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This will mainly be about books.  But first…

Things to see:

Things to hear:

All Things Wise and Wonderful is James Herriot’s third book recounting his adventures as a veterinarian in Yorkshire, England.  His books are always amusing, but some of the stories in this one had me tearing up, I was laughing so hard.  This is not the book to be reading surreptitiously under your desk at work, let me tell you.  I snicker every time I think of the story of Mrs. Beck and her holy terror of a cat, and I’ve told it to every friend who will sit still long enough to hear it.

I picked up a lot of cheap Louis L’Amour books at the Wake County Library sale, and I’m slowly working through them.  Down the Long Hills isn’t quite the usual western fare; instead of a hard-bitten, tough-as-nails protagonist combating ruffians,  living off the land, and winning over fair maidens with his beard stubble, the hero of the story is a seven-year-old.  A seven-year-old who could probably eat you for breakfast.  I thoroughly enjoyed the story, even if the concluding action (in true L’Amour fashion) whips by in the last couple pages so fast you’d miss it if you blinked.

I’m working on With These Hands, a collection of stories also by L’Amour.  The book opens with a rough-and-tumble boxing story.  (I’ll make a confession right now: what little I know of boxing and street fighting, I learned as a very young girl from L’Amour.  “Haymaker” and “Liverpool kiss”are probably not in the vocabulary of most eight-year-olds.)  I like L’Amours books because in spite of themselves they feel plausible, probably because L’Amour drew from personal experience and his biography reads like one of his own novels.  To summarize: He grew up in North Dakota and left home at 15, getting jobs as a seaman, lumberjack, elephant handler, and miner, among other things.  He served in WWII, circled the world on a freighter, sailed a dhow on the Red Sea, was shipwrecked in the West Indies, and was stranded in the Mojave Desert.  He won 51 out of 59 professional boxing matches, and he was a journalist and lecturer.  Somewhere in there he found the time to amass a 10,000-book library, do extensive historical research, and write more than 100 books.  He was every bit as colorful as one of his characters, and I can’t offhand think of anyone who lived a fuller life.  In some ways I envy the people who lived just as history was turning the corner into modernity.  They grew up with horses and buggies and died with space rockets; what must that have been like?  But I think it must also have been sad, to see things that you loved changing and going away forever.  Life was altering so quickly during that time, sometimes it must have felt as if there was nothing recognizable from your childhood at all.   Adventure seemed so much easier to find back then; but perhaps I just haven’t been looking hard enough. : )

Even though our Latin/literary discussion group had given up on Ovid’s Metamorphoses,  I decided to get back to it.  I hate leaving a book unfinished, and I kind of missed my weekly dose of mythology.  The concluding lines gave me a bit of a shiver because suddenly it seemed like Ovid turned his head and looked right at me:

Now I have done my work.  It will endure,
I trust, beyond Jove’s anger, fire and sword,
Beyond Time’s hunger.  The day will come, I know,
So let it come, that day which has no power
Save over my body, to end my span of life
Whatever it may be.  Still, part of me,
The better part, immortal, will be borne
Above the stars; my name will be remembered
Wherever Roman power rules conquered lands,
I shall be read, and through all centuries,
If prophecies of bards are ever truthful,
I shall be living, always.

I was very, very sorry to hear that Ray Bradbury passed away.  Goodbye Montag, goodbye deserted cities of Mars, goodbye Greentown, Illinois.  Here is a collection of 20 quotes by the master storyteller, but I think this is one of the best tributes so far:  “Short man, / large dream, / I send my rockets forth between my ears / hoping an inch of good is worth a pound of years.” 

I ran across clips from the old Zorro with Guy Williams, who is basically a Latino Errol Flynn and fabulous in every way.  This clip got me thinking, though, that Zorro is practically Batman.  Avenging injustice with a black superhero costume, black horse/batmobile, secret lair, and helpful servant…that’s pretty much everything you need.



And everything else:

I skipped along through Thornyhold by Mary Stewart in one day.  The cover was a bit embarrassing and looked vaguely like a Christian romance or something, which is quite misleading: a good chunk of the book is about the heroine’s childhood, and while something like a romance does eventually develop, the fellow doesn’t even put in an appearance until more than halfway through the book.  The rest is an introspective look at the way the heroine’s personality was formed and how it changes as a result of the mystery in which she finds herself.  The book is not a classic, perhaps, but Stewart’s works possess considerably more depth than they are given credit for, I think.  I read this while in the throes of moving and unpacking, and it was just the ticket for an enjoyable, moderately light read after a hard day.

Oh dear.  I’m still not entirely certain what I thought of Cold Mountain.  I dearly wish we had read this in Southern American Lit class, as I would’ve loved to hear Dr. Peterman take it apart with a pickaxe and show us the gems buried inside.  I found myself with the itch to write a paper on the symbolism and mythology in the book, and I was particularly interested by how Frazier made it clear that the true enemy is not of the North or the South, but rather inside human nature everywhere.  There is no good or bad side in his depiction of the war; in fact, he doesn’t really depict the war at all.  He tells stories of battles, but the main story itself takes place far from any battlefields.  The “villains” in the story, if one can call them that, are mostly renegades, people not clearly aligned with either side, using the war as an excuse for cruelty against whomever they encounter.  The story had certain parallels with the Odyssey and reminded me a fair bit of Ovid too in its mythic quality and the way the characters would interrupt the action to tell a story.  All of that, I liked, and Frazier is undoubtedly a very talented writer—I loved his turns of phrase and ended up underlining a lot just for the sounds of the words.  I was considerably less fond of the interludes of brutality and squalor.  I know, it’s a war story, and those things are a part of war, but I still think there were less ugly ways to make his points.

I was also quite enraged by the ending.  SPOILER ALERT: don’t read the rest of this post unless you want to ruin it for yourself.  I was angry that Frazier killed off Inman, for several reasons.  I don’t enjoy being toyed with, and that’s what the last 15 pages or so felt like: I was afraid at least one character was going to be killed off at several points, and then when it finally happened, the death didn’t feel real.  The next chapter taunted the reader with what seemed to be a recovery (implied by the existence of the children), and then pulled the rug out from under the reader again by throwing in Ruby’s marriage, which made little sense to me.  I have no problem with main characters dying, but I really wasn’t sure why Frazier decided to kill off the character in the first place.  To my way of thinking, a writer must have a darn good reason for killing off a character.  Cheap effect, shock value, and emotional manipulation are not good reasons, and I suspect Frazier had a better one…I’m just not sure what it was.  If he was going for a parallel with the Odyssey, then Inman’s death was a departure from the story of Odysseus.  We’d already established that Ada and Ruby could survive without him, so that point didn’t need to be re-proven by killing him.  Frazier may have trying to say that Inman was too damaged by the war to survive and have a life with Ada, but that contradicts the section just previous in which Inman sees Ada as his redemption.  If Inman could come to terms with the whole thing, it seems like the least Frazier could do to tolerate it as well.  Frazier may have been hammering home his point about random brutality and the dark side of human nature by showing that real life has no rule that the protagonist must survive, and life is often unfair.  But really, he’d beaten that one into us enough by that stage.  I suspect there’s some deeper, symbolic reason for Inman’s death that I’m just not seeing.  Have any of you folks read the book (or seen the movie), and if so, what was your take on the end?

May, though enjoyable, was entirely too hectic; June had better be downright sedate by comparison.  I’m currently still caught up in the throes of moving to a new apartment, but the end is in sight.  “Oh, I don’t have much stuff,” I told myself airily.  Lies and fables.  It certainly felt like a lot of stuff as I hauled it down three flights of stairs, loaded it in the car, and hauled it up two flights of stairs on the other end.  I think I’m really going to love the new apartment once we get it all fixed up, though.

I made a quick four-day trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan over Memorial Day weekend, which was glorious as always.  We left the horrible, hot stickiness of North Carolina and stepped off the plane in the UP into lovely 65-70 degree temperatures.  The sun was shining, the breeze was blowing, and I kept asking myself, “Why is it that I don’t live here, again?”  Eventually I remembered my beloved friends in North Carolina and the unemployment rate in Michigan, but it’s difficult when everything is so beautiful.

The trip was short, so there wasn’t a lot of time for adventures, but we did manage trips to both the upper and lower harbor break walls.  I am enamored with break walls.  Something about running out on the rocks into the middle of the lake, whether the water is wild or peaceful, is terribly, terribly enticing.  There’s a nice little climb to the beacon at the end, and you get just a taste of adrenaline from the experience without actually being in any danger to speak of.  The upper harbor wall is about twice as long as the lower harbor wall, with rougher rocks.  The waves were too high last fall for us to go all the way out (though I was mightily tempted anyway).  I was with a  posse of friends this trip, and Simone didn’t have hiking shoes on so she went barefoot.  Danielle and I thought, what a good idea! And promptly did the same.  We scampered over the rocks like happy little mountain goats and had a wonderful time.

On the way back home, we were waiting for our flight out of Marquette, and a woman and her infant were seated near us at the gate.  The baby screeched once or twice, and the mother said, “Aww, who’s my little velociraptor?  You’re my little velociraptor!”  I was tempted to applaud.  Madam, I commend your parenting, and henceforth I will refer to all screaming children as velociraptors.

These you must see:


Be aware that these exist:


I find that reading books about plane crashes while physically in a plane really enhances the flying experience.  I told my mother that and she thought I was being facetious, but I was just being honest.  I read Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (author of The Little Prince) on the way to Michigan and Wind, Sand, and Stars by the same author on the way back, both of which include plane disasters.  Both were exquisite, though not at all in the same way as The Little Prince, and both are about Saint-Exupery’s experiences as a pilot for the night-mails in South America and Africa during the 1920s and 1930s.  Flying was still a perilous business then, and reading about the sort of men who chose that career was utterly fascinating.  Perhaps there’s a bit of the philosopher in all pilots, or perhaps Antoine was just of a particularly thoughtful bent, but either way his musings on humanity and life and death were all very thought-provoking.

Now I’m reading Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, and there again, reading it in North Carolina makes the book feel extremely real.  I think I like it so far; I’m still not certain.  I’m not sure yet if the book really is good, a classic in its own right, or if it’s just very good at pretending to be good.  Every once in a while I get the feeling that Frazier is trying too hard to be the next Faulkner, but at other times I think he’s succeeding at writing an important piece of work.  I’ll give you my final verdict when I’m finished.

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.

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