Saturday, May 30, 2009

Summer To-Do List

Iz doin' stuff.

Aside from getting a job, I have a list of things I would like to do during the summer.  As usual, it's a bit optimistic, but I'm hoping I can get at least 1 thing done (why are my lists always optimistic while my faith in my ability to accomplish them isn't?).
  1. Learn more about Egyptian Art~I loved the Egyptian Art section of the Art History Survey class I taught last year, and now I really want to know more about it.
  2. Brush up on my French and/or German~This will probably involve reading books in either language.  I know my papa has Anna Karenina in German, so I might try reading that; and I have a Harry Potter book in French that I can try.  If only I could get romance novels in these languages....
  3. Volunteer~I was thinking of volunteering to do a research project at a museum here in town, especially if I can't find a job in my field.  At least then I would be able to keep myself in the game a little bit while I wait to be able to apply to grad school.
  4. Read some books on Buddhism~I've been wanting to become a Buddhist for a while now, but I have no idea where to start.  I should go pick up some books at the library instead of just reading about it on the internet, I think.  But again, the where-does-one-begin problem.
  5. Take the GRE--again~This is really more of a have-to-do, because for some idiotic reason, the grad schools I'm applying to won't accept "old" (re: more than a year) GRE test scores.  I'm beginning to feel like they're deliberately torturing me.  Is that a bad thing?  I only know I need to study more than just the night before, which is what happened last time.
  6. Read, read moar~Sometimes I wish I could just tranfer information from a book into my brain through osmossis.  There are too many things in this world I would like to know about and I never feel like I have the time to learn it all.
  7. Detail car~I try to do a serious clean-out of my car at least twice a year... usually it only works out to once.  I keep it neat all during the year, so it's not too bad; but it is getting dusty in there.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Thursday Tea

It's starting to get too hot to drink tea.  But I did anyway.

Thursday Tea is a weekly meme hosted by Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Books. To play along, all you need is some tea, a book, and the will to answer some very simple questions: what tea are you drinking (and do you like it)? What book are you reading (and do you like it)? Tell us a little about your tea and your book, and whether or not the two go together.

Tonight I'm drinking Ginseng Peppermint by Republic of Teas.  It's "A healthy blend of eleuthero, peppermint, cinnamon, licorice, and echinacea root. This masterful blend offers herbal benefits and a naturally sweet, smooth, pleasing flavor," according to the website.  It's pretty good.  I love the sweetness of the tea most of all.

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And I'm currently reading City of Bones, which is a YA novel I have to admit I only picked up because of the Stephenie Meyer blurb on the cover (hey, she likes Jane Eyre).  So far it's about a girl named Clary who can see beings (or beans) that no one else can.  They're from another dimension and they feed on humans.  Meanwhile, the Shadowalkers, or something like that, are protecting humanity from the evil other-dimensional demon creatures. The beginning has been sort of predictable as far as YA paranormal adventure novels go, but I'm hoping it will start to get interesting soon.

Does my book and my tea go together?  Erm... I honestly don't know.  The peppermint tea is sweet and I love it, but right now I'm undecided as far as City of Bones goes.  I really wouldn't know any adjective to describe it so far other than predictable, but I'm only on page 70-something.

What are you drinking and reading this Thursday?

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Vampires without a Bite

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I just finished reading Secret Life of a Vampire, which my mom loaned me.  And by finished I mean, I decided I wasn't going to read any more of it. 

This book started off promising, if light-hearted, with the "dashing" vampire Jack Casanova (he's the son of the legendary lover-turned-author, Giacomo Casanova--why not just make him Casanova?) meeting the beat cop Lara Boucher after a wild bachelor party.  Sparks fly, who knows why.  Lara knows Jack isn't normal, since strange things happen when he's around.  But she can't figure out what he is.

Now, one of the things that drives me absolutely crazy in books is when the main character can't figure out something that we as readers already know.  That's something I really appreciated about Twilight--at least Bella figured out Edward was a vampire as quickly as she possibly could have.  But something that drives me even more crazy, and which is what stopped me from continuing this book, is when the vampire characters are absolutely, positively non-threatening.  I mean, no wonder Lara has no clue Jack is a vampire!

Note to authors:  vampires are supposed to be dangerous.  That is the entire POINT of vampires.  I'm not saying they can't be tortured or sensitive or guilt-ridden, but the whole drinking blood and lust thing is kind of essential to the genre.  Sparks' vampires make Edward Cullen look like The Predator.  They don't even drink real blood, they drink synthetic blood--and this blood is flavored to imitate human food like Blisskey (whiskey) and Bubbly Blood (champagne).  They don't want to hurt da humanz because they're too nice to want to harm anyone.  In fact, everyone in Sparks' books is just so nice.  So there's a situation wrought with drama. 

This isn't just isolated to Sparks' books; there appears to be a whole movement of books with vampires who are de-fanged.  Why why why?  Is this, like, some sort of desexualization of human beings or something??  Because apparently the dirty secret of a vampire is that he doesn't want to suck your blood.


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Monday, May 25, 2009

Music Mondays

As some of you might know, I've been slightly obsessed with jazz music since I was eight.  If you also happen to like jazz, I can't recommend Melody Gardot's new album, My One and Only Thrill, enough.

One of my mom's friends, who was a professional jazz singer in a former life, described Gardot as a chanteuse, and that is extremely apt.  Her voice is absolutely great--able to stand up to the greatest jazz singers like Sarah Vaughn, Helen Merrill (one of my favorite singers of all time), or Etta James. 

Meanwhile, the songs on the album are perfectly written and beautifully produced by Larry Klein (the same guy who produced Joni Mitchell's jazz album, Herbie Hancock, and Madeline Peyroux, among others).  The songs have the timeless quality of Gershwin standards, while the production is very early-sixties in feel.  I could see this as a soundtrack to a film noir or a stylish romantic comedy set in Paris á la Funny Face or Charade

Although Gardot's last album, Worrisome Heart, was good(ish), it didn't have the focus and sound of My One and Only Thrill, which is like a perfect slice of time captured into memory and put to music.  It's lovely, haunting, and completely sucks you in. 

For a sample, there's a video of Baby I'm a Fool on YouTube.  The video itself is awful--it looks like a Calvin Klein fragrance or diamonds are forever commercial.  But you can get an idea of how the rest of the album sounds, at least.

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Friday, May 22, 2009

Thursday Tea

Thursday Tea time yet again! Actually, I thought there wouldn't be a Thursday Tea tonight because, quite frankly, it's been way too hot to drink tea. But lucky for y'all we had a cold and stormy day today, and I was in the mood for something warm.

Thursday Tea is a weekly meme hosted by Birdbrain(ed) Books. To play along, all you need is some tea, a book, and the will to answer some very simple questions: what tea are you drinking (and do you like it)? What book are you reading (and do you like it)? Tell us a little about your tea and your book, and whether or not the two go together.

Tonight I'm trying a new tea I picked up at the grocery store: The Good Earth's Sweet and Spicy Blend. It's a blend of Black Tea, Artificial Flavor (sounds yummy! WTH? You say all natural and healthy and then put artificial flavor in your tea? Bite me, "Good Earth"!), Rosehips, Cinnamon, Chamomile, Lemongrass, Peppermint, Papaya, Jasmine Tea, Anise Seed, Ginger Root, Orange Peel and Orange Oil. The cinnamon is completely overwhelming all the other flavors of the tea. I'm not liking it much, to be perfectly honest.

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Right now I'm reading A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King. This is the second book in King's Mary Russell series, which features Sherlock Holmes circa 1920. It's actually really, really good so far--I only got to page 50 last night, but at the moment I'm thinking it will be better than the first book in the series, The Beekeeper's Apprentice.

Does my tea and my book go together? Hrm. Well, Mary does like to drink tea, but I don't think she would like this brand. I see her as more of a darjeeling or earl grey type.

What are you drinking/reading this Thursday?

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Reader's Mind?

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From Booking Through Thursday:

What book would you love to be able to read again for the first time?

This seems like a very odd question to me, for some reason. Kind of like a virginity question--if you could get your virginity back, would you? Uh, no.

Why is reading a great book for the first time so special? I admit that I do have a strong attachment to the first books I read by certain authors; but since I so rarely re-read books (TBR Monster, om nom nom nom), I don't know... it just seems odd.

Nevertheless, I suppose there are some books I wouldn't mind reading over again as if it was the first time ("It feels like the first time, it feels like the very first time..." okay, I'll stop now). Jane Eyre, for example, so I could be re-surprised by the twist (actually, it took me about three re-reads to remember the twist; I always get so caught up in the story I forget it, and then I'm like, "Oh my god he has--wait, I remember that from last time" ^_^).

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Another book I wouldn't mind re-virginizing myself for is Night Train to Memphis by Elizabeth Peters. I mentioned before that I have a fondness for the first book I read by certain authors--well, this was my first Peters book; and even though it's not her best book, it's my favorite because it got me totally hooked on her novels. I've read this book way too many times. This is also one of those books where I can clearly remember the time and place I was at when I was reading it, so it would be interesting to see if I would have the same reaction to it now as I did when I was, hmmm... thirteen-ish?

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Some other books I wouldn't mind re-reading with fresh eyes would be The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart (another book I've read way too many times) and The Secret Circle by L. J. Smith. But in my experience, a really good book gets better the more you read it--you notice new things about the characters and get more involved in the story. So I'm not sure that would erase a memory of reading a book, even if I could.

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Monday, May 18, 2009

The House of Dark Delights

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In a secluded valley in France is the Grotte Cachée and a fabulous chateau, inhabited by a cornucopia--a buffet, if you will--of supernatural creatures with insatiable sexual appetites.  There's an elf, a succubus, a satyr, a djinni, at least one person with supernatural powers, and the occasional vampire.  But these creatures (called follets) are not evil; they just want to help the humans.  By banging them.

I don't usually read erotica novels.  First of all, they come in trade paperback, which is too expensive for me.  Secondly, there's the whole TMI factor.  The reason I decided to read this one is because it's written by one of my favorite writers, PB Ryan, who wrote this great mystery series.  Yes, she went from mysteries to erotica... quite the leap.  How's that going to work, I wondered to myself.

Despite the plot description (which is really lame), this book was actually pretty good.  Or at least, the first half was pretty good; the second half was skim-worthy.  I think that evens out to okay.  The central love story is that of Elic, a Legolas-esque elf who has the rare ability to switch genders; and Lili, a former Akkadian goddess and succubus.  They love each other--or at least Elic loves Lili--but they can't sleep together because follets can only copulate with humans.  Not sure why, that's just the way the cookie crumbles.  So Elic and Lili just hang out together and sleep with other people.

As I said, the first half of the book was pretty good.  It doesn't really consist of one long continuous story; more like several short stories that take place at different times and are all about the Grotte Cachée.  The major story is about The Hellfire Club (yes, the Hellfire Club--how original, no?) and how Elic and Lili met.  At this point I was kind of enjoying the story because of the characters, but there was also the whole ick factor.  I was expecting the TMI, though, so it didn't bother me too much; and it wasn't as if the sex scenes didn't fit into the story.

But then the lamest vampire in the world showed up, and the whole book really went downhill from there.  In the last two stories, the characters took a backseat to the history of the Grotte and how Legolas Elic wound up there (like I might actually care).  Even the sex scenes in the second half of the book were boring; it was like the author was completely on autopilot. 

Overall the book was okay.  A review I read on Amazon said it "aspires to be high-brow erotica," and that pretty much sums it up.  The House of Dark Delights does aspire to a lot of things, but falls short of achieving all of them.  That being said, I did like the central characters.  I could see this book being turned into a soap-opera on HBO.  With more/better plotting, it could turn into a good series.

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An Immortal Soul

This entry is not actually about our immortal souls at all--per se--but a meditation on the character Patrick Jane from The Mentalist.

My mom and I were watching the pilot episode of The Mentalist last night--which, for those of you who don't keep up with these things, is a great mystery series about a man (the superbly charming Patrick Jane, played by Simon Baker) who used to pretend to be a psychic, but now consults for the California Bureau of Investigation.  We only started watching the show in January, so we're a little behind.  Randomly added thought:  who wears suit jackets and vests anymore?  How very Victorian.

Anywho, at some point in the course of the show, Jane and the CBI team are having dinner at a seafood chain restaurant á la Red Lobster and Van Pelt confesses that she believes in the afterlife--the "other side"--and that some people might be able to communicate with the dead.  To which Jane responds, "Life is like football--the game ends and that's it, it's over.  This is all there is:  kitschy nautical decor and muzak." 

Van Pelt gives him a pitying look and says, "The kingdom of heaven exists, Mr. Jane.  And you have an immortal soul."

"I certainly hope not," is Patrick Jane's response.

I found his answer very interesting, because the major reason Jane is consulting for the CBI is to help them find a serial kiler named Red John, who murdered Jane's wife and child.  Most people take comfort in the fact (I guess I should say the idea) that human beings have immortal souls and there is an afterlife because it means that their loved ones "live" on, and that they will eventually be reunited, even if it is after death.  But Patrick Jane, whose family was murdered, not only refuses to believe in an afterlife, but hopes he doesn't have an immortal soul.

To my way of thinking, there are only two reasons why he would feel that way:  one, he somehow takes comfort in the fact that he won't be reunited with his family; or two, he thinks if there is an afterlife and such things as immortal souls, he's going to go to hell.

Although we've only received glimpses into Jane's previous incarnation as a fake psychic, we do know that his predictions and advice occasionally harmed people.  It's difficult to imagine the affable and absurdly easy-going Jane as a "bad guy"--to the point that his claims about wreaking wrevenge on Red John seem about equal to the barking of a miniature poodle (i.e., hard to take seriously)--but what if Jane does see himself as a villain?  Exactly how much of a facade does the charming detective employ?  I think that sets us up for a great season finale this Tuesday, when Jane supposedly re-encounters Red John.

If you haven't checked out The Mentalist, you really should--Simon Baker is an absolutely great actor, and the mysteries and writing are usually top-notch.

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Friday, May 15, 2009


I really love mysteries.  And according to Alan Cummings, Kurt Wallander is the most popular fictional detective evah... or something like that.  I wasn't really paying that close attention.  What I do know is, Kurt Wallander is a Swedish detective trying to solve a series of grisly murders involving beheading and scalping in the new Mystery! series on PBS.

I know what you're thinking right now.  You're thinking, "But Tasha, I thought Swedes were the most non-threatening people in Europe."  No, you're getting them confused with the Swiss.  However, I do have to agree there seems to be a rather high level of crime going on in the Rembrandt-esque landscape that makes up Wallander's district (fyi:  Rembrandt was not Swedish).

Here are some other things I learned about Sweden on this show, aside from the fact that they like to murder each other:
  • Swedish people talk with British accents.
  • Have you ever wondered if Swedish homes all look like the inside of an IKEA store?  Well, apparently they do.
  • Does anyone else find the scarcity of trees to wood used in houses ratio alarming?  And did anyone else start humming Norwegian Wood at some point?  No?  Well, okay then.  I didn't, either, I was just wondering, of course....
  • Lawn ornamants should never consist of florescent tube lighting.  Really, what was that guy thinking?
  • While in the US, a psychological profile of "white male, appears to be normal" is usually considered helpful, in Sweden it only causes confusion.
In all seriousness, though, despite the fact that I obviously know very little about Sweden, I really loved the first episode in this series and highly recommend it.  Kenneth Branagh is absolutely great as the depressed and occassionally inarticulate detective who obviously feels very deeply, but has difficultly expressing his emotions.  For example, here's what he sounds like in a phone conversation with his daughter:

Daughter:  Maybe we can go to see grandpa later?
Wallander: *long stretch of silence* Erm--
Daughter: Okay, then.  Well, WHATEVER, Dad! *hangs up*
Wallander:  Gr--I--mmmm--wha--GAAARGH!

That sounds like a conversation with my dad, except I don't hang up on him.  I actually found the relationship between Wallander and his daughter to be rather odd; it didn't feel like a father/daughter relationship at all.  He also has the most annoying ringtone in the history of the world

Really the best thing about the series so far is Branagh.  The shots were occasionally overdramatic, as was the score (which was sort of hit-and-miss with me--sometimes brilliant, sometimes completely distracting), and I guessed who the murderer was right away; but overall, it was a great, enjoyable episode, and I look forward to seeing next week's installment!

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thursday Tea

It's time for Thursday Tea again!

Thursday Tea is a weekly meme hosted by Anastasia at Birdbrain(ed) Books. To play along, all you need is some tea, a book, and the will to answer some very simple questions: what tea are you drinking (and do you like it)? What book are you reading (and do you like it)? Tell us a little about your tea and your book, and whether or not the two go together.

Tonight I decided to drink Republic of Tea's Wuyi Oolong, probably one of my favorite teas everrrr.  Even though it is righteous expensive (almost $20 for a 1.75 ounce tin), it is so totally worth it.  The tea is smooth, buttery, with a hint of peach.  Mmmm.

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Because I was putting together a steampunk-styled theme for my blog, I decided I was in the mood for a futuristic setting and picked up Grimspace by Ann Aguirre.  I'm not even at the twenty page mark, but so far it's full of action.  Me like action.  The main character, Sarantha Jax, is also very intruiging (is it just me or do a lot of characters in these futuristic novels have names like Jax?).  She's a Jumper--not entirely sure what that means yet--who killed her partner.  At the moment, she's being sprung out of jail by a mysterious, be-suited man who has the power to knock people unconscious with his eyes.  Wowsa.

Does my book and my tea go together?  Not at all.  A more appropriate drink for Grimspace would probably be 2-day-old coffee or tang.  I'd say a plain old Lipton tea, if I had to go with a tea choice.

What are you drinking and reading this Thursday?

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From Booking Through Thursday:

Book Gluttony! Are your eyes bigger than your book belly? Do you have a
habit of buying up books far quicker than you could possibly read them?
Have you had to curb your book buying habits until you can catch up
with yourself? Or are you a controlled buyer, only purchasing books
when you have run out of things to read?

Well, let me put it this way.  This:

is my TBR "pile."  Except for the language textbooks, atlas, and three other books on the top shelf at the far left, I haven't read any of these.  And I keep borrowing more from the library.  So yes, I am a book glutton, and I have created a monster.


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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Short History of Dante Alighieri and The Divine Comedy in Art

This is especially for buckeyegirl31 and ritzypuffles, who are currently reading The Divine Comedy on their blogring bookclub. I refuse to read The Divine Comedy; however, I did promise to contribute with art inspired by it.

Portrait of Dante by Giotto
Portrait of Dante painted by Giotto--Bargello Palace, Florence, Italy

It can easily be argued that Dante Alighieri is the most important Italian poet in modern history. He is known as "the Supreme Poet," and literally invented Italian by writing the Divine Comedy in a unique mix of Tuscan regional dialects and Latin (the French call Italian la langue de Dante).

Dante is indelibly connected to the city of Florence, in Italy. He came from a prominent family in the city, and even though he mainly devoted his time to studying philosophy, Latin literature, and religion, he was peripherally involved in politics. In 1301, the Black Guelphs took over Florence; Dante and his family were member of the opposing party, the White Guelphs. In 14th-century Florence, politics was serious business, and the two Guelph parties were literally battling for control of the city. Dante was fortunate in that he was in Rome at the time of the take-over, and the Pope, who had spies everywhere, stopped him from going home early. If he had been in Florence when the Black Guelphs took control, he probably would have been executed; as it was, Dante was exiled from the city on pain of being burned at the stake should he ever return. He never did.

Portrait of Dante by Botticelli
Portrait of Dante by Sandro Botticelli

It was while in exile that Dante began to write his most important work, The Divine Comedy, in which he travels through hell, purgatory, and heaven. It is a seminal work in European literature and has served as inspiration to countless artists. The earliest evidence of Dante's influence on art probably came even before the Commedia was published: he was friends with Giotto, a pivotal artist who flourished at the very beginnings of the Italian Renaissance. Giotto's most famous work are the frescoes in the Cappella Scrovegni (aka the Arena Chapel) in Padua. Dante visited the chapel while Giotto was working on it; and while no one knows exactly what the two discussed, the blue-skinned devil in Giotto's Last Judgement scene bears a striking resemblance to Dante's description of Lucifer in the Commedia. Did Giotto influence Dante's vision of hell or did Dante give Giotto his interpretation? No one knows for sure, but the two undoubtedly discussed their visions of the afterlife.

Giotto's The Last Judgment
Giotto di Bondone, The Last Judgment, Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua.

Giotto's devil
Giotto di Bondone, The Last Judgment (detail), Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua.
What is more certain is that Dante shared with Giotto his ideas about humanism, which influenced the artist in the overall theme of salvation found in the frescoes.

Almost immediately upon its publication, The Divine Comedy began to intrigue and inspire artists. One of these artists was Sandro Botticelli, another Florentine, who served as one of the earliest illustrators for the book. Botticelli's most powerful illustrations come from the Inferno part of the Comedy--the most popular of the three books, especially in the visual arts. Why do artists prefer depicting Dante's hell scenes? Well, aside from the fact that hell is (predictably) more interesting, it's also the book described in the most powerful visual terms. The heaven section is more mystical and theological, and Dante doesn't describe a lot of the things he sees there (i.e., when he see God, he says, "I can't describe Him.") The Hell section, on the other hand, is detailed almost minutely.

Botticelli's Inferno
Punishment of the Panderers and Seducers and the Flatterers, Sandro Botticelli, c.1480-c.1495.

In this colored illustration, Dante (as usual, depicted in red) and Virgil move around the pits, with Virgil pointing out the sites like any good tour guide, and Dante reacting in horror and fascination.

Botticelli's satan
Satan and traitors to benefactors, Sandro Botticelli, c.1480-c.1495.

Another Florentine who loved Dante was Domenico de Michelino, who learned painting from Fra Angelico (maybe, they think). Dante and His Poem can still be seen today on the wall of Florence's Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore. The fresco shows Dante in the middle, holding The Divine Comedy and gesturing towards the Gates of Hell and a procession of sinners being led to their eternal punishment on the right (his right, anyway). The tower behind him is a representation of Purgatory, with Adam and Eve at the very top. Heaven is represented by, duh, the heavens above. At Dante's left is... Florence! The painting shows several buildings that had only recently been completed, such as the Duomo itself. It's also interesting that the Gates of Hell look very similar to the gates of Florence--clearly the city isn't an earthly paradise.

Dante and his Poem, Domenico di Michelino
Domenico di Michelino, Dante and His Poem, 1465.

The Divine Comedy continued to resonate with artists into the Enlightenment and modern era. John Flaxman is mainly known for his sculptures, but during his lifetime he actually lost money on sculpture commissions. His main source of income were one-of-a-kind books he made and illustrated himself, much like illuminated manuscripts, only in a neoclassical style. These books were so highly prized, his patrons often immediately resold them for a profit (Flaxman really needed an agent).

John Flaxman, Charon ferrying souls
Charon ferries the damned across the Acheron, John Flaxman, 1793.

Flaxman's satan
Satan, John Flaxman, 1793.
Flaxman's Dante and Beatrice
Beatrice tells Dante to turn his mind to God, John Flaxman1793.

A contemporary of Flaxman's, William Blake, was also a poet, artist, and great admirer of Dante's. He often had ecstatic and spiritual visions (he reportedly told his father when he was eight that he'd seen God), and these were used as inspiration in his illustrations of the Comedy.

The Lovers' Whirlwind, William Blake
The Lovers' Whirlwind, Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta (Canto V, 37-138), William Blake, 1824-27.

Count Ugolino, William Blake
Count Ugolino and his sons in prison (Canto 33, 13-93), William Blake, c. 1826.

French Romanticists also used Dante as an inspiration for emotional and gut-wrenching (yet ironically non-narrative?) scenes. The Barque of Dante was the first major painting by the iconic Romantic painter, Eugène Delacroix. It shows Dante (red cap) crossing the River Styx with Virgil as the damned try to grab ahold of their boat. The City of Dead blazes in the distance.

The Barque of Dante, Delacroix
Eugène Delacroix, The Barque of Dante, 1822.

Another 19th-century artist who was obsessed with Dante was Auguste Rodin. The Gates of Hell was one of Rodin's most important commissions, and it is a complex reimagining of The Inferno. It's almost 20 feet high and has 180 figures. Rodin worked on it off and on from 1880 until his death in 1917.

the gates of hell by rodin
Auguste Rodin, The Gates of Hell, 1880-1917.

The Gates of Hell contains several figures which Rodin transformed into freestanding sculptures, including his most famous work (and one of the most recognizable sculptures in the world), The Thinker. The Thinker was originally titled The Poet, and some think the man is meant to be Dante, contemplating his visions of hell (other people think it's supposed to be Adam or Rodin himself, but were either Rodin or Adam a poet? NO).

The Thinker (or Dante?) by Rodin
Auguste Rodin, The Thinker, 1902.

Another famous sculpture of Rodin's that appears in The Gates of Hell is The Kiss. It depicts Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, who were actual historical figures and contemporaries of Dante, both of whom he subsequently immortalized in The Inferno. Paolo was Francesca's brother-in-law. They fell in love while reading the story of Guinevere and Lancelot, but were discovered by Francesca's husband (Paolo's brother), who murdered them both in a fit of rage. In Rodin's The Kiss, although the couple appears to be in an embrace, they're not actually kissing--for Francesca's husband killed them before their lips ever touched.

the kiss Rodin
Auguste Rodin, The Kiss, 1887

The Kiss and the story of Francesca and Paolo demonstrates an unexpected theme in Dante's work: that of unrequited, forbidden, and courtly love. Dante is one of the writers who helped popularize the concept of courtly love in the fourteenth century, and his other major work is a book of love poems dedicated to Dante's true love, Beatrice Portinari.

Dante met Beatrice when he was 8 years old, and fell in love with her at first sight (seriously). Unfortunately, when he was 12, his family arranged a marriage for him with Gemma di Manetto Donati, and the two were later wed. When he was 18, though, Dante met Beatrice again, and his love for her was rekindled. Not that he ever talked to her that much, mind--but he would see her often on the streets of Florence and love her from afar, even after she herself married another man. When Beatrice died in 1290, Dante fell into despair and began to devote himself to a monk-like study of Latin literature. It was to Beatrice that Dante dedicated his book of love poetry, La Vita Nuova.

dante meets beatrice by henry holiday
Dante meets Beatrice at Ponte Santa Trinita, Henry Holiday, 1883

The Pre-Raphaelites and other artists in the late 19th century became fascinated with the story of the tragic love non-affair of Dante and Beatrice. To Dante, Beatrice was everything pure and impossible to attain; therefor, she was the perfect person to escort him on his way through heaven. She also became the perfect metaphor for some of the relationships formed by the Pre-Raphaelites.

beata beatrix, rossetti
Dante Gabriel RossettiBeata Beatrix, 1863.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the penultimate Pre-Raphaelite, always felt connected to Dante (because he was named after him). After his wife, Elizabeth Siddal, died, he painted The Beata Beatrix, which presumes to be a portrait of Dante's Beatrice. The dark silhouette is Dante on her left; Beatrice is waiting to escort him to heaven over her right shoulder; and Florence is in the distance. But in reality, this is an old portrait of Siddal that Rossetti repainted. The dark figure could easily also be Rossetti, and the city beyond, London. The red bird carries a poppy, symbolizing Siddal's death by overdose of laudanum. The connection Rossetti was presuming between Siddal and Beatrice was no accident: like Beatrice, she served as Rossetti's muse, and died young. Of course, unlike Dante, Rossetti was anything but honorable or pure in his relationship with Siddal, but whatever. Details!

In 1951, Salvidor Dalí was commissioned to do illustrations for a new translation of The Divine Comedy. His works for the Commedia at first appear surprisingly conventional (for Dalí). However, Dalí became a born-again Christian in the 1940's, and many of his works from the 1950's are filled with complex, esoteric religious and mathematical references, which can be seen in his Divine Comedy illustrations.
Salvador Dalí, Dust of Souls

Salvador Dalí, Dust of Souls, 1951
salvador dali lucifer

Salvador Dalí, Lucifer, 1951

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Graphic Novels

From Booking Through Thursday:

Last Saturday (May 2nd) was Free Comic Book Day! In celebration of comics and graphic novels, some suggestions:

  • Do you read graphic novels/comics? Why do/don’t you enjoy them?
  • How would you describe the difference between “graphic novel” and “comic”? Is there a difference at all?
  • Say you have a friend who’s never encountered graphic novels. Recommend some titles you consider landmark/”canonical”.

Part of the reason I'm actually posting this is because I want to know if anyone who reads graphic novels on a regular basis has some recommendations.  As some of you might know, I only just started reading manga (vampire manga, to be specific), and I heart it.  So far I've only read Midnight Secretary (goody-two shoes secretary finds out her boss is a wampire, then they start sleeping together; now they're getting married and she still calls him "Mr. President."  Ugh!  How can he stand her?) and Vampire Knight (high school + a bunch of vampires + love triangle = fun).  They were both huge time sucker-uppers.  I think I might have actually found something more trashy than romance novels.

Next I planned on reading Vampire Hunter D.  This one is harder to find online, though, and it's not at the library.  Which means I'd probably have to buy it--that's not going to happen.

So I decided to try a regular comic book, instead.  Mainly I chose this one because it has a story based on a Sax Rohmer tale (this is an author I'm starting to become obsessed with).  It also has adapted stories from Alexandre Dumas, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Damon Runyon (he grew up in my hometown, so I have to read stuff by him).  So far the art isn't that great, which is a major let-down; but I do like the story, which is about a mysterious Ancient Egyptian Queen named "Hatasu" and her architect/advisor... wait for it... Sen-Mut.  Hmmmmm.

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Top 5 Signs I'm Reading a Good Book

  1. (Assuming I'm employed) I call off work just to read it (actually, I've never done this, but it definitely happen).
  2. My conversation consists mainly of "yeah"s and "uh-huh"s, and afterward I show very little sign of having remembered anything that was said.
  3. When I'm asked a question, it takes between 4-10 seconds for me to respond.
  4. Absentmindedness:  the cordless phone is in the fridge, some of the utensils are in the pen cup, food is set out on the counter waiting for me to remember I wanted to make myself a sandwich, and the dog has been left outside for four hours (this also applies to when I'm writing term papers).
  5. There are dark circles under my eyes and I look paler than usual because I was reading until seven or eight in the morning and thus am operating on 4 hours of sleep.

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Thursday Tea

Thursday Tea is a weekly meme hosted by Anastasia at the Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog. To play along, all you need is some tea, a book, and the will to answer some very simple questions: what tea are you drinking (and do you like it)? What book are you reading (and do you like it)? Tell us a little about your tea and your book, and whether or not the two go together.

I was going to drink Yogi Tea's ginger tea, but then my brother came in and said he wanted Celestial Seasonings' Sleepy Time tea; so I thought, hmmm, I kind of want Sleepy Time tea, too.  Instead just picking one or the other, I combined them.  So far it's a really odd combination.  When I first sip it, all I taste in the ginger, and then the Sleepy Time comes through only as I'm swallowing it.  But it's not too bad.

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After Drood, I decided I needed a really romantic novel to revive my worldview of true love, happy endings, and rainbow-pooping unicorns.  So I decided to re-read Twilight.  Plus, my mom got me a library bound, signed, "collector's edition" of the book for Christmas, and I haven't really bonded with it yet (I get attached to certain copies of books--I have to admit, I'm missing the paperback I bought), so this gives me the perfect opportunity to do so.

Does my tea and my book choice go together?  Hmm, well Sleepy Time is a comforting and soothing mixture of camomile and mint, and some other stuff, meant to carry you off into a world of pleasant dreams; while ginger is spicy and has apparently supernatural healing powers.  Will these two seeminly uncompatible tea flavors be able to combine hormoniously in my tummy?  Will Sleepy Time be able to put up with Ginger's brooding, secretive ways and accept the fact that something as hot as Ginger really does want to be with something as ordinary as Sleepy Time?  I just don't know!!!

What are you drinking/reading this Thursday?

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Proposed subtitle:  A Bromance.

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On the 9th of June, 1865, Charles Dickens meets Death.

He doesn't know it's Death at the time, of course.  On that day in 1865, Dickens is one of the survivors of the Staplehurst train accident.  As he goes down to the wreckage to try to help the injured, he glances to his side and sees a tall, skinny, bald man dressed all in black with pale skin, no eyelids, and two slits where his nose should be (kind of like Lord Voldemort).  Dickens asks the name of this strange figure, but can't quite make it out--it might have been "Dread," but Dickens settles on Drood.  As he travels through the wreckage, it seems like every person Drood touches, dies.  Subsequently and illogically, Dickens becomes obsessed with finding Drood in the subterranean slums of London--almost as if doing so will give him the secret to avoiding the spectre of death he saw that day.

Charles Dickens, c. 1858

However, the book Drood isn't about Charles Dickens or Drood himself, but about another writer entirely.  Wilkie Collins is the narrator of the tale, and he gets dragged along on this adventure of Dickens's, much to his consternation.  Then, after Dickens contrarily begins denying the existence of Drood, Collins is pulled deeper into the world of Undertown because of his opium addiction.

Opium (in all its various forms, especially laudanum) is to Wilkie Collins what vicodin is to Dr. House.  He literally orders it by the jug.  When he follows Dickens into Undertown, he encounters the opium den of King Lazaree, who has some very high-grade product.  Afterwards, Wilkie returns to King Lazaree's to test this product himself; and that is ultimately what seals his fate and cements his relationship (if one could call it that) with Drood--in more ways than one.

Wm. Wilkie Collins, c. 1874

However, what this book is really about, even more than Wilkie Collins, is the craft of writing.  The line between fiction and fact is very thin in this novel, almost... unintelligible.  The story is filled with characters and places literally out of Dickens's novels, such as St. Ghastly Grimm's.  Of course, most writers live mainly in their own minds, and I loved how the book reflected how both Dickens and Wilkie feel free to manipulate people and situations to not only reflect the world they see in their mind--just as if everyone were characters in their novels--but for the pure sake of "research."  The problem with non-imaginary characters, of course, is that they don't always do what you want them to.

Also, at some point in the book, Charles Dickens describes writing as--when it's done right--a mesmeric trance:  "You know the incomparable and--I would say--unique feeling one has when reading.  The focus of attention to the exlusion of all sensory input, other than the eyes taking in the words, one has when entering into a good book?  ...This happens to be precisely the state a person must be in for a mesmeric therapist to be able to do his work." (p. 233)  If you're looking for an extended metaphor, that's it.  Dickens draws Wilkie (and us, the "dear Reader"s) into the world of Drood with his story of the Staplehurst accident, and uses that as a platform to make us believe all sorts of fabulous nonsense.

The cover of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Dickens's final and unfinished work

So, did I like this book?  Well, I had a few problems with it.  First, there were times when the narrator's voice sounded so unrealistically modern (when Wilkie was ranting about Dickens's treatment of his wife, for example) that I was pulled out of the narrative.  I also thought the conclusion was a little difficult to buy into.  But the main problem I had with the book was its length.  I understand completely why Simmons made this book as long as he did, filling it with endless biographical details about the lives of Wilkie and Dickens, as well as some literary criticism to spice things up (actually I didn't even mind those parts so much).  I certainly don't know exactly what was biographical fact and what wasn't in this book, and I doubt even an expert in Collins or Dickens could know; this makes all the fictive happenings of the novel that much more fact-y.  Also, a book this long (771 pages), with such (let's face it) little plot to support it, seems self-indulgent--but I honestly don't know if the self-indulgency is Simmons's or Wilkie's, if you know what I mean.  If it's the latter, it makes perfect sense.

So I understand the length, but I don't agree with it.  It gives me as the reader way too much time to think.  I was completely at the mercy of the storyteller when Dickens abandoned Wilkie in Undertown to go see Drood... but then the story stopped.  Then it started up again... and then it stopped.  By the time Wilkie was kidnapped by Drood and Detective Hibbert was murdered (by Drooooood????  Hm, we'll never know), I was like "Oh, please, Wilkie.  That's a little too sensationalistic, even for you."  My suspension of disbelief had faltered.  And in a book where the whole mesmerism-thing (see quote above) is supposed to be the central point, that is a fail.  BUT, I did keep reading the book until the end, so I definitely wanted to know the conclusion to the tale, no matter how long or how frustrating the path to that conclusion was. 

And I did cry at the end.  But that's because I'm a sap.

Would I recommend Drood?  I honestly don't know.  It was not what I was expecting on any level whatsoever (really cannot emphasize that enough--it will definitely defy your expectations).  There was some mystery in it, but it wasn't really a mystery; there were some fantasy elements, but it certainly wasn't a science fiction novel; there were scenes in the book that were creepy as all hell, but it wasn't a horror novel.  It was well-written--like damn, was it well-written--and researched out the wazoo, which is always something I appreciate.  If you're a fan of Charles Dickens, or Victoriana in general, then you're going to love this novel.  You're going to want to marry it and have tiny little book babies with it.  If you're more of a fan of Wilkie Collins, well... then good luck.

Want to read more about Drood?  I recommend Bookish Ruth's excellent review of it here.

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