Monday, March 23, 2015

GB and the Buddha

Today is National Puppy Day, and can you believe it - You-Know-Who didn't want me near the computer.  I had to pull out my best trick - ignoring her.  I just turned my back, refused to respond when she called me, didn't chase after my stuffed Lamb Chop which is just like the one Sharie Lewis had only smaller; I turned my nose up at multiple treats.  Finally she gave in, and here I am, clicking keys on National Puppy Day.  I know I'm not a puppy any longer, but my heart is still young, and the years have taught me a thing or two.  I observe.  I take it all in and on Sunday I was very interested in what YKW was reading since it involved me.
YKW was reading a book called Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.  It is something about the Gautama Buddha.  Now, I'm am an admirable, disciplined animal.  I keep to a schedule and every night before the big hand gets to eight, I like getting a long, vigorous scratch.  She picks me up and every night says "Time to rub the Buddha belly."   My vet says I am "well insulated."  This book is obviously about me and I paged through it when she put it down.  
This story takes place in Nepal.  My peeps come from Tibet so there's another connection.  A young boy named Sid (Siddhartha takes too long to type with my short fingers) leaves home and goes on a spiritual journey.  I take those once in a while.  When spring arrives, I like to march around our house every morning to smell what's new.  Sid does a couple things different from me, however.  He fasts - something that seems just plain silly - he meditates (not sure what that is but it might have something to do with watching birds) and he gives away all his stuff.  Me, give me a couple good bowls for food and water, a bed in the living room, a pillow by the deck door, a blanket next to the couch, a front door with a window for watching air and stuff, plenty of fuzzy stuffed things and I'm good to go.  
Sid meets and has a few chats with this Buddha guy but doesn't like everything he has to say so he decides to go about his journey alone to find out what is important in his personal world.  Sid has lots of adventures and some misadventures; he becomes rich.  Near the end of his life, he figures out that those things have not fulfilled him.  I guess  that  Buddha fellow was right after all.


Siddhartha is all well and good, I suppose as far as minor philosophies go.  But if you want some solid, practical life lessons, look no further than this little gem.  No author listed.  Perhaps the writer is just too modest.  Perhaps the writer wants readers to believe that these wisdoms come from the heart of an Everydog sort - like me.   (Paws can't get the computer to stop centering.  GRRR.).
You'll find lots of dogie thoughts here, things that can be used today, tomorrow and well into next week.  Each page has a picture of one of my peeps; and even better, each page is a postcard.  You can take it out and mail it to one of your human friends who might need a little help getting his or her tail wag on.

So, that's it for this edition of The Dog Blog.  Remember, today is National Puppy Day.  Write your congressman today so we can make this a year long holiday.  Puppies of the world UNITE.


Monday, March 16, 2015

My New Chracter Crush

Lucky for us everyone in our group is sensible, polite, and best of all, brave.  Our discussion of The Life List required all three characteristics.   We were evenly divided - love/hate - no in-between on this one.  You already know where I stand, so I won't go into that again.  The best part of this night was that those who loved the book stood their ground.  Us haters hated vigorously, but when we wrapped things up and moved on to our Academy Awards night fashion commentary, all was forgotten.  Our next selection is a collection of short stories called Vampires in the Lemon Grove.  I prefer short stories to most other type of reading, and look forward to this oddly named book.  Hopefully the discussion will be as jolly as last week's.

One of my frequent drop-in-for-a-random-book-discussion customers has been raving about Clive Cussler for years and this weekend, I gave him a try.  Somehow, I got it into my thick head that all Cussler's books take place on submarines during WWII which is not to my liking.  But I do like books set in Africa so I grabbed a copy of Sahara.  Good choice.

My new book crush, Dirk Pitt, is scrounging around in the Nile hoping to find the remains of a funeral barge.  While in Africa, he runs into Dr. Roja who is trying to discover the source of a plague that is threatening to knock out entire villages.  She is also in danger of being murdered by a group of extremists from Alexandria.  It's all too exciting - filled with death, madness, cannibalism, chase scenes, and yes, romance.  All very Indiana Jones-ish.

Of course, the bigger than life characters need a bigger than life conflict, and Cussler provided that alright.  Unless the source of the contamination is found and stopped, the entire world is in the path of this environmental  terrorism.

This is good stuff.  The fast paced action scenes kept me reading at lightening speed, and I always  knew that Pitt would be able to take on whatever confronted him - no matter how many swords, knives, or machine guns he had to battle single handedly all at the same time.  Escape reading at its best.    What a guy.  Yup, I have converted and am on my way to the presidnecy of the Clive Cussler fan club.  Wanna join?

What am I reading now?  This morning NPR had a discussion on fairy tales, so that's where I'm headed next - or at least within the next couple weeks.  Then it's back to Hemingway.

Thanks for stopping by.



Monday, March 9, 2015

Two Books and a Boy


My little friend Joey stopped by on Saturday.  He had a great time trying out all the kid-size chairs, spinning anything that would spin, rearranging the rubber ducks, and, most importantly, getting acquainted with books. Joey's mom, Em, sent this picture shortly after they got home.
Because you're a reader, you already know the many benefits of being swept away by that special book.  Here's a bit of an article from Salon.com.  

A study recently published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility found that just having books around the house (the more, the better) is correlated with how many years of schooling a child will complete. The study (authored by M.D.R. Evans, Jonathan Kelley, Joanna Sikorac and Donald J. Treimand) looked at samples from 27 nations, and according to its abstract, found that growing up in a household with 500 or more books is “as great an advantage as having university-educated rather than unschooled parents, and twice the advantage of having a professional rather than an unskilled father.” Children with as few as 25 books in the family household completed on average two more years of schooling than children raised in homes without any books.



 Not every book suits every reader, and this book discussion selection did not suit me at all.  While I know that others in our group liked it, I found  it lacking substance, repetitive, predictable and unrefined.  That's all

Today I started The People of the Book, a novel a customer has been challenging me to read for at least two years.  I regret having waited so long.  It reminds me a little of Susan Vreeland's The Girl in Hyacinth Blue, the story of a painting's history.  In this novel, Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks follows the life of a mysterious illuminated Hebrew manuscript that was rescued during the shelling of Sarajevo's library.  A rare book expert is hired to gently bring the volume back to life, and in doing so she discovers the journey the book has taken from 15th century Spain to the present.  Packed with history, ritual, museum techniques, and politics.  Now that's substance.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Odds and ends...Bits and Pieces...Nice and Nasty

There wasn't much time for reading this week, what with Heart-A-Rama rehearsals starting. I did manage to finish Ripper, Isabel Allende's first mystery novel.  Not her best work, but still gripping.  All the facts in this serial killer drama led logically to the resolution.  I liked that.  No new character introduced at the 11th hour.  No supernatural element entered the picture.  She didn't even employ that standard trick where the third person questioned is the perpetrator.  No matter how many pages come between the questioning and the revelation of motive, means and opportunity - it is the third person.  And no, there is not a butler in this novel.  All in all, a pretty fresh book.

So as not to be a total slacker, I read this delightful St. Pat's day book.  For years, the townspeople of Tralee and Tralah have been competing in a decorating contest.  Every year Tralah wins. However, this year little Fiona Riley has an idea that will help Tralee win the contest for sure.  But, into the mix wanders a stranger - a funny little man with pointed ears and boots trimmed with bells.  And...his intentions are not all good - or are they?  His appearance turns the towns' rivalry upside down.  The story is nicely sprinkled with traditional Iris lore and symbols.

Now on to the Snark Report

My book group is reading The Life List and that is the real reason why I have not read anything of substance this week.  Reading this book is painful.  Turning each page is an effort knowing that I will be confronted with more drivel.  I have never been good at keeping two books going at the same time so I have to finish this one before I can move on.  Really, I may have enjoyed this book when I was 15, but it offers little except words in print that will eventually lead to the back cover.  The plot?  Some woman (I don't even care enough to know her name) will not be given her inheritance from her wealthy mother until a life list written when she was 14 is completed.   For example - she has to get a dog.  I can't go on.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ripper

Last week this email from my friend Steve arrived sandwiched between his weekly review of the latest "Castle" episode, and another newsy note. I offer it here for your consideration - pasted totally on the assumption that had I asked permission, Steve would have granted.




...found this on the first page of Olen Steinhauer's Victory Square and had to stop and catch my breath....

Set up sentence from preceding paragraph:  In the cold wind blowing through from the Adriatic, a basic truth came back to me: Old men die every day.

They submit in overstuffed chairs across from blaring televisions, slip in the bathtub, sink deep into hospital beds. They tumble down the stairwells of barren apartment blocks and face heart failure in swimming pools and restaurants and crowded buses. Some, already sleeping on the street, go quietly, while others take care of it themselves, because that’s the only power left to them. Their wives are dead and their friends as well; their children have fled from the stink of mortality. 
Sleeping pills, razors, high terraces and bridges. Usually, old men go alone.


Powerful stuff, right?  Sometimes we don't have to consume page upon page to find that one kernel that bursts with truth and dignity.  Too often I skim lengthy narrative passages deeming them time consuming, throw away bits offering little to move the plot along.  A self preservation technique I developed in college or grad school, I guess. After reading the above, I promised myself that whatever book I chose next would be read with care - line by line - word for word - no skimming, skipping or accidental page turning.  

There, on page 27 of Isabel Allende's Ripper I found the most inviting sensory passage.

She catalogued people by scent: her grandfather, Blake - smelled of gentleness - a mixture of wool sweaters and chamomile; Bob, her father, of strength - metal, tobacco, and aftershave; Bradley, her boyfriend, of sensuality, sweat and chlorine; and Ryan smelled of reliability and confidence, a doggy aroma that was the most wonderful fragrance in the world.  As for her mother, Indiana, steeped in the essential oils for her treatment room, she smelled of magic.

This is not the Allende I remember from the House of the Spirits or the bits of Paula that I read years ago.  Amanda, nerdy, intelligent, wise beyond her years, plays an on-line game favored by loners called "Ripper".  Bored with the fiction of the game, but fascinated with Scandinavian crime novels, Amanda proposes that the group take their sleuthing into the real world.  Using their honed skills of observation, deduction and common sense, and aided by information skillfully culled from bits and pieces of conversations with Amanda's chief of homicide father, the group sets out to solve a string of murders in the San Francisco area.  

Nope, this isn't simple Nancy Drew stuff.  Although Allende drifts from her usual magical realism, feminist fare with undeniable autobiographical elements, her lush style shines. The title hints at gore, that's for sure, but so far, it's the characters and the artistry that take the lead.  More next week....after I have read every single word.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Farewell Anna. I Will Not Miss You

Last week I skipped posting in hopes of sharing the happy news today that, after eighteen attempts I have finally conquered  Anna Karenina. No such luck. How do I know I tried eighteen time?  I counted the number of bookmarks hidden throughout. None deeper than page 158.

This time, the adventure began with some background research which I generally find useful when tackling something I suspect could end in failure. I discovered that the author, Fyodor Dostoyesvsky, held this book in rather high esteem calling it a "flawless work of art".  A glowing endorsement albeit a tad egotistical, wouldn't you say? Faulkner's declaration that this is the "best book ever written." should have been enough to deter me since Faulkner is another writer whose work sweeps me directly to my frustration level within the first pages.  

Still, I persisted, thinking that following  an on-line chapter by chapter synopsis/analysis would be my key to success.  Was I surprised to discover how thorough the on-line examinations of this novel are.  In reality, had I gone that route, my reading time would have been doubled.  I struggled.  I did not want to be defeated by this task once again.  I approached the first page with informed trepidation and read the famous opening lines.  I made it through the railroad station scene and pushed on. Then the history, political intrigue and 50-60 words sentences strung together in stiff prose started getting to me.  I re-read sentences trying to figure out what I was supposed to focus on.  I made lists of characters and flow charts and semantic maps to keep relationships and sub-plots contained.  Notes began piling up.  I tried sorting and indexing them. I put them in a binder for easy access. Color coded tabs. Next came the highlighters followed by a pot of coffee and a bag of M&M's. 

Lowering my standards, reevaluating my level of literary savvy and reading aggression I figured that skimming might work - read down the center of the page and pick up key words and phrases that propel the plot. Right. Admitting defeat, I closed the book on Anna K. for the last time.  I hopped in my car and happily deposited Anna, her dalliances and her sorrows in the donation box at Goodwill.  There will not be a 20th attempt.

After that I needed something simple.  Members Only - Secret Societies, Sects and Cults - Exposed.   Ever since a college friend duped the school newspaper with a story about his entrapment by the Moonies, I have been interested in these alternative "clubs".  Randy (might or might not be his real name) convinced the crack reporter that he had been kidnapped by the cult after he finished taping an episode of his kid's TV show at an LA TV station.  The part about the TV show is true.  Randy hosted a local Romper Room style show; his character was Bongo the Clown, and he played, you guessed it, the bongos.  He was fired after making a lewd remark during a live show - but that's a story for another day.  I'll never forget my favorite quote in the entire article - and one that should have tipped the reporter, writer or at very least the advisor to the incredulity  of his claims.  He said they took him to their home base and "forced" him to eat oatmeal..

Anyway....the book neatly condensed the history, basic beliefs and operating methods behind a variety of groups.  What did I find most eye opening?  Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, is a Bildenberg member.  That makes sense.  How can a business that has yet to turn a profit be so ruthless and influential without powerful puppeteers pulling his strings and abetting him?

Thanks for stopping by.


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

28 Lessons We Can Learn from Pride & Prejudice

This seemed too good to pass up, so instead of an origianl post, I am sharing this one from the good folks at Bas Bleu.



Today marks the 202nd anniversary of Pride and Prejudice’s publication, a cultural milestone that almost never was thanks to a dismissive publisher who rejected Jane Austen’s manuscript First Impressions in 1797. Sixteen years later, Thomas Egerton bought the rights to Pride and Prejudice for just £110…and the rest, as they say, is literary history. So today, the twenty-eighth day of January, in honor of P&P’s birthday, Bas Bleu is sharing our list of twenty-eight life lessons we learned from Miss Austen, Lizzie Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and, yes, even Mr. Wickham.

1. Beware of truths universally acknowledged.
2. Be persistent in the face of rejection.
3. There is great joy in a long walk.
4. Don’t set too much stock in first impressions.
5. There are worse things than being single…like being married to Mr. Collins.
6. A six-hour movie isn’t too long if it’s the right story.
7. You can learn a lot about a man by the way he treats his sister.
8. You can’t hide in the library forever.
9. Sharp wit and a pair of fine eyes are worth far more than an expensive dress.
10. The man of your dreams will love you even when you have a terrible cold.
11. When in doubt, say it in a letter.
12. Never play dumb to attract a man.
13. Don’t make important life choices just to soothe your mother’s nerves.
14. Men, always keep your home ready for unexpected guests. You never know when the love of your life will show up.
15. Bad boys are not worth it.
16. Gorge all you want at a banquet as long as you’re wearing an empire-waist dress.
17. It’s not the end of the world if your little sister gets married before you do.
18. A dashing uniform does not make the man.
19. “Obstinate, headstrong girl!” really is a compliment.
20. Don’t be stingy about giving others a second chance. You never know when your own happiness may depend on one.
21. When it comes to a man’s library, size matters.
22. An intelligent woman should never tolerate a disrespectful man…no matter how rich he is.
23. A great love story is always in style.
24. It really is a woman’s prerogative to change her mind.
25. Marrying your true love means marrying his or her entire family.
26. Men may leave you, but your sisters never will.
27. Happy relationships are based on more than romance.

28. Colin Firth then, Colin Firth now, Colin Firth forever.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Hemingway the First


Book #1 in my year of Hemingway is complete, although I probably should have worked my way up to this title instead of starting with it.  Biographical info on Papa H. tells me that this book is based on Hemingway’s own experience in the Italian campaigns during WWI.  It was during this time that he met and fell in love with a nurse named Agnes.  I suspect she may be the subject in question in The Paris Wife, the novel that initiated this whole project.  I figured I needed to understand Hemingway and his thirst for love, danger, as well as his addiction to heartbreak and pain in order to understand that novel. 
Farewell follows the war career of expat, Frederic Henry serving in the ambulance corps of the Italian army.  The novel is broken into five books – five long chapters?  five novellas? Call them what you like. The first section covers Fredric’s army career including being wounded by a mortar shell.  In a Milan hospital, he meets and gets a little frisky with his nurse, Catherine.  The remaining chapters take us through their relationship – the calms and the storms all leading to a devastating end.


You can always count on the happy times in a Hemingway novel to exist just a beat away from great sorrow.  Maybe I’m going about this all wrong, Maybe I should be reading a solid Hemingway biography, rather than reading his novels.  I am not sorry I read this book, but doing so made me wonder who the Hemingway’s of today are.  Over the years, I have demoted myself to reading works that hover near the equator between literary and pop.  I have enjoyed both, but returning to more classic works occasionally cement for me how terrifying and inspiring the written word can be.

What's next?  I haven't picked anything out yet, but  I am two Chet and Bernie books behind so that may be a good place to start.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude stands as the most heartbreaking novel I have ever read.  The emotional torture emerging page after page was nearly unbearable, yet it was grounded in such an admirable premise that I couldn't stop reading.  So, I pretty much understood the intensity I was getting for upon deciding to pick up another work by this Pulitzer Prize winner.

Again, Marquez got me with his masterful storytelling.  But more than that, this story is filled with truisms about human nature that lead to confusing contradictions we cannot control.  The book opens on the morning of Santiago Nasar's death.  Santiago does not know he is about to be murdered, but most people in the village know.  He goes about his day interacting with individuals, none of whom share with him the fact that the Vicario twins have announced repeatedly that they will murder Santiago that day.

It seems that Santiago disgraced their sister, and when her newlywed husband discovers the deception on their wedding night less than 12 hours earlier, he deposits her back with her family.  The Vicario brothers decide then and there that they must defend their family's honor and destroy that which has destroyed them.  They really don't want to do it, but they see the murder as an obligation.  

The brothers tell everyone in their path about the plan.  They openly go to a butcher shop to sharpen the knives they will use in the attack.  The confess to anyone who will listen, and after the fact, the go to church and confess to a priest.  Throughout the day, it is obvious they are hoping someone will stop them or at least, that someone will warn Santiago.  No one does.  Everyone in the little village has a different reason why they kept silent. When questioned, no one can even agree up simple things like what the weather was like that day, let alone how much they know, who told them and why.   Each person's reason for not speaking up is simple and to a degree acceptable in its own rite - and yet, each person's silence contributed to a death.  

Lots of symbolism.  Lots of sentences and paragraphs and lines to be read and re-read.  Lots to think about in this short, lyrical one-hundred-twenty page novel.  This is one to sink your teeth into.  Sometimes I need a "sinker" as a follow up to a lighter, Lifetime movie type novel.  This fit the bill.

How's the Hemingway project going?  Not so good.  In fact, it's almost as unsuccessful as 2014's write-a-haiku-a-day plan.  I will persevere.

What's next?  Not sure.  I might just close my eyes and pull a book randomly from my reading pile.  Of course, the last time that happened, I grabbed The Valley of the Dolls and then stupidly went on to suggest it to our book discussion group.)  Maybe I should edit the pile first.

Thanks for stopping by.