30 September 2011

5. Fortunes of War by Patrick O'Brian

Dear Meezly,

You are going to absolutely LOVE this one!

I loved it mostly because everything that happened so far has consequences in this novel. Up until now I felt like the books have been telling stories, but the events and actions have been independent of each other. Sure, they are sequential, and certainly there are links between the causes and effects, but in Fortunes of War, which begins on the eve of the War of 1812, O'Brian locks everything up tight. And in some really nice ways: some characters return, some characters are new, but are associated with old ones, and we have some new locations, too. And a lot of surprise turns that frustrate Jack and add a lot to Stephen's story. In the some of the earlier books I found myself merely enduring Stephen's story, but on FoW, man oh man, it gets good! Spy stuff!

I also especially liked the way O'Brian highlighted some of the conflicts I hadn't thought of: the new Navy and the old both in technology (the guns, for example), the clothes, and the character/attitude of the officers. Jack's old school and at the start we meet another old school captain and then, near the end of the book, we met a new school captain. There are a few others, but I don't want to tip into spoiler territory.

There are some good sea battles, but most of the novel takes place on shore. That might sound boring, but Stephen's troubles kept me so stressed out I had to keep reading.

And I see that the next book, The Surgeon's Mate, takes place directly after this one. In truth, I've started it, but I'm still in the first dozen or so pages, fighting through the annoying, but necessary review that begins sequels. But I expect the dovetailing to continue, at least until we get to those books that don't exactly fit into real life's timeline

24 September 2011

Kindle @ the library

This week Amazon announced that Kindle owners could finally DL books from their local libraries. I tried the night of the announcement, but somehow I let my card lapse. I just used it ten days ago, but since then it had run out. After a quick stop to renew I was back in business.

I tried from school, but the student wifi account doesn't allow access to Amazon, and you have to DL your books via wifi.

But I tried again this morning and had success!

If you have a Kindle and a library card for a LI library here's how you do it:

Go to: http://live-brary.com/

Click "free downloads" on the list on the left
Click "My Account" from the toolbar across the top
Select your local library from the list
Put in your barcode

Then search for books and follow the directions...

I was happy to see four Patrick O'Brian novels - Books 1, 2, 11, and 12.  That's an odd place to start, but I'm looking forward to seeing the rest go online.

But why can I borrow a digital edition from my library, but can't buy one from Amazon. It's a mystery. Anyone know the answer?

I checked out The Atlantic by Simon Winchester and Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World by Maya Jasanoff.

11 September 2011


We completely survived Hurricane Irene. We were sweating it out pretty good at Allison's parents house, getting text updates from neighbors, and then from the TV news once they showed up on our corner/block. That was a little stressful: "hey! you're house is on TV showing the flooding in your town." But after everything was over, we fared very well. The water came close to the house but never came inside. This is the street in front of the house; that's our white fence.


And this is our driveway. You can see how high the water got, there at the rubble line on the front lawn.

We didn't lose our magnolia tree, either!

Here's a link to our friends' house - two videos showing the storm's fury, one inside and one outside the house: Miss Gracie's page.

19 August 2011

4. The Happiest Baby on the Block

If I was asked to write a blurb for the back cover of this little books I'd say: "This shit really works!"

We got this as a hand-me-down and left it on the book shelf with all of the other hand-me-down books on the "we'll get to it later" pile. Then Mrs Crumbolst came over and said it was a good book, so we checked it out sooner rather than later. 

There's a lot of clutter - annoying examples of what not to do, what we have done as North American/yuppy parents for generations, and what other cultures/non-yuppy parents do for their crying newborns - before they finally land on the practical advice of how to calm your freaking out newborn. When our newborn starts to freak, we apply the advice in the book and within a few seconds we have a non freaking out newborn. Rarely does it take a whole minute.

I strongly, strongly recommend this book if you are about to have a baby.

3. What to Expect When You're Expecting

We were expecting so I read it. It helped me manage my expectations. A lot of it is stuff you already know if you are a big brother or have a niece or nephew, but it's good to review when you're the parents responsible for the decisions.

2. Desolation Island by Patrick O'Brian

We begin again at Ashgrove Cottage, with Jack Aubrey zealously spending the prize money and earnings from The Mauritius Command. This time new orders come in for Jack and Stephen at almost the same time. They are to take the Leopard, an old 50-gun, fourth rate ship, to Australia and restore order after William Bligh (of the Bounty) suffers another mutiny. Since they are going that way, they are tasked to bring a set of prisoners, including a spy, for delivery in Australia's penal colony.

Doldrums; gaol fever (typhus that infects a lot of the crew, including our beloved Pullings); a stop to drop off the sick in Brazil; a long and stressful chase with the Dutch 74 Waakzaamheid in bad weather and stormy seas in the Roaring 40s that finally, finally comes to blows; icebergs; and a very near sinking from icebergs where Jack allows some of the crew off in lifeboats; Desolation Island where the Leopard attempt some repairs; and a visit from an American whaler. There is also a lot of neat natural science research for Stephen on Desolation Island.

This was a good combination of Jack and Stephen's character development. The entire book is one, long passage, where nothing in particular happens. Stephen does have a lot of opportunities for development with the health of the prisoners, trying to figure out what the deal is with the American spy Mrs Wogan, and all of the research he is able to conduct on seals, albatrosses, and penguins once they reach the Southern Ocean and Desolation Island - which my Harbors and High Seas companion book suggests is probably Kerguelen Island. Jack is developed in the usual way - long letters to Sophie and ruminations on the effectiveness of the crew he inherits and collects - but we also get to see him in two emergencies, the slow, long run from the Waakzaamheid, and the near sinking from the iceberg. The first is a chess match played in foul weather and the second is a frenetic puzzling while the ships slowly sinks into frigid seas.

I enjoyed this one as much as I did the first book. And the next book, Fortunes of War, is a direct sequel to this one.

Here's a nice sentence: "The sun rose on a sea in labour, the crests riding ahead of the swell and breaking: creaming water from horizon to horizon except in the bottom of the troughs, much deeper now; while from every height the wind tore foam, drops and solid water, driving it forward in a grey veil that darkened and filled the air" (245-46).

1. The Mauritius Command by Patrick O'Brian

Captain Jack Aubrey is sent to Mauritius to beat on some Frenchies who have established a base in the Indian Ocean. This French naval base is a real problem for the East India merchant ships, and so Jack is sent to take the islands and establish a British naval base on them. Another great book by Patrick O'Brian, the fourth in the series. We get a lot of gunpowder porn, some Marine work on the beach at La Reunion and Mauritius, and some Naval bureaucracy.

15 March 2011

07 January 2011

changing the language in Huck Finn


1. If you think the language in Huck Finn should be changed, you are missing the point of the story. It's not simply a tale of a two runaways drifting down the Mississippi. That's just what happens in the story. What the story is about is Huck's journey to discovery that Jim is an actual human being. Huck has to defy culture, old social codes, and hundreds of years of law and tradition. True, changing the language doesn't change that story or Huck's eventual illumination. But it definitely weakens the impact of certain scenes in the novel; to be more specific I'm thinking of the scene right after Huck and Jim reunite after the fog when Huck has to "humble himself" to Jim. And I'm thinking of the scene where Huck is talking to Aunt Sally about injuries aboard a steamboat after a boiler explodes.

2. Twain's not here to defend his decision to use that language or comment on the decision to correct him as you see fit to make you feel better (see 3).

3. I suspect this is a decision to make white people feel better. We don't like that word now and we don't want to be reminded that we used to freaking LOVE it.

4. I'm not sure how to articulate this and I wish I could just send you the images in my head and a translation key for their emotional and intellectual meaning. We shouldn't soften the edges of a history we don't like to think about: we should say that yes, a long time ago, damn we were shallow and stupid and afraid and this is how we talked. This book here, this represents how we used to look at each other in all its ugliness. Twain's book is a protest against that very ugliness. His hero finally says, fuck it, I may go to hell and I may never be able to go home ever again, but I'm not going to live by these dehumanizing rules.

5. Thank you Twitter, for making me laugh about all this.

6. And to my students who had an opinion about this and could explain why (and who will likely never find this): Thank you for reading and thank you for thinking.

2010 in review

What a Disappointment in Reading!

I blame work. I love my job, and when I think of the 200 minutes a day I'm talking with my students about books and narratives and poems and essays and ideas I can't believe I actually get paid to do it. But all the rest of my working time, 160 minutes at school and an uncountable number of hours at home, is spent reading (submitted papers and homework, prep for those 5 shows every day, and grad school). It's one of those jobs where you could literally, and I literally mean literally, work all the time and still not be doing enough. And it's not even one of those "you must not be doing it right" kind of things; if you want to phone it in, you could have lots of free time, but to do a good job requires a lot of effort and an unbelievable amount of time. Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be English teachers.

Over the past five days I have done two experiments. With the first, I grade things the second they come in, as soon as I can, whether that's the next period I don't have class, say my Duty period or lunch, or right after my after-school snack. In the second, we have been constantly picking up after ourselves - things go back to where they belong, the house gets company-ready before bed and before we leave for work: dishes put in the dishie, crumbs wiped up, couch blankets folded and put away, and so on: a constant tidying up. The results, after a mere five days, are pretty positive - I find myself in a clean house, with less schoolwork that MUST be done RIGHT NOW, and I've found a little bit of time to read.

I've also found that having a reading mandate to be helpful. Looking back over the 108 books I've read since I started this, many of them have been read for grad school or for classes I'm planning to teach. And lately I have been feeling the Gaming itch, and so have been reading in prep for a game of Beat to Quarters.

Whatever it takes, I'm aiming at 20 books in 2011. And better blog posts, too - I think that writing them right away even if I'm not happy with them is the best way to go (instead of waiting for the elusive Spare Moment to sit down and Do It Right).

10. The Sound and the Fury Wm Faulkner

Man, was this a great, great book. I'm not even sure how to describe it. First of all, it's damned difficult. My beloved Moby-Dick is also a difficult book: it's long, it's about a lot of things, and the things its about are heavy. But The Sound and the Fury is difficult in a different way. The story is told in such a bizarre fashion that you almost have to read it twice. And there's almost no way I could have read the story in isolation, outside of the class I took; without that I would have needed a guide of some kind. The first section is told by...well, maybe I shouldn't tell you...the joy in this book is puzzling out of the narrative. I'm sure you think this is a cop-out, but I could write a review ten times as long as the book and still not do it's majesty justice.

9. As I Lay Dying Wm Faulkner

The craziest, saddest story you ever heard about a family's journey to bury their mother in her home town; it's told in small vignettes, each from a different family member, including the dead mother.

8. Go Down, Moses by Wm Faulkner

Five stories, one of them the famous longer story "The Bear," arranged out of order. The five stories tell the long tale of the McCaslin family. It's Faulkner, so you know what you are going to get before you start: partial narrative, a very limited point of view, lots of history mixed up with family secrets, race, racism, the Old South and the New South, and sex.