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Friday, December 26, 2008

LibraryThing Early Review

Garner on Writing and Language
by Bryan A Garner

What a fabulous book!

I love and collect books about English usage and history, but this one is unique. I was surprised to receive the envelope from the American Bar Association, as I had not picked it up as being targeted at legal writing. However as Bryan Garner says somewhere, law is traditionally considered an educated profession, and thus I conclude that the book is suitable for any person wishing to write in an educated manner. And yet, having challenged my expectations for a book on language by being about legal writing, it then challenged my expectations for a book on legal writing by being fun and funny. Just check out "octopus, octopi, octopodes" in the index, to see what I mean. There are extensive and useful lists of references and suggestions, and it is fun to think that I might have to write Mr Garner a note suggesting a couple of books he should look at, if not include in future editions.

It is also worth saying that I was strongly and delightfully reminded of the tone of Strunk and White in "The Elements of Style": both practical and American in character.

This book will be a pleasure to keep by the desk as a reference, and to rummage around in during a spare moment, for fun. And I will be suggesting it to the school library where I volunteer as a reference work to acquire.

More about opera manga (Yeah, more!)

P Craig Russell has beautifully captured The Magic Flute in his graphic version. The work exceeded my expectations, doing such things as giving a sense of the overture in graphic format and remaining true to the traditional costuming ideas associated with the characters. I am now lending it around to my opera-buff friends, but I look forward to getting it back to rummage around in again. Naturally my kids were curious and have peeked in and around it, too, but it is a bit long and forbidding to sit down and read, even for me, I must admit.

In contrast, the manga version of La Bohéme was short and simple. Better as a synopsis perhaps, than a traditional synopsis, but not without fault. I was sorry to see my favourite part of the story overlooked in this version - when the friends sell the last of their meagre possessions to try and buy medicine for Mimi when it is already too late - and there was a grammatical error, but the drawings were sweet and the text rang true to the words of the opera. Bravo Vancouver Opera! It is the way forward, for sure.

The Nervous Marigold's Best Reads of 2008

So...I read almost 75 books this year, although a lot of them were in the Young Reader or Young Adult categories, meaning I could read more in less time. I am just partway through The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and loving it so much that I felt I had to create a Top Ten list for the year in order to show how good it is. Then, I went to my LibraryThing tag "2008" to choose the rest of the list. Magically, it came out to exactly ten books - no padding, nothing left out. Without further ado, here they are, divided into fiction and non-fiction, in alphabetical order by author:

Best Fiction read in 2008: (None of which were published in 2008!)

Andrea Camilleri
Il colore del sole: romanzo (2007)
I loved this for the fun of the idea and the language, and because I love art and I love Caravaggio, and I love Camilleri's other books.

Michael Chabon
The Yiddish Policeman's Union: a novel (2007)
I loved this because it was so funny that I laughed out loud, and I love the ideas of alternate reality and five minutes in the future, and I love a smart-ass, which would be not only most of the characters, but Chabon himself.

Kate DiCamillo
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (2003)
This book I loved because the language was beautiful, and that is rare enough in books intended for grown-ups, let alone those intended for children. I cried with my child's teacher over some turns the story takes.

Barbara Kingsolver
The Poisonwood Bible: a novel (1998)
I am really late coming to the Kingsolver party, but this is an absolutely exquisite book that deserves its reputation.

Markus Zusak
The Book Thief (2005)
This is the book that I loved so much it inspired me to rank the best reads of the year. A well-documented subject covered in an odd and moving way. Funnily, not really a book about books.

Best Non-fiction read in 2008

Pierre Bayard
How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read (2007)
Awesome! Knowing what the book means in our culture is more than half of knowing the book. Nobody reads it all. How freeing. How fun!

Daoud Hari
The Translator: A Tribesman's Memoir of Darfur (2008)
So sad and so simply written, the author's voice is that of a child unable to dissemble. An incredible one-two punch to read in the same year as Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible.

Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (2007)
Such an interesting analysis of marketing, which is a front-of-mind topic with me, always. Lots of cool ideas.

Daniel Pink
A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future (2006)
I am glad I read this before the shifting in the world economy turned into a scary roller-coaster. The changes are fundamental, and still evolving. This book gives a kind of paradigm through which to understand how it will be going.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Opera Manga - Awesome updates's a cool thing. The Vancouver Opera publishes on-line manga mini-versions of their opera season! I was so thrilled to see La Boheme in their line-up because my kids watched the Metropolitan Opera HD broadcast version last spring. I can't wait to put it in their hands, but not before I read it over.

The mangas can be found on the delightful Vancouver Opera blog: the link is at the top of my music links list. Go to "read" and look at the bottom of the roll-out links. The blog itself is fun and loose with lots of manga and other pop culture references. Where opera absolutely can and must go to stay with us in our time. The blogger sent me a note to say that they will soon be publishing their opera mangas in a collection, and I am already lining up to get it.

From the Vancouver Opera blog I was led to the Opera Chic blog, which pretty much says it all. (It's the next item on the music links list.) There is a current way to talk about opera, and to position it. It's just that very few opera companies are very agile with it. Not to mention that everything costs money. The Catch-22 is that you have raise money to develop these media to generate revenue to attract people in order raise money and pay for the media you are developing to attract people...

I gave up searching bookstores for P Craig Russell's The Magic Flute and finally ordered it. It is way cool, too. Not only is interesting to me, but my kids pick it up and riffle through the pages looking for the parts that they recognize. They don't really know that opera is meant to be old-fashioned and uncool. They know it to be contemporary and fun.

It's amazingly satisfying to have a place to muse and wonder and have answers generated through the ether in such a direct way.

The marigold wonders nervously:
Is it actually magic?

Saturday, November 8, 2008


I am always looking for a clear and rational explanation of why tagging works and what makes it different from cataloging. I finally have a good link to offer with a great essay about the advantages and disadvantages of tagging. (See link to THE HIVE MIND under FUN, COOL, FUNNY.)

I feel the tagging possibilities expanding around me, and I want to go with it.

Now I want to tag in private: I want to tag my photos, instead of filing them in multiple places, but in iphoto, not on a public site like flickr. I want to do a journal, with tags, so I can look up when I did something or what was great at dinner, or blah, blah, blah..."Put it in your blog" says my 10-yr-old. Good idea, except I don't want to bore the world with journalling.

I want to tag in private.

I want to tag in public, too. I love LibraryThing - book thoughts are shareable; I love - I love to see other people's music ideas and groupings. I don't want to see other people's photos, or their personal journals, anymore than I want to show mine.

I want to tag in private. (I even want other people to tag in private, but that's a whole other thing.)

The marigold wonders nervously:
And what else is good for tagging? I feel like getting these great ideas should be easy, but it is like pulling teeth.

LibraryThing Early Review

Tales from Outer Suburbia
by Shaun Tan

This is an incredibly enticing book. My kids started reading the stories immediately, and I have been glancing though it looking at the illustrations. Can't wait to start the stories.

Twenty-four hours later, I too, have read this delightful book. It is whimsical and surreal and slightly melancholy. It is absolutely OK for kids, yet absolutely more subtle and sophisticated than almost anything I have ever seen offered to children.

I feel the need to check out Tan's other books in order to find out if this is his "look" or if he learned ephemera from Nick Bantock's book URGENT 2ND CLASS.

The question is: why did it require funding to get it published in his native Australia, and even more, why did it require so many levels of funding to be published in Canada, since he is not Canadian and the book was printed in China. Surely this is a book that could and will sell purely on merit, with enormous shelf appeal.

In any case, my suggestion is get a copy and spend an hour with it. It will take you to a unique and wonderful headspace: another score of the offbeat from the LT Early Reveiwer's program.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Grade 5 book club: is it possible?

I have been working on an idea: can Gr 5 kids have meaningful book club discussions about books?

I have been reading along with my kid, now in Gr 5, for fun, for a couple of years. Now that I am thinking about this, I am trying to read with a different kind of attention.

The issues are these:
1) the books put into their hands are just about all pre-approved for content and values;
2) the books are largely plot- and character-driven, which does not leave much room for "literary discussion";
3) there is a bit of a herd mentality in their critical thought - everyone tends to like the book or the character, and they are still so righteous at this age that all wrong-doing is easily disapproved of.

Then, I would kind of want to avoid the "middle school" trend, which is funny but not really mostly literary, and I would want to avoid "issue" books, which are represented in the curriculum.

Then, as my sister, the school librarian, says "You are asking them to do extra work!" No. I think they do the work already, but without articulating it to themselves. I would like to turn their attention to the devices that have lead them to their conclusions. Wouldn't that be cool?

Finally, it would be most interesting to introduce books that most if not all have not yet read. (The hardest challenge in a group of keen readers, I think.) can one find books that are suitable in content yet of enough literary interest to offer food for discussion? Books that would lead kids to the discovery of imagery, allusion, ambiguity.

My thoughts on possible books are these:
1) a manga Shakespeare?
2) a Blue Balliet novel, with it's leit-motifs, and references to other arts, in addition to plot and character
3) Heck by Dale Basye, for the concept of allusions, and the pointer to Dante (despite its middle school orientation)
4) The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, as a retelling of The Velveteen Rabbit - a nod at the continuity of artistic ideas
5) The Hundred Dresses by Elizabeth Estes - a vivid book about standing by a person in need without helping
6) Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan - a new book that offers a taste of the subtle and surreal

I am wondering about Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome (mentioned in a Kit Pearson book).

What I would really like to find are some books that really use imagery and poetic construction, but I have not yet thought of any good possibilities.

Please send your suggestions.

The marigold wonders nervously:
Would it be fun? Would it be FUN?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Books In, Books Out, Part II

I have been fiddling around with LibraryThing again. I feel myself to be obsessed with data-mining my own reading patterns. It's so much easier to talk about reading ideas if you have already sorted out the way they make sense. I enjoy looking at other people's libraries and tags too, but then I am often searching for new ways to sort my own. (Like adding the tag "epistolary". Fun. Or updating my tag "to read" to the tag "unread" which LT mentioned as a meme attracting attention. It's more meaningful to tag with the crowd.)

I found out that there is a way to figure out how many books came in over the transom in a certain period by checking the entry date on LT. Thus, when September felt like a huge intake month, I could check.

I guess it is because a number of friends handed over books after summer holidays, plus I was back in the school library surfing the action, plus I was catching up on some summer book thoughts that I could not pursue at the time. So, 28 books in! A minimum of dollars out! I think I have read all or part of, maybe, a third of them.

Looking back through the record, it seems like I usually take in about 10 or 12 per month, still far too many to read. One trip to the bookstore sale tables is good for half a dozen; plus my lovely spouse probably shows up with one or two presents each month; the school library is a source of one or two books each weekend; and I often get a book or two loaned or passed on from one friend or another; not to mention the odd LibraryThing Early Reviewer copy!

It's a good life.

The marigold wonders nervously:
If I read somewhere between 6 and 10 books a month, when will I actually drown in the to-read pile?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

LibraryThing Early Review

Doctor Olaf Van Schuler's Brain
by Kristen Menger-Anderson

Finally! An Early Reviewer book that conforms to my credo: I'd rather be offended than bored.

This debut book is quirky, providing a kind of personal history of New York, seen through episodes in the lives of one family, starting from the time when New York was a Dutch colony. It reminds me of Muybridge's moving pictures - light flashing through slits - anything but continual, yet elegantly fascinating. The points of view shift, the focus is on the smallest details of everyday life: smells, moments of experience. Interesting enough as that is, when you add in the obsession of the main family characters with the brain, and the changing paradigms that prevail over history, the book moves into the truly engrossing. I have read a couple of pages straight away of each ER book I have received, and this was the first that I had to continue reading immediately. In other words a great score for me and a great read.

Actually, it was not offensive, really, it was just not at all boring.

The marigold asks nervously:

I had a feeling that these books would be a fabulous source of new reading. So far, apart from Doctor Olaf Van Schuler's Brain, I seem to find that they fall into the acceptable but boring category, rather than the offensive but interesting category, which I prefer. The books vary from perfectly all right to pathetically awful. Not good enough! Where are the truly interesting books? Where?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ermione at the Rossini Opera Festival

What a thrill!

At first, the look of this year’s production of Ermione at the Rossini Opera Festival reminded me of a couture fashion show – distressed white set, stark black, red or white costumes, in the form of uniforms with boots and evening gowns. Not, however, the usual fascist reworking, but abstracted and symbolic. As I thought about it, it came to me that this story is a tiny sliver of Greek myth, which, if not completely unknown in our time, is just about.* In a way, an attempt to show the story as history would be unnecessarily confusing. It reminded me of looking at history paintings: sure we can identify that there are people with well-known names in life-like settings, but we have no context, and we can attach no meaning. In fact, the natural language of our time is comic-book-style abstraction. We can make sense of black, red and white used to indicate good versus evil, rage versus control, confusion versus order, and most importantly in this case, manipulators versus manipulated.

This opera was not performed for 150 years because it was considered too dark! Maybe so, until now, but darkness is the natural tenor of our times. Ermione, especially treated in this way, is contextualized perfectly within the world of Sin City, 300 and Batman, not to mention real-life terrorism, torture and ethnic cleansing.

Then, there was the music and the singing. As with Il Turco in Italia that I saw at last year’s Rossini Opera Festival, the music was delicious: spellbinding for hours. I think my favourite moment was the end of the first act with everyone on stage, screaming their power and rage and disappointment and fear, beautifully, at full volume. I felt my hair blowing back with the sheer power of it, like in the old Maxell ad.

To be complete I have to say that the performances were awesome, and the audience went wild several times. For me it was especially exciting as I have come to know one of the performers a little, and to see his everyday gestures forming part of his characterization was a kind of like having an extra-sensory experience.

At the end, I am left asking why these operas are so obscure, so far from the standard repertoire? Step aside La Bohéme; step aside Madama Butterfly; you old-fashioned weaklings. Ermione – time for you to step up to the plate! You can bring the 21st century crowd to the opera!

*Funnily enough, this sliver of the story is linked to that of Idomeneo which I saw performed by the Opera Atelier earlier this year. Each features a Greek returning with a slave from the Trojan war, plus Idomeneo has Elettra (Electra) while Ermione (Hermione) involves her brother, Oreste (Orestes). Love those Greek myths. I like to say that I would rather be offended than bored, and this material never fails to qualify.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Africa at the Olympics

By chance, this past year I have read two books about Africa: The Translator by Daoud Hari (Sudan) and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Belgian Congo/Zaire/Democratic Republic of the Congo). The word searing seems invented to refer to the experience of reading about the colonial history of Africa. It made it so heart-breaking and strange to see the parade of athletes at the Olympics. To compare the EXPENSE of the opening ceremony against the rhetoric of helping the needy. Why do we even bother to say to we care about helping?

However, I do think that "Liberalism is the racism of the West." (Who said that?) I do not see the solution as being "pour money into the African nations and they will become like us and be saved." That type of policy has led to a corruption which has done more harm than good. Nor does the desired solution seem to be "democracy". There is clearly little will to choose rep by pop.

I also think that our current historical period is not "post-colonial" exactly, but the end of the bell curve of "colonialism". We have yet to see a "post-colonial" world where First World governments and/or interests are not manipulating ex-colonies. The current borders in many parts of the world are unnatural, leaving ethnic groups miserably cut in half, or miserably joined. We Westerners think: why can't they just share a government and get on with life? We do. (Semi-successfully.) They don't want to, but like I said, 'Liberalism is the racism of the West'. Our way is best, therefore they must have it too.

Even China only feels uncomfortable to us because we think they should do it our way. The whole point of the Olympics being awarded to China was to invite/induce/pressure China to do it our way. Actually Chinese policy does not accord well with Olympic policy, (although no more does Olympic policy accord with Olympic ideals).

The marigold asks nervously:
Isn't it all just enough to have made you cry at the parade?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Summer Holiday

Like everyone who can, I like my summers to be as different as possible from the school year. We take our children to a beach town on the Adriatic in Italy, where we eat and play for a couple of months. No homework, no planning. It makes a brilliant immersion experience for all of us: The kids have to play in Italian, I have to grocery shop in Italian, and look for novels to read in Italian, the newpapers are Italian, our friends are Italian (even though a few of them speak English brilliantly - a shout-out to Barbara here). We can't get things done when we want, because life doesn't work that way here. We can't go shopping on a whim, or get milk at the last minute, because retail doesn't work that way here. The slower pace is mandatory.

However, I do like to observe the local ritual of the apertivo as faithfully as possible. The idea is to stop around 6pm or 7pm or 8pm for one delightful drink, and a couple of snacks. Each bar offers a particular selection and a particular atmosphere. You know the other patrons, by sight if not by name. You know which weather conditions are best suited to which location.

This year, an old moribund chestnut, Aperol, has been revived by a TV ad (see link) into the absolute in cocktail chic: an Aperol spritz, (or sprizz) made by mixing Aperol with white wine, preferably sparkling, and/or water, preferably sparkling. And it is a fantastic drink! Refreshing after a few hours at the beach, light on the alcohol so you can actually go on to eat comfortably after you've had one. For me it is especially fun because Aperol reminds me of a couple of friends we may not get to see here this year, the most absolute in chic of any people I have EVER met, and the husband has been drinking Aperol all along. Now the world has caught up to him. (Yes, a shout-out to Poul and Gitte!)

This brings me to a project I have underway, that I hope to accomplish before I die (I estimate I have about another 40 years), which is to understand the local winds. A sea-side location, a long history of piracy, and winds of evident character, each with a name, all contribute to the interesting nature of this project. So far I have understood that the winds continually circle around the compass. I have just about memorized the names of the winds of the eight main compass points, and where they come from and how they feel. AH! I can say: like standing inside a blow-dryer (confusingly called a "phon" in Italian), must be a garbino - hot and dry from Africa. OH! Cold and blowing in through the kitchen door, must be a bora, from the north. Overnight we get a wind from inshore. Many late afternoons have a cool and humid scirocco, also from Africa, but more easterly, picking up humidity coming over the Mediterranean Sea. Our doors bang suddenly, open or shut, as the wind moves around.

What I love is the way things work together - ie in a scirocco it is nice to get an aperitivo at the bar by the beach, in a garbino you need a bar with air-conditioning, if it might rain, the bar at the other side of centro is best, and so on. As well, this has been the summer of reading Venice. (Be patient! It does connect.) I started with The City of Falling Angels, by John Berendt and Suffer the Little Children, a Donna Leon murder mystery set in Venice (thanks and a shout-out to Michela). Death in Venice (of which I love book and movie and Mahler - time to enjoy them again) concerns a scirocco in Venice (a wind we know, and we are just down the same piece of coast, with the same weather). When I am back with my library I will get to some books Berendt mentions: Henry James's The Aspern Papers, and The Ambassadors, and the Cantos of Ezra Pound. While I'm here I am looking at The Venetian Empire, by Jan Morris. To tie it all together, I also read Islands and Lagoons of Venice, by photographer Fulvio Roiter (see link), in which there is a lovely old map of Venice with a wind rose. The commentary in this book is by Peter Lauritzen, who figures in The City of Falling Angels! I should be writing this at the bar with an Aperol spritz in hand, but, Oh well.

Although so much seems old-world here, I do have a new-fangled mobile wireless modem, (Do we have those in Canada?) What makes it different from Wi-Fi, which is less common here, is that you don't have to find a Hot-Spot. I would love to move my computer to a bar to write something. That would be cool. I'll be sure to mention it if it happens.

The marigold asks, but not really nervously:
Why can't there be one-world technology? It would be so useful to those of who want to look up archeological info on-site at ruins, or sheet music at the opera, or bird names at the beach, etc, etc. One still requires a number of devices to do it properly. Isn't it micro-chip implant time yet?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Whole New Mind

I've been spending my reading (and chatting) time the past couple of weeks on A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink. I think that if a cookbook gives you one recipe for your regular repertoire, it is worth the price. I think that if an idea book gives you one provocative idea that makes you consider things around you in the new way, it is worth the investment in the time it takes to read it. (See link. His other books have interesting ideas, too.)

This was a fun one. Suddenly, things which I was puzzling over just before I read it, popped into focus:

Anna magazine, about food, produced by a food stylist in Winnipeg, recipes a mere add-on
a school library full of noise and disorder, with kids who adore (fist-fight over) books
a comptroller taking over the patient-management of an old-age home

His key concepts are simple: the world has been remade by "abundance, Asia, and automation". The huge systems influence that created the Information Age has done its work. Left-brain qualities of order, sequence, and analysis are routine. Now we need to pull out our right-brain qualities of appreciation of beauty, touch, empathy and playfulness.

My favourite concept is that looking to the left engages the right-brain. Nearly all mothers cradle their babies on the left. Note to self: when the kids are driving you crazy with a difference of opinion, hug them and look at them on your left. Engage your empathy.

And my other favourite idea is that alphabet-oriented cultures, reading from left to right, engage the left-brain. The "alphabetic mind" excels at sequencing. And that reminded me of the book Proust and the Squid by MaryAnne Wolf. She writes about how MRIs show how alphabetic people learning pictograms have to stop trying to read them with the usual part of their brains, and switch to areas in the right-brain. I am convinced that I can use this information to learn Japanese when I get around to it.

Actually, my three favourite things are: looking to the left, alphabetic sequencing and a book with references that you can use. This book is filled with websites (and books and cd-roms) that I am checking out and book-marking in a "Whole New Mind" folder in my browser. For example, I have included a link here to Ambidextrous magazine: all about mixing up design disciplines.

And another favourite...I'll come in again...Among the many things I loved about this book is that I felt supported in the child-rearing big-picture we are working with in my house. Never mind planning 30 years in school for the big salary pay-off at the end. Have a lot of interests. Work the minimum to pay the bills and spend time on those interests. That's the good part of life. Yay! The future is going to value that!

The marigold asks nervously:
Can I continue to follow these ideas spontaneously, without trying to bring left-brain control into it? That's a challenge!

PS Infinite thanks to Pauline for this one.

PPS Coming soon: I know there are connections to be made to Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath and Predictable Irrationality by Dan Ariely, but I haven't read enough of either to comment.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Books In, Books Out

Nick Hornby wrote a column for a year about his reading habits, and they were collected in The Polysyllabic Spree. Among the many things (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) that I loved in the book, was a weekly tally of books in and books out. I know more come in to my house than I read, in a constant flow.

The world has conspired to make book buying easier and more convenient than ever. I also volunteer (temporarily) in two school libraries, so I am always seeing books that other people are reading, or that I want to share with my kids, or that I have heard about but not handled, that I bring home. And I have an irregular group of reader-friends, and we swap around books constantly, plus I sometimes hang out with a book club. And most everyone that gives me gifts tries to surprise me with something different. All these are fairly common ways to get books.

But I also have a special supplier: my beloved husband brings home books for me all the time. I almost need not keep a wish list, because he notices the same books that interest me, and gets them for me. So many of my books were presents from him that I felt it was TOO big a category for a tag on LibraryThing, not to mention the fact that my thoughts are his thoughts, and the line is blurry. But his complete reading satisfaction comes from looking them over and buying them. He loves books, but not reading. A singular case.

Anyway, the marigold is asking nervously:
Is it time to start a books in/books out tally on this blog? I think I would be interested to know the results.
Is that more or less important than working out a Partially-Read tagging system a la Bayard?

PS Life is good.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Me too! LibraryThing Unread meme list, nervous marigold version, May 27, 2008

My list is ready, but it is not easy to use this formating in Blogger - no underline, no strike through, so...

Here are the regular rules:
Bold what you have read, italicize books you’ve started but couldn’t finish (my note: so far!), and strike through books you hated. Add an asterisk* to those you’ve read more than once. Underline those you own but are left unread.

I will do: Bold for books I have read, italics for started but not finished, tiny for books I hated, asterisk for books I've read more than once and all-caps for books I own AND are still on my unread list, plus books on my wish list are in a different font.

Ack! Books I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF have a § after the title

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adam
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell by Susanna Clarke
THE KITE RUNNER by Khaled Hosseini
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Illearth War§ by Stephen R. Donaldson
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
DON QUIXOTE by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
Ulysses by James Joyce
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Elantris§ by Brandon Sanderson (13)
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
*Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1) by Neal Stephenson
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
The Satanic Verses: A Novel by Salman Rushdie
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
(No title) by Mohammed
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
*The Odyssey by Homer
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
*Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Iliad by Homer
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Emma by Jane Austen
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
The House of Seven Gables§ by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond
*Dracula by Bram Stoker
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse (56)
Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond
The Corrections: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen
Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (124)
Count Brass§ by Michael Moorcock
The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyn Peake
The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
The Origin Of Species by Charles Darwin
Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
The Inferno by Dante Alighieri
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Swann's Way: In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 1 by Marcel Proust
The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Silas Marner by George Eliot
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
THE CONFUSION (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 2) by Neal Stephenson
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
*Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
THE SYSTEM OF THE WORLD (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 3) by Neal Stephenson
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and…§ by Brian Greene
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
The Known World§ by Edward P. Jones
THE TIME TRAVELLER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger
The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon
Dubliners by James Joyce
The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
Infinite Jest: A Novel by David Foster Wallace
Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Persuasion by Jane Austen

Totals (I think):
Books I have read: 42 *twice: 5
Books I have tried to read and not finished (but hope to): 8
Books on my wish list: 7
Everything else – Haven’t read ‘em, don’t care much. If they come to me, I might give’ em a try, etc.: 38

I had a couple of email exchanges with Abby, the LibraryThing librarian. The list of the top 106 books tagged unread will necessarily change all the time. Not only would it be interesting to check the way the list appears, say, every year, it could be done every day! In fact, as the meme spreads, and people convert their tags over to unread, the list will experience massive changes in the short term. (ie My tag used to be still to read. In one shot I added 100 votes to the unread list when I converted. Group use – Wiki – is what makes tagging worthwhile. There was a link to a great essay about the validity of tagging rather than cataloguing in LibraryThing about a year ago - I will try to find it and add a link here.)

It would be interesting to compare these lists with the lists in The Top Ten, a book of meta-book lists. That book attempts to identify the most important books by compiling the top-ten lists of current authors, and then it is interesting to compare one's own reading with the important books of our culture. The LibraryThing tag unread would mainly be about books people are attracted to, and have, but have yet to read - a list naturally more influenced by current releases, marketing, Oprah, etc.

PS Abby says there is NO REASON for the list to have 106 books on it. Fair enough, but somebody came up with the number. Who? What? When? Where? How?

The marigold asks nervously:
Is updating this list another task I need to keep on my to-do list? What about my other tagging projects? I guess anal-retentive does have a hyphen. MUST LET GO! MUST LET GO!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

LibraryThing Early Review

The Age of the Conglomerates: A Novel of the Future
by Thomas Nevins

This title was so attractive to me that the Librarything algorithm got it just right to pick me as an early reviewer. I was really excited to have scored this book. However, the best thing about this book was the title.

The whole work felt expeditiously executed. The ideas seemed both too numerous, and vague, the predictions unsupported. The writing was poorly edited: so much so, that I wondered if the writer's pals at Random House, where he works, didn't want to hurt his feelings with corrections.

For a start, Nevins's version of the future is already out-dated – imagine that in 50 or so years there would still be cell-phones in use and old computers lying around with email capability!

The dystopia Nevins envisions is an America bankrupted by the meeting of massive boomer pension requirements with decades of personal borrowing beyond assets, winding up with CEOs of powerful companies "united in greed" taking over government and operating the country as a "Conglomerate", to their own continued personal benefit. Not a bad idea, although anti-corporate in a juvenile way. However, the lifestyle achieved does not seem consistent with personal benefits accruing to these leaders.

The action plan of the "Conglomerates" involves the appropriation of the assets of the elderly and their resettlement into camps; the genetic modification of the children of the rich, to order; and the family-requested and paid-for resettlement of unmanageable children, ostensibly to other camps, but actually to dumps in the New York subway. Whew!

The inelegance of the writing is well-demonstrated in the tin-eared use of the casual "Coots" as the official word for the elderly, apparently a homage to the writer's father, and "Dyscards" for the cast-off children, a term one could imagine they would like, but would be too biker-glam for the "Conglomerate" bureaucracy, surely.

The main characters are part of a family that conveniently embodies each of these categories, and consequently the family dynamics are forced off-key: the grandparents, old "Coots", are fabulously in love, still. Their daughter (invisible and unexplainable in the story) is unable to stay married, and has had one natural child who is possibly the highest-ranking geneticist in the country (ie a key "Conglomerate"), and two genetically-modified children, one of whom is a "Dyscard", a wild punk. (How did that happen? The mother has already paid once to have this child. Shouldn't she get her money back instead of having to pay to discard her? What can the explanation be?) Neither of the older children can stand their mother or each other. Whew, again!

And what about the handful of genetically-modified mutant babies that the "Dyscards" are trying to save from the "Conglomerates" at all costs? Where does that come from? Although they have no connection to any part of the story, they appear suddenly to provide the locus for the narrative, which improbably winds this family's lives back together as the writer works them through the scenario of the "Coots" and "Dyscards" needing each other to fight the "Conglomerates". Enough said.

I see that the other reviewers are forcing themselves to finish the book responsibly, as I am, but I guess there is not much to look forward to in the last 20 pages.

Nice face, shame about the legs. ( 1/2)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Opera-Manga Lives! It Lives!

A comment left for my first post about Shakespeare-manga, from someone at Classical Comics (see link), has led to a conversation, and she led me further to someone who is actually doing graphic versions of operas! Hurray!

It is P. Craig Russell. I am adding a link to him too. None of the operas I was thinking of, like La Traviata and La Boheme, but instead he has produced versions of The Magic Flute and The Ring of the Nibelung and Parsifal and Pelleas and Melisande.

The cool thing here is that my children know The Magic Flute quite well, in part because it features in Mozart's Magic Fantasy, one of the Classical Kids' series that started with Beethoven Lives Upstairs, that they have been falling asleep to for years. I cannot recommend these disks highly enough. They do correspond with known biographical facts about the composers, they work around short excerpts from many of a composer's pieces and they contextualize these composers in their times, while entertaining with a story. I feel they can be forgiven for the odd anachronism, or language slip, as the value in laying down a ground of really good music is so high.

In a related note, something we look to You-Tube for is opera arias. We once spent a couple of hours on a rainy Sunday judging the merits of various performances of the Queen of the Night from The Magic Flute and Il Commendatore from Don Giovanni. WAY cooler than Hannah Montana. I don't think that even the most disinterested person could fail to be reached by these two arias. (Mozart's awesome Requiem does not stand up so well on You-Tube - better to just close your eyes and listen to a recording. Except for the Princess Tutu video, q.v..)

And The Magic Flute is also part of the Metropolitan Opera's offerings that we hope to find on DVD.

It seems like a no-brainer that my kids will want to peek into a graphic version of The Magic Flute. And, if they don't, who cares? I will.

Incidentally, about a year ago, I bought a Wagner's The Best of The Ring CD-set from Philips, and the book Wagner Without Fear by William Berger. I felt like it was ignorant to know nothing (duh!) and be afraid. In fact, Wagner writes the most lush romantic music possible. I often amuse myself when listening to the radio by trying to work out the composer, and I figured out that if I am saying to myself, "Beethoven? No. Tchaikovsky? No. Beethoven? No. Tchaikovsky? No." it is actually Wagner. Not at all threatening, really! Time to try The Ring of the Nibelung, graphic version.

Back to P Craig: even I had heard of Hellboy, one of his major creations. He has also worked with Neil Gaiman on some Sandman stories. I'll have a check at the couple of volumes of Sandman I have, and if I am missing P Craig's, I'll get them.

Now I have to get to a bookstore and get out my wallet for:
Classical Comics Macbeth at least, and we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their Frankenstein, too;
and The Magic Flute, and The Ring of the Nibelung, for starters, illustrated by P Craig Russell;
and any Gaiman/Russell that I do not have.

The marigold asks nervously:
It is one thing to be able to buy or borrow all the books that are interesting, but will I have enough time to read them? And listen to the music? And share?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ghost Lilacs

On the Victoria Day weekend, I was driving by myself on Highway 401 between Belleville and Toronto, which is pretty boring. However, it was lilac season, and I was noticing little clumps of lilacs by themselves, or lines of lilac bushes near the highway. I was also admiring the old lilac trees around the old farmhouses, and thinking about the fact that lilacs are not native to Ontario, and I suddenly wondered if these lonely ones mark where houses had once been. These ghost houses would only be visible during lilac season, otherwise the green bushes would blend in with the bush. I thought it would be an interesting project to map the lilacs, and compare it with old county maps showing settlements and houses and farms. Some would be escaped strays, but probably not most.

I love the idea of mapping. I have always wanted to map the birds nests that are visible in the early spring when the trees are bare, so I can follow the development of the baby birds when the leaves come in. I think it would be a very child-friendly mapping process, too.
I guess mapping outcroppings of lilacs would have to be done with GPS positioning, in order to overlay it properly.

I love the idea of the lilacs being the ghosts of the houses. How tangible, yet intangible. MMMM.

The marigold wonders nervously:
Is there enough time in one life-time to figure out these kinds of questions?
Is this sufficiently interesting to be a thesis in horticulture? Urban studies?
Has someone already thought of it? Will I ever know?
The marigold wanders nervously back to the first question.
I also love thinking up potential theses. Can you tell?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Triumph of the Delivery Modes II

I am proud of my kids capacities and abilities, and I want to show them everything, from ballet to baseball, but nevertheless I don't want them to be out of step with current kid-culture. Yet, I have to admit that after our Shakespeare-manga moment, we had another cool new-delivery-mode experience, this time with opera. We had an arrangement to go with a couple of other grown-ups and another kid to the HD re-broadcast of La Boheme from The Metropolitan Opera. I had hoped that the opera I consider to be THE introductory opera, in a movie theatre with popcorn, at a $20 ticket price, would work as a starting point for a lifetime of pleasure in opera, but...I was prepared to leave if they got bored or really didn't like it, or couldn't sit still. On the contrary, it was the little one who wanted get a membership to The Met so we would have first access to tickets for future shows, and the big one wants to rent or buy other operas from The Met on DVD to try at home! (For interest I'll note that La Fille du Regiment and the Barber of Seville are at the top of the list, not to mention La Boheme again. Opera-movie party, anyone?)

Now, the Met is one of the best opera companies on the planet, and their staging and production values were perfect. (Which is not to say the broadcast was without flaw - the colour was improperly adjusted in our theatre for the first half of the transmission.) The "extra features" like interviews about the staging, and with the stars, and with the adorable conductor Nicola Luisotti, were delightful. The movie audience got to see a bit of back-stage business, including Ainhoa Arteta, as Musetta, actually wiping her eyes behind the curtain before the curtain calls.

In its own way, the combination of the best opera company available at the movies, is as suitable as Shakespeare available in manga. Of course it works. It is a bold and up-to-date idea from a world known to be as stodgy as they come. The Met is also flying with their success in this initiative: last season they gave six broadcasts, this season they gave eight, next season they are planning for ten. In the extensive program they say their transmissions reach one million viewers! That's a lot of people watching opera. I think the new General Manager, Peter Gelb, is responsible. I read about his plans a few months ago in The New Yorker.

I have been out of the opera-loop for nearly ten years. (See: The Ten-Year Nap by Meg Wolitzer on how this works.) I know longer know all the names. I did know of Angela Gheorghiu, who sang Mimi, and she debuted professionally in that role more that fifteen years ago. Her voice was awesome. First the good: the final act was wonderful. It often requires such suspension of disbelief to fit together an opera singer, healthy (robust) in body and voice with a dying consumptive, but she did it! Here it is tempting to say that it was filming that allowed her to hold back her power, but, of course, this was recorded during a live performance, filling an opera house. How do dey do dat? Unfortunately, the filming made the first act hard to believe. Gheorghiu had to vamp her young seamstress to communicate the character, and meanwhile her not-young face was in close-up. Opera has been an art at a distance until now. I guess the new stars will be (are?) as young and telegenic as most writers are now: made for TV. I had not heard of Ramón Vargas, but I loved him in the role. He was emotional and believable. His high notes were effortless and lovely. His closing cry of "Mimi!" made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I was talking with the most musically qualified among us about that note. Is it a slight discord? It sounds unresolved to me, and that would be appropriate. I'll try to look at the sheet music. Or should I write to The Met and ask them?

Kids or not, depending on the work, I really plan and hope to see more of these. Suddenly I have seen a few different opera things lately, and I am thinking opera traditions are changing. Why would people choose a quite-good but terribly expensive, local performance of standard repertoire, over, on one side, an affordable, digital broadcast of the best in the world, or, on the other, a specialized festival (ie the Rossini Opera Festival), or a company that devotes itself to non-standard repertoire performed at a high level (ie Opera Atelier) or...what else is coming down the pike? I think that, similarly to retail, the middle will die away and only the top and bottom will be left. Interesting. I'll be watching.

The marigold asks nervously:
Will opera movies work at home, or does the mystique of even a movie theatre provide some necessary seriousness? Will I kill my kids' enthusiasm by trying this at home?

PS This morning we are watching SpongeBob, so I guess they're still OK. Whew.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Triumph of the Delivery Modes I

This past week has brought into use for my family two new delivery modes for cultural data. In Earth-speak, we enjoyed old-fashioned culture in new-fashioned ways!

One of my questions has been answered:

The kids were seeing the Julius Caesar Shakesapeare-in-manga book lying around on my pile, with the bleeding hero on the cover, and the conspirators with their various reactions standing over him. They were curious. Finally, one night at bedtime, the six-year old said "Please, please can we read Julius Caesar tonight?" I said "Oh honey, it's dark to read this, and it's hard to understand, and it might not be good bed-time reading." The face went under the covers, to hide the disappointment. So...we started reading Julius Caesar in manga. I don't know this play, I have to study a bit now, to help understand the story, but how cool is that as a project?

QED Manga worked, by itself, to draw kids into the story. I'll update on our progress as we go.

PS We laughed hard at Monty Python's Julius Caesar on Aldus Lamps, too.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read

This book, by Pierre Bayard, is perfectly provocative. By that I mean it really offers a push to reconsider how we rely on received ideas, and also how using received ideas is, in fact, useful. His thesis is simple: knowing how books are perceived within the culture is arguably more important than actually reading them. Bayard further suggests that many educators and pundits have not and do not read thoroughly everything upon which they expound.

One thing I found lacking is discussion of alternative ways of "not reading". I cannot skim. I don't allow myself to look at newspapers, especially week-end editions, because that would be the day gone. I find myself reading the business pages and the ads and so on. I am a bit compulsive. Therefore, my method of knowing a book, without reading it completely, is reading it very closely, but only partly. The rest I extrapolate, and/or fill in with my cultural knowledge of the book and/or any hearsay evidence I come across, including reviews and conversations with other readers. I am so tempted to add Bayard's categories to my LibraryThing tags, only using PB for "partly-read books" rather than SB for "skimmed books". (Therefore my tag could/would be: PB/HB - book I have partly read/book I have heard about.) A further note could also be why the book was abandoned: got the drift already? too boring? too repetitive? unpleasantly written? not enjoyable? too difficult? too easy? too formulaic? Actually, I see that this would require further thought to make it meaningful. Actually I see that perhaps instead of PB - book I have partly read, I should say AB - book I have abandoned! Or maybe I need both categories. Are there other ways of "not reading"? Will anyone tell me theirs?

Funnily enough, How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read is a book that can be understood and appreciated through reviews alone (HB - book I have heard about)! His key ideas are much expanded in the actual book, but much presented in reviews such as this one. The link I have provided is, in fact, for a review meta-site (through Literary Saloon - also provided separately).

The marigold asks nervously:
How do I encapsulate in a tag that I have stopped reading a book that I like because I learned enough before finishing?

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Last night I went to opening night of the Opera Atelier's run of Idomeneo, an opera Mozart wrote when he was 24 – young only for anybody but Mozart. Opera Atelier is a company here in Toronto that specializes in baroque opera, and everything I have seen from them has been both freaky and wonderful. For example, they chose Idomeneo in order to work with a male soprano. It was gripping. Fantastic. The audience was breathless and spell-bound for three hours!

I have an ongoing argument with someone about elite versus popular in the arts. He feels that opera is old, unpopular, snobby, and possible only due to massive subsidies and supporters able to influence policy. Not actually a bad point. However, if you think about what Brian Eno suggests as an Oblique Strategy: Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify, you more or less have an idea of the way Opera Atelier presents baroque opera: Male sopranos! 200-year-old ballet stylings! Special effects consisting of waving sheets! And it is a recipe for success – a baroque-feeling experience, a laff riot, a thrill. Not stuffy, not predictable, not like going to the opera with Grandma on Sunday afternoons. (Of course, they still require subsidies.)

What I mean is that this is the way they break through the hide-bound opera tradition, make the oldest opera fresh, by emphasizing the strange pre-technical otherness of baroque opera. To be fair, I should say that Idomeneo was also flawlessly presented. The Tafelmusik Orchestra is a wonderful, experienced, period-instrument orchestra, conducted in this opera by Andrew Parrott, who is a scholar of pre-classical music. All the singers were perfectly chosen and worth a mention: the male soprano was Michael Maniaci, not a falsetto, but a natural voice, oddly beautiful; the two female sopranos were Measha Brueggergosman (fabulous in every way, as Elettra should always be, and already famous beyond opera) and Peggy Kriha Dye as Ilia; an unbelievable tenor, Kresimir Spicer, was Idomeneo (someone to follow, for sure). Imagine the four of them singing their high notes together! Plus Neptune was danced or posed, more than sung, by a half-naked, sculpted, bass-baritone, Curtis Sullivan and the High Priest of Neptune was performed by a baby-baritone, Vasil Garvanliev, still an undergrad, grinning with obvious delight. Not to mention the in-house chorus, which gave me goosebumps when they sang from one of the boxes instead of the stage. The experience was musically complete, with dimension provided by the researched, historical, baroque bent in all facets of staging a production that Opera Atelier offers.

I had a chance to see Il Turco in Italia, by Rossini at the Rossini Opera Festival last year. Old-fashioned comic opera! Turbans! Gypsies! Three hours! Every bit as fun. Of course, in both cases, the music was truly beautiful. On the other hand, I think part of the wonderfulness is the surprise. Would I rush to see future performances of these operas? I doubt it. I love looking for the "shock of the new". I would rather be offended than bored. The old chestnuts are great to see over and over and sing along with. They are the spaghetti of life that we eat every day. These fabulous and odd ones are rare treats, to be enjoyed as the ice cream of life. (Should I say that I think children love their mothers like spaghetti and their fathers like ice cream, in exactly the same way?)

PS Oblique Strategies were developed by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt as a way to break through a creative block. I think they are cool for any kind of problem solving. I have included links to the complete list of Oblique Strategies for anyone who wants to hand-make cards (as many people, me included, have done), and a link to an on-line random card generator under my Fun, Cool, Funny list. To read about more Oblique Strategies, check out Brian Eno.

How perfect is this? The marigold was wondering nervously what kind of question to ask. I checked out Oblique Strategies and it said the inconsistency principle. Thus, no question today.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Manga Shakespeare part II

Wiley's Romeo and Juliet works beautifully. As is their stated mission, having the image, plus the written text to look at slowly enough to decode, makes understanding the whole work way easier than reading a play, and requires less suspension of disbelief than watching modern actors in a movie (or play for that matter). I lay in my hammock completely enthralled until I had to get up and do something for someone. I plan to show my kids' school librarians, and also everyone else I know.

Although this was not the publisher whose books I bought, I followed a link left in a comment to Cool for their current titles, their plans, and lots of ideas about manga classics. (See "links to writers" here on my blog.) I'll being trying their Macbeth as soon as I can get my hands on it.

The marigold wonders nervously:
Will I embarrass myself with a new passion?

Incidentally, brilliant use is made of the graphic format by Marisa Acocella in Cancer Vixen: A True Story. Awesome book. In particular I found that the graphics add emotional weight to the sense of the long-drawn repetition of treatments. Writing alone could not convey the point with interest.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Manga Shakespeare!

This just in: How perfect is Shakespeare for manga? Completely. So much so that there are AT LEAST three different publishers simultaneously coming out with them. In fact, why did it take so long? I think it is the opposite of dumbing down Shakespeare: it is "smarting up" manga. Can manga versions of the big tragic operas be far behind? I have not yet really, REALLY loved any manga or graphic novel, but I really, REALLY want to. I bought Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar (which I have never read, seen or even looked at before), published by Wiley. Will this be my ticket to ride?

The marigold wonders nervously:
Will it be embarrassing in reality? Will my KIDS like it?

Short Stories

Funny how circumstances help out. I spent a weekend sick in bed, and got to read Borges's Labyrinths, Kuttner's The Last Mimzy and Gaiman's Fragile Things. Three eras of science fiction/fantasy stories, linked by the unending ability of the authors to imagine how things could be different. It was almost like gorging on chocolate. I was in a reverie.

The marigold wonders nervously:
Can the real future be as fun as reading about it is?

I am constantly annoyed to find that Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite writers.

About this, the marigold wonders nervously:
Why does it bother me?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

D Minor is the saddest key

After many many years, I started back at piano lessons, including theory, last year. I really didn't have time to practice, and this year I don't even have time for lessons, BUT it really got me listening to music with a new kind of attention. Luckily, the radio is like a never-ending course in the never-ending stream of Western Classical Music. My favorite is CBC Radio 2.

Aside from keyboard convenience, and possibly referrals to prior works, I have not yet really understood why one key might be chosen by a composer over another. OK, Bach worked his way systematically through all the keys, and Beethoven kind of worked through most of them, but that is not quite a reason why any piece is set in any particular key.

I can't remember what stray fragment generated the idea that D minor is the saddest key. I LOVE sad music. D minor being sad has to do with the ancient Dorian mode, apparently. I don't have a clear understanding of that. I have been thinking about it a little bit for over a year now, and looking it up here and there when I get a chance.

There are some pretty impressive D minor pieces. I just heard Fauré's Quartet in D minor on the radio. Brahms, a famously sad and tragic guy, wrote his stunning Piano Concerto #1 in D minor. I understand that Haydn's String Quartet, Op 76 No 2 is in D minor, and is called the Witch's Minuet. Promising. Bach has some sensational work in D minor. Love Bach in all keys. I was curious about Swan Lake - famously tragic also, seems to be B minor. As for Beethoven's well-known sad Piano Sonatas, Op 13 - Pathétique is in C minor and Op 27 Moonlight is in C# minor. He did write Op 31 No 2 in D minor (must listen), which was apparently inspired by Shakespeare's "The Tempest". I am wondering if Prokofiev or Saint-Saëns used it, or Rachmaninoff. Is it pop-sad or really sad? Where does Wagner use it, if he uses it?

The marigold wonders nervously:
Is D minor the saddest key?
What could make D minor sadder than the other minor keys?
What is the saddest music?

And even more nervously:
What about the keys of sad pop music?

I guess I should look up a few songs that I think of as sad, and see if I can figure it out. John Lennon should be the optimal starting point.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Books About Libraries

I've searched for a list of fiction featuring libraries, and have not yet found one. One of my project ideas for this blog is such a list. I'll start with a couple of titles, and build it as I think of other titles, read other titles or receive suggestions of other titles. I think I will not include mystery novels, unless they are superior.

The Name of the Rose Umberto Eco
Labyrinths Jorge Luis Borges

Of course, the marigold's nervous question is:
Is that all I can think of??? Two books???

The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon


What a brain. I just started reading The Possibility of an Island, and I had to stop and get a highlighter, so I would not lose track of his trenchant observations on modern culture. AND his thoughts are rather marvelously enclosed inside science fiction novels. What could be better??? PLUS he writes on only page 19 (Daniel 24, 1) about "...hazardous attempts at memory downloading through the intermediary of a data carrier..." which means the writing and reading of books. What a provocative way of thinking about books and culture. Books as data carriers for memory downloading. They are chance-y. There may be a better way. (Of course, photos and films and art and everything else is implied, but I think book-format leads most directly to it being about books.)

The marigold wonders nervously:
Is it really going to turn out like this?

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I have been reading tangentially about Jose Luis Borges having conceived of the Internet long before such a thing existed. As a writer, bibliophile and librarian, I guess his imaginings could lead there in a meaningful way. I finally borrowed his Labyrinths from the local library, and found a cool link to the world of Borges - see links. My bibliophile dream is for the Internet to become even more of a library, with academic sites somehow demarcated from blog sites. Can someone arrange this, please?

Still, the marigold wonders nervously:
What is the correct pronunciation of BORGES?

Friday, March 21, 2008

New York with kids

We took our two kids to New York for a long weekend. We reviewed all the books and movies we could remember about New York, and watched a couple of videos. As a consequence, their trip had a feeling of resonance and they felt familiar and comfortable with the BIG city.

Funnily, our 6-year old loved to say "Let's grab a cab," and both kids adored hailing them, something we don't do at home.

Here are some of the materials we enjoyed and the experiences to which they lead us:

movie: Ghostbusters - particularly for the New York Public Library. We all loved the library (and Bryant Park, right behind it). The original toys from Winnie-the-Pooh are displayed in one of their galleries. The reading rooms are awesome, and their shows are sensational. And it's free! The movie also got us looking up at the decorations on so many of the tall buildings.

book: Seen Art? by Jon Scieszka- created for the opening of the renovated Museum of Modern Art - funny and arty. Made for a kind of scavenger hunt through the museum for works we recognized from the book.

movie: Night at the Museum - for the American Museum of Natural History. This museum is the perfect fulfillment of the dream of a museum. Big, beautiful and romantic.

book: The Most Amazing Dinosaur, by James Stevenson - works for both the Metropolitan Museum and the Natural History Museum. Adorable book by a fabulous author/illustrator/New Yorker cartoonist (a wonderful category that also includes William Steig).

movie: Madagascar - for Grand Central Station (where we all enjoyed eating at the Oyster Bar) and for Central Park Zoo.

book and movie: Eloise by Kay Thompson - for the hotel experience, and Central Park

movie: Home Alone 2, Lost in New York - also for hotel experience and Central Park, and for Rockefeller Center

movie: Fantasia 2000 - for the city streets and for skating at Rockefeller Center

As we catch up with more suggestions, I'll add the good ones to this list, with comments.

Extra ideas:

movie: Enchanted - we dialed it up in the hotel room in New York, and were delighted to see New York as a "character" in this cute film

book: I am Pangoo the Penguin by Satomi Ichikawa - an adorable story featuring the penguins in the Central Park Zoo. This is now a family favourite.

Not New York enough despite our expectations:
book and movie: Harriet the Spy - a kid in the city.

The marigold asks nervously:
How long will I need to do this?

So I am adding to this list a year later with ideas that have come up:

1) movie: Desperately Seeking Susan - I have not seen it recently, and it may not be suitable for young kids. I'll have to watch it again and report back.

2) movie: Annie - I have not seen this recently either. It is OK for kids, but may be too dated to be useful.

3) movie: Crocodile Dundee - Definitely New York, not for the littlest kids.

4) movie: The Muppets Take Manhattan - perfect for the littlest kids.

5) book: The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler - by E.L. Konigsburg, kids, New York, a museum, a mystery. All good.

6) book and movie: Stuart Little - fabulous book, by an icon of New York writing, E.B. White. So-so movie(s) but Central Park with it's pond features strongly.

7) Both Madagascar movies, but especially the first one, show New York scenes, with a focus on the Central Park zoo.

Some other ideas I have been given but have not checked out myself:
movies: The Fantastic Four and Antz

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Reading list links

One thing I have finally gotten around to is getting my go-to reading lists together, and those links now appear here under my (non-existent) profile.

I love the very specialized lists, like for music fiction and mathematical fiction. There are lots of art fiction lists, but they are no longer so special. I love global reading lists, and this is my favourite.

With Arts and Letters Daily and the Literary Saloon, one need never feel that one has overlooked a really interesting article about books or thought. I would be interested in other specialized and/or quirky reading lists, if anyone finds any.

The marigold wonders nervously:
Do French and Italians use accents when texting?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Nervous Marigold Introduces Herself

I'd rather be offended than bored. I am always looking for a new culture thrill.

I have a few ideas I would like to get to here:

A list of culture-works (books, movies, paintings...) with libraries in them. Maybe music, too?

Are there ways of Not Reading that Pierre Bayard did not get to? In my case, it consists of reading closely, but only for part of the book (PR?). I'm thinking of adding it my LibraryThing tags. Are there others?

The marigold wonders nervously:
Is grammar uncool when emailing or texting?