Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tea--Comfort or Madness?

mad hatter tea party

Lately I've been thinking a lot about tea. Is this unusual? Um, yes. Not that I don't like tea, but I don't usually obsess over it unless I'm traveling--then I seriously drink tons of the stuff and ruminate on what tea I'm going to drink and how it will be possible to get it. I have demanded to change hotels because they didn't provide hot water for tea. It's my one travel luxury.

This makes me think about the symbolism of tea. I was watching Miss Marple on Mystery! a few weeks ago, and the host, Alan Cummings (who, by the way, is full of awesome), pointed out that there is a lot of drinking of tea in Agatha Christie's novels. I never would have noticed if he hadn't pointed it out, but he is absolutely right! Tea in Christie's novels serves as a comfort and a way for the characters to connect. I think that's how we usually envision the symbolism of tea.

But that's not always how tea is presented in novels--think of something like the Mad Hatter's tea party in Alice in Wonderland, or the scene in Mary Poppins where they have a tea party on the ceiling. It seems that tea can be not only a comfort, but also a slice of possibility. Anything can happen during a tea! There is a strange sense of adventure to tea that takes place literature--one never knows what might happen.

Perhaps that's why I love tea some much while I'm traveling--for the comfort, and the adventure.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Museum Mondays--How to Get Involved

Kid says wow Image courtesy of Mike Baird

Every Monday in July I'm doing a post on museums to encourage people to visit one during their summer vacation. The first week I talked about orienting oneself in a museum; the second week I discussed what to see and where to see it; and last week I talked about small museums.

So now that you've been to a whole bunch of museums, you probably want to live in one like the two kids in From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler! (I'll take your silence as a yes.) Unfortunately, you can't. But you can get involved at your museum by volunteering.

Like all jobs, volunteering can be fun or a pain. It all depends on your attitude going in. Be sure you know what you want to do at a museum before you pick one to volunteer at or contact them. Volunteering can require a wide variety of skills and duties, so you shouldn't feel like you don't have anything to offer (there's a double negative for you).

Step One--Figure out what you want to do & how much time you want to do it

You probably won't be curating exhibits right out of the box, but if you're interested in curation you can work with the curatorial department. There's also education, administrative, gift shop, research, library, and security volunteers in most museums (not to mention a lot of other departments in bigger museums).

You should also know ahead of time the number of hours per week or month you're going to spend volunteering, and whether it will be temporary or long-term. Then stick to that number--this will help you not to feel like you're being taken advantage of by the museum.

Step Two--Figure out which museum you want to volunteer in

Is it close to you, does it have exhibits and opportunities you're interested in, etc.

Only after you've picked these two things out should you contact the museum about volunteering. Look on their website for instructions on how to do this. With smaller museums, the process tends to be fairly informal--you just e-mail or call, then maybe come in to discuss your postion. With larger museums, they might advertize for volunteer positions just as they do for jobs, want a resume, or want you to fill out an application. The larger and more well-funded the museum, the more competition there is for volunteer jobs, and the museum can afford to be more picky. But that doesn't mean they don't want you or your skills any less than a small museum. If there's a museum you really want to volunteer at, go for it!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rejuvenate & Renew Reading Challenge: Reading Egyptian Art

Reading Egyptian Art cover
Reading Egyptian Art by Richard H. Wilkinson

I want to start a Richard H. Wilkinson fan club.

Last month I did a review of Wilkinson's Symbol & Magic in Egyptian Art. If you read that review, you might remember that my favorite part of that book was when Wilkinson discussed hieroglyphs and how they really are art--or rather, Egyptian Art is actually just hieroglyphs. An Ancient Egyptian statue is just a giant hieroglyph, according to Wilkinson.

Since I was intrigued by that part of book, I decided to order Reading Egyptian Art, also by Wilkinson, at my library. This book is basically all about Egyptian hieroglyphs and how they are reflected in Ancient Egyptian Art. The author takes each glyph and spends about a page each showing how the glyph is reflected in painting and sculpture.

As far as I am concerned, this book is full of awesome. I really, really want to buy it. The way Egyptian hieroglyphs match up to other Egyptian art is truly amazing and thought-provoking.

That being said, I wouldn't recommend it for a casual reader. The book is very much set up as a reference work, and isn't generally meant to be read cover-to-cover, I think. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in Egyptian hieroglyphs, or someone who has a fair amount of familiarity with Egyptian Art already.

Rejuvenate and renew reading challenge button

I read this book as part of mjmbecky's Rejuvenate and Renew Reading Challenge, although I don't think it really counts, since I didn't finish it (had to return it to the library). However, I did enjoy this book and felt it deserved a post. Basically, the idea of art being a language--literally--fascinates me, and I hope I'll be able to find more writing on this topic.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


Thirteenth tale cover

This week I've been reading The Thirteenth Tale, and let's just say it went in a direction I did not forsee with my super-reader plot lenses. But then, the book doesn't really seem to have a plot, so that's probably why.

In The Thirteenth Tale, there's a story about sibling love that reaches uncomfortable closeness. I'm talking about incest. And there seems to be a whole rash of books that are inundating me with their incestuousness these days. First there was Vampire Knight, which is a kick-ass manga about vampires and humans who go to the same boarding school. But I suppose I expect subversive wtf stuff from manga, so that one didn't bother me too much. Plus, they're vampires, so it's not like they can have cross-eyed kids, right?

Then I read City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, and yet again there's an incestuous subplot. Of course, they didn't know they were brother and sister; but my mother read the next book in the series and told me that their lurv continues. Like, okayyyy. Maybe if the main character met someone interesting besides her own brother this wouldn't be a problem.

Now The Thirteenth Tale. And a bunch of others, like Flowers in the Attic and The Cement Garden. So I just have to wonder... why? Is incest the go-to subplot for trashy novels? Is it popular just for the shock factor? Or is there some reason for putting incest in a book other than wanting to make your readers feel like they're watching a train wreck?

I have never been a fan of the incest thing. To me it smacks of desperation on the part of an author wanting make things in interesting. Plus, it just seems completely unrealistic. First cousins is one thing, but brother and sister? Come on. I'm not saying it's never happened, but if you're going to put it in a book, you better spend some time setting it up so it's believable.

Have you read any books with incest in them recently? Have any sub-plots that you really can't stomach?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Inner Story

From WCFQ:

If you were to write a book someday, what would it be about?

Back in the day, I picked up The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron at the library.  Very interesting book, although looking back on it I'm not sure if it helped my creativity any.  Anyway, one of the things in that book that really stuck in my mind (or maybe it was the sequel, Vein of Gold, I can't remember which) was that Cameron had an exercise where you listed your favorite movies.  Then, in the back of the book, there was an index of movies with their dominant themes.  According to Cameron, people are attracted to movies that have themes they tend to think about a lot (DUH); so if you're a writer, you should write about the themes that you find in your favorite films.

So, what is my favorite movie, and what should I write about according to this woman?


Thunderheart with Val Kilmer is my absolute favorite movie.  It's about a FBI agent who goes to South Dakota to investigate a murder on a reservation.  Coincidentally, the agent is half-Indian (and I'm going to assume he's Oglala Sioux, as well, although I don't think the movie ever says so explicity.  But it might and I just forgot); and despite the fact that the tribe on the reservation is initially wary of the by-the-book "Indian from Washington", he's swiftly accepted due to the influence of an old man who seems to be a sort of shaman for the tribe. 

What I love about this movie is that it makes you (or me, at least) believe that magic actually exists.  I also love the landscape in the movie and the idea that Kilmer's character crosses into another world when he enters the reservation.  Futhermore, I love that almost no one in the movie is what they appear to be--Kilmer looks like your average suit when the movie starts out, but by the end he's done a complete one-eighty and accepted his Sioux heritage.  Many other characters undergo a metamorphosis during the course of the movie, too, as does the landscape.

When I initially read this question--If you wrote a book, what would it be about?--my first instinct was to respond with magic, love, and how people are never what they appear to be at first glance.  Shocking how closely that matches up to Thunderheart's plotline!  The movie doesn't have a love story--not even as a subplot--but there is a theme of loving the land and one's heritage that runs through the film, so I suppose that counts.

What would you write about if you wrote a novel today?  Does it match up with your favorite movie?

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mr. & Mrs. Darcy: Two Become One

mr and mrs darcy cover
Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One by Sharon Lathan

Becky at One Literature Nut recommended this book to me (see her review here), and I'm really glad she did.  It is full of warm fuzzies.  Reading it is like sitting in field with hopping bunnies, stuffing your face with chocolate, and cuddling a puppy. 

I read a quote from one of Jane Austen's contemporaries once about Pride & Prejudice.  Actually, it was a letter where the writer was telling her sister about the book.  It went something along the lines of, "It was a really good book, but the ending sucked.  But then what else can you expect."  I do have to agree with her that the ending of P&P does kind of suck and leaves a lot of open ends.  Fortunately, this leads the field open for other writers to take up where Austen left off and to give us the "ending" they envision for romance's most beloved couple.

Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy
starts on Lizzie's and Darcy's wedding day.  Although the language seems a bit pedantic at first, it simply takes some getting used to.  I really loved the beginning of this book because it adds to the characters of Lizzie and Darcy and fills in things from their personal history that I had wondered about from the original book.  Then they get to Pemberly, and pretty much have sex all over the place for the rest of the novel. :D

A reviewer on Goodreads acused this book of being "basically porn."  I doubt that reviewer has ever read porn, or even erotica for that matter, because this isn't it.  The sex isn't pornographic (or even graphic), but is very sweet and an important part of Darcy and Lizzie's relationship. 

One thing this book does suffer from, though, is a lack of conflict.  While I loved the beginning and seeing how everything was working out at Pemberly for Lizzie and Darcy, the middle started to drag a bit.  Lizzie's life is way too perfect, even if this is a total fantasy (and that's what it is), and there are no major conflicts or problems to drive the development of the characters or make us discover anything new about them.  Around page 200, Lizzie and Darcy start fighting again, so that's fun; but Lizzie always comes off looking petty and immature, and Darcy is of course always nobly suffering.  I know this book takes place in Regency England, but Darcy doesn't have to be right all the freaking time.  That's annoying, and a tad anarchonistic--as if the book had been written by a '50s housewife. 

So the novel evened out to a good read for me--the beginning was fantastic, the middle got a bit boring, the ending was a bit better.  I'm still not sure if I'm sold on P&P retellings (do they ever live up to the original?), but I did enjoy reading this one.  Recommended for hopeless romantics.

Everything Austen Challenge button

I read this book as part of the Everything Austen Challenge hosted by Stephanie.  One Austen thing down, five more to go!

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My Wicked Marquess: An Un-Review

My Wicked Marquess cover
My Wicked Marquess by Gaelen Foley

Little Miss Sunshine-and-Light goes to the ghetto to help adorably needy children.  Max, the dark-haired and goateed (cuz that's sexy--seriously, if Johnny Depp can't pull it off, it shouldn't be done) lord of something-or-other lurks across the street in a brothel, ignoring a prostitute who's throwing herself at him while watching Miss S&L because that's how he likes to stalk his bitches.  Actually, haha, it's not like that at all--you see, he is merely in a competition with every other male in the country, but most particularly his friends in a super-secret spy organization, to get married; and Miss Implausibly Nice and Beautiful is one of the candidates.  So he's spying on her to make sure they'll suit.  You see, completely logical!

Then of course the debutante gets into trouble, and Max pretends to be drunk to rescue her from a group of street gang ruffians (which, as everyone knows, are the most dangerous kind of ruffians).  She is naturally repulsed by the fact that he's intoxicated and he just came out of a brothel; but nevertheless, as soon as she lays eyes on him, her loins light a-fire!  It's because of his "raw masculinity," you see.  As he fights his way through an entire gang of street thugs (for the lulz), she drives away to save herself.  But she valiantly notifies other people that a man is being attacked as soon as she is far from danger.  What heroism!  Max gets the warm fuzzies when he finds out, and decides then and there that he will make this paragon of female virtue his wife (even though he won't admit that's what he's decided because, I guess, that would ruin the fun).

Using his super-spy skillz, Max finds out Miss Perfect is going to a ball the next night, and finagles an invite.  Yet he still sneaks into the ball anyway, because that's the spy's life, baby!  As he oils his way through the ballroom in a cartoonish imitation of B-movie vampire, he runs across Lord Albert (? I think that's his name), a childhood acquaintance.  Max hates Albert.  In fact, one might almost say his hatred is of the kind that can only come from... unrequited love?  Sparks fly as the two meet and it is obvious they struggle with a long-held mutual attraction.  Yet Albert continues to reject him.  So Max persists in his pursuit of Albert's former fiance, Miss Sweetness and Light.

Um, actually I might have made that last part up because by then I was wishing I was reading another book.  But either way, Max attempts to woo Miss Gracious, who says things like pish-posh and whose "bosoms" light on fire when he was talks to her (seriously! first her loins now her bosoms?! that guy should carry a fire extinguisher).

The bosoms did me in.  That and the fact that I wanted to toss the heroine off a balcony.

This book is pretty bizarre.  Imagine if Gaelen Foley tried to write in the style of Julia Quinn.  Of course, she's not JQ, so she sucks at it.  Ensue much eye rolling and sighs of impatience on my part.  Admittedly, part of my frustration with this book had to do with the fact that I expect more from Foley.  If someone else had written this novel--well, I would have still thought it was totally dumb, but I wouldn't have spent the entire time going, "WTF?!?"

Then again, perhaps Foley is simply phoning it in on this one.  Either way, I hope she rethinks her strategy on her next book, because this one was so bad, I wasn't able to finish it.  It was ridiculous from the beginning and I couldn't understand what anyone would see in either of the main characters.  When it wasn't being dumb, it was either cheesy or boring.  I never thought I'd see Gaelen Foley use the fired-loins-at-first-sight trope, but she does here.  Blech.  Oh well.

If you liked this book more than I did, please let me know.  I would love to hear that it has some redeeming qualities.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Spellbound from Eyegate

This week for My Friend Amy's Summer of Hitchcock, we watched Spellbound.  The movie stars a very handsome-looking Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, who has the weirdest hair ever.  It's not even like hair, it's like playdough she just pushes around her head.  She's the only female psychoanalyst at a mental institution in Vermont, and is a tad bit uptight.  But then Mr. Tall Dark and Handsome shows up, and she's like, Rawr!!!  I want me some o' that! 

Unfortunately, Gregory Peck's chacter--who is alternately known as Dr. Anthony Edwardes, John Brown, and John Valentine--is a freakin' psycho.  Or maybe that's fortunate, since Bergman (aka Constance) is a head doc.  It turns out Dr. Edwardes isn't really Dr. Edwardes, but a patient of his with amnesia.  And... Edwardes is dead!  And Peck might have murdered him! 

This movie was surprisingly sexy.  Constance traipses into "Edwardes" room in the middle of his first night at the mental institution (they have their doctors living there? Yay. Sound like a great job.), and she's all like, "I'm here because... of this book?"  And he's all like, "I know why you're here *smirk*," and then they start making out.  There's another scene when they're staying overnight at Dr. Alex Brulov's as a supposedly married couple, and he asks, "Have you ever...?"  And Bergman says, "No, of course not."  Then Peck says (you're probably getting a good idea of why I don't write novels right about now), "Well, I don't remember anything, so as far as I know I've never, either."  Huh.  Thanks for putting that in there, Hitchcock!  Nice to establish both parties are virgins right before... they decide he sleeps on the couch?!?!?  Wat?!

Dr. Brulov and Constance try to crack a head

My favorite character was Dr. Brulov, Constance's mentor.  Pointy facial hair for the win!  I also appreciated the fact that he told Constance she was acting like an idiot.  Finally, a sane character!  He also gets the best lines in the film.  For example, "Vomen make the best psychoanalysts--until they fall in lofe.  Then they make the best patients.  Hohohoho!"  Ahhh, psychoanalyst humor.

The one other really interesting thing about this movie is the dream sequence, which was designed by Salvador Dalí.  This was the first time Surrealism was exposed to a wide, general audience.  If you had never seen a Surrealist painting before, I guess the scene would be pretty shocking.  Personally I was kind of underwhelmed by it.  Dalí basically quotes from his previous paintings and doesn't really use a lot of imagination.  It was a little too quote-y for me.  The eyes, the shadows, the melty wheel... yawn. 

In case you've never seen this movie or need a refresher, here's the dream sequence:

Other than the romance, Dr. Alex, and the dream sequence, this movie was actually pretty boring.  I didn't really like the characters except for Burlov and Peck's yumminess; and the story didn't really grab me at all.  Not to mention that Edwardes'/Brown's/Valentine's psychological breakthrough was way too easy.  This movie was 100x better than The Birds, don't get me wrong; but I still wasn't as involved in it as I was with Psycho or Dial M for Murder.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Museum Monday: Small Museums

Old World Wisconsin barn Image of barn at Old World Wisconsin, historic farm and villiage, by newagecrap.

Every Monday this month, I'm doing a post on museums to encourage people to visit one during their summer vacation.  The first week I talked about how to navigate through a museum, and last week I discussed which art museums you should visit for certain types of art.  Both of those posts focused on the huge, crowd-drawing museums with major collections drawn from all over the world.  For this post, I want to shift focus a bit and talk about small museums.

Why You Should Go

I love large museums as much as the next person, but think for a second about what's in them:  artwork and artifacts from other countries.  Even in large museums that feature American art, they tend to focus on art with broad national or popular appeal.  So while big museums are great at giving you an overview of something, by their very nature they tend to fail at specializing in specific arts, artists, periods, or movements.

Here's where the small museum comes in.  The hundreds of thousands of small museums across the US specialize in preserving American history and Americana where it otherwise would die out or be forgotten.  Some of them are really great; some can be lame.  But either way, your chance of learning about a slice of American history at a small museum is pretty good.  These museums can be pretty fascinating and really fun to visit!

Where To Find Them

Small museums are literally everywhere.  There's probably even a few close to where you live that you don't know about.  Just to give an example:  I live in a town that's so small, when Bella complains about size of Forks, I laugh because to me it sounds large.  Yet there are at least four museums here that I can think of off the top of my head.  One of them I only found out about a few months ago (it's pretty lame, though).  There are another three museums less than an hour's drive away that come to mind immediately.  So pretty much any community has a good chance of having a museum.

Small museums can also be attached to institutions (churches, universities or colleges, insane assylums, hospitals, etc.--yes, you'd be surprised at the number of them that have museums) or companies.  For example, an abbey near here has a museum of American Indian Art.  Why?  It's a really long story.  The point is, once you start looking for them, it's hard not to trip over small museums.

You can search for small musuems by location or interest.  Guide books can be an okay resource, although they don't always list all the museums in an area (you don't want to miss one, now do you??).  The best resources (unsurprisingly) are on the internet.  Museums USA is a great site that lets you search for museums by type or location, and has a fair number of listings (although not comprehensive).  The Small Museum Association and the American Association of Museums also have directories, although theirs are more difficult to navigate and only the more well-funded museums will pay to be in their listings.

Types of Small Museums

Art Museum--There are a few small museums with impressive collections of great (though not universally known) artists.  One example is the Swope Art Museum in Terre Haut, Indiana.

Production or art-specific museum--Other museums focus more on specific companies or producers, such as Michael Garmin Galleries; or on specific types of art, like the America Museum of Ceramic Arts.

Artist-specific--While these museums usually don't have a definitive collection of the artist's work, they can offer a better portrait of the artist.  And they don't necessarily contain only work by said artist, either.  A perfect example is the C. M. Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana.

Artist home or studio--This might tie into an artist-specific museum, but not necessarily.  These museums usually contain very little in the way of the artist's actual work, but are fun to visit if want a peek into an artist's life.  I loved visiting the E. I. Couse House & Studio in Taos.

Historic home or village--I actually love these types of museums!  What could be better than bringing history to life?  One of my favorites was Fort Mackinac in Michigan.

And many others--Whatever you're interested in--quilting, costuming, aviation, musical instruments--there's a good chance a small museum is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and educating the public about it.

For the average traveler, a small museum can be a risky proposition.  You don't know exactly what you're going to get when you walk into one, and they require more effort and thought on the part of visitors to find and make time for.  However, I firmly believe small museums are the backbone of this country's cultural and historical preservation, and they're well worth the effort to visit.

Have you visited any small museums?  Do you have a favorite?

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Sunday Salon: Plans & Challenges

The Sunday

Well, I think I had a really productive week!  I finished three books for two challenges and wrote a bunch of entries (some of which haven't been published yet).

Here are the books I read this week:
  • Kill the Dead by Tanith Lee (a very good book; see my review here)
  • My Wicked Marquis by Gaelen Foley (DNF; however, I did write an un-review which I will post this week)
  • Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One by Sharon Lathan (review to be posted this week)
For me, getting through three books in the course of a week is really, really good.  Usually I average one. 

harry potter and the half-blood prince poster

I also saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince with my brother this week.  I thought it was a really enjoyable movie, although they changed the events of the book around a lot more than I expected them to--I think a lot more than they have with any of the other movies.  Or maybe it was just more noticable in this one.  Anyway, can I just take a moment to gush about how much I looooooooove Snape.  Best character ever!  And Alan Rickman-rawr!

Ummm, yes.  As for books acquired this week, I didn't get very many.  Here's what I got from la bibliotheque:

books in the wild
  • Melusine by Sarah Monette
  • Life Studies by Susan Vreeland
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
As for the reason why I've been writing posts like nobody's business but only posting half of them, it's because by this time next week I'm going to be on vacation, and I want some posts to put up while I'm away.  I'll be going on vacation with my mom.  Yup, just me and my mom.  Trapped in a car together.  For two weeks. O.O  And we're going to... Oregon.  So if you know of any fun places to go in Oregon, feel free to share! 

Aside from that, you know what vacation means--I have to figure out what books I'm going to take!  I focus on the important things. ^_^  Of course, no matter how many books I bring, two things are certain: one, I will bring more books than I will (or can) read; and two, I will buy more books while I'm away.  So all of this is really kind of pointless.  Nevertheless, here's what I'm thinking of taking at the moment:
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
  • The Thirteenth Tale
  • Don't Tempt Me
  • Flat-Out Sexy
  • Bone Crossed (? Not sure about this one because it's a library book and I don't want to lose it)
I was thinking the Harry Potter books would be good because I've been wanting to re-read them, and it's difficult to get into new books while I'm traveling.  However, I'm pretty sure my mom is going to freak if she sees me loading the car with Harry Potter books, so I just have to make sure she doesn't notice them until after we've left! :D  The Thirteenth Tale I have to read for a bookclub; I'm probably going to start that one before we leave.


Finally, the Book Blogger's Appreciation Week is being set up by My Friend Amy!  How do you participate?  Just go onto the site and register your blog.  Then you can nominate other blogs you like and be entered to win prizes.  I've heard it's really fun and a great way to discover new blogs, so go register now!

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Silver Metal Lover

my favorite reads gif

My favorite Reads is a weekly meme hosted by Amy from At Home with Books.  You simply feature a favorite book that you read before you started blogging!  In honor of Kill the Dead, which I read this week (see the review here), I decided to feature one of my favorite Tanith Lee books, The Silver Metal Lover (this one's actually still in print).

Here's the cover from Amazon:

silver metal lover cover one

But one of my friends went to a book sale once and ran across the original hardcover, which she bought for me.  This is what my copy looks like:

the silver metal lover cover two

Isn't it so, so '70s?  I love it.

Anyway, back to the point--The Silver Metal Lover is loosely based on the fable of Demeter and Persephone, and is about a lonely young woman named Jane who doesn't have a lot of confidence and lives at home with her controlling mother.  One day she's wandering around her city (set in the distant future), and she sees a presentation for nextgen robots.  They have acrobats, dancers, concubines, and musicians for people's entertainment.  Jane is immediately attracted to a robot named Silver (which is an acronym for Silver Ionized something-or-other), who is a minstrel.  Since Jane's family is extremely wealthy, she's able to purchase him then and there.

Silver is programmed to act like a human, and lonely Jane quickly falls in love with him, much to her mother's horror (human-robot love ist verboten).  It's part of Silver's programming to reflect Jane's emotions, so it's merely programming when Silver seems to fall in love with Jane, too--or is it???  Is Silver just a machine, or does he have a soul, too?

I should warn you ahead of time that this tale does not have a happy ending.  I don't really remember if I cried at the end or not, but since this is me we're talking about, I probably did.  However, I think it had a very satisfying ending, in that the story had a powerful conclusion and Jane is a better person for the time she's spent with Silver.

The Silver Metal Lover is a love story, but it's also a coming-of-age story for Jane (who is only 16--did I mention that?), and a fable about what makes us human.  It's widely considered one of Lee's best novels, and I definitely recommend it.

The Silver Metal Lover also has a sequel (which I haven't read yet), called Metallic Love.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Take a Chance Challenge: The Birds

the birds poster

I watched the movie and read the short story The Birds (by Daphne du Maurier) for Amy's Summer of Hitchcock; but I decided it also could satisfy the requirements for the tenth part of Jenner's Take a Chance Challenge at Find Your Next Book Here:

take a chance challenge

Movie/Book Comparison
Find a book that you haven't read that has a movie based on it that you haven't seen. Read the book and watch the movie within a few days of each other. Write about your reactions to both the book and the movie and compare the two.

I read the story by Daphne du Maurier first, online.  It was incredibly creepy and atmospheric.  It takes place in post-WWII England, in a small farming villiage.  The main character, Nat, is retired but has two young kids and works on a farm part-time. 

The short story begins with Nat's tiny cottage being attacked by birds in the middle of the night.  The next morning, he goes to the farm to see if anyone else was attacked, but they hear his story with disbelief and incredulity.  However, it soon turns out Nat wasn't the only one who was attacked.  As he hears on the radio, birds gathered and attacked all over the country, perhaps even all over the world. 

As Nat hunkers down with his family in their cottage and services start to disappear, a claustrophobic feeling invades the story.  It's not so much a horror story as it is a struggle for survival against a completely unexpected and unstoppable enemy.  Birds, which no really notices that much in their daily lives, have suddenly become kamikaze terrorists attacking anything human with no concern for their own well-being or safety.  There's also a sense that they're doing this under the control of some higher power, following the tides and grouping together to attack specific places--what that higher power might be is never said.

After reading the story, I had high expectations for the movie, but Hitchcock basically changed everything.  He kept a lot of the arresting visuals in the short story, such as the black cloud of birds rising on the horizon; but instead of post-war England, we find ourselves in 1960's San Francisco, in a... bird store?  Huh.  Basically, Tippi Hedren (aka Melanie) is some sort of hieress, and she spends the first half hour of the movie chasing down this gross lethario named Mitch to a tiny seaside town so she can give him some lovebirds he ordered for his sister's birthday.  Um, one, why; and two, if he ordered the birds for his sister, why didn't he pick them up himself or make sure he was at his apartment when they were delivered?  I mean, that is just incompetent, not to mention a painfully weak opening for a movie.  So the characters have pointless conversations for about an hour and a half (or that's how long it felt), and then finally birds attack, and I'm like, "Yay!  Finally!"

Basically, the movie was full of lulz.  It was way too long, the "plot" was ridiculous, Hedren kept lolling her head about when there were no birds around at all, and the script was just lame.  Even though I had fun with the fake birds, there were hardly any bird attacks in the movie at all until the very end.  Overall, I was pretty disappointed.

summer of hitchcock

Next week on Summer of Hitchcock, we're watching Spellbound.  So start polishing up your Dr. Freud accents, everyone!

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Judging a Failure

Olympia by Manet

Youandwhosearmy has an interesting post up about failure and how artists fail intentionally.  This made me think of Edouard Manet and his most famous painting, Olympia.

Olympia is one of the landmarks of Modernism.  The critics reviled it, saying the woman looked like a common whore, she was ugly, her hand looked like a spider (it actually kind of does), and that the quality of the work was simply bad.  However, it served as inspiration to the next generation of Modernism giants like Cézanne.

For years it was assumed that Olympia was exactly the way Manet intended--that he painted his Venus the way he did to show truth (as Emile Zola put it), or that he was responding to what Charles Baudelaire had written in A Painter of Modern Life:

If a painter, patient and scrupulous but with only inferior imaginative power, were commissioned to paint a courtesan of today, and, for this purpose, were to get his inspiration (to use the hallowed term) from a courtesan by Titian or Raphael, the odds are that his work would be fraudulent, ambiguous, and difficult to understand. The study of a masterpiece of that date and of that kind will not teach him the carriage, the gaze, the come-hitherishness, or the living representation of one of these creatures that the dictionary of fashion has, in rapid succession, pigeonholed under the coarse or light-hearted rubric of unchaste, kept women, Lorettes.

The latter seemed the most possible, as Manet was a close friend and follower of Baudelaire's, and he did indeed base Olympia off of Titian's Venus of Urbino.  One imagined Manet deliberately taunting the critics and laughing with his other flaneur buddies over the private joke he had fashioned (in fact, this is how most of Manet's famous works are viewed--as giant in-jokes).

A new article at Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide by Phylis A. Floyd, however, casts a completely different light on the painting.  According to letters Manet wrote, he didn't find the criticisms of Olympia funny at all--in fact, he was shocked, bewildered, and hurt at people's negative reaction to the work.  Floyd argues convincingly that the model for Olympia was not Victorine Meurent, as has always been assumed, but Marguerite Bellanger, the then-mistress to Napoleon III.  Apparently Manet wanted to court the emperor's favor by painting his version of Alexandre Cabanal's The Birth of Venus, which Napoleon III had bought the previous year.  But Manet failed to paint an attractive portrait, and instead was lashed with criticism for the work.

What does this say about Manet and Modernism in general?  Is the basis of Olympia's value as a piece of art in jeopardy if Manet did not intend it to fail as it did?  Because if that is the case--if Manet, the father of Modernism, was simply a bad painter--then that means all of modern painting is not based on clever in-jokes, challenging critics, and failing intentionally, but just on being a craptastic artist!

Manet did want to be one of great artists of his day, like Cabanal.  The only problem was, he couldn't paint like Cabanal.  When he tried to make a grand artistic statement, he usuall failed at it.  Does that make his paintings any less valuable?

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Take a Chance Challenge: Kill the Dead

kill the dead cover
Kill the Dead by Tanith Lee

I read this book to satisfy the third part of Jenner's Take a Chance Challenge at Find Your Next Book Here:

take chance challenge

Birth Year Book
Find a book that was published or copyrighted in the year of your birth. Read the book and write about it.

I was born in coughnineteeneightycough. I spent some time looking at the bestseller lists for that year, and almost decided to read a Sidney Sheldon novel, but I just couldn't do it. Then I was doing a search for Tanith Lee on for one reason or another, and I ran across Kill the Dead. Intriguing title, and it was written in 1980! Yay! I immediately decided to order it (from the library, since it is out of print) and read it for the challenge.

Tanith Lee is one my favorite authors. I admit that my reading of her books seriously stalled with Faces Under Water, but overall I consider her an absolutely brilliant writer who tells great stories and is always ambitious in her writing. I honestly don't know why she isn't as famous as Ursula K. le Guin or Charles de Lint (could it be the wtf covers?), but she deserves to be.

Kill the Dead takes place in some alternative land whose name is unknown. The back of the book makes it sound like it's a battle of wits between Parl Dro, a professional exorcist, and two witch sisters, one (or both?) of whom are ghosts; but that is not the case at all. The majority of the book is about Dro and a minstrel named Myal Lemyal, and their quest for Ghast Mortua, an infamous city of ghosts from which no Ghost Hunter has ever returned.

The ghosts, called deadalive, of this world are not like Caspar the Friendly Ghost; they are demons who feed off the living and can--and do--kill them, as well. They are extremely dangerous to hunt and kill; but Dro is a legendary exorcist and has never met a ghost who could kill him. Literally, most people don't even believe he exists. As he passes through a town on his way to Ghast, he encounters and minstrel of brilliant talents, both psychic and musical, and they form a quick bond despite Dro's reluctance.

This is a great book. I loved the characters, I loved learning about Parl Dro's past, and there wasn't a single dull moment in the book (at 170 pages, there better not be). These type of journey books can be a bit repetitive, but this one keep me interested through the whole thing and only got more interesting as the book continued. Also, there's a twist at the end--actually, two twists--that I didn't see coming at all. It was the kind of twist that makes you immediately want to flip to the beginning of the book and re-read it to see how it all plays out now that you know it (if I hadn't had to return the book to the library, I really would have done that).

Overall this was a satisfying, great read that I really enjoyed. I'm happy I got to read this book, since it has inspired me to start reading Tanith Lee again. I highly recommend it to those who love fantasy.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bound By Your Touch

bound by your touch cover

Bound by Your Touch by Meredith Duran

Despite the truly sucky cover (and it does suck), this book is excellent.

As this book is so character-centric, I think any summary of it should start with a description of the characters. 

James, Viscount Sanburne, is a complete and total non-conformist.  One might get the impression from reading the back of the book that he's a "bad boy," but he's really not--he just makes a concerted effort not to do anything that other people expect of him: 

...whenever he found himself in a situation where his position gave him advantages, he tested himself with Phin's rule:  Is this interesting?--which soon came to mean, Is this original?

Because of this, at the beginning of the book, James seems like an animé character--which is awesome.  He takes drugs (side note:  don't do drugs, kids!), barges into dinner parties uninvited and demands to be seated, dresses flamboyantly, wears tons of glittering jewelry, and doesn't wear a mustache (!).  James hangs out with a clique of high-society elites who like to party and break the rules.  Although they sound like a bunch of degenerates, it's actually a very a close-knit group of friends.

Just as there is more to James' friends than first meets the eye, there's also a lot more to James and his personality than just flash--as we find out during the course of the book.

Lydia Boyce is a very intelligent and practical woman who has completely given up on finding a husband due to her bookishness and the fact that she doesn't think she's pretty.  Instead, she's devoted her life to helping her father with his scholarly research in Egypt.  Unlike Sanburne, Lydia always follows the rules; but then, being a woman and not a member of the aristocracy, she has to.

While it's easy to fall in love with James right away, Lydia is more difficult to warm up to.  After about fifty pages, however, she started to grow on me; and then she began to remind me of someone I actually know.  It was spooky, actually, but that's how well-drawn her character is. 

Being an extremely intelluctual sort, Lydia is not going to fall in love with someone based on how beatiful they are (which she can't help but notice James is), or on physical attraction (which she and James definitely share).  She's only going to fall in love with a person with whom she shares a true melding of the minds; and through some strange chemistry, Lydia and James develop this as the novel progresses.

The romance in this book is absolutely perfect.  Even though I spent a good portion of the beginning wondering how in the world these two people were going to get together, I was completely convinced by the progression of their relationship and how they finally fell in love.  Although Lydia and James seem like completely disparate personalities on the surface, it becomes clear (though only at the very end of the novel) that they are actually quite similar.

I also loved Duran's writing style.  She doesn't lay everything out for the reader on a silver platter, but puts the pieces out and expects us to be smart enough to put them together.  What the hell am I talking about, you wonder?  Simply that Duran shows and doesn't tell, and she shows in a very elegant way.  One of the more memorable examples:

"You seem to like it," he said.

His tone was so mild that he might have been commenting on her reaction to a flower arrangement.  But as the meaning registered, a flush swept her.  She cleared her throat.  In a low voice, she said, "A cold bath does the same."

His delighted laugh ghosted along her neck.  "You are so amusing," he purred.  "Let me put my lips there, and I will convince you of the difference."

That a small snippet of one of the most memorable scenes in the book, and it has such a strong impact because of the way Duran sets it up and writes it.  It's sexy and suggestive, but it's not salacious, which is exactly the right tone for this novel.

The book is also very well-researched, and took me as a reader to places I've never been before.  The visit to the gin house, with the art on the walls and the oddly-named drinks, was particularly fun.

The only thing I didn't like about Bound By Your Touch was that I thought it had pacing issues.  The beginning is a bit slow, and it seemed to take a long time before the narrative started moving.  Then, all the lose ends of the plot are wrapped up in the last fifty pages.  Seriously, at page three hundred, I was honestly concerned about whether I was going to get a conclusion to the two subplots or if they were going to be left hanging.  I did get my conclusions, but they sort of felt tacked on at the end and a bit haphazard, at least in comparison to the rest of the book (although I did really like the ending).  And speaking of, did the the copy editor stop reading at page 250?  Because there were at least five errors I noticed in the last hundred pages.

That didn't really detract from the overall wonderfullness of this novel, however.  I would highly recommend Bound By Your Touch to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, whether they like romance novels or not.  This definitely not your typical romance novel; and for me it was a keeper.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Museum Monday--What to See and Where to See It

students in front of island of la grande jatte Photo by tlindenbaum

Every Monday this month, I'm doing a post on museums to encourage people to visit one during their summer vacation.  Last week, I talked about how to navigate through a museum.  This week I decided to focus on where to go to see the art you're interested in.

The following list contains museums you might want to think about visiting if you have an interest in a specific area of art.  It is not a comprehensive list by any means, and (for the purposes of not driving myself insane) includes only museums in the continental US.

Ancient Art (incl. Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Near East)

Compared to European museums, American collections of ancient art can be pretty sparse.  However, you can find Greek and Roman sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, and the MFA Boston recently signed an agreement with the Italian government to have pieces on loan to the museum.  The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago has an absolutely amazing Ancient Near East and Egyptian collection; as does The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, which houses art on loan from the Philadelpha Museum of Art.  The MFA Boston also has several key Egyptian pieces in its collection, like King Mycerinus and His Queen, which is a must-see.

Asian Art

Asian art is very well-represented in American art collections.  The Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington DC are part of the Smithsonian and contain an absolutely fabulous collection of art from all over Asia as well as Latin America.  The Norton Simon in Pasadena, CA, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (aka LACMA) also have great Asian art collections.  The MFA Boston has the largest collection of Japanese art under one roof in the world.

African Art & American Indian Art

I grouped these two categories together because African and Indian Art has often been considered anthropological, and is not traditionally represented in art museums.  Also, because of repatriation, many museums have to (or should have) returned a large portion of their American Indian Art and artifacts to the proper tribes.  Thankfully, however, attitudes toward African and Indian Art have changed significantly in the last decade or so; and the Smithsonian has both a National Museum of African Art and a National Museum of the American Indian, which contain large and varied collections.  I haven't been to the National Museum of the American Indian yet, but the National Museum of African Art was great--very fun and interactive, and interesting.

Modern and Contemporary Art

The Twentieth Century was "America's Century" (or so I've heard on PBS), so it makes sense that American museums would have great twentieth-century art collections.  The National Gallery of Art has several huge Pollocks that are worth a look; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, also in Washington DC, is a beautiful museum that focuses entirely on modern and contemporary art; and of course there's the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim in NYC.  If you love Surrealism, you should check out the Philadelpha Museum of Art, which has the greatest State-side collection of Surrealist art, including Duchamp's last work, Etant Donnés (rumored to have been inspired by the Black Dahlia murder).

Latin American Art (especially Mesoamerican and Aztec)

The LACMA has a nice collection of Mesoamerican art, but for the really good Latin American collections in the US, think universities.  U Penn's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and Princeton University Art Museum both have very nice collections.  Most of Harvard's Latin American Art collection is on loan to the Freer and Sackler Galleries.

Nineteenth-Century Painting (American and European)

Well, this is a HUGE category and there are a lot of great museums in the US you can go to to see nineteenth-century painting.  Why?  Because most of the big museums (The Met, the Art Institute of Chicago, the MFA Boston, etc.) were founded in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-centuries.  And the art in them was collected by wealthy Americans who bought paintings both here and in Europe.  The Art Institute of Chicago is known especially for its collection of Impressionist paintings, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art also have very notable collections.  The Frick Museum, just a few blocks from the Met, is a historic home that specializes in 19th-century painting.  It's one of my favorite museums in the world; I highly recommend it!

The slave ship by turner

Because of a question from Jemima, I'm going to highlight the collection of two museums, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum.  Paintings you should not miss at the MFA Boston include Slave Ship by JMW Turner, who is one of my favorite artists.  Simon Schama called Slave Ship the most important British painting in history (or something histrionic like that).  It depicts an actual event where a slave ship threw sick and dying Africans overboard in order to recoup costs, sending the "cargo" cruelly to their deaths.  Critics said it looked like a kitchen accident.

Gauguin Where do we come from what are we where are we going

Paul Gauguin's Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? is probably the museum's most famous painting.  It shows the progress of life, from birth (the baby at the right), to youth, to death and despair (the old woman at the far left).  The gods, represented by the blue statue in the background at the left, watch human progess indifferently.

The Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum is a lovely house museum in Boston that is most famous for the left of thirteen paintings in 1990 valued at over $500 million--the biggest art left in history.  The empty frames from which the paintings were cut out continue to hang on the walls of the museum, as per the instructions in Gardner's will.  Despite the theft, the collection still houses many fine pieces, however, including works by Botticelli, John Singer Sargent, Turner, Degas, Manet, Raphael, Fra Angelico, van Dyke, and Rembrandt; as well as many fine tapestries, books, furniture--basically anything that struck Gardner's fancy as a collector.  It also has a garden that's a great place to take a time out for a few minutes.

Western American Art

Do you like Western Art?  (Just say yes.)  The Amon Carter Museum in Ft. Worth, Texas, has a great collection of Western American Art, as does The Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, WY, and the Denver Art Museum.

Don't forget about special exhibitions!

Most museums host special exhibitions every season in addition to their pernament collection, which is a great way to see new art without traveling all over the freaking place.  Check their website or newsletter to see what's on or coming up.

Problem:  I went to a museum to see a specific piece of art, but it was on loan!!!!

Yeah, that sucks. :(  Museums usually don't loan out their key pieces, but they might for a major exhibition.  Also, even key works are occassionally taken down for cleaning and maintenance.  The Mona Lisa is taken down for two days every few years for cleaning, which is a major bummer for everyone who just happens to be visiting Paris on those days (yes that happened to me).  The only thing you can really do is check the museum's website to make sure the piece you want to see is on view.  If you're really gung-ho about it (does anyone still use that term?), you can e-mail the curatorial office.  They don't bite... usually.

That's it for this week's edition of Museum Mondays.  If you have any question about museums, specific or general, feel free to message me on twitter, email me at [kitty fischer at gmail dot com], or leave your question in the comments.  I will try to answer it either in the next museum posting, or by e-mail (or both). 

Also, if you have recommendations for great museums, please mention them in the comments.  Until next Monday!

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Sunday Salon

The Sunday

I didn't get much reading done this week, what with job interviews and trying to throw together a presentation about Counter-Reformation art in a day.  I did finally finish Bound by Your Touch by Meredith Duran on Monday night.  It was a very good book that I would definitely recommend to anyone who likes historical romances (review forthcoming).  Then I started Kill the Dead by Tanith Lee.  I'm reading this book for the Take a Chance Challenge and it was due at the library about two days ago. =/  The guy who is in charge of Interlibrary Loans is going to kill me.  Did I mention he used to be my Earth Sciences teacher in high school?  Oh, yeah, and he also is a member at the bank my mom works at, and the last time I was late returning a book, he told my mom about it! o.O On the plus side, though, I always get the books order.

I don't know why, but it's been really difficult for me to focus on reading these past two weeks (hence the loooooong time it took to read Bound By Your Touch, even though it was a good book).  Maybe the heat is just getting to me and I can't concentrate.  Nevertheless, I still acquired my usual pile o' books the past two weeks.  I even bought some books (the first time I've bought a book since March--very exciting!).

Here's what I bought:
Here are the books I got at the library:
I also read "The Birds" by Daphne du Maurier for Summer of Hitchcock (review of both story and movie forthcoming).  And I won a contest at One Literature Nut.  Yay, me! ^_^

So hopefully this next week will see me out of the summer doldrums and I'll be able to get some serious reading done.  And hopefully I'll finished Kill the Dead soon, because I'm determined to do so before I return it.  Even if I risk the wrath of the librarians. :P

What did you read this week?

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