Saturday, October 16, 2010

PuzzlersParadise - Feeding Time ~ a logic problem

PuzzlersParadise - Feeding Time ~ a logic problem:
"Zookeeper George was in charge of feeding all of the animals in the morning. He had a regular schedule that he followed every day. Can you figure it out from the clues? The giraffes were fed before the zebras but after the monkeys. The bears were fed 15 minutes after the monkeys. The lions were fed after the zebras."

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is an epistolary young adult novel.  The protagonist, Charlie, is about to start high school and although he seemingly sits on the sidelines of life, including his own, he obviously feels things deeply and, through Chbosky’s pen, Charlie’s voice shines.

I found myself fighting back tears more than once as Charlie’s experiences unfolded.  He builds complicated friendships, goes through things that any parent would hope their child could somehow avoid, and witnesses things that are simply too painful to express.  As his own secret comes to light, it is handled with such grace and honesty that the truth of why Charlie feels the way he does, or why he fights not to feel these things preferring to observe rather than experience, is genuine.

I found out about this book through Nikki’s Banned Book Week Challenge when I read this blog post and I wanted to read the book for myself.  There’s definitely a lot going on in barely over 200 pages.  Suicide, drugs, homosexuality, pregnancy, abuse, date rape, and more.  You almost have to wonder if Chbosky didn’t make a list of topics that would get a young adult novel and didn’t just try to cram them all into one novel.  Yet somehow none of it is too much.  He simply weaves so many different things together that the overall effect is like a painting by Seurat–up close the details are complicated but when looked at from a distance, the overall artistic effect is unarguably perfect.  The narrative story has many elements and all of them are essential.

There are also layers of stories and the reader wants to know more about everyone, about the friends who are leaving for college and the ones who have yet to be found in high school, about the Charlie’s siblings and parents, where they’ve been and where they’re going, etc.  Every minor character has a story his or her own and you feel that Chbosky knew a lot more about everyone than ever found a place on the page.  Above all else, you want to know how the reader of Charlie’s letters felt while reading the book but then somewhere along the way you realize that you yourself are the reader and you have a choice–you can feel for Charlie or wonder about the friend’s response to these lucid letters.

I guess my tears were indicative that I was immersing myself in Charlie’s experiences.  And what a joy it was.   (And to appreciate how this book has affected others, you really should read the other person's blog about the book.  She links to all sorts of interesting things related to this novel.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link

Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link is a collection of short stories by an author about whom I’d heard nothing.  To be honest, had I seen this book in a bookstore or library, I doubt I would have picked it up at all.  Then again, if I had picked it up by some fluke, I would have soon put it down because the blurbs on the book, while full of praise and promise, don’t tell me anything about what to expect when I open the book to read.

How unfortunate!

Thankfully, my friend Saila had to read one of Link’s stories for a class she is taking and, curious, I wanted to read the story for myself and was able to obtain a copy of this book easily.

The first three stories in the collection are creepy and establish a tone that is clear.  “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose” is an eerie story full of obsession and on its heels is “Water Off a Black Dog’s Back” about a college romance with elements of the supernatural.  Then “The Specialist’s Hat” an award-winning story is simply a ghost story beautifully told.

But the collection didn’t start soaring for me until “Flying Lessons” (and yes, I see the irony in my choice of words) which is heavy with allusions to Greek mythology blatantly contextualized by the end of the story.  The next short story, “Travels With the Snow Queen” is a gorgeous re-telling of the Andersen fairy tale and yet another award winning short-story.

How could I never have heard of this writer before?

"Vanishing Act" and "Survivor's Ball" return to the ghostly theme offering two very different gothic tales before moving into "Shoe and Marriage" which I found oddly humorous, moving from a retelling of the expected fairy-tale (as implied by the title) and moving into some snide commentary on contemporary circumstances.  Link doesn't ever take any easy outs; it would be too easy to take the Cinderella story into a foot fetish tale.

"Most of My Friends Two-Thirds Water" is a curious story of a relationship between friends but has a psychological depth that is foreboding throughout.  Then "Louise's Ghost" fuses the idea of friendship and ghosts into a single story.

Last but not least, "The Girl Detective" is a blatant reference to the Nancy Drew books as the covers imply.  But more because there is a reference to a traditional fairy tale as well, overlaid with amusing cultural references and by the time the final story ends the result is that of pure satisfaction.  Link's talent is a surprise, her prose dazzling from page to page.  I could not imagine adding a single story nor removing one, they work so well together.  There is nothing thrown together about this collection and each story stands powerfully on its own.

I think a lot of writers could learn a lot from Kelly Link.  I know I could.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ask Nicola: Writers: if you can't give money, give a story

I saw this and thought that some of you may have something tuckled away somewhere that you could share.
I am trying to think of something I might have lying around but right now my mind is coming up blank.
Doesn't that figure?

Compassion and Meditation by Jean-Yves Leloup

Compassion and Meditation: The Spiritual Dynamic Between Buddhism and Christianity by Jean-Yves Leloup is a series of lessons, taken from transcripts and lectures, that looks at the similarity between the paths of Buddhism and Christianity.  Leloup, an Orthodox priest, has a broad ranging knowledge, drawing on experiences he’s had with meditation and his interaction with like-minded Buddhists.

Leloup’s emphasis, obviously, is in how these two spiritual paths are similar, and from the introduction the reader is immediately made aware that Leoup is, if nothing else, a scholar.  However, he doesn’t weigh down the slender volume with a great deal of quotes and citations.  Rather, his focus is on his own understanding, conversations he’s had with spiritual leaders from both Christianity and Buddhism.  He has a great reverence for the teachings of his own spiritual mentor, Father Seraphim, and for HH, The Dalai Lama.

The author spends a great deal of time focusing on Buddhist teachings as they parallel the teachings of Christ.  I suspect this is because, as a priest, he is most often invited to talk in Christian settings and, therefore, is trying to show a presumably predominantly Christian audience why Buddhism is not so very different from Christianity.  However, he doesn’t go so far as to suggest that the paths are one and the same.  Interestingly, he avoids the subject of salvation and the afterlife, never clearly stating whether he believes that Buddhist are going to enter Heaven (or, for that matter, if Christians will ever attain Nirvana).

I think this is just as well.  After all, these things are not for us to judge and Leloup’s discussions are interesting.  Although there are some points that are not as fully developed as others, it is easy to see that this is a topic that is very near and dear to his heart.  He is passionate about compassion and sees potential in meditation akin to prayer.  There are a few question and answer sections which I realize are more transcripts from the lecture but I found these to be oddly placed and felt that a good editor could have easily interwoven these parts with the main body of the lecture for a stronger over-all effect.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book very much, culled a lot of great quotes from it, and am eager to share this book with one of my friends.  From where I sit, this is high praise indeed.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

'For Colored Girls':

I'm excited. Very. I never saw the play but I read it voraciously, more than once. Would love to see it done and done well. My fingers are crossed.

Opera 101 by Frederick Plotkin

Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera by Frederick Plotkin (with an introduction by Placido Dominingo) is either an ambitious bit of hubris--for how could anyone presume to write a complete guide to opera in a mere 500+ pages?--or it is a resource meant to be a starting place for those new to opera and trying to gain an appreciative ear for the art form.

I’m assuming it is the latter, a textbook meant to cover a broad subject in the same way that most 101 courses in colleges do–picking and choosing, trying to find one piece that reflects a certain era or period, recommending and ignoring others.  It’s simply impossible to consider this in any other way.

Plotkin does a fine job of first explaining the history of opera, how it evolved and changed as music standards did, as political and social ideas also influenced art, and the drama of how opera itself grew from one century to the next, how it moved with the times, is fascinating.  The author offers a discography for the book, a list of recommended recordings for each opera.  This is where the book shines and also falls a bit flat.  If you do not have access to these recordings and cannot afford to buy them then you have a problem because the bulk of the book focuses not only on an individual opera but on the specific recording.  Plotkin walks the reader through how to read the booklet that comes with the recording, remarks on the essay, explains his choice of opera, and then goes scene by scene and act by act through the opera itself.

You can, of course, struggle through with what you have.  If you have a different recording than the one to which he is referring then you are almost on your own because not every cd is divided the same and the author will refer to a track specifically, the numbering of which may be different from your own.  And there is little pleasure derived from reading the chapters about the operas when you can’t listen to them at all.  (My library didn’t have several operas at all, not even the alternates that were recommended.)

Many of the expected operas are given their own chapters: Rigoletto, Tosca, Don Giovanni, etc.  Others are offered as alternates or only listed towards the end: La Boheme, Carmen, La Traviata, et al.  The list in Appendix B is impressive, with many of the operas most people have never heard of or seen listed.

Plotkin offers no apologies for his preferences in choosing which specific opera and which particular recording he chooses for each chapter.  He pulls no punches, either, going so far as to point out the weaknesses in some of his choices.  It doesn’t take long to realize that it is virtually impossible to find a perfect recording of any opera.

It is an ambitious work, really, and even if the reader doesn’t walk away loving opera, it would be hard not to appreciate some of the magic that is created through the music.  This book is truly for the novice, not meant to add to an appreciation that already exists.  If you know nothing or little about opera, you will find this book very helpful.  If you already know a lot about music history and opera in particular, you may find some of the hints and tips tedious.  I personally didn’t feel it necessary for Plotkin to tell me at precisely which point in the recording I would hear a particular lyrical moment.  If I am listening, I’ll hear it and certainly don’t need to know the exact minute, down to the second, the moment will occur.  He does seem to either pander to the reader or condescend, depending on your response.  Personally, I think it was his intention to just hold your hand and try to make opera accessible without denying its complexity.

But I reiterate, without access to a lot of the recommended recordings and/or the finances to invest in them, the book is pretty useless once you get past the introductory part.

As for me, I have been to the opera a few times and enjoyed watching a few operas on PBS.  (Le Nozzi di Figaro is one in particular I recall watching with my friend Pia and we both loved it.)  I am not fond of the pseudo opera of Andew Lloyd Webber, yet I delight in the light opera of Gilbert and Sullivan.

I don’t own any operas on cd, mostly because I can’t sing along to them.  How is that for a rather facile reason for limiting my music collection?  

Monday, October 11, 2010

More Music To Which I'm Listening

Now we have a mix of mine and Rob's.  I grabbed random cds and what we have is . . . well, here it is.  The problem here is that I listened to one of these when I was younger but that's his cd and he has fallen in love with one of the cds that is mine.  So your challenge this week is to figure out which of these is the one Rob has fallen in love with in spite of himself.

Cancer Patients Could Consider Incorporating Reiki Therapy Into Their Treatment | Personal Liberty Digest

Cancer Patients Could Consider Incorporating Reiki Therapy Into Their Treatment | Personal Liberty Digest:
"According to the news provider, Reiki is healing that is channeled through the hands of those performing the therapy. Although Lopez did not feel completely better, she was able to function and go to work as a result of this treatment. She told the news source that Reiki took away the pain she had been feeling from chemotherapy."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Divine Magic by Doreen Virtue

Divine Magic: The Seven Sacred Secrets of Manifestation is a translation of the Hermetic text The Kybalion with interpretative notes by Doreen Virtue.  I should confess to having never read anything by Virtue before nor heard her speak.  I also had never heard of The Kybalion.  It is unlikely that, if this book were not one of the Transformational Book Circle books, I would have blissfully lived on without doing so.

I found nothing in this text that resonated with me on a spiritual level and my experience is so fare removed from the content that I found myself suffering through every page.  I remained unmoved, uninspired, and completely uninterested from beginning to end.

For those unfamiliar with The Kybalion, you can find an interesting article on wikipedia.

For those who are really into New Thought and who prefer their reading material be to esoteric and obtuse then this book will probably be a delight.  It was simply not my cup of tea.  Needless to say, I didn’t even listen to the accompanying cd because I really saw no point to it.  On the plus side, if you are into New Thought but don’t like to read, apparently you can just leave the Kybalion near you as you sleep and still benefit from its proximity, acquiring its teachings by osmosis I suppose.

And you wonder why I didn’t appreciate it.  Does it really get any sillier than this?  Oh wait, it does.