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I’ve been on a book binge lately.  Let me tell you all about it.
First I flew through archy and mehitabel by Don Marquis.  Archy is a cockroach, and he types his poetry by hopping from key to key on the typewriter, so he’s can’t quite manage capital letters.  He’s also not fond of punctuation.  Mehitabel is an alley cat who believes she is the reincarnated form of Cleopatra.  Don Marquis is the brilliant soul who was a journalist for The Evening Sun and began publishing the tales of Archy and Mehitabel in 1916.  The poems are wickedly funny, with not a little satire sprinkled throughout.  I highly recommend “the moth.”  Here’s a bit of one of my other favorites, in which Archy is discussing the universe:
it is rushed
perhaps it has private
knowledge to the effect
that eternity is brief
after all
and it wants to get the big
jobs finished in a hurry
i find it possible to forgive
the universe
i meet it in a give and take spirit
although i do wish
that it would consult me at times
please forgive
the profundity of these
meditations
whenever i have nothing
particular to say
i find myself always
always plunging into cosmic
philosophy
or something
Then I read On Stories and Other Essays on Literature by C.S. Lewis.  Top to bottom, all of the essays were fascinating.  I never read Lewis without a pencil; if I try, I end up deeply regretting my inability to underline every other paragraph.  I particularly liked his essay on Lord of the Rings, which was a beautiful tribute to his friend’s work.  He says, “Here are beauties which pierce like swords or burn like cold iron; here is a book that will break your heart.”  While these essays contain a fair bit of literary criticism, they are also hilarious at times.  Lewis tells the story, “Once in a hotel dining-room I said, rather too loudly, ‘I loathe prunes.’  ‘So do I,’ came an unexpected six-year-old voice from another table.  Sympathy was instantaneous.  Neither of us thought it funny.  We both knew that prunes are far too nasty to be funny.”  In another essay, he condemns the bad science fiction or fantasy books “which leap a thousand years to find plots and passions which they could have found at home,” a trait that had been particularly annoying me of late but which I did not know how to properly vituperate until reading Lewis’s description.
I read the Epic of Gilgamesh on the plane to Boston and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  I like reading very old works because it feels like the next best thing to time travel.  Knowing that what you’re reading was written thousands of years ago is a thrilling experience.  In the case of Gilgamesh, however, I had read excerpts before and hadn’t been impressed.  I think I just had a poor translation before; either that, or this one was a particularly good translation.  The text flowed poetically, and I got caught up in Gilgamesh’s adventures.  There were a few unsavory parts, as is usual with ancient pagan stories, I suppose, but many of the lines were undeniably beautiful.  A trapper catches a glimpse of Enkidu, and “His face was altered like that of one who has made a long journey.” The friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu reminded me of that between David and Jonathan: “The one who goes in front protects his companion; the good guide who knows the way guards his friend.”
While I was at the USS Constitution museum, I (naturally) browsed the gift shop, and there I ran into The Captain from Connecticut by C.S. Forester.  I thought I’d read just about everything Forester ever wrote, but I’d never even heard of this book.  The story is his only tale about the American Navy, and Captain Peabody is pretty much an American version of Hornblower, right down to both having silly last names.  Peabody was different enough from Hornblower to carry his story well without making me wish I was back in the Royal Navy, and he certainly had better luck with women.  If you’ve read all of the Horatio books and are looking for new maritime adventures that still contain all of the elements you love from your old favorites, this is exactly the book for you.
I picked up George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation while at the Bunker Hill Museum. This little red book is packed with gems like Rule the 35th: “Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.”  Read and be edified.
Next up!  A Graveyard for Lunatics: Another Tale of Two Cities by Ray Bradbury.  No matter how much I read, there always seems to be more Bradbury out there.  I was a little thrown by this one, I’ll admit.  Bradbury writes vibrantly, forcefully, and rapidly: this is excellent in a short story.  In a novel, though, it’s occasionally disorienting.  I honestly wasn’t quite sure what was happening at times, there were so many exclamation marks, italics, and oblique references being thrown around.  (One can’t be too poetic in conveying that a character is dead, or one’s audience wonders whether he is physically or only metaphorically dead.)  Things did sort themselves out in the end so that I ultimately enjoyed the novel, but the initial feeling of being bogged down by enthusiasm was a new and unpleasant one for me.  Not his best novel, certainly.
On to Among the Shadows: Tales from the Darker Side by L.M. Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables series.  These stories were billed as being “unlike any others L.M. Montgomery ever wrote,” “somber, dark, and brooding.”  I would like to have a discussion with the blurb writer regarding his or her definitions of these words.  Granted, these stories weren’t the Anne books, but they were still awfully full of sweetness and light, and most made for pretty tame ghost stories.  Presumably the publishers were attempting to appeal to a different audience, but I’m afraid it backfired.  Still, I enjoyed the tales, and one or two of them had a hint of the deliciously sinister.
I picked up Famous Mysteries of the Sea by Patricia Lauber at the Wake County Library Booksale, solely based upon the title.  I didn’t look very closely into it at the time (at $4 per box of books, I was casting my net pretty wide), so I was surprised to find that this was a book for young readers or some such.  Not bad for all that, though.  The story of the Mary Celeste, for instance, never gets old.
I’m currently (finally) reading the Elements of Style by Strunk and White and loving it.  Strunk private published his “little book” in 1918 for use at the university where he taught and where E.B. White (author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little) took his classes.  Years later, White expanded and revised the book for publication.  I love this book so far, and its unflinching rules are refreshing after the waffling lists of exceptions and options in today’s grammar books, which are loathe to commit to a single correct usage.  Strunk does not suggest; he commands.  He will make you a better, more concise writer whether or not you want to be one, and he won’t pull any punches in the process.  “Also to be avoided in introduction is the word funny.  Nothing becomes funny by being labeled so.”  Here is what he has to say about the word “flammable”: “An oddity, chiefly useful in saving lives.  The common word meaning “combustible” is inflammable.  But some people are thrown off by the in– and think inflammable means ‘not combustible.’  For this reason, trucks carrying gasoline or explosives are now marked FLAMMABLE.  Unless you are operating such a truck and hence are concerned with the safety of children and illiterates, use inflammable.”  I miss crotchety old professors correcting my grammar.  I’m sure Strunk would have a field day with my blog-writing style: I find myself ignoring an astounding number of rules in these posts.
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I’ve been a horribly remiss blogger, so I’m going to try to make it up with a spree of ridiculously long posts, which will be more annoying than my lack of updates!  I’m clever that way.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Boston, though I do wish I’d had more time to explore the city.  I had to work most of the time (go figure!), but I did have one mostly free day in which I walked my feet off in an effort to see as much as possible.

I flew out of Raleigh Tuesday afternoon after a whirlwind morning at work, during which it was discovered that one of the boxes needed for the conference had not, after all, been sent to Boston.  I dragged it along with my luggage and checked the whole shebang, which worked fairly well.  I arrived in Boston and got a cab without any problems, and then I got to see Boston drivers in action.  They call Boston a walking city, which they SAY means that it’s convenient for walkers.  What they really mean is that if you try to drive, you’ll probably die.  Even my tough Bostonian cabby was alarmed when some truck swerved into a tunnel at the very last second, just missing two cars and a concrete divider.  If you walk, you still take your life into your hands, but your odds of survival seem better.

I’m very comfortable with traveling by myself, particularly in airports, but there are a few things that always make me feel like the bumbling country cousin, floundering out of my depth.  I’m really, really bad at fancy hotels.  Give me a Comfort Inn and I have no problem, but I feel like an impostor in anything fancier.  I always end up nearly bumping heads with the bellboy as we both reach for my bags at the same time, and I invariably forget to tip him if he beats me to the luggage.  I always pause before the formidable array of spit-and-polish folks smiling expectantly behind the massive front desk.  I just want to check in.  I don’t actually want restaurant recommendations, coat check, or anything else.  This particular hotel has an automated revolving door with a piece of driftwood in the middle (??) that verbally scolded you (the door, not the driftwood) if you don’t walk fast or slow enough.

I learned on this trip that I’m also really, really bad at massive conference centers.  I managed to get checked in, wiggled past the grouchy automated door with my last-minute box of conference supplies, and set out for the conference center, which I had been told was across the street.  “Across the street” means different things to different people.  In this case it meant “half a mile away across busy streets.”  One successful game of Frogger later, I stood before the gargantuan conference center.  There were 14,000 people attending this sucker, and the center looked like an alien mothership.  It turned out to be about as difficult to navigate as an alien spacecraft, with very tight security.  I dragged my box (by this time getting a little heavy) all around, stumbled through the registration process (not having a clue what I was doing), hiked to Exhibitor Services and the Exhibit Hall (which I couldn’t even see across, it was so big), journeyed back to Exhibitor Services, then back to the Exhibit Hall again, where I finally, at long last, found our booth.  By that time I’d had to ask four or five people for directions, and one of the security guards said in a fantastic Bostonian accent, “You’ve been carrying that box around an awfully long time, little lady.”  Yes sir.  I threw the thing down at the booth, determined all of our other supplies had arrived successfully, and departed before I embarrassed myself further.

Things went much more smoothly after that.  My boss flew in and we went to dinner at Mr. Dooley’s, a great Irish pub.  I heartily recommend the Irish curry fries and the Irish beef stew, if you have a chance to go.  The next morning we set up our booth, but then we had most of the day free.  My boss said he wanted to show me some of the sites, and I confess I felt a twinge of despair.  I desperately wanted to see the USS Constitution, and I really just wanted to ramble the city by myself and go where I pleased.  All turned out well, though, and I had a good time hanging out with my boss.  We went to see the Battle of Bunker Hill Monument, which is actually on Breed’s Hill.  The battle was fought on Breed’s Hill—Bunker Hill is technically about half a mile away—but no one calls it that, for some reason.  The monument is an obelisk like the Washington Monument, and you can climb up inside.  Three hundred steps doesn’t sound like much, but it was definitely a workout; I passed a few people who never made it to the top, and they had buttons mounted on the walls every so often in case of medical emergencies.  We caught our breath and enjoyed the rainy view of Boston from the top before scampering back down and over to the Bunker Hill museum.  From there we walked to Warren Tavern, favorite watering hole of Paul Revere and named after Joseph Warren, one of the heroes of Bunker Hill.  The tavern burned down during the battle in 1775 and was rebuilt in 1780.  It had dark, heavy woodwork and low ceilings, and the food was delicious.

My boss had work to do at that point, so I was set loose on the cloudy, rainy city by myself.  I walked to the USS Constitution and proceeded to have a perfectly glorious time.  I am obsessed with maritime history in general, but I’m head over heels for the Constitution specifically.  It’s one of the original six frigates of the US Navy, launched in 1797, and I’ve read and dreamed about this ship for years.  If I could go back in time and somehow (in spite of my gender) serve aboard any ship in the US Navy, it would be this one.  (While I prefer the British Royal Navy over the US Navy for my time-traveling destinations, I have a soft spot for the American frigates.)  To quote my musty, beloved copy of the Frigates volume of the Seafarers series, “These were the long, swift Yankee frigates, a type of warship that was smaller than a great ship of the line but deadly enough for all that, substituting the speed of a greyhound for the power of  a mastiff.”  The Constitution, known as Old Ironsides because the live oak that made up part of her hull was so hard that cannonballs bounced off, was never captured and never defeated.  Paul Revere himself supplied the copper bolts and sheathing for the ship.  She had a series of feisty American captains quite happy to take on enemies twice the size of their own ship.

Turns out that since the Constitution is still a commissioned vessel, one has to go through security (including metal detector) to go aboard.  My pocket knife caused a brief stir, but it also turns out that blades under 2.5″ are fine and old Bostonian naval officers like long hair, so I came through with my knife and a couple compliments.  Then I climbed aboard the ship, heart fluttering like a little fangirl’s.  I managed to refrain from skipping with glee, informing the tour guide that I knew more about the ship’s history than she did, or climbing the rigging.  But let me tell you, the rigging was tempting.  Being hustled through the ship on the brief tour was nothing short of cruel, when I would have happily camped out on deck for hours and examined every inch of the place by myself.  The experience was still grand, though.  After the tour, during which I did not kiss the cannons or do anything that could be construed as too bizarre, I explored the nearby ship museum and briefly saw the USS Cassin Young.  Now then, if I can just tour the HMS Victory one day, I can die happy.

From there, I struck out on the Freedom Trail, a three-mile red-brick path that winds through the city past 15 historical sites.  I didn’t have time to walk the whole thing, but I did see Copp’s Hill Burial Ground, Old North Church (of “one if by land, two if by sea” fame), the Paul Revere Mall, and the Holocaust Memorial.  The last was one of the most powerful yet subtle memorials I’ve ever seen.  Read up on its design at the website, because I won’t be able to do it justice.  Vents in each glass tower blow steam inside to give the impression of entering a gas chamber.  From a distance, I initially thought that the memorial was perhaps too subtle; with the trees around it, you can’t tell what it is.  I heard one woman say to another, “What is that?”  Her companion replied, “Oh, something to do with the subway, I think.”  Kids were jumping in puddles on the granite walkway as they walked by with their parents, who thought it was just a pretty park.  In retrospect, I think maybe the memorial design is an accurate representation of Holocaust perception itself after all.  For those who care to look closely, the horror is inescapable; for the rest of the world, everything seems normal.  Just a day in the park.

On a much lighter note, I was told by a coworker that I had to check out the famous Mike’s Pastry, and after stopping by, I can conclusively state that their cannoli is superb.  I was running short on time, so I was really hoofing it by that point.  I hopped on the subway to take me part of the way back to the hotel, but had trouble finding the line I needed at the junction, and Summer Street is so beautiful and Bostonian that I just decided to walk from there.  I made it back to the hotel just in time to change, walk the half-mile to the convention center (in high heels, I might add), and stand for two hours exhibiting at the booth before walking back to the hotel that evening.  When I say I walked my feet off that day, I’m not entirely kidding; the bottom layer of skin on my feet actually ended up peeling after all of that.  Very attractive!

The rest of my trip was much less frenetic; for the most part I was kept too busy working at the exhibit hall to exhaust myself with any more adventures (not counting a late dash in the pouring rain to a 7-11 to get some food one evening).  On my last night, I did get a sandwich and gelato at a neat little Italian deli, then walked to Liberty Wharf and ate dinner beside the harbor with a very friendly seagull.  I loved Boston, and I look forward to coming back and exploring more thoroughly.

I am currently surrounded by boxes and boxes of books, who are waiting patiently for the big moving day.  I hate moving, but I do enjoy packing and unpacking books.  I like tucking them gently away into boxes, arranging them by size and nestling them in comfortably until everyone is all set to go on their journey.  Unpacking them is even more fun, as I get to reorganize them on the shelves.  The only likable part of moving!  I’m not thinking about the unlikable parts for now.

For those who are interested, the magazine in which my story was published is now available for order online!

Literature:

This just in:

  • J.J. Abrams is making a new show called Revolution, and parts of the trailer intrigue me, like the images of the way the lights go out.  The rest just looks dumb, sadly–“I spent the last 15 years without electricity learning implausible martial arts!”  I also must confess to a petulant, hipster annoyance every time I see bows and crossbows included in the newest hyped-up entertainment.  “I liked archery before it was cool, darn it!”  But points for including one of my favorite songs, “Touched” by VAST, in the trailer.
  • Which birth dates are most common?  I get a little bit of a kick out of being born in January, the most uncommon month.
  • Date trainwreck, live-tweeted from Starbucks.
  • Peak Condition with Toast and Raccoon.

Photography:

Music:

I just returned from an exceedingly eventful camping trip at the Langdon farm with a massive posse of friends!  We constructed an adorable tent city (Occupy Four Oaks, much better organized than the typical Occupy movement but sadly likewise doomed to failure) and trooped happily inside for dinner.  Then came the deluge.  My family’s old tent bravely resisted the torrential downpour and high winds for an admirable length of time, but alas, the elements proved too much for it, and we watched as it shredded itself in the lost cause of attempting to keep my and Sam’s bedding dry.  By the time the rain finally stopped, several other tents had also succumbed, and the Langdons’ dryer was kept busy for hours drying out all of the sodden sleeping bags.  Undaunted, we managed to start a fire and roast a few marshmallows before disaster struck again.  One person burned himself pretty badly roasting the marshmallows, another cut her finger while trying to trim a roasting stick, and another got a bug in her eye.  Fortunately one member of our intrepid company was a med student, so everyone was patched up in time to get rained on again.  We kind of gave up on the outdoors for a while after that and settled for laughing and talking and fussing over Cole the dog until late into the night.  By then our clothes had dried for the most part, and we had extra tents, so most of us went back out to the tent city for the night to catch as much sleep as one ever catches while camping.

This morning we ate truly astonishing amounts of bacon, nodded off over our coffee, and went for a wet walk in the woods.  We saw two snakes, managed to keep Kim away from both (with some difficulty), climbed a tree, and took a LOT of pictures.  (None of which were on my camera, but Sarah rescued the photos from the black hole of Luke’s camera, so we may see them someday.)  We were wading through the poison ivy, so I’m sure at least a couple of us will be a mite on the itchy side tomorrow, but I suspect it was worth it.  Finally, after lunch and a few games, we cleaned up our mess, packed up our sad little tents, and went on our way.  Until next time, my friends!

I ran across a couple reviews of the journal in which my story was published.  One person said, “A nicely told little tale,” another said it was “Quite sketchy,” whatever that means.  Pretty moderate, which is encouraging.  It sort of feels like one shouldn’t take either the very good reviews or the very bad reviews seriously, if one were to get them.  Can you imagine, for example, being Stephenie Meyer and reading both the vicious attacks AND the obsessive gushing?  You couldn’t believe either one and keep your sanity, I would think.

I have all sorts of things to say about books I’ve been reading and an atrocious movie I saw (Anonymous), but tomorrow is another day.  Then, on Tuesday…Boston trip for work!  Should be exciting.  I’m going to cram as much history into my off-hours as is humanly possible.  I’ll report on my level of success.

Literature:

Things to see:

Humor:

 

 

Geekery:

Music:

 

You seem to have stumbled upon a storytelling of ravens. Watch for falling collective nouns; you may find a wing of dragons or a charm of hummingbirds caught in your hair. Hardhats are recommended.

my read shelf:
Stephanie Ricker's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

A Storytelling

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