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So, I changed my return flight.  Rather than return Tuesday, May 25th.. I’m returning Tuesday evening, June 1st.  So my blog-vacation is extended until June 2nd or 3rd.  Hope everyone is enjoying their summers!

In all probability, I will not be posting again until Wednesday, June 2nd.

Tomorrow, I’m getting on a plane and heading to Tennessee to visit family.  I will be seeing my parents, siblings, the Nashville Parthenon, and hopefully this adorable face:

That’s my niece, daughter of my favorite brother.  (I am allowed to have favorites, right?)

Even though I grew up in middle TN, I am open to recommendations for book stores, yarn shops, restaurants, whatever.. in the area between Nashville, TN and Florence, AL.  I already hope to go to:  Bookman Bookwoman Used Books and Haus of Yarn (both in Nashville).  Bookman used to be my very favorite bookstore, until I moved to the Midwest and discovered Chicago’s Myopic Books, which is open till 1 AM most nights.

Tuesday, I will be heading back to the airport and I hope to safely see this:

That’s the Chicago skyline, as seen from the plane the first time I flew in.

I will leave you with only one book for Friday Finds this week, but it is one I’m quite excited to have found.

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier was reviewed by Heather over at “Age 30+ … a Lifetime of Books” last Friday.

She says:

“I was fascinating by the history of fossil hunting and the way accepted “facts” about fossils were beginning to change. The newly developing ideas of an ancient earth, the concept of extinction, the budding conflict between religion and science – all these topics were fascinating to me. Then there was the situation of women in society, the class distinctions, the concepts of property and propriety … there was just so much in this book that I loved!”

I’d seen this book around before, even admired the cover art, and then dismissed it completely for some reason.. without even reading a synopsis.  What kind of book lover am I?  Even though I’m not a huge historical fiction fan (okay, I haven’t actually tried a lot of historical fiction), Heather’s review made this one sound fascinating.  The storyline sounds great, the writing sounds great.. it all sounds peachy.  I’m going to try to get my hands on this one soon.

Have you read Remarkable Creatures?  Thoughts?  Link to your review?  Any recommendations for fun TN stuff to do?  Let me know!

Friday Finds at Should Be Reading

(Friday Finds is a weekly meme hosted by MizB over at Should Be Reading.)

I doubt anyone is wondering why I’m quiet, but just in case..

I’m coming up quickly on the end of the spring semester.  I’ve finished my biggest paper, but have oh.. 4-5 more writing assignments due.  Plus finals.  So I’ll be around by the end of next week, methinks. 🙂

Happy reading!

“Quotidian Poem”

by Patricia Fargnoli

 

When I heard the bombing

had begun I drove down

to Keene and bought

a 3x magnifying glass,

a sketch book

and drawing pencils. Then,

I went out behind the apartments

to snap off seed pods, weeds

I could not name

and a couple of brittle leaves.

I saved the afternoon

by studying edges

of petals, seeds,

the marvelous veins

and sketching them.

On the page, I wrote:

unknown weeds 10/7/01, found

in the patch between Applewood

and the Historical Museum;

on the day we began bombing.

Then I made a pot of soup

out of black-eyed peas

and a ham bone

I’d frozen from Easter.

I threw in onions, garlic,

parsley, cumin,

a couple of tomatoes–

whatever made sense.

Enough for an army.

A bit of a cheerier one for Jenners

The Daffodils
by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee:
A Poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.


For an added laugh, watch this after reading it:

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

or

I Saw Neil Gaiman!  Squee!

Yesterday at 5 PM, I was sitting in a local ice cream shop eating a sundae and checking twitter on my iphone.  I don’t check twitter regularly, and when I do, I only skim.

A tweet from Neil Gaiman caught my eye.  “In  car.  On way to airport to fly to Chicago to do @CBLDF reading at #c2e2.  Any requests for tonight?” I had no idea what CBLDF or c2e2 is, but I live just over an hour outside the city of Chicago, and very much knew that I would love to see Neil Gaiman.

I immediately brought up a web browser and did a quick search: “Neil Gaiman Chicago April.”  The first hit was a Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (c2e2) event page titled: An Evening With Neil Gaiman.

In my excitement, I hardly processed anything the page said, but I got the important stuff.  Neil Gaiman, 7pm, Arie Crown Theater, a few tickets left: $35.

And we were off.

Just before we arrived at 6:45 PM, I collected my wits enough to learn that it wasn’t just Gaiman speaking; it was a dramatic reading.  His first for CBLDF in 10 years.  It was part of a comic book convention, but the Gaiman event tickets were available separately.  The proceeds were going not to Gaiman, but to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF).

I also remembered that, though I’d not had time to prepare, I (thankfully) had a camera and a notebook in the car.  Despite the surreal nature of these proceedings, I even remembered to bring both these things inside.

And now let me present:  Neil, himself.


AN EVENING WITH NEIL GAIMAN

C2E2: Arie Crown Theater, Chicago.  April 17, 2010.

Neil Gaiman, during Q&A

“If you don’t have a plan, nothing can go wrong,” Neil Gaiman informed us, just before presenting the plan for the evening.

First, he would read a few things.  Then, during a 15-20 minute intermission, he would go backstage, go through the huge pile of question cards to decide what to answer during the Q&A. After the intermission, there would be approximately 25 minutes of Q&A followed by a final reading.

And that’s how it went.  Pretty much.

Reading the first: “In Relig Oran”

Neil began by discussing a book of myths and legends of Scotland by Otta F. Swire.  He said that it’s the kind of book someone gives you, and you find yourself (after reading it) searching ebay for more books by the author, and eventually receiving these old, long out-of-print books of stories, “several of which [he] found really strange and rather inspirational.”

After reading some of these stories, he took his dog for a walk. “Sometimes, when you walk,” he said, “your mind goes into rhythms. […] I found myself walking to along to the beat of the line ‘When St. Columba landed at the island of Iona.'”  And from this, Gaiman crafted a poem: “In Relig Oran.”

The title of the poem is the name of a graveyard in Scotland.  In Gaelic, “in relig Oran” means “The Grave of Oran.” The poem is unpublished and heretofore not publically read, though exclusive prints of the poem were avaible for purchase at C2E2.  (I got one!)

The poem tells the story of two saints, St. Columba and St. Oran, who land on the Island of Iona to build a chapel.  Unfortunately, the foundation won’t hold.  It is revealed to St. Columba in a dream that he should bury St. Oran in the foundation, for that will make for a strong chapel.  Columba proceeds to do so, and it works. But St. Oran is resurrected, and returns to tell of the true nature of heaven, of hell, and of God.

It’s a fantastic piece.  The print is beautiful; it will look lovely on the wall in my study.

Reading the second: “Chivalry”

“Chivalry” (available in Smoke and Mirrors and M is for Magic) is the story that Neil used to begin all CBLDF readings with. The premise is simple enough: “Mrs. Whittaker found the holy grail.  It was under a fur coat.”  Her thrift store find, she decides, will look lovely on the mantelpiece.  She proudly explains the history of this relic to her (Jewish) friend “wouldn’t know about such things [*sniff*].” Soon, however, Sir Gallahad shows up at her door.  He is on a quest to find the holy grail.  The story follows Mrs. Whittaker and Sir Gallahad as they haggle and become friends.

Neil shone during this piece.  He was obviously practiced and comfortable in the reading of it, and the personality he added to the dialogue raised it from a cute, quaint story to a fabulous one.  We (the Mister and I) have listened to his recorded readings before, but, as the Mister said, “I never realized he was a gesturer.”   Or.. one who gestures for effect, apparently.

Neil does this amazing thing when he has just read something particularly funny.  As he pauses for effect, the brings his head slightly forward, and his chest slightly forward, and his upper body becomes a cute, subtle triangle.  And while it is subtle, it adds a certain something to the experience.  He looks pleased with himself, and the listener can sense that he loves the story just as much as his audience.  He also, occasionally, punctuates lines (funny ones, of a female’s dialogue) by cute little shoulder rocks.  Like he just can’t quite hold the character back.

At the conclusion of the story, Gaiman smiled.  “That was fun.  Like falling off a bike.. you never forget how.”

Reading the third: “My Last Landlady”

This poem, Neil explains, came into existence after an e-mail from a friend.  This friend was editing an anthology of poems that were “spooky, scary, horrific, or unsettling” and set on the sea or seaside.  He wanted to know if Neil had written any “spooky, scary, horrific, or unsettling” poems that were set on the sea or seaside.  Neil hadn’t.  So he did.

The narrator of the poem is addressing his new landlady and telling the story of his last one.  He had stayed at a seaside bed and breakfast, and his landlady was a bit morbid.  Her mind seemed focused on the less pleasant side of human nature, and so she was forever saying unpleasant things. As more of her nature is revealed, the poem does become distinctly unsettling.

The reading was, of course, magnificent.

Reading the fourth: “Being an Experiment Upon Strictly Scientific Lines”

“Being an Experiment Upon Strictly Scientific Lines” (available in Angels & Visitations) is written, article-style, about the “precise effects alcohol has on a creative writer.”  Does it get his creative juices flowing, or cause him to become “maudlin, aggrressive, [and] rambling?”

The narrator (Gaiman?) has set himself up with a bottle of booze, many empty glasses, and a typewriter.  He writes about creative writing while keeping track of how many drinks he’s had. During the whole of the evening, Neil had a water bottle on his podium.  For this particular story, it served as a prop.  As Gaiman reached the next drink of the article, he says “Excuse me.”  Then takes a swig, sighs, and says “Drink number 3” (or whatever number he happened to be on.)

The story itself was funny, but with Gaiman’s performance, it reached hilarity.

Reading the fifth: “The Day the Saucers Came”

A poem from Fragile Things, depicting the end of world.  There are aliens; there are zombies; it is Ragnarok.  And there are even more catastrophes on “the day the saucers came.”  Light and funny.  Perfect to read just before a break.

Q&A

After a brief break in which we all crowded, mosh-pit style, around two tables to buy exclusive goods, Neil took a few minutes to answer questions.

The first: What is the best way to get the attention of a publisher?

Neil Gaiman responded to this one by offering a story about Harlan Ellison.  Ellison was scheduled to introduce Gaiman at an appearance (on a ship), but couldn’t make it to the ship due to traffic.  A shiphand approached Gaiman, asking if Ellison was there.  Gaiman responded negatively, and the shiphand went on to explain that he had wanted to meet Ellison for 28 years.. ever since Ellison got him fired.

The story continues to reveal an amazing stink-up in the mailroom of Ace Books.  Ellison was arguing with the publisher, and found a.. unique way to get his point across.

How would you cast the Sandman movie?

“Very carefully.”

Have you ever balanced on a curb and pretended you were on a tightrope?

“Everybody has balanced on a curb and pretended they were on a tightrope… including me.  Most recently, yesterday.  In Indianapolis.”

When you were 9, like me, did you know you wanted to be a writer?  And what were your favorite books then?

When he was 9, his favorite book was Stormbringer (or Storm Bringer), I’m not sure which.

But by the time he was 11, his favorite books were the first two volumes of Lord of the Rings.  “Because that was all they had in the school library, so I read those two” and he figured it ended well (and he had a copy of The Tolkien Reader, in which an essay by Peter S. Beagle informed him that it did.)

And he did know that he wanted to be a writer.  In fact, he says, “I didn’t just want to be a writer.  I wanted to be the person who had written Lord of the Rings.”  He concocted an elaborate plan to accomplish this.  It involved a parallel universe, deception, and murder.  He threw it out because of that last bit.

What was it like to work with Terry Pratchett?

“It was like being a sort of journeyman craftsman working with a master craftsman.”  Pratchett would read his stuff, call him up and say, “‘If you just change these two words, it could be 73% funnier.'” And he was right.

When will we see another book like Odd and the Frost Giants?

Apparently, Gaiman has an idea for another book featuring Odd.  The working title: “Odd Goes to Jerusalem.”  I won’t even begin to explain this.

Will you ever write an episode of Dr. Who?

He already has.  It was supposed to air towards the end of season 5, but due to budget constraints, it has been pushed back to season 6.  The only information he can give about it is what’s already been said (by the director?): “It will be on television.  It is in color.”

Do you do a lot of research for your writing projects?

“Sometimes copious.  Sometimes not copious.  Sometimes just enough to know that I’m faking it for myself.”

For The Graveyard Book, he read four or five books on burial practices.  Then he visited cemeteries.  Then he started making stuff up.  Because that’s the fun part.

I named my daughter Coraline in 2007.  Have you heard of other girls being named Coraline?

He has.  He thinks it’s neat.  “I got to revive a pretty much dead name and one I thought I made up.”

Reading the sixth: “Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar.”

A Cthulian short story (available in Smoke and Mirrors).  Also set by the sea. Also unsettling.

Ben Lassiter is on an uneventful walking tour of England when he comes to the town of Innsmouth.  Inside the pub, he meets two men who get him drunk and tell him about being acolytes of Cthulu.  Then it gets weird.

Another amazing performance by Gaiman.  It’s curious how one can look at one man performing and see three distinct characters come to life.

Reading the seventh (and last): “100 Words”

“100 words to talk of death? / At once too much and not enough.”

A melancholy little poem, available as a print illustrated by Jim Lee.

This poem, along with a few words about the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, marked the end of a truly lovely evening with Neil Gaiman.


Thanks for coming to Chicago, Mr. Gaiman, and for offering your continuing support of CBLDF.

April is America’s National Poetry Month.  I have a lot of favorite poems that I could share with you, but I decided to look around for something new, something fresh, someone who is still alive and deserves recognition.  I personally believe that some poems should be heard.  So, I entreat you to go listen to this one by Jennifer K. Sweeney.  If you can’t or would rather not, read it here.  Tell me what you think.

How to Uproot a Tree
 
Stupidity helps.
Naiveté that your hands will undo
what does perfectly without you.
My husband and I made the decision
not to stop until the task was done,
the small anemic tree made room
for something prettier.
We’d pulled before, pale hand over wide hand,
a marriage of pulling toward us what we wanted,
pushing away what we did not.
We had a shovel which was mostly for show.
It was mostly our fingers tunneling the dirt
toward a tangle of false beginnings.
The roots were branched and bearded,
some had spurs
and one of them was wholly reptilian.
They had been where we had not
and held a knit gravity
that was not in their will to let go.
We bent the trunk to the ground and sat on it,
twisted from all angles.
How like ropes it was,
the sickly thing asserting its will
only now at the end,
blind but beyond
the idea of leaving the earth.

If you peer over at my currently reading sidebar, you’ll see that I’ve got 5 books on the go.  This is an unusual number for me, but two are for class, one is an audiobook, one is for my book group, and finally, one is just because.

Despite being unused to reading this many at once, I’m not having trouble juggling them.  What I am having trouble with is that 3 of them are books of short stories.

Brief Interviews with Hideous Men by David Foster Wallace is a book I’m reading for my book group.  I’m about halfway through it, and have very mixed feelings about it.

You ever hear your friends talking about this amazing person they know, who is soooo funny and witty that you’re sure you’ll hate them?  In fact, you’re determined to hate them.  But then you meet them, and they’re funny and witty and downright likeable.  That’s this book.  I’ve encountered so many Wallace “fanboys” that I was determined to dislike his work.  But, despite being almost taxing to read, it’s quite brilliant.  And I feel annoying.

Roald Dahl’s Going Solo is the book that I’m reading “just because.”  I read Boy, set just before this one, for my ravelry book group last month, and enjoyed it.  The stories were a nice change of pace from my normal reading, and I found myself quite relaxed when I picked up his book.  Consequently, I picked up the next one at the library.  I’ve only read the first two stories, but so far I’m actually liking it more than Boy.  I was holding my breath by the end of the second story (about a black mamba).

Finally, Dubliners by James Joyce.  I may or may not finish this.  Honestly, I’ve barely even started it.  I’ve got to read four of the stories for my literature class, and I felt I might as well read the rest while I’m at it, but I’ll probably get lazy.  I’ve only read one of the stories so far, and it was enjoyable.

The problem, like I said, is that all 3 of these books are made up of short stories.  I hardly ever read short story collections, because I find it difficult to finish them.  

I have a reading quirk.

Whenever I finish a novel, I can’t read anything else for the rest of the day.  It’s like.. a moment of silence for the book I’ve finished.  I give it the rest of the day to “settle in” out of respect or something.

This tendancy tries to take over as I’m reading short stories as well, so that I want to let each story settle in for the rest of the day before moving to the next.  It’s most often unncessary, and usually just means that I never finish the book.

Obviously, Dubliners and Brief Interviews with Hideous Men have deadlines.  So I’m attempting to curb my impulse to put the book down after each story.  Is it working?  Yes-ish.  Will I finish in time?  I hope so.