Sunday, October 30, 2005

Ia! Ia!

Sorry, I never did write about "At the Mountains of Madness." I may have OD'd on Lovecraft by the time I got to it. The timing was also bad in that we experienced a great cold snap here the week I read it. Yes, it took me a week to read a hundred-page book; I kept picking up other things. It was sort of like watching "Dr. Zhivago" - it's just going to make you cold. And after reading a pile of Lovecraft, you know they're going to stumble upon unnameable secrets, and be chased by something they can't quite see, and it won't catch them for some vague reason & they'll end up gibbering wrecks. That's pretty much what happens in this book. I loved the six-foot albino penguins, however.

Gentleman-caller and I threw our Halloween party this weekend. It was a success, I think. Some of my friends (including the lovely Ardenstone) drove a long distance to attend, which I deeply appreciate.

Today a former colleague called, with whom I haven't spoken for about two years. She's in town for a Bengals game, and we're having lunch tomorrow. Woot! I really, really have missed her.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Are you lost, sweetheart?

This is for my gentleman-caller, whom I love very deeply.

Have you read Watership Down?

A coworker asked me that last night as we discussed this story. It was hard to answer - yes, I've read it, not recently, but it's one of the oldest building blocks in my mind. The first time I read it was in second grade after watching the cartoon. One of our teachers actually read it to the class, and I read it on my own either beforehand or concurrently. I remember the blank look on a classmate's face as the teacher defined the lapin term "hraka" as "droppings"; I already knew what it meant, and remember watching the blank face break up into second-grade merriment once he realized what "droppings" were. I've reread it once or twice but associate it the most with second grade. It was my favorite book for a long time, until I got to fifth grade or so and tackled "Gone with the Wind." (I always enjoyed giving withering looks to adults who said "That's a mighty big book you've got.")

I think I liked the survivalist aspect of the plot, and the rabbit mythology laid out in the book. I loved the idea that just a rabbit hopping across the lawn is part of its own epic struggle. It seems odd to label the book "fantasy" but it really is, in an agreeably down-to-earth way. You certainly also learn a lot about real-life rabbits. I didn't know females were called does, or that pregnant ones could reabsorb their litters from stress. Adams puts you in your place a couple times when the rabbits' world intersects with the human - I guess that's his call to respectful stewardship. It would be interesting to reread it as an adult, but it almost seems unnecessary. All the names and details are pretty deep down in my brain - as a deteriorating nonagenarian I fully expect to rant about Fiver and General Woundwort.

I'd never heard of this island before yesterday, though, and was interested to learn it's notable for its sea birds. That explains the oddly (I always thought) prominent role of Keehar.

Finally, while the cartoon appears to have spawned many annoying DVD spinoffs, I was hugely gratified to hear the "Bright Eyes" reference in the Wallace and Gromit movie.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

I keep hoping for you, Pumpkin

Yesterday I baked pumpkin cookies, largely because I wanted the smell in the apartment. The smell of baking pumpkin is supposed to enhance erections in men, so I figured it might not do me any harm either. I don't actually like sweets, so I took the cookies to work. Well. By the end of the night I had messages from every guy in the office about how good they smelled and tasted. I could not stop laughing. The erection thing strikes me as bullshit - honestly, do erections need a whole lot of help, generally? - but the idea was amusing.

Here's the recipe, you darling nonexistent reader:

1 c. sugar
1 c. pumpkin
1/2 c. cooking oil
1 egg, beaten
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. chocolate chips
1/2 c. nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine sugar, pumpkin, cooking oil and beaten egg. Sift flour, salt, cinnamon and baking powder; add to pumpkin mixture. Dissolve baking soda in milk and vanilla and add to mixture. Then add chocolate chips and nuts. Drop on lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake approximately 10-12 minutes. Do not over bake. Cookies will be soft and moist.

found on the risky but indispensible

Friday, October 21, 2005

Dispatches from the Tower

Today's book: Finally finished "Arbella: England's Lost Queen" by Sarah Gristwood. I ended up sympathizing more with the author than the subject, because Arbella's character and motives are pretty obscure. She was the niece of Mary, Queen of Scots, and stood a good chance of inheriting the throne from Elizabeth I. Instead, Mary's son James acceded, and Arbella was thrust to the side, eventually to marry without the king's consent and spend the rest of her life in the Tower as punishment. Gristwood obviously loves her and wants her to be a strong, self-motivated woman, but the author's historical discipline keeps having to rein in her imagination. Certainly Arbella wasn't given the opportunity to accomplish much. I would probably have enjoyed this book more if I'd been more knowledgeable about the Elizabethan era going in; I'd never even heard of Arbella. It's always satisfying to finish a big nonfiction book, though.

Next: "At the Mountains of Madness," which has finally been located at the library. Today it is quite dismal out, so I expect to spend the afternoon baking and reading.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Elizabeth, Beth, Betsy and Bess

This book was fabulous. I highly recommend it to any Shirley Jackson fan. Certainly it's a minor work, like The Sundial, and mostly interesting to me for the perspective it gives her better-known books. Both The Haunting and We Have Always Lived In The Castle are told from the perspective of variously tormented heroines. You only gradually realize how people are reacting to them and how genuinely terrifying they are, and by that point they've pulled you in & won your sympathy. The Bird's Nest switches between a third-person description of its main character, Elizabeth, and a first-person account from her psychiatrist. The story is pretty much "Sybil": Elizabeth battles her multiple personalities, and eventually resolves the conflicts she feels about her childhood. Like Eleanor and Merricat, she lives mostly in her own mind, rejecting the uncaring outside world. Jackson's detached narration means you don't worry or care for Elizabeth. But you can't escape a steadily growing dread, beginning in an early scene when Elizabeth raises her face to her psychiatrist and, instead of his patient, he sees what he calls a "grinning fiend." A subplot involves Elizabeth's aunt and something awful that may have happened long ago; it doesn't hold together, but it does stick with Jackson's favorite theme that horror begins at home. Not as good as The Sundial, but much better than Hangsaman.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Our poor Hepzibah

Today's book: "The House of the Seven Gables" by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

I had so been looking forward to this book. Hawthorne's story "Young Goodman Brown" is an October classic, and I also love "The Birth-Mark." I guess he's more palatable in short form. In theory, there's nothing wrong with this book: It's got ghosts, a haunted house, and a protagonist named Hepzibah. But I was driven mad by the infinite descriptive passages and the utterly immobile plot. Of course, the plot is all about immobility, so Hawthorne probably is a literary genius. The climactic chapter, in fact, traces the course of a day in which a dead man sits in a chair, listing all the things he's NOT doing, and all the things that are NOT happening in the house. I'm talking myself into admiring the book, but finishing it last night was a huge relief. I guess I'm just a sad product of my action-driven generation.

Next: Shirley Jackson's "The Bird's Nest," about a woman with multiple personalities! I think. Hard to find but obtained from the marvelous Mercantile Library.