The Moor's Account. (It unfortunately did not make the shortlist announced today.)

On winning prizes, he said, "It's wonderful when you receive one, and you don't care when you don't. The best acceptance speech of the Booker Prize I have heard is by Kingsley Amis who lurched up to the podium drunk and said, 'I have always despised the Booker Prize...until tonight.'"

When asked about the first book he fell in love with, he answered that there were a pair of books: Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. He said that the imagination therein is superlative and the writing so beautiful. It greatly influenced his own imagination and writing. "These days, while the action is exciting, the prose in children's books is not very special." And he says that not being taught to appreciate beautiful prose in addition to the story is a loss for children.

It was a very entertaining talk: humorous, erudite, articulate, confident, and radiating general bonhomie.

[Edited 9/29/15: Great podcast interview with Brian Koppelman on Slate.]

Friday, September 11, 2015

Picture Day Friday: An Octagonal Georgian House

A la Ronde is a sixteen-sided house near Exmouth in Devon, England and is owned by the National Trust. The house was built in the 1790s to exact design specifications by two Parminter relatives—independently wealthy single ladies who preferred to share a house together rather than embark upon uncertain marriages.

The shape of their house was influenced by "the octagonal basilica of San Vitale at Ravenna in Italy that they had seen during their [seven-year] Grand Tour. Inside the house, there was a central octagon and all the other rooms came off this and linked to each other by means of tiny lobbies. The rooms facing east were the ladies’ two bedrooms and they moved round the house during the day, following the natural light."

What a cool concept of a house. And how ideal for English weather, where every modicum of natural light is precious.

Rachel Knowles has written a wonderful post describing the house, its architecture, and its interior furnishings and curiosities, all accompanied with personal photographs.

[Image copyrighted by Andrew Knowles. Used with permission.]

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Old English Wisdom

Eleanor Parker tweets as A Clerk of Oxford and also Old English Wisdoms. I would like to be known as a boccræftig, a learned person; but alas! It is not to be so. In lieu of that, with Parker's permission, I have extracted a few Old English quotes from her tweets. All the translations are her own. The comprehensive list of "proverbs, maxims, and other miniature bits of wisdom and advice from Old English poetry and prose" is here.

As one poem says, Gleawe men sceolon gieddum wrixlan (wise men should exchange sayings), so I'm sharing some with you.

From Durham Cathedral, MS B. III. 32...

Geþyld byþ middes eades.
Patience is half of happiness.

Hwilum æfter medo menn mæst geþyrsteð.
Sometimes men are thirstiest after drinking mead.

Ne mæg man muþ fulne melewes habban and eac fyr blawan.
No one can have a mouth full of flour and also blow on a fire.

From The Seafarer from the Book Exeter...

Stieran mon sceal strongum mode, ond þæt on staþelum healdan.
One must steer a strong mind, and keep it steady.

From Widsith also from the Book of Exeter...

Sceal þeodna gehwylc þeawum lifgan.
Every ruler ought to live virtuously.
(Would that King Alfred the Great could rise from his grave and admonish our politicians!)

From Maxims I from the Book of Exeter...

Swa monige beoþ men ofer eorþan, swa beoþ modgeþoncas.
There are as many opinions as there are people on earth

From Solomon and Saturn II...

Bald bið se ðe onbyregeð boca cræftes.
Bold shall he be who tastes of the skill of books.

And my favorite one is from the poem Deor...

Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg.
That passed away; so will this.

So why the picture of King Alfred the Great up top? "Alfred ... is closely associated, in history and legend, with teaching, translation, and the tradition of English 'wisdom.' Among his other achievements as king, Alfred arranged for the translation of—or perhaps even translated himself—a range of religious and philosophical texts into [Anglo-Saxon or Old] English, many of which have interesting things to say about how wisdom is to be gained and used."

Friday, September 4, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Picturesque British Tearooms

I'm simply going to link to the post with fabulous photos of twenty-one tearooms and all the necessary food for elegant and delicious cream teas.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

My August Reading

I was not able to get as much read this month as I'd planned, because the whole issue surrounding the book For Such a Time took up so much of my time and energy. But what I did read was a welcome departure from the horrors of that read.

The Venetian Affair by Helen McInnes
Categories: mys
Commentary: Recommended by Janet Webbb and Liz McCausland. My first McInnes. Just started reading it.

For Such a Time by Kate Breslin
Categories: rom, hist
Diversity: Jewish characters
Commentary: I wrote about it in detail earlier this month.

Without You, There is No Us by Suki Kim
Categories: memoir
Diversity: Based in North Korea featuring North and South Korean people in addition to volunteers from other countries.
Commentary: I started reading it last month and finished it this month. What a powerful look into a closed culture. Despite the division of Korea in recent times, the difference in the cultures of the two countries separated by a common language is vast. South Korean-American journalist, Suki, posed as a teacher and traveled to Pyongyang to teach English to elite college students. This gave her a rare insider authority on North Korean culture and student life. I'll be commenting much more on this in my September TBR Challenge post.

Shadowskin by Shveta Thakrar
Categories: poetry
Diversity: POC character, in e- format
Commentary: This poem was recommended by author Victoria Janssen. The poem talks about how two girls dream similar things, but one girl's dreams are achievable, acceptable, but the other's are not. Why? The first girl is white-skinned with blonde hair and blue eyes, the other is brown-skinned with black hair and eyes.

Brown-Eyed Girl by Lisa Kleypas
Categories: romance, contemporary
Commentary: I've been dying waiting for this book from Kleypas's fabulous Travis series. They are the strongest of all her books other than some of her historicals, such as the New Orleans series and Devil in Winter among others. Her Texan contemporary voice is very distinct, as is her characterization. The experience of being married to a Texan and having lived there for many years shows in the ease and confidence of her voice. I was hooked from the beginning of this story. Her writing is superb and easily matches the rest of the series despite the many years between Smooth Talking Stranger and Brown-Eyed Girl. There're passages like these...

Sofia let out a little yelp of excitement. The atmosphere in the studio seemed instantly diluted—my lungs had to work harder to obtain the necessary amount of oxygen.

The heroine tells the hero how some people make the proposal into an event, like proposing mid-air on a hot-air balloon ride or proposing underwater on a scuba dive.
"That's ridiculous," Joe said flatly.
"Being romantic is ridiculous?"
"No, turning a private moment into a Broadway musical is ridiculous."

I had a great discussion with Robin about Kleypas's aggressively alpha heroes in all her books, whether historicals or contemporaries. Their caring side comes out really strong and ever-present in the story, and that makes their stories and the longevity of their HEAs believable.

Reykjavík Nights by Arnaldur Indriðason, translated by Victoria Cribb
Categories: mys
Diversity: Male author
Commentary: It was recommended by Miss Bates and her review is here. Set in Iceland, the beauty of the setting is what drew me to the book. However, this is set wholly in Reykjavík with no forays into the countryside. My interest was still sustained by this look into Nordic summer city life. This mystery story is just my speed: painstaking police procedural work minus violent gore or horrifying psychological twists (except for one terrible DV). This is policeman Erlendur's first foray into detecting. Unlike later in the series, he isn't a detective here yet, but has a personal stake in the investigation that he follows through on his own time and his own dime. Dogged, unflappable, and meticulous, he interviews people, carefully parcels out information, and uses his policeman status sparingly. His approach is as a friend of the deceased and a concerned citizen. I enjoyed Indriðason's writing style very much and look forward to more of his books.

Thrush Green by Miss Reed
Categories: lit fic
Commentary: Recommended by Sunita and her review is here. For a big fan of Enid Blyton books and the miniseries Cranford, I instantly fell in love with this novel. Like the Enid Blytons, there are pen-n-ink illustrations sprinkled throughout the text. The voices and scenes are so distinct, I could picture them in my mind as I read the book. It's been a while since I read a book where the images are so vivid. The inciting event is that the owner of the fair, which does a show every May Day in Thrush Green, might be closing down the show after this last hurrah. Set against this event, the lives of the main inhabitants of the small village revolve. The enjoyment of this book is in the very small details. While to some this could be boring, to me they're what make the story so enjoyable. Entire lifetimes and personalities unfold in those delicious details.

Then there are also passages like this one...

People nowadays seemed too busy for gaiety, and what was worse, appeared to frown upon innocent enjoyment. Life was too dreadfully real and earnest these days and all the young people were middle-aged at twenty.


He felt his dislike of this tough ungainly woman growing of an hour, her massive legs planted squarely apart to display the sturdiest pair of knickers it had ever been dr. Lovell's misfortune to observe. In shape and durability they had reminded the young man of his father's Norfolk breeches used in the early days of cycling.

Veranda: A Passion for Living: Houses of Style and Inspiration by Carolyn Englefield
Categories: nonfiction, coffee table book
Commentary: I LOVE THIS BOOK! Ahem! I discovered it thanks to Vassiliki. I enjoy gawking at the furnishings and inner architectures of the houses of the wealthy, but especially, oh, so especially, the old estates of England. I'm always interested in what taste people exhibit when money is largely not an issue. Englefield writes, "Houses are like Wunderkammers, those curiosity cabinets of the Renaissance where each carefully selected object has a story waiting to be told. A Passion for Living is a synthesis of the belief that our homes are the places where we live our lives with joy, grace, honesty, and personal style." This is not to say that all the photos are picturesque or très élégant. Some of them are hideous. But that's the fun of reading a book like this. Even when it cannot possibly work for you, it's fascinating how on earth they managed to put those things together in that way.

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula Freedman
Categories: children's
Diversity: People of various ethnicities and religions
Commentary: Recommended by my daughter and Smart Bitches and the review is here. First of all, let me GUSH over the cover and book design. I have the cover here, but the inside book design from its endpapers to its beginning pages, font and so on are also beautifully done. This has to be the best one of the year for me. Totally appropriate for the story and a work of art by itself. Delicious!

I would've leveled a charge of "exotiticizing" at the author if I had not been aware that the girl depicted in the story will be similar to her children's blended family experience (when she has children). The author herself is Jewish-American, who's married to an Indian -American, so a Basmati Bar/Bat Mitzvah would be in her children's future as well. From the get-go I liked the young girl's voice: clear, personal, and age-appropriate. Too many kids in books sound precocious where their voices don't fit in with the type of story the author's trying to tell through them. Here, it felt like the girl herself is telling her story. Great characterization!

Tara Friedman's father is Jewish-American and her mother is Indian-American, who converted to Judaism before her marriage. Tara is in Hebrew school preparing for her Bat Mitzvah but she's struggling with her commitment to her faith and the process of the Bat Mitzvah. At the same time, she's concerned whether she's losing her Indian side to her Jewishness. She doesn't want to lose the affinity she has with her Indian grandparents who've now passed away, while at the same time, she loves the closeness she shares with her Jewish grandmother. She wants to feel at one with both her cultures and the story is about her working through this.

She's also grappling with her belief in G-d and can she be Jewish without believing in G-d completely. She discusses this with her Jewish and Christian friends and also tangentially with her Rabbi.

It seemed incredible t0 me that someone could keep believing in G-d after living through something as terrible as [the Holocaust]. And if he did, then why did I have any doubts whatsoever?

Tara's also disturbed when she finds out from Hebrew school that Jewish people used to own slaves. That they could do so when Jewish people themselves faced constant persecution throughout history is abhorrent to her. Again she brings this up with her Rabbi. He reminds her that the Jewish faith places very high value on dialectics and debate, and nothing was sacred from discussion.

What's interesting to me about this story is how unlikable and at the same time likable she is. Her confidence, her easy friendships, her smartness make her likeable on one hand, but her sense of self-entitlement is off-putting at the same time. She receives far more than she gives and is always upset when she isn't receiving what she insists she deserves. A treasured saree that her Indian great-grandmother carried with her safely through the chaos and horror of the partition of India and Pakistan is bequeathed to her. She plays with it with her friend regularly. And one time, they spill burning incense on it, which burns holes in the ancient fabric and ruin it. I gasped out loud with anger and sadness. She and her Jewish grandmother then convince her mother that the only way to save the fabric was to cut it up and make it into a dress for her. I again gasped aloud with anger and sadness though it is the logical solution to the problem. A precious heirloom has been destroyed by her carelessness and the only thing she feels is fear of her mother's anger. Yes, she's young, but at 12-13, she's not too young to be able to appreciate what she has destroyed.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Illumination from a Medieval Manuscript

Spectacular example of an illuminated drop letter "S" from folio 229 recto of a medieval manuscript located at the British Library shelf mark Royal MS 1 E IX. It is a "Bible, in Latin, of St. Jerome's version with the Gospel of Nicodemus. Produced in England (probably London) during the first quarter of the fifteenth century."

[Image copyrighted by Robert Miller.]

Friday, August 21, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Rare Black Vellum Manuscript

A rare black vellum Book of Hours from Bruges c.1480. It's kept at the Morgan Library and Museum in NYC. (MS M.493, folio 18 verso and 19 recto)

All 121 vellum folios of The Black Hours are stained in black. To make the writing stand out against the dark background, only white lead and opaque paints were used for the miniatures, and gold and silver ink for the script. Only three of these black parchment manuscripts survive to this day.

[Image copyrighted by Europe's History.]

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

2015 #TBRChallenge Reading: Poetry by Walt Whitman

2015 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Poetry by Walt Whitman edited by Jonathan Levin
My Categories: Poetry
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Impulse Read (I'd been meaning to read this book for ages. Then I was walking by my shelves looking for something to read for this challenge and chose it at random.)

And I'm very glad I did. I'd forgotten the Whitman poems I'd studied in my school years. My poetry education ended in twelfth grade. In recent years, I've done some reading here and there but nothing formal. I've rediscovered my love of the poetry of the Romantic poets, while also attempting others. I seem to be drawn to pastoral themes.

One of the most remembered of Whitman's poems I studied was "O Captain! My Captain!" Imagine my delight when I heard those lines recited as a clarion call to literary arms in the movie "Dead Poets Society"! Whitman deeply mourned Lincoln's assassination and immortalized his admiration and sorrow in this poem.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
     But O heart! heart! heart!
     O the bleeding drops of red,
     Where on the deck my Captain lies,
     Fallen cold and dead.

Whitman, like Frost whom I wrote about here, was very much an out-and-about tramping kind of a poet, and he wrote about what he saw and experienced during his rambles. He celebrates it in his poem "On Land":

O the gleesome saunter over fields and hillsides!
The leaves and flowers of the commonest weeds, the moist fresh stillness of the woods,
The exquisite smell of the earth at daybreak, and all through the forenoon.

Over his wanders, he discovered the miraculous in the ordinary and plain. Using the poetical device of the catalog, Whitman gives examples in his poem "Miracle":

Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or animals feeding in the fields;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

Unlike many poets of his time, who took great effort in setting their poems in well-ordered rhyme and meter, Whitman's poems flow in an uncontrollable flood of words and emotions. However, they're not without their own rhythm. Whitman often recited his poetry out loud as he walked and you can hear the pounding of the surf, tramping of the boots, the crackling of twigs underfoot. Listen to these lines from "I Tramp a Perpetual Journey":

I tramp a perpetual journey, (come listen all!)
My signs are a rain-proof coat, good shoes, and a staff cut from the woods,
This day before dawn I ascended a hill and look'd at the crowded heaven,
And I said to my spirit, When we become the enfolders of those orbs, and the pleasure and knowledge of every thing in them, shall we be fill'd and satisfied then?
And my spirit said, No, we but level that lift to pass and continue beyond.

Whitman was a great advocate of and believer in democracy and in the rights of all men. In stanza 24 of 52 of his first poem "Song of Myself," he says:

Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son,
Turbulent, fleshy, sensual, eating, drinking and breeding,
No sentimentalist, no stander above men and women or apart from them,
No more modest than immodest.
Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!
Whoever degrades another degrades me,
And whatever is done or said returns at last to me.
I speak the pass-word primeval, I give the sign of democracy,
By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.

And this brings me to one of the most heartbreaking pieces in this collection. It is also from "Song of Myself" and is about assisting a runaway slave in defiance of the federal laws of the time.

The runaway slave came to my house and stopt outside,
I heard his motions crackling the twigs of the woodpile,
Through the swung half-door of the kitchen I saw him limpsy and weak,
And went where he sat on a log and led him in and assured him,
And brought water and fill’d a tub for his sweated body and bruis’d feet,
And gave him a room that enter’d from my own, and gave him some coarse clean clothes,
And remember perfectly well his revolving eyes and his awkwardness,
And remember putting plasters on the galls of his neck and ankles;
He staid with me a week before he was recuperated and pass’d north,
I had him sit next me at table, my fire-lock lean’d in the corner.

Friday, August 14, 2015

My Comments on For Such a Time by Kate Breslin

I want to make one thing clear up front. The commentary below is of the BOOK, not the AUTHOR. I will not, nor do I have the right to, comment on the author, but I can and will comment on what I see on the page, colored by my biases. This is purely my subjective opinion and is by no means authoritative. There are most likely spoilers and upsetting triggers in my comments.


For those of you who haven't read For Such a Time, it's an Evangelical Protestant inspirational historical romantic fiction book set in a [then] Czechoslovakian transit concentration camp in 1944. The story is between a Nazi SS Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt and Jewish prisioner Hadassah Benjamin set in the Theresienstadt camp. Her blonde-hair blue-eyed "Aryan" looks allow her to use her false paper to pass off as non-Jewish. She is initially tattooed, shorn, and slated for the firing squad at Dachau, because she offended a Gestapo officer by rebuffing his advances. The Kommandant is there, because he sees the discrepancy between the Aryan paperwork and "Jude" stamped on it. He takes one look at her and wants her, so he rescues her and spirits her away to Theresienstadt. There he installs her in his house as his secretary.

Initially, Hadassah thinks of the Kommandant as a "Jew Killer." Over time, she's beguiled by his obvious interest in her and her own growing attraction to him. She realizes that he is bruised in spirit due to his war experiences and is convinced that she can change him. She appeals to him to grant concessions to the Jewish prisoners.

Initially, she feels abandoned by her G-d, because of all her suffering. Over time, her progressing relationship with the Kommandant leads her to believe in the Christian God through the Bible that appears whenever she's in crisis and "speaks" to her. The central questions of the story are: how can she reconcile herself to him, how will he change, how will their love survive reality, and do both of them turn to God.


My many learned colleagues have done a far better job of addressing the historical, religious, and textual contents of the book than I ever could. So I'm not going to try. My focus is the impossibility of the love relationship and the personalities of the two protagonists.

When you write a historical fiction novel, you're required to be true to the history you're setting your story in. Yes, sometimes in service to your story, you may change a few small details here and there, but by large you try to stay true to the facts. Otherwise, what you're writing isn't historical fiction, but alternate reality fiction.

When the history in question is full of anguish and is in living memory of the survivors and the descendants of the survivors, it behooves you to be scrupulous of adhering to all of the well-established details of the history. Tampering with those details results in the erasure of the experiences of entire swaths of people; of the people themselves. The Holocaust wasn't just a heinous crime against the Jewish people, the Roma, gays, and others. It was a crime against all humanity. It was a crime against the basic tenets of what makes us human.

In that context, he's the representative of the perpetrators of the crime and she's the representative of the victims of the crime. He uses her to assuage his supposed despair over his experiences as a soldier. She uses him for the warm shoes, warm clothes, soft bed, and good food he provides.

Scearp scyldwiga [sceal] gescad witan worda ond worca.
A sharp warrior must know the difference between words and deeds. —Beowulf

The Kommandant suffers from the horrors he saw—not what he did—in the battles in Russia. That is what he tells her and she can sense it all beneath his "punishing," "desperate" kisses. But he has no remorse or even disquiet—in fact, he's indifferent—over the thousands of Jewish people he sends to Auschwitz or starves, over-works, and has tortured in Theresienstadt. It doesn't matter in the story that his sergeant or his captain actually do the torture. He's the Kommandant. The buck stopped there. But he only cares that he is not hurt by a refusal to participate in everything and that Hadassah not find out about it all so that she won't withhold her affection from him.

Also, his war experiences and supposed sensitivity to them should've given him a classic case of PTSD. I saw no evidence of that.

A true love relationship exists between mature, consenting adults who're respectful of each other. This certainly wasn't that. There can be no consent between a jailor and a prisoner, where he's the aggressor and she's subsumed herself in him. At the least resistance from her, he gets angry, threatens her, and forces his will on her and she accedes the power to him. He has no respect for her, and she respects his power over her, not as his equal. A true love relationship between them is impossible.

Did romantic feelings—note, not true love—develop in similar circumstances in reality during WWII? The Daily Mail published a piece on the real-life story between a Jewish woman and an SS guard at Auschwitz. Years after the war, from Israel, Helen Citronova said, "'I thought I'd rather be dead than be involved with an SS man. For a long time afterwards there was just hatred. I couldn't even look at him.' But she admitted that her feelings for Wunsch changed over time" when he saved her and later her sister from death. After the war, "...her relationship with Wunsch never developed further...." Helena said, "'There were moments where I forgot that I was a Jew and that he was not a Jew.... But it could not be realistic.'"

Yes, not realistic. Take the stresses of war away, and what do they have left? Horror of what they've experienced and horror of what they've done. No relationship can survive that. Thus, I cannot believe that there's any future for the Kommandant and Hadassah. There's no HEA (happily ever after), no love, nothing. But that is the point of a romance novel. A HEA is a requirement.

"You're not a monster." Her voice came to him soft and steady. "Or a martyr either. You're just a man, nothing more."

She's right. It's Hadassah who's the monster of the story, not the Kommandant, not the evil caption, not the traitorous sergeant, not the SS General. They are behaving true to form. But Hadassah? She sends thousands of her own Jewish people into Auschwitz's Krematorium, in exchange for good food, a warm roof over her head, and sexually exciting kisses. Thousands. And in all of this, her emotional state of mind is ephemeral, self-serving, and remarkably bloodless.

Here's an example. She has been found out as the traitor who deleted a few people from the lists of those bound for the Auschwitz trains. The Kommandant is extremely angry and rough with her and threatens to hit her. He purportedly loves her but sends her off with his captain to the ghetto. Her kaddishel ten-year-old Joseph has been badly beaten and brought to her in the ghetto. He was the Kommandant's houseboy and the Kommandant purportedly cared for him, but did nothing to stop Joseph from being beaten up.

Later, the Kommandant comes to see them.

...he removed his hat and gloves before lowering himself to kneel beside the boy. "How is he?"

His white-knuckled grip on the cane told her his legs pained him more than usual. Caution overruled any compassionate urge, however. He had yet to state he purpose for his visit."

She feels compassion for him? After what he's done to her and Joseph? And the only reason she's not going to show him her compassion is because he hasn't said why he's there?

The hand on his cane wavered slightly. "You must hurry and get strong, Joseph. There is much to do, and I need your help." His gentle voice tore at Hadassah's heart.

He makes those self-serving statements and she's touched by them?

Hadassah searched the face of the man before her, feeling joy, frustration, even laughter. Most of all, she ached for the comfort of his embrace.

After all that has occurred—two trainloads to Auschwitz, torture of her uncle, starvation of all the prisoners at the camp, Joseph's beating, her own treatment—she feels like laughing? And wants him to hug her?

Hadassah fills me with horror. Classic case of Stockholm's Syndrome.

[Edited to add since I already received a couple of troll comments. I shall be ruthlessly deleting comments that are not respectful of me or other commenters.]

Picture Day Friday: Medieval Waistcoast Made From Manuscripts

These days, purses made from book covers are popular with the bookish crowd. But this trend was popular in the Middle Ages, too. Here's a medieval waistcoat made in Iceland from a manuscript on parchment dated c.1375.

[Provenance unknown.]

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

2015 TBR Reading Challenge: Truckers by Terry Pratchett

2015 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: Truckers by Terry Pratchett
My Categories: children's, fantasy, male author
Wendy Crutcher's Category: RITA book (That this book ain't!)

I loved this book. I laughed out loud in many places. I marveled at the intricate society and culture of the ordinary world that Pratchett build up.

The story's about these tiny, outer-worldly creatures called Nomes. Some of them live outdoors and are called Outsiders. The majority of the Nomes in this story live under a departmental store called the Store. This is their world. The ceiling is the sky, the departmental sections of Ironmongery, Stationeri, Corsetry, Millinery, and so on are the clans under which the Nomes have organized themselves. Within each clan, there's the head honcho, an advisory team, and other such titles. The clans war with each other and some are stronger / more dominant than others. There's a food hall where, by mutual agreement, everyone comes to the table as equals. Sensible!

Due to a problem with their habitat, the Outsiders hitch a ride on one of the lorries (trucks), which brings them to the Store. Almost all of the Nomes there are astounded by the presence of the Outsiders. Some refuse to believe in them and think they had simply been living elsewhere in the Store.

"It is very hard to meet someone who doesn't believe you exist."

Patriarchy is alive and well among the Nomes of the Store. Not so among the Outsiders.

Their exclamations of surprise or anger are "Grand Finale Sale" and "Everything Must Go." The villain of the story is "Prices Slashed," the security guard.

All the Nomes of the Store believe in a god called...wait for it...Arnold Bros (est. 1905). The Outsiders believe in a black Thing box that once it has access to electricity acts as an oracle and information supplier. It is the computer that came with the Nomes thousands of years ago when they left their planetary home.

And stranger still is that the Thing tells the hero of the tale, Masklin, that the days of the Store are numbered and the Nomes need to move elsewhere to survive. Slowly some of the clan leaders come to accept that the Black Thing and Masklin might have a point. The majority of the book is devoted to how Masklin achieves their removal via a lorry before the Store demolition deadline.

There are nuggets of Pratchett's writing that had me sticking Post-its all over the book.

"I don't know enough words, he thought. Some things you can't think unless you know the right words."

But the best part of the book is the humor. LOL was really L.O.L. Masklin decides that the best way for them to escape was to drive a lorry. Imagine the scale of things.

"It's too far up. It's a small step for a man, but a giant leap for nomekind."

So Masklin and a bunch of higher official Nomes stand on the dashboard and navigate by reading the book The High Way Code and a map from a pocket diary with areas marked "Europe" and "Asia." They tell the signaler to signal left or right. He in turn tells the conductor on the floor of the truck who orchestrates teams of Nomes on the gas pedal, the brake, the clutch, the gear stick, the turn indicator, and the steering wheel.

Imagine this. Hundreds of Nomes manage to maneuver a huge semi out of the garage, out on the city roads, and out into the boondocks. That whole process of coming together to make it sides hurt, because...

"'Well, laddie,' he said. 'I've seen a lot of people, and I've got to tell you, if you lined up ten Nomes and shouted "Pull!," four of them would push and two of them would say "Pardon?" That's how people are. It's just nomish nature.'"

But they do it. They make it safely to outdoor caves. Huzzahs!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Picture Day Friday: A Water Bridge !!!

This is one of the coolest things I found out this year. There's such a thing as a water bridge consisting of one waterway connecting two waterways over a fourth waterway. The Magdeburg Bridge is located in Germany. According to Wikipedia, "[the aqueduct] spans the river Elbe and directly connects the Mittellandkanal to the west and Elbe-Havel Canal to the east of the river, allowing large commercial ships to pass between the Rhineland and Berlin without having to descend into and then climb out of the Elbe itself."