Author Archive

“A Tale for the Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

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Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being is another contender in this year’s Morning News Tournament of Books. Not sure I would have picked up this one, or picked it up so soon, but I fell for it, hard, as I was reading.

It opens with Buddhist passage, “For the Time Being” then launches into the narrative of Nao, pronounced “NOW”, pun intended:

Hi!

My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you.

A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be. As for me, right now I am sitting in a French mid cafe in Akiba Electricity Town, listening to a sad chanson that is playing sometime in your past, which is also my present, writing this and wondering about you, somewhere in my future. And if you’re reading this, then maybe by now you’re wondering about me, too.

Within the novel, these are the first pages of a journal that a character named Ruth finds on the beach of an island in British Columbia. The book alternates between Nao and Ruth, and encompasses realities from past and present, Japan and US and BC, Buddhist nun to middle-school bullies, and more. My fascination with Nao and desire to know what happens mirrors Ruth’s as their stories unfold and overlap. It was an enjoyable read, but also one that left me thinking on such heady topics as Time and Being. This book was a delight for me to read on both the macro and micro levels.

“The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

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I was probably going to skip The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt until it was picked both by one of my book groups as well as The Morning News Tournament of Books. I tried for a library copy, but the queue was too long, so I bought it in hardcover. When I hefted it, I wondered if perhaps it would be better on an E-reader, though I don’t like reading books in E. When I opened it, and saw the bottom margins of about 1/2 inch, I realized an E version would seem endless.

My husband and I compared the weight and page format to The Son, which I’d just finished, and had thought was a decent doorstop at 500+ pages. G. Grod thought The Goldfinch was like a 1000 page book crammed into 770 pages. After reading it, I agree. There’s more of this book than there needs to be, whether it’s 1000 pages crammed into 770, or 770 that should have been edited down to 500.

I read it at a decent clip. I was engaged with the story of Theo Decker, a teen boy who suffers early tragedy and goes on to have a life of intrigue involving a famous work of art. At about page 500 or so, reading about a ditsy character named Kitsey, it struck me that, hey, this reminds me of David Copperfield, which I’ve been reading this winter along with some friends via New Century Reading. I googled Goldfinch and David Copperfield. Lo and behold EVERY SINGLE REVIEW of Goldfinch mentioned Dickens and DC. It took me 500 pages to recognize parallels to a famous book I just happened to be reading simultaneously. Apparently, I’m not as clever as I’d like to think I am.

Like David Copperfield, the book really picks up about 500 pages in, especially when one vibrant character returns to the page. As in DC, the main character is not the draw. It’s the complex and fascinating ones who orbit him. If you like a long, immersive read with scores of characters and elements from many genres–mystery, history, romance, thriller, coming of age–then this is a great book for you.

If Dickens’ and other Victorians bored you, then this one probably will, too. If you read the commentary on the book at the Tournament of Books, there were many for and against the book. My book group was not similarly split; to a person we read to the end and enjoyed it.

“The Son” by Philipp Meyer

Friday, March 21st, 2014

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Never would’ve picked up The Son by Philipp

Meyer if it weren’t on this year’s Morning News Tournament of Books. (I know, I know, I write that a lot.) A sweeping saga of a Texas family starting with kidnap by Comanches and ending with oil tycoonery? But I found it hard to put down this 500+ pager. I’d read to the end of a section, intending to stop, then just keep going.

It’s the braiding of three narratives: Eli, the patriarch, who was kidnapped by Comanches as a boy and lived with them for years before becoming a cattle rancher. Peter, his son, never comfortable with how the family got and kept its land and wealth. And Jeannie, Eli’s great grand-daughter, the only one Eli considers worthy to inherit the family business.

There is blood and violence throughout, not just in Eli’s tale. But Peter’s conscience, and Jeanne’s struggle to be taken seriously as a woman in business by peers and her family, kept me equally involved.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

I counted–there are indeed four ch’s in Bowie’s song.

SO, faithful Girl Detective readers, change is coming. I’m working with Tech Support, aka my husband, to figure out what it’s gonna be, but was thinking that I’d get a new site, with my actual name, so I could have one page for a blog, and another for one of my book groups

But then, what happens to all this? I’ve been blogging for almost 12 years, first at www.girldetective.blogspot.com and www.mamaduck.blogspot.com, and then here at www.girldetective.net!

Importing all the info is prohibitive, as is paying to keep this site alive beyond what we’re already paid for. We can archive the info at home so at least I have it, but seems a shame that it would go “poof” in a year or so. Anyone who has changed sites/blogs/etc., your input would be appreciated.

Movies!

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

It’s been a long winter, and we’re not even to the end of the shortest month. LOTS of movies here at our house, with much fun because the boys are now 8 and 10, and able to watch and understand lots more.

School of Rock: kids were slow to like, but came around by end.
Place Beyond the Pines: surprised me multiple times. Good performances.
Coming to America: funny!
Back to the Future II with the kids. I’d never seen it. Nice interweaving of past and present.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit. with the kids. scene of dipping the squeaky shoe? Haunts me.
Beverly Hills Cop. Funny!
The Italian Job (NB: 1969 with Michael Caine) and with the kids. Stylish and fun.
Sound of Music with the kids. Nazi’s! Singing! They were reluctant, but came around, a common dynamic with films we pick.
Emma, with Paltrow. Jeremy Northam is not Knightley enough. Unimpressed.
Bubba Ho-Tep. Could see what they were going for, but didn’t quite make it. Kind of boring, actually.
John Carter of Mars with the kids. They loved it. 8yo went into TV watching pose, stretched out, hands on fists to see it better.
World War Z. Good zombie movie. Scared me. Peter Capaldi, the new Doctor Who, as a WHO doctor!
Cold Comfort Farm. Timeout said it was a failure, but I enjoyed it though not perhaps as much as the book. Kate Beckinsale before she became a plastic-surgery barbie doll. Rufus Sewell is hilarious. Strangely, Stephen Fry didn’t quite work for me as Mybug.
A Serious Man. by the Coen Brothers. The only movie of theirs I’ve disliked. Just didn’t get it.
ET with the kids. They loved it, and watching their delight was a joy. However, I still don’t like it, and am bothered by Spielberg’s cheap emotional button pushing, and the blatant Christian images.
Possession. Such a pale shadow of the book, but still, perhaps worth watching. Aaron Eckhardt is painfully miscast as Roland. Ben Whishaw would’ve been ideal.
Shrek with the kids. They loved it, I merely liked it and was annoyed with the pseudo hip soundtrack and can we never hear All Star by that band that was ubiqutous in the 90’s?
All the President’s Men. I love 70’s movies and this one was awesome.
National Velvet with the kids. Thought I’d seen it, but hadn’t. They were doubtful, but came around.
Red Balloon with the kids. Never seen it. Lovely. Funny.
Parallax View. Good, good, good, till it wasn’t.
The Conversation. Did I mention, I love 70’s movies? And Gene Hackman? And young Harrison Ford? And Cindy Williams in a dramatic role?
Fellowship of the Ring with the kids. I gave up halfway through. Forgot how much I disliked these Peter Jackson movies, with the paternalistic Gandalf, the bumbling hobbits, and the ridiculous female characters. Ugh. Not for me. The boys watched the entire too-long trilogy with my husband and they enjoyed it.
Blow Out by De Palma with Travolta. Entertaining, but over the top.
Blowup by Anonioni. sometimes dull and pretentious, but with arresting images and style.
Red. With my husband. More his thing than mine.
Friday Night Lights. Good, but not as good as the series.
Pacific Rim. Terribly clicheed story with impressive del Toro monsters. Gave up on the last half hour, and don’t regret it.
Hamlet, 1947 Olivier. Didn’t care for his precious, mannered performance. Fell asleep both nights. Oedipal Gertrude who was younger than Olivier. C’mon, people.
Hamlet at Elsinore, 1964, Christopher Plummer. Didn’t love his manic interpretation of the prince, but still liked more than Olivier, and really liked Michael Caine as Horatio. No oedipal Gertrude. Hamlet question: are productions either or gay Hamlet/Horatio vs. Oedipal Gertrude?
Shaun of the Dead. Funny. Gory.
Hot Fuzz. Funny. But overlong at the end.

“Long Division” by Kiese Laymon

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

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Long Division is one of the books in this year’s Tournament of Books, and is EXACTLY why I get so geekily involved in the ToB every year. I would probably never have heard of or picked up this book on my own, but am darn glad I did.

I found it hard to follow at first: a 9th grader named Citoyen, “City”, competes in a contest called “Use it in a Sentence” then discovers a book called Long Division, which is set in 1985 and features a main character named dot dot dot City.

My name is City. I’m not white, homeless, or homosexual, but if I’m going to keep it one hundred, I guess you should also know that LaVander Peeler smells so good that sometimes you can’t help but wonder if a small beast farted in your mouth when you’re too close to him.

The book goes back and forth between the “real” world and the fictional, and jumps back in time, from 2013 to 1985 to 1964. There’s time travel, Klansmen, and a lot of sharp commentary on race. It’s smart, fast, funny, and provocative, though it did feel at times as if the bat$hit crazy narrative got a little away from the author. But, a wild ride that reminded me of two of my favorite things of the past few years: Victor LaValle’s Big Machine, Safety Not Guaranteed, and Frank Portman’s King Dork.

The Unwritten v. 8: Orpheus in the Underground by Carey and Gross

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

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The Unwritten: Orpheus in the Underground is the 8th volume in the Unwritten comic book series about a boy named Tom Taylor, whose father wrote a popular series of books starring a boy wizard named Tommy Taylor. This volume featured the return of many favorite previous characters, and satisfying redemption of one particularly nasty one. If you like graphic novels like Sandman or Lucifer or Fables, you should be reading this series.

“The Lowland” by Jhumpa Lahiri

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

lowland

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri is being praised as her best yet, so I was hopeful for a good read after being perhaps the only person disappointed by her collection Unaccustomed Earth. It is a contender in this year’s The Morning News Tournament of Books. Alas, I had the same trouble with this longer work that I did with her stories: emotional distance from middle-class characters who I didn’t find that interesting. It’s a multi-generational story, and is set in an interesting point in time the Naxalbari rebellion in India. One brother is a rebel, the other a scholar. The story moves between India and the US, and back and forth in time. I thought about abandoning the book a few times, but there were parts that were written in beautiful prose, and others that did go below an emotional surface, particularly in the character Gauri, and her ambivalence to motherhood. Ultimately, though, I could feel the writing taking place, could detect Lahiri’s strategy for placing segments out of time, and for the unfolding events, but they didn’t serve their purpose with me to engage, maintain tension, and make me care throughout.

If you have liked her previous work, which many do, then you may like this. It mostly didn’t work for me, and I hope it goes down to Eleanor and Park in the tournament, which was emotionally vivid and very compelling to me, if not so luminously written.

“The Power and the Glory” by Graham Greene

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

power

I am in 3 book groups, and moderate one of them, which means I get to pick the books. We read books with themes of myth and religion, mostly fiction, since I love stories, and find they give interesting pathways to understanding truth. The group celebrates its third anniversary this month with our discussion this weekend of Graham Green’s The Power and the Glory.

I’d not read this yet, though I enjoyed both the novel and the movie of Greene’s The End of the Affair, and The Third Man, for which Greene wrote the screenplay, is perhaps my favorite movie. It’s the tale of a whisky priest (spelled whisky in the book but whiskey on the back cover), an alcoholic on the run from the communist police who will kill him. It’s a beautifully written, emotionally rich portrait of a time and place, along with a deeply conflicted, oh-so-human and yet always striving toward the divine. He is running away, but also running towards, and story proceeds in chunks of time that reflect his bumpy journey. It begins with one person he encounters, and is told in stories of the others as he goes. It’s about him, but also about them, so really, about all of us.

Mr Tench went out to look for his ether cylinder, into the blazing Mexican sun and the bleaching dust. few vultures looked down from the roof with shabby indifference: he wasn’t carrion yet. A faint feeling of rebellion stirred in Mr Tench’s heart, and he wrenched up a piece of the road with splintering finger-nails and tossed it feebly towards them. One rose and flapped across the town: over the tiny plaza, over the bust of an ex-president, ex-general, ex-human being, over the two stalls which sold mineral water, towards the river and the sea. It wouldn’t find anything there: the sharks looked after the carrion on that side. Mr Tench went on across the plaza.

I loved this, and look forward to discussing it with our group this weekend.

“The People in the Trees” by Hanya Yanagihara

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

trees

Yet another contender in this year’s Tournament of Books. I’m off to a roaring start because there are a couple doorstops, and because I wisely chose a short book for one of my book groups this month,and the other book groups are reading ToB contenders. Woo! Geekjoy!

So, The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara is the memoir of a scientist who went to the tropics and discovered a tribe who’d learned how to cheat death. The scientist is a fascinating, flawed character, and the tale of the search for immortality, and the spectacular immoralities that go along with it, kept me tied up until the end.

Not for you if you don’t like books with characters you can’t be friends with. But if bat$hit crazy fictional monsters are up your alley, this book might be for you.

“The Dinner” by Herman Koch

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

dinner

Another contender in The Tournament of Books, I knew I was going to read The Dinner by Herman Koch because friends had said good things about it. But I was intruiged by …

OMG, I have GOT to come up with a new word for intriugued because I canNOT seem to spell it and I am not going to try and keep going back and correct intriuged.. It’s like my spelling kryptonite.

Anyhoo. I found it interesting that The Dinner had a relatively low rating. Lots of hate for the book. Who was right, my friends, or the people of Goodreads?

Well, duh. You people, of course.

Please, forgive the pun, but I devoured The Dinner. It starts off and a guy’s going out to dinner with some other guy and he doesn’t want to go, and the other guy sounds like a jerk, and slowly, oh so slowly the story unspools and you find out how they’re connected, what the dinner’s about, what all the bajillion undercurrents are, and what truly horrible people these people are, and I had to wonder if I’m horrible for having been fascinated by horrible people. Certainly I can see why there’s a lot of hate for the book, because the characters and what they do are hateful. This is a great example of a book that a lot of people hate because the characters aren’t likable. But oh, are they mesmerizing. I was fascinated by this one.

“How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia” by Mohsin Hamid

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

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Y’all know it’s that most wonderful time of the year, right? No, it’s not national dairy month. Or Christmas. It _is_ almost my birthday. But what I mean is, The Tournament of Books. Yayyyyy!

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How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid is a fascinating little book. Written in the second person, in a self-help-y style but really telling a boy and girl love story, but one set in the slums of India, so the course of true love doesn’t exactly run true.

Look, unless you’re writing one, a self-help book is an oxymoron. You read a self-help book so someone who isn’t yourself can help you, that someone being the author. This is true of the whole self-help genre.

The book’s brevity means that its strange conceit doesn’t wear thin, and the passage of time in the nameless hero’s life move along at a fast clip. This was a weird fictional take on some of the realities from Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Smart, intriguing, different.

Links on “Possession” by A.S. Byatt

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

possession

It is not an exaggeration to say Possession by A.S. Byatt changed my life, and for the better, after I read it in the winter of December 94/January 95. I was working unhappily in marketing for a company I no longer believed in, and realized (again, in the way of so many epiphanies, I have to have them multiple times for them to stick) that I needed to find a way to get religion and literature in my life.

Over the years, I’ve been trepidatious to read it again. What if I didn’t care for it, or The Suck Fairy had visited? I’m happy to say that a second reading only affirmed this book as one of favorites, if not perhaps The Favorite. I’ve often described this book as having everything: history, mystery, poetry, religion, science, romance and adventure. It’s like the Indiana Jones of novels, or The DaVinci Code if written well by an academic.

I dragged my feet on researching the book before a discussion I’ll be leading today. Again, that was silly. Here are a few of the best articles I found. And having dipped into them, I am now interested to go haring off in other literary directions, which is what my favorite books do to me.

If you haven’t read it, or haven’t read it lately, it stands up, and is more timely than ever in this age of atheism Hitch/Dawkins et al.

The Wikipedia entry on Possession

Wikipedia on Christina Rossetti, the model for Christabel LaMotte

NYT article on Byatt after Possession won the Booker, “What Possessed A.S. Byatt?”

On Possession” at The Poet’s Forum

A re-evaluation of Byatt by a former skeptic, at the Guardian’s Book Blog.

Another take on it at the Guardian’s Book Club

The Reading Group Guide for Possession

The Vast Eyre Bender: Books

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

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Thanks (or apologies?) for the pun to long-time reader and friend VT.

I picked Jane Eyre as the November selection for the book group I lead (as opposed to the two others I just attend.) As the moderator of a discussion of my favorite book, I felt compelled to prepare thoroughly, and spent most of November reading Jane Eyre, related books, and watching all the adaptations. The 20 hours of seven (yes, seven) adaptations deserve their own post, so this one will just be about the ten (yes, ten) books.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. One of the first books written in first person from a child’s point of view, with attention to abuse, neglect and poverty. A coming of age, mystery and romance novel that contains one of the most famous metaphors in literature. Jane is a cool customer who speaks truth to power, and carves out her own belief system on the way, one that intriguingly merges Christianity, self-knowledge, and feministic nature.

The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar. Gilber and Gubar’s chapter on Jane Eyre helped bring that famous metaphor out of the Victorian closet and into wider view.

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. An early intertextual and post-colonial novel that re-imagines the backstory for a character from Jane Eyre. I recommend the Norton annotated edition for its footnotes and essays. The text on its own bewildered me the first time I encountered it.

The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller. Excellent detailed history of how the facts and fictions about the Brontes themselves have come to overshadow the genius of their actual works.

The Brontes at Haworth by Ann Dinsdale. Lovely to look at. A good companion to The Bronte Myth.

Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan. One of my favorite childhood books, from which I learned that Emily Bronte wrote under the name Ellis and died young.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. Hilariously nerdy book about a detective who investigates literary crimes, such as the kidnapping of Jane Eyre.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. James’ take on the governess-who-sees-a-ghost tale. The story and premise are great, but I found reading many of the actual sentences tedious.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey. A post-WWII update of Jane Eyre set in Scotland. The analog-to-Rochester guy’s secret makes no sense. Not only is it not compelling, but aspects of it contradict one another. Gemma makes an uncharacteristic decision toward the end, there’s an unpleasant hint of homophobia, and the resolution has nowhere near the power of the original. Widely praised by critics, it didn’t work for me.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. Mentioned in The Bronte Myth and recommended long ago by my friend Becca, I finally got my own copy. Flora Poste is a delight, and I often laughed out loud. Here, she asks about a writer she’s met. The innkeeper tells her:

‘He’s doin’ one now about another young fellow who wrote books, and then his sisters pretended they wrote them and then they all died of consumption, poor young mommets.’

‘Ha! A life of Branwell Bronte,’ thought Flora. “I might have known it.’ There has been increasing discontent among the male intellectuals for some time at the thought that a woman wrote Wuthering Heights.

Cold Comfort Farm was a fun and funny book to end the Eyre Bender with. It has phrases and characters I will never forget.

For the record, reading all these was not only entertaining, but prepared me well for the book discussion.

From the Archives: Five Holiday Gifts

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Last year I posted this on 11/1. Ha!! This year, I think I remembered posting it last year, and didn’t realize I’d actually posted it, since I’ve all but stopped blogging, and now it’s December 13. Well, you have almost two weeks of shopping. Sorry, folks, for the lateness.

From the archives, on gift giving for kids:
Star Tribune 12/24/89 - Pat Gardner “Tender Years”

The weeks of hectic preparation are coming to a close. Within days, the magic will begin to unfold for our children and, vicariously through them, for us. Just as we remember those wonderful Christmas Eves and mornings long ago, our children will one day look back on these days. How will they remember them? What are you giving your children this year?

I know one family of modest means that makes a great effort to celebrate Christmas in the best way possible. Their children always find five gifts under the tree. And more than that, the gifts are always accompanied by a parent. Here’s how they do it.

The children always receive a gift to hug and love. Sometimes it’s a doll or maybe a stuffed animal. Every Christmas each child has something to care for, to carry along and finally at night to share a bed, secrets and dreams.

The wise parents know that the children will themselves learn to care for others by practicing on dolls and stuffed animals. Mom and Dad demonstrate rocking the stuffed bear and wiping the doll’s face. They talk about being gentle and giving care.

More important, they treat their children tenderly. They make a special effort at this busy time of year for a little more lap time, more frequent hugs and all the physical care and attention their young children need.

The children in this family always receive something to read. The parents know that to give them books is to give them wings. The little ones get books, and the big ones get books. Books aren’t foreign to any member of this family. Books are treasures. And more than that, they become a daily connection between parent and child.

The wise parents know that the best way to raise a reader is to read to a child….They share curiosity. They take the time to listen patiently to their beginning reader. They share discoveries. Through books, these parents explore worlds within their home and beyond their front door with all of their children.

The children receive toys and games. These parents are concerned about each child’s skills and find fun ways to enhance their present capabilities and encourage further development. For a grasping baby, a crib gym; for a beginning walker, a push toy; for a pre-schooler, a shape and color sorter; for a beginning reader, a game of sequence and strategy.

The parents know that play is the work of childhood. They understand that to meet a child at her level of accomplishment is to encourage success in play. Success stimulates motivation and interest in a challenge. So the parents judge their toy and game choices carefully. Not too easy, but not too hard.

They they do the most important thing. They play with their children. The children see that learning is a toy, that it’s fun to challenge oneself, that play can be a very social activity, that it’s OK to win and also to lose and that Mom and Dad wholeheartedly approve of play.

The children in this family always receive a gift of activity. From a simple ball or jump rope to a basketball hoop or a pair of ice skates, they always have one gift that encourages action.

The parents know that those children who, by nature, are very active may need to be channeled into acceptable and appropriate activities. And they know that those children who, by nature, are very passive may need to be encouraged to move with purpose. But their message to their children is that physical activity is important and good.

These parents make their message clear by joining their children in physical play. They skate and play catch. They’re on the floor with their crawlers and walk hand in hand with their toddlers. They get bumped and bruised and laugh and shout. They sled and they bowl. And many times in the next few weeks when resting on the couch sounds much more inviting, these parents will give their kids one more gift. They’ll get up and play with them.

The children always receive a gift of artistic expression. They might find crayons, paints or markers in their stockings. It might be a gift of clay this year or rubber stamps or scissors and glue. The materials change, but the object remains the same: create with joy.

These wise parents aren’t terribly concerned about the mess of finger paints. They’re more concerned about the exposure to unique sensations. They want their children to use their imaginations. They want their children to approach life in a hands-on fashion. And they want them to express themselves through their artistic activities in ways that exceed their vocabularies.

It’s That Time Again: How to Layer Like a Minnesotan

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Actually, it’s supposed to warm up to the 40s! today. But still, I could see people doing the Minnesota hunch this week with the below 20 temps. So I reprint my advice.

***

Preparing to Go Outside: The Order of Operations

First, determine the outside temperature. This system of layering will be too warm for above 20F, but below that should stand you in good stead.

Next, remember what your mother said: use the toilet.

If you wear eyeglasses, consider contacts, as they don’t steam up. I’m heading steadily into bifocal territory, though, so I rarely wear my contacts anymore. Steamed lenses are better than loss of close vision.

Apply moisturizer to face, neck and lips. Heck, everywhere. During the winter, I forego sunscreen to maximize what little vitamin D I can get from the sun.

In order, don:

1. Underwear (underpants, and bra if you wear one)
2. Undershirt (thermal or silk, longer length is best)
3. Long johns (thermal or silk). Pull waistband over bottom of undershirt. This will keep your lower back (or overbutt, as my 7yo calls it) from unwanted exposure.
4. Socks, long and thick. Pull tops over bottoms of long johns.
5. Shirt(s)
6. Pants, over bottom of shirt. Do NOT tuck overshirt into long johns.
7. Sweater
8. Snowpants
9. Boots, hat and scarf
10. Gloves/mittens. Gloves inside mittens is the warmest, but diminishes dexterity.
11. Coat. The lower the temp, the puffier and longer it should be, covering at least your butt and the top of your thighs.

This order of operations has you always pulling something over a previous layer, rather than tucking in a subsequent layer, which makes for a smoother line and means you don’t have to double back, for example if you accidentally put boots on before snow pants. Also check out Sal’s post at Already Pretty on Layering Without Lumps.

Stay warm. And remember, it’s only six months till spring.

“The Testament of Mary” by Colm Toibin

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

Super short, super cranky but impressive, daring, and with beautiful, evocative prose, I wanted to like it more than I did, though, and had some lingering troubles. In The Testament of Mary, Toibin takes an intriguing idea and gives voice to Mary the mother of Jesus, so often portrayed as demure and all loving. Toibin dares to make Mary bitter and mean. She says the death of her son was not worth whatever it is that the men who pester her say it is.

They appear more often now, both of them, and on every visit they seem more impatient with me and with the world. There is something hungry and rough in them, a brutality boiling in their blood, which I have seen before and can smell as an animal that is being hunted can smell. But I am not being hunted now. Not anymore. I am being cared for, and questioned softly, and watched. They think that I do not know the elaborate nature of their desires. But nothing escapes me now except sleep.

Toibin dares a lot: he portrays Jesus as kind of a show-off-y jerk who wouldn’t listen to others, and shows Mary running from the cross for fear of her life.

A review I read at The American took especial issue with that last:

What troubles me about his Mary is that she is a coward. After her son is nailed to the cross—a scene described in agonizing detail—Mary runs away. She runs away because she cannot help him, because she is afraid and (here is the hardest part to swallow) because she wants to save her own skin.

Toíbín sins here against Scripture and tradition, yes, but also against the more universal code of Motherlove—that irresistible compulsion that drives a mother to protect her child at any cost. Motherlove is the deep knowledge that you would stand between a killer and your child and take a bullet in the face, that you would dive in front of a runaway train to shove your child off the track, that you would part with your own heart if your child needed it and that you would do this gladly. The inventions of tradition and bad art have provided us with too many impossible Marys who bear no relation to us. Do we need another? Toíbín denies Mary what makes her most human, sinning at last against the law of verisimilitude, and giving us one more Mary we cannot believe in.

I take issue with the review author’s “we.” I admire Toibin’s choice, I can absolutely buy a mother running away, since she knows her son is dead or dying. She does regret it later.

The ways in which Toibin didn’t carry me all the way were few, but significant. I kept wondering things like where is James, brother of Jesus, or why, if the gospels weren’t written until many years after his death, they’re being shown here as current with his death. Additionally, while I appreciated the complex humanity he granted Mary, a few times I felt her more as a puppet for Toibin’s anger at the church, rather than as a person of her own.

Mary Gordon at The New York Times noted this, about anachronisms, but I felt the same way about the doubts I had as reading, though I think mine nagged a little more:

This is a place where our associations — sandals and piles of coins versus shoes and bills — create doubts that hang in the air, like an annoying buzz. Or like a tiny pimple on an otherwise beautiful face.

In closing, these are a few images of Mary that have spoken to me over the years, ones that show her as decidedly human.

I love The Annunciation by Simone Martini, because she looks unhappy at the news of the Annunciation:

simone_martini

I love Paolo Veronese’s Holy Family because it shows Mary buttoning up, a motion familiar to those of us who’ve nurses babies, Jesus in a milk coma and clutching his penis. So normal!

veroneseholyfamily

I love Madonna and Child by Defendente Ferrari because it shows Jesus nursing, and Mary holding a cloth diaper. This one shows real, messy bodily truths:

dferrari1

And finally, Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin, which pissed people off because it showed her bloated, old, and with BARE FEET. Also, he used a prostitute, i.e., a real, sexually active woman, as a model.

caravaggio_death_of_the_virgin

“Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo had long been on my radar. When a friend told me she was going to be in town for a free talk, it seemed like the perfect time to get around to it. That, and the library queue for it was no longer batsh1t-crazy long.

It’s a non-fiction account by a journalist about a slum in Mumbai, India. It is loosely centered around a death and series of trials, but includes a huge cast of people and tells a much broader story of poverty, corruption, and what people do to get by.

Boo made an interesting choice to narrate in the omniscient third person, but the summary at the end of the exhaustiveness of her research back this up. She didn’t put herself in the story because it wasn’t her story. And I didn’t miss her a bit, because hyper-focused Abdul, runty Samil, power-hungry Asha, and every single one of the others were so complex and interesting. Please forgive my reductive descriptors of these people–read Boo’s book to get the fuller picture.

At her talk, an audience member asked if her book made people’s lives more difficult because she named names and detailed acts of corruption. She responded that one of her goals had been transparency–all her participants had not only given permission, but sometimes insisted on using their full names and details of their lives, to better show the complicated, ethically slippery environment so different from ours in the pampered west.

I very much appreciated Boo’s afterward, in which she specifically calls out her situation of white privilege, and how and why she wrote the book. This was a eye-opening, world-expanding, thought-provoking book. One that, like the best books, leaves me with the question: NOW, what do I do now that I know what I know?

Comments

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

So, I have been slammed with spam and do not feel like wading through 423 comments right now, and have changed one setting, which means you have to sign in to comment. Sorry for the inconvenience, but 423 50-line spams has outdone me. If this works, great, if not, I may have to shut down comments.

Pondering

Saturday, October 12th, 2013

Just waded through 223 entries of spam, all of which were huge and this took forever, and I didn’t find one actual comment from an actual person.

So this has me thinking. Heads up, dear readers. I think change is on its way…