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Saturday, June 30, 2007

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This novel begins charmingly but becomes brooding and introspective once its main characters grow out of childhood. Sam is eldest brother to his three siblings and feels a heavy responsibility to keep them happy and together when both his parents die in an Italian train bombing. His various quirks are very humorous, especially if you know any families with controlling older brothers and happy-go-lucky younger sisters. Add to the mix the unique perspective that living abroad affords, and you have a very interesting bunch.

Sam struggles to negotiate the challenges of growing up as an outsider among his schoolmates in Grand Rapids and of maintaining a tight-knit family with his brother and two sisters. Eventually he becomes a writer of a television comedy series based on their family life in which they all star. Their fame draws unwelcome attention in the form of a stalker, and Sam grows increasingly paranoid and standoffish with the television producers. After effecting a lurid finale to the tv show, he mysteriously disappears...to retrace his steps and discover the connection between his present life and the day his parents died in Italy. This book is worth reading, but I wouldn’t blame you if you put it down after the first 95 pages.

Title:Plum and Jaggers
Author:Susan Richards Shreve
Date published:2000
Genre:Fiction
Number of pages:228

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

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cover of Silver on the Tree

The fifth and final book of the series, with all the characters together at last. There are six .. Will & Bran & Simon & Jane & Barney & Gumerry .. who must complete the circle. This is the final battle between good and evil, and there are many pieces which must be in place for the battle to be won. They find themselves in wales again, and find the beautiful old lady (who is vital to the health and wholeness of the old ones), two take a trip to the lost land and four a trip to the past, and then a trip to a land that only partially exists. But with these characters (and John Rowlands, of course!) the journey is well worth following.

The battle is between good and evil, but there are humans involved, and always will be humans involved. Because the world belongs to humans, and not to Old Ones or their evil counterparts. The three Drew children are simply human, as in John Rowlands, but without them the battle would not be won. At the end there is a vital decision that must be made .. and the one to make it is a man, not an immortal being. A man who has a good heart and great strength, but is trusted by the Old Ones to choose well. And as humans, that is sometimes all we can do .. choose well. And step forward to the challenge even when we desperately want to run away. And after the battle is over .. what is there to do, but to choose to live each day well. A series I've read multiple times and will certainly revisit!

Title:Silver on the Tree
Author: Susan Cooper
Date published:1977
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: The Dark is Rising
Number of pages: 274
Notes: Repeat reading

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

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cover of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Harry's fourth year at Hogwarts and the revival of the Triwizard Tournament. The names of the school champions are magically selected by the fiery goblet of the title, and, of course, somehow Harry ends up getting selected-- even though he's younger than the age limit, and the three champions have already been selected. As Harry muddles through his tournament tasks as best he can (and with lots of help from friends), unaware that there is a traitor at Hogwarts, although he is suspicious that Voldemort is getting stronger and strange things are happening at the Ministry of Magic. Re-reading the book and knowing who the impostor is the whole way through makes it quite interesting-- it almost strains credulity that someone could keep up that guise for so long, but not quite. And the resemblance between extremes of good and evil is even clearer.

If you haven't read this book yet (or at least seen the movie), perhaps you shouldn't keep reading, because I'm going to write about what interested me most: the idea of this traitor keeping up appearances and pretending to be someone else for an entire school year. Perhaps Crouch's job was simplified by the fact that Moody was such a shifty, jumpy, suspicious man anyway. The moments that rang most true for me were when Crouch said or did something Moody would have done, although for different reasons. It made me think about those similarities (even if only on the surface) between good and evil, which are pointed out explicitly in Crouch Sr., who became so harsh in his treatment of Voldemort's followers that he approached the cruelty and abuse of power of Voldemort himself. At one point, the faux Moody says something like "there's nothing I hate more than a Death Eater that went free"-- not because they weren't punished for their deeds, but because they weren't loyal to their master.

I also wondered about Crouch using the unforgivable curses on his students. He claims he has permission from Dumbledore to teach them the worst that they can expect, and to learn how to resist it-- and, whether he means to or not, he really does Harry a favor by teaching him to resist the Imperius. It's within the realm of believability that Moody would do this, but when I think of Crouch doing it, I can't help but imagine he got a sick satisfaction from torturing the students he was supposed to be teaching and protecting.

It's fun to see Harry making his ways through the challenging tasks of the tournament. He has help from friends (and one enemy), but that has always been the case, especially with Ron and Hermione. He even does the incredible, and stands up to Voldemort in the flesh-- although, again, he has help. One of the things that makes Cedric's death even more heartbreaking (on top of Voldemort's callous disposal of that for which he has no use) is Harry's sense that it is his fault-- he was trying to do something decent and generous in sharing the victory with Cedric, and instead Cedric was killed.

Read in about four days.

Title:Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Author:J. K. Rowling
Date published:2000
Genre:Children's Fantasy
Series:Harry Potter
Number of pages:734
Notes:second reading

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

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cover of The Grey King

Fourth in the series, and this time Will Stanton is sick and goes to stay with relatives in Wales to recover his health. And this just happens to be the place where the next step needs to be taken by the Old Ones. Within the first few days there, will meets Bran Davies .. who has white hair and pale skin and amber eyes and just doesn't fit in. So they rather fit together, in some senses. Together they have adventures to find the golden harp and to wake the sleepers. Will, who as an Old One usually knows about people, has a hard time judging or knowing Bran. But someone has been there ahead of him to prepare the way and make sure these two boys will both meet and trust one another.

The Grey King is the name that has been given to the huge mountain in the area of Wales where this story takes place. That's what everyone calls it, because of legends from long ago. But Will can feel that they are not just legends. That the Grey King is a presence that wants to control and bring a heaviness to this place. And because the Grey King has become almost part of the land, his power is strong .. but will must fight against him both carefully and powerfully. Through a series of 'accidents' Will & Bran and Bran's dog, Cafall, end up in a stairway that leads to the one place they could find the harp where they must answer three questions. Before they step into the stairway and right after the Grey King seeks to attack them and ruin their chances .. but he does not succeed. The idea of a menacing presence that is part of the land feels very real to me. When evil has occured in a place, it can take root. Making echoes of itself felt long after the evil has passed. For good to conquer over evil in a place takes much time and something powerfully good. The imagery and legends are used well to bring this malevolent presence to life in a way that feels dangerous and almost possible.

Title:The Grey King
Author: Susan Cooper
Date published:1975
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: The Dark is Rising
Number of pages: 165
Notes: Repeat reading

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Friday, June 22, 2007

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A group of friends and family gather after Billy Lynch’s funeral to remember and mourn Billy, a much-loved and gregarious man who nevertheless was an alcoholic and drank himself to death. His is a large and varied Irish-American family. Dennis is Billy’s cousin, in many ways more like his brother; it fell to him to visit the morgue to identify Billy, found in the street after a night of drinking. It falls to Dennis’ daughter, the unnamed female narrator (a favorite device of McDermott’s), to probe and chronicle the remains of his life – the memories, still living, that others have of him. What emerges is a bittersweet series of reflections about Billy, not chronological, yet still natural and orderly, and interwoven with events in her own life and her father’s. The tone is pensive and compassionate.

This novel was not particularly religious, but one idea voiced by Billy himself was pointedly Christian. Grappling with the death of his fiancĂ©e, Billy says that death is a terrible thing, a scandal. To be reconciled to the fact of death, to treat it as an ordinary, natural event is to invalidate Christ’s death on the cross. If death isn’t horrible, then why did the Lord go to such great pains to conquer and eradicate it? Billy’s thinking here was reasoned and insightful. But he erred on the opposite side, I think, by refusing to proceed with life as he had previously and instead making it his business to continually wallow in the horrow of death. Hence, the drinking. His actions seemed to reveal his doubts about the redemptive power of Christ’s work. He was so consumed by the injustice of death that he became indifferent to his own death in order to escape the knowledge of it.

Weaving through the book is the question about how Billy's life would have been different if he had found out that his fiancee didn't actually die. Dennis knew that Eva merely refused to return to Billy, but told him that she had died, because he thought that would be an easier pill to swallow. Billy's subsequent statements about the injustice of Eva's death ostensibly define the cause of his alcoholism, but they could merely be artifacts of the drinking. Did Dennis' untruth form the basis of Billy's alcoholism, or was it inevitable? We'll never know, but it does constitute a warning about shielding others from the truth, even in love.

As in That Night, the characters here struggle with a need to have their love “make a difference.” Some are tempted to view Billy’s death as a failure of their own affections and voice their fear that their love hasn’t mattered, that love in general wins no victories over suffering and death. The book doesn’t present a particular resolution to this dilemma, though most characters (except Billy) continue to love and enjoy what they can in life.

Title:Charming Billy
Author:Alice McDermott
Date published:1998
Genre:Fiction
Number of pages:280
Notes:National Book Award, 1998

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

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cover of Greenwitch

The third of five, in which all the main characters are present .. Will Stanton, Great Uncle Merry, and the three children from the first book. This is the shortest book, but plenty happens. All of them are in Tresswick together (the same location as the first book), to recover the grail which was stolen and to get the lost treasure as well. While they are there, all the villagers are participating in the making of the greenwitch .. at least the women are. Only the women are allowed to go, and Jane is invited to be present even though she's an outsider. Jane watches them make the greenwitch of branches and vines and stones, and in the dawn right before the fisherman come to throw the greenwitch out to sea, Jane makes a wish as everyone is able to do. The wish she makes is "I wish you could be happy." (p31)

And this is the key of this particular adventure .. that Jane had the opportunity to make a wish for herself and she chooses to wish for the greenwitch and not herself. The greenwitch who is part of the deep magic and answers only to the queen of the deep sea and who finds the secret from before. Both the dark and the light try to force her to give them her secret .. but she won't do it. She chooses to give her secret to the one person who cared about her. Both the dark and the light are shown to be less powerful than the deep magic (which is released when the greenwitch becomes angry), but kindness and love (of a sort) are more powerful than any of them! What an intriguing message.

Title:Greenwitch
Author: Susan Cooper
Date published:1974
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: The Dark is Rising
Number of pages: 131
Notes: Repeat reading

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

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cover of The Dark is Rising

The second book of five, in which Will Stanton is introduced. A boy turning eleven who is going on ageless. (One of the Old Ones, along with Merry from the first book.) Will is called the Sign-Seeker, and as the last of the Old Ones to be born is given the task (or tasks) of collecting six signs which is the second of four things of power the light is seeking to collect before the great battle. There are six signs of six different materials (wood, bronze, iron, water, fire, stone) which are all to be sought and found in a variety of places and times.

Will Stanton is a paradox .. an eleven year old boy, and also a being who has more power, knowledge, and responsibility than any regular human. Cooper is careful to not switch too easily between the two, and to make mention when one is particularly present. They are both part of him, but when he is with his family he is almost always an eleven year old .. who can't wait to open his Christmas presents, and who enjoys sledding, and who wants to make sure his family is alright. This is a hard tension to hold, but Cooper does it well.

Title:The Dark is Rising
Author: Susan Cooper
Date published:1973
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: The Dark is Rising
Number of pages: 244
Notes: Repeat reading

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

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cover of The Prisoner of Azkaban

I feel sorry for the people who only watch the Harry Potter movies and don't read the books-- they are missing so much. I remember coming out of the third movie disappointed with the things that had been oversimplified (probably to fit it into two hours), and which added so much more depth-- and reading it again, I feel that again. In this book, you learn a great deal about Harry's dad and his friends, and the lengths they went to for each other, most specifically in learning to become animagi to be with their friend Lupin, and this comes together perfectly in the shape of Harry's Patronus (which is not the amorphous white shield portrayed in the movie). He finally sees the shape of it clearly near the end, when he fights off a swarm of dementors, and it is a great stag-- which was his father's animagi form and the reason his nickname was Prongs.

The Dementors are a powerful, dark creature in Harry's world. Perhaps it reveals a little something more about the wizarding world, that they tolerate these dreadful creatures, allowing them to torment those imprisoned at Azkaban, because it is a way to immobilize powerful wizards and make the rest of the wizarding world feel safe. Dumbledore makes it pretty clear how he feels about the dementors, and Lupin challenges Harry about the fact that anyone could deserve a dementor's soul-sucking "kiss."

Lupin is a great character-- the best Defense Against the Dark Arts that Harry has had, but, unfortunately for everyone, a werewolf. It was interesting to me how much Harry respects Lupin-- he values Lupin's opinion, and there are a couple of times when he's breaking the rules or doing something he shouldn't that he senses Lupin would disapprove, and this bothers him.

Re-reading the books, I'm more aware of how tightly-plotted they are. I've noticed before that Rowling is always careful to introduce magical ideas (such as animagi, or certain charms or potions) before they become central points in the plot. Time-travel is difficult to do, but Rowling is very careful and makes it work perfectly. Perhaps it's slightly easier that she makes it work so there is no alternate version of events (the time-travel always happened), but it is still perfectly done.

Not so relevant to the book, but-- the other thing that really bothered me with the movie-version of this book is that they made Lupin transform into some grotesque man-wolf, rather than an actual wolf, which makes the whole animagi thing (which they also mostly left out) completely illogical. Just dumb.

Read in less than two days (over the weekend).

Edited to add: I remarked something when I read the book that I forgot to include here. Harry spares Peter's life, asking Sirius and Lupin not to kill him (which they were ready to do)-- he does this more for their sake than for Peter, but Dumbledore later commends him for it. Dumbledore says that it's what his father would have done, but also that he may be glad of it later-- which reminded me of the pivotal role Gollum played in the Lord of the Rings, and the ramifications of the decisions of both Gandalf and Frodo to spare him.

Title:Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Author:J. K. Rowling
Date published:1999
Genre:Children's Fantasy
Series:Harry Potter
Number of pages:435
Notes:repeat reading

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

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This woman is one I had as a professor a couple times during my time at Wheaton College, and I have deep respect for her. Each of her books that I've read have been both enjoyable and challenging. This book speaks about what it might mean to be content in our day and age. Two of the phrases she uses repeatedly are 'mellowness of heart' and 'walking gently'. We are given an example of walking gently in the way McMinn writes, speaking truth in ways that can be heard without condemnation. The end of each chapter has a series of questions, which comes from the Quaker background in which she was raised, reminding the reader that if something is read it can easily be forgotten .. but if it is pondered and applied to my life the ideas will stay present much longer.

On the surface, many of the pieces of advice and ideas that McMinn shares are easy to do: finding my limits and keeping them; taking time to savor and enjoy this moment; taking care to value and work to create community; remembering. But as with so much of life, those things which are simple are not necessarily easy. McMinn comes to this topic with an acknowledgment that she still has much to learn, and is on the journey as her readers may be. At least a couple of times the idea of mentors is raised, perhaps not people who are formal mentors, but those who are older than us who live well and in doing so call us to walk as they do. This idea, of looking for traits you value in others and then imitating them, is echoed throughout creation, (like baby ducks imprinting and following whomever is in the room with them when they first hatch,) and probably for very good reasons. Having examples of humans to follow and be encouraged by can give us the strength to choose well today, as we slowly learn how to walk gently.

Title:The Contented Soul: The Art of Savoring Life
Author: Lisa Graham McMinn
Date published:2006
Genre: Nonfiction, Spiritual
Number of pages: 174
Notes:

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

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cover of Over Sea, Under Stone Since Lark read these, it reminded me of them and I wanted to read them too! The beginning of a great story. Or a set of stories. There is Light and Dark, and important battles to be fought. Three children (Simon, Jane, and Barney) get to spend a month with their parents and their great-uncle Merry on vacation in Cornwall. On a dreary rainy day, they decide to explore the house where they are staying as if it were uncharted territory, and 'happen' to discover a manuscript with a map. And are sent on a treasure quest. With the Dark seeking to subvert and steal them, and the Light gently protecting and aiding without taking over.

This book introduces Merry aka Merriman Lyon, who is a marvelously mysterious character. He is old and yet powerful. When he speaks, people listen and are willing to do as he suggests. Even adults seldom feel able to ask him questions -- he is trusted but not known. This seems so true of life -- sometimes we are asked to simply trust even though it doesn't seem reasonable or logical or safe. Not that Merry represents God or something that extreme .. but sometimes God asks us to go on 'quests' even if we don't feel 'protected enough' or 'safe enough' or exactly sure of what we are doing.

The map that the children find is not exactly a map, but more of a drawing. And there are specific signs to mark where the treasure is hidden. Simple signs that last through the ages. Each one is different but clearly the right one once the children are in the right place at the right time. To watch elementary aged children go questing is enjoyable. They don't have all the answers or know exactly what they are doing, but they are willing to ponder various options and discover clues many adults wouldn't have been willing to even think about. And the signs are simple .. how true that something so beautiful and old and priceless can be hidden away with a couple of simple signs, and yet stay hidden for ages. What things do we miss each day because we look only for what we expect to see?

Title:Over Sea, Under Stone
Author: Susan Cooper
Date published:1965
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Series: The Dark is Rising
Number of pages: 243
Notes: Repeat reading

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Monday, June 11, 2007

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cover of The Chamber of Secrets

Harry returns for his second year at Hogwarts, and we are introduced to the delightful character of Dobby the house-elf. At Hogwarts, the heir of Slytherin has opened the Chamber of Secrets and unleashed whatever monster Slytherin left there-- and Harry has to deal not only with the suspicions of the other students, but his own doubts about himself, since the Sorting Hat considered putting him in Slytherin house. Ultimately, he proves himself loyal to Dumbledore and a true Gryffindor when he faces Voldemort in a different, younger incarnation.

Eventually Dumbledore explains to Harry that, when Voldemort tried to kill Harry and failed, some of his power was transferred to Harry-- like the rare gift of parseltongue that makes everyone suspect Harry is Slytherin's heir. This is pretty interesting when you know the prophecy that is revealed later in the series-- by trying to take out a threat, Voldemort creates an even greater threat.

A couple of things that seemed annoyingly convenient to the plot, when I knew where it was heading: Harry, Ron, and Hermione are in frequent contact with Moaning Myrtle, yet they never think to ask her how or when she died? And Hermione is too clever not to figure out what the monster is before everyone else-- but of course she doesn't voice her suspicions until she can confirm it in the library, and then she's turned to stone until the whole thing is over. Ginny's behavior, on the other hand, did not bother me, because it seemed about the way someone like that would behave in such a situation.

Read in two days.

Title:Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Author:J. K. Rowling
Date published:
Genre:Children's Fantasy
Series:Harry Potter
Number of pages:341
Notes:repeat reading

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

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cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

G and I have been planning to re-read all the Harry Potter books in time for the last one coming out in July. I was hoping to give him more of a head start (he's only in book 3), but I realized there isn't all that much time before July 21st to read 6 books and I'm not sure how many pages. It's fun to revisit our first trip into Rowling's magical world-- but thinking of it with the ending in mind makes it more interesting, too. And I still find myself touched by what saves Harry, when it is fully explained at the end of the book-- the sacrificial love of his mother is such a powerful counter-curse that it saves Harry's life as a child, destroys Voldemort's power, and leaves its mark in his skin so that eleven years later Voldemort's minion physically can't bear to touch Harry. That's powerful imagery, and surprisingly Christian for all those who clamor against these books as dangerous.

Because I'm reading with ideas about the last book in mind, and I've recently heard that the bookmakers in London have given up taking bets on Harry's demise (everyone was betting he dies in the last book), it's hard not to notice comments about death. For instance, the centaurs that Harry meets in the Forbidden Forest seem to know something about his death-- one centaur decides to make a stand against evil (even if it means being an ally of humans) and helps Harry, but it makes you wonder if they just weren't quite right about the timing of when Harry would meet his fate. Dumbledore also has a great line (all the more poignant because we know about Dumbledore's fate in book six) when he's explaining to Harry how Nicholas Flamel could willingly destroy the source of his immortality: "After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure."

Rowling's writing isn't what we think of as great literature, but there's something about her narrative tone that is very engaging-- a humorous, personable voice that is easy to listen to, and has interesting things to share. And in Harry's discovery of who he is and the world he belongs to, it seems there is something every child longs to discover-- there is magic in the world, and they are extraordinarily special.

Read in under 24 hours.

Title:Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Author:J. K. Rowling
Date published:1997
Genre:Children's Fantasy
Series:Harry Potter
Number of pages:309
Notes:repeat reading

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Friday, June 08, 2007

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The fascination of this Pulitzer prize-winning novel lies in watching something elaborate and well-made move toward destruction, like seeing a wedding cake slide to the floor, or breaking the stays of a spider web one by one. You watch in spite of yourself. In this case, a family and a farm, inextricably linked, fall into ruin by a slow and improbable process. Yet each tiny step that solidifies their lost legacy is completely plausible. This story of an Iowa family is superbly and subtly written.

At the opening of the novel, Ginny Cook Smith goes contentedly about her duties of cooking, keeping house, and occasionally helping with the fieldwork on her father’s farm, worked jointly by her father, her husband, and her brother-in-law. She has some regrets, like being childless and having to cope with her irascible father, but in general, life is good. Ginny’s husband Ty is a kind and patient man, and her sister Rose, who lives next door, is her best friend and constant companion.

Then, on a seeming whim, her father decides to sign over the farm to Ginny, her two sisters, and their husbands. That event marks the strange beginning of her father’s sudden hostility toward her and Ty’s vague suspicion, doubt, and disapproval. Almost overnight, the emotional landscape shifts, and ugly resentments, both reasonable and unreasonable, begin to poison relationships and the family’s ability to successfully farm their land.

I found it remarkable that by the end of the novel, Smiley has managed to completely rearrange the picture of this family, so that even though you’re dealing with the same people, the same circumstances, and the same facts, your idea about them is completely different. It’s not unlike one of those alternate endings of a movie, where the filmmakers trot you seamlessly through the same scenes loaded with gestures and speeches full of double meanings, and arrive at an entirely different outcome. Only it’s the past that changes in this book – not the actual events but the understanding of them; not the lives of the characters, but the knowledge of their motives. And in this story, the motives of the key players are uniformly self-serving. No one escapes unscathed from their own depravity.

As with any narrative that deals closely with crops and soil, land and water, I was drawn to the language of agriculture, the wonder and precision of farming. Smiley is successful in evoking the pragmatic and unsentimental atmosphere of a conventional Iowa farm. If the book had been set in a major city, I probably wouldn’t have connected with or cared about the characters.

Title:A Thousand Acres
Author:Jane Smiley
Date published:1991
Genre:Fiction
Number of pages:371
Notes:Another read of Book Lust

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cover of Rainbows End

In a future world where most people wear clothes embedded with computers embedded and use contact lens as a display that overlays the real world with all kinds of other visions and interpretations of reality, the elderly-- many, miraculously cured from debilitating diseases-- must struggle to adapt to the new technology; one such is Robert Gu, a former poet who has been brought back from the haze of Alzheimers. At the same time, an Indo-European intelligence consortium has happened on a dangerous experiment with mind-control using engineered diseases and media. The connection between these two different plots comes in the form of the mysterious creature known only as Rabbit, working on behalf of the Indo-Europeans to gain access to a biolab, and making use of a wide range of alliances of others, including Gu, his granddaughter, and others.

At first glance, the spy/intelligence plot and the newly restored elderly trying to make sense of a changed world don't seem like they belong in the same book, but it works-- and this is probably because of the compelling character of Rabbit. He only appears virtually, always in some kind of rabbity avatar-- sometimes an engraved one out of Lewis Carroll, once as Bugs Bunny (which the children clearly don't get). It's hinted (but never definitely said) that Rabbit is probably a newly developed A.I., playful and testing out his abilities. Rabbit himself suggests that his genius and ability to make miracles happen is a matter of making connections, bringing the right people together.

The writing is wonderful-- particularly the description of Robert Gu coming out of the murky, dim haze of Alzheimers. At first he thinks his granddaughter Miri is his little sister Cora, until his mind clears and he remembers his sister is dead. In his life before, Gu was a prize-winning poet-- but not a very nice man. As he recovers, he finds himself fascinated by technology (which he disdained before), and discovers that his gift, the music of poetry, is gone. It was wonderful to watch his development as a character, and his connections with other characters, particularly Miri, and the beloved wife he drove away before (and who he thinks is dead).

One of the other plot-threads that I loved was the Librareome project-- a mass-digitization of library books by shredding them with a device that looks and sounds like a wood-chipper. This is brilliant and hilarious (particularly to me, since we're starting a mass-digitization project at work), and gives Vinge the opportunity to imagine a "virtual library," where the space is decked out in all the latest technologies, with floors dedicated to different belief circles, like that of the Knights Guardian and Librarian Militant.

The title is the name of the nursing home where Robert lived when he was sick, and where his ex-wife now lives. At one point, Robert reflects on the name:

He'd never been able to decide if that spelling was the work of an everyday illiterate or someone who really understood the place.
This is brilliant! How one little bit of punctuation changes meaning. The last chapter before the epilogue is called "The Missing Apostrophe," and this is when Robert finds out that his wife, Lena, is still alive.

I've been meaning to read something by Vernor Vinge for a while because I've been hearing good things about his books. I came across this fairly recent one and saw that it was a Hugo nominee, so I decided to try it out-- and I was not disappointed.

Title:Rainbows End
Author:Vernor Vinge
Date published:2006
Genre:Science Fiction
Number of pages:364
Notes:Hugo nominee, Locus award winner

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

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This is written by another member of InnerChange, and was enjoyable to read. Hayden has been in Cambodia for a couple of years now, and has enough of the language that he could go and spend a month in a small village. This was a time of learning both culture and language, and understanding the history and place where his neighbors (in Phnom Penh) come from. The images and questions and ideas that Hayden shares gave a good glimpse of Cambodia.

One thing I appreciated is his honesty about some of the adjustments that were hard to make. The topics of bugs and food come up once in a while, but not overwhelmingly so. Things in this village move slowly, so Hayden has lots of downtime which he wasn't prepared for and isn't always sure what to do with. But that is something there can be lots of in villages .. time to sit and talk, to watch tv, to slowly make food, to watch neighbors walk by. Also, Hayden had a camera to document his time, and got to use it himself as well as let the neighborhood kids use it and enjoy it. He let them use it, but then also took the time to develop the photos and give them out so the kids (and their families) could see actual results and not just a picture on the back of the camera. In this journal, Hayden does a good job of making note of things that happened without making lots of judgments or comparisons, which feels healthy and wise.

Title:Cambodian Journal: 28 days
Author: Hayden Sewall
Date published:2006
Genre: Nonfiction
Number of pages: 159
Notes: Written by a fellow InnerChanger

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