26 February 2012

What would you do?

Williams College in the gorgeous Berkshire hills of Western Massachusetts.
Back in April of 2009 before most of you had even heard of My Porch, I posted something that I still find fascinating. John and I had been on a road trip where we talked about how much fun it would be to spend a semester studying whatever we wanted to. A kind of academic fantasy camp. No real worries about grades or anything stressful, just the chance to learn about something you never had time for in school.

(I am aware that more than a few of you are still in the halls of the academy, so this may be less interesting to you...but you still may want to play along)

Q: If you could spend a semester studying anything you wanted, what kind of classes would you take?


1. Assume everything else in your life is manageable (e.g, your
family isn't neglected, bills are paid, you don't have to work, etc.)

2. Choose classes that you would want to take just for the fun of taking them. That
is, stay away from stuff that would get you a promotion at work or help you to
finish a degree or something like that. This is your chance to explore anything
you want.

3. Extra points for being specific.

4. Double extra points for telling me where you would want to spend your semester.

Amherst College, also in Massachusetts.
A: If I had to narrow it down to one semester, this would be my course schedule:

This was my list in 2009.
  • Survey/History of British Lit
  • History of Victorian and Edwardian England
  • Infrastructure 101 (A more in-depth, much smarter version of all those Discovery channel shows about utilities and transportation and stuff like that.) This class includes a two week "field trip" to learn about European passenger rail infrastructure.
  • Photography
  • Choir
As to where, I am tempted to say Cornell because it is a nice campus in a beautiful setting and is
kind of isolated. Cozy and big at the same time. Or some other similar campus in the Northeast.

Those are all still interesting to me, but I have some other things that have me captivated at the moment.  My course list today would look something like this:
  • Survey of American History from 1850 to 1900 - not generally a period in history I am naturally drawn to, but it would dovetail really nicely with what I am researching at work these days--which is fascinating--and will be blogged about in the near future.
  • A research methods class. I have had one or two of these in past, but I could use a refresher as an adult who is actually paying attention.
  • I would still do the Infrastructure class I mention above.
  • Geometry - I was terrible at it in high school--I felt confused my whole sophomore year in Mr. Varty's class. And I generally disliked math, but for some reason this has been interesting to me lately. I am not sure it would fill a whole semester as an adult, so maybe I would throw in an Algebra refresher course as well.
  • Some kind of art class--like the kind we had in junior high which included everything from drawing to woodblock carving to pottery to painting.
  • Choir
  • And I still think I would do the survey of British Lit. Kind of tempted to narrow it down, but I think I would still like to take in the whole sweep of British Lit to put my reading into a broader context and framework.
As for place, I would still tend to say somewhere like Cornell. Not only is it beautiful, but I like how isolated it is relative to the the hustle and bustle of downstate New York. Even though it is set overlooking the town of Ithaca, the overall feeling is still one of a retreat. I also think I would want a larger school like Cornell, or at least one with a big research library that might be harder to find at a small school. And oddly, as much as I love places like Cambridge and Oxford, I see myself doing this at an American university.

I got to spend two lovely, interesting years here at Cornell. I could easily do another semester.
Now tell me, what would you do? Go ahead, click the comment button...

Maybe you would prefer Berkeley and its proximity to San Francisco.

21 February 2012

Books will be blogged about soon, but first: My Weekend

Despite what you are about to read, I did actually get some reading done this weekend. In fact I have many books about which I wish to bend your ear. However, my weekend was full of other activities as well.  We were in Austin, Texas visiting John's brother and family.

For the first time in about 15 years I went bowling. John hadn't been in about 30 years. We weren't good, but we had lots of fun. And the food (nachos, fries, club sandwich, washed down with Dr. Pepper) was really tasty.

We also went to an arcade where I spent all my time playing the Shrek pinball machine which was oddly satisfying.

Then there was the 3-D showing of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace which I had never seen before. The dialogue and much of the acting was rubbish, but it was still kind of enjoyable. (Except for the racist depiction of the happy/stupid Jamaican-esque Jar Jar Binks and the racist depiction of the evil villains with their Asian-inspired broken English.)

And finally, I got to help John's nephew finish his giant, complicated Lego Death-Star. That was tons of fun. I was worried I was doing too much of it, but it turns out, he was more interested in playing with the finished product than actually putting it together. So hurray.

12 February 2012

Bits and Bobs (the "it's been a long time" edition)

Upset c.1887
Joseph Decker (1853-1924)
de Young Museum, San Francisco
Scanner Wars and Sunday Painting
It has been a while since I have done a Bits and Bobs. But it has been an even longer time since I have done a Sunday Painting. You may remember several months ago when I wrote about getting into a physical altercation with my scanner/printer. Well, I wasn't kidding and I only just now have replaced it. Actually John got if for me for Christmas (rewarding bad behavior) but it took a while to arrive and I finally decided to hook it up this weekend. ("Hook it up" isn't the right phrase considering it is wireless.)

So in honor of having a scanner again, I decided to revive Sunday Painting, my occasional feature where I post a scan of one of the many art postcards I have collected over the years. How ironic then, that my first one out of the gate is one that I didn't actually scan. I fell in love with this painting at first sight. If I could own and hang in my house one work of art that is currently in a major collection, it would be this one. Kind of a strong statement given all the amazing art I could choose from, but there is something about this painting that makes me covet it. Maybe it is because the de Young Museum which owns it, doesn't provide a postcard of this little lovely, and the artist is relatively obscure and I can't find a color image in any book that makes me want to own the real thing so badly.  And just look at the image itself. Similar to my taste in fiction, I love paintings with lots of detail of mundane objects and subjects. Can you just imagine the owner of this box of candy?

This poster is celebrating its Diamond Jubilee
Should the Queen be getting all the attention? Well, perhaps more than a poster. And to be perfectly truthful, this poster won't have its Diamond Jubilee until next year. Since it is the Queen's accession to the throne that is at the 60-year mark, not her 1953 coronation, this poster, has to wait until next year to really celebrate. But when you think about it, that is probably a good idea. The poster won't have to share the limelight with all the Queen's festivities. (And I did use the new scanner for this image.)
Poster designed by Gordon Nicholl
National Railway Museum, York
Will I get Jubilee-fever when I am in England?
A few months ago John and I were pondering our travel schedule for the year and we decided to go somewhere for about eight days in the May/June time frame. Being the kook that I am, I almost love planning travel more than doing it, so running through the list of options once dates are chosen is perhaps one of my favorite things in life. After sifting through the possibilities on our very long wish list, and balancing them against our plans for next year, we soon settled on a trip to England. We thought it would be a great time for John to see some gardens. It seems the only time we ever make it to England these days is over the Veteran's Day holiday and gardens aren't quite as interesting in the cold, foggy days of November as they are in the Spring.

All of this is prelude to say that I wasn't even thinking of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee or the possibilities of related events and exhibits when we bought our plane tickets. But then last week I came upon this post by Meg at Pigtown Design just up the road in Baltimore all about the Jubilee and some of the events surrounding it. Like one at the V&A of Cecil Beaton portraits of the Queen. But that ends in April. Shoot. I suppose I could go up to Leed's which is where it goes next, but that is too far off our itinerary. Or I could try the Diamond Jubilee Pageant at Windsor Castle, but that really isn't my cup of tea. The one I really, really want to see is an exhibition of her diamonds at Buckingham Palace. But that doesn't start until the end of June.

Queen Victoria's Small Diamond Crown
Thankfully there is The Queen: Art and Image at the National Portrait Gallery (one of my favorite museums in London) that will actually be running while we are there.
Lightness of Being, 2007
Christine Levine

And speaking of Baltimore (and queens)
Last night we watched The Filthy World. A one-man show by Baltimore's most infamous native son, John Waters. Everyone knows that he is the genius behind the film Hairspray. But some may not know that he is the king of really filthy films that are all about really bad taste and have been banned and censored all over the world. Well, his one-man show is hilarious. Waters is brilliant and talks non-stop for an hour and half going over the highlights of his childhood and career. But please, unless you know about the early John Waters and his penchant for the irreverent and filthy, do not rent this one. Or don't say that you weren't warned.

But where are the books?
It has been a while since I posted a book review and I am not sure when that is going to change. My reviews have never really approached the standards of real book reviews, (Hmm, why don't we hyphenate that? I bet it was at some point. Isn't the noun "book" serving as an adjective? Teresa, what say you?) being more like personal musings on my reading experience. But I think I may be at a point where I don't feel like writing them. Originally I started doing them so I would better remember what I had read. But I could do that without trying to turn them into reviews. My work has taken a very interesting, but brain-intensive turn (more on that in the weeks to come) that makes me want to turn off a bit more at night rather than trying to provide analysis or description of what I am reading. I think I may come up with some abbreviated format that frees up time for posts like this one and more time for reading.

08 February 2012

A Century of Books

Simon made the button too. (At least I am assuming he did.)
When Simon first posted about the A Century of Books challenge it appealed to my listy ways, but since it requires reading 100 books in one year, I thought better of it. I have in the past read more than 100 books in one year, but that was when I was only working three days a week (aka the salad days). The basis of the challenge is to read one book from every year of the 20th century.  As I said, I wasn't going to participate, but then I thought I could tie it into my TBR Double Dare and see how many years I could knock out. But still, I did not take up the challenge.

Then a few weeks ago when John was out of town, I stayed up until about 3:00 am. One of the things I felt the need to do instead of sleep was to make a spreadsheet listing each year of the century and then filling in the blanks with the 60 or so books that are in my TBR Double Dare pile. But I still wasn't sure if I was going to participate. But then Simon's recent post about the Modern Library's book of the 200 best books since 1950 really got me interested. So I'm in.

And by the by, the results of my list making with my TBR Double Dare stash are kind of interesting. I was able to fill in about 37 years. Of course for some years I have more than one title in that TBR pile. With four books, 1946 had the most overlap, 1934 and 1940 have three titles each, and 1908, 1929, and 1990 each had two.  And the teens are most under represented with a big goose egg.

As you will see from the list below the 1940s is the most complete decade based on my TBR Double Dare pile.  But keep in mind I have about another 200 unread books in my library that I will be able to add to the list once April 1st rolls around. It will be kind of cool to see if I can fill all 100 years without resorting to outside books.

I have no idea if I will come anywhere close to finishing, but we all love a list so here it is.

I have already completed the one's that are crossed out. When there was more than one title for any given year in my TBR Double Dare, I only listed the one I am most likely to read. And those marked "ML100" are on the Modern Library's list of the top 100 novels of the 20th century, which I have been working my way through since 1997.

[UPDATE: I have been updating this list as I finish books so the text above may no longer be entirely accurate.]

1900 - Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (ML100)
1901 - Kim by Rudyard Kipling or Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
1902 - The Immoralist by Andre Gide or The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
1903 - The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers
1904 - The Golden Bowl by Henry James (ML100)
1905 - Professor Unrat by Heinrich Mann
1906 - Young Torless by Robert Musil
1907 - The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (ML100)
1908 - Love's Shadow by Ada Leverson
1909 - Strait is the Gate by Andre Gide or Martin Eden by Jack London
1910 - Impressions of Africa by Raymond Rousse
1911 -
1912 - The Charwoman's Daughter by James Stephens
1913 - T. Tembarom by Frances Hodgson Burnett
1914 - Dubliners by James Joyce or maybe Penrod by Booth Tarkington
1915 - The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
1916 - Under Fire by Henri Barbusse
1917 - Gone to Earth by Mary Webb or Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley
1919 - Consequences by E.M. Delafield
1920 - Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence (ML100)
1921 -
1922 - The Judge by Rebecca West or Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf
1923 - The Ladies of Lyndon by Margaret Kennedy
1924 - Some Do Not by Ford Madox Ford (ML100)
1925 - No More Parades by Ford Madox Ford (ML100)
1926 - A Man Could Stand Up by Ford Madox Ford (ML100)
1927 - Rhapsody by Dorothy Edwards
1928 - Last Post by Ford Madox Ford (ML100)
1929 - The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen
1930 - Angel Pavement by J.B. Priestly or The Deepening Stream by Dorothy Canfield
1931 - Saraband by Eliot Bliss or Poor Caroline by Winifred Hoitby
1932 - Young Lonigan by James T. Farrell (ML100)
1933 - Frost in May by Antonia White or Ordinary Familes by E. Arnot Robertson
1934 - The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan by James T. Farrell (ML100)
1935 - Judgment Day by James T. Farrell (ML100)
1936 - Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner or Eyeless in Gaza by Huxley
1937 - Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary by Ruby Ferguson
1938 - Princes in the Land by Joanna Cannan
1939 - Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter
1940 - Sapphira and the Slave Girl by Willa Cather
1941 - The Living and the Dead by Patrick White or Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton
1942 - Clark Clifford's Body by Kenneth Fearing
1943 - Gideon Planish by Sinclair Lewis
1944 - Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp
1945 - The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
1946 - Every Good Deed by Dorothy Whipple
1947 - Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (ML100) or Not Now, but Now by MFK Fisher
1948 - The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
1949 - Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
1950 - Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns
1951 - A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor
1952 - The Village by Marghanita Laski
1953 - Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
1954 - Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins
1955 - The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
1956 - The Flight From the Enchanter by Iris Murdoch
1957 - The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham or Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
1958 - A Glass of Blessings by Barbara Pym
1959 - The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley
1960 - The Bachelors by Muriel Spark
1961 - Stephen Morris by Nevil Shute or Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (ML100)
1962 - Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (ML100) or A Clockwork Orange by A. Burgess (ML 100)
1963 - The Old Man and Me by Elaine Dundy or An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym
1964 - A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway or Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe
1965 - August is a Wicked Month by Edna O'Brien or Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor
1966 - A Generous Man by Reynolds Price or The House on the Cliff by DE Stevenson
1967 - My Friend Says It's Bullet-Proof by Penelope Mortimer
1968 - Sarah's Cottage by D.E. Stevenson
1969 - The Waterfall by Margaret Drabble
1970 - Troubles by JG Farrell
1971 - A Meaningful Life by L.J. Davis or My Own Cape Cod by Gladys Taber
1972 - Augustus by John Williams
1973 - After Claude by Iris Owens
1974 - The Diviners by Margaret Laurence
1975 - Crucial Conversations by May Sarton
1976 - The Takeover by Muriel Spark
1977 - Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald
1978 - The Sweet Dove Died by Barbara Pym
1979 - The Safety Net by Heinrich Boll
1980 - Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (ML100)
1981 - July's People by Nadine Gordimer or Summer in Baden-Baden by Leonid Tsypkin
1982 - Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephen Benatar or A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
1983 - Look at Me by Anita Brookner
1984 - Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
1985 - Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson or Cider House Rules by John Irving
1986 - Anagrams by Lorrie Moore or Marya: A Life by Joyce Carol Oates
1987 - One Way of Love by Gamel Woolsey or Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
1988 - English, August by Upamanyu Chatterjee or What Am I Doing Here by Bruce Chatwin
1989 - London Fields by Martin Amis or A Natural Curiosity by Margaret Drabble
1990 - Then She Found Me by Elinor Lipman
1991 - The Translator by Ward Just
1992 - The Republic of Love by Carol Shields or Arcadia by Jim Crace
1993 - While England Sleeps by David Leavitt
1994 - The Longings of Women by Marge Piercy
1995 - The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
1996 - Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood or Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
1997 - Grace Notes by Bernard MacLaverty
1998 - The Book of Lies by Felice Picano
1999 - Timbuktu by Paul Auster or Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson

07 February 2012

The Birth of an Obsession

When we were in San Francisco on the way back from Hawai'i I spent my timewalking from used bookstore to used bookstore while John was in meetings all day. I have been to San Francisco about five times, and John and I have done plenty of exploring. But this time I just put some Xs on a map and headed out into the sunshine. And it was so much fun, not just the bookstores, but the city itself. My quads and calves may have been barking from all the hills but my god, what an amazing city.

Anyhoo, while I went from bookstore to bookstore I had the same problem I had in Hawai'i at Talk Story. I had plenty of reading material and no real interest in random browsing. I felt the need to have some sort of mission. When I was in Green Apple Books it hit me. For some time I have been thinking about vintage editions of Signet Classics paperbacks. They have funky covers, really nice paper, and although they were published before I was born, I have fond memories of them floating around bookstores during my college days. So I thought, hey, why not start a Signet collection? They would be fun to hunt for at used bookstores, rummage sales, charity shops, etc. And it would be cheap. And they are fun to look at. And the earliest versions didn't use pulp paper so the pages are really smooth and cool to the touch.

So at Green Apple I started to my obsession. Continued it later that day at another fantastic bookstore Russian Hill Books. And then soon after we were back from Hawai'i John was out of town for work so I drove out to Hagerstown and Frederick, Maryland and hunted for so more at Wonderbook.

I am not sure how far I will take this. But it is kind of fun for now.

04 February 2012

Should male and female authors be segregated?

In the tiny little town on Hanapepe on the island of Kaua'i we came across this great used bookstore. Easily the best used bookstore I have ever come across in Hawai'i.  When I lived in Honolulu in the 1990s there were only two used bookstores that I knew of, and both of them were really disappointing. I was so excited to see this on Kaua'i that opened about seven years ago.

I noticed the shop had some really nice bookshelves that looked awfully familar. Proof that the book world didn't necessarily come to and end when Borders closed. Not only did they get good shelves for cheap, but one of the owners told me that local customers who had never been in before finally checked out his store when Borders closed.

The store had good stock and had tons of great fiction that would have been great for my vacation reading. But since I already have five books with me and the luggage was too heavy already. But I did buy a very cute little edition of Cranford.

One odd thing about the store is that they separate fiction by the sex of the author. So all the male authors are alphabetical in one section, and all the female authors are alphabetical in another section. The owner told me it helped people locate books when they couldn't remember titles or author's names. He said they almost always remember the sex of the author, so splitting it up by sex improved the odds of finding the titleless, authorless book the customer was looking for. I'm not sure I buy it. But overall this store is gem. It would be fun on the mainland where there were other bookstore choices, being alone on Kaua'i, the western most bookstore in the United States, it is like an oasis in the desert.

Oh, and by the way, the name "Talk Story" refers to a pidgin phrase that essentially means to tell stories, or even just chat. The Hawaiian equivalent of chewing the fat, or having a chin wag. As in "Auntie came over and all we did was talk story..."

I love the way the letters are on the laundry. Especially the 'S'

Our final sunset on Kaua'i

It can be hard sometimes to capture sunsets that I hestitate to try and do so here. But the sunset on our last night on Kaua'i was so spectacular. And it went on for almost an hour. Each minute a different layer of clouds got their tinge of pink and orange. Nice way to end the trip.

Getting up early can be fun

If you ever go to Kalalau lookout get up there by 8:30 in the morning. You will pretty much have the place to yourself. Just make sure you dress warmly. The cloud cover can be dodgy. I had been there three times previously and it was usually on the cloudy side and once almost totally socked in. But this time it was bright and blue.  Again the sun angles weren't doing us any favors with the pictures, but it was really wonderful to be up there.

This is the widest valley along the Na Pali coast which we saw
from the water side on our first day.

This hibiscus was actually down on the coast near the Russian fort,
but it was such a cool picture I couldn't help including it.

The Na Pali Coast and the island of Ni'ihau

On our first full day on Kaua'i we got up at the ungodly hour of 5:00 AM so we could check in for our catamaran cruise along the Na Pali coast of Kaua'i and a snorkel stop just off the forbidden island of Ni'ihau. The Na Pali coast was astoundingly beautiful but because the sun was coming up over the mountains the photos are kind of backlit and don't really tell the whole story.

The island of Ni'ihau (below) is called the forbidden island because it has been privately owned since the 1850s and is not open to the general public. We tried to book a helicopter tour that would take you over and put down on one of the beaches, but they didn't have enough people going on the days we wanted to go, so we took this Na Pali cruise that goes over to Ni'ihau for a little snorkelling off the coast.  The owners of the island, a Scots/Kiwi family were (are?) strict Calvinists and required that those natives living on the island convert and follow Calvinist precepts. I think they are looking to sell. I wonder if the Calvinists convey with the deed?