31 January 2007

Is this stupid stuff?

I'm not sure why I looked at my stats today and did some quick calculations. It isn't something that I do routinely, although after my post about keyword searches the other day, I did check. For some reason, I seem to be motivated today to do an end-of-month assessment.

Others have written recently regarding their reading, writing or blogging goals (see Kate, or Danielle, or Emily, or Mandarine for instance) and that has had me thinking. Before I read Kate's post a few days ago swearing off of a goal she set for herself, I had thought that perhaps I should have set such goals for myself. I'm not very good at that. Heck, I still have on my daily work to-do list, where it has been since 1st week of January, to write departmental and staff development goals. Those haven't been done either.

I considered setting some very specific goals -- how often I would post, how many books I would read, at which levels I wanted to see my blog traffic by the end of the year. But, I tend to resist such goals. In my work life, I have to live by them (well, mostly; if crucial I'd have completed those dept goals by now....) But, if I do so in my personal life and apply it to something that I consider recreational, like reading and blogging, it seems to suck the life out of it quickly. It becomes just one more thing that has to be done. ugh!

So, how did I do in not meeting the goals I didn't set?

1) I've written several vocab words in my notebook, but I haven't looked many of them up. I decided to include words that I know in context, but that I really haven't made my own, words I might not be able to define if pressed to do so without a context. This was the only true reading/blogging goal that I had -- and it wasn't a specific measurable goal: just to record and post new words on a regular basis. Number of posts on this topic in 2007: 0. Number now planned: Probably 0. Just not sure that it would be interesting for anybody and the notebook serves it purpose for me.

2) Keep a reading diary. This lasted about 2 weeks. I found myself wanting to write more in the book margins than in a notebook. Putting the book down to jot a note was a burden. I might still keep this in some manner, but only to record things that I might blog about later.

3) Reading goals. Didn't have any. Didn't hit any targets. Right on track! Read and posted on 1 book of poetry, blogged about 1 movie, participated in Poetry Thursday 3 times and posted an additional poem. Finished one memoir/nonfiction book (There is No Me Without You, Melissa Fay Greene) which I intend to write about soon; started another memoir, Julie and Julia which I will probably post about as well. Am buried up to my eyebrows in reading Jeffry Sachs book, An End to Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Times. I'll definitely write about this one, but it is slow reading. Why? Did you notice the word 'economic' in the title? It is surprisingly readable for a book about economics and public policy, but it really makes me think, which is what slows me down. This is for a discussion group on Monday; I hope I finish it by then.

4) Reading groups. Participated in one online (A Curious Singularity), and 2 in-person groups. Even read the books for them, something that I don't always accomplish. I've been thinking that I should write a post about one of my groups; it is an interesting mix. Maybe I'll do that soon.

5) Posted 13 different entries, a slight increase that I attribute to not forcing myself to adhere to a schedule. I'm actually posting more. Received 82 comments on those posts. This really surprised me. As I've said before, it is the comments that make the community; it is the community that makes blogging worthwhile for me.

6) I've had a large number of hits on my blog this month. The hits have been steadily increasing over the last 3 - 4 months. When I looked at the stats, I thought "Only 8 more to reach 'x' for January". And then I realized that was a silly thought. It isn't quantity that should count (which is why I am not revealing the number, probably higher than some, lower than others).

7) Didn't sign on for any challenge that I would have felt guilty about not completing. By not committing to reading from my stacks, for instance, I've actually started 2 books that I've had for awhile. Reverse psychology? Maybe.

What's ahead? I'll keep on reading, and posting. See you around!

27 January 2007

Googletraps and Bellylaughs and Insults

There has been an interesting conversation occurring over at Tim's blog, Mother Tongue Annoyances, a blog that I stumbled across yesterday via 9 Rules Network. Last week, Tim posted about how he finds the practice of posting keyword queries insulting. "No way" I thought, at reading the first paragraph. But then I finished his thought-provoking post and read the comments, and shifted my perspective a bit, although I don't totally agree with him.

Tim's position is that it is disrespectful to one's readers to mock them by whatever means they used to find your blog. One should be hospitable and respectful of one's guests and that by suggesting that their keywords were unusual, perverse, or just plain stupid, the blogger is not treating one's guests properly.

I know that I've done it: suggested that some perv found my blog by looking for, say, travel sites for those into leather boots. I've made light of how the multiple queries that land on my page because I once posted about a Nick Hornby story titled "NippleJesus" and that, based on other keywords included, I doubted that they were looking for insightful commentary on the short story. I have ranted (mostly on comments on other blogs) about how many hits I get on a regular basis apparently from students looking for synopses of books and essays that they might nick for an assignment. One post of mine has received so many hits apparently looking for ideas or verbiage to lift, that I've joked with my son that I should misspell the main character's name, just like Cliff Notes did for years with Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter. [Note to all Cliff Note readers if your search just landed you here: the intentional error was so well known that it was discussed in Methods of Teaching English classes for prospective high school teachers. Even without obvious misspellings, any teacher worth her salt can tell when you've appropriated an essay idea from Cliff Notes/Spark Notes.]

I frequently get hits for a book I reviewed early last year, a book that is popular with reading groups and sold well when first published. It is a book that I thoroughly hated. When it was suggested in my book group recently, I rolled my eyes, unable to hide my disdain for the book. If I kept track of keywords over time, I bet that I had at least 200 hits for this book in 2006 (I use free stat counters so I don't have the long term data.) But, I have never mentioned the specific searches for it on my blog because I am aware that some of my readers may have liked the book. Some of them may have found my blog because of that post. To ridicule someone searching for "themes in SoAndSo's book 'YYYYY'" would run the risk of insulting them.

Do I expect all of my readers to agree with my opinions of certain books? Of course not. But, if I want to foster discussion I think that I need to be respectful of the fact that they may not agree with me. Therefore it is inappropriate to mock them. Tim is right in this regard.

Does that mean that I might not shake a finger at apparently would-be plagiarizers? Might I not enjoy a hearty laugh at keyword searches that are "googletraps" as the Hobgoblin refers to them? (See his post of 7/13/06). I might, but I think I'll be more judicious before doing so in the future. Alongside the freedom to write what you want comes the responsibility to acknowledge that there are differing viewpoints and to make those that hold those opinions feel welcomed to openly disagree.

BTW: While you can't access my StatCounter results, Site Meter's results are public. If you want to look at my keyword searches, knock yourself out. I do agree with a commenter on Tim's blog that there is no violation of privacy in sharing this information: in the world of the intranets, Big Bro can watch you if he wants. No IP is a secret -- at least not for long.

26 January 2007

No Lying

Susan Hill has a post up on her blog today about the books people most often lie about, at least according to a survey done in the UK by the Museums and Libraries Authority. Sometimes I think these surveys are pretty silly. (Hill does too, apparently.) Yet, I always find such lists curious. Why these books? What differences in the list would exist if another group did the survey, a different group was sampled?

Here is the list of the most 'lied' about books.

1. The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R Tolkien
I've read all of the Hobbit, all of the 1st book, and skimmed or read aloud the 2nd or 3rd books while helping my son with a school project in 5 grade (yes it was too ambitious for a 5th grader). Like root canal without anesthesia. The kid has read them all at least twice since. I'm thankful that I'll never have to read them again!
2. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
I've tried. Haven't made significant progress but it still sits in the current read stack where it's been since July.
3. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
4. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus – John Gray
Tried. Thought it was ridiculous. Restrained myself from throwing it across the room and told sibling that her future spouse was an idiot for making her read it She dumped him, but not on my advice.
5. 1984 – George Orwell
Yep. In Jr. High. Then in High School. Then in College. (A rather long period of fascination with dystopian literature). Then, of course, in 1984.
6. Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone – J.K Rowling
Aloud on a long family road trip to the seashore. (I wasn't driving....)
7. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
Never read any Dickens. I've thought about correcting that situation this year. Maybe I will.
8. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
I think I read it as an adolescent, but I don't remember if I finished it. I'm so familiar with the plot that I really don't know if I read it or not, I may just know it from discussions and watching various movie adaptations.
9. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
Ugh! (That's a No.) Likely not to read it, based on negative reviews from people whose opinions matter to me. The Kid's assessment: "It's silly, but I was bored sitting in the airport. It's junk food reading."
10. Diary of Anne Frank – Anne Frank
Yes. Several times. Assisted with directing the play too when I taught h.s. eons ago.
I also haven't read Joyce's Ullysses. Or Proust. Or a lot of other works.

I'm not sure why anyone would lie about reading any of these books. I think sometimes non-readers think that seeing the movie is the same thing, confusing plot with the whole of the book. What is the motivation for lying about these? Who would be impressed that you had read Gray's book or Brown's? Might someone feel guilty that they hadn't read these? Perhaps one might claim to have read them if pontificating about the relative merits of the book, but wouldn't anyone who cared and had minimally functioning crap detector discover the truth quickly?

I'm sure that there are plenty of other books that people lie about reading. I was surprised that the Bible wasn't on this list. I know very few people who have read the entire Bible -- Hebrew and Christian Testaments -- completely. I'm frequently skeptical when someone claims that they have, especially if they claim to have read the Apocrypha. Maybe I'm just cynical. I've read parts of it, am doubtful that I'll ever read all of it.

I'd also add to this list Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time. I heard or read this referred to as perhaps the most unread bestseller of all time. (Sorry can't find the source right now.) I've tried to read it. The science was far beyond my comprehension and I just wasn't that interested in it at the time. I've learned more about the theories in Hawking's book since attempting to read it years ago, but I don't know that I have the motivation to try to read it again. With some books, I think it is okay to have read a good synopsis or book review. There is one level of knowledge regarding theory that is sufficient for the lay person's needs, without reading the original source materials. This book falls into that category for me, but I would never claim to have read it.

Have you read any of the above books? Which books do you think might be likely to appear on such a list?

25 January 2007

Bending the rules with a very long title: Writing about why I like poetry by describing what Poetry can be, in 153 words or less

Writing prompt from Poetry Thursday.

Thought provoking

23 January 2007

Poem Fragment

Very much in draft form, and posted without further comment:

It has a taste, warm, bitter, like copper:

Pounding, shaking, burns a hole in a soul.
Like fast moving eddys of frothing brown
water escapes culverts, leaving an oily
Crack'd asphalt, dead ends, boarded buildings
that shroud the light from all except the weeds.

Fight or flight over hardened veiny paths,
Cool vents from the fiery blast furnace,
Smoldering spout at momentary rest.
Seething, reeling, saber-toothed inside
eating, spoiling flesh and decaying bones,
hidden and remote, under the surface.

No joy, no pain, no love, no hate. Just the
coppery jealous overlord: anger.

22 January 2007

Spending a few hours with Mary Oliver's Winter Hours

Following a long nap -- a perfect past time on a snowy cold day -- I sat down to browse through a book I picked up a few months ago, Mary Oliver's Winter Hours: Prose, Prose Poems, and Poems. Oliver writes in the forward that this collection, published in 1999, is of poems and essays that reveal herself, "to offer something that must in the future be taken into consideration by any who would claim to know me". But, Oliver warns, it is not a work that is chronological or opens up secret matters of her life and heart. Rather, she writes, it is like "parts of conversation, or a long and slowly arriving letter...natural in expression".

One of the essays in the book is about Robert Frost. Other essays deal with Poe, Hopkins, and Whitman. In a brief essay, she writes convincingly about Frost as a poet who on the surface appears to be writing about how all is right, yet subtly reveals that all is not right. His works are lyrical and perfectly formed, Oliver states, but the meaning behind the form defines an ever-present discomfort with the world. Oliver writes:
So often is seems Frost is about to float away upon a lilting cadence, or barge away in some desperate rage, and then he reins himself in; there is the wondrous restraint, the words that are rich and resonant: dark and deep. And there is also that other restraint: the impending rhyme-match and the line length that must reach, not never overreach, its companions.... Whatever the painful and unresolved interior of the poem, the poet has kept his balance, and we can too. Balance, restraint, steadiness, a controlled and reasonable tongue, and an eye that never fails to see the beauty of things whatever else it sees -- these are victories. Whatever disappointments and woe Frost felt, he rocked him way through them and made the perfect cages of his poems to hold them.

This renders "the woods are lovely, dark and deep" in a different perspective, doesn't it?

In another essay, titled The Swan and preceding a poem with the same title, Oliver writes of her rules for acceptable poems:
Every poem I write...must have a genuine body, it must have sincere energy, and it must have a spiritual purpose.... I want every poem to "rest" in intensity. I want it to be rich with "pictures of the world". I want it to carry threads from the perceptually felt world to the intellectual world. I want each poem to indicate a life lived with intelligence, patience, passion, and whimsy....

I want the poem to ask something and, at its best moments, I want the question to remain unanswered. I want it to be clear that answering the question is the reader's part in an implicit author-reader pact.

Following this brief essay is the poem The Swan. Oliver writes that it has some of these qualities, but in fact it has all of them. To quote a few lines (unfortunately, I don't know how to reproduce the indentions as published):

Said Mrs Blake of the poet:

I miss my husband's company --
he is so often
in paradise.
Of course! the path to heaven
doesn't lie down in flat miles.
It's in the imagination
with which you perceive
this world,

and the gestures
with which you honor it.

I think that Oliver is absolutely correct on this requisite interaction of the reader with the text. And it isn't limited to poetry alone. She writes: "The poem in which the reader does not feel himself or herself a participant is a lecture, listened to from an uncomfortable chair, in a stuffy room, inside a building...The point is not what the poet would make of the moment but what the reader would make of it." Oliver succeeds in meeting her standards for a poem with "The Swan". It indicates "a life lived with intelligence, patience, passion, and whimsy" and it also rests with intensity and causes the reader to think about the non-flat, non-linear miles in the arc of a life and to contemplate what are the gestures which honor that.

My experience with Oliver's poems has been limited. I'm not sure that I'd recommend this book as the starting point for someone with no exposure to Oliver, but it does provide a glimpse into Oliver as a writer without bogging down in memoir-esque trivial details, revealing too much about the writer that might persuade one to confuse the writer with the speaker in her poems. Nor does it overwhelm the reader with theory or explication that might send one fleeing rather than to the nearest volume of Oliver's poems to read more from this gifted poet. Mostly what I like about this book is that it provides insight into how a poet regards other poets' works as a reader as well as how the poet envisions readers of her own work.

21 January 2007

In which I write about a topic unfamiliar to this space....

COLTS WIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
GO COLTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I thought I would have a heart attack during the last minute of that game.

15 January 2007

Embracing Quiet

This week's writing prompt for Poetry Thursday was to take a line offered by another writer. I chose a line from Pauline's poem Living Alone, originally posted 1/7/07 at Writing Down the Words. I made a small adaptation of Pauline's line "in this place, the walls embrace quiet" to work in this poem. I've been wanting to write a poem about the evening light at Sweeney Chapel, describing the difference in the light I've noticed as the seasons change. I'm not sure that this poem does exactly that, but that was the inspiration. Links to photos of James Carpenter's amazing window of dichroic glass that inspired this poem can be found here and here.

Evensong Embrace
(Sweeney Chapel)

I always think it should be golden
Like the sun, bedazzling bright.
So much for religious imagery.

I don't expect to find clarity
in the gloaming's shadows of window
pane light in the rainy, dying dusk

and sober brown limbs. Grey winter light
converts the blue to periwinkle,
lavender, purple, green and then teal.

Outside shadows tilt swords in battle
against the steely cross's shadow
for dominance on the window sill.

Navy slowly fades to black of night
as the canticles rise to the lofts;
I don't understand a single sound.

The acoustics may be perfect, but
in this sacred space the walls embrace
a quiet where the light reigns sublime.

What would you do?

Imagine: You have this afternoon all to yourself -- no responsibilities (except as a decent human being, of course), no obligations, nothing that has to be done, no place to be. You have a magic transport device that can take you anywhere on this planet instantaneously. What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you take with you? Or would you spend the time alone?

In 88 words or less, leave your response in the comments, telling where you would go and why.

I'll do a random drawing on Wednesday selecting one winner for some kind of potentially fabulous prize for anyone who leaves a comment before 23:59:59 EST Tuesday.

Update: And the winner is.... Dorothy

13 January 2007

Imagine No Laughter: Children of Men

Children of Men, based on P.D. James' book of the same name, is dark, dreary, gory, cynical and ..... yet, somehow, uplifting.

[ALERT: POSSIBLE SPOILERS. You've been warned.]

Clive Owen stars as Theo, a former activist, now cynical bureaucrat, who is enlisted by his former wife to help rebels in an infertile world near-fatally wounded by toxins, war, nuclear fallout, terrorism, and a jingoistic fear of illegal aliens; a world where the world's youngest person and biggest celebrity -- an 18 year old -- has just been killed in a senseless street melee. It seems at first that Theo is only involved for two reasons: money and the possibility of reuniting with his former love. Why he needs the money is unclear; he is hopeless, with no evident plans for anything, not even the state-recommended suicide option. (The commercials and billboards for the suicide drug are reminiscent of the suicide centers in Soylent Green, the Charlton Heston dystopia movie from the 70's.) It quickly becomes clear that the money doesn't matter and he won't be getting back with Julian (Julianne Moore); before long Theo is involved in an all-out fight to protect the only pregnant woman on the planet.

The movie is disquieting. London of 2027 is uncomfortably recognizable. The news and communal grief, even the celebrity status of the recently deceased 18-year old, Baby Diego, is shockingly familiar. The terrorist bombings, the gutted, bombed buildings, the police corruption, brutality and lack of preservation of basic human rights are completely understandable to today's audience. The world of the movie is the likely grim progeny of the evils that beset us today. Except there is one difference: there are no children. Without children, there is no kid laughter, no schools, only weed-filled playgrounds and abandoned children's hospitals. There is no hope for the dying human race.

The movie does a good job of portraying a believable world where nobody can be trusted and everything related to survival is politically motivated. The selfishness of the world is embodied in an early scene with Theo's brother, who lives in the heavily guarded 'Arc of Art' Tate Modern, with rescued but damaged works of art. That he would want to save great art including the iconic statute of David (perhaps ironic is more fitting than iconic, given the world state) but care none for saving his fellow humans sums up state of hopelessness that is 2027. The smoggy world of London is contrasted with the seemingly bucolic English countryside, although it is not immune from the world's toxicity, boasting a landscape filled with abandoned vehicles and burning mounds of animal carcasses. Even the forested hideaway where Theo first seeks shelter is on the doorsteps of a refugee camp with the look and feel of a bombed out Beirut. The infertility of the world is told in almost every shot -- banners proclaiming government fertility testing policies, ads on the television, childlike knickknacks on a middle-aged woman's desk, empty and burned out schools and play yards.

Children of Men is a riveting movie but it is not for those who are easily made queasy by violence and terror. The chase scenes are intense and the fight scenes are heart-pounding. The silver grey-green fog is oppressive and the old photographs of dead children gut-wrenching. And yet, when a newborn baby's cries are first heard, the world seems to lighten with emotion because there is wonder and hope for a possible antidote to the world's bleakness. In the end, the movie paradoxically leaves you feeling hopeful yet shell-shocked.

Stay through the credits; there is a small audio balm to soothe your soul.

12 January 2007

Right and Wrong Readings of Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants

cross-posted at A Curious Singularity

When I saw a few months ago that Kate had selected Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants for the January discussion at A Curious Singularity, I was excited. This was a story I was familiar with and one that I would have something to write about. And then I read the story a few days ago and I realized that there is still more to understand about this story.

I knew before I read Hills Like White Elephants for the first time that it dealt with abortion. I first read it in a Women's Studies class in the late '70s, not in a literature class. I recall being a little confused -- how did they know it was about abortion? -- but I understood why it was a valuable text for discussion in the context of that class. It was not the type of discussion that was likely to have happened in any of the American lit classes in the the male-dominated, Western Canon-oriented English Department at Conservative Midwestern State College.

The next time I read Hills Like White Elephants was in the early '90s, again as part of the assigned reading for a class. This time, it was a literary theory class (this time at small urban public univ with non-traditional students), and Hills was assigned for the portion of the class where Reader Response theory was to be discussed. And what a discussion it was! The class was small -- 3 strong feminists, 1 ardent anti-abortion proponent, and 1 woman desperately trying to become pregnant. In retrospect, I realize what a great selection this story was for discussion of Reader Response theory; Hemingway's sparse text does not give up it's secrets easily to a careless reading. But, I'm sure the professor never imagined the impassioned discussion that this story provoked. The discussion did not focus on the abortion issue as you might guess. Rather, the discussion was intense because the infertile woman believed that the 'operation' the girl and the American discuss in the story referred to a procedure to unblock the fallopian tubes, one that would 'just ... let the air in' as the text states.

The class argued for 2 hours whether this was a valid reading; if the text means what the reader experiences is there such a thing as a 'wrong' reading? I firmly believed that it was wrong. Unequivocally. Obnoxiously, I planted my flag and stood my ground. That was not what the text supported. Or did I mean it was not what Hemingway meant? I could never believe that one could correctly read this story in this way. And what kind of parents would the girl and the American make anyway? They are sarcastic, bitter, manipulative people whose lives consist of looking at things and trying new drinks.

Fast forward to this week when I last read Hills Like White Elephants. This time reading the story, I couldn't help but read it without thinking of that woman's reading from 15 years ago. The language in the story is vague. Jig and the American talk as a couple might in public if they were avoiding the topic, or if they didn't want an eavesdropping outsider to know why they would be taking the train heading towards Madrid. But, the fertility angle still seems to me like an inaccurate reading. I then read some of the posts and comments on the Curious Singularity's site. Some had commented that they didn't understand what was going on and welcomed the information presented in the posts. As much as I don't like the 'here's the key to unlock the secret of the text' approach, I do understand how some readers might be confused and how having the context explained would allow them to re-read the story and consider it in a different light.

I re-read the story one more time, this time considering it strictly in terms of the dialogue. How would this play out if two people were speaking the lines as if it were a play? When reading the story in this manner, one can understand the passage of time. The action comprised in less than 2000 words didn't take place in 5 minutes. There are long periods of silence when Jig and the American drink their beers and later order the Anis del Toro, where they look at the landscape and try to say clever things about it, when they wonder about the train's arrival time, or if they will board the train when it pulls into the station. If one hears the stretches of silence, Jig's utterances can be seen as attempts at making conversation and at placating the man. It doesn't work and his attempts at persuading her regarding the abortion seem manipulative. He is domineering; she submissive, eager to please him, though she jabs and pokes him with her sarcastic verbal sparing.

Stark. Pared down. Long silences instead of narrative description. These things aid in creating the atmosphere of the story, present a backdrop, and develop a tension between the characters that not only fills in the blanks regarding the 'action', but also suggests the inevitable unhappiness between Jig and the American no matter what they decide regarding the abortion. No matter which direction the train they board is going, they have a ticket heading in the direction of more unhappiness.

09 January 2007

"Only A Dog Could Sing Such Notes": High Tech, High Def Opera

"Only a dog could sing such notes, they are so high." That is what Beverly Sills commented regarding the "mad scene" in Bellini's I Puritani, currently at the Metropolitan Opera, during last Saturday's "Live in High Definition" broadcast from The Met stage.

The notes were high and beautiful soprano Anna Netrebko sang wonderfully. How Netrebko can sing such notes -- any notes -- while lying on the floor, her head hanging over the orchestra pit, is amazing. In the middle of 30 minutes of all-out singing! If you have the opportunity to see I Puritani while Netrebko is singing the lead at the Met, don't miss it. Eric Cutler, Franco Vassallo, and John Relyea were very good too -- but Netrebko was amazing! I now understand why some people rave over Bel Canto opera. Truly Beautiful Singing.

I wasn't familiar with I Puritani, and frankly, the subject of the opera -- good grief the English Civil War? How interesting could that be? -- didn't interest me at all when I first read about it. But, the fact that the Met was broadcasting live to theatres around the globe: that fascinated me. What a great idea - bring great quality opera to people not in the NYC area via live high-def feeds. The Met will be broadcasting a few other operas in the next several weeks. If you've never gone to the opera, here is a chance to experience it without the cost, potentially the travel since opera isn't available in many places, and you can do something that you'd never do in an opera house: Eat popcorn!

Eating popcorn during intermission was okay, but I did feel a little weird when the singing started. In an opera house or a concert hall, you don't want to rustle a cough drop wrapper less you make a slight sound, much less chew noisily on popcorn! The ridiculously sized 'small' bag went immediately under the seat. It's been a long time since I went to a movie in a mainstream movie theatre (usually it's an art house/indie type film that I enjoy), but when did a small soda become 32 ounces?

A few thoughts struck me when watching the opera:

- I'd never see, even with theatre glasses, such close-ups of the singers. I was amazed that they weren't sweating more under the lights.

- I realized how much of an art film direction can be. I had no complaints about the camera shots, but I realized how I might do it differently if I were choosing. I found my self thinking a few times: move the camera to the other singer! Had I been in the house, I could have chosen where to focus my attention. That freedom is eliminated with the broadcast. It made me realize how I take the camera's role in film for granted; it really does complement the narrative and action but the viewer often doesn't notice how the camera manipulates what you are seeing.

- The interviews were an interesting feature, although I'm not sure that they knew who the audience would be. Some of the commentary was very good, but people in the audience laughed at some of it. Probably fair to say that many of the people were aficionados and the commentary tended to aim for the novice. Still, seeing the activity backstage between acts was interesting. Definitely not something most would have the opportunity to see in the theatre.

- In opera, the voice is the chief element. Many opera singers are not known for their acting abilities. Sills, in the pre-show talk (makes it sound like a football pre-game show, doesn't it?), talked about how in some operas, one should just move to center stage and sing. While it wasn't the case with this opera -- all of the principal parts seemed to have a reasonable stage presence -- I could see how some singers would be just awful to watch up close.

- In the theatre where we saw the broadcast, it was difficult to read the subtitles because of the seating arrangements. But, I was reminded of the time I saw Rigoletto in Paris. With no supratitles as is common in opera houses in the States, and with the libretto in French, I could only listen to the opera. Reading the synopsis before each act was a help, but I soon realized that I should just let the music wash over me: the emotion in the voice, accompanied by the orchestra sets the feeling and one shouldn't rely on the English titles to follow along. In some ways, it reminds me of a poetry reading where the work read is new. It isn't always possible for the reader to get every line, every allusion, but it doesn't distract from the overall experience. Listening to the opera is a similar experience.

Info on other Live from the Met High-Definition broadcasts can be found here. Consider going to one of them.

06 January 2007

Reading Controversial Books

I found this list recently at Mischievous Muse, although I saw this list circulated a few months ago during banned books week. The list is from the ALA's list of 100 most challenged books. I'm always surprised that any book is challenged in schools or libraries. Often the reasons seem ridiculous to me, but I know that it is a very serious issue. Thinking is threatening to many; encouraging others to think means that there is a possibility that they might come to different conclusions, adopt different ideas. Encouraging new, maybe divergent ideas -- shouldn't that be the one of the aims of education, institutional or otherwise?

As I worked through this list I realized how many I had read. At first glance that made sense; I studied literature in college and many are in the canon. But in reviewing the list further, I realized that I read nearly half before college, while attending midwestern public schools. Perhaps it is a stereotype that most requests to remove books for classrooms and school libraries happen in conservative communities. And, maybe that is more common now that when I was in high school 30 years ago. Still, many of the titles on this list, in addition to ones that I have read, are works that I know are on school reading lists in my area. That is a good thing.

What about you? How many banned books have you read? I recommend that you read a controversial book this year and find out why some may have found it objectionable.

36 read (all or excerpts)
7 started but not finished for one reason or another
1 in process

14 (**) read in Jr. high or high school

#1 The Bible
#2 Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain **
#3 Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
#4 The Koran
#5 Arabian Nights
#6 Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain **
#7 Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
#8 The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer**
#9 The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne**
#10 Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
#11 The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli**
#12 Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
#13 Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank**
#14 Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
#15 Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
#16 Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
#17 Dracula by Bram Stoker
#18 The Autobiography of Ben Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
#19 Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
#20 Essays by Michel de Montaigne
#21 Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
#22 The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
#23 Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
#24 Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
#25 Ulysses by James Joyce
#26 The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
#27 Animal Farm by George Orwell**
#28 Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
#29 Candide by Voltaire (in French & English)**
#30 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee**
#31 Analects by Confucius
#32 The Dubliners by James Joyce
#33 Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck**
#34 Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
#35 The Red and the Black by Stendhal (in process)
#36 Das Capital by Karl Marx
#37 Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire (in French)**
#38 The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
#39 Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence
#40 Brave New World by Aldous Huxley**
#41 Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
#42 Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
#43 The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
#44 All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
#45 Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
#46 The Lord of the Flies by William Golding**
#47 Diary of Samuel Pepys by Samuel Pepys
#48 The Sun Also Rises by Ernes Hemingway
#49 Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
#50 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
#51 Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
#52 The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
#53 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
#54 Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus
#55 Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
#56 The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X
#57 The Color Purple by Alice Walker
#58 The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
#59 An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke
#60 The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
#61 Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
#62 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
#63 East of Eden by John Steinbeck
#64 Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
#65 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
#66 Confessions by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#67 Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais (in French)**
#68 Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes
#69 The Talmud
#70 Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau
#71 Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
#72 Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
#73 An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
#74 Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler
#75 A Separate Peace by John Knowles**
#76 The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
#77 The Red Pony by John Steinbeck**
#78 Popol Vuh
#79 Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith
#80 The Satyricon by Petronius
#81 James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
#82 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
#83 Black Boy by Richard Wright
#84 Spirit of the Laws by Charles de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu
#85 Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
#86 Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
#87 Metaphysics by Aristotle
#88 Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
#89 Institutes of the Christian Religion by Jean Calvin
#90 Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse
#91 The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene
#92 Sanctuary by William Faulkner
#93 As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
#94 Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin
#95 Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
#96 Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
#97 General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud
#98 The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
#99 Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Alexander Brown
#100 A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

01 January 2007

To Another Year of Reading and Blogging....(with Graphs for Emily)

Blogging review:
I started 2006 by creating this blog, not having a clue how long I would maintain it or if anyone would ever read it. I didn't know whether I would have much to say. I wondered if I was limiting myself by writing about books. I wasn't aware that there were lots of others who maintained book-themed blogs, much less familiar with the term "lit blogger". My only goal in 2006 was to read more, and to write some. Now, 100 posts, 4443 unique visits, and 269 comments later(plus countless comments left on some other great blogs), I can say that I never would have predicted how blogging would change my writing or my reading in the span on one short year.

It wasn't long before I found MetaxuCafe and discovered several other blogs. I wasn't alone out in the blog universe and there were people who wrote about things other than what they had for lunch, how rotten their kids or bosses were, the 'inside dish' on all things political, or Brittany's underpants. Gradually, visitors started stopping by my site, and sometimes they'd even leave comments. I'm thrilled anytime my site counter increments and I love it when people comment. Comments are what make the blogging experience great. It isn't enough to know that someone, somewhere read what I wrote; the dialog provided through the comments is what makes posting something worthwhile.

Here is a map indicating the locations of various visitors to my blog. The map is an combination of several maps that I've downloaded from StatCounter, so while it is accurate, it isn't representative of all visitors to my site. NZ is a little out of proportion, and Alaska is lost of the top left but I've noticed my visitors from Alaska too.

Writing review:
I mostly wrote about books and things I was reading. My wish list of things to read grew exponentially once I started reading reviews on others' blogs. How I wrote about books changed too. At first, I wasn't sure how to write about what I was reading. I didn't want to write criticism per se, at least not what I had to write when I was in school. I didn't like it then; I didn't see much of a point in doing so in a blog. My first few posts were formal reviews; in re-reading them, I don't like the tone. Nothing is wrong with what I wrote; I stand by my opinions, although I don't know that I'd write either of this now.

For example:
In her first book, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, Lynne Truss elevated a spot-on, sincere rant to a book-length argument against improper grammar. In her second book, Talk to the Hand, Truss tries to ride on the coattails of her earlier success to rage against a decay in manners throughout society. However, far from writing an enjoyable sequel to Eats, Shoots and Leaves, Truss has delivered a long, ill-humored, unoriginal whine about how the world is falling apart due to the unruly, ill-mannered Visigoths rallying at the gates, talking on their cells phones, and screaming "Eff-off" at the slightest offense. Society is bad and all that, but Truss' book, in the end, is an arrogant and rude diatribe.
Or this:
I trod through 30 chapters, nearly 400 pages of plodding prose. ....I felt some twinges of guilt for despising this book so much. The subject, after all, is interesting. But, this book was in desperate need of editing. ....the prose varied widely from overwrought to simplistic as an elementary school composition....Reading [the book] was like being trapped by someone's aging uncle at your second cousin's wedding reception: you want to be polite and listen to the stories, but after some time the stories run together and you'd rather make your escape by dancing the hokey-pokey or drinking more of the too-sweet punch. An experienced editor would have trimmed this book by 200 pages and the end result would have been both an interesting and a captivating read.
I didn't know how to write about a work if I wasn't being critical of it. When I read some books that I liked, I didn't know how to approach writing about them. As I read more book blogs, I became more aware of an audience who might be reading my posts, and the tone, approach, and content of my posts changed as well. I was more willing to put more of me in my reviews, even if writing something that was criticism, like this, from a post for A Curious Singularity:
There is a peculiar feeling that I experience from time to time that I like to think of as 'The Moment'. It isn't one moment that stands apart from all others; it isn't necessarily something profound, maybe not even memorable over time. Yet, it is a discernible present, a second or two that seems to last a little longer than a fleeting tick of the clock. Time seems to hang suspended for just long enough to perceive a difference. And, then, nothing is the same again.

Call it an epiphany, eureka, a paradigm shift, or a sudden flash of insight; it is what I call 'the moment'. It is palpable, perhaps measurable in some strange mathematical system. One's senses reel as one's brain steps quickly to rearrange all of the pieces into a new understandable pattern. It is this kind of a moment that is the culmination of James Joyce's The Dead.
I think this was one of my best-written posts this year. Here is the full post.

Last Spring, I wrote a poem, after not having written one in several years. Posting it was a scary step, but I still didn't have many readers at that time. I'm not sure why I would have more angst around posting a poem than my opinion about a book. Soon I found Poetry Thursday and wrote more poems and posted a few of them. Some of my favorites are Twisting Physics Makes A Poem, Archeology and 80 feet deep.

A review of my year of blogging wouldn't be complete without mentioning the amazing experience that was the Poetry Meme. I'd thought about creating a meme previously, but hadn't given it much thought before I developed this. Writing it was spontaneous and little thought was given to whether anyone I tagged would complete it. Now, more than 6 weeks later, I am still getting hits on the Google Alerts I set up to track this. I tracked the spread of the meme for a short time (see here), but I soon lost count of how many people had completed it. More amazing than the sheer number of people who have done this meme, is the wonderfully varied responses. Google "Poetry is like...." and click on the "I feel lucky" button; you'll land on the sites of some terrific poets and enthusiastic poetry lovers.

Reading Review:
So how did I do on my reading goals? I didn't have a specific reading plan for the year. The only goal was only to read more. More than -- what? I hadn't kept a record of what I had read for several years. I think I might have been happy if I had read all of the books I received for Christmas, plus most of the books for my reading group. I wouldn't have predicted that I would join another in-person reading group & two on-line groups by the end of the year. Nor would I have dreamed that I would finish more than 40 books this year. I started 31 works of fiction and 45 nonfiction books. I abandoned 6 of them. 17 are still 'in-process'; some may be that way for a long time before I make a decision to throw them in the 'never open again' heap or give them another go. Some just haven't been completed not because of some inherent flaw in the work, but just because something else piqued my interest; they'll be finished at some point in time. 9 were memoirs, 6 were books of poetry. I heard readings from 4 of the authors I read (Mary Oliver, Chris Abani, Nick Hornby, and Anne LaMotte) and have books I haven't started yet by two others I heard speak (William Least-Heat Moon, Zadie Smith). 24 books were written by females. 11 works were from the 20 & 21st centuries, 5 from the 19th, and 2 from the 18th (only works of fiction & poetry counted). Nonfiction subjects covered a variety of topics, including history, art, politics and religion and travel. The largest category was 'culture' -- which could include all of these topics!

And, now, the graphs.....
Since Emily requested it, following a comment I made on Dorothy's blog, here is my reading review in six graphs:

G1:Reading Timeline in Relation to Blog Posts
G2:Books Read/In Process/Abandoned

G3:Fiction/Nonfiction Books

G4:NonFiction by Subject Category
G5:Fiction/Poetry by Century

G6:Works by Gender of Author