Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Growing like a whale

Well, Mister Splashy Pants isn't weighed in tons yet, but she has grown considerably since this photo was taken. She's just as cute but can jump much higher now.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

MBiL: Indie Boys are Erotic: I Know I'm the Lucky One

I've previously mentioned how I don't want this blog or this luck resolution to turn into a tacky recounting of how fortunate I am. I've also previously mentioned that my sibs-in-law are one of the truly luckiest encounters of my life (seriously, I could explain The Mister, the Mister's parents and my parents based on genetics or sound decision making. That my brother [MB, long story] and My Brother in Law [MBiL] could turn out to be adult friends and marry people I would want as friends [MSiLs are way cool*] is just lucky. And I think they would all like each other as well; among my favorite wedding photos it that of MSiL [Mister's side] talking to my niece [my side] in German in preparation for her big flower girl moment**).

So, disclaimers having been made, I declare: I am so lucky! MBiL made me a compilation CD of literal luck songs including tunes from as diverse of artists as The Moldy Peaches ("Indie boys are erotic/ makes my eyes bleed/ tight pants are exotic/ some loving is what I need"), Freedy Johnston ("I know I'm the lucky one."), Chuck Berry and Warren Zevon. Of course, the CD was tucked in a box of funky Japanese stuff (MBiL recently spent a month working in Japan) and the Mister assumed it was a CD of Japanese music for his birthday and just tonight mentioned that we should listen to this lucky CD that I didn't know existed. It's fabulous. More on lucky music later, but for now, thanks to MBiL. You and deine Frau are a great lucky "But wait, there's more" bonus of life with the Mister. Someday we'll even talk to you regularly.

*Nerdy ecologist aside: one of my students recently answered on a test that a characteristic of the Boreal Forest Biome is that it is "very cool"; ever since I have wanted to use the phrase "cool like the boreal forest".

**This is not the photo I was referring to, but it would have been taken at the same time. I'll claim that because MSiL is also a professor, I don't want to "out" her on the internet as a relation of mine, but it's really because I can't quickly find the correct photo.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Lucky Professor's House

As mentioned in the previous post, sometimes you need a certain book, but frequently you don't know what book you need. Maybe it's just my heightened awareness, but this year I have felt particularly lucky about reading the right books at the right time.
Last weekend that meant walking into our book room and noticing Willa Cather's The Professor's House for the first time. It was lucky timing, because I was feeling gloomy about grading my first big batch of tests (I have 15 students who answered that there are 10 or fewer cells in a tiger!) and I encountered Professor St. Peter, who would "willingly have cut down his university work, would willingly have given his students chaff and sawdust-- many instructors had nothing else to give them and got on very well-- but his misfortune was that he loved youth-- he was weak to it, it kindled him. If there was one eager eye, one doubting, critical mind, one lively curiousity in a whole lecture room full of commonplace boys and girls, he was its servant."

Professor St. Peter was a necessary reminder that students have always been lackluster and university life has always been full of silly politics, but that's not why he was teaching in 1920 and not why I'm doing it now.

As for the book as a whole, I loved it. I don't know why. Plot-wise I can't decide if I think there's too much going on or not enough going on. I found Death Comes for the Archbishop altogether a much better book. Still, Willa Cather charmed me with her fantastic descriptions of the midwest and the southwest and college life, and I plan to read more of her.
Photo of the side door to this professor's house, taken in early July to be a contrast to the June flood photos.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Reading Therapy

Anna Quindlen's One True Thing includes a fantastic scene in which a counselor prescribes Wuthering Heights to a teenage client*. The scene had very little to do with the rest of the book, which I have mostly forgotten, but I have always loved it because it suggests that someone else takes the therapeutic powers of reading seriously.

I thought of this recently when a dear friend in the midst of a necessary but ugly break-up called from Borders needing book suggestions. I was momentarily stumped, so suggested Cloud Atlas as interesting and demanding full attention, but wasn't satisfied because it doesn't have all of the escapist qualities I think a book to be read during a "no-win in the short term" life situation demands. I later suggested Birth of Venus, East, Inkheart and The Blue Sword. I wanted to suggest Twentieth Wife, and Trickster's Choice but could not in any way remember the titles.

As a result of this discussion, I have started to make a list of books to recommend for various situations. I'd love to hear your suggestions. What do you read for different life troubles?

For ordinary work ills, colds, or days when things are not getting done as they should be, I'm all for trashy romance in the bathtub (alas, here I have neither bathtub nor source of trashy romance). The goofier the better: The Last Viking about mousy prof. falling for Viking who washed up next to her house is way better than attractive modern woman falling for attractive modern man stories.

For physical problems and general blues, I'm for the comfort of books I know well. I read The Blue Sword last week when I couldn't stand straight with back pain, and have read or skimmed Anne books, Charlotte's Web, Harry Potter, The Phantom Tollbooth, Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings at down times in the past year and pretty much every year.

In airports I prefer fast-paced novels of the places I'm visiting, but if I can't find that, then a far-fetched book like The Eight or The Time Traveller's Wife is my choice. Of course, an airport book must not be something I've read before, so neither or those will do again for me.

For real issues like a romantic break-up, the book cannot be too romantic, too short, too long, or something I've read before. I have no idea why I had it on hand unread at the time, but the first time I read The Blue Sword was when I was dumped long distance in 1994. Aside from being too short (I supplemented it with Maniac McGee), it was perfect for the situation. I note that I have no such books on hand now, so the Mister can't dump me anytime soon.

Let me know your choices.

*This use of Wuthering Heights fit perfectly with my freshman English teacher's warning that to find Wuthering Heights romantic, one must read it when one is a sixteen year old female. Having tried to read it at 10 and then at 23, I think I agree with him, and probably would have liked it at sixteen.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Literary Tourism in Atlantic Canada

On our recent trip, I looked around Summerside, Prince Edward Island, and wondered how much it had changed since Anne Shirley was the high school principal. The fact that Anne, being fictional, had never actually taught in Summerside bothered me very little. I still wanted to see Windy Poplars and figure out which one of the islands in the distance was Flying Cloud.

Visiting Prince Edward Island was my first real foray into literary tourism and I realized I didn't know how to go about doing it. I gushed at the red soils and birches and spruces and white sands because Anne's enthusiasm alerted me to look, but then what? Would I feel any closer to my favorite character if I went on "Lake of Shining Water Paddle Boats"? Did I really want a young woman dressed as Diana Barry to invite me for tea with red currant wine? Should I eat at the grand old Dalvay by the Sea hotel because Anne once elocuted there? Green Gables Golf?

In the end, I read the first three Anne of Green Gables novels right before we left (and had read most of the rest of the series in January), visited Green Gables, part of Prince Edward Island National Park (where we walked through Lover's Lane and the Haunted Wood, saw the house, watched a puppet show* and drank raspberry cordial), drove by Dalvay Hotel, and otherwise just thought about Anne. While at Green Gables, I was shocked by how well the place matched my vision of it. Parks Canada should be commended for this, but most of the credit is due to Lucy Maude Montgomery who described the world of Prince Edward Island with such accurate detail that it fits 100 years later and historians could easily replicate the scene. If planning a visit to Prince Edward Island, it is really worth reading the books

I've never read a book so exactly at the right moment as I did with No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLleod. I was on the ferry from Prince Edward Island to Pictou, Nova Scotia as I was reading about the landing of the the MacDonalds in Pictou in 1779. That evening, on the west coast of Cape Breton, after watching a "family ceilidh" run mostly by MacDonalds, I was sure the island lighthouse discussed in the book was the one right out my motel window. The fictional action had taken place 50 years prior to my being there, but I felt right in the middle of it. I think I would rank No Great Mischief as a great book even if I was not right there then, if I hadn't visited Toronto and Sudbury last summer, if I hadn't lived in Glen Coe and if I didn't have an inkling of Scottish history. However, I'm postmodern enough to believe that what I brought to the reading experience makes a difference. I brought a lot of scattered knowledge and left with far more. Highly recommended for anyone travelling to Cape Breton or Scotland, and overall recommended for anyone willing to see the history of a people through the saga of one family.

Fog Magic, a 1942 Newberry Honor Book by Julia L. Sauer, prepared me for the mists of the Nova Scotia coast. The Mister was surprised to find southern Nova Scotia enveloped in fog in the summer. Based on my reading of one short children's novel, I knew that it was more common in summer than winter on the Digby Neck. The book is sweet but refreshingly not simple. Issues are never resolved, the fishermen barely eek out a living, the threat of war hovers, and yet childhood is still full of wonder. A fine read.

What prompted the idea of literary tourism (apart from going to PEI, where it is hard to avoid Anne stuff), was a book given to me for my birthday, Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks form Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West by Schmid and Rendon. Unfortunately, the beautiful book is too fragmented to sit down and read and too dispersed over the world to be of much help in travel planning. Still, it is worth flipping through to see if a planned vacation takes you near a favorite author's summer residence or what about Prague has changed since Kafka's time.

*the Mister and I try to fit at least one puppet show into all of our travels. We managed two on this trip. The Green Gables puppet show was awful, but amusing, and the Fort Louisbourg show included a singing cod fish, which makes it hard to beat.