The Known World tells the story of Henry Townsend, a black farmer and former slave who falls under the tutelage of William Robbins, the most powerful man in Manchester County, Virginia. Making certain he never circumvents the law, Townsend runs his affairs with unusual discipline. But when death takes him unexpectedly, his widow, Caldonia, can't uphold the estate's order, and chaos ensues. Jones has woven a footnote of history into an epic that takes an unflinching look at slavery in all its moral complexities.
Thursday, April 30, 2009
The Known World
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The Barbies, Ken, and GI Joe
When I was a young girl I loved playing with Barbies. I probably played with Barbies longer than most other girls of my age. I understand all the bla-bla-bla concerning Barbie’s figure and a young girl’s self esteem, but I have to tell you, it wasn’t an issue with me and my Barbies. We were all tough girls and didn’t let our great figures or love of accessories hold us back. My collection of Barbies only had one Ken, but we were all good with that. Who, really, let’s be honest now, needed more than one male on a normal day-to-day basis?
Sometimes, though, ED (My older brother, El Dictator) would be bored out of his mind and unable to talk me into playing with something other than my Barbies. On those very rare occasions, if he really wanted to play with me, he would have to swallow his pride, get out a GI Joe and all his accessories, er, weapons, and play Barbies with me. Playing Barbies with me wasn’t all that bad. I was still the same sister who played Killer Tricycle and Flood! with ED. And besides, as I mentioned, my Barbies might have enjoyed their accessories, heels, and some nice formal wear, but they also were tough babes whose favorite game with the one Ken was Amazon Women. Yeah. If Ken dared to come to our island kingdom we captured him and tied him up good. If ED decided to play Barbies with me, it could still be akin to playing with GI Joes, only with an army of Amazon warriors.
Any scenario we decided on for our games could not entail Barbie versus GI Joe. I had enough Barbies that they could easily swarm GI Joe, disarm him, and tie him to the hood of the Barbie car, all before breakfast. It really wouldn’t be a fair fight. I’m not sure where the poor Ken stood in all the action. He was handsome, but he didn’t have the weapons GI Joe did, and, lets face reality here, he was pretty subservient to the Barbies’ whims. Even if ED had Ken join GI Joe in an effort to repel the Barbie hordes, Ken was pretty much guaranteed to be the first to fall in any skirmish. Really, the guy was always smiling and had no scars, gear, or camo.
Hipee (my younger sister, High Powered Executive) was definitely my preferred Barbie-playing companion, and she brought her own collection of Barbies, along with a Truly Scrumptious in 1968, into the game. What ED contributed was a few large vehicles, like a dump truck for a troop transport or camper, and a large red sports car that the Barbies could sort of ride on, perched on the hood. Hipee and I would liberate his trucks and the sports car from time to time for our own Barbie games. Since ED was not good with Amazon Women, we had to play something different, normally some sort of adventure. I can’t for the life of me recall what we played, only that we did play Barbies together.
While ED was a reluctant Barbie-playing companion, play he did. ED, of course, would probably deny the fact that he ever played Barbies with me and would plead no memory of any such event ever taking place. Since he is getting on in years, I’ll extend him the grace to not insist he remember playing Barbies with me, but it is at times like this that I wish memories could be replayed like movies so I could provide actual footage of ED played with Barbies. That would make for a glorious family movie night.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The Lost Night
Very Highly Recommended
In 1986, when the author was 10, her father was stabbed while sleeping next to his third wife; his murder remains unsolved. After years of pretending the memories of that night haven't affected her, and about to get married and enter a new phase of life, Howard sets out to untangle what she and her family can recall of her father's life and death. This book is not an attempt at vengeance but rather a profoundly personal account of a California Central Valley childhood defined by chaotic family life. Howard's parents divorced when she was very young, and both subsequently remarried, with Howard repeatedly pulled into new versions of "family" that replaced—but never explained the demise of—the old ones. It's a testament to her strength that she was finally able to extract herself from this turmoil and make a life of her own (she now writes for the San Francisco Chronicle). Howard's desire to understand her past (particularly the murder) will leave readers sympathetic and understanding of the story's sometimes wandering nature. This is a poignant account of the lifelong effects violence and tragedy can have on an individual and a family. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Summerland is the story of a young hero on a quest through the strange world of the American Faery. This is a fantasy for readers of all ages, set against the background of the American myth. The Clam Island fairies are in grave peril. War is coming, another battle in an ancient conflict. When the band sends for a champion, they get an 11 year-old boy named Ethan Feld. He hates baseball and wants to quit his losing team, but Jennifer T. Rideout loves baseball and won't let him quit. The two find themselves on a journey that includes zeppelins, werefoxes, Indian mythology, sasquatches, wendigos, and the haunted 161 year old husk of George Armstrong Custer. Finally Ethan becomes who he is: a changeling, a hero, and even a man.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Doris Day movie night
Cast: Doris Day, Rod Taylor, Hermione Baddeley, Sergio Fantoni Director: Ralph Levy
Cast: Doris Day, James Garner, Arlene Francis, Edward Andrews Director: Norman Jewison
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Truth and Consequences
Lurie's various academic romances, set against the backdrop of a thinly veiled Cornell University, point in a straight line to tragicomic double-think relationship writers like Lorrie Moore. This latest foray begins promisingly: Jane MacKenzie fails to recognize her own husband, Alan, as he approaches their house from a distance, so bent and changed is he by his aching back. He's an architecture professor (expert on Victoriana); she's a university administrator. When visiting poet Delia Delaney takes up residence, it's Jane who has to attend to her diva-like demands, while simultaneously trying to cope with an incapacitated Alan. Once he's up and around, though, sexy and selfish Delia toys with, then seduces him. The affair gives Alan a midlife lift, and, on discovery, gives Jane a reason to leave him, perhaps for Henry, Delia's ombudsman husband and Jane's highly organized mirror-image. The problem is that Lurie, whose Pulitzer Prize–winning Foreign Affairs is everything this isn't, doesn't seem much interested in fleshing out her characters' romps. Remedial repetitions of basic facts, character descriptions and plot points throughout give the proceedings a strangely clinical feel, as if her characters' reactions were too base to engage with fully: they are reported almost dutifully, though not without offhand flashes of crackly brilliance. Copyright © Reed Business Information
Story Time with ED
It was a horrifying story. ED swore it was true. I was in the second grade. ED was a mature, world-weary 4th grader. He knew things. He had bike privileges that were wide ranging, extending for blocks away from home. He was a man with multiple contacts out in the real world. Hipee, bless her hyperactive heart, may not remember this story time with ED due to some serious personal problems that were forefront in her world - naptime issues at kindergarten. The woman, or victim, only lived a few blocks east of us.
As ED told it, there was this old lady, Mrs. “Brown”. He told me her name. She and her husband lived a couple streets over to the east, just a little north of the rock park. He named the street. I knew where it was. I could even picture the house in which it must have happened. It had to be that barn red house that sat separate from the other houses on the street. That house was scary. Her husband found the body and made the gruesome discovery. Then he had to run for his life. Well, it seems that the woman had an actual nest of Black Widow spiders living in her hair! And they bit her until she died! And then they all came running out of her hair! Could there even be a more frightening tale? ED didn’t know if the guy escaped or where the spiders went. They could have even made it as far as our house! After hearing it I scratched my scalp raw in several spots. Even thinking about it today makes me want to itch. It made an already present phobia just that much worse.
Yes, in the 60’s Ed passed on the black widows in the hair urban legend to me as a factual story thus causing a life long spider phobia. Thanks, ED, and Happy Birthday.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Engineered by the mysterious Hypotheticals to support human life, it's connected to Earth by way of the Arch that towers hundreds of miles over the Indian Ocean. Humans are colonizing this new world - and, predictably, exploiting its resources, chiefly large deposits of oil in the western deserts of the continent of Equatoria.
Lise Adams is a young woman attempting to uncover the mystery of her father's disappearance ten years earlier. Turk Findley is an ex-sailor and sometime drifter. They come together when an infall of cometary dust seeds the planet with tiny remnant Hypothetical machines.Now Lise, Turk, a Martian woman, and a boy who has been engineered to communicate with the Hypotheticals, are drawn to a place in the desert where this seemingly hospitable world has become suddenly very alien indeed - and the nature of time is being once again twisted by entities unknown.
Idlewild is stylish and clever fiction set in the day after tomorrow. It opens with a young man awaking with amnesia; the only thing he knows is that his memory loss has been caused by an attempt to kill him. Unsure who he can trust, he is reacquainted with eight companions, all of whom are being trained at a special school, run by an enigmatic man named Maestro. As he tries to uncover the identity of the person who has tried to murder him, he will quickly begin to unravel a series of truths, making it clear that there is much more than his life at stake.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
If we were careful and kept the volume low, our only chance to watch Dark Shadows on the sly during the summer was on the small black and white TV in the basement, in ED’s room. ED really didn’t have a room downstairs, per se, so much as his bed and dresser were in the far corner of what would have been the family room - if we were using it as a family room. Instead a corner of the room became ED’s bedroom, but the laundry room and a bathroom were right off of it (as was the doorway to the large Killer Tricycle arena) and the stairs from the main level of that house led directly into this large room. The laundry room presented the greatest threat to our illicit Dark Shadows viewing. At any moment our mother could come down the stairs to put a load in the washer.
The second threat to our watching Dark Shadows on the sly was our youngest sister. Yes, ED, Hipee, and I had a younger sister during this time. She wasn’t part of our gang. She was too whiney, wimpy, and young. We’ll call her Whiy. Because she was so much younger, our mother was often busy with her or doing housework. We kept the TV volume low so we could hear if Mom was on the stairs, or if Whiy was coming, as she might see what we were watching, get scared, and tattle.
After successfully watching several episodes of Dark Shadows, I really can’t remember feeling any particular attraction to the show, other than the scary subject matter that, as far as I can remember, didn’t scare us. Trying to watch it soon lost its appeal unless there was a lot of neighborhood buzz concerning some especially exciting or gruesome upcoming episode. Dark Shadows viewing became an occasional occurrence, done on the sly and easily forgotten.
A few months ago I was flipping through the channels checking out what was on TV, and noticed they were playing an old Dark Shadows movie. My first reaction was, “It was a movie too?” Then I decided that I’d watch it to see if it sparked any memories or if I could recall what all the hype was about. After about the first five minutes, I switched channels. It was really rather silly. Perhaps it would have been more exciting if I still felt it was forbidden. Hmmm… There must be a lesson of biblical proportions in there somewhere.
Monday, April 20, 2009
"The time is the day after tomorrow, and three adolescents - Diane and Jason Lawton, twins, and their best friend, Tyler Dupree - are out stargazing. Thus they witness the erection of a planet-spanning shield around the globe, blocking out the universe. Spin chronicles the next 30-odd years in the lives of the trio, during which 300 billion years will pass outside the shield, thanks to an engineered time discontinuity. Jason, a genius, will invest his celibate life in unraveling cosmological mysteries. Tyler will become a doctor and act as our narrator and as Jason's confidante, while nursing his unrequited love for Diane, who in turn plunges into religious fanaticism. Along the way human-descended Martians will appear, bringing a drug that can elevate humans to the Fourth State, ‘an adulthood beyond adulthood.’ But will even this miracle be enough to save Earth?” --The Washington Post
Saturday, April 18, 2009
The Day of the Triffids
Starring: John Duttine, Emma Relph
We will likely watch The Day of the Triffids (1963) starring Howard Keel and Nicole Maurey tonight.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Well Enough Alone
Very Highly Recommended
The good news is Jennifer Traig does not have lupus, multiple sclerosis, Huntington's disease, Crohn's disease, or muscular dystrophy. She discovers that she does not have SUDS, the mysterious disorder that claims healthy young Asian men in their sleep, nor does she have Foreign Accent Syndrome, the bizarre but real neurological condition that transforms native West Virginians into Eliza Doolittle overnight. What she does have is hypochondria.Well Enough Alone, Traig's inquiry into her ailment, is not only an uproariously funny account but also a literary tour of hypochondria, past and present: the implied hypochondria of the Talmud, the flatulence-obsessed eighteenth century, and the malady's current unfortunate lack of a celebrity spokesperson. At the same time, Traig provides an intimate look at the complement of minor conditions that have concealed her essential health and driven her persistent self-diagnosis: the eczema, the shaky hands, and, worst of all, the bad hair. To her surprise, she ends her journey more knowledgeable than she was when she started out, a little less neurotic, and-one might say-healthier.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Eleanor Merritt, a do-gooding American family-planning worker, was drawn to Kenya to improve the lot of the poor. Unnervingly, she finds herself falling in love with the beguiling Calvin Piper despite, or perhaps because of, his misanthropic theories about population control and the future of the human race. Surely, Calvin whispers seductively in Eleanor's ear, if the poor are a responsibility they are also an imposition.
Set against the vivid backdrop of shambolic modern-day Africa—a continent now primarily populated with wildlife of the two-legged sort—Lionel Shriver's Game Control is a wry, grimly comic tale of bad ideas and good intentions. With a deft, droll touch, Shriver highlights the hypocrisy of lofty intellectuals who would "save" humanity but who don't like people.
Monday, April 13, 2009
I'm about ten years older than the Scheeres, grew up in the Midwest (although not in Indiana), and I don't remember any of the blatant racism David experienced. However, part of my childhood was spent in cities, part in small towns. I remember African-American teachers in my schools and not giving it a second thought - they were Mr. or Mrs._____ and that's it. Since I hated moving to a small town, basically for my high school years, I understand the weirdness of a small town versus a city and the difficulty moving to a rural community. Small towns can be rather ingrown and inbreed. But, it would be a horrible mistake to label all Midwesterners who are Christians with the broad brush of "fanatic-Christian-racists". We aren't. Some are, but not all of us. While the Scheeres household was fanatic, it was also abusive with indifferent and violent parents. I really think even Scheeres herself (from reading her interview in my copy of Jesus Land) would encourage readers to not hate all Christians. I actually prefer the UK release title, Another Hour on Sunday Morning, because Jesus had nothing to do with what happened to Julia and David Sheeres.
On the other hand, perhaps many people don't realize that they carry with them some racist attitudes. A comment on a blog recently had me pondering this. It was meant to be a throwaway silly comment about kids playing "cowboys and Indians." But see, there's the rub... We have good, dear friends who are Native Americans and live on the Rez. The whole kids playing "cowboys and Indians" comment would never come into my mind, let alone out of my mouth or put into words on a blog. Do I think the blog writer is racist? I don't know. Did I find the comment hurtful? Well... yes.
Also, from my memories, I think David certainly could have reported the abuse and would have been taken seriously in many places in the Midwest at that time. I was a young adult in the late 70's and early 80's and reports of child abuse were consequential by that time. I can't speak with any certainty about Lafayette, Indiana, but any reported abuse would have been taken quite seriously in many other small towns and communities in the Midwest. Edited to add that now I'm wondering if this memoir is slightly exaggerated, and part of the perceived racism was dealing with bullies.
Julia Scheeres and her adopted brother, David, are sixteen years old. Julia is white. David is black. It's the mid-1980s and their family has just moved to rural Indiana, a landscape of cottonwood trees and trailer parks, and an all-encompassing racism. At home are a distant mother - more involved with her church's missionaries than with her own children - and a violent father. In this riveting memoir Julia Scheeres takes us from the Midwest to a place beyond our imagining: surrounded by natural beauty, the Escuela Caribe - a religious reform school in the Dominican Republic - is characterized by a disciplinary regime that extracts repentance from its students by any means necessary. Julia and David strive to make it through these ordeals and their tale is relayed here with startling immediacy, extreme candor, and wry humor.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Daughters of the North
Synopsis from cover:
In her stunning novel, Hall imagines a new dystopia set in the not-too-distant future. England is in a state of environmental crisis and economic collapse. There has been a census, and all citizens have been herded into urban centers. Reproduction has become a lottery, with contraceptive coils fitted to every female of childbearing age. A girl who will become known only as "Sister" escapes the confines of her repressive marriage to find an isolated group of women living as "un-officials" in Carhullan, a remote northern farm, where she must find out whether she has it in herself to become a rebel fighter. Provocative and timely, Daughters of the North poses questions about the lengths women will go to resist their oppressors, and under what circumstances might an ordinary person become a terrorist.
"My name is Sister.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
New York, at century's end; A mutilated body has been found, its face and fingerprints removed, a coin-sized circle carved into its upper thigh. On a remote island off the Southeast coast, a young man is running from a place he cannot survive, toward a world he cannot comprehend. And in the echoing canyons of Manhattan, another young man - a journalist - is moving closer to the truth about his own past, and to an encounter that will alter everything he has ever believed about himself.For thirty years a colony with its own laws, values, and complex living systems has been growing. Covertly supplied with the latest technology and DNA materials, its leaders carefully monitor their human trials and conceal the inhabitants from the outside world. Now someone has escaped. When Jude finds him cowering in the shadows of his apartment hallway, he will understand why this ragged stranger who calls himself Skyler is so frightened.They share the same face.Now Jude and Skyler are running together - bound by a new, secret science - hunted by unknown pursuers as they search for the mystery of their birth. Aided by a doctor with her own dangerous secret, they flee across the country, drawing nearer to a conspiracy at the very heart of America's power structure...survivors of an experiment that has gone tragically, irreversibly wrong.
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
After we experienced the real thing, our favorite childhood sandbox game became Flood! Usually this game was played with my older brother, El Dictator or ED, but sometimes my sister, the High Powered Executive or Hipee, joined the fun. Our parents disliked Flood! and often banned it for limited periods of time, but we still managed to sneak in a game or promised we would just have a limited Flood! rather than a Total Apocalyptic Deluge. See the problem our parents had with Flood! was not so much that we were playing it as much as the fact that the sandbox was right next to the house and if we got carried away water would run into the basement.
Flood! was a rather time consuming game. First we had to build a landscape with dams, canyons, mountains, roads, and a city out of sand. This could take hours. We populated our city with Matchbox cars. Once we had the entire sandbox fashioned into some heavily populated area, we turned on the water and slowly introduced the means of their devastation, the hose. ED, naturally, was in charge of the hose. I got to make up a story to go with the natural disaster and help various groups to escape in their Matchbox cars. Not everyone made it out alive.
After the water destroyed everything we faced our time of reckoning. We could stop, and thus complete a limited game of Flood! which would be pleasing to our parents and ensure that we could play a future game of Flood! much sooner. Or we could take the road of perdition and make Flood! into the huge natural disaster that we wanted it to be. This required running the water until the whole sandbox was flooded and water was running out into the yard. Matchbox car would be floating away or buried in the sand. Our mother would notice the water had been running for an awfully long time and she’d start yelling at us to, “turn off the water” and asking, “did we want to flood the basement?” and mentioning that we should, “just wait until your father got home.” Choices….choices….
It is with great trepidation that I admit we usually chose wrong. I blame ED.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
A so-so book - don't bother.
Synopsis from the cover:
In Boston, nine lawyers on a conference call suddenly convulse with pain, turn chalk white, and die. In Vermont, a young woman watching her favorite sitcom meets the same grisly fate, as does a group of sewer workers in Washington, D.C. Whatever has killed these people is spreading fast, and the task of eradicating it falls to young virologist Samantha Craig and paramedic Nick Barnes, whose brilliant surgical career was ruined by a crippling hand injury.When Nick and Samantha discover that the virus, named Reaper, is spread through TVs and PCs, they realize that the information superhighway will become a killing field, with tens of millions dead, unless they can root Reaper out. Their search employs a dazzling array of real-life wizardry, from Mylar body paint to Stealth helicopters to CIA-bred swarms of insects. At the core of Reaper's madness, they find a suavely megalomaniacal, up-from-the-slums, high-tech billionaire; an icily ingenious hacker; and a high-powered cabal that will do anything to save the world from technology, even if that means annihilating the world.
Monday, April 6, 2009
That was the name of the game. We called it a game, but it was really a death match played with my older brother, El Dictator, and my younger sister, High Powered Executive. (Let’s shorten that to ED and Hipee.) This was during our bottle collecting days. Let me try to explain how Killer Tricycle was played.
Killer tricycle requires a closed arena atmosphere. If an arena is not available, you can use a large basement area with either cement or hard surface floors. You need, naturally, a tricycle, along with boxes or various kinds of obstacles that contestants/runners can jump up on for a safe area in the arena. We were lucky in this regard, as our family tended to move frequently with our dad’s job, so we had plenty of filled boxes stored down in a large unfinished basement area that we could use. The boxes are set up as islands, so to speak, all over the room. Between the boxes there is enough room for the tricycle to easily maneuver and for the runners to run away from the tricycle.
Once the course is made, the game is simple: run and jump out of the way of the tricycle, powered by ED, or die. ED was always the killer tricycle driver. I think he really wanted to eliminate us, but societal rules and the fear of parental retribution stayed his hand. However, if he could take his aggression combined with disgust at having younger sisters and channel it into a game, then it was more acceptable. This necessitated the birth of Killer Tricycle and it was played with abandon… frequently.
Now ED was always a big boy, and I mean big as in tall, not fat, and he was strong. If this brings to mind the picture of a tall kid trying to pedal a little tricycle, think again. ED used the tricycle simply as a scooter. He had one leg on the tricycle and one leg for power. ED could make that baby fly, from 3 wheels to two on corners, as he zoomed around the boxes trying to chase down, run over, and maim Hipee and me. Our part in Killer Tricycle was to run away from him and jump up on the boxes to get out of his way. And we had to be able to move. If we couldn’t run and jump out of his way, he would crash into us. Frequently he crashed into the boxes we jumped up on to escape him.
I don’t remember ever being hit by ED and the tricycle. I vaguely remember some crying and tears from Hipee on at least one occasion. Hipee could yell. (She had some lungs on her. Still does.) I do wonder now why we were allowed to play this game. I have a feeling that our parents didn’t really know exactly what Killer Tricycle entailed. We probably said that we just ran around in the maze of boxes and jumped on them to stay away from ED on the tricycle. All true, but it doesn’t quite describe the reality of the frantic game called Killer Tricycle.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Praise the Human Season
If ever there was a human book, this is it. A shining tribute to the human spirit, this is the delightful story of Howard and Anne Amberson, who in their seventies decide to take off, footloose and fancy-free on an aimless auto trip to find "the meaning of the apparatus."Off they go on a rollicking, heart tugging, inevitably overwhelming voyage of self discovery. By day the Ambersons drive through the fall Ohio countryside. At night, when Anne is asleep, Howard, a retired English teacher and track coach, secretly scribbles in a ledger, re-creating in his precise hand past lives, past loves, a vast panorama of departed family and friends, After all, the Ambersons have lived a total of 146 years and the names on tombstones reel endlessly through their travels. But far from being lugubrious, Don Robertson's novel is an exultant celebration of the joys of life, the quirkiness of married love. It is a very funny novel.As Howard peers nearsightedly over the wheel, he and Anne reminisce about their long life together and bravely discuss their fear of death, until Howard concludes that next to their love for each other, what does the apparatus matter?Don Robertson has written an transcendent love story of two people in the autumn of their lives, a hymn of praise to the human season.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
When Science Goes Wrong
When Science Goes Wrong is highly recommended.