Sometimes I get a bit impatient and want the children to grow up a little faster so I can share films with them that don't involve sarcastic cats or operatic turtles or crime-fighting dogs.
I confess I did recently make the possible mistake of letting Child the Younger watch many episodes of I Love Lucy on library DVD with me when we were both lying ill and lethargic on the sofa. He has since stopped requesting viewings of Maisy in favor of "that funny heart show" and, really, it makes sense. If you are almost three and think your choices are between a primitively-drawn mouse and her friends who mutter mysteriously to one another in what sounds suspiciously like Serbo-Croatian OR Lucy hilariously trying to pretend twenty-five pounds of cheese is a baby (after sensibly flying to Europe WITHOUT child in tow) in order to fly said cheese home on an airplane without paying luggage fees, which would you choose?
But that is not really the sharing I meant to talk about sharing. What I would like to share is that great and bottomless treasure trove we have in the Criterion Collection. If you have limited viewing time (which, if you're like me, is already at war with your laundry-dishes-bill-paying-clean-out-this-random-cupboard-while-the-kids-sleep-time) and want to make the most of it, you really need to worship at the altar of Criterion with me. Unless, of course, you have your own reliable Mrs. Trumbull who will babysit your Little Ricky so you can fly off to Europe and see films in arty theaters. I'm guessing you don't, so here are three to get you started:
Eyes Without A Face may be the most lyrically filmed work of horror you will see in black and white. A surgeon father in Paris is cutting the faces off kidnapped women in an attempt to cure his own beloved daughter's disfigurement. It's suspenseful--mesmerizingly creepy--and possibly even more horrifying now that full facial grafts are a medical reality.
Ohayo is the very funny tale of two young Japanese brothers who take vows of silence to protest their parents' refusal to purchase a television set. Set in a late 1950's Tokyo suburb, this is an exploration of changing cultural traditions with a side of fart jokes.
The Passion of Joan of Arc was originally a silent French film released in 1928. It has been set to an amazing orchestral work, Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light, with a performance of the choral ensemble Anonymous 4. Believed lost to a fire, the film was miraculously found in perfect condition in 1981--in a Norwegian mental institution. This is art, and a higher power wants you to see it.
And if any of you do know where Mrs. Trumbull is hiding, I'd really like her number.
Sometimes I get a bit impatient and want the children to grow up a little faster so I can share films with them that don't involve sarcastic cats or operatic turtles or crime-fighting dogs.
A friend introduced me to Penguin's Great Journeys series of short travelogues.
I began with Jaguars & Electric Eels by Alexander Von Humboldt. Containing excerpts from the last three volumes of the thirty volume set of Von Humboldt's account of his journey around the New World in 1799, this book is full of sights, sounds and adventures of this thinker and traveler.
Another fun series of travel tales is Crown Journeys by Crown Publishing. This series of literary travel books tries to match interesting writers with interesting places. The writers are all known for their work in other genres: Christopher Buckley on Washington, Tim Cahill on Yellowstone and Chuck Palahniuk on Portland, among others. The only rule of the format is that the writers take their journeys on foot, hence the books tend to be personal and often quirky.
In preparation for a visit to the East Coast, I read Frank Conroy's Time and Tide: a Walk Through Nantucket and Land's End and Land's End: A Walk Through Provincetown by Michael Cunningham. Both are in the Crown Journeys series.
Traveller's History is another good series, particularly for the armchair traveler looking for a nutshell history. The library owns many titles in the series - from Canada to Athens to Turkey to New Zealand and the South Sea Islands. Take a look at the variety.
If you are traveling in the United States, look for the Art of the State series. These nifty little books have state symbols, cultural arts, roadside attractions and lists of tourist destinations to enhance enjoyment of the state.
I really love that silver shimmer of black and white films: the contrasts, the shadows, the textures - light reflected in every actor's eyes - even the animal actors. And I've seen a fair number of old black and white films. But nothing prepared me for Josef von Sternberg's The Scarlet Empress, not even his best known picture, The Blue Angel. Beyond the beyond doesn't begin to describe it. In fact I'm not that sure where to begin. Von Sternberg himself calls it “a censor-baiting cocktail of sensual excess and riotous design” which is close to the mark.The Scarlet Empress definitely flouted the motion picture censorship guidelines.
Basically the story advances, careening between horror and the grotesque, quickly followed by large helpings of bathos. And everywhere the ghastly monstrous gargoyles inhabit the entire Kremlin, clutching massive candles in their stone fists. It takes eight ladies-in-waiting to open the gargantuan double doors of the private apartments. Marlene Dietrich is cast as the naif Austrian princess who marries the mad Russian Czar played brilliantly by Sam Jaffe. As the disillusioned Czarina Catherine, she turns temptress, and becomes deeply involved in court intrigue. Finally, she transforms herself into The Great, an exterminating angel who leads battalions of her husband's trusted guards against him.
Von Sternberg is the ultimate auteur/painter/puppeteer/lighting genius. Each frame stands alone as an individual painting reminiscent of Watteau, Fragonard or Brueghel. Von Sternberg's memoir Fun in a Chinese Laundry shares his side of the story, including details about his artistic theory. Believe me he's got his share of opinions. Did I forget to mention that Marlene D.'s daughter plays the young Austrian princess?
Over the past few years urban fantasy has become a hot sub-genre. I've recently read a few novels by lesser known authors that were good fun. So on some fine summer day when you feel like lounging around with a trashy novel and not accomplishing much of anything, try one of these books … Lots of action, magic, a little romance on the side. What more could you ask for?
Spider's Bite: an Elemental Assassin book by Jennifer Estep
Sure, our "heroine" murders people for money and likes her work. That does sort of make her inherently evil. But she's such a nice, likable girl, even though she has a few "issues" with being orphaned at an early age by a murderous fire mage. In one short story she does a pro-bono hit on a dirty cop who abused an innocent kid because that was the only justice that child would get. So, she's really not all bad… It is a pity about the whole 'having the hots for an ethical cop when you're a multiple felony offender' problem. And then there's the fire mage who is even more sociopathic than she is and who is trying to kill both her and her love interest. You could almost feel for a serial killer.
Devon Monk is an Oregon author. Her Magic series starting with Magic to the Bone
is set here (and now-ish) in Portland. It's Portland with magic. The magic is fairly weak and comes with a price. If you're an honest person you pay the price yourself, with a migraine or a day or two of a low fever. In exchange you get something small like enhanced hearing for an hour to spy on someone across a restaurant or a burst of extra strength in a dangerous situation. Higher magics cost a higher price and the price has to be spread out to keep from crippling or killing. If you're rich and ethical you can hire people to suffer for you. If you have no ethics, well, dump the price out on someone who might not be missed and try your luck at getting away with murder for power.
Don't Kill the Messenger by Eileen Rendahl
Melina Markowitz is a Messenger, a go-between for supernaturals of various sorts. She is able to interact with them because of a near death episode as a child. Mere humans don't generally believe in magic in this world unless it's made very obvious to them. Melina's gifts are pretty minor and the price she pays for failure is an unpleasant, magically-inflicted misery. So when she gets tangled up with a misdirected package and Chinese vampires she's stuck in the middle and in over her head. Fortunately she has friends and the guts to see things through. At least she doesn't have as many issues with her hot cop as the main character in Spider's Bite does. Melina's got a nice lack of criminal tendencies.
Welcome to our new contributor Ross, who grew up in the woods outside Oregon City, where he had ample time to read and re-read every book he could find, making him an omnivorous reader. Science fiction, fantasy, classic literature, poetry, street lit, biographies, comics - you name it, he’ll read it. He loves finding connections between wildly different works. His favorite poem is “Used Book Store”, in the collection My Noiseless Entourage by Charles Simic.
Last November, thanks to Multnomah County Library’s Read the Classics program, I made an important discovery: The Iliad is the best story ever written. I quit after 15 pages when I tried to read it in middle school, but - whether it was the translation that I read this time (by Robert Fagles), or the enlightening introduction (by Bernard Knox), or the 20-so years of life experience since my first reading - this time something clicked. The beauty of the images and metaphors, the simplicity and yet incredible depth of the story, the oh-so-human and identifiable characters. The utter symmetry of it. I don’t think any book before has moved me so much or stuck in my mind, like a bronze spear point, with so much force.
Since developing this Iliad-philia, I have been noticing related works everywhere I turn:
British poet Christopher Logue eschews simple translation of Homer, and instead has been retelling the books of the Iliad in his own radically modern verse. The Husbands is his adaptation of books 3 and 4, and the cover alone makes me want to read it.
Ransom is a new literary novel by David Malouf in which he retells the events of book 24 of the Iliad, where King Priam goes to Achilles and tries to ransom the body of his son, Hector.
Margaret George’s Helen of Troy is a novelization of the war from the perspective of the woman who caused those thousand ships to be launched.
The War that Killed Achilles by Caroline Alexander presents a new reading and analysis of the Iliad, and argues that the primary purpose of the poem is to convey the utter devastation of war.
Achilles by Elizabeth Cook is a short novel, almost a prose poem, about the entire life (and death) of that legendary hero, and the reverberations of his story.
And in Ilium by Dan Simmons, inspired by Shakespeare’sThe Tempest as well as The Iliad, these classic works of literature are building blocks for a complex science fiction epic: the gods live on Mars, a race of sentient robots has specialists in literature, and the battle of Troy is being fought once again.
I am sure that this is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, the vanguard of the legion. What are your favorite Iliad-inspired works?
I saw Frozen River many months ago and the story has continued to simmer to the surface of my mind. So last night I put the kids to bed, made some popcorn, and sat down to watch it again. I'm glad I did.
Ray and Lila are two minimum-wage earning mothers caught in the shadowy world of smuggling illegal immigrants across the St. Lawrence River via the Mohawk territory between Quebec and New York. Ray wants the double-wide with the decent bathtub she saved for before her husband disappeared with the money days before Christmas. Lila wants to raise the baby son her mother-in-law has taken from her. Ray's dead-end part-time job at Yankee Dollar and Lila's employment at the reservation bingo parlor are no match for the lure of cash in exchange for a quick drive across the frozen river. The two women form an uneasy partnership built on a rusting Dodge Spirit with a push-button trunk.
It is a midwinter story of desperate circumstances, but the remainder is that of spring; reckoning and resurrection, and a thaw. Behold the miracle of mud: it may not be what you planted, but something green will grow.
Now that the unpronounceably named volcano from Iceland has settled down, let's turn our attention to other unpronounceable acts that Iceland has released upon the world.
First up is probably Iceland's biggest musician, Ms. Guðmundsdóttir, better known as Björk. Initially the lead singer for The Sugarcubes, Björk has been around long enough to become a worldwide musical icon. Her inventive style often includes a great deal of innovation as well. Sometimes she's screaming, sometimes she's grunting, but every little thing she does is very musical. She even was the lead in a musical called Dancer in the Dark. It's pretty and depressing. Actually some would say it's pretty depressing. Bring your box of tissues.
From the other side of the island comes the all-male musical group, Sigur Rós. I love this band, and not just because they sing in a mixture of Icelandic and Vonlenska, an unintelligible language they created. Their range in music goes from a lilting tune to a deeply introspective piece in a heartbeat. I actually saw them play at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall where they ended the concert by spraying the entire audience with confetti. The film Heima, chronicles their journey home where they gave free concerts to the people of Iceland. It showcases their music perfectly, but also features the wonderful imagery that inspired them.
I recently stumbled across yet another musical act from Iceland, Múm. They are a collective of musicians who also perform experimental electronic music. I wonder what it is about being from Iceland that inspires such unique music...perhaps it’s the volcanoes!
I savored My Life in France by Julia Child for months. I didn’t want it to end. Julia and Paul Child were inspiring people. They loved food, wine, art, travel, friends, family and France. They loved with gusto!
Julia met Paul Child when they worked for the United States government during World War II. After the war they parted ways only to discover that they didn’t want to be apart. To make a sweet story short they married. After the war Paul continued working for the United States government in Europe: France, Germany and Norway. Mrs. Child accompanied her husband to his new postings. Julia decided to go to the cooking school Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and found her calling as a chef, best selling writer and TV personality.
This memoir is peppered with Paul’s photographs and touching stories about their life together. Join the crowd and make a reservation for My Life in France. And while you're waiting, find books, movies and more about and by the lovely Julia here.
That sound you hear? That would be me, in the corner, curled into a ball,whimpering gently. I just finished Changes, book 12 of the Dresden Files. Based on past publishing patterns it will be a year before I find out
Have you read the Dresden Files yet? Harry Dresden is a both a P.I. and a wizard. The Chicago he inhabits is populated with vampires, werewolves, all manner of Fae, beings that claim to be demons and angels (nobody sanewould argue with them) and pretty much any other stripe of magical creature you can think of. The Dresden Files is the series other urban fantasies want to be when they grow up. They are fairly light quick reads but they really do need to be read in order, starting with Storm Front.
Several years ago, I bought the first two on a whim. I forgot about them until my husband came to me with book two in hand to ask if there were any more and could I go get them right now please? Huh. Obviously I was missing something. I started reading them myself. I was hooked. Now I snatch up each new installment on the release date and finish it before bedtime. This is my absolute favorite series. I've seen it enjoyed by both male and female readers. I've talked mystery/detective story readers into giving it a try despite the fantasy elements and they've enjoyed it.
A few years ago I heard the author speak at a convention. He was charming and witty. When asked how many books were planned he said he had a twentyyear mortgage. At this point I'm not sure how it will end. Harry Dresden may die horribly or finally see a moment of untarnished happiness - probably right before dying horribly. I'm not sure which I'm rooting for. He's done dubious things for good reason, he's allied with not nice beings for a good cause, he's made mistakes, some with bloody, tragic prices. But so far, Harry Dresden keeps getting back up and trying again. He's got a lot of flaws, headed up by a smart mouth, although it's sarcasm rather than cynicism.
And while it may sound like these are twelve grim volumes of unremitting gloom, they are frequently very funny. The characterization is truly top notch. I care what happens to Harry, I care a lot at this point. But I can't really describeanything that happens in book twelve without venturing into spoiler territory. What I can tell you is that on October 26th Butcher is releasing a book of short stories called Side Jobs. It contains the collected Dresden Files short stories from various anthologies plus a few new ones. One of them is written from the perspective of a secondary character and is set immediately after the end ofChanges. I am pre-ordering Side Jobs because I can't wait until next April. The author is an evil, cruel, and terrible man and I need a hint of what happens in book thirteen right now.
PS, the tv show?... Meh, it was OK. If you like genre TV and want to watch something on DVD you'll like it well enough. But it doesn't hold a candle to the books.
Oh no - yet another book I don't want to return to the library! I think I'll have to go out and buy it. I love Country living : A Bit of Velvet and a Dash of Lace : the Fabulous Interiors of Magnolia Pearl by Robin Brown with Jason Boyd.
As a new homeowner I like to browse the interior decorating books in the library. I've found that many of them don't have a personal voice or narrator. If they do they can come across as clinical and cold. This is not the case in this book! Brown offers the reader a warm invitation to the "Magnolia Pearl" style of decorating. She also shares stories about her upbringing in 1960s California with her artistic parents.
I'm not usually attracted to the funky, Bohemian-Victorian style but Brown makes it appealing. And it's wonderful to see Brown's style beautifully portrayed on each page by Steven Radazzo's stunning photographs. Though I might use elements of the Boho-Victorian style, there's no way I could make my entire home reflect this dedication to interior decoration.
Perhaps you'd like to add these elements of style to your home? Luckily this book includes a guide for those who would like to do just that. Some of the projects included in the book are weaving flowers in your hair, building a gate from a bed frame and making pet beds. If you are looking for a visual treat along with great storytelling try the lovely book A Bit of Velvet and a Dash of Lace. You won't be disappointed.
Welcome to our new blogger Cathy, who says of her reading tastes, "I love all kinds of books, music, films, comics, zines and web stuff. Basically, I eat from all 5 food groups, including junk food." More about Cathy and all of our bloggers here.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, if someone called you the L word, if it didn’t refer to your sexuality, it meant you’d been outed as a liberal. But that L word is so last century. In today’s hallowed halls of Web 2.0, the latest 12th-letter indictment is Luddite. So why is Jaron Lanier, a Silicon Valley visionary, musician, and one of the web’s big supporters in the 1980s, now having to fend off that label? Lanier’s recent book You Are Not a Gadget- a self-proclaimed manifesto - is his answer to all the mudslingers.
I love how this book asks lots of “taboo” questions about the Web. His FAQs preface the book by saying “it ought to be possible to criticize aspects of digital experience without criticizing the whole of it.” Here are just some of the provocative issues he raises:
- Computer scientists create a standard, like storing information in files. It makes sense while their system is small, but when the system expands (think Microsoft), it gets “locked in” - now we all must use it, whether it’s outdated, inefficient, or unaesthetic. What happens when the ‘lock-in” is your personal profile, on a social network like Facebook?
- Regarding crowd decision-making on the Web: “Collectives can be just as stupid as any individual – and, in important cases, stupider. The interesting question is whether it’s possible to map out where the one is smarter than many."
- It has been a decade since music migrated to the Web. Are musicians actually better off? What does the online music world forecast for other fields, like journalism?
- Why was advertising the villain in the 1960s and 1970s, but now can do no wrong? Lanier’s answer is because it’s what pays for the Web, and what allows content to be available for free. So what happens to culture when advertising is sacrosanct?
Lanier is no naysayer; he’s open to debate, and he proposes intriguing alternatives. This book's guaranteed to start great discussions, whether you’re a computer geek or a rank and file Web user.
Sometimes I think that I am drawn to books of sorrow. Rather, maybe, I am more attracted to how people survive and work out their grief.
Perhaps it was too soon for the author to write of his daughter Amy's untimely death from heart failure at age 38. Making Toast: a Family Story by Roger Rosenblatt is so filled with raw sorrow, a touch of bitterness and tender stories of helping to raise three young grandchildren. The children call him, Boppo, and his wife, Ginny becomes Mimi as their lives are forever changed.
Roger Rosenblatt may be familiar from his columns in The Washington Post or Time Magazine. He is also a Professor of English and Writing at Stony Brook University and the author of the hilarious novel, Lapham Rising.
Facing this terrible loss is torture, but caring for the children becomes a joy.
Always the teacher, Boppo gives the children a new word each morning to mull and savor. These 'Word of the Morning' stories sprinkled throughout the book and the quiet way that the Rosenblatts instill a love of reading are some of my favorite parts of this memoir. Bubbies, the youngest child, is just under two. One evening just before bedtime, Bubbies points to one of the books in the den and says, "book." It is a copy of The Letters of James Joyce, but Boppo takes the book down and instead reads a story of Bubbies' adventure on the playground.
"I try to put back the book, but he detects an implicit announcement of his bedtime, and he protests. "Joyce!" he says. Eventually, he resigns himself to the end of his day. He puts the book back himself, and quietly says, "Joyce."
Ginny puts her feelings into the startling poem "Arch of Shade" as she grapples with leading her daughter's life by caring for the children.
Arch of Shade
Rachmaninoff and Mozart
Sift through the haze
On River Road.
Two hatted women wait
In the heat for the Ride-on-Bus.
The Wii is the summer wish
Your babies' crib is disassembled
And taken away
To be the bed for a new life.
I am turning
To the camp carpool line
Only thinking of you.
The arch of shade hovers
The hot July sun rays
Dapple the leaf arch
To highlight the darkness.
I am here.
Roger astutely comments on his wife and her poetry; "Her graciousness distracts people from noticing that she is alert to life's dark places. She prefers it that way. Her poems hit their mark, but gently. They crack the egg without breaking it."
Making Toast will both break your heart and show you what is possible in dealing with grief.
Many mystery novels feature figurative and sometimes literal skeletons in the closet, but there are a number of titles where the skeletons are out of the closet and into the ground. The Crossing Places is one of those, and it's a good mystery in a brand new series by Elly Griffiths. Ruth Galloway is a late thirty-something, overweight archaeology professor teaching at a new university in the county of Norfolk, England. When the bones of a young girl show up in the salt-marsh close to her home, DCI Harry Nelson asks for her help in figuring out how old they are. Turns out, they belong to an Iron Age girl, but it's not long before a much more recent skeleton appears. Are these the bones of the girl who went missing a decade ago? Nelson's desperate to solve that mystery and help the parents get on with their lives. The ending is a bit melodramatic, but I liked the book and especially the atmospheric setting and unusual character of Ruth. I'm looking forward toThe Janus Stone, the second in the series coming out in the fall of 2010. For two other mysteries with forensic anthropological and archaeological bents, read Haunted Ground by Erin Hart and Old Bones by Aaron Elkins, one of my favorite mysteries ever.
I just read a really good debut novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. So often trying a new author is a hit or miss proposition, but this was a solid hit. Yeine Darr is a half-breed. She was raised in the hinterlands. Although she was raised to rule and her father was the prince of his little country, she's still the half-savage, unfashionable, rude barbarian with no grasp of civilization. At least that's what her mother's courtiers think of her. She's too short and she looks different. Nobody, least of all she, is happy that her grandfather the emperor has summoned his granddaughter to court where his potential heirs are competing. She's nearly murdered within the first few hours and it doesn't get any better from there. This novel is the first in a series but it does stand alone quite well. The author has said that each new book will center around a new main character and the characters from other books will become side notes. So it's not the usual fantasy commitment of at least three novels to try out this new author.
I've always liked a good ghost story, but zombies leave me cold. I mean, how can anything with rapidly decomposing brain cells moving at the speed of a sloth possibly be scary? Why don't the living in
these movies stick out their tongues and dance circles around them? It's because zombies are relentless, say some; they never tire. Yeah, but I could just pull a Will Smith on them and create a Manhattan penthouse fortress, the way he does in I am Legend, based on the book by the same name.
It seems as though writers and directors have finally figured out that slow-as-molasses zombies aren't all that frightening. The director of Dead Snow has certainly turned up the horror. A group of medical students spends the weekend at a remote skiing cabin in Norway. Throw in a strange old codger with stories about evil lurking in the hills, and the problem of having to go to the outhouse in the dark, a horror in itself, and you've got a pretty good start. But then add...wait for it...Nazi zombies! Yes, it's a great concept but it's a bit over the top when legions of them start popping out of the snow to eat our protagonists' vital organs. The problem is that, as with many zombie movies, when you try to escalate the fear it seems inevitable that you stray into caricature or satire. Or maybe that's the point - the appeal is knowing the whole conceit will eventually dissolve into the absurd.
One movie that embraces the absurd from the outset is Zombieland- sure to become a cult classic. An obsessive-compulsive, agoraphobe hooks up with a pugnacious, zombie hating Twinkie-loving cowboy, played by Woody Harrelson. They make their way across the wasteland that is America after the zombie apocalypse. It's great laugh out loud fun, and personal thanks to the director who realizes that we only need to see the undead munching on a body part once or twice to get the point. Our imaginations will fill in the blanks. This and another low-comedy zombie flick, Shaun of the Dead would make for a great movie night, providing vegetarian food is served.
A recent interest in all things zombie means that there's plenty of fodder for fans. The book World War Z by Max Brooks recounts the story of the zombie wars that almost put an end to life as we know it. If only all zombies would heed David Murphy'sZombies for Zombies: Advice and Etiquette for the Living Dead. Find more zombie related material with the keywords "zombies" and "fiction", "zombies" and "humor". Oh, and be careful out there.
I don’t remember the day I first saw music video for "Around the World" by Daft Punk, but I do know that it was the beginning of a torrid love affair with acclaimed director Michel Gondry. At the time, I didn’t know who the director was, but I would watch the video for hours, trying to memorize each component. The video shows mummies, robots, skeletons, and synchronized swimmers all dancing around a stage built to look like an LP. It wasn’t until I checked out a series of DVDs called Directors Label that I discovered the genius behind Gondry’s directorial skill. Basically a collection of music videos, advertisements, and short films, The Work of Director Michel Gondry highlights some of the best and most imaginative creativity I’ve ever seen. Some excellent commentary in the director’s thick French accent gives you a tiny glimpse into his crazy little mind.
It only makes sense that given a bigger budget Gondry’s feature films are that much more brilliant. One of my favorites is Be Kind Rewind. Starring Jack Black, Danny Glover, and a surprisingly talented Mos Def, this film was filmed and takes place in Passaic, New Jersey. A video store owner faces eviction if he doesn’t retool his business. After a freak accident erases all the videotapes, the store must recreate every movie using people and props from the local neighborhood. The new business booms until a fast-talking lawyer tries to shut the entire operation down. Will the community rally to save their local video store?
It’ll be interesting to see what Gondry comes up with on his next project. He’s currently filming The Green Hornet, a superhero movie based on the radio and character of the same name.
There is something about digging in the dirt, planting a garden and pulling weeds that is nurturing and healing. For me, reading about it is an equally healing experience especially when the writing is as visual and thoughtful as the writing of David Mas Masumoto. I have read and reread his book, Four Seasons in Five Senses: Things Worth Savoring. He is a third generation Japanese-American peach farmer and his description of life on his farm is such sensual writing that you can almost taste the peaches.
One hundred years ago his grandparents arrived in America with dreams of owning land, farming and raising a family. They rented land, planted fruit trees and grape vines; survived the Great Depression and continued with their work of raising food and family. But December 7, 1941 and the bombing of Pearl Harbor changed their expectations of a better life in America. The family was interred in the Gila River relocation camp in the Arizona desert and lost everything.
Then Masumoto's father was drafted. "Lock up our family behind barbed wire in the middle of a desert and then draft me?" He was on his way to Europe when Germany surrendered. In 1950, he took a chance and bought a small farm in the Central Valley near Fresno, California. He lavished care on his trees and vines.
"Good pruning is really the art of taking away, like a sculptor chiseling at a rock, working to uncover life inside. Dad paced around the grapevine, paused and clipped, leaning in and cutting: eyes darting back and forth, searching for the strong canes, locating spurs for next year's growth. He worked with the past and saw the future--adding to a living timeline."
In his biography, Wisdom of the Last Farmer, Masumoto writes, "As we move on, we leave behind our stories in interior and exterior landscapes. The looming fog of death, the passing of time, the nature of change all lead us to greater self-awareness, and to a final transformation We mourn the loss of our people and miss them. But we continue to tell their stories."
This, indeed, is the continuing story of how the family cared for his father after a stroke, how working on the land even in a limited way was healing and life-giving, how the family continues to raise organic, juicy fruit.
This book stirred up so many of my own memories. Everybody has a junk drawer in the kitchen or the garage that collects odd bits of wire, screws, batteries and small tools, but this is nothing compared to my Dad's barn of objects too good to throw away because 'I might need it sometime to fix something.' And he most often found a use for many of his treasures. I was tickled by the chapter "Perfect Junk" in which Mr. Masumoto talks about the farmer's junk pile at a farm conference. An old farmer responds, "Out here we don't call them 'junk piles'. We call them 'inventory'."
Masumoto writes a whole chapter on the varieties of heritage flavorful peaches. It reminded me of the grocer in our small town calling my mother to say, "Lois, the Elberta's are in." We girls then knew it was time to bake pies, to peel and can and sample a few rich juicy morsels of the Elberta peaches. I remember, too, the Red Haven and Hale peaches. Now I long to taste a fresh Sun Crest peach straight from one of the Masumoto trees.
Welcome to our new contributor Deb, a youth librarian and consumer of just about anything readable. In her words, "I like to read all sorts of things, especially young adult novels, speculative fiction and oddball fantasy, pop science essays, nonfiction that reads like fiction, tales set in places I’ve been or hope to visit, glimpses into other cultures, retold fairy tales, wry memoirs, and field guides. Also anything my sister recommends."
I grew up in an active family. We hiked, gardened, went camping, and (in between reading) generally were seldom idle. What we did not do is play organized sports, and so I never learned how. In elementary school I found that the other kids already knew the rules to the games, whereas I, in confusion, would invariably kick the ball or smack the puck or flubble the gimlet to exactly the wrong person and everyone would holler at me in disgust. Unsurprisingly, in my own personal iteration of that familiar bookworm's story, I developed an aversion to sport. It wasn't until my Ultimate Frisbee days in graduate school that I tapped my latent athletic streak.
This is all to say that I do not read sports books. I am not versed in sports strategy or history, my heroes aren't sports figures, and sporty play-by-play bores me. So hear me, my people, the sporty and the unsporty alike, when I tell you that to my astonishment Michael Lewis' book The Blind Side--a book about football* -- was one of the best books I read in 2008.
I understand that the movie (I haven't seen it yet) plays up Sandra Bullock's role as the mother who takes in a disadvantaged young football player, but in the book her whole family's role, while interesting, is merely part of the framework for the real meat of the story. Or should I say, stories: One thread follows the unlikely tale of Michael Oher, a huge and athletically talented African-American kid (and a natural left tackle, even though he doesn’t know it) who grew up destitute in the Memphis ghettos and through a weird series of events was essentially adopted by a rich white family. The other thread -- and I kid you not, sports non-fans, it's absolutely fascinating and clear as a window -- explains the development of the passing game in football, and why it led to quarterback sacks (usually by the pass rusher), which in turn led to the increasing importance of the left tackle, whose job it is to guard the quarterback’s blind side.
I can see your eyes glazing from here, non-football fans. But trust me, and treat yourselves, and get in line for a copy of The Blind Side. (Both the book and the downloadable audiobook are available at the library.)
* So why did I pick up a book about football in the first place?, I hear you cry. Because I saw it listed among the Alex Awards of 2007, and I have found that the Alex Awards can point you toward some very fine reading.