Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Year of the Flood

The Year of the Flood
by Margaret Atwood
narrated by Bernadette Dunne, Katie McNichol and Mark Bramhall;
featuring music and lyrics by Margaret Atwood and performed by Orville Stoeber
Ⓟ 2009, Random House Audio
14.00 hours

The Year of the Flood is the second title in the MaddAddam Trilogy and a companion piece to Oryx and Crake. The story take place in the year 2050 in which the waterless flood, a viral pandemic, depopulates most of the earth. Toby, an older woman who had, years earlier, been rescued by the Gardeners - a granola-crunchy survivalists group, finds herself holed up in an organic spa when the human apocalypse hits; Ren, a young woman and erstwhile Gardener who came from one of the Helthwyzer compounds - a community fully dependent on science and technology, is quarantined in a room in a strip club and; Adam One, the leader of The Gardeners, finds himself expelled from his Eden - ironically the fringe lifestyle of his cult. Margaret Atwater creates characters with a past and a present in an uncertain future.

The characters' lives are intertwined with each other and with characters from Oryx and Crake, though the treatment of the three major protagonists in The Year of the Flood are unequal. The lives of Toby and Ren are portrayed as dynamic as each of them attempts to move forwards and/or onwards in the aftermath of the human apocalypse and their pasts; but the life of Adam One is portrayed statically: his struggles are mainly philosophical as he tries to marry his suspect theology with reality. There are hints in his sermons as to what is going on in his life; but he is not grounded in the reality of the present the way the other characters are. His past is limited to the arc of the novel. The question becomes, do each or any of them have what it takes to move beyond the immediacy of the present and into the future? Toby is older, wiser and more experienced than Ren; but she is too old to procreate. Ren is young, fertile optimistic; but soft and still egocentric enough to place her feelings before pragmatic considerations. Adam One is strong in his convictions; but ultimately at what cost? What if being bigger, faster, stronger and smarter aren't co-equal in the equation for survival? Which variable(s) will save you over the others? And what if it's a faulty equation to begin with?

The Year of the Flood expands the world that was introduced in Oryx and Crake and there are crossovers that tie up some loose ends from the first book in the MaddAddam trilogy (Yes! We do discover what The Snowman did at the end of O&C!) There is a satisfying sense of closure at the end of TYOTF; though the novel as a whole didn't "pop" the way Oryx and Crake did. Perhaps it is because the novelty of the world that Margret Atwood first introduced, one of color and exotic forms wore off, only to be replaced my images of squalor. Or maybe it was the narration.

Bernadette Dunne, Katie McNicol and Mark Bramhall narrate from the point-of-perspectives of Toby, Ren and Adam One respectively. Bernadette Dunne gives a solid performance, though one wonders if a couple of the characters wouldn't have benefited from some ethnic flavor. Katie McNicols shines as a young woman undaunted, though unprepared for the future ahead; but her voicing of other characters seems underdeveloped (e.g. her voice for Zeb seemed at odds with the physical descriptions of him - a bear-like Russian. He came across as sounding not like a bear-like Russian at all.) Mark Bramhall took all his textual cues, performing the role of Adam One with decreasing optimism and certainty; but often sounded more like a charlatan than a charismatic guru. There is performed music after the Adam One sermons, performed by Orville Stoeber. The voices of Mark Bramhall and Orville Stoeber are a close match so there is a sense of continuity; but the music overall is of a 1970's Church folk style, which if you're not keen on it, can be irritating. The casting was well-conceived; but somehow each of the narrators fell a little short of completely inhabiting their respective characters. The result is that the listener is reminded that they are listening to a narrative, not experiencing the story.

Not withstanding the narration and the sense that one could stop with the MaddAddam books now, it should be interesting to see where Margaret Atwood takes us in the final installment.

Other Stuff: The Year of the Flood (by Margaret Atwood; narrated by Bernadette Dunne, Katie McNichol and Mark Bramhall; featuring music and lyrics written by Margaret Atwood and performed by Orville Stoeber) qualifies for:

I borrowed a library CD edition of The Year of the Flood (by Margaret Atwood; narrated by Bernadette Dunne, Katie McNichol and Mark Bramhall; featuring music and lyrics written by Margaret Atwood and performed by Orville Stoeber) from The Ashland Library (Jackson County Library System in Southern Oregon.) I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons, companies or organizations that are or may be implied in this post.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

My Future Self: Home Office Excavation: Week 3

OK, so, again, what we're looking at doesn't appear so dramatic in terms of "Before" and "After"; but the ability to get a clear and detailed shot of the same space is a testament to the importance of light in the space! Also, to give you a sense of scale, the mound of papers in the "Before" photo is approximately 16" high and 42" long (not counting that basket.) Progress was made rather quickly because of something I had not anticipated: momentum. After Week 2's efforts, I was really eager to start on Week 3! I wasn't even finished (and am still not) with the list of things to do from week 2; but I found myself itching to tackle the next segment of my home office. Throughout the week, I was ferreting through the floor stacks, recycling, shredding, throwing things away and, shoring up the stacks as they threatened to slide into cleared areas. And that's the other thing: no shoving things back into a previously cleared space. Once it's cleared, it needs to stay that way! I caught myself stacking more books onto the floor next to the shelves before I realized that if I kept doing that, I was creating my own Sisyphean hell :-/

So what were some of the Found Objects this week?

Another Copy of Animal Farm (by George Orwell; illustrated by Ralph Steadman): Oy, I just bought a copy of this a couple of weeks ago! I saw it in the window of an independent bookshop and I knew I had to have it! What I didn't realize was that I already had a copy. And that's the thing: I don't even know what I have any more. That said, if I had wanted to get to the copy that I had first bought, I couldn't have because it was "lost" in all the chaos. I'm keeping both copies as a reminder of my folly and a reminder against impulse purchasing. There are a lot of books on those shelves and most are catalogued on goodreads; but when I have cleared the room, a major reorganization of those books is in order.

Jumbo Office Clips: Five years ago, I bought a box of twelve jumbo office clips. Apparently they breed! I found over fifty! What this really means is that when I was taking work home, the office clips were somehow getting left behind when the work went back to the office. I was not intending to steal office supplies; but technically, that's what I was doing. This week I returned all of them (minus twelve.) I'm marking the remaining twelve with a spot of nail polish so I can more easily identify what is mine and what is not!

Christmas Decorations: From 2010. Three bins as a matter of fact. This past Christmas, we couldn't figure out where some of our Christmas decorations went, including a creche! There were here under a mound of stuff. These will go into a storage unit that's not my Mom Cave.

Old envelopes and stamps: When I was maybe eight-years old, I was fascinated by a series of animal stickers which the issuing company called stamps. I told my Mom that I wanted to collect stamps and she thought that I was interested in philatelic pursuits. My godfather, a hardcore stamp collector was eager to encourage me as well. I never screwed up the courage to tell them I wasn't really interested in stamp collecting, so for many years the misunderstanding stood. As a result, I actually have a rather nice collection of stamps and first day covers; but what I also have that's not so nice is a habit of saving envelopes and canceled stamps even though I don't collect anymore. All the envelopes and canceled stamps that I was "saving" for the past five years either got put in the recycling bin or thrown away. Its' amazing how much space all these bits of paper took up!

Next week, we'll look at some other paper demons....

See Also:
Epiphanies 2011 ("MyFuture Self")
My Future Self: Home Office Excavation (wherein I talk about the impact of clutter)
My Future Self: Home Excavation: Week 2 (wherein I talk about the effect of light and, planning)

Thursday, January 26, 2012

When She Woke

When She Woke
by Hillary Jordan
narrated by Heather Corrigan
Ⓟ 2011, HighBridge Audio
10.80 hours

Set in the not-to-distant future and in a society that has sought to redress its issues with religious fundamentalism, When She Woke features Hannah Payne, a young woman convicted of aborting her unborn child. She is sentenced to sixteen years living as a red Chrome, meaning that she has been injected with a virus that turns her skin blood red. Its plot line is very similar to that of The Scarlet Letter (by Nathaniel Hawthorne) and might be considered a homage to the Classic and/or a re-imagining of the tale from the woman's (Hester Prynne as Hannah Payne) point of view.
Hillary Jordan has taken care to cast her characters in a realistic and human way. Hannah Payne expresses her doubts, angers, insecurities and new convictions in way that is believable. The reader may not find her logic unassailable; but her actions and new awareness bear the pedigree of experience. Aiden Dale, as the modern iteration of Hawthorne's Arthur Dimmesdale, is a morally complex man drawn with true pathos and much less of a villain for his cowardice than the original. Jordan has fleshed out the emotional landscape of this story without excessive melodrama and provided a way to connect with the Classic. That is not to say that the story doesn't stand well on its own, because it does. Without having read The Scarlet Letter, a reader would be interested in the characters' psychological development and perhaps question his or her own convictions as they travel with Hannah on her literal and interior journey:
"Was that all her religious beliefs had ever been then, a set of precepts so deeply inculcated in her that they became automatic, even instinctive? Hear the word God, think He. See the misery of humankind, blame Eve. Obey your parents, be a good girl, vote Trinity Party, never sit with your legs apart. Don't question, just do as you're told."

What might give a reader pause is that there is a fine line between honoring a Classic such as The Scarlet Letter and, being unoriginal. The Scarlet Letter certainly provided the creative impetus for Ms Jordan; and despite her claims that The Handmaid's Tale (by Margaret Atwood) was not an influence, the comparisons are inescapable. The influence of The Handmaid's Tale may not have been direct, but Ms Jordan's invites the comparison by creating scenes that are strikingly similar in tone and substance to Ms Atwood's own dystopian novel. Drawing so heavily upon the Classic, and coincidentally upon Ms Atwwod's work, for plot points and character creation may give credence to the charge that Ms Jordan may have borrowed too heavily. Still, what Hillary Jordan brought to the table was a fresh, credible voice to the plight of a woman caught between a rock and a hard place.
Heather Corrigan is renders the text very nicely. The listener will be easily able to discern between interior thought and dialogue and, the mood(s) of the protagonist, Hannah Payne, from whose POV the story is told. Though Heather Corrigan sounds younger than the protagonist, her skill set in bringing Hannah to life is not to be denied. One minor quibble is that the word is "Chrome," not "Crone." Once you know what the word is supposed to be, it's all good :-)
See also:The Scarlet Letter (by Nathanial Hawthorne)
The Handmaid's Tale (by Margaret Atwood)
Other Stuff: When She Woke (by Hillary Jordan; narrated by Heather Corrigan) qualifies for:

I purchased and dnloaded a copy of When She Woke (by Hillary Jordan; narrated Heather Corrigan) from I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Future Self: Home Office Excavation: Week 2

When I first decided to start de-cluttering my home office, the first thing I did was to take a series of "Before" photos. There turned out to be thirteen photos that covered the various sections of my office (and; no I couldn't get a single shot that encompassed it all!) I decided that each week I would tackle the segment of my office that had been captured in one of the photographs. It's good to have a plan. In fact, there's quite a bit of time required in developing a method of attack for each section. I learned that this week when I just went higgledly-piggedly into the office expecting it to be like last week: After a a few hours, the section would be cleared! Um no. This week I discovered that some de-cluttering solutions require more time and forethought.


One of the things that happened during last week-end's cleanup was that there were literal "shifts" in the strata of stuff in the center of the room. Stuff disappeared into the maw and other stuff washed up on the shores of my fiction book shelves. Also, apparently, I became Queen of Mixed Metaphors!
One of the other noticeable differences that occurred as a result of last week-end's cleanup was that, in removing a stack of books from atop my woofer, more light was able to make it's way in. Working with an iPhone camera, I had been unable to get a clean, clear photo the first time around; but this time I was able to get a very detailed picture. One can also safely guess that the admittance of light probably has a more positive effect upon my moods than sitting in dismal gloominess :-) (☜See that? A smiley emoticon!)

At first blush, there doesn't appear to be much that I need to do and the "After" photo (see below) isn't so dramatic as last week's; but still, there's enough to tackle!

In the upper left hand cube, you can see a box laying horizontally across the tops of books. It's The Complete National Geographic (Every Issue of National Geographic Since 1888 on DVD-ROM.) DH bought it for me for Christmas in 2010 because even then, the clutter had been an issue; and this was DH's response to the years of National Geographics that I had on hand and in storage (Yes, there is a storage unit somewhere... to be discussed later. Much, much later.) I haven't even opened the box set of DVD-ROMs, but I'm going to do so this week. If it's all good, then I'll be donating the National Geographic print magazines to an organization that wants them. I will pay the shipping costs because it will be worth it for me to get them out of here. If the CD-ROM thing doesn't work out, I will get a bunch of magazine files and store the 30+ years of magazines on top of the non-fiction shelving unit. BTW, for those of you who own a backlog of National Geographic magazines and would like a way to find any article you may want to read, The Publications Index is very handy indeed :-) (☜Look at that! Another smiley emoticon! Before you know it, I'll be whistling while I work!)
  • Note to Self: Start researching who wants old National Geographic magazines

In the next cube to the right, you can see a shiny gilt edge of something. This something is a frame that, uh, frames a needlepoint portrait of Mary, Mother of God. The needlework was done by my godfather's wife in 1978 to commemorate my Confirmation in the Roman Catholic faith. Now, my faith isn't what it used to be; but the needlework is really fine and the overall picture is beautiful. It will be hung in my daughter's bedroom and away from direct sunlight.
  • Note to Self: Pick up picture hanging hardware. Actually I just need a nail.

In the cube below the first one, you can see a piece of paper. It's an Earphones Award for The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (by William L. Shirer; narrated by Grover Gardner.) I was the studio engineer for all fifty-seven-plus hours of the production. The Earphones Award was bestowed by AudioFile Magazine to the narrator and he gave it to me for safekeeping. This is not what he had in mind. So, the award goes into a plastic folder thing for now. I would like to have all of Grover's Earphones awards framed and I have a great patch of wall in my office where they could all go.
  • Note to Self: Blackstone had a whole bunch of Earphones awards framed and mounted in one of the conference rooms. Find out from Josh's secretary where they had the framing done and about how much it costs.

Diagonally across from the Earphones Award, there is a orange, brownish blob. It is a jar of honey. It was also a hostess gift a narrator brought when he came over for dinner. An Albanian beekeeper in Southern California produced the jar of honey; and for some reason I don't want it opened, much less eaten. It's sort like a little arty icon sitting there. I can't explain it; but there it sits. It's gotta move because it does not belong on a bookshelf. So off to the kitchen, onto a top shelf where hopefully DH won't raid it during some midnight feeding frenzy.
  • Note to self: Put a florescent green Mr. Yuk sticker on the jar to deter DH
Next to the honey jar there is a CD, Louisiana Fairytale: Tommy Sancton's Crescent City Serenaders. This gets shelved with Song for My Fathers (by Tom Sancton) on a TBR shelf.

And now onto the seemingly innocuous thing: The papers, basket and plushy pineapple you see in the corner of the photo. It doesn't look like much; but it actually fills an entire 20"L x 14"W x 10"H bin and then some. I know this because I've taken all the stuff and put in the described white bin and hauled it into the dining room to be sorted and dispositioned. Ironically, I had to spend some time clearing off the dining room table first :-/

The plushy pineapple, a souvenir to the Dole Plantation in Hawaii when I was eight years old, goes into my daughter's plushy bin. When I recover the Dole patch that was on it, I'll sew or hot-glue it back on. The white basket goes back into the office, this time residing on top of the fiction book shelves, to be brought out again at Easter. The papers were sorted. I'll spare the grueling details of this one for now; but I'll get into it later when we're just dealing with paper clutter. I will say, however, that we are now eating off of TV trays because I've requisitioned the dining room table to do paper triage.

Found objects: A red croquet ball, two 3 lb hand weights, a clear tack and, a dust bunny the size of a small cat. The red croquet ball gets put aside to be later stored with my Alice in Wonderland ephemera (which I believe may be behind door #3, which is currently obstructed by the Mountain of Mess); The hand weights get put in the master bedroom, hopefully to be joined by the workout DVD that goes along with it as soon as I can find it; the clear tack gets picked up off the floor and stuck into the bulletin board (to be put up once I have the floor space to position a stepping stool) and; the dust cat gets consigned to the dust bin.


See Also:

Old Skool "Infographic": Bond Novels 08-14

It seems like everyone likes a sexy, eye-catching Infographic these days and I'm no exception. Last week, while I was trying to work through a workflow problem, I thought being able to create an Infographic would be really cool way to help me organize my thoughts. But I was watching playoff games on television and was disinclined to not watch - which is what I would had to have done in order to focus on dnloading the right-for-me program, learn it and experiment with it before finally ending up with the product I wanted. Instead, I got out a batch of mini-Post-It notes and produced a chart of approximately 75 scribblings. This is what resulted by halftime of the first game:

Interestingly, the chart is still being developed as my DH adds his two cents in every once in while and now the chart is closer to 100 pieces and counting. What I discovered was that I liked being able to move the Post-It notes around and being able to see it all up on a wall. There's a flexibility and capaciousness to the whole IRL experience that I prefer over the confines of a program, however sophisticated and sexy it might be. In the past, I've drawn things out in elaborate detail on big (24" x 36") sheets of drawing paper. I once had a twelve sheet deal going for The Epic of Gilgamesh that, unfortunately, didn't make the move out West. Since I've been here, I had been moving way from the thinking-with-drawings and such; but last night, after watching Goldfinger (Shaken Not Stirred: A Simon Vance Audio Book Challenge featuring James Bond), I was checking out the next title in the Bond Novels, Quantum of Solace. QOS is a collection of nine short stories; and it turns out, figuring out what stories went with what audiobook collections and movies was not as straightforward as one might have hoped. After a quick flurry of googling, I decided to put up a quick "Old Skool Infographic" of the relationships. With this on the wall, I then created the blog post, FYI: Quantum of Solace. The "Old Skool Infographic" isn't sexy. In fact, it's just another way to outline material; but I like it :-)

Okay, the New York Giants are playing the SanFrancisco 49ers and halftime is over. See you later :-)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

FYI: Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace: The Complete James Bond Short Stories (by Ian Fleming; narrated by Simon Vance) contains nine "shorts":
  • From a View to a Kill
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • Quantum of Solace
  • Riscion
  • The Hildebrand Rarity
  • Octopussy
  • The Property of a Lady
  • The Living Daylights
  • 007 in New York

The first five of these shorts are contained in the audiobook, For Your Eyes Only (by Ian Fleming; narrated by Simon Vance). The next two featured films in the Shaken, Not Stirred: A Simon Vance Audio Book Challenge Featuring James Bond, are Quantum of Solace (starring Daniel Craig) - viewing party on 02/25/2012 and; For Your Eyes Only (starring Roger Moore) - viewing party on 03/24/2012. Both movies are based on these five shorts:
  • From a View to a Kill
  • For Your Eyes Only
  • Quantum of Solace
  • Riscion
  • The Hildebrand Rarity

The movie, Octopussy (starring Roger Moore), which will be the subject of the Shaken, Not Stirred viewing party on 09/22/2012 is based on the next three shorts and are contained in the audiobook, Octopussy and The Living Daylights (by Ian Fleming; narrated by Simon Vance):
  • Octopussy
  • The Property of a Lady
  • The Living Daylights

The short story, 007 in New York (by Ian Fleming; narrated by Simon Vance) is unique to Quantum of Solace: The Complete James Bond Short Stories (by Ian Fleming; narrated by Simon Vance).

All of the stories that are in the audiobooks, For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy and The Living Daylights are in Quantum of Solace: The Complete James Bond Short Stories; but only the the complete short story collection contains 007 in New York.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


James Bond Novel #7
by Ian Fleming
narrated by Simon Vance
08.50 hours
Ⓟ 2001, Blackstone Audio, Inc.

James Bond, agent with Britain's Secret Service and with a license to kill (as denoted by the double-ought digits in his agent number, 007) meets up with Auric Goldfinger, a card cheat and greedy-for-gold businessman who is also suspected of gold smuggling and subsequently undermining world markets. Bond is given the assignment to figure out how Goldfinger is doing it. In the process, Bond discovers that Goldfinger has an even more ambitious scheme of robbing Fort Knox of $15 million in gold bullion!

One of the great things about the Bond novels is that, unlike the films, Bond is not the hero who emerges from his escapades unscathed and looking pretty. In past novels, the vicissitudes of the trade are visited upon Bond and others in rather shocking and graphic detail. As any given scene is introduced and unfolds, you really aren't sure how it's going to end and hence, Fleming brings true suspense to his spy thrillers:
"He let his head fall back with sigh. There was a narrow slit down the centre of the polished steel table. At the far end of the slit, like a foresight framed in the vee of his parted feet, were the glinting teeth of a circular saw."
Scenes don't end the way you think they will and, it's in the how far they go that leaves readers a bit shocked or even gasping aloud.

Goldfinger was written in 1959, and what might give today's readers/listeners pause in regards to the Bond novels is the political incorrectness in the stories. The sentiments that are expressed can be jarring and it is somewhat bizarre that in every novel so far there has been at least one passage or idea expressed that compels a knee-jerk reaction to the 21st century reader. In Goldfinger, there is this:
"Bond came to the conclusion that Tilly Masterson was one of those girls whose hormones had got mixed up. He knew the type well and thought they and their male counterparts were a direct consequence of giving votes to women and 'sex equality'. As a result of fifty years of emancipation, feminine qualities were dying out or being transferred to the males. Pansies of both sexes were everywhere, not yet completely homosexual, but confused, not knowing what they were. The result was a herd of unhappy sexual misfits - barren and full of frustrations, the women wanting to dominate and the men to be nannied. He was sorry for them, but he had no time for them."
Cringe-worthy indeed. Wait until you see how Fleming draws Pussy Galore :-/

Simon Vance narrated Goldfinger ably and well: His characters are well delineated, though if one were to quibble, it would be that his American accents are not quite what they could be. Vance's later works (e.g. Paul is Undead by Alan Goldsher wherein he narrates the part of a native Chicagoan) show how far he has come in ten years :-)

See Also:
Casino Royale (James Bond Novel #1; by Ian Fleming; narrated by Simon Vance) - Audiobook [Mini-] Review

Other Stuff: Goldfinger (by Ian Fleming; narrated by Simon Vance) qualifies for

I borrowed an MP3-CD edition of Goldfinger (by Ian Fleming; narrated by Simon Vance) from Blackstone Audio, Inc. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My Future Self: Home Office Excavation

It's time. My hoarding and disorganization are badly effecting my ability to get anything accomplished, both physically and mentally. In five years, my home office has become a dumping ground, a safety hazard and a dead zone wherein nothing can happen because I can't find anything I need. Psychologically, the mess is overwhelming and enervating. I bought two audiobooks to help me with my issues, Throw Out Fifty Things (written and narrated by Gail Blanke) and The Hoarder in You ( by Dr. Robin Zasio; narrated by Cassandra Campbell.) I listened to the former a couple of years ago, never got around to reviewing it, planned on re-listening to it in order to poss a review and, then said, "Screw it." I remember it wasn't that helpful to begin with only because it presumed a greater level of organization in your home that I had and, it was more of a motivational spiel about how to de-clutter your life. Also, it was full of well-intentioned and highly suspect examples that I took issue with. Plus, there's something weird about Gail Blanke's voice delivery (dentures? lockjaw? what?) I haven't gotten around to listening to The Hoarder in You because I'm that disorganized now. Blogging deadlines are slipping past me and, combined with unreasonable blogging goals that extend into my personal life, I've created a hole, jumped into it and now I can't figure out how to get out of it except to say "Stop." I need to take a deep breath, assess what I need to do, what I can do, and take the time I need to get myself together. One of the things I need to do is get my home office excavated. This project I'm estimating will take about three or four months. Yeah, that's right, not a week-end project by any means!

Today I've posted a picture of one corner of my home office, representing only a tiny fraction of the mess I'm in! And this is what I'm doing about that corner:

Throw out the trash: There's a small waste basket underneath my desk. Because I'm a hoarder, I don't actually throw a lot away at all. As a result, the trash that's in there can have been sitting there for weeks. Alright, the trash goes out and I put a reminder on my calender to throw it out every Monday and take out the garbage (pick-up is on Tuesdays) whether or not the trash basket or the garbage can is full.

The Classics that are stacked on top of the harmon/kardon woofer on my desk? See them? It's under the Girl Scout sash! The Classics get moved to a bookshelf in the living room. Ordinarily, I wouldn't put paperbacks out; but the covers and spines are nice enough looking this shouldn't pose an aesthetic issue. The Girl Scout sash goes back into storage in a bin under the bed. The bin isn't as airtight as I would like; but I'll deal with bedroom stuff later, hopefully this summer. Wow, there's actually more light coming in now that I've cleared away that stack away from the window!

The piece of cardboard on top of laundry is actually a very detailed drawing my daughter made as a birthday card for me one year. I'm fascinated by her highly stylized cats and dogs and am determined to keep this gift around. I've stacked it along with some lithos, posters and mirrors on the floor (to the left of the book case - you can catch a glimpse of a poster tube in the corner) for now. Once I have some floor space in here, I'll be able to bring in a stepping stool or ladder to put up some wall decor.

The dry cleaning: The first few items you see on the pile of clothes are actually clean. I've put them on plastic hangars and hung them up in my daughter's closet for now. Eventually, I will upgrade to wooden hangars and move them into the closet that is in this room (but that I can't get to because of stuff obstructing the way. The sweaters all go into a big plastic bag that will live in my car for the next few weeks. I can't afford to get them all dry-cleaned at one time, so I will pull out one sweater a week until all are done. As the sweaters are cleaned, they'll be stored in the master bedroom closet.

The brown envelope on the floor next to the laundry basket contains material from the Books on the Nightstand Readers' Retreat in 2011. One thin I forgot to tell y'all is that I'm also a sentimental girl! I like souvenirs and errata from my travels and experiences. I'm not much of a scrap booker though. I'm not an "arts-and-crafty" kind of person, go figure. Anyway, I decided to shelve the envelope with the books written by the authors from the retreat (yes, there is a special BOTNS Retreat Shelf!)

Books on the floor: Oh boy. This is only one of the floor piles of books that take up space in my office; but the only one I'm going to tackle today. These are all books that qualify for the various challenges I've signed up for this year. Since Thanksgiving, I've been pulling books from the shelves and sorting them into categories. Hmm, see that cube shelf with one book (Jane Austen's Seven Novels) on it? The hardback gets re-shelved with my copies of Persuasion, Sense and Sensibility and a DVD of Persuasion and the cube is now double shelved with the books from the floor. Three books couldn't fit vertically, so I've popped them on top horizontally. As these books are read , some will go back on the shlelf, others will goto the hardback shelves in the living room, others will go to the non-fiction shelves and, others will be donated. to the Friends of the Library.

Dirty glass: No brainer. Goes to the sink in the kitchen to be rinsed out before going into the dishwasher.

Hidden objects: So far I've turned up 11¢, an Ann Taylor barrette/hair clip, a giant office clip and, two Post-It notes with outdated scribbles on them. The loose change goes into my daughter's piggy bank, the hair clip goes to live with other hair accoutrements that I own, the giant office clip goes into my top desk drawer and the Post-Its get thrown away.

As I was working, there have been some seismic shifts in my office! That Other Press tote bag as well as the papers that you see in the bottom right right corner of the photo have been swallowed up into the paper mess/vortex in the center of my room! Alright, I'll deal with all that when the time comes. In the meantime, this is the "after' photo of the same corner.

Relatively speaking, it's not much; but it's start!

See also:
Mount TBR Challenge 2012 (Letter of Intent wherein I mention why I hoard books)
Epiphanies 2011 ("My Future Self")

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale was originally published in 1985.
This eBook edition was purchased and dnloaded in December, 2011

Offred, once a citizen in the state of Massachusetts in the U.S., is now a Handmaid in the early days of the Republic of Gilead (late twentieth century,) a totalitarian state predicated on religious fundamentalism as a recourse to the moral decay and societal upheaval, including declining birth rates, in the former democracy. Gilead, in addressing the need for more well-baby births, creates and dictates the role of the Handmaid, a surrogate mother for infertile couples, via a literal and patriarchal reading of Genesis 30: 1-3:
And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister and said unto Jacob, Give me children or else I die. And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, Am I in God's stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb? And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees,* that I may also have children by her.

*Italics mine

Offred, a fertile woman, is assigned the role of a Handmaid; but the role, as prescribed by the Genesis passage, also entails the presence of both the wife and the Handmaid during attempts at conception; and in the event of a birth of a child, the wife plays the role of the birth mother in terms of societal recognition and esteem.

This return to Biblical precepts and melding them into intransigent law and an absolutist government creates an atmosphere of awkwardness, fear and suspicion, thereby sacrificing wisdom and compassion on a metaphorical altar to the God who needs to be appeased. As primitive a reaction to to societal misfortune as this is, it is an enduring practice as demonstrated by current events and Margaret Atwood's vision of a very possible future.

The Handmaid's Tale is a neat trick of remembering our future. By leaving the actual time unspecified, grounding the vision of the dystopian future in realistic terms (there are cars, guns and surveillance, but no UFOs, intergalactic wars or time travel), having some of her predictions come true (ATM cards, the concretization of a Middle East country as a security threat as opposed to the Soviet Union) and, adding an epilogue that provides "historical" perspective, Atwood creates a work of speculative fiction that has currency in the present as a cautionary tale against the combination of religious fundamentalism and government, the ease with which citizens can be marginalized and, how good intentions and technology can work against the society it was intended to help. Offred chronicles her life as a Handmaid (a birth mother for infertile couples) in the optimism that there will be a future audience, that her story will be a matter of future history from which something may be learned, if nothing else, "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum."

See also:
The Scarlet Letter (by Nathanial Hawthorne) - a review of the print edition of the Classic Flashback Friday: 1984 (by George Orwell; narrated by Simon Prebble) - a mini-review of the audiobook

Other Stuff: I purchased and dnloaded a copy of The Handmaid's Tale (by Margaret Atwood) from Barnes & Noble/nook. I receive no monies, goods or services in exhange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


This morning, while sitting in the safety of the dumping ground that is also known as my home office, I heard a skittering. My heart stopped. I thought "rats." I was ready to call off going into work in favor of completely emptying the house and quite possibly fire bombing the place, when I saw the intruder. It was our pet gerbil, Tattle (There used to be two gerbils, Rattle and Tattle; but sadly Rattle passed away two years ago.) I have no idea how Tattle got out of his cage and crossed to the other side of the house without incident; but there he was, pondering my non-fiction book shelves. After a couple of truly lame attempts to catch him, I woke up The Father of My Child (what I call DH when I'm not particularly happy to be in love) and had him capture the rodent... This brought to mind an incident a couple of years ago when we first got the gerbils:

Pulling into my driveway with my daughter in the backseat, I was confronted with the slightly alarming sight of a floor lamp peering out of a window. The bulb was directly facing me and appeared like a giant white eye staring at me. I knew something was wrong. So, instead of being sensible and calling the police, I told my daughter to get down on the floor, while I locked her in and snuck in the side door. The sight that greeted me was total chaos. The kiddie gate from the kitchen/dining room area and into the playroom was blasted into smithereens, the gerbil cage was on the floor, upside-down and smashed and, the floor lamp was leaning against a toy bin (and peering out the window.) My old crippled dog was in a corner fruitlessly endeavoring to gain purchase on the new Pergo flooring and the new dog was howling. In a way akin to knowing when there's a TV on in the house even though it may be muted and out of sight, I could immediately tell there was no one in the house. That still didn't stop me from going from room-to-room with a golf club (a Tommy Armour Golden Scot #1 driver thank you very much) which was inside the entry door. After making sure everything was all clear, with the dogs still scrambling and howling, I went out to the car, brought my daughter in and sat her in the dining room and had her eat a Happy Meal. I picked the old dog up off the floor and got her ensconced on a dog bed. I threw a dog toy outside (the howling dog immediately stopped howling and went to hunt down the toy). Then I went in to assess the damage properly.

As near as I can reconstruct, the younger dog, knocked the gerbil cage off of the counter and onto the floor. The plastic cage cracked, tubing collapsed and the two gerbils made their escape. Maggie (the dog) went ballistic and crashed through the gate to go in after the rodents. In the ensuing chase, the lamp was knocked over. OK, but where are the gerbils? There are only two possible answers: either Maggie ate them or they were hiding somewhere. Now I make the call to the Father of My Child whose bright idea it was to get gerbils as a pets for my daughter ("It will teach her responsibility") and he puts me on speaker phone while I utter the now- immortal line, "We have a problem with the gerbils." This elicits all sorts of laughter and adolescent punch lines from grown "men" who happen to be sitting in TFOMC's office. TFOMC, still giggling, manages to assure me that the gerbils were probably too fast for Maggie and are probably in the room somewhere. The room is a 4 inch drop from the kitchen and as they are only 3" extended, they are probably still in the room.

Now comes my least favorite part. I am a bacillophobe and not particularly fond of any rodent of any stripe (or color.) And now I'm being asked to track two of these f!@#ers down. OK, calling upon my experience in the Omousa bin Laden Tour of Duty (2002) I start taking apart the room. I followed the poop. In their frantic bid for safety, they pooped all the way to their hiding places. I capture them in one of those clear plastic balls that gerbils and hamsters can roam around in. Then the clean-up. EEEEEEEW! A gallon of bleach later (which reminds me I must stop wearing black when I undertake these adventures) the room is in order and smelling "Mountain Fresh." I am now out the door to get a rug shampooer, a new gerbil enclosure, a new kiddie gate and, a doghouse. And I'm using TFOMC's credit card. That'll teach him to put me on the speaker phone!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Introduction and Notes by Nancy Stade
General Consulting Editor, George Stade

The Scarlet Letter was first published in 1850.
This trade paperback edition was published in 2005.

Why should we read the Classics? One reason is for the history not only of the time and place; but for the ideas that have found expression through the writer. Roughly 4500 years ago, some scribe marked up The Epic of Gilgamesh into clay tablets. We have an intriguing glimpse into the time and place and some action points to string a story together; but we don't have a sense of what the characters were really thinking or what sensibility guided their thought processes. What was it like to live in a world where you perceived time as circular and cyclical, not linearly? How did the concepts of civilization, a major shift from the nomadic and animistic lifestyle change their worldview? How did the oral tradition and sense of history transmute their own sense of culture? Unfortunately, it is unlikely that we will ever know because the story contains no explanation. It is no more than a historic artifact celebrated for being the oldest written story. The Classics, however, tell us more. The Classics provide a sense of "interior history," ideas that had currency when they were written and still inform our culture today.

But why should you read The Scarlet Letter? The events that make up the main body of the work were not contemporary to the writer so how could he posit a credible story that reflects a mindset of a society that he could not have possibly have experienced? But the thing is, he did. No, Hawthorne did not live in the 17th century; but he did live in a small town with a strong cultural legacy to that time and; family ties bound him to the history of which he wrote. He was living with the effects a Puritanical society that embedded itself into the political consciousness of his day and, actually still lives with us even now (Don't fool yourself that because we don't put people in stocks or force them to wear a scarlet "A" upon their breasts, that we don't excoriate adulterers, especially if they happen to be public figures.) Hawthorne builds the first bridge between the events of 1650 and 1850 by creating prologue in which he discovers the documents that purportedly contain the events of the main body of the story. The second bridge is the one created by the reader's connection to the text. The second bridge is a meta-literary experience that elevates the text from being an artifact to being historically relevant, something from which, like all history, we can extricate meaning to our current lives.

The Scarlet Letter is an exposition of how religious and political thought cohered to create an inheritance of our American culture: a paradox of sex and sexuality, religious freedom that incarcerates and the punishment that frees. Hester Prynne falls in love with a man and gets pregnant by him; but does not enjoy the benefits of marriage which apparently include not being shoved into a jail cell, being publicly called out for her sin, reminding everyone else of her indiscretion by wearing a red "A" upon her chest and, being pretty much excluded from town life. Had she been married to the man, this would not have happened. So, falling in love and having sex with the man is a sin when the sanctity of marriage is not conferred by the town-church; but falling in love and having sex with a man becomes the consecration of life affirming values when you add in the public endorsement of marriage. It's a fine line between hypocrisy and relative morality. Hester Prynne is punished for her transgression; but her moment in the the town square (wherein she is brought out before all the townspeople) is meant to be an occasion for her not only to renounce her sin; but to give up the name of her lover as well so that he too may be free of guilt. Only through renunciation can the opportunity exist for forgiveness. There is an celebratory atmosphere to the denunciation of Hester Prynne. A zealful, but compassionless event in which Hester Prynne's pride is sacrificed to the self-righteous crowd. Except that Hester doesn't renounce her sin, give up her lover's name and, the public does not forgive or even really seem inclined to do so (after all the punishment begins before the possibility of her renouncement.) Ironically, Hester Prynne's punishment actually does free her: Her isolation forms her into a woman of independent thought, devoid of the hobbling dictates of the Puritan community.

The Scarlet Letter offers a lot in terms of ideas as to who we were, who we are and through the second bridge, who we can be.

Other Stuff: The Scarlet Letter (by Nathaniel Hawthorne) qualifies for
  • The What's in a Name? Challenge #5 hosted by @BethFishReads as a "book with something you'd carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title [e.g.] Sarah's Key, The Scarlet Letter, Devlin Diary"

I purchased The Scarlet Letter (by Nathaniel Hawthorne) from the Barnes & Noble store in Medford, OR. I receive no monies, goods or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
--- John 8: 32