Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Quote du jour/May Sarton

A house that does not have one worn, comfy chair in it is soulless.
May Sarton

If this is true, and I feel it is, then my house is as soulful as a house can be! I have six chairs - four in the living room, and two in the kitchen by the wood stove. Each one of them is worn, and exceedingly comfy.

And to Raya, the most comfortable of all is a big box filled with newspaper.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Turning to the Christmas books

It's that time of year when I begin thinking of Christmas books. After I finish my current book, I'm going to do just holiday reading until the end of December. The books in this photo are the ones I am going to focus on. Two will be rereads - Dave Barry's The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Christmas Miracle Dog which I wrote about in the very early days of the blog, and The Story of Holly & Ivy by Rumer Godden and illustrated by Barbara Cooney, a favorite which I read every year to the kids when they were little.

A few are new-to-me books which I haven't read yet - Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl Buck, Comfort & Joy by India Knight, The Night Before Christmas by Alice Taylor, Christmas on the Farm, A Collection of Favorite Recipes, Stories, Gift Ideas, and Decorating Tips from The Farmer's Wife a gift from my friend LesAll Aboard for Christmas by Christopher Jennison which I bought for Tom ages ago, and neither of us has read yet, and a book that isn't strictly about Christmas but features the holiday, Winter - Five Windows on the Season by Adam Gopnik which I'll be reading for the Canadian Book Challenge because even though the author was born in the US, he was raised in Canada.

The last book is one I've had for a long time but have read only snippets from it - Robert Benchley's A Good Old-Fashioned Christmas. Benchley is one of my favorite people both as a writer and an actor. If you don't know him, you may go to YouTube and type in his name to see examples of his work in the movies.

Addendum - some people have mentioned that it is a little early for them to begin with Christmas books, but I'm quite a slow reader and if I wait till after Thanksgiving to begin my Christmas reading, I won't get much done. :<)

Addendum 2 - I gave up on Comfort & Joy. Though it is well-written, and though I really enjoyed her book, My Life on a Plate, I found I just wasn't that interested in the subject.
Also, I added a book to my collection called Happy Times in Norway by Sigrid Undset.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

August reading

50. The Black Camel - book 4 in the Charlie Chan series
by Earl Derr Biggers
mystery, 1929
Kindle book
finished 8/31/13

49. Behind That Curtain - book 3 in the Charlie Chan series
by Earl Derr Biggers
mystery, 1928
Kindle book
finished 8/25/13

48. Up, Back, and Away
by K. Velk
fiction, 2013

finished 8/18/13

47. The Chinese Parrot - book 2 in the Charlie Chan series
by Earl Derr Biggers
mystery, 1926
Kindle book
finished 8/17/13

46. The House Without a Key - book 1 in the Charlie Chan series
by Earl Derr Biggers
mystery, 1925
Kindle book
finished 8/11/13

45. Remembering the Bones
by Frances Itani
fiction, 2007
library book
finished 8/8/13

44. The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree - book 4 in the Hildegarde Withers series
by Stuart Palmer
mystery, 1933
Kindle book
finished 8/4/13

This month I fell in love with both Charlie Chan and the series in which he stars. For years I've had this sense that the books were racist, but having read them I don't believe it is so. When racism rears its ugly head, Charlie is right there to confront it. In an instance in The Black Camel when someone criticizes a Chinese cook for having “all the worst qualities of a heathen race,” Charlie responds
“A heathen race,” repeated Charlie gravely, “that was busy inventing the art of printing at moment when gentlemen in Great Britain were still beating one another over head with spiked clubs.”
I find it quite remarkable that Earl Derr Biggers, in the 1920s, chose to have a Chinese main character, whom he presented as a man who was greatly admired. Everyone who works with Charlie comes away believing he is a genius at his job of detection. I’ve spent a fair bit of time wincing over displays of racism in early detective fiction. Even Hercule Poirot was often belittled for being foreign. In fact, ‘foreign’ is a much used derogatory adjective in many of those old books. I think Biggers did a great service in educating his readers, whom I imagine in those early days were predominantly (only?) white, without much knowledge of the Chinese people. Those readers learned a great deal about their virtues and culture through Charlie’s occasional pronouncements, and the way he lives his life.

Perhaps from watching the old movies, we are familiar with Charlie's speech patterns, but I found in the books that he makes only the grammatical mistakes we all make when learning a new language. As the books go on, he speaks less and less that way, just as one would as he gets more proficient in the language.

Charlie Chan’s home is Hawaii, and for me the only sadness with the series is that he doesn’t spend every book there with his wife and children on Punchbowl Hill. The reason is that not much crime happens in 1920s Hawaii! The House Without a Key is set there; and then he travels to the desert of California in The Chinese Parrot, San Francisco in Behind That Curtain, and comes back home for The Black Camel. On his first literary appearance, he says of himself, 
“I am kamaaina - old timer. I have been twenty-five years in the Islands.”
In each of the Hawaii books Biggers writes of it as a paradise. 
… one great gorgeous garden set in an amphitheater of mountains
 For this, after all, was the time she loved Waikiki best. So brief, this tropic dusk, so quick the coming of the soft alluring night. The carpet of the waters, apple-green by day, crimson and gold at sunset, was a deep purple now.
In that sheltered spot a brisk rain was falling, as is usually the case, though the sun was shining brightly. … “liquid sunshine” the people of Hawaii call such rain, and pay no attention to it. Half a dozen rainbows added to the beauty 
... he was conscious of the black velvet of a tropic night. He caught the odor of ginger blossoms and plumeria, a croton hedge gave way to one of hibiscus, topped with pale pink flowers.
 There is some irritation on the part of Hawaiians that
“Only about one person out of a thousand in this country [US] knows that Hawaii is a part of the United States, and the fact annoys us deeply over in the Islands.”
A note in my book said that 
Biggers had always been interested in mystery fiction, but his interest in Hawaii clearly stems from a 1919 vacation in Honolulu. While there, he read a newspaper article on a Chinese detective named Chang Apana. Apana would become the model for Charlie Chan.
After reading these first four Charlie Chan books, I bought a copy of the 2011 nonfiction book called Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History by Yunte Huang. I look forward to learning about this most interesting character.

I wrote in previous posts about the other three books read in August. If you wish, you may click titles to read the book reports.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Quote du jour/Gladys Taber

And while I love the old things, and the quaintness of the past, I myself shall never be pinched in at the waist and padded out with a bustle. I am greatly disillusioned by the current victory of the designers over women. I have a fatal tendency to speculate, when I see one of those vast sweeping skirts,

on how many small starving children could be dressed in the excess material. I dare say they wouldn't be, but why not?

Banquets are the same kind of flaunting of riches over need. Suppose every banquet for a year were merely a normal meal and all the extra courses were packed in boxes and shipped abroad? How much food would we send?

Here in the country, we feel easier about food when we raise every bit we can, and when we freeze or put up the whole year's supplies. We may not quite see how that extra row of carrots which we do not buy is going to get to Europe [remember, this is post World War Two], but we feel it is helping somehow.

Gladys Taber
Stillmeadow Seasons 1950

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Today's picture/Deer in garden

This little deer is happy we waited to clean up the summer gardens.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg

52. Old City Hall - book 1 in the Old City Hall series  by Robert Rotenberg
mystery, 2009
Kindle book
finished 9/8/13

The Old City Hall of the title is a
Gothic building that years ago was converted from Toronto's city hall into the city's main criminal courthouse. … Known affectionately as just "the Hall" by everyone who used it - cops, criminals, Crown Attorneys, defense lawyers, court reporters, judges, interpreters, clerks, and journalists - it was the only building in the downtown core that was elevated above the street, making it stand out above the surrounding sidewalks like a judge's dais looking down on a courtroom.

The book goes on to describe the inside and outside in great detail. This detail is a hallmark of Old City Hall - from the courthouse to the outskirts of the city, from the homes of the rich to the homes of the not-so-rich, and the work that all the characters do. The reader comes away with an incredibly strong sense of Toronto, Canada and its people, particularly its multiculturalism. The latest statistics I found are from three years before Old City Hall was published. You may read them all here. A sampling: 
*Toronto, with a population of 2.79 million people (5.5 million in the GTA - Greater Toronto Area) is heralded as one of the most multicultural cities in the world and is ranked as the safest large metropolitan area in North America by Places Rated Almanac. Over 140 languages and dialects are spoken here, and just over 30 per cent of Toronto residents speak a language other than English or French at home.

*Half of Toronto's population (1,237,720) was born outside of Canada, up from 48 per cent in 1996.

*The top five visible minority groups in Toronto were:

South Asian at 298,372 or 12.0 per cent of our population;
Chinese at 283,075 or 11.4 per cent;
Black at 208,555 or 8.4 per cent;
Filipino at 102,555 or 4.1 per cent;
Latin American at 64,860 or 2.6 per cent

In Robert Rotenberg's first book in the Old City Hall series, the spotlight moves around and shines on several characters - lawyers, journalists, police. I am assuming, and I hope, that many of these are continuing characters in the series. Each person in Old City Hall is well-defined and not one-dimensional at all. The reader gets to know each of them as individuals.

Daniel Kennicott used to be a lawyer, but when police couldn't find the killer of his brother he felt compelled to quit the law and become a policeman. Now he works with the detective who headed up the investigation of his brother's murder, Ari Greene. The murder of Daniel's brother is his only unsolved case. Ari's father is a Polish Jew who survived the horrors of World War ll but lost his daughter in that war.

Jo Summers works for the Crown, the prosecuting attorneys. Her father is a judge who is described as having a bad case of "judgitis" - a term meaning that the job has gone to his head and that he is "pompous and rude." She lives "on the Islands."
Toronto  was originally chosen as a townsite by the early British settlers because a chain of islands about half a mile offshore formed a perfect natural harbor. The Islands, as they were known, had been a cottage destination for wealthy Torontonians at the start of the twentieth century, then were turned primarily into parkland in the 1940s. In the sixties a group of adventurers took over a number of the dilapidated old homes and, after years of fighting with the city council, established a freestanding community across the water from the most expensive real estate in the country.

I first learned of this book from a series on NPR called Crime in the City. You may read the excellent article here. And there's a site where Robert Rotenberg talks about setting his books in the Toronto he knows so well. 

What is the book about? What is the mystery? I think I'll let the author himself tell you.

For me, I'll just say that I loved this book - the story, the characters, and the city of Toronto. 
I read this book for the 7th Canadian Book Challenge.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Quote du jour/John Harrigan

The landscape is tired and needs a rest.     
John Harrigan

This is just how I feel come October. I am tired and need a rest. We pack a lot of activity into our short span of summer weather, and by now I am ready to sit in my chair by the wood stove and read a good book. I'm tired of traveling and talking and eating out and gardening. I think I'd be really uncomfortable in a climate that allowed such hustle and bustle all year long. What I wonder is does the landscape create the personality or does the personality choose its landscape. I've talked about this other times in my letters, and it is a perpetual contemplation for me. What I do know for sure is that this climate of short summers and long autumns suits me perfectly. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Up, Back, and Away by K. Velk

48. Up, Back, and Away
by K. Velk
fiction, 2013
finished 8/18/13

I think we are living in a golden time of writing about, and for, children. Although Up, Back, and Away isn't labeled as a children's book per se, it could be read and enjoyed by the same young person who loves the new books by the Meloy siblings: Wildwood and Under Wildwood by Colin, and The Apothecary and The Apprentices by Maile; and The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall. Each of these books offers strong characters in adventuresome circumstances. They don't feature the all-too-common sad and/or abusive family situations. These books will make the reader feel good, not bad. They show that kids (and adults) can have interests that are not like everyone else's. These are the books I would have loved at 12, and 16, and 40, and now at 65.

In Up, Back, and Away we meet 15-year-old Miles McTavish from Dallas, Texas. He is in Vermont on vacation with his parents. But there is something he is supposed to do while he's there, something which is very important to an older friend of his at home. Professor Davies has had a heart attack, but he still manages to tell Miles
"I was out on my morning ride as usual, when she stopped me," the Professor had explained in a breathy whisper at the hospital, with a heart monitor beeping just above his head, "I had never seen her myself, but of course my father had told me about her in his last letter."
This woman, 'The Gypsy' 
had ordained that Miles was to go up Ashburton Mountain in northern Vemont. Once there, he was to find the English Boy trail and its Birch Gate. He was to put the little stone that the Professor had given him into the cylinder-shaped handlebar bag. Then he was to ride the Sunbeam down through the Gate.
The Sunbeam is a wonderful old bicycle which you may read more about here

When Miles travels through the gate he will go back in time to 1928, and proceed with the mission he has been given
to find a girl with a gift, a girl born out of her time, and uncover a secret that was not meant to be. After he had collected them both, he was to return home with them through another Gate on the other side.
I can only imagine how hard it would be to end up in another time and search for an unknown person - to meet this girl and that girl and wonder which is 'the one.' Every step of the way is fraught with nervousness. 

The place Miles is to go is called Quarter Sessions. 
The prospect of asking for a job at the great estate was almost as frightening as staring down the English Boy trail had been. Truth be told, he had no skills and wasn't particularly good at anything, assuming model railroading and being good at movie and music trivia of his own day were not much in demand here.
 Back at home Miles had built a model railroad English village he called Dibden. When Miles first arrives back in time in Tipton, England here is his reaction.
Miles had a gratifying sense of deja vu as the car putt-putted up Tipton High Street. They passed the butcher shop, the milliner's, the bridge over the river Hawls, the sweet shop, and so forth. Each establishment presented itself almost exactly as he had laid it out in his model Dibden. How? He wondered. How could he have known? And who, or what, had inspired him - driven him really - to build his Dibden? Something, obviously, had been working on Miles for a long time. He had been prepared, somehow, marked for this journey, and long ago. Thinking about all this made him uneasy. There were apparently forces at work in his life that he had never before sensed or even guessed at. What did that mean about what was happening to him now? Or what would happen next? Was he in charge of his own destiny, or was he just being moved around in time and space like some kind of chess piece? He had been drafted to serve in this bizarre role, that much was clear - but by whom or what, and why him?
When I wrote about Tom's Midnight Garden, I offered a quote from Zilpha Keatley Snyder about what makes a good fantasy novel. The groundwork must be built on details that are true. The reader must believe, and this reader absolutely believed in Up, Back, and Away.

There is a great blog just for the book with lots of interesting tidbits. 

Addendum: A few readers wondered where they had heard of this book. It may have been from me back in June here.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Letting Ricky Ricardo tell you the news

There is big, big news in my family. Margaret and Estée, Michael's fiancée, are both pregnant, due about seven weeks apart - Margaret in February and Estée in April. Also, Matthew proposed to Margaret on August 18th, and Michael proposed to Estée on August 26th. Estée didn't know she was pregnant at the time of the proposal. Both weddings are going on the back burner. There's enough to think about with babies coming! And it will be so much fun to have babies at the weddings! Margaret's sonogram says 'girl!' Estee hasn't had one yet.

Thought you might enjoy this fun photo Estée's mother took of me taking a picture of Margaret and Estée.