Thursday, July 30, 2009

Wanting Endurance

I'm hanging out at the hospital waiting for the baby to emerge, longing for a different book than what I have. My historical romance (Anna Seyton's Katherine) seems good, but I'm not yet fully into it, my knitting is tough with the IV line and blood pressure cuff, and television, even though it is fascinating because I don't have it at home, is not fascinating. As someone who has not had television reception at all for three years, I find I no longer have any tolerance for commercials.
In any case, we've been here for 27 hours and I am just now starting to have contractions that hurt. Hopefully that means that I'm going into "real" labor and that a baby will emerge sooner (rather than later) and I won't be checking my computer again, but it might mean the process is just going to be super-drawn out in which case you should comment or e-mail me and keep me amused.
Hope all is well with all of you-- and I am still open for suggestions of breastfeeding books.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Books of Adventure

I'm a little sad that I read Endurance, Alfred Lansing's 1959 retelling of Shackleton's 1915 voyage, yesterday rather than waiting until The Induction because it might be the perfect long-labor book*. After all, if those men could row as long as they did stuck in one position with frost-bitten hands and soaked boots, then surely I can't complain about being strapped to a monitor as I wait for the baby to emerge.
I'm not what sure what makes Endurance so compelling. I knew from the beginning how it would end. The writing is fairly journalistic. Lansing tries to distinguish individuals, but few of the expedition members really becomes characters. Most of what happens is waiting. There is very little pessimism and dissension. Lansing clearly found the lack of conflict noteworthy, yet everybody getting along generally makes for poor reading. Still, somehow, the book is compelling. Halfway through each section I would re-check the map at the front just to make sure they were actually going to make it through the section. (I know, I know, if everybody survives to the end then they must survive each section, but I became worried several times). Lansing wisely lets the adventure speak for itself. He doesn't explain what happened to these guys after they returned home. He doesn't dwell on how absolutely miraculous these events are. I think even if I were not pregnant I would have come to the abrupt end, taken a deep breath, and sobbed. They made it.

I also read Digital Fortress by Dan Brown in the last week. The book was brought to my attention because The Mister was taken aback by the heroine's "full, firm breasts" being described in the opening chapters and openly wondered about the rookie writing quality. Unlike The Mister, I don't read many action/adventure novels, but I do read trashy romance, so I was very curious what was wrong with full firm boobs. I'll admit the book was a fun read and Brown did have me wondering who the bad guys really were (although it turns out that nearly everyone except our full-breasted genius heroine and her squash-playing linguist fiancee are bad guys, so I didn't need to lament the passing of those who were killed in the action). The redeeming qualities, however, didn't make it good. If a movie is made someday, I'd happily see it without any worries that they might ruin the book.

While I am discussing books, I should mention Amy Stewart's Wicked Plants which is a beautiful little book of poisonous, intoxicating, illegal and otherwise "bad" plants. I've read half of it and am thus far impressed with the short (less than five page) essays on the individual plants. They're scientifically accurate, interesting, and attractively illustrated with sketches and etchings. I still haven't figured out who this book is intended for. While the entries are alphabetical, entries are by common name, every third entry is a composite essay ("ordeal poisons" or "deadly houseplants") and there is no index, making the book impossible to use as a reference, and I have a hard time imagining there is a great audience of readers clamouring for 73 2-4 page essays to read straight through. Of course, several of you might be in that audience, but you know who you are.

*or not, I really have no idea what the appropriate book would be. I am looking for breast feeding books (having just read of a woman who read all of Anna Karenina during the first few days home with her newborn). They need to be something that I can turn with one hand and something that moves along at a pretty good clip. Suggestions?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Last Week of Freedom

Barring the possibility that the baby decides to emerge sooner, or the OB who will be on-call disagrees with the OB who I have been seeing (who will be on vacation), Mervivan Alloicious will start emerging next Wednesday (July 29).
So, what would you do if you knew you had one week left?
Or, more precisely, what would you do if you had one week left before a small human takes over your life, and you (or your partner) could not sit for more than an hour at a time, drink alcohol, bend at the waist, walk up steep hills, ride roller coasters, or spend very much money, and you lived in a small town in Central West Virginia.
I'd bet you'd come up with something more exciting than filing papers. Maybe I will, too. But somehow I doubt it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Baffling Books and Their Movies

Having had a conversation with Imitation Ice Queen about the foundations of sci-fi (and having just read Space Viking) I found and read The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Despite being a well-known classic, I started reading and realized I knew nothing about the 1895 novella, except, obviously, that it included time travel. I was somewhat startled to find that the book was not an adventure novel at all, nor did it include jumping around in time (or any visits to the past). While the time traveller does encounter excitement in the distant future, most of the book is really his musings about how the future situation could have come about and what the real implications of evolution, cultural and biological, might be. It's short, thoughtful and does not feel particularly outdated. As I read it, The Time Machine would make a horrible movie. Being true to the tone (musings on social stratification) would make for a real yawner, while being true to the plot would just turn out cheesy in its simplicity. While I have not seen any cinematic or television adaptation, I was not surprised to learn from the Mister that he does not hold the most recent movie in high regard.

On what I thought was a classic sci-fi roll, I immediately picked up The Investigation by Stanislaw Lem. Labeled as a, "tantalizing blend of detective story and science fiction that culminates in a mind-jolting climax" I found the 1974 English translation about as baffling as I would have found the original 1959 Polish. I thought I was fully comprehending what seemed to be a rather silly Scotland Yard detective story, with statisticians and philosophers interjecting a few metaphysical meanderings when I reached the end and I didn't know what had happened. Certainly, I didn't quite "get" the end, but that wouldn't have surprised me. I was shocked to find that I didn't know what I was supposed to think had happened up to that point. I really didn't think I was literally missing any large chunks of text: the book is short and I did not read it while falling asleep, but I was certainly missing something. I re-read the ending and realized that I would need to re-read the whole thing to determine if I had, in fact, missed something, or if the ambiguity of the end rendering the whole thing incomprehensible was what was intended to turn the detective story into sci-fi. I so want someone else to read The Investigation (SalSis?, Raych?*) so that they can tell me if I should read it again, but for now, I am just genuinely baffled.
Having my expectations of sci-fi soundly shattered recently, I turned to a genre I knew I could count on and cried my way** through Fathers and Other Strangers, a Silhouette Intimate Moments Book by Karen Templeton. Neither better, nor worse than others of the same type, I could count on a happy ending and don't think I'll spoil it for anyone to suggest that the sex was great, the life changes dealt with, and a wedding will take place soon.

This morning I finished Robin McKinley's newest, Chalice. I'll admit that McKinley has pacing problems with magical climaxes that are either way too short or way too drawn out, and Chalice suffers from the pacing perspective. I am, however, a great fan, and love the combination of strong heroines, magic and connection to the land woven into McKinley's fairy tale books. Many of my friends will like it and that bees and honey play a pivotal role will further amuse several.

On making movies from books: The Mister and I just watched Adaptation and while the movie is absurd, I think it is really the best one could do from the Orchid Thief text. A decent Time Machine movie might have to divert similarly far from the book. I'm anxiously going to see Harry Potter tomorrow. I think Half Blood Prince is my favorite of the books, so I'm sure to be disappointed, but how could I not? Which brings us to The Time Traveller's Wife. While the baby's arrival will likely make any internal conflict about whether to see the movie made of one of my favorite books irrelevant, I am curious-- how many of you see movies you know can't be anything but disappointing when based on books you love?

*While I was looking for images and links for this post, raych posted a scathing review of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which she read because I wanted to read her thoughts, so I am being very clear that I don't think she'll particularly like The Investigation, I just want some less-baffled opinions. SalSis might really like it, although I doubt it conforms to her idea of what "sci-fi" is or should be.
**It has always been easy to get me to cry, but lately even the lamest of romances will do, as will most anything that has to do with the space program.

Sunday, July 5, 2009


Now that most everyone I encounter has already learned that we really don't know the sex of our baby* and that he/she is officially due Aug. 5, the most common question I've been receiving is, "Are you ready?"
I have absolutely no idea how to answer this question. I mean except for "Are you crazy? Is anyone ever ready for the end of life as they know it?"** I have no idea how to answer.
Partially it depends on what is really being asked.
Do we have gas in the car and our bags packed? No to both at the moment.
Have I registered with the hospital and do we have an alternate route in case of flood? Yes and sortof.
Am I tired of being pregnant? Yes, mostly.
Am I tired of being pregnant so much that I would rather have an external child right now? No.
Is the nursery painted? Yes, it is a bright yellow and the gorgeous hardwood floors have been revealed (image goes here).
Does the baby have "everything" it needs? No. A bed should arrive this week, I am going to "try on" rocking chairs next weekend. A neighbor brought over a high chair today and I somehow expect that the universe (likely in the guise of my thrift store hunting colleague) will provide a swing in the next month or two. But then I still haven't sat down to count out things like diapers and breast pads and things that will be needed right away.
Does the baby have incredible quantities of stuff? Yes.
Have I been toughening up my nipples, massaging my perineum and doing my Kegel's? Nobody is really asking that.
Is the baby ripe? Statistically, no, and he/she is still head up, so is not ready to come out.
Have we decided on a name? No, although I like Alloicious and Mervivian more all the time. Garbonzetta is still looking good.

However, if, by asking, "Are you ready?" friends are really asking, "Do you have a solid collection of children's books organized on hand in case the baby comes out ready to read novels?" well, to that the answer is an unequivocal YES

(photos of bookshelves go here)

*Not that I would put it past me to lie just so that the baby would receive lovely yellow and medium blue clothes instead of barbie pink or baby blue, but I'm not in this case.

**A dear cousin of mine gave birth in April and honestly thought that sleeping poorly in her third trimester would be preparation for sleepless nights with a newborn!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Non-baby non-fiction notes

An assortment read over the course of several months:

The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn is a personal discovery autobiography about an American woman who attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris just because she wanted to have done it. My mother sent the book to me during finals and it was just the kind of inspiring foodie easy reading escapism I needed during my crazy week and flood, although it may have made the situation worse because my few pages to calm down before going to bed somehow extended well into my sleeping and grading time. I finished it in a day or two when lots else should have been going on. It's not the best book of the type by any means, and I'm not sure how common Cordon Bleu dreams are among my friends, but it The Sharper the Knife is highly recommended for any of you who may have also had them.

I've owned The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean for years and in my recollection I twice tried to read and twice gave up. However, when I started to read it this time, I could have sworn the whole first section, which is the most fascinating of the book, was new to me. However far I may have read (or not read) previously, I was proud to read the whole thing this time because this is a book that I always felt guilty for not liking: it's a book that takes plant fanatics seriously; it includes great background research into swamps, the Orchidaceae, Native American plant uses, and Victorian flower hunters; and is generally well written. How could I not love, much less not finish, such a book? I didn't love it, but I did like and I am glad I read it. I imagine that many other readers take away the same reassuring message that I did, "I may be crazy and passionate about my plants, but there are people out there that make me look outright normal."

My mother also sent me The House Always Wins by Marni Jameson.. Since this is a book about home decorating starting from scratch (whole chapters devoted to determining your personal style before moving in, choosing flooring and the right scale of furniture) and I have had no intentions of decorating beyond fresh paint in the baby's room, I was somewhat baffled. I was glad to find out that Jameson is a columnist for the Denver paper and my mother likes her writing, which makes it slightly possible that Mom was not making any big hints about my style (or lack thereof) in sending me the book. Strangely, I read the whole thing. I think I would like Jameson better as a columnist than a book author, but the book is definitely readable, although I would confine my recommendations for it to those of you who might actually have major decorating projects on the scene.

I asked for Gary Paul Nabhan's Where Our Food Comes From for Christmas and the Mister happily obliged. The information is great, the story of Nikolay Vavilov's seed collecting travels fascinating and the point (that saving crops in situ is critical for the food security of the world) is one of my favorites. Despite my overwhelming interest in the subject, I reached the point I felt like I was slogging through the book far more than I'd like to, as I have with other Nabhan works. Sunflower Spinner and anyone else who teaches food ecology needs to read Where Our Food Comes From. I strongly believe that everyone needs to consider wild and domesticated biodiversity, but I am not sure that this book is the way to catch people's interest. I'd be curious what a literary non-scientist such as MBiL would think.

I was having a hard time agreeing with the book jacket that Nabhan was a "master storyteller" or with Amateur Reader that E.O. Wilson was a particularly good writer, until I started reading Headless Males Make Great Lovers by Marty Crump. Crump's snippets about (seemingly) weird behaviors in the invertebrate world are full of extraordinary tidbits that biology professors and David Attenborough watchers such as myself delight in. So my complete lack of interest in picking the book back up after I accidentally stopped halfway through has nothing to do with my interest in the subject. Somehow the writing (specifically the organization and transitions) makes it not really worth the effort and makes Nabhan and Wilson look great in comparison. Still, Beth should read Headless Males if she hasn't already.