"The word is the making of the world." - Wallace Stevens

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Dispossessed - Ursula K. Le Guin

I have been very unorganized and lazy about blogging lately. Not because of a lack of books getting read, good grief! Right now, my "finished" pile is taking over my desk, eeeck! And between the unorganized stacks of books, there are magazines that I've bookmarked with articles I want to share, wedding invitation samples, loose leaf papers with writing scribbles, printed curriculums from Canisius College and Colorado State U., and the occasional half finished bag of trial mix with mostly raisins left in. This is my place to be sloppy and unorganized, my getaway, my cubbyhole, my cave. Heh heh, it really is time to give the old desk a good pick up and dust though!

I finished this particular story back in March. If you are familiar with Le Guin, you know she is a master writer of the sci-fi/fantasy genre. And this story is a masterwork. It is set somewhere in the distant future. Shevek is a brilliant, thoughtful physicist born and raised on the planet Annares, which is the mostly barren moon of the planet Urras. About two hundred years before the time of this story, revolutionaries led by Odo the anarchist philosopher left Urras to start a new utopian society on Annares. Except for bare essential trade, there is no communication between the two planets during the next two centuries. In Le Guin's anthropological goggle wearing style, you are introduced to a race of people living on two different planets, living in two different societies that are heading in different directions. Urras is a lush paradise being treated indifferently by those driven by greed for wealth and resources, on Annares the society is based on communal sharing and voluntary cooperation, in a barren bleak landscape that barely supplies their needs. Le Guin's words strongly point out how human ideals and human nature are frequently at odds.

"It was easy to share when there was enough, even barely enough, to go round. But when there was not enough? Then force entered in; might making right; power, and its tool, violence, and its most devoted ally, the averted eye." Page 256

Shevek's life's work as a physicist has been to make instantaneous communication possible across space, by uniting the principles of Sequency and Simultaneity. He travels to Urras' main city of A-Io to look for ways in which to reach and accomplish his scientific goal, when he is shunned on his home planet for his ideas being a result of "egoism". He learns on Urras that egoism is the generally accepted way to view the world. His journey becomes not only a quest as a physicist, but also as an ambassador of Annares. Through Shevek, the reader sees both societies' pros and cons, flaws and virtues. He is a man coming from a communal society and trying to negotiate his way through a capitalist one, one which ultimately makes him feel trapped.

Another recurring theme that features in Le Guin's writing is gender and cultural bias. This passage is from just after Shevek and his partner, Takver, have a little girl. It gives you a peek into the society Le Guin is writing into existence.

"An Odonian undertook monogamy just as he might undertake a joint enterprise in production, a ballet, or a soap works. Partnership was a voluntarily constituted federation like any other. So long as it worked, it worked, and if it didn't work it stopped being. It was not an institution but a function. It had no sanction but that of private conscience." Page 244.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story. It wasn't a fast read; the writing reflects a lot of different political issues from the time it was written and gets heavy sometimes, but is very thought provoking and enjoyable. Like every Le Guin book I have read. Next up, not sure when I'll get to it, is The Word for World is Forest.  I'm looking forward to it for simply being a Le Guin novel, but I already know some of the plot and the issues it tackles are again heavy ones.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Mirror, Mirror - Gregory Maguire

"The thing about a mirror is this:  The one who stares into it is condemned to consider the world from her own perspective", page 52.  Nothing like a clever mind narrowed by vanity to create evil, and evil is what you find in the mind of Lucrezia Borgia, the wicked witch of this tale.  Bianca de Nevada, "of the snowy slopes," is our Snow White.

Are you a fan of twice told tales? I've come around to them mostly after reading Maguire's writing; the Wicked books are absolutely wonderful!  You get into this story the same way, already aware of certain fairy tale events to take place, but the world itself is completely Mr. Maguire's.  You just can't NOT get into it!

Part historical fiction and part retold fantasy, this story begins in the year 1502, in Italy. Our heroine is Bianca, seven years old when we meet her and because of her father's extreme protectiveness she never leaves the farm (Montefiore).  She remains innocent to the outside world of war and power struggles until Lucrezia and her brother (a powerful, pious, and dangerous bull of a man and also Lucrezia's lover) sweep into their quiet lives like a natural disaster and bring the problems of the outside world with them.  Bianca's father, haplessly caught in a religious and political scheme, is sent on a quest that deprives her of his protection and leaves her at the mercy of La Borgia.  As the story of Snow White goes, Bianca survives numerous attempts on her life through the grace of her own innocence and the help of those who've been inspired by her purity.

I think my favorite part of this story is the dwarves and their part in narrating.  In this telling of the tale, the dwarves are something very old and elemental.  They live in time a different way than human beings.  Decades of human time are a blink of an eye to them.  They can take shape, but sometimes they have no shape.  As I read, I imagined them to be something like the claymation of the Gnome King in Return to Oz, slowly morphing into something more homo sapient.

(*Photo found at http://www.waltdisneysreturntooz.com/Will.htm)

I love Maguire's writing for its raw edge...what's the word I'm looking for?  Nothing is sugarcoated; whether it's emotions or natural bodily functions, he serves it to you with spicy adjectives.  I thought it was brilliant of him to connect the poison apple of the age-old fairy tale to the real life Borgia family's infamous use of poison to dispose of their enemies.  And I learned a new word: cenobite.  Never came across it before.  A cenobite is a member of a monastic community.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Happy birthday, hobbits!

Good gravy, I'm embarrassed about what a bad blogger I've been.  Sorry for the silence!

I wasn't previously aware before coming across THIS ARTICLE that Bilbo and Frodo shared the same b-day.  Oops, maybe I need to reread the series!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

❦ Wild Kingdom Book Challenge! ❦

Hello, fellow book and animal lovers. I'm setting myself an animal studies/ anthrozoology based reading challenge and I would love it if you'd join me! Any genre counts, as long as it pertains to the human-animal bond. Anthropomorphic stories can count too, i.e. Alice in Wonderland and her waistcoat wearing white rabbit. Possible reads can include fiction, non-fiction, rereads, children's stories, textbooks, wildlife journals, whatever you'd like. Remember, you don't have to have a blog to participate and leave comments, and you can join anytime during the challenge.

- The challenge will run from January 1st-December 31, 2012.
-Books may count toward other challenges.
- Choose where you want to go:

1-3 books = The Hundred Acre Wood
4-6 books = Rikki Tikki's Bungalow
7-9 books = Best Friends Animal Society
10 or more = The Jane Goodall Institute

-If you'd like to follow this challenge on your own blog, first create a signup post and then use one of these banners to link your post to the Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post. Remember to add the link of your sign-up post page, not your blog's main address.

- Here are some possibilities:

Black Beauty - Anna Sewell
City of Ravens - Boria Sax
Megan's Mare - Lynn Hall
The Ten Trusts - Jane Goodall & Marc Bekoff
The Animal Manifesto - Marc Bekoff
Putting the Horse Before Descartes - Bernard Rollin
Incident at Hawk's Hill - Allan W. Eckert
Charlotte's Web - E.B. White
The Yearling - M.K. Rawlings
Moby Dick - Herman Melville
Spoken in Whispers - Nicci Mackay
The Man Who Listens to Horses - Monty Roberts
Out of the Mist - Pat Lyne
Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage - Cherry Hill
Animals As Teachers and Healers - Susan Chernak McElroy
The Animal Within Us - Jay D. Glass
Never Cry Wolf - Farley Mowat
Gorillas in the Mist - Dian Fossey
Stories Rabbits Tell - Davis and Demello
Uncle Wiggly's Storybook - Howard Garis
Fury and the Mustangs - Albert G. Miller
The Black Stallion novels - Walter Farley
When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals - Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
The Art of Racing in the Rain - Garth Stein
Buffalo Gals and Other Stories- Ursula K. Le Guin
King of the Wind - Marguerite Henry
Misty of Chincoteague - " "
All Creatures Great and Small series - James Herriot
The Midnight Fox - Betsy Byars
My Friend Flicka - Mary O'Hara
The Philosophy of Animal Rights - Mylan Engel & Kathie Jenni
Bunnicula - Deborah & James Howe
The Darkness is Light Enough: The Field Journal of a Night Naturalist - Chris Ferris
Wild Minds - Marc D. Hauser
Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat - Hal Herzog
The Man Who Talks to Whales: The Art of Interspecies Communication - Jim Nollman
The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling
Thought to Exist in the Wild: Awakening from the Nightmare of Zoos - Derrick Jensen
In the Shadow of Man - Jane Goodall
Watership Down - Richard Adams

Hope you join me. Looking forward to hearing from other animal enthusiasts!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Greek Classics Challenge

A goal for the upcoming year: to read me some Plato and Aristotle. And anything else Greek and Classic that comes my way. Thanks for hosting, Howling Frog!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mouse the Messy

Time to clear off my desk! Here is a list of the books I've read or reread in the last ten months or so, I'm not going to get a chance to write about them for a good long while and they need to live on the bookshelf and move off my desk. In no particular order, here are the titles:

Supernatural Stories, 13 Tales of the Unexpected - edited by Jean Russell
Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood
Animal Dreams - Barbara Kingsolver
Girl with a Pearl Earring - Tracy Chevalier
A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter Miller, Jr.
Blackbriar - William Sleator
The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood
Prodigal Summer - Barbara Kingsolver
The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros
My Side of the Mountain & On the Far Side of the Mountain - Jean Craighead George
Treasure Box - Orson Scott Card

...and also several books that go with the Wild Kingdom challenge including authors Bernard Rollin, Marc Bekoff, and Hal Herzog. Stay tuned! Whew, I can see part of my desktop now.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Robber Bride - Margaret Atwood

In this very complex story, you meet three very different women from Toronto, Canada: Tony, Charis, and Roz. You learn about their pasts and what makes them tick. What they have in common, what binds them, is being manipulated and betrayed by the evil witch of the story, Zenia, The Robber Bride.

The story's title is a reference to the fairy tale, The Robber Bridegroom. The characters themselves are meant to mirror fairy tale characters. Tony is Rapunzel, Charis is Sleeping Beauty, and Roz is Cinderella. Zenia is the wandering orphan, the dangerous rootless wanderer, the prince-less one. The references make perfect sense as you get to know the characters.

Zenia is an enigma. Her past is explained many times, by Zenia herself to the other women. But what parts of her self proclaimed history are fact and which are fiction? Zenia invents herself again and again in different ways for the other characters of the story, but you never know for sure who or what she really is except a disturbed and intriguing personality. At some point in their lives, Zenia has burned each of the main characters; seducing husbands/significant others, lying, betraying, causing general chaos against the other women for her own mysterious reasons. Also at some point, each character dreams of Zenia. Or in Charis's case, has a vision of her. "..Charis's astral body falls to its knees, raising imploring hands to the astral body of Zenia, which burns red, a red crown of flames like spiky leaves or old fashioned pen nibs flaring around her head, with emptiness at the centre of each flame", page 221. Tony, Charis, and Roz end up both admiring, fearing, and despising Zenia at different times, seeing themselves in her in spite of it.

I'm not so sure what a male reader might get out of this story. I loved it myself and identified with different bits of each character. But I have a feeling this kind of feminism might only be able to be understood by women.

"The story of Zenia is insubstantial, ownerless, a rumour only, drifting from mouth to mouth and changing as it goes. As with any magician, you saw what she wanted you to see; or else you saw what you yourself wanted to see. She did it with mirrors. The mirror was whoever was watching, but there was nothing behind the two-dimensional image but a thin layer of mercury", page 509.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Joan Aiken

At last! I finally ordered this the end of last month and finished it while flying to and from Ohio early this month. I enjoyed it, but I was disappointed that Dido Twite wasn't a character in this story. Oh well, Bonnie and Sylvia had some pretty interesting adventures.

The two cousins (one a sweet but high strung personality and one a gentle, timid orphan) are left at Willoughby Chase while Bonnie's parents take a sea voyage for her mother's health. Sylvia leaves her Aunt Jane behind in London to move to the Chase. Even if this book was written for children ages 9-12, anyone any age can enjoy Miss Aiken's writing. She puts her characters in situations that reveal their true colors and does a great job of developing them, even characters like Bonnie's father, who isn't in the story much. You understand he's a kind, loving father but distracted enough with his wife's illness that his judgement is a little off when he asks a distant relation he doesn't know to come and watch the Chase and the children. Miss Slighcarp plots to take over the estate completely. She and her gang of bullies are the real wolves featured in this story, although there are real four legged ones running around the place too and the girls and their friends have some narrow escapes. This is a very enjoyable story with heroes, villians, plots, escapes, cruel situations, and happy endings. The next book in the series is Black Hearts in Battersea, where I believe Dido makes her appearance. Can't wait to get to it!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Prodigal Summer - Barbara Kingsolver

I love Barbara Kingsolver. I devour her writing, and it satisfies on so many levels. I just got me a copy of The Lacuna, and will hopefully get to it soon. But the "to read" stacks on my desk are getting out of control. I don't MEAN to hoard books, but every shelf is packed!

Oh geez. I think I've read this novel about a dozen times and gone though about a dozen copies; I always want to share it and pass it on. The first time I read it, I was working in Ireland on the Renvyle coast, as a trail guide for a local stable. The job was challenging and exciting, but I still couldn't wait to get into bed at night to get through at least one chapter. I ended up passing on that particular copy to one of the tourists I went riding with, who told me she was so happy to get out of the city that she didn't want to go back. So anyway, I reread it again this past August. I haven't given this one away yet, maybe I'll hang on to it and let it fight for space on my shelves. Here are some good reviews. This lady is one hell of a writer and a human being, I highly recommend anything she puts down on paper.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Insomniac Rantings

I can't sleep. And I'm so tired, what a drag. I want to call and talk to a girlfriend, but they're all in eastern standard time. It could be because I have so much on my mind that I want to hide under the covers and suck my thumb. It could be because the third floor neighbors are such punks and all night long it sounds like they run a bowling alley in their living room. Or maybe because I'm so homesick for Ohio lately that it wakes me up when I finally do fall asleep. It really doesn't matter I guess, the fact is sleep is elusive tonight and tomorrow's work day is going to be tough and full of coffee. So I'm petting the puppy, who HATES the bumping & thumping noises from upstairs, and watching Star Trek TNG. Geordi is the focus character for this episode....um, "Aquiel". I had a crush on Levar Burton when I was in second grade. And I still know all the words to the Reading Rainbow theme song. "Butterfly in the skyyyy, I can fly twice as hiiiiiiigh..."