Sticklers, unite!

One of my Chrismubirthdaykah presents was Eats, Shoots & Leaves, which I read in about two days. I'm sure you've heard of this book: it's the one about punctuation. I didn't agree with everything she said, particularly about commas; however, she was absolutely sublime on the subject of semicolons (and how clever of me to use one in this sentence, huh?). The two things I appreciated the most about this book are 1) she acknowledges that some punctuation "rules" are really a matter of taste, such as the Oxford comma; and 2) she made me feel proud of being a stickler, instead of sheepish. "The reason it's worth standing up for punctuation [she says,] is not that it's an arbitrary system of notation known only to an over-sensitive elite who have attacks of the vapours when they see it misapplied. The reason to stand up for punctuation is that without it there is no reliable way of communicating meaning." Yes!!

My firstborn child, my New Year's baby, turns nine years old tomorrow.

Holy cow!


'Tis the season. The Chrismubirthdaykah season. Between my husband's family and mine, we celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, and six birthdays in a three-week period. My birthday was yesterday. I got some interesting books, which I'll tell you about later . . . .

I don't know if I should write about The Little Women, which I finished the day before yesterday, because our book group hasn't met yet. Well, what the heck. Actually, I just want to write about one aspect of it: this book's relationship to the "real" Little Women. TLW is about three sisters named Meg, Jo & Amy, who at the beginning of the book discover that their mother, whom they never call Marmee, has cheated on their father. They are very upset about this, even though the parents have gotten past it. So the high school-aged Jo & Amy run away to live in Yalie-Meg's apartment in New Haven. This is just the setting; I haven't given anything away.

Full disclosure: I received my now-tattered copy of LW for Chrismubirthdaykah in 1976 and have read it probably once a year since. So I was a little tense as I read TLW, and very much on the lookout for references to the original. And I found a bunch. Example: Amy says, "I think anxiety is very interesting," though she's not eating sugar when she says it. Another example: their friend Teddy has a "solitary and hungry" look. Lots of little ones like that, peppered throughout. There's also a whole unpleasant episode that almost exactly duplicates "Amy's Valley of Humiliation" in the original. You know, the one where she brings the pickled limes to school? Only in this one it's, get this, sushi. California rolls. When I say unpleasant episode, I mean that it was unpleasant to read. It didn't fit in well with the rest of the book, and it was totally unbelievable that in this day and age a teacher in a public high school would make a student toss her lunch out the window (carrying the California rolls two by two, of course).

What I have just written is stickler criticism, though. I am very much looking forward to discussing the book next week. There's some good stuff in it, and I think it'll be a fun meeting.

In my next post I will write about sticklers.

Mathematical Knitting

Have you ever heard of it?

At Christmas dinner I learned all about mathematical knitting from the mother-in-law of my husband's cousin. She's a retired mathematician and an avid knitter. Here's a mathematical afghan she made. Picture an afghan composed of squares: 10 columns and perhaps 11 rows. In your mind assign each square a number, going across from left to right. First row: 1-10. Second row: 11-20, etc. Now assign each square a color. Prime numbers: color a. Multiples of 2, color b. Multiples of 3 not already colored, color c. Multiples of 5 not already colored, color d. Is that the coolest thing? Here's another one. Picture a scarf, sweater, whatever. It's striped, but the width of each stripe appears to be random. It's not. The first stripe: 3 rows. The next: 1 row. The next: 4 rows. The next: 1. Then 5. Then 9, etc. It's pi! This has totally revved up my interest in knitting, which has been dormant for quite a while (thanks, kids). I found some websites that talk about mathematical knitting, too, although they mostly seem to focus on mobius strip scarves and klein bottle hats.

I finished Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It was terrific! I wish they wouldn't call it a fantasy, because it might put some people off. This is no heroic quest-type thing. A better description would be alternate history. An alternate history that just happens to include magic, and magic books. In fact, I think librarians will especially appreciate this one, because it's also about collection development and censorship.

Speaking of fantasy, though, I'm feeling bad because Christmas came and went without me rereading The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper. Not the whole series, which is uneven, but just the one (actually, book 2 in the series, but it completely stands alone). Please don't think it's a kids' book. It's not. It's a very sophisticated good vs. evil story, full of complexity and ambiguity. Also, full of old Celtic imagery, like Herne the Hunter. And full of mood. It's one of the most moody, evocative books I know. Come to think of it, since it takes place during the 12 days of Christmas, I still have a few days left to read it. Until January 6, if I'm not mistaken.

I started something else yesterday. The Little Women, by Katharine Weber. It's for my book discussion group. Previously we have read: Reading Lolita in Tehran, All the King's Men, Stepford Wives, Wild Heart, Shadow of the Wind. I think I may be forgetting one. So far The Little Women is a fun read, but has some problems.

Guilty Pleasures

Ok, we don't have tv; we just use it as a video monitor. But we're not totally out of it. For the past few evenings after the kids are in bed, Steve and I have been watching 3 or 4 episodes a night of the third season of "24" on DVD. And congratulating ourselves because we get to watch it all at once instead of week by week. And we can pause it while we predict what's going to happen next. Of course, the rest of the world has already seen these episodes, but still!

Ooooh, do we love this show! I've gone 180 degrees on Kiefer Sutherland, who I used to hate. Now I kind of wish he lived next door. And that Chloe is hilarious! And we'd vote for David Palmer for president any day. But mostly, it's so cozy to watch it together. It seems like so much of the time during the school year Steve and I are ships passing in the night. He works long hours, and when he's home, one or the other of us is always with kids or doing household stuff. So now it's winter break and my honey and I are watching "24" like crazy. What could be nicer?

Book Bowl

I volunteered to help out at our elementary school's Book Bowl. It's a program to encourage third graders to read. They're divided into teams, and they're supposed to read as many books as they can from the list compiled by the school librarian. At the end of six weeks they have a sort of game show where the teams have to answer questions about the books they read. The coaches are supposed to read the books, too.

So, I took a break from Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell to read, reread actually, The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes. Do you remember that one? My vague recollection of it was: boring, stupid, and hideous illustrations. Coming back to it as an adult, though . . . wow! In case you've forgotten, there's this poor little Polish immigrant girl, Wanda, who is teased mercilessly by her classmates after she tells them she owns a hundred dresses. It turns out the hundred dresses are beautiful, contest-winning drawings she made. The mean girls only learn this after Wanda has moved away to a big city where there's less discrimination. The book focuses mostly on Maddie, who's the best friend of Peggy, the meanest girl. Maddie comes to realize that although she didn't tease Wanda herself, she is just as culpable as if she had, because she didn't try to stop Peggy from being mean. And you feel Maddie's pain. It's beautifully written. I was a little disappointed that it had a happy ending (the girls apologize by mail), because I felt it detracted a little from the message, but it's a kids' book, after all. I can't wait to talk about this with my son's team.

The illustrations, though. Yuck.

Heavy, man!

Here goes my first attempt at blogging. Thanks to my pal doulicia for giving me the idea!

I'm about two-thirds of the way through Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clark. It's a combination of historical fiction & fantasy, set in England during the Napoleonic Wars. I can't help comparing the author to Patrick O'Brian, who has pretty much cornered the market in Napoleonic-era historical novels. Clark relies on archaic spellings ("shew" for "show," etc.) to provide historical authenticity, rather than the slang and speech rhythms that make O'Brian so fun to read. In this one, you never forget it wasn't written in the time period in which it takes place. Can't yet comment on the plot, because I haven't finished it, but so far it's suspenseful, interesting, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, the gamut. And it's full of little peripheral stories in footnotes that are quite wonderful.

One big criticism, though: this book weighs a
ton! It's 800 pages, hard cover, and it's hard to hold. I can only read it comfortably if I'm lying down, resting the book on my chest. Otherwise I start to get cramps across the palms of my hands. They should have used lighter paper.