Saturday, December 29, 2007

Excerpt from a letter to Silvergull

I read Neil Gaiman's Stardust (c. 1999) and loved it - and last night we saw the movie version (also titled "Stardust"). Best movie I've seen all year. Fantastic date movie, wonderful feel good movie, lovely family movie, marvelous fantasy movie. Oh yeah, did I mention that I really liked it?

And here is Neil talking about Stardust the movie (and other things) in an interview with Bookslut.

A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell

I like books with happy endings. A Thread of Grace, by Mary Doria Russell, is not a book of happy endings - not at all. Yet, I will read it again next year.

I don't just like her book, I love it. In the midst of a story that covers the worst atrocity in human history, and littered with characters of questionable morality and worse deeds, Mary Doria Russell manages to find a thread of grace, and to convince me that it is genuine and enduring.

Russell visited the places she describes in her novel, and interviewed survivors of the war. Her original research lends an authentic, present quality to her prose - an immediacy that caught me up into the lives her characters.

There is no question that Russell not only makes history live again, she proves beyond any doubt that it's relevant to our times and our lives.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

EARLY REVIEW - Dreamers of the Day

The day before Christmas, a package arrived from The Random House Publishing Group: an Advance Reader's Edition of Mary Doria Russell's new novel - Dreamers of the Day.

At 255 pages, it was the perfect length to fit in between preparations and celebrations. (But I'm a speed reader.) I cruised the story as slowly as possible, savoring the characters and the setting. What do you get when you put Rosie the Dachshund, Karl the German spy, T. E. Lawrence and an Ohio schoolteacher in Cairo, Egypt? Why, an enchanting novel, full of explorations and discoveries - of foreign places, of famous people, even of the self.

There is so much I want to tell you about Dreamers of the Day, but I won't diminish the charm you will find in discovering them for yourself. My only complaint at the end of this book was that it was that it was over too soon. Perhaps that is also good - an author, like a party hostess, wants to always stop while people are still asking for more.

Already I have revisited the story and its protagonist, Agnes Shanklin, in my mind, considering certain scenes, turning them this way and that in the light of retrospection, to see if they maintain their purity. Yes, Russell's writing shines with originality. Although her work and her acknowledgments show her to be a careful craftsman, she weaves real events and famous people into her story with a light touch, producing a fresh perspective.

The ending was a total surprise, yet fit the rest of the narrative perfectly. This is a book I will read more than once. Very highly recommended.

Russell's previous work, A Thread of Grace, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Peace On Earth

Peace on Earth. The Prince of Peace on earth.

Christmas Eve 2007, and the the hymn written by the American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1864 was never more fitting. Aghast at the fratricide of the Civil War, and his own son wounded, he wrote:

I heard the bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet, the words repeat, of peace on earth,
Goodwill to men.

(verse four)
And in despair I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth, I said,
for hate is strong, and mocks the song, of peace on earth,
Goodwill to men.

(verse five)
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep,
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep,
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
with peace on earth, Goodwill to men.

Wordsworth was right. At a terrible cost, the North won the Civil War. There is no slavery in America today. Discrimination is illegal. Bigotry is despised.

Other countries are still fighting their wars for freedom and equality. May the right prevail.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

For What it's Worth...

There are many advantages I can think of for using LibraryThing.

There is one thing I wish I had thought of before I started creating my catalog of books, though. Once I had a few hundred books in the catalog, I could no longer be sure whether a particular book I picked up was in the catalog yet, or not.

In retrospect, it seems obvious that I ought to have put some kind of tag or mark in each book as I entered it in the database, so I could see at a glance it was done. But not. So I have spent the past three days branding the books I've entered, checking many that weren't on a particular shelf - did I input that book, or not? I nearly wore out the search function for my catalog. Now I can be sure that all the books on nineteen shelves have been cataloged, and all the books on the remaining shelves have not yet been entered.

This has been a rather backwards way of organizing a library.

So, if anyone decides to catalog their books, here is an idea, for what it's worth - mark them as you enter them in the catalog, and you won't have to guess later, and search, to see if the work is done on them or not.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

LibraryThinging

We decided to rearrange every book in our library last weekend (except for GoldiBear's technical books). We moved bookshelves in three rooms, dusted, and reorganized. This is not especially exciting news - but I am making progress cataloging our books at LibraryThing.

459 books entered, and still working.

Some books were routed to the shelf for my inventory at BookMooch, and some into the bag for Goodwill - a couple were so old and ratty they went in the garbage.

The latest C. J. Cherryh books I've read are Cuckoo's Egg, and Serpent's Reach, reprinted in 2005 in a duology - The Deep Beyond. Both novels are vivid and original, provocative and entertaining, the epitomy of Science Fiction.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Hope Endures in The Madonnas of Leningrad

The grand, gilded frames hang empty on the walls of The Hermitage, a witness of hope for restoration of the paintings packed away for protection during the siege of Leningrad. Perhaps they are also a metaphor for the Marina's life - once filled with beauty and meaning, now under siege by a relentless enemy, Alzheimer's.

The Madonnas of Leningrad shines like a jewel from its many facets - art history and appreciation, human drama and war, the mystery of the inner person and the heartbreak of Alzheimer's. I was captivated from the first page to the last sentence of this book about beauty, this beautiful book.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Another flare

Going through another flare today, and ran across the best explanation of fibromyalgia I have ever seen, in a book or on the Internet. So many things I want to do, so little energy. Aghh.

This too will pass.

Zhen Zehn

Zhen Zhen is the name given to the new panda cub at the San Diego Zoo. It means "precious".

How precious? There are an estimated six billion, seven hundred sixty-eight million human beings on planet earth, and there are an estimated one thousand six hundred pandas alive today. That is one panda for every four million and two hundred thirty-three thousand people (rounded off).

Four million people, one panda.

That is more precious than diamonds or gold, by my calculations.

A Correction

I discovered that Cherryh's breakout novel wasn't Gate of Ivrel after all. It was Brothers of Earth.

so many books, so little book shelf space...

Friday, December 7, 2007

Have a very Cherryh Holiday

For a very Cherryh Christmas (or Hannukah, or --?), give the SF fans on your list the five Chanur books in two omnibus volumes: The Chanur Saga, and Chanur's Endgame, (the latter available new and published this year).

I liked the Chanur saga: The Pride of Chanur, Chanur's Venture and The Kif Strike Back, but I absolutely loved the Chanur's Endgame - the omnibus finis of the saga, with Chanur's Homecoming completing Pynafur's tale, and Chanur's Legacy moving on to the story of the mature Hilfy as captain of her own ship.

I had doubts that I could enjoy Hilfy's story as much as Pyanfur's books, but it was everything I could have hoped for. I give both books in Chanur's Endgame a five star rating - and if it were possible, I'd give it a ten.

Pyanfur's finale was full of political double-cross, suspenseful action, and the extremely alien aliens that Cherryh does so well. Pyanfur played for the highest possible stakes in a game of cross-species brinkmanship that would result in the destruction of her home world and her entire species if she made one false move.

Hilfy's story was an amusing revelation of the shto', and has an ending I'll never forget. I love the humor and the intelligence that permeates C.J. Cherryh's writing. This Science Fiction fan says of the Chanur books: highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Words are a Form of Action

Ingrid Bengis wrote one of my all time favorite quotes: "Words are a form of action, capable of influencing change." I just ordered her memoir, "Metro Stop Dostoevsky: Travels in Russian Time". It is set in Russia in the 1990's and should make an interesting contrast with another book for my TBR shelf: "The Madonnas of Leningrad", much of which is set in WWII.

Words have started wars, and stopped them, caused murders and divorce, and created great saints and martyrs. Indeed, words are capable of influencing change.

From page 112 of C. J. Cherryh's "Destroyer", in reference to actions by the protagonist, a translator:

"He'd let his dictionary-making duties slip, thinking they didn't matter so much... But where was the clue to his problems? Lurking, as always, in the dictionary, right where he'd begun."

Insightful gems like this one abound in Cherryh's "Foreigner" series, one of the many reasons I treasure her novels. Currently, I'm reading the seventh of what is now nine books, stringing out the pleasure until the ninth book, "Deliverer", is released on January 4th. C. J. Cherryh wrote the Foreigner series in what is so far three sets of trilogies, each of which ends with a satisfying conclusion - however, fans keep asking for more, and Cherryh has delivered.

Also on my TBR shelf is the omnibus edition of The Morgaine Saga. The first book in that trilogy, Gate of Ivrel, was Cherryh's breakout novel, copyright 1976.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Stay Married To Stop Global Warming

New research shows that the rising divorce rates have damaged the environment. Yes, as challenging as it is to leap that span of logic, data shows it is true: a divorce creates a 53% rise in electricity usage, and a 42% rise in water usage.

According to the Times Online, people who stay married are good for the earth. I always knew there was an objective reason we've stayed married for forty years.

If love isn't enough, think of the planet, and stick together. Mother Earth will thank you.