Sunday, September 30, 2012

You don't really want that onion.

Pea is extremely cautious about food.  We suspect that it is partially from having reflux as a baby - everything hurt her belly.  Now at almost 4, she sticks to a few safe foods and is reluctant to try anything new.

Except this one time.  I was chopping onions for risotto and she was standing next to me on a stool watching intently.  She nonchalantly says, "I'm going to go play...but first I'm going to just eat this onion."  And pops a piece in her mouth.

Oh, Pea.  She reacted as you could imagine a 3 year old trying a raw onion for the first time would.  I felt so bad for her.

My onion is similar to Communist Party membership in The Case of Comrade Tulayev.  Pea thought she would like the onion because she saw me cooking with it and decided to try it for herself.  Most of the non-Party members in the book wanted to become Party members because they saw it as a way to advance in society and gain particular advantages.  However, like the onion, the Party membership winds up being terrible.  The Party members can't do anything without fearing the consequences and have to deal with other Party members actively trying to usurp their positions, or being sent to exile in Siberia for some minor transgression, or being executed despite innocence.

This is particularly evident when a non-Party member murders a high Communist official pretty much on a whim.  It is inconceivable to the people in charge of the investigation that the murder could be anything but a vast conspiracy within the Party, so they investigate, charge and eventually execute 3 Party members for the murder.

This book was a great commentary on Stalin-era Russian life and the corruption and intrigue within the Communist Party of that era.  It was a little slow in parts, but I am glad I read it.

I don't think that Pea will be eating any more onions anytime soon - and I don't think any of us will be joining the Communist Party either!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Oh no. Ohhh no. Oh no.

My son has said his first word!  And it wasn't "ball!" as he crawled around after a ball, or "mama," as he gazed at me lovingly, or "doggie," as the neighbors' dog sniffed him.  No, my son's first word is "oh no!"

"Oh no!"  Which he then repeats several times in a row.  "Oh no!  Ohhh no!  Ohh no!"  I'm not sure what this says about our parenting that our little 10 month old son crawls around fretting like a housewife trying to remove ring around the collar.

I could not put down Special Topics in Calamity Physics.  This was a book I stayed up late to read and also read a paragraph or two at pretty much every opportunity throughout the day.  It was SO good.  The main character, Blue, is a 16 year old girl who gets caught up in a murder mystery.

Blue, however, behaves a lot like my little son.  Sure, she tries very hard to solve the mystery and unravel what is going on, but there is a LOT of handwringing.  I'm not going to give away too much of the plot because this book should not be missed and I don't want to ruin it for any prospective reader.  But I came away feeling like there was maybe a bit too much "oh no!" going on and not enough good old fashioned sleuthing.  But that is just a minor criticism (and I also need to take into account that the main character IS 16, and is probably behaving exactly as a 16 year old would - even if I wanted her to be more proactive about certain things, it is probably more plausible the way the author has written it).

This book is creative, clever and fun and I loved it.  I'm SO glad I read it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Thoughts on Cane.

Usually the fact that a book isn't available in my library means it is going to be some obscure, random book that is often difficult to read or understand.  Cane, an ILL book, did not let me down in this regard.  I can tell it is good literature.  Dealing with the experience of being African American in the early 20th century.  Unfortunately, I don't have the educational background or historical understanding to really appreciate this book for the excellent literature that it is.  It's embarrassing - I'm like, uh, yes, I can tell that this is good literature, but I can't get much more out of it than that.

Pea has discovered Where's Waldo the last couple of weeks, which has been really fun.  I fondly remember enjoying those books when I was young.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The big fat Greek book.

Corelli's Mandolin started off very slow, and very long.  I just couldn't get into the portrait of life in Cephallonia - it was all very nice, but just didn't do it for me.  I feared a long slog through the 430 pages.  Thankfully, the character of Corelli showed up and saved the book.  I read the portions dealing with the love story between him and Pelagia with interest, and read the sections dealing with the horrors of the war with somewhat less interest.

Here's the thing about war books - we know that war is terrible.  And I acknowledge the effort on the part of the author to make us understand what it was like for the Greek people to go through what they went through at the hands of the oppressors.  It doesn't make it less sad, or easier to read about.  I am not suggesting that writers should not write about it - I just personally don't like to read about it.

Mike says that this book was made into one of the worst movies!  It did get a 29% on the Tomatometer.  I did not know that Penelope Cruz was in the role of Pelagia.  I think I'll skip the movie on this one.  (Not a shock, I know - I don't watch movies)!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Cannery row...or, why I am a doofus.

Today I finished Cannery Row, which I really liked.  It is not often that one finds literature idealizing the poorest members of Depression-era society.  But that is what this book does.  Everyone is reasonably happy with their life and the overall goal is to make Doc happy by throwing him a party.  These are people living in storage sheds, an industrial boiler, and prostitutes.  But they are good people who are trying their best.  Interesting book and interesting perspective.  The image of the starfish clinging to each other will be in my mind for a while.  That's what humans do when they are nervous, too.

Here comes the embarrassing part.  So I'm reading this and in my mind, comparing it to Absalom, Absalom.  I'm thinking to myself, wow, these sentences are shorter and this is a lot more readable.  It was only after finishing the book that it dawned on me.  Steinbeck and Faulkner are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT AUTHORS.  I had sort of amalgamated them in my mind.  Faulkbeck, or something.  Whoops.

Books 131-140

Not quite there yet, but need to get this down so that I can start figuring out library holds, etc.

131. The Case of Comrad Tulayev by Victor Serge (1949)
132. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (1953)
133. The Castle by Franz Kafka (1926)
134. The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino (1973)
135. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1765)
136. Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth (1800)
137. Castle Richmond by Anthony Trollope (1860)
138. Cat and Mouse by Gunter Grass (1961)
139. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
140. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (1951)

Lot of castles on here!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Always look on the bright side of life.

Last night, it rained and thundered a lot at our house, and our windows leaked again.  I learned this because Fuzz was up at 10PM, and his fussing sounded different.  Usually I can run in and soothe him and he will fall right back asleep.  This time, I ran in, and he was all wet, and there was water spraying everywhere.  Whoops.  This was an annoying thing to have happen at 10PM, because I had to get him up, Mike had to get Tupperware containers to catch the water, we had to get a whole bunch of rags to mop up the mess, and I think that Fuzz is going to have a bit of a water stain on the paint underneath his window in his room.

In the big picture, this is not a huge deal.  I don't think that God or the universe is out to get me because of the annoying window leak or anything.  It's unfortunate but we have moved on (and will have to figure out how to repair these things).

Voltaire, in Candide, mocks people who are optimists, and the view that things are generally for the best.  He does this in a pretty entertaining way, by creating this character and having this ridiculous series of unfortunate events happen to him.  The idea is that by the end of the novel, he essentially has his optimism beaten out of him.  It's pretty clever and creative, especially when you consider that it was written in the 1750s, so it certainly has stood the test of time.

I don't really agree with the idea though that optimism is silly.  It is silly to rely on optimism only and not do something about one's situation.  I can be optimistic that it won't rain again and hence our window won't leak, but that would be silly.  I will instead be optimistic that we will find the right repair person and get the windows fixed and it won't be an issue any more.

So I will continue to look on the bright side of life, although that may seem silly to Voltaire.