Saturday, March 26, 2011

My lilacs smell good

I'm so glad they are old-fashioned, smell-like-my-grandmas'-houses lilacs*. They just fully opened yesterday.
What's blooming at your place?
I'm off to Kansas for the weekend.

*By reputation. I don't think I ever visited my grandmothers at lilac time.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The World Needs a Spring Break

Since I have been a professor, spring break has always frustrated me. I expect to simultaneously relax, have lots of active fun, catch up with grading and lesson plans and catch up with household tasks. I never ever accomplish this in a week, and I return to class with a dirty house, a large pile of grading and without having baked fabulous star-shaped cookies.
Still, I spent enough time working non-academic jobs to know just how wonderful spring break is. It's fabulous. Reading the news right now it feels as if everybody could use a week detached from ordinary cares.
Happy Spring Break to those of you lucky enough to have one.
Make some sort of break for yourself for those of you who don't.
(Image from the groundhog party, but I think it captures the essence of what I think spring break should feel like, even if it never does.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spaetzle Piggy

Way back in the year of the noodle (about 6 weeks ago) I did manage to make homemade noodles once. At one fine dinner we ate chicken paprikash, red cabbage and apples, parsnips and carrots, and buttery homemade spรคtzle. The little German noodles were surprisingly easy, crazy messy, and devoured quickly by Dianthus. They were such a hit that I was sure I'd make them again soon.
I haven't.

Perhaps someday.

What does it mean to be a Haitian novel?

Every time I describe Breath, Eyes, Memory, I describe it as a contemporary Haitian novel or as a novel by a Haitian American. One side of me recoils at such a description; a novel should be read as a novel regardless of the nationality or ethnicity of the author. On the other hand, there is something different about this book than the many similar Oprah Books dealing with dysfunctional relationships among women. Some of that difference is that B, E, M is better written than many. Much of that difference is that B, E, M is Haitian. I know SalSis would have never chosen B, E, M had it not been Haitian. Prairie Quilter, Beth and I would not have responded as well as we did, all remarking it was good to read something outside of our norm, had B, E, M not been Haitian and somewhat exotic.
The idea of multiple standards and appropriateness of labels is a much greater subject than I have the background or will to take-on here. Since at least my American Ethnic Lit class in college, I've been aware that it is both "unfair" to judge works from other traditions without any idea of the standards of that tradition and "unfair" to read uncritically because the works are different. Neither, "Breath, Eyes, Memory is good for a Haitian novel" or "Breath, Eyes, Memory is good because it is a Haitian novel," sits right with me. Yet. Yet . . .
Yet I still book as being Haitian every time I describe it. What, exactly, do I mean by that? I can explain, to some extent, what I mean by a "Victorian romance" or "science fiction romp". But Haitian? I haven't read any other Haitian novels. I don't know what it means.
Edwidge Danticat (the author) furthers my confusion by adding a "What the . . . ?" afterward to the paperback edition (book originally published in 1994, afterward added in 1999) in which she basically writes "THIS BOOK DOES NOT REPRESENT ALL THE WOMEN OF HAITI" which makes one wonder just how many readers thought it did.
I wanted to write back to Danticat, "Of course not every family is like the one you describe. How absurd that you need to tell us this," but then I think about how many other images I have of modern women in Haiti, and, well, I am left with some general impressions from my friend SalSis and from Mountains Beyond Mountains, but the only Haitians I can envision with names and stories are the women in Breath, Eyes, Memory.
Which brings up the very interesting idea of characters as representations of whole peoples. What obligations to writers and readers have to make sure that fictional characters don't become unwitting ambassadors?
Anybody else envision whole times and places based on a book or two?
Thoughts welcome.
[Raych at books i done read started an interesting discussion on reading more widely. Readers looking to expand the breadth of their reading will find a great bunch of recommendations in the comments.]

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lark Warning

Lark Rise is well-written and perhaps charming in spots (Marieke and I are discussing that right now), but there is no plot, and possibly no story.
While I'd love to have more people in on the discussion, most of us like something to happen in a book labeled as a novel, and now that I'm far enough into it to know that there is no action, I can't very well recommend joining us (except perhaps for Amateur Reader, who has claimed a few times that he doesn't care much about plot).
As Marieke writes, "I expected there to be a story. With characters, events, and dialogue. With a flow to it. I'm not finding that at all."
You're still most welcome to participate in the discussion, but you have been warned.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

March STIR Promo: Lark Rise

For March, Marieke, my on-line friend in Western Scotland, and I are reading Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson.

In the words of Marieke, "I picked Lark Rise because I saw some episodes of the BBC dramatization and really liked them, because I have it on my bookshelf already, and because it's British and probably somewhat quaint and old-timey, small-villagey and I thought you might like it! Looking forward to it."

Lark Rise to Candleford is actually a combination of three books: Lark Rise (1939), Over to Candleford (1941) and Candleford Green (1943) written about hamlet, town and village life in the 1880s and 1890s. The combination totals about 500 pages, but one could easily read just one of short books and join the conversation*. I've started Lark Rise and have thus far found it to be everything that Marieke expected. It is not, however, updated Jane Austen or Jane Eyre (which I perhaps was expecting just because Marieke first mentioned Lark Rise in conjunction with I Capture the Castle, which is a retelling of Jane Austen and Jane Eyre), it is not Thomas Hardy or Anthony Trollope illuminating the drama in Victorian village life, or even a Laura Ingalls Wilder moved to England (a later expectation after I realized that the books were a fictionalized memoir of growing up in a place long gone by the time of publication).

Let me know if you join us in the reading.

*Marieke and I have yet to figure out the logistics of the conversation, but we will.