Tuesday, January 30, 2007
We Are Tired, Today
I finished God is an Englishman on Sunday evening! Yippee!!! The idea of reviewing it is a little daunting, but I hope to do so, tomorrow. A friend drew my attention to the fact that this is actually my second chunkster of the year. At 453 pages, Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair also qualified. And, it took me forever to read so . . . okay. Cool. I still plan to shoot for two more chunksters by June, though, even though that bumps my lower-end goal up from 3 to 4. It's a challenge intended to knock down the piles, after all, so it would be silly to use that first chunkster as a way to slide by.
Please note that I've added a link to the list of Chunkster Challenge Participants in my sidebar; just click on the blinking bookworm. This will allow easier access to a hoopty list with links to other bloggers involved in the challenge.
I had a long day after a fitful night, so just one quick anecdote that shows exactly how tired I am. After taking the hubby to get some dental work done in the Big City (Jackson), we ran some errands and returned home just in time to pick up kiddo from school. I fetched the child, dropped him off at home, and dashed off to buy milk and fresh fruit. Because I was tired and youngster needs to eat a little early on swim practice days, I whipped through McDonald's and ordered us each a fish filet and a fruit-and-yogurt parfait. After paying for my food . . . get this . . . I zipped right past the pick-up window and hopped onto the highway to head home. I was halfway to the house before I realized there was no food in the car. Crud.
In the trunk was a gallon of milk that needed to go in the fridge and today was a warm day, so there was no choice but to proceed home to drop off the milk and then turn around to fetch the restaurant food. Just to have a pair of extra eyes because I was obviously awfully tired, the kiddo was forced into co-pilot position. A few McDonald's employees got a good laugh, but we did manage to pick up our food.
My life and welcome to it.
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
The African Queen by C. S. Forester
Just walked in the door:
French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano
The Grizzly Maze by Nick Jans
I'm off to immerse myself in some eucalyptus-scented dead sea salt bath soak. Some days you just have to say, "I quit here. I'm taking a bath and going to bed." Just to be kind to the kiddo, though, I must inform you that the photo is old (although the teenager's leg was already pretty long in 2005, I can see) and Buzz Lightyear has been discarded. He'd really be unhappy if I left you with the impression that Buzz was still around.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
A Bookish Moment
I was flipping through the Daedalus Books catalog while hubby boiled some eggs (yes, he cooks) when I saw a familiar author's name: Gerald Durrell.
"Hey," I said to the spouse, "there are some books by Gerald Durrell listed in this catalog."
Blank look. "Who is that?"
"An author you've read."
"No, I haven't."
"Yes, you have. Remember, he wrote a book called The Overloaded Ark? You read it a long, long time ago."
"Never heard of it."
"We still have it, I think." At this point, I hopped up and walked to the nicest of our shelves, looked upward and plucked the book off the shelf.
I held it up. "See, this is the book. I think you really liked it."
Hubby squinted at the book and proclaimed it unfamiliar, so I told him the cover designated it as a travel book and I thought it was a memoir. He shook his head, again, and then stopped and stared.
At this point, the little bell finally rang over the husband's head and he said, "Oh, is that the one that -- where does it take place?"
The back cover said Africa and I read the blurb. Ding, ding, ding. Now, he remembered and started to babble happily about the book and how great it was; and, of course, I was laughing at my husband's funny tendency to shove aside certain bits of information that are just naturally filed in my own brain. We're so different.
Still, it was a nice moment.
Friday, January 26, 2007
It took me forever to get a decent hawk photo and we ended up pulling onto a very iffy almost-gravel, mostly-mud road where somebody is supposedly going to build houses (so far, all they've done is rip out trees and cause massive erosion). But, I'm excited to finally have a photo of one of the local hawks. This was taken just a couple blocks from the road that intersects our street - about a quarter- to a half-mile from our home. He spotted me just as I took the photo above, and then . . . . . . oh, utter coolness.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
A Book Meme
Okay, on to the meme. I saw this one at Wendy's blog and enjoyed reading her answers. Wendy says she got it from Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings (link in sidebar). I can't view Carl's blog at all, most days, so I seldom show up there, but Carl is lovely, his blog is excellent and this definitely seems like his thing so I'm not surprised if that's where it began.
Science Fiction, Fantasy or Horror?
Science Fiction. I'm prone to nightmares and, thus, seldom touch anything that can be classified as "horror", although I've recently enjoyed some by Richard Matheson. I love outer space, aliens, the future, new worlds. I'm definitely a Sci-Fi gal.
Hardback or Trade Paperback or Mass Market Paperback?
Trade Paperbacks are my favorite. I love the look and feel of them, like Wendy. As I get older, I'm having more trouble holding some books; trade paperbacks are the easiest - mass market and hardbacks can actually be painful to hold open. But, that doesn't stop me from grabbing a book in any form if I desire to read it.
Heinlein or Asimov?
Heinlein, but only because I've yet to get to Asimov. I've only read one Heinlein book, at this point, Stranger in a Strange Land. While I thought the story lost something along the way and I didn't care for the ending, I enjoyed the overall experience and hope to eventually read more. And, I'm still planning to get around to Asimov.
Amazon or Brick and Mortar?
Definitely brick and mortar. There's nothing like the experience of being surrounded by books, particularly with the smell of coffee wafting through the air, and classical music in the background.
Barnes & Noble or Borders?
Hmm. I like them for different reasons. Both Barnes & Noble and Borders are around a 50-mile drive from us, so they require a special trip. Either is wonderful, but we tend to go to the Borders side of town more often.
Hitchhiker or Discworld?
Hitchhiker. I've read all of the Hitchhiker books, enjoyed the BBC broadcast, heard Douglas Adams do a reading (he was a terrific speaker, may he rest in peace) and chatted about the books and various TV incarnations with husband and sons, so they're very much a part of our history. I've read one Discworld book and enjoyed it but it didn't thrill me in any way. It was fun, but nothing I'd pass around.
Bookmark or Dogear?
Heavens, bookmark of course! Like Wendy, dog-earing is a desperation situation for me. I don't like mangling a book and I'll use just about anything to mark my place rather than bend a page. However, I would not go so far as my friend Karen, who once used a lettuce leaf as a bookmark. Moisture is also a no-no.
Alphabetize by author Alphabetize by title or random?
Author. I don't do so, myself, but I can't stand to look at a shelf of books that isn't alphabetized, in a store. At home, my books are arranged in an order that would probably make librarians pull their hair out. But, till recently, I knew where to find every book I owned. After we were flooded, things became more chaotic.
Keep, Throw Away or Sell?
I used to keep every book I liked. Now, I pass them on, trade, give away, or donate all but those that I love so much I can't bear to part with them. The only books I've ever thrown away were those that were hopelessly damaged, like some that were soaked in a flood. They molded, darn it. I felt like I should play some kind of funeral dirge when I threw them away. It was so sad.
Keep dustjacket or toss it?
Keep it. Even a torn dust jacket can usually be repaired.
Read with dustjacket or remove it?
I set the dust jacket aside while I read and then put it back on when I set it down between readings, unless I'm so utterly gripped that there's no point to putting it on because I'm going to carry the book everywhere.
Short story or novel?
I prefer novels most of the time. Very few authors seem to be truly skilled at writing in a shorter format, but I enjoy short stories when I locate an author who does them well. My friend John Floyd is one of my favorites, up there with Vladimir Nabokov and James Thurber.
Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?
Harry Potter, although I think that should be J. K. Rowling or Lemony Snicket, shouldn't it? Picky, picky.
Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?
I often don't have control over this, as I read while waiting for my child. When the bell rings, the streams of people distract me. I stop immediately, sometimes in mid-paragraph. At night, I usually read till I can't keep my eyes open.
“It was a dark and stormy night” or “Once upon a time”?
"It was a dark and stormy night" sounds more intriguing.
Buy or borrow?
I buy almost all of my books, although many of them come from our library's sale corner. Oddly, I seem to find what I like more easily in the sale area (which is supported by donated books) than in the library itself. Or, maybe that's not so odd because other bibliophiles in our area are also forced to buy what they enjoy.
Buying choice: Book Reviews, Recommendation or Browse?
All of the above. I tend to read more books that have been recommended by friends, these days, as I'm gradually finding what I call "reading twins" - people who have similar taste. But, a review or a cover that jumps out at me can also have influence.
Lewis or Tolkien?
C.S. Lewis, although I'm not a fan of the Narnia series. Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters are more up my alley.
Collection (short stories by the same author) or Anthology (short stories by different authors)?
Collection. I prefer a little consistency in a book of short stories or novellas, although I'll sometimes read anthologies.
Tidy ending or cliffhanger?
It depends on the book. There are times it makes more sense for a book not to have a complete ending - to leave the ending to the reader, so to speak. Sometimes a tidy ending is more fitting, but there's often a fine line between tidy and deus ex machina, in my humble opinion.
Morning reading, Afternoon reading, or Night-time reading?
Gosh, any time I can find an excuse to read is great. I tend to read while waiting for my son and at bedtime, though. If I'm close to ending a book or in a foul mood, I'll read when I wake up (it cheers me).
Stand-alone or series?
Stand-alone. Although I like a few series, I dislike the feeling that someone is dangling a carrot in front of me (in the form of a continuing storyline) in order to get me to buy another book.
New or used?
I love a nice, fresh new book; but when you get right down to it anything is fine as long as I get to read. I'll take an ugly, 40-year-old book for a quarter if that's what's available.
Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?
Let's see . . . The Return by Daoma Winston (an old book of my mother's - amazing I left anything at all behind when I moved out), Westward Whoa by W. Hodding Carter, and Time Rider by Rickey Mallory (one of my all-time favorite sci-fi novels) are some that I love but nobody seems to be familiar with. Wendy mentioned Emma Sweeney's book, which I had to look up to see if it was the book I thought she was referring to. Oh, yeah! As Always, Jack is one I read in 2005. I LOVED that book!!!
Top 5 favorite books read last year?
Here's where I jump off the cart for a bit. I don't want to go look through the files, but I do remember my favorite was The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Nothing came anywhere close to beating it.
Top 5 favorite books of all time (not including any from last year)?
Very difficult question because I love so many books, but these are 5 that I love and can't fathom parting with:
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Desiree by Anne-Marie Selinko (the most re-read book I own)
My Antonia by Willa Cather
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
5 Favorite Series?
The Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich
Tomorrow When The War Began series by John Marsden
From childhood, A Wrinkle in Time and the follow-up books by Madeleine L'Engle
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot
The Hitchhiker's series by Douglas Adams
And, I thought I didn't like series books. Ha.
What's new in the jungle? The sun came out for the first time in 2 weeks! Yippee!
Funny sight: Our veterinarian's expression when he saw the youngster - or, rather, looked up at the youngster and asked him, "Just how tall are you, now?" When youngster replied that he's about six feet, the vet sighed and said, "I remember when you didn't reach as high as the table. Man, I'm gettin' old."
Best news from up north: The eldest called to tell us he wrote a letter to the editor of his school paper and they offered him a job as a columnist. That could also be classified as a Proud Mama Moment.
Just walked in the door: Pictures from an Expedition by Diane Smith (loved her first novel, Letters from Yellowstone, which I read last year).
The meaning of life: Haven't quite figured that one out, so I'll say Douglas Adams was right . . . it must be 42.
Listening to: Thacker Mountain Radio, the music disc
How to get Mississippi off the "Fat States" list: Leash laws. I'm totally serious. Someone tell the governor.
Are you done babbling yet? Yes, thank you. I am. Have a nice day!
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi
When I read Something Upstairs by Avi (which I was lukewarm about, although I thought it was pretty well-written), Andi told me she'd heard Crispin was good and I replied, in total blondeness, something to the effect of, "Who is Crispin?"or "What does Crispin write?" Duh. Okay, at least I eventually redeemed myself by finding a copy, buying it and reading it.
Crispin: The Cross of Lead is the story of a young peasant who has been known only as “Asta’s son” all his life. After the death of his mother, he is unexpectedly pursued by the steward of the land he and his mother worked as serfs. Crispin has witnessed a conversation between the steward and a stranger, but doesn’t understand why he - a serf of no consequence - must run for his life with nothing but the clothes on his back and a cross of lead.
Crispin: The Cross of Lead is excellent historical fiction set in the 14th century, with loads of twists and turns. It didn’t take long to realize that Crispin is the kind of character who is bound to run into trouble everywhere he goes. If someone says "Stay here," he leaves. If they say "run'', he hesitates. All of which makes for a gripping read. Even though the steward showed up a little too conveniently around every corner, the book was more gripping than forced. Beautifully written with excellent historical detail. A sequel has recently been released and I definitely plan to read it, at some point.
Now back to: My chunkster, God is an Englishman, finally!
Also reading (for both the TBR and Classics challenges): The African Queen by C. S. Forester
Monday, January 22, 2007
The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason
"I don't supposed you thought this through any further," he said, brandishing the sword at a younger undead who dared take a step toward them.
"I was rather hoping that, since I got us this far, you'd have an idea."
The smoke was getting thicker, and some of the furnishings were starting to kindle. It would be a very short time until the entire room erupted in flames; the dry, rotting curtains that hung at the black windows were already suffused with angry orange and red tongues.
*Warning: Possible SPOILER coming up*
On the eve of her society debut, Victoria Gardella Grantworth finds out she must decide whether or not to continue the family legacy of Gardella vampire slayers. She chooses to be trained to fight and slay vampires, to become a “Venator”; but when the Marquess of Rockley steals her heart and a powerful vampire plots to gain unspeakable power, Victoria is torn between love and duty.
This is the paragraph you don't want to read, unless you don't mind spoilers. You have been warned:
A fascinating, adventurous combination of Regency historical, paranormal thriller, and romance that was gripping to its shocking conclusion, the book leaned more toward romance in its first half and then veered more heavily to the paranormal thriller side in the latter portion. In fact, my die-hard romance-writer friends would rail about the sad ending, as a romance is technically a happily-ever-after story. Believe me, I got that drilled into my head when I hung out with romance writers.
Okay, it's safe to read, now.
Regardless, it was a unique combination that kept me turning the pages. Normally, I shy away from vampire tales; but, I wanted to read the book because Colleen is one of ours, so to speak, in the blogging world. Of course, we all adore her and she's nice. You know my policy: Buy books written by nice people, whenever possible (and definitely attend their signings, if you can). When I came across a copy in the local bookstore, The Rest Falls Away passed my "flip test" with flying colors - every sentence I read, as I flipped through, randomly, grabbed me. So much for not bringing home any new books.
I was glad I broke that little rule. The Rest Falls Away was beautifully written, loaded with action and didn't become gory or disturbing until close to the end. I tend toward easily-triggered nightmares, but this novel didn't cause me any trouble and was loads of fun. If not for the fact that I opted to do a ton of housework while the guys were away, this weekend, I wouldn't have put it down at all. But, I did and the house is a lot cleaner, thank goodness. It was getting scarier than a vampire novel. Still, I was enthralled and very pleased because I'm scrupulously honest in my reviews and I sure didn't want to say anything negative. That would pain me. Since I'm not a regular vampire-story reader, I can't say how it compares to most but I liked it better than the only other vampire book I've ever read: The Nymphos of Rocky Flats. There is a little bit of graphic sex, which y'all know is not my thing, but I coped. See, I'm fine. Look. Don't I look terrific?
Now reading: Crispin by Avi and I'm about to get back to God is an Englishman but don't hold your breath that I'll finish it anytime soon.
Just walked in the door: The Sex Lives of Cannibals by Maarten Troost and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (uh-oh, Chunkster Alert).
Best moment of the day: Not to sound old, tired and repetitious, but it has to do with yet another hawk. I loaded one of the cats, Miss Spooky, into her carrier and took her along for the school pick-up routine. She was surprisingly quiet and relaxed - very unusual, as she's my yowler when it comes to vet trips. Anyway, on the return home we passed a hawk sitting on a phone wire by the road. There were no cars behind us, so I briefly stopped the car to allow kiddo and myself a longer look. The hawk had its head turned to the side, the reddish feathers on his crown rippling in the breeze. It was just such a glorious sight.
I don't know if we have a large influx of raptors during the winter or they're simply more visible when the leaves are off the trees, but we've seen them almost every time we leave the house, recently. Neato. Yeah, yeah, I grew up in the 70's.
Recent discovery: I found my missing Nabokov!! Six months? I think that's how long it took to show up. Gosh, how embarrassing. Okay, this is not totally weird because my husband is kind of an absent-minded professor type and there are only certain things he can be bothered to remember, but apparently he found it - and has no memory at all of doing so. Still, it appeared quite unexpectedly on top of a pile of books. "No, babe, it wasn't there last week. I know you found it. Where? I just want to know where it's been all this time!" said I. "I don't remember finding it. Sorry. It's just another book to me." Big sigh. Hope to get to that one soon, as it's one for the TBR challenge; I've had it close to forever.
Watched this weekend: Three movies - so unlike me, but I had a lot of laundry to fold and I do so while watching movies: You, Me and Dupree (hmm, pretty fun but more rude than I'd like), Crash (wow) and About a Boy (again - love it, love it, love it; big Nick Hornby fan, here).
Gettin' cold (it's all relative, I know - the grass is still green, here). Gotta go curl up with a cat and a good book. Stay warm!
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Once Upon a Time by Gloria Vanderbilt
This is an older book, published in 1987, and one that I just happened across at our library sale. I picked it up after reading Anderson Cooper's book, thinking it would be fun to read more about his family history, and then set it aside for Christmas reads and recently returned to it.
The story of Gloria Vanderbilt’s childhood--focusing particularly upon the desperate wish to get her mother’s attention--the tale of Gloria Vanderbilt's childhood is one of decadent extravagance, inflated self-importance, confusion and loneliness. One could almost feel sorry for her; but it's difficult to sympathize, much less empathize with a girl whose inheritance was valued at $4.5 million in the 1930's.
As memoirs go, Once Upon a Time is unusual in that Gloria Vanderbilt tells it through the eyes of a child. It’s almost like she’s channeling “young Gloria”. The result could be either fascinating or annoying, depending on who is reading; I found it fascinating, for the most part. The reader not only glimpses the lifestyle of a Vanderbilt - pampered virtually beyond comprehension, constantly in the public eye, friends with celebrities and royalty - but also gains an understanding of her feelings as a child who lost her father at a very early age, was neglected by her mother and then endured a confusing custody battle that resulted in the dismissal of the one person she felt she could completely trust.
By the end of the book, I got the sense that it would be awfully difficult to grow up being shuttled from one enormous estate or ritzy location to another--surrounded by the wealthy and famous--and turn out the slightest bit normal. And, it was almost as if Gloria was trying to prove that to be the case. Vanderbilt's mother (also named Gloria) was an erratic nomad: beautiful, vain, constantly craving attention, possibly even mentally unbalanced. In many ways, the elder Gloria reminded me of a well-known, jet-setting heiress whose name I'm not even willing to type--in part because of the dearth of character she exhibited. While young Gloria seldom asked about her father, those few times she got up the nerve, she didn’t succeed at obtaining much information. Her mother, on the other hand, was seldom present and utterly baffling. Obviously bent on trying to find a similarly wealthy second husband, she spent all her time traveling, partying, buying clothes and moving from one exotic location to another, always surrounded by friends and relatives and never showing any interest at all in the rearing of her only child.
Overall, a very interesting read that occasionally wasn’t quite descriptive enough but still kept me turning the pages. I thought the book was very readable, but I have mixed feelings about it and, therefore, am giving it a "very good" rating but not putting it in the "recommended" category.
Now reading: The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason - loving it, so far.
Weekend doings: Having a combination read-in and clean-in weekend, as I'm on my own for two whole days and free to do whatever I please. How cool is that?
Chunkster progress: None since Wednesday. I'll get back to it soon, I'm certain.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Brief Chunkster Note
Just a brief note on the Chunkster Challenge. I neglected to answer the following question:
Question: When I finish my chunkster, should I zip over and let you know?
Answer: Let's just wait, shall we? Not that I don't want to hear about your victories - do feel free to come over and share your joy. Post-wise, though, I'm not going to start up a list because I prefer not to spend 6 months updating one post and moving its date forward. Were I better at this blogging business, I'd probably know how to just stick an adorable link or list in the sidebar. But, I'm not and I don't. So, I'm going to ask participants to post a message about their success in June.
In brief: Sometime between June 1 and June 30, let me know the title(s) and author(s) of completed chunksters (page number would be great, also, if you can hang onto the info) and I will list all who succeeded and hold another drawing. Hope that's peachy with everyone. Feel free to tell me what you think or teach me how to create some kind of nifty sidebar thing that would make it an easier process to keep track.
Read on, dudes and dudettes
Monday, January 15, 2007
This Pirate's Weekend Plunder
Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
I loved the fact that this story is the reverse of what happened within Europe, as courageous people hid Jews from the Nazis. Patty is a Jew who helps a young Nazi soldier hide after he escapes from the nearby prison camp. The young Jew, Anton, is an intelligent, educated and kind person with a great sense of humor. Patty has abusive parents who don’t like her, although the reasoning for their dislike is difficult to discern. Her father whips her for the slightest infraction and her mother simply likes to browbeat her into submission and is verbally abusive, constantly comparing Patty to her pretty little sister, Sharon. The only person who is truly kind to Patty is their hired “colored woman”, Ruth. Ruth is loving and wise. Her grandparents are also kind to her, but they dislike her father and, in the long run, are not much help.
I enjoyed Summer of My German Soldier, but was a slightly disappointed. I expected more interaction between Patty and Anton. The end was hopeful and the characters were fairly believable, yet the dialogue sounded a little forced to me. Still, I can't deny the writing was very good and I would read more by this author. The back cover states that Summer of My German Soldier was a National Book Award finalist and an ALA Notable Book.
There were some lovely sentences and bits of wisdom or insight in this book, and I took notes. Unfortunately, I wrote my notes on the heat sheets for kiddo's swim meet, he stuck them in his swim bag where they got soaked by a wet towel and bathing suit, and he claims he threw the papers away. So much for quotes. If I can locate them, however, I'll update this post because I did think there were some things worth sharing.
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
"Art thou hurt?" said Baloo, hugging him softly.
"I am sore, hungry, and not a little bruised; but, oh, they have handled ye grievously, my Brothers! Ye bleed." -- from Kaa's Hunting
They fought in the breakers, they fought in the sand, and they fought on the smooth-worn basalt rocks of the nurseries; for they were just as stupid and unaccommodating as men. -- from The White Seal
It is nearly always foggy at Novastoshnah, except when the sun comes out and makes everything look all pearly and rainbow-colored for a little while. -- from The White Seal
First, apologies for the delay in posting this review. We spent the weekend at a swim meet and I'd planned to post Friday night, but was too tired. Saturday, internet access was down at the hotel and Sunday we arrived home a little later than expected. More on our weekend, later.
I knew from the point at which I cracked open The Jungle Book to read its preface and table of contents, that it was a series of short stories and would likely be quite different from the usual, goofy, watered-down Disney fare. But, I also knew that Kipling had a terrific sense of humor and the prefeace confirmed that memory as Kipling, referring to himself as "the Editor", gave tongue-in-cheek thanks to an elephant and a string of informants who wished to remain anonymous. What a fun guy he must have been.
The first three stories were dedicated to Mowgli's appearance in the wolves' cave, where he would grow up surrounded by his adoptive wolf family. The wolves adopted Mowgli upon refusing to turn him over to the lame tiger, Shere Khan, who desired nothing more than to eat Mowgli and be on his way. Eventually, Mowgli would pay back those who protected him and the tiger, himself, for desiring to eat him.
Probably the biggest surprises were the fact that Mowgli could be a bit of a brat (really, quite well portrayed in the movie, but he was a little more contrary and a lot more clever than the Disney version) and the use of "thee" and "ye" in conversation, which made the characters sound a little on the King James Biblical side. I found myself mentally substituting modern pronouns to make the reading smoother.
The stories in The Jungle Book were every bit as exciting as expected. When captured by the Bandar-log (monkeys), Mowgli showed an unexpected presence of mind, using the protective Master Words of the Jungle, words Baloo taught him to use when entering new territory. "Mark my trail!" Mowgli called to the kite, Chil. Chil followed till the Bandar-log reached their destination, an abandoned town much like that of the cartoon movie, then sent a message about Mowgli's whereabouts to Baloo and Bagheera via the animal network. Baloo and Bagheera enlisted the help of Kaa, the 30-foot rock python, and barely escaped being hypnotized by his charms after the rescue was completed. Fascinating.
I loved all the stories, but I think my particular favorite was Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. I knew only little peripheral bits about that story and really enjoyed reading the tale about how a tiny mongoose saved his adoptive family of humans (apparently British) from a deadly cobra and the wife and unborn baby snakes who would happily poison the family and take over their house and gardens. It's a lovely tale of how great courage can come from even a tiny creature.
4/5 - but only because sometimes the language was a little incomprehensible (briefly) and I liked some of the stories more than others.
Note: This is not the correct image. My book cover says The Jungle Book (singular - this one is plural, which I thought was a bit odd) and is an illustration of a leopard. The leopard is not a black leopard, as Bagheera is described, so it was technically inaccurate. But, I do like it better than the image shown, above. However, this was the only one I could get to load at the correct size, so it's a satisfice and I guess we'll just have to live with it.
I was slow to finish The Jungle Book (not to mention how long it's taken to getting around to the review) but not for any reason other than flightiness. I have more Kipling sitting around the house and enjoyed The Jungle Book so much that I may scoot one of the other Kipling books up onto my Classics Challenge list - partly due to the fact that I seem to have misplaced Peter Pan. Sigh. I really hate being blonde, sometimes.
We spent Saturday and most of Sunday in Laurel, Mississippi, where youngest son had a swim meet. Kiddo did exceptionally well on both Saturday and Sunday. He took as much as 8 seconds off his previous swim times and improved in every single event! 6-8 seconds reduction is a huge improvement, so the youngster was pleased (but famished - he is a teenager, after all) when all was over.
On the drive down, we stopped at a roadside fruit stand that we've admired on previous trips and bought a few interesting items: some particularly pretty tomatoes, salted peanuts in the shell, pickled quail eggs, and a gourd to make into a bird house. Fun! Unfortunately, spouse pulled around a truck just as we were closing in on the turn-off and had to enter the fruit-stand parking lot at a ridiculous rate of speed. I was certain that we were going to do a James Bond and send both vegetables and people flying. "Too fast, too fast!" I said between gritted teeth. "Yeah," husband said as he applied the brakes and avoided plowing down an innocent Southerner. "I thought so, too."
Just finished: The Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene. Review forthcoming.
Still reading: God is an Englishman (yes, sigh, still only about halfway or so . . . this has been a tiring week), and Stitch 'n Bitch (got to the casting-on part and panicked, thinking maybe I should wait till I'm home to attempt casting on, and possibly find a knitting friend).
I was most disappointed to find out that Harlequin is discontinuing its Silhouette Bombshell line, a series of stories with kick-ass action and strong heroines. Darn. Just when I find a line I can get behind, Harlequin shuts it down! The Next series, which I've been avidly reading, has gone to a smaller publication rate. Hopefully, they won't go by the wayside as well, but I'm not holding my breath. I am, I know, far from the typical romance reader; the longest-lived lines are generally the ones I can't stand to read. Ah, well, that's not surprising but it's annoying. The same seems to hold true regarding favorite scents at smelly bath-product stores. I've recently decided to stop myself from even entering one such bath store because every time I find a product I love, they discontinue it. Grrr. Sandalwood and then mint shampoo, country apple wet wipes . . . all gone. Damn stores. I've returned to Ivory soap, cheap apple shampoo and baby wet wipes for the car. I already miss that lovely apple scent that wafted through the car's interior when we got out the wet wipes, which were replaced by antibacterial hand gel. Whoever made the decision to switch obviously has never had sticky fingers. You can't wipe gunk off with gel, people.
Anyway, that's my rant for the day. End of rant. It's safe to keep reading, now.
We stopped at Borders to have fun spending gift cards, on the return trip from Laurel. I'll try to get a photo of my purchases posted, later on.
Hope everyone else had a peachy weekend!!!
Thursday, January 11, 2007
The Nazi Officer's Wife by Edith Hahn Beer
*Possible spoiler warning*: I don't think anything I've mentioned in this review will truly spoil the reading, but I've revealed a few things that I found surprising. So,if it's on the agenda right away, you might want to skip over the review. Then again, you might not. I can't tell from here.
Back to the review . . .
I enjoy reading about the experiences of people who lived through WWII. This book offered a slightly different perspective. I’d never heard the term “U-boat” in reference to a person living in plain view of Nazis. The time spent living with a German and then marrying him was actually only a small portion of her experience. Prior to acquiring a copy of her friend's papers and moving away from Vienna to work for the Red Cross (the safest place for a person under an assumed identity to work), Hahn lived in a work camp harvesting asparagus and other foods and in a paper factory, cutting boxes. She and her co-workers actually thought that being sent to Poland was the only way they might be reunited with their families and hoped they’d be among the fortunate workers allowed to leave. Knowing what happened in Poland, of course, it’s shocking to read about how clueless people were in regard to what was happening to their friends and family.
It was only when Hahn was led to a woman in the Nazi party - by a friend from the work camp who received packages from this same woman and knew she was trustworthy - that Hahn was able to borrow a friend’s identity, move to Munich to work for the Red Cross, and then later meet and marry an "Aryan". There were some interesting complications, even after Edith Hahn became Grete Denner. Edith's friend, Christl Denner (Margarethe, shortened to "Grete", was one of Christl's middle names), was still living in Vienna and receiving her rations, so there were certain documents and ration cards that Hahn couldn't get her hands on without exposing both herself and her friend.
I found Edith Hahn's story absolutely gripping. It’s unfathomable to me how terrifying it must have been to be a Jew or other person considered an adversary to the Nazis anywhere in Europe during World War II. To live out in the open or to help others in any way obviously required a great deal of courage and cunning. The Nazi Officer's Wife is an excellent read, very clearly written and utterly fascinating.
Also finished: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling - first book completed for the Classics Challenge. I hope to review that one tomorrow. Raking up oak leaves has zapped me of my youthful energy.
Haven't touched in a couple of days: The Chunkster. But I plan to return to it, tonight. And, I've resumed reading Once Upon a Time by Gloria Vanderbilt. I believe I set this one aside in December for lighter reading material. It's been fairly easy picking Once Upon a Time up a third of the way into the book. I remember most of the people in Gloria's childhood circle and the rest are slowly coming back to me.
Just walked in my door, yesterday: A Lotus Grows in the Mud by Goldie Hawn. Okay, yes, I helped it walk inside. The postman also helped by sticking it in the mailbox. I sometimes wonder if the friendly local postal worker senses me standing at the window, watching to see if he sticks any book-shaped parcels into the mailbox. Probably. He never has to ring the doorbell for the big boxes.
At this moment: Cat #1, Miss Spooky (who is black with white trim and has owned me for approximately 12 years) is freaking out. She's turned up her nose to every kind of cat food I've offered her, today, both wet and dry. She has just batted a coin across the floor and bolted from the room, after crawling under the futon (where she let out a decisively whiny meow) and running around the house knocking things down, occasionally hesitating long enough to emit one of those pitiful cries that mean, "You don't love me enough to give me shrimp, lightly breaded, with a dab of cream cheese! Or, tuna. I love tuna! Don't I deserve tuna? Look at me, just wasting away before your eyes." Uh-huh. 4 bowls of cat food, 3 bites from each and I'm supposed to feel bad. Can anyone relate to this feline guilt trip?
Best thing that happened, today: The kiddo came out to help me rake. We'll just overlook the bit about him tossing the leaves on me instead of into the bag. At least he came outside. When I say I try to take joy in the little things, sometimes I'm really pushing it.
Got the latter part of the title "Stitch 'n Bitch" down. Need to work on the stitching part.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Got a Winner!
Wendy of Musings of a Bookish Kitty is the winner of the first Chunkster Challenge drawing for a tote bag to haul the chunksters around. Congratulations, Wendy! Sunshine the New Year's Kitty and Great Huntress of Stuffed Parrot is thrilled for you. Isn't she fierce?
I will attempt to keep this post on the short side due to the little gnomes with jack-hammers banging away inside my skull (aka, migraine) but a brief update.
Chunksterville: I'm bogged, kiddos. I keep hacking away at God is an Englishman and I like the book, I really do. But, I'm constantly reminded of why those weighty suckers intimidate me: detail. Too much detail. Admittedly, I used to write great flouncing prose, myself. But, confidentially, my own writing bored me silly. I got over it, I think. I hope (the flouncy writing, not the boredom with my own writing).
Still working on The Jungle Book and occasionally picking up Stitch 'n Bitch. According to Debbie Stoller, I've got a nice little hunk of yarn in a decent blend. I rewound it at 2 am, one night when I couldn't sleep, turning it into a center-pull ball. It's one of the coolest things I've done all week, which probably goes to show you just how interesting my life is. I shall try not to dwell on it.
Added to my current reads, today: The Nazi Officer's Wife by Edith Hahn Beer. So far, it is utterly gripping.
Just walked in my door: Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland
In the year 2007, I resolve not to bring home any books that begin with this kind of sentence:
Phelan McDermott leaned back in the leather wing chair and scowled at the American grandson of his mother's new husband.
Any book that makes me feel like I need to draw up a family tree to translate the first sentence is, I've decided, worth passing up.
Stupidest thing I've done, recently: Assumed that when I updated my email address at Blogger it would actually work. Public apologies to the many people who wrote to me via the email link that went to the email address which I neglected to check for over two months thinking my email had been diverted to the home inbox. How's that for a run-on sentence? I've added the folks who were unable to post a request to join because my blog was set to allow only people with Blogger IDs to comment and . . . you know, the email thing I forgot about. Non-Blogger-bloggers may now post with abandon.
Remember that fizzy business? I used a fizzy from Crabtree & Evelyn, tonight. It's been sitting at the back of a cabinet for at least two years; as far as I know, we no longer have a C & E store in Mississippi since our one and only store moved out of Northpark Mall. Now, I really miss them. But, wowee, what a surprise to see not only a lovely, blue-dyed fizz but a bunch of brown stuff that looked like grass clippings floating in my tub. As it turned out, they put lavender - the real stuff, not just the oil or scent - into the fizzy. There was also some other herbal hodge-podge I didn't recognize (chamomile, maybe?), which I chased around. I mushed some of the lavender and whiffed it. Oh, my. I forgot just what an amazing, heavenly, soothing scent comes from the real plant. And, that other weedy-looking brown crap smelled pretty sweet, also.
Note to former and latter-day hippies: Sorry, no, probably best not to roll it up and smoke it after you sift the lavender out of the fizzy.
Random cheerleading for chunkster readers: You can do it, you can do it, you can do it!
But, I'm going to bed. You can do it without me for tonight.
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Slightly Psychic by Sandra Steffen
Opening her eyes again, she said, “It’s no use.”
"You’re in the South now, Missy, and that attitude just won’t do.”
How could Lila have thought she needed quiet?
What she'd needed was this calibration of calamity, this free-for-all chorus of voices raised just to be heard, of questions that often went half-answered, and hungers that were never assuaged for long.
Lila knew she was slightly psychic, but she couldn’t possibly have predicted the trouble her waking vision of an heiress in jeopardy would get her into. Humiliated on national television, her life goes dramatically downhill, her psychology practice dying away till she’s left with no choice but to move on and start a new life.
A surprising inheritance leads Lila to small-town Virginia, accompanied by her best friend, Pepper. Peace and quiet are all Lila believes she needs after months of media scrutiny. Instead, she walks into a new life with an unexpected and noisy bunch of Southerners, along with a few who won't say much of anything, including Joe. Everyone thinks Joe murdered his wife, but nobody knows for sure. Can Lila and Joe learn to trust, again? And, what really happened to his wife?
I liked this book and read it in one day, primarily because we were in the midst of a gloomy downpour (on Thursday) and inertia kept me from doing anything else. I was glued to the futon, rooted and weary - a book potato, I guess. Anyway, I did enjoy the hodge-podge of characters. The story was the usual turning-over-a-new-leaf with a nice twist and well done. However, there was just something missing. I'm not even sure I can put a finger on what it was, although I do know there were some little things that bothered me. I had trouble visualizing a few of the characters, for example, in spite of their constant presence.
I also had a little trouble with tense in the above review. If you're a Grammar Queen (or King), please forgive me. I'm a little tired, this week, so I think I'll quit hyper-editing and just post as is.
I wouldn't advise against reading the book; I think it was enjoyable. Steffen's writing is good, the book has some nice, witty dialogue and I loved the small-town quirkiness of the characters. I'll look for more by this author; this title simply wasn't my favorite of the books I've read, recently.
Rating? Hmm, above average at 3.5/5. Speaking of which . . . I'm considering doing away with my rating scale and simply saying "recommended" or "not recommended". What do you think? Opinions?
Currently reading: God is an Englishman . . . getting close to page 200, but I set it aside for a couple of days. Still enjoying it.
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling - for the Classics Challenge. From Disney Fluff to the Real Stuff. Also enjoying this one.
Stitch 'n Bitch: The Knitter's Handbook by Debbie Stoller - because the family gave me a beginning knitting kit (with yarn, needles, and lousy instructions) for Christmas.
Did I mention?: The cats bought me a sweater for Christmas and they have excellent taste. They chose a white sweater, upon which the shed fur would undoubtedly stand out if I let them climb on me whilst wearing it lying down. But, I don't think I'll do that.
One thing I learned in 2006: Always look inside the little bank envelope before tearing it in half and tossing it in the trashcan. And, get rid of the dollar bill with scotch-tape up the middle as fast as you can.
One thing I've already learned in 2007: If you're going to go to a coffee shop for the free high-speed internet access, be sure to scope out where they keep the bathroom. That caffeine can go through you like a shot.
Speaking of high-speed access, I checked out the high-speed internet in both the library and our new coffee shop, today. Hmm, definitely something hinky with my ISP causing the blog-viewing trouble. I only had time to visit a few blogs (it's a little unnerving having a spouse stare at the wall while you type) but the ease was startling.
While at the mega illusion-of-discount store: I looked at bath fizzies and soaks. And, a woman passing by said, "That's great stuff, that bath soak. My daughter loves it. Now, I prefer the fizzies, myself. But, be careful when you use them. One time I sat down in the bathtub and the bath fizzy had shrunk to about this size." She held up a hand, fingers apart to about quarter width. "And it popped right up my butt. Woo-hoo, that was a funny feeling!"
Did I want to know that? Did you? Don't tell me I don't share the most interesting anecdotes with you, because that was by far the most unique and mind-boggling thing anyone said to me, today.
Off to read. If you use a bath fizzy, tonight, watch where you sit, please.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair
"Being a pain in the ass somewhere, I imagine."
She laughed, completely surprised by the answer. "I am on the Razalka?"
“And yet you feel free to call your captain a pain in the ass?”
“I have known Khyrhis for more than twenty years. I think in that time I have gathered sufficient evidence to support my conclusion.”
“I could probably give you some more, if you need it."
“My file overflows.”
"I threw a replicating weemly into the comm pack," she told him as the monitors in front of her flickered to life. "It's keyed to Thren's ID, but it may activate on its own."
"A weemly?" He was delighted.
"It would ride on all outgoing messages, link into the receiving comm pack, and replicate again."
"And?" he prompted.
"The only thing they'd be able to see on their screens would be a copy of my potato-cheese casserole."
"Everyone has always enjoyed that casserole when I've served it," Dezi said.
An unusual combination of romance and science fiction, Finders Keepers tells the story of independent star freighter captain Trilby Elliot. While repairing her ship on the uninhabited planet of Avanar, Trilby is surprised to see an enemy ship crash. Bent on salvaging parts, Trilby sets off for the crash site fully expecting to find a dead body. Instead, she discovers a barely-alive Zafharin military officer in a the remains of the ‘Sko fighter ship. Strange. Trilby carries him back to her ship for medical treatment with the help of her ‘droid, Dezi.
Rhis Vanur is a typically arrogant Zafharin, but there’s something that just doesn’t fit about him. Why was he in an enemy fighter? Nobody survives being imprisoned by the ‘Sko. And, why doesn’t he act like a lowly major? Trilby’s intrigued but not willing to fall for another man who appears to be well above her station in life. She’s already made that mistake and suffered when it ended. And, yet, the attraction between them is undeniable. When Trilby’s friend goes missing and Rhis offers to help her, both become targets of the ‘Sko. Will they get out of this alive? And, will love win in the end?
Loads of fun, with a fascinating universe and believable lingo. I loved little things like the term “wogs and weemlies”, which meant something on the order of hidden data alterations that keep infiltrators from stealing information or taking over a ship.
Many humongous thanks to Angela, the blog galaxy's coolest chick, for sending me Finders Keepers!!!
I've met the author of Finders Keepers, Linnea Sinclair at a writer's conference, and heard her speak. She's very nice. You should definitely buy her books. Support nice writers! That's my new motto. Angela gave me Finders Keepers, but I'll definitely buy more.
Currently reading: God is an Englishman by R. F. Delderfield
Current bookmark: Cartoon character Ziggy standing in front of a glorious sunset, saying "Go God!"
Thinking about: The lyrics to the song "Brother's Keeper" by Rich Mullins:
Now the plumber's got a drip in his spigot
The mechanic's got a clink in his car
And the preacher's thinking thoughts that are wicked
And the lover's got a lonely heart
My friends aren't the way I wish they were
They are just the way they are
I just love that.
Off to the universe of Housework (not my favorite).
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
2006 Reading Year in Review
Your Planet or Mine? by Susan Grant (I don't know how I overlooked this one when I first wrote up this post!)
You should definitely read my friends' books. Just thought I'd throw that in.
Coming up: A review of Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair
Total coolness of the day: A hawk that took flight just in front of our car (about 7-10' ahead of the bumper) and glided up into a tree. Hubby and I both said, "Whoa!!! Now, there's a hawk!" in unison. I think the fact we said the exact same words was just as surprising as seeing a hawk take flight so close. It was just beautiful. Beautiful, beautiful.
Funniest thing I read, today: Some little factoids in a map/brochure entitled "Mississippi: Coastal Birding Trail":
"Snakes are seldom encountered, but alligators are seen fairly often. Remember that these are wild animals and can be dangerous to you and your pets. Give them a wide berth."
No kidding? Of course, having recently read one of the "Darwin Awards" books, I should know people are just dumb enough to tease an alligator or pretend a rattlesnake is a lovely boa to hang around one's neck.
Addendum to News Flash: I'm not wrong! Stevi Mittman kindly replied to my query about the order of her books and they are as follows, with short stories included:
Favorite stupid comment eldest son has made, lately: "I didn't go in there; [kid brother] led me in." We are still searching for the leash.
Isn't life fun?
Monday, January 01, 2007
Happy New Year!!!
Happy New Year, everyone!
Are you reading your chunksters? I am, but I'm not yet finished with the book I've been reading for a week. It's quite interesting having people at home when you're used to being alone. Nobody wants me to sit down to read, check e-mail or update my blog. I thwarted their usual efforts to drag me away by saying, "Let's go run around!" first, today. Hahaha. Beat the family to the punch line. We had a great time walking around the mall, trudging around the track at the Y, playing on the exercise machines (yeeow, I'm getting old and stiff!), and tossing the medicine ball back and forth. My bad shoulder will let me know if I did anything wrong, later on tonight. I'm confident that I'll be able to at least prop up my chunkster on a pillow, though.
Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair (loving it - just need more time)
God is an Englishman by R. F. Delderfield - Chunkster #1 (only on page 18 but already know it's going to be a whopping fine read).
Number of Challenge Participants, as of this very moment: 66!!!!
Still listening to:
Idiots who can't tell time, still shooting off firecrackers. They started around 7am on the 31st. Duh. Middle-aged woman whine: Where I grew up, setting off fireworks in residential areas was illegal (it still is, actually).
Sarah McLachlan's Wintersong (I don't care if Christmas is over; I love the music).
I am still having a ridiculously horrible time posting and visiting other blogs, but since I'm repeatedly getting "the connection has reset" messages elsewhere, I'm assuming the problem is my lousy connection. Hard to say, but it's certainly not worth the price we're paying and I will be switching ISPs, soon, if only to save a few dollars each month. Wish me luck. I had to upload the New Year's image, above, to my old photo blog (still on Old Blogger with that one) and then upload the URL to get the darned photo to show up. This is my own photo, since I attempted to find an image and the only photos I liked were stock photos which cost money. I have a camera, a clock, ribbons, Mt. Dew, a champagne flute, and magic markers . . . why not. I had fun coloring, cutting, and propping. The entire image isn't showing up, but I'm just going to paste on a big, Grinchy grin and give up.
Hope to be back to regular posting, soon. I wish everyone a safe, healthy, happy, phenomenal reading year in 2007!
The Grizzly Maze by Nick Jans
July, 2006: Bookfool and family are spending the night in Kenai, Alaska (or, thereabouts), ensconced in a hotel that was originally a cannery. The room is a frightful fifty-four degrees when we arrive. We crank the heater, use the community bathrooms down the hall, and check out the lobby area of our building. In the lobby are some nice, comfy chairs, a coffee-maker, soft drink and snack machines, and a single shelf that slices two walls. The two branches of shelving contain a range of popular fiction (Tom Clancy, for example) as well as a good selection of Alaskan authors.
Bookfool locates a book by Nick Jans, cracks it open, and reads until the room warms up. Completely enraptured, she carries the book into one of the two adjoining bedrooms where the Bookfool Family (minus the eldest, who just returned from France) is staying. The youngster's room doesn't actually have a heater in it and is still frigid. So, he sets aside the Tom Clancy book he started in the lobby and goes to the check-in desk with Mr. Bookfool. They also have DVDs to check out and a DVD player hangs below the television set in the warmer of the two rooms.
Kiddo and Mr. Bookfool return with a moronic movie selection, which they proceed to turn on in the only warm room. The lobby is now colder than the warmest of the bedrooms. Bookfool attempts to read more, with the first movie blasting away, but is basically ADD and fails. She hastily writes " The Last Light Breaking - Nick Jans" in a notepad and eats pretty much everything in sight - trail mix, smoked salmon, hard-boiled eggs, all packed in a cooler; these are supper because the Bookfool Family did not realize they were going to be in the boonies and all have chosen not to go to the cannery's restaurant. They're tired, they're cold, and they don't feel like buying expensive food. Bookfool yearns for a bath and whines about the lack of a nice tub, then falls asleep.
In Anchorage, Bookfool later explores Title Wave bookstore. She has read about the store in Peter Jenkins' book Looking for Alaska but is using a backpack as her purse and chooses not to turn over all her valuables while perusing . . . store policy, you see. However, before she's sort of kicked out she scopes out the Alaskan section, which goes on seemingly forever. Nope, no copies of The Last Light Breaking. They have many copies of Looking for Alaska, though. Not surprising, as Jenkins did give them some free advertising. It's a great store, by the way, if you can bear to part with your luggage-sized purse.
Back home in Mississippi, Bookfool gets online and searches for The Last Light Breaking. Apparently, Jans' first book is only available used - and not necessarily at a decent price. Bookfool hastens to Paperback Swap and adds the book to her wish list. She notes that Jans also wrote about Timothy Treadwell, the bear-loving fellow who was killed with his companion. Bookfool recalls seeing a brief news clip about their deaths, including shots of bear country taken from a helicopter. A few weeks after Bookfool's return from Alaska, a friend views a movie about Treadwell and says, "He was very disturbed." Bookfool becomes curious and adds the book to her list, thinking, "Well, it's one way to read Nick Jans. Plus, I'd like to know what the deal was with the crazy bear dude."
Eventually, The Grizzly Maze arrives. The Last Light Breaking, unfortunately, has still not become available. Bookfool is in Nonfiction Mode and the book grabs her. But, it's not a pleasant read. The fact is, the book is an attempt to unravel the mystery of why Treadwell and his companion were not just mauled but eaten. Okay, yuck. And, were the two bears that were shot by National Park Service employees, who found their behavior threatening (one of whom did have a stomach full of people), guilty of attacking the couple as well as the rangers with predatory intent? Or did they just happen to find some food, pre-killed, and munch down? If the bear(s) turned predatory, was Treadwell complicit in his own death? Were the park rangers in some way also responsible, since they warned him but basically allowed Treadwell to continue breaking human-to-bear proximity rules?
*Warning: Possible spoilers and So Long it Might Put You to Sleep*
Jans arrived in Katmai National Park after the bears had been shot and eaten by other bears but before the scent of death had left the air. He ducked under signs warning of danger and denying access, in order to check out the campsite, but was spooked by a bear and fell, triggering an old ankle injury and causing the sad death of a Nikon camera body. But, not before he managed to snap off some photos that basically don't show much of anything unless you like looking at piles of dirt made by bears. Another question should be: Was the death of a Nikon worth the risk?
Back to the story. Timothy Treadwell is described from many angles. His history as a swimmer with a college scholarship that he lost due to injury, the fact that he glossed over certain aspects of his life in his own book, his showmanship, outgoing personality, years of drug use and eventual discovery that bears not only tolerated him but seemed to trust him on a trip to Alaska, yearly camping trips in which he continuously violated proximity rules, growing fame as he founded Grizzly People with former-girlfriend Jewel (not the singer), his appearance in various film productions and backing by well-heeled and sometimes well-known people (as well as some major companies, such as Patagonia), his tendency to be a bit of a con man who skirted rules and told fibs. All these characteristics are described with reservation of judgment held back.
Jans did describe Treadwell and his death in decent journalistic style. However, he approached from one angle and then another, interviewed someone who considered Treadwell a friend and then followed up with a bear scientist's scathing opinion, etc. I found the circling of the issues a bit confusing. Half the time, I was of the opinion that Treadwell was, indeed, a nut case. And, then Jans would leap over to an interview of some close friend and Treadwell suddenly seemed sane - misled and even naive, definitely a con man, but sane.
The gist is that Jans wanted to get to the heart of the issues and untangle a few mysteries that, in fact, couldn't be solved. Bears are wild animals. They avoid and ignore people, in many cases, but they can turn on a dime. There's no doubt that Treadwell was camped in a terrible place, right on the food path and during a bad year. But, was his presence irritating to a particular bear? Was the bear showing his dominance, treating Treadwell as if he were a badly-behaved younger bear? Did a bear attack out of hunger? These are questions that can't truly be answered. Jans tries to stay neutral, but I think part of his intent was to diffuse the angry blast condemning Treadwell for his own death while explaining that Treadwell's behavior was, in many ways, damaging - particularly to bears and potentially to people who misunderstand their dangerous, wild natures.
*End of potential for spoiling*
In the end, I decided Jans wrote an interesting book but it was a little too gruesome for me. I should have known better. Before leaving for Alaska, I read Larry Kaniut's Alaska Bear Tales (which Jans refers to as "a solid representation of the 'bear chew' genre") and had a nightmare that a bear sliced me open with a single claw. Gruesome tales are not my thing. I also thought Jans was just a teensy bit biased, but not necessarily in a bad way. He spoke to people who knew and loved Treadwell, one of whom was painfully grieving and wore her Curious George pajamas to the interview in her home. Treadwell was obviously a gregarious guy but not one who knew bear biology; people either loved him or hated him. Some think his activism for bears caused nothing but harm; some think he was basically harmless. Jans even adds some statistics about bear maulings and deaths.
In short, Timothy Treadwell in death becomes a mighty lightning rod crackling with emotion--one that encomapsses an amazing spectrum of human attitudes and ideologies. To some, Tomothy is a martyr; to others, a fool; some cast him as a cynical, self-serving narcissist, even a menace to wildlife. All the same man, the same basic set of circumstances. If nothing else, the death of Timothy Treadwell reflects the extent to which we project our own beliefs upon the universe.
Overall, it was a pretty good book in that Jans chased down and circled all the issues. The problems I had with it were that I should have known better than to read such a sad, horrible story and that people can only theorize about what happened - nobody can truly answer all the questions about how and why Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard died. I guess I felt a little dangled. But, I still want to read The Last Light Breaking. Anyone have a copy they want to loan me?
I'm not going to rate this book because I thought it was well-written but too disturbing. I would rate it low because of the fact that I wanted everything all neatly tied up - mysteries all answered. That wasn't going to happen and the author shouldn't be penalized for not having the answers. He described the circumstances in great detail, interviewed people who had all manner of opinions, and did a truly good job of keeping his journalistic integrity. A little slant peeks through, but not enough to hotly criticize. Still, I kind of wish I hadn't read it because sometimes I can imagine the screams and see the faces of those two people. Their death was horrible. My favorite quote was a bit of advice a Tlingit (native Alaska Indian) man gave Nick Jans when he was a newcomer to Chichagof Island:
"If I'm going out to hunt or pick berries," he said, "I always do this: clap two or three times and say, 'Grandfather, I'm coming into your woods. I won't stay long and I don't want to bother you.' Always let Grandfather know what you're up to, and he'll let you by."
Other tales of Jans' personal experiences in Alaska tantalized me. Darn it, I want to read his first book!
Since I'm currently reading a very graphic war memoir, I should add a brief explanation. I think I enjoy reading memoirs from WWII because they describe a time when people understood sacrifice. I'm not reading for the descriptions of young men dying tragic deaths but for the narrative of one man who showed great strength in horrible circumstances. And, I must say, so far To Hell and Back is truly amazing.
So, on The Grizzly Maze: recommended with reservation for good writing, too gruesome for me, not willing to rate it. Okay, this one took forever to write so I'm going to try to get a little circulation back into my legs. Happy Tuesday!