Saturday, January 30, 2016

A New List of Things I'm Liking Less These Days

  • Driving in city traffic ... or driving at night
  • Waiting around for someone who's supposed to be coming but is late
  • Cocktails, except for margaritas
  • Ironing
  • High humidity
  • MGM musicals
  • Plastic
  • Bugs, except for ladybugs, butterflies, and bees
  • Going to a theater to see a movie
  • Chips, except for potato chips
  • Switching to/from Daylight Savings Time
  • Strauss waltzes
  • Restaurant sandwiches too big to eat and overloaded with bread
  • Restaurant plates overloaded with food
  • Neighborhood barking dogs
  • Television's incessant commercials
  • Telemarketers, of course
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Air travel from TSA check-in to crowded narrow seats, extra payments (food, checked luggage), and sitting there with coat and handbag on my lap because there's no other place to put them, my feet jammed against my backpack under the seat in front of me, and me juggling food and drink on my tray as the person behind me grabs my seat when he tries to get out.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

A New List of Things I Love

  • Gardens, especially those with pathways, benches, healing/soothing nooks
  • Zen/Japanese designs
  • Spring and autumn's changing colors
  • Persian and Afghan carpets
  • Turquoise gemstones and the color turquoise in tile-work
  • Baroque music
  • Totally sunny skies
  • The breaking of waves along a beach
  • Chocolate, especially dark, organic
  • Soup-making with its steam filling the kitchen
  • A slice of hot bread just out of the oven with melting butter
  • Good times with dear friends
  • Santa Fe's art galleries 
  • Santa Fe's kiva fireplaces
  • Bookstores
  • Coming in from a holiday walk and smelling the turkey roasting
  • Coming in anytime (!) and smelling an apple pie baking

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Seeing Blue

It seems that people could literally not see the color blue until "modern times," as one source phrased it.  It was William Gladstone, Britain's four-time Prime Minister, who started something when, as a Homer scholar, he realized that Homer referred not to a blue sea but to a "wine-dark sea" ... as well as to violet sheep and green honey.  Was he (and were all the ancient Greeks) color blind, Gladstone wondered?  So he made a count.  There were plenty of references in both The Iliad and The Odyssey to black and white, a fair amount to red, barely any to yellow and green, and none to blue.

Others taking up the study found that none of the ancient texts--the old Icelandic sagas, the Indian vedas, the Bible, Japanese and Chinese writings--mentioned the color blue.  Only the Egyptians because it seemed they made a dye which was blue.  But, as the researchers pointed out, other than the very obvious blue sky and blue water, there are no blue plants, animals, people, foods, hair.  Sky and water was passed off as being white or wine-dark or dawn/sunset red.  As it turned out, too, the introduction of words of color into these languages all came in the same order:  black, white, red, yellow, green, and lastly, blue.  The researchers suggested that until a culture could make something which was that color (such as the Egyptians with their dye), they may not have been able to distinguish the color.

Interestingly, in a recent study, a researcher found that the Himba tribe in Namibia cannot see a blue spot in a wheel of otherwise green spots.  But ... but ... we can't see a slightly different green spot (in a wheel of otherwise all green spots) that they can point out with ease.

For more, or if you want to try picking out the green spot, see:

How's that for a deep blue sky!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Best Reads of 2015: Fiction

This is part 2 of my Best Reads of 2015.  (Non-fiction was last week.)

1.  Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim.  For some reason I didn't expect to enjoy this book as much as I did.  Good telling of the absurd and funny trials and life of a young post-war English lecturer.  Though it's been around for some 60 years, I'd never read it before.

2.  Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See.  People in bookstores were talking about this book; bookstore owners kept saying it won't be in paperback for some time so that the publisher can keep raking in hard-cover profits.  Generally, I don't choose that sort of book, but the library had a copy, so I borrowed it.  It centers on a young blind French girl and a Hitler Youth who is an expert on building and repairing radios and radio transmissions ... with a backdrop centered around the horrors that the children and youth of that day had to experience as they became involved in the war, especially those cadets in one of the Nazi Napola schools.  A gripping tale, often suspenseful, often unpleasant.  Tight plot centered around a cursed blue diamond.  Extraordinarily well detailed.  Some lyrical writing. With historical events shaping the plot.

3.  E. M. Forster.  A Passage to India.  A master writes a masterful work centered during the days of the Raj and the Indian independence movement. One of the 100 best novels of the 20th century.  Particularly good on the tensions between the English and the people of India as exemplified in four main characters.  I admit this was a re-read, but, a substantive book, it had been a long time since I'd first read it and thoroughly enjoyed becoming re-acquainted.  Published in 1924.

4.  Takashi Hiraido, The Guest Cat.  I kept thinking of this as a memoir, but it is a straight-forward piece of fiction about a Japanese couple's relationship with a neighbor's cat.  Poetry in the form of prose.  A small gem.

5.  Ian McEwan, Black Dogs.  Written as a memoir of a fictional post-war English couple--she who follows spiritual insights, he who follows rational thought--and their love for each other but inability to live together, especially after her epiphany concerning goodness and evil when encountering two dogs on a hike in France.  Well written but dark.

6.  Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping.  A novel about two abandoned girls and their quirky aunt in Idaho. Lots of symbolism and metaphors using water and light. She's a fine writer but I found the book a bit of a downer.

7.  Nevil Shute, A Town Like Alice.  A splendid piece published in 1950 with a very strong plot, sympathetic characters, interesting historical details, and an absolutely wonderful and enterprising heroine.  The first part is set during the Second World War in Malaya where a group of women and children find themselves prisoners of the Japanese.  The second part is set in the Australian outback on a cattle spread.  It's a surprisingly romantic book.

8.  Colm Toibin, Nora Webster.  Set in Ireland in the late '60s and early '70s during The Troubles, this is about a woman just widowed with four children and how a new life begins to enter her experience.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Best Reads of 2015: Non-fiction

It's book report time and once again I'm separating the fiction from the non-fiction.  In all, this past year, I read 45 books, 32 non-fiction and 13 fiction (plus 10 casual re-reads).  Here is the best of the non-fiction in alphabetical order by author.

1.  Rinker Buck, The Oregon Trail, A New American Journey.  Splendid recounting of the author's 2011 trip with mule-team and covered wagon along the Oregon Trail.  He ran into great hospitality from ranchers and farmers as well as some very dicey moments when he either couldn't find the trail or found himself in dangerous navigating situations.  (And that after months of preparation, trail checking, and study.)  In his early 60s, he and his brother went together.  Lots of good history, a good feel for the landscape, and good writing.  And the mules, each with his/her own personality, add a lot to the charm of the book.

2.  Susan Cain, Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.  At least a third of the population are introverts ... who have been led to believe that they are somehow lesser people for not being outgoing, exuberant and for not particularly wanting to party, preferring to stay home, read, think about things, and let the mind work on answering questions and coming up with new creative ventures.  And introverts, it seems, do better than extroverts in reaching solutions that are wiser and better suited to the problem.  Group Think is NOT for introverts.  Well written, lots of good research.  A helpful read for those who are cerebral, sensitive, contemplative.

3.  Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome, On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World.  Engaging chronicle of a year in Rome as a fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Letters with his wife and new baby boy twins.  The year is 2005--when Pope John Paul II died.

4.  Alexandra Fuller, Leaving Before the Rains Come.  Detailed account of her life growing up in southern Africa, her marriage to an American, and her life in the U.S. with the realization that she grew up with parents and circumstances that required constant vigilance, occasional tragedy, and the expectation of disaster at any time.  Introspective, wise, with an undercurrent of both that expected tragedy coupled with her humor.  When she met him, she expected her husband to rescue her.  In the end, she rescued him.

5.  Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.  I loved this inspirational little book with its step-by-step description of cleaning up your stuff which then totally changes your life by engaging in this art of restoring balance not only to your possessions but also to your outlook.  Only keep those things which bring you joy.  Charming (and useful) from beginning to end.

6.  Don Messerschmidt, Fr Moran of Kathmandu.  This was a sentimental choice as it brought back the old days in Kathmandu and two people--the author and Fr. Moran--who were part of that scene.  Father Marshall Moran, an American Jesuit priest who lived from 1906-1992, became one of Nepal's very first foreign residents and established the Godavari School that thrived. He used to motorcycle around Kathmandu in his priestly garb, scarf, and beret.  He was a friend to all--king and parents alike--a man with enormous energy, organization, and imagination.  He was also a ham radio operator who helped people in trouble no matter whether they were in the Antarctic or on top of Everest.  A splendid telling, fully researched by an ex-Peace Corps Volunteer who was a friend of his.

7.  Mary Norris, Between You and Me, Confessions of a Comma Queen.  Who would have thought a book about copy editing would be so much fun. The author has been copy editing The New Yorker for years and has some witty reminiscences about good old punctuation. (In the little slip for readers' comments the library sticks in each book, the reader before me wrote:  "Excellent.  Fun read."  I agree.)  As for the title, the author calls the current usage of "between you and I" (and similar phrases such as "Please contact Vicki or I") as being "one of the most barbaric habits in contemporary usage."  So she gave her book that title to let people know, yes, "me" is, in fact, the proper word to use.

8. James Rebanks, The Shepherd's Life, Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape.  A modern-day shepherd, living in England's Lake District, fully describes this way of life--an older kind of farming than exists across much of the world.  Though one is often admonished to "do something better than one's forebears," the author feels privileged to follow its traditions.  Interesting aside about Beatrix Potter's part in helping start this region's early conservation movement--she a sheep-herder, herself.

9.  Stuart Stevens, Malaria Dreams, An African Adventure.  The author and a companion drove by car from the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Mali to Algiers, always at the mercy of heat, ants, people who were both extremely helpful as well as extremely opportunistic.  Car troubles, not having the right papers, needing diesel fuel and water all contributed to a harrowing trip, usually under terrible conditions such as driving on sand on now-dry Lake Chad with no road.

10.  Abigail Thomas, A Three Dog Life.  Wonderful.  Her life after her husband's accident which leaves him institutionalized with a serious brain injury as she builds a new life with her three dogs.  A strong compassionate voice, beautiful writing.  Definitely not a downer.

(Fiction is next week.)