Saturday, May 30, 2009

Antigone by Jean Anouilh

I was partway through reading Jean Anouilh's Antigone when I realized that I knew exactly what came next. I've played Ismene, Antigone's sister, in some sort of shortened scene adaptation, in a past life. I can't remember which past life -- it might have been high school, or it might have been my first year at university, but I remembered Antigone and Ismene's discussion at the beginning of the play clearly. It leant an extra emotional punch to that scene, because I'd had to figure out what Ismene was feeling, and why, and how, in order to portray her effectively, and I remembered all of that too. It was one of my more interesting reading experiences in a while.

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will know that I'm not a big fan of things that don't have happy endings. Antigone does not have a happy ending: Antigone is a tragedy, true to Sophocles. But I still really enjoy this play.

Anouilh's Antigone follows essentially the same plot as Sophocles'. Oedipus of Thebes had four children: Eteocles, Polynices, Ismene and Antigone. Eteocles and Polynices have waged war upon each other, and killed each other; their uncle, Creon, must take the throne of Thebes in the aftermath. He had sided with Eteocles, and thus Eteocles gets a proper, regal burial; Polynices is left to rot, and no one must bury him on pain of death. Perhaps you can guess what happens next, even if you don't know the story. I don't really want to spoil everything for anyone who doesn't know the story.

But of course, the tension isn't so much in the story; everyone knows what must happen as soon as all the characters are introduced. Anouilh employs a chorus, the characters, and the plot, but otherwise this play bears very little resemblance to a Greek play. The language is poetic, but immediate, and the characters are not cutouts declaiming the words of the gods, or simple puppets of fate; they are very human and very passionate and very emotionally real. The language is beautiful, and the sentiments deep and conflicting.

There are a couple things in particular I like about this play, the poetry aside. Anouilh uses the chorus not just to tell the audience what is going on. He also uses it to discuss tragedy as an art form, to draw attention to the structure of the play itself. In this way, the chorus and the other parts work against each other, their purposes at odds: the chorus distances the audience from the emotion and action, but the other players draw the audience in. And the chorus and the other characters interact at points, the chorus serving to point out to the characters themselves both the absurdity and inevitability of the situation they are in. As the chorus tells the audience at one point:

The rest is automatic. You don't need to lift a finger. The machine is in perfect order; it has been oiled since time began, and it runs without friction. Death, treason and sorrow are on the march; and they move in the wake of storm, of tears, of stillness. Every kind of stillness. The hush when the executioner's axe goes up at the end of the last act. The unbreathable silence when, at the beginning of the play, the two lovers, their hearts bared, their bodies naked, stand for the first time face to face in the darkened room, afraid to stir. The silence inside you when the roaring crowd acclaims the winner -- so that you think of a film without a soundtrack, mouths agape and no sound coming out of them, a clamour that is no more than a picture; and you, the victor, already vanquished, alone in the desert of your silence. That is tragedy.

As you can see, the language is not the language of a Greek play -- it is contemporary, but it is also describing something very ancient and primeval. Tragedy has been around since the dawn of theatre as we know it, and our greatest plays are tragedies even if we think we like the comedies better.

The other thing I really like is that the tension between Creon and Antigone is not just between their characters -- it's also between what they each represent. The audience, at the end, ends up conflicted and wondering where their proper sympathies should lie. Antigone is the heroine, Creon the villain. But Creon, to me, is more noble, and more sympathetic, even though it was his heartless decision in the beginning (well offstage, before the play starts) that allegedly sets the events of the play in motion. That sets off an interesting tension in the individual viewing the play -- we know where our sympathies are supposed to lie, but we're not sure where they should.

I say that Creon "allegedly" sets events in motion, because it's hard to figure out, as the play unfolds, how things could possibly ever have happened differently. The ending is inevitable. The play isn't about its ending, it's about the beginning, and about the characters as they make their eloquent way to their inevitable fates. And here, this is why I like tragedy, as the chorus makes clear for me:

Tragedy is clean, it is restful, it is flawless. It has nothing to do with melodrama -- with wicked villains, persecuted maidens, avengers, sudden revelations and eleventh-hour repentances. Death, in a melodrama, is really horrible because it is never inevitable. The dear old father might so easily have been saved; the honest young man might so easily have brought in the police five minutes earlier.

In a tragedy, nothing is in doubt and everyone's destiny is known. That makes for tranquillity.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Teaser Tuesday: Northanger Abbey

I must confess: I nearly forgot today was Tuesday. As stated, I've been having a bit of a time with reading, despite the devouring of Julia Quinn's The Duke and I. Feeling like more romantic comedy, I decided to pick up Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, which I've been meaning to read for quite a while. I've made it through the first paragraph, but time is short these days.

What I have ended up with is an absolutely monstrous edition in which Penguin decided to collect all of Jane Austen's novels into one book. It is huge. It is ridiculous. I can't really take it anywhere -- it's too heavy to carry for long. I prefer a book I can tuck into my enormous purse and whip out at every available opportunity. But whatever.

Teaser Tuesdays are hosted by Should Be Reading. It works as follows:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • Be careful not to include spoilers!
  • Include the title and author.

From Northanger Abbey, taken from Jane Austen: The Complete Novels by Jane Austen (introduction by Karen Joy Fowler), p1018:

"The two youngest Miss Thorpes were by themselves in the parlour; and, on Anne's quitting it to call her sister, Catherine took the opportunity of asking the other for some particulars of their yesterday's party. Maria desired no greater pleasure than to speak of it; and Catherine immediately learnt that it had been altogether the most delightful scheme in the world; that nobody could imagine how charming it had been, and that it had been more delightful than any body could conceive."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn

I apparently spoke too soon with the not-being-able-to-read thing. Actually, the truth is, posting about it here helped a lot. It made me think about the problem, rather than just be frustrated and feeling like a reading martyr in my own mind. And I decided the problem was related to the fact that I had a lot on my TBR pile that I should read, and not nearly enough that I wanted to read. So I thinned. Lots of those things on the TBR pile went back to the library today because I thought: "I don't have to read this. I would like to, sometime. When I am feeling more excited about it. Or when I am less frustrated with myself. But I don't have to read it now."

I spent yesterday reading Julia Quinn's The Duke and I. The Pratchett isn't in yet or I would have read that. But the Quinn was a good enough second. It's fast, light, and engaging. What's interesting, though, is that I had some significant problems with the story. I really like Quinn's writing, but I didn't buy the story this time.

The characters were engaging, and very likeable, all of them. The villain was off-screen except for the prologue, although he was villainous enough that he didn't need to be onscreen. The basic premise is this: duke comes back from overseas and discovers he's suddenly the most eligible bachelor in town, and is swamped by [what are amusingly called] Ambitious Mamas trying to marry off their daughters. Eldest, witty, intelligent daughter in a family of eight can't find a suitor to save her life -- she's got three older brothers and all the men think she's a delightful friend but not a romantic interest. The two of them meet at a ball and decide that they'd rather pretend to be attached, foiling the Ambitious Mamas and drawing jealous male attention, after which they will make a show of breaking it off. The duke will be allowed to be a cranky bachelor and the lady will make a good match. Of course, things don't go as planned, because of course they fall for each other. Will they ever make it work?!

I don't know if you can tell, but the punctuation is sarcastic. No, really.

Once again, I love how carefully Quinn has styled a world full of etiquette and social mores and then used those social rules to further the plot. Her characters are alternately bound and freed by the rules they must follow, and not always in expected ways. And also, I'm very impressed by how funny and exciting the book can be when in the hands of another author it might be boring or frustrating. Or melodramatic. Even the duel wasn't melodramatic. It was tense, it was dramatic, but it wasn't over the top. There are a number of nods to Jane Austen, as well, some more explicit than others, which I do quite enjoy. It's a romantic comedy set in Austen's time and locale -- it would seem weird if there were no Austen references.

So overall, I enjoyed the book until I got a little closer to the end. It was an interesting experience, because I managed to sit back even as the ending was happening and think -- oooookay. I don't buy this at all. Also, I think that Daphne has actually done something I really disagree with, and if I were Simon I would react exactly the same way. Maybe worse. And I sure as hell wouldn't feel badly about it. I mean, Simon's being a dick previous to Daphne's Bad Decision, but that doesn't excuse it.

I can't reveal what it is, because that would be a major spoiler. Even if I don't like what Quinn did with the story at this point, I have to admit she certainly treats the reader to a series of very interesting, believable conflicts that happen after what would be the normal conclusion of a romance novel. Other readers might not be as put off by Daphne's Bad Decision as I am.

I've read that section a couple times now, and I don't think Daphne ever apologises or even recognizes that what she did wasn't right. I looked for it, because it seemed out of character. Part of what I loved about Daphne is that she's really smart, and she's not afraid to apologise when she's in the wrong. She handles conflict well. She's very young, yes, and impulsive, but I never got the impression that she felt she had wronged Simon when to me, she really clearly had. The thing she did I could have handled -- maybe -- but her inability to regard it as absolutely out of line went way too far.

I don't want to give spoilers, but let's just say that the whole situation is resolved in a way I find completely implausible and actually distasteful. And that's disappointing. It's a happily ever after that came off quite sour for me. So I'm not unhappy I read the book, and I'll certainly read the next Bridgerton book that comes my way (Daphne has seven siblings for Quinn to marry off) but I don't see myself reading this one again.

Friday, May 22, 2009

my passion for reading, where have you gone?

This happens sometimes. I go through phases. I go through phases with pretty much everything in my life, with a few solid constants that don't seem to change. I'd hoped that reading had once again (as it used to be) become one of those constants -- the desire to dive into other people's worlds and explore new ideas and thoughts. It used to be a constant before I started university, but then there was less time, and more reading, and I started to hate it.

I don't hate it now, but I seem to have hit a low ebb with my passion for reading again, from a high during March where I couldn't stop reading, even if I didn't love the book. This is coinciding with a high water mark in my passion for playing mindless computer games, and I wonder if there's some sort of causal relationship -- I can correlate it for sure, but I wonder if both are caused by higher levels of stress and anxiety in my life, or whether the gaming itself makes me less interested in reading. With reading I think, but with playing computer games (I'm currently having a lot of fun with Atari's Locomotion, which is not a new game but an old standby for me) I just act and zone out for the better part of an hour. Or, erm, more.

So I am going to put down Winspear's Birds of a Feather which I was enjoying after all, but not enough to keep me thoroughly engaged. I'm going to leave everything on the TBR list that I'm not particularly excited about, except for the ILLOs that are sitting there (one's a comic book, the other is a romance novel, and I think both I can get into; they'll be fast and exciting, and not particularly deep; deep is not what I need right now). But most importantly, I've ordered me some Terry Pratchett, because I'm actually quite certain Equal Rites is just what I need.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Teaser Tuesday: Birds of a Feather

This is the second book about Maisie Dobbs, in which she is on the case of a disappeared heiress. As with Maisie Dobbs, the case appears fairly straightforward, but turns into something more sinister as we go along. Unfortunately, I'm running into the same problem I did with that book, that Winspear's writing doesn't seem to grab me immediately, but I found this teaser and it intrigues me, so I suspect I'll come around soon.

Teaser Tuesdays are hosted by Should Be Reading. It works as follows:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • Be careful not to include spoilers!
  • Include the title and author.

From Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear, p185:

"Of course his story is that he has several items that are not usually employed by archaeologists, but he uses them for the ooh-ahh effect from the audience of fearless travelers that accompany him. According to Fisher, poking around in a pile of old bones in the sand with the tip of a bayonet keeps the intrepid followers happy and gives them something to talk about at the dinner table when they get back to Britain."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Larklight by Philip Reeve

Where on earth do I go with this. Such mixed feelings. I really wanted, really really wanted, to like this book. And a lot of people really do. It's won rave reviews all over, including by bloggers whose taste is close to my own and whose opinions I respect. It leads me to wonder if I maybe just didn't read the book in the right frame of mind, because I really should have loved it and I didn't. Not entirely.

I started out really liking it. But there's one point in my journal where I write: "Currently, my favourite character is the Duke of Wellington:
'Shoot 'em!' shouted the Duke of Wellington, losing patience with us all. 'Shoot the whole d-----d lot of 'em!'
Because I sympathize with the man."

Probably not good.

Towards the end, though, things were looking up enough that I felt I could enjoy reading a sequel, just to see if the characters had indeed grown in the way they seemed to be showing signs of germinating in the last two chapters.

The story (as advertised, "A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space") is told primarily through the diary of twelve-year-old Arthur Mumby, who has grown up in the space-house Larklight with his father and elder sister, Myrtle. Their mother vanished with a lost aethership when Arthur was four, and Arthur and Myrtle have essentially raised themselves since. At the beginning of the book, Larklight prepares to greet a strange visitor, and what follows is a very imaginative, old-school adventure through this wonderful alternate Victorian fantasy world.

Here's the thing: I loved the world of Larklight. I loved the idea that space is basically like a giant ocean full of strange and wonderful space wildlife like aetheric "fish" and wind-whales; that the British, in addition to exploring and colonizing many portions of Earth, have explored and colonized much of the solar system as well. The world that Reeve has created is just fascinating. It has that same faux-futuristic feel that the [thoroughly enjoyed by me] movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow did, but far better execution. His creative imagination runs rampant, giving us sometimes hilarious, sometimes awe-inspiring creatures and environments, and they're all well-detailed and fully believable within the context of his world. I'd love to live in it and I really wish it were real.

The problem is, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to live in it with many of his characters.

Arthur grew on me. At first I found him quite annoying (and honestly, I do suffer a little bit from finding most twelve-year-olds a bit annoying). But he really did grow on me and I'm glad he did, since the vast majority of the book takes place in his diary. Arthur's sister Myrtle, however, drove me nuts. I (like Art) wanted to boot her out into space for most of the book. I have no patience for her at all.

I had hoped this was just twelve-year-old-boy biased perspective that caused me trouble, but no -- it turns out, when we get a few chapters from Myrtle's perspective, that she's every bit as irritating, weak, cowardly, foolish, tactless, pious, patronizing and pompous as Art thinks she is. I hated that, as the only human female in the book, she was so useless. Now, inevitably and predictably, some of that changes as we get further into the book; but not enough for my taste, frankly. She's one of the characters I can possibly see actually growing in a good direction in the next book, as I think a large part of her problem is that she needs to grow up. Still -- spending time with a character who frustrates me so much is not exactly what I was hoping for in this book.

Many of the secondary characters, particularly those on Jack Havock's ship (including Ssilissa, whom I wish we'd seen more in depth, and who is not evil) and the Martians, are really cool. Much too cool to put up with Myrtle for long (but they do, which was harder on my suspension of disbelief than hoverpigs and Changeling Trees). Their back stories are interesting and their characters are well-defined, even if somewhat two-dimensional in most cases.

This may have been the part I was taking too seriously, brought on by an acute case of Myrtle-itis: I haven't read a lot set in Victorian times, or a lot of novels written in the Victorian era. And from what I know of Victorian times I really wouldn't have enjoyed myself very much then, at least among certain society. Colonialism (and the idea that everyone not born in Britain was stupid and in need of British "protection" and "education") was rampant and expected. Lots of things that I have trouble with, like whaling and scientific collection and dissection and inhumane experimentation, were pretty rampant and expected in Victorian times. I think part of my problem with this book is that Art is well indoctrinated into this culture and spouts off a lot of things that make me cringe. Though the fact that I'm cringing over his patronizing attitude towards Ionians (humanoid, but with four arms, and from the Jovian satellite Io) goes to show how well the world is built...

Finally -- and I can't talk very much about this as there would be spoilers, although anyone should be able to see them coming -- there were a number of things that happened towards the end of the book that seemed either rushed, too convenient, or somehow less imaginative than they could have been. After such a creative book, the things that don't fit (or do fit but are just sketched in as opposed to thoroughly explored) stick out. Now, this is a kids' book -- and some of my disappointments would hardly be noticed by a twelve-year-old boy. So if you can just barrel though (by the time the end hits, the pace of the book is breakneck) and keep your twelve-year-old-boy mindset, you won't be mildly annoyed by various predictable happenings or completely unsold plot developments.

There are parts that are quite funny, it's a good adventure, and I'm not sure I can stress enough how fabulous the world-building is, because the book's worth reading just for that; but you may, with regularity, want to punt various (or all) characters into the uncharted depths of space. Also, if you like spiders, or even think spiders might be okay as long as they're not in the same room with you, try to remember that these giant space spiders have 12 legs, not 8, and are therefore not related to our lovable little earth arachnids at all, and try not to feel just slightly injured that spiders get such a bad rap.

To end the review on a high note:

"Among my mother's books I had once discovered a volume of stories by a gentleman named Mr Poe, who lives in Her Majesty's American colonies. There was one, The Premature Burial, which gave me nightmares for weeks after I read it, and I remember thinking there could be no fate more horrible than to be buried alive, and wondering what kind of deranged and sickly mind could have invented such a tale. But as I lay there immobilised in a jar on the wrong side of the Moon with only a ravening caterpillar for company I realized that Mr Poe was actually quite a cheery, light-hearted sort of chap, and that his story had been touchingly optimistic."

And yes, I will certainly read Starcross, second in the trilogy. I want to hang out in the aether for a little longer.

Other people who liked this better than me:
Books & other thoughts
Abby (the) Librarian
Saving my Sanity

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany

I have left this review for a little bit, hoping that with digestion will come more clarity. I think that a certain acceptance of ambiguity is necessary with this story, though.

I came across Jo Walton's mention of Empire Star some time ago, and put the story immediately on the TBR list. I'm glad I did, and I'm glad it was some time ago because reading her post now, I realize that I'd forgotten some things she said that would have made the whole experience less cool. It's not that she includes spoilers, specifically, although they're there if you are looking for them; it's that she mentions certain things in a straightforward way that Delany writes about more obliquely. It's the journey with this story. And then it's the re-journey once you've read to the end and turn back to page one.

I don't read nearly enough science fiction, though I enjoy it, and I've always been curious about Samuel R. Delany's work. fishy and I were trying to decide on a story that the two of us would surely read, and probably enjoy, for our informal book club (which got off to a sputtering start several months ago before stalling). I suggested something by Delany, and we picked Empire Star specifically because it was short. Far shorter than Dhalgren, which was the one option my library had. Dhalgren is 800+ pages. Empire Star is under 100.

What really made this novella for me is Delany's use of language. His plot and characters and ideas are all interesting, and thought-provoking. But he writes wonderfully and that, to me, is the main draw. Throughout, the lanugage is poetic and lyrical, and a joy to savour.

It's hard to talk a lot about this story without giving things away. The narrator of Empire Star is the multiplexually conscious crystallized Tritovian, Jewel, who has the advantage of knowing everything and therefore being an omniscient narrator. And by the way, if much of that sentence made little sense -- um, sorry? It takes an entire novella to explain. Comet Jo is our main character, and he makes a wonderful, fascinating journey through space to deliver a message given to him by a dying man, and clarified for him by the aforementioned Jewel. Quite a lot happens, in slightly less than 100 pages, and Empire Star rewards re-reading. I saw it as a coming of age, primarily, although the story also deals with slavery and emancipation, as well as the universality of human experience.

One thing I particularly like is that there is no direct translation of current (or 60's -- the story was written in 1965) human culture and mores to space at some indeterminate time in the future. There are some standard, material and occasionally oddly clumsy reversals (men have long hair, women have short; clothes appear to be mostly optional; and so forth). But overall, the future of humanity is different -- but the human experience is still recognizeable in the pages. There were moments where I felt completely connected to the story. There were also moments where I felt completely disconnected, but not in a jarring way. More as an observer, and I am sure this is intentional.

On a slightly less profound level, I like that the indicator of a multiplex consciousness is asking questions, and knowing (or figuring out) the right questions to ask -- and that Delany also pays homage to Theodore Sturgeon, whose credo (according to Wikipedia, anyway, and I haven't fact-checked even though I am a librarian and know I should) was: "ask the next question." Nicely done.

I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience of reading this story, and I do recommend it for anyone, even those not particularly enamoured of science fiction. The prose is beautifully lyrical and the story both entertaining and just a little mind-bending, especially the first time you read it. And don't peek ahead in this one (or read Jo Walton's post until after you've read the story!). It's got one of the best twists I've encountered recently.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Teaser Tuesday: Larklight

I started this book, just the first three pages, while we were away. I'm looking forward to getting back to it! It looks long but I know it's going to fly by. There are mixed reviews on this one, but I think it appeals to me, and I suspect I'm going to enjoy it. It falls firmly on the fantasy side of reading, what with children going out into space without their space helmets and having great adventures. So I'm going back to the stars, but to a very different conception of the stars, this time!

Teaser Tuesdays are hosted by Should Be Reading. It works as follows:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • Be careful not to include spoilers!
  • Include the title and author.

From Larklight by Phillip Reeve, p78:

"I crouched beside Myrtle, and saw that, though pale beneath her coating of moon dust, she was sleeping peacefully. It seemed unfair to wake her, because I knew that she would simply hate the din and dirt around us, so I looked about, wondering where I should go, and noticed the blue, reptilian person called Ssilissa slipping through a small brass door at the back of the big cabin."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Island of the Blessed by Harry Thurston

I feel like I should be doing something really exciting here, to mark the end of my engrossed reading of Island of the Blessed. Fireworks. Trumpets. Something.

However, what I will do instead is try to keep this review to something short and sweet.

First, and most important: for all of my griping about the length, this book is worth it. I have learned so much since I started reading, and the whole thing is fascinating. Every chapter, every page, every paragraph, is worth reading and absorbing and digesting. There is absolutely no doubt that this book is large because the Dakhleh Oasis Project (DOP) is a huge undertaking, and Thurston has obviously taken great pains to do both the DOP and the oasis itself justice. As someone who hadn't even heard of the Dakhleh Oasis prior to picking up the book, I think he's succeeded; perhaps someone who has been there might feel differently, but I think he's managed to capture the essence of the prehistory, history, culture, and environment of this remarkable place. He's also telling the incredible stories of the archaeologists who are part of the DOP, and, on top of the place and the people, he's saying something about archaeology itself, and about human nature.

This is only the second book by Thurston that I have read. The first was the autobiographical natural history book A Place Between the Tides. Island of the Blessed is very, very different but equally good. In this book, Thurston remains largely in the background, surfacing occasionally to go on a walk with one of the DOP's scientists to a particular place of interest. His own opinions and commentary are largely confined to the Introduction and the Epilogue, and this has the effect of letting the Oasis and the archaeology tell the story. It works incredibly well. This book is masterfully written and incredibly accessible, as well as being completely absorbing. Even when I was anxious to start reading the next book (or books, as the case may be) I was far too interested in Island of the Blessed to put it down.

Thurston's skill with language is so deft that, without the reader noticing, he's describing the archaeologists and their environs in such a way that they are vivid and real people and places. One of my small gripes is that I want to see more pictures -- I want to see what a town in the Oasis looks like, I want to see what a wadi looks like, I want to see what the buried city of Kellis looks like -- but really, I don't need those photographs. I have a clear picture in my head. I can hear the different scientists' voices as they speak, and see them as they work on their various projects, because Thurston makes them all come alive. He makes me believe, as the DOP believes, that the great expanse of the Western Desert was once a vast savannah habitat, complete with waterholes, giraffes, and hippos. He explains, in language anyone can understand, how changes in climate and glaciation eventually led to desert conditions -- and what that meant for both the wild animals and the nascent human civilizations that lived there.

The book takes us from prehistory to current conditions in the Dakhleh Oasis. One of the things that Thurston wants us to understand is how unique this project is: it is one of the very few long-term archaeological studies that looks not just at human activities, but also environmental conditions that surrounded those human activities, in an effort to understand how each has affected the other. He spends more time on the periods where there is more evidence to talk about -- certain times in prehistory, the Roman civilizations -- but he doesn't leave anything out. He celebrates the important discoveries made by the DOP, and talks about the future of the project; and at the end, inevitably because of the nature of the DOP and the author, Thurston talks a little bit about the future of life at the Oasis. The prognosis is somewhat depressing, as expected -- the current water supply, fossil water buried in the bedrock and stored there since prehistoric times, is likely to last fifty years or less if current practices continue. And if the water runs out, life will cease to be possible in the "Everlasting Oasis." And Thurston doesn't say much, but an intelligent reader in a society where water isn't a limiting factor will suddenly understand how it's possible that wars really will be fought over water supply.

In the interests of actually posting this tonight, and thus completing my self-mandated one review a week, I'm going to leave it at that. I recommend this book to anyone interested in Egypt, for sure, but also anyone interested in archaeology, science, political issues of water use, desert cultures, the beginnings of human civilization, palaeontology; also anyone who wants an introduction to any of those things. I came into this book without really any knowledge at all in any of the areas Thurston was writing about, and I had no trouble following except that I do wish someone had provided some sort of visual timeline so I could get a sense of the length of time we're talking about, and what cultures overlapped whom and when. Thurston is thorough enough that I could write one out myself, but I'm lazy and it wasn't that important to my enjoyment or understanding.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Teaser Tuesday: Empire Star

A confession: I am not reading this book just yet. But I will start it tonight. I have roughly 40 pages left on the Thurston and I am not posting a third teaser for it because I am so. close. to being done. Empire Star is a science fiction novella; according to Samuel R. Delany's bio, it was written in ten days in 1965 to finance a trip to Europe. The copy I have is bundled with the short novel Babel-17 and I haven't decided whether I'll be reading that as well, but probably. Just from the little bit of scanning I have done, I love Delany's style.

Teaser Tuesdays are hosted by Should Be Reading. It works as follows:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page.
  • Be careful not to include spoilers!
  • Include the title and author.
From Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany, p17:

"Suddenly an idea caught in his head, swerved around a corner, and came up banging and clanging behind his ears. 'Will I get to see Earth?'"

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Here's a Little Poem; compiled by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters; illustrated by Polly Dunbar

I'm cheating a little here. Thurston's Island of the Blessed is very interesting, but man is it dense. It's taking me far longer than a week to read the thing. So I'm going to pop up a children's book that I need to recommend because it is delightful. I'm using it a lot for work right now, since with the babies and toddlers I try to introduce "new" rhymes and poems to the group, outside of the popular traditional nursery rhymes that most people already know.

The poems are grouped into four categories: Me, Myself and I; Who Lives in My House?; I Go Outside; and Time for Bed. All poems in each section follow the theme. They are from such varied poets as Gertrude Stein, Jack Prelutsky, Margaret Mahy, and Dennis Lee, and poets I've never heard of but possibly should have by now. One of my favourites is by Norma Farber, called "Manhattan Lullaby" (it starts "Lulled by rumble, babble, beep / let these little children sleep; / let these city girls and boys / dream a music in the noise," -- just lovely). There are long poems and short poems, poems that lend themselves to actions and poems that lend themselves to reading. All of them are tied closely to a young child's experience either in a practical or fanciful way. As a first book of poetry, I'd say you couldn't go wrong with Here's a Little Poem.

And the illustrations by Polly Dunbar. These are simple, adorable, and varied. There are little girls and little boys, and different ethnicities. There are daddies and mommies, grandpas and grandmas. The children all exude that innocent, clumsy, earnest, mischievous quality that toddlers have, and the pictures just explode with joy. They are mixed media, too. I don't know enough about art, but I can tell there's charcoal, watercolour, textures, oil paint, paper cutouts... all mixed to create an uncrowded, vibrant whole.

All in all, a marvellous book. Children's librarians and parents would do well to find it; it's a relatively recent compilation, from 2007. It's a great introduction to poetry, and the rhythms, sounds and subjects stand up well next to Mother Goose in appeal to little ones.